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whither walter

re the reports of jocketty's imminent departure from st louis by peter gammons last night: i didn't hear anything new in what he said. the fact the gammons has lent his imprimatur to the rumor is new, but the substance of what he said --- the cards' front office is divided, jocketty sees the writing on the wall, he might bolt --- is the same thing that has been in circulation for more than a month. writing back on may 17 about the status of la russa and jocketty, bernie miklasz opined:

Jocketty's contract expires after 2008, and if La Russa wants to stay in St. Louis, it's hard to imagine that he would sign on without continuing his baseball partnership with Jocketty. So DeWitt also must commit to Jocketty. But DeWitt can't commit to people who might want to leave (my emphasis).
a day or two earlier, ken rosenthal had written: "Jocketty, who declined comment on the front-office dynamics, remains firmly in charge, sources say. A disappointing season, however, might accelerate change. Jocketty could even become pro-active and pursue another G.M. position . . . . " my guess is that gammons' take last night was based largely on miklasz's remarks in his column last sunday about jocketty's state of mind:
I received an e-mail recently from a Jocketty acquaintance, asking me why Walt seems so miserable. This is a familiar inquiry around Busch Stadium. What's wrong with Walt? Plenty. Despite rolling in money, ownership kept the payroll at roughly the same level as last year. Ranked sixth in payroll as recently as 2005, the Cardinals are 11th in spending in MLB, according to USA Today. Jocketty is limited. Last offseason, he was unable to do much about the starting-pitching concerns, which have evolved into a full-blown crisis. Jocketty is underpaid compared with other top GMs. And Jocketty has also witnessed the organizational rise of Jeff Luhnow, a hand-picked associate of Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt. And Luhnow's ascendancy has been at the expense of Jocketty loyalists. Jocketty's big moves -- signing Kip Wells and Adam Kennedy -- are busts. Wouldn't you be grumpy?
the last line of that column read: "I wonder: Is this what the end of an era looks like?"

i don't know where to fit jc corcoran into all this; he claimed to have inside info yesterday, but i didn't hear his remarks. he's got no track record with cardinal-related scoops, so i neither trust nor distrust him on this issue; it's just more noise that's out there. the fact that gammons is now talking about it makes the situation seem more real --- more urgent, more immediate --- but i don't think he has any new information. this is just another variation on an angle that has been in the ether since last september, when jock loyalist bruce manno got elbowed aside to make room for jeff luhnow. the post-dispatch team noted the significance of the front-office shuffle at that time, and they have continued to monitor the situation ever since --- and the situation has been evolving in a direction that makes jocketty's departure increasingly likely.

i think the world of jocketty. he's a class act, and he's got a very good presence --- steady, patient, level-headed. i respect the guy. his record, obviously, speaks for itself --- he has been one of the very best gms in baseball over the last decade. so if he does decide to leave, it'll be a sad day for the organization. but like everyone in this business, walt's got his strengths and his weaknesses. the game is changing rapidly, particularly in a gm's two main areas of influence --- economics and player evaluation. it might be that his way of doing business is less well-suited to the years ahead than it was to the years behind. his departure at the end of this season would create an enormous deal of uncertainty about the future; but if he stays for another year, there'll still be uncertainty --- it'd just be a different kind. we'd be asking: has walt lost his touch?

he has been the st louis gm for more than a decade; very few gms, even successful ones, last any longer than that in one job. whether he leaves after this year or stays through the end of his current contract, it looks almost certain at this point that jocketty's days in st louis are numbered.

* * * * * * * * *

big article in the post-dispatch this morning about rick ankiel. derrick goold had mentioned in his blog that the article was forthcoming, so i took advantage of the off-day yesterday to catalogue ankiel's 19 homers. i wanted to know: is he hitting them off legitimate big-league-type pitchers, or are they mostly coming against career minor-league bums? without further ado (stats are current-year PCL numbers, as of this morning):
date pitcher w-l era hr/9 mlb
april 10 phil humber 7-5 4.87 1.3 y
april 12 clint nageotte 1-1 10.38 2.6 y
april 14 alfredo simon 3-6 6.53 1.3 n
april 16 jon koronka 5-4 4.70 1.1 y
april 18 jon adkins 1-2 4.01 1.6 y
april 23 dewon brazelton 0-4 7.11 1.4 y
april 24 ben hendrickson 6-4 5.48 1.2 y
may 4 nic ungs 2-3 6.11 1.8 n
may 10 jonathan rouwenhorst 6-2 4.35 0.9 n
may 28 jared gothreaux 4-5 5.38 1.5 n
may 31 jalien peguero 3-2 1.69 1.1 y
june 7 chris george 5-5 4.26 0.9 n
june 8 jeff fulchino 5-2 6.04 1.2 y
june 10 chris young 0-1 3.96 1.1 n
june 15 ryan o'malley 3-7 7.29 2.1 y
june 16 jr mathes 6-4 5.33 1.2 n
june 16 rocky cherry 1-0 7.54 1.6 y
COMPOSITE 53-57 5.40 1.3 --

ankiel has homered off 17 different pitchers --- he hit two apiece vs mathes and gothreaux. 10 of those guys have appeared at least once on a major-league mound.

before you judge the list too harshly --- it's not very impressive, is it --- don't forget that the pcl is a hitters' league: of the league's 48 era qualifiers, only 8 have an era below 4.00. due to the changing nature of triple A, there aren't a whole lot of prospects in the league to begin with; it's mostly a big-league-depth circuit now, a randy keisler / edgar gonzalez / tagg bozied league. the majority of any hitter's at-bats are going to come against guys who are too old to be prospects (ie, they're at least 25) but still haven't stuck in the big leagues. accordingly, the majority of one's home runs are bound to come against journeymen of that type.

such is the case with ankiel. the only pitchers on the list who have much chance to last for any length of time as major-league pitchers are humber and koronka. perhaps peguero should also be on that list; i never heard of him until this morning. he put up good numbers at tucson, and he's currently pitching in the arizona diamondbacks' bullpen and holding his own. hendrickson and brazelton both have already had decent-sized big-league trials, which they failed (brazelton was sent back to double A not long ago); cherry spent about a month in the cubs' bullpen earlier this year and even threw a perfect inning against the cardinals the day josh hancock died.

so what's my point here? only that ankiel may still have a ways to go before he is able to do damage against major-league pitchers. when he's not taking the bulk of his at-bats against the jr matheses, alfredo simons, and nic ungs of the baseball world --- the guys who are getting knocked around at triple A --- his tremendous power may not assert itself sufficiently to overcome his lax strike-zone judgment. or maybe that should be the other way around: his lax strike-zone judgment may prevent the power from asserting itself against big-league pitching. you can post gaudy hr totals at triple a just by hitting mistake pitches, but the mistakes are fewer and farther between in the big leagues --- you've got to force them to come to you.

in the post-dispatch, ankiel says: "I want to go up there and stay there and play for years. I don't want this to be a novelty where people say, 'Wow, look, he made it back' and then I go away." if he's gonna avoid that, i think he's gotta learn to be more selective at the plate, draw a few more walks and get himself out slightly less often. let's hope ankiel makes the necessary adjustments.

p.s.: here's some vintage b/w film footage of stan musial playing baseball --- can't be sure, but i think the home run at the end of the clip was the walkoff clout that won the 1955 all-star game at county stadium in milwaukee. isn't that willie mays (#24) greeting him as he gets to home plate?

and here's a funny take on the steroid scandal.