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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002


Dogs, Chickens, and Other Appetizing Tangents

I came across a couple of interesting items while chasing down some of the tangents for my dream piece. Jim Bouton (who immortalized manager Joe Schultz's "pound the ol' Budweiser" directive) had been on my mind a few weeks ago, when admissions from Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti about steroid use touched off a furor and a torrent of editorializing that made it all the way to the steps of the Capitol. In his classic 1970 book Ball Four, Bouton had written, "If you had a pill that would guarantee a pitcher twenty wins, but might take five years off his life, he'd take it." What, I wondered, would Bouton make of these recent revelations?

I wasn't the only one wondering, of course. The pros over at ESPN's Page 2 interviewed Bouton for a Ten Burning Questions With... piece, and leading off with a question about steroids, Bouton drops in that exact line. "The only thing I didn't know at the time was the name," says Bouton. His views on steroids as expounded in the piece (he thinks they should be banned, they give cheaters an advantage, they move the game closer to the realm of professional wrestling, etc.) aren't especially noteworthy beyond that, but any interview with the ol' Bulldog is worth a read, and he has some interesting insights as to the influence of Ball Four thirty years later.

One thing Bouton didn't mention in that interview is that he's apparently got a new book in the works. Waconeh Park is about Bouton's efforts to save the oldest minor-league ballpark in the country, an 83-year old park located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Says the press release: "With his trademark irreverence and sharp-eyed observations, Bouton recounts the battle being waged over whether to build a new stadium to replace 83-year-old Wahconah Park, a contentious struggle that pitted the wishes of the people against those of the local power elite."

As the story goes, Bouton (who lives in the Berkshires near Pittsfield) was involved in a partnership which attempted to bring an independent league team (from either the Atlantic League or the Northern League) to Waconeh Park and keep it there as they renovated the stadium. The city of Pittsfield ultimately accepted a competing proposal to field a Northern League team there, with an eye towards building a new ballpark. The battle was clearly an acrimonious one which gave Bouton some new insights into what he calls "America's new hostage crisis," the practice of team owners extorting publicly-funded stadiums out of taxpayers under the threat of moving their franchises. That does ring a bell these days, doesn't it?

The press release for Bouton's book, which will be published by PublicAffairs in time for the opening of the 2003 season, claims that just as Bouton laid bare the clubhouse in Ball Four, so will he lay bare "baseball's corporate and political strong-arming" in Wahconah Park: "Fans are having their pockets picked by the new-stadium juggernaut, and Jim shows the absurd lengths to which the advocates of these taxpayer-financed stadiums will go. It would be sad if it weren't so funny."

While I think the term "hostage crisis" overstates the case a bit in this political climate, the promise of a new Bouton book is not a trivial one. Is it too early to buy a copy? Or as Homer Simpson said: "Two questions: how much and give it to me."

• • • • •

Fred "Chicken" Stanley was an exemplary member of the Infielderus futilis classification during the 1970s and early '80s, playing for some awful teams (the '69 Seattle Pilots, where he was a September call-up after their famous author was traded to Houston, '71 Cleveland Indians, and'72 San Diego Padres, all of whom lost at least 95 games) and some great ones (the '76-'78 Yanks, and Billy Martin's '81 Oakland A's). With a lifetime batting average of .216 and 10 homers in 14 years, Stanley certainly won't be confused with Derek Jeter in Yankee lore. But he was a solid glove man who had his uses under the right manager (Martin); the A's even traded young Mike Morgan for him and Brian Doyle to reunite him with Number One.

As Yogi Berra said, "You can learn a lot by watching." Futility infielders, like backup catchers, absorb a lot of the game from the bench and tend to stick around after they retire, becoming successful coaches and managers. Count Stanley among these; he's in his third year piloting the San Francisco Giants' Class A entry in the Northwest League, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (as in Mount St. Helens). Last year, he and the Volcanoes won the league's championship, and Chicken's taken home Manager of the Year honors two years running. It's not exactly the big time (the Volcanoes stadium seats only 4,252), but you've got to start somewhere, and after serving for nine years in the Milwaukee Brewers' front office, Stanley's off to a great start in the dugout. Here's wishing him continued success.

Oh, and there really is a dish called Chicken Stanley: "Chicken breast sautéed with mushrooms and zucchini. Finished in a creamy mustard sauce, " according to this website. For those of you cooking at home, you can even find a recipe here.

Sunday, June 23, 2002


In Your Dreams, Jaffe

For a short time this morning, I was a New York Yankee. Those of you reading this, worried that some minor transaction slipped past you in the agate type on the Sunday sports page can rest easy--I slept through the whole affair. Baseball slipped into my slumber, and suddenly there I was in the Yankee clubhouse, with a locker next to Alfonso Soriano.

I have no idea how I found myself in that position. Perhaps Enrique Wilson simultaneously sprained his tailbone and his second chin while riding the pine, requiring the organization to find another futility infielder, and what with Luis Sojo now managing their AA Norwich team and Fred "Chicken" Stanley pushing sixty, I was next on the organizational depth chart. Whatever. I glanced nervously at my watch as I strode into the locker room, carrying a shoulder bag and trying to look nonchalant. It was 3:20, which seemed an OK arrival time for a night game. "What time is infield practice around here, anyway?" I wondered aloud.

I found my locker, right next to Soriano. Multiple uniforms, caps, and spikes, neatly arranged, awaited my arrival. If me being a Yankee wasn't farfetched enough, the well-organized locker should have been the tip-off that I was dreaming. My biggest concern as I arrived at the locker was remembering the combination to a small safe for valuables. Sori reminded me that the combination would match my uniform number, in this case 32 (apologies to Elston Howard for infringing upon his retired jersey. Hey man, I was asleep at the time...). I dialed the combo and the safe opened, much to my relief. Lord knows how I expected to actually secure anything in there when everybody knew everybody else's one-number "combo," but... insert Ruben Rivera punchline here.

I looked around the locker room. My Yankee teammates were for some reason dressing in road greys, rather than pinstripes, so I followed suit. This didn't seem nearly so strange as seeing the player dressing on the other side of Soriano's locker: Keith Hernandez. The former Met first baseman with the cheesy mustache was dressing in uniform number 23--the number belonging to the former Yankee first baseman with the cheesy mustache, Don Mattingly. I didn't have much problem with Hernandez taking Mattingly's number (being in the business of retired-number stealing myself), but I was puzzled why Keith was hanging on with the Yanks.

A large cardboard box was sitting in front of my locker. I opened the top and peeked in. It was a trophy of sorts, a large chalice that was apparently intended for Yogi Berra. I understood instantly--it was because Berra had entertained the fans during a recent rain delay by talking to them over the scoreboard Jumbotron (what, you DON'T remember?), and the Yankee organization once again wanted to show their gratitude to Yogi. As I explained this to Hernandez, he sneered and took issue with it. I told him, "Keith, you should be so lucky. If you were a nicer guy, maybe Cleveland wouldn't have let you go." Keith frowned at me, a Yankee official came by to pick up the trophy as we watched a clip of Berra on the clubhouse TV, and that was the end of the dream.

Even in my dreams, I apparently have a good grasp of baseball arcana. Hernandez finished his career with the Indians in 1990, though it was bad knees, and not a bad attitude, that did him in. I have to admit that I never did like him as a player, and I don't like him much as an announcer either--he's got a condescending air about him, and that mustache always seems to be hiding something. Not that I'm lying awake at nights thinking about my dislike of him--apparently, I'm dragging it down to my subconscious, where a rookie like me can sass back to Keith Hernandez.

This wasn't the first time baseball invaded my dreams, though it happens surprisingly infrequently. One of the most memorable ones involved me conversing with Mariners manager Lou Piniella as we took a shvitz together. The discussion was going along fine until I reminded Lou that his being doubled off of second base during Game 3 of the 1981 World Series was the turning point in that series--a good one for the Dodgers, for whom I was rooting. That dream took place in the winter of 1995-96, hot on the heels of the great 1995 ALDS in which the M's beat the Yanks--back when I was still rooting against the pinstripes. In the dream, Lou grimaced as I reminded him, then unleashed a torrent of obscenties so beyond my comprehension that I could only read his lips, as I'd done back in that Series game. Wow.

Another great baseball-related dream, this one from '97 (I wrote it down at the time, just like I'm doing now) involved me and actor Steve Buscemi. He and I were teammates on a Mexican League ballclub, and we were pounding the ol' Budweiser and consoling ourselves following a tough loss. Poor Steve had been the losing pitcher, and he winced every time he took a swig of beer, rubbing his sore shoulder (imagine, Steve Buscemi wearing a pained look). Buscemi confided that his sore arm had him thinking of hanging it up. I was feeling pretty proud of myself despite the loss, because I'd gotten a base hit with the handle of a garden rake.

Clearly, it was clutch hitting like that which brought me to the Yanks' attention. It took a long time, but I finally got called to The Show. Now it all makes sense...

Saturday, June 22, 2002


Comments Upgrade

I upgraded the comments system today. Not that you'd really be able to tell, though the page does seem to load a little bit faster.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002


Moving Along

I can't presume to speak for the moronic radio shock-jocks or the rabid Roger-hating Red Sox fans out there, but the rest of us baseball fans are happy that the Clemens@Shea affair is in the rearview mirror. No, the Mets didn't exact the kind of eye-for-an-eye revenge that the most bloodthirsty zombies who walk among us would have liked--newsflash to the zombies: if you're clamoring to dine on Clemens' brains, you're bound to be disappointed by what a meager meal they make. And yes, Shawn Estes looked somewhat ridiculous for throwing at Clemens and missing him.

But the Mets did hit Roger where it hurt, beating him like a rented fifth starter. Clemens brainlocked on a misplayed Estes bunt, failing to cover home and allowing the first run of the ballgame to score. Then he gave up a two-run homer to Estes, the first time he'd surrendered a gopher ball to a pitcher in his Hall of Fame career. When Roger looked to exact some amount of retribution by poking a double of his own down the leftfield line, his ample posterior clogged the basepaths and took the Yanks out of a potential rally. Clemens also slightly injured himself running the bases. And for the coup de grace, he surrendered a homer to Mike Piazza, an outcome which is exactly what this earflap-dusting flap was all about in the first place. On top of that, he was treated to a Shea serenade as he left the ballgame trailing 4-0. If you're a Mets fan who actually cares about winning a ballgame here and there, what the hell more could you ask for?

None of the Mets had any complaint with the outcome, at least publicly. But that didn't stop the ESPN knuckle-dragger Rob Dibble from finding fault with the team's reaction. D(r)ibble--who if he ate brains for breakfast would at least then be able to claim temporary possession of some--questioned Estes' toughness and surmised that his teammates felt their pitcher had let them down. Manager Bobby Valentine fired back at Dibble, calling him "the most unprofessional player to ever play, or one of them." Piazza was equally unequivocal: ""I just wasn't impressed [with Dibble's remarks]...if you're going to respond to him you might as well sit by talk radio and analyze every call."

Dibble, of course, wasn't the only media personality to open his mouth and remove all doubt as to how bright he is. Joe Morgan, who had a reputation as the smartest player in the game but whose intelligence seems to age like a vat of mayonnaise in the hot sun, showed he wasn't above calling for blood: "I believe the Mets' pitchers are obligated to retaliate for what happened two seasons ago...Piazza felt Clemens threw at him; that is all that matters."

New York Daily News media critic Bob Raissman does a good job of calling out some of the flame-fanners, including Dibble, Morgan, and Fox's Joe Buck. Raissman writes:

"In the third inning, after Tim McCarver said he thought Estes did enough to appease Mets fans and 'everybody is satisfied,' Joe Buck said fans were 'almost' satisfied. 'They'd like to see him (Clemens) in pain and they'd ike to see a bruise.'

"Shortly after that exchange, a botton-screen crawl, for Fox Sports' Internet site, asked fans to vote on whether they would like the Mets to continue to try nailing Clemens. In the fourth inning the results were posted, showing 84% of the fans wanted to see a Mets pitcher dust the Rocket.

"'How do you know about the 84% of the people we are dealing with here?' McCarver said. 'It could be 84% of the people who thought 'Gladiator' was a comedy.'"

That may well be the most perceptive thing McCarver ever said, but he showed admirable restraint for a Foxie during Saturday's broadcast. Buck, whose father (broadcast legend Jack Buck, who passed away Tuesday) undoubtedly taught him better, didn't come off nearly as well. Raissman doesn't indicate it, but Buck kept pressing the issue while the rest of the game (i.e., situations which didn't involve Roger) unfolded. Let's hope his old man didn't roll into his grave over that one.

Because it makes for good theater, some desperate members of the media will continue to fan the flames. But this is the last you'll hear from me on the matter. Like most sane human beings, I'm ready to move on.

Monday, June 17, 2002


The Inevitable World Cup Column

As sports-related fevers go, baseball is running a distant second in my household this month. My roommate Issa, a soccer fanatic, is in the full throes of World Cup fever thanks to the time-shifting magic of the TiVo system he purchased a few days before the tournament started. Committing to full immersion in a month-long tournament being held halfway around the globe isn't for the ill-equipped, so Issa got himself a little help in the form of a marvelous machine which puts every VCR ever produced to shame. Thanks to that contraption, and no small amount of sleep deprivation, Issa has watched 85% (by his estimate) of the tournament thus far. I can vouch for that figure--frankly, I'm surprised he's still got a job.

But he's not walking the soccer path alone. Virtual neighbor Nick ("Clubhouse Lawyer") is a huge soccer buff, a two-sport threat who can yammer about Manchester United, the English Premier League, When Saturday Comes and David Beckham's haircut du jour until the Spice Girls come home. My brother Bryan grew up starring in the sport and throwing hair-pulling temper tantrums whenever I wanted to change the channel away from PBS's "Soccer Made In Germany". These guys have been gathering regularly for 7:30 AM viewings of the previous night's action--the better to combat what I'll call Nagano Syndrome: the pre-emptive ruination of a time-shifted sporting event by discovering the result. I see their point--it's the best way to avoid finding the score inadvertently (not a difficult thing amid the ethnic mix of New York City)--but I only partake when the U.S. plays. Breakfast with Tommy Smyth (imagine an Irish cross between Dick Vitale and Yogi Berra, calling a soccer game) doesn't carry quite the same allure for me.

I'm not exactly a stranger with the game. I grew up playing soccer, not baseball, toiling for five years on some fairly disinterested rec-level teams in Salt Lake City. I scored the grand total of one goal in my soccer career, primarily because I spent most of my time as a fullback or goalie, where my less-than-stellar attention span and loathing of running weren't quite so damaging (hey, at least I never sunk to the mud pie-making, dandelion-chasing level of my teammate Benji Smith. Sheesh). I did enjoy one championship season as the starting left halfback on an undefeated (7-0-1) team, but that was the high-water mark. Nepotistic coaches, poor sportsmanship, and a dearth of talent among my cohorts made for some lean years which leave me with the regret that I didn't pursue my first love, baseball, instead.

If I had, I might have brought the intensity to baseball that my brother did to soccer. My father likes to tell the story of how on Saturday mornings you could find Bryan kicking a ball against the garage door, revving up his competitive engine as he waited for his ride to the game. I, on the other hand, had to be rousted from my books, my baseball cards, and my cartoons to gather my gear in time for the match. I liked the game, but even then, I would rather expended my energy on baseball. Bryan could score hat tricks at will in his rec days, and went on to play on state champions in junior high and high school. I couldn't even make my freshman high school baseball team. Anyway, enough time on the psychiatrist's couch...

Despite the biases I project onto the sport thanks to these childhood scars, I am managing to enjoy the World Cup without too much trouble. Of course it helps to have a home team to rally around, one with stars as bright as Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, DaMarcus Beasley, Travis Bickle-lookalike Clint Mathis, and John Malkovich-lookalike Brad Friedel (all hail the goalkeeper!). There's not much that compares with being able to holler out "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL!" at 8:30 AM in imitation of the Univision announcers while watching an American make a restaurant-quality crossing pass to set up a score. That's the bulge in the ol' onion bag, as Tommy Smyth is fond of saying.

The pro-U.S. fun will probably end soon--we're not going to win this thing, are we? But at least the shame I felt watching the Americans lose to Iran in '98 and score one measly goal in three games in France has been banished. Advancing through their group by beating heavily-favored Portugal, tying home-team (and Olympic revenge-motivated) South Korea and then flopping listlessly against Poland before sneaking through the backdoor and into the Round of 16, the U.S. had already outdone itself. But in stifling Mexico 2-0 on Monday morning for the biggest soccer win in this country's history, the U.S. has finally made a dent in the World Cup.

I still think soccer faces an uphill battle for acceptance as a big-time sport in this country, even with the men's success, the U.S. women's World Cup victory in 1999 and the birth of a new women's league last year. The continuous action of the game makes it difficult for TV advertisers to latch onto. Unlike football, baseball, and basketball, with their built-in (and TV-exacerbated) delays in the action, soccer runs 45 or so minutes at a clip without a full stop in the action. This is hard on the average American sports fan's attention span, not to mention his bladder. The other is that said fan, at least the male subspecies, is already so saturated with other viewing options that the prospect of taking up an unfamiliar sport induces a rational admission: it's time to pull my ass out of this E-Z chair and get some fresh air, even if it means mowing the damn lawn. Call this the NASCAR Syndrome. Hell, I'm as susceptible to a sports bandwagon as anybody, but living in a veritable soccer-fever hothouse, I haven't caught the bug.

I do think certain changes in the game would aid its acceptance in America: shorter halves, perhaps divided into quarters, translate into more opportunities for advertisers. Unlimited substitution would allow for fresher legs and more dynamic action (and more commercial cutaways). It would also familiarize audiences with the type of specialized roles that basketball and hockey players carry (go-to scorers, defensive specialists, etc.). If all that sounds like your vision of hell, relax--I'm not actually advocating them. Your average soccer purist would be as horrified by those suggestions as we baseball fans would be if some crackpot Futility Midfielder suggested 18-man offense-defense platoons (a side full of designated hitters!) for 6-inning ballgames, with a TV commercial every time a runner reaches base.

Not that it really matters much. Soccer is the international game, and it's the U.S. sports fan's loss for not embracing the sport, for not being able to appreciate the fervor that grips entire nations as they pull for their teams. Then again, we've got a enough potential for mob violence without tossing a round ball into the mix. As for me, while I'm a quick study in any sport provided the stakes are high enough, I only obsess night and day about one. So while I'll be waking up early to watch the U.S.-Germany match on Friday morning, my boys will have to forgive me if I put the admittedly tantalizing Brazil-England match (scheduled at 2:25 AM, to be viewed at 6 AM here) under my pillow instead. I've got to study those On Base Percentages etched on the backs of my eyelids.

Thursday, June 13, 2002


Headline of the Day: Ventura Can't Predict What's Going to Happen

I wince as I think how many $3.99-a-minute phone calls I've made to Robin Ventura's Psychic Hotline. I feel so suckered....


Jay's Ditch Deja Vu

Yesterday I bailed out of work early to attend the Yankees-Diamondbacks game. Unfortunately, just like last year's Ditch Day, Mike Mussina had less than his best stuff and made a mess of things. Mussina fell behind most of the hitters, including going 2-0 on .154-hitting backup catcher Rod Barajas, who hit a 2-run homer in the second inning. Some stellar defensive plays on hard-hit balls (including a John Vander Wal collision with the rightfield wall) kept things close for awhile, but Steve Finley took Moose over the wall (again on a 2-0 pitch) for a 3-run shot in the 5th. Ugh.

That blast made the score 6-1, and when the rain began falling in the top of the next inning, it was pretty obvious that once again, it was time to ditch Ditch Day. On our way out of Yankee Stadium, we checked in with a view from the leftfield corner as the Yanks cut the lead to 6-2, but the weather wasn't improving, so we fled. I checked in as I got home to discover that Shane Spencer had gotten the Yanks back into the game with a 3-run homer, but it was to no avail, as Finley hit another homer in the 9th.

I won't make the same mistake next year. Instead of picking a day game along with all of my other tickets in the winter, I'll choose a one a couple of days in advance and walk up to buy tickets. You can be damn sure Mussina won't be pitching that game; I'd like to make sure I enjoy my days off.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002


The Barry Bonds Walkathon

I had the pleasure of attending Sunday's Yankees-Giants matchup, the one which was somewhat overbilled as Clemens vs. Bonds. It didn't exactly live up to the hype in terms of classic showdowns, but it generated more than its share of heat, and a great ball game nonetheless. This even though Bonds never got an official at-bat despite five plate appearances. Anyway, the write-up is here.

I had very mixed emotions about the whole Clemens vs. Bonds thing. Never a card-carrying member of the Rocket's fan club, I was disappointed when in the first inning, with two outs and nobody on, he didn't go after Bonds with his best stuff and instead "un"-intentionally walked him. Worst case scenario, if Bonds connects it's only 1-0. Instead, prolonging the inning bit Clemens on the ass as Santiago doubled and Barry scored on a wild pitch.

The HBP in the third, well, we all know Roger hides behind the DH anyway. But he's 100% correct about the body-armor issue; it's ridiculous. No way Bonds hits 73 homers with an ungodly OBP without being so protected physically that he's got no fear regarding the inside pitch. That doesn't mean Clemens was right to hit him, but it wasn't surprising either. FWIW, the Giants pitcher, Russ Ortiz, essentially got two cracks at making up for it, first with a throw at Giambi that drew a warning to both sides, then later with actually hitting Jeter without any recourse. (I should add that I didn't see either pitch from the TV angles so I don't know how "intentional" either of those pitches were.)

In the other ABs the Yanks' strategy made more sense:

* 5th inning, with one out, a man on 2nd and first base open (Giants leading 2-1), walking Bonds was clearly the right call

* 7th with 2 out and the same runner situation, no issue

* 9th inning, representing the tying run (the Yanks had taken the lead), Karsay going at Bonds brought a buzz to the ballpark. But after he fell behind in the count, Karsay intentionally put the tying run on, which is a measure of the respect Bonds deserves these days, and again, one that's tough to disagree with.

Torre's thought process (fans preferring a win to a marquee confrontation) and strategy were to do what's best for the team. I felt a bit deprived because he let the air out of the matchup, but that's why they pay him the big dollars. I was pretty elated to see the Yanks escape with the come-from-behind win.

A final thought: Bonds' OBP is .569, which means that somebody's getting the guy out. It's down at .516 when you take out the intentional walks. As Bill James showed in the New Bill James Historical Basebal Abstract,, Babe Ruth comment (pages 784-785): "there's no such thing as a hitter so good that he should be routinely walked."

Tuesday, June 04, 2002


Mitt Fit

Earlier today, for reasons known only to the gremlins that run amok inside the Internet and the faceless automatons who supposedly man the tech support lines for, this site was down. Despite a great day at work (the boss really liked the new book I'm designing) and good news on other fronts (which I'll get to shortly), the service outage filled my heart with murderous rage. Lose Game Seven of the World Series--that's life. Drop two of three to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium--big deal, it's June. But let the 50 people looking for this site come up with "unable to find domain" and deny me a live-bodied customer service rep to vent my frustration to, and that's when I reach for my revolver. Anyway, apologies if you had trouble getting onto the site, and thanks for trying again.

I was a real piece of work for anybody who crossed my path today, particularly for the art director for one of my company's clients. The reason was an ongoing argument regarding a photo of a catcher's mitt. Because the cost of an archival photo was out of the question, this generic mitt was serving to illustrate a short bio of Yogi Berra in the "Notable People" section of a book (I don't want to get too specific and embarrass my client). Back when I'd art-directed the project (prior to shifting my attentions to the other entity I protect with the ferocity of a mother rhinoceros), I'd chosen the glove photo, but absent my attention, it had been repositioned, flipped, and ultimately replaced in response to several queries form the client. Queries specifically relating to whether it was for the proper sport or the correct hand.


There are plenty of people in the universe to whom my own general baseball knowledge clearly takes a back seat. Roger Angell. Bill James. Joe Torre. Derek Jeter. Rob Neyer. Vin Scully. If they're not on the field or in the dugout, you can find most of their names on the bookshelves of a well-stocked baseball library, or on some of the more popular baseball-related websites online. But none of those people--as I have found over the past five years--are the good folks I work with, which doesn't lower my opinions of my co-workers one iota or detract from the work we do.

And very few of them are my clients. So I've made a duty out of fact-checking anything involving baseball which crosses my path at work. A mission. I even chose the two Yogi Berra quotes for the bio in question ("It ain't over till it's over," and "Ninety percent of baseball is half mental"). A mission, damn it.

So after patiently answering queries through intermediaries ("yes, it's a BASEball mitt..." "yes, it's a left-handed glove, for a right-handed thrower..." "yes, while Berra batted lefty, he threw righthanded, as have all catchers in major league baseball for the last hundred years except for Dale Long for two games in 1958..."), I reached the final straw today. The mitt was being questioned once again, as I found out via a note taped to my monitor. This after the art director was faxed a printout of the mitt along with a photo of Berra taken from the National Baseball Hall of Fame website, with Berra's mitt and ball in a position identical to the original glove (good work to our photo researcher on that one).

So, with the full force of three cups of coffee (and the aforementioned frustration regarding this site's outage), my fingers pounded the telephone keypad as I called the art director. I proceeded to carry on one half of the most absurd and surreal conversation ever in my professional career as I explained my view of the issue and tried to orient this guy (and his left hand) to the faxed photos:

"Now, where it's labelled 'top,' you've got that at the top of the page, right? Then the webbing of the glove is at 10 o'clock. And the thumb of the glove runs from six o'clock to nine... Okay, turn your LEFT hand over so that your palm faces you. Which way is your thumb pointing?"

I was slightly embarrassed at the condescending tone I heard coming out of my own mouth, but I knew I was right, so I camouflaged my outrage in the way that tactful adults do, by using phrases like "excuse me," and "with all due respect," and "I beg to differ." Despite the visual aids and the verbal restraint, things still weren't working, and so I handed the phone over to the job's manager before I lost my temper. Safely out of range of the phone (I hoped), I proceeded to tell everybody within earshot that I was going to buy the goddamn Yogi Berra picture out of my own pocket and send it to this poor guy, along with a picture of my...

Yes, it was that kind of day. I think my point ultimately prevailed, and a humble, generic catcher's mitt will illuminate children's understanding of the wit and wisdom of Yogi Berra like a beacon in the fog. But it ain't over till it's over.

* * * * *

And in the Other Than That Mrs. Lincoln How Did You Like the Play Department... I got some great news yesterday: I have a ticket to the All-Star Game. My girlfriend Andra's parents live in Milwaukee (where I paid a visit last summer). They entered their names in the All-Star ticket lottery several times on our behalf by sending in countless postcards; lo and behold, our card came up, and we were offered the chance to buy. The tickets are not just for the game but for all of the official festivities that weekend, including the Home Run Derby and the Old-Timer's Game. They're not great seats, but I've had worse for World Series games, and I survived just fine.

Now, I've got mixed emotions about this year's All-Star Game, love it as I would to see Bud Selig publicly embarrassed by a players' walkout in his own backyard. And I've got mixed emotions about the Home Run Derby mentality which seems to prevail among baseball fans as it becomes baseball's version of the slam dunk. But I do feel for the good people of Milwaukee who ponied up the dough for their new ballpark, only to be subjected to a lousy team fielded by one of the worst-run organizations in the game. And I'm not so damn foolish that I'd pass up this opportunity (or overlook the thougthful intervention on our behalf by Andra's parents)--it gives me something to write about.

Besides, as you probably can tell, I could use a vacation.

Sunday, June 02, 2002



Oakland general manager Billy Beane has tried to shake up the A's in the last couple of weeks, making some very questionable roster decisions in the process--most notably, sending down highly-touted rookie first basemen Carlos Pena and trading outfielder Jeremy Giambi. Beane's track record in creating a viable contender out of the small-market A's has bought him some slack (and some wishy-washy defense) regarding these puzzling moves from some of his most ardent proponents--ESPN's Rob Neyer and several writers on Baseball Prospectus, most notably. He's caught a bit more grief over at the discussion boards of Baseball Primer, and yours truly has spent his share of time yapping along as well.

Though the details are murky, the Giambi trade and probably the farm-outs seem to be assertions of authority related to non-baseball issues; how else to explain for getting abolutely nothing of value for Little G in the stuffed uniform of John Mabry? I've already hashed this deal over, so I'll move on.

Just in case I'd started thinking about cutting Beane some slack, a quote of his in Sunday's New York Times had me recoiling in horror. In discussing pitcher Mark Mulder's injury troubles (a strained forearm), Beane said:

"That cost him a month of pitching. On a bigger market club, you'd send him down for some rehab starts, make sure he's in shape and ready to go. We're not in that position, so Mark sort of had rehab on the fly."

I couldn't believe my eyes. Here's a GM talking about a pitcher who won 21 games last year, one of his three aces (along with Tim Hudson and Barry Zito), a guy he's got locked up under contract for the next four years--in short, a pillar of the franchise's future. And Beane is playing the "small market" card to justify rushing back Mulder from an injury (to a rocky 3-4, 6.10 ERA record) in a season that's looking with every passing day as a harsh lesson in reality.

Look, despite my previous burial, the A's aren't completely dead, not even with a 27-28 record, eight games back of Seattle and a view of the Anaheim Angels' taillights. And though they're not the team I ultimately root for, I do have more than a passing interest in them, as a fan, an analyst, and a roto-head (with Hudson, Mecir, Hernandez, Chavez, Justice, Piatt and pre-trade Little G, my fantasy team looks like a dotcom-busted portfolio full of tech stocks). Mulder did win on Sunday, throwing 5 2/3 innings at the mighty Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But if Beane continues to follow that rationale in handling his important players, his priorities for the organization are seriously out of whack, and something will come back to bite him on the ass eventually. Riding the whip to assert his authoritah, Beane could either turn the A's into your worst Dan Duquette I'm-in-charge-here nightmare or into a self-fulfilling (and sefl-immolating) prophecy straight out of Bud Selig's wildest dreams.

Either one will be a sorry-ass sight.


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