Deceit. Drugs. Fame (The Hall of?). What is this, Hollywood? It sure could fool me. And, in accordance, I now present this summer's biggest blockbuster hits ... and misses (Appeals Pending).
Starring: Derrek Lee
Derrek Lee had 4 hits and 5 RBI for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day and he's been raking ever since. Unquestionably the preeminent Triple Crown challenger since Gary Sheffield came up short in '92, the mainstay of the Cubbies has continued to scorch the baseball.
How will it end? In all likelihood, Lee (.350 BA, 33 HR, 84 RBI) will not be the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to pace the league in the three major offensive statistics. In fact, he may not even lead his own team in RBI at season's end (Aramis Ramirez currently has 81). Nevertheless, Lee has captivated the baseball world and has become recognized as a genuine megastar.
Besides his proficiency at the plate, Lee is arguably the best defensive first basemen in the National League (Dougie "Glove" Mientkiewicz and J.T. Snow are phenomenal, as well).
The Longest Yard
Starring: MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig
Bud Selig. The same guy who brought us the '94 Strike-inspired drama "Who Needs Fans Anyway?" And who could forget the 2002 midsummer release, "I Can't Believe the All-Star Game Just Ended in a Bleeping Tie."
Bud Selig and the All Star Game is a match made in ... well, Milwaukee. This summer's event was no different. While the All-Star Game did not finish in a tie, Selig made his mark with the Home Run Derby. Detroit's Comerica Park, regularly regarded as one of the most spacious and least hitter-friendly parks, was the host. However, I'm pretty sure the Derby contestants actually played on the ballfield which was part of the original design model for the Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can't Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good, Too.
Bobby Abreu won the contest with 41 total homeruns. The full event took over three hours to complete. To add to the drama, Selig decided to make this year's Derby a national pride affair. Each participant represented a different country. I half expected the event to end with all of the players huddling together by home plate to sing a rendition of "We Are The World."
Hustle and Flow
Starring: Scott Podsednik and Jose Reyes
The first-place Chicago White Sox (72-38) have been ignited by the afterburners of speedy Scott Podsednik. Podsednik leads the majors in stolen bases (54) and plays the game like Vince Coleman once did.
Reyes (37 SB), while not as polished a base-stealer as Scotty Pod', is one of the most electrifying young talents in the Big Leagues. He is the only major leaguer since 1969 to have 7 triples in 10 games and watching him run from first to third is a thing of beauty. Just imagine how good Reyes would be if he didn't have the seventh most fly outs in baseball (145).
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Starring: Charlie Manuel and the Philadelphia Phillies (58-54)
The Sweet: Pat Burrell has bounced back from successive atrocious seasons. Pat the Bat (.280) is hitting for average and power and may wind up with 35 homers and 105 RBI if he continues to swing at strikes. Moreover, Philly fanatics have been given an opportunity to unwrap their golden ticket and watch young gem Ryan Howard play on a regular basis. In limited at bats, Howard (6'4") has 6 homers and the powerful lefty takes cuts that could dull Ronco knives. A first-basemen, Howard hammered 46 round-trippers and drove in 131 last season in the minors.
The Sour: The Phillies have surrendered the second most homeruns in the majors (138) and have struggled to get reliable pitching. Moreover, when slugger Jim Thome hasn't been injured this season, he hasn't been doing much slugging. With a hardly-breathing .207 batting average and merely 7 dingers, this year may diminish what once was a borderline Hall of Fame career.
Starring: The Oakland A's and the Houston Astros
Each season there are several teams dancing to October, despite their lack of invitations. The 2005 A's were not believed to be doing any dancing. They lost their two finest starting pitchers in the offseason and were 15 games under .500 early in the 2005 campaign. Nevertheless, since June 1st, the Athletics are 40-14 and are prime playoff contenders. Offensively, they're third in the AL in BB, third in the AL in OBP, and have the fewest strikeouts in majors. Moneyball, anyone? The A's pitching staff sports the third best ERA in the AL and with Barry Zito, Rich Harden, and Danny Haren all pitching splendidly, losing Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder is a distant memory.
Very few prognosticators chose the Houston Astros to be leading the National League wildcard Race this late in the season. The team lost Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent in the winter. Lance Berkman was coming off a knee injury. Add setbacks to Jeff Bagwell and Andy Pettitte and the season seemed to be finished. Not so fast. While Morgan Ensberg (.290, 29, 82) and Craig Biggio have led the offensive charge, the real reason that the Astros are still alive and kicking is because of 43-year-old Roger Clemens.
Clemens (11-4) has been spectacular. When Houston was struggling early on, The Rocket kept Houston airborne. And now that the team is soaring, Clemens is the catalyst. His ERA, (1.38) is lower than Andy Katzenmoyer's Ohio State GPA. The Rocket's given up three measly earned runs in 73 innings pitched away from Houston. Clemens who has more wins than any living pitcher may add his eighth Cy Young award to an already-crowded trophy case.
Nonetheless, there is one thing that I have never understood with the Astros — Brad Ausmus (.241, 1, 28). Here's a guy who leads the majors in games played at catcher over that last 10 seasons, yet has never hit 10 homers in a season and is a blistering .254 career hitter. The only reason I can fathom that this guy still plays everyday is that he's Houston's version of Jake Taylor from Major League — a stabilizing presence, and a sensible veteran leader. How will we know for sure? If Ausmus proceeds to call his shot during the ninth inning of a playoff game only to drop down a successful suicide-squeeze-and-run with a runner on second base to win the pennant, then there is no denying he is a real-life Jake Taylor.
The Dukes of Hazzard
Starring: Zack Duke
National Leaguers now realize why Zack Duke led the minor leagues in ERA (1.46) last season ... he's nasty. The 6'2'' lefty is 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA for the Pirates, thanks to a stinging breaking ball and a sly fastball. The only people who can pick up Duke are fervent fantasy baseball owners. So far, batters have had no luck.
Starring: Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano
When the New York Yankees are referred to as the "Bronx Bombers," it's generally a good thing. However, the Yankees who have truly bombed this season have been these four starters. Randy Johnson has been average at best. He's allowed a whopping 24 homers and has a 4.29 ERA. As the most daunting left-hander in the sport, the Unit was brought to the Yankees to be New York's answer to Curt Schilling and to hurl gas by the class of the American League. So far, his tank seems to be approaching empty.
Kevin Brown (4-7, 6.50), a six-time all-star, has been awful in pinstripes for a second consecutive year and leads the AL in excuses per nine innings. Jaret Wright has been on the DL most of the season and has only been mentioned in New York baseball chatter because he is the answer to this trivia question: which pitcher did Carlos Beltran hit 3 homers off of in last season's playoffs?
And, who could forget Carl Pavano? Pavano's season (4-6, 4.77) can best be described by my wife, Wendy. As we were watching a miserable, crestfallen, Carl Pavano answer questions during post-game interviews, she turned to me and asked, "Oh no, did somebody die?" She was close. Pavano had just gotten shelled by the Devil Rays.
Starring: David Eckstein
That guy fielding grounders at shortstop for the Cardinals is not the batboy or a coach's son ... he's the heart and soul of the lineup, David Eckstein. Eckstein's gritty defense, his flair for getting on base, and his team-first attitude are what the Cardinals needed to get over the hump. He may barely be 5'7'' (that's generous), but he was also the starting shortstop for the NL all-stars this season. He's the present-day version of Phil Rizzuto.
Eckstein came over from the Angels this winter and replaced Edgar Renteria. Eckstein, already having won a World Series (he batted .310) may just be the toughest player pound for pound in the majors. Moreover, at 70-41, St. Louis is poised for another trip to the Fall Classic. The Cards went down without a fight versus the Red Sox last October. Now, armed with a commanding lineup, a promising pitching staff, and a tough as nails sparkplug, this may just be the Cardinals' year.
Bad News Bears
Starring: The Entire NL West and the New York Mets
The National League West is bad. I'm talking 2004-05 NBA Atlantic Division bad. I'm talking 2004 NFL NFC wildcard teams bad. The Toronto Blue Jays would be in first place if they played in the NL West.
The Mets (57-54), who also would be in first in the West, have been a disappointment as well this season under manager Willie Randolph. Carlos Beltran (.270, 13, 59) has etched his name as the man who made the most money off of one great postseason.
While Reyes, David Wright, and Cliff Floyd all have been bright spots, two examples illustrate why this team, and this rookie manager, are not ready for the next step. The first example deals with the treatment of Mike Piazza. Piazza, who has formerly saved the franchise, has been the face of the team, and is the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, was placed in the seventh hole in a game against the Brewers. I understand that Piazza is not a good defensive player. He couldn't catch Winona Rider stealing. But he leads all National League catchers in homers (14) and RBI (55), and for him to be hitting seventh is not only disrespectful, it's not sensible.
The second questionable move by Randolph was using 40-year-old reliever, Roberto Hernandez three days in a row in the same series. He proceeded to get rocked. In 4 total innings, he gave up 9 hits and 7 runs.
War of the Worlds
Starring: The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees
Even though many are saying that the White Sox are the class of the American League (they lead the AL in ERA), I still see the pennant coming down to the Red Sox and Yankees. The Red Sox have the most dominant lineup in baseball. They lead the majors in runs, hits, and batting average. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are the two most clutch hitters in the game and may combine for roughly 560 RBI over two seasons. If that wasn't enough, Manny also leads the major leagues in outfield assists (12) and times urinating (mid-inning) inside the Green Monster scoreboard (1).
Johnny Damon (.341) is putting together another dazzling campaign, as well. Yet, the two main question marks for Boston will regard the health of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke as Boston's season hits the stretch run.
The Yankees have the bats to get to the ALCS, as well. Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield have been scorching opposing pitching. Jason Giambi (.293, 21, 51) has been the hottest player in baseball since June and leads the major leagues in OBP.
However, the Yankees embrace the concept of quality starts as much as Tom Cruise embraces psychiatry. Nevertheless, if the Yankees do end up getting dependable starting pitching, then the sky is the limit. Mariano Rivera has been brilliant again as the closer. His 0.94 ERA barely has a pulse and he may become the first reliever to win the Cy Young award since Dennis Eckersley did in '92.
Congress: Mr. Lamont, in order to afford to see all of these movies, some say that you may have crept through the theatre's halls and into films that you didn't pay for. How do you respond?
Let me start by telling you this: I, Pete Lamont, have never cheated in viewing a second movie free of charge by sneaking through The Hall without ever being caught. Period. I don't know how I could say it anymore clearly than that. Never.
Sadly for Rafael Palmeiro, he wasn't as fortunate.