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.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
San Diego Padres owner John Moores endeared himself to baseball fans in the days prior to the strike deadline with a statement
saying he was prepared to shut the game down for a season in order to get a favorable labor deal. Okay, "endeared" isn't actually the proper verb; "made his idiocy known" is a more suitable one. Moores' ultra-hardline stance--one which had no parallel voice even in that season of heated rhetoric--was manipulative and appalling.
It was also a fairly transparent bluff. Moores had already successfully milked the taxpayers of San Diego for roughly $300 million towards a new baseball stadium, set to open in 2004 to replace The Murph
. For the Padres, who are covering $153 million of the stadium's cost, leading in with a full year's labor stoppage would have been financial suicide.
Now it looks like Moores could be shut down himself. He's the chairman of a software company, Peregrine Systems, which filed for bankruptcy
this past weekend. The company had recently been de-listed by NASDAQ
after admitting that it had overstated its revenues by abot $250 million. Since then, it's been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the Department of Justice for fraudulent accounting practices. With over 30 class-action lawsuits pending against Peregrine, Moores' share of the Padres could be liquidated if he's found liable.
But hey, what's a little liability when you're Fortune Magazine's 5th Greediest Executive
? And what's a few more feds when you've already been the subject of a federal investigation
regarding the bribery of a city councilwoman for the ballpark deal--an investigation which brought construction of the park to a halt for over a year? Moores was eventually cleared of wrongdoing
: ""It is not a crime to give a gift to a public official."
In a group for whom convicted felon George Steinbrenner (conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions to the Nixon campaign '72) is the model for success, Moores stands out among baseball owners for his greed, his audacity, and his ability to draw federal heat. It was bound to happen sooner or later: the third base coaches are waving his chickens home to roost.
As we saw last week, there's no telling what can happen once a fan runs out onto the field of play. This guy
ran onto the field during the A's-Mariners game on Tuesday night. Clearly, he misunderstood the concept of the term "winning streak".
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
"They don't have it this year" is Page 2 writer Bill Simmons' simple eulogy for this year's Boston Red Sox, writing of their absence of the inexorable IT
of which winning ballclubs are made--luck and good timing, "mindless gimmicks" and "quirky stretches," to use the writer's own words. I'd planned my own postmortem of the Sox as Tuesday night's work, but Boston denizen Simmons did the definitive job with his piece
, so I'm tempted to save my schadenfreude
for another day.
Which comes down to essentially the same point Simmons makes: these Sox didn't have enough of IT
to get riled up about as we rooted against them. Not the way we could enjoy watching 2001's Duquette-led ship of fools hitting the iceberg, as its passengers choked each other to death on their way to drowning. This year's ship developed a slow leak a good ways out of the harbor--during the first round of interleague play--but aside from casting Jose Offerman overboard in spectacular fashion
, never rewarded us with their typically unified front of divisiveness.
That was the case, at least until the team was truly dead in the water (OK, I'll stop with the maritime theme...)
following their last go-round with the Yanks. Since then, the Sox's triumverate of superstars each found time to become embroiled in petty controversy (...which mean's it's time to bust out that can of
schadenfreude after all):
• Manny Ramirez, whose bonehead-first slide in a May 12 game cost him six weeks with a broken finger, thus foreshadowing the team's initial swoon, caused a flap over his at-bat theme music
and then was vilified
for not running out a routine groundout against Tampa Bay. Manager Grady Little didn't immediately yank Ramirez, which apparently caused him a sleepless night. Now, with all due respect to Little and anybody else who was kept awake by his gnashing, in my book any guy with an OPS over 1000 and a history of hamstring problems can pull up once in awhile if there's nothing on the line. Given that Ramirez has shown via his absence just how valuable he is, and given that he's tied to the Sox with a supposedly "immoveable"
contract (to use the words of two writers), doesn't it make sense to think in terms of the big picture of having him as healthy as possible?
• Nomar Garciaparra, who has lost considerable ground to Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada in the Great Shortstop Trinity or Quartet or Whatever since injuring his wrist and missing most of last season, evoked the ire of one Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald with a flippant remark. Responding sarcastically
after a tough loss to a question about why the Sox road record was better than their home mark, Garciaparra triggered a bitter back-page tabloid rant
in which the writer told the shortstop, "You don't deserve to play in Boston." Buckley attempted to hang Nomar for the high crimes of complaining about the fans and the media, even fabricating a story which had the Boston shortstop calling the pressbox to complain about a scorer's decision. He's right about one thing; Nomar doesn't deserve such horseshit treatment. "If we're all so negative, so cynical, so pessimistic, so Calvinist, believing that every pennant is predestined in spring training," writes Buckley , "then you should probably not be here." Probably not.
• Pedro Martinez decided that he's calling the shots up and down the Boston organization. On Saturday, Martinez threatened to leave the Sox after 2004
""if they don't pick up the option soon and negotiate with me." Invoking the heartwarming free-agency saga of Alex Rodriguez by threatening "to hear what other teams have to offer" Pedro reminded the Sox that "that could be very risky." Never mind the fact that he's got a ticking time-bomb for an arm and that contract Armageddon is not one but TWO years away; he doesn't get to hear jack shit from other teams for a long while no matter how the Sox treat him.
That hasn't slowed his Napoleon complex, however. Fresh off of his 20th victory, Martinez declared himself shut down
for the season without consulting manager Little--this before the team was actually mathematically eliminated from the Wild Card. Now explain to me again why the Sox should eagerly commit money to this delicate flower well before they have to?
Look, contrary to Simmons' excellent analysis, the Red Sox failure this season is simple to explain. They underperformed in 1-run ballgames (13-22), and this skewed their Pythagorean projection
(a simple prediction of a team's Won-Lost record based on Runs Scored and Runs Allowed). The Sox, with 799 scored and 621 allowed, project to a winning percentage of .613 and are 6.6 games below that projection. The Yankees, with 848 scored and 676 allowed, project to a winning percentage of .602 and are 3.7 wins above that--a 10-game swing between projection and performance. That's where the Sox season died.
There's a fragile equilibrium to an unhappy ballclub. In order to make a team truly worthy of one's enmity, poor performance on the field must be accompanied by ever more sour missives delivered at and by the players through the media. Just when it seemed the Red Sox didn't have enough of IT
to pull this off, just when I'd dismissed them, it's apparent that they've hit their stride after all. With writers and players finally pointing the fingers, the team has arrived at last during the season's final weeks. What an amazing comeback!
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
On Saturday, the Yankees wrapped up the AL East title, thus making official what had been a foregone conclusion since vanquishing Boston one last time on September 4. With a week left in the regular season and not much in the way of competition except those pesky Devil Rays, the big suspense in the Bronx is attached to personal milestones, playoff pairings, and postseason roster and rotation decisions. Oh, and the small matter of whether or not Mariano Rivera's shoulder can hold up.
In the milestones department, Alfonso Soriano is one bomb short of his quest for 40 homers and 40 steals and nearing the ML record for homers by a second baseman. Bernie Williams is on the cusp of 200 hits, 20 homers and 100 RBI, and not quite dead in the AL batting race. Jorge Posada and Robin Ventura are within striking distance of 100 RBI, giving the Yanks as many as five with that distinction. The team itself is 2 wins shy of 100. Most of these numbers will round into shape but don't expect to hear any whining unless that last one goes unfulfilled. I had them down for 103 and I think they've got a shot.
The playoff pairings aren't set in stone, but it's virtually certain (one Anaheim win or one Boston loss) that the Wild Card will come from the Wild Wild AL West and will face the Yankees. The A's lead the Angels by three games with six to go, meaning that they'll likely win the division and place out of a third straight 5-game ALDS matchup with the Yanks. The Yanks and A's do have something going, however; they're vying for the league's best record and thus home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Beaners are one game up on the Bombers at this writing.
Joe Torre has two big decisions facing him this week, and while Michael Kay and Suzyn Waldman may feign suspense to keep viewers tuning in, anybody who watches the team knows that the answers have already been scripted.
On the leftfield situation, where Rondell White, Juan Rivera, and Shane Spencer are vying for the starting role and perhaps a roster spot, here is what Joe will say: "Obviously, with Shane's hamstring the way it is, we have to consider some other options. This Rivera kid has really shown us what he can do, and we're still hoping Rondell can get it going and help us out. Shane, well, you know he can hit lefties, so he could be a pinch-hitter for us."
On the starting rotation, where five distinguished starters are competing for four slots in the rotation: "The Posada incident wasn't a factor--that's a family matter we've already taken care of. We felt that since El Duque has had a bit of experience coming out of the bullpen, he's the most suited to the task. That may change depending upon the matchups, if we get through, but for the time being, we're going this way."
At the beginning of the season
I complied this chart, showing the postseason stats of the Yankee starters:
W-L ERA IP ER
Pettitte 10-7 4.34 149.1 72
Hernandez 9-2 2.48 90.2 25
Wells 8-1 2.74 85.1 26
Clemens 6-6 3.33 127.0 47
Mussina 4-2 2.56 66.2 19
Hitchcock 4-0 1.76 30.2 6
TOTALS 41-18 3.19 549.2 195
Hitchcock is unlikely to make the postseason roster, but everybody else has a legitimate case as a starter. Though he hasn't pitched particularly well in the second half, Clemens gets it on pedigree. Despite his recent controversies, Wells is in, for making Boss Steinbrenner's hamburger gambit look smart. Pettitte's been the Yanks' most consistent pitcher during the second half, 10-2 since the All-Star break. The choice for fourth starter ultimately comes down to Mussina and Hernandez.
Despite his gaudy 16-10 record, Moose has struggled the hardest of any Yankee starter this season, with his 4.33 ERA to show for it, but the Yanks are committed to him long-term. They'll push El Duque into the relief role because they can. Hernandez has spent a season on the brink of being traded, and the Yanks seem destined to exert their leverage at all times by reminding him that he's expendable. More tellingly, he's also the only one of the bunch who's made a relief appearance since 1998.
It may be stretching things to say I don't agree with a decision that hasn't even been made, but I'm bracing for this one. Other than any medical report on Rivera's shoulder (which has seemed to hold up through two non-consecutive appearances since returning from the DL) and Sori's 40-40 quest, it's the only real drama in the Bronx right now.
Monday, September 23, 2002
The Milwaukee Brewers are bad, downright awful, in fact. Having already lost over 100 games this season, they're the worst team in franchise history
--even worse than the 1969 Seattle Pilots (64-98). And even less likely to leave behind a bestselling epitaph
Their offense is pretty pathetic, last in the league in runs scored, and 14th out of 16 in OPS. But faced with a series which actually meant something--three games against the San Francisco Giants this weekend, games with NL Wild Card
implications--manager Jerry Royster chose to make his team even more feeble than it already is. Royster benched All-Star shortstop Jose Hernandez in order to prevent him from breaking the single-season major league record for strikeouts in front of the home crowd.
Hernandez has struck out 188 times this season, one short of the record Bobby Bonds set in 1970. With a week to go, he's a lock to break the record if he plays at all. But Royster didn't bench his shortstop to avoid the record, as Florida Marlins manager John Boles did by sitting Preston Wilson during last season's final week. The manager of the Brewers is simply trying to protect his player, upset because Hernandez was being booed at Miller Park for NOT striking out, among other things. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
, "Fans in the right-field stands assembled what looked like 188 'K' placards, which were removed at an usher's request."
They do know their strikeouts in Milwaukee. Last year's team set a major-league record for striking out with 1399, led by Hernandez (185) and Sexson (178). This year they've cut down considerably (1079 with a week to go), which is even one less thing the Milwaukee faithful have to cheer about. Royster doesn't see it that way, however: "I don't think he deserves any treatment like that. What he deserves, if he gets it, is the strikeout record. Also what he deserves is praise for the way he's played. He's getting none of that. He's only getting where people are trying to humiliate him... We won't avoid the record. I will help him avoid being humiliated."
Somebody else will have to nominate Royster for the Humanitarian of the Year Award. I'll take issue with the fact that he can't even lose right. Hernandez, who's hitting .282 AVG/.351 OBP/.473 SLG/824 OPS with 24 HR, is the team's second best hitter. Without him the enfeebled Brewers managed only three runs and 14 hits over their three games with the Giants. Not that one hitter would have definitely made a difference against the Giants, but Hernandez's presence in the lineup rather than rookie Bill Hall (hitting .158 through the end of the series) couldn't have hurt the team, and was merited given the circumstances of games with playoff implications. Is the integrity of the schedule too much for Milwaukee to handle?
Royster, who may well get fired at season's end anyway, deserves some grief over this. A seven-year contract to manage the Brewers ought to be sufficient punishment.
As for Bonds' record, it will likely fall to Hernandez during the Brewers' series in Houston. It's amazing that that the mark has stood for 32 years, given that strikeouts rates have increased about 20% in that span. Here are the National League rates of K's per team per game, taken at five evenly spaced intervals from the time Bonds set the record until now:
1970: 5.88 per team per game
The stigma against strikeouts isn't what it used to be; it's worth noting that of the top 40 single season totals
, only two of them happened before 1970, and one of them was Bonds' previous high of 187 in 1969 (the other was previous record-holder Dave Nicholson's 175 in 1963). Several players have come close to breaking the record in this span, including Wilson, former Brewer Rob Deer (who didn't play
several games during the season's final week in 1987, when he finished with an AL record 186), Pete Incaviglia, and Jim Thome. It was bound to fall sooner or later.
Score an error for me on the Preston Wilson comment; it was 2000, not 2001 when Wilson struck out 187 times. Furthermore, while Boles vowed
to bench Wilson down the stretch to avoid the record, he did back off somewhat. The Marlins outfielder played in 161 games for the season, with two pinch-hitting appearances in the final week.
Friday, September 20, 2002
True story: Giants pitcher Russ Ortiz comes to bat in the 6th inning of Wednesday night's Dodgers-Giants game
, having given up the tying run and then pitched out of a jam moments earlier. He'd thrown 116 pitches at that point. My pal Nick turns and asks me what I think of Baker letting him bat rather than pinch-hitting for him.
Invoking the names of Shawon Dunston and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, I reply that Ortiz is as good a hitter as anybody on the Giants bench, recalling that he'd hit a sac fly in his previous at bat, and that I'd witnessed him smacking a 2-run double against the Mets earlier this season. Seconds later, Ortiz drilled Robert Ellis' third pitch over the leftfield wall, giving the Giants a 4-3 lead which they never relinquished. Ortiz didn't throw another pitch, but he didn't have to--his work was done.
Being right on that particular call didn't feel so good. But despite the result, this Dodgers-Giants series has been a treat thus far. I've stayed up until around 1 or 2 AM the past four nights, either watching the game or following it via the Internet (tonight I'm listening to Vin Scully via MLB.com's GameDay Audio, which I finally shelled out for--more on that another time).
The Giants pulled ahead early in the first three games against shaky Dodger starters, only to let the Dodgers claw their way back into the game. Both teams have illustrated why they're still in the postseason hunt, hustling all-out, gambling for the extra base and chasing down balls with abandon (see Paul Lo Duca's catch on Monday). Stars have starred--Jeff Kent has a pair of homers, Barry Bonds has been on base 12 out of 15 times (3 walks per night), Shawn Green's 5-for-11 with 4 runs, Adrian Beltre's 5-for-12 with 4 RBI. And unlikely heroes have emerged. Ortiz struck the big blow last night. Benito Santiago has 5 hits and 2 walks in the past two nights, Marquis Grissom robbed Rich Aurilia of a game-tying 9th inning homer on Monday
and homered himself on Tuesday
to bring the Dodgers back into the game. Giovanni Carerra stopped the bleeding by giving the Dodgers 3 1/3 innings of strong relief after Omar Daal departed early on Tuesday. All of it has made for some of the season's most memorable baseball.
Tracy's handling of Grissom is one of the things which exemplifies why the Dodgers are still in the race. Almost exactly a year ago, I practically beat my head against the wall
regarding Grissom's play: "Marquis Grissom plays ball like his doppelganger, comedian Martin Lawrence, and he gets on base slightly less often. The Marquis de Sade drew an amazing total of 3 walks in 278 ABs through July; if that's not grounds for a restraining order preventing Tracy from leading him off, it ought to be."
Going into spring training, the Dodgers had three candidates for the centerfield job and leadoff spot:
1) 35-year old Marquis Grissom, coming off of a 654 OPS, making $5 million.
2) 33-year old Tom Goodwin, coming off a 622 OPS, making $3.25 million.
3) 30-year old Dave Roberts, who had a career 601 OPS in less than 200 big league plate appearances, making $217,500, just above the big league minimum.
Not a particularly appetizing menu. But Tracy saw something in Roberts during the spring and made him his leadoff hitter and CF against righties. Roberts has put up a .350 OBP and 45 steals. Grissom has played against lefties and also picked up some games in LF when Brian Jordan got hurt, posting an 831 OPS overall, including a .510 SLG. Goodwin was released and caught on with the Giants, where he's up to his usual tricks with a 617 OPS. Combined the Dodger CFs have put up .337 OBP/.413 SLG/750 OPS, which isn't great, but it sure beats the .282/.377/659 they posted last season. Faced with the daunting limitation of two unproductive players with moderately expensive contracts, Tracy wasn't afraid to try Door #3, and in doing so solved two problems at once.
Despite choosing Roberts as his starter, the mileage he's gotten out of Grissom is impressive. Here are Grissom's platoon splits over the last two seasons:
AVG OBP SLG OPS PA
2001 L .254 .270 .500 770 137
2001 R .207 .242 .363 605 329
2002 L .290 .352 .603 955 144
2002 R .268 .298 .441 739 188
Last year 71% of Grissom's plate appearances were against righties, this year only 57%. (I don't have platoon breakdowns for sac flies and bunts, so they're not included in the OBP and PA calcs). He's destroyed lefties, and he's even held his own against righties.
Tracy's decision to play Roberts this year resembles his choice of Paul Lo Duca as his regular catcher last year. Lo Duca entered the season as a 29-year old with around major-league 200 PAs in his career. Given the starting job, he responded with a 917 OPS and even spent a stretch of the season as the Dodgers' leadoff hitter (which I studied in great detail
). He was moved out of the spot primarily because he was leading the league in batting with Runners In Scoring Position. Lo Duca hasn't had as good a season this time around, but take away his anemic August (440 OPS) and he's at a very respectable .306 AVG/.340 OBP/.441 SLG. As Monday night's game showed, the guy plays all out as well.
Decisions like these have helped Tracy overcome injuries to the pitching staff and subpar production from Jordan, Eric Karros, Adrian Beltre, and his middle infielders (except for Alex Cora, another player whom Tracy has spotted well). He's the NL Manager of the Year
for my money.
But Tracy's biggest test may be to come, as he patches together the Dodgers' tattered rotation from here on out. Coming into Thursday night's game, LA had only 1 quality start in its past 7 games and 2 out of 12. In that span they've lost two key pitchers to season-ending injuries--Kazuhisa Ishii to a fractured skull off of a line drive, and Kevin Brown to back problems. They're thin in pitching, which is never a good thing at this time of year. But if anybody's going to find a way to pull it off, I believe it's the Dodger manager.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Clearing the Bases
Here's a handful of good links from around the web which I wanted to call your attention to before I get back to watching and writing about the Dodgers...
• James Surowiecki writes the excellent Financial Page
in The New Yorker.
His weekly takes on the business world bring a fresh sensibility to an often dreary subject. This week, the writer turns his eye to baseball, specifically the job Billy Beane has done as GM in Oakland:
Billy Beane followed a different path. Beane was frugal, Beane was shrewd. In three short years, he turned a stumbling outfit into a profitable enterprise that is the pride of its industry. If he hasn't been recognized as one of the most successful executives in America, it's only because his business isn't derivatives or microchips. It's baseball.
Surowiecki emphasizes the role sabermetrics plays in Beane's success, and points to a few ways it's influenced the A's organizational philosophy:
...Beane is the first G.M. to build his organization around [sabermetrics]. Beane uses actuarial analysis to figure out, say, the odds of a high-school pitcher's becoming a major leaguer. And, in drafting and acquiring talent, he relies on sabermetric truths. For instance, if your team draws a lot of walks and hits a lot of home runs while giving up few of each, it will win a lot of ballgames. So Beane has stocked his team with sluggers who take walks, and control pitchers who rarely give up home runs. This strategy wins games and, equally important, saves money, because even though the players Beane likes are as productive as many high-profile stars with gaudy stats, they come a lot cheaper. Think of Beane as the Warren Buffett of baseball.
Well worth reading.
• Elbow surgery made Tommy John
a household name. It also put orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe on the map for figuring out how to repair John's torn ulnar collateral ligament with such success that John won 164 games AFTER going under the knife. Baseball Prospectus' Jonah Keri had a fascinating interview
with the doctor. Among the topics discussed are the complexities of repairing the shoulder as opposed to the elbow, recovery times for TJ surgery, and the phenomenon of pitchers claiming they throw harder after the surgery than before, an effect Jobe dodges the credit for: "What the surgery does is restore the ligament's stability to where it was four or five years ago. A pitcher might say the operation did it, but it's just more stability in the arm contributing to better mechanics." Jobe also offers his views on the way pitchers are handled, and points to regrowth of cartilege as one of the most promising areas of research in its impact on pitcher (not to mention the rest of the world).
• By hanging with the red-hot Oakland A's, the Anaheim Angels have shown everybody that they 're for real. Gary Huckaby of Baseball Prospectus analyzes the Angels
over at ESPN and admits that Huckaby admits that nobody in BP's cast saw it coming: "Every single person at Baseball Prospectus picked the Angels to finish dead last in the AL West. Not a single contributor picked them to even beat out the pitching-poor Rangers for third in the division." He points out how the Angels are strong across the board, featuring some of the league's top pitching, an excellent (and economical) bullpen, and the benefit of several hitters at or near their peaks. Elsewhere within ESPN's vast media empire, Rob Neyer
and Tony Gwynn
offer their takes, with the former talking to GM Bill Stoneman and the latter extolling the virtues of manager Mike Scioscia.
• Twins Geek
John Bonnes gets to celebrate early; as his team has already clinched its division. After the drama the Twins have been through off the field, it's impossible for any rational fan not to savor the irony of their success. So here's a hearty hoist of the mug to the team and its fans for getting the laugh on Bud Selig; let's hope the Twins can lose owner Carl Pohlad and find a way to build on this season.
Bonnes is looking ahead to the AL playoffs in his column. Today he examines the Yankees
, and the way the Twins match up with them. Bonnes points out that the Yanks' two lefties (Pettitte and Wells) may spell bad news for his team, as the Twins don't hit southpaws very well (712 OPS, vs. 797 OPS against righties). More bad news for the Twinkies: their most consistent pitcher, Rick Reed, has posted a 10.39 ERA against the Yanks this season, and Bernie Williams owns Twins closer Everyday Eddie Guardado (1380 OPS in 28 ABs). But Bonnes notes that while the Twins went 0-6 against the Yanks, all of those games were played in a 10-day span in May, which might limit their applicability in drawing conclusions.
• Lest Twins fans get too down about their chances, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian points out
that their home-field advantage is significant enough to be a factor in a short series. The fast turf, the white ceiling, the Homer Hankies, and the noise level--not to mention the team's 49-26 performance at home this season--are enough for Kurkjian to warn the Twins potential opponents to "Beware the Metrodome." As somebody who rooted for the team during its two unlikely World Series victories--during which they went 8-0 at home--I think Tim's definitely onto something.
• Twins fan Aaron Gleeman spent a lot of time watching baseball via DirecTV, enough so to offer his opinions
(scroll down to the September 13 entry) about the announcers for half of the teams in the bigs, as well as ESPN and Fox. Among his favorites are the announcers for the Giants (Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow), the Twins (Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven), the Yanks (except for Suzyn Waldman, of course) and Braves groups, and of course, Vin Scully.
• I keep meaning to add this MLB Contracts
site to my links page. This unofficial site (run off of a British server) is an incredibly handy resource for looking at the contracts of a particular team or at the year-by-year breakdowns of an individual player's deal. Though it's by no means complete, it's well worth a bookmark the next time you want to complain about the lousy, overpaid bum of your choice.
• Shilling for myself: I recently added a listing for this site (under "Stats and Analysis") over at HeavyHitter.com
, "the world's largest baseball directory." You can stop by there and vote as to the quality of this site; positive votes help to increase this site's visiblity within their listings, and would certainly be appreciated.
Time for the Dodgers game...
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
I've come down with a case of Dodger Blue Fever. I stayed up until 2 AM Monday night sweating out the Dodgers-Giants result from the West Coast, and I'm prepared to do the same again tonight. With these heated rivals in a dogfight for the NL Wild Card, my long-dormant allegiances have been stirred. I'd rise from the dead to watch these two teams mix it up in a meaningful late-season series.
As a lapsed Dodger fan now living in NYC and rooting for the Yankees at much closer range, it's been awhile since I got a charge out of my old team. I've carried a grudge against them ever since they folded the tent at the ends of 1996 and '97 season, hastening their plunge into the clueless oblivion of the Fox era. Late-night vigils for West Coast scores were no longer worth keeping for such a listless and mediocre ballclub, not when a great one was a Bronx-bound subway ride away.
My allegiance to the Dodgers had been founded on continuity--a love for the team handed down from my grandfater to my father to me and my brother, and a stability within the organization that gave us time to form attachments to its key personalities. The stability of the Dodgers' O'Malley era was characterized by a single stat: two managers for forty-three years. From 1954 to mid-1996, Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda guided the club, in most years able to offer up a contending--if not quite championship-caliber--ballclub. By contrast, the Foxies burned through three underachieving managers in five years, none of whom ever made his mark on the team before bad front-office decisions took their toll.
But Jim Tracy changed all of that. I don't have much of an idea how he's pulled it off, but Tracy has done an amazing job of keeping the Dodgers in postseason contention in each of his first two seasons. His teams have overcome devastating injuries, clubhouse distractions, and some horrible contracts--they paid $22 million
for six wins last season, and another $30 million for 14 wins from Kevin Brown over the past two. Tracy has gotten more out of players like Marquis Grissom and Alex Cora than even their mothers thought possible, and his patience through substandard years by Brian Jordan and Eric Karros has been rewarded by their hot Septembers (5 HR/20 RBI/987 OPS for Jordan, 2/9/843 for Karros). Paul Lo Duca has become an All-Star caliber catcher, and one of the league's more exciting players. Already on Tuesday night, he's tagged up and scored on a popout to second base and slid into the dugout at full steam to catch a foul ball. This team hustles for Tracy--they look ready to run through walls for him. Clearly, Tracy has won their respect; he's won mine as well.
Though I only experienced it through ESPN's GameCast and the occasional SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight update, last night's ballgame felt like one for the ages. Hideo Nomo fell behind early, yielding a solo homer to Jeff Kent and and an RBI double by Tom Goodwin (whose salary the Dodgers are paying) in the first inning, and a Rich Aurilia solo shot in the third. The Dodgers got it all back and then some in the fourth inning, as Brian Jordan hit a grand slam off of Jason Schmidt. The Dodgers furthered their lead in the fifth on a two-run double by Adrian Beltre--this just after the umps let slide a fan-interference call which prevented Goodwin from catching a Beltre foul.
Barry Bonds brought the Giants back with a 2-run homer off of 79-year-old Jesse Orosco. The undead Karros countered with a solo shot, making it 7-5. Goodwin scored from second on an infield hit and a Beltre error, cutting the score to 7-6.
The ninth inning was an absolute classic, with Dodger closer Eric Gagne facing the meat of the Giants' lineup: Aurilia, Kent, and Bonds. My palms were sweating and my heart was pounding as the ESPN GameCast ploddingly plotted the action, telling me that Aurilia had flied out deep to centerfield; I had no idea until seeing the replay on Baseball Tonight how close he'd come to a game-tying homer. Marquis Grissom absolutely robbed him. Gagne rung up Jeff Kent for the second out. Tracy elected to walk Bonds rather than give him an opportunity to tie the game; the gamble paid off as Gagne punched out Benito Santiago to end the game, bringing the two teams to a tie in the Wild Card race.
As I write this, tonight's game is on TV. The Dodgers have clawed their way back from an early deficit, and are down now 5-4 in the 8th on Tuesday night/Wednesday mornign, 1:15 AM EST. I'm wired on this race. Go Blue!
Sunday, September 15, 2002
Sunday's contest between the Yankees and Chicago White Sox was my final regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. But with thunderstorms looming beforehand and nothing much at stake for either team, I told my brother and fellow ticketholder Bryan that I'd be just as happy if the game were rained out and our tix applied to meaningful games next season.
As it was, the game went on, despite three rain-delays, the last of which ended the contest after six innings. Bry and I had an enjoyable time despite the rain, thanks to our foresight in moving from our Upper Deck seats to the covered Loge level a half-inning before everybody else got wise. We stayed dry while Andy Pettitte disappeared into a quagmire--literally and figuratively--in the third inning. The rain visibly gave Pettite problems with both his grip and his footing, and after he went from 0-2 on Aaron Rowland to walking him, the grounds crew came out to apply drying agent to the mound.
Following this ad-hoc landscaping, the next White Sox batter was catcher Miguel Olivo. With a Polaroid for his Jumbotron ID photo and legendary Yankee announcer Bob Shepherd introducing him as "Number Sixty-One, Miguel... Number Sixty-One," clearly this kid was making his major league debut. Indeed, Olivo had been recalled after the White Sox's Birmingham affiliate had won the Double-A Southern League Championship the night before. His 24-hour one-man fairy-tale continued. In the pouring rain, Olivo smashed Pettitte's second pitch over the right-centerfield wall for a three-run homer in his first major-league at-bat, the 83rd player to do so.
The White Sox put two more men on base before the umps got out of their rowboats to halt play. At this point the Yanks could be forgiven if they had hopes for a rainout. I'd have felt the same way had it not been for Olivo's homer. Aided by circumstances though it was, his auspicious debut didn't deserve to be washed away.
The delay lasted only about 35 minutes, so Pettitte found himself still in the muck once play resumed--first and third, nobody out. Robin Ventura instantly bobbled a Frank Thomas grounder to run the score to 4-0. At this point, with the Yanks having already lost the first two games of this series by a combined score of 21-3, a fan could be forgiven for shuddering as memories of the tail end of 2000 came flooding back. Recall that for the final three weeks of that season, with the AL East essentially locked up, the Yanks played baseball so badly that historians had to dig up the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) for an apt comparison. Had they begun folding the tents again?
Apparently not. They got down to business, Bronx Bomber-style, against White Sox starter Gary Glover in the fourth. Derek Jeter led off, lining Glover's first pitch into right-center for a single, and Jason Giambi followed two pitches later with a line-drive homer to rightfield. The sparse crowd (39,587 my ass) had scarecly quieted down when Bernie Williams sent a 2-2 pitch into the rightfield bleachers, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
Giambi's homer had tied him for the team lead at 37 with Alfonso Soriano. As I have a sushi dinner riding on this home-run race, I was even more gratified than usual to see Soriano send a Glover pitch into the leftfield bullpen in the bottom of the fifth, tying the game.
The rain started to sprinkle again as the Yanks loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth, bringing up Ventura, the active leader in career grand slams with 16. Sox reliever Mike Porzio was called for a balk, allowing Jason Giambi to trot home with the go-ahead run. Porzio then walked Ventura, reloading the bases and ending his day. But before reliever Matt Ginter could retire Raul Mondesi, the tarps came out, sending us home. You can only watch a grounds crew roll the tarp so many times in a given day. Amazingly, play did resume briefly--long enough for all three runs to score on a Nick Johnson single and a throwing error by Magglio Ordonez. But we were long gone by then. And Miguel Number Sixty One's homer was safely in the books.
Oh Brother, More Trivia
On the subject of brothers, my own bro Bryan, who lives here in NYC, offered up a trivia category awhile back which we've both been pondering: former Cy Young award winners who are convicted felons. Bryan seems to recall the original question (passed on via his boss) stating that there were five. So far I've come up with three.
The list obviously starts with Denny McClain
(1968 & 1969 AL), who did time for racketeering and cocaine smuggling. Vida Blue
(1971 AL) went to the big house for attempting to purchase cocaine. LaMarr Hoyt
(1983 AL) had two stints in the joint for drugs, including one for being nabbed at the U.S.-Mexico border with them stuffed in his pants.
This is where I get bogged down. Dwight Gooden
(1985 NL) had cocaine-related problems (suspension and rehab, but no arrest) and more recently was arrested on drunken-driving charges (dropped in exchange for Doc pleading guilty to reckless driving). I don't think anything on his rap sheet counts as a felony, but you're reading a guy who got his law degree out of a box of Cracker Jacks, so caveat emptor.
(1971 NL) was arrested in Canada for possession of small amounts of cocaine, hashish, and marijuana during a customs inspection in 1980. He was convicted, but the verdict "was vacated by the judge.
" That is, Jenkins was completely let off the hook because the Canadian citizen was essentially a national hero. Not that my fake law degree is worth anything under the maple leaf flag, but I'm guessing Jenkins' short-lived conviction amounted to a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
After that, I'm stretching for candidates. Young David Cone
(1994 AL) had a few sexcapades which made the scandal sheets when he was a high-flying Met, but no charges ever stuck. Jack McDowell (1993 AL) got into bar-room brawls and gave Yankee fans the finger. Roger Clemens (5-time AL winner) threw a bat at Mike Piazza and was virtually declared Public Enemy #1 in Queens.
Gaylord Perry (2-time winner) greased a lot of baseballs, while Mike Scott (1986 NL) scuffed them, and choirboy-faced Orel Hershiser (1988 NL) dabbled in the black arts as well. Lefty Carlton (4-time NL winner) was a right-wing wacko. Pete Vuckovich had suspect hygiene. Sparky Lyle (1977 AL) sat on many a birthday cake in his birthday suit. Doug Drabek (1990 NL) pilfered $1.6 million of Peter Angelos' money in 1998 while posting a robust 7.29 ERA. Rick Sutcliffe (NL 1984) commits criminal negligence on a nightly basis as an "analyst" for ESPN's Baseball Tonight, and 3-time winner Tom Seaver is unlistenably godawful as a Mets announcer, much to the public's endangerment.
But I can't pin any felonies on them, nor on any of the usual suspects on the winners' list
: Koufax, Gibson, Hunter, Palmer, Glavine, Maddux, Johnson. Or the obscurities: Mark Davis, Steve Bedrosian, John Denny, Dean Chance, et. al. So unless the question's been incorrectly defined, I'm pretty close to stumped. Or in need of a private detective to dig up some dirt on these guys. Let's interrogate Pat Hentgen until he cracks, shall we?
According to our sources, the number of felons in the original question was four, not five, and Fergie Jenkins was included in that count. So we'll put away the thumbscrews.
I had a late brainstorm on my Seven Starts for Seven Brothers piece (see below), which was to go back and check the game story of the Martinez matchup
over at the Nando Sportserver to see if the other pairs of brothers were mentioned then (the Sportserver has a very useful archive
which goes day-by-day back to 1995). Lo and behold, this yielded the answer: Virgil and Jesse Barnes.
The Barnes brothers were the first duo to oppose each other, on May 3, 1927
. Virgil started for the New York Giants, while the Brooklyn Dodgers' Jesse came on in relief of one Doug McWeeny
and tossed seven innings. Jesse took the W as the Dodgers rallied for six runs in the 7th and 8th innings off of Virgil, to win 7-6.
Not being particularly well-versed in that era, I never would have thought of the Barnes brothers myself. And I likely wouldn't have found them because I had been skimming the Retrosheet team game logs for games in which two brothers both started. So while I hadn't checked for the other pairs of brothers facing each other when one came on in relief, this does bring our total to seven and jibes with the pairs listed in the Martinez story, thus accomplishing our mission. Here's the complete list of the brothers' first matchups, with the winning brother listed first:
- Jesse and Virgil Barnes: May 3, 1927
- Phil and Joe Niekro: July 4, 1967
- Gaylord and Jim Perry: July 3, 1973 (the Indians won, but Gaylord didn't get the W)
- Pat and Tom Underwood: May 31, 1979
- Greg and Mike Maddux: September 29, 1986
- Pedro and Ramon Martinez: August 29, 1996
- Andy and Alan Benes: September 6, 2002
Doug McWeeny? One of the most unlikely baseball names this side of Mickey Klutts
. Mr. McWeeny finished his career with 37 wins, 57 losses and a 4.17 ERA for three teams between 1921-1930. He led the league in walks and shutouts for the Dodgers in 1928. Those '28 Dodgers, who went 77-76, were the only winning team McWeeny ever played on in the bigs. And he was no Cary Grant
Saturday, September 14, 2002
Mike of Mike's Baseball Rants
has been on a quest ever since the brothers Benes--Cardinal Andy and Cub Alan--faced each other as starting pitchers
last week. According to several news reports, the Benes boys are the seventh pair in major league history to square off, with the most recent duo being Ramon and Pedro Martinez
in 1996. None of the reports listed the other five pairs of pitching brothers, and so Mike made an incomplete list of possibilities
where two brothers were in the same league but not on the same team:
- Forsch (1974-‘80)
- Perry (1972-‘73, ’75)
- Niekro (1967-‘69, ’74-‘83, ’86-’87)
- Dean (1938-’40)
- Coveleski (1916-’18)
- Stottlemyre (1990)
- Maddux ('93-'94, '96-'97)
- Leiter ('86-'92)
I was able to offer one addition to Mike's list, recalling that back in 1979, the brothers Underwood--Tiger Pat and Blue Jay Tom--faced off against each other. Both pitched well, but Pat pitched a three-hitter and won 1-0, thanks to a Jerry Manuel solo HR in the 8th inning off of Tom. Thank you, Retrosheet
I also confirmed that Phil and Joe Niekro, who combined for 546 wins in the big leagues, had faced off several times, with Joe holding a career 5-4 edge on Phil. On May 29, 1976, Joe connected for his only big-league homer off of Phil. Oh, brother...
A reader of Mike's page confirmed that the Madduxes faced each other
as rookies in 1986, bringing our list to 5. Initial reports that the Leiter brothers have faced each other are thus far unsubstantiated. I did find that Mel Stottlemyre Jr, who started only 2 games in the big leagues for the Kansas City Royals in 1990, faced the Tornoto Blue Jays in one of those games, but brother Todd wasn't on the mound that day. Close, but no cigar.
Even closer without the cigar were the brothers Coveleski (Harry and Hall of Famer Stan), who missed each other by a day twice and by two days once in 1916. Further digging in Retrosheet crossed off the Forsches (Bob and Ken), the Deans (Dizzy and Daffy) and the Perezes (Pascual, Melido, and Carlos). But I did find that the Perrys (Jim and Gaylord) met: on July 3, 1973
, Jim and the Tigers faced Gaylord and the Indians. Alas, no box score of the game is available via Retrosheet.
Still, we're up to 6. Does anybody know (and have confirmation of) the seventh duo? Bloggers are standing by.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
I just returned from Tuesday night's Yankees-Orioles ballgame, a mercifully short, virtually split-squad affair for the Yanks. This, the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Orioles clocked in at 2 hours, 12 minutes and was won by the Yanks 3-1, despite Enrique Wilson and Alex Arias (the middle infield of a future nightmare) batting 1-2 in the lineup. Most of the Yankee payroll--Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, and Robin Ventura--rested, and those who played didn't work too many counts; John Vander Wal drew the game's first walk in the bottom of the 7th. Jeff Weaver scattered four hits over 8 innings, retiring 20 out of the last 21 batters (8 4 1 1 0 5) and threw only 102 pitches. Sidney Ponson went the distance for the Orioles, pitching like a man who deserved better than a team that had lost 15 of 16 playing behind him.
A year ago, September 10, 2001, I was at Yankee Stadium, snarfing down soggy hot dogs from under a rickety umbrella during a pregame thunderstorm. That game, against the Red Sox, was rained out before it even started, and my friend Nick and I merely wanted to finish our dinners before disembarking. We ate watching a young woman in a rain-sodden Nomar Garciaparra jersey dance in the six inches of water which accumlated in the front row Yankee Stadium's upper deck. Full of nitrates, I went home to write about Andy Pettitte
The indelible image of Dancing Nomar Girl came back to mind the next morning, as I was surprised to be greeted by sunshine and clear blue sky leaving my apartment. Heading for the deli just down Second Avenue where I get my coffee, I saw thick, black smoke rising from downtown. In puzzlement, I listened as a man at the deli babbled something about "seeing the second plane hit" while a transistor radio broke news that the World Trade Center was on fire. It was 9:05 AM.
It's been a long year since then. The occasion of this anniversary provides us a moment to pause and remember those who lost their lives, to reflect on our own lives, and hopefully, to offer some closure as well. I was lucky enough not to have any friends or family directly affected by the 9/11 attacks, but everyone I know has been affected on some level. My own response has been to count my blessings on a routine basis, to remind those close to me of their importance in my life, to partake in a markedly more civil city than prior to 9/11, and to make an effort to savor each and every day. It's a simple prescription that has kept me upbeat, busy, and relatively happy in the face of my own anxieties--which, I'll wager, are pretty light compared to what some people in this city have faced.
Besides longer lines and heightened security at the airport, I notice the difference the most at sporting events. My trip to a World Series game
(Game 3, the one where G.W. Bush threw out the first pitch) was a paranoid, disorganized fiasco which took two and a half hours to get from the subway entrance to my seat in Yankee Stadium. The Winter Olympics
, only five months removed from 9/11, were an adventure in quelling a public's collective anxiety via a rather byzantine (but nonetheless effective) process. Everything since then is a joke, with the Yankees' ham-fistedness towards allowing certain items in the park while cracking down on others (those dangerous umbrellas, opaque plastic bags, and whatever will fit under a baseball cap!).
But what really galls me at Yankee Stadium is the Seventh Inning Stretch. The Yanks' entry in the mandatory patriotism sweepstakes is Kate Smith's war-horse rendition
of "God Bless America, which is fine in and of itself. But it's juxtaposed with Eddie Layton's whimsical organ run through "Take Me Out To the Ballgame," which follows a mere 30 seconds later, and the sonic horror of "Cotton-Eyed Joe," which follows that, rendering the summoned patriotism banal and ridiculous.
For reason I've only just begun to fathom, I went to work the morning of September 11 (a more complete acccounting of my day up to a certain point is here
). Fifteen minutes of watching the breaking news on CNN (no mention of terrorists yet), half my cup of coffee, and I was out the door, passing ambulances and fire trucks rushing downtown to the scene. No, there was no stopping me; I had appointments, I had deadlines, and I was on autopilot. The stupidity of what I was doing didn't hit me about halfway into my subway ride, when I noticed that several of the women on the train had been crying. People were scared. Why wasn't I?
In the several times I've recounted the day's events--to myself on the printed page or to anybody else who's listened--I've never come up with a satisfactory explanation for why I still went to work. But in retrospect, I think it was just a subconscious way of reminding myself that I was strong enough to keep going, and that my best contribution in the coming days would be to do just that. I had to summon a somewhat clinical resolve in the days shortly after, faced with deadlines for the 2002 World Almanac
which involved designing layouts around photos of the tragedy and revising the book's cover
(which I'd designed and delivered as final on Monday the 10th) to reflect events. That ordeal I've already written about.
Writing, both for this space and for myself, has helped me immensly in dealing with 9/11. By providing myself with a forum in which I could openly come to terms with it (in however roundabout a way), I allowed myself the space to process the day's events, and found the opportunity to remind myself of how lucky I'd been. I'm grateful for that, as I've been grateful for every single one of the past 365 days. Thank you for tuning in.
Monday, September 09, 2002
A Few Quick Hits for a Blue Monday
Just a few articles I've been meaning to link to before they grow stale:
• The Twins Geek, John Bonnes, has a good little piece
about the statistic OPS, a handy stat which stands for On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage. OPS has over the past few years penetrated the consciousness of the baseball world, thanks mostly to the work of ESPN's Rob Neyer. It's to the point that even TV analysts and GMs (both generally much more resistant to new ways of thinking than the average baseball fan) even use it. OPS has found favor asmong statheads because it correlates very well with scoring--much better than simple Batting Average. Bonnes runs the numbers using runs per game over the past 10 years; OPS comes in at .956, which beats Batting Average's .824. Anyway, worth checking out.
• Baseball Prospectus' Gary Huckabay has a piece on how missing games due to strikes
has had an impact on several players' Hall of Fame credentials. Among those significantly affected are Harold Baines, who probably would have topped 400 HRs and may have stuck around for a run at 3,000 hits; Bert Blyleven, who would have edged ever-closer to 300 wins and 5,000 strikeouts, Barry Bonds, for whom 70 games might mean the difference between catching Hank Aaron; and Ken Griffey Jr., who along with Matt Williams lost a shot at breaking Roger Maris' hallowed 61 HR record when 1994 went black. Also considered is Tim Raines' missing month in 1987 due to collusion (he wasn't offered a contract by any team at a time when he was possibly the best player in the National League, and so was prohibited from re-signing with the Expos until May 1). I still remember watching his mind-blowing May 2 debut that year
--without the benefit of spring training, Raines went 4-for-5, tripling off of the Mets' David Cone on his first pitch and hitting a game-winning grand slam off of Jesse Orosco in the 10th.
• Unless you've been on another planet, you know that the A's have been on a roll. Not just with their recent 20-game winning streak, but everything they've accomplished over the past three seasons. Even we hard-hearted Yankee fans have admired them as they've pushed our team to the brink twice in the postseason. Avowed Yank fan Cecilia Tan writes of her own flirtation
with the A's, consummated when she attended their AL-record tying 19th win in a row on Labor Day. "Yankees loyalists may call me Hester Prynne," writes Tan,"but I will wear my A proudly. At least until October."
• Speaking of winning streaks and record-tying, the A's brought back memories of the night I attented the Class A Pioneer League Salt Lake Trappers' 27th consecutive win in 1987, which tied the professional baseball record. The Trappers were an independent team
partially owned by actor Bill Murray, who would occasionally show up and coach third base, much to the crowd's delight. They broke the 85-year-old record the night after I was there, and won one more before the streak ended at 29. So far as I know, the record still stands. The Salt Lake Tribune has a fond remembrance of the streak
featuring a visit with then-Trappers' manager Jim Gilligan, who finds a parallel with Oakland's streak: "[T]he A's are doing it without a big budget, which is kind of how we did it in Salt Lake." Thanks to my Mom for the link.
Friday, September 06, 2002
Call me a smug Yankees fan for saying so if you want, but the meaningful part of the Yanks' regular season is over. I had the pleasure of attending the finale Wednesday night, as the Yanks, behind a two-run opposite-field homer from Jason Giambi and a gritty performance by Andy Pettitte, beat Derek Lowe and the Boston Red Sox 3-1. The win clinched both the three-game series and the season series over the Sox, dealing Boston a mortal blow that had Lowe doing the math.
"If they play .500, we'd have to go - what? - 21-4?" he said afterwards, referring to the Sox chance of tying the Yanks for the AL East lead.
Not that the race is completely over, of course The Yankees are apparently putting their clichés on
one pant-leg at a time. "We feel good about it, but it's not over," says Yankee reliever Steve Karsay. "You have to take one game at a time until we clinch. You can't look forward to next week or you will find yourself in a position you don't want to be in." Uh-huh. Tune in tomorrow, when the pitching staff pledges to throw strikes and stay within their abilities, while Joe Torre promises to get everybody some at-bats while giving people some rest so they stay... zzzzzzzz.
Wednesday night's game was a satisfying one. Pettitte struggled early, allowing three hits and one run on his first eight pitches, the key hit being Johnny Damon's bloop bunt. It sailed past the pitcher to a vainly charging Soriano, who short-hopped the ball and made a wild throw to first that was already too late. Dandy Andy labored his way out of trouble repeatedly, throwing 49 pitches in the first three innings and not posting a 1-2-3 inning until the 6th. But he finished strongly, retiring 12 out of the last 13 hitters--not bad for a guy who'd missed his previous start due to back trouble. Pettitte and Karsay (who earned the save by pitching the final two innings) used the Sox ageless DH Carlos Baega as their inning-ending escape hatch; Baerga grounded out with two on and two out in both the first and third innings, and struck out with a man aboard to end the eighth. Yankee outfielders Bernie Williams and Raul Mondesi made a couple of fine catches to bail Pettitte out on sharply hit balls by Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, respectively.
The Yanks threatened Lowe early, Alfonso Soriano leading off with a single and Derek Jeter catching the Sox off guard with a bunt single. But Lowe struck out Jason Giambi looking and wriggled his way out of the jam. Giambi exacted his revenge in the third. Juan Rivera doubled, Lowe hit Soriano with a pitch (perhaps in retaliation for Pettitte hitting Shea Hillenbrand in the top of the inning?), Jeter grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, and then Giambi poked a sinker that didn't sink over the leftfield wall. Two pitches later, Lowe had Bernie Williams 0-2, but plunked him on the wrist, then bounced his next pitch past catcher Jason Varitek. One pitch later, Jorge Posada lined a single to left-center, scoring Bernie with their third and final run.
The most telling moment of last night came on the subway ride home. A well-dressed man switched cars at 86th Street, boarding the one my pal Nick and I were riding. He took one look at us in our Yankees caps, and closed his eyes in disgust, grimacing and throwing his hands up in mock surrender as a shock of recognition hit him. It was our friend Gabe--a Brooklyn-residing Red Sox fan--finding himself in exactly the wrong place for sympathy. Nick and I needled him (albeit rather gently) as we discussed Boston's slow fade and the two ballclubs' strengths and weaknesses on the ride home.
Anyway... following Thursday's win over Detroit and Boston's loss to Toronto, the Sox are now down 9.5 games and the Yanks' magic number is 15. None of this would be worth mentioning except for the fact that neither of the two teams faces an above-.500 club for the rest of the regular season; the Yanks meet (meat?) Detroit (6), Baltimore (7), the White Sox (3), and Tampa Bay (7), while the Sox draw the O's (7), the Jays (3), the Rays (7), the Other Sox (3), and Cleveland (4). This should leave Boston fans with a glimmer of hope for gaining ground in the Wild Card race. While the Sox play the aforementioned patsies, the red-hot Oakland A's, surging Anaheim Angels, and sinking Seattle Mariners spend the last three aweeks of the season jockeying for position.
The Yanks do have some very real questions to answer over the next few weeks, centering around--what else?--pitching. Mariano Rivera, on the DL for the third time this season with shoulder-itis, expects to be ready for the playoffs, but he has yet to resume throwing. In his absence, the bullpen-by-committee approach starring Karsay, Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza has done admirably, converting nine straight since Mariano went down the third time. Five pitchers besides Rivera
have combined for 19 of the Yanks' 46 saves. Nobody can fault the Yanks for wanting their ace back, but Joe Torre is stoically shoring up his troops
for a worse-case scenario.
On a brighter note, the starting pitching is starting to resemble the guys in the catalog, with Clemens sticking the bat in the collective Sox, Pettitte rebouding emphatically from his latest health scare, and Orlando Hernandez working his crafty repertoire against the lowly Tigers. David Wells' back has held up admirably; he's only 4.1 innings off Mike Mussina's club lead in addition to his 15-7, 4.12 record. Moose keeps showing up for work, and has shown signs of shaking his slump, pitching two very good games over the Mariners and the Red Sox in between three bad ones. My hunch is still that El Duque is the odd man out in the postseason, barring injury to another of the Yanks' starting five--simply because he's the only one who's pitched any relief at all this season. And also because I don't trust the Yanks to embarrass a pitcher to whom they've got a long-term commitment by sending him to the bullpen for the postseason (i.e., Mussina), in favor of a more difficult one whom they might look to dispose of (i.e., Hernandez).
Speaking of off-season considerations, Bob Klapisch
points out the big decisions the Yanks are facing, especially with regards to Clemens. Klapisch reports that in addition to the $10.3 million in deferred compensation due Clemens next season, the Rocket is likely to seek $15 million--which is especially steep because it may influence the team's thinking on Pettitte's $11 million option. Given that Pedro Martinez and Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy
have both floated thought balloons in recent days on bringing Clemens back to Boston, it's practically a given that George will pay whatever it takes to foil the Sox plans (unless of course this is some of that reverse psychology, as the Sox conveniently scheme to bloat the Yanks' already bloated payroll...).
Mariano Rivera has an opt-out clause after the season, though he's not likely to risk an $8.5 million while his value is depressed due to his injury problems. Mike Stanton and Robin Ventura are two other key free agents. The bullpen--not to mention the postseason in general--seems unthinkable without the lefty setup man, who's been a constant for the Yanks since '97 and who hasn't missed a postseason
since 1990 (excepting the '94 strike, of course). Ventura, who's already topped 25 HR and 90 RBI while hitting .258 AVG/.376 OBP/.483 SLG, has certainly earned a return invitation, especially given highly-touted prospect Drew Henson's lack of, um, seasoning. Henson made his major-league debut on Thursday, pinch-running for Bernie Williams in the 8th inning.
One Yank who could be purged in the offseason to save money is leftfielder Rondell White, who despite staying relatively healthy has hit a pathetic .235/.286/.355, including a .130 August. Rookie Juan Rivera was activated on August 30 (recovered from a bizarre golf-cart accident) to keep him eligible for the postseason roster; he will apparently get a long look this month
as the Yanks assess whether he can help them in October or next season. The kid whacked an 0-2 Lowe pitch for a double on Wednesday, starting their three-run rally, but he apparently missed a hit-and-run sign
which led to Jeter grounding into a double-play prior to Giambi's homer. Oh, those rookies.
And hey, speaking of rookies...(At this point the yammering writer rambled off to bed )...
Thursday, September 05, 2002
It's One of Those Weeks...
...where I haven't had much time to write in this space. Paying at the back-end of my vacation, alas, with some major deadlines at work looming over the next several days, and a few ballgames mixed in to boot. So if the frequency of my postings continues at its slow pace, blame my link-gathering monkeys and their liquor-addled ways; I'm too busy to discipline them, and they're too drunk to listen anyway.
If you're needing a fix, I've added a few blogs to my links page
recently: Aaron's Baseball Blog
, which I've quoted a couple of times here recently; Boy of Summer
, which in addition to being a fine new blog has the distinction (I think) of being the first to link to my site using a small version of my banner (something I should have created a long time ago and now add to my ever-lengthening to-do list); and Mike's Baseball Rants
, a witty and prolific blog (great titles: "50% of Hindsight Is 90% 20-20"
and "Did They Spell It Muenneapolis When the Muellers Played There?"). Check 'em out.
I've got a piece in the pipeline about last night's Yankees-Red Sox game, which I attended. Should be up later tonight or early tomorrow.
Monday, September 02, 2002
One Happy Camper
When I returned to civilization--as much civilization as Pinedale, Wyoming allows, at least--last Thursday after five days in the woods, I was disappointed to find that the players and owners still hadn't reached an agreement to avert a strike. Disappointed, but hardly surprised. After all, what's a labor crisis without an 11th hour?
I'd spent a good portion of my five days in the Wind Rivers mountains of western Wyoming--in between the times when I wasn't catching sardine-sized trout, chasing wayward llamas (don't ask), or donning my Gore-Tex to fend off torrential rain and hail--debating with my fellow backpackers as to whether there would be a strike. An air of resignation and disgust held over the group; the general consensus was 1) there would be a strike; 2) who cared anyway? and 3) those greedy players were the root of it all.
I'm still alarmed that such a belief prevails among the great majority of baseball fans--over three quarters
of them according to some polls. Why do fans direct their anger at players making $200,000 or $2 million or even $20 million a year doing what they do extremely well and with passion, instead of at incompetent sandbaggers worth $200 million or $2 billion who hamstring their franchises with millstone contracts and hold cities hostage until taxpayers cough up stadiums? Sufffice it to say that the owners' badmouthing of the product (the players) took a powerful hold on a public which still refuses to understand the issues. Why anybody would believe (for example) Bud Selig instead of Forbes Magazine when it comes to an objective look at the game's finances is beyond me. And why anybody would side with the likes of the Seligs, the Reinsdorfs, the Mooreses, and the Hicks instead of the players also escapes me.
Both ESPN Magazine's Tim Keown
and that famed iconoclast Jim Bouton
offer similarly interesting views on this phenomenon. The former writes: "There is perhaps no issue galvanizing our nation quite like the distasteful notion of young, able-bodied men making millions of dollars playing baseball." Keown remains as mystified as anybody when it comes to the reasons behind this phenomenon, especially given the Commissioner's ineptitude as the game's chief spokesman:
The direction of public opinion is mystifying, really. Everyone seems to understand and accept Bud Selig's epic incompetence and seemingly bottomless capacity for -- to be highly generous -- twisting the truth. Just to pick something at random, Selig can't even embrace the game's best stories -- the allegedly impossible small-payroll successes in Minnesota and Oakland. Those two franchises are models, and Bud calls them aberrations. They should be honored, instead they are belittled. Has there ever been a worse spokesman for the game than Selig?
Bouton, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, attempts to direct fans' anger towards the owners instead of the players. He writes that the owners have engaged in a systematic PR campaign against the players ever since the advent of free agency:
The owners are counting on your resentment of the players to frighten them into giving in at the bargaining table. Their campaign to turn you against the players, by calling them greedy and overpaid, began soon after the players won a measure of free agency in 1976. Yet all the owners have succeeded in doing is turning a nation of fans against players they once loved and admired. Which is pretty foolish when you consider that players are not just employees — they're the product.
Bouton points out that since winning free agency, the players have been expected to compromise on top of compromise every time the Collective Bargaining Agreement comes up for renewal, "effectively giving up their free agency in bits and pieces."
But let's cut to the chase: I'm ecstatic there is no strike. Without being too particular about the particulars of the deal, I'm elated that the season can continue unabated. I'm happy that Minnesota Twins players and fans alike can stick it to Bud, knowing that their franchise has survived a bout with the Grim Reaper, as contraction is off the table for the duration of the new CBA. I'm filled with glee that the three-team dogfight for the AL West can continue. I'm practically turning cartwheels knowing that A's fans and Twins fans can continue to speculate on whether their team can beat the Yankees this fall. Hell, I'm even thankful that I can fret about Mariano Rivera's shoulder (and psyche) withstanding the rigors of the postseason. It beats the Selig out of staring at an October devoid of baseball.
And I'm not going to worry too much about whether the Yankees and George Steinbrenner will suffer unduly at the hands of the revenue-sharing and luxury-tax portions of the new agreement. Let's face it: Raul Mondesi plays a mean rightfield when he's so motivated, but acquiring an $11 million mediocrity midseason just because the Boss loses patience with a platoon of proven role-players doesn't speak well for the status quo. Let Steinbrenner tighten the Yankee belt this winter, showing Roger Clemens the door when the Rocket asks for another $10 million on top of his $10 million "option" and burying Sterling Hitchcock in the Tomb of The Next Ed Whitson so that he can pick up Andy Pettitte's option instead. Let him find a taker for Rondell White so that he can give Juan Rivera a shot at a starting job. And let him pass up Japanese star Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui so that Nick Johnson can continue to develop. We don't need those steenkin' free agents--well, most of them--anyway.
The one thing about the new CBA which truly troubles me is that there's still nothing to prevent revenue-sharing recipients from pocketing the money and continuing to sandbag. The one potential positive about a strike would have been shaking out some of those skinflints crying about their inability to keep up with the Yanks while shaking Steinbrenner down for cash. What's going to stop those owners from dragging their feet for another four years in exchange for even more concessions from the players' union? There's also nothing in the new CBA which distinguishes between a relatively well-run small- or mid-market team (like the Cleveland Indians or the Seattle Mariners) and the blundering large-market Philadelphia Phillies. The system can still be abused.
I'm not exactly crazy about the MLBPA's concession on the contraction issue come 2007, but so long as it's the Devil Rays, the Marlins, or anything with Jeffrey Loria's fingerprints on it, I don't really care too much from this distant vantage. I'm curious to see how the Expos situation is resolved, with regards to the team's currrent ownership status, its future in Montreal (or Washington, D.C.), and the pending RICO lawsuit by the former minority partners which names Selig and Loria as defendents.
But on the whole, I'm impressed that the two sides were able to avert a work-stoppage. If nothing else, it sets a precedent that future negotiations don't have to end in bloodshed, acrimony, and litigation. Perhaps the new CBA will restore some of that phantom "competitive balance" we've supposedly been missing, offering "hope and faith" that the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates can continue to bungle things on their own accord. Perhaps it will give some of those billionaires their cues to skiddoo instead of whinging about their inability to compete. Perhaps Bud Selig will stop badmouthing the product and instead work on rebuilding baseball's fan base.
Or better yet, perhaps Bud will view this as an opportunity to exit the Office of the Commissioner, taking his bad rug and ugly mug home to Milwaukee. Or Timbuktu--let's provide some hope and faith for Brewers' fans, after all. While Selig may deserve at least some modicum of credit for averting a stoppage, it's still not enough to atone for a decade of ineptitude, badwill, and a missing World Series. If a season without a strike seemed like a pipe dream a week ago, at least permit me to hold onto one more dream.
But enough of my ranting about Selig. On a Labor Day with labor peace, I'm ready to put all of this aside and get back to the game I love. It's about time.
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