Randy Johnson retires, Cooperstown awaits

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Randy Johnson Dbacks.jpgAfter a stellar 22-year career Randy Johnson, The Big Unit, announced his retirement this evening.  He finishes with a record of 303-166. He racked up 4,785 strikeouts.  He won five Cy Young Awards, four of which came back-to-back-to-back-to-back, in the first four years of what has to be just about the best free agent signing ever.  While Roger Clemens may have a few family members who would plead his case, most would agree that Johnson was the most dominating and intimidating pitcher of his era.

But to me, it’s much more than the numbers that will define Randy Johnson’s legend. It’s the transformation.  I first saw Randy Johnson on TV as he pitched against the Braves on May 7, 1989.
I remember his performance distinctly, mostly because he was so damn
tall. Still, there was nothing about him that made me think the
guy would be in baseball in a year, let alone winning his 300th 20
years later. He was gangly and ineffective, going four innings, giving up six runs and walking six guys on the second worst offense in
the National League. When he was traded to the Mariners the following month I
thought “they gave up Mark Langston for that guy?” Mark Langston was an
All-Star who could strike guys out. Why on Earth would Seattle trade him for this wild beanpole?

Johnson slowly began to improve after the trade to Seattle, to the point where he was a genuinely average to slightly above average pitcher by 1992, though one who walked way, way too many guys.  He was 28 by then. I figured that he would peter out soon enough and would be remembered as a slightly better, left handed Bobby Witt.

Then something clicked, and after it clicked no one had a chance off of the guy for the next dozen years.

Johnson was always a difficult interview. Sometimes surly, but mostly just introspective and private. He wasn’t the sort that would go on and on about his craft.  If he was, however, he’d probably have an awful lot to say on the subjects of determination and concentration and above all else hard work.  What’s the knock on tall pitchers? That their mechanics are impossible because of their size? Tell me: was there anyone who had simpler, more fluid mechanics than Randy Johnson in his prime? Mastering those mechanics was the only way he’d ever go from an erratic gas thrower to a perennial Cy Young Award winner, and to do that had to take hours and hours of work.

Many people will be writing about Randy Johnson in the next couple of days, and when they do they will likely use the terms “gifted” and “overpowering” and “physical specimen.”  And they’ll be apt words because he was a gifted, overpowering physical specimen.

But most of us would have forgotten about the guy sometime in the mid-90s if he didn’t work, likely harder than any pitcher has ever worked before or since, to transform himself from that gifted but erratic thrower I saw in 1989 to the inner-circle Hall of Famer he is today, on the day of his retirement.

Congratulations on a spectacular career, Mr. Johnson.  See you in Cooperstown in 2015.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.