Baseball Notes

If you want passion, start with this roster

By Nick Cafardo
June 5, 2011

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With Ozzie Guillen in town recently, we started to think about other passionate baseball people. Who are they? Passion is something you see, hear, or feel. There’s no number to measure it by.

So here is a look at 25 very passionate baseball people, based on this reporter’s observations, plus consultations with other writers, coaches, managers, scouts, and players:

1. Ozzie Guillen, manager, White Sox — As he said at Fenway Park last week, he is not “ignorant or crazy,’’ but he is passionate. He cares about everything regarding his team and about baseball a great deal. As journalists, we love his rants because they are genuine. And when he gets out of line, as he puts it, “I’m man enough to say I’m wrong.’’

2. Peter Gammons, NESN and MLB Network — Those of us fortunate enough to have been mentored by him know of his great knowledge, history, and love of the sport, but it’s his passion that is off the charts.

3. Bud Selig, commissioner — This isn’t just his business, it’s his life. Agree or disagree with him, his passion for baseball is unmitigated.

4. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox — “I’ve played for a lot of teams and with a lot of players,’’ said Mike Cameron. “Never seen anything like him.’’ I think we know what he means.

5. Artie Stewart, scout, Royals — He’s over 80 years old, but he doesn’t miss a pitch if he’s scouting a pro or a kid on a high school field. Bo Jackson, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, and Kevin Appier are among his signings.

6. Pat Gillick, special assistant, Phillies — What does a man with Hall of Fame credentials love to do these days? Scout amateur players. He’ll go anywhere, any time to find a player. Remarkable work ethic and love for what he does.

7. Jeff Cox, third base coach, White Sox — The game is his life. Never married and still living at home with his mother, he is one of the more upbeat people you’ll ever see. He walks through the clubhouse saying, “Push, push, gotta push,’’ to the players, meaning that he believes in an aggressive style of play. Considered a baseball savant.

8. Buck Showalter, manager, Orioles — Sees things no one else sees. Studies the game constantly. Goes home from games and will watch college or pro baseball on TV.

9. Mitch Lukevics, farm director, Rays — He never takes a day in baseball for granted. Celebrates the game every day. Look at his farm system, and you can see how that passion translates to the field.

10. Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees — When you’re undersized and your college coach tells you you’ve been cut but you hang around the team anyway and refuse to be cut, you know there’s some extra passion there somewhere. Has maximized his talent and loves everything about the life he leads.

11. Kevin Long, hitting coach, Yankees — Tireless and loves what he does. “He’ll help you break down your swing at 4 a.m. if you ask him,’’ said a former Yankee player.

12. Hunter Pence, OF, Astros — The little engine who could. Never stops. Plays “angry,’’ but the word should be “passionate.’’ As a rookie, he dived for a warmup throw between innings.

13. Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins — Completely selfless player who would play any position at a moment’s notice. He writes a weekly column for Fox Sports North that offers an inside look at the life of a ballplayer. He’s also doing a photo tour of American League ballparks and cities, including behind-the-scenes looks, with updates posted on Flickr.

14. Martin Prado, LF, Braves — Great passion for the preparation that goes into every day. Last one at the ballpark. Puts everything he has into it.

15. Jason Varitek, C, Red Sox — The preparation he does 24/7 — even when he’s not playing — is off the charts. You’ll never see another player with this work ethic. If it’s hard for Varitek to give up the uniform, it’s because of the passion that drives him.

16. Jeremy Kapstein, senior adviser, Red Sox — Whether as an agent, a CEO/president (Padres), or a senior adviser, as one Sox owner said recently, “Every bit of advice he’s offered, he’s been right about.’’ Kapstein has always studied the game, and his observations are dead-on. Tremendous ambassador for baseball.

17. Paul Ricciarini, scout, Astros — A man who would go anywhere to find a player. The Berkshires native and resident is one of the great talent evaluators the game has seen. Everyone seeks Ricciarini’s advice, whether you’re a writer, a front office executive, or a competing scout.

18. Allard Baird, assistant to the GM, Red Sox — Leaves no stone unturned to find a player. Probably the most valuable employee on Theo Epstein’s staff.

19. Jim Thome, DH, Twins — Plays the game with a smile. Every day seems to be a joy for him.

20. Bruce Bochy, manager, Giants — Constantly thinking of ways to optimize every aspect of his team. I ranked him No. 1 among managers in preseason. The reason is passion for what he does.

21. Jim Leyland, manager, Tigers — You don’t hang around this long for no reason. He lives it. He has passion for the players who develop under his watch.

22. Scott Boras, agent — He has a one-track mind when it comes to his players, giving them everything he has. Boras also has a great passion for baseball itself, which is often hidden in his pursuit of the best deal.

23. Tony La Russa, manager, Cardinals — Comes off as a tough guy, but don’t underestimate his passion for what he has done so long and so well.

24. Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays — The home run leader loves the life, takes care of his teammates, and loves stepping to the plate.

25. Dale Sveum, hitting coach, Brewers — We know him as a guy who had trouble sending runners from third base with the Red Sox. Eats, sleeps, and lives baseball. Great passion. Will be an excellent manager.

Plate collision hitting nerves While we all understand the emotional and physical distress Buster Posey and the Giants have experienced over the Scott Cousins-Posey collision that has felled the superb young catcher for the season, things are going too far when Cousins begins getting death threats.

It reached the point where Posey had to issue a statement on the matter yesterday.

“I appreciate the continued support of Giants fans and others as I begin the process of working my way back,’’ Posey said. “But in no way do I condone threats of any kind against Scott Cousins or his family.

“As I said last week, I’m not out to vilify Scott. I appreciate that he made the effort to reach out to me on the night of the play, but I was in no physical condition to talk to anyone.

“I have not been back with the team since that night, so I haven’t even been aware of any other messages he’s left for me. We all need to move on, so it isn’t necessary to have a conversation with him at this point.’’

This was after San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean ripped Cousins Thursday, saying the Giants will have a “long memory’’ of the play and that everyone will be happy if Cousins is through as a major leaguer.

Sabean also said on his radio show that Cousins’s hit was “malicious and unnecessary’’ and that the replays showed him veering to his left to hit Posey in a “premeditated’’ act.

“He chose to be a hero, in my mind,’’ Sabean said. “If that’s his flash of fame, that’s as good as it’s going to get, pal.’’

Cousins’s agent, Matt Sosnick, then told the San Francisco Chronicle that the hit was neither intentional nor malicious, just part of the game.

Sabean then sought out Cousins to soften his remarks.

The most constructive comments have come from Giants manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, who has sought out MLB field operations manager Joe Torre to discuss ways to protect the catcher.

Bochy wants runners to be called out and punished for hitting a catcher in fair territory.

“I compare it almost to a fair catch in football,’’ he said. “The guy is defenseless.’’

Switch hurt Matsuzaka What happened with the Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka? If I were John Henry, I’d expect a much better pitcher for $103 million.

Some believe the Sox tried to “Americanize’’ him too much and should have allowed him to pitch on his own terms. That was a view expressed by ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine in this space a few weeks back.

Valentine, who managed Chiba Lotte for six seasons when Matsuzaka was the prominent pitcher in Japan, tried to temper the exuberance about Matsuzaka when the Sox signed him. He knew Matsuzaka was a good pitcher, but he also knew the adaptation from Japan to Boston was not without peril.

The Sox cut back his pitch count and were hung up on him not getting deep into counts, but that’s precisely the way he pitched in Japan — successfully.

Valentine said he never had a pitcher with an arm injury in Japan because they were allowed to throw a lot and build up arm strength. Here, they’re told to limit their activity.

At one point, the Sox decided that Matsuzaka would not throw his long toss on the same day as his side session. Too much, they said. He no longer threw 200-pitch bullpens, either.

Did Matsuzaka blow out his elbow because he had so much wear and tear or because he wasn’t able to strengthen it by throwing more? Orthopedists in the States will say he threw too much. In Japan, they’ll say he didn’t throw enough. The old-timers will bring up Luis Tiant and Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, guys who threw a lot of pitches.

Valentine said if he had managed Matsuzaka, he would have left him alone and allowed him to pitch and prepare just as he did in Japan.

Matsuzaka has been tough to deal with, keeps to himself, and very rarely attempts to integrate with his teammates. It was never a good fit. The lesson seems to be that if you’re going to invest in a Japanese pitcher, let him do what made him successful.

Apropos of nothing 1. Can you imagine Thurman Munson’s reaction if someone had told him not to block the plate?; 2. Ken Harrelson is absolutely right: There should be a statue of Yaz at Fenway; 3. Feedback from recent column about having less noise at major league games: almost 100 percent in favor; 4. Will Jorge Posada, one of the more competitive players of his era, walk away before the Yankees make the decision for him?; 5. At the one-third point of the 2010 season, the Indians were 21-33. This year, they were 33-21.

Updates on nine 1. Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Orioles — A couple of National League teams are already evaluating him as a trade-deadline pickup. The issue: How much of a liability would he be in the field? Is he a player you could “hide’’ out there just to take advantage of his bat? Heck, the Cardinals put Lance Berkman in right and it hasn’t been so bad.

2. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets — Said an NL talent evaluator, “A contending team is going to get Beltran at the trading deadline, and they’re going to be very happy with him. He can still hit. He can be an emotional guy, but put him in a place where it counts, and he’ll produce for you.’’ Boston? He was on the wish list before the Sox signed Carl Crawford, and with J.D. Drew really struggling, this is not far-fetched. Beltran is hitting .287 with 9 homers and 33 RBIs; six of his homers were hit righthanded.

3. Jason Marquis, RHP, Nationals — The Nationals would make him available, but only if they get good young talent back. Would they take Josh Reddick for him? Probably, but the Sox seem content right now going with Tim Wakefield in the No. 5 spot, with Alfredo Aceves there for depth.

4. Joakim Soria, RHP, Royals — Throughout their rebuilding, the Royals have never made him available. Would they consider dealing him now that he has lost his closer’s job? The Kansas City people I speak to say no. The Royals are starting to stretch him out (he threw two innings Thursday) in an effort to get his command back.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Rockies — We’re not seeing the Carlos Gonzalez of last season, when he won the batting crown with a .336 average to go with 34 homers and 117 RBIs. He was at .259 with 8 homers and 34 RBIs entering yesterday. What gives? “He hasn’t adjusted to how they’re pitching him,’’ said Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford. “They’re not going to throw him 2-and-0 or 3-and-1 fastballs. That’s called respect. When he starts making that adjustment, he’ll get back on track.’’ Gonzalez excelled under Don Baylor, who is now in Arizona.

6. Russell Branyan, 1B, Angels — The Angels were hoping to get an infusion of power when they picked up the Diamondbacks discard. And while that may still happen, Branyan started 2 for 20 with two singles and nine strikeouts.

7. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Angels — More evidence that the Rays know when the time is right to dump someone. In two rehab starts at Salt Lake City, Kazmir allowed 16 runs in four innings (36.00 ERA). His 30-day stint ends June 22.

8. Brandon Webb, RHP, Rangers — To all the theories that modern sports medicine can bring pitchers back from just about anything, we submit the 2006 NL Cy Young winner. Webb has pitched four innings in the majors since 2008. The Rangers took a chance and signed him in the offseason, but just when it seemed he was on the verge of something, he was shut down until the All-Star break with more shoulder soreness.

9. David Wright, 3B, Mets — It came out last week that the $16 million 2013 option on Wright’s contract is Mets-specific, so if a team deals for him, it doesn’t have to worry about that. A lot has been said about the 28-year-old Wright going somewhere that’s more friendly to righthanded hitters. But at Citi Field, Wright is hitting .288 with 21 homers, 86 RBIs, and a .854 OPS. His away numbers are .302, 27, 106, and .893.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “When David Ortiz hit his 13th homer of the season, it gave him 362 in his career, one more than Joe DiMaggio. Big Papi has 32 in his career against the Yankees, while DiMaggio hit 46 against Boston.’’ Also, “Who had more RBIs in May — the Braves’ Jason Heyward or the Globe’s Nick Cafardo? It was a tie. Nick had none in zero at-bats, while Heyward had none in 41 at-bats.’’ . . . The Sports Museum’s 10th Legacy Dinner will be June 28 at TD Garden. For tickets, call 617-624-1237 or go to Mike Lowell is the baseball honoree, along with Larry Bird, Micky Ward, Ty Law, Willie O’Ree, and Bobbi Gibb . . . Belated happy birthdays (yesterday) to Cla Meredith (28), J.C. Romero (35), Tony Pena (54), and Doug Griffin (64).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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