When the Milwaukee Brewers have the winningest record in baseball and the best that the New York Yankees can do after a dismal April is fire their fitness coach, it's pretty apparent that we've been transported again into the sports version of the Bizarro World.
I'm not taking anything away from the Brewers, who have waited a long time to be the surprise team of the National League, but we did the Detroit Tigers thing last year and it really wasn't all that satisfying, so I was kind of hoping that this year's feel-good baseball story would involve scrappy little Sam Perlozzo and his merry band of misfits.
(Obviously, I spent one too many romantic Florida evenings dining out with Jim Hunter, because my early confidence in the new-look Orioles apparently was misplaced. Maybe next year, they'll sign four middle relievers who can also hit with runners in scoring position.)
Brewers fans, however, are understandably excited, even if it's still a bit early to start printing playoff tickets. The team is finding a different way to win every night, and the stat sheet says there still is a ton of unrealized potential on the roster, so they might be the real deal.
Notice that I only used the word "might." The Brewers have been down so long that they don't even remember where the bandwagon is parked, so it's probably fair to take a wait-and-see attitude toward their chances of staying atop the National League Central standings. I only brought them up to provide contrast for the struggling Yankees, who got pro-active Wednesday after famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews refused to give them a group rate on rotator cuff surgery.
The Yankees fired Marty Miller, whose title - believe it or not - was director of performance enhancement.
Now, this kind of low-profile front office transaction probably would not raise an eyebrow in any other city. The new fitness coach was brought in to reduce the number of game days lost to preventable injuries and got the opposite result, so it's no great surprise that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman looked at the number of big-ticket players on the disabled list and decided that things weren't working out in the "performance-enhancement" department. I'm guessing most Yankees fans didn't even know who Miller was until his dismissal hit the message boards.
I'm more surprised that the Yankees - at this sensitive juncture in baseball history - would actually call anyone on the payroll the director of performance enhancement, but I guess they're still one up on the New York Mets, who recently gave the game's performance-enhancement scandal its first inspiring Horatio Alger story: Only in America could a lowly Mets batboy grow up to become one of the steroid kingpins of the East Coast.
Miller was nowhere near the steroids scandal, but after Jason Giambi and recently departed outfielder-designated hitter Gary Sheffield made headlines in the BALCO investigation, you'd think the Yankees would do a better job of choosing their words.
They look particularly beleaguered because of their huge payroll and the marquee stature of some of their injured players, but they're not the only team with a banged-up pitching staff, as Orioles fans are well aware. The O's just put Jaret Wright on the DL with a sore shoulder for the second time, and the club currently is sweating out a medical report on emerging star Adam Loewen. The Toronto Blue Jays lost closer B.J. Ryan right out of the gate. There's plenty of injury angst to go around.
So, this probably isn't going to be the year of the great changing of the guard in the American League East, at least from a Baltimore perspective. The Yankees are in a major funk, but Mike Mussina has returned from the DL and there are more whispers about Roger Clemens coming out of retirement to join Moose and Chien-Ming Wang at the heart of a greatly rejuvenated starting rotation.
The only question is whether they'll let the Boston Red Sox get too far out in front for it to make any difference.
Either way, it won't make for a very satisfying season around here, though I'm just petty enough to take some consolation in the misfortune of others.
Maybe I dismissed the Brewers a little too soon. Any team that has a power hitter currently known as Prince and a sausage race every night can't be all bad.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.