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.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Mind Game and the Weekend Ahead

You're reading the words of a happy man, and not just because the Yanks find themselves one game up in the AL East going into the weekend's showdown in Fenway. No, I'm a happy man because my copy of Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning arrived on Wednesday.

Mind Game, for those of you who haven't heard this particular song and dance yet, is a book about how the Red Sox took a rational, sabermetrically-derived approach to building a team and in doing so, overcame the better part of a century's worth of mistakes, including the pervasive, institutional racism that made the Sox the last team to integrate. It follows the narrative arc of their 2004 championship season -- which, as you may have heard, was their first since 1918 -- but digs back into their sordid past to emphasize the failures of imagination and intelligence that doomed the Sox, focusing on the way the John Henry-Theo Epstein regime solved some of those problems in building a championship team.

Never mind that this was a copy I had to buy online because I couldn't wait for the publisher to send me my author copies. Never mind that the book is an in-depth exploration of something that at its center caused me a great deal of personal frustration. Never mind that the green and red cover looks like a Christmas morning trainwreck of bad design (nobody consulted this graphic designer) and clashing colors.

No, I'm a happy man because I get to hold in my hands the first baseball book to which I ever contributed (Will Carroll's The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems was published first, but my work on this was done prior). And that feels pretty incredible. Someday, holding my newborn son or daughter or a book of my creation in my arms will bring me more satisfaction. But for right now, this feeling is tough to beat.

I wrote two chapters for Mind Game, which was well underway and yet below the radar when I officially joined the Baseball Prospectus team last November. The first one, now titled "Deconstructing Pedro," is a look at Pedro Martinez's mighty struggles against the Yankees, who won 19 of the 30 games in which the diminutive Dominican started. I mined data from Retrosheet and pored over the game logs of all of his starts against the Yankees, looking for patterns, querying the database gods at BP to shuffle the numbers a few different ways.

I had a great time reading through my own writings on the topic -- blog entries and game reports that Steve Goldman, who edited the project, had in mind when he offered me the chapter. Without too much difficulty, I was able to cull a "starting nine" of memorable Pedro-versus-Yankees games, many of which brought out the rabidly irrational partisan in me in a way I don't really miss now that it's gone. I got to relive the circumstances of memorable quotes such as "Why don't we just wake up the Bambino, and maybe I'll drill him in the ass?" "YES Network wants me to die," and "I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy."

I wrote the chapter as Martinez was locking up his four-year-deal with the Mets, and as I followed the news, I felt a great weight lifting from my own shoulders as a fan. Finally, I could take some appreciation in the accomplishments of the best pitcher of his generation, and enjoy the quirky sense of humor that lay beneath that armor of defiance. I don't think I can put it any better than I did back in January:
That I drew a chapter in which the Yanks won most of the battles made it a little easier to swallow, as did the breaking news of Martinez's departure for Flushing Meadows. In that context, I really warmed up to Pedro, viewing the performances and antics of his Sox career in the past tense and reconstructing his season through the point of view of the chapter. Pedro the dominant pitcher of 1999-2000 bored me. Pedro of 2001-2002 just pissed me off. But the fallible Pedro of 2003-2004 is one of the more fascinating baseball characters of our lifetime, and a reminder why there's little need for fiction in baseball: the real thing provides better drama than we can possibly dream up. Red Smith had a point.

At one point during my stay in Salt Lake City, when the deadline was bearing down on me and the Cabernet from my dad's wine cellar had been especially good, I drifted off into one of those beautiful half-slumbers that I could recall later. In my dream-state, I was driving a car down a desert highway, and Pedro was riding shotgun, laughing bemusedly through his half-lidded expression as we talked about his battles with the Yankees on the field and in the media. The message, I guess, is that now that he's no longer a Red Sock, I'm free to appreciate him that much more, and I certainly do. And in a strange way, the dream and the writing brought me a kind of closure with the whole Sox win/Yanks lose angle of the past postseason. I can live with it now; the last tantrum has been thrown, the last hat stomped.
The second chapter I wrote, now called -- to my eternal amusement and satisfaction -- "You Want Me to Hit Like a Little Bitch?" about the long and winding road David Ortiz took to becoming the Sox's most feared slugger. The title comes from a quote in which Ortiz described the Minnesota Twins' attempts to stop him from swinging for the fences, and the main thrust is to show how two very different teams could take such divergent views on the same ballplayer. There's a commonality to what they saw -- a not-too-nimble guy at the left end of the defensive spectrum, where talent is cheap -- but the Twins were rolling in those types of players, not that they knew how to use them, while the Red Sox were busy creating international incidents to grab as many of them as possible to fill their first base and DH holes.

For all of the work I put into the book, until receiving my copy I had yet to see any of the 320 or so pages to which I didn't contribute. It's a hefty book, 352 pages, crammed full of words and tables and charts that include leaderboards for most of the advanced metrics that the book relies on -- all-time and Boston-only single season and career leaders for VORP, EQA, FRAA, SNVAR, WXRL, and a few more noodles from the BP alphabet soup. Twenty BP writers contributed in all, including the late Doug Pappas, with Steven Goldman, who edited the project, batting cleanup and tying the whole thing together (he listed much of the book's content here).

Goldman, of course, is best known for his tireless work over at the YES Network website, writing The Pinstriped Bible and its companion, The Pinstriped Blog. It's been asked why a Yankee fan such as him or myself would work on a book about the Red Sox. Aside from the obvious financially-related answers, it's because we pride ourselves on being able to approach the topic in an objective and critical manner to do justice to a fascinating story about which -- despite all of the other books on the market -- much had been left to say.

Thinking about the two chapters I wrote, I'm reminded of something Buster Olney said about covering the Yankees: as a writer, you don't root for teams, you root for stories. I'm lucky enough that I get to wear both hats (to say nothing of the Dodger, Yankee and Brewer caps which dot my apartment) as a fan and a writer, but in writing my chapters I learned what Olney meant. Even covering two players who were instrumental in beating the Yanks, I had no trouble becoming engrossed in the topic. Understanding, appreciating and communicating why something happened -- even if that wasn't something we ourselves may have hoped to happen -- and doing it well won't always make you rich, but it does bring a great deal of satisfaction, and I'm confident that we've done it well enough to satisfy both Red Sox fans and fans of the game in general.

Some would argue that BP has missed the boat with the timing of the book coming almost a year after the fact, but really, that's a feature, not a bug. This way, ours didn't get lost in the instant Soxploitation books that flooded the market when the team won; it's not a quick reaction to the marketplace such as the slew of King/Shaughnessy/Montville tomes, not that those don't hold their virtues for diehard Sox fans. It aims to be a timeless, authoritative tome on how to build a championship team, using the 2004 Sox as its template, and as such, should have an appeal that extends far beyond the Mass Turnpike.

Anyway, this constitutes the end of the sales spiel, other than to say that at a list price of $13.95 (and considerably lower on Amazon and other online merchants), it won't bleed you dry, and I think it's a book you'll pull out often to hone those arguments about the "Holy Gospel of On-Base Percentage" (that's a chapter title), the importance of controlling the strike zone, and the proper way to run a bullpen. I'm extremely proud to be associated with this product, and I encourage anybody who enjoys reading this blog to check it out.

• • •

So, Thursday night's radio gig was a bit of a dud for me, not that it wasn't an entertaining hour of listening (you can hear it here or, with a bit more fidelity and a copy of iTunes, you can listen here). Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter and Ryan Toohil of The House That Dewey Built chatted with host Christopher Lydon at length about the Boston-New York rivalry; Cliff comes in at about 4:50, Ryan comes in at 14:15, and yours truly comes in around 37:00 and gets sandwiched between two studio callers, drawing all of about five minutes of airtime. I felt screwed; the biggest disappointment was that I didn't get to mention Mind Game to an audience for whom the book was in the wheelhouse. But hey, I've gotten to do TV and numerous episodes of Baseball Prospectus Radio, so I'm not too worried that my media dominance (hahaha) wasn't exactly furthered here. The show is still worth a listen even if the host spent far too long celebrating Bill Simmons.

• • •

Ah yes, there's a series to discuss, isn't there? Let's face it, we all knew -- Yankee fans and Red Sox fans and MLB schedule-makers -- it would likely come down to this final weekend, didn't we? The tantalizing part about the matchup is the potential -- still at about 65 percent, according to BP's Postseason Odds page -- that the losing team will miss the playoffs. We can all taste the blood.

And yet the matchup is somewhat anticlimactic. There's less at stake with the Sox having finally broken their 86-year run of futility. These two teams are not the juggernauts that have squared off in the past two ALCSes. They're both extremely flawed, with weaknesses in the rotation and particularly the bullpen; the Sox pen's ERA of 5.26 ranks last in the AL, while the Yanks' is extremely shaky in front of Mariano Rivera, stocked with no-talents like Leiter Fluid, Smolderin' Embree, Wayne the Bane, the Proctologist, and Fraudriguez. Tanyon Sturtze has been burned beyond recognition by Joe Torre's usage pattern, while Tom Gordon has been decent but not great. Only Mariano Rivera has had a stellar year, though it's one marred by a couple of dings at the hands of the Sox.

One of Baseball Prospectus' fine reliever stats is called Fair Run Average, which divvies up inherited and bequeathed runners according to a Run Expectancy Table (using the base-out state) to more accurately assign responsibility. It also doesn't let pitchers off the hook for unearned runs, for reasons that are best explained here (suffice it to say that preventing unearned runs is a skill that correlates with ERA). Here are the FRAs of the relevant (i.e., active) relievers for each squad:
Yankees   FRA
Rivera 1.54
Gordon 3.60
Sturtze 3.67
Small 3.69
Franklin 4.87
Proctor 5.43
Rodriguez 6.49
Embree 7.13
Leiter 7.49

Red Sox FRA
Myers 1.17
Timlin 2.39
Papelbon 4.12
Stanton 4.31
Delcarmen 4.37
Gonzalez 4.58
Bradford 5.61
Hansen 8.44
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, if one of those names on the second list seems familiar and yet somewhat out of place, it's because the Red Sox acquired two-time former Yankee (including 2005) Mike Stanton from the Washington Nationals yesterday for a pair of live arms. It's one of the latest deals ever made, and while Stanton won't be eligible for the postseason roster, there's a very real possibility he'll see some action against a big lefty bat like Hideki Matsui or Jason Giambi (suddenly this memory became much warmer). Don't be fooled by the symmetry of him essentially swapping places with Alan Embree; Stanton got his shit together in Washington (where his FRA was 2.83 in about twice as many innings as he had in NY), while Embree has been brutal in both venues (both his and Stanton's FRAs encompass both stops, as does Leiter's).

It's interesting to note that the Sox have three rookies among their bullpen corps. Hansen, their first-round draft pick from this summer, has all of 2.1 innings under his belt, while Delcarmen has 8.2; Papelbon is likely to be the only real factor of the three but since he threw 2.2 frames on Thursday, he probably needs a day of rest. With Keith Foulke out of the picture, the Sox are relying that what's behind the unknown Door #2 is better than the gimpy Door #1.

Don't be surprised if the Yanks call the number of last night's starter, Aaron Small, for an inning of setup on Saturday or Sunday in a spot where Sturtze would normally pitch. Jaret Wright, who's been the victim of too many identified flying objects lately, is also in the pen; recall that he resurrected his career with 13 innings of stellar stretch-run relief for the Braves in 2003. His ERA since returning from his Tampa rehab is 4.43 and while that's not particularly impressive, it could come in handy as an altertnative to Felix Rodriguez, who should just stay home. I hope it doesn't come to pass, but Wright is likely also the long man in the event of a shellacking or a short leash on Mike Mussina. It's a contingency the Yanks have to plan for; not a happy thought, but as contingencies go, there are worse.

But really, the series will have a lot to do with the starters, and to me the matchup favors the Yanks. Neither David Wells, who throws tonight, nor Curt Schilling, who goes on Sunday, are anywhere near 100%, though both have the outsized egos and big game reputations which have prepared them for this stage. Chien Ming-Wang goes against Wells tonight; he's never faced the Sox before, but he's been throwing very well in his last couple of starts since coming off of the DL. Less impressive is Mike Mussina, who starts on Sunday; he was rocked in Baltimore on Tuesday night, failing to get out of the second inning, though the elbow pain which sidelined him for three weeks reportedly wasn't a factor (yeah, surrrrre).

Ultimately, it's Saturday's rematch between Randy Johnson and Tim Wakefield that's the most tantalizing; recall that Johnson (and company) beat Wakefield 1-0 back on September 11 to begin a 15-3 tear which the Yankees have ridden to the brink of the finish line. This is the start the Yankee brass had in mind, this is the difference maker, all 42 years, gimpy knees, 96 MPH fastball, brutal slider and mean mofo glare. Quite frankly, there's no pitcher from either team that I'd feel more confident about at this stage, except for Rivera. I'm picking the Yankees to take care of business this weekend; whether the Sox, 10-7 over that same span, survive is the big question, though with the Indians having been cooled down by the same Tampa Bay Devil Rays squad that wrought so much havoc on the playofff picture, their chances have sweetened considerably. It should be a fantastic weekend for baseball.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Radio Alert: Thursday Evening

Keeping up with the audio theme, I'm pleased to announce that I will be one of the guests on Radio Open Source, which runs from 7 PM to 8 PM EST Thursday evening on WGBH in Boston (89.7 FM) and from 4 PM to 5 PM via KUOW in Puget Sound (94.9 FM). The topic, as if you may not have guessed, is the upcoming weekend series between the Yankees and the Red Sox, a series that will decide the AL East and quite possibly send the losing team to a long winter of discontent. With the Yanks holding a one-game lead after Wednesday night, they can do no worse than enter the series tied, meaning a sweep at Fenway -- already an unrealistic expectation -- won't be necessary for them to win the division. None of which will help anybody get any relaxation between here and Sunday.

You can listen to a stream of the show via WGBH's website or KUOW's website. I'll have links to the archive, if there is one, for those of you who can't make that time but don't want to miss the fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Futility Infielder Radio Presents an Interview with Steven Goldman

Renowned for his "Pinstriped Bible" column at the YES Network website and for his "You Could Look It Up" column at Baseball Prospectus, Steven Goldman had his first book, Forging Genius: the Making of Casey Stengel, published earlier this year by Potomac Books. While Stengel's years with the Yankees -- during which he won 10 pennants and seven World Championships, including an unprecedented five titles in a row from 1949 through 1953 -- are well documented, his years of managing prior to that have received much less scrutiny.

In eight years of managing two undercapitalized second-division franchises, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Braves, Stengel's teams only topped .500 once. Goldman's thesis is that Stengel's experiences in managing those lesser teams gave him an opportunity to test and hone many pet theories, including complex platooning and bullpen usage, that he used to his advantage during his tenure with the Yanks. Over the course of the book's 262 pages, he delves into Stengel's early life, playing career and wilderness years, which included stops managing in Toledo, Milwaukee, and Oakland in between his Brooklyn, Boston, and New York tenures. Through it all, Goldman paints a picture of a manager who was far from the cryptically bumbling clown the sportswriters took him for when the Yanks hired him in '49. Faced with a championship caliber club decimated by injuries, Stengel knew just how to get the most out of his charges, and a run of success the likes of which baseball hasn't seen before or since began.

Recently I interviewed Goldman by phone. Among other things, we discussed the genesis of Forging Genius, Stengel's minor league managing experience, and his history with the Yankees and its applicability to managers today for nearly an hour, the results of which have been boiled down to 43 minutes spread out over two MP3s. The files aren't without their technical imperfections; this was something of an experiment I hope to repeat again on a regular basis, but with a better setup next time (special thanks to my pal Issa Clubb for bringing this into the realm of acceptable listenability as it is). Ours was a lively, informative discussion, and I hope fans of Goldman's work, whether they've read the book yet or not, will enjoy hearing what he has to say.

The Futility Infielder Radio interview with Steven Goldman Part I (24:19)
The Futility Infielder Radio interview with Steven Goldman Part II (19:03)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Capitol Idea

It's that time of year again, where I'm obsessively keeping track of four different games, and not even travel can tear me away from the action. I spent the past weekend in Washington, DC, but baseball was never far from my field of vision or my consciousness.

On Friday night, Andra and I paid a visit to her friend high school friend Joe and his family (wife and two little kids). We went to a burger joint in Bethesda for dinner, where the TV was running the Yankees-Blue Jays game with the sound off. I was vaguely aware that the Yanks put four runs on the board in the first inning off of Ted Lilly. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano led off the Yankee first with back-to-back homers off of Lilly, who's been downright brutal this year (his ERA is now up to 5.72) after two pretty good years in Oakland and Toronto.

Lilly didn't even make it out of the second inning, but by then I was more absorbed in the company of my hosts. Back at their place, kids in bed, beers in hand in front of a massive 36" TV complete with DVR and the Extra Innings package, we chatted for a couple of hours while flipping through the late innings of the Yankee game, the Mets-Nationals game, Red Sox-Orioles, Brewers-Cardinals (Andra and Joe grew up in Milwaukee), Twins-White Sox, Marlins-Braves, and Indians-Royals. It was a veritable smorgasbord, and I felt invested in each game. It's amazing how doing the Propsectus Hit List has familiarized me with the narrative arcs of all 30 teams, expanding my appreciation for their small triumphs, rolling my eyes at their self-defeating foibles, rooting for or against each one as the season grinds down to the end.

I watched as the Yanks wrapped up a 5-0 win behind Shawn Chacon, his second straight combined shutout of the Jays inside of a week. Chacon isn't a dominant pitcher -- he struck out only four in sixteen innings in those two Jays games, and is at 4.84 per nine innings on the season, along with 3.93 walks -- but he gets the job done with a lot of lazy popups and fly balls. Despite the flies, he stays away from the longball quite well (0.81 per nine, and that's with half a season in Colorado), and opposing batters are hitting just .255 against him. He's the posterboy for a serious DIPS correction, but every time I watch him, I just count my blessings and tell my statistics to shut up.

As the games began wrapping up, my hosts and my wife retired for bed, leaving me to sit riveted as I watched the red-hot Indians finish coughing up a 6-2 lead. Bobby Howry, who'd anchored the Tribe's setup corps with a string of 23.1 innings without allowing an earned run as the team made its move on the White Sox, had suddenly proven himself human, giving up the tying runs to the Sox on Tuesday and here surrendering a game-tying homer to Royals third baseman Mark Teahan. D'oh!

Royals closer Mike MacDougal came on with a tie score in the ninth, and after getting one out, his defense broke down behind him. The second baseman muffed Grady Sizemore's routine grounder. MacDougal exacerbated the situation by hesitantly fielding Coco Crisp's chopper and airmailing it wide of first base, putting runners on second and third. Jhonny Peralta slapped the go-ahead single on the next pitch, and that, for all intents and purposes, was that. With the White Sox victory, the Indians remained 1.5 games out of first place in the Central.

Saturday found Andra and me in the company of my BP colleague, Chris Kahrl, and after an afternoon that included a walk by the Washington Monument and Cindy Sheehan's protest on the DC mall and a trip to the Corcoran Gallery of Art to see the opening of an Andy Warhol retrospective, we headed to RFK Stadium for the night's game between the Nationals and the Mets.

We arrived with the top of the first already underway, just in time to see Cliff Floyd draw a walk off of Livan Hernandez to load the bases with just one out and a run already in. One 2-0 count later, David Wright drove a Hernandez fastball off the face of the left-center mezzanine for a grand slam and a 5-0 lead before Chris and I could even smirk at the two teams' lineups.

And what lineups they were. With both teams having more or less seen their chances of winning the NL Wild Card reduced to zero, what we ended up was a Sunday lineup on Saturday night. We're talking laughably bad, particularly in the case of the Nats:
1. J. Reyes, SS B. Watson, LF
2. M. Cairo, 2B C. Guzman, SS
3. C. Beltran, CF R. Zimmerman, 3B
4. C. Floyd, LF P. Wilson, CF
5. D. Wright, 3B M. Byrd, RF
6. M. Anderson, RF T. Blanco, 1B
7. R. Castro, C D. Cruz, 2B
8. D. M'k'wicz, 1B G. Bennett, C
9. T. Glavine, P L. Hernandez, P
Friends, that isn't a lineup, it's a white flag. Chris and I were unaware that Robinson had commented before the game that he was going to sit his regulars for much of the rest of the way, but this was ridiculous. The Nats' top seven hitters, according to VORP, were all on the bench, with Hernandez himself the best relative to his position. Sub-Mendozoid Brandon Watson leading off, Guzman, with the lowest VORP of any major league hitter, batting second, disappointing, powerless Marlon Byrd fifth, and a black hole until Hernandez. Only Ryan Zimmerman, the #4 pick in the 2005 draft, and Wilson, an overrated but semi-useful power-hitting outfielder, would be worth salvaging from this trainwreck.

The Mets offense featured a solid 3-4-5 in the disappointing but still promising Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd, and Wright. But that trio was drowning in a sea of mediorcity that illustrates how bad a manager Willie Randolph actually is. Jose Reyes has spent most of the season atop the lineup with a sub-.300 OBP, effectively strangling the Mets offense. Miguel Cairo is well below .300 in that department as well, having turned back into a pumpkin after shedding the pinstripes (should have taken that one-year deal, Miggy). Futilityman Marlon Anderson has spent much of the season at first base, where the Mets as a team have combined to hit .221/.297/.373 -- mostly thanks to Doug Mientkiewicz -- numbers that wouldn't pass muster for a shortstop in this day and age, let alone a power position. Castro has had a decent year, emerging as the heir apparent to the departing Mike Piazza.

As Chris and I snarked ourselves silly in discussing the two lineups, we surmised that Castro was no worse than the sixth-best non-pitcher on the field between the two teams, and that the chances of finding a lineup that could manage a .500 showing among those players was lean. We were preaching to the choir, but it was good, catty fun. Imagine reading a Transaction Analysis and a Hit List back-to-back, sprinkle in some alcohol and some four-letter words, and you're about there.

It was interesting to see RFK, the former home of the Washington Redskins football team and, going back to 1971, the departed Washington Senators. RFK had been hastily rejiggered to baseball specifications once the Nats' move from Montreal became finalized, but it still had a makeshift feel. Faded maroon and mustard seats, most of them empty, filled the upper levels, while the field level seats were an orange that had to make the Mets feel right at home. None of this was a very good match for the Nats' red and white unis. The outfield had no bleachers; instead a more or less solid green wall pocked with ad banners extended up from the outfield fence to the mezzanine level, with the bullpens flush from the gaps to either foul line. In its favor, the upper deck is closer to the action than at Shea Stadium, though not as close as in the Bronx. The grass field looked especially worn and perhaps overgrazed, with bare dirt patches easily visible from our spots in the upper deck just to the left of home plate (seat price $15 plus service). Foul territory was huge by the standards of the other 29 teams, helping to make RFK a serious pitchers' park. Not bad for makeshift circumstances; almost better than Shea thanks to the lack of aircraft overhead, but hardly one of the game's great ballparks.

Ryan Zimmerman, who came in riding an 11-for-25 performance for his cup of coffee, managed a single off of Tom Glavine in the first inning, but that was all these weak sisters got until the sixth as the game flew by. By 8 PM, we were already in the bottom of the fourth inning, the two teams swinging as though they had planes to catch.

In the home half of the sixth, Hernandez, who had settled down to outlast his potential disaster start (Chris had joked that if Livan went another nine shutout innings after the first, he could salvage a quality start, effectively a game ERA of 4.50), launched a fly ball towards Anderson in rightfield which the futilityman brutally misplayed into a triple. The big pitcher ran as if he were carrying his lithe brother El Duque on his back but still lumbered into third with a "triple" (thank you, official scorer). Glavine lost his shutout on a home-cooked infield "single" to second base by Watson, and two batters later, Zimmerman doubled him home -- his second of three hits on the night -- to cut the score to 5-2.

Somewhere in all of this Andra went on a refreshment run that lasted two and a half fast-paced innings. When she emerged, somewhat disoriented, it was with a tale of usher incompetence. As she carried a tray of beer, an ice cream sandwich, and a bag of kettle corn, the septuagenarian usher decided to sweat her presence in the upper deck. She set down her precious cargo and mistakenly produced her Corcoran Gallery ticket, which was blue and said "Ticketmaster" on it but otherwise bore no resemblance to our ballgame ticket. The usher squinted at it and then pointed her towards left-centerfield with the conviction only senility can bring. At last she spotted us and blew off the geezer's absurd directive.

The Nats couldn't close the 5-2 gap, but then that will happen when you lead off three innings, including the eighth, with a .208-hitting catcher like Gary Bennett. Jose Vidro, the team's regular second baseman, hit for Hernandez after Bennett in the eighth, but by then, Frank Robinson had already squandered one of his team's six remaining outs in the service of not making his regular catcher, Brian Schneider, squat for a single inning on his off day. Robinson was more liberal about his bench in the ninth, with Glavine having yielded to Roberto Hernandez. Carlos Baerga, who'd hit a game-tying homer off of Hernandez the night before, flied out for Byrd, while Nick Johnson ended the game flying out as well, wrapping things up in a tidy two hours and 24 minutes.. All in all, a raucous trip to the ballpark but not the most compelling game.

• • •

The latest Prospectus Hit List is up, and for the first time since June 19, there's a new team at the top. The Indians' incredible surge has helped them take the #1 spot from St. Louis after 12 weeks of Cardinal dominance. Still, the team is trailing the White Sox by two games and could conceivably miss the playoffs; their Wild Card lead at this writing is a mere four outs away from becoming a deadlock with the Red Sox. As of this morning, BP's Postseason Odds page showed the Indians with a 37.1 percent chance of taking the division, a 48.2 percent shot at the Wild Card, for an 85.4 percent chance of making the playoffs overall. The #3-ranked Yanks, thanks to winning on a night when the Red Sox were rained out, hold a 50.5-49.5 shot at winning the division and a 10.9 percent shot at the Wild Card for a 61.4 percent chance overall. The #4 Red Sox are at 58.9 percent overall.

The Indians are slated for three games with the resurgent Devil Rays before wrapping things up with the White Sox. The Yanks play the DOA Orioles for three more in Baltimore before heading to Fenway for the weekend showdown, while Boston battles Toronto for three more going into that series. Increasingly, it looks entirely possible that the Yanks-Red Sox series will be all-or-nothing for the two teams, something that will surely ratchet up the intensity. In a sense, the playoffs have already begun. Boil some coffee, hand me my rally cap, and bring it on.

Friday, September 23, 2005


First Place, Beeyach

In the eight years I've been a Yankees partial season ticket holder, going to roughly 10-15 games a year, I can count the number of meaningful (as in pennant-race meaningful) September games I've been to on one hand. I generally front-load my ticket requests to go during the warmer weather. By this time on the calendar, the Yanks have usually taken care of the business of entrenching themselves in first place. One game which stands out in memory is the September 7, 2003 matchup with David Wells going against the Red Sox, a game which decided the season series between the two teams. But that -- and the recent Curt Schilling debacle -- was an early September game, important but not down-to-the-wire in its implications.

Wednesday night was one of those rare occasions. The Yanks sent Randy Johnson to the hill to face the Orioles with his team just half a game behind Boston in the AL East standings, a margin that's been trimmed from four games inside the last two weeks. They had gone 9-2 over that span, even winning an ugly 11-10 game against the Blue Jays in which Johnson was ejected in the second inning.

The previous night's contest against the Orioles had been a similar sludgefest, a 3-hour, 41-minute 12-9 win for the Yanks in a game which they had led 9-3 after two innings and 10-3 by the time I checked in during the fifth. A short outing by starter Aaron Small and a slow leak in the bullpen -- compounded by Joe Torre's insistence on using Lefthanded No Out Guy (LNOGY) Alan Embree -- had required the rousting of the overworked Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera, the last thing the Yanks need at this time of year, particularly in a game that had shaped up as a blowout.

Luckily, Johnson brought his A game, the one he had in shutting down the Red Sox 1-0 September 11, the one worthy of a creatively emblazoned wallet. He held the Orioles -- a team as dead in the water as any I have seen in over a quarter-century of following baseball -- hitless through the first four innings, with only a fourth-inning walk to Miguel Tejada marring perfection.

By then, Johnson had been staked to a 2-0 lead courtesy of Matt Lawton. With Gary Sheffield limited to DH duty by a bad quad and Bernie Williams getting some rest in favor of the suddenly hot Bubba Crosby, Torre had no choice but to start Lawton, who had gone just 4-for-47 since being acquired from the Cubs in a waiver deal. With Hideki Matsui having singled off of Rodrigo Lopez two batters earlier, Lawton hit Lopez' first pitch into the rightfield bleachers, thereby doubling his homer and RBI totals as a Yank.

With the lead secured, Johnson's quest for a no-hitter became the focus. He got the first out of the fifth, striking out 31-year-old rookie Alejandro Freire. Following that, a bad throw by Derek Jeter after diving for Eric Byrnes' ground ball pulled Jason Giambi off the bag, and the crowd -- full for a Wednesay night, with 50,382 officially on hand -- cheered the official scorer's ruling of an error (the First Commandment of Official Scoring reads, "Make the first hit a clean one, especially for the home team.").

The point became moot two pitches later, when Chris Gomez lined a clean single between Giambi and Robinson Cano. It was the only time the Orioles had two baserunners on at the same time, but Johnson barely escaped by getting Luis Matos to ground into a 6-3 double play, the throw for which Giambi had to dive for. Already struggling with back spasms recently, Giambi has toughed it out so that Sheffield could remain in the lineup. But after that dive, he had to leave the game in favor of Tino Martinez.

The Orioles did get a run in the sixth, when Bernie Castro, the Orioles backup second baseman for the rest of the year after Brian Robers' season-ending elbow injury (which I thankfully missed seeing the night before) reached on an infield single to third base; Alex Rodriguez made a diving stop that prevented a double but his throw was late. Melvin Mora followed by scorching a Johnson pitch to deep centerfield for an RBI double, and things look they might come apart at the seams with Miguel Tejada looming next. But Johnson got ahead of Tejada 0-2 before inducing a fly ball to center, with Mora tagging. Javy Lopez ended the threat when A-Rod made a great diving stop of a one-hopper; this time, he was able to beat the runner with the throw.

The Yanks got runners to third base with two out in the sixth and eighth innings, but that was the closest they came to scoring again. A day after racking up a dozen runs, half of them off the bat of Gary Sheffield and his one good leg, the offense seemed to be telling the Big Unit to make do. So it was still 2-1 when Johnson came out for the eighth, having already thrown 104 pitches. Matos bunted one foul, then took him to a full count before flying out, then David Newhan inexplicably tried to bunt his way on as well before grounding out. You know your pitcher is dealing when the opposition is reduced to weak attempts to bunt its way on in the late innings. Finally Johnson blew Castro away, throwing a fastball that the rookie couldn't catch up with. Ninety-six on the gun. No chance. Oompossible, as my late grandfather used to say. Welcome to the big leagues, Meat.

Rivera came on for the ninth and immediately hit Mora with a pitch. Oy gevalt, I thought to myself. Tejada grounded into a fielder's choice, but Lopez singled. Why would anything be easy at this point? Jay Gibbons came out to hit for Freire and quickly fell behind 0-2. As usual, the Yankee crowd rose to its feet with two strikes, and my friend Julie, my companion for the evening, remarked that the crowd never learns that on 0-2 a pitcher usually wastes one instead of striking the guy out. Not this time. Rivera got him swinging on the third pitch. The crowd had scarcely stiopped cheering when pinch-hitter B.J. Surhoff lined Rivera's next pitch right to Tino at first to end the game.

I had spent a good portion of the night eying the out of town scoreboard between pitches, noting the Indians were up 2-0 on the White Sox and the Red Sox leading the Devil Rays 4-2. We didn't hear the remaining crowd reaction as the score changed, but by the time I reached the subway platform (Julie took a different train), the news that Boston had lost, giving the Yanks first place by a half-game, was circulating. I quickly called my friend Nick to confirm, then let out a howl as I got onto the subway car. "First place, beeyach!" I shouted to a 4 train full of beaming strangers. It was a fun ride home.

• • •

In this week's Hit List, I commented on the AL MVP race by noting that Alex Rodriguez held a 16-run edge over David Ortiz in Value Over Replacement Player before anyone considered defense, what with Ortiz being a DH and Rodriguez an excellent third baseman who should be playing shortstop. Prompted by one reader, I then noted that A-Rod had a two-win lead in Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP1), which does consider defense as well as offense; it was a 9.4 to 7.4 edge when I checked. All of that was enough ammo for me to feel secure in piping up my opinion, when asked by my favorite doorman to intercede in a baseball argument, that Rodriguez deserved the MVP more than Ortiz.

But a piece by James Click at Baseball Prospectus has given me reason to reconsider that stance. Click has used Win Expectancy to take another look at the comparison between the two. Win Expectancy takes into account the inning, the score margin, the number of outs, and the runners on base, comparing the state of the action before and after the batter comes to the plate to determine the percentage change in a team's chances of winning that game caused by the batter's outcome. BP uses it for its Reliever Expected Wins Added metric, a staple of many a Hit List entry. Here's Click:
The framework is not applied to batters in any of our regular reports, but it can be revealing when applied to hitters. Much like the reliever reports, each plate appearance can be analyzed by the difference in the team’s probability of winning the game before and after. Looking at the ninth inning of Tuesday’s Giants/Nationals game makes for a good walk-through. Randy Winn led off the inning with the Giants down 2-1. Given the Giants’ and Nats’ levels of offense, the Giants at that point had a 15.3% chance to win the game. After Winn grounded out to third, that dropped to 8.4%. A few batters later, Moises Alou’s three-run home run catapulted the Giants from 14.3% to 92.9%.

...A simple groundout by Winn cost the Giants a 6.8% chance to win the game in the top of the ninth while the same maneuver by Preston Wilson cost the Nats 3.6% in the bottom of the inning. Those values are significantly higher than the same outs earlier in the game. But this is what WE tells us that simple run metrics do not: they add context to performance, crediting clutch hits more than stat-padding home runs in blowouts.

And now, the requisite clutch hitting versus context independence blurb: Clutch hits exist, clutch hitters do not. There is no statistical evidence to support the idea that some hitters consistently perform better in situations defined as “clutch” as compared to normal situations. Good hitters are good clutch hitters; bad hitters are bad clutch hitters. Using WEx isn’t conceding the idea that some hitters are better in clutch situations than they are in normal situations going forward, but rather we’re looking to identify which hitters have contributed the most to their team’s chances of winning games given the situations in which they came to the plate. Not unlike teams that are outperforming their third-order winning percentage or a person who’s up at a blackjack table, those gains are banked and there is no correction going forward, but the best predictor of future performance is their third-order winning percentage, basic odds at blackjack, or overall hitting performance in all situations.
The upshot of all of this is that the major league leader in total WINS -- the total change in Win Expcectacy over the course of a season -- is David Ortiz, with 7.12. A-Rod is second in the AL, but it's a distant second, with 4.59. The NL leader is Carlos Delgado with 5.80, and five other National Leaguers (including, of all people, Tony Clark, who's having a magical resurgence in the thin air of Phoenix) have WINS higher than Rodriguez. Travis Hafner -- who has now homered in five straight games -- trails A-Rod by just 0.02 WINS, though he's likely surpassed him since that was written.

By the way, Derek Jeter, a man with a reputation for being "clutch," comes in at a bare 0.30 WINS. The Daily News pointed out on Monday, the day after Jeter looked at strike three to end the Yanks six-game winning streak, that eight times so far this year, Jeter has made the final out of a game with the tying run on base.

I feel like I've seen every one of those. And if the visceral difference I feel in seeing the Rodriguez/Jeter 2005 clutch comparison borne out numerically is worth anything, then I've got to reconsider the Rodriguez/Ortiz one as well. I'm not ready to call the race for MVP with 10 days left in the season any more than I am the AL East race. I just know I'll be paying very close attention.

• • •

John McMullen is best known as the man who brought hockey to New Jersey, where the Devils won two Stanley Cups under his ownership. He also owned the Astros for 13 years. But McMullen, who passed away last Friday at the age of 87, will forever be remembered for something he said back in 1974, when he had purchased a small share of the Yankees: "There is nothing quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner's."

The Times' Murray Chass has a warm remembrance of McMullen as a man of integrity and an anomaly among owners. Worth a read.

• • •

If you grew up watching baseball in the Eighties and collecting baseball cards as you did, then the Joe Sportsfan Worthless Baseball Card Collection ought to give you plenty of laughs. Hell, even if you didn't, you might bust a gut.

Each one of about 50 baseball cards from that era is paired with a quick and often hilarious blurb of "untrue fun facts." According to the site, Bob Horner "Once played an entire game in Japan in a Godzilla costume. Horner hit two homeruns in the game." Jay Baller "exploded onto the National League scene in 1989, using the Cubs V-neck jerseys to help run away with the league lead in chest hairs." My favorite: "In 1981, Gorman Thomas was suspended five games after he ripped off the arm of a heckling fan and used it to lay down a succesful sacrifice bunt during the game." I just love the image of Thomas, the grizzled, mean-looking slugger, doing bodily harm in the service of small ball.

Priceless stuff, well worth the visit even if names like Floyd Rayford (a favorite of mine in Salt Lake City) and Mike Laga don't mean a damn thing to you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Double Decker Day

Monday night was a great night for scoreboard watching. I've spent the better part of the last three days in front of my computer working on both this week's Hit List and an my latest piece for the New York Sun, on the Cleveland Indians' incredible surge, which not so coincidentally has taken them to #2 on the List. I haven't been able to sit down and watch an entire game, even a TiVo Express version, in that span, but I've listened and followed along intently on GameCast. And I'm checking Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds Report about half a dozen times per day, wondering how the last two weeks of this season might unfold.

In writing about the Indians, I've gotten very absorbed in their story -- the rebuilding, the low payroll, the 33-11 (or whatever) streak they've been on to cut the White Sox lead from 15 to 2.5 games in seven weeks' time, the development of Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp, Jhonny Peralta et al. I despise Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's brand of bullshit enough that while my head tells me to root for the Sox to the Yankees' benefit, my heart tells me a Sox collapse and Indians rise is a much better outcome, both a better story and a better example to the game. That Indians' GM Mark Shapiro has done this on a $41.5 million Opening Day payroll (26th out of 30 teams) with an offense spearheaded by five players who are among the top four in the AL at their positions, VORP-wise, and make a combined total of $1,999,900 is something more people -- fans, execs and analysts -- need to recognize. Memo to Joe Morgan: stick this slice of Moneyball in your piehole, bitch.

Last night was a great time to be following all of this stuff. The Yanks came back from down 2-0 to win on a walk-off homer by Bubba Crosby, who had exactly one extra-base hit all year. With an economy and a flair for the dramatic worthy of Barry Bonds, Bubba turned on a pitch in his happy zone and crushed it about 425 feet. He stood admiring it at home plate for a long moment before raising his fist in the air and rounding the bases triumphantly. The jubilation with which he was greeted by the senior Yankees in the dugout was one of those feel-good moments that have become all too rare as the Torre dynasty creeps along on its last legs. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were falling to the Devil Rays on the GameCast, and the Indians were recovering from having blown a 4-0 lead to take one from a White Sox bullpen performance straight out of the Creeping LaRussaism handbook -- four pitchers, four outs. Even mindful of Chicago's injury woes, I can't stand seeing that kind of micromanaging rewarded, so bully for Cleveland.

At this point I have to say that I'm done kvetching about the Wild Card and its negative impact on the game. The fact that so many teams carried hope into September is a great thing even if most of them will drop an axle like the Mets or Nationals somewhere along the way. Circle of life, kids, just like when the bunny rabbit gets eaten by the mountain lion. The fact that the six-team AL race is going to end in heartbreak for at least two of those teams is great drama, even -- hell, especially, in the big picture -- if one of them is the team in pinstripes. I'm not rooting against the Yanks, who are on a 9-2 run that's cut their deficit in the AL East to a half-game, But for the next six weeks, I'm determined to enjoy this one as a baseball fan -- maniacally following three games at once -- first, and a partisan second.


Thursday, September 15, 2005


A Peek Inside the Sausage Race Factory

As noted last week, I recently had the great honor of running in the Sausage Race at the Brewers' Miller Park. My lengthy account of that adventure is running as a guest piece (or "Designated Hitter,' in the site's parlance) at the Baseball Analysts website, complete with photos. Thanks to Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith for including me as one of their DHs.

• • •

Also, in case you missed it, this week's Prospectus Hit List went up on Tuesday. I got a few emails regarding the Mets' position in the Top 10, despite their losing record. It's the run differential, people. At the time it was written, the Mets had outscored opponents by 70 runs, including a combined 39-7 drubbing of Arizona in a four-game sweep a few weeks back. That, along with their 15-21 record in one-run games, combines to tell us that the Mets should have a better record than their actual one, grist for the mill when it comes to evaluating the brutal job Willie Randolph has done managing that team.

One more thing. I hate to come off like a grouch on this, because I love getting feedback from readers for the work I do here and at Baseball Prospectus. But just because I respond to your email DOES NOT give you the right to publish that response or any part of it on your blog or whatever without my explicit permission. IT IS A SERIOUS BREACH OF NETIQUETTE to do so, and I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance should it happen again.

If you want to run my response, just ask; 99 percent of the time it's not a problem. But when I'm being taken to task for giving an incomplete response to a question or seeing my words taken out of context, we've got a problem. And we don't need any problems like that.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Right Place, Wrong Time

Warning: language alert. Feel free to leave if four- and 12-letter curse words frighten you.

What can I say? I picked the wrong game. Back in January when my partial season ticket group sat down to pick our games for the year, it figured that I'd choose a game from the September weekend series between the Yankees and the Red Sox. I chose the Saturday game instinctively because I was wary of the September 11 date of the Sunday game.

I chose wrong. In the words of Seattle Pilots manager and Ball Four icon Joe Schultz, "Ah, shitfuck."

Saturday's ballgame was a miserable time to be a Yankee fan, as Curt Schilling returned to the scene of the Bloody Sock to pitch his best game of the year. He came into the game with a 6.52 ERA on the year, having allowed 15 runs in 17.1 innings over three starts since returning from his stretch in the Sox bullpen. Yankee fans had reason to be licking their chops.

It didn't work out so well. The Big Shill had a no-hitter through three innings, and by the time he gave up his first hit -- a solo home run to Jason Giambi -- the Sox led 8-0 and my pal Nick and I were already on our fifth set of seats, having attempted to elude our fated section 668 in the leftfield upper deck. Between the sun and my nearsightedness even with corrective lenses, I'm downright useless out there.

Yankee starter Shawn Chacon, who'd already given up a two-run homer to Manny Ramirez, couldn't make it out of fourth. He started the frame by giving up an upper-deck solo shot to John Olerud, who's slugging well above .500 in limited duty this year after two year well below .400. A pair of singles later, Chacon was done, and Yankee fans were sentenced to watch Felix Rodriguez and then Al Leiter pitch mop-up. The Yankee "defense," which included a dropped fly ball by Hideki Matsui and a Knoblauchian throw from Robinson Cano, didn't give them much help. By the time the dust settlled, six runs had scored. Though Leiter successfully ate some innings after that, the Yankees never really mounted a threat.

Really, I'd have done just as well to stay home and use my $37 as toilet paper. My blood pressure certainly didn't need the extra agita caused by a Schilling outing, and I am sure that dozens of parents could have done without the creative vocabulary lessons I provided for their children (hey, you take your kid to a Yankees-Red Sox game, I'll show you da Bronx). It says something that the fondest memory I could summon on this day was of the rainout of the scheduled game between these two teams exactly four years ago, the night before the cataclysmic events of 9/11. I'm only grateful that Schilling and his "Look-at-me-I'm-praying-before-I-pitch" shtik didn't coincide with the anniversary of that day. He probably would have tried to give a speech on the mound, telling New Yorkers how he understands our pain and that the country is in good hands with George W. Bush and his merry gang of bandits. There ain't enough vomit in my gut to do justice to that.

At least my seats were better on Sunday, as I watched Randy Johnson take the mound with the Yanks' ever-slimmer postseason hopes essentially on the line. Had they lost, they would have been five games in back of the Sox with three weeks to play, and tied for second in the Wild Card, 2.5 in back of Cleveland. It's getting late early for them.

Johnson rose to the occastion, pitching like a man packing a serious firearm and a wallet that had Bad Motherfucker written on it. He snarled and glared his way through seven innings, limiting the Sox to a single hit, reaching 99 on the gun, and striking out eight.

In a complete contrast from Johnson's fast and filthy repertoire, Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield continued to give the Yankees fits, nearly outdid the Big Unit. With his signature pitch dancing, floating and otherwise befuddling Yankee hitters, Wakefield struck out 12. But it was a curveball which proved Wakefield's undoing. He brought it out for a cameo appearance and Giambi the pitch off the rightfield foul pole for what proved to be the only run of the ballgame.

After seven, Johnson gave way to Tom Gordon, who gave up a leadoff single and then got an out on a weird force play in which the Yankee infield let a catchable popup (not high enough to trigger the infield fly rule, but high enough to be lost in the sun, apparently) bounce off the back of the mound. It was a heart-stopping play that could have easily been the difference in the ballgame, but Alex Rodriguez collected it on a good hop and got the force, thereby swapping pinch-runner Adam Stern for catcher Doug Mirabelli on the basepaths, a worthwhile tradeoff.

One out later, Gordon yielded to Mariano Rivera as David Ortiz, who sat against the lefty Johnson, pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler. This was it: the season on the line, the Yanks best pitcher against Boston's best hitter. The matchup numbers showed that that Gordon had given Ortiz more trouble (1-for-8 with a homer in the regular season) than Rivera (5-for-14) had over the course of his career, but anyone who remembers the homer he tagged off of Flash in last year's ALCS couldn't blame Joe Torre for tossing those numbers out the window. to go with his ace.

Rivera fell behind 2-0 to Ortiz but battled him to a full count. In an emphatic demonstration of Mo's stuff, he shattered Ortiz's bat on a checked-swing foul ball. Still, he lost the battle when his next pitch was too high, walking Ortiz. That brought up Johnny Damon, who worked a 10-pitch at-bat, complete with another broken bat, before grounding to Andy Phillips at first base to end the threat.

Rivera had to evade more trouble in the ninth. He got two outs, snagging Edgar Renteria's liner back to the box on his first pitch of the inning, then getting Trot Nixon to ground out. He walked Manny Ramirez on a 3-2 pitch, then yielded a single to Kevin Millar that sent Manny to third. Oh, the agony. Olerud got ahead 2-1 before Rivera, on his 37th pitch of the afternoon, blew a 94-MPH cutter by him for strike three. I danced in front of the TV, whooping it up, suggesting an anatomical bat rack for Olerud and the Red Sox. After Saturday's result, this was some welcome catharsis.

• • •

Speaking of the Red Sox (and tangentially, the Yankees), the Boston Globe's Gordon Edes gave Baseball Prospectus' forthcoming book, Mind Game (to which I contributed two chapters and some sidebar material), a glowing review in his Sunday column:
"Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series and Created a New Blueprint for Winning," published by Workman Publishing, was written by the staff of Baseball Prospectus, a bunch of smart guys (Yale, Brown, Stanford, University of Chicago, Wisconsin pedigrees, graphic designer, meteorologist, tech consultant, math whizzes, and assorted other brains) whose statistical analysis is helping transform the game as we know it.

But don't worry, while there are enough numbers to satisfy the most voracious stat geek -- VORPs and FRAAs and EqRs that make the more simple-minded among us pine for the days when knowing a player's batting average or ERA sufficed -- the prose is lively and informed, and the authors challenge you, even if you can't follow all the calculations, to consider issues from a different perspective.

There is much here that is familiar -- the Alex Rodriguez negotiations, Nomar Garciaparra's departure, the bullpen-by-committee theory, the Dan Duquette era -- but the spin is often original.

...It does what the best books do, offering a unique prism to view a world you thought you already knew.
So far as I know, that marks the first mainstream review of the book, which comes out next week. I'm excited for this baby to hit the streets; as painful as it is to relive the Yankees' collapse against the Red Sox, I'm confident that this is a quality BASEBALL book first and foremost rather than being merely another celebration of the Sox's magical ability to beat the zzzzzzzzzz....

I'll have plenty more to say about Mind Game when it hits the shelves..

Friday, September 09, 2005


Still Sucking from the Grave

I've often traced my yen to write about baseball back to a pair of dog-eared secondhand books -- Roger Angell's The Summer Game and Jim Bouton's Ball Four -- rescued from a flea market by my grandfather, and by the marvelous yet unrecorded swath of the game's history he himself witnessed in his 91 years of life. I've paid homage to the rants of Hunter S. Thompson. I've tipped my cap to the discussions at Baseball Primer, and the small handful of blogs that were online when I began publishing mine four years ago.

But never have I written about a more contemporary influence, one which showed the world the vast possibilities of a new type of writing for the new medium of the World Wide Web. One which combined bleeding-edge savvy with a jaded ennui, all shot through with a snarky punk attitude and a laugh-out-loud sense of humor. One which delivered the goods on a daily basis, making itself a mandatory lunchtime read for anybody with an Internet connection. One which dead-perfectly illustrated the zeitgeist.

An outgrowth of Wired magazine's online offering, HotWired, Suck was the brainchild of Carl Steadman and Joey Anuff. It debuted on August 28, 1995, just over 10 years ago, with the following manifesto of sorts:
Shit makes great fertilizer, but it takes a farmer to turn it into a meal. With that thought in mind, we present Suck, an experiment in provocation, mordant deconstructionism, and buzz-saw journalism. Cathode-addled netsurfers flock to shallow waters—Suck is the dirty syringe, hidden in the sand. You wanted feedback? Cover your ears and watch your back … it wants you too. But Suck is more than a media prank. Much more. At Suck, we abide by the principle which dictates that somebody will always position himself or herself to systematically harvest anything of value in this world for the sake of money, power and/or ego-fulfillment. We aim to be that somebody.
Its first column, about the Courtney Love Murder Conspiracy Theory captured the thrill of the Web's capacity for breaking news:
There's something exciting about
the breaking of news on the Web
that can make an otherwise
bullshit-quality story smell
sweeter than Glade
Potpourri-in-a-Spray. Whether
it's two zillion critiques of a
handicapped Time cover feature
or early scene reports
following an aging hippie's
, I tend to find myself
lapping it right up, like a
thirsty dog at an open toilet.
The short, haiku-like lines centered on the page made for an easy read. The cleanliness of the design ensured quick load times in an age when a palpable tension existed between the content providers who pushed bandwith-hogging bells and whistles and the readers who connected to that content via turtle-like 28K or 56K dial-up modems. But even more revolutionary and influential was the style of hyperlinking to make references that were often obscure. As this lengthy history of at recounts:
In the absence of HotWired strictures, they turned "tertiary links" into signature stylistic components. "It’s important to understand that up until then, to the best of my knowledge, people had just used hyperlinks in a strictly informational sense, simply as online footnotes," says Mark Dery, author of Escape Velocity. "With Suck, you wouldn’t get the joke until you punched through on the link. Then you found out that it set the keyword to which this new source was linked in an ironic light." Writing for Suck, Steadman and Anuff were free to link "suffocating infants" to Dave Winer’s column, or "wet dream" or "negative energy". "Whereas every other Web site conceived hypertext as a way of augmenting the reading experience," wrote Steven Johnson in Interface Culture, "Suck saw it as an opportunity to withhold information, to keep the reader at bay."
Similarly revolutionary was Suck's commitment to daily content, its use of pseudonyms (Steadman was Webster, Anuff the Duke of URL) and its underdog viewpoint of the still-nascent dot-com industry.
While the trade magazines flattered executives with softball portraits and blind utopianism, Suck spoke to the grunts on the front lines, those like Steadman and Anuff, who saw the mistakes being made at the top but lacked the power to do anything about it. It was snarky and sarcastic about topics that were too square to be snarky and sarcastic about anywhere else. For the ground-level tech drone stuck at a computer, it provided the perfect daily respite. It was quickly located, easily digestible, and if you could suppress your laughter, it looked just like working.
In essence, Suck was the first important blog, as Mena Trott, co-founder of the company which makes the Movable Type blogware, recounts:
"It’s everything that blogs are right now: the chronology, frequently updated, simple, easy to read, linking playing a huge role in playing the story. This is what exposed us to what had the potential to become what we’re doing today. It was hugely influential in the format. I don’t think you can even talk about weblogs now without talking about that. I think that was the big exposure for so many people. That played a great deal in what we did."
The site took off and was soon sold -- to Wired; the irony was that its founder and publisher, a regular reader of the site, didn't even realize it was being produced right under his nose by a pair of employees in their (cough) after-hours. Soon, staff was added, including Heather Havrilesky (a.k.a Polly Esther), Ana Marie Cox (Ann O'Tate), and illustrator Terry Colon, who gave Suck 2.0 (as it was called) its distinctive visual identity.

The site grew in fame and influence, its best work compiled into a book, Suck: Worst-Case Scenarios in Media, Culture, Advertising, and the Internet . But egos eventually took over, the dot-com bubble burst, the money ran dry, and the Sucksters began departing for greener pastures. Suck ceased publishing on June 8, 2001.

This blog's first entry was published exactly one day earlier. Freaky, that.

Anyway, I could go on for days about the impact of Suck. During its heyday, I worked for Wolff New Media, the brainchildfart of author Michael Wolff, a company which haphazardly published guides to the Internet at a breakneck pace that nonetheless turned them into better doorstops than directories by the time they hit the shelves, and one which turned into a cautionary tale of dot-com greed in Wolff's own Burn Rate. Via a website called Your Personal Net, our publishing pace was so frantic I coined a slogan, "We shit live copy in our sleep."

Like every other underling in the dot-com industry, we were exploited to the hilt, a concept the Sucksters understood completely:
Never before in history have
nerds, as a class, become
economically viable. It was
never worthwhile to exploit
astronomers. But computer
programmers can actually
make something people want,
something people will pay for.
And they over-focus anyway!
Convince them that The Product
is somehow important to their
lives, more important than their
lives, and hang a turd from a
stick and call it a carrot.
Suck was the envy of our website and everyone else's, its hipness and street cred unrivaled, its slogans ("A fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun." "Now more than ever.") legendary. It was, as Keepgoing claims, the First Great Website.

Cox has gone onto greater fame as Wonkette, a political blog. Havrilesky writes for Salon among others. Anuff co-authored Dumb Money, a book about day trading. Steadman runs the website, which maintains the Suck archive, the site's oeuvre. It's well worth your time to check out if you've never seen it (a fistful of favorites: one, two, three, four), or even if you have. Ten years after its founding, its history is worth celebrating, its demise worth lamenting, and its genius worth revisiting. Spend an hour or two of company time screwing off as you read it. Happy birthday, Suck, and rest in peace.


Thursday, September 08, 2005


Junior Achievement

In this week's Hit List, I made note of the fact that Ken Griffey, Jr. had tied Mickey Mantle on the all-time home run list with his 536th dinger on Sunday. Since then, Griffey has missed three games with what's been reported as both hamstring and foot problems, with one report saying that he had actually pulled part of a tendon in his foot off of the bone and that his season was potentially over. It seemed quite a shame, since Griffey is in the midst of his best season since 2000, hitting .301/.369/.576 with 35 homers in 555 plate appearances, more than he had in the previous two seasons combined.

Wednesday brought a refutation of that assessment:
Trainer Mark Mann said it would be "premature at this point" to say surgery would be necessary, and "we fully expect him to play again in the 2005 season." Two years ago, Griffey required season-ending surgery on his right ankle.

"The MRI showed nothing like what he had a couple of years ago with his ankle," Mann said. "It's not as if he pulled it off the bone. It does show inflammation in the area. A strain by definition does involve inflammation of the tissue, and it can be associated with a tear."
It's been a long time since I found myself rooting for Griffey; I was thoroughly a fan during his Seattle days, but his ugly exit there and his perpetual whining once he was traded led me to write this about him in 2001:
Ken Griffey Jr. Whines, Again: So what else is new? It's gratifying to watch Griffey wallow miserably in the bed which he's made for himself. He whines because he wants to leave Seattle to play closer to home. He whines because he finally gets to choose his city, only to find his salary severely hampers the team's ability to field a competitive team (it doesn't help that he signs with a mid-market club which throws around nickels like they're manhole covers). He whines because they attempt to break up that team of underpaid underachievers and retool. He probably whines when he does long division and gets a remainder. Grrrr...
Ouch. Time and the man's tribulations have tempered my distaste for Griffey, especially as I've watched the infinitely more odious (not to mention juiced-up) Barry Bonds climb the home run ladder and go places where just a few years ago we all though Junior was headed. Given that Griffey has missed almost the equivalent of two seasons over the past four coming into this year (to say nothing of half of 1995), he should have been well over 600 by now, only the fifth player to cross that mark, with a shot at catching Hank Aaron. It didn't happen that way, of course.

To the extent that I pay any attention to the Reds -- via the Hit List, especially -- I've enjoyed checking in on Griffey's resurgence, and his current tie with Mantle, another player who lost an untold number of homers and games to his physical ailments, provides a good opportunity to compare the two. Here's how they stack up via several Baseball Prospectus metrics, including the Jaffe WARP Score system (JAWS):
         BRAA   BRAR  FRAA   WARP3   PEAK   JAWS
Mantle 1191 918 -42 154.4 62.1 108.3
Griffey 894 634 1 130.9 57.9 94.4
BRAA and BRAR are Batting Runs Above Average and Above Replacmeent, FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average, WARP3 is Wins Above Replacement Player (the adjusted-for-all-time version), PEAK is his best consecutive five-year string (allowing for injuries, which tosses out Griffey's abbreviated '95) and JAWS is the average of the WARP3 and PEAK totals. The comparison isn't especially close in any of these categories, though it is worth noting that Mantle still has a 276-game edge on Griffey. Nonetheless, Junior is already well qualified for the Hall of Fame, would rank fifth among Hall centerfielders on the JAWS scale. Mantle is fourth, behind only Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker. Among active players, Griffey trails only Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux on the JAWS scale.

Loyal reader Marc Normandin of Beyond the Box Score has used some Baseball Prospectus metrics, Equivalent Runs and Fielding Rate, to create a metric of his own called Net Runs Above Average. By his reckoning -- and I haven't checked his methodology very closely yet -- he shows Mantle at 62.36 NRAA per 162 games, Griffey at 48.11.

I'd put it at much closer than that, though my answer uses replacement level instead of average for the comparison; in the end, since our concern is the distance between the two players, the difference comes out in the wash. Using the common convention of equating 10 runs to one win via WARP3 (which has already normalized for everything else) we get:
154.4 WARP3 * 10 = 1544 runs above replacement
15444 runs/2401 games * 162 games = 104.18 runs/162

130.9 WARP3 * 10 = 1309 runs above replacement
1309 runs/2125 games * 162 games = 99.79 runs/1622
Or about 4.39 runs per 162, a little less than half a win per year once you project out to a full schedule. Given that this penalizes Mantle for his pinch-hitting -- I don't have my old MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia handy for the exact number, but he's got 111 fewer games played defensively than total, though some of them were partial -- perhaps it would be better to go on a per plate appearance rate and simply use Batting and Fielding Runs Above Replacement. Projecting out to 550 PA as a season (Mantle averaged 550.5 per year over the course of his career) we get:
1181 BRAR + 231 FRAR = 1412 RAR
1412/9909 * 550 = 78.37 runs per "season"

894 BRAR + 287 FRAR = 1181 RAR
1181/9072 = 71.60 runs per "season"
That's 6.77 runs per season, or about 2/3 of a win, about half of Normandin's estimate. That's not exactly neck-and-neck close, but it's no disgrace on Griffey's part either. In any event, I've resolved to try to enjoy the latter-day Griffey, especially as he climbs the home run ladder. Here's hoping he's healthy enough not only to return this season, but to reel off a few more good ones like it. When the alternative is thinking about the tainted Bonds pursuing Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, anything is better.

Oh, and here's hoping somebody drills Bonds in his surgically repaired knee if and when he returns this year. That would be freakin' hilarious, ROTFLMFAO territory. I really want nothing but misery for the man, given the shame he's brought to the game. That's a topic for another day, however.

• • •

As a champion of futility infielders everywhere, I should note the recent exploits of one Kevin Hooper, a 5'9", 160-pound utilityman playing for the Detroit Tigers' Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. In the Hens' final game of the regular season, with a playoff spot already wrapped up, manager Larry Parrish took Hooper up on his offer to play all nine positions in a single game. Hooper started at catcher, moved around the infield and then the outfield, and wrapped things up by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning to save a 4-3 win. According to The Toledo Blade:
The video board kept track of his progress using an icon with his head on Superman’s body and checking off each position he had visited.

...Hooper made three putouts: catching a [Jason] Grilli strikeout, a diving catch in left field to end the sixth inning and snagging a high fly ball in right field in the eighth.

The “Superman” theme song was played each time he stepped to the plate.

In the ninth, he forced Bobby Hill to ground out to third, struck out Jorge Velandia swinging and made Paul Chiaffredo ground out to third.

...Hooper had pitched one inning before in his career, with Columbus last season. He had never played catcher, first base or right field and named catcher as the hardest position.
Hooper isn't exactly a prospect. A 28-year-old hitting .240/.291/.304 in his fourth year of Triple-A, with a grand total of nine minor-league homers and a sub-.700 OPS in seven seasons (a career line of .271/.347/.341 coming into the year), this is likely his moment in the sun. It's a nice one, though, and you've got to be happy for him.

• • •

In more good news, the assignments for Baseball Prospectus 2006 have been handed out, and I'm pleased to announce that I'll be covering two teams, my first time in doing so. Tradition dictates that I'm not really supposed to advertise which ones, but suffice it to say that one of them was one of my first choices, and the other is one I've written a fair amount this summer; I feel pretty confident of where I'm headed with the essay topics for both. If the early discussions are to be believed, I may also be contributing a back-of-book essay, which would be the icing on my cake. I'm afraid I'll have to remain vague on the specifics for awhile, lest I ruffle any feathers, but I can't help sharing my excitement. With Mind Game's release only a couple of weeks away, we'll have enough specifics to discuss soon.

BP 2006 is being co-edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Karhl. The latter continues to soak up positive publicity for her professional coming-out. This past Sunday's New York Daily News carried a short piece (scroll down past the tennis stuff). Check it out:
The sports world can be an ugly and intolerant place when it comes to gender and sexuality, but when the sports writer formerly known as Chris Kahrl came out professionlly as a woman last month, nobody treated the news like it was a sign of impending apocalypse.

"That's part of the better place we're in today," says Kahrl, a Baseball Prospectus columnist. "We've made progress since the '60s, '70s and '80s. Everyone I've talked to about it - family, friends, colleagues, readers, men and women - have reacted favorably."

Kahrl, 37, has been living as a woman for about two years but came out professionally last month. There was no grand announcement, no press conference - she simply bylined an Aug. 11 Salon story about the Oakland Raiders as "Christina" instead of "Chris."

"I had suppressed that part of my life for so long, but you don't get any do-overs in life," Kahrl says. "I was fortunate enough in terms of my name - at least I'm not named 'Godfrey.' I could have just let it alone as just 'Chris,' but this is where I'm going in my life. This is an opportunity to note what has been a fundamental change."
Good stuff. Anyway, the work on BP06 begins next week with the submission of player lists for the teams were covering. I can't believe it's all happening so fast, but I'm thrilled nonetheless.

• • •

So Tuesday night I'm half-watching the Dodger game from the West Coast, flipping through the latest issue of MacWorld, when I noticed that editor-in-chief Jason Snell dropped Baseball Prospectus into his monthly column. Snell noted that Baseball Prospectus Radio was among the podcasts he's subscribed to, and specifically that he'd been listening to Will Carroll "deconstruct baseball's steroid scandal." Not something I expected to see, but very cool. It turns out Snell has been a BP subscriber for awhile and has connections to a couple of BP authors, Carroll included. We swapped a couple of emails and he's even got a baseball research project on his stove. He seemed just as tickled to have a few MacWorld readers among the BP staff. Good taste, I guess.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Sausage Party

The new Prospectus Hit List is up, a day late due to my travel over the Labor Day weekend. Andra and I took a trip to Milwaukee to surprise her parents on the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary. She and her two brothers planned a weekend that included the whole family going to the Wisconsin Badger football game on Saturday (the Badgers beat Bowling Green 56-42 in a wild and woolly affair that marked the reopening of the renovated Camp Randall Stadium) and then the Brewers game against the Padres at Miller Park on Sunday.

Sunday's game had a twist. Thanks to a connection in the Brewers front office, I was able to participate in that most hallowed of Milwaukee events: the Sausage Race which takes place at the end of the sixth inning. I donned the Hot Dog costume, and while I didn't win, the thrill of participating was more than enough. Plus, I've got some great photos and video, not to mention enough material for a fun article which I'll finish in due time.

For now, here are a few pictures in lieu of a few thousand words:

More to come...

• • •

As for the Hit LIst, once again, the Cardinals hold the top spot, with the A's edging out the Red Sox for #2 by .0003 (keep in mind this is through Sunday play despite the article's later publication date; another day and the A's would have fallen). The Yankees are #6, having dropped one notch. The Dodgers remain mired in 24th -- in fact the entire bottom 10 remained unchanged from last week.

The Yanks lost again to the Devil Rays last night, enabling the Tampa team to clinch the season series though there are still five games to go between the two teams. This is the first time the Rays have taken a season series from the Yanks; they're now 41-88 against them lifetime. In all likelihood, it's the Yankees' failure to beat the Rays which will cost them the division title; they're 4-10, while Boston is 12-4 against them, a seven-game swing in the standings -- though the Sox only lead by four overall.

And it's not like the Rays beat up on the dregs of the pitching staff. Randy Johnson, who pitched last night, has failed to beat them in four starts this year; his ERA against them stands at 6.47 in 24.2 innings. Mariano Rivera, who took the loss, blew a save against them a few weeks ago, leading to another loss -- in a Johnson start no less.

The Yanks received yet another blow to their pitching staff in the past week. Mike Mussina, the rock of the rotation, has been advised to shut it down for the year:
Earlier in the day, Mussina traveled to the Los Angeles area to have noted orthopedic surgeon Lewis Yocum examine his injured right elbow, and the news wasn't good. After having Mussina undergo an MRI and X-rays, Yocum strongly advised him to shut it down completely for as long as it takes to make the tendinitis go away.

Mussina does not know how long it will take to get healthy, and he said it's a "possibility" his season is over. The regular season ends four weeks from Sunday, and he said he will need a week to 10 days of side sessions before his next start.

Mussina said Yocum said, "Don't do anything that forces you to change how you pitch because I don't want to see you back in my office with something more serious." Mussina added, "I'll do what he says."
My sources tell me that it's possible there's a bone chip causing the inflammation, a scenario which would likely lead to offseason surgery. Ugh.

Fortunately, Aaron Small, once the forgotten man in the Yankee rotation, stepped up and shut out the A's the night after Al Leiter failed to make it out of the first inning. Joe Torre's removal of Small from the rotation when Jaret Wright returned from the DL had me tearing my hair out a couple of weeks back. The journeyman came into 2005 with a 5.49 ERA in 218 major-league innings, all but 16.2 of them prior to 1999. But since coming up from Columbus he's been stellar; currently he's 6-0 with a 2.42 ERA in 44.2 innings.

Leiter, on the other hand, has plodded along since his spectacular debut, just 4-4 witha 5.33 ERA in 49 innings, less than five per start. The real cost can be felt not only in the Won/Loss column but in the ripple effect of needing more bullpen support every time he pitches. It's just another example of Torrre's blind faith in those veteran herbs and spices, and the effects on the Yankee staff are just one more reason I don't give them much hope to take the division, the Red Sox's struggles with their own staff be damned.

In any event, it looks as though Leiter will be dropped from the rotation following his most recent debacle, and Chien-Ming Wang, who's missed the past two months with a tear in his rotator cuff that he has yet to get surgically repaired, will get the start on Thursday. If he can survive -- and by survive I mean pitch effectively AND make his next start -- it would be a huge boost that could mean the diffference between golf and baseball in October for the Yanks.

Friday, September 02, 2005


One for the Ages

Thanks to the magic of TiVo, I watched a dandy of a ballgame the other night, the pitchers' duel between soon-to-be 42-year-old future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and 19-year-old rookie Felix Hernandez. Brother, that was one game which lived up to the hype. I'd seen Hernandez, the Mariners' wunderkind, pitch once before, but that was against the Royals, a team that barely fits the definition of major league. Through his first five starts, Hernandez had faced the Tigers, the Royals, the Twins (twice) and the White Sox, who have been scrambling for runs for the past month. In those five starts, he'd gone 35 innings with a 1.75 ERA and a nice 38/5 K/BB ratio. Prior to his third start (against the Royals, having already faced the Tigers and Twins), Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan noted, "The next number in this sequence is an intrasquad game against his Mariners' teammates, followed by a start against the Washington state representative to the Little League World Series regionals."

The Yankees didn't exactly knock King Felix out of the box, but they did wait him out, drawing four walks, two of them in the first inning. They couldn't capitalize on any of them, however. Derek Jeter's walk to lead off the game was immediately erased by a double play. A Jason Giambi walk in the fourth was erased by an inning-ending double play. And Alex Rodriguez's walk to lead off the seventh was followed by a Giambi single, but again, a double play took a bite and then Matt Lawton lined out with A-Rod on third.

Hernandez has a great fastball that can top 97 MPH, and better yet, the ability to control it. His curve is so heavy that it gets referred to as a hammer, and he's dropped many a hammer on hitters thus far, one reason for his incredible 3.52 groundball/flyball ratio. His changeup is supposed to be good as well, but it cost him against the Yankees when Robinson Cano launched one over the rightfield wall for a solo shot. He immediately came back to strike out Jeter looking at a fastball on the outside black. Perfect pitch. Siddown, Cap'n. The only other mistake he made after that was a fastball that stayed over the plate enough for Gary Sheffield to jerk into the bullpen in left-center to put the score at 2-0.

Fortunately for the Yanks, Randy Johnson was even better -- snarling, screaming, practically frothing at the mouth. Johnson, of course, spent a decade pitching for the Mariners, evolving from a 6'10" freak show to one of the game's elite pitchers, and it's no stretch to say that the entire existence of Safeco Field, if not the ballclub's continued presence in Seattle, owes its existence in part to his heroics back in the 1995 postseason. Though Johnson downplayed its significance coming in, the billing of this matchup as the Mariners past versus their future certainly gave him every reason to be fired up. His fastball reached as high as 97, his slider was devastating. The M's hitters could have gone up there with a rubber hose and had just as good results.

Through five innings Johnson had allowed no hits. Even on TiVo delay, that called for preparations: put the computer to sleep to avoid any messages "from the future," check to see that I wasn't going to have to switch brands of beer mid-game, taking note of the position of lightswitches, Yankee paraphelia... you name it. It's goofy to react like that, but why mess with the magic? My hair was standing on end, and I was pacing around the room.

Alas, Johnson yielded a leadoff double in the sixth to Yuniesky Betancourt. Which brings me to another point: the M's lineup had some of the weirdest first names around: Jamal (Strong, their centerfielder), Yuniesky, Yorvit (Torrealba, their catcher), Adrian (Beltre), Raul (Ibanez). In that crowd, a name like "Ichiro" starts to sound normal. Ichiro's grounder sent Betancourt to third, setting up a memorable at-bat in which Johnson fell behind before finally getting Strong to look at strike three. As he went down, Johnson was shouting at the hitter in a manner that seemed like he was promising to defile Strong's grandmother's grave or something. N-A-S-T-Y. But he wasn't out of the inning. He got a couple of quick strikes on Ibanez, who after getting a ball fouled off a couple off pitches, one of which was dropped by Tino Martinez. Grrrrrr. Fortuantely, he grounded out to end the threat.

All told, Johnson K'd seven in seven innings on the night, throwing 116 pitches, 79 of them strikes, and allowing just three hits. Hernandez lasted eight frames, yielding four hits and striking out seven. It was as good a pitchers' duel -- hell, as good a game -- as you're going to see this year, a tight contest finished in 2:33 (and even less on a TiVo). I pity the fool who missed it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Hurricane Katrina

Even as the pennant races heat up, baseball is of minor importance this week in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The images, footage and reports of the devastation and chaos in New Orleans and Mississippi are simply jaw-dropping and heart-rending. For all our our high standards of living in this country, to see a natural disaster that kills thousands, brings millions to their knees, and induces lawlessness, panic, and a public health crisis worthy of a Third World country is incredibly sobering. The belated, pathetic response from our federal government in helping the victims of this disaster is particularly frustrating and disgraceful. We can fuck up a war in Iraq in no time flat, but mobilizing our troops to save our own citizens from the devastating aftermath of a natural disaster is apparently a different matter.

I don't have any family in the Gulf Coast region, but having lived through September 11 in Manhattan, I can begin to identify with the fear and uncertainty the people down there must be facing. News from two of my good friends at Baseball Prospectus whose families have been affected by the hurricane bring the crisis even closer to home. Dayn Perry reports that his parents' home in Gulfport, Mississippi was completely destroyed. Steven Goldman and his wife spent a tense couple of days awaiting word that her parents, who also live in Mississippi, were safe. My heart goes out to them and their families as well as everyone else affected by this crisis.

It's heartening to see even everybody's favorite villain, George Steinbrenner, set a positive example with his generosity by donating $1 million to the relief effort. If you haven't done so already, I urge you all consider a donation to the Red Cross in the face of this emergency.


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