The Week Ahead: Nats at 'center of the universe'

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harper-bryce-100606.jpgThis is a pretty good time to be a Washington Nationals fan. Yes, they are currently sitting in their customary position at the bottom of the NL East, but if you’re a follower of the artists formerly known as Les Expos, you’ve got to be brimming with optimism this week.

On Monday, the Nats will pick first in the First-Year Player Draft, and all indications are that they will select catcher Bryce Harper (pictured), a record-setting junior college slugger who would have just finished his junior year of high school had he not enrolled in college to become eligible for the draft a year early.

There have been some questions about Harper’s attitude, as well as thoughts that he should be moved to a different position (courtesy of his agent, you know who). But there is no denying his talent.

Then before the Harper hype even gets a chance to die down, the Nats will grab the attention of the baseball world again on Tuesday when they unveil their No. 1 pick from last year’s draft, pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who will make his first big league start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Strasburg never really looked like he belonged in the minors, going 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 55 1/3 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A, and even the Nationals brass is having a hard time keeping their expectations in check. Here is team president Stan Kasten talking to MLB.com:

As we have been building, we have been a very low-profile team, which is a frustration when you are in a big and important market as we are in D.C. Strasburg has certainly changed that dynamic. We are now the center of the universe in terms of attention in the world of baseball. We will be the center of attention on Monday night with the first pick of the Draft. We’ll be the center of attention again Tuesday. And we hope, soon thereafter, we’ll become a team that is worthy of constant attention as we become more competitive.

Center of the universe? Sure why not? Let the man enjoy the moment. And maybe, just maybe, his team will feature the most dynamic battery in baseball in years to come. Now, Washington probably won’t be able to afford any other decent players after paying for their two wunderkind, but let’s not worry about that right now.

Instead, let the Nationals be the center of the universe. We can always let things get back to normal next week.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Cardinals at Dodgers, June 7-9:
The last time these two teams met, Matt Holliday was dropping fly balls in the playoffs to help L.A. reach the NLCS. The Cardinals enter the week on a three-game winning streak, and the Dodgers have been on the rise as well.

Blue Jays at Rays, June 8-10: The Blue Jays made it through a difficult week with a 3-3 record and sit only four games back in the AL East entering the week. It’s another rough week ahead, but it’s getting harder to doubt this Toronto club.

Phillies at Red Sox, June 11-13: The second-place Phillies vs. the third-place Red Sox? What happened here? Not to worry, both teams will remain in the thick of their division races all season long.

Braves at Twins, June 11-13: A couple of quiet, unheralded division leaders lock horns in Minnesota. Should be some good baseball, folks.

Angels at Dodgers; A’s at Giants, June 11-13: It’s time for some California dreamin’ as the L.A. and Bay Area rivals meet up. None of these teams are great, but they’re all competent. Yes, even the A’s.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Padres at Phillies (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.: Cubs at Brewers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Red Sox (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: White Sox at Cubs (FOX)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Phillies at Red Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: White Sox at Cubs (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

The time my family invited ourselves to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had. Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.

Giants player who cheated in order to achieve milestones to be honored with statue

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 1973 file photo, home plate umpire John Flaherty checks Cleveland Indians' pitcher Gaylord Perry's cap, at the request of Milwaukee Brewers manager Del Crandall,  during the first game of a doubleheader against the Brewers,  in Milwaukee. Well after the end of his Hall of Fame career, Perry could still joke about his infamous spitball, but in 1982, the Seattle star was ejected for allegedly throwing the pitch against the Boston Red Sox. (AP Photo/File)
Associated Press
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Hey, I didn’t say “records,” I just said milestones. Milestones which I recognize as totally valid, by the way.

We’re talking about Gaylord Perry here, of course. As Hank Shulman reports, he’ll be getting a statue at AT&T Park. It will be unveiled on August 13, and it will go alongside statues of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal.

Perry was a fantastic pitcher, of course. A man who won over 300 games and struck out more than 3,500 dudes and, without question, belongs in the Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted eons ago. He belongs even if he cheated because, Jesus, a lot of dudes did or at least tried to do what he did and they didn’t become amazing pitchers as a result, so maybe the cheating didn’t make or break the man’s career? And because how on Earth can you have a baseball Hall of Fame without Gaylord Perry in it? That’d be preposterous.

Moreover, he’s a player for whom I have a great deal of personal admiration for personal reasons no matter what he did on the field (have I told you my Gaylord Perry story? If I haven’t told my Gaylord Perry story before remind me and I’ll do a post on it; he was a prince of a man to my family one time). UPDATE: Here’s that Gaylord Perry story.

See, you can separate the rule breaking from the rest of it if you try even a little bit.

Bonds next, please.

Delmon Young arrested for choking, threatening a valet

Delmon Young
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Major leaguer Delmon Young was arrested in Miami last night after allegedly choking and threatening a valet attendant, and using ethnic slurs. Andy Slater of 940-AM WINZ in Miami was the first to report Young’s arrest. HardballTalk has independently confirmed the report after speaking to the Miami Police Department. The actual police report can be read below.

According to the report, Young was angry that a valet at the Viceroy Hotel in Miami wouldn’t open a door with access to a club. He allegedly put his hands around the valet’s throat and said “Stupid Cuban, open the f***ing door,” and “I’m gonna f***ing kill you, you Latin piece of s**t.” Young, who lives at the Viceroy, fled the scene and was later arrested in his room. He initially denied that he took part in the confrontation but the valet identified him to police officers. When he was being arrested Young allegedly told the police officer “I’ll slap you in the face with money you f***ing Cuban.” Oh, and he was naked from the waist down when he first opened the door for the police and appeared to be intoxicated, slurring his speech.

As you no doubt recall, Young was arrested in New York in 2012 and eventually pled guilty for harassing people on the street and using antisemitic slurs while appearing in a “highly intoxicated” state.

Young, 30, hit .270/.289/.339 in 52 games for the Orioles last year. He has played for the Devil Rays and Rays, the Twins, the Tigers and the Phillies before two seasons in Baltimore. The veteran of ten major league seasons is a free agent right now. And, from the sound of things, he’s likely to stay that way indefinitely.

Here’s the police report:

Delmon Young Police Report EDITED

If Brett Anderson hits better this year, thank Josh Donaldson

Los Angeles Dodgers' Brett Anderson ducks away from a pitch from Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher David Holmberg on a bunt attempt during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Associated Press
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Or, at the very least, thank his bat.

Brett Anderson, who hit a meaty .085/.173/.106 last season, just got his first 2016 bat delivery, it seems. He posted a pic of the shiny lumber on Twitter a few minutes ago, with a message to his former teammate, the reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, whose “JD” initials signifying whose model number it is are plainly visible on the barrel:

 

If Anderson breaks out offensively this year — say, he pushes that OBP over .200 — I may reconsider my “DH in the National League now” argument and merely suggest that pitchers get better bats.

In other news, whose bat was Zack Greinke using last year? And did he leave any behind at Camelback Ranch? Might be worth looking.