Friday, January 18, 2008

Quick Hits

A couple of random notes that I'll expand on later:

The Rays locked up two of their best players from 2007.

Carlos Pena - 3 years $24.1 Million. $6 Million to be paid this year, $8 million next year and over $10 million in his final year. What are the chances of him being a Ray when he's owed $10 million? Probably about the same chances of him hitting 48 home runs next season.

Scott Kazmir - 1 year $3.78 million. Things aren't looking good for Kazmir remaining a long term Ray, but at least they avoided the ugly arbitration process.

Last but definitely not least... Big Mike is off the market. My buddy and occasional commentor is engaged. Details were not released.. but congrats to the happy couple!

A little history

I have a decent sized card collection. It’s not the largest or most valuable, but it is large enough to annoy my girlfriend. To help keep an ear to the ground on new releases I subscribe to Beckett Baseball Monthly. Beckett is considered by the industry as the holy bible of cards. If you price a card, most likely you price it based on the “Beckett Cost”.

For the past few years Beckett has been posting their yearly “Rookie Rolodex” It’s an issue devoted to players that the casual fan, heck even the somewhat intense baseball fan, have never heard of and will probably never hear of. In most of the player reviews they include a “best compared to”.

They usually compare the player to a well known major leaguer so that the reader has an idea of what the potential of the prospect will be. For instance Cubs prospect Darwin Barney is compared to David Eckstein and Mets pitcher Joe Smith is compared to Chad Braford. Sometimes it appears that they compare players to other prospects just for fun. For instance Giants catching prospect is compared to “Bryan Pena”. I had to look him up and I think they were referring to Braves catcher Brayan Pena. Whatever his name is I don’t think Giants fans are jumping up and down over the comparison.

I like to flip through and see which Rays prospects pop up and what Beckett things their future looks like. The Chosen One compares to Zach Minor and Aki is compared to Mark Tehan. However, the best comparison by far is for a former Rays newsmaker – Elijah Dukes. Beckett sees him as….drum roll, please…..Toe Nash.

Wow. Gregory Toe Nash. A name that hasn’t been uttered in these parts for years. In fact I would bet dollars to donuts that 75% of the people at the Trop on opening day this year wouldn’t know who Toe Nash is. How do I know? By listening to the outrage of fans by the antics of Mr. Dukes, himself.

The legend of Toe Nash would have you walking next to Rays scout Benny Latino, the two of you picking your way through the muggy sugar cane fields of Louisiana. You would walk out of the hot, sticky fields into a clearing. Grown men, weary from a day working the fields would be gathered round playing beer league baseball in the setting southern sun.

In the middle of the men would be a young, towering goliath stood. His 6 foot 6 frame was in the words of Peter Gammons, “cut like marble”. Like the mythical Roy Hobbs he was a dual threat. Capable of hitting home runs that disappeared into the cane stalks 400 feet away and then turning around to strike out men twice his age with an elusive 90mph fastball.

In your mind you can see Latino rushing to his car and driving into town to call scouting director Dan Jennings about the 18 year old freak in the fields. Crammed into a telephone booth outside of a diner and wiping his sweating brow with his fedora he tells Jennings that he just found the next great player in the middle of nowhere - Louisiana and they need to sign him before anyone else has a chance….ok I made that all up.

At least the part about Latino calling from a telephone booth. He probably called Jennings on his cell phone, but that just doesn’t seem as dramatic. Any who the story continues with Nash being brought to West Virginia for a work out at the Rays rookie ball complex. He wowed them with 20 home runs on 50 pitches or so. He threw the ball 95 miles an hour and ended up walking away with a $30,000 signing bonus. Throw in some more made for movie moments (country boy confused in an airport, roommate teaching him how to order pizza delivery) and it was quickly turning into the greatest story ever told.

All of a sudden Toe Nash was on the front page on the USA Today, movie and book deals were being discussed, hell even Oprah was interested. Let’s not even think about the fact that he hadn’t played a professional game yet. He was going to be a star. He was surrounded by stars. In his first game he was in an outfield with future All Star Carl Crawford and can’t miss prospect Josh Hamilton who had yet to derail his own career.

What a great story. Here was a young, barely educated (dropped out of high school) product of a single family home (his mother left when he was 12) who had a chance to be the next “Babe Ruth” – a quote that a hope Jenning’s family and co-workers make fun of him for. However, in these cynical times it couldn’t be true. And of course it wasn’t. To say Nash had issues is like saying that Hamilton has a couple of tattoos.

According to the St Pete times Nash managed to be arrested 5 times in one year (take that Chris Henry!) from February 2000 to February 2001. In that time charges ranged from misdemeanor marijuana possession to domestic violence (he beat up his 41 year old girlfriend). In 2001 he raised the ante with battery and a felony count of robbery. The Times article reports that “Nash and a friend beat a man, and while the victim was choking on his blood, stole money from his wallet.” In 2002 he added aggravated rape, aggravated crimes against nature (what?) and felony theft.

Kind of puts BJ Upton and Delmon Young’s transgressions to shame doesn’t it? Well, a lot of players have “off the field issues”. What about on the field? As far as I can see he only played 47 games – hitting .240 with 8 HRs and 47 RBI. Not exactly Ruthian.

Jennings stated at the time they were committed to Nash feeling that in the proper environment he could stay out of trouble. It wasn’t to be. The Rays finally let him go after he spent some time in jail. He surfaced briefly, signing a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds before being cut after violating his parole.

Not much can be found on the latest exploits of Gregory “Toe” Nash, but suffice it say it doesn’t appear his career is going to have the dramatic resurgence mirroring his one time outfield partner Josh Hamilton. However, I doubt Nationals fans are overjoyed to see his name in reference to Elijah Dukes.

So instead of becoming a real life Sidd Finch or Roy Hobbs he became the 21st century Steve Dalkowski. He was also the first of the Troubled Rays before there was Josh Hamilton and his heroin abuse or Delmon Young’s fantastically flying bat there was Toe.

Buried somewhere in a box I have a couple of cards that I’ll stumble across someday with is likeness on them. Likewise I guess someday we’ll stumble across another sad news story about the Sugar Cane slugger – Toe Nash.