Results tagged ‘ Trades ’

Card Corner–Aurelio Rodriguez


Aurelio Rodriguez–Topps Company–1981 (No. 34)

Although his name can be found right below that of the already-legendary Alex Rodriguez in books like Total Baseball, he has been mostly forgotten since his playing days ended in 1983. That’s more than a bit sad, partly because the original “A-Rod” left such a distinct impression on me–first as an opposing player and then during a late-career turn with the Yankees.

Aurelio Rodriguez couldn’t hit like today’s more well-known “A-Rod,” but he was one of the most graceful defensive third basemen of the 1970s. Rodriguez had the range of a shortstop and the throwing arm of a right fielder; along with his smooth hands, those skills combined to form a delightful package at the hot corner. In fact, I’ve never seen an infielder with a stronger arm than Aurelio. (A list of such arms would have to include recent infielders like Shawon Dunston and Travis Fryman or current-day players like Rafael Furcal and Troy Tulowitzki. All terrific arms, but all a notch below that of Rodriguez. ) That cannon-like right arm, which Ernie Harwell often described as a “howitzer,” made him a treat to watch during his many stops with the White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Padres, Tigers, Washington Senators, and Angels.

A product of Cananea, Mexico, Rodriguez struggled with English during his early major league career with the Angels. As Rodriguez once said without bitterness, he knew only three words of English during his first ten days with California. “Ham and eggs” became a frequent refrain, resulting in a less-than-balanced diet for the young Rodriguez.

Always a terrific defender at the hot corner, Rodriguez failed to develop offensively with the Angels–a problem that persisted throughout his career. He resisted repeated attempts by his managers and coaches to hit outside pitches toward the opposite field, stubbornly trying to pull the ball and hit home runs. Rodriguez was also the consummate free swinger, never one to take to pitches and work out walks. And I’ve heard at least one former front official with the Tigers describe Rodriguez as a player who simply didn’t work as hard as he should have.

Although Rodriguez never became the star that the Angels once predicted, he did enjoy a solid career, especially with the Tigers. With his rifle arm and silky soft hands, Rodriguez cemented the left side of the infield for the Tigers and would have won more than one Gold Glove if not for the presence of a fellow named Brooks Robinson. How good was Rodriguez in the field? Of all the third basemen I watched throughout the seventies, only two were better defenders: Brooksie and the Yankees’ own Graig Nettles. In a decade that overflowed with slick-and-smooth fielders like Buddy Bell, Darrell Evans, Doug “The Rooster” Rader, and Mike Schmidt, that should be taken as lofty praise indeed.

Rodriguez won only one Gold Glove during his 17-year career, that coming in 1976, mostly because he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as the two acrobats named Robinson and Nettles. “Brooksie” and “Puff” became far more famous–primarily because they could hit and launch the ball with power–and were better defensively at third, but not by much. If Rodriguez had ever developed into more than a mediocre hitter with only occasional power, he might have collected a few more Gold Gloves during his dynamic years in Detroit.

In addition to the legacy he left behind for his fielding abilities, Rodriguez will also be remembered for his involvement in two intriguing episodes of baseball history–one rather trivial and the other a bit more consequential. In 1969, the Topps Company issued Rodriguez’ rookie card. Or so it seemed. The picture on the front of the card did not actually depict Rodriguez, but rather the Angels’ youthful batboy, a young man named Leonard Garcia, who happened to be wearing Aurelio’s uniform. I’ve heard two theories behind this incident, which left Rodriguez with perhaps the oddest rookie card in Topps history. According to one story, it was a simple mix-up, caused by the similarities in appearance between Garcia and Rodriguez and exacerbated by Rodriguez’ limited abilities with speaking English.  The other theory is more interesting: Rodriguez intentionally substituted Garcia for the photograph session, as a way of playing a practical joke on the people from Topps.

In 1971, Rodriguez found himself in the spotlight again when the Senators included him in a monstrous trade package that they used to acquire 1968 Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain from the Tigers. Although McLain was the headliner in the deal, the Tigers would emerge as the clear winner of the trade. Rodriguez and slick-fielding shortstop Eddie Brinkman, two of the players acquired by Detroit, would form an impenetrable left side of the infield, helping the Tigers to the American League East title in 1972. He would also become popular with Detroit fans, in part because of a nice, easygoing personality. Rodriguez would remain in the Motor City for the rest of the decade, eventually overseeing the arrival of two promising fellow infielders, Alan Trammell and Sweet Lou Whitaker.

Rodriguez would play nine seasons in Detroit before being sold to the Padres during the winter of 1979. In August of 1980, with the Yankees concerned about an aging Nettles become increasingly vulnerable to left-handed pitching, GM Gene Michael sent cash to the Padres for Rodriguez. He ended up doing nothing offensively for the Yankees down the stretch, batting a mere .220 with a slugging percentage of .323. With his career slope on a downhill path and now reduced to reserve status, Rodriguez returned to the Yankees in a limited role in 1981, the year of the Topps card shown above. Playing almost exclusively against left-handed pitching, Rodriguez made the most of his opportunities. Though he came to bat only 52 times, he batted .346 with a slugging percentage of an even .500. (I know about small sample sizes, but such numbers were simply unheard of for the offensively challenged Rodriguez.) He continued his monstrous hitting in the World Series, where he batted .417 against Dodger pitching, with five hits and a walk in 12 at-bats. His offensive performance would become obscured amidst the disappointment of four straight losses to Dodger Blue (and amidst the hubbub of George Steinbrenner’s alleged fight with two Dodger fans in an elevator), but Rodriguez couldn’t be blamed for the team’s shortfall. If only the Yankees had won the Series, then Aurelio might have been remembered as yet another October hero.

So how did the Yankees reward Rodriguez for his robust hitting in 1981? They traded him, of course, sending him to the Blue Jays for an obscure minor leaguer named Mike Lebo. And just that quickly, his days as a Yankee came to an end.

Most Yankee fans probably forgot about Rodriguez until picking up a newspaper in the fall of 2000. That’s when they would have seen the obituary. On a Saturday afternoon in September, the 52-year-old Rodriguez and a 35-year-old woman were walking on a Detroit sidewalk when the driver of a nearby car suffered a stroke, resulting in his vehicle jumping the curb and running into them. The bizarre accident killed Rodriguez, who was visiting Detroit because he was scheduled to appear at a card show the next day, along with another former Tiger and Yankee, Tom Brookens. At his funeral in Mexico a few days later, thousands of fans and friends attended the service of the likeable Rodriguez, including the Mexican president.

Sadly, Rodriguez never received a last chance to reminisce with those fans, or Tiger fans, many of whom enjoyed watching him play third base with such flair and finesse. Those fans, like this Yankee fan, would have let Aurelio know that he really was not forgotten after all.

Cashman Shoots and Swishes

When Brian Cashman shows a willingness to break out of his conservative shell, he is capable of making some very good trades. He did exactly that on Thursday, when he stole switch-hitting Nick Swisher from the White Sox for a dubious package of enigmatic infielder Wilson Betemit and two questionable pitching prospects, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. (Do you remember when guys used to spell thier name as “Johnny?” Whatever happened to that tradition?) Swisher gives the Yankees three major attributes: power, patience at the plate, and versatility. These are three qualities that the Yankee roster desperately needs after a disappointing season that saw the team rank among the bottom half of the American League in runs scored.

In making this deal with the White Sox, Cashman has provided a classic example of swiping a player when his value is down. Just a year ago, Swisher was the best player on the Oakland A’s and a shining example of Billy Beane’s Moneyball concepts. Since Swisher is only 28 years old, I’d say he is likely to bounce back from a season that saw him bat .219 for Chicago. Bad luck, as much as anything, seems to have played a role in his low batting average. If he plays every day for the Yankees, he is fully capable of hitting 30 home runs and drawing 100 walks, and those are numbers that can help any team. His versatility will also provide some assistance. The Yankees indicate that Swisher will be their regular first baseman, but he is also a plus defender in either left or right field, and capable of playing some center field in a backup capacity. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Swisher split his time in 2009 between right field and first base. He could platoon with Xavier Nady in right, and then switch to first base on days when a left-hander starts for the opposition. That’s exactly the kind of flexibility the Yankees have lacked in recent years because of the presence of too many DH types like Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui.

Clearly, the White Sox sold way too low on Swisher, but they could potentially benefit from the deal if Betemit blossoms on the South Side. Betemit is one of those players who looks attractive to a contending team as a utility infielder because of his live bat and versatility, but he needs regular at-bats to keep his long swing in tune. He would also help himself by dropping about ten pounds; his weight was a constant concern for the Yankees. (He might also benefit from giving up switch-hitting, since he often looks helpless from the right side.) I still think that Betemit could develop into a .270 hitter with 20 home run power and decent on-base skills. The White Sox would be smart to make Betemit their starting third baseman, or at least platoon him with Josh Fields. Otherwise, they’ll be disappointed with Betemit as a sporadic backup player. 

With the trade of Swisher, along with the Matt Holliday deal and the trade that sent Kevin Gregg to the Cubs for top prospect Jose Ceda, we’ve seen three deals within the span of three days. And just think, the free agent signing period hasn’t even begun until today (Friday). If the early signs are any indication, this may turn out to be one of the busiest Hot Stove sessions we’ve seen in decades. 

A Smattering of Intelligence–Taking The Stairs, A Rack of Lamb, and Royal Failures

The Phillies made a smart move in prying Matt Stairs from the Blue Jays in exchange for what figures to be a lower level minor league prospect. With Geoff Jenkins becoming a bust in his first (and perhaps last) season in Philly, the Phillies have a use for a lefty bat who can platoon with the underrated Jayson Werth in right field, or can give Pat Burrell an occasional day off against tough right-handers. Stairs’ assets of power and patience could also be useful in a pinch-hitting role, giving the Phillies another left-handed bat (along with Greg Dobbs) for the late innings of close games. The Phillies’ bench, already a positive force because of the presence of productive semi-regulars like Werth, Dobbs, and the invaluable Chris Coste, could give them a slight edge over the thinner Mets during the final month of the regular season…

The Phillies’ acquisition of Stairs rules out any further interest in Mike Lamb, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week. Lamb has had a miserable season in Minnesota, inexplicably losing his power (he has one home run in 236 at-bats). He might draw some interest from the Dodgers, who have been disappointed by Casey Blake since his mid-season arrival from Cleveland…

I thought the Royals would be much improved under the ambitious and energetic Trey Hillman, but on the eve of September, the Royals are buried at 21 games under .500, making them better than only the Mariners among American League competitors. The list of reasons for the Royals’ struggles are numerous, including Alex Gordon’s failure to develop, a lack of improvement from David DeJesus and Mark Teahen, the fallback of Brian Bannister, and the disappointing debut of Luke Hochevar. And then there is the presence of Jose Guillen, who has been predictably bad off the field and uncharacteristically bad on it. Not only has Guillen argued with teammates, coaches, and fans (he had to be restrained from attacking a heckler this week), he also has a ghastly strikeout to walk ratio of 91-19. Even at 32, Guillen hasn’t learned an ounce of plate discipline; if anything, he’s gotten decidedly worse. His .286 on-base percentage stands to be the lowest for any full season he’s had in the major leagues. Hillman would like nothing better than to be rid of the headaches caused by Guillen (who claims his manager doesn’t talk to him), but he’s likely stuck with the chronic troublemaker. Guillen is still owed $24 million over the span of the next two seasons. Good luck finding a taker at that price…

In spite of the Royals’ disappointmenting summer, Hillman’s job should be safe. So who will be the first manager fired this off-season? Some National League names that have been mentioned include Houston’s Cecil Cooper (who seems to be taking his share of blame for a fractured clubhouse), Ned Yost (but only if the Brewers don’t win the wild card), and Washington’s Manny Acta (where someone may have to take the blame for a horrible season). On the American League side, the Tigers’ Jim Leyland and the Rangers’ Ron Washington could come under review. In New York, Joe Girardi should be safe–at least until the Yankees endure another bad start to another season.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Heilman, The Donkey, and Baseball Cards

It’s become plainly evident that the Mets can no longer trust Aaron Heilman to close out games during Billy Wagner’s tenure on the shelf. After watching Heilman blow a save on Monday afternoon against the lowly Pirates, Jerry Manuel has to try someone else–anybody for that matter–in an effort to clot the bleeding. While there is no slam dunk choice, given the bullpen’s ERA of more than 6.70 since the All-Star break, I would nominate Pedro Feliciano. The lefty specialist has been arguably their most consistent set-up reliever over the past three years, and while he’s certainly no sure thing against right-handed bats, he’s more deserving of a shot than Scott Schoeneweis. The only other option for the Mets is a waiver trade. Omar Minaya should put in a claim for any serviceable reliever who is put on waivers. Perhaps a team looking to shed some salary will just say, “Take him,” to the Mets, and ask for no trade compensation in return…

Assuming that neither of the players to be named later are top prospects, the Diamondbacks did very well in securing Adam “Big Donkey” Dunn in a waiver deal with the Reds. The D-Backs need offense in the worst way, particularly in the form of a left-handed bat who can balance their righty-heavy lineup. Dunn is a two dimensional player–he hits home runs and draws walks–who does nothing else well, but his power and patience are so exemplary that he’ll lift the spirits of Arizona’s offense. The D-Backs plan to use Dunn in right field while Justin Upton works his way back from the disabled list; once Upton is ready, Dunn will move back to his more accustomed position in left field. The trade will also give the D-Backs, if they’re so inclined, a head start on negotiations for a long-term contract with the impending free agent. Good move on all fronts for Arizona…

Finally, it’s time to change the baseball card image on our home page. We’ve had Willie Mays (the greatest living ballplayer) up for more than a month, but we’re now ready to move on to another selection. If you’ve got a card you’d like to nominate, just post your suggestion here, along with your reasons. Perhaps you like one of the 1973 Topps cards we’ve featured on “Card Corner” (like Norm Cash, Dave McNally, or Joe Rudi), or perhaps you’d prefer something completely different. Just let us know.

Dealing Deadline Day

On a day that saw Manny Ramirez relocate to the National League and Ken Griffey, Jr. move out of Cincinnati, we received some good news on a completely different front: “Cooperstown Confidential” ranked 10th in popularity among MLB fan blogs over the past week. It’s good to hear that some additional readers tuned in just in time to learn more about last week’s activities during Hall of Fame Weekend. This has been a busy month from another perspective. We’ve now posted 31 times in 31 days, by far the most frequent posting schedule since launching this blog three years ago…

A few thoughts on today’s trades. I thought the Red Sox should have held their breath and stuck with Ramirez through the end of the season, simply because he gave them the best chance of returning to and winning another World Series. For all of his many faults, he remains one of the game’s great clutch hitters, absolutely torments the Yankees in head-to-head play, and handles October at-bats with a calmness that most players display only in spring training…

With the acquisition of third baseman Andy LaRoche, the Pirates have now reunited him with brother Adam LaRoche, who happens to play the other infield corner for Pittsburgh. What’s next? Will the Pirates bring in the boys’ father, Dave LaRoche,into the fold to serve as pitching coach? Dave is best remembered for throwing the blooper pitch during his Yankee days, but he was actually a hard-throwing southpaw who was one of the more dominant relievers in the game during his mid-1970s stints with the Indians and Angels…

Like the rest of the free world, I’m unclear on what role the ChiSox have in store for Griffey. They already have three good outfielders in Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher, and Jermaine Dye, and two vested veterans at DH and first base in Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. I do know the Sox wanted to balance their lineup with additional left-handed hitting, so at the very least we can expect Griffey to play either center or right anytime a right-hander is on the mound for the other team. Or perhaps Griffey will just DH. After all, he’s now a below-average center fielder and doesn’t have the throwing arm or tracking ability that Dye has in right…

Finally, I’m a bit surprised that Adam Dunn didn’t get traded. There’s no way the “Big Donkey” is going to re-sign with the Reds, who apparently were so underwhelmed by trade offers that they’d prefer the two draft picks they might receive as free agent compensation. Blue Jays GM JP Ricciardi took some major heat for issuing publicly critical comments about Dunn, but it seems that many of the other game’s general managers share his opinion about The Donkey. I guess that 40-plus home runs and 100-plus walks don’t mean as much as they used to–even in a Sabermetric world.

A Smattering of Intelligence–Cashing In Multiple Chips

In less than one week, Brian Cashman has transformed his public image from that of Stand Pat Gillick to Frank “Trader” Lane. Or better yet, he has pulled a few pages from the playbook of Whitey Herzog. Better still, he seems to have reincarnated the spirit of Charlie Finley. In making three deals in under seven days, Cashman has launched a massive effort to re-tool the Yankees for what they hope is a strong two-month push for a playoff spot out of the stacked American League East.

I’ve been highly critical of Cashman throughout the season, taking issue with his lack of initiative and creativity, a seeming unwilligness to make trades of any sort, and an over-obsession with retaining every single minor league prospect within the Yankee organization. Well, Cashman has shut me up but good by executing three trades, all of which seem to tilt heavily in the Yankees’ favor. First, he swindled Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates without having to give up a single one of his most prized pitching gems (Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy or Mark Melancon). Second, he satisfied the team’s gaping need for a competent hitting catcher by swiping Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez from the Tigers for Kyle Farnsworth, who had become expendable because of the emergence of several young right-handed relievers. And then late last night, he pulled off a lesser–but still impressive–deal, when he dumped batting practice right-hander LaTroy Hawkins on the Astros for minor league second baseman Matt Cusick, who was putting up good numbers in Class-A ball.

In making these three swaps, Cashman has succeeded in directly addressing several Yankee needs. He has bolstered the team’s right-handed hitting with both Nady and Rodriguez, solved the catching quandary with I-Rod, bolstered the team’s paper-thin bench, added a capable left-handed reliever in Marte for the late innings, and succeeded in ridding the Yankees of their least effective pitcher. At a time when the Yankees appeared to have a realistic chance of filling only one or two of their multiple needs, Cashman addressed all of the problem areas– with one exception. All that’s left is to bolster the starting rotation, which could happen today with a trade for Jarrod Washburn, or could happen later, if Hughes, Kennedy and/or the injured Chien-Ming Wang find their way back to the Bronx.

Need some right-handed hitting and a lefty reliever? Check. Need a catcher who can hit more than .225? Check? Need to get a warm body for our worst pitcher? Check.

Better said, lets’ call it, “Checkmate.” That’s just how good Brian Cashman’s moves have been over the last six days.  

A Smattering of Intelligence–Santana, Wolf, Invented Trades, and the Hall of Fame

To their credit, the Mets bounced back with a win on Wednesday night, responding nicely to their most devastating loss of the season. They just have to hope that this year’s pennant race won’t come down to one game, the way it did last year.

Here’s my reaction to the Mets’ 8-6 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday night: perhaps the Mets should start treating Johan Santana like an ace. On Tuesday, Santana threw 105 pitches over the first eight innings. He sailed through the eighth inning, needing only a handful of pitches to retire the Phillies, putting the Mets three outs away from sole possession of first place. With the Mets holding a three-run lead and Billy Wagner unavailable, the conditions seemed right to have Santana start the ninth and attempt to finish off the game. Instead, manager Jerry Manuel pinch-hit for Santana in the bottom of the eighth and turned the game over to Duaner Sanchez. Six runs and three more pitching changes later, the Mets found themselves down by three runs–on their way to a crushing loss against their prime divisional rival.

I understand that Santana is a prized arm, someone the Mets desperately want to keep healthy, but 105 pitches over eight innings is not an exorbitant total. Asking Santana to give you 115-120 pitches, especially on a night when your closer is unavailable, is not an unreasonable request. Yet, the Mets continue to treat Santana with the most sensitive of kid gloves, even in the midst of a heated pennant race with the Phillies and Marlins. The continued babying of Santana partially explains why he hasn’t pitched a single complete game all season. Not one. In contrast, Toronto’s Roy Halladay has pitched seven complete games. CC Sabathia, now with the Brewers, has a total of five on the season. I’m not expecting that Santana match either of those totals, but it would nice for the game’s top left-hander to complete a game every once in a great while.

Instead, Manuel and the Mets allowed themselves to be ruled by the dreaded pitch count, where anything over 100 pitches is treated with red flags, fire whistles, and burglar alarms. It cost them a game, one that they may or may not be able to retrieve…

The Astros’ acquisition of Padres left-hander Randy Wolf has baffled much of the baseball community. Why would the Astros give up a prospect in Triple-A right-hander Chad Reineke for a veteran pitcher when they’re already ten games out in the National League Central? What possible difference will Wolf make for a team that needs help everywhere, from the lineup to the bullpen and maybe even the manager’s office? Are the Astros certain they can re-sign Wolf, who is eligible for free agency at season’s end?

Here’s a deal, courtesy of some creative Internet types, which makes so much sense that it will never happen. The prospective trade would have the Orioles send veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Yankees for burly right-hander Chris “Big Foot” Britton. Hernandez would give the Yankees a competent hitting catcher with power (11 home runs), thereby replacing Jorge Posada, who won’t be able to catch any more in 2008. Britton, a 25-year-old reliever who has thrown well in limited duty but never gets much of a chance to pitch in New York, would complement George Sherrill in Baltimore’s improving bullpen. Britton, a shorter version of Tim Stoddard (the original Big Foot) who stands six-three, 278 pounds, has enough stuff to be a closer, which could ultimately make Sherrill available in a subsequent deal…

The Hall of Fame’s official web site doesn’t list his name among the inductees returning to Cooperstown for this weekend’s induction, but a Hall source tells me that Cal Ripken, Jr. is indeed planning to attend. That brings the total number of expected Hall of Famers to 53. The group also includes Tony Gwynn, who was also a part of the memorable Hall of Fame Class of 2007. Those who are not coming to Cooperstown include Stan “The Man” Musial (who has eliminated most of his public appearances because of health concerns), Hammerin’ Hank Aaron (who doesn’t often attend inductions), and Carl Yastrzemski (noted for being a recluse).

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Durham, Posada, and Holtzman

If the Milwaukee Brewers don’t make the playoffs, Ned Yost will surely be fired. That’s one of several conclusions that can be drawn after the Brewers announced their second major mid-season trade on Sunday. The acquisition of Ray Durham, coming on the heels of the pre-All-Star break addition of CC Sabathia, gives the Brewers needed depth and versatility. Although Durham has played almost exclusively as a second baseman throughout his career, I could see the Brewers using him as a Tony Phillips-like superutility player. The switch-hitting Durham could platoon with the disappointing Rickie “Hands of Stone” Weeks at second base, while also filling in at first base and perhaps even the outfield, assuming that Yost is willing to be daring. Durham’s ability to get on base, coupled with his occasional power, makes him a useful player. He also helps balance a lineup that leans far too much to the right side. Other than Prince Fielder, the Brewers haven’t had much left-handed hitting. Durham, a stronger presence from the left side, gives them a little bit more.

The Brewers really have no excuses now if they fail to make the playoffs. It’s debatable whether they’re as good as the Cubs, but they certainly have more talent than the Cardinals, whom they are currently trying to catch in the wild card chase. With All-Star talents like Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Sabathia, and Ben Sheets, the Brewers should beat out the overachieving Cardinals. If they don’t, the Ned Yost bashers will have their most convincing evidence yet that it’s time to make a change in the Brewers’ dugout…

Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news on the Yankees? The good news involves their standing in the AL East; they’re only two and a half games behind the Red Sox and four and a half games behind the Rays. The bad news is that their roster has been rendered a M*A*S*H unit, with Jorge Posada back on the disabled list, where he joins Hideki Matsui, Chien-Ming Wang, and Phil Hughes. With Posada’s right shoulder continuing to bark, the Yankees are looking at the real possibility that he won’t play again in 2008. Even if he does manage to suit up, he can forget about doing any catching the rest of the season. That leaves the Yankees in a quandary. As good as Jose Molina has been defensively, he is the kind of offensive non-entity that the Yankees can no longer afford to carry.  With their offense already devalued by Matsui’s injury and the wear-and-tear to Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, the Yankees need a catcher who can hit at least a little. Some of the available candidates include Baltimore’s Ramon Hernandez, the Rangers’ Gerald Laird, Cincinnati’s David Ross, and the Padres’ pair of Josh Bard and Michael Barrett. Brian Cashman won’t have to break the bank for any of those receivers, but he will have to part with at least one prospect in any deal, something that he’s been reluctant to do up until now…

In a year that has already seen the passing of Eliot Asinof, W.C. Heinz, and Jules Tygiel, the baseball world lost another writing giant over the weekend. Jerome Holtzman, the unoffficial dean of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, died after a long illness. He was 82. Holtzman is best remembered for spearheading the invention of the save statistic, but his legacy encompasses far more than that. For years, he successfully covered both the Cubs and the White Sox as the guardian of the Chicago baseball beat. He wrote a terrific oral history, No Cheering in the Press Box, which chronicled the memories of some of the game’s early writers. He also provided some unique memories to other members of the BBWAA, as they delighted in watching him verbally spar with Dick Young, the dean of New York City baseball writers. Holtzman and Young might not have liked each other, but they were both impressive old-school chroniclers of the game’s history.

Caught On The Fly–Blanton, Jocko, and Marzano

A’s general manager Billy Beane did very well in acquiring two high-ceiling prospects from the Phillies for Joe “Bulldog” Blanton. The workmanlike right-hander has struggled badly this year, with an ERA creeping toward 5.00 and a declining strikeout rate. While I understand the Phillies’ interest in Blanton–they need starting pitching in the worst way and hope Blanton can fill the bill as a No. 3 starter–they paid a high price in surrendering second baseman Adrian Cardenas (no relation to former major league shortstop Leo Cardenas) and pitcher Josh Outman (what a wonderful name for a pitcher). Cardenas might have to be moved to the outfield at some point, but he has enough of a bat to justify playing him anywhere. Outman could join the Oakland bullpen by mid-2009, when the A’s figure to be more legitimate contenders to the Angels’ throne out west…

His death has hardly been acknowledged by the mainstream media, but it deserves to be at least mentioned here. Former Negro Leagues broadcaster and writer Sherman “Jocko” Maxwell died earlier this week at the age of 100. Maxwell religiously followed the exploits of the old Newark Eagles, submitting stories on game days to the Newark Star-Ledger. Maxwell also announced–free of charge–Sunday afternoon games in Newark as part of a broadcasting career that finally came to an end in 1967. Like other great Negro Leagues writers, including legends like Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith, Maxwell fulfilled an important role in publicizing and promoting black baseball both before and after Jackie Robinson integrated the game at the major league level…

For weeks now, we heard nothing public about the cause of death of former major leaguer John Marzano. That changed earlier on Friday, when the coroner announced that Marzano died from a fall that was caused by “ethanol intoxication,” or essentially alcohol intoxication. Ever since Marzano’s death in late April, speculation had centered on his death being caused by a heart attack, but that has now been ruled out. I’m really not sure how to feel about this latest revelation. If Marzano, a seemingly healthy 45-year-old man, had died suddenly because of an unexpected heart attack, it comes across as much more alarming because of concerns that it could happen to anyone. On the other hand, the news that his death was related to alcohol consumption makes it all the sadder because the circumstances could have been avoided. While the cause of death has been altered, the end result remains the same. Marzano, one of the game’s nicest guys and most energetic forces, is gone all too soon.

A Smattering of Intelligence–Harden, Batting Coaches, and The Tribe

With nary a significant trade throughout the first half of the season, the Brewers and Cubs proved that Santa Claus does exist by pulling off near blockbusters on back-to-back days. Reacting quickly to Milwaukee’s acquisition of CC Sabathia, Chicago netted Rich Harden as part of a six-player swap with the A’s. Most of the Internet reaction I’ve read has expressed surprise that Billy Beane didn’t acquire more for his talented right-hander. I disagree. Given Harden’s horrible history with injuries, I think Beane brought back decent value. Matt Murton gives the A’s a legitimate corner outfielder with power, Sean Gallagher has the potential to be a good No. 3 starter, and Eric Patterson has enough talent to fill a role as a part-time or platoon player.

I love Harden’s talent, but the condition of his arm makes it difficult to build a stable front end to the rotation. He’s already visited the disabled list six times in his career; I’d be shocked if he makes it through the second half without being DLed at least once. Realistically, the Cubs are gambling that he’ll be healthy for the postseason. They can win the NL Central without him, but they’d like their postseason hopes a lot better if they know then can use Harden in Game Two, right after ace Carlos Zambrano. It’s probably a reasonable gamble for the Cubs, who were smart to acquire a buffer like Chad Gaudin as a hedge against the fragile Harden hitting the DL again…

The Dodgers are running through hitting instructors the way that George Steinbrenner used to plow through pitching coaches. The announcement of Don Mattingly’s imminent return will give the Dodgers their fourth batting coach in the last season and a half. LA started 2007 with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who was fired in mid-season and gave way to Bill Mueller. When Joe Torre was named manager, he announced that Mattingly would join him as hitting coach, but personal problems derailed “The Hit Man’s” plans. The Dodger then hired Mike Easler (also nicknamed The Hit Man), who is now being reassigned to make room for Mattingly. Perhaps Mattingly can fix what ails the Dodgers most–a subpar offense that doesn’t walk enough or hit with sufficient power…

After coming within a game of the World Series, the Indians have become baseball’s biggest underachievers in 2008. They just lost their 10th consecutive game, which puts them perilously close to rock bottom. So what exactly has happened to the Indians, my preseaon pick to win the AL Central? Well, just about everything. They have endured a massive and continuing wave of injuries, which currently has Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Josh Barfield, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook on the disabled list. There has also been plenty of underperformance, with Hafner, Ryan Garko, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte, and Joe Borowski among the many culprits. With the team hopelessly out of contention, GM Mark Shapiro has already begun the purge, waiving Jason Michaels, trading Sabathia, and designating Borowski for assignment. The exodus only figures to grow, with third baseman Casey Blake, veteran outfielder David Dellucci, and soft-tossing righty Paul Byrd expected to hit the trade market before the end of the month.

And who says that baseball isn’t the most unpredictable of the four major sports?