Sunday, May 30, 2010

Twins-Tigers Race Will Mesmerize, If You Have the Stomach

Somewhere, sometime in the history of the baseball world, it was deemed that the 4th of July holiday should be the benchmark to determine whether your team had a snowball’s chance in Hell of waving the pennant at the end of the season.

Not sure why July 4th. Why not Flag Day, June 14? Seems appropriate; the pennant is sometimes called the “flag.’

Labor Day is cheating; there’s less than a month left, so that’s hardly a step out onto the limb.

Even the All-Star Break, in mid-July, is considered less sexy as a milestone than Independence Day.

I suppose Independence Day makes sense, in a way; the goal is to be in first place, independently, when the last pitch is thrown.

So it was determined: the team leading its division on July 4th is the odds-on favorite to be leading it when all is said and done.

Somewhere, sometime this postulate was devised.

Postulates, though, have exceptions.

For in this 2010 baseball season, you won’t have to wait until July 4 to declare the following to be true.

The American League Central Division will boil down to two teams and two teams only—and neither of them are the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, or Kansas City Royals.

The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers will be duking it out all summer for Central supremacy.

This is going to be a doozy, my friend. Consider yourself warned.

The Central Division, once again, isn’t much this year. Aside from the Twins and the Tigers, the teams in it are baseball challenged. You have the Twins, the Tigers, and three also-rans. It’s like you have the Democrats and the Republicans, and then you have the Independents, the Libertarians, and in the Royals’ case, the Whigs.

If your team doesn’t play in Minneapolis or Detroit, it’s playing out the string—before Memorial Day.

But if you’re a fan of the Twins or the Tigers, hunker down.

This is going to be a tug of war of the highest magnitude. Neither team is good enough to run away and hide from the other.

Now, it must be emphasized that a proper pennant race used to be the ones that the Dodgers and the Giants played out with so much dramatic flair, back in the day.

Those weren’t pennant races, they were battles of attrition.

Whether they played in New York or in California, Dodgers-Giants was the ultimate baseball rivalry, because unlike Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants meant that every year, both of those teams were going to be good.

Starting in the 1950s and plowing through the ‘60s, Dodgers-Giants was the most consistent of all the rivalries. The Red Sox were down in many of the years when the Yankees were winning American League pennants during the same time frame—down more often than not, actually.

It all started in 1951, when the Giants came back from the dead—over 15 games back at one point—to overtake the Dodgers thanks to Bobby Thomson’s mildly dramatic home run.

These were teams who spat venom at one another. They’d almost take turns, it seemed, winning the National League. Only, you didn’t actually win the NL Pennant in those days—you leased it.

It was in the throes of yet another bitter, nasty Dodgers-Giants tussle when, in the heat of the ’65 race, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal bludgeoned Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat—cracking big John on his melon several times before being pulled away.

Now THAT’S a rivalry!

The Tigers and Twins of 2010 might not engage in such barbaric behavior, but these teams aren’t friends.

Buckle up, folks. Make sure your tray is in the upright position. This one’s going to be turbulent.

The Twins have the better offense; the Tigers have the better bullpen. The Twins have Justin Morneau; the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera. The Twins have well-respected manager Ron Gardenhire; the Tigers counter with grizzled Jim Leyland.

This race won’t be determined on talent, though. In fact, the next time these two play, they ought to eschew the game and just dump a path of burning coals from home plate to second base.

Whoever has more players willing to walk those coals, barefoot, wins the division.

Don’t laugh; that’s the kind of mentality it’s going to take to call yourselves Central Division Champions.

Really, Twins-Tigers is becoming a nice little Hatfields-McCoys thing in baseball.

It started in 2006, when the Twins came from way behind to yank the division right from under the Tigers’ noses on the last day of the season. That time, the Wild Card was there to catch the Tigers, like one of those gigantic trampolines the fire department uses.

There was a new chapter written last season, when the Twins again came from way behind to yank the division right from under the Tigers’ noses. Even the last day of the season didn’t settle the issue; a 163rd game was needed. No Wild Card to save the Tigers that time.

I hope you’re loaded up with Pepto-Bismol and bicarbonate of soda at home. Make sure you have plenty of refills on your blood pressure meds.

This Twins-Tigers thing in 2010 is going to just about kill you, I’m certain.

They’re going to be so close to each other all summer, one will know what the other had for lunch. You won’t be able to get anything thicker than a credit card between them.

It’s going to be like this from now until the end, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oh, someone will edge in front by a few games, beating their chest as the king of the hill. Then the other will yank them by the ankle and down they’ll go.

It’s going to be a back-and-forth, I got it-you take it sort of affair. Morneau will get as hot as a firecracker and the Twins will jump on board his shoulders for a week or two. Then Cabrera will see that and raise it a sawbuck.

Justin Verlander will equal a Tigers win every five games for a month, and fans in Detroit will feel like they have everything figured out.

And they will be wrong.

I tell you, it’s going to be a doozy.

You don’t need to wait till July 4 to figure that one out.

The fireworks have already begun.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: at SEA (5/25-26); OAK (5/28-30)

So what happened?

The Tigers' mastery over National League teams took a bit of a hit.

Since 2006 especially, the Tigers have done amazingly well in interleague play. They've treated NL teams like redheaded stepchildren, annually.

But the magic ended in Los Angeles over the weekend, where the Dodgers took two of three from the Bengals. Included in the trio of games was another Dontrelle Willis implosion.

Overshadowing the games, to a degree, was the tragic news of the death of former big league pitcher Jose Lima, dead of an apparent heart attack Sunday morning at age 37.

It was morbidly fitting that Lima should pass away when he did, with the Tigers in L.A. to play the Dodgers---both former teams of Lima's.

The news was even more shocking considering that Lima attended Friday's Tigers-Dodgers game and was acknowledged with a big ovation between innings.

On the field, the Tigers got washed out on Monday, lost to the White Sox on Tuesday, and steamrolled over the A's in Oakland on Wednesday and Thursday. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman led the way, each pitching magnificently.

Then came the speed bump at Dodger Stadium.

Hero of the Week

If Bonderman is back, the Tigers will be in the hunt with the Minnesota Twins for AL Central supremacy all summer.

That's not to put all the pressure on Bondo, but a healthy, productive Bonderman makes the Tigers' rotation immensely better.

Seeing Verlander and Bonderman be wet blankets to the A's offense on back-to-back days was heartwarming---evoking memories of 2006.

You expect great things from JV, but Bonderman has been another story, coming back from surgery and rehabilitation on his right arm/shoulder.

Bondo went six innings, giving up just three hits and one run. He struck out eight.

Bonderman is now 2-2 on the season with a very acceptable 4.43 ERA. He has 37 Ks in just over 40 innings. Opponents are hitting just .239 against him. He's only surrendered two homers all season.

He might---just might---be back.

Whether he's back or not, Bonderman is MMM's Hero for last week, mainly because of the hope his season is providing.

He's the world's oldest 27-year-old. The goal is for him to be a young 28.

Goat of the Week

I Twittered shortly after Dontrelle Willis's outing in Los Angeles ended.

"It's like watching a car crash in slow motion," I rapped out.

This is simply what we'll have to expect from the D-Train every five days: smooth sailing, and then sudden horror.

Willis was holding his own against the Dodgers on Friday night, shutting them out, when his wildness reared its head in the fourth and fifth innings.

Suddenly, batters were being walked and hit, and three runs crossed the plate. The Dodgers never looked back after that.

Watching Dontrelle Willis pitch is like turning the crank on a giant Jack-in-the-Box; you know the scary clown head is going to pop up---you just don't know when.

Upcoming: Mariners, A's

I think MLB should make the Tigers honorary members of the Wild West.

Seems like the only teams they play anymore are from up and down the Pacific Coast.

If you're not sick of the Mariners and A's by now, you will be by the end of this week.

The Tigers' foray against teams who play three hours behind them continues this week.

The Mariners will be first up, in Seattle---already the Tigers' second visit to the Emerald City this season, and it's not yet Memorial Day.

The Tigers will have to go at it with the M's minus All-World first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who will be with his wife for the birth of their next child. This means Ryan Raburn will likely play 1B.

Who will bat cleanup? I suspect Magglio Ordonez will, with someone like Raburn moving up to third in the order.

Cabrera will be back in time for the holiday weekend, when the A's visit for four games.

But back to the Mariners.

At first blush, it would appear that RF Ichiro Suzuki is having another Ichiro-type year. He's batting .354, after all.

But Ichiro has only scored 21 runs, and he's already been caught stealing six times---after being caught just 13 times in 2008 and 2009 combined. He has just nine RBI, which for even him is low.

Still, he's the king of the multi-hit game, and despite what I just quoted, I don't relish it when he's in the batter's box.

The A's have a popgun offense that was totally overpowered by Verlander and Bonderman last week. They'll see them again on Sunday and Monday, if the rotation holds as is.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!


Friday, May 21, 2010

Brennan Can Boesch the Ball with the Best of Them

Who is Brennan Boesch and why is he being mean to American League pitchers?

Boesch, pronounced "BOSH," as in the pro basketball behemoth, wasn't called up by the Tigers, he was unleashed.

For several seasons, Tigers fans have cried for a hefty lefty in their batting order.

Now here comes Boesch, 25, as if dropped from the heavens.

Boesch is a California kid, where they play baseball 12 months out of the year. It's no wonder that so many of our greatest American ball players have come from the Golden State; they can break out the gloves and bats in January and only pause for meals.

What Boesch is doing to the American League is nothing short of ridiculous.

Boesch showed up a few weeks ago, when Carlos Guillen began his annual trip to the DL.

This is supposed to be a hard game. Ted Williams, no less, has called hitting a baseball the most difficult feat in all of sports.

"They give you a round bat, a round ball, and tell you to hit it square."

It's a job where they put you in the Hall of Fame if you're successful 30 percent of the time. Sometimes they'll sneak you in for less than that.

Boesch has traipsed to the plate for 82 official at-bats and he has 29 hits. That's a 35.4% success rate. So where's he going, the Super Duper Hall of Fame?

It's not just that Boesch is getting hits at a robust clip. He's treating the baseball as if it took his dog away.

Boesch takes his round bat, swings at the round ball, and hits the ball square. We're talking four right angles worth of square.

They ought to check the cover of the ball after Boesch hits it, because it just might need re-lacing. If you listen closely, you can hear it scream in pain.

Or maybe that's the pitcher.

I haven't seen a raw rookie come to Detroit and hit the baseball with this kind of ferocity since, well, I don't know if I've EVER seen it.

Brennan Boesch

Boesch is a 6'6" beach bum from Santa Monica. He went to Cal University. He grew up watching the Dodgers. At age five, he says, he knew he wanted to be a big league ballplayer.

That was when he was 4'5".

He calls Brett Butler one of his idols, which is funny because he could fit Brett in his back pocket and take him out every once in a while to look at him.

Boesch hits righties, which you would expect. But he's all but laughing at lefties.

The percentages of baseball say that lefty vs. lefty is supposed to be a distinct advantage for the pitcher.


Boesch has six hits in 13 at-bats against southpaws, including a monster home run. That's a .462 batting average.

So much for your percentages.

Now, let's pause for a dose of reality.

Will Brennan Boesch keep this up? Will he still be in the rarified air of .354 when, say, September rolls around?

I don't know---he's 6'6" and 210 pounds. YOU tell him no.

Boesch was drafted in the third round by the Tigers in 2006, which means that 80+ players were selected ahead of him, which either means that he's a diamond in the rough, or that baseball's scouts and GMs had their heads between their butt cheeks for almost three rounds.

How do you miss a guy with the height and weight of a power forward, who swings a left-handed stick, and who played baseball in California, where you can't exactly hide?

Tigers manager Jim Leyland inserted Boesch fifth in the order when the kid arrived, behind Miguel Cabrera---essentially taking Guillen's place.

I mocked the decision.

Put a rookie behind an MVP candidate? Where's the protection in that?

Boesch is protecting Cabrera better than a 24/7 bodyguard.

The Tigers' lineup, from 1 thru 5, is beginning to look like poison.

Things get started with another rookie who's thumbing his nose at the big leagues, Austin Jackson---A-Jax. Then you have Johnny Damon with his 2,500 hits, followed by Magglio Ordonez, who won the batting title three years ago. Then comes Cabrera, who's making pitchers curl into the fetal position, sucking their thumbs.

Followed by Brennan Boesch, whose last name ought to be a verb.

"He Boesched that ball into the gap!"

Of course, once you get past the first five Tigers hitters, you can make hay again with your earned run average. But 1 thru 5 might Boesch the ball better than any in baseball.

The Tigers are in Los Angeles this weekend to play the Dodgers, Boesch's team of choice as a youngster.

He says he wants to meet the legendary Vin Scully.

I have to think that the feeling is mutual.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 5-2
This Week: CWS (5/17-18); at Oak (5/19-20); at LAD (5/21-23)

So what happened?

A slap in the face of the East Coast bias when it comes to its death grip on big league baseball.

The Tigers entertained baseball's two Goliaths last week---the Yankees and the Red Sox---and they sent both teams out of town with a spanking.

First was a nifty 3-1 series win over the Yankees, which featured not one but TWO shutouts of the Yanks' mighty bats.

Then the Tigers came back and took the last two games from the Red Sox after dropping Friday night's opener.

Take that, ESPN! And Ken Burns!

The Tigers showed that teams sometimes can play a good brand of baseball outside of the Bronx and Beantown, contrary to urban myth.

The good week leaves the Tigers 14-5 at Comerica Park, which is suddenly a House of Horrors for visiting clubs.

Hero of the Week

First, an apology.

A few weeks ago, on "The Knee Jerks" podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton, I mocked manager Jim Leyland and took him to task for simply inserting rookie OF Brennan Boesch in the No. 5 hole left vacated by injured Carlos Guillen.

Why is he (Leyland) putting a rookie behind MVP-candidate Miguel Cabrera, I fussed.

I fuss no more.

Boesch is MMM's Hero because whenever he hits the baseball, the cover threatens to tear away from the core.

Boesch is driving in runs in Cabrera-like fashion, and his left-handed stick is giving the Tigers as good a 1-thru-5 batting order as any team in baseball.

Boesch is hitting .380 with 19 RBI in 71 ABs. He went 4-for-6 in Saturday night's win over Boston. He already has two triples.

So wonderful has Boesch been that when Carlos Guillen returns from his injury, Guillen will play 2B, just so Leyland can keep Boesch, 25, in the lineup.

Sorry for all the fuss.

Goat of the Week

Tie: Max Scherzer and his battery mates.

Last week, MMM was getting annoyed with Scherzer because his starts were beginning to resemble crash landings. Friday, Scherzer stunk up the joint again and was optioned to Toledo to get his act together.

The men catching Scherzer and the rest of the staff are wearing MMM's patience thin, too.

Gerald Laird and Alex Avila, combined, make one Adam Everett.

I don't expect Johnny Bench, but these guys are making me long for Vance Wilson.

I won't disclose Laird's and Avila's batting averages before notifying their next of kin.

More Tigers rallies this season have ended or stalled with the bats of Laird and Avila than with anyone else on the roster, by far. They may as well be lugging fire hoses up to the plate, the way they're dousing potential big innings.

The Tigers need more, offensively, from their catchers than what Lairavila are giving them. And I have just won the Understatement of the Year Award.

Upcoming: White Sox, A's, Dodgers

Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies! It's Brother Leyland's Traveling Salvation Show!

The Tigers once again will criss-cross the country more than a presidential candidate on the last leg of a campaign.

It starts in Motown with a couple quickies against the stumbling, limp noodle bats of the Chicago White Sox. Then it's on to Oakland for two with the A's, then since the American League is running out of Left Coast teams for the Tigers to visit, the Dodgers welcome our Bengals this weekend.

As usual, all will occur sans a day off. Heaven forbid.

The White Sox offense is Paul Konerko and...waiting for Paul Konerko to come up again.

Konerko has 13 home runs, but the rest of the White Sox's offense is horrendous. Their team BA is .230. They have just 152 runs (4.1 per game) and 279 hits (7.7 per game).

The A's have lost five in a row, are 18-20, and they're no offensive juggernaut, either. No one on the A's has hit more than four homers. The team BA is .248.

The Dodgers are another story.

They're red hot---winners of seven straight. And they boast OF Andre Ethier, who's leading the majors in hitting (.392), and who has 11 HR, 38 RBI, and who has scored 25 runs.

Ethier is 18 for his last 40 with 12 RBI.

He's a little warm.

Fun fact: He's on the DL, but the Dodgers have 40-year-old catcher Brad Ausmus on their roster, the former Astro/Tiger/Astro/Tiger.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

It Helps to Be a Little Crazy if You're a Closer

Maybe someone with Ph.D. after their name can shed some light, but it sure seems like the pro sports specialist has an affinity for—and pardon my laymen’s term here—playing his game of life with something less than a full deck.

There’s the hockey goalie, whose career at said position surely must have started as either the loser of a bet or because all the regular sticks were taken.

For no one with all 52 cards would volunteer to be pelted with discs of vulcanized rubber being fired upon them at speeds that would make a Lamborghini blush.

Glenn Hall, the Hall of Fame netminder who broke into the NHL with the Red Wings in the early-1950s, holds the league record for consecutive games played, with 502.

Which makes it easy to calculate the number of consecutive upchucks from Hall’s tummy.

Hall famously—or infamously—included as part of his pre-game routine, a trip to the loo to empty the contents of his stomach. Through his esophagus.

Another Red Wings goalie, Roger Crozier, had to be hospitalized several times during his career because his job proved too much for his queasy tum-tum.

Bet losers, those goalies are. Or something.

The hockey goalie is looked at cross-eyed by his teammates, and by those covering the game. Crazy people might snap at any moment, you know.

Football kickers—that’s another group of folks that marches to the beat of a different drummer.

Think about it: these are dudes who spend several hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, on a life that revolves around thumping a football with the side of their foot.

The football kicker is harmless, pretty much, but he’s not all there, either.

Which brings us to the closer in baseball.

They’ve gone by different names throughout the years.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, they were “firemen,” so named for their charge to put out fires in late innings.

By the 1980s, they had developed into “stoppers.”

Now they’re called “closers.”

Call them whatever you like, they have one common denominator.

They’re all a little nuts.

The baseball closer—that late-inning relief specialist who either saves the game or blows it, with no in-between—has to possess the fearlessness of a man guessing his wife's weight and the eccentricity of Howard Hughes. Or so it seems.

The Red Sox had a guy named Dick Radatz back in the 1960s. They called him “The Monster,” which wasn’t a nickname; it was a fact. Radatz was born in Detroit and he was 6’6” and 230 pounds and as bad as Leroy Brown.

There was Al Hrabosky, the Mad Hungarian. Hrabosky wore a Fu Manchu and had eyes that bore through hitters like lasers. His ritual included standing behind the mound, his back to the hitter, as he psyched himself with silent mantras.

Then Hrabosky would slam the ball into his mitt and spin toward the mound. You could almost see the smoke pouring from his nostrils.

There was Roger McDowell, who pitched for the Phillies and the Mets, and who would have made a great thesis subject for someone studying human psychosis.

The roster of off-kilter closers through the years would dwarf any grocery list.

The Tigers have had some decent closers in their glorious history, but they’ve been weird in that they’ve been relatively sane individuals.

John Hiller was probably normal because he wasn’t just a closer. Hiller could start, middle relieve, and close—all in the same week.

Aurelio Lopez was Senor Smoke, but he wasn’t particularly strange. Just fat.

The most eccentric thing about Willie Hernandez was that he changed his name to Guillermo.

Mike Henneman resembled a California surfer with his ruggedly handsome, blond looks and was a pretty normal guy in his own right.

Todd Jones looked nervous but never really was. Jonesy paced around and on the mound like an expectant father in the maternity ward.

He chewed his gum at a rate of 600 per minute. He looked as comfortable out there as a man whose shorts were two sizes too small. Jones was the Don Knotts of closers.

But the Tigers have employed a couple of doozies, one of whom is working for them presently.

In 1981, a one-hit wonder named Kevin Saucier dazzled us in Detroit.

Saucier was called “Hot Sauce.” The moniker was a play on his last name, but it could also have been because Saucier bounced around the mound like someone who’d just consumed a gallon of the stuff. He was a cat on a hot tin roof out there.

Saucier was a lefty, which only added to his weirdness factor. When he closed a game, Hot Sauce leaped off the mound and looked like a Mexican jumping bean, slamming his hand into his glove and shaking hands with anyone he could get his mitts on.

I once even saw him exchange handshakes with one of the grounds crew. No joke.

Hot Sauce was diluted the next year, however. He lost his control—literally and figuratively. He began to walk people, then hit them. The more it happened, the more it played with his head.

Saucier quit the Tigers, and baseball, in the middle of the 1982 season.

“I’m afraid I’m going to hurt somebody,” Hot Sauce said of his sudden control woes.

A closer afraid of hurting someone? Now that’s different.

The other strange cat who has closed games for the Tigers is the free spirit who’s doing it for them currently.

Jose Valverde, “Papa Grande,” is a man overloaded with ritual and superstition. It’s in the way he drinks water in the bullpen, the manner in which he puts on his glasses, and that’s just the tip of his iceberg.

Valverde was signed by the Tigers in the off-season as a free agent, essentially replacing Fernando Rodney. It’s been like swapping out Tony Bennett for Lady Gaga.

Valverde is 6’4”, 220 pounds and with his glasses he looks like a nerd on steroids.

Some closers give you a real show after every closed game. Valverde entertains after everystrike .

He fist pumps. He looks skyward. He shakes. He points. Then he asks for the ball and gets his next sign.

Valverde cast his lot as a Tigers closer last week when he struck out, in order, the Yankees’ Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez to preserve the Tigers’ 5-4 win on Monday night. It was sort of impressive.

Afterward, Valverde’s antics were served up to the Yankees by the New York media trying to get them to bite. Was it showing them up?

Not one of the guys Valverde struck out took the bait.

Maybe they just resigned themselves to the fact that Valverde is a closer, and closers are a little nuts anyway.

Whatever gets them through the night.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Junior is a Senior Now, and Ought to Retire

Is there a Dr. Jack Kevorkian for baseball?

Someone you go to if you want a career euthanized?

I have a candidate for Doctor Death. But bear with me first.

I'm getting flashbacks, and they aren't good.

I've been remembering Willie Mays lately, but not in the way you'd think I would remember him.

The Mays memory that keeps coming to my mind these days is not the one of him running down Vic Wertz's drive in the vastness of the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series---the one where he gets shot out of a cannon, catches Wertz's rocket with his back to home plate and spins 360 degrees in throwing the ball back to the infield.

No, not that one.

I'm having flashbacks of Mays in the 1973 World Series---a 42-year-old has been who, if he was hellbent on showing up at the Fall Classic, should have done so as a paying customer.

Mays was with the New York Mets in '73, some 22 years after debuting as a big leaguer with the New York Giants. He was brought back in a 1972 trade largely to sell tickets at Shea Stadium.

Mays couldn't play anymore by the time he returned to New York. The Say Hey Kid was the Say What? Kid.

Never was that more apparent than in the '73 World Series, in one of the games in Oakland. Mays was patrolling center field, his old haunts, when a routine fly ball was driven to his right.

Mays, far removed from his days as the best center field on Earth, played the ball like he was standing on a water bed.

It was sad, seeing Willie Mays stumble around center field---once his domain and his only---under the biggest spotlight of the year.

Fast forward 37 years almost, to 2010. More sadness.

Call Kevorkian. Strap Ken Griffey Jr.'s career to the machine and put it out of its misery.

Junior is a senior now. He's 40 years old and is Ken Griffey Jr. in name only. If it wasn't for a birth certificate, I wouldn't believe it.

He's fading fast, in this last go-round with the Seattle Mariners, the team he put on the map.

Griffey hasn't been a force at the plate for several years. He still has the stance and the sweet upper-cut swing---except that the swing looks good but is late in arrival.

Junior is hitting .208 in 77 AB with the Mariners with no home runs and two doubles. And 14 strikeouts.

Now there are reports that Griffey wasn't available for a recent pinch-hitting opportunity because he was napping in the clubhouse.

"He was sitting in his chair, fast asleep," an anonymous player told the media about Griffey, who had retired to the clubhouse in the fifth inning to grab a jacket. Two innings later he was discovered in his chair, snoozing.

That ought to be the final straw. And by the looks of it, it will be.

Reports are surfacing that the Mariners are thisclose to cutting Griffey. It would be the highest-profile mercy killing since they shot Old Yeller.

Griffey can't play. Just like Mays couldn't play and had no business being in uniform during the 1973 World Series. The falling asleep thing is the exclamation point.

Griffey is coming off more off-season knee surgery and he was on the decline even before that.

It doesn't look like he'll retire, so the Mariners will have to retire him themselves.

Mike Schmidt did it right, though painfully for him.

Schmidt got off to a rotten start in 1989 with the Phillies, at age 39. By the end of May, Schmidt was hitting just .203 with six home runs.

A press conference was called, just like that.

Through tears, Mike Schmidt said he couldn't do it anymore. His presence on the roster was doing more harm than good. He was quitting, just like that.

Schmidt is the exception; normally someone from the front office has to tap these guys on the shoulder, nod for them to come into the office, and the news is delivered.

"We're going in a different direction."

That, unfortunately, appears to be what the Mariners are preparing to do. The end of Junior's career, they say, could come any day now.

Griffey was the modern day Mickey Mantle, who played much of his career on one good leg. If injuries hadn't ravaged him, Griffey might have hit 800 home runs. No joke.

He's got a bum leg again, but that's not all that's wrong with Ken Griffey Jr. He won't, or can't, pull the trigger on his own firing.

He can't play anymore. Everyone seems to know that but him.

Ain't that usually the way?