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, April 30, 2003
"You're only as smart as your ERA," Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four
over 30 years ago. While Bouton was talking about how nobody within baseball wants to hear what a marginal player has to say, Colorado Rockies reliever Todd Jones has illustrated Bouton's adage in the most literal terms. Interviewed by Denver Post
theater critic John Moore on the subject of the Broadway play "Take Me Out," about a baseball star who comes out of the closet, Jones came off
like a man whose 6.35 ERA was higher than his IQ:
Colorado Rockies pitcher Todd Jones, a 6-foot, 3-inch pitcher from Marietta, Ga., said an openly gay player would create a hostile locker-room environment, and that opposing pitchers would likely throw intentionally at his head.
"I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me," Jones said. "It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights. Yeah, he's got rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud. It's like he's rubbing it in our face. 'See me, hear me roar.' We're not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don't really have to be?"
Ugh. Jones, who writes
a column for The Sporting News
, had to have known his remarks would stir up controversy. What he's apparently saying is that an openly gay player should fear for his safety and his life because cretins like Jones would make it their business to rub THEIR intolerance (and their fists, or their fastballs) in his face.
Fortunately, not every player shares Jones' attitude or ignorance. Moore spoke to Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace:
Grace... said most ballplayers are less threatened by the idea of a gay teammate. "I've played for 16 years, and I'm sure I've had homosexual teammates that I didn't know about," he said. "If one out of six or seven men are homosexual - do the math."
Any problem, Grace said, would manifest itself not so much in the field but in the locker room and in the showers - where, coincidentally, the majority of "Take Me Out" takes place.
"I think the perception in the clubhouse would be one of, for lack of a better word - fear," Grace said. "Fear that they'd be stared at or (that a gay player might fall) in love with them. But I think if you're intelligent at all, you'd understand that homosexuals are just like us. They don't think everybody's attractive. Just because this guy's homosexual doesn't mean he's attracted to me."
Gracefully put. I live in New York City, a city with considerably more diversity and tolerance than your average Georgia backwater. Having spent most of my past six years at a design studio with an openly gay boss signing my paychecks and several gay colleagues working alongside, AND that same period of time as a member of a gym with a high concentration of gay members, I can tell you that I've spent more time worrying about which socks I'm going to wear tomorrow than fending off advances from other men. If I've been ogled by a gay man in either environment, I couldn't tell you by whom, and I've never been hit upon, not once. It's a non-issue.
For their part, the Rockies moved swiftly to distance themselves from Jones' remarks in a press release:
The unfortunate comments made by pitcher Todd Jones and published in today's Denver Post in no way reflect the views, opinions, or attitudes of the Colorado Rockies Baseball Club.
"As an organization and as a part of this community, we are committed to providing an environment for our employees and fans that is free of discrimination and prejudice regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, national orientation, age, disability, or status as a veteran" said Keli McGregor, Rockies team president.
Jones himself issued a half-assed apology
to save his (red)neck, but he didn't back off: "I think my only mistake was that I made my views public," he said, reportedly teary-eyed during his press conference.
Well, boo-fucking-hoo. Forget Carl Everett
. Anybody who clocks Todd Jones with an object thrown from the stands -- be it cell phone, beer bottle, surrendered home run ball, bowling ball, tire iron, ACME anvil
-- wins a free Futility Infielder T-shirt and the replacement cost of the thrown object (valid only with a receipt). Here's wishing Jones every bit of the success his predecessor
in the bigotry department has enjoyed. And here's where you can open your own can of Whoop Ass
on this John Rocker wannabe: firstname.lastname@example.org
Those Eggheads Have Screwed Me Again
Apparently all of the email over the past 48 hours sent via my email@example.com
address has been bouncing due to overzealous spam filtering on the part of my service provider, Time Warner. While I appreciate their efforts to weed out those offers to increase my manhood, romance barnyard animals, and earn several mil via the son of a Nigerian ambassador, clearly it ain't working yet.
Hopefully the problem will be rectified over the next 24 hours, but until further notice please email me via firstname.lastname@example.org
, and if you've sent me anything since early Monday, please re-send via that address as well. Thanks for your patience while I try to keep mine...
Sunday, April 27, 2003
Whether your a fan, analyst, player, manager, or GM, few topics within baseball are as hotly contested as pitch counts. Crusty codgers may sneer about how today's young whippersnappers are babied with their five-man rotations and specialized bullpens, bemoaning the death of the complete game and the 300-game winner. But the history books are littered with tales of promising pitchers whose careers were cut short by excessive workloads and medieval management techniques. It's not hard to envision an unsympathetic skipper telling his starter, "We'll stretch you on the rack until you can throw 160 pitches on a rainy night in early April, then we'll bleed your arm with leeches." That's because -- less the Dark Age imagery -- the story isn't so farfetched; Yankee manager Dallas Green (my least favorite baseball personality ever) did exactly that to a young Al Leiter back in 1989, a story recounted in "Wings of Fire," a recently-collected
Roger Angell piece. The pitcher needed rotator cuff surgery later that season, setting his big-league career back about four years.
Organizations differ greatly in their approaches to pitcher handling. Some keep their pitchers on a strict pitch count system, especially in the minor leagues, where they may even so far as to pair starters in tandem
. Others run their pitchers' arms ragged in the name of some macho code, then litter the disabled list with the discarded carcasses of those who aren't tough enough.
In the analytical community, the past few years have seen an attempt to quantify the impact of pitcher use and abuse. Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli introduced a metric called Pitcher Abuse Points in 1998 which focuses on high pitch-count outings and their correlation with both short-term ineffectiveness (following a high-count outing) and long-term predisposition to injury. The metric, which has been refined over the years, has as its basis an exponential relationship between the number of pitches above 100 and an increased injury risk; the current version is called PAP^3 because the relationship is more or less cubic. While there's plenty that PAP doesn't measure (such as the type of pitcher, the soundness of his mechanics, and the number of days rested between starts), and plenty of flared tempers over just what exactly PAP does measure, the metric remains the most comprehensive attempt to grasp the subject.
Christian Ruzich, the Cub Reporter, has done an excellent job summarizing PAP and its evolution
. With new Cub manager Dusty Baker's reputation as an old-school hardass when it comes to pitcher management, Ruzich is keeping a close eye on the Cubbies' precious young arms such as Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. He's created a small chart in the upper right-hand corner of his blog showing each Cub starter, the number of pitches thrown in their last outing, the average number of pitches per start, and their current PAP^3 ranking
. Ominously, Wood and his surgically reconstruced elbow rank 3rd in baseball, with two out of his five starts falling in Category IV (122-132 pitches) where the risk of short-term decline is "significant." Prior, who's throwing just 1.2 fewer pitches per outing, is down at 20th place, with no Category IV starts to date. Last year
Prior ranked 9th while Wood was down at 44th.
As Ruzich points out, the Prospectus folks have been onto Baker
for a few years. Last season saw the Giants with three pitchers in the PAP top 20 (Livan Hernandez 3rd, Russ Ortiz 4th, and Jason Schmidt 18th). And according to Ruzich, the early returns from the Windy City are not good:
So far this year, the Cubs have had four pitchers hovering around the top twenty. While age is no longer an explicit part of PAP^3, lots of earlier research (most notably in Craig Wright's book A Diamond Appraised, which was the jumping-off point for Rany's original study) considers age to be a very important part of the equation. Since three/fifths of the Cubs rotation is age 25 or under, I think it's especially important to pay attention to the workload shouldered by the Cubs' youngsters.
In a more recent post
, Ruzich has some additional input on the topic, including an exchange with BP's Will Carroll, a quote from Sports Illustrated
writer Tom Verducci, who appears to yearn for a return to the Dark Ages, and some serious science from Thomas Kuhn. Definitely worth checking out.
Saturday, April 26, 2003
writer Leonard Koppett has an enlightening piece
about a key rule change which just passed its 100th anniversary. As of the American League's season opener on April 20, 1903, the first two foul balls hit by a batter counted as strikes. The National League had adopted the foul-strike rule in 1901, but the AL, which was born that year, still clung to the old fouls-don't-count rule, and it skewed results so much that Nap Lajoie led the league with a .426 batting average. The AL's adoption of the foul-strike rule was part of its peace agreement with the NL, in which the two leagues agreed to honor each other's player contracts, coordinate schedules and hold a World Series between the two league champions.
Koppett calls the foul-strike rule "the last fundamental playing rule change baseball made, after many evolutionary changes in the preceding 25 years... the true birth of baseball as we know it." There's more:
Changes did come later, like the designated hitter, but that's a lineup rule, not a playing rule. Adjustments were made about ground-rule doubles and homers, and the height of the mound, and other things of such secondary nature.
But the foul strike -- made universal in 1903 -- was the final step in completing the truly basic rules of play: nine men, three outs to an inning, three strikes you're out, four balls for a walk, 90 feet between bases, the 60-foot, 6-inch pitching distance, the size and weight of the ball, nine innings for a complete game and over the fence is a home run.
While many would quibble with Koppett's classification of the designated hitter (which just saw its own 30th anniversary
) as non-fundamental, it's interesting to view the foul-strike change as sort of a Golden Spike
which not only unified the two leagues but also the game of a century ago with the one we know today. But then, that's why Koppett has earned his tag as "The Thinking Fan."
• • •
Speaking of great old writers still teaching the kids new tricks, Newsday catches up
with 82-year-old Roger Angell, who has a new anthology out called Game Time
. The book packages some (but, sadly, not all) of his recent work with pieces dating all the way back toThe Summer Game
(1962), including a piece on the writer's first trip to spring training from which I drew inspiration
The most sorely overlooked Angell piece, in my opinion, is his one following the 1995 postseason, in which he discusses the Mariners' Randy Johnson coming out of the bullpen in Game Five of the AL Divisional Series against the Yankees (a moment which sitll gives me goosebumps to think about), Orel Hershiser doing the same for the Dodgers in the 1988 NL Championship Series (exponentially more goosebumps there) and the consequences of such heroism on the pitchers' careers, with the post-rotator cuff surgery phase of Hershiser's career as illustration.
If there's anybody out there reading this who clips and files Angell's New Yorker
pieces (like I've been doing since '97 or so) and has that one, I'll trade you a Futility Infielder T-shirt (which I'll soon be unveiling) for a copy in either electronic or paper form.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
When we're not fantasizing about rebuilding a downtrodden franchise as its GM or replacing a skipper who should be run out of town, we seam-headed bloggers spend plenty of time pondering the life of a ballclub's beat reporter. It sounds like a sweet deal: you get to see all the games, travel to all the ballparks in the league, spend hours talking to players, coaches and the manager, and generally glimpse behind the curtain at how a team works. You're talkin' baseball all day long, and they PAY you to do it. A bad day at the ballpark beats a good day in a fluorescently-lit cubicle.
Bronx Banter's Alex Belth has a lengthy and fascinating interview
with Buster Olney, the reporter for the New York Times
who covered the Yankee beat from 1998 to 2001 --a pretty good run which saw the team reach four World Series and come within an inning of winning all four. Prior to that, Olney covered the Mets, the Orioles (when they were good), and the Padres (when they weren't); now he's traded in the horsehide for the pigskin, covering the NY Giants because the travel demands are less intensive.
In addition to offering a less rosy view of the beat life and its effect on a person, Olney's got *plenty* to dish about the inner workings of the recent Yankee and Met clubhouses and about the game in general. Essential reading for fans of either team, not to mention just about everybody else.
• • •
on Yankee reliever Steve Karsay is that Dr. James Andrews examined his shoulder on Tuesday and found no rotator cuff damage, but gave him two cortisone shots. The aforementioned Mr. Belth emailed Baseball Prospectus
injury guru Will Carroll about Karsay's woes. Here
's what Carroll had to say:
[Karsay] needed relief in two distinct areas. NEVER a good sign and one that they're already thinking he's at significant risk. Still, it's just inflammation and not something surgical so there's still a chance he'll come back. Give him a week's rest and he can pick up his rehab again. Chance of recurrence? 100%.
I believe the proper term for that is double-ouch.
• • •
In a whole new league for recurring ouches is ESPN's disaster timeline
for Montreal's Olympic Stadium. I'm not sure whether "comical if it weren't so sad" or "sad if it weren't so comical" is the proper description of the Big Owe
, which hosted what is likely its final home opener on Tuesday. But I do know that a million drunken monkeys at a million drafting tables couldn't come up with a worse design for that roof than stadium designer Roger Taillibert did.
And the monkeys who designed the roof at Milwaukee's Miller Park didn't do such a hot job
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
The New York Times
is reporting that Yankee reliever Steve Karsay, who cut short a Monday bullpen session after just 11 pitches, is probably out for the season. Karsay's currently suffering from bursitis in his shoulder, and its believed that his back woes contributed to it by altering his mechanics and/or disrupting his conditioning. He's off to see orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama, and that's rarely good news.
It's tough to nitpick a 16-3 juggernaut, but thus far the Yankee bullpen has been the team's sore spot, posting a 5.35 ERA and 1.84 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) in their first 19 games. A slew of factors have contributed to that, including the incredible effectiveness of the starting five (a record 14-0 thus far, a collective 2.46 ERA, and almost 7 innings per start), injuries to Karsay and closer Mariano Rivera which have the Yankees relying on a new and relatively undistinguished cast of characters, and a complete cipher in Sterling Hitchcock, who's pitched only 2.1 innings despite gobbling up a roster spot and $6 million of the Yankee payroll.
This laundry list doesn't even include Jose Contreras, who in addition to being an expensive bust thus far out of the pen (10.80 ERA in 5 gruesome innings) is now the organization's number one distraction
based on his demotion/exile. It should also be pointed out that the Yankee defense has thoroughly let the relievers down: opponents are batting .429 (51-for-119) on balls in play against the pen (the team's Defensive Efficiency Rating
as a whole is .673, second-worst in all of the majors and about 39 points below the AL average).
There are some bright spots, however. The pen as a whole is striking men out (9.1 per 9 innings) and has allowed only one homer, Antonio Osuna (1.74 ERA) and Chris Hammond (2.16) have settled down after some first-week jitters, and Rivera should return later this week. But the loss of Karsay leaves the Yanks without any of last year's three setup men, though it's arguable whether or not Ramiro Mendoza (a gasoline-soaked 12.60 ERA for the Red Sox) is still on the Yankee payroll. Osuna, Hammond, and Juan Acevedo have Jeff Nelson-sized shoes to fill in earning Joe Torre's trust and bridging the gap between the starters and the increasingly fragile Rivera. Contreras, Columbus shuttler Randy Choate, or green rookie Jason Anderson will need to step forward, or Brian Cashman may find himself dealing what few prospects the Yanks still have in exchange for more live arms.
More than anything this does makes the flyer
the Yanks took on Acevedo look pretty smart. Though his ERA sits at an unsightly 6.43, the pudgy reliever is 3-for-3 in save opportunities and looks anything but lost out there. If Torre can use him to take the occasional load off of Rivera, that may be the best $900,000 the Yanks spend this season.
Monday, April 21, 2003
I haven't seen any video of this, but it sounds and looks quite comical. Cardinals first baseman Tino Martinez was hit on the shoulder by the world's worst poet, Diamondbacks pitcher Miguel Batista, and they jawed and glared at each other. Tino took his base and was then forced out on a grounder. As he was trotting off the field, he charged after Batista, who threw a ball at him from very close range -- and missed. Punches were thrown, benches cleared, managers put the cheese in machismo, etc. Here's a photo
just before Batista threw the ball at Martinez when he charged. But this photo
just makes it look like two girls having a slap fight.
Oh, and lest anybody think I'm encouraging this kind of behavior (I'll cop only to "not discouraging it"), I'll point out that this is as good an opportunity as any to marvel at Martinez's .865 OPS this season. It's all downhill from here for Tino.
• • •
Speaking of not being too outraged at irresponsible behavior, is anybody else having a tough time working up sympathy for Texas Rangers rightfielder Carl Everett, who got hit in the head
by an errant cell phone thrown by a fan? I mean, yes, it would have been terrible if a vaguely human entity had been hurt by something a fan had thrown onto the field. But the last ballplayer anybody wants to come to the defense of, with the possible exception of John Rocker, is Everett. The problem, as most right-thinking baseball fans see it, isn't that some fan hit Everett with a cell phone, or that the fan was stupid enough to use as a weapon (a deadly weapon, according to the charges filed by the D.A.) something which bore his identity. It's that the fan didn't hit that rage-addled, dinosaur-doubting child neglector (he plea-bargained his way down from child abuse back in '97, recall) with something that really would have put him out of our misery. Everett stayed in the ballgame? Better luck with your next toss, pal.
Our good friends over at Elephants in Oakland
were at Saturday's ballgame when Everett was hit, and they (to stay in the "royal we" mode for a moment) have a lengthy description of the physics-defying toss and all of the other fallout surrounding it. They were also, so far as I know, the first ones to point out that when Everett picked up the cell phone and threw it off the field, HE hit somebody as well -- a stadium employee. Note that while Everett plans to press charges against the fan, noboby is pressing charges against Everett.
Taken with the latest incident
of a fan running onto the U.S. Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park II) to attack umpire Laz Diaz, the Everett incident is sure to provoke plenty of hand-wringing in the mainstream media and in MLB's head office over how to protect those on the field, and plenty of pseudointellectual commentary as to how this proves the further decline of western civilization. Count me out of all of this, as I have no answers to offer, and no interest in trying. Hell in a handbasket, folks, just like this blog entry. Now excuse me while I go egg some taxicabs...
Postscript: Loathe him though I obviously do, I coudn't pass up the opportunity to pick up the AL's Player of the Week for my fantasy team. That ought to cool him off.
Sunday, April 20, 2003
It's come to my attention that one of my favorite blogs is back in the batter's box. Pete Sommers' Baseball News Blog
went into hibernation at the end of the World Series, but it's now up and running again, with Pete's concise excerpts of news and blogs from around the game, and a great collection of links. That site has done a hell of a lot to put this weblog in front of readers, so I'm elated to see it return. Welcome back, Pete!
BNB has called my attention to some team-specific blogs you should check out:
• Edward Cossette's Bambino's Curse
has been around for awhile, though not quite as long as the Curse itself. It offers a fresh and often funny perspective on the Red Sox. Edward's got some insight into the Bosox fans' reception of Pedro Martinez, their collapsable bullpen, and why obnoxious fans can't resist booing or even running onto the field:
Some people are not satisfied watching the game on the field — They want to be part of the action. By booing they attempt to be somebody, to insert themselves into the game any way possible, even if their actions are shameful (booing) or downright heinous (running onto the field to attack an umpire).
It's not just baseball, though, our whole culture is currently obsessed with being in the spotlight. How else does one explain the popularity of reality TV?
And before I get into the realm of the proverbial kettle calling the pot black, I'm not immune from such emotions myself. Wanting to be part of the game on a level higher than mere passive spectator helps explain in part why I post to this weblog every day.
The line, then, between acting like an ass and booing Pedro after one bad outing and writing a baseball blog is a blurry one.
• U.S.S. Mariner
is an M's related blog by Baseball Prospectus'
Derek Zumsteg and a couple of guys from the excellent, if often overlooked, Strike Three
website. Right now the guys are keeping an eye on the M's top prospects, sweating some of new manager Bob Melvin's moves and figuring out new ways of knocking a few back
while watching the M's.
• The Eddie Kranepool Society
is a Mets-themed blog, named after the man
who saw the lowest of lows and the highest of highs from the Polo Grounds to Flushing Meadows.
• Fish or Cut Bait
is, as you'd expect, a blog devoted to those woefully mismanaged Florida Marlins and "their lives, their loves, their incredibly dumb dumbness." Writer Erik has a running tally of the Fish's statistical gains from their aggressive base-stealing and looks to spend a lot of time bemoaning manager Jeff Torborg's torture of his young starters.
• I'm not so hot about that lavendar (lavendar???) color scheme, but Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts
looks like a promising way to follow the boys in white, red and blue. Like the rest of us in the free world, Jon's got issues about Ron Coomer. Jon goes to A LOT of games and likes to point out that he's a positive influence on the team: their winning percentage over the past 12 seasons is 14 points higher with him at Chavez Ravine (.559) than not (.545). Maybe I ought to chip in for a few tix...
Friday, April 18, 2003
Moving, Making the Show, Having a Ball
I'm finally back online after spending the better part of a draining week moving from a spacious and inexpensive (though grungy) East Village apartment shared with my friend to a cozy and pricey (but clean) love nest with my girlfriend. It's an exciting transition, tempered only by the threat of me having to selectively store a sizable portion of my book and music collections. Where Have You Gone Vince DiMaggio?
Right back into a stackable banker's box. A minimalist I'm not; the librarian/archivist/pack rat who spent five years of manifest destiny
at Chow Mein Central (the aforementioned Second Ave. apartment which I just vacated) is going to take time getting used to a limited amount of shelf space.
Moving has put me in touch with some far-flung friends and family, and there are a couple of baseball-related notes I'd like to share. The first is that the Jaffe family can now make claims to having a member in the major leagues... sort of. I often talk about my father's side when it comes to baseball -- my grandfather was offered a professional contract, and he spent countless hours playing catch and talking baseball with his grandkids. But on my mother's side, there's plenty of connection with the game as well. My uncle Harold recently retired from his car audio business to take his dream job: seating host at the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field.
Though my mom termed it "a Wal-Mart greeter" position, any baseball fan would agree that Harold's got a pretty sweet gig ("it's a fucking BLAST!" were his exact words to me). Essentially, he gets paid to watch baseball and to wear a uniform (unnumbered) while working the Diamond Club seats behind home plate, even getting on TV now and then. He was one of 30 people selected out of 300+ who interviewed for jobs, and was lucky (or well-connected) enough to be placed in the expensive seats, which rotate between four stations: one directly behind the plate, one behind each on-deck circle, and one in the restaurant downstairs.
"The job is to take care of the guests' every need and insure that everyone has a good time," writes Harold. "We don't serve food or drinks as that job belongs to the Hyatt folks... There is certainly some work to this job, but it is great fun and I've already met some really nice folks that appreciate good service and good, knowledgeable conversation. There is no doubt that this is a job made for your Uncle Harold! We have to make sure that folks don't get too rowdy and spoil the fun for others, but we have security to deal with those issues." Hmmm, maybe I'm in the wrong line of work and should give Mr. Steinbrenner a call. In the meantime, congrats to Harold, my uncle that made the show.
Next up is a quick email I received from Ron L., my mentor and former co-worker, who got lucky at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday: "Wells pitched a ball to the second Toronto batter last night and it went off his bat and right into my hands!!!!! I was in sec 9 box 233 row G seat 1! I got the ball!!!!"
Now, I've been going to about 15 games a year for the past five seasons and the closest I've come to a horsehide souvenir is the infamous David Segui Foul Ball Incident
, in which my former rooommate dropped one over the front rail of the upper deck to the jeers of 42,000 (everybody in the park except him) one chilly May afternoon. Ron goes to one game a year and snags a ball before anybody's even snarfed down their hot dog, though to be fair he was sitting in a much closer seat
than I usually do. Still, another lucky dog.
OK, time to unpack my bobbleheads (including the hard-won Paul O'Neill, for which I froze my ass off
in the 20° wind chill last Wednesday). Gotta keep the important stuff around...
Saturday, April 12, 2003
A Belated Celebration
With everything else that's been going on over the past few days, both in my life and the world of baseball, I neglected to point out something special: on April 9, The Futility Infielder turned two years old. The past year in particular has seen this site attain heights previously undreamt; my readership has nearly tripled in that time to around 100 hits a day, and on Thursday this blog passed its 38,000th recorded hit. I've made some new friends along the way and learned a lot about baseball, as well as about myself. It's been a rewarding experience, and I take pride in what I've put together here.
At the risk of offending loyal reader Trevise, as when I mailed in a rerun of my birthday piece
, I'm simply going to republish what I wrote on the occasion of the site's first anniversary, because other than adjusting to add a year, I wouldn't change a word of what I wrote. Enjoy!
• • •
The Rally of A Thousand Runs Must Begin With a Single Baserunner
Today is the [two]-year anniversary of the death of Willie Stargell, and it marks an anniversary of sorts for me as well -- or for this site, more accurately.
The bat-twirling Pirates slugger with the infectious smile and the ridiculous train-conductor cap had been of my boyhood heroes. His death--at age 61, on the day the Pirates were to move into a new ballpark adorned by his statue--moved me more than most, as memories of watching "Pops" one storybook summer came flooding back. He was 39 and on his last good legs as a ballplayer, radiating joy every moment he played the game. Baseball, Willie's smile told me, was all about having fun. I was 9 and learning the game from my father and grandfather; I pinwheeled my bat in imitation, and exuded joy every time I picked up my mitt.
A few months before Stargerll died, my own grandfather, Bernard Jaffe, had passed away, and his death was still weighing on me when the news about Willie came. "Pop" spent endless hours with me and my brother during our summer stays in Walla Walla, playing catch, pitching to us, taking us to games, and regaling us with tales of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as we watched ballgames on cable. The 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates, led by Stargell to a World Championship, were a mainstay of one summer's programming (we were a Dodger family, but the Dodgers were well on their way to a season in sub-.500 oblivion). Moved by Stargell's passing and, in the tradition of my grandfather, struck with a yearning to pass on a generation of baseball wisdom to those whose appreciations didn't go back as far, I wrote an obituary of sorts
, and emailed it around to friends.
In doing so, I tapped into a urge I'd had for a few years to combine my writing and my design into a single project, a labor I could love. I began plotting a web site as an outlet for my increasingly frequent writing about baseball, and my Stargell obit was the cornerstone (though in retrospect it's a bit clumsy and half-finished). In two weeks time, I'd registered a domain name, opened a Blogger
account, bought a book on web site design, and started construction of the empire which would make me rich and fam... oh, wait. It hasn't (and won't) make me rich and famous, but I've built something over the past [two] year[s] which I'm very proud of -- not every single word or every opinion offered, but not too bad either. A peek inside the head of one fan and a look at the ways we fans enjoy the game -- whether following our favorite stars or teams, taking in a night at the ballpark, or poring over the box scores. I hope you've enjoyed it; I know I have.
So happy birthday to me and to this site, and thank you to those who've supported it. As the Mayor of this here domain, let me declare this and all future April 9ths to be Wille Stargell Day. May we all take as much joy and offer as much inspiration as Willie did in our endeavors.
Friday, April 11, 2003
Yesterday's Bull Durham
-related controversy reminded me exactly why I don't write about politics anymore: it angries up the blood, to borrow a phrase from Satchel Paige
. Of course, he was talking about fried meats, not free speech and civil liberties, but I'll reckon ol' Satch probably knew a few things about those too.
Anyway, there are a few links I want to pass on before I leave this behind and get back to talking baseball, where our agreements and disagreements are more benign, less charged. As Tim Robbins eloquently put it
yesterday: "Isn't one of the greatest things about going to the ballpark that you can sit next to someone you don't agree about anything with and cheer for the same thing?''
First up is a letter to the Hall of Shame from Jules Tygiel, author of one of my favorite baseball books, Past Time
, and a man who, from his writing on Jackie Robinson to his work on the recent traveling Baseball As America exhibit, has had a huge impact on my understanding of the game's social aspect. Tygiel's letter, which he posted on Baseball Primer
, eloquently sums up my feelings on this imbroglio, so I'll rerun it here:
As the holder of a lifetime membership in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Musuem, someone whose personal papers currently reside in the library at the Hall of Fame, and the author of the introductory sections (including those on patriotism and nationalism) to the Hall of Fame publication, Baseball As America: Seeing Ourselves Through Our National Game, I wish to strongly protest your imperious decision to cancel the commemoration of the anniversary of Bull Durham in Cooperstown, due to the opposition to the Iraq war voiced by its stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
The presidency of the Baseball Hall of Fame is, in effect, a sacred trust. By politicizing the Hall of Fame, you have violated that trust. Your position does not give you the right to impose your own political views on the events at the Hall to the exclusion of all others. One must assume that if people who protest American military actions are not welcome at the Hall of Fame, then Abraham Lincoln who opposed the Mexican War, Mark Twain who opposed the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who opposed the war in Vietnam would not be welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I also must assume that this letter jeopardizes my own future relationship with the Hall.
You write of Sarandon and Robbins, "We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important -- and sensitive -- time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict." How was this institutional position arrived at? Were the employees or trustees polled? Were the people who pay dues to the organization asked? Were those enshrined consulted? Or is this the fiat of one person, yourself? Since when does the Hall of Fame take a position on political issues or voice open support for political figures and why is the opinion of the head a baseball museum more valid or valued than those of other public figures, like movie stars?
I doubt very much that the expressed opinions of two celebrities “put our troops in…danger.” But actions like yours place our basic constitutional rights in dire jeopardy and disqualify you from representing the American national pastime. If you cannot see clear to reverse your position, then hopefully you will have the decency to resign.
Tygiel wasn't the only renowned baseball writer who chose to distance himself from the Hall. Boys of Summer
author Roger Kahn cancelled an appearance
there. Hell, even Major League Baseball, which has shown its own PR ineptitude in the past, wasn't touching the Hall with a ten-foot pole: ""Major League Baseball has nothing to do with a Hall of Fame event,'' said Richard Levin, the MLB's senior vice president for public relations. "It is not our practice to make political statements.''
Next up is Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times
, who drew a contrast
between Iraqis celebarating their new-found freedom with Dale Petroskey's actions, calling the Hall president a "21st-century Joe McCarthy (the former senator, not the former manager)." Jeff Blair
of Toronto Globe and Mail
invoked McCarthy as well: "And you thought the only Joe McCarthy in Cooperstown was the legendary former manager? Let's get this straight: Cooperstown has admitted racists, drunks, gamblers and people with god knows what else in their closet. It's already admitted Reds, for Pete's sake. It has articles on display from guys who dabbled in illegal drugs when they played and, in the next decade, will start admitting a generation of power hitters and power pitchers, at least a few of whom used illegal steroids. It has, in short, admitted the worst and the best of the game and society — people whose tendencies leaned toward cross burning as well as trailblazing. It is representative."
of the Hartford Courant
and Ira Berkow
of the New York Times
both drew on speeches from Bull Durham in their responses. Jacobs mused that while "Crash Davis said there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter... Kevin Costner's character never told Susan Sarandon's character there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing free speech. Maybe Dale Petroskey got that part confused." Berkow uses Annie Savoy's quoting of Walt Whitman:
"I see great things in baseball, it's our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us."'I see great things in baseball, it's our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us. "
Dan Le Batard
Baseball in many ways has indeed come to symbolize America. For example, the manager informs the umpire that he's an idiot. That is called dissent, a longstanding institution in this country, but one with which Dale Petroskey, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is not fully familiar...
Although Petroskey wrote "We believe," it was left unclear exactly who "we" were. According to Jeff Idelson, the Hall's public-relations executive, Petroskey said it was "a management decision," which means it was a royal "we" - Petroskey acting alone, apparently without consulting his board, which includes a handful of baseball people, including Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson and Tom Seaver. (Petroskey refused to take phone calls.)
Is Petroskey saying that it's O.K. to dissent as long as you don't have the large platform that people like Robbins and Sarandon enjoy? And what does it mean to "act and speak responsibly"? Should we all simply follow the opinion of others? Is that American? Aren't our soldiers fighting for freedom for the Iraqis, the chance to institute a democratic government like the one in this country that (oops) protects free speech?
of the Miami Herald
spoke to a weary Robbins yesterday, who told him, "The danger in something like this is it sends the message that if you don't agree with the administration, you'll be punished. The people who say actors shouldn't opine about these things are the people who think we'll have public influence. Maybe they should strengthen their arguments instead of worrying about us. I worry people will get intimidated by backlash, won't participate in democracy and will just let the government do what it pleases. That's unhealthy in a democracy where we celebrate our differences of opinion.''
Finally, Chuck Carlson
of Wisconsin's Oshkosh Northwestern
(whaddaya mean you've never heard of it?) reminded us that all over the country, Petroskey looks out of step:" Perhaps Petroskey and his conservative cronies believe they’ve struck another blow for real Americans. But, in reality, he hasn’t. This is a move that will look to most normal American as the small-minded stunt it is and, perhaps, maybe he’ll still change what’s left of his mind. But don’t count on it. In the meantime, pick up “Bull Durham” and revel in it one more time. Because, despite the efforts of the lunatic fringe, it remains a great baseball movie and symbolizes, in so many ways, what this country used to be about and what it may be again someday."
Amen to that.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown has cancelled a celebration of the movie Bull Durham
because of the anti-war views of stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. Hall president Dale Petroskey informed the actors via a letter
this week that the celebration, due to take place April 26-27 has been called off:
In a free country such as ours, every American has the right to his or her own opinions, and to express them. Public figures, such as you, have platforms much larger than the average American's, which provides you an extraordinary opportunity to have your views heard -- and an equally large obligation to act and speak responsibly... We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important -- and sensitive -- time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict.
Un-freakin'-believable. Petroskey, a former White House assistant press secretary under Ronald Reagan, is afraid that two intelligent, outspoken actors are more capable of endangering the United States' military personnel than President George W. Bush, the commander in chief who sent those forces to war
. So afraid that he apparently believes that the constitutional rights of public figures should be curtailed; in a time of war, those rights apparently don't apply!
As I've said before, I have no intentions of turning this space into a political diatribe. But this action is downright cowardly. The Hall of Fame is a private institution. But it's also a tax-exempt non-profit one, and as an astute reader
(posting under Sarandon's name but admitting that's not actually his or her identity) points out, such organizations are not allowed to engage in political activity. Petroskey and the Hall are out of bounds, but the irony of them going out of their way to pre-empt Robbins' and Sarandons' appearance and call attention to their views is that they've given them a far wider audience (in this circle, at least) than they otherwise would have received.
to Petroskey's letter with the following:
I am sorry that you have chosen to use baseball and your position at the Hall of Fame to make a political statement. I know there are many baseball fans that disagree with you, and even more that will react with disgust to realize baseball is being politicized.
To suggest that my criticism of the President put the troops in danger is absurd. ... I wish you had, in your letter, saved me the rhetoric and talked honestly about your ties to the Bush and Reagan administrations.
You invoke patriotism and use words like "freedom" in an attempt to intimidate and bully. In doing so, you dishonor the words "patriotism" and "freedom" and dishonor the men and women who have fought wars to keep this nation a place where one can freely express their opinions without fear of reprisal or punishment.
Amen to that. I've attempted to send a letter to the Hall of Shame via its contact page
, but submitting the form is apparently producing an error at the moment. I'd like to think it's because so many baseball fans are outraged at this action, but I suspect it's just the Hall of Shame conveniently closing its ears to the public until the storm dies down. I'll keep trying to get through. [Postcript: submitting the form through the site's contact page via .org instead of .com worked. The above link has been changed to reflect that.]
Thanks to reader Andrew Blackistan
for calling this story to my attention.
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
Since I haven't picked on the Red Sox yet this season... over at the premium portion of Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan wries about the Red Sox decision to pick up Pedro Martinez's option for 2004. Martinez, who's got more whine than Ernest and Julio Gallo, successfully spun the situation in his favor such that the Sox acted seven months early in guaranteeing his $17.5 million contract, and when they capitulated the headline included the word "Finally."
Here's a sampling of what Sheehan has to say:
I don't like the decision to pick up the option. I just don't trust pitchers, especially ones who have to be babied just to get them to 200 innings. As great a pitcher as Martinez has been, he hasn't been a workhorse since 1998, and as recently as 2001 was limited to 18 starts and 116 2/3 innings. ... In just one season in Boston has Martinez been a reliable member of the rotation from April through September, which is reflected in where he ranks among his peers in workload:
Rank, American League innings pitched, 1998-2002: 7, 8, 7, 60, 20
Rank, American League games started, 1998-2002: 6, 33, 29, 55, 23
Ouch. Glad it ain't my money.
As I've been meaning to point out, thus far I'm very happy with the bang for the buck Prospectus Premium has provided. It's great to have Sheehan back, and Will Carroll's Under the Knife column has been essential during these days of dislocated shoulders. Their free April Fool's features (Tejada re-signing with the A's
, Doug Pappas defending Bud Selig's take on the game's finances
, and some unlikely quips
in Ryan Wilkins' The Week In Quotes column) are still worth a laugh if you haven't seen them. At least one of my blogging colleagues fell for it hook, line and sinkerball.
Though the weather in New York City still frigid, I've been thinking warm thoughts while writing up my Florida spring training journey
. It's three pages long, with about 30 photos (click them to enlarge) and a few more still to come. Check it out!
As you might expect, this piece has lately been absorbing most of the time I devote to this site, so I apologize to those of you who come here regularly expecting more content. Without trying to discourage anybody from checking in daily, things may remain a bit sporadic around here for the next week or so. The reason, and it's a happy one, is that I'm moving into a new apartment (still in Manhattan's East Village, now over near Tompkins Square Park) with my girlfriend of two and a half years. The move's a week from today, so I'll need to get crackin' with the packin'. Lord only knows how quickly I'll have Internet access, so if you're hungry for baseball content, be sure to check out my pals listed at left. A few of the recent highlights:
• Baseball Musings' David Pinto conducts an email interview
with Bill James: "The game is very, very different from the game of 1977. . . it's almost hard to put a finger on any one thing. But probably the easiest thing to SEE is the change from a speed game to a power game, with the consequent change in the pace of the game and in the appearance of the game. The players of today simply don't LOOK like the players of the 1970s. They are much heavier, much thicker, much slower."
• Baseball Ranter Mike Carminati examines
the 30th Anniversary of the Designated Hitter
: "If the AL fans really want to see more .130 hitters, more power to them. Just don't say that it improves play, induces strategy, or eliminates one-dimensional players."
• The tireless Lee Sinins, who puts together the daily Around the Majors
mailing list, is interviewed
over at Netshrine: "I've been collecting about 250 articles a day during spring training. When the season starts, that number obviously gets a lot higher. If it's an AP article, if it's a feature article on someplace like ESPN.com or Sportsline.com, or if it's an item in the daily papers covering teams, if it's online, odds are good I collect it."
• Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich is back
from a road-trip-enforced period of silence.
• In what we can only hope becomes a regular feature, Baseball Primer author and National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Manager of Program Presentations Bruce Markusen has penned a lengthy column
full of all sorts of great trivia on DHs, Opening Day highlights, and the amazing afro
of Rick Sweet.
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Weather permitting, Wednesday night will be my first visit to Yankee Stadium this season. It goes without saying that each year's inaugural trip to the ballpark is filled with anticipation, but there's one particular facet of visiting the House That Ruth Built which preoccupies my seasonal debut. Namely, has somebody killed off "Cotton Eye Joe" yet?
For those unfamiliar, "Cotton Eye Joe" is a techno version of an old country & western dance song (written by the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills) done by a Swedish band called Rednex, who should be consigned to spend eternity in Hell. Since 1996, the song has been played at Yankee Stadium during the seventh-inning stretch, right after organist Eddie Layton's whimsical version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Post-September 11, the juxtaposition between the two songs has become even more bizarre when preceded by Kate Smith's war-horse version of "God Bless America." The song is accompanied by shots of an insipid dancing man in a cowboy hat. This article
in the Journal News is about that man, a guy named John Luhr. As character generator for the Yankee Stadium Jumbotron, Luhr began using the song to accompany the statistics of the Yankees' minor-leaguers as they were displayed during the seventh inning. Unfortunately, it caught on, as did video of the dancing dork in the control room. "Cotton Eye Joe" and its alter ego even became popular with the players, with Roger Clemens procuring a cowboy hat and shirt signed by the entire team -- now part of Luhr's costume.
In addition to being the nadir of human achievement in recorded sound, "Cotton Eye Joe" is absolutely the worst part of attending a game at Yankee Stadium, and that includes the Liza Minelli version of "New York, New York" which accompanies a Yankee loss. While I'm generally more tolerant than the average purist of the music at the ballpark (I always smile when the grounds crew does their "Y-M-C-A" routine as they rake the infield after the fifth inning), I would gladly give it all up in exchange for the promise that I never have to hear the song again. I am an avid music buff with a CD collection that numbers in the thousands, running the gamut from the country blues yodelling of Jimmie Rodgers to the block-rockin' beats of the Chemical Brothers. Rarely do the twain meet, but when they do, as in "Cotton Eye Joe," the result is an aesthetic disaster. Especially when the synthetic bagpipes come in. Yes, bagpipes. Are you with me yet, brothers and sisters?
Shortly after the 2001 World Series, I received a couple of emails from a woman looking for info on "Cotton Eye Joe" who must have come across my site because I mentioned the song here
. Apparently, she didn't read me too closely or she would have understood my feelings on the matter:
I hope you can help me. Everytime I go to Yankee games, I too stay at least through when they play "Cotton-Eyed Joe." My boyfriend loves this song and he loves the guy with the cowboy hat who dances to it in the glass booth. Do you know who this guy is and how I could get an autographed picture of him for my boyfriend?
Somehow I managed to summon up enough willpower to dismiss the email as a joke, and restrained myself from firing off a sarcastic response. But now that I have a name to attach to the dastardly phenomenon of "Cotton Eye Joe," I'm going to begin stockpiling ammunition. With all of the problems in the world today, it may seem like a trivial thing to take aim upon. But I'm sending out a sincere FUCK YOU to John Luhr for inflicting this upon us. I'd like to make you eat that cowboy hat, pal.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
An Opening Day blowout in wintry conditions with the team's marquee signing being booed off the field
would have been preferable to what the Yanks experienced on Monday night. Less than three innings into their first ballgame, a season flashed in front of the Yankees' collective eyes at the sight of Derek Jeter writhing in agony, the result of a violent collision at third base with Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby.
While several Yankees
initially assumed the play had been a dirty one, replays -- as well as the shots of a chastened Huckaby -- dismissed that accusation. Having seen the replay from several angles, I'd say Huckaby's play was overly aggressive, but no more so than Jeter's play. On first base with one out and the infield extremely shifted against Jason Giambi, Jeter tried to take third on an infield grounder. In a headfirst slide, his shoulder met the 205-pound Huckaby's armored and rapidly traveling knee as the catcher leaped to cover third. The results were not pretty.
The preliminary diagnosis is that Jeter separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder and will miss at least six weeks. An orthopedic surgeon quoted in the New York Post
(or was that a wino quoted on the subway?) opined that Jeter would need two to four months to return, depending upon whether surgery was required. Baseball Prospectus injury expert Will Carroll was less sanguine
in his assessment. Comparing Jeter's injury to various other dislocations (including that suffered by the Padres' Phil Nevin, who is shelved for the year), Carroll wrote, "The outlook is not good. I cannot find a situation where a player was able to come back in-season from this type of injury." But until an MRI can be done to assess the soft tissue damage in Jeter's shoulder, all of this is speculation; that procedure is scheduled for Thursday, when the Yankees hit Tampa.
For the time being, the Yanks say that they'll fill Jeter's spot from within the organization, promoting AAA Columbus shortstop Erick Almonte
while using futilityman Enrique Wilson as his caddy. Despite whatever rosy picture the Yankee brass is painting today, neither is likely to hold the position for very long. The former is a 25-year old who's gone from prospect to suspect thanks to a year spent brooding enough to earn a demotion back down to AA. In two tours of Columbus, he's shown flashes of potential (21 homers and a .443 slugging percentage) along with glaring weaknesses (a 4-to-1 K/W ratio last year and 45 errors in 163 games). Overall his AAA numbers (.267/.336/.443) don't herald the next Jeter, Soriano, or even D'Angelo Jiminez. Wilson, if anything, is even more suspect, having aged rapidly enough
to justify his Luis Sojo-like set of chins if not the .181/.239/.295 line he posted last year. For years with Cleveland he was touted as a serious prospect, but when his skills are dragged into the harsh light of day it's not a pretty picture. On a good day he's an adequate glove man, but overall he's the living embodiment of the replacement level. Only Joe Torre's foibles at choosing his bench keep him in pinstripes.
The irony is that Jeter's injury serves to highlight just how durable he's been over the course of his major league career. He's averaged 154 games a year over his seven full seasons, with a low of 148 in 2000. The Yanks haven't needed much of a contingency plan in that timespan and have steered their best shortstop prospects (Soriano, Jiminez, Christian Guzman, Bronson Sardinha) to other positions or other teams while settling for the Sojos and Wilsons as backups. In all, they've been without Jeter only 57 times (including Tuesday) with the starts doled out as follows, according to YES Network:
L. Sojo 25
E. Wilson 12
A. Soriano 5
C. Bellinger 5
A. Fox 5
W. Delgado 3
A. Arias 1
R. Sanchez 1
This honor roll of futilitymen hasn't exactly been Jeter-beaters, managing only a .222 average with 2 homers and 9 RBI. The Yanks, however, haven't suffered much in his absence, going 36-21 without him, for a higher winning percentage (.632) than they had with him (651-424, .605). Of course, that's a pretty small sample size for anyone to draw conclusions that Jeter's glove is holding the Yankees back.
The question becomes how disciplined the Yanks can be in handling this situation. Countless middle-infield stopgaps, most of them better than the Yanks' current options, dot the landscape; one Baseball Primer poster
even went out of his way to list them. Among the more appealing options are Desi Relaford, Chris Gomez, and Melvin Mora -- guys who won't make you forget Jeter, but could easily make you forget Enrique Whatzisname by the time you finish reading this. Should the Yanks momentarily falter or their shortstops struggle, getting one of these guys for a Grade B prospect is a possible route. Should Jeter's season be shot entirely, look for the Yanks to pursue a high-profile, overpriced glove man, such as (ugh) Neifi Perez or Rey Ordoñez (currently chasing the cycle (!)
as I write this).
While it's tough to get excited about these stopgaps, it's probably tougher to see this hampering the Yanks enough to threaten their spot in the postseason. With the addition of Hideki Matsui and the anticipated development of Nick Johnson, the Yanks will score enough to support an offensive cipher in the Jeter-hole. But given the organization's ability to throw money at a problem and Joe Torre's comfort with Experienced Veterans, it's perhaps toughest of all to imagine the Yankees simply standing pat.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
My friend John Perricone's been having some technical difficulties that that have taken a bite out of his Only Baseball Matters weblog. As a fellow Blogger user, I can only shudder at the potential havoc he must have endured, having barely skirted disaster on that front myself recently. John's asked me to tell you, dear readers, that he's back in the saddle. Go read him.
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