Despite a long history of wearing out welcomes almost as quickly as he turns on a fastball, “Gary Sheffield’s harsh comments about a potential trade apparently haven’t dissuaded teams from inquiring about the Yankees slugger.” writes the New York Daily News’ Sam Borden.

The Astros and Indians, according to sources, recently have made it known they would be interested in landing Sheffield despite his assertions that he wouldn’t be pleased about getting dealt somewhere new for only one year.

The Astros are in the market for a power-hitting outfielder and are expected to bid on free agent Carlos Lee, though that could get very expensive; since Sheffield is under contract for only one more year, he is a more attractive financial commitment for a team that isn’t able to afford Lee or the other big free-agent slugger, Alfonso Soriano.

Other teams expected to be interested in Sheffield include the Orioles and Angels. It’s unlikely that the Yankees will be able to land a top-level player or prospect for Sheffield, but some executives believe they could land an established major leaguer (perhaps a reliever) or a mid-tier prospect.

Righthander Joe Niekro, winner of 221 career games (144 of ’em with Houston, an Astros club record) passed away yesterday at the age of 61. Rastronomicals of The Crawford Boxes looks back on Niekro’s career, emery board aside.

Despite being Phil’s younger brother, Joe didn’t come up as a knuckleball pitcher, relying instead on a fastball/slider mix that kept him bouncing around the majors until the Astros purchased him from the Braves in early April of 1975. The Astros at first sent him to their AAA Iowa affiliate, but had recalled him by May 5, and he spent the rest of the year with Houston, pitching mostly in relief but making a few starts toward the end of the year.

During this time, Niekro was developing his knuckleball, and Rob Neyer and Bill James in their Guide to Pitchers tell us that he had perfected it by 1978, after which the numbers took a sharp turn for the better.

He led the NL in wins in 1979, going 21 – 11, and was named The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year after the season. The Cy Young voters voted him second to Bruce Sutter.

In 1980, Niekro became the first Astro to win 20 games in back-to-back years, and it would be 25 years before Roy Oswalt duplicated his feat.

Still, even during this period of heightened success, Niekro never threw 100% knuckleballs. He continued to feature his slider and his fastball with an occasional curve until the end of his career.

“What ever happened to loyalty?” wonders The Eddie Kranepool Society’s Steve Keane, whose personal code of baseball etiquette has been violated by Wevie Stonder II and a former Mets great alike.

Jared Weaver is employed by the Anaheim Angels and if I were Arte Moreno the owner or Mike Scioscia and Bill Stoneman and I saw him all Birded up last night I would be hitting him up on his cell phone to give him a piece of my mind. I know he™s there to root on his brother Jeff, who by the way was released by the Angels so Jarred could come to the big leagues, and I have no problem with him rooting for his brother but how do you think your fellow Angel teammates feel seeing you in a Cardinals jacket, cap, wool hat and headband? I know if I were a player or even a front office person for Anaheim the first item on my spring training things to do list would be to smack the shit out of Jared Weaver.

The second scene from last not only angered me but it hurt my heart. Seeing Mookie Wilson wearing a Cardinal hat and Cardinal sweatshirt was just fucking wrong. Yes Mookie, I know you love your stepson Preston, but if you’re that cold, t get an overcoat not a fucking Cardinals jacket. Mookie could stand and cheer and hug his wife when the Cards won but he has no right to disrespect the Mets organization and the fans by flaunting his Cardinals connection.

The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir, echoing past complaints by Sports TV’s Sole Conscience, Phil Mushnick, wonders why Fox was so obsessed with showing everything but the action on the field during the just concluded World Series.

There was not much value in watching St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa or Detroit Manager Jim Leyland stand around. They did that a lot. La Russa especially stood alone quite a bit.

His unheard chats with his pitching coach, Dave Duncan, weren™t riveting but they were as de rigueur in the Fox canon of shots as Ed Norton™s entrances into the Kramdens™ apartment were in the Tao of œThe Honeymooners.

And while I fathom that watching fans wave towels might be interesting now and then, its impact waned after the first dozen times. Less can be more.

During Thursday night™s Game 4, Fox cut to the crowd 222 times. It cut to the inside of the Detroit and St. Louis dugouts 153 times.

That™s 375 images away from the field. If each lasted two seconds, the amount of time taken from the field would be 12 minutes 30 seconds.

Many of those 153 dugout shots were of La Russa and Leyland. It felt as if every time Tim McCarver or Joe Buck mentioned the Cardinals™ manager, we saw him ” as if their tongues had the power to guide cameras.

Each manager has a poker face ” and La Russa™s sunglasses give him Texas Hold ™Em eyes ” so the abundance of shots revealed little.

Fox™s enchantment with frequent shots of fans mystified me. They™re watching the field, so why does Fox think we must watch them watching?

To see 222 crowd shots in nine innings is absurd. Are all those sightings supposed to bond viewers and spectators in some kind of baseball Kumbaya embrace?

Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, previously a skeptic about the Flyover Series, pays tribute to the champion Cardinals. Sort of.

They are not entirely likable, as the arrogance of both La Russa and Cardinals ownership has fueled one another. And it’s hard to entirely embrace a community that would even now embrace Mark McGwire.

They played outstanding baseball for the first four games, and Friday night, when Chris Duncan turned rightfield into a game of soccer, they overcame it. Thanks, of course, to the Tigers fulfilling their ill-conceived goal of committing a pitcher’s fielding miscue in every single World Series game. Crazy stuff. Someone must have told them it was September, again.