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, July 31, 2002
Barely three weeks after he was traded from the Florida Marlins to the Montreal Expos, Cliff Floyd was traded again, this time to the Boston Red Sox. Thus he's completed an unseemly journey between three teams linked by this past offseason's franchise-manipulating shenanigans.
Recall that current Red Sox owner John Henry is also the former owner of the Florida Marlins, and that current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is the former owner of the Montreal Expos. When Henry's group "won" the bid for the Sox, Loria was allowed to buy the Marlins and sell the Expos to Major League Baseball, semmingly a precursor towards contracting the poor Expos. This unholy triangle was of course aided and abetted by Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig managed to overlook the fact that Henry's group may not have been the highest bidder for the Sox (as the condition of the franchise sale mandated). One wonders if Selig hasn't served up another fat pitch for ol' John Henry here.
When the Expos acquired Floyd, it was on the heels of their acquisition of ace pitcher Bartolo Colon from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for two prospects. The Expos stood at 46-41, 9.5 games out of first place in the NL East and 5 games out of the Wild Card, but the deal made sense in a win-now kind of way. Three weeks later, the Expos have slumped with Floyd (7-12) but remain only 6 games out of the Wild Card, despite falling to 16 in back of the Braves in the East. Instead of hanging tough with their augmented lineup, they send Clifford packing in exchange for two middling Korean pitching prospects (including the wonderfully-named Seung Song, whom I saw pitch at the All-Star Futures Game) who aren't as good as what they gave up. If winning now is no longer the mandate, and contraction is still in the cards (cough, cough), what the hell good are prospects for the Expos?
Despite the rant and the presence of my favorite toupéed whipping boy, I'm not quite ready to call this one a conspiracy. Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan
(who, like me, is a Yankees fan) falls just short of uttering the C-word as he tries to make sense of the trade; his article is well worth a read, especially when it points out how much attendance increased during the short span when the Expos appeared to be in the race.
But unanswered by any conspiracy theory I've heard is why Selig/MLB/Montreal would do Henry a favor by gifting their newly acquired slugger when Bud already did an even bigger favor by fixing the Sox sale. One would think he's already got Henry's support for whatever nefarious scheme he blunders into. And so long as you're selling off the Expos for scrap, why stop at Floyd--why not trade Colon, Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Vidro in exchange for Quebec's independence or a fifty-foot statue of Tim Raines or something useful like that? I don't get it.
As a Yanks fan, I'm not going to sweat the Sox acquiring Floyd too much. Had they pried loose Jim Thome from the Indians, I might have worried a bit, because it's always Whacking Day for Thome when he faces the Yanks. He's got 3 HRs in 20 ABs against them this year, and 12 in 124 ABs over the past four seasons. No wonder he seems to hit one nearly every time I'm watching. My favorite Yankee opponent, hands down.
But just because I'm not worried about the ramifications for the Yanks and don't think it's truly a conspiracy doesn't mean I don't have a bad taste in my mouth about this. Anything involving players traded into or out of Montreal this year is highly questionable and deserving of further scrutiny. Anything involving Selig and the operations of an individual team, particularly the two teams he's so incestuously involved with (now there's a pleasant image) shouldn't pass unnoticed either.
So with apologies to Franklin P. Adams
, who wrote the second-most famous baseball poem of all time (after Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat"), and a nod to my late grandfather, who was given to composing bits of doggerel in his letters, I leave with you with this:
Baseball's New Sad Lexicon
These are the saddest of possible words:
"Loria to Selig to Henry."
Trio of bandits, reeking of turds,
Loria and Selig and Henry.
Ruthlessly wrecking our great old pastime,
Making a trade that ought to be crime.
Words that are heavy with nothing but slime:
"Loria to Selig to Henry."
: There's plenty more talk on the conspiracy front. The Boston Globe's Gordon Edes gives a bit of Beantown perspective, including a conversation with Sox CEO Larry Luccino. ESPN Insider's Jim Bake,r answering a letter from a reader, says the conspiracy theory could be plugged in if any one of a number of teams had acquired Floyd:
: Selig doing favor for most influential owner in game
: Selig wants big market team to win western division for TV ratings
: Selig thinks a Braves world championship would be just the thing for baseball.
"And, on the end of the spectrum:
: Selig thinks moribund team could use a shot in the arm so he can focus contraction hopes elsewhere.
: No explanation necessary.
"Let's face it: The league owning a team is just plain bad mojo. Any move it makes, no matter how benign, is going to look like some kind of backdoor malfeasance. The conspiracy theory angle is much more fun, though."
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
The "Where Are They Now" Files
A good friend of my girlfriend, a Yankee fan living out in Los Angeles, wrote me to suggest a "Where Are They Now" piece on the former Yankees who scattered to the four winds after last year's World Series. So it's to her, an avowed Chuck Knoblauch fan (she's used the words "love child" in connection with him), that I dedicate the following column...
The Yankees did a fair amount of housecleaning following their World Series defeat. Of the core Yanks who departed the team after last season, three of them (Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill, and Luis Sojo) retired, one (David Justice) was traded, and two more (Chuck Knoblauch and Tino Martinez) left as free agents. Looking at their performances, its tough to see how any of them could have helped the team this season. Their presence may be missed, but their bats are not.
First, the retirees. Nary a peep has been heard from Scott Brosius
, who went home to Oregon to spend time with his family. Paul O'Neill
works part time as part of the pre- and post-game team for the Yankee Entertainment and Sports Network (YES). The few times I've seen him, he's been solid and he seems to be getting more comfortable, especially when discussing his favorite subject, hitting. He hasn't maimed any water coolers yet, and he's avoided the temptation to practice his swing while other announcers are talking, but beyond that it's too early for me to judge his performance.
was actually coaxed into one more spring training as a non-roster invitee. But he retired after a strong bid to make the club fell short. On May 16, the Yanks did some organizational shuffling, firing the manager of AAA Columbus and promoting AA Norwich manager Stump Merrill to that spot. Sojo was hired to manage the Navigators, who then stood at 14-10 and 1 game out of first place in the Eastern League's Northern Division. They're 43-38 since Looie took over, in first place atop a tight four-team Northern Division race. And Sojo looks as jovial
as ever. Expect him to remain a fixture in the Yankee organization.
As for the other ex-Yankee hitters, none of them are exactly tearing the cover off the ball:
AVG OBP SLG R HR BI
Chuck Knoblauch .192 .269 .271 26 3 16
Tino Martinez .248 .333 .404 36 12 51
David Justice .272 .406 .409 30 6 26
has had a tough season in Kansas City. A slow start, a 1-for-29 slump and a wrist injury which cost him six weeks on the DL put him him well below the Mendoza Line (a paltry .167) through the All-Star Break. Since returning, he's shown some signs of improvement: 9-for-27 (.333), including a 4-hit game. And he has yet to be caught stealing, going 17-for-17. None of which justifies the Royals having given him nearly 180 plate appearances in the leadoff spot. Apparently neither Tony Muser nor Tony Pena got the memo about scoring runs.
Call me crazy, but I think Knoblauch could help a contender as a 25th man down the stretch. His speed and baserunning skills are still there, and in limited opportuntity, he's shown himself to be a very good pinch-hitter (4-for-7 with a walk over the past 3 seasons). Break it down to a single high-pressure at-bat where you need a base runner and take your chances with the Lil' Bastard's ability to work the count.
In other years, some club might trade a second-rate pitching prospect and a frozen turkey for a chance to rent his Veteran Presence for two months. But in this cost-conscious year, it's doubtful that any team would look to take on even his meager salary for the stretch run. To say nothing about whether we'll even get to HAVE a stretch run.
has failed to meet even the meager nutritional levels of an expired Big Mac. Mark McGwire, despite batting .187 last season, hit 29 homers and posted an 808 OPS, a level of production the Red One found so unacceptable he hung up his spikes. Even so, Tino has been a step down, with a not-so-shiny .248 masking a meager 737 OPS and 12 HRs, though at least he's been healthy.
Much was made of Tino's clutch hitting last year, and to the extent that we can pick and choose exactly what we want that to mean, the stats bear that out. His OPS was 94 points better with Runners In Scoring Position than overall, and 135 points better in Close & Late situations (7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck). He was 6-for-15 with 19 RBI and a 1056 OPS with the bases loaded. By contrast, his clutch ability seems to have gone missing (which should come as no surprise to anyone who's studied the matter). He's only about 30 OPS points better in RISP than overall, 10 points lower than overall in Close & Late, and 2-for-12 with 12 RBI and an awful 485 OPS with the bases loaded. Proving only that small sample sizes don't mean much when it comes to the elusive Clutch Hitter.
On the positive side, he is walking more often--in fact he's already equalled last year's total, and his .333 OBP is actually higher than last year. Helluva good glove man, too. And Tino always was good with those one-day-at-a-time soundbites, so no doubt his Veteran Presence has meant something to the Cards during this emotionally trying season. And postseason experience should come in handy, if we have a postseason. Soundbites and October redemption are what he's got to sell.
got off to a hot start in Oakland (.301 with 4 HR and a 908 OPS through May 7), but then his alter ego, Cranky McGroin, put a damper on things, costing him 4 weeks on the DL. Since returning, Justice has been punchless (.352 SLG and only 2 HR in 177 PA). Still, he is getting base to a .406 clip, which means he's not exactly hurting the A's offense.
Another departed Yank of a considerably lower profile, Clay Bellinger
has taken his jack-of-all-trades act west to the Anaheim Angels. Or rather, to the Angels' AAA Salt Lake City affiliate, where he can show off his World Series rings to the kids. Bellinger's hitting .268 with 11 HR and 35 RBI for the Stingers, playing first base, third base, the outfield and even catching a few games. He's been up and down with Anaheim already, going hitless in his only at bat for them. Can you say "organizational fodder"?
Finally, a couple of pitchers. Mark Wohlers
has done a fairly brutal job at the back of the Cleveland Indian bullpen, the nadir of which was allowing 7 runs in 2/3 of an inning to Anaheim on April 30. His ERA has only recently come down from the Boeing Jet catalog territory, and he stands at 1-1 with a 5.48 ERA. Jay Witasick
, on the other hand, has been surprisingly effective for the San Francisco Giants, posting a 2.16 ERA in 50 innings of setup work in front of Robb Nen. Witasick just went on the 15-day DL with a bruised foot after being hit by a line drive. Still, he ought to win some kind of prize as the only one of this bunch to have actually improved since leaving.
The collective performance of this bunch, while not exactly impossible to foresee, stands as further testimony to the Yankee front-office smarts. None of these players are outperforming their replacements, and while they may have their spots in the hearts of Yank fans, it's definitely better for the team that they've moved on.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
The Smart Stuff
There's a lot of smart writing out there about the current state of the game with regards to the labor situation and the lawsuit against Bud Selig. At the risk of sounding overly didactic, I think every baseball fan who wants to have an argument about the state of the game with regards to money should read these articles:
• Salon's Allen Barra reviews the basics
in the current conflict: "What are the issues involved in this year's labor problems? Exactly the same ones that have been involved in every work stoppage since 1972. And every single one of those stoppages was preceded by the owners' making new demands of the players -- demands that would restrict their hard-won right to free agency -- while the players were prepared to accept the status quo."
Barra takes certain writers to task for their pox-on-both-houses rhetoric attitude, a tactic of writers who "prefer to fan the flames of anger and resentment." But he misses an opportunity to draw the connection between media-owned franchises and writers who shill for ownership's interests in their publications. Paging Phil Rogers...
• Over at Baseball Prospecuts, Doug Pappas does his usual stellar job debunking the untruths
being spread by Robert DuPuy, president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball in a recent interview with Baseball America
. For instance, DuPuy claims that "Just in operations alone, the clubs last year lost over $300 million," which contradicts MLB's "official" figure of $232 million in operating losses, never mind that Forbes Magazine
(which knows a wee bit more about money than Bud Selig) estimated that MLB actually made an operating profit of $76.7 million. DuPuy also offers the demonstrably false statement regarding the profitability of the last dozen major league franchise sales ("Of the last dozen sales," says DuPuy, "fewer than half recouped the investment, let alone the investment plus the losses." ; Pappas examines each one and concludes that at worst three were break-even and the rest either solidly or highly profitable. Pappas' work in examining MLB's finances
and exposing their inaccuracies is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL reading; one simply can't have a legitimate argument about the financial state of the game without acknowledging it.
• David Pinto, a former researcher for ESPN's Baseball Tonight, has a thoughtful weblog called Baseball Musings
. Recently he provoked the ire of a Brewers fan with the following statement:
"This is the team that is making more money than any other franchise. Why didn't Selig (sorry, I mean, 'Wendy') take the profit and give it to Giambi? Here Jason, here's 18 million a year, come play in Miller park and hit 80 HR a year. We'll fill the stands, and maybe win some games. No, Bud has to prove that small market teams can't win in this environment. Meanwhile, the A's, Twins and Expos are showing how you can do it. The Brewers organization is a sham, and they should be the team to go."
In his response
to the disgruntled Brewers fan, Pinto discusses the relationship between Selig, the stadium game, attendance, and contraction, and offers several remedies specific to Milwaukee's situation. At the risk of wearing out my welcome to excerpt his work, I'll advise you (especially my Brew Crew readership) to check out his site.
• Back at Baseball Prospectus, in an otherwise meandering column
, Joe Sheehan succinctly summarizes one of the most important solutions to baseball's current woes: "Motivated ownership groups. Not revenue sharing, not a luxury tax, not the firing of Bud Selig, not new stadiums, not a work stoppage. Motivated, well-funded ownership groups are what baseball needs. Leeches like Carl Pohlad or the Tribune Company or Disney do nothing for the game. " Amen, brother.
• Finally, Bull Magazine's Craig Calcaterra discusses the impending racketeering lawsuit
against Selig and Expos cum Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, which charges that the Commish, DuPuy and Loria conspired to dilute his partners' ownership shares:
"This is no gentlemanly, contractual dispute. To sue someone under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") is to go thermonuclear. And while you probably care just about as much as I do (i.e. not at all) about a bunch of obscenely wealthy Québécois
getting deked out of their vanity investment, consider that a RICO suit will almost certainly involve gobs of invasive discovery. If nothing else, Selig's and Loria’s dirty laundry is sure to get a good airing. And if the suit isn't settled relatively quickly (which, given Selig’s demonstrated lack of foresight, it probably won't be), we should finally get the inside skinny on some of the league's more titillating misadventures in ownership."
Calcaterra opines that should a RICO settlement (in which damages are automatically tripled) cost wealthy owners like George Steinbrenner and Rupert Murdoch serious money, it could spell the end of Bud.
Which obviously wouldn't be a bad thing, in many of our opinions.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Did I miss something? Did the baseball season end while I went out for lunch? The top story on ESPN.com this afternoon:
Ready for Prime Time?
Think back. Remember Dec. 27, 1998? That's the last time the 49ers won a game against the Rams. St. Louis has beaten San Francisco six straight times. So while they have four prime-time games this season, the 49ers have to get a win over the Rams if they want to be considered one of the NFL's elite teams, writes John Clayton.
With all due respect to the game of football, Knute Rockne, Jim Brown, Air Coryell, Marshall Faulk, and Bill Walsh, Genius, WHO GIVES A SHIT? IT'S JULY!
We've got baseball. Balls, strikes, strike zones
, strike dates
, Manny, A-Rod
, Pedro, The Big Unit, The Gambler
, The Moehler
, the Dolans
, the frozen corpse of Ted Williams
, and a case of Stubby Clapp
Any one of these is more interesting than midsummer speculation about upcoming regular-season football games. The only time football should be a top story during the summer is if (God forbid) some poor guy keels over from heat exhaustion and dies, some foreign-born kicker gets caught with a foreign substance, or if some legendary coach or quarterback decides to turn in his playbook. Any other football news should be relegated behind not only baseball, but summer basketball, tennis, soccer, golf, NASCAR, bowling, cockfighting, dwarf tossing, alligator wrestling, and yak racing at this time of year.
Remember December 27, 1998? Neither does Steve Young. Why the hell would I?
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Weaver and Lilly
On Sunday I finally had a chance to watch Jeff Weaver
, the latest addition to the Yankees' rotation and ever-increasing payroll. Acquired just prior to the All-Star break, Weaver had made two starts in pinstripes which I'd missed. He didn't exactly distinguish himself in those outings, giving up his share of runs but being rescued by the turbocharged Yankee offense. His performance performance on Sunday was no prettier than his previous two. In fact, it was considerably uglier; Weaver blew an early four-run lead and tied a Yankee Stadium record by surrendering five home runs. But the Bronx Bombers again rescued him, rallying to beat the Boston Red Sox for their fifth final-at-bat, come-from-behind victory in the last six games.
Even prior to Sunday's near-debacle, I had very mixed feelings about the corner of the trade which brought Weaver to New York in exchange for Ted Lilly
(who went to Oakland to be their #4 starter behind Hudson, Mulder, and Zito) and two top-notch prospects. The conventional wisdom is that the Yanks upgraded from an unestablished pitcher to a more experienced and heralded one--an ace in the making. But while the evidence doesn't exactly refute that, it does give enough pause to wonder what the hubbub is all about. First off, Lilly was pitching as well as any Yankee starter this year. Sorting by ERA:
IP IP/GS ERA K/9 K/W HR/9 WHIP
Pettitte 54.0 5.40 3.50 6.0 2.3 0.5 1.54
Lilly 68.2 6.25 3.54 6.9 2.4 1.2 1.06
Hernandez 71.2 6.52 3.64 7.2 2.9 1.1 1.03
Wells 126.1 6.65 3.78 6.1 2.6 0.7 1.27
Clemens 118.2 6.25 4.02 9.6 3.1 0.8 1.23
Mussina 129.0 6.45 4.40 7.2 3.7 1.3 1.14
These numbers are as a starter only; if we include relief appearances Lilly's numbers are even better. Still, he ranks 2nd in ERA, 2nd in baserunners per inning (WHIP), and 4th in strikeouts per 9 among the six Yankee starters, and seemed to have shed the knock about not lasting deep enough into games. He threw a 1-hitter
at the Seattle Mariners earlier this year, as well as a 3-hit shutout
against the San Diego Padres. With a little more run support, his record could have been 6-3, instead of the other way around, prior to the trade. In short, Ted Lilly has shown he's capable of being a solid-to-excellent big league starter.
Surprisingly enough, Lilly is actually seven months older than Weaver and was drafted two years earlier, as the 23rd round pick of the L.A. Dodgers in 1996 (he came to the Yanks via Montreal, as part of the Hideki Irabu deal
). Weaver was the Tigers' 1st round pick in 1998 (taken 14th, four spots behind Carlos Pena, who was the third principal of the three-way trade; other notable names from that draft include Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder, Corey Patterson, J. D. Drew, Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, Sean Burrroughs, and C.C. Sabathia). Here is a comparison of the two pitchers:
IP K/9 K/W HR/9 WHIP ERA W-L
Weaver 734.2 6.06 2.31 1.03 1.31 4.44 40-51
Lilly 239.2 8.13 2.36 1.50 1.30 4.87 9-13
Lilly has about one-third of the major league experience that Weaver does, but the rate stats are very comparable, except for two areas. First, Lilly has proven considerably more vulnerable to the longball than Weaver. It's hard to believe after yesterday, but the former Tiger is actually known for his tendency to avoid the dinger (where have you gone, Comerica Park?). Second, while their control ratios are almost identical, Lilly's strikeout rate is 34 percent higher than Weaver's. Strikeout rates are an important yardstick to measure a pitcher by, as they have a great amount of predictive value. As Bill James put it in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
"The influence of strikeouts on a pitcher's future can be compared to the effect of height on a man's chances of playing in the NBA... It's not that ALL seven-footers can play in the NBA, and it isn't true that height is everything. There are other factors, but if you studied the American male population, you could very easily establish that the percentage of men who play in the NBA increases substantially with each one inch of increase in height. The same is true here: there are other factors in having a long career, but if you study the issue, you can easily establish that pitchers who strike out four men per nine innings last longer than pitchers who strike out three men per nine innings, that pitchers who strike out five men per nine innings last longer than those who strike out four... and so on without end."
So Lilly's strikeout rate could be a clue that he'll enjoy the longer career of the two. Detractors might point out that Lilly's delivery, though it contributes mightily to his ability to deceive batters, is all arm and no leg and thus may be putting an inordinate amount of strain on his shoulder, posing an injury risk. It should be noted that his arrival in the big leagues was somewhat delayed by a previous arm injury; he had bone chips removed from his elbow prior to the 2000 season.
But if we're going to speculate about Lilly's risk of injury, we ought to do the same about Weaver. Baseball Prospectus
, which has published a (somewhat controversial) methodology about pitcher workloads called Pitcher Abuse Points (now PAP^3, for those of you scoring at home), said of Weaver in its 2001 edition: "Weaver's strict pitch counts during his rookie season was a big story in BP2K,
and while [then-manager] Phil Garner worked him more aggressively, Weaver had the benefit of an extra year of physical maturity and a season of minimal strain on his arm. As long as Garner doesn't continue to rachet up his workload, Weaver should stay clear of serious injury." So far so good, but this year's edition of Baseball Prospectus
was somewhat less sanguine: "... the heaviest workload Garner had placed on a starting pitcher since Cal Eldred's shoulder broke down in the mid-1990s. The combination of Weaver's consistent mechanics and a pair of relatively light workloads in 1999 and 2000 should keep him healthy."
And so long as we're speculating, one of the things that hasn't escaped attention is Weaver's temper. Where Ted Lilly operated somewhere in the vicinity of even-keeled and taciturn, Weaver seems more than a bit high-strung, and has a reputation for getting visibly demonstrative when his fielders let him down. Chewing on the glove or shouting into it, hanging out on the top step of the dugout, he seems more like the second coming of Jose Lima than like a New York Yankee. That shit won't fly around here for very long. Not that Weaver doesn't have his upside. He pitched only about 30 innings in the minors before making Detroit's rotation, learning on the job the pitfalls of being a big-league starter and averaging just a hair under 200 innings per season in doing so. He's got three and a half years of experience to go with a live arm and a good sinking fastball with late movement. He's a decent big-league pitcher who could certainly improve with a good team behind him for a change.
All things considered, this deal was about money and perception--the perception that if one has money, as the Yankees do, they ought to shore up any doubt about whether a pitcher can get the job done. Ted Lilly, making something just above the minimum salary ($237,150
) and out of options for the minors, apparently wasn't enough of a proven commodity to be trusted in a pennant race, not when injury-related question marks hung in the vicinity of five of the other six (!) potential Yankee starters. Jeff Weaver, who is making $2.4 million this year and is signed for the next three years
at a total of around $20 million, is a much more expensive pitcher who supposedly has the big-league experience and the pedigree to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, a significant consideration when one looks at a future rotation beyond Clemens, Wells and El Duque. As Jim Kaat put it in Sunday's broadcast, "Weaver isn't trained to run the Kentucky Derby yet, but I'd like to give him 40 acres and see what he can do."
Given what I've seen, I'd as soon have done the same for Ted Lilly. I don't think we've heard the last from him.
Postscript: The Oakland A's placed Lilly on the 15-day DL retroactive to July 21 with an an inflamed shoulder. According to manager Art Howe, "The preliminary reports from the medical people are that he just needs strengthening and conditioning in that shoulder, but we'll know more after the MRI is diagnosed.'' And so it goes...
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
As we've already established, I enjoy seeing an unexpected face turn up on a baseball card, and I'n not above borrowing an old design
in the service of same. Lately I've been admiring this montage
of famous scientests, from da Vinci and Newton to Gould (RIP) and Hawking, given the Topps treatment. Genius comes in many forms.
• • • • •
I was going to write something about how this Yankees page
is not one of them--it's a garish multimedia eyesore done as a part of something called 2002 Magazine. Rainbow colors, throbbing letters, flaming logo,and a giant circle of exclamation points following your cursor around the screen make for an unforgettablably harrowing interactive experience that can probably crash any browser, so be forewarned. But the photos themselves (especially the ones done as Quicktime loops
) are pretty decent generic Yankee shots (if a bit heavy on the post-September 11 dramatics). There's an equally hideous Mets page
. Detractors of both teams will get plenty of ammo here.
Monday, July 15, 2002
Unlike my fetish for sub-Mendoza Line infielders, I have a soft spot for situational lefty relievers which bears no relationship to my own baseball experience--I'm not left-handed, couldn't top 50 MPH on the gun at last report, and have no idea where the ball's going when I'm in the middle of my windup. My bizarre attachment is mostly likely related to the endless parade of spot lefties opposing managers have called out of their bullpens to face the meat of the Yankee batting order over the past several years: the lefty Paul O'Neill, switch-hitting Bernie Williams, lefty Tino Martinez and switch-hitter Jorge Posada, usually in that order.
Lefties in general tend to be oddballs, but some of these relievers really stood out. The Indians' Paul Assenmacher (a/k/a "The Assmaster," for obvious reasons) was a particular favorite; with his scraggly salt-and-pepper beard and sleepy complexion, he looked like a hobo rousted out of a Night Train-induced stupor to face one batter. Another funny-faced fave is Dennis Cook, the well-travelled Texan referred to in these quarters as "Cletus, the Slack-Jawed Spot Lefty". Cook, whom I watched a lot during his time with the Mets and previously with the Marlins during their championship run, cocks his head to the side, mouth slightly agape, and squints as he gets the sign from the catcher, as if to say, "Y'all want me to WHAT?" Needless to say, and despite evidence to the contrary, it's not a look which suggests intelligence, unless we're talking the intelligence of an iguana.
Cook got some bad news on Monday, being diagnosed with a torn labrum and a partially torn rotator cuff. At 39 and already talking of retirement at season's end, he may well be done. A similar fate befell fellow well-aged lefty Norm "The Arsonist" Charlton earlier this year
, getting me all nostalgic
for those 7+ ERAs.
Without wishing to make light of Cook's situation (I obviously enjoy having him around the game, even if his current gig in Anaheim is well off my radar), the image of Cook which popped into mind was him giving the doctor that same look as he gives the catcher and saying something like: "Doc, the jointy thing whut bends my arm when I throws feels like the time that possum bit me. He sure cooked up real nice, though."
Sorry. It was enough to keep me laughing an entire afternoon. I know, I'm a very bad man. Get well soon, Dennis Cook.
In the interest of piling on bells and whistles whose malfunction could take down this site in a New York minute, I've added this little scrolling baseball gadget up top there, courtesy of Newsclicker.com
. It seemed like a great idea to start implementing at 1 AM on a Sunday night/Monday morning. If nothing else, it's a pretty quick way to find out scores and the top headlines, though it will probably start to piss me off sooner or later (shaking Homer Simpson-esque fist at scrolling gadget: "You're on thin ice already, scrolly..."). Feel free to bitch if it's bringing you down. Customer satisfaction is guaranteed here at FutilityMart, where we always charge the lowest prices on baseball opinions (insert voice of heckler here: "Yeah, and they're worth exactly what we're paying!" Thank you, Brett T., wherever you are...).
The idea to add the clicker was ripped off from an excellent Yankee-centric site
by a writer named Cecilia Tan. She (yes, she) writes for Yankees Magazine as well as her own site. Her link and several others have been added to my recently revamped links page
. Most of the changes have been to the weblog section. Let me know if I've screwed anything up or if you'd like to recommend a site
Sunday, July 14, 2002
Waiting for most of my photos from the All-Star Weekend to be developed, but here are three of the key ones which I mentioned in my earlier writeups. The first is from the FanFest Baseball Card booth. Look out Derek Jeter...
The second may well be the most irony-laden photo I've ever been a part of: me standing by as my favorite whipping boy, Bud Selig, signs his autograph. It's not the most flattering photo any of us have ever taken, but it really was a once-in-a-lifetime shot:
And finally, Bud's signature. I confirmed via ebay
that his penmanship is always this bad. Not that mine's anything to brag about either...
More to come soon...
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
The Futility Infielder's All-Star Weekend, Day 4: The All-Star Game
Well, THAT was weird. On a gala night featuring baseball legends such as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as well as its brightest stars, in a game which highlighted dominant pitching, clutch hitting and breathtaking defense in its signature moments, all that lacked was a decision as to which team won. And in a no-lose situation borne from providing four memorable days of exhilirating entertainment for baseball fans in his own backyard, Bud Selig found a way to lose.
The Commissioner of Baseball's decision to call the All-Star Game a tie after 11 innings wasn't an indefensible one, given that the health of pitchers' arms was at stake and the rosters of both teams were depleted. But it certainly made for a strange and bitter ending to the night, with a stadium full of people referencing a Bad News Bears movie as they chanted "Let them play!" in unison for several minutes. That is, when they weren't too busy chanting "Selig sucks!" or showering debris on the field.
We all expected to see winners and losers at the All-Star Game--this isn't soccer, after all (roll Simpsons clip from episode 5F01
... "And ties? You bet!"). The sentiments being showered on Selig weren't just a reaction to the unresolved outcome. They were ventilation for years and years of frustration on the part of baseball fans with the way Bud has embarrassed the game: the 1994 strike, wave after wave of unnecessary expansion, routine extortion of taxpayers for stadium money (let those whose teams play ball in glass-panelled retractable-roof stadia cast the first stone), this past winter's contraction fiasco, the impending labor woes, the constant denigration of the product on the field, the perception that steroids are an epidemic-level threat to the sport, and now THIS.
How dumb do you have to be to hold a pregame memorial tribute to a recently-deceased legend, tout the naming of an award after the dearly departed as part of said tribute, and then NOT bestow it to a deserving player or players in its inaugural game? Any one of several players were worthy, and given the situation, even a co-award would have been an acceptable solution. By denying that recognition, Bud panicked and did everything but try to erase the box scores out of people's programs. To borrow a phrase from Jerry Seinfeld, this is a man who is out of ideas.
That's my take on it, at least from this very travel-weary vantage point. Up until the end of the 11th inning, I saw a great ballgame last night. Curt Schilling's pitching, Torii Hunter's catch, and Barry Bonds' home run will resonate in my memory along with all the other incredible baseball I've been priveleged to witness over the past twenty-five years. If nothing else, I was at a ballgame which will go down in history: the first non-weather-related tie in All-Star Game history. Still, I can't help but feel that baseball fans and the citizens of Milwaukee deserved better than that.
I'll be writing up a more lengthy report of the game, accompanied with what I hope turn out to be some good photos of the whole weekend, in the next several days.
Tuesday, July 09, 2002
The Futility Infielder's All-Star Weekend, Day 3: Workout Day and the Home Run Derby
Even with two unforgettable days of All-Star festivities already under my belt, a few chapters of my Milwaukee experience remained to be written. For one thing, I'd never participated in a proper tailgate party. My hosts aimed to correct that oversight prior to Monday's activites.
Undeterred by sweltering 95° heat, our group loaded up a truck with a full-sized grill, a cooler full of beverages, a plastic container of parboiled bratwurst, an appropriate array of condiments (including a jar of sauerkraut and a bottle of Secret Stadium Sauce, a ketchup/BBQ sauce-like wonder), candy, and enough chips to feed a small army. After finding our way to Miller Park, we staked out a spot in the upper parking lot, across the freeway from the ballpark. Not exactly a rose garden, but perfectly acceptable for tailgating purposes.
After setting up some folding chairs and the neccessary accoutrements, grillmaster Matt diligently slaved over the hot coals while Andra, Adam and I broke out mitts and tossed the ball around the lot (with not a scratch or dent to the surrounding cars, I'm happy to report). Eventually, the heat overcame us and we settled down for a round of sodas and waited for our brats. Several other groups of people in the lot were doing exactly the same thing. Matt and Adam explained to me that the need to accommodate tailgaters was the reason Miller Park wasn't built downtown, where real estate for parking would have been much more scarce. After scarfing down a couple of brats, now I understand this typically Wisconsinite sense of priorities. Never let it be said that they don't have an appetite for fun around here.
We headed over to the ballpark at 4:30, just as the National League All-Stars were beginning batting practice. Though we'd hoped to wander down close to the field behind home plate, security personnel diligently turned away all but those whose tickets allowed them down to field level. So we wandered around to the outfield bleachers, where throngs of fans armed with mitts hoped to catch balls launched off the bats of Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero and the like. Being of short stature and dripping with sweat, Andra and I soon gave up our vain attempts to retrieve a ball and headed for the air-conditioned souvenir shops to fulfill our gift lists.
We finally found our way to our upper deck seats and joined Andra's brother Aaron as the last group of American League stars, including Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Jason Giambi, and Manny Ramirez were batting while other stars milled around the outfield, lackadaisically shagging fly balls alongside their small children. Giambi seemed to be the only one of the group consistently reaching the seats; as I passed this observation along I was told that we'd missed quite a show from the NL sluggers. Oh well. Adam and Matt, who had seats in the deck below us, came up bearing slips of paper for a drawing. With eight of us in our group (spread all over the park), each would draw the name of a slugger and kick in $5 for a pool to be split, $30 for the winner and $10 for the runner-up. As I'd already expressed a prediction that Giambi would fare well in the contest, I winced as I unfolded my slip to find Lance Berkman's name.
At 7 PM, it was finally time for the Home Run Derby, and the crowd cheered wildly as an overhead shot of Miller Park, with a star mowed into the outfield grass, was shown on the Jumbotron. A buzz filled the air as eight sluggers, four from each league, were introduced: Paul Konerko, Richie Sexson (representing the hometown Brewers), Torii Hunter, Sosa, Giambi, Berkman, Alex Rodriguez, and Bonds.
The rules of the Home Run Derby are simple: batters can take pitches, but any swing that doesn't result in a home run is an out. Once a batter records 10 outs, his turn is done. The top four of the first round would advance to the semifinals, where they would pair off into two head-to-head matches which would determine the finalists. Ties in the first round would be broken by the number of regular-season homers each player had hit; any ties beyond that would be broken by a swing-off, with each batter's turn lasting until he made an out.
Konerko opened the Derby and set the pace with 6 homers, mostly to leftfield, before recording his 10 outs. Sexson was next, as the crowd cheered their representative vigorously. The lanky 6-foot-7 slugger struggled to find his swing, making outs on his first four attempts. He looked all but finished when his count stood at 2 homers against 8 outs. But Richie rose to the occasion and began launching some bombs, eventually tying Konerko with 6 and besting him in the long distance category with a 480-foot shot.
The next batter, Minnesota's Torii Hunter, started off hot, with homers in two of his first three swings. But he soon began spraying ground balls and line drives, eating up precious outs. By the end of his turn, he'd scored only 3 dingers, the longest being a 420-foot shot to centerfield.
Next came Sosa, and the crowd erupted as his name was called. Though his cap was turned backwards, Junior Griffey-style, Sosa gave a look that said he was all business as he stepped into the batter's box. He took several pitches before launching his first shot, then the oohing and aahing began in earnest. Nothing much, just your run-of-the-mill 480-foot blast. Sosa rattled one that pinballed around the scoreboard scaffolding for a few seconds before finally returning to earth, and hit the roof with another. But he popped up several in a row, and reached a point where he had only 5 homers to 8 outs.
Then Sosa began one of the most amazing hitting displays I've ever seen. Six straight swings produced epic home runs which rattled off of the Miller Park furniture, two off of Bernie Brewer's yellow slide in high leftfield (where mascots from all around the league--the Phillie Phanatic, the Oriole Bird, Youppi, and the Miller Park Sausage Racers, among others--slid down Bernie's slide after each homer). From our perch in upper right, we had a magnificent view of each blast's arc. The shortest of the six shots was 496 feet, the rest over 500, the longest a Derby record 524 feet. The crowd gasped each time Sosa launched another moon shot and cheered wildly when the distance was announced. By the time he'd used up his final two outs, he had 12 homers and 40-some-thousand jaws hanging open.
Giambi, who set a first-round record with 14 homers last year, followed Sosa to considerably less fanfare. But the Yankee first baseman quickly got in a groove, lashing several screamers to right-centerfield, nearly hitting one of the $1 million Hit It Here signs sponsored by MasterCard. He ended his turn with a more than respectable 11 dingers.
My money man Berkman, who leads the majors with 29 homers, was up next. But he wasn't up to the competition. Unlike the big boys, who bypassed several hittable pitches in search of ones they could launch, Berkman began swinging impatiently at nearly everything offered, and he laced a handful of sharp grounders instead. He ended the round managing 1 measly homer, and I shredded my betting slip like a racetrack loser, cursing my luck. Rodriguez came up next and the crowd readied itself for a homer-happy display. But A-Rod never got in the swing of things and ended his round with only 2 homers, though one of them was a 492-foot monster.
Barry Bonds followed, needing 6 homers to reach the finals, as he held the tiebreaker. But Bonds had apparently realized that the hometown favorite, Sexson, was the man on the bubble. After launching a couple of gasp-inducing shots, he began spraying grounders and liners without waiting for the perfect pitch, visibly taking a dive so the Milwaukee faithful would have another chance to cheer their man. Though some of the crowd had to be disappointed that one of the game's most potent hitters was opting out, it was a classy move by Bonds to yield the spotlight.
Thus the semifinal pitted Konerko against Giambi and Sexson against Sosa. As Konerko's turn began, the retractable Miller Park roof started to close in anticipation of thundershowers (and yes, it leaked in several spots, all of them apparently over the playing field. Damn it, Bud, get a bucket!). Konerko swatted 6 homers in his round, giving Giambi something to work for. It was all the G-man could do to match his opponent; he stood at 4 homers and 8 outs before dinking one down the rightfield line (which at 345 feet is a considerably longer distance than Yankee Stadium's short 314-foot RF line). He ended up tying Konerko at 6, necessitating a swing-off. Konerko's first swing landed short of the wall, while Giambi sent one into upper right, again near the $1 million dollar sign, to win the round.
To swells of cheers, Sexson stepped back in. He got off to a slow start, making six straight outs before managing his first homer. Again, his count stood at 2 and 8, when he made a last stand, finishing the round with 4 homers.
Though he added a bit of suspense by fouling a couple early pitches off, Sosa made short work of the hometown hero. He even hit one literally out of the park, as the ball travelled through the open left-center roof panel and into the parking lot, where a young fan holding a sign that said "hit It Here, Sammy!" retrieved the ball in the rain. With 7 outs (doesn't that sound weird?), Sosa blasted a shot that everybody in the park knew was gone. Without even following the ball's trajectory, Sosa flicked the bat with a dramatic flair, the winner of the round.
So the final came down to the ebullient Cubs crusher Sosa against the affable Bronx bomber Giambi. The Yankee went first and hit several into right-center, the longest of which went 492 feet. Again, he teased the $1 million sign as the crowd moaned with mock disappointment. Sosa stepped in, looking ready to take the match. But he fouled a couple of pitches off early and began swinging without his trademark patience, making six outs before recording his first homer. The air seemingly let out of his swing, that was the only one he recorded, making Giambi the Home Run Derby champion. Still, it was tough to be disappointed in Sosa after the unforgettable display he'd provided in the first two rounds.
With the allegations floating around about ballplayers' steroid usage, some of the luster may have dimmed from baseball's equivalent to the Slam Dunk Contest. But juice or no, these sluggers made for an awe-inspring night at the ballpark. I challenge anybody to sit through one of these Derbies, even in the sweltering heat, as they watch the graceful parabolas emerging off those thundrous bats, and not grin from ear to ear. It's a spectacle, not a game, but it sure is spectacular.
Monday, July 08, 2002
The Futility Infielder's All-Star Weekend, Day 2: Futures Game and Legends & Celebrity Softball Game
After seven hours wandering among the displays and interactive exhibits at Saturday's exhilirating FanFest, I was definitely in the mood to watch some of the real thing. Sunday at Miller Park offered a double dose off the game--after a fashion. First up was the All-Star Futures Game, a seven-inning minor-league all-star game pitting the brightest American prospects against those from the rest of the world. Immediately following that was the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, featuring a handful of Hall of Famers, former Brewers stars, and entertainers.
Our contingent arrived at the ballpark about 90 minutes before game time to soak up the scene, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we hadn't missed out on the Ben Sheets Bobblehead giveaway. Sheets, the Brewers bright young hurler, appeared in the Futures game two years ago, hence the promotional tie-in.
Unlike the two parks with which I'm most familiar (Yankee and Shea Stadiums), Miller Park has a concourse which allows one to completely circle the playing field. We made a complete lap around the field, checking out the young players while they took infield lessons from 2002 Hall of Fame inductee Ozzie Smith, as well as the various shops and concessions stands along the way. We hiked up to our seats, which like those for Tuesday's big event, were nothing spectacular--the lower part of the upper deck down the rightfield line.
The World team, managed by former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Davey Concepcion, featured a trio of mellifluously named Asians--Hee Seop Choi, Shin Soo Choo, and Seung Song--as well as what seemed like an alphabetical catalog of Latino surnames: Alvarez, Berroa, Cabrera, Diaz, Garcia, Lopez, Pena, Rodriguez, Torres. I recognized many of the prospects by name. Wily Mo Pena, a former Yankees farmhand, was traded for Drew Henson. Choi, a native of Korea, is the Cubs' first baseman of the future. Australian John Stephens, the starting pitcher, has been touted as a future star for the Orioles.
The American squad, managed by former Brewer Paul Molitor (who drew predictably large ovations every time his name was announced), also had some recognizably name-brand prospects. Phillies CF prospect Marlon Byrd, Indians SS prospect Brandon Phillips (the key player the Expos gave up for Bartolo Colon last week), and the aforementioned Yankees 3B prospect Henson stood out on the scorecard. Jays' second baseman Orlando "O-Dog" Hudson, who made waves back in spring training by bizarrely suggesting
that GM J.P. Ricciardi was a "smooth-lookin' cat " who "looks like he was a pimp back in the day," was also in the house. The Brewers were represented by two players, shortstop Bill Hall and first baseman Corey Hart, who immediately brought to mind the eponymous '80s pop star
who had a hit with "Sunglasses at Night".
Despite my best efforts at keeping score, our seats and the poor sound quality of the Miller Park PA system (geez, Bud, can't you do anything right?), made us feel somewhat detatched from the game. Half-full stands, especially in the upper deck, added to the disorienting aura.
Tigers CF prospect Andres Torres led off the game with a double, but the USA starter, Jason Young (Rockies) struck out two of the next three batters to avert a threat. Stephens made a great play in the bottom of the inning by spearing a Carl Crawford (Devil Rays) line drive and doubling a runner off of first to end the inning. Unfortunately, just as we got familiar with each pitcher's stuff, a new one came along to replace him due to a 1-inning maximum per pitcher.
Confusion reigned among our contingent in the second inning. With one out, Miguel Cabrera (Marlins) beat out an infield hit, then took off for a steal of second. USA catcher Kevin Cash threw the ball into centerfield, where Byrd overran it as he attempted a barehanded pickup. Yet somehow, by the time we digested this all, the inning had ended. The batter had apparently struck out, but had Cabrera been nailed at third? The PA and the Jumbotron yielded no clue, and the fans around us were equally baffled.
The World team mounted a rally in the third. Leftfielder Pena (Reds) was hit by a pitch, and shortstop Angel Berroa (Royals) executed a picture-perfect hit-and-run which sent him to third. Torres walked, and second baseman Jose Reyes (Mets) cleared the bases with a triple. At this point, our group was invited to depart the nosebleeds in favor of more advantageous seating. A friend of a friend had access to a luxury box underwritten by his law firm. Andra and her friend engineered a ticket relay which brought us all into the suite, where we began gorging ourselves on an endless supply of sausage, bratwurst, quesadillas, beverages, and more. By the time the dust (but not our stomachs) had settled, the World team had batted around, scoring five runs in the inning. The USA team answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, as Phillips walked and O-Dog doubled into the left-center gap. But Byrd's sharp liner was speared by third baseman Cabrera, preventing the rally from growing.
At this point the World pitchers began to dominate the USA hitters. Seung Song (Red Sox) and Franklyn "Billy White Shoes Johnson" German (an A's prospect nicknamed by us because of his obvious attire) each struck out two out of the three hitters they faced, and the USA could manage only one more hit the rest of the way against the next four pitchers, who split the final two tedious innings. The final score was World 5, USA 1. Nineteen-year-old Reyes, who hit the triple, won the game's Larry Doby MVP award. Note to Steve Phillips: trade Roberto Alomar and/or Rey Ordonez while you still can.
Immediately following the game, yellow-shirted volunteers began erecting a temporary fence about halfway into the outfield for the softball game. Lineups were introduced for the two teams. The Brew Crew, managed by Baseball Tonight's Harold Reynolds (a former Mariners star), featured Hall of Famers George Brett, Ozzie Smith, and Dave Winfield, former stars Don Mattingly and Ryne Sandberg, fat slob John Kruk (who always looked like a beer-league softball player when he was in the majors), rapper Coolio, skier Picabo Street, a couple of actors from the West Wing
TV show, King of Queens
actor Kevin James (as big as Mo Vaughn in his Mets jersey), and actress Nadia Dajani.
The Wallbangers (again with the name hearkening back to a better era for the hometown team) were managed by Kenny Mayne, who subversively wore a Seattle Pilots jersey--recall that a certain used car salesman heisted the bankrupt Pilots from Seattle and brought them to Milwaukee just prior to the 1970 season. All of the players were outfitted in replica jerseys provided by Mitchell & Ness, making for a colorful and somewhat insightful peek into the celebs' loyalties. The 'Bangers featured legendary Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (who didn't actually play), former Brewers Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper, Rollie Fingers, and Gorman Thomas (again, looking like quite the beer-league softballer), Cecil Fielder (who looked ready for a tour on the sumo circuit), race car driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., football player Howie Long, Olympic speedskater Derek Parra, and singers Meat Loaf and Joy Enriquez, among others.
Ever the intrepid reporter, I actually felt compelled enough to fashion a makeshift scorecard for the occasion. Let me caution the home audience against attempting this in the future. This game featured 13 players per side, not all of whom actually played the field at any given time and many of whom shifted positions every few innings. Additionally, the extra outfielder created a scorekeeping quandary: is a flyout to the left-centerfielder scored a 7.5 and the right-centerfielder an 8.5? I repeat: do not try this at home unless you are an idiot like me.
Since I did actually keep score, I'll recap the game here. Ozzie Smith homered to left in the first inning off of pitcher Meat Loaf to get the Brew Crew on the board. In the second inning, George Brett starred in a hysterical re-enactment of the Pine Tar Incident, as Mayne and catcher Fielder mounted a protest and broke out a tape measure to giggles all around. Meanwhile, pitcher Dave Winfield held the Wallbangers in check until the third inning, when they mounted a rally which featured two-run shot by the ever-mustachioed Fingers (playing RCF most of the game, between former teammates Thomas and Molitor). Two more runs scored in the inning as actor Tony Todd (who is playing Jackie Robinson in an upcoming movie and bears a striking resemblance which was helped by his number 42 Dodgers jersey) and Stormin' Gorman laced singles. Mayne lined into a double play to end the inning.
Ryne Sandberg homered for the Brew Crew in the fourth to cut the lead to 4-2. Foolishly, manager Reynolds removed Mr. Loaf from his pitching duties (he was actually dragged off the field by the Italian Sausage mascot, for those of you scoring at home) and replaced him with Fingers. Rollie blew it, however, allowing five runs including a two-run homer by Mattingly and a solo shot by Kruk. He did make a nice Jeter-esque defensive play to tag Coolio out at home plate on a Brett triple (that would be 7-5-1 in your program), but by the time Meat Loaf came back to relieve Fingers, the damage was done and the score was 7-4 for the Brew Crew. The 'Bangers went down easily in the bottom of the fifth, ending the game.
Despite his role as the goat, Rollie didn't stop smiling the entire time. He and the rest of the players, as well as the fans, all seemed to enjoy themselves. It was just another great day at the All-Star Game Weekend.
Sunday, July 07, 2002
The Futility Infielder's All-Star Weekend, Day 1: FanFest
From the time I first held one of those 2.5" by 3.5" colorful cardboard rectangles in my hands nearly twenty-five years ago, I've fantasized about what it would be like to appear on a baseball card. At Saturday's All-Star FanFest in Milwaukee, I finally got to find out.
The FanFest is a three-story convention center of overstimulation for baseball fans, featuring interactive booths, exhibits, autograph and photo opportunities
, and collectible memorabilia. I spent seven hours at the Fest (held at the Midwest Express Center) on Saturday in the company of my girlfriend Andra, her parents, her siblings Aaron and Adam, Adam's girlfriend Mai, and their friend Mark. A good portion of our time was spent standing in lines, but in most cases, the payoff was well worth it.
The marquee attraction for me was the FanFest Baseball Card booth. Of course, hundreds of other people had the same idea. Accompanied by Andra and her mother Aune, I stood in a lengthy line as a clipboard-armed volunteer took down our names, hometowns, and positions on a form which was then delivered to a data-entry booth. About twenty minutes later (by which point we were almost halfway through the line), we were handed stickers with that info, along with three lines of flattering but fake statistics for the 1999 through 2001 seasons (my .378 batting average in 1999 was at least third in the league--based on my comparisons to Andra and Aune's stellar seasons--though I did have 30 HRs, 117 RBI, 110 walks and 88 steals to go along with it, uh-huh). These stickers would become the backs of our cards.
After about 45 minutes in line, we reached the stage, where four sets of photographers and wardrobe assistants dressed us in the uniforms of choice and guided our poses. For the first time in my life I donned a pinstriped jersey with the interlocking NY (to go with the Yankees cap I was already wearing). I suspected, though, that I was in trouble, as both the chatty wardrobe assistant and the bitter old crow of a photographer were both outfitted in Red Sox regalia. At other booths, the photographers allowed participants to reject their first photo in favor of a more flattering one, but the old crow and her minion hurried me off the set. So I'm going to blame them and not my excessive bratwurst consumption on the unflattering, Luis Sojo-esque double chin I'm sporting (I'll scan the card when I return to New York).
As I waited for my photo and sticker to be married together in holy baseball card matrimony, Andra spotted a small autograph-induced commotion nearby which she directed me towards. Would you believe that my sworn nemesis, the Baddest Rug in Baseball, the Commish himself, Bud Selig, was signing autographs a few feet from me? I pondered my course of action. At point-blank range I could hurl an insult (or my hefty camera) at him, but Andra quickly whipped out a sheet of paper for me to offer instead. In a voice dripping with saccharine, I asked him, "Bud, can I have your autograph, please?"
Without looking up, the Commish dutifully scrawled his signature on my paper as Andra snapped a photo of us. Pondering the beautiful irony of the situation, I thanked him sincerely as an aide handed him an open cel phone (no doubt somebody was on the other line saying, "Watch out for that Jaffe character, I think he's got it in for you. He has a web site, and he may be armed...")
That wasn't the only autograph I got. I stood in line 45 minutes to get a photo and signature with Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. The legendary Oriole third-baseman was more than gracious as he signed my baseball, and I noticed he wore his 1970 World Series ring. Brett Butler was on the dais next to Robinson, and I had him sign a sheet of paper as well. I didn't have the patience to stand in an adjacent line for autographs from Rollie Fingers and Dick Williams, and I later passed up the opportunites for signatures from Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Fergie Jenkins, as well as former Brewer Don Money.
One of the other big highlights for me was the This Week In Baseball Fantasy Broadcast Booth, where participants could provide commentary to one of ten great baseball moments and then receive a videotape with their soundtrack overdubbed. I considered Hank Aaron's 715th home run and Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World," (which I planned to accompany with a tasteless string of expletives befitting my Dodger loyalties, "$%#%! That &^%^$ Bobby Thomson just hit a *&%$ home run over the $%#% leftfield wall, and the &^%^$-$%#* Giants have won the *&%$ pennant..."). In the end, I chose Kirk Gibson's 1988 pinch-hit World Series home run off of Dennis Eckersley. With a surprising amount of adrenaline flowing and everybody within 50 feet becoming our de facto audience, I did a relatively straightlaced play-by-play while Andra's brother Aaron provided hammed-up color commentary. I even snuck in my Jack Buck "I don't believe what I just saw!" tribute. I think my best line was when Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda came barrelling out of the dugout to congratulate Gibson. I said "Look at Lasorda, he looks as if he's going to explode out of that uniform. He'll be drinking Slim-Fast until the cows come home after this."
I won a few prizes at the FanFest. Every attendee received a plastic prize card encoded with a chip upon entering, and then had three opportunities to swipe the card at various terminals to see if they won anything; I ended up winning an All-Star Game pin with a giant MasterCard logo (practically everything is sponsored at the game), and a mini-frisbee. Mai won the same pin, and Andra won a T-shirt. I won an MLB.com T-shirt and cap for stumping two "know-it-alls" (cough, cough) from Major League Baseball Radio with my trivia question, which was, "Name the two pitchers who threw nine-inning no-hitters in the same game." The two panelists squirmed while asking for several hints, but they couldn't even offer an answer (Fred Toney and Jim "Hippo" Vaughn, May 2, 1917, duh). I also "won" a Nextel pin for answering two trivia questions and partaking in a cel phone/walkie-talkie demonstration. Big deal.
I also partook in several interactive exhibits. At the Steal Home Challenge, which was essentially a timed sprint (without slide) between third base and home plate, I clocked a 4.29 second time, nipped at the wire by Andra's brother Adam (with a 4.22). At the Video Batting Cage, I faced a pitching machine married to a video projection of a pitcher with a hole cut in it, aligned to the ball's release. From several top-notch hurlers, I chose to bat against Pedro Martinez. I managed only a soft foul tip off of Pedro, but when Adam matched that against Greg Maddux and his friend Mark did the same against Roger Clemens, I didn't feel so bad. Later, outside the buidling, I pitched to a radar gun. Somewhat spent from my other activities and nursing a stiff back, I'm not sure my speeds were representative. I only clocked 50 MPH on the gun, which wasn't even as good as the 10- or 11-year old ahead of me, who had the motion down and was clearly Bringin' It. It didn't help that I bounced one of my three balls in front of the plate, generating a blank score. Oh well.
I spent a couple of hours roaming around the collectors' exhibits, receiving a handful of baseball cards (Topps Series 1 Barry Zito, Brent Mayne, and Joe Kennedy; Upper Deck MVP series Curt Schilling, Albert Pujols, Robb Nen, Armando Benitez, and Richard Hidalgo, among others). I purchased a couple packs of the Topps 206 set, which are done up as replicas of the T-206 tobacco cards from early in the century; one of the packs was stacked with Yankees Clemens, Jeter, Soriano and Mussina. I also purchased a couple of gifts for friends and a Jim Bouton-autographed baseball.
It was an incredible, overstimulating day. I've never felt more like a sugared-up kid in a candy store. If the rest of my All-Star Weekend is this good, I'm in for a real treat.
Friday, July 05, 2002
One Man's All-Star Team: National League
I don't watch as much NL baseball as I do AL, so my picks here are more reliant on stats and highlights than they are in the AL. In retrospect, I think I'm also guilty of a distinct anti-Arizona bias. I wonder how the hell that happened...
C: Paul Lo Duca (LA)
, Mike Piazza (NYM). Lo Duca's been screwed out of All-Star appearances each of the past two years. His out-of-nowhere season last year may have snuck up on NL manager Bobby Valentine, but Bob Brenly has no such excuse, especially seeing as how his Diamondbacks are looking up at the first-place Dodgers. That the Dodgers could turn over their entire rotation, more or less, and yet improve so much says something for their unheralded catcher. Lo Duca's not quite the hitter Mike Piazza is, but he runs circles around him defensively. Lousy arm and all, Piazza's a Star, and still worthy of inclusion here.
1B: Todd Helton (COL)
, Ryan Klesko (SD). Even with the Coors-induced inflation of his offensive totals, Helton is the best-hitting NL first-sacker, with an Equivalent Average 17 points higher than Klesko (EqA is context-adjusted, so it lets the appropriate amount of air out of those high-altitude totals). Klesko has matured into a complete offensive threat, even stealing 46bases over the past 2 years (though he's only got 1 thus far this year). Richie Sexson's having a good enough season to warrant consideration, but I'm going to save my token Brewers representative for another position.
2B: Jose Vidro (MON)
, Jeff Kent (SF), Luis Castillo (FLA). Viva les Expos! Vidro earned his starting spot fair and square for the surprising 'Spos. Jeff Kent seems more interested in popping wheelies, Barry Bonds, and his mouth off, in that order, but he's head and shoulders over most other NL second basemen. I'd still like to see Dusty Baker cuff him one upside that inflated head, followed by Brian Sabean trading him to a contender like, say, Pittsburgh. Castillo, who provides living proof of Yogi Berra's adage that you can't hit and think at the same time, edges out Junior Spivey for the final spot because of the hitting streak, and because I still bear a small grudge against a namesake of Junior's for dumping me several years ago (hey, my heartache, my All-Star team). Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio each receive The Futility Infielder All-Star Dice Baseball 1982 Home Game.
SS: Jose Hernandez (MIL)
, Jimmy Rollins (PHI) Neither of these NL shortstops would make the AL team, but on the theory that I have to put somebody there, I'll go with the guy from the home team as my starter.
3B: Mike Lowell (FLA)
, Scott Rolen (PHI), Albert Pujols (STL). Another position where the AL has most of the top-shelf talent. Lowell gets the nod here because of a great first half. Rolen, despite all of the drama surrounding him, is having an OK but not great season; that said, he's still a better player than Tyler Houston. Pujols spent a good portion of both of the last two seasons playing third, not particularly well. Choosing him as a third baseman helps alleviate a thin crop here and an overcrowded outfield. Where has that sweet swing gone, Edgardo Alfonzo?
LF: Barry Bonds (SF), CF: Jim Edmonds (STL), RF: Shawn Green (LA)
, Sammy Sosa (CHC), Brian Giles (PIT), Adam Dunn (CIN), Andruw Jones (ATL), Lance Berkman (HOU), Vladimir Guerrero (MON). Nine outfielders is a bit overboard, but this is where the talent is in the National League. Barry's a no-brainer, Edmonds gets the jump on Berkman and Jones in CF because he's got the best offense-defense combo of the three. Green has been electrifying for the Dodgers, who are winning while Sosa's Cubs aren't. The roster-representation issues aren't as severe here as in the AL, because it's tough to make a case against ANY of these guys. Luis Gonzalez, Larry Walker, Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell will have to take their beef to the Complaint Window
P: Tom Glavine (ATL)
, Randy Johnson (ARI), Curt Schilling (ARI), Odalis Perez (LA), Kip Wells (PIT), Matt Morris (STL), Roy Oswalt (HOU), Eric Gagne (LA), Robb Nen (SF). Glavine gets the ball over the two Arizona starters because his ERA's a half run lower than the Big Unit, and more than a run better than Schilling. Odalis Perez has made Dodgers GM Dan Evans look pretty smart for trading Garry Sheffield. Kip Wells has made Pittsburgh GM Dave Littlefield look pretty smart as well. Eric Gagne is one of the reasons the Dodgers are in first place, and Robb Nen is the runner-up to the Big Unit in Current Pitchers I'd Least Like to Face. Pedro Astacio, Hideo Nomo and A.J. Burnett are among the cosolation prize winners here. Pittsburgh closer Mike Williams and Snakes' closer Byung-Hyun Kim (a.k.a. Byung-Hung Curve), who has rebounded nicely for Arizona after his World Series debacle, are deserving, but miss the cut here.
So, the surprising Dodgers, with the second-best record in the league, are the best represented on my All-Star team, with four players. That's probably not the way Bob Brenly would have it, but I think I've already filed my position paper on Brenly's "thinking".
Ted Williams passed away today, at age 83. Our sabermetric methods show that he probably wasn't quite as good a hitter as Babe Ruth, but he did lose about five years of his prime (24-26, 33-34) to military service, so I think the distinction is debatable. That missed time took away certain membership in the 3,000 hit and 600 home run clubs, not to mention several opportunities at batting titles, MVP awards and pennants.
Williams once said, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'" For the last man to hit .400 in the major leagues, the man who homered in the final at-bat of his career in 1960, that's a fitting epitaph. Rest in peace.
Tuesday, July 02, 2002
Depending on how you look at it, the Raul Mondesi trade between the Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays was either a lose-lose proposition for both teams or a win-win one.
On the one hand, Toronto gave up a player who they accquired for superstar Shawn Green just two and a half years ago, and in exchange got a 26 year-old AA lefty reliever of no special pedigree. The Jays also get to pay $6 million for the privelege of NOT having the malcontent Mondesi wallowing in their outfield next season. By that same token, the Yankees acquire a perpetual underachiever whose performance this season isn't even as good as the platoon he's presumably replacing [Mondesi: .224 AVG / .301 OBP / .435 SLG; Yankee RFs (mainly Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal): .276 AVG / .341 OBP / .423 SLG]. Even without him, the Yanks almost certainly make the playoffs, and there's little point in threatening the clubhouse harmony by taking on somebody else's problem.
On the other hand, the Blue Jays get out from underneath a cumbersome contract and shed a sulking player at a time when they're trying to remake their team from the ground up. The Yanks get a bargain on a player with more tools than Black and Decker, including a howitzer for an arm and 30 HR-30 SB potential. But their needs from Mondesi aren't much different than what they hoped Robin Ventura would provide at the beginning of the year: stay healthy, play good defense, provide some occasional pop, and keep out of trouble. Mondesi shouldn't have any trouble living up to those low expectations, and probably will come closer to his career rates (.282/.335/.499).
Mondesi's acquisition may mean less playing time for another underperformer in the Yankee outfield, Rondell White (.253/.314/.393), as Spencer may steal some time from him against lefties. More likely it means less exposure and more protection for Spencer and Vander Wal, both of whom are solid bench players; Shane has become arguably the Yanks best defensive outfielder, while Vander Wal is one of the game's premier pinch-hitters. All this deal costs the Yanks is money; they didn't surrender any of their top prospects or young Yankees (Nick Johnson, Ted Lilly, Juan Rivera) in a trade, and while they do owe $7 million on Mondesi's contract next year, they're not taking on another expensive long-term commitment.
There' s no right answer as to who comes out on top here. Both organizations filled some of their needs but probably overreacted slightly in doing so. Already on pace to break their franchise home run record, the Yanks don't really need another 30-HR caliber player and would be better served by a patchwork of platooning and giving youngsters a shot. The Jays look intent on squandering an incredibly talented (though perpetually underachieving) outfield in Shannon Stewart, Jose Cruz Jr. and Mondesi and are determined to play for next year at this juncture.
The best news out of all of this is that Yankee fans will now get to hear PA announcer Bob Sheppard intone one of the most mellifluous names in all of sports: "Ladies and gentlemen, now batting for the Yankees, number 45, Rauuuuuuuul Monnnnnnnndesi." Between here and late October, I'll take that.
Monday, July 01, 2002
One Man's All-Star Team: American League
I'm headed to Milwaukee on Wednesday, for a week-long vacation that will include not just the All-Star Game
but the whole shebang--the Futures game, the Legends/Celebrity Softball Game, the Home Run Derby, batting practice, and something called the Fan Fest. In honor of my trip, I've petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to include bratwurst in the Food Pyramid
as both a fruit and a vegetable, and to create a separate category for Ballpark Snacks.
While I have mixed emotions about partying in Bud Selig's back yard (and his parking lot) while Mr. Bad Rug does his worst to ensure a strike, I'm excited to add another Big Event to my Been There/Done That list. I'm taking this trip as an opportunity to provide my own brand of daily coverage from Milwaukee, sleep and computer gods willing. Maybe I can even write this sucker off...
Today I'll present my picks for the American League All-Star team, with the National League selections to follow later this week. I played by the rules of representing each team, which made for some interesting choices and some admittedly glaring omissions. Seven of my starters, eight reserves, and seven pitchers match Joe Torre's selections
, and I've got one twist to offer. So without further delay...
C: Jorge Posada (NYY)
, A.J. Pierzynski (MIN). Last year, Posada ovetook Pudge Rodriguez as the best all-around catcher in the AL. Though his defense doesn't hold a candle to Pudge's, it's not exactly Piazza-esque, and his offense, even in a relatively down year, is better than solid; Jorgie gets on base, and he hits the ball a long, long way. Pierzynksi has generated a surprising amount of offense and deserves a good chunk of the credit for the Twins finding themselves in first place in spite of several key injuries.
1B: Jason Giambi (NYY)
, Mike Sweeney (KC), John Olerud (SEA). First base in the AL is packed with studs, so somebody's going to be left crying over spilled Yoo-Hoo. The top-to-bottom difference between Giambi, Sweeney, Olerud, and Jim Thome right now is seven Equivalent Runs
. Give Olerud a nod for his defense, Giambi a nod for living up to the New York pressure, and Sweeney a nod for toiling in oblivion and for filling the obligatory Royals' spot on the roster. Sincere apologies to "Three -Gorilla Strong"
Jim Thome and to Paul Konerko.
2B: Alfonso Soriano (NYY)
, Adam Kennedy (ANA). Soriano has emerged not just as a bona fide star, but as an MVP candidate. For all of his well-publicized lack of walks and 7:1 K/W ratio, the kid has a legitimate shot at a 40 HR-40 SB season, not to mention 200 hits (111 at the halfway mark), 400 total bases (202 so far), 100 RBI (he's at 48) and 120 runs scored. After a shaky start, his defense has been solid. If you can find a more exciting all-around player in the AL, put him on your own damn All-Star team. The reserves are a weak field, with last year's golden boy, Brett Boone, returning to earth in an unsurprising fashion. I'll give the nod to Kennedy, who's having a very solid season for the surprising Angels.
SS: Alex Rodriguez (TEX)
, Derek Jeter (NYY), Nomar Garciaparra (BOS), Omar Vizquel (CLE). There's an embarassment of riches here, but A-Rod has long since separated himself from his peers in terms of his offensive production. Jeter hasn't quite been himself yet, but he's still on pace for 200 hits and 20 homers, and he's 19/20 in stolen bases. Plus his defense is noticeably improved now that he can move to the left again. Garciaparra's finally healthy--enough said. Miguel Tejada's been good, but Joe Morgan's on crack
if he thinks Tejada has surpassed all but A-Rod among the AL shortstops. I'll take Vizquel instead, in part because we need to represent Cleveland.
3B: Eric Chavez (OAK)
, Robin Ventura (NYY), Eric Hinske (TOR), Shea Hillenbrand (BOS). More riches. Robin Ventura's stabilized the left side of the Yankee infield defensively and put up some monster numbers. Eric Chavez has been strong in Oakland after a red-hot start. Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenbrand have had breakout years. Tony Batista has re-emerged as a good hitter. Troy Glaus and Corey Koskie also have a case. No one's head-and-shoulders above anybody else here, but I'll give the nod to Oakland's Chavez because he's on my fantasy team and I see more of him on a day-to-day basis (sort of) than anybody but Ventura.
LF: Manny Ramirez (BOS), CF: Torii Hunter (MIN), RF: Ichiro Suzuki (SEA)
Maglio Ordonez (CHW), Randy Winn (TB), Melvin Mora (BAL), Robert Fick (DET). When he's healthy, Ramirez is awesome; his .371 EqA is tops in the AL by 22 points over Jason Giambi. Hunter has starred for the Twins this season with the bat and the glove, and Ichiro has raised his OBP by 50 points, having surpassed last year's walk total by June 11. I'm unabashedly covering my roster requirements with reserves Winn, Mora, and Fick, all of whom have their merits, but none of who are honestly as worthy as Bernie Williams, Johnny Damon, Mike Cameron, or even Garrett Anderson. Those men win three-day vacations for their troubles.
P: Derek Lowe (BOS)
, Roy Halladay (TOR), Pedro Martinez (BOS), Freddie Garcia (SEA), Barry Zito (OAK), Eddie Guardado (MIN), Kazuhiro Sasaki (SEA), Steve Karsay (NYY), Bartolo Colon (CLE). Count Colon as a selection with an asterisk, the 31st man; in my All-Star game he gets to pitch an inning for each side without costing either team a roster spot. If you've got a more cockamamie idea, I'll help you start your own damn web site. Lowe gets the ball for a spectacular first half that included a no-hitter, and also because I'm willing to test the theory that his arm will be crying for mommy in August as the innings pile up. We'll give him a couple more here. Pedro's leading the league in K's, is 10-2 and third in ERA (behind Lowe and Colon), and while he isn't exactly the one in the catalog right now, he's still better than most of the rest of the league. Halladay's come back from his 10.64 ERA in 2000 and been the one of the brightest spots for the Jays this season. There are a truckload of pitchers around the next rung for consideration; I chose Garcia and Zito over Mark Buehrle, David Wells (even more burly), Jeff Weaver, Jamie Moyer, Ramon Ortiz, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina... you get the idea. Among closers, Mariano Rivera, Eddie Guardado, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Troy Percival, and Ugueth Urbina all merit consideration. Rivera's recent stint on the DL is enough to keep him at home, but it also offers me a good excuse to reward set-up man Steve Karsay, who's been just as important to the Yanks. From the closers, I'll take Everyday Eddie because he's got more games and innings than the rest of that bunch (living up to the name) and Sasaki because he's allowed only three earned runs.
So that's it. Six Yankees, five Red Sox, four Mariners, three Twins, two A's, two Jays, and one from everywhere else, plus Colon. The Angels certainly deserve better than one representative, but the Yanks, Red Sox, and M's had players on the bubble who didn't make it and had a better case. You can't please all the people all of the time, and I doubt too many Angels fans are reading this...
Pedro Martinez opted out of the All-Star Game, saying he preferred to rest his fragile body. In other sports, players such as Karl Malone (who bangs bodies 82 times a year without missing a game, rather than taking the hill once every five days) have been nearly crucified for similar comments and forced to appear at the game under duress. I'll let it slide without the deservedly catty comment, boot his ass off the team, and replace him with Troy Percival (getting the nod over Mark Buehrle) due to pressure from the surprisingly vocal Angels' lobby (see comment).
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