Monday, August 17, 2009

Fare Thee Well...

Aubrey Huff and I got off on the wrong foot. When he arrived before the 2007 season hopes ran high in Baltimore that Mr. Huff would fit in nicely in the middle of a lineup that included Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, and the oh-so-promising Nick Markakis.

Huff turned out not to be anything special. A meager 15 homeruns and 72 RBIs was not what Baltimore had in mind. His OPS was a pedestrian .778. He looked stiff. Awkward. Nothing he did was graceful. Nothing he did was anything more than average big league production. Not what the Orioles signed up for.

Then the incident happened.

On a satellite radio show designed for, um, mature audiences, Huff, appearing as a guest alongside an adult entertainer, made some less-than-flattering comments about the City of Baltimore and revealed far too much detail about his unorthodox ways of passing the time on long road trips.

As 2008 dawned, I had already anointed Huff to be my official whipping boy for the upcoming season. Orioles Lose... Blame Huff. Daniel Cabrera can't throw strikes... Blame Huff. Its raining... Blame Huff.

Then something kind of cool happened. Huff spent a decent chunk of the 2008 season knocking the stuffing out of the ball. Homeruns, doubles, line drives to the gap. He hit like a man possessed. He still looked stiff. He still wasn't graceful. And I think I still shouted a bit too loud whenever he failed to reach base. But, as if by magic, Huff's performance at the plate was making him much less of a perfect scape goat for all of the Orioles ills. Its hard to blame a 9-4 loss on someone who has gone 3 for 4 with a double and a homerun. By seasons end I started to almost take it for granted that Huff would make solid contact whenever he stepped into the batters box.

2009 has been more like 2007 for Mr. Huff. He spent the months of June and July mired in a slump that dropped his average from close to .300 to well below .250 for a time. I saw him in person against Zach Greinke in late July and he looked simply awful at the plate. Swinging at balls in the dirt. And with his stiff manner, swings and misses at 57-foot curveballs look doubly awkward.

Huff's trade value plummeted. His potential free agent value to the Orioles vanished. (By way of explanation here, when someone who is a big star leaves via free agency their team gets compensatory draft picks at the end of the 1st round of the MLB Draft. If he had repeated his 2008 numbers this year, Huff would have been such a player) I confided in a friend one day in late July that in order for the Orioles to get anything of real value for Huff something absolutely catastrophic would have to happen to the 1st baseman of a contending team. When the July 31 non-waiver deadline passed with no such calamity befalling any pennant chasers, Huff remained an Oriole for a few more weeks.

Aubrey Huff is now a Tiger. The Orioles netted a Single-A pitcher with a 96-mph fastball in return for him. Not a terrible deal. Not a terribly inspiring one either.

But somehow thats a fitting end for Huff's tenure with the O's. He wasn't bad. He just wasn't great. At least not for longer than a few magical months in 2008.

No hard feelings Aubrey. He's far from the biggest mistake the Orioles have made in my lifetime. I wish him well. really. I wish him the best as he tries, stiffly and ungracefully, to help Detroit make it to another World Series.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Evening Musings

Its been awhile.

The question on my mind since I last wrote in mid-April was "I wonder what will shake me out of this non-writing funk." Its not that my opinions on baseball had suddenly dried up. Or that I had stopped closely following the season, and the fading fortunes of the Orioles and Nationals. I just haven't sat in front of my laptop for long enough in the last few months to write a coherent post.

I took a train up to New York this weekend to make my first visit to Citi Field, the Mets new "Home of Amazin," as the stadium PA announcer said at least two dozen times during my visit. Fantastic park. More on that later.

We took the 7 train from Grand Central to Flushing. Walking down the boardwalk-ish ramp from the subway to the stadium I was impressed with the abundance of black, blue, orange, and white walking along with me. Even late in a nightmarish season in Queens (and it got worse on Saturday), Mets fans dress correctly for games. Moving from the ramp to the stadium entrance, i was told by a man with a megaphone and some big signs that I need to get my life right to avoid hellfire. Whats so wrong with my life that this dude is shouting at me with a megaphone? Maybe he was upset that I've been neglecting my blog. Do they read my blog in heaven? Do the postings on have some impact on my eternal standing? If so, I'd like to point out that I'm kind to my mother, I avoid littering, and I've never abused those "give a penny, take a penny" trays at fast food joints.

So, if megaphone man was trying to call me to repentence for lax blogging, it didn't work. What actually shook me out of my torper was a simple, humble question posed to me by a friend that I met up with at Citi Field. "So are you still doing your blog? I enjoyed reading it." Its not the first time that I've gotten that during this dry spell. But, given the setting (lower deck first base side seats, 8th inning, Mets rallying to tie the score against the Giants bullpen, perfect sunny july afternoon) I vowed to myself that a new entry for this site would soon appear.

And here it is.

Saturday was a rough day for baseball players' heads. Dodger righthander Hiroki Kuroda took a hot smash off of his noggin and headed straight for the hospital. Ian Kinsler was welcomed back from the disabled list with a heater on top of his helmet. And David Wright, two days after telling the New York Times that he would welcome the chance to wear new safer (if uglier) batting helmets, was on the receiving end of a 93mph Matt Cain fastball which, as of this writing, seems likely to have ended his season.

Mr. Wright's misfortune is of particular interest. I saw and heard it happen. From where i was perched in the 4th inning of yesterdays game ($72 seats in the second deck in left field. we didn't move to the lower deck until the 8th inning) Cain's wayward offering to Wright sounded like it had hit the Mets' last remaining healthy mega-star's bat. It made that crisp click. When Wright collapsed in a heap, not moving, and Cain immediately assumed a concerned crouch halfway between the mound and home plate, and 40,000+ New Yorkers instantly became deathly silent it was clear that the ball had hit something far more important than the All-Star's lumber.

The stunned crowd wasn't ever quite the same after Wright left the game with what we later learned is a humdinger of a concussion. The Mets grabbed a 1-0 lead soon after Wright left, but after a rough 6th inning, the Giants held a 3-1 lead. Citi Field started to take on a very funeral-esque feel. The only times the crowd became animated were when opportunities arose to boo Matt Cain during his at-bats. Met fans were headed for the exits in surprisingly large numbers before their team staged a dramatic 8th inning rally to tie the score.

Ordinarily, I would stand on my soapbox over such a display of poor form on the part of fans and i would quote an old beer commercial which declares "He who leaves early misses the miracle!" Those fans who bolted Citi Field before the Mets put up 3 in the 8th to tie the game did indeed miss some excitement. But, I'm inclined to give them a pass on this one. With Wright's injury, the Mets now have the single most star-studded disabled list in the history of disabled lists. Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, JJ Putz, Billy Wagner. Now, David Wright. Its quite a list. And that doesn't even mention all of the role players and pitchers who are ailing. I don't blame Mets fans for being a little quick to flee the premises on Saturday. After a season in which their promising star-filled team has been dropping like flies, seeing David Wright sprawled out in the dust of the batters box may have been too much to take.

I'm no Mets rooter, in fact, I cringed every time the Citi Field announcer made a reference to the 1969 World Series. But, even I hate to see the way 2009 has unfolded for the Amazins. No fan base deserves to watch their heroes fall one-by-one. No one deserves to have to watch each game with the sick feeling in their stomach of "Dear Lord, not another injury, PLEASE!!" Its sad.

And, insult to injury. As if this season wasn't rough enough for the team's fans already. Saturday's defeat provided a clear allusion to the excruciating manner in which the Mets lost the 2006 NLCS to a vastly-inferior St Louis Cardinals team. After rallying to tie the score on Saturday, the Mets lost 4-3 in 10 innings on a homerun by a catcher named Molina.