Where’s Derek?

All upset over Derek Jeter’s All-Star no-show? Don’t be! If you believe, as I do, that an All-Star should be judged on his performance this year, then Derek Jeter is not an All-Star. He’s batting .270 even after going 5-for-5 on Saturday, and his range factor is lower than low.

Of course, not all fans vote that way. You could say Derek is disrespecting the fans who voted him on,  but I don’t look at it that way. It’s just Derek at his cynical best — good enough for 3,000 hits, but not good enough for the All-Star game.

He’s still a Hall Of Famer, anyway you look at it.  Maybe not his finest hour, but he doesn’t use steroids, or bet on ballgames.

2011 All-Star? Unh-unh!

Was Bobby Valentine Auditioning?

If you watched the ESPN broadcast of the Cubs-Cardinals game on August 21, you heard a remarkable on-screen rant by Bobby Valentine regarding an on-field lapse by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. In the sixth inning, pitcher James Russell delivered a pitch to the plate while Castro had his back to the batter.

Valentine did not remark on this sign of inattention at the time, but an inning later, he devoted several minutes to a rant about Castro, and how his behavior was unacceptable and needed correction. He called it “absolutely inexcusable at a major league level” and “an incident that needed reprimand and it went unnoticed”. This last was a criticism of Cub third base coach Ivan DeJesus who had talked to Castro about an errant throw he had made just before, but had apparently failed to notice an even greater sin, that of keeping his head down.

Valentine then went on to expand on his theory of praise and reprimand, and the way he, as a manager, kept his own coaches in line. With play-by-play man Dan Shulman playing the good cop and making mild excuses for Castro, Bobby expands on his withering critique. He creates an imaginary scenario where he asks the coach why he didn’t talk to the player about that, and the coach replies that he told him (What else could the coach say?), and Bobby Valentine, playing the role of the crusty old skipper, demands “Tell him again!”

Now the onus has shifted onto Cub manager Mike Quade, too much of a nice guy, apparently, to really stick it to the o-so-reproachable coach of the o-so-errant player as, ta da!, our hero, Mr. Bobby Valentine, would have done.

Valentine is still not done. He now starts in with the invidious comparisons: Darwin Barney is moving with every pitch; Castro stands  there flatfooted. James Russell, the Cub pitcher who was the victim of Castro’s indifference, is remembered fondly as little Jamie, the son of his closer, Jeff Russell, when Bobby managed the Texas Rangers back in the day.

Somehow Castro’s lapse has turned into “a cancer within the team”: If Castro doesn’t keep his head up, the catcher doesn’t go after pitches in the dirt, the pitcher doesn’t back up the outfield throw, and this is the house that Jack built.

What is interesting here is the context. Castro’s misdemeanor occurred in the sixth inning. But the inning before, Bobby had been in the booth with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. You have to go back and look at the footage to really experience how ingratiating Bobby’s manner is with Tom Ricketts, who takes great care to pay him no mind. While Shulman conducts the interview in a professional tone, Bobby is masterful, in full weasel mode. He can’t take his eyes off Ricketts. He smiles, asks about his wife, nods his head and blinks his eyes to show his appreciation of every golden word that drops from the lips of Tom Ricketts. Twice he even wiggles his eyebrows at Tom; this last would get him a date on Castro Street, the one in San Francisco.

When he starts his rant against the other Castro, he pointedly makes reference to Tom Ricketts’ remarks about rebuilding the Cubs through ‘player development’, meaning bringing up players through the farm system, as opposed to free agent signings, apparently the fatal tendency that ended Jim Hendry’s career with the Cubs. But to Bobby, ‘player development’ becomes reward and punishment and he uses this mantra to try to sell himself to Tom Ricketts.

So how bad was Castro being? Certainly Darwin Barney, who has been through a top college program, is older and has more solid fundamentals than Starlin Castro. But when Pat Hughes, the Cubs’ radio man, became aware of Bobby’s rant, and put the same question to his new partner, Keith Moreland replied that it is actually the responsibility of the pitcher and the catcher to be sure everyone on the field is ready. He didn’t let Castro off the hook entirely; every player has a duty to be in the game all the time, but he put in perspective: maybe a fail, but not a crime.

Bobby Valentine knows Starlin Castro is the hope of the Cub franchise but that he is a work in progress. Dear to Tom Ricketts’ heart, and that of Cub management, is his proper development into a Hall of Famer. Could it be that Bobby Valentine is just the man for the job?

Apropos of that, after a break to hear Buster Olney list potential candidates for the Cubs’ General Manager job, Dan Shulman said to him, “If you can be the guy to win a championship here, you will go down in history.” Bobby, not unaware of his mission, responded “Absolutely, it’s going to be an interesting…uh…next six weeks to see what other names surface and to see how the Ricketts family comes up with their choice.” It appears from that Bobby might even be willing to toss his hat in the ring for GM, although it would be more realistic for him to covet the manager’s job.

My impression, and my fervent hope, is that Tom Ricketts is not buying any second-hand Bobby Valentine dreams. His philosophy creates divisions between his potential favorites, (Barney and Russell on the Cubs?), and his putative pariahs (Castro and Soriano?).

It is well-known that out-of-work managers use interim jobs with ESPN to market themselves; it has worked for Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter, among others. Let’s hope it keeps The Weasel out of the Wrigleyville hen house.

Darwin Barney: All-Star

I recommend a write-in vote for Darwin Barney for the All-Star team.

He was not even certain of making the team in Spring Training. At best, he was thought to be a candidate for back-up at shortstop. He played so well in spring training that he beat out Blake DeWitt, who had the inside track at second. Consequently, he was put on the All-Star ballot as the Cubs’ second baseman.

Barney not only won the second-base job with his stellar play, he continued to play so well that he was named National League Rookie of the Month for April. He is leading the team in hits with runners in scoring position and he has shortstop range at second base.

Darwin Barney: write him in! It’s easy. Just don’t fill in anybody at second base on the NL ballot. Then scroll down to the bottom and enter “Darwin Barney” and “Cubs”.

Let’s make history with a write-in vote for second base!