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, August 31, 2003


Out of the Woods

When I went into the woods of Wyoming last Sunday, I had it all figured out. The Yanks (78-49 at the time) looked to be pulling away from the Red Sox (74-55) in the AL East. The Sox had a leg up in the AL Wild Card, given the apparently mortal blow dealt to the A's (74-55) in losing Mark Mulder for the season. With that injury, the Mariners (76-53) seemed to gain enough breathing room to anticipate a roll to the AL West title.

That shows you what I know.

Out west, the A's have gone on a tear, winning eight straight and taking over first place. The M's, with their rotation sputtering, spent my wooded vacation being spanked by the Red Sox, losing four straight to them and six straight overall. They're now two games in back of the A's, but one ahead of the Red Sox in the Wild Card.

The Yanks have scuffled since I departed, going 4-3 over the past week but giving up 34 runs in those three losses and continuing their mediocre showing against other AL contenders. Since the end of interleague play in mid-June, the Yanks have played eight series against AL teams with winning records, and only twice (against Toronto and Kansas City) have they taken the set.

Just when it looked as though the Yankee pitching had sorted itself out, it fell back into disarray. Freshly activated Jose Contreras looked like a savior against the Baltimore Orioles last Sunday, then did his worst Jeff Weaver imitation against the Bosox on Friday. Weaver, who'd briefly been demoted to Tampa and then recalled, followed up that debacle with his own painfully accurate Jeff Weaver impression, putting his ever-slim postseason roster chances in further doubt. Twelfth option Sterling Hitchcock was finally jettisoned to St. Louis. Lefty reliever Gabe White was activated from the DL, enabling the Yanks to put Jesse Orosco (10.38 ERA as a Yank) out of their misery. Another servicable bullpen cog, lefty Felix Heredia, was claimed off of waivers from the Reds.

But none of those developments made bigger headlines than the spat surrounding big Boomer Wells. After getting bombed by the White Sox, Wells had his conditioning habits publicly questioned by pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. Apparently Wells, recently bothered by chronic sciatic nerve flareups, has stopped throwing between starts. This has Stottlemyre seething. According to the New York Times:
The pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, is tired of Wells's act. After Wells gave up 10 runs in an 11-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium last night, Stottlemyre calmly but sternly criticized Wells for failing to work hard between starts.

"He just needs to do more work," Stottlemyre said. "He hasn't been throwing in between starts, and I think he needs that. I think it's showing. The last two games, at the same point in the game, he hasn't made very good pitches."

..."I don't know if he has a bad back," Stottlemyre said. "If he has a bad back and it's bothering him, for the sake of the ball club, he should say it."
Wells, predictably, acted as though he'd been stabbed in his already-vulnerable back, airing his grievances to Michael Kay on ESPN Radio. Boomer was resentful that Stottlemyre aired their dirty laundry via the press rather than confront the pitcher directly, though Wells' quick exit from the clubhouse following his shellacking precluded that. Wells implied that the Yanks' threats to remove him from the rotation have a fiscal edge, due to his incentive bonus of around $183,000 per start.

All of this is starting to resemble the Bronx Zoo -- almost enough to make me want to go back into the wild and eat pinecones until this ugliness blows over. On the other hand, the Yanks beat the Sox today, 8-4, to take that series. Two time zones away, I didn't get to see any of it, but I'll rest easier tonight knowing the result.

Friday, August 22, 2003



Bronx Banter's Alex Belth has a pair of interviews to check out. The first is with Jane Leavy, author of the recent biography, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy. The second is with Jim Bouton, author of Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark as well as the classic Ball Four. What with my tech woes (see below) and impending travel day, I haven't had a chance to read either of the interviews fully, but both look to live up to Alex's usual high standards, so check them out. Belth even drops Bouton's appearance in the Robert Altman movie, The Long Goodbye.

Speaking of Bouton, I'm pleased to announce that I'm the new sponsor of his Baseball-Reference page. The coolest website ever, runs on user donations in the form of page sponsorships running from $2 to $565 (the Leagues Directory page) based on the amount of traffic they get. Last year I sponsored eight players: Luis Sojo, Mario Mendoza, Ron Gardenhire, Jay Buhner, Pedro Guerrero, Tommy Lasorda, David Cone, and Alfonso Soriano. Sori's page is up to $100 this year, so that's out of my budget, as is Coney's $45 page. But I renewed Sojo, Mendoza, Gardenhire, and Buhner, and haven't figured out what to do about Pedro and Lasorda. I'll probably add a couple more futility infielders instead. Anyway, if you use one tenth as much as I do, you should spring for a page to help Sean Forman pay his server costs. There's plenty to be had in the $5-20 range, and it's a lot of fun to say that you sponsor a player. What the hell are you waiting for?


The Reverse Midas Touch

"If they're going to lose this game, I don't want to be around to see it." Those words, uttered on several occasions by my pal Nick, ran through my head during the top of the eighth inning of Wednesday's Yanks-Royals game. Having watched 16 innings of the Yanks kicking Royal butt over the previous 18 hours, I decided that the Bombers' 8-3 lead was safe enough for me to slip out early and run some important errands in anticipation of my upcoming trip. If the bullpen was going to collapse, I had better things to do.

It's a good thing I left. The Yankee bullpen did collapse, enough so that they allowed four ninth-inning runs. Joe Torre tried to give his a-listers a rest by starting off the ninth with Sterling Hitchcock, who gave up three hits and one run while getting one out. That was enough for Joe to look for alternatives, and with Jesse Orosco and Antonio Osuna (the Oh-Oh Brothers, as opposed to the 0-0 Brothers) done for the day and Jeff Nelson off limits because he'd pitched two straight days, Joe went for the easy decision to bring in Mariano Rivera, who'd at least had two days off. Mo made mo' trouble, allowing four straight singles. Carlos Beltran was thrown out rounding second base by Juan Rivera on the third of those four singles, and Mo finally struck out Desi Relaford to end the game. Ugggggly. Ugly enough that I'm grateful I missed it.

Juan Rivera was one of the bright spots for the Yanks, with an RBI double in their four-run second and an solo homer in the fifth, as well as his pivotal assist. Maybe he's a prospect after all, despite my disparaging comments. Aaron Boone started two rallies, leading off the second with a double and the fifth with a single. Nick Johnson poked a two-run homer following Boone's single. He was also hit by a pitch for the second game in a row after having gone unscathed all year. Recall that Johnson was notorious for getting hit by pitches both in the minors (he set an Eastern League record with 37 in 1999) and the majors (16 in 529 PA coming into this season).

Speaking of Johnson, B-Pro's Will Carroll really Yanked every Bomber fan's chain with this little snippet: "No one's talking about Nick Johnson's bones this week. Yet." I hurriedly emailed Will to ask if he knew something and he said that no, he just enjoyed reminding Yank fans of his fragility.

Or words to those effect; the actual response is on my seriously ill hard drive. I endured a cascade of computer disasters on Thursday, everything from a busted letter R on my laptop (new keyboard: $60) to the dreaded flashing question mark on my desktop computer to my girlfriend damn near chasing me around the East Village with a rolling pin when I applied my Reverse Midas touch to her iMac. I believe the term "shitrain" was invented to describe such days.

Before it all came down, I'd intended to do a more in-depth look at the chamber of horrors that is the Yankee bullpen. Just as well. Instead, I'll note only a couple of points. First, the Yankee bullpen's Adjusted Runs Prevented rating (a Baseball Prospectus stat) fell almost two runs based on Wednesday's game, from -4.8 to -6.7, meaning that they're now 6.7 runs below average in preventing inherited runners from scoring, 17th in the majors and hardly the stuff of the patented Yankee October magic. Second, that pen seems to screw Roger Clemens on a regular basis. Eight times in his 26 starts, the pen has allowed three runs or more of its own, which is pretty sick even if I don't have anything else to compare it to right now. Those eight collapses include two notorious failures in June when Rocket was in pursuit of win number 300. Alas, I don't have time to examine how well the runners he left behind have fared, but my guess is that it would be worse than average as well.

So anyway, I'm headed out of town for the next twelve days, to Salt Lake City and then the wilds of Wyoming's Wind Rivers region for some backpacking. I might get a post or two in on the weekends, but I'll be far from the daily box scores in between. Maybe that's a good thing right now. Like the Yankee bullpen, the less I get my hands on, the better.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


Kicking Royal Butt

The Yanks looked good for eight innings last night and terrible for one, holding on to beat the Royals 6-3. Alfonso Soriano and Bernie Williams each hit 2-run homers off of Kevin Appier, Karim Garcia connected for a solo shot (his third homer in three games), Jason Giambi stole a base standing up (!), and Andy Pettitte pitched well until the Yankee defense let him down in the seventh inning, but the bullpen bailed him out.

Leading 6-0, the Yanks suddenly looked like a Little League team behind Pettitte, making three errors in the seventh. For starters, Alfonso Soriano snagged a tough Raul Ibanez grounder that he should have eaten and threw wildly past first. The ball bounced into the stands, sending Ibanez to second. Joe Randa punched a single, scoring him, and then Ken Harvey quickly followed with another single. Pettitte settled down to strike out Mendy Lopez and induce Mike DiFelice to fly out.

Two strikes away from getting out of the jam, Andy gave up a scorcher to Desi Relaford down the first-base line which Nick Johnson couldn't come up with. Relaford took second, Harvey took third, and Randa scored. Then Soriano made his second error of the inning, hurrying to pick up Angel Berroa's grounder. Another run.

Joe Torre mercifully yanked Pettitte, who'd pitched well, throwing 76 out of 107 pitches for strikes, walking none and striking out six (Dandy Andy's on a 10-1, 3.13 run since June 8). Jeff Nelson came on and got Mike Sweeney to hit a comebacker, ending the threat. Nelson took care of business in the eighth as well, striking out two, and Mo Rivera pitched a solid ninth, with the game ending on a 4-6-3 double-play. That's six in a row for the Yanks, only two off their longest winning streak of the season (June 24–30 vs. the Rays, Mets, and Orioles).

Soriano's been hitting the ball HARD lately. In the past nine games (going back to the beginning of the first K.C. series), he's 12-for-43 with 10 extra-base hits (seven doubles, one triple, two homers). His plate discipline's gone to hell, but that's another story.

The Yanks recalled Juan Rivera before last night's game. Rivera will get a shot in right, despite Garcia's recent hot streak. This is mostly to keep Rivera eligible for the postseason roster, but it's a fairly dubious move; he's hitting only .237/.285/.351 this season in 123 PA. He's at .244/.290/.348 for his young career in 218 PA, and it's pretty apparent to everyone beyond Joe Torre that he's more suspect than prospect.

Hopefully this won't disrupt Garcia too much, because he's really earned his playing time. He's now at .343/.403/.629 as a Yank, and his defense has been solid as well. His plate discipline has shown improvement -- he's walked once for every 10 ABs as a Yank, the magic threshold of a responsible hitter. With Cleveland he'd only walked five times in 93 AB this year and six in 202 AB last year. Maybe it's a sample-size fluke, maybe it's having Soriano behind him in the order. But maybe this guy is for real, returning to the level he showed last year when he drove in 52 runs in his 53 games with the Indians after August 6.

On the subject of roster controversy, here's a headline from the New York Times today: "Weaver Does Nothing to Secure Roster Spot." And it makes sense. With a 7.75 ERA since the All-Star break, Jeff Weaver's spot in the major leagues, much less the Yankees rotation, is now in question. With the return of Jose Conteras looming, and perhaps Jon Lieber as well (not to mention Gabe White), the Yanks may not feel obligated to send Weaver out there for his regular pounding. Only the questionable health of David Wells works in Wevo's favor right now, but Wells is reportedly coming along nicely.

As for White, once he returns from his groin pull, expect the bell to toll for Jesse Orosco. At 46, Orosco appears to have finally reached his sell-by date. His ERA is 12.27 as a Yank and 8.16 overall. Nine out of the 20 batters he's faced have reached base, and when they hit him, they've hit him hard, for a .615 slugging percentage.

The Yanks are intent on carrying only 10 pitchers in the postseason. Add it up and you've got Clemens, Mussina, Pettitte, Wells, Hammond, Osuna, Nelson and Rivera as locks, leaving Weaver, Contreras, Hitchcock, Orosco, and White battling for the last two spots. White's almost a certainty IF he's healthy, and Conteras would appear to have the advantage on Weaver based solely on the fact that nobody's tattooed him lately. Hitchcock is insurance either way, but he could stick if the Yanks carry 11.

Fifteen position players means the Yanks have an imbalance to settle. They're heavy with outfielders (Williams, Matsui, Garcia, Sierra, Dellucci, Rivera) but have only one backup infielder in Enrique Wilson. Delluci's defense would appear to make him a lock as a reserve, and Garcia's surge ought to make him impossible to ignore. Ruben Sierra's been the forgotten man of late, and since he can't really play the field, he figures to be the one on the bubble. Erick Almonte might get a shot as an infielder, or the Yanks could make a waiver deal for a corner man. Adding it up we get: Posada, Flaherty, Giambi, Johnson, Soriano, Jeter, Boone, Wilson, Matsui, Williams, Dellucci, Garcia, Rivera. That's 13, leaving two spots up for grabs.

Lawrence Rocca of the Newark Star-Ledger suggest the Yanks look no further than their special-assignment coach, Luis Sojo, who still takes grounders every day. It's a half-crazy idea, but still more sane than Rocca's suggestion of Chuck Knoblauch, who was in the house last night and received a loud ovation. Sojo played briefly in the Mexican League earlier this year, hitting .410/.451/.590, though that tells you more about the level of play than it does about Looie Looie. As for Knoblauch, the Daily News reports that the 35-year old might attempt a comeback next year. Here's rooting for the Lil' Bastard to find a second act to his career.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Blasting Through

I've had a tough time getting back on track since the blackout here, so at the risk of wallowing, I'm just going to blast through a quick rundown of the Yanks' recent games, along with a few more links.

I missed the first half of last weekend's Yankees-Orioles series in Baltimore, which was full of some appropriately weird stuff. Thursday night's game was played while New York City was blacked out, and with radio station WCBS carrying news coverage of the power outage, there was simply no way to follow the game here. Not that we didn't have better things to do. But I still haven't seen the game-saving catch Hideki Matsui made in the bottom of the seventh, and I'm not sure I ever will.

The Yanks won Friday night's game on a disputed 3-run home run by Aaron Boone. Mired in a 6-for-51 slump since joining the Yanks, Boone came to bat in the top of the 9th with two men on and the Yanks trailing 3-2. His drive down the left field line was initially ruled foul by third base umpire Jeff Nelson (no relation to the pitcher), but the crew overturned the ruling, allowing the home run to stand. The winning pitcher, of course, was the other Jeff Nelson. Like I said, weird stuff. Weirdo Larry Mahnken has a hilarious entry in his Replacement Level Yankees Weblog in which he envisions telling his grandchildren about Boone's blast. Larry's going to sound a lot like Abe Simpson in his old age.

Saturday's game turned into the Joe Torre Bonehead Festival. For starters, Torre failed to catch the Orioles batting out of turn in the first inning. With one out and men on second and third, Tony Batista brought his Samurai Chef batting stance to the box ahead of the listed cleanup hitter, Jay Gibbons. Batista delivered a sacrifice fly. Torre could have appealed under Rule 6.07 and nullified the run, but he didn't notice the flip-flop until after Gibbons batted. The error gnawed at Torre during the entire game: "I was beating myself up in the first inning, and I wasn't in the mood to really make an issue of it," he said. Mike C. has a thorough rantdown of the rule in question and another concerning other notable times this has happened.

Torre's second gaffe of the game was a bit more subjective, but no less excusable. In the ninth inning he called upon closer Mariano Rivera for the third straight day. Now, the Yanks' bullpen has been extremely spotty this season, but Torre's dependence on Rivera hasn't helped matters. This was the third time since the end of July that Torre called upon Rivera for at least three consecutive days, and all three of those streaks had brought trouble:

1) July 31-August 3: In this four-game run, Rivera blew two saves against the Oakland A's and took the loss, his first of the season, in the latter one. Those were only his third and fourth blown saves of the season.

2) August 6-August 8: Rivera not only blew a save against the Rangers, he also made a throwing error on a bunt, setting up a two-run single which hung him with his second loss in as many games. He converted his next two saves, though he allowed a run in one of them.

3) August 14-16: Rivera had allowed a three hits and a homer in the 9th inning of the second game after Boone hit his 3-run shot, but he converted the save.

So sure enough, Torre brought Rivera in for the third straight day, and Rivera yielded a game-tying leadoff homer to Luis Matos, his fourth blown save in 16 days. Hey, I know that's just a week in the office for Armando Benitez, and that Mo's a better pitcher than that, but it wouldn't kill Torre to have rested his closer for a day against a sub-.500 ballclub.

The game, which also featured the weirdness of backup catcher John Flaherty going yard twice, ended up lasting 12 innings. Jason Giambi homered in the top of the 12th, but the Orioles nearly tied the game in the bottom half. With two outs, Jeff Nelson walked Jack Cust, then yielded a double by Larry Bigbie into the right-centerfield gap. In one of the craziest sequences I've ever seen, rightfielder Karim Garcia relayed the ball to Alfonso Soriano, who threw to Aaron Boone at third, where the roly-poly Cust had slipped while rounding the bag. Boone dropped the ball but recovered in time, throwing to Jorge Posada at home to snag Cust in a rundown. Posada chased Cust back to third, but when he threw to Boone, Cust turned again, realizing nobody was covering home plate. Nelson, who should have been covering home, had headed to back up third on the relay. Boone frantically chased Cust toward home as the poor Oriole wiped out about 10 feet from the plate and was tagged out to end the game. That's 9-4-5-2-5 for those of you scoring at home.

Sunday's ballgame, fortunately for the Yanks, was anything but weird. Mike Mussina pitched his best game of the season, slamming the door on his former team with a three-hit, no-walk shutout and giving the bullpen a much-needed day off. Which was a good thing, since the Yanks needed that pen to start their series with the Kansas City Royals on the good foot last night. They piled on K.C. starter Jose Lima (making his first appearance since a trip to the DL) for six runs in four innings, enabling them to feast on the creamy nougat of the Royals' bullpen. Karim Garcia tagged Paul Abbott for a three-run shot, continuing his hot streak (.338/.392/.588 in pinstripes).

The Yanks needed most of those runs. Jeff Weaver slopped his way through 5.2 innings, allowing four, and Antonio Osuna gave up two more. Osuna's now allowed five runs and eight hits in his last 4.2 innings. But Nelson and Chris Hammond managed to close the shop for the Yanks. An ugly win, but a win nonetheless, their fifth in a row. Their lead over Boston is now 5.5 games, and the Sox have their next seven against the A's and Mariners in Fenway. Where would they be without Jeff Suppan?

I'm headed to the other two games of the K.C.-N.Y. series, one tonight and the other tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully the Yanks will have better luck against Kevin Appier this time around. Ape shut down the Yanks last Wednesday, and in his return to Royal blue, he's allowed only two runs in 11 innings.

• • •

I spoke to Baseball Prospectus injury guru/Rose reporter Will Carroll for the first time yesterday. Turns out he's a regular reader here just as I am at his Under the Knife column. Will thanked me for my even-handed coverage of BP's scoop and gave me a bit of a peek inside the case, pointing out that there's a distinction between "Rose reaching an agreeement with Major League Baseball" (which is what B-Pro's report said) and reaching an agreement with Commissioner Bud Selig, the man who can reinstate Rose.

Our conversation moved on to Mariano Rivera. I asked if he'd heard whether Rivera's latest struggles are injury-related and he sad no, he's pretty certain it's just fatigue and bad mechanics. He pointed to something I believe I recall from one his UTK columns: Baseball Tonight's Jeff Brantley mentioned recently that when Rivera is fatigued, his elbow drops and his arm slot gets all messed up. Keep an eye out for that. This means you, Joe Torre.

• • •

The Yanks made a roster move over the weekend, releasing Todd Zeile. With the return of Nick Johnson and the trade for Aaron Boone, Zeile's role had diminished while his bitching increased, making this an unsurprising move. It's been suggested that the Mariners might be interested in Zeile to play third base, and one look at their alternatives will tell you why. Here's a comparison of Zeile with the two organ donors who've been handling the hot corner for the M's:
                                   AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS HR RBI

Todd Zeile's rapidly aging corpse .214 .294 .349 .649 6 23
The Undead Jeff Cirillo .210 .288 .278 .566 2 22
The Stillborn Willie Bloomquist .250 .322 .322 .644 1 14
Barring a miracle, Cirillos' going to have to pay up on a wager he made with Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Jim Moore. If Cirillo doesn't hit .280, he will donate $20,000 to the Humane Society (and no, that's not like gambling on the outcome of a ballgame). Is it too harsh a suggestion that the most humane thing to do would be to put Cirillo down?

• • •

Brandon Claussen, the much-heralded prospect the Yanks sent to the Reds for Aaron Boone has been shut down for the season. ESPN's Jayson Stark had reported a couple weeks ago that scouts had noticed Claussen's velocity dropping. Said one scout:
I saw him in his first game (in the Reds' system), and his fastball was 86-88 mph. If he gets back to 90-92, then they've really got something, because his makeup is good, his knowledge of pitching is good and he throws his curve and change to both sides of the plate.
After struggling in two starts at AAA Louisville, the Reds wisely decided to protect the young lefty, who'd undergone Tommy John surgery late last June and had returned on a rapid timetable. The move obviously delays Claussen's arrival in Cincy until next season, but the pitcher isn't upset. Said Claussen, ""My innings and my pitch count were getting to the point where I was getting in that red zone, so we felt like it was a better fit if I shut it down now and got ready for next year."

This news does temper some of my criticism about the Yanks trading Claussen. Based on his impresive major-league debut and Jeff Weaver's continued struggles, I felt that the Yanks should have traded Weaver somewhere instead and inserted the rookie into the rotation, at least until Jose Contreras came around. But the Yanks probably realized that Claussen didn't have much left in the tank this season, easing their decision to pull the trigger on the Boone deal. That's not to say Claussen would qualify as damaged goods, however. In all likelihood the Reds knew exactly what they were getting.

• • •

Speaking of Stark, the ESPN columnist has a lengthy piece on TJ surgery which carries much of the same info as a segment on Outside the Lines I wrote up recently. On the evolution of the surgery from cutting-edge to commonplace, Stark writes:
So isn't it amazing to think that it was only 29 years ago that Tommy John headed into Dr. Frank Jobe's operating room to become the first ligament-transplant guinea pig?

Back then, what Tommy John was doing was almost as revolutionary as landing on the moon. Now, all these John Smoltzes and Kerry Woods later, it's almost as routine as going to the dentist... there's a better chance of something going wrong with the teeth-cleaning machine than there is of something going wrong when Dr. Andrews or Dr. Jobe is borrowing some tendon from your wrist or hamstring to replace your blown-out elbow ligament. There are no guarantees in medicine, but Tommy John surgery is about as close as it gets. Jobe and Andrews now estimate there is a 92-to-95-percent chance patients will recover from Tommy John surgery as good as new. Maybe better.
Stark runs through the litany of major-leaguers who have had the surgery and points to Jon Leiber, whom the Yanks signed to a two-year contract knowing that the first year (this one) would most likely be a wash as he rehabbed: "A two-year contract for a Tommy John patient isn't a sign that baseball contracts are now officially like hitting the lottery. It's a sign that the procedure has become probably the safest bet in modern sports medicine."

Sunday, August 17, 2003


Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Another crisis has come and gone in New York City, and I'm happy to say that I made it through the 2003 blackout -- the largest blackout in U.S. history -- unscathed and in good spirits. Here in the East Village, we lost power for 29 hours, from 4:10 PM on Thursday around 9:10 PM on Friday, making us just about the last people in New York City to get our juice back.

I'm working on a lengthy writeup of my experience during the blackout, including some photos taken by my girlfriend. It has almost nothing to do with baseball, but I thought my readers might enjoy a first-hand account of the situation beyond the usual news reports. My piece should be up in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Dog Days

It's official: the dog days of August are here. I have no idea whether Sirius, the Dog Star is visible in the night sky (the proper origin of the term "dog days") but I do know that I've reached a level of ennui that characterizes late summer in New York City. I can't find it in myself to get worked up about the Yanks' latest drubbings (shut down by the Ape? Isn't this the Angels steamroller they ran into last October?), or excited about the Red Sox failure to pick up any ground. And I'm certainly not getting my blood pressure up over this Pete Rose thing.

But I did weed through enough stuff in the aftermath of yesterday's hubbub to cull a few worthwhile links, and in these lazy dog days I'd rather revisit that than dwell on the dog-ass ugly play of a certain pinstriped nine. Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts has a thoughtful take. Bringing his background as a professional journalist and sportswriter into the equation, Jon discusses the nature of scoops:
The pressure for a scoop is absolutely intense - intense enough that one local sportswriter you've come to know simply did not want to put up with it and quit doing the work full-time. Eleven years later, I'm still not really sure why scoops are so prized. Sure, a reputation for being first in the business will drive readers to you, the way starving supermarket shoppers flock to the woman serving the sample wieners. But imagine trying to live your life off pigs-in-a-blanket. Scoops don't come every day, and so ultimately, it's clear that what keeps readers coming back is sustained quality coverage...

I can understand the desire for Baseball Prospectus to go with its Pete Rose story. Nailing this story splashes them across the map in a way that daily, nose-to-the-grindstone intelligent baseball coverage (unfortunately) does not...

ESPN responded the way most competitors respond to a scoop (putting aside that ESPN and Baseball Prospectus have an affiliation). ESPN put out its own take on the BP story - namely, that the story was wrong. Furthermore, ESPN got a source to go on the record saying that the story was wrong - MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy. All the credibility in the world, right?

Well, it just goes to show you how little value unnamed sources have when MLB can come out looking as stand-up as Walter Cronkite.
Now that's a scary thought. As for those sources, Larry Mahnken of the Replacement Level Yankees Blog did yeoman's work in transcribing Will Carroll's appearance on ESPNews and posting it to Baseball Primer yesterday evening. Here is an exchange between Carroll and ESPNews's Brian Kenney about the genesis of the story:
BK: Well, what did bring the report on?

WC: Actually, I was following a story about a trade rumor, and one of my sources mentioned to me, ‘hey, have you heard anything about this Pete Rose thing?’, and I was like, ‘really? What Pete Rose thing?’ And it went from there. We followed it, that was Saturday evening, and we’ve been following it ever since then, and had all the evidence in order, and my editors and co-authors at Baseball Prospectus decided we had enough information, and we published it last night.

BK: What is the process for deciding that ‘we have enough information’? Double confirmation, what does it entail, or is it just sources that you believe to be impeccable?

WC: Both. I believe my sources are accurate, and it’s not just my sources, we also have other authors that have spoken with people both inside and outside baseball, and the information corroborated each other. The multiple sources had nearly identical information and nearly identical conditions. Obviously, something is lost in a phone conversation, but we believed it to be accurate enough to run with.
Another Primer reader named Sam M weighed in with an insigntful reading of the situation that's worth passing on (unless you'd prefer to wade through 600+ posts, that is):
I think the BP people made a big assumption that Rose wouldn't have to make any admissions because such a condition wasn't in the agreement read to them by their sources. That assumption, based on what Stark and others are saying, is probably wrong -- he *will* have to make an admission of some kind, which may or may not have yet been negotiated. Second, if the agreement was initialed by a "high major league official," it may not be an actual agreement, but simply reflects what MLB is willing to agree to. Happens all the time in contract negotiations; a draft of a deal is prepared, goes to the decisionmaker, who initials it as something he or she can live with, and that forms the basis for the next, and often final, round of negotiations. BP's sources may have misunderstood to some degree the finality of the deal or the significance of the initials on the document. That's not to say the sources were wrong about what will emerge (to the contrary, even those like Stark who are saying BP got this wrong are agreeing Rose *will* be reinstated after the season), but perhaps they were about where they are in the process.
If you're asking me what I think based on all of this, aw shit... well, my best guess -- and it wouldn't fetch 2¢ if auctioned on eBay -- is this:

• The basics of an agreement for an eventual Rose reinstatement were hammered out last fall/winter, with some back-and-forth happening behind the scenes since then.

• The deal is contingent on Rose's continued good behavior, say a full year dating from last year's offseason to this one, before MLB will come forward with an announcement.

• It will most definitely require some kind of admission by Rose. To reinstate him without this would be PR suicide for Bud Selig and MLB. I wouldn't be surprised if this remains the sticking point -- enough to quash the deal entirely.

• It will immediately take him off of the permanently ineligible list, allowing him to be considered for the Hall of Fame. If this happens before early January, there's a good chance Pete's Red ass will be in Cooperstown late next July.

• It will entail some kind of further probationary period before Rose can assume any position of responsibility within baseball. Say, a year.

• After that, Rose may be hired anywhere within the game -- including as manager.

The only one of these I'd have any beef with is the last one. I'm fine with restoring Rose so that he can finally get elected to the Hall, and I'm fine with keeping a further eye on him once he's been removed from the ineligible list. And while I wouldn't have any problem if somebody wants to make him a spring instructor or something half-assed like that, I think it would be utter madness to let him manage a ballclub -- namely, the Reds, which is what skinflint owner Carl Lindner reportedly wants so he can put fannies in the seats in his new ballpark. That seems like a recipe for disaster, a supposedly rehabilitated fox guarding the henhouse while making plans for a dish of Chicken à la Hit King. And while I loathe the Reds organization enough to wish them little more than continued disaster, I'm not sure they deserve the stink of this Rose.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


He Said, She Said

Call it a weird day in the world of baseball journalism. Early Tuesday morning, Baseball Prospectus' Derek Zumsteg and Will Carroll published an article at B-Pro announcing that Pete Rose and Major League Baseball had "reached an agreement that would allow him to return to baseball in 2004, and includes no admission of wrongdoing by Rose..."

The article continues:
The agreement includes removal of Rose from baseball's permanently ineligible list. This would allow Rose to appear on ballots for baseball's Hall of Fame, which bars such banned players from consideration. The agreement allows Rose to be employed by a team in the 2004 season, as long as that position does not involve the day to day operations. That employment restriction would be removed after a year, allowing Rose to return to managing a team as early as the 2005 season if a position is offered to him.
B-Pro went forward with this scoop, but no news organization stepped forward to corroborate the story. Early in the afternoon, ESPN published a report in which Bob DuPuy, MLB's chief operating officer, refuted Zumsteg and Carroll's assertion. DuPuy told ESPN's Jayson Stark that there has been ""no decision, no agreement, no nothing" regarding the Rose reinstatement. In a press release, DuPuy called the Prospectus report "unsubstantiated and totally unfounded," and for good measure, threw in the terms "wholly inaccurate" and "journalistically irresponsible."

The Prospectus folks are sticking by their story. They told ESPN that the report "was compiled using reliable sources. We believe that, in the end, our report will be found to be accurate." In an interview with's King Kaufman, Carroll said that the report was based on three sources: "I've got a source in Cincinnati, in the Reds organization, a source in the MLB offices and an independent outside-baseball source." Elaborating on the agreement, Carroll told Kaufman that a deal had been signed last November but wouldn't be announced until after this year's World Series.

Let us consider all of this for a moment. In the near corner, we have the 98-pound challenger, a stellar website when it comes to baseball analysis, with an in-house expert on the Rose case in Zumsteg and an injury guru who's well-connected with baseball insiders in Carroll. Neither, to the best of my knowledge, has any experience in hard news reporting. Baseball Prospectus is a lot of great things, but CNN they are not.

In the far corner, we have the 800-pound gorilla, an organization that has spent the past ten years trying to convince baseball fans that up is down, that the competitive balance of the game is out of whack thanks to the Yankees, that nearly every team in the game is hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate, and that the sky will fall unless the Players Association agrees to a salary cap. Nobody in that house has any credibility when it comes to the truth.

At stake is a story which, even if it's true, won't be corroborated until after the season. No one has stepped forward to back up B-Pro's version of the story, they're not backing down or revealing their sources, and MLB is about as likely to shoot straight on this one as they are to open a restaurant called Joe Stalin's House of Pancakes, Propaganda and Pop Flies. The unlikelihood that MLB will just let Rose off scot-free is topped only by the unlikelihood that somebody with a shred of credibility in the matter will step forward between now and then to offer a definitive statement on the topic.

My advice? Without considering for even a moment whether or not Rose's reinstatement to the game -- particularly into an active role, such as managing the Cincinnati Reds -- is a good thing, let us all take a deep breath and step away from the story before we start arguing -- again -- until we're blue in the face. We've been here before. We've got better things to talk about, pennant races, challenge trades, whiny ballplayers and the violated corpse of the [Second] Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, for starters. Let's change the subject.

• • •

New blog on the block: Clifford's Big Red Blog, which according to the banner, "is neither big, red nor a blog." He might have added that it's not about the Big Red Machine, either. Cliff's a Yankees fan who's been suffering through their latest bullpen meltdowns. Check him out.

• • •

I've got a new outlet for my writing. I've become a contributing writer at a new website called Baseball Interactive, which has been signing up my blogging brethren left and right. BI is a slick-looking commercial site with scoreboards, standings, and a fair amount of content centered around team pages and commentary, and it now features such luminaries as Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants and Travis Nelson of Boy of Summer in featured roles. Basically, BI will be syndicating some of our pieces, providing us opportunity to reach more readers.

For those of you looking to break into the lucrative field of Internet baseball writing (average annual salary: $0.16), BI is offering opportunities for team beat reporters (including a Yankees correspondant) and other writers. Get a writing sample together and you're halfway there.

• • •

The New York Times has a sweet piece (written by Alan Schwarz of Baseball America) on the Milwaukee Brewers' two-way wonder, Brook Kieschnick, who I wrote about last month. Schwarz sees Kieschnick as a throwback and notes that the player's determination to find a spot for himself in the big leagues has inspired fans:
Kieschnick hasn't played the field yet but probably will before the year is out. Meanwhile, he has attracted a legion of fans who delight in his becoming baseball's Renaissance man. He is the host of a show on Major League Baseball's Internet radio station, Letter writers relate how they have been inspired to expand their horizons or accept more responsibility at work. "They don't even send me cards to sign," Kieschnick laughs. "They just want to tell me about their lives."
He has yet to play the infield in the bis, but this guy has to be the early favorite for the coveted Futility Infielder of the Year Award: as a pitcher, Kieschnick's lowered his ERA to 4.77, and he's now hit 5 homers to go with his 998 OPS. If there's a fan club, count me in.

Monday, August 11, 2003


A Perfect Pitch

When I was little, I loved to draw. My father brought home endless supplies of scrap paper from his office, the pulpy real estate with which I could build my dreams, or least decorate the refrigerator. I drew cars, planes, houses and colorful circus scenes. But once my interest in baseball was kindled, I had a new focus for my masterpieces.

I have a vivid memory of one such drawing done during the 1978 season, when my consciousness of the game advanced from a backyard amusement to a daily scouring of the box scores. In pencil, I drew a scene of a ballgame, and instead of rendering it horizontally or vertically, I ran a diagonal line from corner to corner and used that as my horizon. At the center was a pitching mound adorned with Dodger reliever Terry Forster. The portly portsider's ample gut protruded over his waistline, emphasizing the number 51 on the lower left corner of his jersey, while his hair curled out from behind his cap.

I don't remember the other details of the drawing as vividly. I'm sure the batter, catcher and umpire were present and accounted for, and that a scoreboard could be seen in the distance. At eight years old, I had no knowledge of perspective, so with my primitive hand it all must have been a mess. But at a time when I felt a need to express my growing passion for the game, drawing was my outlet for communicating that passion.

That impulse, that need to communicate one's love for the game by any means necessary, is a major part of a new exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball collects a wide variety of artwork and objects created by fans of all stripes, as well as an impressive collection of baseball-related curios. Viewers who come to this exhibit having seen the Hall of Fame's traveling Baseball as America roadshow (late of New York, L.A., and Chicago, opening next week in Cincinnati) will notice some crossover between the two -- a Civil War-era lithograph here, a colorful spinner game there -- but make no mistake, this show has different aims.

Folk art, to use curator Elizabeth V. Warren's definition, generally refers to "objects made by artists who were either self-taught... or were trained in a continuing cultural artistic tradition by other practitioners of the art." The pieces in The Perfect Game run the gamut from drawings, paintings, and photos to quilts, embroideries, castings, sculptures, carvings, even grass rollings (no, not that kind of grass; we're talking photos of the patterns rolled in the Fenway Park outfield). They've been chosen not for their value as masterpieces -- indeed, some of these are fairly crude -- or as memorabilia -- though some of them would fetch a pretty penny -- but for the way they express their connection to a shared heritage. Signage, arcade and carnival games, scorecards, weathervanes, and even a frieze from the original Yankee Stadium, not to mention plenty of bats and balls, are on hand to represent the vernacular culture from which such expressions drew.

One of the most prominent pieces of the exhibit is a 7' x7' quilt called "My Favorite Baseball Stars," created by Clara Schmitt Rothmeier, the daughter of a minor league ballplayer. (This photo of the quilt and the other photos I link to for this article were generously provided by Susan Flamm of the AFAM for the purposes of this review). Over a ten-year period from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties, Rothmeier drew pictures of her favorite players, traced them onto fabric, appliquéd and embroidered each one, then sent them to the players for their autographs. Once a panel was returned, she would add it to her quilt, embroidering the signature as well. Midway into the project, she added a border of cloth baseballs, each featuring another signature that she'd collected. The finished quilt contains forty-four panels and about three hundred autographed balls. There are some heavy hitters among those portrayed: Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Robin Roberts, Al Kaline, and a sleeveless Ted Kluszewski. Among the signed and embroidered balls are even more legends: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Jimmie Foxx, Frankie Frisch, Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, "Cool Papa" Bell, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax. Yeah, some of those guys could play ball.

Another favorite of mine is a series of nine embroidered portraits commemorating the 1963 World Champion New York Yankees. These portraits were done in 1993 by a prisoner named Ray Materson who was serving time for armed robbery. What's amazing is that the material Materson used to create these intricate full-color illustrations was unraveled sock and shoelace thread. Each portrait is 2.25" x 2.75", contains about 1,200 stitches per square inch, and took about 50 hours to complete. Shown here is the Mickey Mantle one.

The item which originally drew my attention to this exhibition was a baseball from a batch painted by a minor league umpire named George Sosnak. To commemorate occasions such as an All-Star Game, a no-hitter, a Hall of Fame induction, or another historical occasion, Sosnak painted balls with India ink, covering every inch of their surface. A Sosnak ball generally features a colorful illustration of a player or scene on one face, a box score or career stats on another face, and a text summary or even a Hall of Fame plaque on another face. These detailed balls -- occasionally game-used, but more likely painted on the cheapest balls available -- are unique little collectors items, and Sosnak is estimated to have done 800 of them. Among the ones in The Perfect Game are balls commemorating Hall of Fame slugger Mel Ott, the inaugural season of the New York Mets, the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers, the 500th and 501st home runs of Harmon Killebrew, Orlando Cepeda's 1967 MVP season, Dean Chance's short no-hitter, and the 1980 All-Star Game.

Not every item lives up to the lofty standards of these pieces, of course. A few seemed scarcely more skilled than my aforementioned drawing. But even the most primitive ones can evoke an emotional response. Among the numerous items paying homage to Jackie Robinson, a pair of paintings feature a misspelled "D-o-g-e-r-s" across the front of his jersey. Seeing this, I giggled momentarily, until I realized that these paintings were done by a septuagenarian named Sam Doyle who lived his entire life on a small South Carolina island that was once a refuge for freed slaves. In the face of Robinson's significance to a life like that, such trivial inaccuracies hardly matter.

The Doyle paintings weren't the only time I scolded myself for such a literal-minded response. Viewing a vivid painting by Ralph Fasanella called "Night Game—Yankee Stadium," I got hung up upon the incorrect, cookie-cutter-like outfield dimensions shown. Since when is the House That Ruth Built 350 feet down the rightfield line and 410 to center? Again, that's hardly the point of the painting, which contrasts the urban decay surrounding Yankee Stadium with the rich metropolis in the distance.

The determination of these artists to deliver their message by any means necesary is what carries the day here, not the precision of their details. If you're a fan living in New York City or planning to visit between now and February, you owe it to yourself to check out this exhibit.

• • •

Ugh, the less said about Sunday afternoon's Yankees-Mariners game, which I suffered through, the better. I'm well-versed on the epic nature of the slugfests between these two teams, but this four-hour, nine inning affair -- which featured an hour-long seventh inning and a four-man bullpen implosion on the part of the Yanks -- is too grisly to recount at length. Go read somebody else if you insist upon knowing more.

Saturday, August 09, 2003


You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

If you haven't had enough of the trade winds over the past couple of weeks, ESPN's Jayson Stark has a rundown on some of the players who cleared waivers since the July 31 deadline passed. Among them: the Angels' Darren Erstad and Adam Kennedy, the Rangers' Rafael Palmeiro, the Mariners' Freddy Garcia, the Expos' Livan Hernandez, the Cubs' Antonio Alfonseca, and the Yanks' Sterling Hitchcock. These players, by virtue of clearing waivers, can now be traded to anybody.

Stark runs down the waivers strategy, step by step, in a handy sidebar. The most interesting part is this: "Virtually every player in the major leagues will be placed on waivers this month, whether a team intends to trade that player or not. If nothing else, the sheer volume of names can at least disguise players whom clubs do want to sneak through so they can be dealt." So you can imagine, for example, the Yanks waiving Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano, and Derek Jeter alongside Armando Benitez, in an effort to sneak Benitez through. Had anybody claimed Giambi, for example, the Yanks would have pulled him back, ending any possiblity of trading him. Interesting stuff.

Speaking of Benitez, the Yanks won Round One of that trade on Friday night. Jeff Nelson, who struggled with some jitters in his first appearance on Thursday, blew away the M's in the eighth on Friday. With his frisbee slider working like it was 2000 all over again, he struck out the side -- Ichiro, Willie Bloomquist, and Bret Boone -- to protect an 8-7 lead in a wild, see-saw game. The 52,792 fans at Yankee Stadium roared to the familiar sight of Nelson pumping his fists at the end of the inning. Perfectly following the script, Benitez came out of the pen immediately after to pitch the Yankee eighth. Though Mondo looked loose -- even grinning a bit as the crowd booed his entry -- he demonstrated why the Yanks were wary of him as he yielded a run on two hits. That gave Mariano Rivera a bit of breathing room as he pitched the first scoreless ninth in his past four attempts. He even struck out Edgar Martinez, who'd owned him to the tune of .643/.706/1.286 in 16 previous plate appearances.

Coupled with the Red Sox dropping a doubleheader to the lowly Orioles, it was a great night to be a Yankee fan.

• • •

Speaking of winds blowing, former Yankee outfielder Raul Mondesi fired some parting shots at Joe Torre and the Yanks. According to Mondi, the Yanks didn't show him respect, showed favoritism to homegrown players (such as Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada), and showed bias against players from the Dominican Republic (such as himself and Alfonso Soriano).

Like most of Mondi's swings over the past three months, this was a complete whiff. Raul took issue with Soriano being moved up and down the lineup when he's been slumping while Giambi and Posada stayed put, hitting ahead of poor little Raul, who was stuck in the eighth slot for a good portion of the season. Never mind the fact that even during their slumps, those two players' ability to take a walk now and then kept their OPBs near their career marks and probably higher than Raul's. Never mind the fact that a huge chunk of the Yankees' success over the past several years is founded on Hispanic ballplayers such as Posada, Rivera, Bernie Williams, Ramiro Mendoza, Soriano, Orlando Hernandez, and others. Why would Torre have something against Dominicans and not Panamanians, Puerto Ricans or Cubans?

All in all, it's an amusingly uninformed tirade which reminds me of Ruben Sierra's comment on being traded during the '96 season ("All they care about is winning..."). The outburst illustrates exactly why Mondesi is not only a former Yankee, but a career underachiever in the major leagues.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003


Pinky's Back!

Call me a prophet. Last Friday, Seattle Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson ripped his team's front office for failing to make an impact trade before the July 31 deadline. Over the next couple of days, I emailed a few friends and then posted a comment over at Bronx Banter, asking: "Anybody else think that the next stop on Nellie's train is 161st St.?"

That street, for those of you who don't know, is the location of Yankee Stadium. Nelson toiled there for five years as a premier setup man, earning four World Series rings in the process before talking his way out of town. He signed a 3-year, $10.65 million contract with the Mariners (the team who traded him to the Bronx in 1995), and the Yanks have never adequately replaced him as their top righty setup man. They haven't won a World Series since then either. Hence "The Curse of Jeff Nelson."

On Wednesday the Yanks took a big step towards eradicating that curse, trading Armando Benitez to the M's for Nelson, one headache for another. Benitez, of course, was acquired by the Yanks from the Mets on June 16, and though his stat line is relatively tidy (1-1, 1.93 in 9.1 innings), he lost one game to the Red Sox, aided in another, and took Joe Torre's team on its share of bumpy rides. Torre clearly didn't trust Benitez, relieving him in mid-inning four times in nine games, three times calling on Rivera for four-out saves with some rocky results. In other words, the prized setup man actually increased the closer's work load. Is it any wonder Rivera's been struggling lately?

Now Torre will have a reliever he trusts almost as much as Mo. Nelson has earned that trust. In a twelve-year career split between the M's and the Yanks, Nelson has had an ERA better than the league average every single season, 39% better than the league for the course of his career coming into this year. He's struck out more than one batter per inning in every year except his rookie season. And postseason experience? Even better. Nellie's put up 47.1 innings in October with a 2.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts, and has been scored upon in only six out of 17 postseason series. This is a reliever built for October. He's put up a 3.35 ERA in 37.2 innings this season, striking out 47, but he's been lights out lately: twelve consecutive scoreless appearances, dating back to July 5. In that span he's pitched only 9.2 innings, but he's struck out 16 and walked only one. Talk about a weapon out of the bullpen.

My friends and I were giddy at the news of the trade. The thought of having the 6'8" Nellie coming out of the pen with that drop-down motion and that vicious slider had us swapping emails late this afternoon. "Pinky's back!" my pal Nick exclaimed, using our nickname for the flush the fair-skinned Nelson takes on in the heat of battle. Alex Belth was similarly elated. Here is what he wrote:
I was just thinking last night what an asshole Benitez is, and how difficult he is to root for. Nellie is an asshole, but he's our kind of asshole. Now at the very least the rest of the hacks in the pen look better: Orosco, and Hammonds throwing junk from the left side. And when Gabe White comes back they'll have a lefty with some pop. Add Osuna -- who is a dead ringer for the great New York character actor Luis Guzman -- and the soporific Cuban Contreras in the mix, and the Yankees bullpen is a likable motely crew. They could even be good enough to win a championship with.

...from karma point of view, it's like a breath of fresh air for the Yanks. (Fuck all the Mets fans who were waiting for us to suffer through Benitez in the post-season.)

What's suprising is that both players slipped through waivers. As I understand it, the transaction rules that govern this time of year require each player to pass through waivers, in which every team gets a crack at the player with the worst teams in the player's same league getting first dibs. The player claimed can then either be dealt to the team claiming him or withdrawn, closing the window on any trade opportunity for the season. For both Benitez and Nelson to have made it through means that the two teams chasing the M's and the Yanks, Oakland and Boston, respectively, passed up the opportunity to claim the player either as a means of aiding their own bullpens, or at the very least of blocking a trade to their rivals.

What's in this for the Mariners? Their regular closer, Kazuhiro Sasaki, has been on the DL since June 11 after fracturing two ribs and tearing an abdominal muscle when he fell carrying his luggage. Sasaki's reportedly ready to return, but he's expected to be eased back into the closer role. Shigetoshi Hasegawa has done an admirable job picking up the slack, but the M's felt they needed some "insurance" at closer, hence the trade. Warning: this guy carries his own baggage.

• • •

Julian Headley of Julien's Baseball Blog had a rather curt dismissal of former Yankee prospect Brandon Claussen as a non-prospect based on his low strikeout rate at AAA Columbus this season. I fired off an email to Julien looking to set the record straight. That letter, along with his response, is up at his site, so I won't rerun it here.

Some of the missed communication on Claussen centered around his Tommy John surgery. ESPN does a lousy job publicizing it, but their recent Outside the Lines episode on the surgery is definitely worth catching. The show featured the heavy hitters of the TJ world -- Dr. Frank Jobe, who invented the operation, Dr. James Andrews, who performs as many as seven a day now, and John himself, as well as recent recipients Jon Lieber and A.J. Burnett. The show explained the surgery in graphic detail (make sure you're not eating when you watch), Andrews noted that recovery rates are now around 95%, Jobe called for stronger pitch count monitoring of young pitchers and discussed the future possibility of growing new ulnar collateral ligaments in a lab from stem cells, John discussed his own famous surgery, and Burnett described his recent experience. Don't miss if you get the chance to watch this episode.

• • •

And now for something of the non-Yankee variety. The Dodgers have been struggling for runs all season, to no avail. On Sunday, with their offense last in the NL in runs, homers, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, they fired hitting coach Jack Clark. John Wiebe of John's Dodger Blog has an insightful take on the situation, laying a good portion of the blame on GM Dan Evans and his failure to upgrade the Dodger offense this past winter:
But who, outside of the team, really knows how much Clark could have done? The correlation between acquiring poor hitters and scoring very few runs is pretty high, suggesting that GM Dan Evans should probably have expected a crappy offense out of this team. Clark's preseason motorcycle accident didn't help matters any, and some have said that part of the problem this year was that Clark was physically unable to perform some of his duties.

... So Clark is the one who is dismissed, perhaps because Evans is starting to feel pressure on his own job, what with the pending ownership change. His influence on the team we may never know, but one thing that we do is that the team's offense slid nowhere but back during Clark's tenure. He probably won't get another shot in the big leagues as a batting coach, unless there is a GM or a manager out there who really thinks it wasn't his fault in LA.
Meanwhile that other excellent Dodger blog, Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts, has a tough look at the big contracts the Dodgers are saddled with for next season -- $72.4 million for 10 players, including $16 mil for Shawn Green, $15 mil for the always-fragile Kevin Brown, and $11 mil for ever-injured Darren Dreifort. Weisman runs through a couple scenarios for how the Dodgers can fill their lineup without breaking the bank. Let's just say the news is not so good for Dodger fans.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003


Underneath the Overrating

Wow, am I capable of delivering the whammy. On Sunday afternoon I was half-watching the late innings of a pitcher's duel between Andy Pettitte and Mark Mulder while reading a piece written for Bronx Banter by correspondant Christopher DeRosa called "Jeteronomy." I soon joined in a discussion of the piece, in which DeRosa evaluates the common claim that Jeter is overrated, over at Baseball Primer. Looking to make a point about Jeter's defense -- subpar no matter which sophisticated metric you use -- I was frantically typing a post and attempting to place some links within. In doing so, I bollixed the HTML so badly that I crashed the entire thread. Everything that was written is still there, but go ahead, just try to post something new. Ka-blooey! In all my years of posting at Primer, I've never had that happen. I once had a browser go haywire and send my post 11 straight times at five minute intervals, but that's a story for another day.

Here is part of what I had written before messing up the thread (note that the stats have been updated since then, changing the exact totals slightly):
Jeter seems to be back on track after his shoulder injury: .324/.396/.462. [Miguel] Tejada, on the other hand: .259/.312/.439.

This in-season Win Shares calculation has Jeter ranked 5th among AL shortstops overall despite having missed so much time. He's clustered with Tejada and Jose Valentin, only 0.51 WS out of third behind Nomar and A-Rod. Nearly all of that is based on his work with the stick; even with the missing six weeks he's third on offense (Nomar 15.03, A-Rod 11.59, Jeter 9.85 and then Tejada in 4th with 6.91).

As for D, on the other hand, Jeter gets handed his lunch: 1.54 win shares, well off the lead of Jose Valentin (5.53) and Miggy (4.99). Prorated to 1000 innings, it's 7.06 WS for Valentin, 5.46 for Tejada, 4.58 for A-Rod, 4.30 for Nomar, and Jeter waaaaaaaay down at 2.71 per 1000. Even Erick Almonte comes out to 2.93 per 1000 and Enrique Wilson 3.39.
I had started to write something snippy about Miguel Tejada, then thought better of it in the face of some data from DeRosa's piece, and retreated to providing links which were examples of Jeter-bashing on Primer. Shortly afterwards, Tejada got the game-winning hit off of Mariano Rivera, foiling Andy Pettitte's masterful 8-inning, 1-hit effort. When the shit hits the fan, it really hits the fan.

Memo from Above: don't even *think* evil thoughts about Miggy.

That DeRosa piece is well worth reading, whether you're a Yankee fan or a Yank-hater, and let's face it, you're either one or the other. Jeter is a lightning rod for emotion regarding the Yankees. The girlies shriek, the fanboys yell, "Count da ringz!" the media gushes that the captain deserves a Gold Glove, and the statheads cringe. Here is some of what DeRosa has to say:
I’d like talk a bit about Jeter’s rating, but first off, let me recognize that there are more than two positions in the debate. There are:

1. The people who think Jeter can do no wrong, possesses magical abilities, and is better than A-Rod.
2. The people who know A-Rod’s better, but still count Jeter among the elite.
3. The people who think Jeter’s good, while understanding that he’s a not a good fielder.
4. The people who think he’s first and foremost a lousy shortstop, but still a decent player in other ways.
5. The people who think Jeter sucks, resent that girls like him, and hate the Yankees.

Grouping the opinions of 2, 3, and 4 with those of 1 or 5 tends to emotionalize the issue, so let me state up front that though a fan of Jeter, I can see that most of his critics are just trying to evaluate a player as honestly as they can, and get irked when they think a player has an inflated reputation. My premise here is that a player can be praised up and down without really being overrated.

The opinion that Derek Jeter is overrated is common, and fast approaching Point Rudi, when the people convinced of a player’s under- or overrated-ness out-number the holders of the original perception. If you made an all star team of the players whose overrated-ness has upset the most people, Jeter would probably be in the starting line-up, along with Steve Garvey and Pete Rose (although I don’t know that he could move Phil Rizzuto off the shortstop position, what with his awful range and all).
DeRosa goes on to examine various sabermetric rating methods (including Win Shares 2000-2002, the data which gave me pause about Tejada) as well as some comparisons between other players past and present. His argument speaks to just about every faction in the debate, so if you find yourself in one of the aforementioned five categories, you owe it to yourself to read this. And if you don't find yourself in one of those five categories, what the hell are you doing reading this in the first place?

• • •

In the category of New Ways to Look at Stats is this post from Rich's Weekend Basebal BEAT. Rich Lederer takes a look at different ways to rank prolific home run hitters in relation to league home run rates. It shouldn't be a surprise to anybody except that petulant superstar in San Francisco that Babe Ruth tops every list, but some of the other names which float to the upper ranks will have you scurrying to or your favorite stat book.

• • •

The Bonds/Ruth issue is a bit old, so I shouldn't really get into it. But rereading what Barry said ("The only number I care about is Babe Ruth's. Because as a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out... In the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more.") three weeks ago still ticks me off. So I'll just rattle off a few fairly obvious points:

Bonds (.595) is still 95 points of slugging percentage behind the Babe (.690), and one year or two years or five of BB at his current level ain't gonna get him there even if he passes Ruth in total homers.

• Bonds would still need to rattle off something along the lines of a 94-46 record with a 122 ERA+ as a pitcher to approach the Babe's total contribution on the diamond in the regular season.

• Bonds would need to PITCH THE RED SOX TO A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (or two) before he could top the Babe as far as World Series feats go.

• When that happens (i.e., when Hell freezes over and I vote Republican), Bonds will still trail the Babe in the sheer weight of his total contribution to American culture. Where's Barry's home run for the dying kid, or his "Called Shot"? Who cares that he makes more than the President of the United States? Which enemy of ours will charge into battle telling American soldiers, "To Hell with Barry Bonds!"

If Bonds needs any further clarification on the topic, he can look at that organ pumping inside his chest and wonder whether it's Barry the fans won't take into their hearts, or the other way around.

• • •

Enough Bonds-hating from me. Another interesting Sunday thread on Baseball Primer brought Barry's father, Bobby Bonds, into a comparison with Reggie Jackson, with a poster named Tom stating, "I always say that Bobby Bonds was the same player as Reggie with lousy luck."

On the surface of it, comparing the two seems odd, because Reggie holds a considerable edge in total homers (563 to 332) and other career numbers, not to mention magazine covers and memorable quotes. But Bonds and Jackson are almost exactly the same age and debuted one year apart, naturals for comparison. In my quick assessment, I made a few points:

• Bobby's career line of .268/.353/.471 (130 OPS+) bears more than a passing resemblance to Jackson .262/.356/.490 (136 OPS+).

• Both had power, considerable speed (Reggie stole 228 in his career and reached double-digits 10 time), and a ton of strikeouts (Bobby holds the single season record, Reggie the career mark).

• Bonds hurt his hand, tripping on a turf seam in his first game as a Cub in 1981 (his final season). That's some pretty godawful luck. But he was 35 and had already been in serious decline (.203/.305/.316 the season before). Reggie had dismal seasons at 35 (.237/.330/.428) and 37 (.194/.290/.340) but rebounded both times, helping to push himself well over the 500 homer mark and into baseball immortality.

So there's a bit of sense to that argument. But I never got to see Bobby in his prime, and could probably count the number of times I saw him play on one hand. So I invited Primer's resident Giants fan (and Most Valuable Poster nominee) Steve Treder to weigh in. Steve rose to the occasion:
One need only look at how many times he was traded to suspect that Bonds was a player who didn't endear himself to management. Nobody was ready to give him a late-career break, as for instance the A's did with Jackson, bringing him back for a farewell season at age 41. Say what you will about Jackson's obnoxiousness, but teams (rightly or wrongly) perceived him as a harder worker, and a better role model for young players, than Bonds...

I think Bonds would have been better appreciated than he was if he hadn't come up with a team with an established superstar in center field, and thus been allowed to play (at least most of) his major league career as a center fielder... Good as he was, the Giants always seemed to be a bit unsatisfied with him; they wanted him to strike out less and hit .300, regardless of the fact that even with his flaws he was almost certainly the best leadoff man in baseball in 1969-74.
Coming up behind Willie Mays and needing to change positions, with management not able to appreciate your unique talents, still saddling you with the weight of expectations.. well, that's a bit of bad luck indeed. And so is the fact that Bonds is struggling with illness at age 57, suffering from lung cancer and having recently undergone open-heart surgery while Reggie gets another victory lap.

One more note on Bonds and Jackson. At Arizona spring training in 1986, I tried to get autographs of both. Bobby, then the Cleveland Indians hitting coach, dutifully signed. Reggie, still playing with the California Angels, brushed right past me and wouldn't sign. That was my bad luck when it came to these two.

Sunday, August 03, 2003


Clearing the Bases

Tons of stuff to get to today...

• Thursday was one of the most exhilirating and exhausting days I've had in the short history of this website. Having woken to a premature report about the Aaron Boone trade, I spend the better part of the day counting down the hours, hoping that the deal would unravel and swapping nervous emails and phone calls with friends. Confirmation of the deal at 3 PM EST (a mere hour before the deadline) sent me scurring back to rewrite the second of two pieces that day, combing the web and my own baseball library for info about the prospects involved.

Still hungering for baseball chat later that night, I stayed up late watching the Yanks play the Angels in Anaheim, chatting on Baseball Primer's Game Chatter. While the Yanks outlasted the Angels to win 2-1 in 10 innings, several other Yankees fans including fellow blogger Larry Mahnken kept me abreast of developments in the Red Sox-Rangers game. That contest couldn't have turned out better from this Yankee fan's vantage point. The Rangers outlasted Pedro Martinez, who threw 111 pitches in 6 innings. The Sox tied the game in the ninth while Byung-Hyun Kim held down the fort, exerting himself for three innings. Kim yielded to Todd Jones in the 11th, and the card-carrying homophobe surrendered a game-winning grand slam to Alex Rodriguez. Since then the Sox have lost two to the Orioles, running their streak to four in a row, and giving the Yanks a 4.5 game lead in the AL East standings. Now, what was it all those New Englanders were gloating about a few days ago?

• Back to the trading deadline, several people pointed out a few salient facts worth passing on. For one, Aaron Boone's already mediocre batting stats are propped up by a huge home-road split: 896 OPS at Great American Ballpark, 719 OPS on the road. Eeech. Also, according to this website which calculates in-season Win Shares (the Bill James metric which takes offensive and defensive contributions into account within the context of a team's performance) has departed third baseman Robin Ventura as a superior fielder by a wide margin. Ventura leads all major-league 3Bs with 3.5 defensive Win Shares and 5.45 per 1000 innings. Boone, on the other hand, is 8th in the NL with 2.1 defensive win shares and 3.1 per 1000 innings. That Win Shares site is awesome, by the way, and you can bet your propellor hat and slide rule that I'll be back with more on that topic soon.

On the other hand, sabermetrically speaking, it was also pointed out that in terms of Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average stat, Boone's lead over Ventura was pretty slim, a .272 EQA to .269 (.260 is league average). In Boone's defense, it's worth pointing out that Ventura's numbers have been protected by being platooned with Todd Zeile, whose EQA is an anemic .234. This includes time spent as a first baseman and DH, but BP doesn't separate the stat out.

One more area where Boone represents an upgrade is on the basepaths. He stole 32 bases in 40 attempts last season and was 15 for 18 this year. Ventura, on the other hand, was considered the slowest Yankee and had yet to attempt a steal this season. Typical of the humor which surrounded Ventura and made him such a critical clubhouse presence, some of the Yanks joked that for Robin, running was merely "walking with his head down." Though his bat may have been slowing, as a character, the witty Ventura (who requested 100 tickets for Elvis on the night of his trade to L.A.) will surely be missed around these parts.

Holy Homer, Batman! Robin Ventura's first hit as a Dodger was an inside-the-park homer. "Usually, someone has to go on the DL for me to get even a triple," said Ventura. According to the ESPN recap:
On a drive to the left-center gap, Darren Bragg jumped against the wall attempting a backhanded catch. The ball popped loose as he turned his glove and crashed into the padding. Sitting on the ground, Bragg snagged the ball with his bare hand before it struck the ground, holding it for the umpires to see.

But umpire Jeff Kellogg, running out from his position at second base, ruled that the ball had struck the wall. Bragg tried to flip the ball to left fielder Chipper Jones, but it sailed over his head. Ventura never stopped running, sliding across home before the Braves could retrieve the ball and throw home.

"That was a fall, not a slide," Ventura said with a smile.
I can't wait to see that one on SportsCenter.

• One of the considerations of the Boone deal was the status of a particular Yankee organization prosp... er, suspect: Drew Henson. Yankee GM Brian Cashman minced no words when it came to the quarterback-turned-third baseman: "The move on Aaron Boone speaks volumes on where Drew Henson is at this time."

Where Henson is, of course, is Columbus, Ohio, hitting .228/.287/.400 for the Yanks' AAA affiliate. He's shown power, of course, hitting 12 homers and driving in 58 runs, but his total strikeouts (97 in 390 at-bats) and 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, not to mention his 22 errors, pose doubts about his viability as a prospect. With Boone only arbitration-eligible after 2003 and open to the possibility of a long-term deal, the Yanks may effectively bury Henson's chances with the organization in an effort to free themselves of their backloaded commitment him. That comes to $12 million over the next three seasons ($2.2 mil in '04, $3.8 in '05, and $6.0 in '06)..

There's now plenty of speculation that Henson might shift careers. As one headline put it: "Henson's Next Position May Be Quarterback." His NFL rights are owned by the Houston Texans, who would likely deal him since they're set with a budding star, David Carr. And though Henson has stated that he only wants to play for the Yankees (a situation which led the Reds to trade him back tothe Yanks a couple of years ago after he was sent to Cincy in the Denny Neagle deal), agent Casey Close expects his client's baseball rights to be dealt as well: "He's a guy they're still paying $12 million to and wants to continue playing baseball. You'd think they would want to move him, rather than keep sending him to Columbus every year."

Close, who has also discussed the possiblity of a position switch for Henson, says that Columbus itself is a problem for him. From the New York Daily News:
"There are some of their high-ranking officials who think he'd be better off if they just brought him to the majors," Close said. "I don't think people realize how bad things are in Columbus. You know what's going on down there."

There has been turmoil at the Yanks' top farm club as manager Bucky Dent has clashed with player development officials. At one point, Steinbrenner gave Dent control of the club and tried to limit the role of Gordon Blakeley, the Yanks' VP of baseball operations, who oversees the minor leagues.

Blakeley has since said things have settled down, but Close maintains that Columbus has been a difficult place for Henson to play.

"People there haven't forgotten that he's a Michigan football player; there's still the whole thing about Ohio State-Michigan," Close said. "It's not the best nurturing environment for him. Getting out of Columbus would probably be the best thing for him."
Does Close thinks that the intense scrutiny of the tabloid media and the Bleacher Creatures in da Bronx will make for more nurturing environment for the disappointing Henson? As my dad used to say when I wanted him to cut me some slack when it came to baseball drills: "Don't hit 'em so hard, Reggie!"

• Speaking of Reggie Jackson, he can still stir things up. At a celebration honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1973 World Champion A's, Reggie told an Oakland crowd that the Yankees (his current employer) have the better team, drawing plenty of boos. Jackson pointed to the Yanks' superior grasp of baseball fundamentals, a point illustrated when a mental blunder by pitcher Barry Zito on a rundown play led to a throwing error and five unearned runs.

• Speaking of the '73 World Champions and their aftermath... The main holdup in the announcement of the Boone deal, it turns out, was commissioner Bud Selig's intervention. According to this Peter Gammons piece, Selig was concerned about the amount of money the Yanks planned to send the Reds. Initially, when the deal included both Boone and reliever Gabe White, the Yanks were sending Claussen and $3 million. But baseball has a long-standing rule that no more than $1 million cash may change hands in a deal, a rule that dates back to 1976, when Oakland A's owner Charley Finley held a fire sale to dismantle his three-time World Champions.

Finley's sell-off of Vida Blue to the Yankees, and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox was nullified by commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who invoked the "best interests of baseball" clause in baseball's working agreement (Hall of Fame curator Bruce Markusen has an excellent recap of that situation) and set a precedent which still stands. Selig was in the thick of that situation because as owner of the Brewers he was pursuing Oakland 3B Sal Bando. As Gammons reports:
"I was trying to get Sal Bando," said Selig. "Charlie Finley answered the phone, 'Finley's Meat Market.' He told me he wanted between $1 million and $1.5 million for Bando. I told him I'd give him prospects, that I had some good prospects.

"He told me, 'I don't want any prospects, what would I do with them?'," Selig recalled. "I tried to suggest that he needed players to put on the field, and he told me to forget it."
Selig's bud-in (with the cooperation of his lieutenant, Sandy Alderson) resulted in the brokering of two smaller deals: the Boone one, which included prospect Charlie Manning, and $1 mil, and the White one, which was for $400,000 and the PTBNL.

• Former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette has found a new line of work, at least for the time being. The Duq is playing manager Benny Van Buren of the Washington Senators in a community theater production of the musical "Damn Yankees." The production is being performed at a ballpark which should be familiar to readers of this column: Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the same ballpark that Jim Bouton made his pitch to save in Foul Ball.

That park is now occupied by the Berkshire Black Bears of the Northeast League, and one of the team's minority owners, Jenny Hersch, is a theater buff who hit on the idea as a fundraiser to restore Pittsfield's colonial theater. The Sox GM became an obvious choice for Hersch: "The only missing ingredient was a real baseball guy to be in the show," Hersch told the New York Times. "Dan Duquette made perfect sense. I knew he was out of work and returning to his native land, so I knew he'd be around and maybe available." Sez the Duq "If George Steinbrenner can get in a conga line with Derek Jeter, why can't I do this?"

No word on whether Bouton, a former Yankee, plans to attend the show.

• I've had a soft spot for the Milwaukee Brewers which dates back in the late '70s and early '80s, particularly for the '82 pennant-winning "Harvey's Wallbangers." No player epitomized the Brew Crew more than their shaggy, unkempt, beer-guzzling slugger, Stormin' Gorman Thomas, who hit 175 homers for them from 1978-1982. A blue-collar superstar in a blue-collar town, Thomas was always a fan favorite; as he put it in Daniel Okrent's classic dissection, Nine Innings: "They come to see me strike out, hit a home run, or run into a fence. I try to accomodate them at least one way every game."

Along with Willie Randolph, Thomas just became an inaugural inductee into the Charleston (Ohio) Baseball Hall of Fame. The Charleston Post and Courier checks in with the swaggering slugger, who's still hacking away... on the golf course. The best line from the piece is this description of Thomas from one of his friends: ""big, loud and thirsty." Thomas lives in the Milwaukee area and remains connected to the club, signing autographs on a regular basis and lending his name to a Miller Park grill, Gorman's Corner.

On the subject of Thomas and the Brew Crew, bard of baseball Roger Angell had this to say in a lengthy interview with a literary website called Identity Theory:
[Like] The 1982 Brewers, there is a chapter in the book [Game Time] called "Blue Collar." This was really the last blue collar team that played in a industrial town and was blue collar itself, Gorman Thomas, Paul Molitor and a lot of other people of that ilk. And the manager Harvey Kuenn lived in the back of a restaurant, Cesar's Inn. It was bar, a tavern and a lot of the players would come back and work behind the bar after a game. And that feeling about that team was deeply, deeply, that old feeling that these guys represent us and that, with a little luck, I could be doing this. Which we don't think any more about athletes. The greatest change of all is that athletes are beyond us.
Heavy stuff, but well worth your time.

• It's been a long time since I checked in with Only Baseball Matters' John Perricone. That probably has to do with the fact that I can't bear to read about how far ahead of the Dodgers the Giants are in the NL West. But since John asked, and since the Giants have lost four out of five, I'll mention that John has a new URL ( and is now powering his blog via Movable Type. In a recent post John notes that new acquisition Sidney Ponson bears more than a passing resemblance to a departed Giant:
Ponson reminds me of another out of shape pitcher, Livan Hernandez. Actually, I'd say he's a lot like Livan, groundball pitcher, team wants him to drop a few pounds, if he keeps the ball down he's terrific.... The only significant difference is that Ponson's looking for 10 million per in his new deal, so this trade just might be a rent a pitcher for a ring type of deal, and if it works, great. If he's gone after this season and the Giants watch the World Series on TV, well, then you've essentially traded Russ and Kurt [Ainsworth, swapped in the Ponson dea for nothing. That's two young pitchers for nada, not the way to handle your franchise.
"Russ" is Russ Ortiz, now a Brave in a trade for Damian Moss. "Kurt" is Kurt Ainsworth, who along with Moss was sent to the Orioles for Ponson. The Aruban Knight has been a league-average inning-eater for the lousy O's for a long time, but this season has seen him turn a corner, going 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA. It will certainly be interesting to see if Sir Sidney can keep up that pace.

• Damn, I could do this all day.


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