Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

My Photo
Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Down (In Flames) Go the Diamondbacks

Was anyone surprised? Did any of us fans who observed their performance on the field during the tail end of the regular season anticipate any other outcome? Did the revelation in the press that the D’backs clubhouse resembled a slumber party of high school boys come as a shock? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, congratulations on having spent the last year successfully living as a troglodyte. For those of us paying even the least bit of attention, let alone devoting much our free time to following the home team through every game during the end of the regular season and the post-season, this was the only end we could foresee.

This is a young team, one that obviously has tremendous potential. But with youth comes also a lack of maturity and a need for boundaries, guidance, and motivation. Bob Melvin, for all the praise heaped upon him and for all the calls to name him “manager of the year”, for the National League if not all of Major League Baseball, does not appear to be the man best suited to do this. I do not know what Melvin’s agenda for the team was after the end of the Division Championship games against the Cubs. It appears obvious from the quality of team play, however, that lengthy strategy sessions with the players to focus their strategy against the Colorado Rockies, a team with which they should have been by now intimately familiar, did not take place. Indeed, it would seem that the D’backs had Melvin’s blessing to sleep in, booze it up, and generally lay about during the five-day rest period. The Rockies seem to have put that same interval to much better preparatory use. Though I have no way of knowing what either manager did during the hiatus between the NL Division Playoffs and the NLCS, the Rockies' performance on the field certainly seems to indicate that they prepared themselves mentally, strategically, and physically for facing the D’backs, perhaps taking extra time to carefully study the offensive and defensive weaknesses of our lineup. The D'backs apparently didn't think such a thing to be necessary, to their evident detriment.

What disappoints me most of all is the attitude permeating the D’backs clubhouse that says “We don’t care if we win or lose, we just want to have fun.” Well, young sluggers, your fans expect you to both have fun AND play to win. While it’s true that you’re not commanding, among other things, the high salaries of some of your peers on other teams, your fan base expects nothing less than one thousand percent performance effort from you, including the dedication to winning as many games as possible, most certainly once you make it to the post-season. Anything less is unworthy of a professional baseball player.

So what to do? Well, for starters, Josh Byrnes, Jeff Moorad, and company need to kick BoMel in the ass and in the midsection and let him know that this “whatever” attitude permeating the club will not be tolerated and that if it takes “bedchecking” of his team to get them to play baseball like adults, then amen, so be it. (For my money they could also give him some pointers on managing his pitching staff. Leaving starters in the game after the fifth inning just ensure that they “get the win” has, in several key situations, led exactly to the opposite. The situations with Livan Hernandez and Micah Owings during the last two games of the NLCS are prime examples of what happens when starters show fatigue and start missing the strike zone and giving up runs. Having starters tough it out through six-plus innings during the regular season is one thing, but if you’re looking to win a championship or a World Series, you do what you have to do and go to the next available arm appropriate for the situation before runs are allowed and leads lost. Under such circumstances “get’em outta there!” needs to be any manager’s post-season motto where starters are concerned during the middle of the game, especially in the National League. Bullpens are there for a reason. That said, keeping closer Jose Valverde on the mound for extra innings and having him pitch thirty-five-plus balls is a common-sense no-no. What on earth were you thinking, BoMel?)

Second, send a few of the younger guys back down to Tucson and let them mature for a season. Justin Upton, for all of his star power as a hitter and right fielder when first brought up from AA Mobile, quickly lost steam as far as I’m concerned and really needs to get that final year of growth in the top of the minors before joining the mother team full time. Eric Byrnes, for all of the accolades heaped upon him by management and fans, is perhaps the most overrated player on the team. His post-season performance was pathetic, to put it charitably, and his top-of-the-ninth strikeout with two on last night in game four was the icing on the cake that sent the Rockies to the World Series. Get off your pedestal, Byrnsie, until you’ve done something to earn it. On the other hand, I hope that Mark Reynolds is given equal playing time at third next season. He has more than lived up to expectations, despite committing defensive errors that have proved costly at times. He has shown himself to be a quick study and will overcome these bad habits. Augie Ojeda has also more than earned a spot on the permanent roster and needs to be allowed equal playing time with Orlando Hudson at second base. My only gripe about Augie is that he displays at tendency to be overzealous defensively, moving into first base or right field territory to catch fly balls or grounders when they are clearly within the sights of the right fielder or first baseman. This has caused cross-ups and conflicts on a couple of occasions, with Augie “bumping out” Conor Jackson or Justin Upton, causing balls to drop in for base hits that should have been caught. Not quality play for major leaguers. Indeed, most players should be over this by the team they move up out of Advanced “A” league ball.

In closing, I expect better from the D’backs in 2008. Discipline and focus are what’s needed. Let’s hope that BoMel and coaching staff will step up to the plate and see it happen.

A Sad Side Note in Closing: Next season is scheduled to be the last for the Tucson Sidewinders, the D’backs AAA farm team. After thirty-eight seasons here in Tucson, first as the Tucson Toros, then as the Sidewinders beginning in 1998 with the establishment of the D’backs as an NL expansion team, they have been sold to a New York concern that is planning to move them to Reno. Apparently they have had the second lowest attendance figures for the Pacific Coast League for at least four seasons running, with only the Colorado Rockies’ AAA team, the Colorado Springs SkySox, having lower figures. The Sidewinders have always provided this city with quality baseball at bargain-basement admission prices, with regular appearances by current Diamondback stars. They were the 2006 Pacific Coast League champions and almost repeated their playoff success this year. Sadly, Tucsonans just don’t seem interested in baseball in significant numbers. The Sidewinders’ 11,000-seat stadium, Tucson Electric Park (affectionately known as TEP to us fans), rarely ever fills more than 5,000 of those seats, even on weekends. With baseline box seats going for just $9.00 each and general admission seats at $6.00, it’s hard to imagine cost being a factor in keeping the fans away. Personally, I suspect that it has more to do with the park management and the (abysmal) quality and exhorbitant prices of concessions (higher even than those at Chase Field in Phoenix, home of the D’backs) than anything else. Current owner Jay Zucker doesn’t seem to show any interest in reaching out to the fans, so I suppose that his team’s fate is largely his own fault. Anyway, the Sidewinders will be sorely missed, at least by this fan. Maybe we’ll be lucky and get an independent league team to set up shop in town. Till then, there’s always Cactus League (pre-season Spring training) baseball.