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.

Monday, February 28, 2005


Perfect Start to the Week

Via Tom Gorman and Rob McMillan comes this gem, an MP3 of Vin Scully calling the 9th inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965. In that final frame, Koufax strikes out Chris Krug, Joey Amalfitano and Harvey Kuenn, the latter his sixth K in a row and 14th on the night. It was the eighth perfect game in major league history.

The great Dodger announcer Scully, who had already called three other no-no's by Koufax, handles the call with a brilliance that rivals the hurler's. Calling out the time on the clock with an obvious eye towards the history, he somehow elevates a moment that needs no elevation -- like a pool of melted butter atop a perfectly cooked filet. Heard nearly forty years later, his voice remains instantly familiar, his cadence every bit as graceful as it ever was. Timeless.

This recording was done by Hugh Smith of Escondido, California for his son Dave, who only went on to found the Retrosheet website (see comment). Most famously, Jane Leavy transcribed much of Scully's narration in her fine biography, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, reconstructing the entirety of the game through the tape and a long-forgotten filmstrip done by Dodger trainer Bill Buhler. It's an amazing piece of history, so do yourself a favor and get a bite of perfection in the making.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Old Faves

Two of the fine bloggers at have decided to leave the fold and join forces. Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat and Bryan Smith of Wait Til Next Year are merging their blogs into a new site called The Baseball Analysts ( According to their press release, the site will be "devoted to examining the game's past, present, and future," which makes sense since Lederer has done some excellent historical work, including his big dig through the Bill James Baseball Abstract series, and Smith is devoted to covering top prospects.

This week, Lederer has a three-part series in which he polled baseball writers of varying renown to ask "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?" in a five-question format:
1. Who was your favorite player when you were growing up? 2. Why? 3. What do you most remember about that player? 4. Did you ever come into contact with him? 5. Do you have any special memorabilia (baseball card, autograph, etc.)?
Part one ran yesterday. Part two, which features yours truly in a star-studded lineup that includes Peter Gammons, Bill James and Rob Neyer (hooray for alphabetical placement) as well as a few of my BP colleagues, runs today. And as you might guess, part three will air tomorrow.

I had a difficult time settling on my answer, offering no fewer than four Dodgers from my youth: Davey Lopes (whom ESPN's Eric Neel named as his fave), Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, and Fernando Valenzuela. Ultimately I settled on Fernando, figuring that the bobblehead and the retro jersey I have of his seal the deal (in honor of this, I christened the new hard drive I installed yesterday Fernandomania; my laptop is Mendoza Line Drive).

I enjoyed that particular stroll down memory lane, particularly in thinking about the Dodgers' 1981 World Championship. I suspect, once you read some of the responses that Rich's questions elicited, that you'll find some fond memories there too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Dodgers and Giants and Twins (Oh My!)

It's that time of the month again, as my Prospectus Triple Play (now bylined in a welcome improvement) is up over at Baseball Prospectus. Because I was hosting out-of-town guests over the weekend (for my bachelor party, which started with an hour of hacking at the Chelsea Piers batting cages), I had to prepare the bulk of this one a few days ahead of time, and so missed an opportunity to discuss the players from these teams who made BP's just-released Top 50 Prospects List. As such, I've got a few outtakes and bonus tracks (so to speak), though I'll save most of the prospect-related talk (and number-gathering) for my next shot:

• The Dodgers placed four players in the Top 50, along with catcher Dioner Navarro, who was an honorable mention:

7. Joel Guzman, SS
20. Chad Billingsley, RHP
34. Willy Aybar, 2B
45. Edwin Jackson, RHP

Jackson was on last year's list as well, ranked at #6, but his stock fell considerably with a lousy year in Las Vegas (a 5.86 ERA in 90 innings) and an even worse one in LA (7.30 ERA in 24.2 innings). Repeat after me: There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

• The Twins placed two players in the Top 50:

43. Jesse Crain, RHRP
46. Jason Kubel, OF

Kubel will miss the entire season with a torn ACL, setting off a lengthy debate in the Outfielders Roundtable as to whether to include him in this year's list.

• The Giants had one player in the Top 50:

28. Matt Cain, RHP

Not surprising, given the points I made about the team's focus on developing pitchers at the expense of producing hitters.

• My analysis of the Dodger catchers could have been a bit more complete, as a couple of readers have already pointed out to me. First off, I neglected to include Mike Rose, a non-roster invitee who hasn't gotten much of a mention anywhere. He's almost certainly slated for Las Vegas, and his defense is not loved (PECOTA says -10 in minimal playing time) but he might get a look if Dave Ross falters, and given that he put up a .407 OBP at Sacramento last year, he fits in as a DePodesta/Beane type. Still, he's no Tom Wilson, and given that the Dodgers didn't even take advantage of his presence in the second half last year, I'm not sure that Rose is more than a contingency plan.

Also, one of those early-spring stories has Dodger utilityman Jason Grabowski, who was drafted by the Rangers as a catcher in 1997, taking reps behind the plate. I'll wager that at least part of the focus is simply because there's no shortage of work for a catcher in spring training (look, it's Lenn Sakata!); somebody always needs to throw somewhere, and as a good utilityman, Grabowski's lending a helping hand. He was probably worth a tangential mention, though I don't think he's any threat to get significant playing time behind the plate, and he doesn't add a lot beyond late-inning/emergency flexibility.

Here's a revised chart of their PECOTAs with these two included:
          Age   AVG   OBP   SLG   MLVR   VORP   Break   Imp
Bako 33 .220 .299 .321 -0.261 -1.0 31.4 52.2
Navarro 21 .244 .306 .366 -0.173 3.9 12.7 28.2
Ross 28 .227 .317 .420 -0.095 10.4 53.1 64.5
Rose 28 .242 .353 .383 -0.068 8.4 31.9 49.2
Grabowski 29 .241 .323 .411 -0.087 3.4 26.4 51.2
Still looks like they'll be bleeding runs here.

• Keith Woolner has revamped the Reliever Evaluation Tools for Baseball Prospectus 2005, reintroducing a measure called WXRL (Win Expectation, adjusted for Replacement-level and Lineup), which is based on the game state context (outs, baserunners, and score margin) in which a pitcher is used and the impact his performance had on a team's chances of winning a game.

My editor had a joke about country music in upstate New York that fell on the cutting room floor along with this chart, which shows how freshly-retired Robb Nen ranks over the course of his 1994-2002 run as a reliever:
Pitcher           WXRL
Trevor Hoffman 42.5
Mariano Rivera 35.5
Troy Percival 34.3
Robb Nen 32.3
Armando Benitez 30.2
Jeff Shaw 26.9
Mike Jackson 26.4
Todd Jones 26.1
Jose Mesa 25.8
Keith Foulke 23.7
John Wetteland 23.7
Billy Wagner 21.9
Roberto Hernandez 21.8
Bob Wickman 20.7
Not too shabby. But sad to say, I called Nen's demise just over a year ago in a discussion with Fogball's Tom Gorman, who's a certified Emergency Medical Technician and somebody who knows his way around the shoulder (and the elbow too). Three months into rehabbing my own surgically-repaired labrum, I told Tom, "From what you've said, Nen's got a real salad going on there, and the cuff is only part of the problem. I hate to rain on Giants fans' parade, but the bottom line from what I know is that you'll be lucky if he's ever a productive pitcher again." Ouch.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Fear and Loathing Over Morning Coffee

It's a bleak start to the day when the news of the death of one of your all-time favorites hits you like a sledgehammer before you've even sipped your morning coffee. Such was the case when I saw the ESPN front page today, where it's reported that gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado. He was 65 or 67, depending upon the sources I've seen so far.

Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is on my short list of desert island books; I never tire of reading its hilarious, harrowing, savage prose, and it certainly inspired the occasional rant and reference around here. His collections of Rolling Stone columns and other essays, such as the The Great Shark Hunt, are some of the most astute and acerbic political commentary anywhere. I've got an unfinished copy of Hey, Rube!, a collection of his post-millenial columns for ESPN's Page 2, sitting not three feet from my desk as I type this.

Given his hard-driving lifestyle and outrageous behavior, it's amazing that he lived this long, and quite apparent to even his most ardent fans that his best work -- a unique and indelible mark on journalism based on injecting the reporter headlong into the story -- was behind him. That such an injection (no pun intended; he wasn't a needle man) was often fueled by a cocktail of drugs and alcohol that would fell a herd of rhinos is beside the point, mostly, because when he stared into the heart of darkness, that crazy bastard felt like the last sane reporter on earth.

Of his style's genesis, the New York Times has this to say:
It was in the heat of deadline that gonzo journalism was born while he was writing a story about the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's magazine, he recounted years later in an interview in Playboy magazine.

"I'd blown my mind, couldn't work," he told Playboy. "So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody."

Instead, he said, the story drew raves and he was inundated with letters and phone calls from people calling it "a breakthrough in journalism," an experience he likened to "falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids."
Thompson was never better than when he was writing about Richard Nixon, his arch-nemesis, and one of my favorite pieces of his is his scathing eulogy of the disgraced former President:
Richard Nixon is gone now and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing--a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."

I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hatedNixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.

Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said. "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."

...If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.
The truth never sounded more brutal than when it came out of Thompson's typewriter, and the fear and loathing he reserved for the men in the corridors of power is all too absent in today's reportage. There are a few more of his presidential eulogies I'd like to have read, and perhaps his demise's timing with today's holiday is but one more (final?) ironic twist to his tale. Alas it will be left to somebody else to pick up that particular baton, but as Thompson would say, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

The San Francisco Chronicle has a lengthy obit. ESPN's Page 2 has an archive of his columns, while Salon has several pieces about him, and his unofficial home page, The Great Thompson Hunt, has a trove of pieces by and about him as well. I suspect Rolling Stone will have something weighty and worthwhile to say in short order, as he was hands down the most important writer to grace its pages back when that mag was a true (counter)cultural force.

Farewell, HST. Thanks for the laughs and the inspiration, but more importantly, thanks for telling the terrifying truth as only you could.

Friday, February 18, 2005


I (Heart) the Apple

Reason #264 on "Why I Love New York City" is the way it can bring you full circle at any given moment. This entire week has been one of those times.

The Venn diagram of New York City-based Mekons fans who've been published at Baseball Prospectus is a small one, which is why I found myself emailing Neil deMause last fall after we found ourselves bitching to each other and a few other writer friends about the Yankees' dreadful collapse in the ALCS. A short time after that, with the bleakness of the season's end having been trumped by the even worse travesty of the Presidential election, Neil and I met for dinner, talked baseball and music, and promised that we'd catch a show sometime. When he offered me his extra ticket to last Sunday's Neko Case and the Sadies show at Bowery Ballroom, I was on it like white on rice.

I met up with Neil at 9 PM, and no sooner had we worked our way inside and ventured into the coatcheck line than I head somebody calling my name. I didn't recognize the source at first, in part because I was trying to track Neil as he wandered off, but the bespectacled redhead, behind his unfamiliar beard, revealed himself to me as Mike, my downstairs neighbor and friend from the tail end of my time living in Providence, Rhode Island.

Ten years ago today, Mike and his friend Keith helped me load my belongings into a U-Haul and waved goodbye as I left town. I'd spent about six years in Providence, four of them in college and two more as a working stiff, long after most of my classmates had moved on. When I outgrew my job as the production manager of a show horse magazine, it was time to go, and Mike gracefully helped usher me out of town.

My destination was New York City. Manhattan. The East Village. Seventh Street. I had never in my wildest dreams considered moving there until my car was stolen for the second time inside of a year. But I could no longer take the ordeal of protecting my vehicle, keeping up with its maddening quirks that needed repair, or finding parking for it when I would go to visit my then-girlfriend in Boston; I needed a place where I could get by without one. I had never considered living in New York until about three months before I moved. Several of my school pals had migrated to the city. They had all figured out how to make a buck down here without getting shot, and within a few visits, they had me convinced I could, too.

Some four hours after leaving Providence, I reached the Triboro Bridge and screwed up a lane change so badly that I ended up having to re-cross the bridge and pay the toll a second time. This rube was out six bucks before he even hit town. Finally taking the correct exit, I got off on 125th Street, found Second Avenue, and carefully drove 111 blocks south, stoplight by stoplight, my thumbs pounding on the U-Haul's steering wheel to the music on the boombox, as I rode the brake all the way down Second. I entered the city listening to Exile on Main Street because there's no easier way, in my mind, to make 67 minutes fly by -- especially under the duress of driving an unfamiliar vehicle with all of my worldly possessions within -- than with that Stones album.

I treated the friends who helped me unpack the truck to dinner that night at El Sombrero, a Ludlow Street restaurant with the greasiest hot-plate Mexican food you could possibly hope to find. I lost count of how many pitchers of frozen margaritas I paid for, went home and carved out a space to lay my futon, and fell into a deep, tequila-aided slumber.

Somewhat bewildered, I awoke the next morning to see the boxes and furniture strewn randomly around my room. Seven stories up, from where I lay I could see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler standing tall against the blue Manhattan sky. I've never forgotten that view or the excitement I felt that morning, and I've never looked back.

When I came to this city, I fancied myself a writer based on a few published pieces in various music rags, most of then now as long-gone as the golden age of indie rock. I was out of sorts as a baseball fan (the previous year's World Series had been cancelled), I hadn't heard of the Internet, and blogs hadn't been invented. The idea of writing every day (well, several times a week) was a pipe dream because I put myself through such agony writing about music.

The day I moved down here is a dark one in rock and roll history, as it happens. Bob Stinson, the dress-wearing lead guitarist of the Replacements, died that day. A few days after I moved here things got even darker; Kurt Niemand, a schoolmate of mine in the same greater group of friends as well as the bassist for Six Finger Satellite, my favorite Providence band, turned up dead of an OD. Kurt had been one of the Six Finger members I interviewed for my first paid piece of writing, a profile of Six Finger Satellite in Option magazine.

If you asked me ten years ago whether I'd be writing a decade later, I'd have nodded, but without conviction. To say that I had any idea that I'd wind up doing this even as a hobby is farfetched, but this little site is just one more of the great things that's happened to me during my time here. Reacquainting myself with baseball via Yankee Stadium and with a dynasty-building team in front of my nose did a lot to bring me back, helped along by bonding with some of my closest friends over our trips to the ballpark or merely catching the games on TV. Just as players don the pinstripes with an eye towards a World Series ring, I needed to prove that like the Sinatra song, I could make it here, I could make it anywhere. I've lasted a decade, and now I can't envision living anywhere else.

I love New York City in all of its grandeur and its gritty, grimy glory. I live here because I'm honestly more scared of what goes on in the rest of the country, in those strip malls where the only choices are Bennigan's, Appleby's, TGIFriday's and the Olive Garden, than of anything I might find at the wrong end of some dark alley here. I feel safe and at home in NYC, and I crave returning every time I leave. I'd rather be here to smell the eye-watering stench of garbage on St. Marks Street as the sun strikes it on an August morning than to live someplace that lacks the energy, excitement, diversity and even chaos that New York City offers. Consider this my belated valentine to my city. As the Mekons sing, I (Heart) the Apple.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


This Week in Juicing

Even with the official Pitchers and Catchers date opening training camps today, steroids are still at the top of the blotter in the absence of real baseball news. The fallout continues with regards to both Jason Giambi's press conference and Jose Canseco's allegations.

Canseco was interviewed by Mike Wallace on last Sunday's 60 Minutes, and if you watched it, you probably had to stifle both your gag reflex and your urge to smash the set. The mere sight of Canseco's oily, rippling, steroid-fueled muscles was enough to turn a stomach, but even more nauseating was his demeanor. Canseco was totally unrepentant in his interview with Wallace, smirking several times, blinking like a speedfreak, beaming with pride at his Johnny AppleSyringe admissions, claiming to have hit 600-foot home runs, and advocating the usage of steroids.

Wallace really only challenged Canseco once, when the big palooka's written characterization of injecting fellow slugger Mark McGwire "more times than I can count" translated into "I injected him probably twice" in the interview. Clearly Canseco's counting skills, like his home run swing, ain't what they used to be.

Boston Herald columnist Howard Bryant, who wrote Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston and who's working on a book about steroids, came off the best among the interview subjects, scoring points when he told Wallace, "I don’t recall baseball ever doing an independent investigation. They haven’t spent a penny, at least to my knowledge, to go out and investigate, and find out what’s going on with this steroid business." He also cautioned against the easy temptation to wave off Canseco's allegations:
"I think the reason why Jose Canseco is going to catch a lot of hell for his book is because people think he is full of it. He hasn't been credible. He hasn't been a credible player. He is a snitch, which is the worst thing you can possibly be in the ironclad baseball fraternity," says Bryant.

"He's done a lot of things to offend a lot of people. On this subject, however, I believe he does have some credibility."
While Wallace covered many of Canseco's basic allegations, Will Carroll points out that he missed several opportunities for tougher questions, such as twin brother Ozzie's involvement. Under the theatrical circumstances, it would have been fun to watch Canseco squirm as Wallace asked, "So how come you haven't ratted out your twin brother?" Carroll wonders why Canseco made no mention of sharing steroid secrets during his stops in New York, Boston, Toronto and Chicago, whether Canseco's spotty health history -- playing in 150 games only once after 1991 -- was also due to his usage, and what the value of his shooting up at the ballpark before games or batting practice was. I'd pay to see the episode where he gets to take Wallace's chair across from Canseco.

One camera shot of Canseco's book illustrated that the man's punches know no belt below which they can go. Chapter 15 is titled, "Giambi, the Most Obvious Juicer in the Game." Ouch. Richard Sandomir of the New York Times reports that Canseco writes that Giambi, "had the most obvious steroid physique I've ever seen in my life." But wait, there's more:
Canseco said that Giambi overused steroids and human growth hormone and got "so bloated, it was unbelievable."

"There was no definition to his body at all," Canseco wrote. "You could see the retention of liquids, especially in his neck and face; to those in the know, that was a sure sign of steroid overload."
With friends like that, who needs enemies? While Canseco's naming of names has focused on Giambi, McGwire, and Texas teammates Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez, a few other players are apparently named as well, proving, if nothing else, that shit runs downhill. Canseco claims to have injected Devil Rays teammates Dave Martinez and Wilson Alvarez (now pitching for the Dodgers) and claims that Tony Saunders (he of the freakish broken arm) was abusing as well. He also says that he gave steroid advice to 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada and claimed that he shared whispers with Bret Boone about the latter joining the fraternity of juicers. In that incident Canseco, then playing for the (Wherever the Hell They Were Claiming To Be From in 2001) Angels, supposedly hit a double and pulled into second base gawking at Boone's physique:
"'Oh, my God,' I said to him. 'What have you been doing?' 'Shhh,' he said. 'Don't tell anybody.'"
Predictably, Boone has denied the story, and furthermore, spring training records for that game show that Canseco went 0-for-4 with no doubles, though he did reach base once. On the other hand, Boone's late-career power surge (in a pitchers' park, no less) and correspondingly bulked-up phsyique do fit a certain profile. I'm just sayin'...

Over to Giambi. The Murray Chass article I wrote about last week regarding the language of the slugger's contract ignited a firestorm of denial from the Yanks' top brass, and it appeared they had trouble keeping their stories straight. On ESPN's Mike and Mike radio program, Yankee GM Brian Cashman characterized Chass's story as "a lotta BS, it's hogwash, it's not true." But according to an article in the Newark Star-Ledger, Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost again confirmed that changes were made to the contract:
But Trost, who drafted the contract and called the Times report "misinformation," said that those changes that were made gave more protection to the Yankees than they did to Giambi.

The wording was changed, he said, but not in the manner indicated in The Times article.

"Partial truth and half truths and incorrect statements always cause problems," Trost said. "The fact of the matter is we had a number of paragraphs that dealt with this subject matter. And there must have been 50 changes in those paragraphs before we finalized.

"Was the word 'steroid' removed as one of the changes? Absolutely. Why it was removed was foolish on their part and not on our part."

..."By taking that (wording) out, I was able to put in broader protection," Trost said. "I couldn't understand why they wanted (the changes) so it didn't bother me.
In today's Times, Chass catches up with the story, or at least his angle:
In their first draft of [the guarantee-exclusion] portion of the contract, the Yankees included a reference to steroid use. Arn Tellem, the agent, asked that all references to steroids be removed. The Yankees, eager to sign the player who two seasons earlier had been the American League's most valuable player, dutifully acquiesced.

...The Yankees claim to have the most extensive list of prohibited activities of any team in major professional sports. Let's give them that. If they're so careful, though, how could no Yankees executive wonder about Tellem's request?

...If nothing else, ask the question: "Jason, your request raises questions in our minds. If you want no references to steroids in your contract, does that mean you use or are thinking of using steroids? If so, we'd like to know because even though the collective bargaining agreement doesn't prohibit steroids, we are the Yankees and we play clean. We'd like your home runs and your runs batted in, but not if they are chemically produced."

But the Yankees didn't ask the question; they didn't challenge the object of their desire on the subject of steroids. They want us to believe their oversight was completely innocent, or worse, unimportant.
For a franchise that usually presents a unified front, the contradictions between Cashman's and Trost's versions certainly put a bit of egg on the Yankees' faces. Despite their denials and clarifications of the matter, they're hardly off the hook; if anything the latest twists in this story make them look even more foolish.

Lest anybody think the latest round of steroid revelations is over, they might want to invest in a new pair of hip waders. Today's New York Daily News brings us a belated Valentine in the form of an FBI special agent saying that a decade ago he warned MLB about the involvement of several players, including you-know-who, in using steroids:
Special Agent Greg Stejskal, who oversees the Bureau's Ann Arbor, Mich., office, said he told baseball security chief Kevin Hallinan that Jose Canseco and many other players were using illegal anabolic steroids. Stejskal's warning was based on evidence gathered during a far-reaching steroid investigation he conducted in the '90s, but the agent says the lords of the game did not act on the information.

"I alerted Major League Baseball back in the time when we had the case, that Canseco was a heavy user and that they should be aware of it... I spoke to the people in their security office. Hallinan was one of the people I spoke to," Stejskal told The News.

Hallinan "seemed interested," Stejskal said, but the agent says there was little baseball security could do about the problem. Major League Baseball and the union did not agree to a steroid testing program or disciplinary sanctions until 2002. A proposal during negotiations preceding the 1994 players' strike went nowhere. The FBI investigation focused on dealers rather than users.
Hallinan, of course, denied any such conversation with Stejskal, who recalls multiple conversations with the security chief and his office. It's another round of He Said, She Said, only this time it involves los federales and the the game's top officials, with the former accusing the latter of looking the other way. Greaaaat. In other words, it's going to get worse before it gets better. Hip waders, kids -- I can't recommend them enough.


Friday, February 11, 2005


You're F------ Kidding Me, Right?

Last spring, during the contentious 9-11 hearings, National Security Advisor/Traitor to the Human Race Condoleezza Rice produced an outrageous spit-take moment while testifying before the Independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. When asked to recall the title of a particular President's Daily Briefing memo, dated August 6, 2001, Rice casually remarked that that was called, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

In reviewing her testimony that evening, Daily Show host Jon Stewart dropped his sarcastic demeanor to show genuine outrage at Rice's admission of such a blatant red flag a mere six weeks before the cataclysmic events of September 11. "You're fucking kidding me, right?" shouted the irate Stewart, looking as if he were ready to throw a garbage can through a storefront window, "Please tell me you're fucking kidding me."

I had that kind of moment early Thursday morning as I read Murray Chass' piece in the New York Times about yesterday's Jason Giambi press conference. In a carefully scripted appearance, his first since the San Francisco Chronicle published his leaked grand jury testimony concerning BALCO, Giambi apologized to fans, media and teammates and the Yankee organization for the deceit he'd committed and the distraction he'd caused without actually using the word "steroids." Giambi's lack of candor and particularly the omission of that word was unsurprising; he has been instructed by the federal prosecutor in the investigation not to discuss the case, and must tiptoe around any direct admission -- beyond what was supposed to be sealed testimony -- of having used the illegal performance enhancers.

No, what was surprising was Chass' revelation that the Yankees complied with Giambi's request to remove all references to steroids from the contract they signed him to in December 2001:
General Manager Brian Cashman, in fact, said several times yesterday that the subject never came up three years ago when the Yankees were pursuing Giambi, a free-agent first baseman. But they had a strong clue that steroids played a part in Giambi's life.

A person with knowledge of the contract said that before they signed off on Giambi's seven-year, $120 million deal, the Yankees acquiesced to his request and removed all references to steroids from the guarantee language routinely included in contracts.

The Yankees were not innocents in this matter. They didn't say to themselves: Delete references to steroid use? Well, all right if you insist, but why would you want us to do that?

They wanted Giambi badly enough that they relinquished the right to suspend him or stop payment on the contract or terminate the contract or convert it into a nonguaranteed contract if he was found to use steroids. No other words were deleted from that paragraph of the contract, the person said.

That act alone made it difficult for the Yankees to try to void the contract after The San Francisco Chronicle reported Giambi's leaked testimony before a federal grand jury on Dec. 11, 2003.
You're fucking kidding me, right? Please tell me you're fucking kidding me.

There, in black and white, is why the Yanks have been unable to void the four years and $82 million left on Giambi's deal: they surrendered the right to do so under these circumstances when they signed him. They were so willing to look the other way that they altered the standard contract at his and/or his agent Arn Tellem's request. Absolutely, stupefyingly unbelievable.

Granted, this information came from an off-the-record source (very possibly Cashman himself), but right there is Exhibit A in the owners' complicity for this steroid quagmire. A superstar basically told a team he was using, and they still handed him one of the largest contracts of all time, even bending over backwards to protect him at their own expense.

According to Chass, Yankee CEO Lonn Trost, whose role it is to handle such guarantee language in contracts, declined to discuss Giambi's pact, but said, "We have probably the most extensive guarantee language in professional sports; it contains many, many things. There's nothing in that agreement that isn't redundant. It's dealt with to make sure we're protected. Even if it was modified, you can be sure it was covered elsewhere."

Chass -- not to mention the rest of the world -- finds this hard to swallow:
But if steroid use is covered elsewhere in the contract, the Yankees would have jumped at the chance to use the prohibition to terminate Giambi's contract and save themselves the $82 million they owe him over the next four years. They have had meetings with the commissioner's office, but no one has come up with a way out.

Giambi and Tellem were careful yesterday not to give the Yankees help, just in case they're still looking. Giambi did not admit to having used steroids, and he did not confirm The Chronicle report of his grand jury testimony.
So now you have it. Jason Giambi will be on the Yankee payroll for the duration of his contract whether or not he's able to perform, because the Yankees removed a particular safety net at his request. There will be no relief from MLB and no buyout, because they're stuck with him. After a winter when the team's profligate spending on the starting rotation prevented them from upgrading their offense, particularly by not pursuing Carlos Beltran to replace the wheezing Bernie Williams in centerfield, it's clear that they have painted themselves into a corner. They created this mess of an aging, expensive, inflexible roster, and they deserve to suffer its consequences, now more than ever.

• • •

Speaking of the Yankees and Exhibit A, yesterday's papers provided ample evidence of why Tino Martinez has been hailed as such a valuable locker room commodity over the years. The guy must have returned to the Bronx with a pack of Marlboros and a ten-foot hose, because he clearly came prepared to blow smoke up Giambi's ass.

In yesterday morning's Daily News, Martinez was unequivocal in his support of Giambi, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing. But this line buried in his stock appreciation for his new teammate looks a bit silly: "...The thing about it is, because of all the controversy, people don't really realize he's a great guy off the field and in the clubhouse as well..."

Now refresh my memory: what clubhouses have Tino and Giambi shared? If I recall, Giambi was signed to replace Martinez, and the two have never been teammates before. This must be exactly the kind of earnest, gung-ho shinola that they brought Tino back for in the first place. It's not entirely unwelcome, given the bleak circumstances, but he really could work on the subtlety of his message.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Bad Moon Rising

Apologies for the relative quietude of this site in recent weeks. I've become absorbed in another big project, doing some research for Will Carroll's upcoming and increasingly well-timed book on steroids, The Juice (not to be confused with Jose Canseco's tell-all Juiced, about which more momentarily).

As unappealing as I find the topic of steroids, I'm excited to read Will's book. He's shown himself to be the right man to tackle the topic, with well-placed sources all over the game, the knowledge and willingness to do the legwork to understand the makeup of the drugs, and somebody who's focused on getting to the heart of the story rather than passing moral judgements. He recently scored a major coup by procuring an interview with the inventor of THG, the previously undetectable steroid at the center of the BALCO scandal. Will provided me with a copy of the chapter concerning the interview, and let me just say that it's absolutely jaw-dropping, dynamite stuff. I wish I could tell you more than that, but for now you'll have to make do with the teasers he left via the link above.

Unless you're inclined to shoot Magglio Ordonez-sized fish in a Detroit Tiger barrel, it's been an otherwise slow week for baseball news. Between that bit of Will's book, my research piece, and the publicity and punditry surrounding Canseco's book, whose contents were detailed in Sunday's New York Daily News and have made their way to other news outlets, steroids have been everywhere I've looked lately.

The Canseco revelations are troubling on numerous levels. First off, this is a brazen cash grab by a broke, idiotic and amoral waste of protoplasm with zero job prospects. Canseco has nothing to lose by generating this firestorm; his dignity and self-respect are long gone, as are his chances at the Hall of Fame or any future employment in baseball. He's not looking for redemption, he's looking for notoriety and a payday. He could have just as easily joined the World Wrestling Federation for all of that, except that the likes of the Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin have better sense than to keep company with his ilk.

It's disappointing to read Canseco's allegations that former Oakland teammates Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi injected each other in the bathroom stalls (insert Beavis and Butthead joke here) and that he himself personally injected Texas teammates Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez as well. While it wouldn't be entirely surprising to find out that those players did use, the fact is that aside from Giambi's leaked testimony, we don't know the truth about any of them, and in the absence of documented urine tests any of them took during that period (ha!), we never will. Those players have little recourse other than blanket denials, and no chance to pursue a libel case against him, since they have no way to prove their innocence. It's all in the realm of he said/she said, and in this case at least one of the parties has plenty of rea$on$ to embellish what he's saying.

But what nauseates me most is to see Canseco's pride in making some grandiose claim of being Patient Zero, the Johnny AppleSyringe responsible for spreading steroids throughout the game. From the book's press release:
Canseco made himself a guinea pig of the performance-enhancing drugs that were only just beginning to infiltrate the American underground. Anabolic steroids, human growth hormones -- Canseco mixed, matched, and experimented to such a degree that he became known throughout the league as "The Chemist." He passed his knowledge on to trainers and fellow players, and before long, performance-enhancing drugs were running rampant throughout Major League Baseball.
Hip hip hooray! Huzzah for Jose! Now please get me a bucket so I can puke.

There was a short-lived time in the twilight of his career, starting with when he woke up and inexplicably found himself a New York Yankee due to some waiver-wire shenanigans, that I was able to muster a bit of sympathy for Canseco. I'd like to formally apologize to the English-speaking world for that mistake by telling Mr. Canseco to stick his 462 home runs and his weighty tome where the sun don't shine. Oh, I might read the damn thing, but you can be damn sure Canseco will never see a red cent of my money. Review copies are made for sketchy situations like this.

Ultimately, what's really distressing about all of this is that as lacking in credibility as Canseco is, some portion of what he's saying is likely true. His words, along with all of the BALCO stuff that will dog Barry Bonds as he pursues the home run marks of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, and the floating shitstorm that will follow Jason Giambi from city to city, will continue to cast a dark shadow on baseball for the foreseeable future. The players association and the commissioner may have taken increasingly drastic steps to rid the game of steroids, but as a topic of conversation, they're here to stay.

• • •

Like most other red-blooded Americans, I watched the Super Bowl last Sunday. Based almost entirely on the presence of Terrell Owens in the Eagles lineup, I found it quite easy to root for the Patriots. Actually, my allegiance to the Patriots goes back considerably further. As a kid I enjoyed the Steve Grogan/Sam "Bam" Cunningham years, and I got pretty jazzed about Drew Bledsoe and company back when I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, so I've been following that particular bandwagon for awhile, suffering through their two Super Bowl losses before getting the opporutnity to cheer as they've won three titles in the past four years (my "real" NFL rooting interest for the past 27 years being the hilariously inept Seattle Seahawks, with the occasionally accomplished Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans a solid second).

Several have remarked on how this current Patriots dynasty bears some resemblence to the New York Yankees of the late '90s. I see it myself in the low-key, team-first demeanors of the two franchises' players. There are no Terrell Owenses on the Pats, nor were there any on those Yankees. Instead there's just a calmly focused expectation of winning without creating a circus sideshow of assclowns. Reader Andy Vogel has some views on a few more ways in which the two teams resemble each other. Worth a read.


Friday, February 04, 2005


Clearing the Bases -- Post-Rant Edition

In the words of the Onion's immortal Jim Anchower, "Hola amigos! I know it's been a long time since I last rapped at ya..."

• Late Wednesday night I was thumbing through this week's issue of Sports Illustrated and came across a Tom Verducci piece about the Sammy Sosa situation that grabbed me:
In mid-January, after the Chicago Cubs essentially put their winter business on hold for three months while trying in vain to trade outfielder Sammy Sosa, Cubs president Andy MacPhail and Adam Katz, Sosa's agent, began discussing the damage control needed to bring Sosa back. There was talk of hiring public relations people with expertise in crisis management, a long past overdue meeting between manager Dusty Baker and Sosa, and the possibility of Sosa's addressing his teammates in spring training. It all smacked of trying to glue together a porcelain vase that had smashed into hundreds of pieces. The beauty was gone, and the awkward attempt at restoration would serve only as a mockery.

...Remember this: Sosa is the Cubs' alltime home run leader, is the only man in history to hit 60 homers in a season three times and, for many a day since he became a Cub in 1992, actually surpassed the warm sun and cold beer as the most compelling reason to go to Wrigley Field. You went to see Sosa make that exuberant dash to rightfield in the top of the first and that wing-flapping home run hop at the plate the way you went to see Old Faithful gush at Yellowstone. He satisfied thousands whether or not the Cubs won.

All that seemed forgotten among the dry-eyed Chicagoans who bid Sosa good riddance. As Rick Telander wrote in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times, "Never in my life have I seen an athlete go from being the heart and soul and spirit of a team to an utter pariah -- without point-shaving or outright felonious crime involved -- as swiftly as I have with Sammy."
Verducci's porcelain vase metaphor really hit home. In Sosa's fall -- sadly, largely his own doing via the corked bat and the early exit of last season's final game -- something quite special was broken beyond repair, not just for Cubs fans but for fans all around the game.

I have a few fond Sammy Sosa moments. I recall the great pleasure and satisfaction I felt in visiting Wrigley Field back in 1999, watching Slammin' Sammy and how much joy he brought to the crowd, even though he didn't homer in either of the games I saw. Like Verducci wrote, he really did seem to outrank the sun and the beer.

Back in 2002, I championed Sosa as the cover icon for the 2003 World Almanac for Kids, for which I was the creative director, a choice that met with a high five from one of my clients, a diehard Cubs fan. The end result was a project that was a career highlight, one for the front page of my design portfolio.

While attending the 2002 All-Star Game's Home Run Derby in Milwaukee, I had a great opportunity to marvel at Sosa's blasts:
Then Sosa began one of the most amazing hitting displays I've ever seen. Six straight swings produced epic home runs which rattled off of the Miller Park furniture, two off of Bernie Brewer's yellow slide in high leftfield (where mascots from all around the league--the Phillie Phanatic, the Oriole Bird, Youppi, and the Miller Park Sausage Racers, among others--slid down Bernie's slide after each homer). From our perch in upper right, we had a magnificent view of each blast's arc. The shortest of the six shots was 496 feet, the rest over 500, the longest a Derby record 524 feet. The crowd gasped each time Sosa launched another moon shot and cheered wildly when the distance was announced. By the time he'd used up his final two outs, he had 12 homers and 40-some-thousand jaws hanging open.

...[In the next round] He even hit one literally out of the park, as the ball traveled through the open left-center roof panel and into the parking lot, where a young fan holding a sign that said "hit It Here, Sammy!" retrieved the ball in the rain. With 7 outs (doesn't that sound weird?), Sosa blasted a shot that everybody in the park knew was gone. Without even following the ball's trajectory, Sosa flicked the bat with a dramatic flair, the winner of the round.
Watching Sosa get traded to the Orioles is like watching a married pair of friends divorce; you don't really want to take sides, you don't want to hear about the real dirt that lay beneath the veneer of a relationship you once envied, you just want relief for everybody involved. I feel for my friends who are Cubs fans, and at the same time hope that Sosa finds some measure of redemption in Baltimore.

Jon Weisman has an unique take on the Sosa trade, comparing the chemistry-laden takes of many pundits to the roasting Dodger GM Paul DePodesda received over trading Shawn Green:
When Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta traded Shawn Green (2004 OPS: .811) and $10 million to Arizona for four minor league prospects and release of the remaining $6 million on Green’s contract, not only did most mainstream reporters criticize the move, many questioned DePodesta’s credentials to be general manager, period.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry this week is trading Sammy Sosa (2004 OPS: .849) and $12 million to Baltimore for infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr., two minor league prospects and release of the remaining $5 million on Sosa’s contract. Realizing that Green wasn’t the outward clubhouse problem in Los Angeles that Sosa had become in Chicago, the contrast in press reaction is strong.

...Chemistry still reigns in the press. Most of the reviews of the Sosa trade have nothing to do with on-field performance, but instead the dugout, the locker room and admittedly, the car driving away from Wrigley Field.

And so, Hendry gets a free ride on this deal. If Sosa knocks out 50 homers in Baltimore, well, today we say Hendry still had to make the trade. Forget about the relative values of the players involved - it’s all about peace and quiet.
• February is arbitration month, the time when players and teams square off for a good old-fashioned grudge match to determine the salaries of a select group of players for the coming season. Every year about this time I chuckle as I remember a line from one of the Bill James Abstracts in which the bearded bard discussed the misconceptions the public holds about arbitration. James' words were to the effect that as fans see it, the player's side tries to convince the arbitrator that player X is Steve Carlton's brother, while the club side tries to frame said player as Joaquin Andujar's niece.

There's little reason to be so in the dark about arbitration in this day and age. Just this week, a fine pair of articles on the topic have surfaced. First up is a piece by Studes at the Hardball Times called All About Arbitration. Studes begins by providing some historical perspective on arbitration's early years, noting that the process became part of the baseball landscape via the 1973 Basic Agreement. The Reserve Clause was still in effect, and free agency was still a twinkle in Marvin Miller's eye, but the owners had unwittingly agreed to allow independent arbitrators to decide which of two salaries, one submitted by the player and the other by the club, would be determined by a hearing. According to Studes, Reggie Jackson won the first case for $135,000 after winning the 1972 AL MVP award.

As one would expect from the proprietor of the Baseball Graphs site, Studes provides a handful of graphs to illustrate arbitration's evolution over the years. Nowdays, only a handful of cases are actually heard each year (seven in each of the past two winters, down from a high of 35 in 1986), with the rest being resolved prior to the panel rendering its verdict. A couple of other nuggets:

a) from 1979 to 1996, the average arbitration award rose from $68,000 to $2.3 million, a compound average growth rate of 23%.

b) teams have won 59% of the cases overall.

I do wish that Studes had given a figure indicating by what percentage the average winner and loser salaries increase, because to me the real point to be made about arbitration is that almost invariably even the players who lose receive hefty raises.

While Studes spends a bit of time discussing the mechanics of arbitration, Tom Gorman gives them a more thorough going-over at Baseball Prospectus (it's a premium piece). His article is set up like a Frequently Asked Questions piece, providing easy answers to vexing queries such as "What the heck is a 'Super Two?'" (that's a player with between two and three years of service time who also accumulated at least 86 days of service in the previous year, and was in the top 17% among all two-year players in service time).

Gorman notes early in the piece that "Final Offer Abritration" as the process is technically called, is designed to produce a settlement, not a verdict: "The arbitrator cannot "split the baby" and settle on a salary in the middle of the spread between the club's figure and the player's. One side leaves the arbitration a winner and the other a loser, heightening risk and encouraging negotiation and settlement."

He devotes a good deal of space to the process of selecting the arbitrators, how the hearing proceeds, and what criteria are in and out of bounds:
The following evidence is admissable:

1. The quality of the player's contribution to his club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal).
2. The length and consistency of his career contribution.
3. The record of the player's past compensation.
4. Comparative baseball salaries (the arbitration panel is provided with a table of confidential baseball salaries for all players broken down by years of service).
5. The existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the player.
6. The recent performance of the club, including but not limited to his league standing and attendance.

The following evidence is inadmissible:

1. The financial position of the player and the club (though player representatives often try to get this information in the back door by presenting attendance information that implies the health of a club's revenue streams).
2. Press comments, testimonials or similar material bearing on the performance of either the player or the club, except for recognized annual player awards for playing excellence.
3. Offers made by either the player or the club prior to arbitration.
4. Cost to the parties of their representatives.
5. Salaries in other sports or occupations.
Gorman, who also runs the Giants-themed Fogball blog, has remarked in email correspondences that the Giants are terrified of the arbitration process, noting the team's loss to A.J. Pierzynski last year and their recent handout of a generous two-year, $6.1 million deal to the easily replaceable Pedro Feliz rather than going to the mat with him. Such fear of arbitration appears to be a trend. Dodger GM Paul DePodesta, who confronted Eric Gagne at the tables during his first week on the job last winter, was adamant about reaching a settlement with the begoggled closer before the case began, and he recently signed his star to a two-year, $19 million deal. DePo also reached deals with Cesar Izturis (3/$9.9 million) and Brad Penny (1/$5.1 million), clearing his docket this time around.

Gorman concludes in his piece that while the owners view arbitration as a means of inflating salaries, they find the process much more manageable than full-scale free agency, and because eliminating the process would require adjustments to that whole rigamarole -- concessions that neither side appears willing to make -- it isn't likely to disappear any time soon.

• Finally, I want to thank my readers for their response to last week's rant about the Yankees. Apparently I really touched a nerve; I can't recall many of my blog entries getting linked in so many places. Bronx Banter, Baseball Musings, Baseball Think Factory, Baseball News Blog, and The House that Dewey Built were some of the sites calling attention to it, helping to generate a single-day record for traffic at FI (on a Friday, no less -- typically low ebb for my readership) and still, via a Soxaholix comic strip, giving Red Sox Nation plenty of yuks a few days later.

While I certainly enjoy letting off steam in print, and hardly wish to shun the attention my rants can bring, I'd like to reassure the rubbernecking element among my readers that I am not, in general, an angry person, a violent one or, as Soxaholix tried to put it, "starting to go rabid froth at the mouth." Rest assured that the only chairs and tantrums I throw where baseball is concerned are metaphorical (the caps are another story...). I'm actually rather happy, healthy, and levelheaded, if a bit cynical and not entirely sane. I do have a tendency, especially when frustrated, to be blunt and somewhat caustic with my written words, which combined with the freedom to write any damn thing I want in this space, can amplify my message quite a bit. Kind of like Wile E. Coyote with his dynamite and his ACME contraptions, though this one didn't actually blow up in my face. For which I'm grateful.


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