The Pessimist's Corner -The Year the Baseball Died

Yes, Opening Day 2004 is around the corner. Every team (besides those rebel Yanks) is tied with every other team in the standings, the slate of 2003 wiped clean.

I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride.
But something touched me deep inside, the day the music died
.

Don MacLean wrote "American Pie" to lament the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper, his musical heroes of yesteryear.

But rock music survived. Instead of actually listening to Buddy Holly, we get oh-so-clever songs written about him that aren't even about him by oh-so-cool bands (a Blue Album and a Green Album?!?! Brilliant!).

From the nation's pastime, a simple game played by this countries' youths to the now mega-industry bent on conquering the world (or maybe just Tokyo), the game of baseball has changed.

For better or for worse (I'll go with the latter), we have finally reached the golden age of cynicism in sports (and damn, O.J. Simpson wasn't even involved).

As if the Pete Rose gambling scandal and the Kobe rape trial wasn't enough, the off-season taught us to add BALCO to our vocabularies in a jiffy. Baseball, a game so indebted to its history and its records, is now as tainted as love (yes, I certainly do love the 80s).

Yet through it all, we can look forward. And watch. And hope. Yes, Opening Day 2004 is around the corner. Every team (besides those rebel Yanks) is tied with every other team in the standings, the slate of 2003 wiped clean. Despite the criticisms of the off-season (cutting payroll, signing mediocre replacements), the San Francisco Giants have as good of a chance as any other team to win it all and finally bring that coveted championship to San Francisco for the first time since the franchise moved from New York!!!

Sorry, I kid. But first, here's a look at the player movement of the off-season:

Key Additions: A.J. Pierzynski, Brett Tomko, Michael Tucker, Dustan Mohr, TWO Milwaukee Brewers rejects, that hole in Cody Ransom's swing, SBC

We Hardly Knew Ya: Tim Worrell, Rich Aurilia, Jose Cruz Jr., Joe Nathan, Benito Santiago, Innocence and Purity, Marvin Benard's career, Sir Sidney Ponson, El Big Cat, Greg Anderson, Eric Young

Projected 2004 Starting Lineup (as per the San Francisco Chronicle baseball preview):
1. Ray Durham, 2B: Wait, we signed him for $20 million? Yikes. If the Giants are to make the playoffs, we need to see a repeat of his all-star years (1998/2000). The most important field player not named Barry.
2. J.T. Snow, 1B: Quote from the Chronicle: "Admit it. You're shocked he's still here." I concur. Will J.T. surmount that daunting 10 home run barrier (3 straight years in single digits). Not if Pedro Feliz takes his at bats.
3. Marquis Grissom, CF: He was a revelation last season. As much as I want to believe that he'll repeat (20 HR, 79 RBI, .300 avg.), I just don't see it. Look for a slight drop-off in production and for him to share some playing time with Tucker, Hammonds, and Mohr.
4. Barry Bonds, LF: He's still the most dangerous player in baseball but only Cher can turn back time. He'll need more rest than ever (his games played have declined from 153 in 2001 to 130 last year).
5. Edgardo Alfonzo, 3B: Even in his prime he'd be off-suited to properly protect Bonds. He provides as much protection as a broken condom. Still, look for a slight improvement from last season.
6. Michael Tucker, RF: It's a real shame that Cruz had to choke so badly in the playoffs because Tucker is a downgrade in nearly every category. 15 HR and 60 RBI, max (his career highs are 15 and 61, ouch). 8. Neifi Perez, SS: If we still had Livan Hernandez, I'd probably bat him in front of Neifi. Fortunately for Neifi, Cody Ransom is his backup. Felipe said that he'll explore playing Feliz at short. I'm praying as I type.

Bench:
Pedro Feliz will likely play multiple positions (3B, 1B, OF, SS) and should become Felipe's #1 pinch hitting option. Jeffrey Hammonds, once he returns from the injured reserve will compete for playing time with Michael Tucker. Dustan Mohr adds some much needed power off the bench. He's gotten a lot of platoon at bats with a good Minnesota team the past 2 years so he should surprise.

Yorvit Torrealba is solid but after the Pierzynski trade, his future might lie elsewhere if he wants to play everyday.

Cody Ransom will share time with Neifi at short as they combine forces to fight the evil known as the Mendoza Line.

Tony Torcato finally made an Opening Day roster so we'll see if the hoopla over his hitting ability translates at the MLB level.

Starters:
1. Jason Schmidt: Had two positive minor league outings recently so hopefully he'll be good to go. I don't need to tell you just how special this guy is.
2. Kirk Rueter: The end is near. It's impossible to not love Woody, unless you're an umpire who has stopped calling his borderline corner strikes. Durability concerns are also mounting. Even in his prime he wasn't a #2 starter.
3. Jerome Williams: Led all spring training pitchers with 6 losses. But he has good stuff, good command, and an understanding of how to pitch. If he unravels, well, damn, we're screwed. In my opinion, he's the glue that has to hold this rotation together.
4. Brett Tomko: It's official, Tomko's a journeyman. The Giants are his 4th team in 4 years. Just get us 6 innings a game and hand it over to the bullpen. Please.
5. Dustan Hermanson: He did not show the ability to pitch effectively after 5 innings last year but had some decent outings. If he (or anybody else falters) the Giants still have Kevin Correia in the minors, Jim Brower, and Wayne Franklin, our very own Brewers reject.

Closer:
Robb Nen is on injured reserve (again) and has reportedly lost velocity. Matt Herges (who had an amazing spring) will be the closer to start off. I wouldn't be shocked if he keeps the job even after Nen returns. He has better stuff than Worrell, although he blew a shot to become the Dodgers closer a few years back. We'll see.

Set-up:
Felix "Fastball Away" Rodriguez: Well, at least he takes the mystery out of pitching.

Middle Relief: Jim Brower, Scott Eyre, Wayne Franklin, Jim Christiansen, Kevin Walker, David Aardsma, Leo Estrella, Chad Zerbe, Noah Lowry, Dave Veres: Whatever. Not great but decent, especially after Eyre gets healthy. These guys will have a lot of work to do this year.

Outlook:
1. San Diego: I'm going out on a limb here (more of a cliff actually). If their pitching can hold up, they'll surprise people. Lots of solid, if unspectacular bats in the lineup. They're my pick for the least worst in the West. And who can resist brand-new PetCo Park? Adorable, really.
2. San Francisco: No Wild Card = no playoffs. Sorry, we just don't have the offensive talent. And the pitching is looking somewhat suspect right now. We'll battle tough all season but I see us coming up just short. And if we manage to sneak into the playoffs, make sure to pack light.
3. Los Angeles: Dave Roberts? Cezar Izturis? Alex Cora? The pitching is good (even without Kevin Brown) but will they score any runs? If they play small-ball and get timely hitting, they could claw and scrap their way to the top of the West. Maybe.
4. Arizona: Cost-cutting measures will hurt the D-Backs. Curt Schilling and the underrated Miguel Batista are both gone. Who's left? Elmer Dessens? Shane Reynolds? Steve Sparks? Hands down, the worst 3-5 starting tandem in the league. At least their ballpark has indoor Jacuzzis.
5. Colorado: Royce Clayton is their starting shortstop and slated to bat 2nd. Too bad this isn't 1997. And former Giant Shawn Estes went from Spring Training invitee to Opening Day starter. But at least Rockies faithful will be able to enjoy those delicious deep-fried bull testicles (Rocky Mountain Oysters, so clever!).

World Series Prediction:
Philadelphia Phillies losing to the New York Yankees in 6 games.

Yes. The outlook is somewhat dim for our beloved Giants. But I for one love parity and the NL West is loaded. Not so great for talent but great for parity.

No longer will the Giants get to smack around the Dodgers, the Padres, and the Rockies (OK, the Rockies still suck). But it'll be a fun, competitive year. Happy (belated) baseball season fellow Giants fans!



Ben can be found lamenting the Ghost of Billy Mueller Past. He welcomes your comments, suggestions, and PayPal donations (kidding! Plus this isn't even it) at wuben101@yahoo.com.

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