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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dumb Sports Talk

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It’s odd that after 25 years of frustration, the better the Milwaukee Brewers get, the louder grows the chorus of self-styled experts second guessing their success.

Brewers’ General Manager Doug Melvin just completed an eye-popping deal at the midpoint of the season, trading the team’s top minor league prospect for one of the best pitchers in baseball: last year’s American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia.

That the once lowly Brewers were involved in such a major deal is a clear demonstration of how far the team has come under owner Mark Attanasio since the bargain-basement Selig years.

So what’s all that whining in the background? The rise of the Brewers to the point where we can imagine another World Series in Milwaukee has coincided with another development: the proliferation of sports talk radio in Milwaukee. There are now three post-game shows on three different radio stations after every game. That means a cacophony of broadcasters and fans debating every single move in every game as well as every move that wasn’t made. That’s one of the beauties of baseball, really. It’s a made-for-barroom-arguments kind of game. You and any bozo can second-guess the manager, and a fair amount of the time you’ll be right.

Manager Ned Yost has been the primary victim of all the blather. A fair number of sports talkers won’t be satisfied until they run Yost out of town. Their worst fear is that he just might win a World Series first.

For the last month and a half, Yost crossed up the talk shows by leading the Brewers to one of the best stretches in baseball. Only equally amazing play by the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals has prevented the Brewers from sitting atop their division.

Now the second-guessing has started to spill over to include Melvin, the general manager. This is the man who not only presided over drafting all those great young players—Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and others—but has an uncanny ability to unearth remarkable veteran talent, including Jason Kendall and Gabe Kapler, often from other teams’ discards.

For much of his tenure with the Brewers, Melvin had to do it with mirrors. In 2003, Melvin picked up Scott Podsednik, a career minor leaguer, for $20,000. Podsednik developed into a top center fielder and base stealer.

Two years later, Melvin traded Podsednik for slugger Carlos Lee, who helped mentor Fielder. When the Brewers were about to lose Lee to free agency, Melvin traded him for Francisco Cordero, one of the best closing pitchers in baseball.

Now Melvin is dealing from strength. Not only does he have an owner in Attanasio who is willing to spend money— $45 million for Braun for seven years—but the Brewers also have more top-rated prospects in the minors than they can possibly put on the field.

So it’s practically a no-brainer to trade their top hitting prospect—Matt LaPorta— and some other minor leaguers for Sabathia, Cleveland’s ace and the reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Going For It All

That doesn’t mean you won’t hear plenty of brainless criticism of the deal over the next few weeks.

Why, this guy LaPorta, whom most fans hadn’t even heard of before the trade, could be the next Ryan Braun. In fact, he’s developed even faster in the minors than Braun did, which was incredible.

What kind of idiots would sacrifice the chance to have another Braun in their line up for years to come for a starting pitcher who may only play for the Brewers for a couple of months? You see, Sabathia will be a free agent after this season. He’ll be looking for one of those $100-million-plus deals that only major media market teams hand out. So the guy’s more of a rental.

So what kind of idiots, you ask? A general manager and an owner who are ready to win everything they can this season, up to and including winning it all. The Brewers’ starting pitching rotation now includes both Sabathia and All-Star Ben Sheets, who are having outstanding years. It also includes young Manny Parra, rounding into form as another Gallardo, the Brewers’ other young pitching phenom, who unfortunately is out following knee surgery.

Add to some of the best pitching in baseball an offense that includes Fielder, Braun and Hart at its core and on any given night additional clout, speed and defense from Bill Hall, Russell Branyan, Mike Cameron, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks.

If the upgraded Brewers’ second half lifts off from its already impressive trajectory, this is the year we get to jump up and down again.

But if you enjoy really dumb sports talk, tune in any day to hear somebody yelling about how the Brewers should trade Fielder because he didn’t hit a home run today.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.
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