Every week there are three things I deem to be really important. It’s kind of like the “meat” of my lineup. This week, there is only two because my DH is on the disabled list.


1. Ryan Howard Contract Extension

The Philadelphia Phillies made headlining news when they signed their MVP first baseman Ryan Howard to a contract that will make him only the second player to earn $25 million or more per season.

Howard, of course, is now in what they call “A-Rod Territory” with his contract, leaving many to gawk at the Phillies for making such a move.

And the half that aren’t gawking at the Phillies, are gawking at the St. Louis as they now have to pay Albert Pujols.

Many are wondering how this will impact Albert Pujols and what type of money he will get. Here is a news flash for you.

The money that Ryan Howard makes has absolutely no impact on what Albert Pujols will get. Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano said it best when he said Albert is on an island all by himself.

Pujols is going to make just as much, if not more, than what Alex Rodriguez makes on a yearly basis. He’ll make more than what Ryan Howard is making; the Cardinals won’t insult him with anything less. He would have made more than that even if Howard didn’t sign that contract.

In fact, that is exactly the reason the Phillies are smart for signing Howard when they did. While Howard can’t impact what Pujols makes, Pujols can definitely impact what Howard makes. The higher Pujols drives up his price, the higher Howard could have gone with justifiable reason.

Sure they are tying a lot of money up in a 30-year-old first baseman that they had long term concerns about just a few years ago, but they could be saving themselves some money in the long run if they wanted to bring Howard back.

Back to Pujols and the Cardinals situation though. It behooves the Cardinals to get a deal done with Albert and to basically pay the man what he wants. If this club wants to assure themselves contention, all they have to do is hold onto Pujols. They’ll not only do that, but  in the process they’ll sell out all their season tickets from now until Pujols’ contract ends. They will have no problem financially if they have to break the bank for their guy.

2. MLB Makes Four Rule Changes for All-Star Game

The party planning committee , I mean the committee that Bud Selig assembled in the offseason, made what was really their first shake-up when they added four rules to the MLB All-Star game.

They’ve officially done away with the pitcher ever having a chance to hit, which was something I never understood for an All-Star game. The DH will now be used regardless of what park the game is played in, and that is long overdue.

The committee also has sort of put into writing what was pretty much already done, with no pitcher who started on Sunday being able to pitch in the game. Now they’ll be officially ineligible to pitch and replaced with someone who can.

Perhaps their best change is letting each manager designate one positional player to return to the game if someone at any position is injured. They also have a rule already in place that lets a catcher come back if a catcher is hurt.

What I don’t understand is the roster expansion from 33 to 34 players. They are basically adding another position player, which doesn’t seem like it was all that needed. With the new injured position player rule, do we really need another third baseman that won’t play?


That’s Just Weird Man

Baseball never has a shortage of weird and wacky statistics or situations. These are those situations. Cue the Law and Order chime.

I’ll save my comments about the Cleveland Plain Dealer for another time, but the headline for this story makes me lose it. Every once and awhile the Plain Dealer gets it right.

It took Greg Zaun numerous tries to get it right the other day. Zaun tired and failed, numerous times, to throw the ball back to Yovani Gallardo. I’m sure Bob Uecker found the situation to be awfully familiar. Is that Zaun or Rube Baker?

It may be 2010 but the Mets are still feeling the effects of the Steve Phillips era. After waiving Bobby Bonilla in 2000, the Mets and Bonilla’s agents negotiated a deal that pretty much cleared them of his $5.9 million salary. The catch is they would start paying him a little over $1 million every July from 2011 to 2035.

Are you kidding me? Bonilla’s agent and Phillips are both geniuses. Bonilla gets a whole lot of cash long after he retires and Steve Phillips set up a deal that he would never even see come to fruition in his tenure.

In eight years, Bonilla will still be getting paid, and so will Joe Mauer. But one columnist for the Twins did a little day-dreaming about what Mauer may want to do when he’s 35 and his contract extension is coming to a close.

Retirement may be imminent for long time reliever Alan Embree. Here’s what is weird though: Embree was called up by Boston this past week, not to pitch, but to sit around for a few days until he was designated for assignment. Sometimes you just know when something wasn’t planned.

Baseball sure has its fair share of weird injuries and later I will praise someone who went through one of the weirdest you’ll ever see. But Ryan Madson joins the list of macho men that have broken a bone and gone on the disabled list after unleashing their frustration on inanimate objects.

Madson kicked a chair and broke his toe last week, which was perfect timing considering Brad Lidge was just activated off the disabled list. But what are you thinking man? Kick something meant to be kicked, like a soccer ball, not a chair.

Finally, you know those affliction shirts that seem to be all the rage among people my age? They are especially popular within the MLB circles, especially with young players like Ryan Braun. James Shields sort of showed the love for that style of shirt by helping create one for a promotion by the Rays.

It actually doesn’t look all that much like those affliction shirts, but it is a bit too radical for my taste. I’m not even all that sure about what is going on there anyway.


Your Luke Hochevar Update

Every week we look at Luke Hochevar because a first round pick needs pressure, even if he plays for Royals.

Last Week’s Line: 1 GS, 2.2 IP, 11 H, 9 R, 2 BB, 1 K

Momma said you’d have days like this, but I don’t think she expected one’s this bad. Hochevar got straight-up punked by the game’s best team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

The nine runs surrendered is a little less than double the amount he had given up in the first four games he pitched in.

Hang in there Luke, better days will come.


I’m a Stat Man

I’m not really a big statistics guy, but I guess it’s better than being a scat man, because I don’t know what that is.

This week in statistics, Jason Bay hit his first home run of the season.

Congratulations go out to Joakim Soria as he became the all-time saves leader among Mexicans with 94. Teammate Bruce Chen had some fun with Soria’s accomplishment saying he was lucky to be Mexican and not Panamanian.

There’s a guy in New York that is Panamanian and there is relatively no shot of Chen catching him. Someone then had fun at Chen’s expense by putting a piece of paper above Chen’s locker that listed Mariano Rivera’s number of saves, and then the names of other Panamanian’s Ed Acosta and Maldonado.

Both are tied with Chen for seventh in saves by natives of Panama, but instead of listing the number of saves, it just said “531 less.”

Anyone see former Royal John Buck hit three home runs for the Blue Jays? He is just the 27th catcher to hit three home runs in a game. Two catchers have done it twice and for some perspective, first baseman have done it 100 times.

Minnesota Twin rookies had a great week. Luke Hughes homered in his first plate appearance and that makes him the second rookie to do so this year, Jason Heyward being the other. Seven hitters did it last year, but no one yet tops Kevin Kouzmanoff hitting a grand slam off the first pitch against Texas years ago.

Wilson Ramos did his work on Sunday, a day after being called up to provide insurance with Joe Mauer battling a heel issue. Ramos picked up where the AL MVP would have by notching four times, the first Twin to do so in his first game since Kirby Puckett. That is special.

More rookie madness with the Tigers. Brennan Boesch and Scott Sizemore became just the 24th pair of rookie teammates to hit their first career home runs in the same inning. This rare occurrence last happened in 2002 when Cleveland Indians catcher Victor Martinez homered in the same inning as Earl Snyder. We all know Martinez has gone to have a great career, but that was the first and last major league home run Snyder would hit.

Austin Jackson collected 37 hits in first 100 at-bats; no Tiger has ever done that as a rookie. These youngsters are having all the success in April, but will it carry into August? We’ll see.


The Utility Player

For all the stuff that defies categorization, this is the utility player of the weekly feature. We play everywhere and anywhere here!

Miguel Olivo is tougher than anyone you know. What man passes kidney stones during a baseball game and keeps playing?

I have never experienced the pain of kidney stones, but I’ve seen my dad cower to the pain of them, I know what kind of damage they can do. Miguel Olivio may be my favorite person ever now.

A big reason for Miguel Olivo’s resurgence was the play of Chris Ianette, which opened up the door for Olivo to get more playing time. The Rockies made Olivo their number one catcher by demoting Ianetta this past week. Understandably, he wasn’t too pleased with a return stint to the minors.

Another Rockie is injured, but he may be out for awhile. Jorge De La Rosa tore a flexor tendon band and is expected to miss some time. His manager Jim Tracy never heard of such a thing and he is apparently very familiar with finger tendons. It does kind of sound made up.

Remember Dmitri Young? He retired this past offseason, but he’s still around baseball and hopes to make it back to the major leagues. No, not as a player, but hopefully a hitting coach.

Right now he’s the vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland County Cruisers. The Cruisers are not a part of minor league baseball, but rather the Frontier League, a league based in northern United States. Oakland County is located in Michigan, so he’s staying close to the Tigers, a team he had much success with.

Young had his fair share of success against left-handed hitting especially, which is not what a pair of hitters can say early on in 2010. Stephen Drew notched his first hit against a left-hander on Thursday and is just 1-17 on the season while Indians slugger Matt LaPorta started the year in a 0-18 skid against left-handers.

What is startling about LaPorta’s start is that he’s a right-handed hitter. What is even scarier is the realization that I had to endure LaPorta. who has never hit left-handed pitching well. In his minor league career he hit just .223, compared to .314 against right-handers.

On the subject of the Indians, their temporary closer Chris Perez was none too pleased about Howie Kendrick’s game winning RBI-bunt in last week’s game in Anaheim. Perez said he wasn’t going to call it bush league, but he said it was a bad baseball play.

All I can really say is no play is a bad baseball play when it wins the game.

The Angels are one team not having an issue with their designated hitter. The Cleveland Indians are one of the many teams that are. As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick notes, plenty of clubs are having issues with the DH spot in their order.

At the time Crasnick penned the article, Arizona Diamondback pitchers collected 12 hits to the 13 by hitters from the Twins’ DH spot. That is just downright scary.

Maybe their pitchers should hit eighth? Tony LaRussa brought back the pitcher hitting eighth idea when he placed Brendan Ryan in the nine-hole last week. Can we really consider this LaRussa’s trademark anymore though?

John Russell of the Pirates has been using this tactic all year with Ronny Cedeno hitting in the ninth spot. No wonder the Pirates aren’t scoring runs.


“He’s Garbage, Still Garbage, Going to Die As Garbage”

The above is Ozzie Guillen’s feelings towards columnist Jay Mariotti. It is the representation for The Cluster’s section on weekly rants.

I had the Arizona immigrant law story in this edition of The Cluster, but decided to remove it at the last minute.

Mainly because, while it does involve baseball somewhat, it is way too political for me to want to include. Which leads me to this weeks little rant.

You hate to see this type of stuff impact the sport. Adrian Gonzalez has already spoken out about it, Ozzie Guillen has made his voice clear in it, and many have already said they’d not only boycott the upcoming All-Star game in 2012—which is slated to be held in Arizona—but they’d wish for their spring training site to be moved away from Arizona.

The state and the area has become a staple of spring training. Something needs to be resolved here. I haven’t taken the time to pay much attention to the story because it takes away from the sport, so I’m not sure what needs to be done to resolve this.

But for the love of everyone that loves the sport and the people that play it;the union, Bud Selig, everyone else involved and get to the bottom of it.


Away From the Diamond

Everything from Rasmus girl to the latest commercials, this is your weekly update about things that really have nothing to do with baseball on the field.

This hoodie story will just not go away. Every week it finds its way into The Cluster because every week a new development happens.

This past week, Bill Belichick, a fellow hoodie enthusiast, sent Joe Maddon a dull-gray New England Patriots hoodie with the initials “JM” on the front, just like Bill Belichick’s.

The sleeves were not cut off , yet.

Well wishes go out to Bob Uecker, who I mentioned earlier in The Cluster, as he underwent successful heart surgery. Uecker should be back in the booth later this season, but he at least was around to see Zaun’s Rube Baker impression.

Well known for being the guy who gave up Barry Bonds’ record breaking home run, Mike Bacsik is enjoying life after baseball as a producer for a radio station in Texas. Well not anymore. Bacisk was fired for making comments on his twitter account while drunk at a bar watching the Mavericks and Spurs play in Game Four of the NBA playoffs.

I don’t really have anything witty to say about this, because it stands alone in coolness factor. If you haven’t seen Matt Antonelli’s nerf basketball exhibition, you must now .

Antonelli is probably not on the fantasy baseball radar just yet, but if you want to, his name is different enough to make up a silly pun for your fantasy baseball team. It would be far better than just naming your team “THE YANKEES” or one of the other 200 most common fantasy baseball team names.

I will just say that I’ve played in leagues against the Springfield Isotopes, Chico’s Bail Bonds, Honey Nut Ichiros, Balco Bombers, and The Naturals. I try and be original (Marte’s Buffet is as original as it gets though) but when all else fails, I go with two favorites, Machete Squad and Here Comes Trouble. Both homage’s to one of my favorite television shows, Frisky Dingo.

Can someone tell me why Kevin Deutsch is parading around in Mets garb ? Isn’t he supposed to be an unbiased news source for the NY Daily News? I’m sure there are no shortages of writers who grew up rooting for the team they now cover, but is this responsible journalism?

Speaking of responsible journalism, it turns out that a report from the Wall Street Journal about the Cleveland Indians being the most “despised team” in the game was inaccurate. Not only that, but they didn’t really do a good job of headlining or explaining the study conducted by the Nielsen Company.

What this algorithm actually did was measure internet postings (typically tweets, blogs, and message boards) from a 21 day span in April. That is hardly enough to narrow down who the most despised team is, but it does explain why the Indians ranked so high.


Good Deed of the Week

Because we aren’t all fun and games, I highlight one good deed that I’ve come across in the world of baseball. If you know of one, please send it my way.

The Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr. are doing a great thing for eight children from Iraq this coming week.

Ripken Baseball is bringing eight teenagers to Maryland to watch a game against the Mariners. While in town, Ken Griffey Jr. will hold a clinic for the kids.

To learn more about Ripken Baseball and some of their projects, visit their website .


And This Week in the Central

Every week we take a look at the latest happening in one of the game’s Central divisions. Why? Because it provides us with the most entertainment, that’s why!

The Houston Astros are at it again.

The club didn’t win a game last week and their offense is really scuffling. It currently ranks as the worst in the game as the club struggled to score more than two runs in all but one game.

As a team they’ve hit nine home runs this season. To put that into perspective, Paul Konerko has three more this season than the entire Astros team, and Robinson Cano, Kelly Johnson, Kelly Johnson, and Andre Ethier all have just as many.

This offense is putrid right now and this is coming from someone who has watched the Cleveland Indians hit this past month.


For the Love of the Glove

Each week I pick my top three defensive plays, because Ozzie Smith didn’t make the Hall of Fame for swinging the stick.

This was an incredibly tough week to judge defensive gems. All three of these could be No. 1 on any other week, but it was just that tough. There were so many more that didn’t make this week’s Top Three that could have even been No. 1.

3. Ronnie Belliard’s play here is a last minute entrant that knocked out the Philadelphia Phillies double play that was in my top three all week until Belliard made the Willie Mays of all third base plays.

2. This gets double the praise for not only Pena’s catch, but Wade Davis’ as well. You have to be pretty brave as a starting pitcher to get under Pena like that, but he did prevent his teammate from cracking his head open.

1. I really have nothing to say about this . It is the perfect blend of luck, skill, and Marlon Byrd not being able to see the ball in the sun.

Nino Colla writes “The Baseball Cluster” every week, or so he hopes. If you’ve got something that you think fits one of the sections, send him a private message. All absurdities are welcome.

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