PRECIOUS CAR-GO ON BOARD

By Murray Chass

September 12, 2010

Name the player who was traded twice within a year and then only two seasons later, in his first full season in the majors, won the Triple Crown and the Most Valuable Player award.

Give up? You should. This is a trick question. The player doesn’t exist.

Yet he could. A home run spurt in the final three weeks of the season could put Carlos Gonzalez in position to win the National League home run title and help him finish first in runs batted in as well as lead the league in hitting.Carlos Gonzalez2 225

And all of that could help the Colorado Rockies complete their third late-season surge into the playoffs in the last four years. That achievement, in turn, would enhance Gonzalez’s m.v.p. chances in a four-way competition with Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez.

But let’s not get too carried away with Carlos Gonzalez, a.k.a. CarGo. He’s having a great season, but it’s his story about how he got to this season that makes his performance intriguing.

“We were only foolish once,” Billy Beane, the Oakland general manager, said when he thought that I thought the Athletics had traded the outfielder twice. “He’s a great talent. I’m sure Arizona would tell you the same thing. He’s been traded for two players who are big-time stars. That tells you something about him.”

Gonzalez, who will turn 25 next month, was signed in 2002 by the Diamondbacks at the age of 17 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Despite three solid minor league seasons, Gonzalez was included in a in a six-player package the Diamondbacks sent to Oakland for pitcher Dan Haren, one of many highly regarded pitchers the Athletics traded or would trade.

“Gonzalez and Brett Anderson were two guys we had to acquire in the trade,” Beane said in a telephone interview.

Yet only 11 months later, after Gonzalez had played only 85 games for the A’s and spent the rest of the season in the minors, Oakland traded him, closer Huston Street and pitcher Greg Smith to Colorado for Matt Holliday.

Citing “impatience with where we were as a club,” Beane said, “We thought we had a chance to be better than we were and thought Matt would be a great addition. Our impatience came from where we were as a club, not from how we felt about Gonzalez.”

Just as Beane wanted Gonzalez in the Haren deal, Dan O’Dowd, the Rockies’ general manager, wanted him in the package for Holliday.

“He was certainly a guy they focused on,” Beane said. “Everybody recognized his talent. He showed signs that the physical talent was there. A lot of credit goes to the kid. I don’t think anybody questioned his talent.

Anytime you trade for this type guys you’re going to have to give up someone.”

Beane also noted that no young player goes to his new team with a guarantee. “With young players,” he said, “you never know what you’re going to get. Some guys disappoint you and some exceed your expectations.”

Gonzalez didn’t arrive in Colorado with much of a track record. He had played in 85 games with Oakland, then in 89 last year in his first season with the Rockies. His .284 average, 13 home runs and 29 runs batted in were not representative of what he would do this season, but they were enough to tell the Rockies to make him their everyday left fielder.

Good decision. Gonzalez entered Sunday’s games leading the league in hitting with a .335 batting average, a .609 slugging percentage, 173 hits and 315 total bases. His 100 runs batted in were two behind Pujols and one behind Votto. His 32 home runs were tied for fourth, 5 behind Pujols, one behind Votto.

Joey Votto 225Albert Pujols 225Votto was third in batting average at .320 and Pujols sixth at .309. All three players are closely bunched atop the r.b.i. race. Those are the Triple Crown categories, though I’m surprised that the fad-statistics gang accepts them for the Triple Crown.

It is unlikely that baseball will get its first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and the National League its first since Joe (Ducky) Medwick in 1937. It is unlikely because there are too many players closely contending for each of the three titles, and it is too easy for a player to miss getting one of the three.

Adrian Gonzalez is not a Triple Crown contender. The Padres’ first baseman is having a very good season, but he is not among the leaders in the Triple Crown categories. Before Sunday’s games he ranked fifth to 10th in batting, slugging, on-base, home runs, r.b.i., total bases and hits.

He is, however, a primary most valuable player candidate along with the Triple Crown candidates. Unlike the Triple Crown categories, the status of the players in the m.v.p. running will depend to a great extent on where their teams finish.

Votto’s and Pujols’ teams will finish first and second, in one order or the other, in the N.L. Central while Gonzalez’s team will finish anywhere from first to third in the N.L. West. The other Gonzalez in the running, Adrian of San Diego, is in a similar position. His team, which has remarkably led the N.L. West for most of the season, could also finish first to third.

All four players have been instrumental in their teams’ success, but Gonzalez, Carlos, is the most interesting. That’s because, besides his personal story, his team is the most interesting. The Rockies have been extremely interesting in the final weeks in recent years.

In 2007, the Rockies won the wild card by winning 11 games in a row in the final two weeks, then beating the Padres in a 13-inning playoff game. Last season the Rockies won the wild card again. This time they overcame a 60-50 record (.545), which wasn’t bad, by winning 32 of their last 52 games (.615).

For their act this year, the Rockies were 11 games from first with a 63-60 record Aug. 22, and from then until Sunday, they won 15 of 19 and slashed their division deficit to 2 ½ games.

As for the individual stories, the way the players arrived at their present addresses, Pujols and Votto were routinely drafted by their teams, Votto in the second round, Pujols in the 13th as the 402nd player chosen, while the Gonzalezes took circuitous routes.

Carlos made his way from Arizona to Oakland to Colorado, Adrian from Florida to Texas to San Diego. Adrian, a San Diego native, was the first player selected in the 2000 draft, but the Marlins traded him to Texas in 2003 as one of three minor leaguers for Ugueth Urbina. The Padres acquired him in a six-player trade with Texas in 2006, in which Adam Eaton was the principal player who went to the Rangers.

 

FEHR PICKS UP STICKdon-fehr4-225

Donald Fehr must still be approved by National Hockey League players in team votes in the next six weeks or so. But that will be a formality because the union’s executive board, made up of player representatives from all of the teams, voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the committee that conducted a lengthy search for a new executive director.

Because of the contentious labor relationship among the league’s players in recent years and the frequent turnover in the position, Fehr, former long-time head of the baseball players union, told the board its vote would have to be unanimous or he would decline to accept the job.

In a conference call with reporters after the vote had been completed, Fehr refered to the union’s “share of turmoil and uncertainty over the last few years.”

 

STATS AND INCIVILITY

Is there something about baseball’s fad statistics and their devotees that turns that group into people who cannot be civil and use the English language to express themselves intelligently? I don’t know what it might be, but there seems to be some correlation based on the response to last weekend’s item about ranking m.v.p. and Cy Young candidates by a statistical formula called WAR.

Here is one e-mail response: “You’re a condescending idiot.” And another: “Have fun becoming obsolete. The world will be a better place when you join the ranks of the jobless.”

Those readers who agreed with my rejection of the statistics were obviously intelligent, articulate people,

Math Formula“I’ve really had it with the stats promoters who are more relentless than 100-proof whiskey,” one reader wrote. “They’ve corrupted the game quietly with the outrageous presumption that it’s all about numbers, even numbers and equations that are laughable. WAR is the best example. When an MVP-level candidate is rated 6 to 8, you can’t help but shake your head. Because, of course, it means that an MVP is ONLY WORTH six to eight more wins than a ‘replacement’ player. If that’s the case, then let’s stop going to Major League games, and cheer for AAA players, who must be only one or two games less worthy than their average peers in the Majors. Indeed, we’d all save a lot of money at the ballparks if we only embraced a WAR-inspired commitment to Triple A.

“By the way, if I have to read ‘OPS’ one more time, I might scream in silence. Slugging percentage has always felt contrived to me, even when I was a kid; I prefer batting and on-base. Always have, always will.”

Another reader wrote, “You are so right about the Times Friday geek fest, what a waste of valuable (and shrinking) sports page space.”

The writer of the piece I wrote about also responded, and in a far more intelligent way than his followers.

“I don’t recall suggesting naming the actual awards based on the stats I provided in the pieces, but rather that WAR provided a logical framework for evaluating a player’s contribution to their team,” Sean Forman wrote. “I’m sure you used statistics when casting your awards votes. Did you not consider a players W-L record or their runs batted in totals, or perhaps their team’s win-loss record? These are statistics just as much as what I presented. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about how WAR is calculated and what goes into its formulation.”

Maybe Forman’s followers could learn something from him other than statistics.

 

ROSE RISES WHERE HE FELL

Through a questionable decision by Commissioner Bud Selig to allow the Cincinnati Reds to honor Pete Rose, the banished and disgraced star appeared at Great American Ball Park Saturday night to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his breaking Ty Cobb’s career hits record.pete-rose6

Rose, of course, was greeted enthusiastically, and the event will very likely spark a cry for his reinstatement. Selig, however, has no intention of reinstating Rose.

The most interesting thing I saw related to the event was a comment from Brandon Phipps, the Reds’ current second baseman. Extolling Rose’s virtues, Phillips told mlb.com, “I’ve talked to Pete Rose and he’s a great guy. He knows baseball and he knows hitting. He’s a good guy. He speaks the truth and that’s one thing I really love about him; he’s an honest and straight-up person.”

“He speaks the truth?” Where was Phillips for the 15 years, 1989 to 2004, that Rose lied about having bet on baseball? Granted, Phillips was only 8 years old when Rose began lying, but he was a major league player by the time he stopped, when he admitted in a book he was paid to do that he bet on games.

Rose, however, never stopped lying. In his book he said he never bet from his managerial office at Riverfront Stadium, but John Dowd’s investigation clearly showed that he did.

Rose began lying publicly Feb. 21, 1989, the day after he was summoned to the commissioner’s office during spring training. I went to the Reds’ camp in Plant City, Fla., that day to ask Rose why he had been called to New York on the second day of spring training.

Noting that both Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and the commissioner-elect, A, Bartlett Giamatti, were at the meeting, Rose said, “They wanted my input and advice on a couple things. I gave it to them.” Did he give them good advice? “I think I did,” he said. “They appreciated it.”

A person who knew of the meeting had told me the subject was Rose’s gambling, but Rose denied that gambling was involved. “That’s not the reason,” he said.

Asked if the meeting could have bad implications for him, Rose replied, ”You can read anything you want into it, but I don’t see anything bad.”

Twenty-one years of bad have followed.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.