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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some Things Seem Erie-ly Familiar

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With Frank in New York visiting family, only one of the Observers had a firsthand look at another rough week for the Brewers. But some familiar sights appeared along the road back East.

Frank
: Hey, I became a multimedia sports blatherer the other day!

Artie
: This I gotta hear.

Frank
: On my drive to Long Island I stopped in Erie, Pa., to see my old Marquette roommate, Eric Compton, who had a long sportswriting career in New York City. These days he's an occasional guest on Erie's Fox Sports radio affiliate, and last Tuesday he brought me along.

Artie
: Gas-bagging on the air... Every fan's dream!

Frank
: The host was a youngster of 26, but he really knew his sports history. We spent most of the time talking baseball, and he had lots of questions about Bud Selig, the debacle of the 2002 All-Star Game, things like that. And when he heard that I have a Hall of Fame vote...

Artie
: I hope you proudly declared that you helped Bert Blyleven get his proper recognition.

Frank
: Bert's name did come up, but mostly I went through my riff about why I've voted for Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, and why I'll vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens next December. Nothing new to our readers, but I doubt we have many in Erie.

Artie
: And the audience reaction?

Frank
: Well, it is a call-in show, but the lines were curiously silent that afternoon.

Artie
: No one even called to ask if you had Prince Albert in a can?

Frank
: Nope, or Prince Fielder in a vat. The audience must have been so fascinated by our comments that they couldn't bear to interrupt us.

Artie
: How is Erie as a sports town?

Frank
: Darn good. There's a lot of interest in pro teams because Erie's about equidistant from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. And Erie has several pro teams of its own—the Double-A SeaWolves in baseball, the D-League BayHawks in basketball and the Otters in hockey. After the show we saw the SeaWolves, a Detroit affiliate, take on the first-place Akron Aeros.

Artie
: Throw out the record books when those teams get together!

Frank
: Don't know about that, but as with every baseball game, I saw something I'd never seen before.

Artie
: Details...

Frank
: The SeaWolves starter was Zack Segovia, and based on this outing, I wouldn't look for him in the big leagues anytime soon. The first hitter belted a 3-1 pitch over the wall in right-center, the second guy did the same on a 1-0 count and the third guy hammered the first pitch out to left-center. Three-nil after eight pitches!

Artie
: Waddya mean, never seen that before? Haven't you seen Randy Wolf pitch?

Frank
: I know Wolf is off to a bad start this year, but he's never done that.

Artie
: Well, he tried his best in Houston last Wednesday—six earned runs in four innings, giving him a Suppanesque ERA of 6.38.

Frank
: I'll try again to add a ray of hope. Wolf's loss put the Brewers at 16-21, and they had that same record last year.

Artie
: Yeah, but the next night the crummy Astros shut them out. And then the Twinkie Boys, with the worst record in baseball, took two of three at Miller Park.

Frank
: So that's 17-24 at the season's one-quarter point. Last year the Brewers closed out May with a 14-4 run...

Artie
: But this year the pitching is nowhere near what it was then.

Frank
: Another huge difference is that at the 41-game mark of 2011, Rickie Weeks was batting .301 with a .372 on-base percentage. A year later those 41-game marks were .154 and .288.

Artie
: And all the strikeouts—53 in 143 at-bats! Ron Roenicke dropped him from leadoff to second in the order, and now to sixth, but it ain't helping. He donned the Golden Sombrero—fanning four times!—Wednesday in Houston and again Saturday. And he never got off the bench Sunday, which, besides Jonathan Lucroy's hot bat, was probably the reason the Brew Crew racked up 16 runs. But it sure would have been nice to save a few of those runs for the next three tough series against the Giants, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

Frank
: Weeks was leading the team in walks with 24—the only reason his on-base was anywhere near .300—but his struggles in making contact are pretty worrisome.

Artie
: There's gotta be a reason—actually, several. He's lunging at so many balls. He looks bigger than he needs to be, kind of muscle-bound, so that it's hard to imagine him having a fluid swing.

Frank
: I wonder if maybe he's still not all the way healed from his severe ankle injury of last year, or having more of the wrist trouble from a few years back.

Artie
: Whatever it is, he's looking like he wants to join the Hall of Shame of Brewers infielders along with Bill Hall at third, Jose Hernandez at short and Franklin Stubbs at first.

Frank
: Those three certainly gave Brewers fans a lot of "bat breeze." And speaking of things we have seen before, the Erie SeaWolves have their own version of our Sausage Race.

Artie
: The greatest ideas are always imitated.

Frank
: This one, sponsored by the Smith meat company, only has three runners, but they have first names. There's Kenny Kielbasa, Herbie Hot Dog and Santino Sausage, who all sort of look alike.

Artie
: Like they say, don't ask what goes into processed meats.

Frank
: But these guys run farther than our sausages. Our race is a sprint; Erie's is more like the 400 meters.

Artie
: If the Brewers don't perk up soon, their season is gonna resemble a marathon through the Sahara.


That'll Show Him

Frank: How about the latest chapter in the Ryan Braun drug-test saga? The arbitrator who upheld Braun's appeal, Shyam Das, was informed by Major League Baseball that his services are no longer required.

Artie
: Another red-letter day for MLB and Bud Selig. And what a coincidence! About the same time, MLB said the 100-game suspension of Colorado minor-league catcher Eliezer Alfonzo for a second positive test was rescinded.

Frank
: In MLB's words, "Alfonzo's grievance challenging his suspension raised issues that were nearly identical to those resolved in the arbitration involving Ryan Braun."

Artie
: Meanwhile, MLB has made "adjustments" in the policy for collecting and shipping urine samples—the main one, I assume, being that a sample must be shipped to the lab in Canada on the day it's taken, not after sitting in the collector's house for a weekend, as Braun's was.

Frank
: All well and good, but dumping Das just makes MLB look so small, so petty.

Artie
: There's another word for it, with the first two syllables being "chicken." So Das becomes the fall guy for MLB's policy having a flaw.

Frank
: Another thing that disturbs me is that Das' departure could mean we never get a written report on the reasons he voided a 50-game ban for Braun.

Artie
: It's for damn sure that MLB doesn't want a report coming out. As always, they just want controversy to go away so the owners can focus on piling up cash.

Frank
: But the players' union might not want a public report either, because it presumably would specify that Das' ruling wasn't based on the sample being tainted or sabotaged, but simply on the technicality that it wasn't shipped in a timely fashion. We've noted that while Braun says he's been "exonerated," in a legal sense that's not true. He's simply the beneficiary of an arbitrator's ruling.

Artie
: I still don't think he deliberately took a banned substance.

Frank
: And I still think he's way too smart, and way too dedicated to becoming one of the all-time great players, to have risked it all by "juicing." But it seems like we'll never know what really happened.

Artie
: In the meantime, baseball dumps on Das because he ruled for Braun. Kids, don't be sore losers like this!