The MLB All-Caveman TeamSince Adam Wainwright got shelled up in Toronto, I don't get to blog about the Cardinals strong pitching and how they swept the Blue Jays. And incidentally, the league needs to send Tony Randazzo a little memo reminding him that home plate is only 17 inches wide - not 3 feet as he appeared to give Brandon Morrow. But I understand his incompetence - he's from Chicago so he grew up watching poorly played baseball. Also, Randazzo looks like a meathead, which must mean something. As an ex-baseball player himself, had he made the majors he might have made the MLB All-Caveman Team!
This is a list of some of THN's favorite Neanderthals, both past and present. Pitchers who screamed battle cries from the mound, hitters who would have looked more comfortable swinging tree trunks at the plate, all with plenty of gnarly hair over their face and chest (and we presume, their back).
RHP - Pete Vuckovich - Any pitcher that can play a terrifying Yankee slugger in a movie is nothing if not imposing. He was much scarier as a Brewer than a Cardinal. That's probably why the Redbirds traded him - not cuddly enough.
LHP - Randy Johnson - After he killed a poor bird in spring training with a 95-mph heater, rumor is he ate it for lunch.
Relief - Rod Beck - One of the most colorful personalities to grace the diamond. Stories of his exploits in the minor leagues after his major league career was over are legendary with local fans.
OF - John Kruk - It's doubtful there has ever been a worse physical specimen squeezed into tight baseball polyester. Also makes sense he couldn't stick in San Diego, but was adored in Philadelphia.
OF - Colby Rasmus - A young knuckle-dragger in training, he's a mouth-breather through and through, but some of the deadliest warriors are like that. They look innocent, you lower your defense and them BOOM - they strike.
OF - Jay Buhner - Bald-headed and crushing 40 homers a year using the most intimidating batting stance in baseball history: he held the bat directly in front of himself as if about to enter a gang fight. He dared the pitcher to throw a fastball, and then pulling the bat BACK and THEN swinging, would connect, sending the ball into orbit. Awesome.
SS - Gary Gaetti - For some reason, the vast majority of shortstops throughout history have been excellent athletes, good-looking, more or less stars on their teams. So it was hard to find a true caveman, but luckily Gaetti logged some time at short, and for a guy that played into the 90s, none were more "old school" than him.
3B - Dave Kingman - One of the most feared sluggers of the 70s and 80s both on and off the field. The only thing that could make the guy smile was seeing sports writers tortured, but fortunately for them, it was the 20th Century - not the 5th.
2B - Jeff Kent - Few players combined such extremely high talent with amazing ambivalence to what they did for a living, and that kind of attitude toward something 99.9% of the population would consider a dream come true, is quite scary. Plus he was a jerk.
1B - Adam Dunn - Dunn is the ultimate barbarian the clan sends to the plate with the game on the line. The pitcher is too busy watching the way his 6'7" frame is blocking out the sun to focus on throwing the ball properly.
C - Darrell Porter - The MVP of the Cardinals' 1982 World Series victory, he literally looked like Quasimodo at the plate, hunched over, almost crippled - until he unleashed his wicked swing. The man was nails, cold-blooded when it counted, like any good warrior.
Well that was cathartic. So let's savagely sink our teeth into...
The Hard Nine
1. Towers of Power - For the first time in a while the Cardinals have three regular outfielders who are a threat to go deep. With Matt Holliday's recent power surge, each member of our current trio is on pace for 25+ home runs: Colby Rasmus (34), Ryan Ludwick (25) and Holliday (26). Holliday, until very recently, was on pace for just 15 dingers. The last time the Cardinals had three outfielders all finish with 25+ homers was 1998 when Ron Gant (26), Ray Lankford (31) and Brian Jordan (25) brought the thunder, which, with just a little help from Mark McGwire's 70 homers, led the NL in big flies. Too bad our pitching was as bad as our slugging was good that year. CBSsports.com currently shows the Cards' outfield rated 2nd in the majors to the Texas Rangers' thumpers.
In fact, since 1985 the Cardinals have had just five seasons where even TWO outfielders hit 25+ homers in the same season with Jim Edmonds factoring in three of those five seasons. With Holliday locked up for a very...long...time and Colby Rasmus still pre-arbitration, if we can sign Ludwick to a reasonable multi-year deal, we could be set for a long time, which is fairly critical since we don't have any impact outfielders in the minors at the moment.
2. Not So Lone Ranger - Speaking of the Rangers, Josh Hamilton was one of the most inspiring stories of the 2008 season. After a long journey back from substance abuse and finding peace as a born-again Christian, Hamilton had a successful comeback season with the Reds in 2007. He was then traded to Texas for promising pitcher Edison Volquez. Hamilton promptly became an All-Star with Texas in 2008 with a season that was highlighted by an incredible power display in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby that left everyone in awe. But 2009 was not so kind and while battling injuries and some off-field regression, Hamilton hit only 10 home runs.
Happily, (excluding the Rangers' opponents in the AL West, of course) Hamilton has rebounded with his best season yet, hitting .339 with 17 home runs so far. But more importantly, he's serious about his new life. Josh doesn't go out alone. He stays at home with the family during home game stretches and hangs out with his mentor, Johnny Narron, on the road at all times. He never has more than $10 on him. That's humility. It's a joy to cheer about things greater than baseball - like a changed life.
3. Yadi! Yadi! Ya...Oh Nevermind - Um yeah, so I've stopped with the Yadi 100-RBI pace updates, if you haven't noticed. Yadier Molina hasn't simply hit the wall - the wall seems to have snuck up on him and knocked the snot out of him upside the head with a two-by-four. Get this man a medic!
His average is down to .242, his lowest since 2006 when he batted .216. And what is really discouraging is how completely disinterested he looks at the plate. Chris Carpenter is giving a better effort at the dish and that's not saying much. After giving us batting averages of .275, .304, and .293 the last three seasons, it certainly seemed like Yadi had "figured it out". I don't think he's regressing, technically. I just think he's beat up - I've seen him take some nasty pitches off the body this year and those things add up. I really hope he doesn't make the All-Star team. He needs a break.
4. He Must REALLY Like Football - I do not come to bury Steve Smith, but to praise him. We've heard plenty of freak injury stories that have befallen professional athletes over the years. A lot of the times the accident leads to lies, a cover-up, and finally the embarrassing truth. The St. Louis Blues' own star defenseman Erik Johnson lost his entire sophomore season to a golf cart knee injury. Players ride motorcycles without helmets. They cut themselves with hunting knife birthday presents (yeah, Mike Matheny wasn't an All-Star, but that one STILL hurts us Card fans).
But at least Steve Smith hurt himself actually playing flag football. He was apologetic, but defiant: "I wish I could take it back," Smith said. "But I am a regular guy outside of football. I mow my grass, too. I can get my finger chopped off fixing my lawnmower. I could roll my ankle playing tag or slip-n-slide with my kids. In hindsight, yeah, I won't do it again. But I was just having fun, playing with some guys."
And yeah, that's a huge loss for Smith, personally, and for the Carolina Panthers organization and the fans, but for a while, how cool was it for those "other guys" to get to play football with a Pro Bowler? Forget the autograph, wanna play catch, Albert? Uh, was that your elbow that just popped??
5. Protecting the World's Jewels Since 1930 - Dear World: we get it. You dislike us evil, greedy, lazy, overweight, spoiled Americans. That's fine. But there are still things we really suck at and soccer is one of them. So if we score a legitimate goal, can you at least feign impartiality and allow the goal to count? I promise, we are sure not going to win the "World's Cup"...whatever that is. I'm not sure we even want to win it. Hygiene and all...
6. Stephen Strasburg's Debut Revisited - I finally took an hour this week to watch most of Stephen Strasburg's debut against the Pirates a couple weeks ago. Simply put, he has video-game-set-on-cheat-mode stuff. His high-90s fastball starts right down the middle and then runs to the corner causing lefties to flail and righties to get sawed off, assuming they even make contact. And this is what's really sick: his change up is 90-mph. Ninety-miles per hour change up. What a laugh. His change up smokes probably 50% of the veteran fastballs in the majors right now. But the difference between 90 and 99 is lethal. You swing to hit 99, you won't hit a ball coming in at 90 and vice versa. And the icing on the cake is his circus breaking ball that drops down an in to lefties - he can throw it for strikes or down out of the zone like a splitter. Curt Schilling knows a few things about stuff and he says he's never seen anything like what Strasburg can do. Like I said, I'm really looking forward to this young man setting the single-game strikeout record against us and whadayaknow - the Cards are in D.C. for a four-game set starting August 26th.
7. My Slumping AL Teams - I don't think any baseball fan over the age of six thought the Tampa Bay Rays were going to lead the AL East wire-to-wire and they can officially be re-classified as underdogs again. They are just a half game out of third place and both the Yankees and Red Sox are streaking by. The Twins were solid favorites in the AL Central but the resurgent Tigers are not laying down as they are just 1 1/2 games back and are 7-3 over their last 10 while Minnesota is 4-6. The Twins main problems? Like most teams, inconsistent offence is to blame. But the back end of the rotation has been mediocre, further complicating things - Kevin Slowey (4.58), Scott Baker (4.61) and Nick Blackburn (5.80)? Eeesh. Cliff Lee, anyone?
8. Step Right Up and Wreck Your Season! - Something has to be done about the All-Star Home Run Derby - namely, dropping it, forevermore. PLEASE, MLB: NO ONE CARES. A great majority of ballplayers who have participated in the derby have had bad second halves of the season and/or a down year entirely the next season. Many articles have been written about it already. The players are wising up. Albert seemed terribly gassed the second half of 2009 and had a big power outage. Jim Edmonds removed all guesswork by getting injured DURING the derby in 2005. More and more sluggers are bowing out. I'd rather see Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome and Barry Bonds have a "Bring Back the Juice!" home run derby promotion. Now THAT would create some interest.
9. Vogon Poetry or Watching the Cardinals Hit - I told my wife that it was a very, VERY good thing that I didn't watch the Cardinals' 1-0 win over the Blue Jays last night. Only after the game was over did I realize that Chris Carpenter got the well-earned win when the Cards scored in the top of the NINTH. Nothing like waiting to the last minute, boys! I'm sure I would have had to go to drastic measures to keep from spontaneously combusting had I watched the game live - the Cards left 11 men on base. Last night, at least, the culprits were Colby Rasmus and David Freese (two guys who have been positive contributors for the most part) instead of the usual suspects, Pujols and Holliday. Of course, the Cards got shutout completely tonight. Time to gnaw off a leg to maintain my sanity.