The Futility Infielder

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

Sunday, June 29, 2003

 

Clearing the Bases

Jim Bouton, the only knuckleballer on the New York Public Library's Books of the Century List, has a new book out. Called Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark, the book is a diary of Bouton's efforts to save the oldest minor-league park in America (Waconah Park) and the often absurd resistance he encounters in the process from a small-town Massachusetts community.

As the story goes, Bouton (who lives in the Berkshires near Pittsfield, where the ballpark is) was involved in a partnership which attempted to bring an independent league team (from either the Atlantic League or the Northern League) to Waconah Park and keep it there as they renovated the stadium. The city of Pittsfield ultimately accepted a competing proposal to field a Northern League team there, with an eye towards building a new ballpark. The battle was clearly an acrimonious one which gave Bouton some new insights into what he calls "America's new hostage crisis," the practice of team owners extorting publicly-funded stadiums out of taxpayers under the threat of moving their franchises.

Even Bouton's efforts to get the book published were a challenge. He terminated his contract with the book's original publisher, PublicAffairs, after a top General Electric lawyer invested in the company and subsequently demanded removal of certain passages critical of GE. The book is now published by his own company, Bulldog Publishing, and is available (with a personalized inscription) via Bouton's website as well as through the usual outlets.

On a different note, Bouton's got a piece in the Sunday New York Times about a new exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan. Called "The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball," the exhibit is devoted to the variety of ways fans have channeled their love of the game into artistic expression. Writes Bouton of attending the exhibit:
For a few hours I was a kid again, reliving memories sparked by the dozens of puppets and paintings, quilts and carvings, weather vanes and whirligigs that combined my two earliest passions — baseball and art. From age 5, I've been told, I was either throwing a ball or drawing a picture. I began with cowboys and graduated to baseball players. I would take my colored pencils and draw faces of players on the New York Giants, my favorite team. Little did I know I was creating something that might one day be characterized as art — folk art, that is, untutored and not intended for sale.
An illustration by the ten-year-old Bouton of Monte Irvin accompanies the piece, which is as much a vehicle for a few more amusing Bouton anecdotes as it is a plug for the show.

Hopefully, I'll have more to say on both Bouton's book -- which I've grabbed for some road reading (I'm headed to San Francisco and then Alaska starting on Tuesday, for about two weeks in all) -- and the museum exhibit when I return from my vacation.

• • •

Another photo accompanying Bouton's piece in the Times is of a baseball intricately decorated by George Sosnak, a now-deceased minor league umpire. Coincidentally enough, Jim Kaat made mention of Sosnak's talents for decorating balls on Saturday evening's broadcast of the Yankees-Mets nightcap. Rookie pitcher Brandon Claussen, making his major-league debut, had just added to his stellar pitching performance by driving in an run with an infield single. The ball was retrieved and handed to Yankee trainer Gene Monahan, who regularly inscribes such milestone balls for the team. Kaat recounted some of his own notably inscribed balls, then mentioned Sosnak and his technique of applying India ink to illustrate the balls, even going so far as to add the game's box score.

At the bookstore today I was perusing the "The Perfect Game" exhibit catalog and saw several beautiful examples of Sosnak's work from the exhibit. My first thought was, "I want one of these." But I'm not even going to bother lifting the couch cushions in search of loose change. A lot of 15 Sosnak-illustrated baseballs recently went for around $10,000 on the Lelands auction site. Donations, anyone?

• • •

Back on the subject of baseball writers, one of the great ones, Leonard Koppett, passed away last week. I referenced Koppett, in my work not too long ago, and I've read several of his columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer over the past couple of years. But I'm not familiar with a book that's considered his masterwork, The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball. First published in 1967 as The Thinking Man's Guide to Baseball, the book was revised a couple of times, most recently by the now-defunct Total Sports Publishing. The book has been widely praised as one of the best baseball books ever, so I'm aiming to remedy my ignorance of it by hunting down a copy (somewhere my girlfriend is rolling her eyes).

As I don't feel qualified to speak authoritatively on Koppett's career, I'll leave it to the eminently qualified Bruce Markusen, author and Manager of Program Presentations at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Writes Bruce in his most recent "Cooperstown Confidential" column at Baseball Primer:
In addition to owning a sense of decency and modesty, Leonard Koppett was also that rare breed of old-time sportswriter who was willing to follow and appreciate the contemporary game. Unlike many writers who started their careers in the 1940s and fifties, Leonard didn’t believe that the players of yesteryear were any better than their counterparts today. Leonard often said that the baseball players of today were just as good, if not better, than the athletes that he covered in the 1950s. He also made a point of saying that we should all enjoy the baseball of today because these are baseball’s glory days.

Leonard possessed an unusual combination of writing—and thinking—skills. Like many of the old-time scribes, he had a flair for writing smoothly and a passion for the game. At the same time, he was one of the few establishment writers who showed a willingness to think about new ideas and philosophies. He was scientific and analytical in his approach, one who was eager to consider new interpretations of statistics. Leonard showed that it was possible to be both a traditionalist and a Sabermetrician, even those two titles might seem contradictory on the surface. If anything, he showed that it was absolutely logical and reasonable to be both traditional and Sabermetric, since that was preferable to being married to one singular, confining philosophy.
Markusen points out that when he met Koppett, he congratulated him on being elected to the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame. Koppett pointed out that his honor, receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink for writing, was not the same as being elected or inducted. That humility and willingness to educate those around him characterized Koppett for Markusen: "To this day, Leonard remains the only award-winning writer I’ve talked to who was willing to diminish his own accomplishments by emphasizing that he had not been elected to the Hall of Fame." A true thinker.

• • •

While we're on the subject of continued learning about the game, Retrosheet has unearthed and published a box score and detailed play-by-play (courtesy of Bob Tiemann) of The First Major League Game Ever. On May 4, 1871, the National Association's Cleveland Forest Cities team visited the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Kekiongas. Bobby Mathews of Fort Wayne shut down Cleveland 2-0, the first of 297 wins he posted in the majors (the most of any pitcher not in the Hall of Fame). The two runs scored on a double by Bill Lennon and a single by Frank Sellman. Each team got four hits, but the Kekiongas were aided by three Deacon White passed balls, two of which led to their second run.

According to Mike Carminati, who's done his homework, the 5'4" Mathews is one of only four players to have held the all-time record for career wins: Al Spalding (253), Mathews, Pud Galvin (364), and Cy Young (511), who ain't giving it up anytime soon. Baseball-Reference.com actually shows the year-by-year progression of such all-time records, which is pretty cool.

It's common for baseball fans to say that they would be able to recognize the game 100 years from now; this box score is proof in the pudding from 132 years ago, even though baseball in those days was played under some different rules. Home plate was a square made of wrought iron, the home team could choose whether to bat first or second, the batter could call for his pitch, three balls consisted of a walk, and a balk required forfeiture of the ballgame. A researcher named Andy Singer who specializes in 19th century baseball compiled a detailed list of the 1871 rules under which this game was played.

Ancient box scores are fascinating, but this one gives no insight as to just what the hell a Kekionga is. But a little resarch on the web has set me straight. Kekionga was a Native American village over which a bloody battle related to white encroachment was fought. Troops headed by Major General Arthur St. Clair were attacked by the Miami Confederacy, an alliance of Ohio Indians led by one Little Turtle. The conflict has been called "The bloodiest battle of pioneer American history," and "The worst defeat in the history of the U.S. Army," among other things. Some 700 of St. Clair's people lost their lives, compared to only about 40 Indians.

It's probably for the best that no box scores remain from that one.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

 

Claussen in a Dilly of a Pickle

The Yankee brass has added a new wrinkle to this coming Saturday's crosstown doubleheader with the Mets. Their top pitching prospect, Brandon Claussen, will be summoned from AAA Columbus to start in the second (Shea) game, making his major-league debut in the process.

Claussen is a 24-year-old lefthander who is only a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Prior to his injury, he'd been pitching well in his first taste of AAA, posting a 3.28 ERA in 93 innings and striking out 7.0 per 9 IP. In 2001, he'd led the minors in strikeouts, striking out 220 in 187 innings between Tampa (A) and Norwich (AA). Top Prospect Alert rated him as their #47 prospect for 2002 and had this to say going into the season:
Relatively unheralded, primarily due to his being a 34th round “draft and follow” in 1998, Claussen arrived in 2001, leading the minor leagues in strikeouts. The lefthander uses a low-90’s fastball with a plus curve and adequate change. He spots his pitches well despite not having pinpoint control. While his success at AA was unquestionable, he was a little older than you’d like for “true” stud pitching prospects at that level. That makes 2002 huge for Claussen. If he is able to dominate at AAA in the same fashion, he will be up with the Yankees by mid-seasons as one of the games best pitching prospects. If, as I suspect, he will find the going a little rougher he still may see New York before season’s end, but his ceiling would really only be that of a decent mid-rotation starter.
Since returning, Claussen's been downright dominant:
          W-L  ERA  GS  IP   H  ER  BB  SO  HR  BABIP   

Tampa 2-0 1.64 4 22.0 16 4 3 26 0 .281
Columbus 1-0 1.34 6 40.1 23 6 5 27 3 .180
Overall, that's a 1.44 ERA, with 7.7 strikeouts per 9 IP, a 6.6 K/W ratio, and only 0.4 HR allowed per 9 innings. Opposing hitters are batting only .171 against him, but there has to be a lot of luck in play there. His batting average allowed on balls in play an extremely low .214. Beyond the small sample size, it's tough to make heads or tails of that. I's hard to believe that pitching in front of the error-prone Drew Henson (15 errors) and David Post (10) is giving him special help defensively, but on the other hand, he's only allowed one unearned run.

The irony of Claussen's injury is that it may well have prevented him from being traded last summer. Now, he's reached the point of "untouchable," according to reports, and so this start is less a showcase for interested teams than it is an audition for the Yanks, the 2004 model if not the 2003. With Roger Clemens due to retire, Andy Pettitte headed towards free-agency, and the club holding an option on David Wells, the Yanks have only Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver and Jon Leiber (currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery) under contract for their '04 rotation. That's four righties, though at this stage it's obviously not the final word, especially as Weaver may be headed elsewhere as part of a big trade this season. Claussen may well be the heir apparent to Pettitte, whose struggles this season and hefty price tag ($11.5 million this year) may make him expendable. It's only one start for the rookie, but this one bears watching.

• • •

On the other side of the coin, the Yanks made a minor trade on Wednesday, acquiring outfielder Karim Garcia and reliever Dan Miceli from the Yanks for a player to be named later or cash considerations. If it's anything more than Don Zimmer's laundry or Juan Acevedo's lost luggage, the Yanks probably gave up too much, and this deal reeks of paper-pushing, the appearance that "we're doing something about our problems."

Garcia is a 27-year-old lefty bat who's been breaking hearts ever since he put up 20 HRs and hit .319/.36/.542 at Albuquerque (AAA) as a 19-year-old in 1995. Since then he's passed through the hands of the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Orioles, Indians, Yankees (two games last year) and back to the Indians, racking up some eye-popping AAA stats, but failing to stick in the bigs. Joining the Indians on August 6 last year, he finally put it together for the first time, hitting 16 HRs, driving in 52 runs and hitting .299/.317/.584 for the season. What's less than impressive is his control of the strike zone --- 6 BB to 41 K in that same span. For his career, he's a .234/.273/.428 hitter in about 1100 major-league plate appearances. He's struggled this year due to a wrist injury, hitting .194/.238/.366 with 5 HR and 14 RBI, and getting lost in a sea of young outfielders. And though he's replacing failed pinch-runner Charles Gipson on the roster, speed isn't exactly Garcia's game; he's 7-for-18 in steals in his MLB career.

At least nobody's every accused Garcia of a bad attitude. The same can't be said for Miceli, a well-traveled 32-year-old righty with a career 4.72 ERA whose career highlight was as Trevor Hoffman's setup man for the 1998 San Diego Padres, who faced the Yanks in the World Series. Miceli's got a reputation as a clubhouse lawyer, most notably for his role in getting Florida Marlins manager John Boles fired in 2001 due to his lack of experience as a professional ballplayer. Not that Miceli's 6.93 ERA for the Marlins had anything to do with the issue. In the words of one Florida reporter, "Almost two years ago to the day, the words of a pitcher who had as much trouble telling the truth as he did getting outs toppled John Boles as manager of the Florida Marlins. Dan Miceli's public criticism of Boles -- his chief complaint was his manager's lack of big-league playing experience -- supposedly showed Boles had lost the team, which led to his firing. "

Here's what Baseball Prospectus 2002 had to say about Miceli:
One of the season's more bizarre story lines was Miceli's rant against John Boles, in which he claimed the Marlins' manager couldn't garner respect because he hadn't played in the major leagues. The evidence that managers don't need MLB experience to succeed is overwhelming, so Miceli looked pretty silly. The fallout wasn't as amusing: Boles was fired, Miceli was exiled to Colorado, and both teams fell apart. Miceli is a free agent as we go to press; he can help a team, but so can a lot of guys who come without his baggage.
Greeeeaaaat. This will be Miceli's third team of 2003, having gotten bombed out of Colorado (5.66 ERA in 20.2 innings) and torn it up in Cleveland (1.20 ERA and 19 Ks in 15 innings). His success with the Indians was reportedly due to his dropping down to a three-quarter arm angle and adding movement to his 90 MPH fastball. He'll have a chance to aid the Yanks as their top righty setup man until Antonio Osuna returns from his groin injury; Joe Torre clearly doesn't trust Al Reyes or rookie Jason Anderson, even though the two arguably have more upside, if not more experience, than the well-travelled mouth. At least that mouth won't be tolerated here; Miceli's fastball better move, or his butt surely will.

Monday, June 23, 2003

 

Joe Morgan, Dummy for Baseball

Sometimes, when I do design work, it's necessary to use chunks of filler text in place of actual live copy. The idea is that a designer can make decisions about the form an layout will take before the final content is determined. In QuarkXPress, the primary page-layout software I use, there exists a tool called Jabberwocky which spews random text (or "jabber") for this very purpose. An even simpler method is to use a block of scrambled Latin text called lorem ipsum. Both produce the same effect, text that typographically stands in for English, but won't be mis-identified as live copy and accidentally get published. There's history in this; apparently this lorem ipsum text dates all the way back to the metal typesetting of the 1500s.

Sometimes, after working on this site late at night, I spend a few minutes suspended in that zone a few inches above sleep, dreaming that I'm reading some fascinating words about baseball. Inevitably, I either fall asleep and forget those words entirely, or I wake up, only to realize that my brain has been poring over complete nonsense, lorem ipsum as if written by Bill James, perhaps.

And sometimes I just sit down and watch ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, listening to the incessant inanities spouted by Joe Morgan. It's the same difference.

By now it should be apparent to anyone paying attention that the man identified as one of the smartest ever to play the game has developed a not-so-slow leak in his brain. Either that, or everything we've learned in the past twenty Bill James-enlightened years about baseball is a complete crock of shit, and only Joe Morgan, keeper of the flame, knows this.

Morgan's a Hall of Famer who could do it all -- hit, hit for power, run, field and throw. He played on one of the all-time great teams, he won World Series rings, he now works alongside one of the game's great announcers in Jon Miller, he's got a pleasant voice with a bit of Texas twang, and at first listen, he sounds like he knows what he's talking about. But listen more closely and you're liable to hear a man who steps all over everything we thought we -- and he -- knew about baseball.

No one has kept a closer eye on Morgan's profound disenlightenment than Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants, and no one sums up the Morgan paradox better than he does:
Morgan, as a player, was the epitome of everything sabermetric: a power-hitting middle-infielder who got on base and stole bases at a high percentage. As an analyst, however, he's a sabermetrician's nightmare, foregoing everything but batting average, RBI, and pitching wins to evaluate a player. Worse yet, his spurious logic and inability to answer a direct question make him the Reverend Spooner of baseball analysts.
Like a vulture who's been circling a desert highway in search of fresh carrion, Mike tears into every Friday's ESPN Chat with Joe Morgan for fresh insight into the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly of what Morgan's foisted on unsuspecting chatters. Here's a sample exchange from the most recent one:
Sam (Ypsilanti, MI): Joe, I'm a big fan! In your column about the AL West, you note that the A's "Big 3" have been more vunerable than in the past. But look at their ERAs - Hudson 3.08, Mulder 3.26, and Zito 2.92. Struggling? These three are what is holding this team to a good record! Zito's 7-5 record overshadows that he is 1st in the AL in BAA (.197). What gives?

Joe: I don't think I said struggle.. I said they were more vulnerable. ERA's are just a personal thing. Wins and losses are what the game is all about. BA and BAA are personal stats. Those guys don't walk out and win three games in a row anymore.

[Mike: Ypsilanti from the old Border League? Yes, ERA's a personal thing. Personally Joe dislikes ERAs. Wins are what matter to Joe. Don't explain to Joe that the A's have won one more game than last year to this point. Don't tell Joe that Mulder is having the best year of his young career and has three more wins than he did at this time last year. Don't tell Joe that Tim Hudson was 5-6 at this point last year. Don't even tell Joe that as he was writing this the A's were preparing to win their seventh—not third—straight.

Look, the Big Three and still the Big Three. Their strikeout ratios are all down but besides that there are no possible complaints.]
I wish I could say that's the only thing in the chat session for which Joe deserved to be raked over the coals, but then that would mean there's nothing else to read on Mike's site, and the evidence there has proven quite the contrary.

Not that Mike is the only one taking Joe to task. Travis Nelson of the Boy of Summer blog did his own entertainingly snarky take on a Morgan chat a few weeks ago. An angry mob of Baseball Primer posters recently compiled an extensive laundry list of Morgan's more glaring flip-flops and flubs. Now Aaron Gleeman of Aaron's Baseball Blog has his own axe to grind. A couple of weeks back, Aaron took Joe to task for failing to realize that Oakland A's GM Billy Beane did not write the bestseller Moneyball and yet foisting that disinformation on the public. Joe liked the mistake so much he made it twice: "I wouldn't be Billy Beane first of all!! I wouldn't write the book Moneyball!"

Jumpin' Jeebus Cripes! As Aaron wrote, "He not only had his facts wrong and he not only was upset with someone as a result of something they didn't do, but he was making a big deal of the situation, on a national stage(s), over and over again, based on his incorrect facts."

Morgan wages a disinformation campaign that would do a Propaganda Minister proud. Everything Joe believes now, he always believed, despite whatever he's on record as having said last week, and woe to you if you point that out to him. Take this exchange from another recent chat:
Stevie Ridzik (D.C.): Dig your work Joe...But one bone to pick, how can you say "the Blue Jays rely mainly on home runs." when they lead the league in BA-SLG-OBP-OPS-RUNS-RBI and are only 3rd in taters?

Joe Morgan: Listen to what I say and do not put somebody else's words in my mouth. I said they have a chance of winning because they have a great offense. I'm not sure where you got that. It seems that people want to put words in my mouth.
It should be noted that in the previous week, Morgan had this to say:
On offense, the Mariners are getting hits in clutch situations while featuring the hit-and-run, the sacrifice bunt and the sacrifice fly. This is in contrast to the Toronto Blue Jays, who rely mainly on home runs.[emphasis added]
Joe Morgan, History's Greatest Monster, Q.E.D.

Okay, he's not History's Greatest Monster. But with every passing week, Morgan continues to carve himself a reputation as a baseball reactionary, a boor and a bore. For those of us who grew up admiring his brand of heads-up baseball, it's sad to watch. But when a man's got the ear of a baseball-watching nation and he continues to shovel such a high volume of bullshit, he deserves to be called on it. Intelligent baseball fans are doing just that.

After doing his thorough job taking apart some of Morgan's recent gaffes, Gleeman notes that Morgan's actually written a book himself. On the ghost of Wally Post, I swear I am not making this up: Baseball for Dummies.

Say it ain't so, Joe.

 

We Interrupt This Blog To Bring You A Service Announcement

Thanks to a late-night breakthrough in my understanding of HTML, I've added a feature: a new sidebar called "The Catch" which will feature brief notes and links, including some to products I'm recommending. This blog-within-a-blog feature is something I've wanted to construct for quite some time, and I'm elated to finally have figured it out. It opens up a whole new set of possibilites for this page.

The only catch is that my blog will have a slightly changed URL, adding a .shtml suffix instead of the .html one. The new address of my blog is thus http://www.futilityinfielder.com/blog/blog.shtml and all further entries will be published at that address. If you're coming to this site via the top-level domain (www.futilityinfielder.com), you shouldn't notice any difference, because all of the navigation tools will reflect this change. But if you've bookmarked this page, you'll want to update the address. If you are a site administrator or fellow blogger who links to this site, I'd greatly appreciate it if you would update your links on behalf of your readers.

As for what's going on over to the right (on the new version of this page), it's pretty self-explanatory, a catch-all of some stuff I wanted to share as an aside. The book and music links are through the Amazon Associates program, which I've joined in the hopes of generating a wee bit of revenue to cover the costs of this site. The way it works is that -- at no cost to you -- I get a small percentage of any product I promote that you click through to purchase, and an even smaller percentage of other stuff you purchase if you enter Amazon via my link. Apologies to any of you who feel that this is a crass sell-out. Your refund check is in the... oh, wait. For the rest of you, I'm not asking you to spend more money on my behalf, just to tell Amazon who sent you if you're shopping there.

So, without further ado, I welcome you to the new version of this blog.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

 

A Flood of Conspiracy Theories

Thursday afternoon's Yankee-Devil Ray ballgame was rained out. Or rather, "rained out," for anybody within range of the Bronx could tell you that while the skies had emptied in the morning and remained overcast throughout the afternoon, very little additional rain fell. Presumably, the ballgame could have and should have been played.

The fact that it didn't is quite curious. First off, Thursday's game marked Lou Gehrig's 100th birthday, and a celebration took place prior to gametime (or so I'm told, as I wasn't there). Second, the day's giveaway honored another Yankee first baseman -- a Jason Giambi bobblehead. Third, the Yanks were playing the D-Rays, the next best thing to scheduling their own AAA farm team. Fourth, the Yanks claimed to have sold 36,000 tickets, not horribly off the previous week's draw for an interleague matinee with a division leader (39,888). By all rights, the Yanks should have been itching to get this game in.

That they didn't has set off the alarm bells of conspiracy theorists heavily vested in "Yankees Suck!" regalia. According to the predominant theory, the Yanks preferred to bump Andy Pettitte back to Friday's Subway Series opener and knock struggling starter Jeff Weaver (0-4, 6.56 ERA in his last five starts) into next week, where he would face a less heated rival than the Mets -- the Devil Rays.

Lost in all of this is the fact that until the game starts, the decision to start the game rests with the home team, unless it's the final series of the season between the two clubs. In that case, the league may override the decision and force the start of the game. Once a game begins, it's in the hands of the umps.

Yankee GM Brian Cashman refuted the conspiracy talk, telling one newspaper, "I think it's irresponsible. If anybody wants to rip me for the decision based on the weather, that's fine, because it cleared up. But it was based on the forecasts saying we'd have rain all day and that it would get worse." He also pointed out that by opening the gates, the "game" cost the Yanks about $40,000 in salaries, not to mention the inconvenience of a day-night doubleheader in September.

Major League Baseball VP Katy Feeney, who is in charge of scheduling (a fact that didn't escape George Steinbrenner's notice a few weeks ago), backed Cashman's story: "It was no conspiracy. With weather, you don't know 100 percent. Both the umpiring crew and the Yankees were looking at the radar and in contact with local meteorologists and they were told it would get heavy and not stop. Obviously, it turned out wrong, but that's what they had to go on."

The irony of the situation is that Saturday's Yankee-Met game succumbed to rain after three innings, washing away a 3-for-3 Alfonso Soriano performance and an unspectacular start by Mike Mussina. On the other hand, it enabled Robin Ventura to make a Caddyshack reference: "I don't think the hard stuff's coming down for a while.'' The game will be made up as part of a crosstown day-night doubleheader, similar to the one three years ago. Meanwhile, Sunday night's game is equally endangered, with a forecast showing a 60% chance of showers (by the way, I'll put in a plug for weather.com as the best source for event-related forecasting. They may not necessarily be correct all the time, but the information is at least easy to find, unlike going through a particular team's sources).

The Yanks have already had four rainouts this year, so don't be surprised if some Yankee hater starts yammering about the Great Flood and jeering that the team should board a wooden ship by twosies. After all, wasn't that the last time the Red Sox won anything?

Friday, June 20, 2003

 

The Dumbest Man in America

In what will surely make him the butt of jokes for the next, oh, 15 years, former major league pain in the ass Jose Canseco was arrested at home on Friday for testing positive for steroids, a violation of his parole.

For those of you needing a refresher course Jose's recent rap sheet, Canseco and his twin brother Ozzie were arrested on aggravated battery charges stemming from a Halloween 2001 nightclub brawl. He plead guilty and was sentenced to three years probation, plus some community service and anger management classes. He then violated that probation by failing to begin his community service. For that, he received a month in jail and two years of house arrest, plus the threat of a 15-year sentence for any further violation from Judge Leonard Glick.

Not only did the house arrest effectively end his major-league career, it sent Jose even further over the edge. He turned himself into a pariah by alleging that 85 percent of major leaguers used steroids, and worse, threatened to publish a book "naming names."

Confined to his house, the human trainwreck kept making waves. In one of the more bizarre news items of the year, Canseco offered himself up for auction -- a day of with the slugger at his home. Somebody apparently paid for the privelege, but the public was mercifully spared the follow-up story. Hey, we've got American Idol contestants to ridicule.

But now, Jose has delivered what may be the coup de grâce. With no earthly reason to use performance-enhancing drugs, he nonetheless got caught doing just that. Who was he trying to impress, the Broward County Department of Sanitation workers who haul his trash away?
Trashman Number One: "Wow, that Canseco's really ripped."

Trashman Number Two (yawns, checking watch): "I got the other can, but you're pickin' up those goddamn apple cores. My back hurts."
Or maybe it's the future Hall of Fame voters Jose was hoping to woo:
Voter Number One: "462 home runs, 1986 Rookie of the Year, 1988 MVP award, six All-Star appearances, two World Series rings.... it's tough not to vote for this guy."

Voter Number Two: "Plus, he's still really ripped. I'm sold."
Of course, stupidity just runs in the Canseco family. Ozzie already beat Jose to the steroids-as-parole-violation bit, but Ozzie's not looking at a hard 15 in the big house yet. But Jose is, and when he gets sentenced, we can all finally chuckle, smug in the satisfaction of that we have found the Dumbest Man in America. And those ripped pecs will be the envy of Cellblock D.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

 

Second to None

Larry Doby passed away on Wednesday. If you don't know who he was, then your history lesson is LONG overdue. Doby broke the American League color barrier a mere three months after Jackie Robinson first played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, debuting for the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947. Yet he spent his career in Robinson's shadow despite having to endure the same virulent racism -- segregation, bench-jockeying, cool receptions from certain teammates -- and despite his own outstanding career. "The only difference was that Jackie Robinson got all the publicity," Doby later recounted. "You didn't hear much about what I was going through because the media didn't want to repeat the same story."

A second-baseman for the Negro League Newark Eagles (where he'd been starring since age 18), Doby was signed by visionary Indians owner Bill Veeck. He did poorly in his first taste of major-league action (5-for-32), and with an All-Star (Joe Gordon) manning second, he had nowhere to play. But with the help of the legendary Tris Speaker, he converted to centerfield and became the starter the next season, helping to key the Indians' only World Championship of the past 83 years. Doby hit .301/.384/.490 that season, and had an excellent World Series as well, hitting .318 with one homer. In 1949, he began a string of seven straight All-Star appearances, developing into one of the league's best sluggers. He drove in over 100 runs five times, and led the league in homers twice, including 1954, when he was a major reason the Indians ran up a 111-43 record (alas, the New York Giants swept them in the Series).

Like Robinson, Doby's career ended fairly early. He bounced between the Indians, the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers over his last few seasons, suffering from back and rotator cuff injuries. He was released early in 1959, at age 35. For his career he hit .283/.386/.490 with 253 homers, but those statistics are only a small part of the story. Veeck later recalled in his autobiography (Veeck as in Wreck, as entertainingly brilliant as any baseball book ever penned) that "[H]is inner turmoil was such a constant drain on him that he was never able to realize his full potential. Not to my mind, at any rate. If Lary had come up just a little later, when things were just a little better, he migh very well have become one of the greatest players of all time."

Doby went to play in Japan, and later coached with the Montreal Expos, the Indians, and the White Sox. In 1978, Veeck, then the owner of the White Sox, gave Doby another "second," naming him the game's second black manager (after Frank Robinson) to replace the fired Bob Lemon. He finished the season 37-50 (Lemon did a bit better with his next venture). He later went on to work for Major League Baseball in a variety of front-office positions, and was honored several times, albeit belatedly. The Indians retired his number 14 in 1994, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.

The New York Times obituary of Doby is here. In Cleveland, Doby's passing is front-page news. Two articles from the Plain Dealer are worth your time, a lengthy historical account and a column by Bill Livingston, who writes:
Larry Doby, who died yesterday, was a 90-day wonder.

The wonder, you see, was that anyone thought much had changed in the three months be tween the start of the 1947 Major League Baseball season, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the National League with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Doby's arrival at old Municipal Stadium on July 3 of that year as the first black player in the American League.

The same racial poison that greeted Robinson was steeping in the hearts and minds of many players and fans in the American League, too. Unlike Robinson, Doby had not gone to UCLA. He had not been the gem of the farm system, carefully nurtured before his big-league debut in Montreal, where the Dodgers' top farm team was located. Race was not the same explosive issue in Quebec that it was in such Southern towns as Washington and St. Louis (home then to the AL's Browns), where Doby would play.

Robinson was the first, and would be remembered through out baseball, with his number (42) retired at every ballpark in the majors on the 50th anniver sary of his rookie season. Doby was the pioneer who did not get primacy of place, but who en dured the same privations of race. Outside Cleveland, he is probably not a household name. More is the shame.
Doby's passing is also front-page news in New Jersey, where he grew up and where he resided up until his death. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger has a conversation with former Newark Eagles teammate (and fellow Hall of Famer) Monte Irvin, as well as his own loving recollections:
I began to figure it out the night before he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. I arranged for the two us to walk through the empty building alone after closing.

It was so quiet we could hear our footsteps. I had been in that building so many times, but now I saw it through the eyes of Larry Doby. We were, I later thought, on a walk-through of his private church on the eve of the day a dream so long denied him would finally become justice affirmed.

He paused repeatedly and conducted his own nonstop soliloquy about the exhibits and the game he loved. His heart smiled at some of those memories. His silence spoke volumes at some of the other ones. I finally understood that night just how much he loved this game and why, with all the heartache, it remained forever a part of his life.

He had paused before a picture of Steve Gromek, a pitcher on Doby's 1948 world championship Indians, leaping into Doby's arms. Larry had hit a home run in that World Series game and Gromek had been the winning pitcher.

"It made most of the front pages," he told me. "It was the first picture of a black and a white man embracing at home plate. America needed that picture and I will always be proud that I could help give it to them."
Larry Doby, second to none at last.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

 

Dos Fernandos

When it comes to baseball phenomena I've observed in my lifetime, the line starts with Fernandomania. Nothing I've ever seen compared with the initial dominance of Fernando Valenzuela and the swirl of excitement surrounding the portly, unflappable 20-year-old southpaw from Mexico every time he took the hill for the Dodgers.

I'd been introduced to Valenzuela when he began making waves during his cup of coffee in 1980. Thrust into the middle of a tight NL West race, Fernando hurled 17.2 innings without allowing an earned run (he gave up two unearned runs in his debut), and garnered two wins in relief. Such was the rookie's impact that he even drew consideration from manager Tommy Lasorda to start the one-game tiebreaker with the Houston Astros. Alas, Lasorda picked Dave Goltz instead, and the Dodgers lost 7-1.

But Valenzuela immediately made his presence felt the next season. Pressed into duty as the team's Opening Day starter, he shut out the Astros, and just kept going. On the strength of his mysterious screwball and his mid-motion skyward gaze, he reeled off eight straight complete game wins, allowing only four runs in the process and capturing the imagination of two countries every time he pitched. Though the 1981 season was marred by the seven-week players' strike, Valenzuela's highlights and accomplishments that year (eight shutouts, Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young and a World Championship) remain some of my fondest baseball memories. Of course, the heavy usage later took a toll on his arm, but that's a story for another day.

Valenzuela's been in the news lately. Having finally hung up his spikes (he was still pitching in the Mexican Winter Leagues in January), El Toro recently launched a new career as a Spanish-language radio commentator for the Dodgers. The move has been treated by the Dodgers as the return of the prodigal son, complete with a ceremonial first-pitch celebration. With this new job, Valenzuela's come full circle, patching up relations with the team which sadly let him go in 1991 and now working alongside Jaime Jarrin, the Hall of Fame broadcaster who served as Fernando's interpreter early in his career. If I knew any Spanish beyond "mas cerveza, por favor," I'd be tempted to tune into their broadcasts via MLB.com.

Valenzuela's son is making news as well. Fernando Jr. was recently drafted in the 10th round by the San Diego Padres. While he shares his father's looks, physique, and left-handedness, the younger Valenzuela is a first baseman. In his first season at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (he transferred from Glendale Community College), El Toro Jr. hit .337 AVG/.456 OBP/.593 SLG in 63 games. He led the team in homers (14), RBI (75) and walks (45), tied in extra-base hits (34) and was within two of the team lead in total bases (144). He struck out only 24 times to go with those 45 walks (by far the best ratio on the team), so it's clear that he's got a good handle on controlling the strike zone. And he didn't make a single error at first base all season.

Of course, those stats should be taken in their proper perspective; the Rebels team hit .324/.417/.522, scoring 9.2 runs per game, while their opponents hit .292/.381/.430 and scored 6.5 per game. The entire Mountain West Conference hit .322/.397/.510 and scored 8.0 runs per game. Needless to say, the MWC has some extreme park effects at work, but then most of the teams play at altitudes higher than Coors Field. Still, Valenzuela was so highly regarded that he was named the MWC's MVP.

It's clear the kid's got some talent to go along with his good bloodlines. I look forward to watching his progress. Can another wave of Fernandomania be around the corner?

Sunday, June 15, 2003

 

Hanging With Score Card Harry, Again

Once again I've retreated to my pal Nick's folks' place in Northampton, Massachusetts. Nick's stepfather is the great-grandson of Harry M. Stevens, the famed sports concessionaire. In honor of the occasion I'm repubilishing a piece I wrote two years ago after rooting through the Stevens-related memorabilia up here. I've revised it to include the further research I've done.

Harry M. Stevens occupies a prominent place in the creation of the baseball experience. He is credited with introducing both hot dogs and scorecards to the sporting public, and built an empire around these staples.

There are a few pieces of Stevens-related memorabilia hanging in a hallway here at his great-grandson's home. There's a bio of "Score Card Harry" from the New York Clipper, dated June 27, 1896. It details the growth of Stevens' operation, beginning in Columbus of the Ohio State League, in 1887, and continuing through his gaining the right to sell scorecards at the Polo Grounds in 1895. Also on the wall is the cover of one of those 1895 scorecards for the New York Base Ball Club (the Giants), featuring a full-color illustration of a ballfield from the first base side. A spectator with top hat, moustache, and cigar is in the foreground.

The item which has caught my fascination for the better part of this afternoon is an even older scorecard. This one is a 2-color card from 1892, the offical score card of the Washington Base Ball Club (the Senators). It features a photo of Boston catcher and future Hall of Famer Mike "King" Kelly on the cover, and the scorecard is unfolded into four panels. On the front side are ads for sporting goods, alcohol, and tobacco. The back is also visible thorugh a cutout on the other side of the frame. The lineups for a game between the Senators and the Cleveland Spiders are printed. Here they are (I used Baseball-reference.com to fill in the first names):

Senators:
Paul Radford, 3B
Tommy Dowd, 2B
Dummy Hoy, CF
Henry Larkin, 1B
Jocko Milligan, C
Charlie Duffee, LF
Danny Richardson, SS
Frank Killen, P
Patsy Donovan, RF

Spiders:
Cupid Childs, 2B
Jake Virtue, 1B
George Davis, 3B
Ed McKean, SS
Jimmy McAleer, CF
Jesse Burkett, LF
Jack O'Connor, RF
Chief Zimmer, C
George Rettger, P and Cy Young, P (both listed)

The Washington lineup isn't much, befitting a team which went 58-93 and finished 10th out of 12 teams. The most recognizable name is that of Dummy Hoy, a 5'4", 148 lb deaf-mute outfielder who, according to the Baseball Online Library, was the reason umpires adopted hand signals for safe, out, and strike calls. Hoy went on to rack up over 2000 hits, played in four major leagues (NL, AL, Players League, and the American Association), and lived to the ripe old age of 99. He even got to throw out the first pitch of a World Series game in 1961, the year of his death. The only other Senator I recognize, but who wasn't in the lineup that day, is Deacon McGuire, a catcher who played in 26 seasons. McGuire's last appearance in the bigs is one for the annals; in 1912, when he was 48 years old, he was part of a one-game makeshift team fielded by the Detroit Tigers. The regular Tigers were on strike in support of a suspended Ty Cobb, and the replacements were pounded 24-2 by the Philadelphia A's.

The Cleveland lineup is much better; they went 93-56, and finished second in the NL. Cy Young you know about (511 wins, and an award named after him, for you rookies out there). George Davis was in the second year of a Hall of Fame career which included over 2600 hits. Jesse Burkett was even better than Davis, hitting over .400 three times (the only other man to do that besides that Cobb fella). Burkett, known as "the Crab" for his cheerful disposition, ran off a seven-year span in which his hit totals ranged from 198 to 240, and he finished with 2850 for his Hall of Fame career.

Another Spider of note is shortstop Ed McKean, who had apparently recovered from an early-season mishap in which he shot himself "through the 'fleshy portion' of his finger with a revolver," according to the Baseball Online Library.

The Spiders' lineup was incredibly stable. Only two bench players saw any action, and of the seven pitchers, two appeared in only one game and another (the aforementioned Rettger) in five. Young pitched in 53 games, completing 48 out of 49, going 36-12 with a 1.93 ERA. They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

Returning to the scorecard, the back has several alcohol ads, including one for Faust Beer, "the Healthiest and Finest Drink you can offer your friend," brewed by Anheuser Busch, and Pabst Milwaukee Beer, which "leads them all, and everybody uses it." For those who use too much of it, there are ads for the Silver Ash Institue for the Cures of Alcohol and Opium Habits, and the Blackstone Gold Cure Institute for the Cure of Liquor, Opium, and Morphine Habits. I don't know about you, but I'm picturing an opium den under the bleachers of Boundary Field, where the Nats played. Today's Tigers fans should be so lucky.

The scorecard itself is only partially filled out, listing what appears to be a line score for each team; if this is to be believed, the Senators scored 11 runs in the first inning, added two in the sixth, and five in the seventh (I'm a bit skeptical). The Spiders apparently managed only one in the sixth and three in the seventh, making the final score 18-4. Another possiblity is that the scores are cumulative, and that the 11 in the first is actually a tally of two, in which case the final would have been 5-3. The inning-by-inning boxes aren't filled in, but there are some dots in totals columns (AB, R, 1B, TB, SH, PO, A, E) which reveal that whoever was scoring lost interest fairly early (two players have three at bats, the rest one or two). Combing through the Senators' and Spiders' game logs on Retrosheet, the two teams played 14 times during that 1892 season, but none of their games ended with either an 18-4 or 5-3 score. Their seven games played at Boundary Field were as follows:

June 1: WAS 8, CLE 7
June 2: CLE 7, WAS 6
June 3: WAS 9, CLE 4
July 15: WAS 3, CLE 1
July 16: CLE 6, WAS 4
Sept. 7 (1): CLE 3, WAS 2
Sept. 7 (2): WAS 6, CLE 2

Patsy Donovan is listed in the Senators' lineup, but he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates fairly early within the season; he played 40 games for the Senators and 90 for the Pirates. This leads me to believe that the game was from the first series of the three. Furthermore, another way of reading the Washington score is of the first inning as a two-run tally, then two more in the two in the sixth and five in the seventh, for a total of nine runs. Add the four for the Spiders and it's a reasonable conclusion that the June 3, 1892 game is the one in question. Wow.

Anyway... Stuart Rose, Stevens' great-grandson, obtained the scorecards and other items at an auction after the business (which was passed down to Stevens' sons upon Harry Stevens' death in 1934) was sold. Stuart was kind enough to break out the auction catalog, which includes some amazing reproductions of the types of memorabilia more likely to wind up in a Sotheby's auction than an eBay one:
• the cover of the program from Opening Day at Yankee Stadium (April 18, 1923)
• an autographed photo of Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run (!!!), inscribed "To my second Dad, Harry M. Stevens, from Babe Ruth, Dec. 25th, 1927"
• a photo of a giant hot dog which reads:
50 Years Old
Look How He's Grown
Golden Jubilee Testimonial Dinner to the Stevens Boys
on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Hot Dog
by the New York Baseball Writers.
Hotel Commodore, Jan. 14, 1941.
• the cover of the first Mets program, from 1962, featuring a diapered baby
• the cover of the program for the first Ali-Frazier heavyweight championship fight, featuring a garish Leroy Niemann painting, at Madison Square Garden, dated March 8, 1971.

It's that scorecard that blows me away though, the way a 111-year old piece of paper, a cryptic telegram from the past, revealed some of its secrets, but kept others for itself (what was the date? how did those runs score? was the scorer a busy Harry M. Stevens himself?). All in all, an extremely compelling collection of items, and a thoroughly fascinating way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Thanks again to Stuart, his wife Wally, and my pal Nick Stone for their hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to rummage through their memorabilia.

posted by Jay  # 10:16 AM 0 Comments Links to this post

Friday, June 13, 2003

 

In the Zone

With the QuesTec computerized evaluation system spending a lot of time in the news the past few weeks, the strike zone has been a hot topic. Mike's Baseball Rants has an exhaustive archaeological dig through the changing strike zone:
So as far as I can tell, the drama that is being played out between owners, umps, and players regarding the strike zone and the QuesTec system, started in the mid-Eighties with umps ceding the outside strike to pitchers and almost simultaneously, batters crowding the plate and getting hit more often. But it seems impossible to disentangle those two events into cause and effect. It's a chicken-or-the-egg type Ghordian knot. What is clear is that as a result the batter's box was obliterated. I believe if the umpire requires a well demarcated batter's box, the hit batsmen and potentially the outside strike issues are somewhat mitigated...

To me it boils down to a management issue. 2001 got them three-quarters of the way there. Now if the owners had used QuesTec to enforce the strides made in 2001 and retrain and empower (yeah, I said it) the umps instead of becoming oppositional with it, maybe they could get to the promised land, that is a strike zone according to the book. I'm afraid now that Bud and MLB's inability to properly motivate their employees will cause more bad than good as neo-Luddite umps attempt to circumvent the QuesTec system and bring the issue to a head.
As usual, another excellent, informative rant from Mike.

• • •

The Mets finally canned GM Steve Phillips today, a move that was as overdue as that library book you checked out in sixth grade and forgot to return. The New York Post had the best headline ("Stevie Nixed: Mets tell GM Phillips to go your own way") and back page, while William Rhoden of the New York Times sums it up best:
This ship has been off course for three seasons, not because of a lack of resources, but because of a lack of judgment. The Mets began the year with a payroll of about $120 million, which is second only to the Yankees' roughly $180 million. They have nothing to show for it but a clubhouse of aging stars with big names, big contracts and big injuries. It's all Steve Phillips's fault.

He sold Wilpon on the notion that you had to win with big names in New York, that the fans weren't patient enough to wait for rebuilding, that you had to do it now. Forget the farm system.
Rhoden suggests that Giants GM Brian Sabean, Braves GM John Schuerholz and Expos GM (and former Met assistant GM) Omar Minaya would be the best choices to replace Phillips, but obviously, all three are currently employed. Jim Duquette, cousin of the Boston Red Sox General Pariah Dan Duquette, was named the interim GM until the end of the season and will be a candidate for the permanent job, as if any high-level New York sports executive can consider his job "permanent."

• • •
New Kid on the Blog: The Minnesota Twins are already well-represented in the blogosphere by a couple of great pages, John Bonnes' The Twins Geek and Aaron Gleeman's Baseball Blog. Now comes a new blog from another Twins fan called Seth Speaks. Recent topics include the playing careers of the Twins coaches and manager (ahem), an evaluation of Latroy Hawkins' career, and the callup of Justin Morneau. Good luck, Seth.

posted by Jay  # 11:06 AM 0 Comments Links to this post

Thursday, June 12, 2003

 

A No-No and an Oh Yes

The Yanks became a part of baseball history in a most undignifed manner on Wednesday night. Not only did they have a no-hitter pitched against them, they had a no-hitter pitched against them by a sextet of Houston Astros hurlers. While four pitchers had combined on a no-hitter before (twice, actually), no team had ever used so many in a no-no. The Astros' situation came about when starter Roy Oswalt pulled up lame with a groin injury two pitches into the second inning. Manager Jimy Williams deftly scotch-taped his way through the ballgame until he could get to his two relief aces, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner, to close the deal.

I saw the second half of the ballgame, but I have to admit I was mostly half-watching. I had dinner on Wednesday night with Greg Spira of Baseball Prospectus, and afterwards we went to a bar to watch the Yankee game and shoot the breeze. I took him to Manitoba's, an East Village bar owned by Handsome Dick Manitoba, the former lead singer of the '70s New York punk band the Dictators. Handsome Dick (real name Richard Blum) is a big Yanks fan and the bar's a decent place to watch a ballgame if you don't mind closed-captioning and a punk-heavy jukebox. So the Dead Boys classic "Sonic Reducer" blared while the 'Stros pitchers reduced the Yankee bats to splinters, the Yankee lineup underwent its own "Personality Crisis" in tandem with the New York Dolls chestnut, and Joe Torre looked like he wanna be sedated.

We joined the game right as Lance Berkman made his diving catch on Alfonso Soriano's blooper to end the fifth. At that point the score was 4-0, but that's all we knew. It wasn't until the end of the sixth that I saw a shot of the scoreboard and that trio of zeroes in the Yankee R H E columns. That piqued our interest. We started talked no-hitters. Greg's been to Jose Jiminez's in Arizona in 1999, along with an entire SABR convention. The closest I've come was Bartolo Colon taking one into the eighth against the Yanks on September 18, 2000. Greg asked if I had been rooting for Colon at that point, to which I replied that I would have if the no-no had survived until the ninth inning. That was in the midst of that infamous Yankee slide at the end of the 2000 season, and I wasn't in any mood for concessions then.

But it's not as though I'd never seen a no-no. I've watched two in full (Nolan Ryan's fifth, in 1981, against the Dodgers -- now there was a guy who could turn me against my own team -- and Jack Morris' 1984 gem agains the White Sox) and seen the last few innings of several (Kevin Gross and Bud Smith come to mind). I missed both David Wells' and David Cone's perfectos for various reasons, and came one agonizing strike away when Mike Mussina nearly pulled it off.

When the Astros' Brad Lidge got through the Yanks in the seventh, I smelled toast. They were about to face the best setup man in the game in Dotel, a fireballer who strikes out 1.5 batters per inning pitched, followed by Wagner, who... well, ditto. The two lived up to their billing. Thanks to a passed ball on a third strike that allowed Soriano to reach first, Dotel actually tied the major leauge record with four strikeouts in one inning. Wagner struck out the first two batters in the ninth, giving the Yanks an ignominious eight strikeouts in a row, tying an AL record. Hideki Matsui mercifully ended both that string and the game by doing what he apparently does best, grounding out.

I have to admit I wasn't even finicky this time. I figure to see the Yanks lose about 60 times this year, and this was already going to be one of them. The no-no would be a neat little catch, but it might also serve the larger purpose of showing the Yanks that they'd reached the nadir of their season.

Joe Torre certainly treated it that way, reading the Yanks the riot act. According to the Times:
Manager Joe Torre kept the clubhouse closed for several minutes and held a meeting in which players said he called the game embarrassing. Torre, bothered by how the Yankees played, looked and acted, told them this sort of play would not be tolerated.

"Whatever kind of history it was, it was terrible," Torre said. "It was one of the worst games I've ever been involved with."
Echoes of Tommy Lasorda I've-never-been-so-sick take on Reggie Jackson's 3-homer World Series game in 1977. Elsewhere, phrases like "embarassment," "totally inexcusable," and "rock bottom" were used by players and management. Not suprisingly, the Steinbrenner Watch is on Full Alert in all of the New York area papers today, with hitting coach Rick Down assumed to be the one wearing the tightest noose. It must be a great time to be a Yankee hater.

• • •

Against this backdrop, I headed to Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon, fairly certain that the sequel would have a different ending than the night before. After all, only once in baseball history have two no-hitters been thrown in the same park on back-to-back days. I was joined by Greg, the second ballgame we've taken in together this past week (we went to last Friday's Mets-Mariners ballgame at Shea, along with Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference and frequent Baseball Primer poster David Nieporent -- an experience I haven't had much chance to write about).

I arrived a bit late due to subway difficulties, and thus missed the Astros scoring two runs off of David Wells in the top of the first. Greg filled me in with a flawless play-by-play, rescuing my scorecard from oblivion. The Yanks got a run back in the bottom of the inning against Jeriome Robertson, a rookie lefty I'd never seen before. Soriano led off the first with a walk (something he does fewer times a year than hit a leadoff homer, I'll wager) and then Derek Jeter beat out a bunt to third, the newly-annointed captain getting the monkey off of the Yanks' back in short order. Sori ended up scoring on a sac fly by cleanup hitter (and Torre pet) Todd Zeile. Gulp.

Wells settled down, and the Yanks took a lead in the fourth. Raul Mondesi laced a ground-rule double down the leftfield line and over the wall, and Hideki Matsui followed with a sharp RBI single to right. A John Flaherty single took Godzilla to third, where he scored from on a sac fly by Juan Rivera.

The Astro hitters kept finding holes, racking up six hits through five innings. But some timely defense, especially by Zeile, kept the Yanks in front. Zeile made good plays on a couple of slow rollers and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 DP on Jeff Bagwell in the fifth. My presence seems to be bringing out the best in him.

But in the sixth, Wells ran out of whatever combination of luck and gas had carried him through the first five frames. Three straight singles loaded the bases with none out, and Brian (the speedy one, right?) Hunter followed with a sac fly (the fourth of the ballgame). Number nine hitter and defensive specialist Adam Everett nearly took Wells over the wall, then socked a ground-rule double that scored two, at which point nearly 40,000 Yankee fans sighed in unison, "Uh-oh, here we go again." During this May-June swoon, one stat that hasn't been overlooked is that the Yanks had yet to come from behind to win a ballgame in which they'd trailed after six innings.

The team seemed to be feeling that pressure in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Bubba Trammell singled, and Flaherty ripped a double into the left-center gap. With the Astro outfielders having displayed woefully off-line throws thus far, third base coach Willie Randolph was licking his chops as he waved Trammell around to score. This time the Astros made a perfect relay play, Berkman to 3B Morgan Ensberg to catcher Greg Zaun, and Bubba was lunch.

Jimy Williams chose the occasion to pull Robertson in favor of Kris Sarloos, one of the previous night's heroes. Juan Rivera worked a full count off of Sarloos and then picked up Flaherty on a single to left, and the Yanks cut the Astro lead to 5-4. They tied the game in the next inning after Berkman dove and missed a Jason Giambi bloop for a double, and Mondesi lined a two-out single to right. The clutch hitting animated the crowd considerably, and there was a palpable sense of we're-gonna-win-this-one relief in the air.

Antonio Osuna had come on in relief of Wells after six; the REAL Osuna , not the impersonator who bore a rather strong resemblance to Juan Acevedo on Tuesday night. Osuna shut down Houston in the seventh and eighth, allowing only one hit.

Facing Octavio Dotel, Hideki Matsui led off the Yankee eighth. In the hole 0-2, he hit a fast grounder right down the line to Bagwell, who got the ball just past the bag, but apparently not so well. E-3. Pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra stroked a single as I badmouthed him, and then pinch-hitter Jorge Posada battled back from 0-2 to draw a walk, loading the bases with none out. Rivera popped out, but Soriano dunked one into rightfield, scoring a run. Dotel finally settled down and struck out Jeter and Giambi for a grim reminder of the previous evening's affairs.

But the Yanks had the lead going into the ninth, so "Enter Sandman." Mo Rivera rung up Craig Biggio to start the 9th, and ended up closing the door on the Astros, just like he's supposed to, giving the Yanks their first late-inning come-from-behind victory of the season.

Not to mention their third straight in my presence. If George won't spring for my limo, I figure the Yankee coaches might chip in.

posted by Jay  # 9:23 PM 0 Comments Links to this post

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

 

And You Thought I'd Let This Go Without Comment?

Seldom has a single player ruined an entire weekend for me the way Juan Acevedo did this past weekend. Not only did he blow what was potentially Roger Clemens' 300th win against the Cubs, but he also contributed heavily to their loss the next night via a throwing error and his usual craptacular pitching. Two New York papers reported yesterday that Acevedo would be gone by sundown, and sure enough he was. ERA at the time of release: 7.71. Adios!

Of course, in the department of Being Careful What You Wish For, when Antonio Osuna entered last night's ballgame against Houston I wrote "I don't care what happens from this point forward, I'm just glad Juan Acevedo is gone." Osuna's first pitch ended up about 400 feet away in Monument Park, prompting me and a few others in Game Chatter to wonder whether Acevedo was really gone ("I think Acevedo killed Osuna and put his body in the river. Now he's pretending he's Osuna," was the best guess). Still, it was only a solo shot, and the Yanks won the ballgame 5-3.

Meanwhile fairly hefty but interesting debate over Acevedo's "merits" sprung up over at Baseball Primer, with a few heavy-duty statheads singing "The Ballad of Small Sample Sizes" and "The Regression to the Mean Song" to us high-blood-pressured, myopic Yankee fans. Their main point was that Acevedo's been more or less average for the past three years and that sooner or later he'd return to being more or less average again, and that we shouldn't get all fahitched about 23 lousy innings. Meanwhile we Yank fans argued that it was senseless for the Yanks to waste their time waiting for Acevedo's performance to normalize when they had access to plenty of other relievers on the farm and in the free talent pool, including Jason Anderson and Al Reyes, both of whom they recalled after whacking Juan.

Larry Mahnken of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog has done a better job summarizing some of the arguments that broke out on that thread, and he's got a few other interesting tidbits and smart-assed comments as well. If your'e a Yank fan, you should be reading him.

posted by Jay  # 6:46 PM 0 Comments Links to this post
 

Glove Story

My mother often chides me about being a pack rat, the kind of person who has a tough time throwing out anything. I've got a desk at my parents' house in Salt Lake City that she's been ribbing me about cleaning for, oh, about a decade. Fortunately, she knows better than to touch any of my baseball-related stuff. I've brought some of my old Salt Lake Gulls and Walla Walla Padres programs back to New York City, but I still have boxes full of cards resting safely in my SLC closet, some great Aaron, Mays, and Koufax cards, along with a complete 1978 Topps set that took me about nine years to finish.

One thing I'm extremely grateful that never got tossed was my baseball mitt, a Rawlings RBG80 Greg Luzinski model that dates back to my days in Little League. It's funny because not only was Luzinski a horrible fielder ("worst outfielder I ever saw, bar none" says Bill James), but he'd also graduated to his natural position as a DH by the time I was playing. Fortunately, I was at least competent with the leather, unlike the Bull (who could make up for his shortcomings with the long ball, unlike yours truly). I retrieved that mitt about five years ago, and regularly toss the pea around with friends (even my girlfriend gets into the act -- she's got a great arm). But that old glove is really starting to show some wear, especially on the inside, where moisture has led to cracking. Still, I'm horrified at the thought of having to replace it, because of how long it would take to break in a new one and because this thing still fits like, um, a glove.

That kind of relationship with a glove is something nearly everybody who's played the game at any level can relate (everybody except Edgar Martinez, perhaps), which is why it's surprising it's taken so long for somebody to do a book about them. My mom called my attention to Noah Liberman's Glove Affairs: The Romance, History, and Tradition of the Baseball Glove via this review in the Salt Lake Tribune. I haven't seen the book yet, so I'll let the linked review do the talking. But I'll be looking for Glove Affairs the next time I'm in the bookstore.

posted by Jay  # 4:15 PM 0 Comments Links to this post
 

A Laughing Matter

It's always nice to get a good laugh over your morning cup of coffee. This morning, Baseball Primer called my attention to a couple of amusing takes on the Sammy Sosa situation that are too good not to pass on.

First up is Charles P. Pierce of Slate, who asks, "Is this man a danger to your children?":
Whenever anybody in the modern communications media starts vaguely maundering about The Children—whether it's Weepin' Joe Lieberman talking about rap music, or Cokie Roberts wondering how she's going to explain Oval Office blowjobs to her daughter, or sportswriters worrying about the dearth of good role models—it is time to turn off the set and throw the remote control to the dog. My lord, on Tuesday morning, a full week after the incident happened, Jay Mariotti in the Chicago Sun-Times was still gathering the shattered young ones under his wing. "Children deserve to know what he did and why it's wrong," Mariotti thundered, perhaps mindful of the generation we lost to drugs and crime because of society's tolerance for Gaylord Perry.
Speaking of Mariotti, an otherwise anonymous Primer poster offered a parody, "Sammy Sosa Is a Fraud Who Poops His Pants," that's so dead-on that it makes you wonder how many of the nation's sportswriters churn this kind of stuff out while napping.

Also worth a grin is John Levesque of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who says that Sammy was merely taking up the cause of the world's cork farmers:
He says he uses the corked bat in batting practice to put on a show for fans, and that he used it an actual game completely by mistake.

I believe him because, well, the whole premise of this column would be shot if I didn't. By using a corked bat in practice, Sosa is telling the struggling cork growers of Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, France and Tunisia: "I'm with you guys. Try to stay afloat."

As a popular role model, he's also telling America's kids it's OK to buy a bulletin board, or to ask their parents to install cork flooring in the rec room.
One of my friends, warning that the use of synthetic wine corks is on the rise (dear God, NOOOOO!), asked with a wink, "Won't somebody think of the cork-growers' children?"

posted by Jay  # 9:13 AM 0 Comments Links to this post

Monday, June 09, 2003

 

Owners and Groaners

Yankee fans are still grumbling about the results of their first-ever regular-season foray into Wrigley Field, in which the Cubs took two out of three games on the strength of their fine young pitchers, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, and plenty of sloppy play from the Yanks. Sunday night's ballgame started with Andy Pettitte getting shelled, reached its nadir with Juan Acevedo donning the goat horns yet again (this time via a throwing error) and ended with pinch-runner/tying run Charles Gipson being picked off of first base after the Yanks had turned an 8-3 deficit to 8-7. Grrrrr.

But as bad as things look from the Pinstriped view, at least one astute Cubs fan sees the contrast between the owners of the Yanks and the Cubs and finds his own team wanting. Neither Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich nor Bronx Banterer Alex Belth should need introduction from regular readers of this space; Ruz has an excellent piece on Alex's site called "I Wish George Steinbrenner Owned the Cubs." Here are a couple of excerpts of some required reading. Of the Cubs, Ruzich writes:
The Cubs were not the first team to be owned by a large corporation (even the Yankees spent some time owned by CBS before Steinbrenner rescued them), but their purchase by TribCo certainly foreshadowed the current wave of corporate ownership. Tribune looked at the Cubs as cheap content for their WGN TV station, which was showing up on cable systems all over the country. They talked up the team on WGN Radio and in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. With the exception of the hiring of Dallas Green, however, they did very little to improve the team.

They did lots of things to improve the amount of money the team brought in, though, like installing lights and skyboxes. After the '84 division title, they ended the decades-old practice of selling bleacher seats on the day of the game... And yet, not much of this extra money ended up on the field. Or, when it did, it went to people like Larry Bowa and Dave Smith, and (famously) not to people like Greg Maddux.
On the Yankee front:
Steinbrenner has a lot of money. TribCo has as much money as Steinbrenner, if not more. So does Fox, and Peter Angelos, and look how well their teams have done. Steinbrenner not only has the money, he isn't afraid to spend it, and he is smart enough to hire smart people to run his team. For some reason, those last two things get lost when The End of Baseball As We Know It gets discussed.

Steinbrenner wants to win, and he does what it takes to do so. Plus, he brings all the excitement of a loaded pistol with a hair trigger being passed around by a bunch of speed freaks... But I'd gladly deal with all that uncertainty and day-to-day craziness if it meant I have the privilege of following a team that gave itself every opportunity to win.
While it's tempting to tell Christian, "Be careful what you wish for," I do think he's hit the nail on the head. Baseball needs more owners like Steinbrenner, not fewer, and by that I don't mean a guy who's going to make a horse's ass out of himself every time something goes wrong, I mean a guy who cares more about his ballclub winning than he does about petty issues like revenue sharing. Wouldn't you, Twins-Orioles-Brewers-Royals-Pirates fans, rather have as an owner a guy who'd knock his own grandmother on her ass in order to gain an advantage than a guy who'd pocket revenue-sharing money while complaining about having to trade a star on the verge of free-agency because he "can't afford" him and fielding a team which might struggle to win 60 games? Yes, the Twins are winning right now, and perhaps the Royals have finally turned a corner. But the bottom line is that the bottom line depends on winning: build a winner and fans will show up, and plenty of money will follow.

• • •

Speaking of building a winner, the Dodger fan in me is very excited about the news that Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer is close to buying the Dodgers. According to the Los Angeles Daily News:
Malcolm Glazer is finalizing his agreement to purchase the Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and people with knowledge of the negotiations believe the deal will get done by the end of the week... The purchase price is believed to be in the $375 million range, but even if an agreement is reached this week, it could be months before the ownership officially changes hands. Major League Baseball previously said it wouldn't schedule a special owner's meeting before one in mid-August.
I've cringed before at some of the Dodgers' suitors. When Dave Checketts made a bid earlier this spring, I wrote, "I want my Dodgers back, but I don't want Dave Checketts anywhere near them. I'll take my chances with the next S.O.B. who comes along instead."

I have yet to read anything saying that Glazer is an S.O.B., but even if he is, that shiny Lombardi Trophy he's holding as the owner of the team who won the Super Bowl is good enough for me. Anybody who can turn the Buccaneers into champions ought to be able to restore some of the winning mojo to the Dodgers. I'm sold, and I hope the Dodgers will be soon enough.

posted by Jay  # 3:25 PM 0 Comments Links to this post

Sunday, June 08, 2003

 

Juan Acevedo Must Die

I'm of two minds about Saturday's Yankee loss to the Chicago Cubs, in which Roger Clemens left the ballgame with a 1-0 lead en route to what would hopefully be his 300th win. Should the Yankees hang Juan Acevedo in retribution of all of pitches he's hung to opposing hitters? Or should they choke him for all of the times he's choked after coming into a game?

In a Wrigley Field pitchers duel with Kerry Wood that had lived up to the one in the catalog, Clemens pitched a magnficent ballgame through six innings. Slowed by a respiratory infection, he began to tire in the seventh and was removed after having thrown only 85 pitches. It took just one pitch from Acevedo to undo all of Clemens' good work. One pitch which the undead Eric Karros swatted for a three-run homer. One pitch that had me perilously close to throwing a solid object through my TV screen as I unleashed a string of curse words that had mothers covering their children's ears within a five-block radius.

One pitch that ought to seal the fate of Juan Acevedo. There is simply no reason for a team fighting for its spot atop a division to show any allegiance to a journeyman reliever with a 7+ ERA and complaints about his role. Acevedo is "only" making $900,000, but the Yanks have nothing invested in him beyond that. They're destined to take on more salary as they reinforce themselves, so exactly what the hell they're waiting for with Acevedo is beyond me; they should have released him when they added Ruben Sierra to the roster (another eye-roller) rather than optioning Jason Anderson to the minors. The only way Torre's use of Acevedo on Saturday can be justified is as a white flag to Brian Cashman, similar to the way he used Enrique Wilson in rightfield last summer in order to key a trade which netted the Yanks Raul Mondesi.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. A reliever with an ERA that can be confused with the make of a Boeing jet is no relief at all.

posted by Jay  # 3:25 PM 0 Comments Links to this post

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

 

A Real Corker

If you were within a mile of a TV set on Tuesday night, you know that Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked bat in a game against the Devil Rays. Between Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, ESPN must have run the replay of Sosa's bat breaking over 200 times between 11 PM and 1 AM, accompanied by a slew of talking heads instantly speculating on what damage this will do to Sosa's career. This morning's reaction has some of the country's most esteemed (cough, cough, HACK) sportstwriters looking for tall trees over which to sling their ropes, ready to lynch Sosa and boot him from the Hall of Fame before his playing career is even done, and before MLB's disciplinarian, Bob Watson has handed down his sentence.

Don't be swayed. What Sosa did was wrong, but he immediately came forward and offered a fairly convincing explanation -- he mistakenly grabbed a bat that he uses to wow the crowds for batting practice and home run derbies. You don't necessarily have to buy that, but I do. Sosa's credit line is good with me, and not just because I once put him on the cover of a book. First of all, the accountability has to count for something. Sammy didn't hide, issue a denial or pass the buck to anybody else. He said, in essence, "My bad." We've seen superstars do a lot worse.

Second, we have zero proof that he's done this before. Think for a moment about the intense scrutiny the man's been under since he made the country's radar screen during the Great Home Run Chase of '98. Sammy's probably broken a few bats since then, while millions of people watched. None of them ever turned up corked, not a single one. So if somebody wants to tell us that the reason Sosa hit all those homers is a corked bat, the burden of proof is on them, not on Sosa.

Third, it's not even clear that a corked bat helps hitting homers. Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich has a lengthy excerpt from Robert Kemp Adair's The Physics of Baseball devoted to the subject. Basically, while corking one's bat allows a quicker swing, the ball's not likely to go as far -- about 3 feet off of a 400-foot drive. I don't know about you, but most of the Sosa homers I've seen didn't need that extra three feet. (Ruzich has links to more Sosa-related pieces than you can shake a corked bat at, so check him out today.)

Fourth, even if a corked bat DID help hit homers, baseball has a colorful history of gamesmanship that's as long as a Sosa homer. That history includes batters leaning into a pitch to get hit intentionally, catchers framing pitches so they appear to have crossed the plate in the strike zone, pitchers adding a little something extra to the ball, outfielders sno-coning balls, sign stealing (see the 1951 Giants) and so on. We smile bemusedly as we discuss Gaylord Perry's Vaseline, wink at Whitey Ford's wedding ring and giggle at the superballs that came out of Graig Nettles' bat. Spitballing at least has the precedent of being legal at one point in the game's history, but this really isn't that different. Baseball Tonight ran a lengthy clip of former co-host and current Texas Rangers manager Buck Showalter demonstrating in painstaking detail how to cork a bat. If Buck is adept enough to know how, and if ESPN is bothering to show us, doesn't that make this all a bit hypocritcal?

Fifth, baseball has a strong precedent for how to punish this. Sammy will be taking a vacation for about 7-10 games assuming that holds. Given that the Cubs are barely leading a tight NL Central, a suspension that sends the Cubs into another June swoon would be plenty of punishment right there.

Baseball's been berry, berry good to Sammy. And Sammy's been berry, berry good to baseball as well. In these contentious and often uncertain times, amid the game's labor strife and the country's war on terror, Sosa's given the fans an amiable mega-slugger to cheer and embrace while the likes of McGwire, Bonds and Griffey puckered as if sucking on lemons. Sosa's the most marketable player active, an ambassador for the game the world over, and he's helped countless writers fill up thousands upon thousands of column inches. Yet those same columnists are ready to hang him. Here's the New York Daily News' Bill Madden frothing at the mouth:
Make no mistake about this, however: There is no humor in Sosa being caught using a corked bat, only shame and disgrace. Worse, a huge shadow of distrust has been cast over baseball as Sosa, who on April 4 became the 18th player to join the elite 500 club, is now the only one of them known to have used a corked bat.

In other words, unless he can somehow prove otherwise, Sammy Sosa is a fraud and all of his home runs are now tainted. He is the only man in history to amass three 60-homer seasons and, to that, we now say: Yeah, right, and how many of them were hit with a legitimate bat?

...It has never been done before, but if Sosa is to have his credibility restored, Selig must order X-rays for the four bats (home runs 58, 62 and 66 in '98 and the 500th this year) that he donated to the Hall of Fame. And, if it turns out any of those were corked, Sosa should be banned from baseball for life and all his home runs be expunged from the record.
Okay Bill, time for your rabies shot. We never took away Gaylord Perry's Cy Youngs or forfeited any of his teams' games ex post facto, why should this be any different? And speaking of the Daily News, one can hardly wait for the other horseshit-covered shoe to drop, in the form of Mike Lupica telling us how disillusioned he is about the summer of '98 any minute now. Let's get a shovel and dig up Dick Young for his reaction(ary) while we're at it.

Here's Rick Telander of the Chicago Tribune, in his auto-hack, one-sentence-paragraph, gee-my-head-hurts-from-these-big-thoughts writing "style":
Sosa confessed.

"I just took the wrong bat and went up there,'' he said in the interview room. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart.''

Sosa said he keeps a corked bat to use during batting practice be-cause "I like to put on a show for the fans. I like to make people happy and show off.''

I believe that. I believe gangsters keep shotguns in their trunks to shoot rabbits. I believe the Tooth Fairy is married to the Easter Bunny.

I believe--I guarantee I be-lieve--that Sosa is a liar.
Puh-lease. If this doesn't show you the modus operandi of those newspaper hacks, ready to pounce on today's down-on-his-luck superstar in order to sell papers, then you'd better get a seeing eye dog. These people invested so much in deifying Sosa that once it's been revealed he is -- stop the presses -- human, they can only respond by trashing him.

Resist the temptation. Get mad at Sammy, boo him if you must the next time you see him. But let him serve his time and move on. Sammy's been too good to the game to keep this incident hanging over his head for long.

posted by Jay  # 4:20 PM 0 Comments Links to this post

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

 

Dodging the Draft

I don't pretend to know a hell of a lot about the Major League Baseball amateur draft, which is happening today. I don't really follow college baseball, I don't subscribe to Baseball America, I don't hang out at the local sandlot looking for the next superstar. And chances are, neither do you, which is one of the reasons why MLB's draft is a very understated affair compared to that of the NFL or the NBA. The bulk of these guys are years away from contributing at the major-league level, which means most of us who are keeping track of the home team and our fantasy teams and our HACKING MASS picks have very little room in our heads for the name of some 18-year-old kid who might not make it past Rancho Cucamonga before blowing his elbow out.

But the draft has been on my mind lately, primarily because I recently read Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Lewis spends a big chunk of the book focusing on the Oakland A's draft strategy and Billy Beane's attempts to revolutionize it. Under Beane, the A's strategy is to rely more on performance and statistical analysis than traditional scouting methods, and to focus on college players over high-schoolers because their performance data is more reliable. The A's took college players with their first 24 picks last year, waiting until the 19th round before picking a high-schooler (readers of Moneyball will recall that the A's had seven first-round picks due to letting Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Johnny Damon depart as free-agents).

Beane's tactics are a novel way to counteract the A's financial situation -- they can't afford to be wrong about those five-tool players who everybody else is chasing after, players who might turn out to be the next Roberto Clemente if they could only learn the strike zone. Hell, they can't afford the bonuses most of those five-tool players' agents are asking. So they go after players who have the one tool they can afford -- the abiltiy to hit. That's not to say Beane's strategy would work for every team, or that baseball would be as interesting a game if his methods were adopted. A team with more money can afford to take a risk on a high-school pitcher or a speedy, free-swinging outfielder with a gun for an arm, even if it only means using that player to bamboozle a wide-eyed GM out of some bullpen help at the trade deadline ("Mr. Bowden, Brian Cashman is on the line again...").

For most teams, the draft is still something of a crapshoot, even as high as the overall #1 pick. The historical record of number ones is a spotty one. Since the beginning of the draft in 1965, none of the players chosen first has gone onto induction in the Hall of Fame. Hell, some of them --1966 pick Steve Chilcutt (Mets), 1991 pick Brien Taylor (Yankees) -- never made the bigs. Others scarcely made a dent; does anybody remember Danny Goodwin ('71 and '75), Al Chambers ('79), or Shawn Abner ('84)? Many went on to be servicable but hardly star-spangled major-leaguers: Rick Monday ('65), Tim Foli ('68), Mike Ivie ('70), Bill Almon ('74), Shawon Dunston ('82), Tim Belcher ('83), B.J. Surhoff ('85). Well, Monday was kind of star-spangled, come to think of it.

One man has had some extraordinary success drafting first. Roger Jongewaard, Vice President of Scouting & Player Development for the Seattle Mariners, can lay claim to what more than likely will be the first overall #1s to reach the Hall of Fame in Ken Griffey, Jr. ('87) and Alex Rodriguez ('93). Prior to that dazzling duo, Jongewaard, while working for the Mets, made another #1 pick you might recognize: Darryl Strawberry (1980; he also drafted Billy Beane at #23 the same year). ESPN's Alan Schwartz has an interesting look at Jongewaard's career. Suffice it to say, he's not crying himself to sleep about having missed out on Mike Harkey and Darren Dreifort.

One thing is for sure: gone are the days when a team would draft a pitcher #1 and then rush him to the majors just for show. David Clyde, picked first by the Texas Rangers in 1973, lived that dizzying saga in a matter of a few weeks. Chosen ahead of Robin Yount and Dave Winfield, Clyde won his first start at the tender age of 18 years, two months and five days old (he beat Jim Kaat). The phenom stuck around the majors as much for his ability to draw crowds as for his pitching promise, but he went on to win only 17 more games in the bigs due to arm problems and mismanagement (those Rangers were a three-ring circus; see Mike Shropshire's hilarious, unsung classic Seasons in Hell for the details). Clyde was gone from the majors at 24, and done at 27. ESPN's Jeff Merron has a lengthy piece devoted to the Clyde saga (thanks to Adam Hardt for passing on the link).

posted by Jay  # 10:33 PM 0 Comments Links to this post

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