Tony La Russa had plenty of quirks when it came to giving interviews, but one of his most maddening, from a reporter's perspective, was his unwillingness to single out individuals for praise. La Russa contended that if he talked up one player, it would be wrongfully misconstrued as speaking ill of another.
It's fair to say that I now have some small idea of how La Russa felt. Soon after noting five compelling storylines to follow as baseball enters its final month, the disagreements began. In the comments below the story and on Twitter, people expressed their disappointment at one story or another being excluded.
Well, as is so often the case, the customer in this case was right. There were at least five more stories worth following and worth mentioning. And here they are -- every one of them at least partly inspired by a comment or tweet.
The Rise Of The Cubs
If you like being that person who saw the band before they made it big, back when they were playing clubs, check out the Cubs this summer. They have "next big thing" written all over them.
Sure, nobody really knows what the starting rotation of the next good Cubs team is going to look like, but the lineup? Yeah, we have a pretty good idea on that one.
It's going to include Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and most likely Starlin Castro in the infield, and Jorge Soler in the outfield. Kris Bryant hasn't arrived yet, and neither has Addison Russell, but there's palpable excitement around the Cubs.
These young players aren't just talented and skilled, they're exciting. Baez's bat speed is sensational. Rizzo plays like a Joey Votto in the making. They're going to get better, and you can already see how. Catch them now, so you can have that T-shirt from the very first tour.
Chasing Glory In Charm City
The last time the Orioles won a division title, Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes were hard-throwing young bullpen workhorses. It was 1997, and the O's rotation included Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key.
Seventeen years later, Baltimore is on the cusp of winning the American League East again, and it's absolutely amazing how the Orioles are doing it. They're missing an All-Star two-way catcher in Matt Wieters and an All-Star two-way third baseman in Manny Machado. Their enormous pitching investment, Ubaldo Jimenez, has been banished to the bullpen.
And they aren't just winning the AL East. They're running away with it. Baltimore has the biggest division lead in baseball, 8 1/2 games as of Monday night, and the second-best record in the Majors. Two years ago, the Orioles got some heat for winning with smoke and mirrors. This time around, they're just good, and it's going to be quite a celebration when and if they finish off the division title.
Baseball's Best Rivalry, Pacific Time Zone Edition
They'll argue in St. Louis and Chicago, and they'll argue in Boston and New York. But west of the Central Time Zone, there's no bigger or better rivalry than the Giants and the Dodgers. And it's shaping up to be a fantastic race between two teams that do not like each other one bit.
Early in the year, it appeared the Giants might roll to the title. Then things turned, and Los Angeles threatened to do the same. Now they're neck-and-neck, with six head-to-head meetings still ahead on the schedule. The only thing better than pennant-race baseball is pennant-race baseball with a side of bitter rivalry.
Pass the popcorn.
Really, all you need to know is Mike Trout is playing in a pennant race, but there's much more to it than that. The Angels have become a dominant team behind an offense led by Trout, quality starting pitching, and a strong defense.
They're one of the most entertaining teams to watch, and they're threatening to turn a compelling AL West race into a runaway. And that's before we even mention Albert Pujols, enjoying a bounceback year at 34.
They hit, they pitch, they catch, and they're finally fulfilling two-plus years worth of potential. What's not to like?
More swan songs
Derek Jeter isn't the only star who's hanging it up this year. Quietly, Paul Konerko has put together a fantastic career, with six All-Star selections, 439 home runs, and a World Series ring. He finishes up as one of the all-time White Sox greats.
Meanwhile, Adam Dunn was often underappreciated, a power source with on-base skills for many years. He's also calling it a career at the end of the year, and it appears he's finally going to appear in the postseason for the first time.
Others who could conceivably play their last games in 2014 include Josh Beckett and Jason Giambi. They won't all get the huge fanfare, but the next month provides the final chance to watch some players who enjoyed outstanding careers.