FJM has another Joe Morgan chat session up. I've decided, again, to take his place through the miracle of cut-and-paste... These are the answers I give to the questions; Joe's answers (with incredulous fisking by Ken Tremendous) are at the link. My groundrules: I won't look too much stuff up, and I won't read JM's or KT's answers until I'm done.
Brandyn S. - Chicago: Fly, what are your thoughts on the success the Red Sox have had without major contributions from David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to this point in the season?
I think they've gotten good production from other members of the lineup, like Youkilis and Lowell, and made it harder for pitchers to avoid the big guns. Ortiz is actually hitting well, albeit not quite his arcade-level production for the last few seasons. Jason Varitek has been poor, Coco Crisp has been almost nonexistent... if they also start hitting nobody could possibly catch them. Plus there's all the good pitching they've gotten. Jonah Keri had a great story on Tim Wakefield's strong start; Beckett's been wonderful, the bullpen is doing well right now. I don't think the Sox are worried.
Matt (Knoxville, TN): Would you name some palyers (past and present) who changed/are changing the way baseball is played?
Well, obviously the biggest names - Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson - have had bookshelves full of stuff written about them, and justly so. Let me give you a few lesser-known guys I think have left permanent marks on the game:
Moe Berg and Mickey Cochrane - early catchers who helped pioneer the position. Berg, who coined the term "the tools of ignorance" about catching gear, was better-known for his oddities and his intellect (he spoke something like seven languages) but belongs on this list.
Curt Flood - without him there is no such thing as free agency. He paid a terrible price for challenging the reserve clause, too.
Carl Hubbell - I don't think he invented the screwball, but he was the first to dominate with it. (And for that matter, you don't see the scroogie too much anymore - it's very hard on the elbow - but what a tough pitch to deal with, almost like a lefty-specialist tossing curves at your lefty bats.)
The inventors of the curveball and the stolen base - I'd have to look up the names, but both date back to the 19th century.
Cal Ripken Jr, Robin Yount, Joe Morgan - before these guys, your middle infielders were nearly always defensive specialists whom you tolerated as holes in the batting order. These guys were among the first of a crop of plus-hitters who also gave above-average defense. Shortstop is now a glamour position with a lot of dangerous hitters; and Rey Ordonez is unemployed because .235 and 2 homers per year won't cut it unless you're a pitcher, or got hurt on April 10th.
Bruce Sutter - again, not the inventor of the splitter, but the guy who gave it critical mass. Unlike the scroogie, it's stuck.
Hoyt Wilhelm - a representative for the knuckleballers of our time.
At the moment, I have to confess an inability to give you the inventors of modern bullpen use and the platoon system, but those would be managerial innovations outside of the scope of your question.
Mike (NYC): Do you see Roger Clemens making a serious contribution to the Yanks? I think a rotation of Wang, Pettitte, Moose, Rocket and Hughes can be tremendous.
I have to disappoint you, Mike. Clemens will still help, but Moose has a point, the Yankees aren't adding quite the same guy as they got in the late 90's. In fact, the big thing about the Yankee rotation is that Mussina's comment applies to every last one of them. It's all 2- or 3- guys, except for Hughes, who is a 20-year old rookie. That's four decent enough pitchers you wouldn't mind rolling out every fifth day, somewhat above average, but none of them are aces. Say they win 12-15 games each. That gets the Yankees to 60 wins; how are they going to get to 90? Does Hughes win 20 of those in his rookie year?
Grady Sizemore (Cleveland): Fly, what's wrong with my bat right now? People have said I'm as good if not better than Beltran, but I sure don't feel like it right now. Any thoughts?
Well, if it's the real Grady Sizemore, I'll say that you ARE in a funk if you're writing to me. If it's a frustrated fan, let me reassure you that Grady is, in fact, a very good hitter. His OBP is .394, he's leading the Indians in runs (29), he's 12-for-12 stealing, and his defense is still solid. It's hard to rack up 90+ extra-base hits per year. That will come around.
One thing that would help - he hasn't had a game off since 2005. Eric Wedge should give him a day exclusively devoted to spitting sunflower seeds and giving Travis Hafner a hotfoot while the Indians are in the field.
Norman (NY): Good morning Fly. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the fast starts for both JJ Hardy and Prince Fielder. Can Hardy keep up this MVP like pace and do you think that Prince Fielder can already be considered one of the elite power hitters in the game?
Fielder played very well last season, so this is a promising follow-up. A lot of great rookies have become mere mortals later because pitchers adjusted to them, but they were unable to re-adjust. I'd wait to see if he's still slugging .600 at the end of the season to call him "elite," however. The same with Hardy, really - SS is a demanding position physically, and it will be interesting to watch him push through the dog days of August. Still, he wasn't hitting well on the road coming into the current trip, but he's got six hits and three homers in those five games. I see him dipping a little but let's invent some numbers: he should finish around .925 or .950 OPS, 25-28 homers.
Wade: (Nashville, TN): Joe, what rookie do you think will have the biggest impact on their team the rest of the season?
Jack Cust has gotten off to a great little start, so let's hope he isn't just Kevin Maas. You've got Dice-K in Boston, Josh Hamilton in Cincinnati... You notice that all of those guys are older, 25 or so. They've handled a lot of life, they're finally getting their chance (in Hamilton's case, a second chance after some really stupid decisions), and they're doing well so far.
David (RedLegs Nation): Hey Fly Whats up you see any thing turning the reds around or are we stuck in the basement?
You certainly won't catch the Brewers, who look like the genuine article; but only four games separate the Reds from the second-place Astros. Cincy should catch the Cards and Pirates, especially since they have such trouble scratching out runs. The big thing is that the Reds' pitching staff is "Harang, Arroyo, and cursed fro-yo." They already brought up Bobby Livingston to replace Eric Milton; it may be too early for Homer Bailey. The Redlegs need one more arm.
Sam Perlozzo (Baltimore): Fly, I had a horrible 9th inning in Boston Sunday followed by a near fight in the dugout last night between Mora and Payton. Is my time as manager drawing short?
I don't think so. Perlozzo's been with the team a while, and it's unlikely that he's in immediate danger. And the fight isn't a negative in this context - Mora and Payton are two vets who care about the direction of the team and that sort of healthy competitive fire is going to pop the lid of the pot every once in a while. The real failing is that nobody can hit the ball hard out there, and Perlozzo didn't trade and sign for these guys. Peter Angelos is unfortunately the bigger obstacle to the Orioles success. Of course, he won't fire himself, but if he's smart he won't fire Perlozzo either.
Brian(NY): Fly here's a tough one for ya...if you we're to start a franchise from scratch for the next 5 years who would you're infield team be, mine would be Pujols, Kinsler, Reyes and Wright.
Decent choices, though Kinsler and Wright have been coming down to earth this season. Still, defensible picks. Wright is the better of those two.
For the next five years, I'd take Pujols, Chase Utley, Reyes, and Alex Rodriguez, who's only 31.
Dave (Richmond VA): Hey Fly! How good do you think that Phil Hughes can be this year? Is he a legit number 2 or 3?
As I shared above, the Yankees have to hope that he's a legit number one. He's got very good stuff - better than one K per inning, WHIP just about 1.0 - so it's a question of when he puts it together. But I think he needs a year or so, and the Yankees just sent him back to Scranton so I think that they agree.
And that's it. Holy cow, I see KT also tossed Moe Berg out there. Good times.