Bringing Greektown to Cooperstown and Goodwill to Boystown

Woe is the Greeks. They have a mythology seemingly based on the gods’ series of one night stands (all those father-less children destined to perish in misguided quests just to get their father’s attention), they have had their greatest ruler defiled by Oliver Stone in the movie Alexander (a movie with Angelina Jolie and Rosario Dawson clad in revealing robes, yet the most intimate moments are between Colin Farrell and Jared Leto), they have endured an unwarranted attempt to turn My Big Fat Greek Wedding (which resurrected Joey Fatone’s career) into a television series, My Big Fat Greek Life, (and Fatone’s career began its downward spiral once again), and, frankly, have been nothing but bad for the beautiful game of baseball.

Yes, the Greeks greatest claim to fame in this American game has been Billy Sianis and Al Campanis. Sianas famously brought the Chicago Cubs to their knees, where they have made a killing financially, by cursing the team after being forced to leave Game Four of the 1945 World Series. He could not fathom the fans displeasure of sitting near the stench of a wet goat and began the team’s now century-plus long demise.

Campanis played a little major league ball with Jackie Robinson and ended his stellar baseball career as an executive with the Los Angeles Dodgers by making comments on Nightline in 1987 asserting that African-Americans could not be managers on the field or as executives because they did not have the mental necessities.

Yes, the Greeks seemed to be cursed in this sport. With few players giving them any recognizable baseball lineage it seems weird that the Greeks even had a team in the World Baseball Classic. Their only real chance to get into Cooperstown has been a memorial to Harry Agganis, the “Golden Greek,” whose promising career with the Boston Red Sox in the ‘50s was cut short after one season thanks to a massive pulmonary embolism.

There is hope though. Buried in the American League East behind the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees, and the Red Sox, is a Baltimore Orioles team starring Nick Markakis. The 25-year-old right fielder just signed a six-year, $66.1 million extension this winter. He is the only real exciting talent on the team, a player with the potential to hit 300, smash 20 home runs, drive in 100 RBI, and potentially end the curse of the Greeks.

As a Chicagoan, I believe that this young player holds the key to the end of the Curse of the Billy Goat as well. Everything else has failed. Bringing goats onto the field on Opening Day in 1984 and 1989 only took the team so far (division winners). The mutilation of the herding animal has only hindered the team in the end (swept in the first round of the 2007 playoffs when they had the talent to go much further). Billy’s relatives have been unable to lift the scent of ultimate defeat from the franchise. This though, the success of this player, might be the key to end the Cubs MLB tragedy.

The end of this struggle would not be a Herculean task embarked on just by Markakis, who really has no direct relationship with the team. There is an important relationship between the Orioles and the Cubs though. The Orioles general manager is former Cubs’ GM Andy MacPhail, the man who chose to award Markakis with the $66 million contract instead of haggling with him in arbitration.

When MacPhail was in Chicago he was absolutely enamored with Felix Pie, an outfield prospect with tons of talent. He would have been glad to let him be betrothed to a hot granddaughter because he believed Pie was the future of the organization. This summer the Cubs sent Pie, who had done very little for the organization, to the Orioles for pitchers that will never make it beyond Double-A ball. By giving MacPhail his favorite prospect for a couple of players who will most likely amount to nothing but placeholders until the MLB draft, the Cubs have given a sacrifice of talent to man close to Markakis.

Given the extreme penchant for curses and forgiveness in Greek culture, when Markakis gives his proud culture something to cheer about and all the ill will born by the generations of Greek ball players and fans is reconciled, there will plenty of good will to go along.

The Cubs hope to be first in line for such good graces because they gave a gift, Felix Pie, to the man, Andy MacPhail, who gave the great Greek hope the lucrative contract. Simply by being two degrees separated from the ball player they can hope that the one degree of separation between the franchise and the curse of an angry Greek tavern owner can be nullified or overridden by the graces of the Greek gods above.

So, Cubs fans, Orioles fans, and devoted Greek sports fans rejoice. All your curses and your years of mediocrity may soon be over. Playing MLB has made a Greek-American with tons of potential rich, Markakis has given the city of Baltimore a reason to go to Camden Yard other than being one of the best ballparks in the league, and convoluted reasoning that only a Chicago sports fan can fabricate has given the Cubs hope…for the third year in a row.

MLB Tickets

The AL East Is the Place To Be This Summer

So I am writing the 2009 MLB Season Previews. I know it might be a little early, but apart from the always entertaining Manny Ramirez sweepstakes that apparently nobody is buying into, many of the major pieces are already in place. Yes a few worthy pitchers are left and a few good bats are there, so maybe we can call this an early, early season preview.

Anyway, I have made my way through the American League East and Central. I am thoroughly unimpressed with the Central. It looks like the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins will fight for the top spot again. Cleveland could contend, but after last season’s debacle I do not want to go out on a limb. Kansas City actually has a shot at getting to .500, but history is not on their side. Kind of like pitching is not on the Tigers side.

The American League East looks like the Central last year. I hope this is not as huge as a bust. I mean the New York Yankees are looking to kick off the inaugural season at New Yankee Stadium with a team loaded with the new stars. Mark Teixeira , C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett are the new faces that could end the glee in Boston.

Meanwhile over in Bostonia the Red Sox tickets should not come with any doubt. This is a team that got rid of the aforementioned Manny Ramirez. Sure, Ramirez single-handedly took the Dodgers from NL West wannabes to West champions. He can jumpstart an offense, but he can also drag down a locker room, which is exactly what he was doing in Boston. They survived the talent fallout and entered the playoffs as the wild card. Not bad.

The team is largely intact. The pitching is still there. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and now Brad Penny give the team enough talent on the mound to handle just about any lineup. The Red Sox still have David Ortiz. The also have a seeming replacement for Ramirez in Kevin Youkilis and an MVP in Dustin Pedroia. The playoff team is still there and this time they could take the top spot from last years champions.

I do not know if the Tampa Bay Rays are going to stick around at the top of the pack. Will they pull a White Sox move and disappear the next year. The hitters could stand to make a little more contact, but the speed on the base paths (B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford) and the rally players (Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena). I think that the real decider of the Rays fate is in the hands of Akinori Iwamura. Iwamura led the team in hitting with a .274 average. He also seemed to come up with the right hits at the right time. If his average dips below .250 then I think Tampa can count out another potential postseason surprise.

The pitching is there too. James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine are quality starters that need to have a tremendous year. Also, the team has a new closer in Dan Wheeler. Wheeler was a very good setup man, but Troy Percival is gone now and the close games lay in his right hand.

Those are the top three that everyone knows about. The bottom two, the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays, are far from bottom feeders. Orioles tickets may have been a huge bust last season at Oriole Park at Camden Yard. The team has the mid-level veteran talent to win 80 games if they can come up with some chemistry. Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff bring power and contact to the plate.

Pitching could be a problem. Jeremy Guthrie is the only solid starters. The rest are young and could have an incredible break through seasons. George Sherrill is a rare lefty closer who has a good save percentage, but an awful ERA. If the staff can hold teams to a few runs less per game, they could be more than a few guaranteed wins for the rest of the tough competition.

The Toronto Blue Jays are my favorite dark horse so far. The staff lost A.J. Burnett to the Yanks, but the Blue Jays season is far from over. Roy Halladay is still a Hall of Fame class pitcher. Jesse Litsch is a good replacement for Burnett as the number two in the rotation. Having two bullpen guys step up as starters could deplete the bullpen and ruin games late. Dustin McGowan is a real starting pitcher, but the Blue Jays could use a pitcher from the free agent list to solidify the rotation.

The bats were quiet last year, but Vernon Wells was injured and never really got the team back on track. Lyle Overbay and Alex Rios are far from heavy hitters, but they can be dangerous as Wells supporting cast.

I think if there is any division to buy MLB tickets for, it is the American League East.