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Saturday, July 20
Wild Pitches: Want a new name? Go with Miller

By Jayson Stark

See if you alert readers can spot any kind of pattern here:

  • On July 9, in the All-Star Game, held at Miller Park, Arizona catcher Damian Miller goes 2 for 2.

  • Then Wednesday night, in another game at Miller Park, Astros pitcher Wade Miller gives up one hit and no runs over seven innings, goes 2 for 3 at the plate and raises his lifetime record at Miller Park to 5-0, 0.97.

    Wade Miller
    If the Brewers were smart they'd trade for Wade Miller.

    Sooooo. ... Anybody notice anything there? Any trends? Any tendencies? Any explanation whatsoever for why these two men might have had success in this particular ballpark?

    Yeah, well, we don't mean to get tricky on you. But here at Wild Pitches, we like to latch onto the big trends in baseball before anyone else. And let's just say that from longtime experience, we know Miller Time when we see one.

    "Nowhere else in baseball," Astros broadcast-witticist Jim Deshaies told Wild Pitches, "can a guy walk into a visiting ballpark and see his name up there on the scoreboard like that: 'It's Miller Time.' You have to think that has something to do with Wade's success there. ... That and the fact that the Brewers swing and miss a lot."

    Well, whatever the various circumstances at work, the facts speak for themselves. The evidence is overwhelming. There's clearly some kind of force field that revolves around men named Miller at Miller Park. And it got us thinking.

    Maybe baseball has this naming-rights concept all wrong. Instead of selling naming rights to big corporations -- which tend to get bought by other big corporations, or go Chapter 11, or inspire much ranting and raving about the corporate corruption of sports -- maybe what teams ought to do is sell those naming rights to players.

    "You know, Brad Ausmus actually had that idea this spring," Deshaies said, "when we found out that Enron Field was no longer going to be known as Enron Field. He wanted to name it Ausmus Field. I thought he should just go for Brad Park, but that might have some hockey connotations.

    "He said, 'I don't want to buy it for long -- just for a weekend, or a homestand, or just for a game.' And you know what? It's a great idea. You've got the visiting team coming in, you offer to sell their players the naming rights for the weekend.

    "It's a tremendous revenue-sharing ploy. I bet you could raise some serious cash that way. Get the Brewers' marketing people on this. Arizona's coming in? Offer to name it Big Unit Park. Get Randy on the phone and say, 'What's it worth to you?' "

    If this isn't an idea whose time has arrived, we don't know what is. It's either that, or the Brewers attempt to assemble an entire team of guys named Miller.

    Rib-eye of the week
    Bob Watson sent Torii Hunter to baseball's penalty box for three days on Friday. But according to Hunter's teammates, he sentenced the wrong culprit.

    Yeah, it's true that Wednesday night in Cleveland, Hunter picked up the baseball that had just nailed him in the ribs and fired it back at Danys Baez, the pitcher who'd planted it there.

    Yeah, it's true Bob Watson in particular and MLB in general aren't real big on stuff like that.

    But we'll say this again: They got the wrong man.

    It's all Al Newman's fault.

    Newman, you'll doubtless recall, is the Twins' affable (i.e., hefty) third-base coach. And it was he who came rumbling in to keep Hunter from springing to his feet and doing anything he'd regret later. Well, quite a job Al Newman did.

    If you'll check the videotape, you'll note that Newman appeared to be trying to box Hunter out, a la Dennis Rodman, so no further mayhem would ensue. But let's just say that if Dennis Rodman had boxed out like this, his career would have lasted about 30 seconds.

    "Come on," Twins utility humorist Denny Hocking told Wild Pitches, when we wondered about Newman's blocking techniques. "With a physique that resembles the likes of Oliver Miller or Charles Barkley, he has to do a better job of boxing out. ... Look what happened. Torii got to the loose ball, up-faked and passed it off to a wide-open player.

    "In my mind," Hocking said, "if Al uses his back side better, then he prevents Torii from (grabbing) the rebound and creating another scoring chance."

    This seemed to be pretty much a unanimous opinion from ringside Twins observers. So we'd look for Newman to incur a hefty sentence himself from the Twins' kangaroo court. But in truth, Hocking admits, he's not sure it's Newman's fault, either.

    "The real blame," Hocking theorized, "must be laid on (the catcher) Einar Diaz -- for his unwillingness to just pick up the ball and call a 20-second timeout."

    Bonds bailsman of the week
    Barry Bonds already has two home runs this year off Randy Johnson. And five altogether off the Diamondbacks. And 14 against them in the last two years.

    But this just in: At last week's All-Star Home Run Derby, the Diamondbacks finally figured out why they haven't been able to keep Bonds in the yard.

    They've been using real pitchers to pitch to him.

    The guy they should have been pitching all along, it turns out, is their bullpen catcher.

    That would be a fellow named Jeff Motuzas. They know this because it was Motuzas who wound up pitching to Bonds during the Home Run Derby. Of the 12 swings Bonds got off him, only two left the premises. And what were the odds of a bullpen catcher holding Barry to as many bombs as Randy Johnson has?

    "We told him we've got to activate him and start calling him into these games," Luis Gonzalez told Wild Pitches. "Schilling said, 'All this time I've been trying to get Barry out with 96 mile-an-hour fastballs. I should have just been throwing it up there at 74, on the hands.' "

    Roofer of the week
    We always thought that sooner or later, somebody was going to hit a baseball that went right through baseball's flimsiest dome -- the $1-billion roof atop Montreal's fabulous Stade Olympique.


    Well, for reasons we're weary of getting into, time was obviously running out. But Tuesday, with the clock ticking and time marching, Vladimir Guerrero gave it one last attempt.

    Guerrero launched one of the highest fly balls to left field ever lofted. And as it went up, up and up, no one was too sure whether it was going to be a foul ball, a fair ball, a home run or just the first fly ball to land on Mars.

    But then, that darned roof of Stade Olympique got in the way. The ball thumped off the stadium lid and ricocheted back toward center field -- whereupon Phillies shortstop Tomas Perez somehow caught it. For an out. A highly disputed out, but an out.

    A long argument ensued, since no one was too sure what had just happened. But they should have simply consulted Phillies outfield-quipmaster Doug Glanville, because he was in the clubhouse at the time, studying the play. So only he seemed to know exactly what had gone on.

    "After further review from various camera angles," Glanville told Wild Pitches, "I determined that he was trying to leave an indelible mark in Montreal baseball history by destroying the tower that hangs over the stadium. However, due to a gross miscalculation -- the fact that attendance tripled since the acquistion of (Cliff) Floyd and (Bartolo) Colon, thereby raising the temperature inside the dome -- he missed the blue tarp and hit the outer ring. If he'd hit the tarp, it would have torn through it like tissue paper."

    We have no doubt that all of that is true. But what isn't true, Glanville reported, is that Perez had it all the way.

    "Tomas was not actually trying to catch that ball," Glanville said. "He was actually running for his life in a fit of desperation and lunacy. Since I wasn't on the field, I asked around, and I was told that while he was running to hide under the bullpen tarp, he was shouting, 'Salvame! Salva los Expos!' Or something that sounds like that."

    There's a story behind every Web Gem, friends. Just wanted you to know the truth.

    Waterlogger of the week
    It's now 15 months since beautiful PNC Park opened in Pittsburgh along the shores of the Allegheny River. It was going to be Pittsburgh's version of Pac Bell Park and McCovey Cove: Come watch the home runs fly into the river.

    Oops. They forgot just one thing: The Pirates play there.

    So a season and a half later, the grand total of home runs landing in the mighty Allegheny stood at a whopping zero -- until Daryle Ward showed up.

    Finally, on July 6, in a game against the Astros, Ward pounded a 479-foot grand slam that bore one noteworthy difference from the 232 PNC home runs that preceded it: It got wet, making it the first homer ever to land in the river on the fly.

    So this might have been the biggest home run in Pittsburgh since Mazeroski's. You could tell because a guy who happened to be sailing by in his yacht suddenly ripped his shirt off and dived into the surrounding moistness to retrieve the baseball.

    "I don't get it," Deshaies told Wild Pitches. "I'm sure that boat set that guy back a few sheckles when he bought it. And he was probably wearing a $10,000 watch. But he jumps in the river to go after a baseball. It must be a male hunting thing, because off went the shirt, like he was saving someone's life in there."

    Well, we could point out that the guy did save the baseball from disappearing into the confluence of the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio Rivers. But Deshaies' only response to that was: "Have you noticed that sporting events in Pittsburgh are the only time the word, 'confluence,' is ever used?"

    Good point, actually. But the word, "cash," on the other hand, is used in many sporting connotations. And it came up in this one, too -- because that's what the guy wanted if he was going to give Ward his historic ball back.

    Uh, good try, sailor.

    "Maybe they haven't seen my salary in the paper," said Ward, whose salary in the paper and everywhere else is just under $400,000. "I've got children to feed."

    Piazza to go of the week
    This week's topic for America's most erudite superstar, Mike Piazza, is -- what else? -- cryogenics. Since Ted Williams is still on ice and Piazza is a master at chilling out, Wild Pitches dispatched the Newark Star Ledger's Lawrence Rocca to grill him on the viability of cryogenics in 21st-century America.

    "I haven't really researched that topic," Piazza said, at first. "I know it's been done. I remember the first Austin Powers movie."

    But the more he reflected, the more he realized that if this Ted Williams cloning project caught fire, other stars -- such as himself -- would some day be invited to apply ice packs to more than just the usual bumps and bruises.

    "I wouldn't want to subject my DNA to that," Piazza said. "I wouldn't want to bring a clone into the world today, because of environmental issues -- global warming, the depletion of the gene pool. I wouldn't want to subject any clone to that.

    "Why don't they clone a couple of hot chicks -- like Marilyn Monroe?" Piazza wondered. "Why not? They could bring her back and teach her to sing, 'Happy Birthday, Mr. President,' recreate one of the great moments in American history."

    Ah, now we're talking. Upon further review, however, Piazza did come up with one good reason to start shopping for a new freezer for himself.

    "They could cryogenically preserve me," he said, "so I could throw out the first pitch at the new Shea Stadium."

    Bobbleheaders of the week
    In ballparks everywhere, they keep giving out those bobblehead dolls. So with the help of our bobblehead czar, David Hallstrom, we keep studying the effects of bobbleheadness on the human honorees:

  • June 26: On Jason Kendall bobblehead night in Pittsburgh, guess which Pirate gets the game-winning hit? Who else? Mr. Bobblehead himself.

    "I definitely wanted to get at least one hit in this game," Kendall told the Beaver County Times' John Perrotto. "I didn't want people to be throwing their bobbleheads at me. Those things are pretty heavy."


  • July 3: On Fernando Vina bobblead night in St. Louis, our hero du jour finds that being a bobblehead can cause a guy to take more abuse than the honor of the thing may have been worth.

    "I didn't know they made those things life-sized," assistant trainer Brad Henderson told Vina, whose stature isn't exactly Adam Dunn-esque.

    Duck call of the week
    Ah, but it isn't just bobbleheads we have to study these days. This is also the age of the Celebri-duck. And last Wednesday, the Yankees gave out 18,000 Jason Giambi ducks to the mallard fans who flew south to Yankee Stadium.

    "Hopefully," Giambi told the New York Post's Paul Schwartz, "I'll be floating in a lot of tubs."

    Throwbacks of the week
    You never know what uniform you'll see your local baseball team wearing here in this turn-back-the-pinstripes era we live in.

  • This weekend, for instance, a bunch of teams are wearing uniforms from their glory days in the '70s and '80s, as part of a Viagra promotion we're going to attempt, nobly, not to joke about. One of those teams is the Braves, who were feeling mighty frisky (sorry) as they donned their 1974 uniforms this weekend in Philadelphia.

    "Gnarly," Greg Maddux told the Atlanta Constitution's David O'Brien. "They made the old guys look young and the fat guys look skinnier."

    O'Brien then wondered if that review included hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who isn't in, shall we say, his prime playing shape.

    "Well," Maddux replied, "there are exceptions."

  • Meanwhile, in another recent promotion, the Tigers wore the baggy Negro League uniforms of the old Detroit Stars. And Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler noticed that one upshot of those uniforms was that pitching coach Steve McCatty never went to the mound all day. Manager Luis Pujols made all the trips.

    "I didn't send him out, because he looked like Babe Ruth." Pujols said.

    "If I'd had No. 3 on my back," McCatty retorted, "I'd have gone out."

    Injuries of the week

  • Runner-up: Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney missed a week with a back injury. And how did he get it? By riding in the back seat of a relative's truck -- because he wanted to let his mother sit in the front seat.

  • First prize: Mark Grace broke a toe just before the All-Star break, when he learned teammate Damian Miller had made the All-Star team and was walking across the clubhouse to congratulate him -- and somehow slammed into the couch. Grace knew this sounded dubious, but he swore to the Arizona press corps: "I'm telling you the truth. I wasn't riding a motorcycle or washing my car."

    Double play of the week
    You can watch about a billion baseball games and never see a double play like the one the Reds turned against the Astros last weekend. Reds catcher Corky Miller got credit for both putouts -- neither of them at the plate.

    Here's how it happened: First and third, no outs. Geoff Blum hit a ground ball to second base. Todd Walker threw home. So far, nothing too nuts.

    The runner on third, Brian Hunter, got hung up between third and the plate. Miller chased him back to third and tagged him out just before he reached the bag. Warning: nuttiness about to commence.

    Miller then looked up and found the runner who had been on first, Richard Hidalgo, sprinting right toward him in an attempt to get to third. So Miller sprung up and tagged out Hidalgo, too, literally a split second later.

    "He looked like a middle linebacker," Lance Berkman said of Miller. "He shook off one blocker and went to get the other out."

    "I'm not really sure what happened out there," said Astros manager Jimy Williams. "But I think we're going to have to practice."

    Wall banger of the week
    The Cubs and Marlins played baseball for 16 innings and five hours on July 12 at Wrigley Field. But the play that ended this marathon wiped out the memories of just about everything that came before it -- because it was the greatest catch of the year that wasn't made.


    With two outs and two on in the 16th, Roosevelt Brown hit a rocket to deep center field. Preston Wilson raced after it, knowing these were his choices:

    A) If he didn't catch it, his team was going to lose.
    B) If he did catch it, he was going to die -- because he was going to crash into a brick wall real hard.

    So Wilson caught it, in spectacular, Willie Mays-ish fashion. But then that brick wall he slammed into at Wrigley had other ideas. Wilson reeled backward and, just before he hit the ground, the ball slipped away, and ... Cubs win. Cubs win. Cubs win.

    It made the Marlins wonder if there was some way to retain the ambiance of Wrigley's brick and ivy -- while still keeping the outfielders out of intensive care if they made the irrational decision to try to catch a ball like that one.

    Mike Redmond told the Fort Lauderdael Sun Sentinel's Mike Berardino he'd like to see special padding out there -- that "looks like bricks with ivy growing out of it. ... Maybe I should invent that."

    Well, he'd better hurry, because as Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson observed, "That wall is tough. You run into that wall, and it will always win."

    Missing people of the week
    In case you missed the Charleston River Dogs' historic recent promotion -- the record-setting Nobody Night in which no fans entered the park until after the official attendance of zero was announced -- here are some of the highlights, according to the Charleston Post and Courier's Gene Sapaloff:

  • The River Dogs played this one 100 percent straight. They even launched the traditional tee-shirts into the stands in the second inning, even though no one was sitting in those stands.

  • The P.A. announcer, Atom Taler, announced lucky program numbers, even though no one was there to buy a program.

  • At another point, Taler announced: "Looks like it's wide open for our Best Seat in the House contest."

  • A local radio executive, Gil Kirkman, threw out the nightly first pitch. Of course, he had to do it from beyond the center-field fence.

  • And the between-innings music couldn't have been more perfect. Selections included "Nowhere Man" and "Lonely Boy."

    What? No "With or Without You?"

    Law man of the week
    It isn't every day you see the attorney general of the whole darned United States playing catch before a game -- with Sammy Sosa. But it happened Wednesday in Philadelphia, when John Ashcroft bolted out of a meeting with the president to hang with the Cubs.

    The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein reports that while Sosa and Ashcroft were playing catch, Ashcroft suggested that Sammy should let one fly instead of going easy on him.

    "I don't want to throw it too hard," Sosa replied. "You'll take me to jail."

    Box score line of the week
    Poor Mike Hampton. Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, he cranked out the ugliest pitching line of his career. At least he won a box-score line-of-the-week award for it:

    5 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR.

    If it makes him feel better, he's the eighth pitcher this year to give up 10 runs or more in a game -- and three of them have done it against the Diamondbacks.

    Comedians of the week
    Between Ted Williams and the All-Star Game, our friends, Jay Leno and David Letterman, have trained more ammo on baseball this month than they have on Dubya. The highlights:

    Top five Lettermanisms
    1. "Congratulations to George W. Bush. Last night the Supreme Court declared him the winner of last night's All-Star Game."

    2. "Ted Williams' son has shipped Ted's body off to be frozen to keep the DNA. This is a big controversy. Just today, Mike Piazza held a press conference to tell everyone he is not frozen."

    3. "Ted Williams' daughter wants to cremate him, and his son wants to freeze him. Bud Selig stepped in and declared it a tie -- and said they'd stuff him."

    4. "I get up in the morning, and I'm watching the Martha Stewart show, and she's showing you how to properly thaw Ted Williams."

    5. "The only other thing the Red Sox have on ice indefinitely besides Ted Williams is their bottle of World Series victory champagne."

    Top five Leno lines
    1. "President Bush awarded Hank Aaron the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week. For those of you who don't know, Hank Aaron is considered the greatest hitter ever who is not frozen."

    2. "Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is now five points behind Osama bin Laden in the popularity polls."

    3. "It was so hot ... people were claiming to be related to Ted Williams so they could have their heads frozen."

    4. "California's now in a Stage Two power alert. So please, if you're planning to freeze any Hall of Fame baseball players, wait until the off-peak hours."

    5. "The son of Ted Williams wants to freeze Ted's body to save his DNA. But the daughter says that is against Ted's wishes. The son wants to freeze him, the daughter wants to cremate him, and Anna Nicole Smith wants to marry him."

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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