Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jim Tracy Wins Manager of the Year Award In No-Brainer Decision

With all due respect to the Cardinals Tony LaRussa, the National League Manager of the Year award was the easiest in the bunch. On Wednesday, Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy was announced as the winner of the prestigious honor.

A week after walking away being told that their gloves are simply made of leather and not gold, the Colorado Rockies were finally recognized on Wednesday for their spectacular season.

The choice was easy, Tracy took over for the fired Clint Hurdle on May 29th. The Rockies were 10 games under .500 and already 15 games out of first place in the National League West race. At that point their 18-28 record was second worst in baseball, only better than the Washington Nationals.

Tracy's impact was felt immediately. The Rockies started playing better, winning 17-out of-21 games to start the climb back to respectability and ultimately, the playoffs. It was evident that much of the Rockies early season failures were due to players pressing on the field, knowing that their manager, and close friend, Clint Hurdle's job was on the line.

Hurdle had done a fine job in his time with the Rockies. Despite an overall losing record, 534-625, Hurdle had been the captain of the ship as the Rockies decided to build from within. He was the leader who helped young players find their way in the big leagues. His greatest success came in 2007 when he convinced a very young team that they were good enough to ploy their way back into contention in September and steam roll to the franchise's first pennant.

Hurdle's greatest strength was also his greatest weakness. The young athletes eventually matured into veteran baseball players and no longer looked to Hurdle for how to conduct themselves, or what approach to take at the plate. Hurdle's boisterous personality had grown old in the clubhouse.

In stepped Tracy, a cast off from both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2009 he was, in every single way, the opposite of Hurdle.

Tracy rarely is seen in the clubhouse. He gave the reins over to the team veterans and leaders. His attention to detail could not go unnoticed. Where Hurdle would manage with his heart, often playing the hot-hand, Tracy managed by the book. This created stability in the bullpen and allowed relief pitchers to know their roll and prepare accordingly.

Hurdle was known for rewarding veterans for what they had done in the past. Quickly Tracy dumped that practice, sitting struggling and out of shape third baseman Garrett Atkins on the bench and planting up-and-coming slugger Ian Stewart in the lineup every day.

Tracy also made an important change with the starting pitchers. No longer was 100 pitches the benchmark. In the Hurdle era it was rare for a pitcher to go more than six innings due to his pitch count. With Tracy, a starter would often throw 120 or more pitches in a game. This led to the bullpen being more fresh, and also more consistently only having to bridge a one or two inning gap before turning the game over to closer Huston Street.

Under Tracy's guidance, the 2009 Colorado Rockies went 74-42, helping the team win a franchise record 92 games. The Rockies were not eliminated from winning the division until the second to last day of the season, a remarkable statement after being 15 games behind in early June.

While Tony La Russa helped his Cardinals to a division title when everyone picked the Cubs in April, no one did a better job of leading his team than Jim Tracy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gold Glove Awards Are A Joke, Hurt Baseball

Name the best shortstop to ever wear a Rockies uniform. The names are deep, but the talent is shallow. Anyone who watches baseball and has paid any attention to the Colorado Rockies knows that their is no argument for who has been the best at the shortstop position in the 17 years of Rockies baseball. Troy Tulowitzki.

With all due respect to Walt Weiss, Tulowitzki has redefined what playing the position means. His range helps him field more balls than any other shortstop in the game, yet despite having more chances, he also had just nine errors. So how will history look back on the first 17 years of Rockies baseball? The only Gold Glove shortstop to don purple pinstripes...none other than Neifi Perez.

Gold Gloves are widely regarded as meaningless around baseball. In fact, Rafael Palmeiro once won the award at first base after being the Rangers designated hitter, playing less than 50 games at the position. Unlike MVP awards and Rookie of the Year awards, Gold Gloves are voted on by the managers and coaches. Despite getting rave reviews from opposing managers, Tulowitzki failed to make the cut, losing out for the second time in three years to Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins.

The problem is not that Tulowitzki is disrespected around the league. It is not that his skills are under appreciated. Anyone in baseball knows that defense at shortstop does not get any better than Tulo's. So if he doesn't win the award, who cares? Everyone knows he is great.

The problem is that despite Tulowitzki being highly regarded around the league as a phenomenal shortstop, time kills all memories. When history looks back on the 25 year old it will not sing praises about his defense. He will be just another also-ran. No big deal for a player who has no dreams of being enshrined in Cooperstown, or even landing a large free agent contract. But to a player of Tulowitzki's ilk, not winning the Gold Glove has severe ramifications.

Baseball continually fights the famous "east coast bias." Teams from small markets like Kansas City, St. Louis and Colorado feel that half of the shows that highlight baseball games are devoted to the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox. Good players suddenly become great players when they put on Yankee pinstripes. For evidence, look no further than Johnny Damon. Make no mistake, Damon is a very good hitter. However, the rest of his game is very lacking. There are little league baseball players who have a better shot at throwing a runner out at the plate than Damon.

Suddenly, however, Damon is signed by the Yankees for $10 million per year and he is talked about as a great player.

Baseball players are very smart, and their agents are even smarter. When an agent has a player of Tulowitzki or Matt Holliday's calibur they know that they will not only be able to recieve larger inital contracts from larger market teams, but they will also be able to get a higher contract the next time around due to the fact that the player is more likely to win awards like the Gold Glove, which is a great term to throw around during contract negotiations.

If Todd Helton would never have signed his long-term deal before the 2000 season, there is no telling how many Gold Gloves the lefty would have on his mantle. Despite statistics showing that number 17 has scooped more balls than any first baseman in baseball, all the while only committing three errors, Helton is five years removed from a Gold Glove.

Parity is a word that baseball is far removed from. Many people scream for a salary cap or for revenue sharing. However, the answer may be more simple than that. Baseball needs to quit worshipping the teams that play out east and acknowledge that there is some pretty good baseball being played west of the Mississippi River. When that happens players may actually want to stay in towns like Kansas City or Denver rather than seeking acknowledgement for their play and heading to a team that gets recognition.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tim Lincecum Busted For Marijuana; Reminds Rockies Fans What They Have

It is well known around the league and amongst baseball fans that the Colorado Rockies look at more than just talent when they draft, sign or trade for a player. They are very intent on bringing in players who have a high level of character.

The Rockies often take heat for this practice. Many fans wish that the team would be better on the field if they would sign players with personal lives that sometimes found their way into the tabloids. Even to a smaller degree, fans often complain that the Rockies should not be so concerned with how well a player will add to the chemistry of the clubhouse.

There is no denying that employing only players with high character eliminates a large pool of talent in Major League Baseball. The Rockies have undoubtedly had opportunities to ignore off-the-field issues and simply sign a talented player.

The argument to make the team as good as possible is valid, and to the average fan, the best possible team on the field is all that matters, Rockies fans should appreciate what they have at Coors Field.

On Thursday Tim Lincecum,the reigning Cy Young winner and San Francisco Giants ace, as reported by the Columbian in Vancouver, Washington, was cited for possession of marijuana after being pulled over for speeding on Interstate 5 just north of Portland, OR.

The report stated that when the police officer approached Lincecum's Mercedes he instantly smelled the drug. While Lincecum was cooperative with the cop, the crime had already been committed.

Lincecum's crime was nothing that is out of the ordinary. The debate rages on in America that pot should be legalized and the case can be made that alcohol is more dangerous than the drug. The 25 year-old pitcher was doing nothing more than a large percentage of his fellow Americans take part in every day.

Lincecum, however, is not the average American.

The average American cannot throw a fastball in the upper-90's and dominate a Major League lineup every five days. The average American does not have the opportunity to make a phenomenal living playing a game that kids play. It would be a huge mistake to suggest that Major League Baseball players do not work hard. However, a Major League Baseball player also has the ability to do something that most Americans do not have the option of ever saying, that they love what they do for a living.

The question begs to be asked when these athletes are going to learn. Lincecum is on the verge of his first arbitration-eligible offseason. He very well could end up winning his second consecutive Cy Young award, something that will only add more digits to the amount of money that will be awarded to the righty in arbitration.

Lincecum is essentially guaranteed, at 25 years old, that if he manages his money properly, that he will have a comfortable living for the rest of his life. Why would someone do anything that would risk an opportunity like Lincecum has at his resting on his right shoulder?

The Giants have been plagued with selfish players. From Jeff Kent to Lincecum, with Barry Bonds in the middle, this team seems to always have players who embarrass the team with their selfish actions.

The Rockies, on the other hand, field a team with players that can be looked up to. Last offseason, reliever Luis Vizcaino was arrested in Tampa, FL for driving under the influence. He was promptly traded to the Chicago Cubs. Before Vizcaino, pitcher Denny Neagle was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. He was released from the team less than a week later. Before that, Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio was in legal trouble for a dispute with his girlfriend, and that was before Dan O'Dowd took the reins.

Families can go to Rockies games and watch them on TV without parents hoping that their child will not go away from the game with a new hero who does not live up to the moral standard of that family. While Charles Barkley may not want to admit that professional athletes are role models, the fact of the matter is, kids look up to them and model their lives after the athletes. It is nice to have a team that plays in Denver who has a locker room full of character, rather than selfishness.