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Ron Artest's PR Nightmare

A week ago last Thursday, fellow Royals blogger John Barten from 'Till You're Blue in the Face commented on Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest's desire to take time off from basketball to work on promoting his rap album. John wrote, in part, the following:
Ron Artest does a couple of stupid things every year. The team knows that. Management knows that. The fans know that. Artest knows that. He'll lose some games through suspension each year. He's still worth the hassle though, and the people who say they would trade him are the same idiots who say they would rather field a team of scrappy clubhouse veterans like Bo Hart and Super Joe McEwing than have a moody, high maintenance superstar like Manny Ramirez or Terrell Owens.
At the time John wrote that paragraph, I couldn't have agreed more with him. Professional sports teams should be willing to put up with a star player's problems and moodiness, if only because the player's production usually outweighs any nonsensical behavior he may display. The Red Sox put up with Manny Ramirez not running out a ground ball to the second baseman because of his value to the club, just as the Chicago Bulls dealt with Dennis Rodman's regular on-court misconduct because he was one of the best rebounders in NBA history. But at a certain point, a player's behavior can cross a line that sends a message to the front office that he just isn't worth it anymore. And when Artest jumped into the crowd on Friday night and started beating up on anybody and everybody wearing Detroit Pistons gear, he may have crossed that line.

Thankfully, the NBA came down hard and swiftly on Artest, suspending him for the remainder of the season, and the others involved for part of the season. After I saw a replay of the altercation early Saturday morning, the very first thing that popped into my mind was the possibility that the NBA wouldn't do anything more than slap the players on the wrist like they've done in the past. $10,000 is a lot of money to 90 percent of the people in the United States, but to an NBAer making $10 million a season, that amount is pocket change. Artest's suspension without pay, which adds up to 73 games, is going to cost him millions and millions of dollars, as it should. I don't think Artest deserved to be suspended for more than twice as long as Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O'Neal (25 games) were, but the message was going to be sent.

It's entirely possible that we may never see Artest in a Pacers uniform again if the team can find a taker, but finding that taker is going to be an incredibly difficult task. He's never been a man of character to any degree, has been suspended and fined multiple times by the league, so this fracas that broke out in Detroit might be the last straw for any team that had considered trading for him in the past. In fairness to Artest, however, people are known to change when they mess up badly and have lots of time to think over their actions. I think there's a good chance he'll return next season with an improved mindset and thicker skin, if only because he'll know that David Stern's watching him like a hawk.

Stuff from the Arizona Fall League ...

>>If there's one thing that unites all the people who have ever played professional baseball, it's that they got to live a dream most people never even sniff and that along the way, one defining moment of their careers happened, a moment they'll never forget. Donnie Murphy, a second baseman prospect in the Royals pipeline, hit the biggest home run of his life on Saturday when he blasted an opposite-field grand slam that eventually proved to be the winning runs in the Arizona Fall League championship game. Murphy didn't have very much success for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, hitting .214/.299/.393 in 84 at-bats, but that homer is one he's never going to forget. At 20, there's still tons of time for him to create more memories for himself (and for Royals fans too), but a lot of good players never hit a game-winning home run, much less a grand slam to win a championship.

>>Every year, a relatively obscure prospect changes some minds in front offices with a surprisingly-good performance in Puerto Rico or in another winter ball environment. Oakland's Huston Street was the talk of the AFL after he thoroughly dominated opposing hitters with a 0.98 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. Street walked only two and struck out 19 while displaying a mid-90s fastball, which will probably allow him the opportunity to compete for a job in the Athletics' bullpen next spring. However, his performance overshadowed another reliever's good work, San Diego's Brad Baker. Remember him? If you don't, he was one of Boston's top pitching prospects before being traded to the Padres two years ago for Alan Embree.

The trade turned out to be quite the deal for Padres GM Kevin Towers, even though after the trade, Baker suffered through a period where his velocity disappeared and he struggled for the rest of the 2002 season. A move to the bullpen proved to cure what ailed him, however, as Baker's done this since 2003:

IPHKBBERA
162.1123217782.94


Add in his 11 inning, three walk, 14 strikeout AFL, and the Pads have a guy who can capably replace Trevor Hoffman as the closer whenever he chooses to hang 'em up. He's clearly ready for the big time. Baker's the finest 23-year-old pitching star nobody's ever heard of, and Hell's Bells will continue to play in San Diego in the ninth inning for years to come.
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