THE NEWBERG REPORT — DECEMBER 22, 2006

Half the time my drive home from work, assuming there’s no Rangers pregame show to listen to, is spent with the Ticket on. If the segment doesn’t grab me, I’ll flip between NPR, Galloway, and KRLD looking for something interesting. If that fails, it’s usually a CD or a hop around the FM presets.

During the winter there’s a lot of NPR and CD action. Love the Cowboys, but by Thursday I’ve had three times my fill of talk show banter about last week’s game and the upcoming matchup. But yesterday, having worn out my L.E.O. CD lately, I went right to FM radio and struck gold.

I heard four straight songs (on three or four different stations) that gave me a second wind as I headed to meet my family to go to a roller-skating birthday party that the kids were invited to. It was strange. No longer victims of oversaturation, all four songs sounded better than ever:

* “Start Me Up” (Stones) (I don’t think I’d ever given any thought to how great a rock song that really is)
* “Losing My Religion” (R.E.M.) (the mandolin underneath “I thought that I heard you laughing” . . . )
* “Somebody Told Me” (Killers) (great first 30 seconds)
* “Where the Streets Have No Name” (U2) (the greatest final 45 seconds of a song ever, in the history of ever)

I generally feel lucky to get one stop-down song out of 10 on the radio, but here were four in a row. I’m also halfway through “Hannibal Rising,” with every page of it worth the seven-year wait. And friends of ours just bought our kids the “Electric Company” DVD set. All this intense creativity around me. Energizing.

About halfway through the U2 song, I started to think about baseball (which might not surprise you). I thought about Barry Zito (not because Bono reminds me oddly of Scott Boras [see the August 28, 2001 Newberg Report]). It occurred to me that all this talk about Zito not being the pitcher he once was, the thought that he’s no longer a pure “Number One,” doesn’t make one bit of difference to me. “Where the Streets Have No Name” still stands up, and it probably always will.

Randomly hear two great songs back to back, and you might get pumped. Three in a row, you’re in a groove. Four straight? Their greatness seems illuminated, which, stated another way, slams you in the face with a whole that crushes the sum of its parts.

And Barry Zito in a rotation alongside Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla would mean that on most nights, you have as good a chance to win as the team in the other dugout, no matter what. That is, no matter who the other team sends to the mound. No matter how our offense is going. And no matter whether you can call Zito a “Number One” these days. Put a Rangers cap on that guy’s head, and let him decide every fifth day what uniform the team will wear.

The idea of Robinson Tejeda and C.J. Wilson and Josh Rupe and Kameron Loe and John Danks and Eric Hurley and Nick Masset and Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond and A.J. Murray learning from Zito and Millwood and Eric Gagne over the next few years, and the thought of Zito, Millwood, and Padilla being here for the two seasons that Michael Young and Mark Teixeira are guaranteed to still be around, fires me up.

My gut still tells me that there’s less than a 50-50 shot that Zito chooses to pitch in Texas. But hey, as the holidays settled in a year ago, I wasn’t confident that Millwood would sign with the Rangers.

And by the way, as for this campaign by the New York writers to convince Zito to make himself a Met because of the flood of endorsement opportunities he’s sure to get, let’s be honest: he’d be about number 12 in line among New York athletes to get those deals. Right?

Not much else going on locally, at least that we know about. Aside from efforts to improve the rotation, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels hasn’t ruled out the possibility of seeking external candidates to upgrade the backup catcher and utility player roles, and there’s also the chance that Texas could add a right-handed bat to compete for time in the outfield or at DH.

Mark Loretta’s name has surfaced as someone the Rangers could target for the role that Mark DeRosa was brought in to fill two years ago. No, Loretta doesn’t have much pro outfield experience (one game, in 1998), but neither did DeRosa, who had played 13 games in the outfield in nine pro seasons before signing with Texas.

The Rangers and Mark Mulder (who is currently on a two-week honeymoon in Tahiti) have reportedly exchanged contract proposals. Some reports suggest he’s narrowed his decision down to remaining with St. Louis or signing with Texas, probably for two years.

Ron Washington gave up jersey number 38 for Gagne. The skipper will instead wear number 37. I thought that was pretty cool.

Rod Barajas signed with Philadelphia for one season at $2.5 million and a club option for a second year. Not quite a Jody Reed disaster, but pretty bad. Because the signing occurred after the deadline for clubs to offer arbitration to their free agents, the Rangers get no draft pick compensation since they didn’t make such an offer to Barajas. They would have gotten an extra pick between rounds one and two had the Blue Jays deal gone through (as it was poised to become official before the arbitration offer deadline).

Adam Eaton, David Dellucci, Fabio Castro, Barajas, Ricardo Rodriguez, Alfredo Simon, Randall Simon, Charley Kerfeld, Steve Smith, and Scott Franzke for Padilla, Tejeda, Jake Blalock, Daniel Haigwood, Don Welke, and Art Howe. Sort of.

According to Baseball America, Texas has released Joe Kemp, the 2004 42nd-rounder who was converted from the Clinton outfield to the mound in July, before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury after just two pitching appearances.

Baltimore signed righthanders Jon Leicester and Rob Bell; Boston signed righthander Travis Hughes; the White Sox signed righthander Ryan Bukvich; Cincinnati signed infielder Enrique Cruz; Florida signed catcher Nick Trzesniak; Houston signed infielder Cody Ransom; the Dodgers signed catcher Ken Huckaby and righthander Spike Lundberg; Oakland signed Erubiel Durazo (and released outfielder Cameron Coughlan); Pittsburgh signed righthander John Wasdin and catcher Einar Diaz; St. Louis signed outfielder Ryan Ludwick and righthander Kelvin Jimenez; San Diego signed infielder Manny Alexander; Seattle signed catcher Jamie Burke; Tampa Bay signed outfielder Jason Grabowski; and Washington signed D’Angelo Jimenez.

Rusty Greer will manage the Euless LoneStars in the Texas Collegiate League next summer.

Gabe Kapler will manage Low A Greenville in the Boston system, and Arnie Beyeler will manage the organization’s AA Portland club.

The Yankees named Greg Colbrunn hitting coach for their Low A affiliate, the Charleston RiverDogs.

The Yokohama BayStars signed righthander Joselo Diaz.

No matter what the Cubs’ level of interest in Diamond has been, you might expect that it has now increased. Chicago named Diamond’s University of New Orleans coach, former big league outfielder Randy Bush, as its assistant general manager.

Eleanor Czajka has loaded a couple dozen photos from last week’s Bound Edition Release Party at Tin Star. Go to the “Minor Details” page to check them out.

Happy Holidays.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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