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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ante Up

“There’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”
~ ‘The Babe,’ in The Sandlot

Only ten years into his career, Albert Pujols is on pace to write his own record book. The legend of Pujols is of mythical proportions, as Ruth and Gehrig are remembered. If able to maintain longevity and consistent production, surpassing 800 career home runs is a realistic milestone. He is the best hitter in baseball, and he will have the opportunity to establish himself as the greatest baseball player of all-time.

Following the 2011 baseball season, Pujols will have the opportunity to file for free agency. To eliminate distraction throughout the season, Pujols set a deadline to negotiate with his current team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Sources close to the situation have sited that he is seeking a contract worth $300 million over the length of 10 years. That deadline was yesterday, the day before he was to arrive at spring training. Result: The best hitter in baseball, is prepared to be released into the free market.

The amount of money professional athletes are paid is stupid. Our nation’s teachers deserve to be over-compensated and treated with such dignity. The men and women who serve and protect our country have earned the right to be over-compensated and celebrated with such honor. But we don’t live in a perfect society, where right is right and the justifiable is rewarded.

Whether we like it or not, professional athletes will continue to be paid exuberantly ridiculous salaries, for playing a game. But don’t sit there and say, “I would play for nothing!” No you wouldn’t. “But I would play for the love of the game! It’s not about the money!” No you wouldn’t, and yes it is. The greedy, unappreciative society, that has been cultivated throughout our lives, would not permit such a notion; so stop it.

Do not fault Pujols, or any of the preceding athletes that have sought unimaginable wealth during their careers. Why shouldn’t they seek the riches available to them? If someone was willing and ready to pay you an annual salary of $30 million for your service, would you turn them down? As a result of the owners willing to pay such large salaries, it has set an unfortunate precedent going forward. It will never change.

The Cardinals are doing their best to appear poised and prepared for life after Pujols. They’re not fooling anyone. They are terrified of the thought of losing him, for the backlash from their fan base, the depreciation of value of their franchise and the product on the field. Imagine hearing the PA announcer on opening day next season…“Playing first base, #5, Adam LaRoche!” It will be the equivalent of LeBron James leaving
Cleveland. It would be a nightmare for this proud organization and wonderful baseball city.

Somebody will pay Pujols what he wants, and deserves (comparatively speaking with other players). Sources have sited that the Cardinals division rival, Chicago Cubs, would be a major player for Pujols’ service. They have the money, and their fans would erect a statue in his honor before they even played a game. The Washington Nationals are an interesting team, as they too have been rumored to be interested in entering the free-agency sweepstakes this off-season. If they were able to obtain Pujols to join Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper on the way, the Nationals would be a preliminary favorite for years to come.

But I foresee Pujols re-signing with the Cardinals. The organization will stop posturing and pay the man his money. They have no other choice, unless they’re serious about trading for Adam LaRoche, who ironically is currently the Nationals first baseman. Money is not the issue. On paper, it would appear to be a bad baseball move because his contract alone would seize about 30% of the Cardinals payroll. It not only would be a bad baseball move not to re-sign him (because they have no other options), but it would be a bad business move as well. And the Cardinals know that, as does Pujols.

So in advance, I would like to congratulate Albert on acquiring the richest contact in baseball history. Well done.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Fresh Start

Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil predicted, it is officially spring time! Baseball is back and over the next couple days, pitchers and catchers will report to spring training. This is an exciting time throughout the baseball world, as every team and player, starts with a clean slate. No one has given up a walk-off home run or struck out to end the game. Nobody has been picked off first base or failed to pick up a sign, ending an 8th inning rally. At this moment, the grass has never been greener, and there is no other time during the season with as much hope and optimism. Everyone believes (yes, even the Cleveland Indians), that this is their year!

As pitchers and catchers report, there are many questions to be answered throughout the coming month and a half. Below, I answer a couple of the burning questions regarding the pitching that will most definitely heat up the Grapefruit League and Cactus League:

Will the youth movement in Cincinnati continue to progress?

I am weary about Mike Leake and Travis Wood. They threw a lot of pitches last year in a lot of innings. In the era of babying pitchers, restricting them to strict pitch counts and over analyzing every detail, these guys are not prepared to for such a heavy workload. Anticipate a downswing in their performance, but the slack will be picked up by Edinson Volquez. Volquez is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and we saw signs of his electric stuff return last year. But nobody compares (stuff wise), to the “Cuban Missile,” Aroldis Chapman. If able to stay healthy, even with his violent mechanics, he has a chance to be special.

Why the Brewers are the sexy pick this year?

Zach Greinke. Despite winning the Cy Young Award for a last place team in 2009, Greinke is a relatively unknown. Having the opportunity to pitch in a pennant race will provide everyone the chance to witness such a fantastic talent. Yovani Gallardo is also a really good young pitcher, giving the Brew Crew a legitimate chance to compete in the NL Central. John Axford will need to step up, and fill the void left by future Hall of Famer, Trevor Hoffman.

Can the Giants staff duplicate their 2010 performance, compensating for an anemic offense?

Absolutely. Living on the East coast, I never truly appreciated how good Matt Cain is. Also being overshadowed by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, he’s always taken the backseat to “The Freak.” I predict Cain will be the 2011 Cy Young Award winner. Am I getting caught up in the moment? I don’t think so. From what I saw throughout the playoffs, Cain possesses an overpowering fastball with north to south movement, with an arsenal of wrinkles. I do question Madison Bumgarner though. He is young and full of potential, but his mechanics are unpredictable and often not in sync. He must harness his adrenaline and focus on each pitch, or else it could be an up and down year for the big lefty. And note to Brian Wilson…you’re not funny. Give the whole “crazy closer” character a rest.

Will the Phillies live up to the hype, as the greatest rotation ever constructed?

Nope. Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball, and he will get his 20-24 wins, but I’m not drinking the cool-aid. Am I bitter about my Yankees losing out on Cliff Lee? Of course; have you seen their rotation? Lee is a really good pitcher, and I don't want him pitching against the Yankees, but the length of the proposed contact and the exuberant amount of money for a pitcher at his age was ridiculous. Lee has a poor track record of nagging injuries throughout his career, and was inconsistent last year. Cole Hamels has and will continue to underachieve following his strong performance in the 2008 World Series. I admire Roy Oswalt for his bulldog demeanor on the mound, constantly battling hitters, but father time is not on his side. Both he and Lee will gut out some wins but will this rotation be the equivalent to the second coming? Don’t hold your breath. Expect a strong year from closer Brad Lidge. He has struggled with injuries and confidence, but with all of the attention on the “Big Four,” he’ll be able to go out there and just pitch.

Can Chicago reach baseball immortality?!

Sorry Cubs fans, I’m referring to the team to the south. But don’t be down Cubbies, you guys are improving…but not this year. The White Sox pitchers will give up some runs, but they’ll be backed up with possibly the most feared lineup in baseball. Because of that, they’ll be more confident, knowing that if they do give up 3-5 runs, they’re still in it. Jake Peavy is returning from a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right posterior shoulder. In layman’s terms, it’s not good. No pitcher has ever returned, nevertheless attempted to return from such a devastating injury. He must breakdown his mechanics and start over. The trauma endured on Peavy’s shoulder may be too much to overcome, but Edwin Jackson improved and as Mark Buehrle is the constant professional; expect solid seasons from both men. First round draft pick Chris Sale will also be a major contributor, stepping in as the closer for overrated and often injured Bobby Jenks. If he falters, Matt Thornton is more than capable to fill-in if necessary.

Paging Nolan Ryan…please report to Rangers Ballpark…

After losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies, the Rangers need help. Lee was the catalyst of the Rangers run to the World Series. With the young Athletics improving, and the Angels a constant factor in the AL West, reality will kick in, as Texas will stumble without a bonafide ace on the staff. Lefty CJ Wilson has tremendous stuff, and has the most potential of their pitchers. The manner in which he pitches with a big looping breaking ball and cut on his fastball, is similar to Lee. After Wilson, the remainder of the staff is a collection of back of the rotation fillers. Texas should leave Neftali Feliz in the bullpen. He was phenomenal last season, and by losing him to the rotation would leave a gaping hole in the 9th inning. But because of the current rotations weaknesses and limitations, the Rangers might feel it’s necessary for Feliz to start.

Will the new look offense compensate for Boston’s meager starting pitching?

Similar to the White Sox, Boston is going to put runs on the board. They’ll bail out the starting pitching more times than not, but in the ultra-competitive AL East, they’re going to need the staff to step up. Clay Bucholz shows glimpse of what General Manager Theo Epstein has envisioned by rejecting several trade offers for the young righty. After throwing a no-hitter in his rookie year, Bucholz has struggled with injuries and mental problems. If he’s able to straddle the rubber every five days, and get out of his own head, he’ll secure himself a spot on the All-Star team. Jon Lester is a warrior on and off the field. His potential has peaked, but he still is a very good pitcher. After that, it’s all fluff. Josh Beckett is the most overrated and overpaid player in baseball. Both he and John Lackey will try to intimidate hitters, but it’s not realistic at this point in their careers. The $50 million burned to just negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka is comical. After the Marlins are eliminated from contention in June, look for Boston to go after Josh Johnson. Their bullpen is still very shaky. Daniel Bard is a stud, and he’s being wasted as the 7th inning bridge to Bobby Jenks and Jonathon Papelbon. Jenks was a waste of money and they should have traded Papelbon for a 23rd round draft pick while they had the chance.

Open auditions to be held at George M. Steinbrenner Field…

I will be heading down to Tampa, Florida to tryout for the Yankees rotation. Why not? They don’t have anyone else. Sure they have CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, whom both will perform at an elite level, but that’s it. After being rejected by Cliff Lee, turning down a ridiculous amount of money and future Hall of Famer Andy Pettitte retired, New York went to a garage sale and found worthless crap that nobody wants; Bartolo Colon was working at a McDonalds (and you thought he was fat while he played), Mark Prior, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, and Freddy “Put Your Infield to Sleep” Garcia couldn’t find a job until the desperate Yankees came calling. Instead of hoping for a miracle, Manager Joe Giradi should consider a young movement. I know that’s unheard of in New York, but they don’t have any other realistic options. It’s time for first round giant Andrew Brackman (listed at 6’10”) to emerge as the guy. Keep an eye out for Adam Warren; Warren is the most complete pitcher in the Yankees farm system, and doesn’t back down from anyone. AJ Burnett is a clown. If the Yankees are to compete for the wild card, they need him to focus and compete. His mechanics are fine; it’s all mental with Burnett. As previously mentioned, the offenses will assist with Chicago and Boston, but it’ll be the Yankees bullpen that keeps them in ballgames. By signing Raphael Soriano, New York has the best 1-2 punch in baseball. Mariano Rivera, at 41 years young, is still the best closer in baseball. The Yankees will also be pursuing the Marlins Josh Johnson, as they will need to acquire someone if they are interested in competing this year. To make this feasible and realistic, New York needs Joba Chamberlain to improve, as he will be a significant trading piece.

Throughout the next month and a half of spring training, I will be dissecting each division going into the 2011 baseball season. Each blog will include an in-depth synopsis of each team, and whom I predict to advance to the playoffs. On the day of opening night, when the defending Champion San Francisco Giants face their archrival, Los Angeles Dodgers, I will make my World Series prediction.

To all baseball fans throughout the world, Happy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day! And thank God for baseball!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Eternal Connection

My uncle Carl took me to Fenway Park, introducing me to the game of baseball. I got lost in the game, the ballpark, the people, the color, the sounds, the smells. But then he got cancer and died. It’s a passion. It’s a very, very big part of my life. Sometimes I like to be 11 years old. I like being part of something that's bigger than me...than I. Its good for your soul to invest in something you cant control.

The quote above is from a Boston Red Sox themed film, Fever Pitch, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. And yes, this is the movie that features the colossal catastrophe of 2004, when Boston overcame a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS to win four straight games to eliminate the New York Yankees and eventually win the World Series. Anyways…In this specific scene, referred to as “Really Big Fan,” Fallon explains why he is such a huge Red Sox fan.

But Rob, you HATE the Boston Red Sox! You DESPISE their being and presence on earth! What does this have to do with anything?!

True, very true, but I can relate to this quote in a manner that is much, much more significant to me than any rivalry.

January 27, 1997, I lost my best friend. My grandpa, Robert Louis Demirjian (known as Bob to his many friends and family), passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. He was 69 years young. The name of my blog, Oh It’s You Rob, was inspired by my grandpa; the license plate on his red 1964 ½ Mustang convertible read, ‘Oh It’s You Bob’. We did so many fun things together when my family and I visited him and my grandma in Wilmington, North Carolina; he really was the greatest, most fun grandpa of all-time. But one aspect of our relationship is still, a very, very big part of my life. We shared a love that was much more than anything else in the world….the New York Yankees.

Each morning, I would wake up before sun rise with grandpa before anyone else. After helping him walk his dog and prepare my grandma’s breakfast, we would read the sports section of the newspaper. He taught me how to read a baseball box score, as we recapped the Yankees game from the night before; we would use an oversized magnified glass to read the tiny print and memorize every statistic. At that breakfast table, we had such passionate discussions and debates about our team, i.e. whom they should trade for, or which player should be playing over another, or what they need to do to win. If my grandpa was here today, he’d be infuriated with the current state of the organization. I can hear him now, “What the hell are they doing?! Cashman (the general manager) is a bum!”

In October of 1996, from 683 miles apart, we shared our first World Series Championship together, as the Yankees dethroned the Atlanta Braves in six memorable games. Following two dominating outings from future Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Greg Maddox, I was distraught with the Yankees performance. My grandpa called me the following day to discuss the first two games of the series. Calmly he said, “Robert, they gotta beat us four times. It’s going to be okay...I promise.” The Yankees would go on to win four straight games in exciting, dramatic fashion to clinch their first World Series title in 18 long and agonizing years. As Mark Lemke popped up a final offering from John Wetteland, and that last out was secure in Charlie Hayes’ glove, the phone rang; it was my grandpa. We had our championship.

Despite the championship drought of the 80s, I assumed we would share many more World Series moments together. I’ve never told anyone this, but the night before my family and I were to travel back to New York after spending Christmas with my grandparents, just weeks before he would pass away, I played cards with grandpa and his good friend, Nick. I asked the two men, “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” Nick said, “Win the lottery!” Finishing his deal, my grandpa said, “I hope to live to year 2000. I want to watch you grow up and play baseball.” My grandpa never got to watch me play baseball, but I know he was always with me. Every time I put on my uniform and ran onto the field, I did my best to make him proud.

To honor his legacy, I will continue to carry on our name with pride. I will always be there for my family, working tirelessly to ensure that they are happy and healthy. I will continue to have the spirit of an 11 year old, rooting for our New York Yankees. I to, like being part of something that’s bigger than me…than I. And it is good for your soul to invest in something you can’t control! My love for the New York Yankees is so much more than baseball. It’s an eternal connection that I have with my grandpa that will never die.

Life is so very short and there is no guarantee for tomorrow. Every moment we have together, we must treasure it as if it’s our last. It is truly a gift.
If my grandpa leaves us with anything, it is that I hope everyone has something so special to them, that words can not describe how you feel. Whether it’s a sports team, or an activity, do it with passion! Act like a fool and scream at the players on TV! Paint a masterpiece or read the Harry Potter collection better than anyone else! Regardless, always have fun and live in the moment. The time is now.

I know my grandpa and my dad’s father (whom I never had the opportunity to meet), have become great friends, as they watch over their children and grandchildren. I know my grandpa's been hanging out with Phil Rizzuto and Joe Dimaggio, driving his beloved Mustang around heaven. After a round of golf with Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson, they reminisce about the glory days and trade stories over a N.Y. strip and a cold beer, later meeting up with Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin for a nightcap. Have fun boys!

Grandpa, you are my best friend. I miss you like crazy and I love you. GO YANKEES!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"The" Ohio State joke

The conduct of the NCAA and its universities is a shady business indeed. We all know this and nobody expects this circumstance to change anytime soon. We expect rules infractions. The way in which the NCAA manages breaches of compliance and conduct is ludicrous. Corrupt practices are truly dishonorable. Today, we focus on the end of honor and dignity in Columbus, Ohio.

Recently, five Ohio State University football players were suspended by the NCAA. No, not for the BCS Sugar Bowl tonight, but for five games most notably
next season!

The players to be suspended are significant contributors for the overrated Buckeyes, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, leading rusher Daniel Herron, No. 2 wide receiver DeVier Posey, All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Solomon Thomas.

Ironically, Pryor sold his
sportsmanship award from the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, along with his 2008 Big Ten championship ring. Most deplorable to Ohio State fans with common sense, is that he sold his “gold pants.” This gold charm (revered by Buckeye Nation) depicting a pair of football pants, is given to all players and coaches following a victory over the rival, University of Michigan. He must also repay $2,500 for selling the three items.

Herron must repay $1,150 for selling his football jersey, pants and shoes for $1,000 and receiving discounted services worth $150. Posey must repay $1,250 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,200 and receiving discounted services worth $50. Adams must repay $1,000 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring. Thomas must repay $1,505 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,000, his 2008 gold pants for $350 and receiving discounted services worth $155.

A sixth player, freshman linebacker Jordan Whiting, who received a discount on tattoos, must sit out the first game of the 2011 season and pay $150 to a charity.

Ohio State Athletic director Gene Smith concluded a news conference by addressing the issue with a lame joke, at a time when this is not a joking matter. “We might," he said with a smile, “hire a tattoo person and put them in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.”

Are you kidding me?

Buckeye fans are in denial, actually forgiving the players of their actions. I feel sorry for them. They really just do not comprehend the situation.

Sources close to the players stated that the reason they sold their materials were to support their families. Because of this, they had no choice, but to commit significant rules violations and receive improper benefits, while also having enough time to get inked up.


And then the NCAA did not suspend the players for the Sugar Bowl because they “did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred.”


Buckeye fans…your program is corrupt and you should be embarrassed by what’s come of your once proud institution.

Head coach Jim Tressel has built an incredible program that truly honors Ohio State traditions and history. He has instilled pride into Buckeye Nation. Tressel was once of high morals and integrity. He’s won a national championship, wins Big Ten Championships, and most importantly, he doesn’t lose to Michigan.

However, Tressel appears to be just another commoner in the NCAA trash. He has the opportunity to right the ship. He should bench the five players that committed violations and prohibit them from the stadium. In doing so, he would take a stand for his university and program.

By not allowing these players to play in the Sugar Bowl, Tressel would send a loud, prominent message to all of college football that he is a true leader and Ohio State is an elite program for more than just football. He would set himself apart from the trash by breaking away from the norm, putting right before wrong.

I don’t expect he will do so. I expected more from Coach Tressel and of “The” Ohio State University. If he allows those players to play, he will be just another lackey in the NCAA, placing monetary considerations over honor, respectability and integrity.