Friday, May 19, 2006

Mackowiak does rhyme with Stahoviak. I hope that didn't scare the Twins away.

Who knows what the difference is between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox? Come on, this is easy... there are so many correct answers! I'm looking for something beyond the obvious, though.

I don't want to hear, "The White Sox have five consistent, often spectacular starting pitchers, including two bona fide aces (Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras), two more who would easily be the default aces on nearly half of the pitching staffs in the league (Freddy Garcia and Javier Vasquez), and their fifth starter (Jon Garland) was an All Star and 18 game winner last year. The Twins? Well, Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball. After that? Brad Radke is having the worst season of his career. Carlos Silva is demoted to mop-up bullpen duty. Kyle Lohse is making 3.5 million in Triple-A. After Santana and Radke, the once feared Twins rotation is now rounded out by three rookies."

Nor do I want to hear, "The White Sox have two guys in the lineup (Paul Konerko and Jim Thome) who, barring injury, will easily hit over 40 homeruns this year and who each have a legitimate shot at 50. They have two more (Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede) who have a pretty good shot at clearing 30 homers. The ninth hitter in their batting order (Juan Uribe) has averaged 19 homeruns and 72 RBI over the past two seasons. The Twins? Well, it's looking like either Justin Morneau or Torii Hunter might become the first Twin since 1987 to have a 30 homerun season (by far the longest such drought in the major leagues)."

And I definitely don't want to hear, "The White Sox are simply made up of guys who know how to win. They have real leaders like A.J. Pierzynski who play the game hard and send a message to the opponents that they have no fear, they are here to win. And that's something the Twins have lacked since they had... uh... A.J. Pierzynski."

Those are fine and safe answers. They are all correct answers. But how 'bout this answer?

Rob Mackowiak.

Mackowiak will more than likely never be a star - hell, he's not even an everyday player for the White Sox - but he has been a solid ballplayer since he first came up to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001. He generated headlines nearly two years ago, on May 28, 2004, when he had quite possibly the most remarkable combined on-field and off-field day in baseball history. Just hours after the birth of his first child, Mackowiak ended the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs with a walk-off grand slam. Not quite satisfied, he hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in the second game of the doubleheader and the Pirates eventually won the game in extra innings. To recap: a newborn son, a game-ending bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam, a game-tying bottom-of-the-ninth homerun and two wins for his team. That, my friends, is a full day's work. (For an encore, Mackowiak hit yet another homerun the following day, driving in a career high five runs while still wearing his hospital wrist band.)

So while I knew who Rob Mackowiak was before May 28, 2004, that was the day when he really caught my eye and since then he's just been one of those players who I've continued to follow. Last year, one of my fantasy baseball leagues was a National League only league, meaning teams could be composed only from players on NL teams. Craving his versatility, I tried all season to pry him from his owner (an indie-rock has-been who eventually beat me by a half of a point for the league championship) to no avail.

This past offseason, during the "Hot Stove League," I figured there was a chance the Pirates would trade Mackowiak. Eligible for salary arbitration, he was due a nice raise and it made sense for the Pirates to unload him for a prospect or two. Being a Twins fan, I naturally thought to myself, "You know who I'd really like to see in a Twins uniform? Rob Mackowiak." I had not heard any rumors about him and have no idea to this day if the Twins were ever even interested in acquiring Mackowiak, but I was pretty bummed out on December 13 when I saw Mackowiak had been traded to the White Sox, straight up, for Damaso Marte. First thought: "Where's he going to play for the White Sox? They already have set starters at every position." Second thought: "Even up for Damaso Marte? Really? Marte's an okay pitcher, but he's a 31 year old middle reliever who seems to be about three years past his prime. That trade might make sense for a contender, but these are the Pirates. They couldn't even get a mid-level prospect for Robby?" Which begs the question, could the Twins have acquired Mackowiak for somebody like J.D. Durbin? Would the Twins have even made that trade? It would have made perfect sense to me.

Rob Mackowiak's value in in his versatility. Coming into this season, his first for the White Sox, he has played in 232 major league games in right field, 167 at third base, 110 in center field, 59 at second base, 46 in left field, and 5 at first base. He has also proven himself to be a pretty decent every-day player. In his three full major league seasons with the Pirates (2002, 2004-05), Mackowiak averaged 144 games played, 14 homeruns, 60 RBI, and 10 stolen bases a year. (To be fair, he did spend half of 2003 in the minor leagues after getting off to a very slow start, but was recalled later in the season and managed to hit .270 with six homers for the year.) Again, not star numbers, but plug them into the Twins current lineup and I guarantee you he would be hitting in the middle of the batting order.

And this is the difference between the Twins and the White Sox in 2006. Rob Mackowiak is a bench player on the White Sox. A utility guy. He has played nearly every day for the last three-plus seasons of his career, and now he's getting about two starts a week. I haven't heard anything about him ruffling any feathers on the south side, though. No complaints about a lack of playing time. That makes sense to me, though. Rob Mackowiak is a team player and a consumate professional. And now, for the first time in his big league career, he's playing for a winning team.

Meanwhile, the Twins are left with Nick Punto and Luis Rodriguez as left-handed options off the bench and Tony Batista at third base.


At 3:40 PM, Blogger Maria said...

Yeah! (Also, I love you!)

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Franklin said...

What do you think of Boof?

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I like Boof. He reminds me of Nick Ryan.


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