Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Run Continues

At the beginning of the month, I wrote how there's nothing more exciting in sports than your favorite baseball team going on a hot streak. Little did I know that the Brewers were only at the start of an epic run: They'd won 27 of 32 games coming into Tuesday's game with the  hated St. Louis Cardinals.

Those are same Cardinals that Milwaukee always seem to be chasing. Now it's the Redbirds and their cantankerous manager, Tony La Russa, who are desperate for some wins. In fact, they need a lot of wins to even make a dent in Milwaukee's 10.5 game lead.

As exciting as that early run was, the chance to bury a bitter and put away the division before the second week of September takes the joy up several notches. Going into the season, I thought the Brewers had a chance to win the division, but I never imagined they'd be so far ahead, building the biggest lead in the team's history.

The off-season moves to shore up the pitching staff—bringing in Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke—have paid off. And then Doug Melvin, the club's general manager, took a bold chance in trading for New York Mets' closer Frankie Rodriguez. Not only was he able to rework a problematic contract, Rodriguez accepted his less-glamorous role as 8th-inning man.

That move shored up the bullpen and the team has ridden good pitching, timely hitting and some lucky bounces to the upper echelon of the National League.

It's been nearly three decades since Milwaukee has had a team playing at this level. The excitement just keeps growing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Worthless Vote of Confidence

The Chicago Cubs pulled the trigger today and fired their general manager, Jim Hendry. It's not a big surprise. After all, the Cubs have a big payroll and are having a dismal season.

But the real clue that he was not long for his job was the vote of confidence given him by the team last week. The only more hollow words in sports are an athlete's vows of retirement (Brett Favre might be the poster boy for that, but he was hardly the first to do the retirement dance).

Do a Google search for "vote of confidence"+baseball+manager" and you'll find the word "dreaded" frequently used. It seems unlikely that the owners, general managers and others who pass out these assurances are really lying (at least most of the time).

My guess is that for the most part they tire of being asked everyday by reporters whether or not this manager or that GM is about to be fired. "No comment" just fuels the frenzy for an answer. Not answering doesn't work. Changing the subject, ditto.

So finally an answer is offered. Maybe the decision has already been made, but often I think the matter is still up in the air when the "dreaded" vote of confidence is given.

And that's when it's time to start packing up the office.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

T. Plush Havin' a Good Time

The Milwaukee Brewers are having a great year and, surprisingly, a part-time player has become the symbol of a team having a good time. The two big stars – Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun – get their share of attention, but it's Nyjer Morgan who is entertaining the fans and his fellow players.

Not since Gorman Thomas and Pete Vuckovich brought a blue-collar zaniness to the contenders of the late '70s and early '80s have the Brewers had a player who had the knack to just have fun. And fans get a doubleheader with Morgan, because along to provide the fun is Tony Plush, his alter ego.

For the uninitiated, the alternate personality was born in his youth when he and his buddies came up with nicknames for each other. Now Morgan, a speedy player who is getting his first taste of playing for a good team, is in the limelight with T. Plush.

And the fans are eating up Morgan's comic and baseball act. New T. Plush T-shirts sell out the day they arrive at the Brewers team store, and his videos go viral on YouTube.

Morgan credits the T. Plush persona with his reckless play on the field, whether running into walls or slamming into catchers. Sometimes opponents don't like the latter, but he has given the Crew a couple wins this season that way, so local fans won't complain. Stormin' Gorman, as Thomas was known, played the same way, once saying the fans paid to see him hit a home run, run into a wall or strikeout and they probably would get to see at least two of those on any night.

And then there's the crazy, off-the-wall interviews he gives after games. Wild answers to typical questions make them must-see TV. Maybe the Brewers have caught lightning in a bottle, but Morgan has the Brewers' fan's vote as most entertaining player in the league.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cardinals Easy to Hate

Is there any team easier to hate than the St. Louis Cardinals? I've written about their manager before, but on Tuesday night the team's catcher joined the dishonor roll.
The Cardinals seem to have a corner on arrogance and bad behavior. It starts at the top, of course, with Manager Tony La Russa. His constant whining and attempts at gamesmanship are tiresome. If there were a picture in the dictionary for "crank" it would be of him. 
He and his team seem to have a problem with every team in the league. A window into his true thoughts came after Tuesday night's game when he called the fans "idiots" before taking it back. I think we all know who the idiot is. And during the sereis he accused the Brewers of dimming the lights on an LCD board when the Cards came to bat. The umpires said they hadn't noticed anything.
If they are not throwing at hitters and then denying it (see Ryan Braun Tuesday night), the Card like to claim the other team cheats in some ways. But don't worry, the holier-than-thou Cardinals play strictly by the rules and it's just so unfair that no one else does.
La Russa's not the only offender. The newest member of the Evil Cardinals Club is Yadier Molina. His rage at the home plate umpire Tuesday night was inexcusable. His suggestion that the ump bumped him first is absurd. Hopefully, his outburst will cost him 10 games and put his team further behind the Crew. Good guys don't always finish last.
There is a positive side to all this of course. Nothing makes sports better than a winning team and a bitter rivalry. Was there anything better than the Packers beating the Bears in the NFC title game? La Russa's teams are always competitive and loathsome at the same time. Nothing will be better than beating them for the division. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Best Time in Sports

Casey McGehee needs to get hot for the Brewers.
There's nothing in sports more exciting than your baseball team getting hot at the right time. The anticipation for each game is thrilling. And unlike other sports, the games are virtually every day.

That's the case with the Milwaukee Brewers right now. They were a team full of questions heading into the All-Star break. They were in first place, or near it, most of the first half of the season. But the team had a split personality: They had the best record in baseball at home and one of the worst on the road.

Now, they have the look of a division winner. They won five of 11 on a road trip and now seven in a row at home since. In times past, a run like this would send me scurrying for the latest newspaper to read all the quotes about how great my team was doing. Now, I can watch every game and read about the streak  all over the Internet.

But the dynamic hasn't changed. The anticipation builds each day until game time. And then, as the winning continues, it just gets better.

Of course, the Brewers won't win every game for the rest of the season (and I hope I didn't break some superstition about writing about a winning streak) but as David Letterman might say, "This is more fun than humans should be allowed to have."

I just hope the fun keeps rolling right into October (make that November).

ESPN.com - MLB