Big Game Garza and other thoughts

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Philosophers have long marveled at the mysteries and quirks of the human mind. This began many years before they listened to Buck Martinez call a baseball game.*

*So, during Sunday night's Game 7, while Big Game Garza** was pitching the Rays to their first World Series, we all heard Buck Martinez say many odd things. But this especially baffled me:

"There are two positions on the field where you can have a positive impact without hitting. Catcher and shortstop."

Now, I don't really want to delve into the logic of this statement, in large part because I fear that it will be like some inescapable language maze*** and I'll end up wandering the dark forever. I'm assuming that Buck was simply repeating one of those baseball chestnuts about how catchers and shortstops (and ONLY catchers and shortstops) offer so much value as defenders and leaders and role models and good-will ambassadors and scrappers that they don't even have to hit baseballs with bats in order to help the ballclub. They can beat you with their minds. And their power to turn invisible.

No, what struck me about it was how utterly confident Buck sounded saying this; he said it like he was simply reciting a fact he had picked up. The last president to not graduate from college was Harry Truman. ... The theme songs from Diff'rent Strokes and Facts of Life were composed by Alan Thicke ... The emperor penguin can grow to almost four feet tall ... There are two positions on the field where you can have a positive impact without hitting: catcher and shortstop.

**OK, so seriously, isn't Big Game Garza a better nickname than Big Game James? For one thing, it's more original than Big Game James. Second, it has a nice alliteration thing. And, third, it's actually true. Garza was fabulous in Game 7. I saw him pitch a couple of times this year, and though he had some good outings and flashed some good stuff, I cannot remember him dialing up the fastball like he did Sunday night.

Think about this for a minute:

Matt Garza will turn 25 in November.

Scott Kazmir won't be 25 until January.

James Shields will be 27 in December.

David Price will be 23 on Opening Day.

Andy Sonnastine, Edwin Jackson, J.P. Howell are all 25 or 26 next year.

You can do this with hitters too. B.J. Upton**** will be 24 almost all of next season. Evan Longoria just turned 23. Dioner Navarro will be 25 in February. Even Carl Crawford, who seems to have been around since the dawn of man, just turned 27 in August.

But let's stick with pitchers. It's an obvious point but: This team is pretty much built to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox for the next five years. The Rays are just the 10th team since Pearl Harbor Day to have three young starting pitchers with Adjusted ERA+'s of 118 or better.

1. Tampa 2008 (James Shields, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir) 2. Cubs 2003 (Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior) 3. Oakland 2002 (Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder) 4. Oakland 2001 (Zito, Hudson, Mulder) 5. Mets 1985 (Ron Darling*****, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez) 6. Houston 1971 (Don Wilson, Ken Forsch, Larry Dierker) 7. Minnesota 1970 (Tom Hall, Bill Zepp, Bert Blyleven) 8. Cleveland 1966 (Luis Tiant, Steve Hargan, Sudden Sam) 9. Milwaukee 1953 (Lew Burdette, Johnny Antonelli, Bob Buhl) 10. Detroit 1942 (Hal Newhouser, Hal White, Virgil Trucks)

There are some mixed reviews in there, of course. The '85 Mets, of course, became the historic '86 Mets. The two Oakland teams became Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt). The 2003 Cubs became a Greek tragedy. The 1966 Indians never did squat. And so on. But here's the thing, as far as I can tell none of those teams had a fourth guy who might end up being the best of the bunch that's David Price. You realize he became the youngest man EVER to finish off a Game 7? (Clarification: Since a couple of people wrote in about this, let me rephrase this: He's the youngest man ever to FINISH a Game 7 as in reliever, closer, you know. It is more accurate, I suppose, to say he's the youngest to ever get a save in Game 7; he was about 200 days younger than Will McEnaney in 1975. And this gives me a chance to say: Did I mention I was writing a book about the 1975 Reds?). And he struck out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded. Overwhelmed J.D. Drew, really.

The Rays really could have FOUR NUMBER ONE STARTERS next year. I gotta be honest with you, I don't care if the Yankees****** spend a billion jillion shmillion dollars, I don't care if my friends Bill and Allard create some new scouting-statistical nirvana in Boston. I'm not sure anyone is going to beat a team with four No. 1 starters.

***I have this irrational fear that I will get stuck in one of those cornfield mazes and never be able to find my way out. I say this is an irrational fear because, quite honestly, I don't really foresee a scenario in which I will ever be in a cornfield maze. I don't believe I've ever been in one in my life, and I can't imagine that at any point I'm going to say, "Hey everybody, I've got to run some errands today but first let's stop at a cornfield maze and get lost!" But somehow this fear sticks with me. I also have a fear of ventriloquist dummies, but this is not irrational. This was infused in me by the movie Magic and, even more, that incredibly creepy Fantasy Island episode where the dummy came to life. I believe that was based on a true story.

****I just saw an email from one of Tommy over at Outs Per Swing where he wonders what I think of a comparison between B.J. Upton and the young Eric Davis. I think he sent this to me quite a while ago (sorry Tommy) but I'll say now think it's an interesting comparison. I had not thought of this, but they really do look a lot alike as players athletic, right-handed, center fielders, great arms, great speed, strike out a lot, good patience, jolting power and so on. I'd say that both even have the look that makes people somehow think they should be even better, even though they're already pretty darned good.

I think Upton's remarkable and I do mean remarkable sense of the strike zone at such a young age separates him from Davis. He walked 97 times at 23 years old. There have only been 22 players in baseball history who have walked 95 or more times during their age 23 year. The list is loaded with great players including:

Ted Wililams (145)Frank Thomas (138)Rickey Henderson (116)Reggie Jackson (114)Mickey Mantle (113)Eddie Mathews (109) Lou Gehrig (105) Mel Ott (100) Tim Raines (97) Arky Vaughan (97) Ken Griffey Jr. (96) Carl Yastrzemski (95)

So more than half of the list went on to have, what I consider to be Hall of Fame careers*******. And the rest ain't too bad either Eddie Yost (the Walking Man!), Harlond Clift, Troy Glaus, Charlie Keller, Alvin Davis, these are All-Star caliber players, or in the case of Alvin Davis they are one-time All-Stars who once hit me in the foot with a wild throw during batting practice. Alvin apologized and was very nice about it, but it now occurs to me that I missed the one opportunity I will have in my entire life to suddenly let loose with a loud "ALVIN!!!!"

Point is, I think Upton's patience at the plate is something that could make him a big star in this league for many years. On the other hand, I don't think Upton or perhaps anyone else is as talented as the young Eric Davis when talking about power and speed and talent. I mean, it still blows me away to go back and look at Davis' first two full seasons especially because they weren't all that full:

1986: Davis hit .277 with 27 home runs and, get this, 80 stolen bases. The amazing part he did it in 132 games and 487 plate appearances. That's just awe inspiring. If he could have played at that level for a full season, he might have hit 30 homers and stolen 100 bases. And he was just 24 years old and had no idea what he was doing.

1987: Davis hit .293 with 37 homers, 100 RBIs, 120 runs scored and 50 stolen bases (he was caught 6 times). And the crazy thing is he played in even fewer games than he did in 1986. He missed 33 games. He could have hit 40 homers and stolen 70 bases with a full year. It's insane.

I think Upton is a remarkable talent. I think Upton could end up being a better player than Davis because of that strike zone management. But I don't think I've ever watched anyone with more raw ability than the young Eric Davis.

*****I have to say, I've really enjoyed Ron Darling's commentary during the playoffs. He has not only wrapped bandages around some of the verbal wounds his partners caused, but I thought he added quite a few original thoughts to the process.

******Have you noticed a sudden increase in Derek Jeter's exposure? Maybe it's because I saw him at the Texas-Missouri game Saturday -- what a thriller THAT was, by the way -- but it made me think: Man, Derek has been EVERYWHERE lately. What is he doing, like 12 different commercials? He's got the shaver commercial. He's got that commercial where he hears the cheers, not even sure what that's for. He seems to have three or four more. I don't have an issue with this as mentioned here before, I like Derek Jeter but I was just wondering if this was a conscious effort to boost his Q-Rating even higher. Maybe I'm just imagining things.

*******I sure hope that the voters are going to wake up on Tim Raines. He only got 24.3% of the Hall of Fame vote last year, which I think is a very bad sign especially because we've got some big, big names coming up in the Hall of Fame voting. In fact, I just did a mammoth piece for The Hardball Times Annual about an upcoming Hall of Fame class that could feature Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Piazza and Sosa (not to mention Curt Schilling, Kenny Lofton, etc.). And over the next couple of years, I imagine players like Big Unit, Junior, Pedro, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Pudge v.2.0 will retire. Raines has a chance to get lost, which would be real shame because he was a great player.

OK, are we done with the Pozterisks? We are. Whew. Man, it's funny, the only point I really wanted to make in this post was that I woke up Monday morning with the Olivia Newton John song "Magic" playing in my head over and over again. I have probably not heard that song in 20 years, but there it is, I can still hear it ...

You have to believe we are magic Nothing can stand in our way You have to believe we are magic Don't let your aim ever stray And if all your hopes ... sur-viiiiiive Destiny will arriiiiive I'll bring all your dreams alive For you.

Good, now that song is stuck in your head too. See that's not a lot of fun. I really would like that song out of my head. I wonder if there's money to be made with a "get this damn song out of my head" business. I could just see people coming into the place, desperately humming "Electric Avenue" or "Pocketful of Sunshine" and begging, "Can you please help me?" The process would no doubt involve a hammer. We really don't know our own minds.