May 2007

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 8, 2007

I hate the New York Yankees.

I don’t hate Andy Pettitte or Jorge Posada or Mike Mussina or Chien-Ming Wang or Johnny Damon or Jason Giambi.

I sorta like Derek Jeter and Scott Proctor and Bobby Abreu. Mariano Rivera and Hideki Matsui, too. And Robinson Cano.

OK – admittedly, I’m not an Alex Rodriguez fan.

Don’t really have a strong feeling one way or the other on Melky Cabrera or Kyle Farnsworth, or on Doug Mientkiewicz. Brian Bruney and Sean Henn and Luis Vizcaino and Mike Myers? Take ’em or leave ’em.

I don’t mind Yankees fans. In fact, there are plenty of them that I admire.

Love their uniforms, the simplicity of their ballpark, and Bob Sheppard.

I like Joe Torre, and Don Mattingly. Ron Guidry’s 1978 Topps card was one of my favorites, and so he’s good in my book.

But if you want a short list of the things I hate, you can limit the size of it to any number greater than zero, and the New York Yankees are on it.

I hate the fact that they have eleven players making more than $10 million dollars this year.

No, wait. Make that twelve. Forgot momentarily about Roger Clemens. (Who I still sorta like.)

I hate the deference their hitters and pitchers get on balls and strikes.

I hate the ESPN mentality that that every other team, with the exception of Boston, is sentenced to playing the role of the Washington Generals. That baseball needs the Yankees to be great.

No, it doesn’t.

Of course, I hate that my team seems to behind the eight ball the minute the lineup cards are exchanged with that team.

But that hatred is merely on the level of my distaste for peanut butter, jogging, reality TV, and the decision to let Steve Nash go. It’s nowhere near the hatred I have for the Evil Empire (not the players, but the team), whose authorized tilt of the playing field makes it so easy to crave for them to fail miserably, by which I mean to fall short of reaching the World Series. Because it’s plainly inexcusable for a roster like that not to be one of the last two standing, every single year.

Second to the elation I’ll feel when Texas next makes the playoffs will be the next time that New York doesn’t.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS: MAY 7, 2007

Frisco righthander Eric Hurley is a pretty good baseball player.

Seven scoreless innings tonight, four singles, one walk, four strikeouts.

For the season, the 21-year-old – who we’d be talking about as a top prospect for next month’s amateur draft had he opted to go to the University of Florida rather than sign with the Rangers out of high school as the 2004 draft’s 30th overall pick – sits at 5-0, 1.47 in seven RoughRider appearances, issuing only eight walks in 43 innings while fanning 30 and holding the Texas League to a .211 batting average.  And if you’re wondering how that improving change is coming along, consider the fact that he’s been stingiest against lefties, holding them to a .200 clip while righthanders are hitting .222 off of him.

Opponents are 2 for 23 (.087) against Hurley in the first inning this season, without scoring.  Having demonstrated consistently the last couple seasons that he gets stronger as the game wears on, consider this: in the seventh through the ninth this year, Hurley hasn’t allowed a run in 10.1 innings, holding Texas Leaguers to a .158 clip.

Between last summer’s Frisco stint and this season’s, Hurley is 8-1, 1.69 in 12 starts and one relief appearance.  Ten of the 12 starts have been quality starts.

I could regale you with more numbers, but the way Hurley is pitching, you can basically blindly point to any stat and it’s going to knock your socks off.   

Hurley has made one appearance in Arlington in 2007 (see below), but it could very well be his last.  I suppose there could be a September cameo in the cards, but that would trigger his options timetable next April when otherwise he wouldn’t need to start 2008 on an option, and more importantly, Eric Hurley doesn’t need to be rushed.  Be patient.  Too much riding on his development.

Hurley

That’s going to be a very familiar face in a couple years.

Jamey

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

Newberg Report Plus: Hurley and Whittleman honored

The Rangers have named Frisco righthander Eric Hurley (3-0, 1.50 in four starts and a relief appearance, .219 opponents’ average, 23 strikeouts and four walks in 30 innings) and Clinton third baseman Johnny Whittleman (.343/.447/.586, eight doubles, three homers, 12 RBI, 14 walks, and 15 strikeouts in 70 at-bats) the organization’s pitcher and player of the month for April.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 7, 2007

As resistant as I am to the idea that a May stretch can be any more pivotal than any other seven-game run over the course of a season, this one feels huge. The guys in the lineup who should be hitting are hitting, the rotation has thrown five straight quality starts, the defenders are making the plays they should, the bullpen is relatively rested. Each cylinder is clicking.

The Rangers head to New York for three and then host the Angels for four. Texas is winless in six tries against those two clubs this season.

Take things one game at a time, and all that. But man, if we can overcome the Yankee Strike Zone and go up there and win a couple — maybe we’ll find the Yankees a little Rocket-drunk and thinking not about the opponent that they swept a week earlier but instead about Roger Clemens, the way the Mavericks were thinking about the Suns and Spurs — and then come back and take three of four from Los Angeles, then this year, even if it shouldn’t based on seven games in the season’s first quarter, starts to feel a lot different.

Kameron Loe yesterday: 6.2 innings, one run on three hits and one walk, career-high six strikeouts, including all three faceoffs with Vernon Wells. It was the kind of pitching line that Loe put up regularly in his breakout 2003 season with Clinton and Stockton. Legit.

As for Clemens, Texas won’t face him in the 2007 regular season unless he retires and signs with Houston or Boston in time for the Rangers’ late-June series with those clubs.

Oklahoma righthander Ezequiel Astacio (0.00 ERA in 15.2 relief innings, five hits, two walks, 20 strikeouts) is moving into the RedHawks rotation.

The Rangers released lefthander Matt Merricks, who had been on Frisco’s disabled list. The former Braves prospect, signed in November, never appeared for the RoughRiders.

Righthander Kelvin Jimenez debuted last week for St. Louis. He’s pitched three times in relief. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is up with the Cardinals, too.

The Mets designated righthander Chan Ho Park for assignment.

Philadelphia recalled lefthander Fabio Castro from AAA. Tampa Bay released outfielder Jason Grabowski, the Yankees released lefthander Erick Burke, and Toronto righthander Matt Roney was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a “drug of abuse.”

Pittsburgh promoted catcher Einar Diaz from High A to AAA.

Indie moves: Shortstop Jose Morban signed with the Somerset Patriots (Atlantic). Outfielder Adam Bourassa signed with the St. Paul Saints (American). Righthander Ruben Feliciano signed with the Grays (Can-Am). The St. Joe Blacksnakes (American) released outfielder Cody Nowlin.

There’s easily five times more attention being paid this season to the Rangers minor league system, both in the local papers (and their blogs) and in various fan sites. Love to see that.

But it’s all backdrop material right now. Over the next week, the only real story is whether Texas can stamp out the memory of a miserable April and get back in this thing. This is as excited as I’ve been about Rangers baseball since the season began.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — MAY 5, 2007

The Rangers have placed righthander Kevin Millwood on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 29, due to a strained left hamstring muscle he reportedly sustained while shagging flies between starts.

If it’s anything like the strained left hamstring muscle I sustained 13 days ago nearly three hours into a Sunday morning of softball that I was playing on four hours of sleep, he’s going to need all of those 15 days before he feels right, and his wife will still threaten spouse-imposed retirement if he hurts himself that severely again.

Then again, he’s probably in a little better condition than I am. And probably has considering more leash.

Sidewinder Wes Littleton was recalled from AAA Oklahoma to replace Millwood on the roster. Righty Mike Wood will remain in the rotation in Millwood’s absence.

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

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — MAY 5, 2007

You’ll hear it said a couple dozen times that a player was better than his line looked before you’ll hear the opposite observation, but tonight Brandon McCarthy’s line was better than he actually pitched. One run on two hits in six innings is a great-looking result for a starting pitcher, particularly one who had been struggling, but Brandon McCarthy wasn’t consistently sharp.

Four walks, one strikeout. Ninety-four pitches in those six frames, which is a bit too many. Only 52 strikes, an unacceptable 55 percent strike rate. Six groundouts and 11 flyouts (plus a home run), commensurate with McCarthy’s flyball tendencies. He put himself in tough spots too often, bringing good stuff to the mound tonight but spotty command of it at times.

But the thing to take out of this start was that McCarthy, to his credit, battled and battled and battled, and kept the game in control even when he ventured into hot water. When he hit his spots and spun the ball well, he looked more like Jack McDowell than I’ve seen him since he arrived. There’s room for improvement, but maybe we should treat this effort like a gift horse and give it a little distance. This, without a doubt, was progress.

But what do I know? I thought Pudge Rodriguez and Steve Nash could still play, and that we didn’t get enough for Travis Hafner.

Solid win tonight. Good looking in all phases. Even came complete with a pregame, players-only meeting that reportedly lasted 20 minutes and featured four or five players addressing their teammates.

I choose to believe that Michael Young and Hank Blalock pick up those three hits apiece and Mark Teixeira and Gerald Laird stay hot with or without that meeting, and that the timely hits and tighter defense and good baserunning and effective pitching were simply the result of players getting the job done. But if that pregame session inspired anyone in the room or made them feel better or more focused or more relaxed or whatever they needed, then I’m glad it happened.

Bottom line: Needed that win, and McCarthy did his part.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 4, 2007

“We’re not hitting, we’re not fielding and we’re not pitching,” first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “You almost have to expect to lose when you do that. When you don’t do anything right, you aren’t going to win in this league.

“We’re just playing bad. There are no excuses. I take responsibility for my performance and I think everybody in here does the same thing. But the bottom line is we have to get a lot better.”

That comment was about the only thing that hit the mark on what was one of the most miserable sports days, locally, that I’ve ever experienced.

Glad I’m not six years old anymore. I probably would have cried, the way I did when the Cowboys lost Super Bowl X, only worse.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 3, 2007

The first weatherman I see who says he has no idea whether a tornado might be coming, or that he had no clue that it was going to hail like that, will become my go-to weatherman. But I’m not holding my breath. Mixed among the use of stilted phrases like “rain event” is a whole lot of overconfidence, exaggeration, and fear-mongering. Sure wish one of them would come clean and admit that, especially more than a day or two out, they don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Which brings me to the Rangers.

I’ve received a handful of emails the past few days, ranging from politely interested to outraged, asking that I explain what’s wrong with this baseball team and whether it’s going to get better.

Beats me.

How am I supposed to explain an offense hitting .230/.299/.392, a year after it hit .278/.338/.446?

Mark Teixeira with six RBI, after a month? Michael Young hitting .207/.228/.333? Hank Blalock with one home run, and a strikeout for every four official at-bats? Brad Wilkerson with a strikeout for every three, including strikeouts in nine of his first 10 games played?

Gerald Laird going 7 for his last 20 — to lift his average to .169?

A team ERA (5.53) that is the second-highest in baseball — more than half a run worse than the third-highest — and only one starting pitcher (Robinson Tejeda) whose ERA is that good? A young, battle-tested rotation acquisition off of whom hitters are teeing off at a .356/.433/.522 rate?

Vicente Padilla in search of his first 2007 win, sitting at 20 walks and 14 strikeouts despite coming into the season with a career 2-to-1 ratio of whiffs to walks?

It doesn’t help to see what Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez are doing in San Diego. Or Padres AAA right fielder Vincent Sinisi, for that matter, who could figure in if Terrmel Sledge doesn’t break out of his slide. And over in Chicago, John Danks and Nick Masset are more than holding their own. Neither would have made the Rangers’ Opening Day staff.

But that’s getting away from the primary point. Collectively, the 30 players who have suited up for the Rangers this year aren’t this bad. They’re just not this bad.

I’m excited about Johnny Whittleman (leading the Midwest League in slugging and reaching base, committing errors at half his 2006 rate) and Emerson Frostad and John Mayberry Jr. and Tug Hulett and Eric Hurley and A.J. Murray and Ezequiel Astacio (seriously: four hits, one walk, and 17 punchouts in 13.2 scoreless innings??) and Omar Poveda and Kendy Batista and Glenn Swanson. I’m fired up about the news that Fabio Castillo and Kasey Kiker could be graduated from extended to Clinton before the end of the month, looking forward to Ben Harrison’s imminent return to action, and relieved that Taylor Teagarden’s elbow MRI revealed no tear and no structural damage.

I’m starting to get pumped about the June 7 draft with all the ammunition the Rangers have.

But a month into the season, minor league developments and draft talk should be no more than incidentals.

Is this crisis time for the big club? Of course not. The team will be one-sixth through the schedule once the first of two is completed today. It’s very, very early.

But to subscribe to that sort of optimism, you have to have faith that Teixeira and Young and Blalock and Wilkerson won’t repeat April, that Padilla will start to get run support and better results, that Brandon McCarthy is significantly better than this. And that Tejeda and Ian Kinsler and Sammy Sosa and the eighth and ninth innings will be as good all year as they have been so far.

I said in January that I thought Texas could win the division if the club were to get 27 wins out of McCarthy and Tejeda.

If Tejeda wins today, those two will have five wins. Through a sixth of the season.

You know me. The glass is always at least half full as far as I’m concerned, until someone takes the glass away. There are several players on this club who will almost certainly turn things around, and when they do, it’s not a huge stretch to speculate that the team’s fortunes might follow.

But here’s the point. I don’t know why things have gone so wrong this past month, and I don’t really know whether they’re going to get markedly better. Still, you can bet that I’m going to hang in there and find out.

If there aren’t enough answers for you in this report, please accept my humble apologies. I don’t have the answers.

If what you need is someone promising certainty, go watch the weather.

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

Swapping Stories: The Bert Campaneris Trade of 1979

May 4, 1979: Texas trades shortstop Bert Campaneris to California for infielder Dave Chalk.

Bert Campaneris boasted a Major League tenure that was eight years longer than that of the five-year-old Texas Rangers when owner Brad Corbett made the veteran shortstop the Rangers’ first noteworthy free agent signing. More significant than the healthy five-year, $400,000 contract Texas gave Campaneris was the fact that it was such a long commitment to an aging infielder whose game was built on speed.

The signing of the 34-year-old Campaneris arguably earned the Rangers some league-wide credibility, but his stay in Texas was marked by a steady decline and ultimately led to his trade to the California Angels less than halfway into the landmark contract. On May 4, 1979, the Rangers sent Campaneris to California for veteran infielder Dave Chalk – who lasted just six weeks before he was shipped away in a package to Oakland for young lefthander John Henry Johnson.

The A’s had signed Campaneris in 1961, not long before the breakdown in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba effectively imposed an embargo on the supply of Cuban ballplayers to the Major Leagues. He was in the big leagues by 1964, hitting the first pitch he saw (a Jim Kaat offering) for a home run. The 22-year-old took Kaat deep a second time that day, becoming just the second player in baseball history to homer twice in his Major League debut.

In 1965, Campaneris’s first full season with Oakland, he broke Luis Aparicio’s run of nine straight seasons leading the American League in stolen bases. From 1965 (in which he became the first player ever to play all nine positions in one game) until 1972, Campaneris led the AL in steals six times, swiping more than twice as many bases in that span (410) as the next most prolific runner (Don Buford, with 187).

Although he was a leadoff hitter, Campaneris didn’t hit for particularly high averages and didn’t draw many walks. But when he got on base, he ran. Campaneris stole a career-high 62 bases in 1968 and again in 1969 – despite miserable .330 and .302 on-base percentages those two years.

Campaneris was a key component of the Oakland dynasty of the ‘70s, regularly making All-Star teams as the A’s won five AL West titles and three World Series from 1971 to 1975. When the advent of free agency led to the breakup of that dysfunctional club after the 1976 season, Campaneris (whose numbers had declined for the second straight year) was among the players who sought a better deal elsewhere. A week before Thanksgiving, he signed the multi-year deal with Texas, displacing original Ranger Toby Harrah, who was shifted from shortstop to third base.

By today’s standards, the 1977 season Campaneris had for Texas was mediocre at best, as he hit a punchless .254/.314/.341. But whether it was a weak AL shortstop class or Campaneris’s reputation, he made his sixth All-Star squad that summer. The most extraordinary aspect of Campaneris’s 1977 season was his 40 sacrifice bunts, a figure that no player had reached since the 1920s and that no player has reached since.

In 1978, at age 36, Campaneris hit just .186/.245/.238 in a season that saw him eventually hand his starting job back to Harrah. Campaneris was a highly paid backup when the 1979 season began, sitting behind rookie shortstop Nelson Norman. Harrah had been traded to Cleveland for Buddy Bell, who incidentally had been involved in a memorable fight with Campaneris back in 1976, when Campaneris (then with the A’s) fired a double play pivot and hit Bell (still with the Indians) in the head, inciting a bench-clearing brawl.

Campaneris and Bell weren’t Rangers teammates for long. Having started just three of the Rangers’ first 20 games in 1979, Campaneris was traded on May 4 to the Angels for Chalk, his All-Star teammate in 1974 and 1975. A former first-round pick of the Angels out of the University of Texas, Chalk made those All-Star squads in his first two full seasons in California, but his career too was on the decline at the time of his trade to Texas. The five-year Angels starter would never start again.

Chalk essentially pinch-hit for Texas upon his arrival, and not very effectively. In five weeks with the club, he made one start and eight late-inning appearances, going 2 for 8. On June 15, the Rangers traded Chalk, along with minor league catcher Mike Heath (whom they’d acquired in the off-season from the Yankees in the 10-player deal that sent prospect Dave Righetti to New York for veteran Sparky Lyle) and cash, to the A’s for Johnson – a 22-year-old who fanned 10 in five innings in his Texas debut, won his first two starts, and promptly lost his next six decisions.

Chalk finished the 1979 season with Oakland and spent the next two years on Kansas City’s bench before retiring. Campaneris was with California from 1979 through 1981 – playing out the five-year contract that Texas had given him – and retired himself, before spending the 1982 season playing in Mexico and then returning to the Major Leagues for one last time in 1983, turning in his highest career batting average (.322) and on-base percentage (.355) in spot duties for the Yankees, at age 41.

Campaneris wasn’t the first Rangers shortstop to later find more success in New York. Nor was he the first Rangers shortstop that the franchise made a statement with by signing in free agency.

What Campaneris was, undoubtedly, was not only the Rangers’ first noteworthy free agent signing, but all told the franchise’s first free agent disappointment.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — May 1, 2007

We’ve been at a place the last few days where the riptide is so strong that they don’t let you swim in the waters. You can look, but you can’t touch.

Having not grown up on the water, the times I do get to spend on a beach always grab me. But maybe it’s like this even for those who see it every day. I’d believe it.

Yesterday we took a long walk along the shore, where the strong currents kept altering the lines we weren’t allowed to cross. The waves were mesmerizing, crashing as often as they’d soar, or in quieter moments spill, not flow. A surprise splinter here, an unexpected rush there. With so much going on under the surface, hidden from sight and logical only in retrospect, trying to predict behavior, and outcomes, was a foolish waste of thought. Better to just experience it, unburdened by expectations.

Sometimes the waters swell and gather so perfectly that you just know they’re about to kick up into one force that will run over everything in its way, pouncing on the sand with more strength and greater depth than any you’ve seen all day.

But then some single-minded undertow, unforeseeable and unwelcome, cripples its momentum, if not grinding it to a sad halt. Didn’t see that coming.

There’s so much life in this, so much organic life, yet in watching the waves do their thing you come to a realization that there’s no easily measurable progress being made. All that greatness, yet all that nothingness. Even the mightiest swells instantly recede, and yet the most pitiful sputtering of water refuses to give up.

Objectively the experience of the waves encroaching on the shore shouldn’t be as exhilarating as it is, with the sounds and the colors and the smells, but even to a casual, infrequent visitor like I am, it’s an adrenaline injection that engulfs me, that stamps out everyday stress and makes me feel, all at once, at peace and in luck, and totally alive.

Fortunately for you I’m not so cheap and sappy that I’d ever try to draw a parallel between all the above and a baseball season.

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

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