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.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Land of the Late Rising Son of a ... Part II
Okay, so that didn't go quite as planned. Mere hours after bragging about my TiVo in this space I was mildly cursing it. In a situation that seems to be related to YES sharing its Time Warner Cable slot with wee-hours paid programming, my recorder had a little braincramp and botched taping the 5 AM live feed of the Yanks' opening game from Japan. No matter, since an encore presentation was slated to air again at 9, slightly edited (they disappeared the fifth) to fit into a shorter time window. But that wasn't all that went awry.
In their much-hyped opener, the Yanks -- despite the smart deicsion to wear the traditional pinstripes for a road game, a first in their storied history -- looked flat and got knocked around, losing 8-3 to a team whose lunch money they've been stealing for five straight seasons. They got out to an early 2-0 lead as Jason Giambi homered on his first swing of the regular season. But starter Mike Mussina, one of the more vocal critics of this road trip
apparently forgot to bring his A-game to Japan, and the Goddamn Drinking Bird -- Mussina's unsightly stretch move -- made its first appearance of the season in the second inning. As Will Carroll observed elsewhere
, his mechanics were definitely off, and his attitude towards the trip turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy
. In the fourth, he walked two batters and gave up a game-tying single to Toby Hall.
The Yanks retook the lead on doubles by A-Rod and Gary Sheffield, the latter a check-swing job that reminded me the guy might have the quickest wrists in the majors, departed Alfonso Soriano be damned -- put some duct-tape over his mouth and he's going to be great in pinstripes. But they couldn't take better advantage of Rays starter Victor Zambrano's inability to throw strikes (only 56 out of 117 pitches), drawing only one walk of him and three overall.
Not that Mussina (54/108) was much better. Moose really got roughed up in the sixth, allowing a homer to Jose Cruz, Jr. (his 19th career shot against the Yanks) and then three straight doubles to Tino Martinez, Julio Lugo, and Hall. Paul Quantrill came on and got out of the inning with a mere three pitches, but in the next inning he apparently got a bruise from a mild collision with Alex Rodgriuez as he tried to field a bunt and departed. Felix Heredia came on in relief and was disastrous, making a two-base throwing error on a pickoff attempt before he'd thrown a pitch and then allowing an RBI single to Aubrey Huff and a two-run, stick-it-where-the-sun-don't-shine homer from Tino to cap the scoring at 8-3 Rays. Ony 16 of Heredia's 38 pitches went for strikes. Feh.
the Yanks 3-4-5 hitters, Rodriguez-Giambi-Sheffied, were 5-for-10 with three doubles, a homer, 11 total bases and two walks -- that'll work. The bagels, from David's on 1st Avenue and 13th St. were awesome.
The Devil Rays were 13-for-29 on balls in play, a neat .448 average, meaning the Yanks' Defensive (in)Efficiency Ratio was .552, which won't cut it above tee-ball. The left side of the infield looked no less porous with A-Rod on the hot corner. Yankee fans should thank their local diety they don't play on turf 81 times a year.
My gut reaction to Quantrill's injury was that "it's minor" will become a "precautionary" 15-day vacation. Hellooooo Scott Proctor. If Heredia keeps this up the Yanks will be looking for another lefty reliever before Memorial Day.
It's only one game, but one wonders whether Steinbrenner's thought about firing a coach yet, just to stir things up. Don Mattingly better mind those sideburns.
I'll be up early to watch tomorrow's ballgame, hoping things go better on the second day than they did on the first...
Land of the Late Rising Son of a ...
For somebody who generally doesn't watch a lot of television, my Sunday in front of the tube was epic. I caught both thrilling NCAA Tournament games (though the Kansas result shredded my bracket), then turned to this week's offerings of The Simpsons
, Arrested Development
, The Sopranos
, and South Park
, many of those thanks to the magic of my personal digital video recorder ("Any television that doesn't have TiVo is broken."
-- Jay Jaffe, product shill). Mind you I wasn't sedentary the entire time, managing to help with a handful of projects around the house, some of which even involved power tools, and enough of which involved hauling out bags of trash to keep the illusion of a productive Sunday around the apartment. Just before I settled into my weekly meal of mobsters, I realized that the Yanks final Japanese exhibition game was on TV as well. As easily as 1-2-3, I had one more TiVoed program to consume before bedtime. Ain't technology grand?
I'd missed the Yanks' first game in Japan, Saturday night's marquee affair
against Hideki Matsui's former team, the Yomiuri Giants. This considerably more anticlimactic game featured the Yanks squaring off against the Hanshin Tigers. Joe Torre's lineup made reference to the Opening Day one he has already announced, yet kept the fact that this was an exhibition in mind. Derek Jeter was the leadoff hitter, as he will be when the season opens, while Kenny Lofton
, who's had a cold spring (.174 BA) batted ninth. Matsui, who'd batted cleanup and homered the night before, was in the #2 slot, ahead of what may be the most devastating trio in baseball, Alex Rodriguez-Jason Giambi-Gary Sheffield. Jorge Posada served as the DH, while John Flaherty caught, Miguel Cairo started at second base, and Donovan Osborne, fighting for a temporary spot as the fifth starter while Jon Lieber's groin heals, took the mound.
The results were ugly. Osborne was rocked for seven runs in the second inning, mostly on singles, while his main competition for the auxiliary starter role, Jorge De Paula (magnificent in his one start
last fall), pitched well, allowing one run in three innings. Down 7-1, the Yanks clawed their way back into the game, as Flaherty clubbed a two-run homer and Tony Clark bashed a 492-foot shot off of the Mitsubishi Humongovision (or whatever), which made the score 7-5 and reportedly caused $5,000 worth of damage. But former San Diego Padre George Arias slugged a three-run homer for the Tigers in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach.
The Yankee regulars had departed by that point, replaced by several scrubs still fighting for roster spots. Darren Bragg may have sealed his fate by misplaying a deep fly ball into an inside-the-park homer, though he later threw a runner out at the plate. Joe Girardi, who will move upstairs to the YES broadcast booth, made what is likely his final professional appearance as a player, catching the last few innings. Fittingly, he popped out in his final at-bat. Later I went back to watch the Bragg-to-Girardi play at the plate; the slow-motion revealed an absolutely letter-perfect block of the plate by Girardi, his left leg totally preventing any chance the Hanshin runner had of scoring as the ball arrived. I'll let that stand as my final memory of a fine defense-first catcher.
After the game, the roster moves were announced: Bragg and Homer Bush were farmed out to Columbus after the game, meaning that Bubba Crosby, acquired from the Dodgers in the Robin Ventura trade, has made the team
after an impressive spring
in which he hit .385. The other player acquired in the Ventura trade, promising triple-digit throwing reliever Scott Proctor, had a decent spring but will begin the season in AAA, while both De Paula and Osborne will remain with the Yanks. This won't last long -- if Osborne, who's pitched in 45.1 major league innings since 1998, is a true starter, I'm a Siberian yak herder.
Michael Kay and Ken Singleton pointed out early in the game that the Yankee pitchers threw a regulation AL baseball made of cowhide, while the Japanese hurlers threw a regulation Japanese ball, made of horsehide and thus tackier and easier to throw breaking pitches with. I did not know that...
The Yanks are in a strange spot now, and I don't just mean Tokyo. They play two games there against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, including Tuesday's opener, which starts at 5 AM Eastern time, then return to the states to play a pair of exhibition games against the Detroit Tigers before the season resumes. Tuesday's early morning start time is a topic of much discussion
among writers and fans, of course. Many hearty souls will brag about getting up early to watch; Baseball Prospectus/YES columnist Steven Goldman's even hosting a chat at that ungodly hour
[oops, that would be 5 AM Wednesday
Me, I've got my TiVo, which means the game will be waiting when I arise fully rested at 8 AM. The coffee will be brewed before I get out of bed, my trusty manservent will have fetched me the freshest bagels to be found in all of Manhattan, and I'll be none the wiser as to the results of my time-shifted of the ballgame, save the ability to zap through commercials at lightning speed. Ah, what a magical age we live in...
Monday, March 29, 2004
Almost exactly a year ago, Michael Lewis set the baseball world on its ear with a New York Times Magazine
article excerpting his forthcoming book, Moneyball
. This weekend, Lewis returns to the mag with a different kind of article
, one having absolutely nothing to do with Billy Beane or sabermetrics (though the Oakland A's play a small part). It's the story of Lewis' legendary New Orleans high school baseball coach, Billy Fitzgerald, a man the author describes as "born to drill holes into thick skulls and shout through them."
Lewis paints a nuanced portrait of an intense man at a strange crossroads in his career. So revered by his former players that they've raised enough money to name Isidore Newman School's gym in his honor, Fitz is nevertheless under siege from the parents of his contemporary charges. The private Newman School has been full of affluent kids since Lewis' days -- " I'm not sure how many of us thought we'd hit a triple, but quite a few had been born on third base," he writes -- but the current ones find themselves increasingly protected by their tuition-paying parents, who feel that the crusty coach's methods are too harsh for their priveleged tykes.
Drawing upon his own adolecent experience, Lewis goes back to relive his rite-of-passage moment with the coach, which came when he, as a doughy adolescent who "resembled a scoop of vanilla ice cream with four pickup sticks jutting out" was summoned to emergency relief duty in a Babe Ruth League championship ballgame. I won't spoil the payoff, but suffice it to say that emboldened by Coach Fitz's confidence, Lewis becomes a varsity athlete and comes to view his mentor with respect and awe.
The author catches up with other Newman alums who hold the coach in similarly high esteem, including Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. He delves further into the coach's methods, finding a sophisticated, literate, adaptable man beneath the bluster, one with a method to his seeming madness:
Not how to win, though winning was wonderful. Not even how to sacrifice. He was teaching us something far more important: how to cope with the two greatest enemies of a well-lived life, fear and failure. To make the lesson stick, he made sure we encountered enough of both.
Against this Lewis draws a contrast between Fitz's old-school ways -- which have placed his job in jeopardy -- and the school's current culture, including a crop of players with whom the coach is increasingly out of step. A week after the writer visits, Fitzgerald has so many players under suspension for an alcohol-related incident that he can't even field a team. But despite the obstacles, the coach keeps attempting to instill hard lessons in his players.
While it might sound a bit like Fitzgerald was pulled from central casting, rest assured that Lewis considerably fleshes out this would-be stock character. If those of you who already knew much of the stat-heady history detailed in Moneyball
learned anything from the book, it's that Lewis is one hell of a storyteller. This one is well worth your time.
Friday, March 26, 2004
Tales from the Autodraft
For most of us in the baseball website racket, keeping at fantasy team or two is as much obligation as hobby -- you've got to have one to wear the corporate colors, after all. But using one's fantasy team as fodder for a column is just too damn easy; it makes those occasional bullet-point extravaganzas seem downright scholarly by comparison. Would that I could properly attribute the Baseball Prospectus author who offered the blogging world sage advice a couple years back when he said words to the effect of, "No one wants to hear about your fantasy team." He was absolutely correct, and I've tried to follow that wisdom.
Still, there are times when it's necessary to write something on the topic, and so today, that's what I'm selling, mainly to marvel at my own... luck? skill? I'm not sure which. You see, on Thursday night, the bloggers/writers league I'm in drafted, but I had other plans -- attending a Baseball Prospectus Bookstore Pizza Feed in Brooklyn which featured an all-star cast of writers: Steven Goldman, Doug Pappas, Dayn Perry, Joe Sheehan, and Nate Silver. At their request, through my Big Apple Baseballists
group I had organized an afterparty of sorts at a local watering hole. As with most pastimes, I'll take the real-world elbow-bending with my cohorts over the computerized interaction any day. The afterparty was a big hit; in addition to all aforementioned BPers save Pappas, bloggers Alex Belth
, Alex Ciepley (who is joining
Christian Ruzich's Cub Reporter), Cliff Corcoran
, Tom Gorman
, and Derek Jacques
turned out, as did Josh Orenstein of the New York Mets ticket office and a few other folks. Good times, heady chatter, and strong drink were had by all.
Back to the fantasy stuff... with no shortage of bitching and moaning, I resigned myself to autodrafting, which in a live draft league placed me at what I expected was a disadvantage comparable to the pasty new punk in his first prison shower. I wouldn't have kvetched so loudly except that I'm in this league to smack-talk with two old college pals who stick out like sore thumbs -- there's really no politeness involved as we taunt each other publicly and privately. One of them is even calling his team "Jaffe's Big Stinky." With friends like that one best not bring a knife to the gunfight, hence my disgruntlement.
Compounding all of this was the fact that I really didn't put much research into my pre-rankings, going with the always-shaky IGWT (In Gut We Trust) method of ordering some 250 players rather than consulting a spreadsheet or a guide or paying one red cent in pursuit of such advice. I've found that too many folks tend to overthink this stuff, and that if you just go with basic guiding sabermetric principles -- power, good OBP, high K rate -- you get about 90 percent of the work done in about 5 percent of the time, leaving plenty of hours to pound the Old Speckled Hen
Prepared for the worst -- "seventh place here I come," I told a friend -- I awoke to find myself with a team that surpassed my expectations. And then some:
C: Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: D'Angelo Jiminez
3B: Mike Lowell
SS: Angel Berroa
CI: Eric Hinske
MI: Jose Valentin
OF: Barry Bonds
OF: Manny Ramirez
OF: Magglio Ordonez
Util/Bench: Andruw Jones, Carl Everett, Ryan Klesko, John Olerud, Ramon Hernandez
SP: Kevin Brown, Kevin Millwood, Johan Santana, Tim Wakefield, C.C. Sabathia
RP: Billy Wagner, Tom Gordon, LaTroy Hawkins
Okay, I'm a little short on speed (a perpetual problem of my teams), and unless Hawkins supplants Joe Borowski I'll be thin on saves, and both Olerud and Klesko have seen better days. But that's one motherscratcher of an outfield even if I trade a big gun for a pitching upgrade. Last year this crew hit 401 homers and drove in 1309 runs -- roughly 27/82 a man. Cowabunga! Though none of the pitchers won more than 14 games, none had an ERA higher than 4.09 or a WHIP higher than 1.30 either. This is a pretty fair crew, and there's no blaming it on the autodraft. The idiot who brushes my teeth is in charge of this team from here onward.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The big news in New York today is that the Yankees have signed Mariano Rivera
to a two-year, $21-million contract extension, with a vesting option for the third year based on games finished. It's sick money to be sure, especially for a reliever who has averaged only 68 regular-season innings a year over the past seven seasons. But don't forget that those have been some pretty incredible innings -- Rivera's ERA is 86 percent better than the park-adjusted league average for his career, 2.49 vs. 4.63, and if you throw out his rookie season, when he started 10 games, it's an eye-popping 2.15, 116% better than the park-adjusted league average (in other words, an ERA+ of 216).
None of that is even counting the postseason, where Rivera has been even better: a 0.75 ERA in 96 innings to go with his 7-1 record and 30 saves. Yes, you can point to the gopher ball he yielded to Sandy Alomar in 1997 or the broken-bat bloop Luis Gonzalez eked out in 2001 as evidence that he's fallible, but there isn't a single Yankee or Yankee fan from here to Sedna
who would hold those two mishaps against him or who wouldn't tell you that he's worth every single penny of that contract. The confidence that the Yanks have when Rivera is on the mound is worth its weight in golden World Series rings, and collectively, they've got a pile of them to show for the brilliant work that he's done.
Is Rivera a Hall of Famer? The New York Times
article linked above, along with most talking heads, would seem to think sot. But we know that the Hall is especially stingy when it comes to relievers, with the newly-elected Dennis Eckersley just the third to go in behind Hoyt Wilhelm (a great choice) and Rollie Fingers (a mediocre one). With stalwart firemen such as Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Lee Smith stymied, it's certainly a fair question to ask whether Rivera is more deserving than these men.
Back in January, I attempted to answer
the question of whether the aforementioned trio, all of whom are still on the Hall of Fame ballot, are deserving of enshrinement. As with the hitters, I used Baseball Prospectus's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP3) to create a system which attempted to define the Hall's standards for pitchers by looking at a weighting of their career WARP3 totals, and their five-consecutive-season peak. Here are the aforementioned pitchers and Rivera, along with the stats for the average Hall starting pitcher:
PRAA PRAR WARP3 PEAK WPWT
Eckersley 277 1128 115.3 36.3 75.8
Wilhelm 269 888 91.2 30.7 61.0
Gossage 238 757 80.8 34.1 57.5
Fingers 165 692 74.2 31.1 52.7
Smith 229 664 71.9 29.8 50.9
Rivera 224 469 54.4 35.2 44.8
Sutter 148 471 50.6 28.0 39.3
AVG HOF SP 239 1002 97.0 44.9 70.9
PRAA and PRAR are pitching runs Above Average and Above Replacement. WARP3 is the career total, PEAK is the five-season total, and WPWT is my god-awful acronym for WARP3 Weighted Total (JAffe WARP Score -- JAWS? In my weaker moments, I've thought about it). From the looks of the chart, the relievers totals for PRAA are in line with their starting brethren, but their totals for PRAR are well short. The problem, as you should be able to guess, is that even the best relievers don't have nearly the innings to measure up to the starters.
But does that mean we should ignore them entirely when it comes to the Hall? I'm uncomfortable with that conclusion. There's a body of research done by a man named Tangotiger which has shown, using play-by-play data and something called a Win Expectancy Matrix
, that good relievers have a quantifiably greater effect on the outcome of a ballgame. Tangotiger's research suggests that the results of the plate appearances against relievers are magnified by some factor
, which he called the Leverage Index. A starting pitcher will have a Leverage Index very near 1.0, but an ace reliever might have one approaching 2.0, meaning that the batters he faced were twice as important to the outcome of a ballgame.
the implications of multiplying the components of a reliever's stat line by his Leverage Index and then comparing him to a starting pitcher in an attempt to determine Hallworthiness. In my BP article, I suggested doing something similar but not quite as drastic, applying a Leverage Index of 1.43 to the reliever's WARP3 line (for what it's worth, the top relievers on the ballot had LI's between 1.7 and 1.9, but we don't have PBP data prior to the Retrosheet Era). That's the equivalent of drawing a baseline at 70% of a Hall of Fame starter's value -- a reasonable assumption. Keeping things in the realm of my WARP3 system, here's what the reliever's standard would look like:
WARP3 PEAK WPWT
AVG HOF SP 97.0 44.9 70.9
70% STD RP 67.9 31.4 49.7
Looking back at the chart above with this in mind, Rivera has the highest peak of any pitcher except Eckersley, who compiled those numbers as a starter early in his career. He's well short on career value both among those pitchers and using that 70% standard. Of course, he's not done pitching yet. In a best-case scenario, Rivera can add about 7 Wins Above Replacement per year to his total -- his high is 7.8 and his average from 1996 on is 6.6. Add 20 WARP3 to that career total over the life of his contract (assuming vesting) and he's a hair ahead of Fingers on career total and about 4 wins on peak, coming in at about 5.0 WPWT over the 70% standard.
All of this is without considering the man's postseason accomplishments, of course. Just eyeballing it, we could say that those 96 innings constitute about 1.4 seasons given Rivera's post-'95 68-inning average. If his ERA were the same, we could perhaps justify adding 6.6 (WARP3/year) * 1.4 (years) = 9.2 WARP3 to his total. But his ERA in that span is roughly 1/3 of his already-microscopic 2.15 ERA since '96. Though BP's system is something of a black box, it's not so much of one for me to know that we shouldn't just triple his WARP3 total for that span -- there's the impact of fielding to consider, among other things. So instead I'm going to feel around in the dark for an answer that seems reasonable.
Turning our attention to Eric Gagne for a moment, the Dodgers' similarly unhittable closer posted a 1.20 ERA last year in 82 innings, for a WARP3 of 8.2, a neat ratio of 0.1 WARP3 per inning pitched at that extreme level of performance. Giving Rivera the same credit would yield 9.6 WARP3 if his ERA were the same. Upping the ante by multiplying that figure by 1.6 (Gagne's 1.20 ERA divided by Rivera's 0.75 ERA) we get 15.4 WARP3 -- the equivalent of two typically brilliant Rivera seasons right there, a number that feels pretty solid given my initial estimate above. That would give Rivera a line of 69.8/35.2/52.5 -- just about even with Fingers on the weighted score, and over the 70% standard shown above.
Note that if we go back and use Rivera's post-'95 numbers to do a similar calculation we get 0.09 WARP3 per inning pitched, and a multiplication factor (ERA ratio) of 2.87 -- a calculation that would yield 24.8 WARP3, the equivalent of three Gagne '03 seasons. If we simply use all of Rivera's career in WARP3 and innings we get 0.084 WARP3/IP and an ERA ratio of 3.3, which gives us 26.8 WARP3, a number even more inflated. In terms of a reasonable answer, the truck is rolling backwards down the hill, away from the two previous estimates. I can't justify that much postseason credit, so I'm going to stick with the second estimate above, the Gagne one, as his level of performance more closely resemble's Mo's.
Of course we'd have to go back and dish out postseason points for ALL of the pitchers in the Hall based on this, a project I don't think is merited based on how quick and dirty my method is. Fingers himself has a 2.35 ERA in 57.1 postseason innings including three World Championships, Eckersley a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings, Gossage 2.87 in 31.1, Sutter a 3.00 in 12 innings, Smith an 8.44 in 5.1 innings, and Wilhelm 2.1 scoreless frames. Choosing Rivera's closest competitor, if I apply Fingers' career rate of WARP3/IP and then multiply it by his ERA ratio, I get about 3.1 WARP3, a number which is probably way too low since I'm not tossing out his inferior innings split between starting and relieving the way I did for Rivera in my initial calculations.
Suffice it to say, however, that the run impact of Mo's postseason work is probably already enough to put him in the Hall of Fame picture, and with a couple more seasons of good pitching he's going to look even better -- even without considering the "intangible" value of the jewelry which has helped borderline candidates into the Hall. For all of that, Rivera is 34 and has been vulnerable to injuries the past couple years, making four trips to the DL in that time. Three more seasons at this level of excellence is anything but a given. But if the Yanks continue to baby him during the regular season in order both to protect their considerable investment and to make sure he's ready for the fall, Rivera may well reach the numbers I've set out above and find his place in Cooperstown. It would be only fitting if Gossage -- the best non-Hall of Fame reliever there is -- were there as well, but that's a story for another day.
Monday, March 22, 2004
I've had interviews on the brain for the past few months -- verbal ones, written ones, for business and for pleasure. Earlier this winter, I had the opportunity to appear twice on Baseball Prospectus Radio
-- the first to discuss my BP articles
on the Hall of Fame, the second as part of a Yankee roundtable
-- answering questions by phone from host Will Carroll for recorded segments which would air later that week. Later in February, I was queried twice in connection with this website, both times in written form -- once for Rich Lederer's Weekend Baseball Beat
site, and once for a Westchester Journal News feature
-- enjoyable experiences in which I had the opportunity to craft thoughtful responses to questions about this site, its history, and my passion for writing about baseball.
Earlier this month, I went on a pair of job interviews, selling my skills to a potential employer and discussing my design portfolio and related experience at length. Unlike the written interviews, when I was entirely in control of my responses and their pace, in the job interview, like the BPR segments, I was Johnny on the spot, answering complex questions in real time. The BPR segments, of course, were discussions among friends, with a safety net present if need be, whereas the job interviews found me at the mercy of a panel scrutinizing my record, my responses, and my body language. In both types of live interviews, I was subject to nervousness, adrenaline flows, and the need to process the questions rapidly while subtly gauging the intent of the interviewer.
Interviews, of course, are a building block for writing, whether it's for an article in a newspaper informed by a few relevant quotes or an in-depth grilling like the ones Alex Belth so masterfully does
with his subjects on Bronx Banter
. In both cases what you usually end up reading is only the tip of the iceberg. It's fraction of what the interviewee said, often ironed a bit to remove the um's and uh's, the false starts which can invade impromptu speech, especially when one is conscious that they're "on the record." And it's a fraction of both the preperatory work the interviewer has done, reading the subject's book or doing other background research, and of the grunt work transcribing what was said and editing it down to a succinct and compelling representation of the conversation.
For all of these interviews swirling around me, until Sunday, I had yet to perform one in the service of my baseball writing. Not that I hadn't done any before -- back in my long-haired, early '90s career as a so-called rock journalist (an oxymoron about as accurate as "military intelligence" or "virgin whore"), I did loads of them with a variety of bands ranging from Providence locals like Six Finger Satellite
to members of nationally prominent indie-rock bands such as Soul Asylum, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, King Missile, and the Jesus Lizard. Hours of work at the front and back end go into something which ultimately might take five or fifteen minutes to read, and the physical and emotional rollercoaster of doing them while trying to balance earnest enthusiasm with professional cool can be taxing.
So last night I had a great hour-long phone conversation with a minor-league pitcher who's got a unique back story, one you'll soon get to read about, whether it's here or at another baseball site (I'm trying to avoid jinxing anything). Getting to the point of doing the interview was something of a fiasco, however. Because I started with neither a phone number nor an email address, it took over three weeks from the time I floated a thought balloon on a public website to actually taping a conversation. I spent a good portion of this past weekend preparing, rereading a relevant chapter in a book, chasing down statistics, quotations, and other facts on the web, and hammering it all into a series of questions which in the end only served as a general outline for our discussion.
Along the way, I had solve what I thought was a big problem when it came to recording. I spent hours running around Manhattan's Union Square trying to cobble together a low-cost, low-fi solution rather than shelling out over $100 for professional-grade equipment. Already the owner of two microcassette recorders (one bought frantically last summer while visiting Salt Lake City when my 91-year-old grandmother decided she was ready to talk about her family's history and their capture by the Nazis), I discovered that neither had a microphone jack, and on top of that, I didn't have a way to get a line feed out of either my fancy digital phone or my cheapo handset. Fifty dollars and two hours later, I had resignedly purchased a third
microcassette recorder, this one with a mic jack but otherwise identical to my last-purchased one, and a funny-looking doodad which I was told would solve all of my line problems. I got home and opened both packages, only to discover that the two items were incompatible with each other and ultimately with either phone. Pigeons fled their stoops in terror, mothers covered their babies' ears, and plants wilted at the sound of my curse words.
Fortunately my pal Nick talked me through my mini(plug) crisis. "You can do speakerphone, right?" he asked, "So why not just put the recorder [which has a built-in condenser mic] right up to the speaker?" Um, because that would be too easy? We tried it; lo and behold, problem solved. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most elusive.
I still spent a good portion of the interview carefully eying the recorder as we chatted, hoping that the moment of flipping the tape wouldn't cut off an answer or interrupt our momentum. When the conversation finally ended, I immediately checked the tape, praying that I'd gotten it all down at a usable sound level. Hearing both voices coming through loud and clear, I did a celebration reminicsent of Jorge Posada's Game Seven-tying bloop double off of Pedro Martinez, bouncing around the exact spot in my tiny living room where I had viewed that memorable hit.
My point in relating this entire story is that my appreciation for interviews has been renewed. I pointed out
Alex Ciepley's well-done interview with Michael Muska on Friday, so keeping it within my city brethren, I'll turn your attention to Alex Belth's debut
on The Hardball Times, an interview with Howard Bryant, author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston.
I haven't read Bryant's book, though I'm aware of its implications. The Red Sox, owned for 44 years by Tom Yawkey, have had a decidedly dubious history in matters of race. They were the last team to integrate, twelve years after Jackie Robinson arrived (the immortal Pumpsie Green
debuted on July 21, 1959), and not until 1993 when the signed Andre Dawson did the Sox ink a black free agent. In the meantime, bright black stars from Reggie Smith to Jim Rice to Ellis Burks to Mo Vaughan departed either via trade or free agency, and with no shortage of controversy. Placed against such backdrops as the hometown Celtics' trailblazing status
as the first NBA team to integrate and to hire a black head coach, and the city's busing crisis
in the 1970s, this is one hell of a ripe subject. (Speaking of the Celtics, my dad once related a memorable quote, perhaps apocryphal, regarding Celtics coach Red Auerbach and his integrated lineup strategy: "Two at home, three on the road, and five when we're behind.")
Belth has kept me abreast of the back story of the interview for quite some time. He read the book well over a year ago, placing it on his 2002 year-end list
as "poorly written but informative" (it turns out this was an uncorrected advance proof), quoting from it at length
and referring to it several times since then.
Belth actually met Bryant at the Winter Meetings in New Orleans, an awkward encounter
of which he wrote:
On Saturday afternoon, I spotted Howard Bryant of The Boston Herald. After I introduced myself, he said something to the effect of, "Oh yeah, I've been by your site. You were pretty tough on my book." Gulp. Indeed I had been. Talk about being put on the spot. But that didn't stop us from having an interesting conversation about the book's subject -- racism in the Boston sports world. Bryant is an engaging, bright guy, and I enjoyed getting a chance to rap with him for a minute. We talked about the stigma of being black and playing in Boston, and it wasn't until later in the afternoon that I wondered to myself if Howard is in fact the only black reporter on the Red Sox beat.
There was a lesson in our encounter for me as well. If you write something and put it out there, you have to be accountable for it. When he brought up that I had been critical of his book, I didn't exactly recall what I had written about "Shut Out" -- I remember thinking that book was in need of a better editor than it had, because the subject was fascinating -- but I'm glad that he didn't seem to take my criticism personally, and that I didn't let it trip me up enough to feel humiliated or uncomfortable.
Now Alex has repaid Bryant's lack of a grudge with the lengthy THT interview discussing the book. An African American Massachusetts native who served as a beat reporter for the Oakland A's at the time of the book's writing, Bryant has since moved back to Boston to write for the Herald
. Of his own personal stake in the book, he says:
[T]he book was probably 85-95% personal because there is no way you can be African American and a baseball fan and then a journalist as well and not be cognizant of the history [of race in Boston] and not be moved by it. And not only be cognizant of the history, but also be cognizant of what hasn't been written.
When you grow up in the African American community in Boston, everybody knows the story; everybody knows what's happening. And to your side of society, it's one of the most important, if not the most important pieces of Red Sox history. But to the mainstream society it wasn't. And that makes you wonder about your values and it makes you question the value of your point-of-view. That's why the book was so important to me. Because it wasn't just about what had been written but about what hadn't been written.
Bryant goes on to discuss the city's history, the Yawkey regime, the team's spotty relationship with black employees -- not just players, though by 1979 Jim Rice was the only black on the team -- the media's complicity, and the Sox' perfunctory tryouts of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Here's the exchange regarding the latter:
THT: Could you talk about the Jackie Robinson tryout, and the fact that the Red Sox passed over Willie Mays as landmark moments in Red Sox history?
Bryant: They weren't at first. The reason why the refusal to treat Robinson with any dignity, or the reason why failing to sign Willie Mays was a problem for the Red Sox was because of what they did later. Because not only were they the last team to integrate, but they had horrible problems with black players as the '60s and '70s continued. And of course, the '80s.
That gave the past much more weight. Had the Red Sox integrated in '52, '53 along with same lines as every other team, the Jackie Robinson tryout wouldn't have meant anything. Because no team was going to integrate in 1945. The Red Sox weren't any different from the Yankees or the Giants or the Dodgers. What gave that tryout weight was what came after, because the Red Sox were in constant conflict with not just African American journalists and white Journalists alike who wanted equality, but also the city statutes and state law.
You had the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination suing the Red Sox on two occasions for not hiring, not only black players, but secretaries, janitors and grounds crew people as well. Because of those histories, you have this paper trail that began to grow and grow and grow. That's where it all comes from.
The conversation turns to the the team's contrast with the Celtics, then Bryant points to GM Dick O'Connell
as the beacon of change and the architect of both the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team (which featured George Scott, Reggie Smith, and John Wyatt in prominent roles) and '75 pennant winners (who had Rice, Cecil Cooper, Luis Tiant and others), and later mentions Burks, who returned to Boston as a free agent this offseason, as his favorite intervewee.
Suffice it to say that Belth does his usual fantastic job with the interview. Not that I didn't already have a great respect for his work, but after the weekend, my appreciation has been heightened. Even moreso, I more fully undertand the hard work done by anybody who relies on interviews as their bread and butter and who can make such conversations appear to come off seamlessly. In some ways it's not all that different from a batter who steps into the box in a key situation and coolly delivers the clutch RBI. The "on the record" nature makes an inteview a response to a pressure situation, and you don't see all of the preparation that went into making the resolution of that intense moment appear routine. Think about that next time you read a well-done Q & A.
Friday, March 19, 2004
Continuing his fine coverage of the issue of gays in sports, ball talk
's Alex Ciepley published his first-ever interview for his site this week, a two-part Q&A
with Michael Muska. Muska's not a baseball player, but he's a man who has made some waves as the first openly gay male college coach (at my alma mater, Brown University) and athletic director (at Oberlin). Though his areas of specialty are track and cross-country, as one of the more visible gay men in the sports world, Muska's opinions on the matter of gays and homophobia in sports certainly bear watching.
Muska had coached track and cross country at prominent college and prep schools such as Auburn, Northwestern, and Andover, but it wasn't until he admitted that he was gay in his interview for the Oberlin post that his sexual orientiation became a public issue, making headlines
on the Chronicle for Higher Education
website, a news and job-info site aimed at college and university faculty and administrators. Essentially, he was professionally outed, an experience that Muska calls "mind-boggling." But he drew much support from the students at Oberlin, as well as the school's basketball coach, who compared the experience to his own encounting of racism while a student at the same school. Ultimately, Muska speaks positively of his own high-profile experience -- you won't find too many more liberal, accepting places than Brown or Oberlin.
But Muska's angle on professional athletes coming out isn't what you might expect. He says some pro athletes have come out to him, but he's reluctant to advise them to take it further:
BT: What advice do you give [the athletes who have come out to you]?
Muska: In many ways, I tell them to not come out. But I don't think there was ever a situation where any of them were thinking about coming out. It was more a conversation dealing with what it was like to be in sports and to be gay.
BT: So you would actually not advise a pro athlete to come out.
Muska: I just don't think it's worth going through. I wish it were.
It's kind of like a kid coming out. If the kid's going to come out to his family, it's a scary thing -- you're going to hope that you have a support network around you. Perhaps your parents or teachers at school. I think a pro athlete needs to know they've got that same support mechanism.
Until we see a general manager who brings in people to talk about homophobia in sports, until you see some leadership in pro teams do that, I think that a guy will say, "What's my support base, what's my safety net, what's in my contract to protect me?" Basically, there's nothing.
BT: But do you think that front offices will ever be ready, or do you think this is an issue that eventually will have to be forced?
Muska: I think it will eventually have to be forced. Just look at the hate that's coming up around the whole gay marriage issue. A lot of latent homophobia is really coming to the surface.
The leadership of most teams is smart enough to know where their fan base is, and if they lose those of us that are gay because they took a stand, I don't think they're going to care. Yankee Stadium is still going to fill up even if they don't support openly gay athletes.
Ouch. Muska's contrarian view of the situation seems pretty dark, especially to someone who'd like to believe the baseball world is ready for an openly gay player. But then again, what the hell do I know about coming out? It's all second-hand stuff from here.
Muska's words point to the fact that there's no uniformity of opinion even within the gay community about this issue. And the gay community's reaction is another area Muska has reservations about:
BT: How will the gay community react to an openly gay player in one of the big four sports?
Muska: For them to become the darling of the gay community might not be such a good thing. Think about the baseball player who finally comes out, and takes that huge risk, and all of the sudden there's a whole bunch of gay guys who aren't you and me, but are perhaps a bit more queeny, and decide that this is great that they have this guy. And they're in the stands, and they're yelling and waving and screaming.
BT: You potentially gain thousands and thousands of fans.
Muska: Yeah, but the ironic part is -- and this is a kind of sad thing to say -- people will jump on the bandwagon not because they're sports fans but because someone's gay.
Again, not necessarily what you'd expect from a man in his position, and perhaps not what those of us who like to consider ourselves open to the issue want to hear. But Muska's got real experience on the front lines of this situation, and his practical insights about gays in the locker room and in sports in general are certainly worth a read, as challenging as they are. Ciepley's done a good job of eliciting some interesting answers to tough questions. Check this stuff out.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Aggregation in Blog Nation
Prolific blogger Aaron Gleeman
, in conjunction with Bill James research assistant Matthew Namee, has launched a new baseball website called The Hardball Times
. The duo has enlisted several familiar names to contribute to the site: Alex Belth, Craig Burley, Joe Dimino, Robert Dudek, Ben Jacobs, Vinay Kumar, Larry Mahnken, Bryan Smith, Dave Studenmund, and Steve Treder. Belth
need no introduction to you Yankee fans reading this. Smith keeps the Wait Til Next Year
blog, and Burley and Dudek are part of the fine Blue Jays-themed Batters Box
. Jacobs runs the Universal Baseball Blog
... no, check that, he's retiring
the UBB. Dimino runs the Hall of Merit
at Baseball Primer. Kumar and Treder are two of the more informative posters on Baseball Primer
. Studenmund, or "Studes" runs the essential Baseball Graphs
site. Pretty fair buncha writers there; I'm especially interested to see what some of the guys who I don't get to read regularly bring to the table.
The site offers a buffet of baseball content that is, dare I say, Gleemanesque. The Kid is currently running down his controversial Top 50 Prospect list
, Jacobs and Mahnken, both of who live in Rochester, are covering the Sox-Yanks rivalry in a trash-talking column called "Rivals in Exile
," and Jacobs is apparently covering the fantasy angle
as well. The site's authors are previewing teams in a "Five Questions About" format, and they've also got a group blog
. Whew! What there doesn't appear to be thus far is a links page or a comment mechanism, though I'm guessing that all those Primer connections will guarantee plenty of opportunity to chime in there.
One of the more interesting offerings from the site will be a Historical Win Shares database put together by Studes and Pete Simpson, which means I'll take great pleasure in kicking Bill James' unwieldy guide -- the most user-unfriendly baseball reference book ever -- to the furthest reaches of my closet. I'm not sure whether the Win Shares offered will be the old-school King James version or the refined version
Studes and some other very smart folks have been working on over at Baseball Graphs, but either way, it beats trying to look things up in that goddamn book.
Anyway, I know that at least a few of the aforementioned writers read this site regularly, so let me wish them all a collective "best of luck" with the new site.
* * *
Speaking of groups of bloggers, my good pals at the All-Baseball
site have been running a series of roundtables devoted to previewing each division. I'm a little late to actually reading these (yet another thing I'm behind in), but I've gone through and cherry-picked a few highlights...
Belth, from the AL East
I wouldn't put it past [Alex] Rodriguez to put his foot in his mouth, though. Rodriguez needs to be careful here. There is no way he can win a PR battle with [Derek] Jeter for the hearts of New York's fans. He'll never win. No matter how competitive Jeter is, he'll give the media the dull quote and move on. Rodriguez, on the other hand, loves the sound of his own voice. He also has something to prove -- which is incredible considering what he's already achieved.
In a man-bites-dog quip, Belth also predicted, as he apparently does every year, that the Red Sox would actually win the division. Reminds me of the time I was invited to bet on the Chicago Bulls against my Utah Jazz in the NBA finals -- "Either way you end up winning something," my "friend" tried to assure me. Um, no... Moving on the NL Central
preview, Bryan Smith does a nice job crunching some numbers regarding the new starting pitchers of the contenders:
While Houston did improve their rotation, the degree to which they did is often overstated. Andy Pettitte may have been a fan-favorite in New York, but he has some bad indicators for the 2004 season. Pettite's road ERA was 4.24 last year, and he didn't deserve to win 21 games. In fact, Baseball Prospectus' SNWL report had Pettitte at 13-11, likely due to the fact that Pettitte had 6.58 runs scored by the Yankees every time he started. Compare that to the five main Houston starters last year, who received an average of 4.85 runs scored. Finally, Pettite and Clemens will in essence be replacing Ron Villone and Jeriome Robertson, who contributed 265.2 innings of 4.68 ERA.
On the other hand, Greg Maddux is being asked to replace Shawn Estes, the southpaw that had a 5.70 ERA in 151.2 innings. While Maddux also has some negative indicators, he's much more likely to improve a 5.70 ERA than the Houston duo improving a 4.68. Then when you factor in that Chicago has improved a bullpen, 1B, and 3B, it becomes no contest. The Cubs don't play the Brewers until early July, but then go on to play them more than twenty times the rest of the way. Chicago will also not have to worry about Houston in September, allowing the Astros and Cardinals to beat up on each other.
Here's Jon Wesiman on the Dodgers in the NL West
Regarding the Dodgers (and by the way, I don't know that a good year from Jeff Weaver is the key to their success any more than a good year from Neifi Perez is for the Giants), here are the questions:
* If the Dodgers add one legitimate bat, do they not become a division contender?
* If the Dodgers add two legitimate bats, do they not become division favorites?
I say yes to both. Which leads to these questions:
* How likely is it that the Dodgers add a legitimate bat?
* How likely is it that the Dodgers add two legitimate bats?
I'd say the answer to the first question is, "More than likely." In his honeymoon year, even Frank McCourt is likely to accept a salary increase to improve the offense - and he's even more likely to accept a trade from the Dodger pitching depth to get the bat.
The Dodgers' offseason losses are somewhat neutralized by the lack of improvement elsewhere in the division. They are still a .500 team on paper. With the likely addition of at least one bat, you can put them back in the 85-win ballpark that people believe will make then contenders for the NL West title.
I still can't predict a title for Los Angeles, because I don't know that they'll make that big a leap. But there's a logic that I think forces you to keep them in mind.
Rich Lederer in the AL Central
Believe me, I want to like the Royals. But I've got to ask: "who is going to catch the ball for them in that bigger ballpark?" The Royals have a flyball type pitching staff but are they truly banking on Juan Gonzalez and Matt Stairs to chase down balls hit in the gap? I realize that Beltran is a great center fielder, but they may be asking a bit much of him out there this year.
Unlike the Twins and White Sox, the Royals at least tried to get better this winter. Detroit is the other team in the division where management seems bent on getting better. Unfortunately for Tigers fans, they don't give out an award for "trying".
There's a lot of talent sitting round those virtual tables, so check the series out when you get a chance.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Whether it's Virginia
, Las Vegas
, or points beyond
, the Expos have no future in Montreal, and their present, with the losses of Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vazquez over the winter, is no bed of roses. They need any excuse they can to draw fans to Olympic Stadium, where they averaged a paltry 13,537 per game last season. But it's tough to be cynical about the Expos' recent announcement
that they will pay tribute to perhaps the greatest player from their past, Tim Raines, by retiring his number 30 this summer. Festivities are scheduled for June 19, when the Expos play the Chicago White Sox, the team for whom Raines played five years following his Montreal tenure. Since the retractable roof of Big Owe
is long gone, there's no chance the game will be rained out.
This feel-good move gives whatever fans remain in the city one final chance to cheer for Raines, who made seven All-Star teams in parts of 13 seasons with the club. I note it not because I'll be there, but because Raines is one of my all-time favorite ballplayers as well. His 23-season career took me from the fever pitch of my early enthusiasm for the game to the semiprofessional obsession that my mid-30s has wrought. He was the National League's answer to Rickey Henderson in the early '80s, an electrifying ballplayer who set the baseball world on its ear by stealing 71 bases in only 88 games in the strike-torn 1981 season, and continued his base-stealing dominance with five more 70+ seasons.
But steals were only one facet of his game. He was a consummate leadoff hitter, getting on base well over 40 percent of the time at his peak and scoring 100 runs or more in a season six times. While we now know that stolen bases aren't as valuable as previously thought, any time you can lay an 84 percent success rate on top of a .400 OBP, you've got a guy who can get himself into scoring position a ton of times. Additonally, Raines had enough power to hit 170 homers, and his speed bought him a lot of doubles and triples as well. Late in his career, he was a handy bench player and clubhouse leader for two Yankee World Champion teams. He overcame both an early-career cocaine problem (reportedly he would slide headfirst to protect the vials in his back pocket) and a late-career bout with lupus that cost him the 2000 season. In late in 2001, he was traded to the Orioles for a chance to play on the same big-league team as his son, Tim Raines, Jr.
Two of my favorite Raines memories come from the 1987 season. A free agent the previous winter coming off a .334/.413/.476 season with 70 steals, Raines was a victim of the owners' collusion, receiving not a single offer for his services. As per league rules, he couldn't return to the Expos until May; his debut
, on May 2 of that year was televised as NBC's Game of the Week. On that afternoon, Raines' gave a performance for the ages. Batting third, he tripled off of David Cone in his first at-bat, though was stranded at third. Next time up, he walked, stole second, and scored on a base hit. A groundout and a single followed. With the Expos trailing 6-4 in the 9th, he started a game-tying rally with a leadoff single then won the game in the 10th with a grand slam home run off of Jesse Orosco, his fourth hit on the day (apparently, I'm not the only fan of this performance
). At the All-Star game that year, he came off the bench in the sixth inning, got three hits, the last of which, a two-run triple, broke a scoreless deadlock that had lasted to the 13th frame. For that, he took home the game's MVP award. On the season, Raines hit .330/.429/.526 with 18 homers and 50 steals (and was only caught five times). Had it not been for collusion, he might have won the MVP.
A couple of late-career highlights stand out in my mind as well. On April 30, 1998
, I attended a Yankees-Mariners game with my brother, one that fit into our tradition
of choosing epic slugfests between the two teams. That night, I saw something I'd never seen before -- two teams combining to score in every inning. With the Yanks down 8-7 in the bottom of the ninth and that every-inning status in jeopardy, Raines led off by smacking a game-tying homer off of Bobby (7.29 ERA) Ayala, and the Yanks scored in the 10th to win the game and preserve the strange streak.
On October 6, 2001, I was at Camden Yards for Cal Ripken Jr.'s
final game. Raines was there as well, having recently been traded from the Expos to the O's so he could join his son for his promotion to the bigs. He didn't start, but in the eighth inning, he pinch-hit, stepping in to face David Cone for a moment that made my hair stand on end. Here's what I wrote at the time:
For my money, this was the best baseball moment of the night: two former teammates who set the tone for the legendary 1998 Yankees with their professionalism and class; two grizzled vets who knew the amazing peaks and harrowing valleys of baseball -- fighting injuries, poor health, and ineffectiveness in search of redemption. It was simply a delicious moment, especially with the possibility that both might be playing their own final games, albeit with considerably less fanfare than Ripken.
Having no genuine stake in the outcome, I found myself torn, hoping perhaps for a dramatic hit from Raines but reluctant to sully Cone's masterful performance. In the end, the crafty pitcher won out. Raines took a ball from Cone, then grounded sharply to shortstop for a fielder's choice to end the inning.
For what it's worth, both Raines and Cone did play again, the former spending 2002 as a pinch-hitter for the Florida Marlins, the latter with an aborted comeback attempt with the Mets last year. Oh well, you can't see them all off to retirement.
Is Raines a Hall of Famer? At first glance his 2,605 hits and .294/.385/.425 line suffer by comparison to Henderson, his exact contemporary (3,055 hits, .279/.401/.419). Unlike Rickey, he holds no major records; his 808 steals are good for fifth place, he's 29th in walks, and 44th in runs, while Rickey is numero uno in all three. He never won an MVP award or a Gold Glove, didn't make an All-Star team after that '87 game, and spent his post-35 years as a role player, getting a couple hundred plate appearances per season instead of padding his totals. The Bill James measures place him a bit below average on the Hall of Fame Standards scale (46.8, where 50 is an average HOFer), and short on the Hall of Fame Monitor Scale (90.5, where 100 is an average HOFer).
But from the advanced sabermetric point of view, Raines is a solid Hall of Famer. As I've discussed before, I created a system
to analyze this year's Hall of Fame ballot for Baseball Prospectus based on BP's Wins Above Replacement Player numbers (WARP3, the historically adjusted version) in a weighted combination of career totals and five consecutive season peak. The idea behind it is to identify from an advanced statistical perspective what the standards are for the Hall of Famers ("How good are they really?") and then to measure similarly worthy candidates ("Who else meets them?"). By my measures, Raines is well above the standards for both leftfielders and outfielders.
BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT
Raines 876 732 40 127.3 51.7 89.5
AVG HOF LF 766 633 -30 108.2 44.4 76.3
AVG HOF OF 763 645 -16 112.1 45.4 78.7
BRAR, BRARP, and FRAA correspond to Batting Runs Above Replacement Player, Batting Runs Above Replacement Position, and Fielding Runs Above Average, three measures from within Clay Davenport's WARP system. WARP3 is the career total, PEAK is the best five-season stretch, and WPWT is the average of those two figures, which is what I used for ranking purposes. Here's where Raines would place as a leftfielder among the enshrinees; for the hell of it, I'll throw in a couple of mortal locks who are still active:
BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT
Barry Bonds 1522 1387 116 204.3 63.6 134.0
Stan Musial 1416 1213 60 193.6 59.7 126.7
Ted Williams 1435 1317 -5 177.6 70.8 124.2
Rickey Henderson 1226 1051 32 176.6 49.4 113.0
Carl Yastrzemski 992 762 82 149.7 50.8 100.3
Tim Raines 876 732 40 127.3 51.7 89.5
Al Simmons 704 593 86 118.8 50.6 84.7
Ed Delahanty 835 733 -56 116.0 52.1 84.1
Billy Williams 787 626 72 119.7 45.8 82.8
Jesse Burkett 808 685 -92 104.0 44.5 74.3
Willie Stargell 824 665 -54 105.0 40.3 72.7
Joe Medwick 637 519 35 96.2 48.0 72.1
Goose Goslin 684 548 -28 99.9 42.9 71.4
Fred Clarke 701 561 -24 104.4 37.8 71.1
Joe Kelley 590 480 -50 88.2 45.5 66.9
Ralph Kiner 614 524 -60 77.8 51.2 64.5
Lou Brock 634 466 -66 91.4 36.7 64.1
Jim O'Rourke 638 536 -212 95.9 28.5 62.2
Zack Wheat 603 462 -97 85.0 29.7 57.4
Heinie Manush 508 394 -84 70.7 33.2 52.0
Chick Hafey 376 309 -42 53.0 31.1 42.1
Monte Irvin 212 166 28 34.6 31.4 33.0
Among retirees he's the fourth-best leftfielder of all-time, and when Bonds and Henderson are factored in, he's still sixth. Only nine other Hall of Fame outfielders besides the ones above him can top that weighted score -- Ruth, Mays, Cobb, Aaron, Speaker, Ott, Mantle, Frank Robinson, and DiMaggio. A general rule of thumb: when you don't need to give the others in your class first names, you're in pretty select company.
One of the more interesting things about the above chart is that Raines' peak by this method is higher than Henderson's -- about half a win per year. Henderson is penalized by the five consecutive
season method, as his highest WARP3 totals came in 1980, 1985, and 1990, diluting their impact for the purposes of these calculations. Henderson's five best seasons overall total 57.4 WARP3, while Raines' are the same ones shown above. But it's no stretch to say that at his peak he was as good a ballplayer as Henderson, and that he absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
Will Raines get in? I'm more optimistic after running these numbers than I was before. I think he'll benefit by being championed by statheads and what I'll call the alternative baseball media -- blogs and other outsiders, including Baseball Prospectus' team of analysts -- in a way that, say, Bert Blyeleven (who's every bit as worthy) has not for a couple of reasons. First, by the time he's even eligible, statistical analysis will have four more years of making inroads into the mainstream, whereas with Blyleven, the support has become more popular only as his clock has ticked. Blyleven's been though seven ballots and is inching upward, but ever so slowly; he's now at 35 percent, less than half of the votes required.
Second, unlike Blyleven, a large percentage of those arguing most vehemently on his behalf will be the ones who saw Raines play at his peak, a peak that almost certainly made an impression on voters in a way that Blyleven's may not have. The Expo version of Raines was electric, man, like a giant neon sign that flashed, "One Hell of a Ballplayer!" Pity those who missed him. I think we'll have work to do to convince many of the voters that Raines is a legitimate Hall of Famer, but I suspect more of them will be listening to what we have to say by that time.
Monday, March 15, 2004
Selena Roberts has a tiresome Sunday piece in the New York Times
that, had it been written a year ago, would have placed her on the cutting edge of old-school writers gawking at the newfound popularity of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane. Her usage of hackneyed terms such as "nerd," geek," "smarty pants," and "whiz kid" (all present and accounted for here) would have anticipated the growing chorus of anti-intellectuals who spent their summer and fall hurling inane epithets at Beane and Moneyball
author Michael Lewis. Today, Roberts' profile of Beane just smacks of a writer desperately trying to mount a bandwagon that left the station a long time ago. Go get a late pass, Selena.
As a burned-out ex-player, Beane is the stat rat who number-crunched the underprivileged A's into an annual contender, displaying little use for the clairvoyance of scouts or myth-making batting averages.
In the afterglow of his unsolicited glorification, Beane has been alternately courted by Goldman Sachs types who are enamored of his emotionally detached approach to romance (as in baseball) and flayed by the game's purists for the flaws in his progressive thinking (as in the act of booting a computer).
He accepts both speaking engagements and engagements with his enemies.The latter group has been prone to incredulous guffaws over the past year. On-base percentage is the holy grail? Stolen bases are fool's gold? High school phenoms are the hobgoblins of wasteful thinking?
It's all baseball blasphemy to some traditionalists, providing He Hate Me with a new friend in Beane. Go ahead and poke at the general manager's whiz-kid image or mock him as the nerd who landed a glamour date with fame. But as a testament to the elasticity of his hubris, Billy Beane Envy hasn't been the least bit suppressing to his vast sense of self.
I'll stop, since if you're reading this you've doubtless heard this one before. If it were a joke, it would have whiskers. If it were a horse, it would have been flogged to death. And to shift metaphors, if you're a blogger, you've probably slain this dragon yourself.
Roberts manages a few slick turns-of-phrase in her effort -- "coloring outside the basepaths" wowed a couple pals
of mine. But she's done in by her own hyperbole, trying way too hard to hang the geek mantle on Beane, who "didn't invent sabermetrics, a sci-fi word formed from S.A.B.R., the Society of American Baseball Research (a k a The No-Life Institute)..." Groan. I think there's supposed to be a rim-shot there, but it didn't make the online edition. Instead, Roberts writes that Beane "applies the tenets of numeric efficiency found in the stapled baseball abstracts of the 70's fringe writer Bill James."
Now, James may have been on the fringe in the '70s, but by the early '80s he was selling hundreds of thousands of copies of those Baseball Abstracts annually and gracing the New York Times
Bestseller lists in the process. His thoughts may not have been accepted into the mainstream baseball establishment, but he wasn't exactly a nobody back then. And he's anything but a nobody now.
I honestly don't understand why this piece is wasting space in the Sunday Times
. It isn't like they haven't covered Beane before -- after all, they excerpted Moneyball
to tantalizing effect last March. And they've already shown that the can cover the story on both sides of the gender divide, with Janet Maslin
reviewing the book; clearly, she got it in a way that clearly eluded Roberts. So why are they publishing this? Why is Roberts trying so hard to keep up with the Ringolsbys of the writing world? And just what the hell is Billy Beane's dog doing at the end of the story?
Beane's dog roams and sheds freely around the Oakland offices. Tag is a black-and-white border collie -- a breed known as one of the smartest and most precise. No, Tag is not replacing a scout, but what else would Beane own but a geek's best friend -- in character, as always.
Why? Because this is the epitome of a shaggy dog story -- that's why. Ba-dum-bum!
Sunday, March 14, 2004
At the Prospectus/Bible Pizza Feed the other night, a bunch of us were kicking around the managerial prospects of Yankee coaches Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly, two names often mentioned as potential successors to Joe Torre. Like everyone else in Yankeeland, these two will surely receive a lot of scrutiny in the coming season. Randolph was promoted from third base coach to bench coach upon the resignation of Don Zimmer, while Mattingly was added as the hitting coach to replace the fired Rick Down.
Neither man has any managerial experience either in the majors or the minors, a gap which has presumably worked against Randolph, who has interviewed for several big-league openings and even been offered (and declined) the Cincinnati Reds job that Bob Boone eventually took. Our consensus was that had he ever gone to the minor leagues to manage, he'ld have been hired for one of those other jobs by now (I mentioned yesterday that Alex Belth extrapolated
on this further).
Another former Yankee coach who had done just that, Chris Chambliss, was held up as a counterexample. In addition to serving as a major-league hitting coach for over a decade for the Cardinals, Yanks (1996-2000) and Mets, Chambliss has managed in the minors for five seasons, from 1989-1992 and again in 2001. Like Randolph, he's been on his share of unsuccessful interviews for big league managing jobs, and in his case, his past experience hasn't elevated his candidacy.
We wondered aloud as to Chambliss' wherebouts, and as if on cue, the Management by Baseball blog
called attention to a Cincinnati Enquirer piece
about his new role as the Reds hitting coach. It seems Chambliss has been making waves in Sarasota (where the Reds train) for reviving the classic baseball drill of Pepper as a means of increasing hand-eye coordination. Writes Paul Daugherty in the Enquirer
I've seen Pepper a few times, in grainy newsreels where Babe Ruth is mincing his way around the bases about 100 miles an hour and every player's hat looks like it comes with a propeller. Three guys in baggy flannels, fielding slaps from a fourth guy a few feet away, choking up on a fungo bat. Pepper was popular when Bonnie and Clyde were robbing the building and loan.
...Pepper is so out of fashion, most ballparks don't even bother with the NO PEPPER signs that once adorned backstop walls. It's just assumed nobody will play.
Reds batting coach Chris Chambliss brought it back this year. Pepper teaches bat control and enhances reaction skills. This is what the players say. At least some of them.
I have only the vaguest memories of playing Pepper myself in Little League or baseball camp, and from the omnipresence of those "No Pepper" signs in ballparks, it really has been de-emphasized for quite awhile. Like Daugherty, the first thing that pops into my mind is archival footage of old-timers fooling around; in my case it's the "Gashouse Gang," the St. Louis Cardinals of Leo Durocher and Pepper Martin stylishly doing so in the fantastic When It Was a Game
Regarding the archaic drill, MBB blogger Jeff Angus elaborates:
The concept is the hitter is making contact with balls coming from a myriad of angles and spins, and using the wrists and arms to react quickly. The fielders and trying to snare balls hit at them from very close range and that requires not only quick hands and weight/balance changes, but hones the ability to predict the direction a ball will take. That's the way it's supposed to work.
Over the last twenty years, and especially since the ball was juiced for the 1994 season, the incremental value of fielding has inched down, and as the frequency of power hitting has gone up, the incremental value of putting a ball in play without a lot of mustard (that is, a ball you focus on hitting squarely at a specific angle rather than swinging through with power) has gone down too.
Whether this will actually help the Reds remains to be seen; their lousy defense (26th in Defensive Efficiency
) and situational hitting (25th in OPS with runners in scoring position
at .727) certainly left something to be desired. It's the definition of springtime optimism to suggest that this could make a huge difference in the Reds' fortunes, but should they show improvement which can be remotely traced to the drill, this might be a nice feather in Chambliss' cap the next time he interviews.
Saturday, March 13, 2004
Hey, remember me? I'm the guy that used to type words into complete sentences and coherent thoughts and then post them on this page -- writing, they called it. I've been told I was a pretty fair country writer, but I'm still trying to piece together exactly how I managed to do so much of it; the last few weeks have left me very little time to do so.
The catch is that there's been a baseball element to the reasons I've been MIA here. Over the past month I've had three graphic design projects involving the game. One is the website banner for 247baseball.com
, which is the site of Gary Gillette, who along with Pete Palmer just put out a massive 1,700-page remix of the game's history and statistics, The Baseball Encyclopedia
. Another is a series of banner ads
for Baseball Prospectus which should be coming to you at a nearby website, featuring catchy quotes from the likes of Billy Beane, Michael Lewis, and Peter Gammons. And the third is a streamlined program-like product for a startup venture called GameCard Enterprises which is currently being sold at Red Sox spring training games in Fort Myers, Florida. It's always a pleasure to get paid to work on something baseball-related whether I'm writing or designing, so as much as I miss the former when time is tight, I take great satisfaction in the latter, and it sure does help keep a roof over my head. (Sadly, it looks as though my banner
may be on its way out
-- and nobody told me. Boooooooooooo!)
The irony of my timing is that with the exception of the steroid issue, not much is happening on the baseball front, even as the spring training games have started. The usual slew of March non-stories about irrelevant position battles
and the early optimism of backup catchers
on cellar-dwellers appear to constitute the major relief from BALCO, Bonds, and blustering politicians
. Here in New York, Gary Sheffield's thumb and Reggie Jackson's mouth
get the ink, which is at least more entertaining than hearing that Enrique Wilson is hitting above .500 before the Ides of March.
Thursday night brought a much-needed jolt of energy to my outlook on baseball in the form of the Pinstriped Bible/Baseball Prospectus Pizza Feed, which was held at John's Pizzeria in Times Square. Fueled by gooey but mediocre pizza and too many glasses of Coke, I spent over four hours talking baseball with fellow bloggers, writers and readers. Steven Goldman (the lynchpin of the BP/PB connection now that he's got his own column at the latter, Chris Kahrl (who writes the awesome Transaction Analysis
pieces), and intern Chaim Bloom (who I met at the Winter Meetings) flew the flag for the sponsors, while fellow area bloggers included familiar faces Alex Belth
and Alex Ciepley
, plus Cliff Corcoran
, Derek Jacques
, Steve Keane
, David Pinto
(down from Massachusetts), Repoz
, and a number of readers of our various sites. Also among the group was my mentor, Jim Gerard, who taught me
in a writing class at the New School several years ago that in a roundabout way led to this here endeavor.
The Yankees were of course a hot topic. Goldman regaled us with stories from his peek behind the pinstriped curtain, most of them involving the tyranny of George Steinbrenner. "Take the worst stories you've heard and multiply them by a factor of five," he said. Our table of Belth, Ciepley, Corcoran, my pal Nick Stone, and a couple of others kicked around some Willie Randolph/Don Mattingly coaching and managing questions which Belth covers
at his site. Kahrl entertained us with stories of phone calls from Billy Beane over tart assessments of obscure middle-relief transactions. Ciepley brought up some Dusty Baker-anti-sabermetric foolishness
. Avid record-collector Repoz rewarded this fellow music fan with a tiny piece of his collection -- a Chu-Bops miniature bubblegum album of Foghat's Tight Shoes
The get-together was a blast, and I'm hoping that more of its kind will follow (if you're an NYC-area blogger or local reader intering in mixing with those who are, let me know
, because I've got a little something I've organized called Big Apple Baseballists
). Baseball Prospectus is doing a bookstore tour that lands in Brooklyn in a couple of weeks, with Joe Sheehan, Dayn Perry, and Nate Silver in tow. See the BP site for details
, and come out and see the cool kids on Thursday, March 25.
Monday, March 08, 2004
Damn, it felt good this weekend to turn on the TV and catch sight of the Yankees and Red Sox playing ball
in Florida. With the ALCS Game Seven and a winter of roster one-upsmanship on everybody's mind, this might have been the most overhyped
Grapefruit League game of all-time. Add "Evil Empire" trophy Jose Contreras on the hill for the Yanks and Alex Rodriguez appearing in pinstripes against the team which just couldn't pull the trigger for it's own A-Rod deal, and you've got the makings of a matchup with plenty of story lines to get the juices flowing. Typically overheated, YESman Michael Kay said that somebody paid $1000 for tickets on eBay, but a quick search
shows that he's probably off by an order of magnitude.
All the hype couldn't drain the fun of catching the two teams going through the rites of spring. Even clad in their strange-looking batting-practice jerseys and running around a Class A ballpark, it didn't take too much squinting to imagine these two squads playing a minimum of 19 times for supremacy in the AL East, if not the entire American League. The grass was green, the ball sounded right coming off of the bat, and the mere sight of even the most mundane moments of the game -- baserunner and first-baseman making small-talk, batter adjusting batting gloves -- was enough to warm my stomach.
I tuned in to find the Yanks down 4-0 after three innings, but that wasn't nearly as disorienting as watching Mariano Rivera, who was pitching the third in relief of Contreras, walk off the hill without shaking the catcher's hand, since there was still the better part of a ballgame to play. Kay remarked on this, hearkening back to the sight of Rivera collapsed on the mound while Aaron Boone circled the bases with his pennant-winning home run, and I couldn't help but smile. I didn't actually watch the game too closely, instead milling around the apartment to the tune of Kay and Ken Singleton calling the game. Preparing my tax stuff to send off to my accountant, filing the precarious stacks of CDs strewn around my pad -- a two-month-old, ever-growing play pile -- it was as if having baseball in the air inspired an industriousness to conquer even the more odious tasks.
The Yanks put up a six-pack in the fourth, including homers by Derek Jeter and Tony Clark, and they added four more in the sixth as Clark and Ruben Sierra homered off of former Yankee washout Ed Yarnall. In that fourth inning I got my first glipse of Rodriguez as a Yank, legging out a questionably-called infield single. Other Yanks I saw for the first time in.. well, not pinstripes, but at least the interlocking NY caps included Kenny Lofton, Travis Lee, Miguel Cairo (who had three hits), and hot catching prospect Dioner Navarro. The 20-year-old switch-hitting Navarro spent time in the AA Eastern league with Sox catching prospect Kelly Shoppach (who alos played) and Twins catching prospect Joe Mauer (the consensus #1 prospect in the game), and the announcers said that the Yankee brass compares their man favorably to the other two. Well, of course they do -- who do you think they're trading when they need pitching help this summer?
Speaking of pitching help, one of the more interesting things that Kay and Singleton discussed was the story
that Sox reserve David McCarty is planning to give the two-way player role a go this season, a la Brooks Kieschnick of the Brewers. Unlike Kieschnick, who starred as a pitcher at University of Texas and , McCarty hasn't pitched much since high school, though he did some mop-up work as a Royals farmhand. I hope he does pitch this season -- preferably at the tail end of a 19-1 Yankee blowout.
As is common in spring training, not everybody was in the lineup. Nomar Garciaparra -- who strained his Achilles tendon -- and Trot Nixon were among the missing Sox, while neither Jason Giambi nor Gary Sheffield made the trip from Tampa for the Yanks. Sheffield has apparently aggravated a hand injury that's serious enough for GM Brian Cashman to call himself "officially worried"
as he sent his new slugger to New York to see a hand expert. Gulp.
Back to the subject of pitching help -- this time back to the Yankees: over the weekend they reached a contract agreement
with Orlando Hernandez, the wily Cuban defector known as "El Duque". After being traded by the Yanks to the Montreal Expos last winter, Hernandez missed the entire season with a torn rotator cuff, and he won't be ready until midseason. His deal is a one-year, $500,000 contract with incentives -- $3,000 per day on the active roster, $45,000 per start and $12,500 per relief appearance. While El Duque's disdain for pitching in relief marked his first tour of duty here, he's not in a position to argue this time around, having signed the deal knowing that the Yanks have five able-bodied starters -- Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, and Jon Lieber -- ahead of him. Given Brown's litany of injuries, not to mention the fact that Conteras spent a considerable amount of time on the DL last year and Lieber missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery, the Yanks need the depth. If El Duque gets healthy, he'll be a nice option for Joe Torre to have at hand, and his presence may help fellow Cuban defector Contreras come into his own. Joe's not the only one who's missed the man with the knee-high socks, the flamingo leg-kick, and that cap pulled down all the way over his eyes. Welcome back, El Duque.
Friday, March 05, 2004
Avoid the 'Roid Noise
I've got a good friend whose politics I generally agree with, who for the purposes of this article we'll call Bob. Bob has a tendency when debating certain issues to veer towards a self-righteousness that's so shrill it can make whatever he's arguing against seem like a good idea. I've pondered this phenomenon for years and can't completely explain it, except to say that there are moments where I would rather be complicit in the world's great evils -- clubbing baby harp seals, selling poisoned milk to school children, and cutting taxes for billionaires, let's say -- than have to endure Bob's rants for one more minute.
I'm reminded of this because it's my reflex reaction to the moralizing which has already taken hold over many of our nation's sportswriters regarding the issue of steroids, a moralizing that is only sure to become more pervasive in the coming days, weeks, and months. If the Lupicas
are so up in arms, then maybe these 'roids ain't so bad. I don't really feel that way, of course, any more than I really want to club baby seals. But neither do I want to hear about steroids every day and night for an entire baseball season. I endured four months of winter for this?
But at a time when spring's renewal should be generating quite a buzz about baseball, increasingly ominous clouds have gathered overhead. Earlier this week the San Francisco Chronicle
reported that the names of six players who allegedly received performance-enhancing drugs from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) were turned over to the federal government. Three of the names are big ones -- Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield -- with Marvin Benard, Benito Santiago and Randy Velarde rounding out the rogues gallery. The players were reportedly given drugs by Greg Anderson, Bonds' personal weight trainer and friend. According to the Chronicle
Anderson allegedly obtained a so-called designer steroid known as "the clear" and a testosterone-based steroid known as "the cream" from BALCO and supplied the substances to all six baseball players, the government was told. In addition, Bonds was said to have received human growth hormone, a powerful substance that legally cannot be distributed without a prescription, investigators were told.
Agents obtained the information about the baseball players and illegal drugs last September during a probe that resulted in the indictment of Anderson, BALCO owner Victor Conte and two other Bay Area men on steroid conspiracy charges.
The information shared with The Chronicle did not explicitly state that the athletes had used the drugs they were said to have obtained. Bonds, who is baseball's single-season home-run king, and Giambi, who won the American League Most Valuable Player award when he was with the Oakland Athletics, have publicly denied using steroids. So has Sheffield. All three declined to discuss the matter Monday.
The news brings to a fever pitch the speculation which has swirled since Bonds, Giambi, and Sheffield were amog those who testified
before a grand jury probing BALCO in December. Athletes from several sports, including track star Marion Jones, football players Bill Romanowski and Barrett Robbins, and boxer Shane Moseley also testified then, as did Giambi's brother Jeremy, but back then none of them were being accused of any wrongdoing. Now every sportswriter with a soapbox on which to stand is ready to play judge, jury and executioner for the three stars without even acknowledging that they haven't been charged with anything. This is ugly, and it's going to get worse.
I certainly don't condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but I have a hard time mustering the hysteria that comes so easily to some. Many of the drugs that have been spotlighted over the past several years --think androstenedione, Mark McGwire's juice of choice -- weren't illegal or explicitly banned by MLB until recently, and as Jon Weisman
reminds us, you can't retroactively punish or reprimand somebody for something which wasn't a rule at the time. Much of the evidence about their usefulness or their harmfulness is less than conclusive, and as some of the more astute writers
have pointed out, credible alternative explanations for notable increases in body size do exist.
As for the "integrity of the game" or the disruption of its statistical continuity due to "dopers," any student of baseball history can tell you that the wide fluctuations in offense over the past century -- the high-offense 1930s and the low-scoring '60s -- keep the current era in perspective. That's what advanced performance metrics are for, kids. And really, does the level of steroid use today create more of a farce than the presence of a color line that banned blacks from the game for over a half-century, or the current syndicate ownership of the Montreal Expos? Is our statistical continuity threatened by McGwire and Bonds any more than it is the high-altitude hijinks of the Colorado Rockies? I think not.
While I want to see the game I'm so passionate about come up with a sensible way to handle the problem, I see the failure to do already in the context of a labor-versus-management war that has waged continuously for the past 35 years. The owners have historically shown a strong aversion to bargaining in good faith and produced union-busting tactics such as collusion and replacement players, and they've offered up a general dishonesty about the game's financial state as well. None of this justifies the players' use of such substances, but the owners' actions haven't engendered the kind of trust necessary for the Major League Baseball Players Association to join the owners in constructing an effective and proactive means of combatting their usage either. While the players' conduct in this matter hasn't ben exemplary, their hands have yet to be forced, and the MLBPA didn't get to be the most powerful labor union in history by selling out its rank and file just to appease a casual fan's notion that everything was a chemical-free hunky dory.
The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement did include a testing program
for the first time. The initial step took place last spring, when all 1,200 players on the teams' 40-man rosters were tested anonymously, with the results remaining confidential. Between five and seven percent -- 60 to 84 players -- tested positive
, enough to trigger mandatory testing this spring.
Seeing the policy in the light of the Players Association's right to protect its members, Murray Chass
explores the consequences of violating the policy. A player testing positive for the first time is placed in a treatment program, but is subject to a series of fines and suspensions for failing to comply. From there, as Chass reports,
If a player tests positive a second time or subsequent times, he incurs a suspension or fine, ranging from 15 days or a maximum of $10,000 for the second time to one year or a maximum of $100,000 for the fifth positive test result.
A player who is convicted of steroid use in a legal proceeding faces a 15- to 30-day suspension or a maximum $10,000 fine for the first time, to a two-year suspension for a fourth offense.
If a player is convicted of selling or distributing steroids, he faces a 60- to 90-day suspension and a maximum $100,000 fine and a two-year suspension for a second offense.
Some writers have pointed to the recent outbursts by the likes of John Smoltz, Jeff Kent, and Turk Wendell as signs of a fissure in the union over this issue, but as Chass reminds us,
The number of players who have expressed views contrary to the agreement is about the same as those who offer contrary views during labor negotiations — a relative few.
The critics who have been quick to jump on those players' comments should keep them in perspective. Consider the number who have remained silent.
What's disappointing is that the writers reporting these allegations have no qualms about turning this into a witch hunt
. The Miami Herald
's Dan Le Batard writes:
This is how it is with the hysteria of witch hunts. The volume on the let's-get-'em bloodlust gets so loud it drowns out quieter things, like perspective. Medical studies? Logic? Proof? Oh, we'll get to that later, after the screaming. Or not.
There's an awful lot of ignorance being spewed about steroids these days. Sportswriters have become scientists and psychics, able to divine whether Barry Bonds cheats by looking at his biceps. We're not qualified for this, obviously, but what difference does that make? Larry Walker came to camp skinnier! Let's get him! Todd Helton came into camp heavier! Let's get him! (Angrily shake your pitchfork and torch here.)
...I don't know whether Bonds, Gary Sheffield or Jason Giambi is using steroids. And I certainly don't know how steroids help you hit a baseball (if they were a magic bean, wouldn't baseball be populated by Mr. Universe contestants?). I do know it isn't terribly fair these players are getting smeared by name as cheaters without due process even though this BALCO investigation includes far more athletes than just baseball's.
Without more facts -- remember those?-- I don't have the time or the energy to delve much further into the issue at this time. I will recommend Weisman
's coverage of the issue, and John Perricone
's as well. Both make some valid points about the need to keep an open mind and a wary eye when sifting through the news surrounding this issue. Keep that in mind the next time your local sportswriter tries to knock a player off of the pedestal he's spent so much time erecting for him.
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