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Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008

CC You Later

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Football? What’s that? The Packers’ fourth straight loss ousted them from both playoff contention and this column, mostly because Artie couldn’t talk about it. So the Observers turned to another sad story—the end of CC Sabathia’s brief stay with the Brewers—but found it less depressing than you might expect.

Frank: We don’t begrudge CC his $161 million, even if it’s Yankee money, do we?

Artie: Absolutely not. Those crooks on Wall Street have been making more in bonuses than CC will make over seven years. I wish I had his contract. I wish I had a contract, period.

Frank: No one seriously thought CC would be more than a three-month rental for the Brewers, and they got what they wanted, their first playoff berth in a generation. Now, though, they need to replace both CC and, apparently, Ben Sheets.

Artie: And they don’t have a quarter-billion dollars to throw around, like the damned Yankees did in grabbing Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Frank: Even for a Yankee fan, it seems outrageous. But it’s no guarantee of success. Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright, Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano— they all got big money to wear pinstripes and flopped.

Artie: It ain’t just New York. How about disasters like Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito? Sometimes a guy just gets injured, like Schmidt this year. Sure, Burnett won 18 games for Toronto, but until this year he was A.J. Sheets—12 wins maximum and lots of health problems. Who’s to say he won’t get hurt again?

Frank: When Bud Selig owned the Brewers, he spent decades lamenting how a small-market team couldn’t compete against the big spenders. But there are plenty of examples of small-market teams that have competed successfully.

Artie: Just look at Tampa Bay this year. Oakland and Minnesota are pretty consistent; they take their lumps one year, but they bounce back. Florida won two World Series, for cripes sakes.

Frank: And the current version of the Brewers shows what can happen when a franchise gets good scouting and makes smart decisions on drafts and trades.

Artie: Which brings up how the Brewers can get past the loss of CC and Sheets—plus the retirement of the closer, Salomon Torres. Doug Melvin has shown he’s a GM who’ll take some risks.

Frank: They go into 2009 with two young guys in the rotation who have plenty of potential, Manny Parra and Yovani Gallardo.

Artie: Then there are Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush. They’ve been the definition of mediocre for the Brewers, but they never miss a start. And that counts.

Frank: It seems the Brewers are looking at the geezer section of the free-agent pitchers’ market: Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Jamie Moyer.

Artie: Johnson seems to have some gas left in the tank. He had 30 starts with Arizona this year.

Frank: And he sure has incentive for ‘09. He’s only five wins short of 300.

Artie: Moyer would be a terrific pickup, but the Phillies would be crazy not to re-sign him. He won 16 games this year and he’s 46—the Hoyt Wilhelm of our era!

Frank: Then there’s Smoltz, who’s been great as both a starter and closer. He had three dynamite years as Atlanta’s closer from 2002- ’04, then returned to the rotation and won 44 games from 2005-’07. Of course, he’s had plenty of injuries and missed almost all of the ‘08 season.

Artie: The Brew Crew tried to resurrect a closer this year, giving $10 million to Eric Gagne, and he bombed. But I think it could work in ‘09 with Smoltz. Pay him $10 million to be the closer, pay Johnson another $10 million or so to beef up the rotation. That’s what they were willing to spend on Sabathia alone, ain’a? I can see Melvin and Mark Attanasio taking a chance on two guaranteed Hall of Famers. The marketing department wouldn’t complain, that’s for sure.

Frank: Hey, they’ve proved they’re not afraid to roll the dice. And why not? The same strong core lineup will be here in ‘09, and why should the honchos be any less bold than they were this year? The time to win is NOW.

Time To Get Rinky

Another way to take Artie’s mind off the Packers was to give him another cold-weather sport to watch. So the Observers recently hit the Bradley Center for an evening with Milwaukee’s pro hockey team, the Admirals.

Artie: I didn’t know much about hockey, except this: Slap Shot is the greatest sports movie ever. God bless the Hanson brothers!

Frank: How did the real game measure up?

Artie: Fast pace, lots of action, plenty of fun stuff between periods and the Admirals kicked Peoria’s butts. Only one thing kept it from being a perfect night.

Frank: I’ll take a guess: No benchclearing brawl.

Artie: I thought it was a rule that at least once a game, there had to be blood and about a hundred sticks and gloves on the ice.

Frank: There are tough rules against being the third guy into a fight, which usually limits the fisticuffs to one-on-one. And you missed the main bout in this game when you took a cigarette break.

Artie: Ain’t it the truth: One vice betrays another.

Frank: But you’re right, the Admirals are a nice option for sports fans in winter. The American Hockey League is just one step down from the NHL, but the prices are wa-a-a-ay lower than you’d get charged at that level. And the Bradley Center is great for hockey because the Pettits had it built that way.

Artie: Visiting players must like coming here, and not just for the facility. Think of it: The AHL is a league where Milwaukee is one of the premier locations! When your team is based in Peoria, Rockford, Rochester, Grand Rapids, Lowell, Des Moines, Binghamton, Hershey, Syracuse, Wilkes-Barre... man-oh-manischewitz, you can’t wait to get to Milwaukee.

Frank: I noticed you liked the stuff between periods: peewee hockey, shooting contests and the “Human Hockey Puck,” sling-hotting people down the ice to knock over inflated bowling pins.

Artie: I have a gripe, though. They should have a Fairly Detached Observers Night! We saw them honor Mark Metcalf, Neidermeyer from Animal House. He’s a good guy, but how long ago was that movie? The Observers are happening NOW. We’re not chopped liver!

Frank: And what would such a night feature?

Artie: We could both be the Human Hockey Puck, although our readers might want us to be the pins. And during the other intermission, you get strapped to one goal and I get strapped to the other. No protection. And some knuckleheads get a chance to take slap shots at us.

Frank: Let’s brainstorm a little more on that one.

Artie: Speaking of the goals, how about the guys who go out between periods to move the nets for the Zambonis? Then they drain the water from the holes for the goal posts and give ‘em a touch-up with power drills. Thank God there are still jobs that can’t be outsourced to Bangalore.

Frank: With you, it’s country first.

Artie: And how about those guys in those little booths behind the goals? What are they again?

Frank: Goal judges. If they see the puck go over the goal line, they trigger a red light.

Artie: They should have a Cone of Silence, too, so they can stay focused. And the booths look pretty shabby, like they had previous careers on the Illinois Tollway or a 1950s quiz show. Let’s add some flashing lights. And spruce up the goal judges, too. They look like country club Republicans, with sport coats like the one my ma made me wear for eighth-grade graduation. They’re judges! How about robes and powdered wigs?