At the Letters: Shooting Dais

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So I'm two weeks on the job and I already have received an email warning that the only thing that trumps the First Amendment is the Second Amendment, and for the life of me I can't recall writing an NBA column.

The sender's ID reads "Tim Brown's next-door neighbor," so I'm trying to decide if I'm going to get it in the neck from the librarian on one side or the 11-year-old sweeper during carpool. Just to be safe, I've begun digging the moat.

The emails, with my responses in italics:

MATSUZAKA TO RED SOX ("A roll of the Dice," Dec. 13, 2006)

Stop using "D-Mat" please. Nobody in Boston or in Red Sox Nation likes that lame nickname! Try "Dice-K" or anything but frickin' D-Mat.

Bristol, Conn.

Sorry, Eric. I had no idea. See, during the winter meetings, Scott Boras referred to him as D-Mat, and I just assumed that's where this was headed. Of course, when he said he was off to meet with T-Eps and T-Franc, I should have known.

Here's my question on D-Mat [and] the notion that he can get American League hitters out coming from his performance in the World Baseball Classic. … No one seems to be bringing up the fact that the WBC took place during major-league spring training. How many pitchers have you seen look great in the spring, when the hitters don't have their mechanics yet, and then not so hot during the season?

Even the Boston Herald admits D-Mat "dominated a second-rate league" in Japan. This may be the second coming of Josh Beckett, dominant in a weak league but unable to handle the monster AL hitters.


You're right about judging a pitcher based on results from the WBC, unless that pitcher was, say, Dontrelle Willis, whose WBC detonation carried well into the regular season. What we know is that major-league scouts adore Matsuzaka, even if his numbers were borne of a league regarded as Four-A, somewhere between American baseball's Triple-A and big leagues. They saw plenty of him in Japan, both before the WBC, when it was widely believed he'd be posted by the Seibu Lions, and after. He'll have his trouble spots (they all do), but smart baseball people believe he'll be a top-of-the-rotation starter. By the way, Greg, you're ticking off Eric with all the D-Mat stuff.

Well now, does anyone remember that Hideki Irabu came over with the same "great-beyond-belief" billing?

Poteet, Texas

You mean, other than George Steinbrenner?

What if Matsuzaka (D-Mat) only wins 12 games this year? (I know this is unlikely but, just, what if ?)

Fairfield, Conn.

If Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett make 32 starts each, if Jonathan Papelbon is close to the pitcher in the first six or seven innings as he was in the ninth, and if Jon Lester or Tim Wakefield make a decent fifth, I say they'd take the 12.

Not so much a question, but a comment [regarding] an article today concerning new Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. When he was introduced, he was reluctant to don his new cap because of his hair. He lost any respect I had for him. How can a player, after signing a $52 million contract, not put on his cap? That is outrageous. Please do not glorify another selfish player.

Eufaula, Okla.

I understand, Mike, but consider Matsuzaka's motives here. Had he put on the cap, he then would have had to have his hair D-Matted, and you know how people in Boston feel about that.

Even if this guy underperforms, he is going to be better than Ted Lilly, who got $40 million. Sounds like this was a no-brainer and a bargain.


Actually, I think it was Irabu who was the no-brainer. But, I'll accept bargain.

Now that the Red Sox have signed D-Mat, doesn't it make sense to keep Papelbon in the closer role that he so dominated in '06?

New York

It's much easier to create a closer, or convert a talented/miscast/aging starter (Gagne, Nathan, Jenks, Gordon, et al) than it is to acquire and maintain a front-of-the-rotation starter. The Red Sox are trying to protect Papelbon's arm, and at his request. And he always can go back.

How much do you think that Scott Boras is ruining baseball for the average fan? I think he has stunk up the whole sport.


I can't fault Boras. First, he works for his clients – the players – even if it doesn't always seem that way. Second, the owners work for him.

I don't know if I already sent you this request, but if I did I'm reiterating it. Matsuzaka will be known as "DICE-K." Please and thank you.

Bristol, Conn.

Hey, E., I'm with you. Talk to Greg, Chris and John.

BARRY BONDS ("Bonds' end," Dec. 11, 2006)

You are an idiot.

San Francisco

So begins the Barry Bonds portion of our day.

Are Barry Bonds' teammates REALLY happy to have him back? The media circus will be even worse this year, and that will be a huge distraction. Plus, they are an old team who seems to get older by the year. … Thanks!

Murfreesboro, Tenn.

First off, Paul, Yahoo! thanks you for the exclamation point, a vastly underrated and underused punctuation technique. As for your question, based on the previously stated relationship between the First and Second Amendments, I'll take the Fifth. P.S.: Moat almost done.

Is it more interesting to talk this year's San Francisco Giants or the weather? I'm at a loss.

San Jose, Calif.

Ed, you won't need the umbrella until Thursday.


Although the Chicago Cubs made perhaps the best deal in free-agent history by signing Alfonso Soriano, they ruined it by signing Lou Piniella and some overrated pitchers.

Soriano, an offensive machine, already is being misused, as Piniella wants him as a leadoff man. Piniella is far too conservative for today's style of play, which is exactly the reason Dusty Baker couldn't win with the Cubs.

The Cubs blew a world championship when they allowed Joe Girardi to get away. Things looked great when they got rid of Baker and Andy McPhail. However, they allowed Jim Hendry to remain, which is typical of bad decisions made by the Cubs.

South Bend, Ind.

Checked, and, Mike, and there's a noticeable lack of gloom out there. I'm thinking grassroots here.

Being a die-hard Cubs fan my whole life, I'm happy to see their off-season efforts to make the team a contender. I do however have one small problem with Soriano leading off. Sure he's going to hit around .290 and put up 35 HR and 80-90 RBIs, but he strikes out way too much. Those numbers are typically what you'd expect from a three-to-five hitter in the order.

What ever happened to the good ol' days with Brett Butler? Or Vince Coleman? Guys who work the count, give the sluggers a good look at the pitcher, get on base 40 percent of the time at whatever cost, swipe second base and give your three-to-five hitters a chance to produce?

I really don't know what my question is. I just felt like ranting. The Cubs will never have a leadoff hitter just like the Bears will never have a quarterback.

Rantoul, Ill.

I think you're onto something here, Matt. Seriously, has anyone considered Soriano at quarterback and Rex Grossman as a leadoff hitter?

Lay it on the line for us Cubs fans. With everything that has happened this offseason, how close to winning the whole thing are our beloved Cubs? All of us are tired of "wait 'til next year."


I like the lineup, I really do. If I'm Piniella, I go:

1. Soriano, RF
2. Mark DeRosa, 2B
3. Derrek Lee, 1B
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5. Jacque Jones, CF
6. Matt Murton, LF
7. Michael Barrett, C
8. Cesar Izturis, SS

Maybe I play the matchups in the two hole with Izturis, who is much better from the left side, and DeRosa, who hits much better against lefties. Either way, with their power potential in that ballpark, the Cubs should lead the league in home runs and score maybe 150 more runs than they did last season, when their 716 runs ranked 15th in the National League.

Now, the bad news. And with the Cubs, the bad news usually carries the day. I can't get my head around the starting rotation or the defense. I'm in on Carlos Zambrano and a coming Rich Hill in the rotation. But that's it. Ted Lilly's a fly-ball pitcher, which doesn't always fit at Wrigley. Jason Marquis just set career highs in hits and walks. Izturis will catch it at short, as will Lee at first, but the rest will be spotty. Maybe that's good enough in a division that was won with an 83-78 record last season. But "the whole thing"? I don't think so.

What's up with Barry Zito? He was supposed to be at the top of the free-agent market, and he still isn't signed. Is this just another case of teams being put off by super agent Scott Boras being greedy for a lot of money and a long-term contract? Who looks likely to sign him at this point?

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Here's how it stands, Andrew: The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Giants and New York Mets are in for sure, with the Los Angeles Angels on the periphery. Zito has met formally with the Rangers, and Boras has talked to the other organizations, with negotiations expected to heat up this week. A Mets delegation of Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya and Tony Bernazard arrives Tuesday at Boras' office in Newport Beach, Calif.

The numbers will be big for Zito, whom Boras will sell both for his durability – he's averaged 34½ starts and thrown at least 213 innings for six seasons – and his feats. He's left-handed, has pitched well in the postseason (this year's ALCS excepted) and has pitched in the tougher league. Think of it this way: If Gil Meche is worth $11 million a year, what would you pay for Zito?

Where has Mark McGwire been? You hear about everyone else that retired that year. Let him know that people support him.

San Antonio