Ringing in the Mid-Summer Classic with distinctions that make the MTV Movie Awards blush… All stats as of July 5.
AL: Joe Orioles Fan, Baltimore
NL: Miguel Olivo, Colorado
Typo? Uh, no. I could rant and rave about MVP candidates Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols’ respective attempts at the AL/NL Triple Crowns. But since most new-wave baseball people don’t consider RBI a valid stat anyway – and because I’m not a hack mainstream writer who feels compelled to tell you that Pujols is good – I’m instead handing out the Valiantly Masking Pain honor to All-Star snub Miguel Olivo for his in-game passing of a kidney stone. In a tight AL race, future El Paso Rays fan Bryan Holt narrowly falls to these devastated Orioles fans for not kicking Peter Angelos in the balls.
The Iggy Pop Honorary “He’s Still Alive?” Award for Still Being Alive
AL: Omar Vizquel, Chicago
NL: Jamie Moyer, Philadelphia
And – bonus – both our winners are still relatively productive Big League Players. In the NL, the Rangers 43-year-old gold-gloved wonder squeaked out knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (43, 4-6, 4.93 ERA) and long-time Mets reliever Jessie Orosco (just kidding, Orosco’s dead). Vizquel gets the nod not because of his two stolen bases or .303 on-base %, but because third basemen have to move around more than pitchers. That Omar’s yet to call for a Segway at the hot corner is a testament to willpower in the face of a rapidly receding hairline. Moreover, his 2735 hits fall into the Harold Baines/Bert Blyleven “I’m Gonna Stick Around So Long That Voters Might Just Look At My Career Numbers And Assume I’m A Hall of Famer” camp. And let’s be honest: 2,800 hits/11 Gold Gloves sure as hell looks Cooperstown worthy.
While Arthur Rhodes (40, 1.09 ERA, 32 K, 33 IP) and SC favorite Billy “The Kid” Wagner (38, 1.35 ERA, 17 SV) received heavy consideration, Moyer simply “outlasted” all challengers, so to speak. At a Satchel Paige-ian 47 years of age, the Phillies pitcher has been one of his underachieving team’s stalwarts this year, compiling a 9-7 record and a current four-start streak of at least 6 innings/2 or fewer earned runs.
How’s this for perspective: Moyer made his debut 3 1/2 months before I was born. ESPN’s Buster Olney called him one of the “five greatest sports stories of our lifetime.” Even the great Larry King couldn’t match him for sheer attrition. Oh, and he’s 33 wins shy of 300…
The Wet Paint Award
AL: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
NL: Adam Dunn, Washington
Neither of these players is excruciatingly dull, per se. In fact, I enjoy watching Ichiro as much as anybody in this game of baseball that we have (as LeBron James or Hubie Brown would say). But Ichiro’s led the league in hits five of the last six seasons and doing it again at age 36. Yawn. Gold Glove right field. Yawn.
The future Hall of Famer continues to produce at a monotonously consistent rate even in the midst of Seattle’s epic stinkbomb of a season… 109 H, .328 BA, .383 OBP, 22 SB. Guess what? Ichiro’s an All-Star again. Ho freaking hum. (Also receiving consideration: Texas’ Michael Young and Sandman Mo Rivera)
Mark the Big Donkey down for 40 and 100. Rain, shine, snow, fog, falling meatballs, whatever. Check out Dunn’s last six seasons (HR, RBI): 46-102, 40-101, 40-92, 40-106, 40-100, 38-105. He’s sitting at 17 and 49 as of Tuesday. Wake me when September ends. Seriously. Do it. He’ll be rocking a .900 OPS, 25 doubles and those same gaudy power numbers. Downside? Count on him to strikeout more than Steve Buscemi in a bar full of beautiful women.
Most Secretive Underachiever
AL: Curtis Granderson, New York
NL: Lou Piniella, Chicago
We could call this one the “Golden Kornheiser” for Tony’s willingness to swallow whole whatever the “experts” tell him, or we could just stick with “The Urlacher” for failure in the midst of praise. Either way the award goes to quietly ineffectual figures who get a hall pass off reputation and/or good will. Look, I know Curtis Granderson is a great clubhouse guy. I know he’s got the smile of a double-stuffed Oreo. And I know he dresses like Ray Liotta in “Field of Dreams.” But that doesn’t mean I can ignore four straight years of steadily declining batting average, OPS, triples, doubles and runs. I can’t look the other way when he’s struck out at least 141 times in three of his four full Big League seasons. I can’t continue to live in 2007. It’s time to face the facts: Curtis Granderson – the Yankees’ big offseason acquisition – is just one of the guys.
Fighting off staunch competition in the NL (what with so many Cubs to choose from), Chicago’s managerial crank-ass “Sweet” Lou Piniella doesn’t take much heat from Windy City faithful mainly because those poor fairskinned Midwesterners are 1) afraid of him and 2) use to losing. Lou’s won more than 86 games exactly once in the last six years and that team was swept out of the Divisional series. He sucked last season with a decent Cubs team in a bad division. This year he sucks with a mediocre Cubs team in a mediocre division. He’s certainly got a knack for driving off headcases (See: Bradley, Zambrano), but maybe it’s time to acknowledge that his ass-slappin’, cap-throwin’ demeanor isn’t suited for a baseball town that just needs a hug. I’ll stop now, because I’m still not sure if managers even matter. But if they do matter and he was doing his job, I suspect the Cubs wouldn’t be 11 1/2 games out of first.
Most Irrelevant Overachiever
AL: Cliff Lee, Seattle
NL: Dan Haren, Arizona
What’s worse: being bad on a good team or being good on a bad team? Cliff Lee wouldn’t know because Cliff Lee is 100 percent awesome 99 percent of the time. Despite Seattle’s aforementioned woes (14 games under .500), the former/future Cy Young winner has actually improved on his form from 2008, when he went 22-3 for a Cleveland team that finished 81-81. We can talk about his league-leading ERA (2.34), his five complete games, his .945 WHIP, yada, yada…
Let’s cut to the chase: he’s walked six guys.
Lee fans 14.8 men for every base-on-balls, a ratio that would be the highest of all-time by more than three Ks. My favorite part? He’s making $6 million less than Atlanta’s Derek Lowe. (You can’t hear me right now, but I’m cursing Frank Wren under my breath.) Rumor is Lee will be far less irrelevant roughly 25 days from now when Seattle deals him to a contender at the deadline.
Please God, not the Phillies.
Fellow West Coaster Dan Haren snags the NL prize not for his mediocrity on the mound, but for embarrassing Arizona’s cleanup hitters with his Oden-sized stick. Haren’s batting .408 with 7 extra-base hits in 49 AB this season, as he and teammate Dontrelle Willis have taken it upon themselves to make the permanent switch from frontline pitcher to middle-of-order slugger. All kidding aside, “helping yourself” really comes in handy when you’ve surrendered an NL-high 138 hits. No worries, Danny. Chicks dig the long ball.
AL: Kevin Youkilis, Boston
NL: Joey Votto, Cincinnati
New rule: if you lead the league in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases, rank fifth in RBI, fourth in batting and play for a first place team, you automatically qualify for the All-Star team. This way, we don’t have to leave our most obvious reserve selection to the whims of Gump-like savant Charlie Manuel, who evidently picked Braves utility infielder Omar Infante’s name out of a hat. Infante, who doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, actually thought he’d been traded when he read GM Frank Wren’s name in the caller ID. This is true. My sincerest apologies, Joseph Votto. And shoutouts to St. Louis stud pitcher Jaime Garcia (8-4, 2.10 ERA) and San Diego’s Matt Latos (9-4, 2.62 ERA), both of whom deserved AS bids.
While Jered “The Other” Weaver and Detroit rookie phenon Brennan Boesch (.344, 12, 46) both received consideration from our panel of experts, consensus for the Silver Snubrero befell Boston’s fu-manchued hitmaker Kevin Youkilis, who not only has a perfectly shaped head, but also sports a 1.002 OPS and leads the league in runs. Random thought while contemplating Jewish men: why isn’t Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman nicknamed The Hebrew National?
The Bronzed Anti-Bust
AL: Clay Bucholtz, Boston
NL: Mike Pelfrey, New York
Dig the play on words… The BAB goes to the once-hyped mound darling you wrongfully assumed would never pan out, but has overnight transformed into the dominant worldbeater you thought he’d be in the beginning. Candidates for this award do not include guys named “Joba,” nor did I consider Tampa Bay ace David Price on account of last year’s occasional flashes of brilliance. Boston’s Clay Bucholtz, on the other hand, went through a stage of unqualified suckiness: he followed up his ’07 no-no with a 2-9, 6.75 ERA ’08 campaign. Bill Simmons tried to trade him roughly six times – first for Adrian Gonzalez, then for anyone with a pulse. Surprise, Bill: Clay’s second in the AL in wins, third in ERA. Along with Jon Lester, he’s been a lone jewel in Boston’s otherwise shitcrown of a rotation.
I always hesitate to heap praise on New York Mets. So, soak this sentence up, Mike Pelfrey (’09: 10-12, 5.03 ERA, ’10: 10-3, 3.39).
Most Disturbing Celeb Lookalike
AL: Alex Gonzalez, Toronto
NL: Mark DeRosa, San Francisco
The full list of nominees…
Mark Reynolds (Luke Skywalker)
Tommy Hanson (Axl Rose)
Carl Hubbell (Cosmo Kramer)
Tim Lincecum (The Kid from “Dazed and Confused”)
Geoff Jenkins (Brett Favre)
Alex Gonzalez (Drake)
Mark DeRosa (Ben Affleck)
The It-Would-Be-Hyperbole-If-We-Weren’t-Talking-About-Cliff-Lee Award for Bloviatorial Sportswriting
AL: Kyle Rancourt
NL: N/A (until after July 31)
Cliff Lee is like the girl you take to Prom that is completely out of your league. You don’t want Prom to end and you want to date for a long time. You know she doesn’t really like you like that, and she just thinks you guys will have a good time. So rather than worry and get upset over a future that doesn’t exist together, I’m going to soak up every minute possible and enjoy our time here and now. June 25
CLIFF LEE’S CURRENT STRIKEOUT-TO-WALK RATIO IS 19. What do you even do with a statistic like that? I feel like it’s made up. Like, if I were playing MLB 2K10 for my Xbox, I still probably couldn’t achieve that statistic. Mind-boggling doesn’t even begin to describe how Cliff Lee is pitching this season. We knew he’d be good. We didn’t know he’d be the best pitcher in baseball. And let me assure you, right now, Cliff Lee is the best pitcher in baseball. June 24
Cliff Lee is really, really good. Like really, really, really good. We knew that when we got him this past off-season, we’d be in for a treat. He has completely surpassed and shattered any expectation I had set for him. June 8
Most Likely Recipient of a Suspicious Package (aka “The Brady Anderson”)
AL: Jose Bautista, Toronto
NL: David Wright, New York
I never hesitate to accuse a New York Met of cheating. And while I can’t prove that David Wright has indeed gone the way of the Caminiti, circumstantial evidence certainly backs me up. After four straight seasons of 26+ home runs, his power numbers plummeted upon New York’s move to the cavernous Citi Field. Last season, Wright posted an emasculating one homer per 53.5 at-bats. He’s cut that figure down to 22 thanks to Mexican pharmaceuticals and a shipment of “flaxseed oil” marked “from Barry” renewed determination and offseason workouts. Committing himself to a similar routine, Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista made the impressive leap from 28-year-old unknown with 59 career home runs to 29-year-old All-Star with league-best 21 home runs. And you thought the A-cupped Scarlett Johansson was a late bloomer.
AL: Andruw Jones, Chicago
NL: Barry Zito, San FranciscoBoth guys got off to a hot start after you snagged them off waivers in your fantasy league 15 days into the season. You looked like a RotoWorld genius for three weeks. You turned down all kinds of kitchen-sink trades because, you know, this improbable comeback would last until at least August. Wrong. Andruw Jones had 9 HR, 17 RBI and 1.017 OPS on May 10. Two months later, he’s up to 10 and 22, and – in unfortunate turn of events – his OPS tried to jump off a cliff thinking it could fly (.721).
I wrote many good things about Andruw Jones, but nothing as brazenly optimistic as the Zito-inspired following:
He’s got his stuff back, plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and appears to be settling nicely into his preferred role as THE guy behind two other THE guys. He’s still young and it’s not like his success depends on finger-crippling velocity. I see no reason he can’t keep this up provided he keeps his head straight.
Yes, I too was roped in by Zito’s dashing good looks, delicate way with a folk guitar, and 5-0/1.49 ERA start. Well he’s won two games since mid-May and his inflated June/July splits look like something you’d find on a David Duval scorecard. Lots of crooked numbers – 24 earned in 43 innings since June 1.
AL: Mike Gonzalez, Baltimore
NL: Nate McLouth, Atlanta
I’m sticking close to home with this one. Both of these fine individuals played for the Braves last season and both have Big League shelf lives of approximately 18 more months. Atlanta’s McLouth, a Frank Wren acquisition, was hitting a feeble .176 with 3 HR in 170 AB before succumbing to “concussion-like symptons” (read: inability to play baseball) on June 10. Orioles’ free agent pickup Gonzalez lasted two innings before moving back to his home-away-from-home, the DL, in April. He’ll return to Baltimore after his stint in Double-A rehab, which means his current going rate of $1 million per out will likely fall. People think Gonzalez earned his “Cobra” nickname because of his pre-delivery sway. Truth is he’s just snakebitten.
Biggest Flubbed Birth Certificate
Combined AL/NL: Boof Bonser, Oakland
Making a late charge, Bonser qualified for voting when the A’s signed him to minor league deal four days ago. Note to parents: this is what happens when you drop acid in the delivery room… “Boof.”
The Subway “I Can’t Believe He’s A Professional Athlete” Fresh Take Medal of Honor
AL: CC Sabathia, New York
NL: Livan Hernandez, WashingtonUntil October… – Robbie