Monday, March 29, 2010

Lincoln Option Awaits Indians Shin-Soo Choo?

Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo -- a South Korean citizen obligated to submit to two years service in his nation's army -- may be able to take advantage of an Abraham Lincoln option to escape the draft, if all else fails.

President Lincoln -- who in the spring of 1861 attended a baseball game between the Brooklyn Eagles and the old Washington Nationals in the nation's capital -- opted to pay a "commutation fee" enabling Lincoln's son Robert to avoid conscription through the use of a mercenary.

Thus Robert, 21, attending Harvard Law School at the time, remained out of the war until its waning days, when he was given the rank of captain and assigned to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's staff as a glorified greeter. The commutation fee was so disdained by Lincoln's public that eventually it was outlawed in favor of compulsory military service for all otherwise eligible, able-bodied men.

In 1950, however, Allied Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur reinstated the practice for the sons of wealthy, influential Korean families, authorizing stand-ins to take their place as a KATUSAs (Korean Augmentee to United States Army).

Today the practice continues, but in South Korea is no less disdained than in Lincoln's time. It remains a possible but loathsome alternative to keep Shin-Soo playing in the major leagues, though a more palatable choice would be the granting of an exemption in exchange for his playing for the national baseball team in November's Asian games.

In any event, it's an absolutely safe bet Shin-Soo Choo won't be missing any Major League playing time in an army uniform.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Matt LaPorta Tentative for Indians

Indians rookie Matt LaPorta, coming off surgeries to his toe and hip, says he feels 100-percent healthy, but cannot be sure until he plays in unrestrained, everyday game action.

LaPorta, 25, a 7th overall pick in the 2007 draft, has been limited to playing every other day at the midpoint of Cactus League action; but he has five hits in his first 12 at-bats and has been projected by the team to be fully ready to play when the new season opens.

LaPorta told Sirius/XM Radio's Grant Paulsen that he has been taking reps not only in left field, his newly designated prime position, but also at his former position, first base.

As to which of the two will be his prime position by the end of the year, LaPorta was uncertain.

"To be honest with you, I don't know how to answer that right now," LaPorta told Paulsen.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound North Dakota native indicated his time at first base has been beneficial for his recovery because the infield is less demanding than the outfield. However, the primary reason he is spending so much time at first base is because Russell Branyan has an ailing back. He didn't mention it, but veteran Travis Hafner has had shoulder trouble in recent years, and will likely take time off as designated hitter, another position at which LaPorta can fill in.

He said he had no objection to be moved around.

"It keeps things new ... and it's a great opportunity for me and the ball club."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mets SS Reyes Wary of Marty Feldman's Disease?

This sounds like a joke, but unfortunately, it's not very funny: Mets shortstop Jose Reyes may not only miss part or all of the 2010 season due to an overactive thyroid, he's even at risk of losing his career and worse yet, might actually end up looking like the late, walleyed comedian Marty Feldman.

Yes, really. Feldman -- whose million-dollar, cockeyed glare reminds one of a pair marbles rolling around in a tin can -- was born with normal eyes, but as an adult acquired his familiar, crazed countenance due to the onset of Graves' Disease, an advanced manifestation of thyroid disorder.

If unarrested, and the nature of the "overactive thyroid" is due to Graves' disease or another form of hyperthyroidism, the condition ultimately could cause Reyes' eyeballs to bug out like a bullfrog due to an infiltrative process to the retro-orbital soft tissue structures. With any luck, however, modern medicine should easily enable Reyes to avoid this, but the possibility remains unclear as long a details continue to remain masked in what New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden has called a "great spring mystery."

Perhaps mindful that doom-and-gloom perceptions have a direct impact not only on the turnstile but on advertising, marketing and finance, the Mets give the appearance of carefully managing the news about Reyes.

While the Marty Feldman alternative ending is remote, a number of questions remain unanswered. For instance, why is the team calling for Reyes to rest? Does that mean no baseball activities or confinement to a sick-bed?

When two weeks would be more than enough time to determine whether blood tests have produced a false positive, why is the team allowing for still another month of inactivity if doctors are not anticipating the possibility of removing or destroying his thyroid gland to bring his body chemistry back into sync?

If doctors determine that Reyes's condition cannot be treated with medicine, why hasn't it been acknowledged that thyroid stabilization through radiation or surgery may require months, or even a year or more, before his metabolism returns to normal?

Perhaps most problematic of all, whether two weeks, six or a year, will the layoff cause Reyes a significant setback in his effort to rehabilitate his damaged hamstring? Add to it, he is clearly going to suffer from deconditioning.

It remains to be seen how this "great spring mystery" will conclude.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pirates Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce Starting Slowly

The competition for the Pirates starting first baseman's job has begun with Jeff Clement and Steve Pearce neck and neck statistically, and the winner is: Pedro Alvarez!

Yes, you read that right, unlikely though it may be, as preliminary, unofficial rumblings coming out of Grapefruit League camp indicate the possibility of Alvarez moving across the diamond from his natural position at third base if either Clement or Pearce don't kick it into gear by the end of May, perhaps sooner.

Of course, the very idea is still highly speculative at this point, but a potential problem lies primarily with the performance of Clement and Pearce, who once again are starting out slowly.

With fewer than two dozen at-bats between them so far, it's much to early to be drawing conclusions, but the fact remains that Clement is hitting .125 and Pearce .133. The small sample is not especially significant, but their track record is, as both have relatively stellar minor league stats but repeatedly have fallen short at the major league level.

The job is still Clements' to lose, but so far neither he nor Pearce can claim it. The possibility of moving Alverez to first base hinges not only on Clements' and Pearce's continued failure, but on third baseman Andy LaRoche, who also has started out slowly despite a six RBI day.

If LaRoche begins to play up to his potential, he could hold onto the third base job, forcing Alvarez to be considered as a replacement for either Clement or Pearce.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tim Lincecum, Tim Byrdak Share Same Body Type

Other than the fact that he is right-handed, owns two consecutive Cy Young awards, is 10 years younger and throws about 10 mph faster, the Giants ace Tim Lincecum and Astros situational lefty reliever Tim Byrdak are identical twin brothers by different mothers -- at least where body type is concerned.

Yes the two Tims are each 5 feet 11, and there's not 20 pounds difference between them, with Lincecum weighing in at about 170, Byrdak at 190. Both are exquisitely smallish men in a game where the average major league pitcher's stature now approaches 6 feet 4, and the tallest exceeds 7 feet.

But does it necessarily follow that either one or both are more prone to breakdowns simply because they compete against men generally more than a half a foot taller and 30-50 pounds heavier?

No, not necessarily, Byrdak told It's merely a matter of mechanics and form, not necessarily size, explained the 36-year-old veteran, who has survived more than eight years of sometimes gruelling major league service.

"The reason they keep saying Lincecum is going to break down is because of the way he throws the ball, winds, releases and finishes," Byrdak said. "That's what that is all about."

So if Lincecum, 26, had more fluid mechanics like the soft-tossing Byrdak, would he be more likely to survive as long as Byrdak? Conversely, if Byrdak had adopted Lincecum's relatively violent, hard-throwing style; would they be picking up Byrdak's body parts all over the field by now?

Byrdak, whose lengthy periods of disabled time have been linked to repeated bouts of elbow tendinitis, removal of bone fragments and ligament replacement, declined to guess: "They already picked up my body parts all over the field," he said.

Nomar Garciaparra Buys Red Sox Clubhouse Pass

Former Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra -- now in his current reconfiguration as an ESPN baseball reporter -- has bought himself a new pass to his old team's clubhouse with his tearful reconciliation with Theo Epstein, John Henry, and Larry Lucchino.

Here is the formerly vaunted superstar sitting elbow-to-elbow with the aforementioned suits, all smiles and bouquets as if all his notorious past transgressions have been forgotten and absolved, as if nobody remembers that it was his banishment to the Cubs five years ago -- like the excision of a cancerous tumor -- that so revitalized the then struggling BoSox that they were enabled to come back from the dead to reach the World Series.

Say what you will about those old, unsubstantiated inferences that his body broke down due to the effects of performance enhancing substances, or that he had exaggerated his alleged inabilities to play due to injury and laid down on the job at the critical moment when he was most needed during the 2004 drive toward World Series immortality.

Those in the know fully understand that the heart of the matter was actually Nomar's mercenary position in a proposed $60 million, four-year contract extension negotiation. The team's intransigence had left him bitter and recriminatingly resentful of what he perceived as a lack of appreciation for his previous stellar accomplishments -- accomplishments, by the way, of which he was no longer capable and which failed the acid test in the harsh light of good, old-fashioned New England good sense and frugality.

Though Garciaparra's tarnished relationships with writers have left a cloud over his chance of ever reaching Cooperstown, his Hall of Fame hat logo none-the-less remains at stake, so team has once again clutched him to its bosom and allowed him walk among the players' lockers with the rest of the reporters without seeming to be the interloper that he would be otherwise.

It's a pity that everyone has such a short memory. Rather than appearing with Garciaparra in a scene vaguely reminiscent of John Voigt's love scene in the motion picture "Deliverance," Epstein, Henry and Luccino might better have asked: "Nomar, what have you done for us lately?"

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Rockies Ask What's Miguel Olivo Done Lately?

After struggling at the plate for a half dozen years newly signed Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo undeniably broke through last year with a 23 home run total with the Royals, a rate of approximately one every nine at-bats, or an astonishing potential of 50 total for the season if he had played full time.

And so what are the Rockies asking of their newly signed backstop? What have you done for us lately? With Cactus League games just getting under way the suspense is already over as multiple media reports indicate that Olivo, 31, will be little more than a reserve due to the emergence of the highly regarded Chris Ianetta, 26.

Ianetta, who has 30-homer potential himself, is regarded as a superior glove man as compared to Olivo who, perhaps in part because of communication shortcomings, failed to satisfy the Royals defensive expectations last year. Ianetta will have to fall flat on his face, not only during spring camp, but in the first four to eight weeks of the season if Olivo is to see much more than a couple of hundred plate appearances.

Yankees Tickets at Tip of Gov. Paterson's Iceberg

If Gov. David Paterson had merely taken World Series tickets from the Yankees without paying for them, that could be dismissed as good old-fashioned, Tammany Hall style, New York Democratic Party machine politics as usual.

The problem is the five tickets, supposedly valued at a suspiciously low $2,125, represent just the tip of the iceberg of a potentially titanic load of additional allegations pressuring Patterson to vacate the governor's mansion.

The allegations being investigated include, but are not necessarily limited to, the dubious award of a state racetrack concession and the back room quashing of a court protective order in a domestic dispute that would likely have proved embarrassing to one of Patterson's cronies.

"The writing is on the wall. It's on the ceiling. It's on the floor. It's on the windows," Baruch College political science Prof. Doug Muzzio told the USA Today.

Yes, the handwriting is clear, so clear that not even a blind man could miss it.