Attentive baseball fans caught a small but important note in the records of baseball transactions taking place this month. Hidden in the lines? Oakland Athletics trade catcher Jason Kendall to the Chicago Cubs for catcher Rob Bowen and minor league pitcher Jerry Blevins.
Did you see the white flag slowly rising above McAfee Coliseum, the A's home since moving from Kansas City after the 1967 season? Because when esteemed Oakland General Manager Billy Beane deals off a veteran in exchange for baseball's version of two bags of oats, it's an announcement: Goodbye season, hello next year.
And despite Kendall's poor performance at the plate this season, pitchers call him one of the best pitch-selection strategists in the game-just the sort of guy Chicago wants in its locker room as the Cubs try to make it to the top of their division.
So sitting a dozen games out of first place in the American League West when the minor trade hit the papers, Beane made a decision that nearly half the league's general managers will have to make: Should we use the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to improve the club for next year or go for a playoff push this season?
That question rings hollow for some general managers. First-place squads like Boston, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee are in. Cellar dwellers like Tampa Bay, Texas, and Washington are out. Perhaps the toughest task for baseball general managers is the pretender or contender self-diagnosis.
And perhaps no one is better at that than Beane. For years, Beane's A's have mounted second-half surges to claim division titles or wild card playoff berths. But not this year.
BASEBALL: In a recent interview, Giants slugger Barry Bonds had a lot of cross words, but this time they weren't directed at the media. Barry turned the wrath on himself. In an expletive-laced tirade, Bonds called himself an "embarrassment," not for his admitted steroid usage, but for his recent slump that stalled his approach toward Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. As of July 17, Bonds still needed four dingers to tie Bad Henry's record.
NFL: Here's another tough decision for new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: A federal grand jury indicted NFL icon Michael Vick on charges related to illegal dogfighting. Authorities say the Atlanta quarterback helped set up an illegal dogfighting ring in 2001. If convicted, Vick could face up to six years in prison and fines. In his first months as commissioner, Goodell cracked down on poor off-field behavior-even suspending players who had not yet been convicted of crimes. Vick, though, would by far be the biggest name to run afoul of the new NFL boss.
NBA: More bad news for the Milwaukee Bucks: The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that top draft pick Yi Jianlian will definitely not play for the Bucks. Despite the Chinese forward's refusal to work out for Milwaukee before the draft and hints that he would not consent to play there, the Bucks selected him with the sixth overall pick. Now the Bucks are scrambling to change Yi's mind or to find a way to trade him.