The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Sunday, September 30, 2001


Oh Rickey, What A Pity They Don't Understand

Against the backdrop of Barry Bonds' quest to break Mark McGwire's single-season Home Run record, Rickey Henderson's own pursuit of a record hasn't received much attention. But it should. Henderson, already the all-time leader in Stolen Bases (a mark he's held for a decade) and Bases on Balls (a record he broke early this season), is poised to break Ty Cobb's record for the most Runs Scored in a career, at 2245 (or 2246, depending upon who's counting).

Think about that one for a moment. What's the object of baseball? It's not to accumulate more hits than your opponent, or more home runs. It's to score more runs than the other team. And Rickey is about to become the man who's done that more than anybody else. So why, outside of the stathead circles, is the record flying so far under the radar? I believe it's a combination of several factors, and I wanted to examine some of them in detail.

First, the Runs Scored record hasn't been threatened in quite a long time. Cobb, who last played in 1928, has held it since sometime in 1925, when he passed Cap Anson. Anson last played in 1897. It looks to me as if Anson broke Jim O'Rourke's record, in 1894. The record has changed hands only twice in the past 107 years, and the trail takes us back to players who were playing baseball at inception of the sport's professional era. Wow. Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth are--get this--tied for third on the list, at 2174. Pete Rose is fifth at 2165, then Willie Mays at 2062, then Anson, who finished with 1996. Aaron, Ruth, and Rose at least got within shouting distance of the record--one solid season could have broken it, but of course all of them were well beyond putting together solid seasons at that point and thus never really threats.

Second, there's the somewhat passive nature of the runs record--when we watch a ballgame, our attention is generally focused on the batter-pitcher confrontation and the connection of bat with ball. When a hit drives in a runner, it's only rarely--a throw to the plate or the opportunity to score the winning run--that we focus on the physical act of a player crossing the plate. With the exception of home runs (of which Rickey's hit 289, including 78 to lead off a ballgame), Rickey's runs took place with help from the rest of the team's offense, something Henderson has pointed out:

"It's more of a team record than an individual record, and I could never score as many runs as I have without my teammates," Henderson said. "If you play as a team and win as a team and lose as a team, you score the runs as a team. Maybe I'm the one that gets the number that goes with the record, but the team is most important."

In general, Runs Scored is an undervalued statistical category. It's not one of the so-called "Triple Crown" categories of Batting Average, Home Runs and Runs Batted In which the public identifies with, the numbers which are flashed on scoreboards and TV screens across the country when a player steps into the batter's box. Statheads (myself included) tend to rail against RBI as a meaningful statistic, saying that it has much to do with the neighbors one has in the batting order. But Runs Scored is simply the other side of the same coin, so isn't it a bit hypocritical for the same statheads to be the ones trumpeting this record? Probably so, though it's worth mentioning this difference: one can drive in a run while making an out, but one can't score a run having done so. Given that the statistical revolution of the past twenty-odd years values On Base Percentage (which is really the percentage of times a player doesn't make an out) so highly, it's understandable that the same people would celebrate the Runs Scored record.

Third, Henderson's chase has simply been overshadowed by Bonds' chase. The single-season Home Run record is a record, like Joe Dimaggio's 56-game hitting streak, which transcends the normal boundaries of baseball, one whose numerical achievements are recognized by even the most casual of fans--60, 61, 70... The 1998 Home Run chase between McGwire and Sammy Sosa made those two men household names and icons whose fame extends beyond the diamond. The man they surpassed, Roger Maris, was more infamous than famous when it came to breaking the HR record--he got death threats in 1961 when he chased Babe Ruth's record. Hank Aaron got death threats when he was chasing Babe Ruth's career Home Run record. The only threat Rickey seems to have gotten in his chase is the threat that it may escape notice altogether, the buzz surrounding it drowned out by a loud yawn.

Fourth, Henderson, like Bonds, isn't exactly the type of personality ready-made for a highly publicized pursuit of a record. Not that Rickey's ever been shy about self-promotion--who can forget his "I am the greatest" speech after breaking the steals record, in the presence of Lou Brock, the man he surpassed. But Rickey's complex personality also includes elements of surliness--his attitude has run him out of more than one baseball town--and the purely cryptic--talking to himself, referring to himself in the third person, and the various malapropisms and controviersies with which he's been (mis)credited.

Ah, yes, controversy. Rickey has seemed to find his share of it in the latter stages of his career. There's the story that Rickey was playing cards in the clubhouse with teammate Bobby Bonilla during the Mets extra-inning loss to the Atlanta Braves in 1999, perhaps the breaking point in a series of clashes with Mets manager Bobby Valentine. Henderson was pretty much run out of town after that one, though it took the first month of the 2000 season for that to happen (Henderson, in this sympathetic USA Today piece, refutes the card-game story). There's the Davey Lopes stolen base incident from earlier this season, in which Henderson stole second base in a game the Padres led the Milwaukee Brewers by seven runs. Manager Lopes came onfield and told Henderson that Brewer pitchers were going to drill him if he came to bat again.

Then there are the malapropisms and other verbal gaffes--the "tenure" story, and the Olerud helmet story, for example, both of which are detailed in the USA Today article and which I won't repeat here. Stories like these cast Henderson in the light of someone both unsophisticated and self-absorbed, hardly flattering traits for a superstar.

And then there's a story which combines both, and which sheds some light on the way Rickey has been treated by the media as his star has waned. Peter Gammons, in his August 3 column, reported this:

"What precipitated the Davey Lopes-Rickey Henderson blowup was that Rickey was sick and had been sleeping in the clubhouse when he was told he had to pinch-run for Tony Gwynn. Henderson, who is trying to get the career runs record, went to first base not knowing the score..."

The problem is that the story is false, and proving its falsehood is no more difficult than simply glancing at the box score and noting that Rickey was the starting leftfielder and leadoff hitter, and thus already in the game. Furthermore, given that one of Rickey's hits drove in the pinch-hiting Gwynn, he probably would have been aware of the game's score. Did Gammons ever retract his story, which was buried at the bottom of one of his notes columns? No, but that's nothing new with the self-styled dean of baseball columnists (for more about that, read this piece from the beginning of the season in the New York Press). Shoddy "journalism" like this, whether it's mean-spirited or simply devoted to adding to the Henderson lore, makes clear the possibility that Henderson, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, didn't say everything he said.

Fifth, baseball in general has been overshadowed by the events of September 11. No one really seems to be in the mood for records. The lack of enthusiasm over Bonds' historic chase is a better barometer of this; the previous record-breaking effort was surrounded by a media circus the likes of which this one hasn't seen.

Finally, there's the notion that Rickey's simply been hanging on just to get the record, not to mention surpass the 3,000th hit mark (he's three hits shy right now) before the end of the season. Henderson's critics point to his .232 batting average as evidence that the man is no longer worthy of a major league job. But a closer look at the numbers is revealing. Yes, Henderson's only hitting .232, but his On Base Percentage is .369, only 34 points off of his career OBP, and much higher than the leadoff hitters of several contending team. Does anyone really think that contending teams like the Dodgers (.304 OBP for their leadoff hitters), Giants (.309 ), Phils (.312), Braves (.321), Cubs (.324), and Diamondbacks (.327)--for example--couldn't have used an extra 30-40 times on base at the top of their lineup to separate themselves from the pack?

Hell, half the teams in the majors would benefit from having their leadoff hitters strapped into chairs with their eyes pried open, Clockwork Orange-style, and being forced to watch tapes of Rickey working pitchers for a walk. Yes, America, you can steal first base, through a little-known technique called "plate discipline."

Henderson was a free agent when the season began and could have been had by any of the aforementioned teams for a minimal price; of course, not every one of them could have made it work, given that Henderson's a leftfielder with below-average defensive skills, and some of those teams have pretty good LFs in place--guys like Bonds and Gary Sheffield and Luis Gonzalez.

Leftfield is in fact one of the prime offensive spots, and so while Henderson's sabermetric stats this season are respectable and show him to be above-average for a major league hitter [his Offensive Winning Percentage is .541 (ESPN), his Equivalent Average is .276 (Baseball Prospectus)], they also show him to be below-average for a leftfielder. The Equivalent Average/Equivalent Runs methodology used by Baseball Prospectus (which takes into account things like playing time, league context, and park effects), shows Rickey to be 4.4 runs below his positional average. Still, that's not too bad, given that the "average leftfielder" baseline includes Bonds' performance, quite possibly the Greatest Season Ever. It's also not too bad given the performance several contending teams have gotten out of their LFs (all totals rounded to the nearest whole):

Seattle: Mark McLemore is 17 runs above average, but the plethora of players Seattle has run out there this year drag their overall total down to 5 runs above average.
New York Yankees--Knoblauch and Spencer, combined 19 runs below average
Oakland: Damon 15 runs below average, with a hell of a lot of work just to get there
Cleveland: Cordova and Cabrera, combined 6 runs below average
Boston: O'Leary -15 runs
Anaheim: Anderson -10 runs
Minnesota: Jones -19 runs

Again, to suggest that every one of these teams could have found significant playing time for Henderson this season--or next, given that Rickey has indicated his desire to continue playing--is not my point. But Rickey should have a job somewhere in the big leagues next year if he wants one; it may not be as an everyday leadoff hitter, but there's not a ballclub out there who couldn't use him on their roster in some role.

So we're left with one of the game's all-time greats (albeit an underappreciated one), about to break one of the game's most important all-time records (albeit an underappreciated one). If you're a fan of great players and great records (and why the hell have you read this far if you're not?), do yourself a favor and pay attention to this one--it's as worthy as Bonds' home run chase.

Note: I've repurposed a good portion of what I've presented here from my contribution to two Rickey-related threads on Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits discussion boards. My thanks in particular to Rich Rifkin, Robert Dudek, and someone known to me only as "jdw" for helping to shape my views on this topic through our spirited debate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2001



Over the past two weeks, I've been pretty swamped at work and have had correspondingly less energy to devote to my web log. But with the Yankees coasting to their fourth straight AL East title and the Red Sox having been pummeled into humiliation by by injuries and their own bad acting, there seems little I could have added in commentary. I found the return of the games last week to be very moving, and I take great pride that the game I love is seen by so many as a means to our healing and our return to some degree of normality.

I wanted to share with you a series of events that happened at work that have had an impact on me over the past two weeks. I am a graphic designer at a Manhattan design firm called Bill Smith Studio. On September 10, I delivered the final version of the cover for The World Almanac 2002, the classic annual reference book, to my clients. I was slated to deliver the final version of "The Year In Pictures," a 16-page photo insert for the book, on the following Wednesday. And then, all hell broke loose on September 11. Those two projects had to be drastically revised. I spent the better part of September 13 and 14 designing three pages of the insert devoted to the cataclysmic events--laying out pages of flaming and collapsing buildings, people fleeing in terror. Less than 72 hours after the tragedy, I had to attain some level of detachment, clinically placing and processing photos to illustrate a horror previously unseen on this country's shores. Somehow, I survived the process, though the intensity of my emotions in doing so made it very difficult.

Then I had to turn my attentions back to the book's cover. The cover, which I designed last January and then had recently revised, features a montage of nine postage-stamp-sized images and a globe. The images are mostly stock photos relating to the contents of the book--science, money, animals, children, sports, etc.--attractive photos, but all relatively benign. A top-level executive at the World Almanac Group decided that a photo representing September 11 needed to be included on the book's cover--a horribly graphic photo of the twin towers of the World Trade Center aflame, immediately after the impact of the second plane. At firs this executive reportedly felt that the entire cover design should be scrapped and should JUST feature this horrific image. He was talked down from that astounding perch by his publisher and other executives. But over my own strenuous objections, I was forced to revise my design to include the image, in place of a couple others and much larger than any other. The result cost me a good amount of sleep and a sour taste regarding a project which looked to be the capstone of my young career as an art director. I don't pretend to equate that with the suffering of the tragedy's victims and their families, but I hated the feeling that I was involved in treating the matter exploitatively and in bad taste.

I arrived at work the day after delivering what I grimly referred to as "the inferno cover" only to be greeted frantically by our receptionist and our business manager, telling me that I needed to redo the cover yet again. Apparently, one of the client's distributors had refused to carry the book with such a distasteful graphic depiction. Exhausted, yet very relieved, I produced a new version with that now-famous photo of the firefighters raising a flag in the rubble, an image which calls to mind that of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. The version which ultimately heads to press is much more dignified and tasteful, and I'm again proud of the result of my labors, which can be seen here.

My point in telling this story is not to air dirty laundry regarding my job, or to congratulate myself for being right on an issue about which I felt strongly. Mainly it's about the need for perspective--we're all struggling to regain ours here in the city, and it manifests itself in different ways. For a few days, my work was more important to me, and to my clients, than it had ever been. Now that those projects have been delivered, I'm trying to regain my own sense of normality.

I haven't found it yet, but baseball has at least offered me some sense of stability. The performance of the Yankees the first two nights back, as they bulldozed the Chicago White Sox, gave what I hope is a glimpse of things to come next month--the team was locked in like it was mid-October. They've been lackluster since then, but I've never been so glad to see them play lackluster baseball in September as I am now.

Of course, I hope that lackluster play turns into some of that vaunted Yankee October magic. And I must admit I'm rooting pretty hard for the Mets to keep things interesting as well (is there a manager better than Bobby Valentine when it comes to staving off elimination?). If ever this city needed the kind of pick-me-up a winning ballclub can provide, now is the time. GO NEW YORK!

Saturday, September 22, 2001


The Lo Duca Experiment

Though it looks as if their luck is finally dwindling, the fact that the Dodgers have remained in playoff contention for so long is a tribute to their rookie manager, Jim Tracy. On a team racked with injuries (not to mention the occasional ugly controversy), Tracy has done a hell of a job just keeping the team within hailing distance of the wild card race.

Two of the Dodgers' five projected starters went down with season-ending injuries by July, one (Andy Ashby) after only two starts. Their ace, Kevin Brown, has made no fewer than three trips to the DL. Their star slugger, Gary Sheffield, wanted out of L.A. before the season began, and created quite a stink. Third baseman Adrian Beltre missed the first five weeks of the season due to a botched appendectomy. Regulars Sheffield, Eric Karros, Mark Grudzielanek, and Tom Goodwin all took turns on the DL. And the list goes on.

In the midst of all these injuries, Tracy has done a good job of mixing and matching, thanks to a solid bench. Nine batters have appeared in over 99 games, and another five have appeared in over 60. Twelve different pitchers have started games. And the Dodgers have hung tough in a three-team race in the National League West, until losing five out of their last six and dealing their postseason chances a possibly mortal blow.

I haven't had the chance to watch too many Dodger games this season, what with them being three time zones away. But I've followed them in the box scores fairly closely. One tactic Tracy used this season sticks out. For a good portion of the season, Tracy used catcher Paul Lo Duca in the leadoff spot, and both Lo Duca and the team peformed very well. Miles better, in fact, than any of the other hitters who have led off for the Dodgers. Here's a breakdown:
                  AB   OBP   SLG  OPS

Tom Goodwin 195 .262 .338 600
Marquis Grissom 87 .261 .460 721
Adrian Beltre 84 .302 .381 683
Paul Lo Duca 189 .378 .593 971
Tot. (w/ others) 636 .310 .443 753
Except Lo Duca 447 .276 .380 656
Wow! Lo Duca's OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) is 315 points higher than the combined efforts of the other clowns the Dodgers used in the top spot. What to make of all of this? Besides the need for an urgent telegram to the home dugout of Dodger Stadium, I mean.

On paper, Lo Duca doesn't look like a typical leadoff hitter. He's a 29-year old catcher who entered the season with 174 career ABs, a .241 batting average, an OPS of 657 and 1 stolen base in 5 attempts. But he clearly has figured out something about how bat connects with ball this season. When centerfielder Tom Goodwin, their opening day leadoff hitter, struggled out of the gate by batting .215, and Lo Duca hit a lofty .366, Tracy took an unconventional step and installed his catcher in the leadoff spot on May 23. From there, both he and the team caught fire. They won 6 of 8, and Lo Duca's average climbed to .382. He even recorded a 6 for 6 night against Colorado on May 28.

The team went in a 9-14 tailspin, by the end of which Lo Duca was down to .327 and no longer leading off. They then won 9 straight, mostly with Lo Duca leading off, and with him sharing the leadoff spot, the Dodgers ended July 15 games above .500. But the team cooled off in early August, and after a loss on August 11, their eighth in 12 games, Tracy abandoned his bold experiment. Since then they've been three games below .500 and their offense has been well below average.

I decided to study the matter a bit further, examining the box scores of every Dodger game and recording who the leadoff hitter was, how many runs the team scored, and the team's record in those games. Here's what I found (RPG is runs per game; Opp RPG is runs allowed per game):
           Apr    May    Jun   Jul    Aug   Sep    TOT   RPG

Goodwin 12-5 7-7 6-2 3-4 0-1 3-1 31-20 4.52
Lo Duca -- 6-2 5-12 10-2 4-3 -- 25-19 5.06
Beltre -- -- -- -- 8-8 2-1 10-9 4.94
Grissom 3-5 2-1 -- -- -- 1-4 6-10 4.25
Others -- 0-3 2-0 5-3 0-4 0-1 7-11 4.17
Totals 15-10 15-13 13-14 18-9 12-16 6-7 79-69 4.68
RPG 4.84 4.14 5.33 5.04 4.39 4.08 4.68
Opp RPG 3.80 4.64 5.48 4.41 4.71 4.31 4.63
The results aren't quite as clear-cut as I would have guessed, but this chart does reveal a few things. The Dodgers started off the season pretty well; with their rotation more or less intact, they had a strong April, strong enough to overcome Goodwin's woeful performance in the leadoff spot. But as the pitching started to unravel, Goodwin's performance began to drag the team down, and Tracy made the switch. Then the pitching really fell apart, once Brown went down in June, and while the offense was clicking, the team struggled. Tracy stuck with Lo Duca, and the team really hit its stride. But when they began to struggle again, Tracy abandoned the experiment. Since then he hasn't stuck with anybody for very long in the leadoff spot, and the team has slipped despite decent pitching.

Goodwin's the type of player whose only real asset offensively is his speed. His career OBP isn't great for a leadoff hitter (.334) but it's a damn sight better than what he's given the Dodgers this season. Marquis Grissom plays ball like his doppelganger, comedian Martin Lawrence, and he gets on base slightly less often. The Marquis de Sade drew an amazing total of 3 walks in 278 ABs through July; if that's not grounds for a restraining order preventing Tracy from leading him off, it ought to be. Adrian Beltre is a good young third baseman (only 22) who has taken a step backwards with the bat this season; his OPS has fallen from 835 in 2000 to 725 this year, no doubt partially due to the shockingly inept medical care he received following his appendectomy. He's got some speed, but given his low OBP, he's a poor choice for a leadoff hitter.

I don't have any information on why Tracy abandoned the Lo Duca experiment. With sluggers like Sheffield and Shawn Green hitting behind him in the lineup, having a leadoff hitter who gets on base 38 percent of the time would seem to be a great improvement over one who gets on 26 percent of the time--about a half run per game, according to the chart above. I suspect Lo Duca simply didn't fit Tracy's image of what a leadoff hitter should be--maybe he's slow even for a catcher, or maybe Tracy felt he needed Lo Duca to protect his other big bats. But just as Tracy deserves some credit for what went right with the Dodgers this year, he deserves some blame for abandoning something which was obviously working in favor of something whose results were at best a mixed bag. Short of hiring a skywriter to break the news to Tracy, all I can do is watch the Dodgers' season slip down the tubes.

Monday, September 17, 2001


Coming To Terms

Coverage of Tuesday's disaster continues to dominate the airwaves, but very little of it is breaking news, so I've managed to wean myself away for a better portion of the day. I've spent some time writing up my personal account of Tuesday's events, but I find I can do so only a bit at a time without emotionally exhausting myself.

Like most people in this city, I'm still very raw emotionally, capable of becoming glassy-eyed and teary at certain sights and stories on the TV. But I've taken such emotional responses as a sign that I am processing this horror in an appropriate manner. To quote the words of a Willie Nelson song: "After taking several readings, I'm surprised to find my mind still fairly sound." The deep discussions I've had with loved ones as we've comforted one another are conversations that I will remember forever for their sincerity and their honesty. We are not afraid to show our grief and our fear to one another, and we have come together stronger because of it.

I've been asked by friends and family if I've considered leaving New York City in the wake of this tragedy. My response has been that I've never been more proud to be a New Yorker than I am right now. We've been hit incredibly hard, but time after time, the people of this city have shown compassion towards one another--from our Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, down to even the random strangers we find ourselves next to in elevators, on subways and on the streets. As my girlfriend observed the other day, our value in the stock of human life has increased. For that, despite this tragedy, we are stronger.

Giuliani in particular has been a pillar of strength in these trying times. Historically speaking, I've found many of his administration's policies and decisions reprehensible throughout his reign as the Mayor of New York City. But over the past several days, I've admired his calm, his clarity, and his compassion in handling this crisis. He could have easily, as the horror unfolded, retreated to being "in the rear with the gear," yet he chose to stay as close as possible to the action, and he has shown an incredible grasp not only of the situation, but of the sensitivity required to console the fragile psyche of this city.

In the wake of the decisions to cancel nearly every major sporting event this past week, Herman Edwards, the coach of football's New York Jets, aptly described sports as "the toy deparment of life." As much as we all miss having baseball and football games around to signal the return to some degree of normality in American life--what would I have given to have yawned through a pitching change this week?--the people in charge of the various sports have shown an appropriate degree of sensitivity in postponing our games. I'm continually reminded of the eulogies of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who took to his grave a regret that the NFL chose to play games on the weekend following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If the greatest of all sports commissioners couldn't respect the decision he was a part of to proceed, then those who have followed in his wake and chosen to postpone our games have done the correct thing at this time.

On Sunday I was supposed to be attending a ballgame at Camden Yards in Baltimore, between the Orioles and the Red Sox. As it so happens, the tickets I'm holding will become tickets to Cal Ripken's final ballgame. I am considering auctioning off those tickets--which would fetch a pretty penny--and donating the money to one of the numerous charities that have sprung up in the wake of this disaster. While nothing would thrill me more than to be at the final ballgame of such a legend, I'm afraid the guilt I would feel over being able to witness this momentous occasion only by a fluke of tragedy would mar my own experience. And I know that the suddenly increased value of the tickets is money that could be more appropriately spent on far more important matters.

We often talk of athletes as our heroes, but the events of this week have made clear once again how ridiculous such a designation is. Not to belittle the sensitive responses of the players, who stood united in their belief that games at this time were inappropriate, or in particular the members of the New York Yankees, who toured the city Saturday night, meeting with the relatives of those missing and touring the rescue areas, offering their consolations to those affected. But the type of people who deserve to be called heroes are the firefighters, policemen, and other emergency services personnel who have come to the city's aid, many of whom gave their lives trying to do so.

This tragic toll hits close to home. Walking by the fire station just around the corner two days ago, I learned that a dozen men from Ladder Company #3 are missing and presumed dead. At other stations I've passed by, the toll is similar--entire squadrons have been wiped out in some cases. Our athletes are admirable entertainers, but the real heroes are the people trying to save lives when all Hell is breaking loose. Let us not forget that once the games resume.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001


New York City: The Short Version

I live in the East Village of Manhattan and have borne witness to this tragedy at fairly close range. Fortunately, I am okay and able to account for all of my nearest and dearest friends and family. For that I am deeply thankful. The period of uncertainty and concern I felt in the early hours after the attack before I could account for all of my loved ones is something I will never forget.

I have been watching convoys of emergency, rescue, and salvage vehicles stream down Second Avenue in front of my apartment, sirens blaring, intermittently for the past 36 hours. I've seen the same ambulances and official vehicles drive past me multiple times. Apart from the reports on TV and the Internet, that is the way my understanding of the events has unfolded--in stages, based upon which vehicles were being rushed to the scene. Yesterday it was ambulances and fire trucks, this morning it was 20 Mack trucks bearing names like Diamond Point Excavation or half a dozen tankers full of nitrogen coolant, tonight it's Verizon trucks parked up and down the block across from one of their offices.

As I sort through my own grief and confusion, I find my thoughts returning especially to the firefighters. There's a fire station around the corner from me that I've walked past for most of the past three years. Rarely does it occur to me how these brave men risk their lives on a daily basis. Today I made a point of walking by there, to pay my respects and let myself have a healthy sob. Dozens of flower bouquets had been placed there, along with cards and drawings. The garage door was open, and the firemen sat or stood at the perimeter, somber and somewhat dazed. Their equipment was strewn randomly behind them--a helmet here, empty fireman suspenders and boots there, all of it covered with soot. I spoke to a couple of the firefighters and tried, tearfully, to express my gratitude for their heroic efforts. These were men who when all Hell was breaking loose were headed straight into the heart of it. My prayers are with them, their colleagues, and their loved ones.

I have been attempting to assemble my thoughts into a longer report. I would like to relate my experiences to better aid my own coming to terms with this, if nothing else. I will do so in the near future.

Tonight I was supposed to be at a baseball game between the Yankees and the White Sox. I look forward to a time when such mundane concerns will provide me with a few hours of relief from all that has gone on around me.

My best wishes to everyone else out there who may be reading this. I hope you're all as lucky as I am, and that you and your loved ones are safe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001


Pettitte Power

I'm no Roger Clemens fan. I hated the trade which exiled David Wells to Toronto, and have booed many a Rocket fizzle at Yankee Stadium. I argued with my friends until I was nearly blue in the face over the Mike Piazza bat incident during last year's World Series.

I've come around on Rajah this season. I don't really like the man very much, at least to the extent that his personality has seeped through the beat reports and press conferences. But I do enjoy his byproducts. For starters, there's the 19-1 thing--I have a standing policy that anybody who does that for my team is my New Best Friend.

Then there's the Red Sox factor. Knowing that Roger is likely bound for a sixth Cy Young award (the third in what Boston GM Dan Duquette assumed would be "the twilight of his career") while the Sox bleed to death at the madman Duquette's hand--priceless. As is the shocked look on the Sox fans' faces.

But the real beneficiaries are the other Yankee pitchers who have taken to Clemens' fitness regimen and seen their own results improve--Andy Pettitte and Mike Stanton. Both have increased their stamina through better conditioning and added several miles per hour to their fastballs; Pettitte reportedly by 4 or 5 mph. On Sunday, Pettitte reversed a personal four-game slide by dominating the Red Sox, and in doing so marked the first time all season the Yanks' big four starters had won back-to-back-to-back-to-back. He credited a pep-talk from Clemens aimed at raising his level of concentration to the reversal of his fortunes. Whatever it was, it worked, as Pettitte dominated the Sox, beating them for the fourth time this season.

Pettitte, who turned 29 in June, came into this season having won an even 100 games in his career. He is a classic example of what Bill James called (in his 1984 Baseball Abstract) the "Tommy John family of pitchers," meaning not that he is a candidate for ligament replacement surgery but that he's a pitcher who exhibits the following characteristics, as did John and several others:

1. they are left-handed
2. they are control-type pitchers
3. they cut off the running game very well
4. they receive excellent double-play support
5. they allow moderate to low totals of home runs, lower than normal for a control pitcher
6. they are able to win while allowing an unusually high number of hits per game
7. their won-loss records tend to be very team dependent, often more exaggerated than their teams'--that is, a higher winning percentage than a winning team's or lower than a losing team's

Basically, Tommy John-family pitchers put the ball in play a lot; they give up a lot of hits, but erase a substantial portion of them via DPs and by shutting down the running game, and they don't give up many HRs either. They're not as flashy as your Randy Johnsons or Pedro Martinezes, but it's a pretty decent model for success.

Pettitte meets all of these criteria, though his strikeout rate is a higher than most in the Tommy John family (TJ struck out 4.29 per 9 innings; Pettitte is at 6.19):

• He's allowed only 11 SB all year, with 5 caught. Over the course of his career, he's allowed 0.53 steals per nine innings, at a 64% success rate; for comparison's sake (and since I don't have the time to run the numbers for every year back to 1995), this year the major league rate of steals per 9 is 0.64 and the success rate is 68%.

• He's currently tied for fourth in AL in the number of double plays turned behind him, and his rate of 1.0 double-plays per 9, while slightly below his career average (1.11) is still well above the current major league average (0.76).

• His career home run rate (0.72 per 9) and his season rate (0.62) are both significantly lower than the current major league average (1.14).

• His level of 9.49 hits per 9 innings is higher than the major league average of 9.14. He's never allowed less than one hit per inning pitched.

• His winning percentage (.625) is higher than his team's this year (.601), and has been over the course of his career (.642 vs. .595).

But Pettitte has undergone a transformation this year into more of a power pitcher. He's working more efficiently and more effectively, controlling the strike zone better, striking out more while walking fewer.
            IP/GS   H/9   BB/9   K/9  K/BB  P/IP    G/F

1995-2000 6.56 9.41 3.29 6.01 1.83 16.1 1.82
2001 6.77 10.01 1.71 7.40 4.33 15.4 1.53
I used 1997-2000 data for IP/GS, since I didn't have the data to weed out Pettitte's relief appearances before then and he's done nothing but start in that span. P/IP is pitches thrown per inning; G/F is his groundball-to-flyball ratio. The rest you should be familiar with.

Basically Pettitte is lasting longer while putting the ball in play less--a good idea given the Yanks' questionable defense. The 2001 numbers would be even more favorable if they didn't include his recent dip, which saw him get hit hard in four straight starts (24 IP, 43 H, 23 ER). He's giving up slightly more hits per inning this season, but overall, his number of baserunners per 9 has dropped, from 12.7 to 11.7. And his K/BB ratio is almost two and a half times better than before. THAT is an improvement.

As is Pettitte's consistency. Twenty-two of Pettitte's 28 starts (79%) have been Quality Starts (traditionally defined as pitching six or more innings and allowing three or fewer earned runs; I expand this slightly by counting 8 innings with 4 earned runs as Quality). Only 4 of his starts (14%) have been Disaster Starts (as many or more runs as innings pitched; I lop off partial innings so that a 5.2 inning start with 5 runs counts, figuring that help from the bullpen probably played a part in preventing further disaster). Last year, in 32 starts using the same definitions, he had only 18 Quality Starts (56%) and 8 Disasters (25%). Another welcome improvement.

One of the interesting things that James noted about the Tommy John family of pitchers is that many of them don't peak until their thirties. But Pettitte's already achieved a great deal before reaching 30 and now he's starting to morph into a power pitcher. He may break out of the Tommy John mode yet. But since power pitchers traditionally last longer than control pitchers, that might not be such a bad thing. Either way, the Yanks have a very solid pitcher on their hands, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him continue to develop into one of the game's best.

Friday, September 07, 2001


Dodger Blue's Checkered Past

The Dodgers' uniform, for my money, is the embodiment of perfection in athletic fashion. The blue script "Dodgers" runs across the front of a pristine white jersey at an upward angle, underlined by a swoosh. The small red uniform number balances the scripted name and stands out against the white jersey like a single cherry atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Simple, yet elegant.

But it wasn't always so. The current incarnation of the Dodgers' jersey has been in place since 1952, when the Dodgers were the first team to put a uniform number on the front. The script dates back further, to 1938. Road jerseys with "Brooklyn" script were worn until 1945. Jerseys with "Los Angeles" script were worn in the early 1960s and recently revived. [Please note that these links are to photos on sites which sell these jerseys, but that my linking to them does not constitute endorsement of those merchants].

But the Dodgers have had some bizzare uniform variations over the years, as Dan Simon points out on's site. Simon knows a little something about bizzare Dodgers' jerseys--he had a hand in the Dodgers' blue alternate jerseys introduced a few years ago (much to my outrage).

Among the strange ones Simon points out: a couple of pinstriped varieties, including one with "Brooklyn" running vertically down the buttons, a godawful checkered version that looks like the players are wearing graph paper, and reflective powder blue satin jerseys worn for night games in the 1940s.

Unfortunately, the article's photos are all in sepia-tone. You can get some idea of color by looking at the replica hats sold here. Some of the early ones are interesting. The 1912 versions feature a logo with a block "B" in the center of a diamond, done as a solid blue for home games and white with blue pinstripes for road games. The 1916 version is the graph-paper nightmare, but it does have the "B" in the style which carried (more or less) through the rest of the team's Brooklyn history. The 1917 version has red and blue pinstripes and for some reason reminds me of a box of popcorn you get at the zoo. The 1930 and '33 versions have double pinstripes running down the hat in six sets; the 1930 one features a red "B".

But the strangest of them all is the 1937 one--it's GREEN! If the Dodgers do a retro uniform night, they could honor one the man who broke the franchise's single-season home run record, Shawn Green, at the same time.

Wednesday, September 05, 2001


The Grim Forksman

The Great Fork is now stuck in the rump of the Red Sox; they are done. And in a spectacular charred-beyond-recognition fashion that I never, in my pinstriped dreams, could have forseen. Not only have the Sox imploded after a three-game sweep in Fenway at the hands of the Yankees, but they've turned their season into a Beantown equivalent of the Bronx Zoo Redux that would make George Steinbrenner blush.

To recap the recent events:

• On August 16, Sox GM Dan Duqette fired manager Jimy Williams, a move that was a foregone conclusion since Duqette's numerous clashes with Williams dating back to last season. At the time, the Sox were 65-53, twelve games over .500, five games in back of the Yankees in the AL East race, and two games behind Oakland in the Wild Card chase. Williams had kept his team in contention despite missing superstar Nomar Garciaparra for the first four months of the season and Pedro Martinez for the past two months.

• Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who dragged countless pitchers off of the scrap heap (David Cone, Hideo Nomo, Brett Saberhagen, Rod Beck) and made the Red Sox staff into one of the best-performing units in the league, was named manager to replace Williams despite never having managed at any level before. Kerrigan, who served under Duquette in Montreal as well, was the Duke's second choice after former Expos manager Felipe Alou declined the job due to uncertainties about the team's future ownership. The Sox won six of Kerrigan's first nine games, but then lost five straight going into the Yankees series.

• On Friday night, the Yanks came from behind against the Boston bullpen in the eighth inning to beat the Red Sox 3-1. Roger Clemens, Public Enemy #1, beat them to run his record to 18-1 on the season.

• On Saturday night, the Yanks came from behind against the Boston bullpen again, beating the Sox 2-1 on the strenght of bernie Williams' home run in the ninth inning. Orlando Hernandez earned his first victory of the season, outlasting Pedro Martinez, who was making just his second start after spending two months on the disabled list.

• On Sunday night, the Yanks outlasted David Cone, who channeled his pinstriped glory years in such gutty fashion that Joe Torre wanted to applaud. It took an error by futility infielder Lou Merloni, a well-placed hit by Enrique Wilson, and a near-perfect performance (one strike away) from Mike Mussina to do so. The loss was the Sox's eighth straight. Carl Everett, the Sox Pinch-Psychopath, broke up the perfecto with a two-strike single into the gap. Everett has been slowed for the past two months by what he says is torn cartilege in his knee, but what the Sox medical staff (what wears a stethoscope and sounds like a duck? A Red Sox team doctor--Quack! Quack!) terms as a sprain.

• Following the game, Duquette fired Sox bullpen/acting pitching coach John Cumberland, who'd only been on the job for 18 days since former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan assumed the reins from Williams. This after the Sox staff had given up a total of six runs (five earned) in three games, but had gone 0-3 thanks to their meager offense (Sox hitting coach Rick Down, who apparently expected to be offered the job if Williams were fired, and who was up for multiple managerial posts the past two seasons, is reportedly toast) . According to the fired coach, Duquette used Cumberland's drinking as a reason for his dismissal.

• As word of the firing spread around the clubhouse, Garciaparra--on the DL again for further problems with his damaged wrist--expressed his displeasure with the dysfunctional circus that the team had become. "This is why no one [expletive deleted] wants to play here," he complained openly. Sox outfielder Trot Nixon echoed Nomah's frustration: "We don't have a monkey on our back," he told the Associated Press, "We have a god-damned gorilla."

• Pedro Martinez, concerned over risking his fragile arm for a team that was throwing in the towel, suggested that he be shut down for the year if the Sox fall from contention. Duqette's response, again, was almost surreal: "The team is not going to shut Pedro down. We're paying him a lot of money to pitch. Our fans enjoy seeing Pedro Martinez pitch."

• Examination results disclosed on Tuesday revealed that Martinez has suffered a minor tear of his rotator cuff. Said Martinez, "I think Dan knows as much about medicine as I do, maybe less. That's why I'm surprised he said I'm healthy."

• When Duquette fired Cumberland, he delivered the spin in classic fashion: "I'm not here to assess blame, I'm here to look for solutions." But the Providence Journal's Bill Reynolds, echoing the departed pitching coach's suggestion to look in the mirror, succinctly laid the blame back at the Duke's feet:

"This team is your creation, this whining, overpaid, dysfunctional team that now has lost eight straight games at the worst possible time. This team with a bloated payroll and dissension running through its clubhouse like someone trying to go from first to third on a single up the middle. This team that's now imploded right in front of all our eyes. Your team. The one with the highest payroll in baseball. The one you put together."

By now we're up to the classic body-counts of the Bronx Zoo Yankees--quick, somebody fire Art Fowler! But where the Yankees could use such chaos to motivate themselves and change the team's course, the Red Sox's prospects, with their two superstars injured, seem much less rosy. This is a team which, save for perhaps David Cone--who's forgotten more about winning than Dan Duqette ever will know--has that thousand-yard stare for an aura, with an extra-crispy coating.

With the Sox up for sale and new management an eventuality, Duquette has now cemented his own status as Dead Man Walking. Wouldn't you know it, he made Jimy Williams live out the same fate for the better part fo the season. It's funny how what goes around, comes around.

Technically, the Sox are not dead, not with a four-game series against the Yankees looming this weekend. But they've already torn themselves apart and have proceeded to the postmortem. In retropsect, we should have forseen this. As the New York Daily News' Bill Madden points out, on May 30, Martinez beat the Yanks 3-0, striking out 13 at Fenway. Afterward, Pedro said he was tired of talking about the Yankees and the curse of Babe Ruth. "Why don't we just wake up the Bambino, and maybe I'll drill him in the ass?" asked the world's greatest pitcher.

Since then, the Sox have slipped eight games in the standings to the Yanks, and Martinez hasn't won a single game (he's 0-1 in five starts with a 5.27 ERA ). The Bambino apparently awoke in the form of the Grim Forksman, and now he's firmly stuck it in the Sox's barbecue-reddened asses. Mess with the bull, you get the horns; mess with the Babe, you get the fork.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001


The Moose Is Loose

On May 17, 1998, I spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon puttering around my apartment, mostly working on my computer, which sits in my bedroom. I'd had the baseball game between the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins on the TV in the other room, but after two or three innings, I switched over to an NBA playoff game between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. Mostly I ignored the game--a nondescript NBA Eastern Conference playoff game, full of hard fouls, lousy shooting, and the boring excellence of Michael Jordan in the clutch. A few hours later, I emerged from my room to find I'd missed David Wells' perfect game.

On July 18, 1999, I went to the movies with two of my pals. We saw Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's final movie. When we got home, we found an overly excited message from our friend Julie, who'd gone to Yankee Stadium, something to the effect of, "Omigod, it was so great! I can't believe it!" I called her back, clueless about the source of her excitment. It turned out once again I'd missed a perfect game, this time David Cone's, against the Montreal Expos. Eyes wide shut indeed!

But on September 2, 2001, I was right in front of my parents' big-screen TV in Salt Lake City, watching one hell of a pitching duel. While the Red Sox's David Cone valiantly staved off the Yanks, he was outshined by his replacement in the Yankee rotation, Mike Mussina, who came within ONE STRIKE of a perfect game!

I had the game on from before the first pitch, but I'd missed the fifth through seventh innings while eating dinner with my folks. I sat down to dinner remarking that Mussina still had a no-hitter going, but thinking nothing much of it. But when I came in from dinner to see that row of zeroes at the end of the seventh, I was locked in. By the top of the ninth inning, I was on my feet, waving the Yankee runners around the bases like I was Willie Randolph--and I was relieved the Yanks only got one run because the tension was almost too unbearable to wait through. As soon as the Yanks scored, I called Issa, my roommate back in Manhattan, to make sure he was watching the game. "We're all here," he told me.

When Clay Bellinger, who'd scored the only run of the game as a pinch-runner for Tino Martinez, made his diving stop of Troy O'Leary's smash, I was SURE that destiny would prevail, and I would finally see a perfect game through to the finish. When Lou Merloni struck out, I pumped my fist and hollered. By the time the count reached two strikes on Carl Everett, the Red Sox's pinch-psychopath, I had to set my beer aside because I was jumping up and down in anticipation.

And when Carl Everett's blooper fell into the gap, I let out a curse so loud and so vile that dogs howled, paint peeled, milk curdled, and neighbors rushed to cover their children's ears. Carl Everett, a man whose tendencies I have mocked in this space on countless occasions, had repaid me and every other Yanks fan for all of the schadenfreude we've enjoyed at his expense.

But the Yanks still made the final out, winning 1-0 and completing a three-game sweep of the Red Sox which plunged them into turmoil (more on that in another post).

Perfection in the form of 27 up and 27 down still eludes me (unlike the other kinds, heh heh heh). Fortunately, it's not as if I'd never seen a no-hitter before:

• On September 25, 1981, near the tail end of the strike-torn season, I'd watched Nolan Ryan no-hit the L.A. Dodgers. Such was the power of Ryan--I'd seen him take a no-no into the 9th in 1979--that by the middle innings I was turned against my own favorite team (fortunately, the Dodgers had already wrapped up a playoff spot thanks to the split-season solution to the strike). This was Ryan's fifth no-hitter, breaking Sandy Koufax's record. He went on to throw two more before he was done, though I missed them both.

• On April 7, 1984, I settled down to renew the weekly ritual of my youth, watching NBC's Game of the Week with Joe Garagoila and Tony Kubek. I was treated to Jack Morris setting the tone for the Detroit Tigers' amazing season by tossing a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. Morris's no-no tied a record for the earliest no-hitter in a season. The Tigers jumped out to a 35-5 start that year, and practically coasted to a World Championship.

• On August 17, 1992, in a hotel in Wyoming (Rock Springs, perhaps?), with my father the night before embarking on a backpacking trip, I watched the last inning of Dodger Kevin Gross's no-no against the San Francisco Giants.

• And last night, 24 hours after Mussina's near-perfecto, and only a few after I returned to NYC, I caught several innings, including the last one, of St Lous Cardinal Bud Smith's no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. Going into the bottom of the ninth, I felt a bit jaded, but as soon as Rickey Henderson appeared at the plate, I was locked in once again. And when Smith speared the sharp comeback to the mound and nearly ran the ball all the way over to first himself, I chalked up another one for the annals.

September is the month for no-hitters; I'm keeping my eyes peeled for more as this season wraps up.

Sunday, September 02, 2001


Catching Up

As I was in the sticks for most of the week, I wanted to point out several interesting articles that I've come across since my return. Sorry if they're old news to anyone...

* Rob Neyer ran a comparison that I've been meaning to run for awhile, that between Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. Clemens is getting a lot of support as a Cy Young candidate based upon his gaudy 17-1 record (he beat Boston on Friday to improve to 18-1, but we'll leave that aside for the moment so I can use the same data as Neyer), while Mussina has been tagged as a disappointment with a 13-11 record. But their peripheral stats are very similar:
         IP    H    BB    K     ERA     BR/9     K/9     K/W

Clemens 182 170 56 176 3.56 11.17 8.70 3.14
Mussina 188 181 38 169 3.55 10.48 8.09 4.44
Mussina's strikeout-to-walk and baserunners-per-nine-innings ratios are actually significantly better than Clemens'. The difference in their records is basically due to run support; The Yankees are scoring 7.2 runs per game for the Rocket and a meager 4.3 for the Moose. Using our old friend the Pythagorean Theorem to predict winning percentages based on the scoring rates (we'll use their RAs--including unearned runs, because they can determine W's and L's just like any others--rather than ERAs: Clemens, 3.86; Mussina, 3.84), the expected records we come up with (based on the same number of decisions) are these: Clemens, 14-4; Mussina, 14-10. Clemens's actual record is 3 wins better than his projected record, Musina's is 1 game worse. The difference isn't quite as dramatic as the writers praising Rocket or ripping Mussina would have you believe. Run support isn't everything, but it does skew their records a bit.

* The Danny Almonte situation is a real downer. Not only was the kid too old to be eligible for Little League, but he hasn't been in school since coming to the U.S. 18 months ago, and he and his father have also been in the country illegally. He's probably also got some major surgery ahead of him thanks to learning to throw curveballs at such a young age. Meanwhile the league's sponsor, Rolando Paulino, was found to have committed similar illegalities in Latin American Little League. Undercurrents of racism--would a white team have been investigated or vilified in the way this Latino team has?--further cloud the situation. Even with the truth revealed, nobody wins here.

Meanwhile, in today's New York Times Sports section, resident contrarian Robert Lipsyte writes of his own son's experience in Little League--or rather, lack of experience. The senior Lipsyte, concerned by the messages sent by son Sam's coach, pulled Sam from the program, but now wonders if he did the right thing: "My absolute uncertainty about this has always restrained my usual judgmentalism when it comes to parents who try to hoist their children up on their shoulders, over the fence, onto greener pastures." Lipsyte refuses to condemn the guilty parties but does address some of the ramifications of their behavior. Finally, he goes back to the source to get his son's perspective on whether he missed participating in Little League. An interesting take on an ugly situation.

[A bit of disclosure here: Sam Lipsyte and I went to school together at Brown University, and I used to write about his punk rock band, the legendary Dungbeetle. He's now an accomplished writer with an excellent book of short stories under his belt and a novel on the way.]

* With the emergence of Sammy Sosa into the National League home run race, everybody seems to be piling on Barry Bonds--teammates like last year's MVP Jeff Kent, self-important blowhards like Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly, and more neutral observers. And I'm less than innocent, though that charge extends more to my day-to-day conversations about him than my writing. Bonds is having an awesome season--his OPS would rate the 3rd best of all time--but many writers consider Sosa or Luis Gonzalez more worthy of the MVP award--as if Bonds weren't equally important to his own team's playoff chances.

Thomas Boswell wonders if we're headed for another 61*--that is, a situation like in 1961 where the public is clearly rooting for one outgoing, charismatic player to break the home run record (Mickey Mantle in that case) and against his dour, aloof competitor (Roger Maris). Boswell wonders about how the treatment Bobby Bonds (Barry's father)received in baseball has shaped his son. Bobby Bonds accumulated 332 career HR, 461 SB, and three Gold Gloves during his 14 year playing career. He also switched teams eight times in his last eight seasons, when young Barry was between the ages of 10 and 17--a situation that probably put a chip on the son's shoulder. "A sense that, to be a Bonds in baseball was to be misunderstood, underappreciated and almost persecuted at times," as Boswell writes.

It's a plausible take on the situation, and to some degree, perhaps it mitigates Barry Bonds' aloofness. But damn it, the man is being paid millions upon millions of dollars to play a kids' game. If he can't find some way to enjoy that and give something of himself back... well, I'll save my tears for somebody else. Besides, I'll be rooting against the Giants long into the afterlife. The longer he and fellow "clubhouse cancer" Jeff Kent preserve their fragile equilibrium of unhappiness, the better it is for the Dodgers and every other NL team I'd rather see make the playoffs.

* The Yankees finally took a step to shore up the void at third base created by Scott Brosius' hairline fracture. They've been using a trio of futility infielders--Clay Bellinger, Enrique Wilson, and Luis Sojo, all of whom have lived up to their reputations as good bench players--so long as they remain mostly on the bench. On Friday they acquired Randy Velarde from the Texas Rangers for two players to be named later. Velarde's arrival means that three Yankees who just missed out on the Torre Dynasty have returned to the fold--Gerald Williams (traded in mid-'96 for Graeme Lloyd, among others) and Sterling Hitchcock (to Seattle for Jeff Nelson and Tino Martinez after the '95 season) being the others. Who's next--Tony Fernandez? Mike Stanley? Danny Freakin' Tartabull? Heat-packin', coke-snortin' Steve Howe (hey, he is a lefty...)? Lord help me, if Buck Showalter shows up in pinstripes again I'm turning in my Yankee cap.

* For my money, Tommy John should be in the Hall of Fame. Not just for the 26 seasons he spent in the bigs, or the 288 wins (plus six more in the postseason, where he had a 2.65 ERA in 14 games), or the four-year span in which he went 80-35 and pitched in three World Series. It's also for his medical legacy--John was the first pitcher to undergo a radical reconstructive surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe, in which tendons from his right hand were transplanted into his left elbow. The surgery has become so common, yet so successful that it bears his name--Tommy John Surgery. This piece recounts the history of John's surgery as well as that of several other pitchers who've undergone the knife.

* Al Martin, who led the league in bigamy last year, recently got caught in another delusion. Al recounted how, while playing football at USC, he tackled Michigan's Leroy Hoard during a game against Michigan in 1986. Only a couple of holes were poked in the story: Michigan and USC didn't play in 1986, and Martin not only never played at USC, but never even enrolled there. I'm not sure whether this would be funny if it weren't so sad, or sad if it weren't so funny. Either way, the guy needs some counselling--maybe a stint in Vietnam under Tim Johnson will help.


Return of the Jays

After four nights in the woods, I'm back in civilization, or the 3.2 percent version that passes for it in Salt Lake City... anyway, as it's September 1, Roster Expansion Day, I just wanted to note the return of the best baseball player ever named Jay, the Seattle Mariners' Jay Buhner. Buhner has been sidelined for the entirety of Seattle's impressive season with foot problems, but as a man who was around for the franchise's lean years, he certainly deserves a taste of the glory.

Buhner was acquired from the New York Yankees in 1988 in a trade for the immortal Ken Phelps. Phelps hit 17 home runs for the Yanks over parts of two seasons; Buhner's second on Seattle's all-time home run list with 305 and counting. Typical of the Yanks' decision making during the Dark Ages.

I've been doing a little bit of research on ballplayers named Jay. There have been 36 ballplayers with the first name Jay to have played in the bigs, and most of them have done so in my lifetime--an exciting demographic trend to someone who never met another person with the same name until after college. Buhner is the best of the lot, with Jay Bell a respectable second. Jay Witasick continues Jay Tessmer's tradition of lousy Yankee pitchers bearing my name. Jay Payton, whose strike zone is ranges from Hoboken to Fire Island, is yet another black mark against the name. I'll have a more extensive report on the Jays of the majors in the near future. I know you're all dying for it.


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