Results tagged ‘ Rajai Davis ’

DEFENSE COULD BE TRADEMARK OF 2010 A’S

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When the A’s consummated the
Kevin
K
ouzmanoff (right) trade with the San Diego
Padres last week, most pundits nodded
and offered the obvious analysis.  Oakland
had, indeed, found a much n
eeded middle-of-the-order hitter for their 2010
lineup.  Afterall, the 6-1, 210-pound
slugger has averaged 20 home runs, 31 doubles and 82 RBI over the last three

seasons despite playing home games at San Diego’s
pitcher-friendly Petco
Park. 


But what may have gone unnoticed is GM Billy
Beane
has acquired yet
another key defensive piece to the roster. 
Kouzmanoff, admittedly an inconsistent fielder in his early days, has
blossomed into one of baseball’s best defensive players at the hot corner.  Last year, he set a National League record
for fielding percentage (.990) by a third baseman, committing only three errors all season long.  Think about that for minute.  Playing one of the toughest positions on the
diamond, he was charged with only three
errors!  Remarkable. 


Yet, the Kouzmanoff acquisition signals more
than the addition of a good, all-around player. 
It represents another step in Beane’s rather unheralded plan to build an
outstanding defensive team in 2010.  Consider
this:  the A’s infield now features two
deserving Gold Glove candidates in Kouzmanoff and second baseman
Mark Ellis–not to mention an on-the-mend Eric Chavez, who has already won six Gold Gloves–plus speedy
shortstop
Cliff Pennington, who reeled off
an errorless streak of 35 consecutive games last year in earning the starting
job, and
Daric Barton, who was a
revelation at first base last season with a .998 fielding mark.  Meanwhile, the starting outfield, as its
constituted today, features two spectacular speed burners in
Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp
in left and center (or vice versa), and
Ryan Sweeney, the human highlight reel who tied for fourth in the
American League in outfield assists (11) last year, in right.  Then add team leader
Kurt Suzuki behind the plate–he led all 2009 AL catchers in
games played and game started, and ranked second in assists–and there’s every
reason to believe Oakland will field one of the better defensive units in the
league. 


Perhaps that fact won’t resonate
with everyone since defense is clearly the least
sexy aspect of baseball.  But if that
underappreciated side of the game leads to the A’s shaving half a run off our
pitching staff’s ERA, don’t be surprised if that change in run differential
results in more victories this season.  
So as you watch the remaining NFL playoff games this month leading to
February’s Super Bowl, maybe you should take that age-old football cheer to
heart, and adopt it at the Coliseum this summer…..Let’s hear it:  “Defense! 
Defense!  Defense”!

BAILEY & THE LIP MADE A LOT OF PEOPLE HAPPY THIS WEEK

Leo Durocher, the former major
league manager, was fond of saying that “nice guys finish last.”  Well, this week’s Oakland A’s award winners may serve as
Exhibit A and Exhibit B in disproving Durocher’s claim. 

 

When Andrew Bailey (right) was named American League Rookie of the

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Year Monday
and then we learned Tuesday that
Keith Lieppman
had received the Chief Bender Award–baseball’s top lifetime achievement award
for player development–the reaction from friends and co-workers was the
same.  It was pure joy and
exhilaration.  It seemed everyone was genuinely thrilled to hear
the news, which in a way, may have served as the greatest tribute of all for both
men. 

 

For Bailey, we were flooded
with phone calls and emails from people he had touched on his path to the big
leagues. 
Shawn Touney, the media relations director at Single-A Kane
County, sent me a glowing note saying everyone associated with Andrew’s old
team was thrilled for him.  Even his old
coach and sports information director at Wagner
College (Staten Island, NY)
could not contain their excitement and felt compelled to contact us.  Of course, what’s not to like about a pitcher
who, minutes after learning he had won the Rookie of the Year award, is calling
many of his former minor league instructors to thank them for helping him win the award? 

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And then there’s Lieppman (right) –he
shares the same nickname (“The Lip”) as Durocher–who may even be a nicer guy
than Bailey if that’s possible.  I just
got a phone call from
Monte Moore, the former legendary
A’s broadcaster.  He wanted to get
Keith’s email address so he could drop him a congratulatory note.

 

Monte, now semi-retired and
living in Porterville, shared one rather
incredible story about Lieppman that dates back to his Little League days in Kansas City.  “This is even before I started broadcasting Kansas City A’s games,”
said Monte.  “I was sports director of a
radio station in town and we held this promotion on the lawn called ‘Strikeout
Sam.’  We had this framed strike zone for
kids to throw the ball through.  We
invited all Little Leaguers in Kansas
City to participate and they all got 10 pitches.   And who wins the contest?  A youngster named Keith Lieppman!”  Little did Monte or anyone else know that the
Lip would eventually begin a long association with the Athletics that will
reach 40 years this spring.  Lieppman, a journalism
graduate of the University
of Kansas, began his A’s
career as a player in 1971.  Later he became
a manager in the Oakland
minor league system before becoming the organization’s director of player
development, a position he has held for 19 years. 

 

Suffice it to say, he spans virtually the entire A’s
history in Oakland,
making a profound impact on the lives of literally thousands of young men and coaches. 
In many ways, he is the Oakland A’s!  So congratulations, Lip.  It’s comforting to know that nice guys can
actually finish first!

LAST PLACE IS LAST PLACE, BUT IS
THAT A SILVER LINING WE SEE?

When you finish in last
place in the American League West, 12 games under .500 and 22 games behind the
division-leading Angels, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in explaining how
your team fell short. 

 

I guess the big question is,
which A’s team will show up next season–the one that fell out of contention
early or the one that went 38-38 and led the American League in doubles and
stolen bases and ranked third in both batting average and hits after the
All-Star Break?  There are credible
baseball people outside our
organization who believe we have a bright future.

 

In a San
Francisco Chronicle
story written by Susan Slusser in September, here’s
what some these sources said about Oakland’s
fast-maturing roster:

 

  • “It’s an impressive haul.  It’s one of the best collections of
    talent in baseball,”
    -Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus analyst

 

  • “I don’t think they’re far away from being a
    real good club.  All those young
    pitchers they have are learning on the job and they’ll be so much better
    for it.”
    -Dan O’Dowd, Colorado
    Rockies GM

 

  • “The Oakland
    A’s have become a big player in the international market.  Billy (Beane) is all in.  He’s never going to be caught in
    no-man’s land…if these guys stay healthy and continue to develop, you’ll
    see the fruits of the labor.  Fast
    forward a year and the picture will look so much better.” 
    –Brian
    Cashman, New York
    Yankees GM

 

  • “(Trevor) Cahill and (Brett) Anderson can fit into the top half of
    even a very good rotation.  And they
    hit on Andrew Bailey.”
    -Keith Law, ESPN.com analyst

 

Not to belabor the point,
but look at some of these numbers after the All-Star Break: 

 

Player                                     Post-ASB
Stats

Rajai Davis, cf                                   .325, 42 RBI,
30 SB

Ryan Sweeney, rf                              .319, 20 doubles,
31 RBI

Eric Patterson, lf-2b                          .302

Kurt Suzuki, c                                     .250, 10 HR, 51 RBI

Adam Kennedy, 3b                           .288,
32 RBI

Daric Barton, 1b                                .287, 23 RBI

Mark Ellis, 2b                                     .279, 7 HR,
43 RBI

Cliff Pennington, ss                           .279,
21 RBI, 32-game errorless streak

Brett Anderson, lhp                            6-4, 3.48 ERA

Trevor Cahill, rhp                                5-5, 4.59 ERA

Andrew Bailey, rhp                            16-for-16 in saves,
1.71 ERA

Craig Breslow, lhp                             7-3, 2.29 ERA

Michael Wuertz, rhp                           1-0,
2.25 ERA

Brad Ziegler, rhp                                1-1, 2.81 ERA

IN BAY AREA SPORTS HISTORY, THE SWINGIN’ A’S STAND ALONE

As the World Series reaches
its zenith this week–how about the 47% increase in TV ratings from last year’s
Fall Classic?–FOX broadcasters
Joe Buck and
Tim
McCarver
have made references about the
Phillies trying to become the first National League team to win back-to-back
World Series since Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in 1975-76.  No question, if the Phillies were to rally
from a three games to one deficit and win the 2009 Series, it will be an impressive
achievement. 


Of course, here in the Bay
Area, we have been blessed with several sports champions over the years.  The San
Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Golden State
Warriors have all won one or more titles during their local histories. Yet none
of them can compare to the three-year run the Oakland A’s had in 1972-74.  Some 20 years before the NBA’s Chicago Bulls coined the phrase, “Three-Peat,” the
“Swingin’ A’s” reeled off three straight World Series championships–still the
only professional team in Bay Area history to accomplish such a rare
streak.  Future Hall of Famers
Catfish Hunter,
Reggie Jackson
and Rollie Fingers, along with American League MVP Vida Blue and perennial All-Stars Joe Rudi, Sal Bando and Campy Campaneris, comprised one of the most talented rosters in baseball history.  We should not forget their greatness, as those
pitching-rich clubs may very well provide the blueprint for future A’s
success. 


So, when you visit the Coliseum
next season and see those championship banners from 1972, 1973 and 1974, think
about this:  those A’s teams are part of
a very select group of professional sports teams to win three straight
titles.  They join the Boston Celtics,
New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Green
Bay Packers, Montreal Canadians and Toronto Maple Leafs as one of eight franchises in American pro sports history to smell such rarefied air. 

 

LEFTOVER ACORNS
FROM OAKTOWN…

When Craig Breslow (below) was claimed off waivers from Minnesota
at midseason and joined us during a Tampa
Bay series in St. Petersburg, I realized he would be
stereotyped as “the bookworm.”  How could
you not be when you majored in
molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale?  I wasn’t sure how self conscious he might be
about his brainiac image–The Wall Street Journal called him the
“smartest player in the major leagues.”–but thought it best to use an obvious
strategy as an ice-breaker.  We discussed
the merits of great pizza!  Let me
explain. 

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While Craig and I were in the
security line to board our team bus after the game, I simply asked him, “Hey
Craig, how about a Pepe’s garlic clam pizza right about how?”  His face broke into a wide grin.  “How do you
know about Pepe’s?,” he asked.  I
explained to him that I had lived in Greenwich, Conn. for two years and had heard about Wooster Street,
this Italian two-block section of New Haven, where the pizza was better than the famed pies of New York
City.  Pepe’s, no question, was the Godfather
institution of all pizza joints on Wooster. 


As we got to know each other during the
remaining months of the 2009 season, I found Craig to be a very thoughtful yet
unassuming person, someone who did not wear his Ivy League degree on his
sleeve.  However, he clearly is a “doer,”
both on and off the field. 


So it should
be no surprise that he is hosting the
2nd Annual First Pitch Celebrity Gala this Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, Conn.  It’s a fundraiser for his own “Strike 3
Foundation,” which Craig founded to heighten awareness and raise money for
childhood cancer research.  This
foundation is very personal for
Craig. 


At age 14, he and his family were
informed that his sister had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  While he was devastated by the news, he also
became extremely curious on what causes cancer and how do we cure it.  Fifteen years later, his sister is officially
a survivor and living a normal, healthy life.  
But it was that sobering diagnosis in 1994 that sparked Craig’s interest
and led to pursue a future career in medicine. 


Now, Craig is using his fame as a major leaguer to help any way he can. Some
of Breslow’s buddies are among the luminaries scheduled to appear at Saturday’s
event, including A’s teammates
Andrew Bailey,
Nomar
Garciaparra, Jack Cust, Rajai Davis
and Vin Mazzaro, plus Minnesota Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey and University of Connecticut women’s basketball
coach
Shea
Ralph
. 
For more information, go to his website, www.strike3foundation.org….


Before I close, let me share this funny tidbit from my early baseball
days.  With apologies to Breslow, Brett
Anderson, Dallas Braden, Jerry Blevins, et al, it’s a quick story about a
lefthander.  It was during my college
days at Pepperdine and involved my buddy,
Harry Miller,
who wrote for the campus newspaper covering the Waves’ baseball team. 


There was a big lefthanded pitcher on the
team.  As a junior, his impressive
talents were on display at USC’s Dedeaux Field when he threw a shutout to
eliminate the Trojans from the NCAA playoffs. 
Scouts took notice and were out in force the following season.  He was a large kid with nasty stuff, but he
had a reputation of being a little on the emotional side.  Psycho may be a little strong, so we’ll leave
it at emotional.  Anyway, he was
projected as a high draft pick heading into his senior year. Unfortunately, he
went into the tank early in the season, started pressing and he had something
like an 8.23 ERA late in the season.  You
could just see that big, fat bonus shrinking to pennies on the dollar.  Then my buddy, Harry, notepad in hand, comes
up to Tony and asks the $64,000 question: 
“Tony, you must be disappointed with the way things have gone this
year.  Do you think it’s mental or
physical?”  Tony shook his head, paused for
a moment, and then replied:  “You know, I
just don’t know.  I think that’s what confuses me.”

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