PHOENIX — I never met Christina-Taylor Green, but I feel like I have through her parents, John and Roxanna.
She’s the little girl, who was gunned down nearly two years ago in nearby Tucson by a madman with an assault weapon who was after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and shot 19 people, killing six of them. The attack in front of a Safeway market took 20 seconds and he was stopped only because the 30-bullet magazine he used expired and he was tackled while trying to change that clip. The guy bought those bullets that morning at a local Walmart.
He disabled Giffords with a shot to the head, depriving Arizona of a young Congresswoman and possible Senator and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, of an active wife and a hopeful mother. She’s lucky to be alive and has used all her effort and courage to recover. She had to resign from the House of Representatives and will never be the same.
He left the Greens without their beautiful 9-year-old daughter and as Roxanna said this week: “I have a hole in my heart and will forever.”
But the Greens have moved on, using their faith as a source of strength and a motivating force to bring change to an American landscape that last week led to 20 more families suffering through the pain of losing their little children because of gun violence.
I met the Greens a month after Christina’s death when they were still in the throes of their own suffering and have written a lot about their journey since. The community, the baseball world and their friends and family circled around them.
In the days after the events last Friday in Newtown, Conn., I thought a lot about them and how they were reacting to another round of carnage. It had to have hit too close to home. Then I saw Roxanna being interviewed on CNN by Anderson Cooper from Newtown. The next day I reached out to John on the phone and wrote a column based on that conversation.
By remaining active, they are keeping Christina’s memory alive. I can’t say enough about the quality of these people and their unbelievable courage.
John is a member of s great baseball family. He’s a national crosschecker for the Dodgers, His dad, Dallas, is synonymous with the Phillies, who he managed to their first World Series title in 1980. I’ve known him for more than 30 years. Their son, 13-year-old Dallas, plays baseball. Even Christina played baseball. She was the only girl in her Little League and dreamed of being the first female to play in the Major Leagues. She was also active politically in her elementary school and was excited to meet Gabby that morning. That’s the reason she went to that community event.
John said that the younger Dallas is adjusting to life without his sister. They were very close and Christina was very protective. She sounds a lot older than her age when she died. And now it’s almost two years later.
“I would say we’re doing pretty darn good considering the circumstances,” John told me.
I’m not sure I could do the same.
A colleague wrote to me about my last blog, claiming that Miguel Cabrera’s feat this season was an “incredibly weak” Triple Crown. Huh?
A Triple Crown is a Triple Crown. That analysis just defies the vagaries of everything coming together correctly in a given year and is a reason why the statistical analysis only goes so far.
Here’s what I consider to be the best season of all time: In 1921, Babe Ruth hit .378 with 59 homers and 171 RBIs, but he didn’t win the Triple Crown. He led in homers and RBIs and the 59 homers was by far the single season record at the time. But the .378 average was not good enough. Harry Heilmann hit .394.
Was Ruth better than Cabrera comparing 1921 to 2012? You bet, statistically, although you have to take into account the differences of playing in the eras. Just like you have to do that when comparing different decades. No blacks, changes in bullpens, no DH, higher mounds prior to 1969, dead baseballs, the division system, no night baseball, no airplane travel, wool uniforms, smaller leagues. You name it.
Cabrera had the best numbers he needed to win the Triple Crown this season. There’s no such thing as a “weak” Triple Crown. In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski hit .326 and tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers. He had 121 RBIs. All those marks were either matched or bettered by Cabrera this year. I don’t remember anyone calling the Yaz Triple Crown weak back then. Why would anyone call Cabrera’s weak now? Similarly to the Tigers, the Red Sox won the pennant late in ’67 and lost in the World Series. Yaz was the MVP.
Love, Nate. Great analysis about the AL MVP race in his Nov. 14 FiveThirtyEight blog.
Unfortunately the “traditionalists” overruled him by a huge margin as Miguel Cabrera won 27 of the 30 AL first place votes and defeated Mike Trout. Can’t take what Cabrera did out of context. His numbers were good enough THIS YEAR to win the Triple Crown and the Tigers won THEIR division and went to the World Series. Trout did none of this and neither did the Angels.
It was just the luck of bad timing that the rookie was sick during Spring Training and had to play his way into shape in the Minors in April. With Trout playing all season the Angels MIGHT not have opened 7-15. He might have had better numbers than Cabrera and the Angels might have gone to the Series. Then he could have been the MVP. Didn’t happen.
Easier to aggregate polls and pick the presidential winner than trying to determine what a diverse group of baseball writers are thinking. And many of them are stat geeks who evidently this time ignored many of the analytic numbers and voted for Cabrera. In the past, these same guys have given the Cy Young to Tim Lincecum with 16 wins and Felix Hernandez with 13.
Right or wrong, the fact that Cabrera was the first pure Triple Crown winner since Frank Robinson in 1966 proved to be overwhelming.
PHOENIX — Despite what it may look like on the surface, the D-backs are not “waiving the white flag” in their race for a playoff spot with the trade on Sunday of veteran left-handed starter Joe Saunders to the Orioles for right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said.
They dropped a three-game series to the Padres at Chase Field and ended action on Sunday, trailing the first-place Giants by seven games in the National League West and the Cardinals by 6 1/2 for the newly-minted second NL Wild Card berth. The two non-division winning teams with the best records in the NL will meet in a “win and in” playoff game on Oct. 5. for the right to play the top seed in this year’s best-of-five NL Division Series.
“We wanted to sustain what we did last year,” Towers said, referring to his club’s surprising 2011 run into the first round of the playoffs. “We’re not waiving the white flag. We have a lot of games in the division. Hopefully we can get hot. Until we’re eliminated we’ll just keep playing.”
In recent weeks the D-backs have shed themselves of two veterans — Saunders and shortstop Stephen Drew — which is usually not the message one wants to send either to the fans or the rest of the players on the team as the season heads into its crucial final weeks. The teams above them have added like crazy. The Giants brought in Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. The Dodgers, by virtue of Saturday’s mega trade with the Red Sox, have now added Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton to the current active roster.
The D-backs countered with Lindstrom and third baseman Chris Johnson.
In Zona, this all smacks of getting ready for 2013, despite Towers’ claims to the contrary. Towers said he wanted to get a good read on rookies Jake Elmore at shortstop and Tyler Skaggs in the starting rotation. In fact, Towers insisted that the D-backs are better right now with Elmore over Drew at short and Skaggs over Saunders. Only the last month of the season will tell.
But here’s the reality of it all: The D-backs had no intention of exercising a $10 million option to bring back Drew next season or paying him a $1.35 million buyout. They saved about $3 million shedding him when they did. They have to make a decision whether to pick up a $6.5 million option on closer J.J. Putz for next season or buy him out for $1.5 million. Don’t expect them to exercise that option, either.
Next season, the D-backs can slide setup man David Hernandez into the closer slot and replace him in the eighth inning with Lindstrom.
The D-backs have $15 million in deferred money coming off the books at the end of this season, but even that currently makes them bit players in a division where the Dodgers and Giants will just keep spending and even the Padres are at a different level with new ownership and a $1.2 billion television deal that will give them an average of $60 million to spend each year over the next 20 years.
And what happens when the Dodgers sign a new TV deal that could net them $5 billion over next 20 years? Already, with the $61 million additions of A-Gon, Beckett and Carl Crawford, the Dodgers payroll is pegged at $189 million for 2013. And we haven’t gone into the offseason.
The D-backs are simply up against it, which is why the more than adept Towers has to juggle the fortunes of the present with the projections of the future. No white-flag waiver is he.
“[Going into the current season] I felt we were better on paper,” he said. “I don’t think the division is that much stronger. We probably overachieved last year and this is who we are.”
The big shake up in Boston should leave no doubt about the immediate future. Bobby Valentine has won the immediate skirmish there and undoubtedly will be back next season to fulfill the second year of his contract as manager.
The deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers gave the Red Sox about $260 million in salary space to immediately rebuild the club, but it removed the dissidents from the clubhouse. It took guts for Red Sox management to do this and that group should be commended. The process, though, really began earlier in the season when Kevin Youkilis was moved to the White Sox. But the bleating and the losing continued since then.
“Yes, it was necessary,” Valentine told the media about the trade. “It just didn’t seem like it mixed as well as it should. It has nothing to do with the individuals in the trade.”
Oh, it certainly did. And if Dustin “that’s not the way we do things around here” Pedroia doesn’t watch it he will be the next go. David Ortiz, down now with what appears to be a season-ending foot injury, will almost certainly be allowed to leave via free agency. And with that the Red Sox will be free of the Theo Epstein era, even though it ended with the Red Sox winning a rare pair of World Series titles.
To be sure, the results of this season do not stand alone. The Red Sox haven’t been a very good team since last August. They are 68-86 in nearly one full calendar year.
“It’s been a large enough sample size going back to last year that we needed to make more than cosmetic changes,” Boston’s first-year general manager Ben Cherrington said.
By dumping the two players making more than $200 million in salary over the course of the next five seasons — Gonzalez and Crawford — the Red Sox now should have a running chance. So does Valentine. The players and some members of the Boston media tried to run him out of town. One of the members of top management told me recently that the Red Sox weren’t going to be “bamboozled into doing that.”
Now the front office seems to have made its choice. There’s the old adage that you can’t get rid of the team so you have to get rid of the manager. Well, this time management got rid of the team.
Like Larry Bowa, Valentine’s a veteran old school guy who manages out of chaos. A team should know that when it hires him. Now it’s time to leave him alone and give him the opportunity to see what he can do.
NEW YORK –- Terry Francona sent a text message to Bobby Valentine apologizing for causing any commotion in the Red Sox clubhouse on Saturday.
The former Red Sox manager held court in the Boston clubhouse seated on a stool near Dustin Pedroia’s locker while about a half dozen of his former players pulled up seats around him in front of a room chocked full with members of the media. Francona is now an ESPN analyst in town to do Sunday night’s broadcast.
“Yes, he sent the text manager,” Valentine, the team’s current manager, said prior to Sunday night’s rematch between his club and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. “But it wasn’t necessary.”
Francona and the Red Sox parted ways last year after they were eliminated from the playoffs when the Rays won and they lost on the final day of the regular season. The Red Sox aided and abetted their own collapse by going 7-19 during the month of September. Valentine replaced Francona and under his watch this year the 50-51 Red Sox have continued in a lateral spiral.
They are 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees in the American League East after splitting the first two games of the three-game weekend series, Boston’s first in New York this season.
When asked about it on Sunday, Francona wouldn’t confirm nor deny that he sent the text message.
“That’s personal,” he said. “I don’t talk about my text messages.”
Valentine has been in the eye of the storm all season, his first managing in the Major Leagues since a seven-year tenure with the Mets ended in 2002.
After the Red Sox lost the opener on Friday night, 10-3, Francona entered the clubhouse on Saturday initially looking for Cody Ross and Pedroia sidled up to him. Clay Buchholz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Nick Punto and David Ortiz were among the players who joined the group, creating an awkward and unusual scene.
Valentine was ensconced his office with the door closed as this transpired. When he was advised later of Francona’s presence, he wasn’t particularly happy about it.
“We’ve got drama,” Valentine said after Saturday’s game that the Red Sox won, 8-6, with two runs in the top of the ninth. “We’ve got pregame drama, we’ve got in-game drama, and we’ve got postgame drama. Man, we’ve got drama.”
SAN DIEGO — You never know who you’re going to run into at the ball game and on Tuesday night at Petco Park it was Bill Walton, the former center who was one of my closest friends back in the day when having a great big man meant everything in the pre-Magic, pre-Michael, even pre-Dr. J. NBA.
Walton threw out the first pitch prior to his hometown Padres tilt against the Reds and needed three shots at it to get the ball from the rubber over the plate without a bounce. But give him his space. He’s nearing 60, survived spinal fusion and three years on his back. In his day, he was the best big man at moving the ball around the court I’ve ever seen.
“I come from the era of three to make two,” Walton explained. “That was from 15 feet. This is 60-feet, 6-inches. That’s a long way. That’s two-thirds of the court.”
Walton was so counter culture back then. There was the relationship with Jack Scott. He never told me whether he harbored the kidnapped turned fugitive Patty Hearst. But he was a Dead Head and great to talk to. And when he was signed by the San Diego Clippers, I jumped at a chance to cover him even though a foot injury kept Walton from playing any more than one game a week. I learned more about the tarsal navicular bone back then than I could have ever imagined. But that was life covering Bill. He was eclectic and loved basketball. Still is. Still does.
Here’s a little piece of his philosophy: “Basketball has nothing to do with size and strength. Skill. Timing. Position. It’s a thinking man’s game. You win when you’re the smartest and you make the emotional commitment to be the champion.”
Walton was referring to the Lakers bringing star point guard Steve Nash into the fold to play alongside Kobe Bryant in the same backcourt.
“I’m just as excited as I can be,” he said.
Walton was wearing a Padres jersey with his trademark No. 32 on the back. On the front were mustard stains, signs of a night well spent at the ballpark.
Walton is a San Diego native through and through. Played his high school ball at Helix High. Played his college ball up the road at UCLA. Won his NBA championships leading the Portland Trailblazers and playing understudy to Robert Parish with the Boston Celtics. His characteristic red hair is all white now. He has outlived two of his heroes: Coach John Wooden and Jerry Garcia, the lyrical soul of the Grateful Dead. And he considers himself “the luckiest guy in the world.”
“San Diego is home for me. I’m the proudest and most loyal San Diegan there is,” he said. “This is the most fantastic place in the world to live.”
ATLANTA –- Surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Mariano Rivera’s right knee went off better than expected on Tuesday when no repairable damage was found in the meniscus in the damaged knee, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
That was good news.
“The less you have to do, the better off you are,” Girardi said before Tuesday’s rematch against the Braves at Turner Field. “I’d think that’s good news. I’m sure Mo is anxious to get going.”
The 42-year-old Rivera tore the ACL and reportedly damaged the meniscus in his right knee while shagging fly balls in the outfield May 3 before a game in Kansas City.
He would have had the surgery sooner, but doctors discovered a blood clot in his right calf after the knee injury and he had to take blood-thinning medication to eradicate the clot. When that was fully dissolved he was able to undergo the knee surgery, which was performed in New York by Dr. David Altchek, the Mets’ team physician.
“He got it repaired,” Girardi said. “It’s another step toward him coming back. We’re all expecting to see Mo next year. I don’t think we’re going to see him pitch again this year.”
Rivera, the Major League all-time leader with 608 regular-season saves and 42 more in the playoffs, tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that the surgery had gone fine.
“My surgery was a success, it went perfectly,” he wrote. “I am looking forward to beginning my rehab soon. Thanks as always for your prayers.”
Girardi said there was no timeline for Rivera’s return. Rivera had said in the days after sustaining the injury that he wasn’t going to end his career on a sour injury note and would work hard to return next season.
“A lot of guys, it’s whatever their bodies allow them to do,” Girardi said. “They can give you a timetable, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be before or after. I think we expect him next year.”