|You might as well stamp their passports, collect their French-English dictionaries and reserve parking spaces for the moving vans right now.
When the Montreal Expos fired Felipe Alou last week, they were all but grabbing a megaphone and telling the entire population of Quebec, "Au revoir."
We spoke the other day to a baseball man who knows Expos owner Jeffrey Loria well. We asked if he felt Loria had any stake in keeping the Expos in Montreal.
"No," said our source. "I really don't. And I've talked to him about it very often."
Loria didn't even attend the news conference announcing the firing of Alou last week. He did send his executive vice president, David Samson. And when Samson was asked if he expected any "backlash" from the guillotining of Alou, he acted incredulous.
"Backlash?" Samson replied. "I wish people would come out and give me backlash. Bring it on."
That sort of talk sounds great. But the trouble with this kind of backlash is that it's the kind you can't see, the kind you can't touch, the kind people don't show up to deliver.
No, you spell this kind of backlash this way: A-P-A-T-H-Y.
There is no other baseball market like Montreal, if only because it isn't a baseball market, period.
It's a market that saw under 5,000 people watch Randy Johnson pitch. (Maybe if he'd pitched on skates, the Expos would have drawn 8,000.) It's a market that doesn't know Vladimir Guerrero from Vladimir Putin.
It's a market where the only baseball personality for whom most people had any affection was Felipe Alou. And now he, too, is gone.
After the firing of Alou last Thursday, the Montreal Gazette ran a poll asking readers what they thought about this firing.
At last check, 66 percent said it was "the stupidest thing they could have done." Another 10 percent said "Jeffrey Loria is just trying to kill baseball in Montreal."
That, to us, sounds like 76 percent were saying Felipe Alou was baseball in Montreal, at least to them.
"I agree that Felipe is baseball in Montreal," said Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski, whose previous address was the GM's office in Montreal. "But I wonder about the future there, even with him. If you look and see them drawing 30,000 a game and now they let Felipe go and attendance dwindles, that's one thing. But what are they drawing now?"
We hear that argument everywhere: They weren't drawing with Alou, so what's the difference? But the fact is, there is a difference. There is a difference between fans who care about the future but choose not to watch the present and fans who don't care about either.
|After watching a lot of his top players leave Montreal, Felipe Alou joins them.|
With the departure of Alou, the ranks of people who even care from afar have been chopped to Guerrero's mother, Youppi!'s immediate family and those 4,000 people who show up every night hoping some hockey player will throw out the first ball.
And ask yourself this: If Loria really has no stake in keeping the Expos in Montreal, how much easier does this long-preordained firing make it for him to head for the customs booth?
Oh, sure. It's possible contraction will just swallow the franchise whole before Balls and Bats Van Lines makes it over the border. But just because we keep hearing about contraction doesn't mean it's workable.
And remember this, too: Just because we keep hearing there are no metropolises left for a team like this to move doesn't mean that problem can't be solved, as well -- if anyone wants to solve it.
"Why do you think there's no place to move?" asked one prominent baseball man. "You may think Peter Angelos will never let a team move to Northern Virginia. But you just have to think outside the box. Peter Angelos is a negotiator. That's what he is. So you have to negotiate. If you want him to approve this, you have to give him stuff."
By stuff, of course, he means: $$$$$$$$$. And undoubtedly, it would take a whole lot of $$$$$$$$ to appease the Orioles owner.
But it would take less $$$$$$$ than contraction. And if Angelos wants too much, fine. Take this Expos road show to Charlotte or Vegas. Can this team possibly draw any worse there than it does in Stade Olympique? It's just about mathematically impossible.
Whatever, at this point it makes zero sense to keep this baseball franchise where it is. So dissolve it. Move it. Demote it to the International League. Whatever. Enough is enough. The time has come for them to become the EX-pos.
If that plays right into Jeffrey Loria's hands, so be it. Felipe Alou is gone. And baseball in the city he once called home ought to be right behind.
Felipe Alou was one of seven active managers who got at least 2,000 hits in the major leagues. Can you name the others?
(Answer at bottom.)
The June baseball draft has reached such a level of absurdity, it's time to kill it or reform it.
If this draft worked the way it was supposed to, there's no question that USC phenom Mark Prior should have been the No. 1 pick, with Georgia Tech bomber Mark Teixeira right behind.
Instead, the Twins rode the negotiations roller coaster with Prior. And Teixeira's agent, Scott Boras, was playing his regularly scheduled draft-manipulation games -- essentially ordering both the Phillies and Devil Rays not to select his player. So what's the point of continuing this draft, as presently constituted?
Most major-league players and most club executives would overwhelmingly favor either a draft-pick bonus cap or an NBA/NFL-like slotting process that would dictate what players would be paid when chosen in a specific draft position. So toss it out there on the table in those labor talks, and see what happens.
"If we had a slotting system, we wouldn't be dealing with any of this stuff," said one scouting director, speaking anonymously because the commish has threatened a $1 million fine for any baseball official who speaks publicly on the future of the draft. "We have to get to the point where we can take a guy, and worry about the money later."
Other possible changes management may attempt to make in the draft: Only high school seniors, junior-college sophomores and college seniors would be eligible. A date change, to coincide with the All-Star break, for potential TV and publicity purposes. A draft-pick signing deadline. And possibly, but not certainly, some sort of worldwide draft system.
It took only a few days of being around Tony Perez for his players in Florida to ask him to take the job full-time. But Perez was always the guy the Marlins' front office wanted if they were going to change managers in midseason.
"Right now, for where we are as a club -- and with the leadership capabilities Tony has and the respect he commands -- he's the right person for us," Dombrowski said. "I could tell, by the look in the eyes of our young players, what they think of Tony. It's not often you can have a Hall of Famer manage your club. Plus, he's been around our club, day-in and day-out, for eight years. He's seen almost every game we've played. So he had an immediate feel for the situation."
Neither Dombrowski nor Perez is ready to address the question of next year yet. But Dombrowski said it immediately became clear that it was extremely difficult to try to identify candidates, get permission to talk to them, interview them and hire someone from outside the organization in midseason.
"I didn't want to impose on Tony, but I thought from the start he was the best man for this organization," Dombrowski said. "A lot of people here felt that way."
Dombrowski also disputed the notion that it was Dan Miceli's outburst that led to the firing of John Boles. But Dombrowski did have to address, in some way, the situation that outburst brought to a head. And that prompted the meeting with Boles that led to his firing.
"He didn't battle," Dombrowski said. "He didn't say, 'Get rid of Miceli.' Had he done that, this may have been a whole different decision."
But Dombrowksi admitted that other players had approached him with similar concerns. And he said when Boles heard that, he told the GM: "If that's the case, I think you need to find a new person for this position.'"
And at that point, Dombrowski had virtually no choice but to let Boles go. He's expected to look for work outside the organization.
Dombrowksi on whether Felipe Alou could wind up on his list of candidates if the Marlins resume their managerial search next winter: "I don't think you interview a person like Felipe Alou for a job. Maybe there are different managers who are better-suited to different teams. But if you come to the conclusion that someone like Felipe fits your criteria, you don't interview him. He's your guy."
How good is this June's baseball draft? It's better than last year. But despite the star potential of Teixeira, Prior, Minnesota high school catcher Joe Mauer and Baltimore high school right-hander Gavin Floyd, the consensus is: Not that good.
"I'd say there are some good players, but very few franchise guys," said an AL scouting director. "But I don't think that in the 2006 All Star Game, you'll see a lot of players from this draft."
All it took was an injury to El Duque, and suddenly, the Yankees were having a tough time remembering why they were so anxious to ship David Wells north of the border. But unless the White Sox' asking price changes, it's hard to see these two teams matching up.
The White Sox have been looking for a young center fielder, similar to Mets prospect Alex Escobar. And it wouldn't seem as if the Yankees can help them there.
"I know one thing," said a scout who covers the International League and Eastern League. "If they want an outfielder from the Yankees, I haven't seen any in Double-A or Triple-A."
One more development that sums up how bizarre the Mets' season has gotten: They've never thrown a no-hitter in franchise history. They sign a free-agent pitcher. And two months into the season, he does, in fact, throw a no-hitter. Unfortunately for Steve Trachsel, he threw it for Norfolk -- after he became the first $7-million free agent ever optioned to the minor leagues.
When we talk about how nuts the bonuses have gotten for players at the top of the draft, we have to remember how little most players get.
The Pirates recently called up utility man Rob Mackowiak -- a 53rd-round pick out of South Suburban (Ill.) Junior College, who says his signing bonus was a sandwich.
"My bonus," Mackowiak told the Beaver County Times' John Perrotto, "was the scout who signed me (Bill Bryk) took me to Subway -- and made me pay."
Two years earlier, Mackowiak had come out of high school in Cincinnati, was drafted in the 30th round by the Reds and was offered a signing bonus of zero.
"All Cincinnati was willing to give me was a Snickers bar," Mackowiak quipped. "I figure I made out better with the Pirates. I got a foot-long sub out of my deal with them."
Useless information dept.
When we get to June, it isn't early anymore. Over the last 20 seasons, no team that roared into June with a lead of more than 4½ games has failed to make the playoffs.
So when we reached this June, we found two teams with June 1 leads that have proven insurmountable over those 20 seasons. And just as we all expected in March, those teams were ... the Phillies and Mariners.
The Phillies held an 8-game lead in the NL East. That's the biggest lead after two months of any NL team in the eight-season history of six-division play.
In the last 20 seasons, only two other NL teams have awoken on June 1 with a lead that big -- the 1990 Reds (8 games) and the 1986 Mets (9½). Both won the World Series.
The Mariners, meanwhile, led the AL West by 14 games when they waved so long to May. That, according to the Elias Sports Bureau's Randy Robles, is the largest June 1 lead in modern history.
The only other teams that even led by 10 games or more heading into June:
1971 Giants (37-14) +10.5
List of the week
In honor of those back-to-back Giants-Diamondbacks games last week that were scoreless after nine innings (one of which went 12, the other 18), we present two lists -- the longest 1-0 games of all time and the eight times since 1900 in which teams played two straight games featuring nothing but doughnuts through nine innings.
Longest 1-0 games
(winning team listed first)
Houston-Mets, 24 innings, April 15, 1968
L.A.-Montreal, 22 innings, Aug. 23, 1989
S.F.-Cin., 21 innings, Sept 1, 1967
Oak.-Cal., 20 innings, July 9, 1971
N.Y. Giants-St. Louis, 18 innings, July 2, 1933
Pit.-S.D., 18 innings, June 7, 1972
Wash.-White Sox., 18 innings, June 8, 1947
Providence-Det., 18 innings, Aug. 17, 1882
Back-to-back, 0-0 through nine
Phi. A's-White Sox, May 16-17, 1909
A's 1, Sox 0 (13); A's 1, Sox 0 (12)
Cardinals-Dodgers, Aug. 20-21, 1909
Stl. 3, Brk. 1 (11); Brk. 1, Stl. 0 (13)
Dodgers-Pirates, Aug. 27-29, 1914
Brk. 1, Pit. 0 (10); Pit. 1, Brk. 0 (13)
Cardinals-Reds, April 21-22, 1943
Reds 1, Stl. 0 (11); Reds 1, Stl. 0 (10)
White Sox-Indians, Sept. 13-14, 1967
Sox 1, Cle. 0 (17); Sox 4, Cle. 0 (10)
White Sox-Yanks, May 24-25, 1968
NY 1, Sox 0 (13); NY 1, Sox 0 (10)
Giants-Phillies, May 26-27, 1975
Phi. 1, S.F. 0 (11); S.F. 1, Phi. 0 (10)
Arizona-S.F., May 28-29, 2001
Ari. 2, S.F. 1 (12); Ari. 1, S.F. 0 (18)
1999 Indians (33-16) +10.0
Neither of those two teams, by the way, won the World Series (or the LCS, for that matter).
Which teams had the largest June 1 leads over the last 20 seasons without making the playoffs (the '94 strike season not included)?
1993 Giants (4½)
2000 Diamondbacks (4)
1985 Padres (4)
It's only now that we're beginning to comprehend how astonishing the Mariners' start has been.
They were the first team in history to win 20 games in both April and May. And they're only the fifth team since 1980 to win 20 or more in any two back-to-back months. The other four, courtesy of Elias:
1980 Orioles (21-8 in August, 21-9 in September)
1983 White Sox (22-9 in August, 22-6 in September)
1983 Brewers (20-8 in July, 20-13 in August)
1998 Yankees (20-7 in July, 22-10 in August)
And here's this month's goal for the Mariners: The last team to win at least 20 games in three straight months was the 1979 Pirates (20-11 in July, 21-9 in August, 20-10 in September).
The Mariners were 31 games over .500 through Sunday -- the highest they'd ever been above sea level in franchise history. That now leaves just three teams that never have gotten to 31 over at any point in any of the last 20 seasons (not including the expansion teams) -- the Angels, Royals and (surprise) Dodgers. The Red Sox, incidentally, haven't been 31 over since 1986.
Much as we admire Felipe Alou, he was the first manager in the 33-season history of division play to manage the same team for at least part of 10 consecutive seasons without ever managing a postseason game. Of course, he almost certainly would have had if the strike in '94 had not screwed up all our lives.
Bret Boone headed into June 1 with 50 RBI. Believe it or not, that's more than Alex Rodriguez carried into June in any season as a Mariner. A-Rod's June 1 best was 46 last year and 42 in '98.
The Manny Ramirez RBI machine was out of order last week for the first time in the millennium. Manny actually went two straight series without an RBI against the Yankees (two-game series) and Blue Jays (three-game series).
That's an unexplained phenomenon that hadn't been sighted in more than three years, believe it or not. Last time Ramirez failed to drive in a run in back-to-back series (counting only series in which he played more than one game): April 29-30, 1998 (Oakland) and May 1-2, 1998 (Tampa Bay).
In between, he played at least two games of 145 series without ever going RBI-less in two in a row. Ridiculous.
The Mitch Williams Fan Club undoubtedly knows the Wild Thing came back from the bowling alley on Thursday to collect his first win in professional baseball since Aug. 15, 1996, when he was pitching for Scranton and beat Ottawa. He was pitching for the Atlantic League's Atlantic City Surf last week, and beat Nashua in relief.
His line in his last win: 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
His eerily similar line in this win: 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K
Until Sunday, the only teams in the major leagues that hadn't won three games in a row were the Devil Rays, the Pirates and, uh, the Braves?
Then the Pirates cooperated by getting swept in a doubleheader, giving the Braves their first three-game winning streak in their (this can't be true, can it?) 55th game of the year.
Last time a Braves team went that deep into a season without winning three in a row: 1988, when Chuck Cary, Juan Tyrone Eichelberger, Dion James and company needed to play all the way to June 17 (63 games) to win three in a row. Since then, according to Randy Robles, they'd never gone more than 20 games into a season without a three-game winning streak.
Here's the toll taken on the Royals by the Kansas City bullpen: Over the last three seasons, according to Elias, the Royals have blown 49 games in which they led or were tied after seven innings. If they'd only won all those games, they'd be 33 games over .500 in that time instead of 57 under. They've blown 66 saves in that time -- one fewer than they've saved.
Speaking of losing, the Devil Rays now have lost 11 consecutive series. Since 1990, according to Elias, only six teams have lost 10 straight series, and only two have lost more series in a row than the Devil Rays:
Cubs: 15 -- 7/25/1999 to 9/12/1999
Tigers: 12 -- 4/18/1996 to 5/26/1996
Devil Rays: 11 -- 4/29/2001 to 6/03/2001
Phillies: 10 -- 6/08/1997 to 7/13/1997
Indians: 10 -- 7/25/1991 to 8/22/1991
Tigers: 10 -- 7/30/1995 to 8/31/1995
Moises Alou through Sunday: .352, 35 RBI and only 15 strikeouts in 40 games. If he can get to 100 more RBI than strikeouts, according to Elias' Ken Hirdt, he'd be the first player to do that since Don Mattingly in 1985 (145 RBI, 41 whiffs).
The Cubs just won nine straight games in which Sammy Sosa didn't get to practice his home-run trot -- something they'd never done before in Sosa's 10 seasons with the Cubs. Longest streak before this: eight games, from Sept. 22-29, 1995.
After our item last week on Ryan Klesko's quest to steal 30 bases as a first baseman, two of our more astute readers contributed one addition and one subtraction.
Mike McCombs, of the Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal, added Gerald Perry (42 SB for the '87 Braves) to the list.
Meanwhile, subtract Bill Buckner. Even though he played more games at first base in his career than any other position, Baseball America's John Manuel pointed out that Buckner did most of his work in the outfield in 1974, the year he stole 31. Thanks, men.
A.J. Burnett in his no-hitter: nine walks in nine innings. A.J. Burnett since his no-hitter: seven unintentional walks in four starts (29 innings). Burnett has made six starts since coming off the disabled list. He's given up one run or none in five of them -- which is one more time than Kevin Brown.
Finally, as a handy dandy reference tool for Barry Bonds' march to home-run history, here are the fewest games any hitter has taken to get from 30 home runs to 50 (in intervals of five), courtesy of the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent.
Fastest to 30 HR
Babe Ruth, 1928: 63 games
Mark McGwire, 1998: 64
Ken Griffey Jr., 1994: 65
Fastest to 35 HR
Mark McGwire, 1998: 77
Babe Ruth, 1921: 81
Babe Ruth, 1928: 84
Fastest to 40 HR
Mark McGwire, 1998: 90
Babe Ruth, 1928: 91
Roger Maris, 1961: 96
Jimmie Foxx, 1932: 96
Fastest to 45 HR
Mark McGwire, 1998: 105
Babe Ruth, 1921: 107
Babe Ruth, 1928: 114
Fastest to 50 HR
Sammy Sosa, 1999: 121
Mark McGwire, 1999: 124
Mark McGwire, 1998: 125
Roger Maris, 1961: 125
Babe Ruth, 1921: 125
Don Baylor (2,135), Buddy Bell (2,514), Larry Bowa (2,168), Joe Torre (2,342), Tony Perez (2,732) and Hal McRae (2,091).
Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com. Rumblings and Grumblings appears each Monday.