Yesterday, free-agent pitcher Roy Halladay announced that he’d sign a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays and never play professional baseball again.
It seems so antiseptic to put it that way, but that’s what happened. And it’s a great loss for baseball.
The Halladay legend is well known. The first-round pick out of a high school in the suburbs of Denver, Halladay reached the majors by age 21, but his career fell apart in 2000, when he posted a 10.64 ERA for Toronto and was demoted all the way down to A-ball. It was there, during his Ankielian nadir, that he discovered The Mental ABC's of Pitching by H.A. Dorfman, then recast his mechanics and returned to Toronto the next year. There, he began an 11-year run of dominance the likes of which you see once in a generation. You know the stories about his legendary dawn patrol workouts and his equally legendary bromance with his catcher Carlos Ruiz, who’d collaborate with Halladay on the two greatest pitching performances of his career.
You likely know the numbers, but let’s repeat a few. From 2001 to 2011, among pitchers who threw at least a thousand innings, Halladay
In case you were busy spending your EA settlement money as quickly as possible, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Led by running back Frank Gore, the San Francisco 49ers rebounded from two consecutive heavy defeats in style, beating the St. Louis Rams, 35-11. "We couldn't run the ball," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher after the loss. "And they could run the ball." Fisher, a longtime member of the league's competition committee, then added, "That's not fair. At some point it's like, let's at least swap some linemen so that it's a good game. What happened to sportsmanship?"
Mariano Rivera played his final game at Yankee Stadium, throwing 1⅓ perfect innings in New York's 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Rivera, who has spent the season being given gifts on a de facto nationwide farewell tour, was approached by manager Joe Girardi after the game. "I bet you noticed we hadn't given you anything," Girardi told Rivera. "I had, but I don't mind; this organization has given me everything," Rivera said. Girardi smiled, and told his longtime closer, "I saved that third wish for a reason," before yelling, "I wish for Mariano to be free!" Suddenly, a swirl of blue light came from the ground, and the lamp that Rivera had quietly carried with him for his entire Yankees career shattered as if made out of glass. "Now run. No more saving us," Girardi whispered in Rivera's ear. "Now you can save yourself." Rivera then thanked Girardi before awkwardly reminding him that he was still contracted to play the final series of the season at Houston.
In case you were busy doubling down on a profanity-laced tirade against your own fans, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard had two touchdowns as the Cincinnati Bengals dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers to 0-2 for the first time in the Mike Tomlin era with a 20-10 win. "The guy from The Other Sister! You gotta be kidding me," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said to Tomlin over his headset after Bernard's first touchdown. A confused Tomlin asked LeBeau what he was talking about, to which the renowned defensive coordinator responded, "I thought it was crazy too! Why would Marvin Lewis bring him in? He was wooden in Avatar, and I hear his new show, Dads, is terrible. I mean he wasn't bad in Saving Private Ryan, but he hardly struck me as an athlete, and that was long enough ago the Bengals still had Ickey Woods at the position. Guy's gotta be pushing 40." When Tomlin then asked LeBeau if he had confused rookie speedster Giovani Bernard with Boiler Room star Giovanni Ribisi, LeBeau went silent for 60 seconds before saying, "So, we might not have the schemes in place to stop this guy."
After a weather delay postponed the final round of the BMW Championship, Zach Johnson fired a 65 to outpace Jim Furyk and Nick Watney, winning the tournament at 16-under. "Man, what a super tournament," Johnson said after surging from behind to take the win. "Just a really sweet victory. And it's my title at 16-under. My super, sweet, 16 under wait that's not on tape is it? Shit."
Whoa, whoa, whoa. How is it mid-September? Did we even have August this year? Are the playoffs really sneaking up on us? This is getting serious, gang. Each team has about 15 games left to win, lose, bargain, plead, suffer, and despair. There are only three weekends of regular-season baseball left, starting today, and here's something important: A fancy word for "third-to-last" is "antepenultimate." Armed with that knowledge, it's time for the antepenultimate weekend countdown. Join me!
By normal people’s standards, Casper Wells is very fortunate. He’s young and handsome, and makes a good living by playing a sport. But baseball players aren’t normal people, and by their standards, Wells is afflicted. By their standards, Casper Wells is as pitiable as Job or Oedipus, except unlike his legendary precursors, there’s no moral lesson to his suffering.
Wells is far from the most tragic figure in the game. His highs were never as high, nor were his lows as low as those of, say, Matt Bush.
It took longer than it should have. The Red Sox screwed around for too long with the likes of meme generator Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder. Sure, there were reasons. They didn't want to rush their top prospect. They wanted to ensure he could play his natural position. They needed to be positive that he was ready for the big leagues.
The wait is over. Xander Bogaerts finally made his major league debut Tuesday night. He went 0-for-3, grounding out twice, striking out once, and leaving five men on base in his first two at-bats. He also made a nifty play to end the fifth, charging a Marco Scutaro bouncer and gunning him out at first by an eyelash. The bigger takeaway was this: One of baseball's top prospects finally made the Show, and the Red Sox are better for it. Given how Boston's played over the past couple weeks, it's not a moment too soon.
Just 20 years old (he turns 21 on October 1), Bogaerts hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games at Double-A Portland, then .284/.369/.453 at Triple-A Pawtucket. Those are strong numbers on their face for anyone at any position, given neither league (nor home ballpark) dramatically distorts numbers the way, say, playing in Las Vegas does. Still, it's one thing for a first baseman or corner outfielder to hit for average, show a strong batting eye (63 walks in 515 plate appearances), and have power (15 homers, 23 doubles, and six triples), given the much lower barrier to entry in place to handle those positions defensively. Shortstop is another matter altogether. A player like Jose Iglesias may never amount to much offensively (his numbers this year are due largely to batted-ball luck; he doesn't walk, and he has no power), but he can still slot in as a team's starter for the next half-decade, the way he now is in Detroit after Boston traded him away. Bogaerts doesn't have Iglesias's defensive skill, but he's also so talented offensively that he projects as a future All-Star, given what people expect him to do with the bat versus the relatively low offensive standards set by the average shortstop.
This week's action-packed Jonah Keri Podcast starts with ESPN's Jayson Stark. The longtime Philadelphia Inquirer writer weighs in on the state of the Phillies and their recent firing of manager Charlie Manuel (3:00). Jayson and Jonah then shower Miguel Cabrera with superlatives and try to place his incredible 2013 season into historical context (15:55). From there, we cover the big-league boom in starting pitching and the defensive changes that have helped teams prevent runs (27:30), the latest from the world of A-Rod (31:00), and the NL and AL pennant races (35:00).
Then Randy and Jason Sklar, co-hosts of the Sklarbro Country podcast, drop by for some Cardinals talk (46:35). Despite growing up with the glory days of Whiteyball and watching World Series–winning teams in 2006 and 2011, Randy and Jason are both pessimistic about (read: reverse-jinxing) this year's Redbirds. The conversation pivots to movie talk (51:00), with thoughts on the best Dennis Quaid and Val Kilmer movies, plus Jonah's recommendation forThe Salton Sea, the best movie no one's ever seen (go see it!). We end with more Cardinals talk, including a debate on St. Louis's (controversial) reputation for having the best fans in baseball.
More good news for Detroit — it's in three separate entries this week! Let the good times roll!
10. Hey, Everyone, the Orioles Still Exist (COL-BAL)
Has any team gone from "national darling" to "completely ignored" in one year while still being a really good baseball team? Granted, the Orioles spent last season winning what felt like 87 straight extra-inning games, and their flair for the dramatic has ebbed slightly in 2013. But this club is still 10 games over .500 and just 2½ games back of the last wild-card spot. It's almost a shame that they've been lost in the Dodgers-Pirates-Royals-Rays feisty-underdog shuffle. The Orioles are essentially like your friend's 6-year-old kid who's amazing at piano. The first time you see it, you're genuinely impressed. The second time, you're more like, "OK, we get it, the kid's good at piano, let's do something else," and finally you stop going to their house at all because you can't take the piano anymore. Meanwhile, the kid is like, "What did I do? Sorry for being awesome at the piano, dicks."
In case you were busy going another year without winning a major, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Despite Mariano Rivera's third consecutive blown save, the Yankees, powered by Alex Rodriguez's first home run of the season and Brett Gardner's walk-off, were able to beat the Tigers, 5-4, and salvage a series win. "I'm glad the team bailed me out. I just — I have no idea what's wrong with me," Rivera said as he stared into his locker, in which he had hung the parting gift he received earlier from Detroit, a case containing two airtight vials with dirt from the pitcher's mounds at Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park. Rivera then coughed deeply: "I feel weak, like I've been breathing wrong. Like somehow over these past few days poisonous vapors have leaked into my system, like another team wants me to be sick right now. I don't know, I'm probably just being crazy."
Jason Dufner won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, outpacing veteran Jim Furyk and finishing 10-under for the tournament. "Some people argue the PGA Championship is the Jason Dufner of majors," Dufner said as he held the Wanamaker Trophy limply in front of him with a dead expression on his face. "To them I say, 'Yeah, you're kind of right, I guess.'"
In case you were busy buying gray-market signatures of 20-year-olds off eBay, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he has beleaguered slugger Alex Rodriguez penciled in to start Monday, despite rumors of an impending multiyear ban due to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. "Oh lord, Alex is a goner," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, outfitted in a garish naval uniform. "Girardi's pencil-ins are just a sack of lies. 'Sure Brian, I know you're down, hey, why don't we pencil in some time where you can come over and spend some time next Saturday on my boat with the family?' And then Friday rolls around and he texts me saying his daughter has 'scarlet fever,' and he'll pencil me in next month. Well, I showed him. I've been sleeping on his boat for weeks. Call me Captain Cashman." After a pause, Cashman bulged out his eyes and yelled, "Now! I'm your commanding officer!"
The Atlanta Braves stayed hot, winning their 10th straight game, 4-1, over Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies. Craig Kimbrel, who recorded the save while lowering his ERA to 1.25, said, "Remember when I looked mortal for a week back in early May? That was a test. Some of you passed. Some of you did not pass." When asked what he meant, Kimbrel looked serenely into the distance and said, "For all there is a time when judgment will come. I promise only that the believers shall be spared any suffering." Kimbrel then picked up a water bottle full of wine and smiled.
With the MLB trade deadline looming, Jonah Keri talks to Grantland writer Rany Jazayerli about the art of buying and selling. Should the long-shot Royals sell, buy, or both? Should the ostensibly eliminated Phillies sell, or do off-field concerns trump potential baseball ops moves? Jonah and Rany also cover bullpen-fortifying trades by the Tigers and Rays, the Braves' huge NL East lead and its ramifications, and how the next two months might shake out the Pirates.
Jonah is then joined by Brewers relief pitchers Burke Badenhop, John Axford, and Jim Henderson. What's life like in a big league bullpen? Badenhop and Axford weigh in with the wildly entertaining and extremely unhygienic game they hope to make famous (feel free to weigh in with a name in the comments below). We also cover Henderson's long journey to the big leagues, how two Canadians like Axford and Henderson ended up choosing baseball over hockey, and Badenhop's thoroughly baseball-nerdy undergraduate thesis from his days at Bowling Green.
Listen to this podcast here. Subscribe to Grantland Sports in iTunes.
The headline on ESPN.com right now is "A-Rod decries mix-ups, lobbies for Fri. play." My question is, do you think A-Rod knows what "decries" means? It strikes me as such a funny word to use in the context of a guy who allegedly owns pictures of himself painted as a centaur (and if he doesn't, he still let someone take this one). Anyway, the whole bizarre saga took an even stranger turn when A-Rod sought the advice of a second doctor (who never actually met him) because he didn't trust the Yankee team doctor. The second doc said his quad muscle was fine, and he could play pronto, and now A-Rod wants to be in the lineup tonight. Which implies, of course, that the Yankee team doctor was lying about the injury at the behest of the team, presumably to keep him off the roster so the Yankees could collect insurance rather than pay out his exorbitant contract themselves. It makes sense, because now the Yankees only have to sideline him long enough for Bud Selig to levy a Biogenesis/PED suspension on him ("all but assured," per CBS's Jon Heyman), which could happen any day. So the odds of the Yankees actually letting him play are somewhere in the neighborhood of nil, and it's hilarious that they might be lying about his quad to save money. Of course, they'd love it if A-Rod would just shut up and ride lamely off into the sunset, but what happens when you want A-Rod not to be annoying? A-Rod gets annoying! Because after all this, A-Rod has accepted the Yanks rehab plan. I'm a Yankees fan, but personally I hope he brings Cashman and the team doctor and whoever else down with him. My ideal team is just Jeter and Mariano playing 2-on-9, with Eduardo Nunez as the mascot.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote up a starting nine of the most exciting players at every position, then followed it up with a list of the most exciting pitchers in the game. Completely rewriting the list after half a season would probably be a little silly, but here are some players who missed the cut the first time around who’d definitely make it now.
Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s almost too obvious.
When Puig first got the call, I mockingly dismissed the idea that he’d immediately become the best player in baseball. Comparing him to Mike Trout was a ridiculous thing to do at the time. But he’s certainly been tremendous fun to watch during the first six weeks of his career, inspiring a level of hysteria that might remind older Dodgers fans of Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo. He’s inspired probably millions of words of hyperbolic, effervescent prose, to say nothing of a musical tribute act.
And you know what? He’s earned it. He combines natural talent with obvious, constant, homicidal effort on the level of Bryce Harper or Chase Utley. He has the hitting approach of Jeff Francoeur on MDMA, but it doesn’t matter because even with his regression to the mean very much in progress, he’s still slugging .571. Is his .462 BABIP going to hold up? Of course not, but at 22 years old and with only 106 games at any level, he’s going to keep getting better.
He’s made a believer out of me, and if you like baseball and you like fun, you should seek out his games, because he’ll do the same to you.
10. The 2013 "Oh Wait, They're Good?" Team (ARI-SFG)
Every year, it feels like there's one division-leading team that slips under the radar. This is often because the division itself is terrible, the team hasn't had much playoff success in the past decade or so, and they may or may not be out west in a city not named Los Angeles. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, we've got a solid "all of the above" case. I'm not saying the D-backs have been very impressive — with a paltry plus-nine run differential, they have a huge target on their backs as we start the second half — but come on, shouldn't we give them at least a little credit? I mean, like, Patrick Corbin is really good. And hey, they have a 15-8 record against the NL Central, a.k.a. the best division in baseball. All I'm saying is that the D-backs are exactly the kind of team that could win a crappy division and then storm to a World Series win in the crapshoot that is the MLB playoffs, negating every piece of wisdom anyone has dispensed all season and making us all angry in the process. We should start learning their name.
Yesterday, the Phillies put Ryan Howard on the disabled list so that he could undergo surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee. It was the latest agonizing turn in the career of a player who was once one of the best power hitters in the game, but is now hobbling out the last days of his career like a racehorse with a broken leg.
Howard was superb in his early years, winning Rookie of the Year in 2005, then hitting 58 home runs and winning the MVP in 2006. He hit at least 45 home runs in each of the next three seasons and at least 30 the two years after that. Since then, he’s suffered a catastrophic injury to his Achilles tendon and returned a shell of his former self, partially because age robs baseball players not only of speed and health, but of bat speed as well.