August 2007

Warner Madrigal’s a Hit

Warner Madrigal was ranked by Baseball America as the Angels’ #16 prospect after his 2003 season in the Provo outfield.

Who knew.

Someone in the Angels family did, because a little over a year after he was converted from power-hitting outfielder to power-throwing closer, Warner Madrigal may be on the fast track to the big leagues.

Madrigal was signed by the Angels out of the Dominican Republic after former scouting director Donny Rowland and international scout Clay Daniel watched him throw and take batting practice. The 2004 Baseball America Prospect Handbook quotes Rowland as saying that Madrigal’s approach at the plate was “full attack mode with bad intentions.” BA compared Warner to Albert Belle, in size and power.

After posting monster numbers at Provo in 2003 — an AVG/OBP/SLG of .369/.394/.581 — at age 19 he was considered a legitimate power-hitting outfield prospect. BA noted that Warner was “a below-average runner who doesn’t have great instincts on defense, but he has the best outfield arm in the system.”

In his first game of 2004 with Cedar Rapids, Madrigal broke the hamate bone in his left hand and missed most of the season. He returned to the Kernels for 2005, but posted a mediocre line of .247/.288/.420. 2006 was actually worse, and he played his last game in the outfield on May 25. His offensive line was .235/.273/.348.

Warner returned to the Angels’ minor league complex and began training to become a reliever. He made his professional pitching debut on July 20, 2006, on the road against the Maryvale Brewers. He set down the side in order, and even struck out a batter.

In 12 relief appearances, Madrigal posted a 3.75 ERA in 12 innings, striking out 13 and walking three. He finished 11 of those 12 games, earning five saves.

Warner Madrigal returned to Cedar Rapids for a fourth year in 2007, but this time it was as a hard-throwing reliever.

Warner returned for a fourth year in Cedar Rapids to start the 2007 season — but this time it was as a reliever.

He wasn’t the closer right away, but after Aaron Cook moved up to Rancho Cucamonga the job was his.

In the first half, Madrigal posted a 3.64 ERA in 29.2 IP with 31 strikeouts and 17 walks. After the All-Star Game, Warner earned 17 of his 21 saves, posting a ridiculous 0.61 ERA in 29.1 IP with a SO:BB ratio of 42:5. Opponents in the second half are batting just .126 against him.

When I saw Warner in spring training, his velocity was consistently in the mid-90s, and he had a decent slider and developing changeup.

Madrigal turns 24 next March, when he’ll be in spring training. The likely destination to start 2008 is Rancho Cucamonga, but if he picks up where he left off, you’ve gotta think he’ll be on the fast track to Anaheim. The Angels love hard-throwing relievers — Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Justin Speier, and Chris Bootcheck all throw in the mid-90s or higher — so Warner seems like he’ll fit right in.

Rodriguez is a free agent after the 2008 season, so the Angels will have plenty of candidates should Frankie depart. Jason Bulger and Chris Resop are hard-throwing righties at Salt Lake. Jose Arredondo was also in line until he was suspended at Double-A Arkansas and demoted to Rancho Cucamonga. Madrigal is further down the line, but he seems poised to leapfrog Arredondo in the pecking order.

Even with all his pitching success, I still see Warner toying with a bat once in a while. I suspect he misses hitting, but if he keeps throwing successfully at 98 MPH he’ll make enough money to get over the separation anxiety.

Ervin Santana vs. His Critics – Part 3

John Cortez poses with Ervin Santana at the 2003 Carolina League-California League All-Star Game.

I’m a nobody.

And if you like Ervin Santana, you’re a nobody too.

Thus spake Matt Hurst, Angels beat writer for the Riverside Press-Enterprise, in his latest salvo lobbed not only at Santana but also anyone who happens to support the kid.

“This is the Santana everyone knows,” Hurst wrote in his August 28 blog. "This is the Santana nobody loves. This is the real Ervin Santana."

Nobody loves Santana?! Really?!

I like Ervin.

And I know quite a few people associated the Angels’ minor leagues over the years who liked Ervin too.

One “nobody” was a diminutive deaf-mute named John Cortez.

John worked part-time as a batboy for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes a few years ago. His moment of fame came when Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote about the special relationship between John and NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, who at the time was playing center for the Los Angeles Lakers.

During the NBA off-season he’d work for Rancho Cucamonga. In 2003, Ervin was with the Quakes, and was named to the California League All-Star Game.

Before the game, John gestured that he wanted me to take a photo of him with his friend Ervin, who was wearing his All-Star jersey. For which Ervin gladly posed with a big smile. John’s smile was just as big.

Presumably Matt wasn’t including all of Planet Earth when he declared that “nobody” likes Santana. So who are the somebodies whose opinion apparently matters?

The beat writers?

If so … who cares.

The beat writers are reporters. Their job isn’t to like or dislike someone. It’s to report the story. If the newspapers were filled with articles only about players that sportswriters like, then I guess we’d never read articles about Garret Anderson or any other player who has cause to distrust the media.

Perhaps Matt meant Ervin’s teammates.

I’m not privy to what goes on these days in the Angels clubhouse behind closed doors, so I can’t answer that one. Coming up through the system, from what I saw Ervin sure seemed popular enough with his teammates. Looking back through the Photo Galleries, I see pictures of him hanging out with teammates. I never saw anyone run from him. So he can’t be that bad.

Maybe Matt meant that his teammates are unhappy with Ervin’s recent erratic performance.

Well, no kidding.

None of us are. Including Ervin, obviously.

In the middle of a pennant race, the Angels need to rely on consistent performance. Manager Mike Scioscia handed Ervin a second chance, in a high-pressure game August 17 at Boston. He pitched one of the most dominant games seen anywhere in the majors this year.

Yet Matt writes in his blog that this was not the “real” Santana. The “real” Santana, he claims, is the one who failed to get out of the first inning last night at Seattle.

Funny, because if we look at Ervin’s career record, the “real” Santana is closer to the one we saw in Boston than the one who’s struggled the last few months. Through 2006 in his minor league career (which began at age 17), Ervin has a 38-16 (.704) record with 487 strikeouts in 480 2/3 innings. In 2003, when he was named to the California League All-Star Game, his ERA was 2.53 in 20 starts at age 20. In 2005, he was promoted at age 22 directly from Double-A Arkansas to the majors. He started 23 games that year for the Angels, posting a 4.65 ERA in 133 2/3 innings. Last year, he had a 4.28 in 33 starts, spending the entire season in Anaheim.

On Monday’s post-game show, John Lackey was asked about Santana. He didn’t say he disliked Ervin. He did say Ervin’s problem was too many pitches were finding the middle of the plate, but duly noted that Santana’s stuff is electric when he has his location.

We saw that last night in Seattle.

The radar consistently clocked Santana’s fastball at 95 MPH.

The problem, though, was that his fastball was finding too much of the plate, and it lacked movement.

Whether it’s strictly mechanical or a lack of mental “toughness,” that’s for pitching coach Mike Butcher to figure out.

In any case, Ervin only gave more ammunition to the instant-gratification crowd whose loyalty goes as far as the last box score.

The irony is that these are the same people who constantly whine about the Angels lacking infinite patience with Bobby Jenks. Would they have Bill Stoneman ship out Santana only to see Ervin mature past his temporary problem and become the next Pedro Martinez with another organization?

Ervin told Times reporter Dylan Hernandez he was happy in Salt Lake, where “nobody bothered me.” (Those pesky nobodies again …) So maybe that’s what the Angels need to do — return him to Salt Lake.

The Bees have only six games left in the season, but they won the PCL Pacific North title last night and will probably face Sacramento (an A’s affiliate) in the conference championship round next week.

Since Ervin probably won’t get another shot at a major league start this year, why not send him to Salt Lake and let him participate in a pressure environment free of the major league media glare?

Maybe he’ll regain his confidence, take that into the off-season, and report next spring to Tempe with a fresh perspective.

Let’s keep in mind he’s only 24 years old. Nearly all young pitchers go through growing pains. John Lackey was inconsistent his first two full seasons — he had a 4.63 ERA in 2003 and a 4.67 ERA in 2004. Certain fans on the Angels board called him "Lacknuts" and demanded the Angels dump him. Thank goodness Stoneman ignored them. Lackey was 26 years old a month after the end of that 2004 season, about two years older than Santana is now.

It would be pretty foolish to give up on a 24-year old kid with Ervin’s stuff just because he’s behind the maturity curve due to his upbringing in third-world squalor.

Matt also chose to call “ignorant” those who think positively of Santana, and although he chose not to name names it was pretty clear from the context he was referring to this blog.

In an era where newspapers are struggling to keep their readers, it does seem odd that a reporter would choose to insult those whose opinion differs with him, in particular a fan web site that in the past has been very supportive of his newspaper and his articles. This blog was pretty much the only fan site that spoke positively of Ervin when he was recalled from Salt Lake, noting that at Franklin Covey Field the hitter-friendly 4,500-foot altitude distorts pitchers’ numbers. On the road in neutral parks, Santana had been effective in two starts. So I pointed out that Triple-A really wasn’t going to make much difference other than to take off the pressure, and was proven right when he dominated at Boston. When Matt singles out the "Angels followers (I will save names to protect the ignorant) with blogs and filling up message boards that they believed in Santana and the guy everyone saw in Boston two starts ago was the real deal," the list of suspects is very short.

Bloggers by definition are subjective. They’re not meant to be professional journalists. Blogs are opinions, no more.

When a reporter is given a blog, it lets him cross the line between journalistic objectivity and personal opinion. But the danger in that is it exposes to the world a reporter’s personal biases. And when his readers learn of those biases, they’ll start to wonder whether it slants the journalist’s reporting. Matt called Ervin a "spoiled brat" in an August 23 blog that complained about Ervin granting an interview to someone other than one of the regular beat writers. Now Matt follows up by calling "ignorant" those who believe in Ervin despite his recent hiccup.

I doubt we’d have ever seen Jim Murray or Ross Newhan call their readers "ignorant" for the crime of disagreement.

But then I’m a nobody, so my opinion doesn’t matter.

UPDATE 8/30/2007 5:30 AM PDT — An article on suggests that Ervin might get another chance to start for the Angels on Monday.

Scioscia said the staff is weighing its options for Monday’s starter against Oakland.

Ervin Santana, who yielded five runs on four hits and two walks while getting one out on Tuesday night, remains a possibility. Also under consideration are Dustin Moseley, following his superlative effort (5 1/3 innings, no runs, two hits) in relief of Santana, and Jered Weaver, who faced Hernandez on Wednesday and would be pitching on his normal day.

"There are some things we might be able to bring into Ervin’s game to help him," Scioscia said, having reviewed video of Santana’s starts with pitching coach Mike Butcher. "It’s frustrating. Ervin’s frustrated. Still, projecting his career, we’re as excited as ever. He’s got the potential to be very good for a long time."

Santana’s issues are command-related, falling behind in the count. He thought the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre in particular, hit good pitches in his first-inning unraveling.

I wonder if this qualifies Scioscia as “ignorant” in Matt’s eyes …

Arizona Fall League Assignments

Sean Rodriguez is one of seven Angels minor leaguers assigned to the Arizona Fall League.

Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the 2007 Arizona Fall League season.

The Angels players will be with the Surprise (that’s a town, not an exclamation) Rafters this year. Click Here for the complete Rafters roster.

The seven Angels are RHP David Austen, RHP Darren O’Day, RHP Fernando Rodriguez, RHP Von Stertzbach, C Ben Johnson, IF Sean Rodriguez, and OF Chris Pettit.

In an August 8 audio interview, Pettit told us he was slated for fall instructional league to learn how to play first and third base. But it looks like that plan has changed; maybe he’ll play the corners in the AFL, maybe not.

Many people have common misconceptions about the AFL. The main one is that the players who go to the AFL are an organization’s top prospects. That’s often true, but not always.

When the AFL was founded in 1992, the idea was to send the game’s top prospects to a six-week league where they could accelerate their development and improve their chance of making the big league roster next spring. Although all major league organizations are required to provide six players, not everyone sends their best players, because they don’t want to risk an injury to a top prospect.

Now you’ll find top prospects, but you’ll also find guys who missed much of the season due to injury (e.g. Austen and Stertzbach). MLB will also negotiate with organizations so they receive a diversity of players; if nobody sends a catcher, it’s a problem, so they’ll ask for certain players at certain positions to balance out the rosters. A versatile player like Sean Rodriguez is a godsend for an AFL manager.

Speaking of Sean … I wanted to note an interesting dichotomy in his 2007 stats. After one season in the Texas League, Dickey-Stephens Park has proven to be very pitcher-friendly, and that’s reflected in Sean’s home-road splits. His home AVG/OBP/SLG are .236/.352/.333. His road numbers are .268/.336/.500. Eleven of his fifteen homers, and 22 of his 31 doubles, were on the road. Most hitters do quite well in the Phoenix desert air, so expect him to post improved numbers in the AFL.

Some other misconceptions …

People often confuse the Arizona Fall League with the fall instructional league. Two different things. AFL is run by Major League Baseball. Official statistics are kept, and the games are played by official rules. "Fall ball" is an informal schedule of contests against other nearby minor league camps. Rules are loosely followed. It’s not unusual to see 10-man lineups with two DHs. You might see an inning end early because a young pitcher is exceeding his pitch count. And the bottom of the 9th might be played even though the home team has won because the visiting team has a pitcher who needs an inning of work. The statistics are not reported, one reason being they wouldn’t make much sense under these informal conditions.

AFL players must be Triple-A or Double-A, although each organization may send one player from below Double-A. (The Angels are sending Pettit.) Instructional league players can be pretty much anyone, but most of the time they’re first-year minor leaguers drafted in June who’ve played only a half-year. You’ll also see players working on a new skill, such as learning a new pitch or position. In 1999, for example, outfielder Jeff DaVanon reported to learn second base, but the new management (Stoneman/Scioscia) abandoned that idea. You might even see a big leaguer for a few days; I saw Troy Glaus working with hitting coach Rod Carew who was trying to get him to go the opposite way with outside pitches. Heaven forbid Mike Scioscia and crew have nothing else to do in October, but if the Angels are eliminated from the post-season then you might see some of the major league coaching staff show up to evaluate the kids.

Instructional league players usually play hard to impress the coaches, while over at AFL you may see some guys take it easy to avoid injury. To some players, the AFL is a part-time job and they don’t want to get hurt in a meaningless game.

With the nation’s attention focused on the post-season and football, few people bother to show up at AFL or instructional league games. That’s a shame, because it’s an opportunity for some intimate quality time with professional ballplayers.

Playoff Update

Here’s the latest on the playoff permutations …

Salt Lake has a magic number of one. They need to win one game, or for Colorado Springs to lose one game, to take the PCL Pacific North. As I write this, the Bees are losing 3-1 in the 8th to Fresno while the SkySox are tied 1-1 in the 3rd at Sacramento. Salt Lake has six games remaining after tonight.

Arkansas won tonight 6-3 at Tulsa, while Springfield won 5-4 at home against Wichita. To make the post-season, the Travs need to either catch Springfield (which won the first half) or finish with a better overall record than Tulsa. The Travs are currently three games behind Springfield in the second-half race for the North Division title, and trail Tulsa by three games in the overall standings. Arkansas has three games remaining at Tulsa, then finish with three games at Springfield.

Rancho Cucamonga needs to finish second, or finish with the third-best overall record in the South Division. Normally the first-half division winner (Lancaster) gets a bye while the second-half division winner faces the team with the next best overall record. But because Lancaster seems likely to win both halves, the second-place team will go to the playoff. Right now, that would be Lake Elsinore, which also has the second-best overall record. The team with the next-best record is Inland Empire. The Quakes trail the 66ers by five games in the overall standings with seven games left, including tonight. None of those games are against Inland Empire. As I write this, the Quakes lead 4-0 at High Desert in the 4th, but reports the game is in a delay. Inland Empire is losing 3-1 in the 4th at Stockton.

Cedar Rapids won 5-4 tonight at Beloit. They need to catch Quad Cities to take the second-half Western Division title; the Swing won 4-3 at Burlington, so they maintain a 4½ game lead over the Kernels. Cedar Rapids has six games left — one game tomorrow night at Beloit, then two games at home against Burlington, and then they close with three games on the road at Peoria. The other option is to finish second; the Kernels hold a ½ game lead over Peoria for second place.

Orem needs to win the second-half title or finish with the second-best overall record. Idaho Falls won the first half, and currently leads the South Division by three games. In the overall record, the Owlz (32-33) are nine games behind the Chukars (41-24), but 4½ ahead of Ogden (27-37). As I write this, the Owlz and Chukars are tied 3-3 in the 7th at Idaho Falls, while Ogden is losing 5-1 to Casper. Including tonight, Orem has ten games left — one tomorrow night at Idaho Falls, then three at home against Ogden, then three at home against Idaho Falls, and finally three at Ogden. They control their fate.

Tempe is out of the Arizona League race. They have only two games left. Their overall record is 32-22, good enough for the second-best record overall in the league (the Peoria Mariners are 36-18 overall). They had a great year, but the first and second half mathematics worked against them.

Pitcher of the Year

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It’s time for another poll.

Who should be named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year?

The options are to the right.

The results of the last poll … Which team is most likely to make the post-season?

  • Salt Lake 39%
  • Orem 18%
  • Arkansas 16%
  • Cedar Rapids 12%
  • Tempe 9%
  • Rancho Cucamonga 5%

There were 147 votes cast.

This ‘N That

Most of the minor league teams are still in the playoff hunt.

Salt Lake has won the first three games of their crucial five-game series at Colorado Springs, opening up a 5 ½ game lead in the PCL Pacific Northern Division with ten games left to play. They have games tonight and tomorrow against the SkySox.

Arkansas is ½ game behind Springfield, which also won the Texas League North Division. If the Travs can’t take the second-half title, then they have to finish with a better record than Tulsa, and they currently trail the Drillers by 1 ½ in the overall standings. Arkansas has ten games left — three at home against Springfield, then four on the road at Tulsa, and finally three at Springfield. The Travs’ destiny is in their own hands.

Rancho Cucamonga is on fumes. They trail Lancaster by eight games in the California League South Division with nine games to play. They need to catch Inland Empire in the overall standings to get a wild card slot, but they trail the 66ers by five games.

Cedar Rapids has won nine straight games to put themselves in a strong position for the post-season. They’re currently in second place in the Midwest League Western Division, 3 ½ games behind Quad Cities. The Kernels play the Swing in Davenport the next three nights, then have seven games left on the schedule. Four teams in the division qualify for the playoffs, including the two halves’ division winners and then the two with the next best records, so the Kernels are looking pretty good.

Orem is one game behind Idaho Falls, who won the first half, with 14 games to play. If the Chukars win the second half too, then the team with the next best record goes to the playoffs to face Idaho Falls. They have three games on the road at Idaho Falls next week, then three at home later in the schedule. The Tom Kotchman mojo has been a little late in arriving, but the Owlz have won five of their last six and eight of their last eleven. because their season runs later than the Arizona League, Orem usually gets a couple players from Tempe in early September so we’ll see who moves up to help.

Tempe has faded, losing four straight. They’re currently 2 ½ games out with five games to play. It doesn’t look good.

The photos for this year’s three lowest levels — Cedar Rapids, Orem and Tempe — are all done. They’re in the Digital Photo Gallery and available for purchase.

I’m going to start work on the remaining photos, but it may take a while. I also want to start posting video highlights. If you’ve been reading the Bulletin Board, there’s been a lot of chat lately about Nick Green. I filmed Green when I was in Arkansas last May, so I’ll post that and also footage of Nick Adenhart.

I’ve been suffering from some tendonitis in my right arm, though, so it’s a bit painful to do computer work. But I’ll keep plugging away.

My wife and I have long-range plans to move to the Space Coast in Florida, so we’ll be in Cape Canaveral and thereabouts September 7-10 to look at properties. (Hurricanes willing …) Compared to Southern California, the price of homes in the Space Coast is insanely low. Among the properties we’ll be looking at is a 3,600 square foot luxury penthouse atop a condo tower in Merritt Island. The price just dropped from $625,000 to $550,000. We’re also looking at homes in a golfing community (no, we don’t golf) called the Savannahs that’s next to the southern boundary of Kennedy Space Center. The homes are in the low $400,000s and typically around 2,500 to 3,000 square feet. What NASA doesn’t use is permanently protected as wildlife refuge, so we don’t have to worry about rampant development as we do here in Orange County CA.

The game plan is to buy now while housing prices are so low, rent it out for five years, then when we’re eligible for our pensions take the money and run to the Space Coast.

Will will still be around?  Your guess is as good as mine. If it is, I don’t see why it can’t continue some coverage. The Angels have no affiliates in Florida. The nearest minor league team is about ten miles down the road, the Brevard County Manatees, currently a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate. The Manatees are in the Florida State League, the same level as the California League.

So who knows, maybe I can volunteer my photography services and start …

Santana vs. His Critics – Round 2

Ervin Santana — known then as Johan — was 17 when he pitched for the Angels in the fall instructional league in October 2000, one month after he signed for a $700,000 bonus.

Ervin Santana’s second start since his recall from Salt Lake wasn’t as dominant as his first last Friday at Boston, but then that was probably one of the more dominant starts of the year by any pitcher so he wasn’t likely to repeat it.

The question was whether Ervin would be able to maintain his composure and his focus against Toronto as well as he did before, and he did — for a while.

Santana retired the side in order in the 1st, striking out Lyle Overbay. In the 2nd, Frank Thomas got him for a single but Santana shut them down, striking out Troy Glaus. The Blue Jays went in order in the 3rd, with Reed Johnson striking out for the final out.

So far, so good.

Overbay walked to lead off the bottom of the 4th, and then with one out Vernon Wells doubled to center. Howie Kendrick made a hideous and ill-advised throw trying to stop Overbay from scoring, so Wells advanced to third.

I think that was the critical play, because after that Santana seemed to lose his focus.

Frank Thomas singled in Wells, then Santana recorded fly outs on the next two batters to end the inning, and still had a 3-2 lead.

In the 5th, Santana got a fly out and then a ground out, but with two away Reed Johnson singled and Lyle Overbay doubled him to third. Pitching coach Mike Butcher came to the mound, but Ervin then gave up a double to Matt Stairs that scored Johnson and Overbay. 4-3 Blue Jays. With Wells at the plate, Santana threw a wild pitch that advanced Stairs to third, and catcher Ryan Budde made a bad throw that sailed into left field to score stairs. 5-3 Blue Jays.

Ervin allowed only a single in the 6th, and struck out Ray Olmedo for his final out, but the damage had been done.

Most folks I’ve read have given Ervin mixed reviews. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times summed it up with this observation:

Ervin Santana has had better starts, and as anyone who has watched the enigmatic right-hander this season knows, he has had worse starts. Far worse.

But Santana’s starts are only part of the story.

The other story, as far as the press is concerned, is the press.

As I wrote last Saturday, a feud has been building between Santana and the Angels beat writers. Apparently the stories they’ve written about his struggles have been affecting his confidence, and he refused to speak in English to the reporters after last Friday’s win.

A story by Times reporter Dylan Hernandez in Thursday’s edition revealed that Ervin believed the sportswriters were making up stories about him.

But if there is one part of Santana that still hasn’t been fixed, it’s his growing discomfort with the media.

"They’re all bad, they’re all bad, they’re all bad," he said. "I was happy in triple A. I was happy because nobody bothered me."

Santana said that when he has spoken to reporters, he has often seen them scribbling in their notebooks before he says anything.

"They write things I don’t say," Santana said.

He wouldn’t specify when or where he was misquoted.

Orange County Register beat writer Bill Plunkett wrote in his blog on Tuesday that the matter seems to be a cultural misunderstanding.

This goes beyond a player deciding that his problems were caused not by the fact that he stunk — but by the fact that we reported he stunk.

It’s no coincidence that the other Cold War this season was also between the beat writers and another Latin player, shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera wouldn’t speak to us for a few weeks in June.

In that case, language wasn’t the issue. Cabrera is an intelligent man who speaks English very well (better than some of the American players I’ve dealt with) and challenges himself to expand his vocabulary in his second language.

But there is also a cultural barrier that came into play in both situations. Bridging that divide can be every bit as difficult as the language barrier — and result in just as many misunderstandings. Santana is scheduled to pitch again Thursday. It will be interesting to see if he relies on Griffin (or Mota) again — or if he feels he made his point.

If he thinks using an interpreter will shield him from misinterpretation, he’s wrong. It only creates another layer where things can get misunderstood.

But the most astonishing reaction of all came in the blog written by Riverside Press-Enterprise beat writer Matt Hurst.

A disclaimer — Matt granted an interview for Radio last spring, and has positively mentioned several times in his blog, so we have some reciprocal admiration. I graduated from U.C. Riverside, and the P-E remains my favorite local paper. Riverside is like a home town for me. Those who’ve lived in Riverside have a certain special pride about the town, something you wouldn’t understand unless you’ve had a chance to appreciate all its quiet little treasures.

In short, when it comes to Matt and the P-E, I’m biased.

Nonetheless, I was shocked to read Matt’s diatribe in Thursday’s blog.

He called Ervin a "spoiled brat" for granting an interview to "a non-beat writer," as if Santana somehow owes the beat writers special privileges. He also wrote that Ervin "is rarely quoted even if he does well because he never says anything worthy of the space in the newspaper."

Matt concluded:

Ervin, here’s some advice, take responsibility for your actions. Don’t pawn off the blame on someone else. And if you have a problem with us beat writers tell us, don’t spout off to someone else unaware of the beef you have with the media.


Matt’s comments reminded me of another baseball player who had a cultural misunderstanding with beat writers.

Roger Maris.

As fictionally depicted in Billy Crystal’s HBO movie 61*, Maris was mercilessly savaged by the New York press as he raced Mickey Mantle to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Mantle was popular with the press because he was glib and colorful, and he was wildly popular with Yankees fans so articles about the Mick were guaranteed to sell papers. Maris was a quiet family man from Fargo, North Dakota who was totally out of his element in New York City. Not only was he chasing one Yankee legend in Ruth, but he was also threatening to steal the spotlight from Mantle. Heaven forbid that a shy man of small words be the story, because short and boring quotes don’t sell many papers.

So as Maris took the lead in the home run record derby, the New York media took on a pack mentality, hoping to pressure Roger into collapse so Mantle could break the record.

At least Maris had the advantage of growing up in the American culture where English was his native language and he got a decent education. Worst-case scenario, if his baseball career ended he went back to North Dakota and probably got a job as a plumber or truck driver or whatever.

Ervin’s background is far more humble.

When the Angels signed him for $700,000 in September 2000, he was known as Johan. He was thought to be 16 years old; Ervin had used a younger brother’s birth certificate and was actually eleven months older. But you do things like that when you’re dirt poor, lived half-starved for most of your young life and got no real education in a country with a corrupt government.

Which is probably why he distrusts our media.  In his country, the government had a rich history under dictator Rafael Trujillo of controlling the press.  Trujillo established a secret police force called the SIM (Military Intelligence Service) to control the press, bribe businessmen, and create a climate of fear among Dominicans. Although Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, a cursory Google search suggests that the government remains corrupt and the press heavily censored.

Now, if it were ingrained in you as a child not to trust the press lest you might be jailed (or worse), are you going to trust the Angels beat writers?

Which is probably why he granted an interview to Dylan Hernandez (who is presumably Hispanic).  Ervin probably felt he could trust more someone of Latin heritage.

Dominican players carry a lot of pressure on their shoulders. That paycheck feeds a very large extended family, if not a neighborhood and maybe even a small town. If the player fails, he goes home and picks sugar cane for the rest of his life, which will probably be shorter than the typical American’s due to the absence of any decent health care.

Maybe if a beat writer spent a few days living in squalid conditions in a country where he can be imprisoned for saying the wrong thing to a "reporter" who’s actually with the government’s intelligence agency, he might think twice about calling a struggling naive player a "spoiled brat."

Playoff Permutations

Here are the playoff scenarios for each Angels affiliate.

Salt Lake — The Bees (67-61) currently lead the PCL by 2 1/2 games over Colorado Springs with fifteen games left. That includes five games August 22-26 at Colorado Springs, so we should have a better idea by Sunday evening whether the Bees will have a post-season.

Arkansas — The Travelers (28-26 in the second half, 59-65 overall) are tied with Springfield for first place in the Texas League North. Springfield won the first half. If Springfield wins both halves, then the team with the second-best record in the season goes to the playoffs; the Travs trail Tulsa by 1 1/2 games in the wild card race. If the Travs win the second-half title, then they go to the playoffs against Springfield. Arkansas has 14 games left, including three at home against Springfield and then three to end the season at Springfield.

Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes (28-29 in the second half, 61-66 overall) are seven games behind Lancaster, which also won the California League South in the first half. In the Cal League, the first-half winners get a bye, while the second-half winners face the wild card in each division. If Lancaster wins both halves, then the second place team (currently Lake Elsinore) qualifies as the second-half winner and faces whichever team had the next-best record. Basically, the Quakes need to make up five games on Inland Empire with 13 games left — none of them against Inland Empire.

Cedar Rapids — The Kernels (29-26 in the second half, 67-57 overall) play in the Midwest League’s West Division, which has eight teams. The East Division has six teams. Needless to say, with that many teams there are a lot more permutations than other leagues. The Kernels’ Media Relations concludes that they’re one game out of the last available slot with fifteen games to play; the team needs to win 12 of 15 to secure a post-season appointment.

Orem — Usually by this time of year, the Tom Kotchman mojo has kicked in and the Owlz are on a roll to the post-season. So far, it’s yet to arrive in 2007. The Owlz (11-9 in the second half, 28-30 overall) have yet to roll off a consistent win streak, although they did win yesterday 22-5 at Missoula. To go to the post-season, they need to finish first in the Pioneer League South. They currently trail Idaho Falls, which won the first half, by only one game with 18 games to go. Dunno what happens if Idaho Falls wins the second half too, whether it’s a wild card situation or Idaho Falls gets a bye.

Tempe — The Tempe Angels have the best overall record at 31-16, but finished one game behind the Peoria Mariners in the first half (19-9) and currently trail the Surprise Royals by 1/2 game in the second half (12-7). The first and second half winners meet in a one-game championship game on August 31. Tempe has nine games left, including one against the Royals.

Santana to Critics: Drop Dead

Be nice to Ervin Santana, and he’ll be nice to you.


New York Daily News, October 30, 1975

Ever since it was announced a few days ago that the Angels would recall Ervin Santana to pitch one of the two games in yesterday’s Boston doubleheader, critics have been sharpening their knives in gleeful anticipation of destroying whatever was left of Ervin’s reputation.

In particular, people who claim to be Angels fans filled blogs and fan boards with proclamations of impending doom, almost as if they looked forward to it so they could write more nastiness. The press dutifully reported Santana’s woes this year that led to his demotion, but the undercurrent in many articles was that disaster was imminent, given Ervin’s problems pitching on the road in 2007.

As Ervin’s failures mounted this year, his attitude towards the press soured, especially after they kept repeating the same inane questions. Ervin became increasingly defensive, if not downright sullen.

Those of us who knew him in the minors saw a different Ervin Santana. He was sweet, gentle, playful. Happy-go-lucky.

And he was a **** good pitcher.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Dominican kids. They live life with a certain joy, if not naiveté, about the real world. They grow up in such poverty, with such low expectations in life, that they find fulfillment simply by playing ball.

The first-year Dominican players at Tempe see me running around with the camera and run up to ask, “Picture?!” I think they know maybe ten words of English. “Picture?!” is one of them. Your heart can’t help but go out to them, which is why I always send back photos to the clubhouse after the summer league trip (and why I’m working on them now).

So to read in the papers that Ervin’s attitude had soured was disturbing, because I knew that’s not Ervin. was pretty much the only outlet this week that predicted a more positive outcome for Ervin yesterday. In my August 13 entry, I wrote that his Triple-A demotion was no more than an emotional "time out" to let Ervin compose himself away from the pennant race and the media glare. I noted that if you looked at his starts in the "normal" Triple-A ballparks, he was dominant. Pitching in the PCL’s high-altitude parks distorts statistics for both pitcher and hitter. So looking at those "normal" starts — on the road, no less — there was every reason to think he’d return with his head straight.

The Angels dropped him into a pressure cooker — Fenway Park, second game of a doubleheader, the Angels had lost the first game, they’re playing the team with the best winning percentage in the majors, and the Seattle Mariners are on the Angels’ heels for first place in the AL West.

Ervin responded with a big DROP DEAD to his critics.

Ervin took a perfect game into the 5th inning last night, and finished by allowing one run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and no walks.

The beat writers reported that, after the game, Ervin refused to grant interviews to them. Coach Alfredo Griffin came up and cajoled Ervin into answering questions — but he’d only do it in Spanish. (Ervin speaks acceptable English.) Griffin translated the answers, which makes you wonder whether what Alfredo said in English was what Ervin said in Spanish.

Santana’s disdain for his critics can be summed up by comparison to an infamous New York Daily News headline published on October 30, 1975. The City of New York was on the brink of municipal bankruptcy, and was seeking a bailout from the federal government. President Gerald Ford promised to veto any bill bailing out the city. The Daily News responded with the infamous tabloid headline, “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD”. Ford never said it, but that didn’t stop the paper from running the inflammatory headline.

Of course, this was only one start, but it earned him the right to remain in the big leagues. The papers quote Angels manager Mike Scioscia as saying Ervin will get another start next week — at home, against either New York (pressure cooker time) or Toronto.

The media have their job to do, but as the cliché goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

As for the instant-gratification know-nothings who soil Angels fan boards with their presence, they’ll just move on to attacking someone else. These were the people who at various times have called Garret Anderson "lazy," called John Lackey "Lacknuts," wanted Chone Figgins released, wrote that Casey Kotchman was "a slow-running singles hitter who will never amount to anything," etc., ad nauseam.

Well, to quote the Daily NewsDROP DEAD.

This ‘N That

Young-Il Jung is shut down until fall ball due to a strained right forearm.

Before I get back to processing Tempe Angels photos …

I was amused to read in the local papers this morning that Jon Bachanov and Young-Il Jung were injured. No, I wasn’t amused that they’re injured. I was amused that posted this information weeks ago, but only now are the mainstream media getting around to noticing.

I interviewed Bachanov on July 21. You can listen to the interview in the Audio Gallery. Jon told me at the time about his injury.

Young-Il had departed Orem when I was there in early July. Owlz manager Tom Kotchman talked about the injury in an interview on July 9.

I’ve been meaning to mention the red-hot Greg Porter, who’s lit up the PCL since his promotion to Salt Lake in late June. Greg has a 20-game hitting streak at home. Overall, his AVG/OBP/SLG at Salt Lake are .357/.415/.532. In 11 games this month, his numbers are .395/.435/.419. But as I often warn, beware of the Franklin Covey Syndrome, where the 4,500-foot elevation distorts numbers. At home, his numbers are .443/.482/.646. On the road, the line is .267/.349/.413. As I often preach, context is everything.

Kinda disappointed that the Angels didn’t sign Matt Harvey. According to the news stories, the Angels’ position was that their offer was equivalent to mid-first round money and was very generous for a third-rounder. But context matters here too.

First, the only reason Harvey fell to the third round is that he had Scott Boras as an advisor. No one wanted to mess with Boras.

But the main point I wanted to make is that the Angels have set the precedent many times for paying large bonuses to players drafted in lower rounds because they were considered a tough sign.

The Angels selected 1B/3B/RHP Mark Trumbo in the 18th round of the June 2004 draft. He was considered unsignable because he’d committed to USC. But the Angels gave him a reported $1.425 million bonus to sign.

In the June 2006 draft, the Angels selected RHP Jordan Walden in the 12th round as a draft-and-follow. After waiting nearly a year, the Angels signed him for a reported $1 million bonus.

If the difference was indeed only $1 million, and if Harvey was indeed one of the best high school pitching prospects in the nation, then I think the Angels should have made a more attractive offer at the last moment. Perhaps they hoped Harvey would cave just as Jered Weaver did. But the difference was that Weaver shot himself in the foot when he failed to return to Cal State Long Beach for his senior year, leaving him with no choice but to play independent ball or go back into the draft. Harvey had the option to go to the University of North Carolina, although he won’t be eligible again until after his junior year. Harvey can circumvent that restriction by transferring to a junior college, which many players do.

With Bachanov and Jung suffering injuries (hopefully they’re minor), I’d like to see another power arm at the bottom of the system. Harvey would have been that arm. Take those three and add them to Walden, and you have quite a pool of young pitching talent in the pipeline.