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.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
The Madness Continues
Remember me? I used to blog here once in awhile. But it's been a crazy month, the maddest March I've ever experienced. Since we last spoke I've done the following:
• delivered roughly 16,000 words of content for Fantasy Baseball Index
's weekly mailings, not to mention two sets of updated depth charts and projections. Clicked on several hundred links to stay on top of about 20 fifth-starter battles and hundreds of hamstring, quad, elbow, shoudler, and back injury prognoses. Yes, after a while, it DOES start to feel like work, not that I'm complaining.
• trekked to Philly for a Barnes and Noble bookstore appearance with Steve Goldman, Christina Kahrl, Cliff Corcoran and Clay Davenport, whom I'd never met before. We got a solid turnout of 25-30 people and spoke for about 90 minutes on a variety of topics, including Barry Bonds, the World Baseball Classic, the Red Sox, the Pirates, the Yankees and of course, the Phillies. Ryan Franklin (my pick for the Eric Milton Award this year), Ryan Howard, Aaron Rowand and Bobby Abreu were particularly hot items, as was the competition in the NL East. Clay provided some nice tech/stat balance to what Steve and Chris call "the liberal arts wing of BP." The rest of us, who shared a car ride from Joisey, reprised arguments we'd had while en route to produce the maximum amount of drama when debating, say, the WBC. We were tight, like some road-tested soul band: "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the BeePees!"
• caught a drink with Mike Carminati
, who just happened to show up outside of B&N when we were contemplating whetting our whistles aabout an hour before showtime. During the bookstore event I had a chance to laud Mike's lamentably long-gone Joe Morgan Chat Day deconstructions
when the topic turned to everybody's favorite sabermetric nonbeliever. Fond memories...
• celebrated International Cheesesteak Day at Jim's Steaks
on South Street in Philly (mushrooms and Provolone, not Cheez Whiz on mine, thanks). Cliff was the man with the day circled on his calendar, and we are richer for it.
• appeared on a panel -- in fact the largest gathering of Baseball Prospectus authors ever -- at the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University along with Steve, Cliff and fellow BP colleagues Neil deMause, John Erhardt, Jonah Keri, and Nate Silver, plus special guests Will Weiss (Steve's editor at YES), Allen St. John (Wall Street Journal
) and Allen Barra. My favorite moment came when I looked over and found that all ten of us were wearing glasses (all we lacked were the slide rules). Even among nine other writers, I got my yaks in, as the audio and video recordings of the event, should they ever be made public, will show (nobody ever called me a wallflower). Great panel, great audience of about 60 people (thank you all for coming out) and a hell of a fun time. Travis Nelson of Boy of Summer
turned up and we spent a bit of time talking about how the phrase he coined
-- League Average Innings Muncher, or LAIM -- has penetrated BP's lexicon and appears in this year's book. My research assistant (now the new BP intern), Peter Quadrino, showed up as well and had a chance to get aquainted with some of the folks who will torment him in the coming months.
• that appearance at the Yogi was preceded by some rather dubious navigation that caused Nate, Jonah, Derek Jacques and myself to a) miss deMause because we were too busy administering savage sabermetric beatdowns in the New Jersey Transit terminal of Penn Station:
"You didn't set the replacement level high enough, bitch!" (SMACK!)
"Do I need to kick your ass again before you stop reaching for the sacrifice bunt, tough guy?" (POW!)
"And that's for failing to adjust for park effects!" (THUD!)
and b) miss our changeover in Secaucus Junction and wind up on the Newark Airport AirTrain because we were too busy listening (or burying our faces in the newspaper to avoid same) to Nate and Jonah's fantasy draft blow-by-blows. Suffice it to say it's a loooooooong cabride from the airport to the Yogi, but it's even longer if you have to hear about the rationale for another man's draft.
• cranked out a quick Prospectus piece
on Jeff Bagwell and a few other recently retired ballplayers in light of their Hall of Fame chances (JAWS). Some of the Sammy Sosa content
will be familiar to readers of this space.
• did 15 minutes of radio for WQXI in Atlanta to promote BP 06, answering questions in a lightning-round format, where I was practically being asked the next question before I'd finished my answer. No complaints; the last thing I needed was for somebody on the radio to start asking me what I liked the most about Chipper's swing or something.
• suffered a maddening back spasm during my physical therapy regimen that nearly blew my Fantasy Index deadline. Thank the good Lord for ice packs, ibuprofen, and my Herman Miller chair. Seriously.
• failed to keep an NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket for the first time since the year they had the Final Four in my hometown
. That hurts, it really does.
• groaned at the E-6 I scored when I listed B.J Upton (who had 176 at-bats in 2004) as third place on my AL Rookie of the Year staff prediction ballot
, when I was thinking Delmon Young. D'oh!
• found space for a little QT with the little cutie who puts up with all of this craziness and even encourages it, my wife Andra.
As tired as I am, it's been a great couple of weeks, and for better or worse, the madness continues for another week as I head towards my last deadline for the FBI (no, not the guys who are tapping your phone). My Baseball Prospectus chat, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been rescheduled for 1 PM on Friday, March 30
. I'll be taking calls on Saturday morning (10:30-10:45 AM is my window in the 9-11 AM lineup) as part of a special episode of BP Radio (800-825-5290 is the number). I'm also slated to do a roundtable on BP with a few other writers during Monday night's Yankees-A's game; check back for details. Not coincidentally, the "Opening Day" version of the Prospectus Hit List will be published that same day.
Opening Day! How great do those two words sound? They're music to my ears, and they promise a return to a bit of normalcy around here and in the rest of my life. I can hardly wait.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I'm snowed under by deadlines for my fantasy work (how odd does that sound?) but wanted to call attention to a few Baseball Prospectus-related appearances I'll be making in the next two weeks. On Thursday evening (3/23, 6:30 PM), I'll be at the Barnes and Noble on 1805 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, joined by Steve Goldman, Christina Kahrl, and Cliff Corocoran. On Sunday (3/26, 1 PM) I will be part of the largest gathering of BP authors ever, joining the aforementioned trio plus Nate Silver, Jonah Keri, John Erhardt, Neil deMause, special guest Allen Barra (and perhaps others) at the Yogi Berra Museum
in Little Falls, NJ. As a bonus, we'll all be wearing superhero costumes; I'm likely to appear as either Underdog or the Greatest American Hero unless Steve agrees to let me alter his oversized Spiderman costume in exchange for never starting a sentence with the word "But" in any BP-related item he's editing. My Spidey senses tell me you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
I'll be wearing Kevlar on Thusday, March 30, when I host a BP chat at 1 PM Eastern time. The hot topic is likely to be the preseason version of the Prospectus Hit List, which will run that day, and I'm bracing to hear it from disgruntled White Sox fans unhappy with where their defending champs rank (hint: not first).
Also, I've been told to set aside time for a couple of radio spots in the Atlanta and L.A. markets on March 28 to discuss my takes on the teams I covered for Baseball Prospectus 2006
. Further details TBA.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Got back from Puerto Rico Tuesday evening, and it feels like I've been writing ever since. My epic account
of the two games I witnessed is now up at Baseball Prospectus. While I can't say I give San Juan itself particularly high marks, attending the games was a fantastic, eye-opening experience, and an intense one at that:
We arrived at Hiram Bithorn Stadium--named for the first Puerto Rican to play in the majors, circa 1942--about ninety minutes before gametime to find a frenzied scene outside the park. Salsa music blared, airhorns sounded, thundersticks pinged (those inflatable abominations make a decidedly "aluminum" sound when they're banged together) and packs of Puerto Rican and Dominican fans waved flags, chanted and danced to the rhythms. Even to an American fan who can claim attendance at a World Series clincher in the Bronx, not to mention a large handful of tense Yanks-Red Sox matchups, this was an entirely higher level of tension, chaos, and sensory overload outside a ballpark. The atmosphere was as electrifying as jamming a steak knife into a wall socket. Faced with the need to procure a pair of extra tickets to the sold-out event, we were anything but loose.
We began our discussions with a tall, broad-shoulder Dominican man asking $80 apiece for a pair of $50 tickets. He had been asking $100 a pop earlier, he confided, but wanted to get inside the park to join the fun (keep in mind this was still well over an hour before game time). We haggled and in doing so, drew a curt dismissal. Our next discussion was with an enthusiastic Puerto Rican wearing a replica flag as a bandana. He wanted $100 per for a pair of $75 tix down the rightfield line. As we negotiated with him, a visibly intoxicated seller brandishing a seating chart horned in on the racket, claiming his $50 seats, for which he was asking $100 apiece, were superior. The scene got tense, and I backed off, letting Andra and Adam, both of whom can speak Spanish, work their way through the conversations as I scanned the crowd for our Dominican contact. The second Puerto Rican soon wandered away. Finally our bandana-bedecked friend -- citing a need to get into the park as well -- relented, punting the tickets for face value as the clock struck 8 PM. No laws were broken in this transaction, officer.
We entered the park to find that within the concourse, the fans were no less controlled. Loyalties were advertised on sleeves and heads; at least half of the people visible were wearing something to mark which side of the rivalry they were on, be it via t-shirt, replica jersey, hat, flag, or face tattoo. A ring of Puerto Rican musicians playing drums and brass instruments whipped up a frenzied, cacophonous beat while women danced among them, throngs pushed towards a D.R.-only merchandise area, the stadium shook with the cheers and jeers of fans in the stands watching Japan versus the U.S. on the Jumbotron, and a vendor hawked piña coladas. Alas, the only food we could find on the concourse besides plantain chips was standard-issue fare from an American fast-food chain. So much for my dreams of ballpark churrasco with tostones and plastic mini-helmets full of mofungo.
The piece contains blow-by-blow accounts of both games, along with some perspective on the tournament and coverage of the rest of that four-team pool. I'll try to get my photos up here later today.
The flurry of writing I've done since returning, including my latest batch of updates for Fantasy Baseball Index
has, for the second year in a row, prevented me from getting involved in an NCAA Basketball pool. Call it my own brand of March Madness; one year ago today I was on television
, debating steroid policy with a grandstanding congressman and the son of a former U.S. President. Not surprisingly, steroids are still in the news; the weight of evidence against Barry Bonds has finally compelled Bud Selig to launch an investigation
into the whole sordid affair, just as he was asked to by Congress one year ago tomorrow. While I'm hardly impressed by the Commissioner's reaction time, and I think the investigation should be broadened to include other players, Bud may have more up his sleeve than I previously
gave him credit for:
Selig's anger with Bonds goes beyond recent allegations that he used hardcore steroids knowingly and before he ever met Victor Conte and the staff at BALCO labs. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Selig met with Bonds two years ago and said if Bonds had anything else to confess, he wanted to know about it then. Bonds reportedly told the commissioner that he would have nothing to worry about, and Selig warned Bonds that he would deal with him more harshly if it turned out he was not telling the truth.
It looks like Hank Aaron won't be the only hammer Bonds has to deal with this year.
Friday, March 10, 2006
So much to write, so little time as I prepare to head to Puerto Rico Friday night....
It's not one of my more flattering tendencies, I'll admit, but Barry Bonds' woes make me smile ear to ear. It's called schadenfreude
, and baby, I've got all their albums. Just as I did last year when Bonds gave his infamous "jump off the bridge" press conference
, I was practically dancing around the room upon the appearance of a book excerpt in Sports Illustrated
detailing the slugger's (alleged) very calculated steroid regimen, repeated intimidation of mistress Kimberly Bell, tax evasion, and ego-driven pursuit of the single-season home run record. Game of Shadows
is the book, written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the two San Francisco Chronicle
reporters who broke the BALCO
story. According to SI
The authors compiled the information over a two-year investigation that included, but was not limited to, court documents, affidavits filed by BALCO investigators, confidential memoranda of federal agents (including statements made to them by athletes and trainers), grand jury testimony, audiotapes and interviews with more than 200 sources. Some of the information previously was reported by the authors in the Chronicle. Some of the information is new. For instance, in an extensive note on sourcing, the authors said memos detailing statements by BALCO owner Victor Conte, vice president James Valente and Anderson to IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky were sealed when they first consulted them, but have been unsealed since.
The preponderance of evidence is by far the most detailed and damning condemnation that Bonds, formerly a sleek five-tool player, built himself into a hulking, record-setting home run hitter at an advanced baseball age with a cornucopia of elaborate, illegally-administered chemicals.
In other words, even with a syringe sticking out of his butt, Bonds could hardly be more screwed than he is by the weight of evidence compiled by the two authors. Starting in 1998, driven by his jealousy of Mark McGwire's record-setting home run total and the adulation which the big Cardinals slugger received, Bonds variously injected or ingested the Steroid All-Star Team, Traveling Road Show and Three-Ring Circus: not just the designer substances at the center of BALCO, the Clear and the Cream, but also Deca-Durabolin, Winstrol, testosterone decanoate, trenbolone, Human Growth Hormone, and such stackers as insulin, the narcolepsy drug Modanfil, and the female fertility drug Clonid (which might explain this
This is the big one, folks, the smoking gun, the 50-megaton bomb dropped on Bonds' credibility and his legacy. Already in persecution-complex mode, Bonds has pledged to ignore the book, and despite Bud Selig's addition of the tome to his reading list
, he's probably beyond any suspension, since he's never tested positive for a performance enhancer. But with Bonds poised to tie Babe Ruth's mark of 714 home runs with a mere six more, and just 48 away from topping Hank Aaron, it's now a dead certainty that his pursuit will be overshadowed by these revelations, and that his legacy - particularly the 297 homers he's hit since 1998 in just 2517 at-bats -- rests on tainted totals.
Oh, and this just in: his personality is even less winning than previously suspected. To wit:
In addition to detailing the drug usage, the excerpt portrays Bonds as a menacing boor, a tax cheat and an adulterer given to (probably because of the rampant steroid use) sexual dysfunction, hair loss and wild mood swings that included periods of rage. The authors report that Bonds gave Bell, with whom he continued his affair after his second marriage in January 1998, $80,000 in cash in 2001 from memorabilia income not reported to the IRS. Theirs was a volatile relationship. Bell retained answering machine recordings of him after he threatened to kill her, remarking that if she disappeared no one would be able to prove he even knew her.
In 2003, as their relationship completely unraveled, Bell angered Bonds by showing up late for a hotel rendezvous. According to the excerpt, Bonds put his hand around her throat, pressed her against a wall and whispered, "If you ever f-----' pull some s--- like that again I'll kill you, do you understand me?"
A few weeks later, the authors write, Bonds told Bell, "You need to disappear."
Shades of Kirby Puckett, whose sad demise
was wiped from the front pages within a single news cycle.
I think it's fair to say that while I've tried to be supportive of due process, the need for evidence, and the perspective on steroids' potential impact on performance throughout this whole epic scandal, Bonds' proximity to the homer records and my general distaste for his public persona still short-circuits some of my own rational thinking on the topic. So it gives me satisfaction to see so much evidence about his culpability gathered in one place and reported upon credibly and in minute detail by the reporters who are most knowledgeable about the case.
I spent much of Tuesday soaking up the media coverage of the revelations, right up through a late-night edition of ESPN' "Outside the Lines" which featured Fainaru-Wada, FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal, and Juicing the Game
author Howard Bryant. Having just received my paperback copy of Juicing
and digested its epilogue, I was particularly taken by Bryant's performance. His portrait of Bonds (excerpted here
and discussed within my blog here
) offered insight into Bonds' personality in a way that -- as intoxicating as I found it at the time -- I was later forced to admit didn't have much corroborating evidence in the public record. Now it seems rather likely that Bryant had been exposed to and informed by some of the findings of the two intrepid Chronicle
What now from here? Not even Bad Rug Bud knows. But I've been thinking about this in some detail, and I'm coming around to the idea that Major League Baseball's steroid policy needs some kind of clause allowing for a suspension due to a nonanalytical positive; that is, a suspension without a positive test but due to the weight of corroborating evidence. I'm not talking idle speculation and innuendo, either. Catching someone in possession of steroids, masking agents or paraphernalia, as the International Olympic Committee
drug enforcers did to the Austrian cross country team, would be one such trigger. Testimony and documentation such as has been produced via BALCO and the Bonds book is another.
I realize this is something of a slippery slope and I'd hardly advocate leaving it solely in the hands of one person, particularly the current commissioner. But I think there should existed a panel of doctors, drug experts, and representatives of the players' union and MLB that could study such cases. How much better off would we be if, say, the BALCO contingent (Bonds and Jason Giambi included) had been issued 25-to-50 game suspensions? We would have been provided some degree of closure to a very dark chapter of the game's history, penalized those who obviously went to great lengths to subvert the game's spirit and flout its rules, and come closer to conforming to the international standards that the Word Anti-Doping Agency has tried to push MLB towards.
We would also have been granted appropriate recourse against Bonds as he ascends Mount Homer (or Mount Henry, as in Aaron). Time is everything to Bonds at this point, and taking a chunk of a season away from him would have been the most effective yet least intrusive way to apply an asterisk to his ascent while shutting up the irrational "expunge-his-stats" crowd. Laying 50 games on him in light of what we know now would certainly prevent Bonds from reaching the record this year and perhaps knocked him into retirement at the end, having come up short.
It's likely Bonds is beyond even Selig's reach, the commish's pledge to do a book report notwithstanding. The addition of a nonanalytical positive loophole might provide him with some ammunition when the next BALCO -- and don't you believe that's the only such ring out there -- hits the fan.
• • •
My Kirby Puckett piece
generated a lot of traffic, a fair amount of feedback and wound up being quoted in a few places -- message boards, mainly -- where I don't usually tread, likely due to the fact that few of the other pieces spent as much time on the darker aspects of his life (see my comments to the last post). One of the more interesting things I noticed within the coverage was an excellent first-hand demonstration of the capabilities of a new site called Armchair GM
, which was created by Dan Lewis, formerly of dlewis.net back in the day when the baseball blogsphere was young. Armchair GM is built on the Wikipedia engine, allowing anyone to write and edit content on their site with the goal of creating a Wiki-sports encyclopedia. Thus far over 4,900 pages have been created on the site.
The one that caught my attention, of course, was a page called The Blogosphere Remembers Puckett
, where my writeup was one of two dozen or so linked and briefly summarized. After discovering I'd been linked, I found the description (something like "Jay Jaffe speaks for the dead") to be rather quizzical and inaccurate, so I edited it myself to say "Jay Jaffe is sad for what Puckett took from us." Not thrilling, but nice, and just a tiny glimpse of the site's capabilities. Check it out.
• • •
If loving the World Baseball Classic is wrong, I don't want to be right. One of the joys of working from home as I do is that when there's really good (or bad) sports-related daytime TV -- the Congressional hearings on Steroids, the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament (the two coincided last year) or a more mundane 1 PM game -- the TV goes on in the background, and thanks to the magic of TiVo, I can listen along and review what's happened as needed.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had the pleasure of watching and listening to the Dominican Republic-Venezuela game (won 11-5 by the DR, who pulled away with a five-run ninth inning after my recording time ran out), the Cuba-Panama game (8-6 Cuba in a wild 11-inning affair that would have ended if Ruben Rivera could have thought long enough to let a pitch hit him in the hand and force in the winning run), and the U.S.-Canada game (where the Americans trailed 8-0 before rallying thanks to a Jason Varitek grand slam). Whatever my reservations about the format and the timing of the tournament went right out da fuckin' window. Even under spring-training conditions, with pitch counts and sloppy fielding and guys wearing strange uniforms, there's an electricity that runs through these games that is incredibly compelling. It certainly doesn't hurt that we've been starved for live baseball action for four-and-a-half months, and it's a hell of a lot more fun than when YES shows an early March Yanks-Red Sox walkthrough.
The game I missed and am kicking myself for is the Canada-South Africa one, where the South Africa team, the tournament's weakest, nearly pulled off "the upset of the century." Joe Sheehan
was at the game and has a great writeup of his experience. But the defining moment came on Baseball Prospectus' internal mailing list. Among BP authors, Sheehan has been just one of many WBCurmudgeons, but the on-list buzz about the potential upset in the making prompted Will Carroll to fire this off (apologies to Will and BP for not clearing this first ;-)):
Dear Everyone Else,
Enjoying the Classic?
Told you so.
Your pal, Will
Amen to that. If you've missed the Classic thus far and have a cable TV connection, do check it out, and if you've been griping about it, sit down on the couch with a tall frosty glass of Shut the Fuck Up
and enjoy a ballgame already. It's baseball season again. Hallelujah!
I'm gonna go get me some of that. And I think I'll buy a copy of Sports Illustrated
for the plane ride.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I wish I could say I felt sadder when I heard the news
that Kirby Puckett died on Monday after suffering a stroke over the weekend. A superstar whose career I enjoyed immensely, forced to retire before his time due to glaucoma, elected to the Hall of Fame despite his foreshortened career, then taken from us at age 44 -- this one has all the ingredients of a three-hanky movie. A three-Homer Hanky
movie, even. But there's a bitter taste in my mouth right now, and it's Puckett who put it there.
Make no mistake about it: Kirby Puckett was one hell of a ballplayer. A 5'8", 210-pound centerfielder, Puckett packed a ton of athleticism and style into that roly-poly package, exuding such an infectious enthusiasm that you couldn't help but smile anytime you watched him. If you didn't take joy in watching Puckett play, then you didn't like baseball.
In his 12-year career, all with the Twins, Puckett hit .318/.360/.477, bashing out 2,304 hits and 207 home runs, reaching the 200-hit plateau five times, making 10 All-Star teams, winning six Gold Gloves, and leading the Twins to not one but two improbable World Championships. Most memorable was Game Six of the 1991 Series; with the Twins trailing the Braves three games to two, Puckett had a game for the ages
, scaling the centerfield plexiglass to make a spectacular catch off of a Ron Gant drive in the third inning and going 3-4 with an RBI triple, a sac fly, and a walk-off homer in the 11th frame to force Game Seven. "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" went Jack Buck
's memorable play-by-play call as the ball sailed into the seats.
Puckett was well on his way to 3,000 hits and a plaque in Cooperstown when he awoke one spring morning in 1996 suffering from blurred vision in his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma and forced to retire at 35. It was a sad day for baseball, especially so since Puckett seemed nowhere near ready to cede the stage; in the strike-shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons, he'd combined for 43 homers and 211 RBI while batting .315/.371/.526.
Still, when Puckett's name made it onto the 2001 Hall of Fame ballot, it didn't look as though he'd have the numbers to gain election. But he got over on personality; the generation of writers who'd lionized him not only admired the way he played, but also the off-field deeds that netted him the 1993 Branch Rickey Award for community service, the 1996 Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award, and an induction into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 2000. It didn't hurt that he had a great rapport with those gatekeepers to immortality, either. Puckett received 82.1 percent of the vote, only twelve fewer votes than former teammate Dave Winfield, who had 3,110 hits and 465 homers on his resume. So much for nice guys finishing last.
And so much for waiting for all the facts to come in. The good-guy image that Puckett cultivated throughout his career began taking serious hits soon after his induction. His wife Tonya filed for divorce in early 2002, two months after she told police he threatened to kill her during an argument. Prior to that, she had laid out a pattern
of years of mistreatment to police, alleging that her husband had pointed a cocked gun to her head, tried to strangle her with an electrical cord, locked her in a basement, and used a power saw to cut through a door behind which she'd locked herself.
Through a private investigator, Tonya Puckett also discovered that her husband had carried on an 18-year-long affair with one Laura Nygren. Nygren herself obtained a temporary order of protection after being threatened by Puckett once the affair was exposed. She also said that Puckett told her of a female Twins employee filing a sexual harassment claim against him and that a settlement between Puckett, the Twins, and the employee had settled just prior to his Hall of Fame induction.
It got worse. In the fall of 2002, Puckett was charged
with false imprisonment, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and fifth-degree assault. Allegedly, he dragged a woman into a restaurant bathroom, pushed her into a stall, and grabbed her breast. The case went to trial and he was cleared
of the charges despite several witnesses to the incident.
That's an ugly litany of misdeeds, and just because Puckett was never convicted of any crime doesn't mean they should be swept under the rug. It's impossible to discount the allegations against him when one considers the low frequency with which sexual assault and spousal abuse cases are brought to justice, the impact Puckett's celebrity may have had on the various proceedings, and the general culture of athletes and their, um, affairs off the field. He may have been innocent of the particular charges brought against him, but the pattern of complaints about his behavior was undeniable.
Back in December, when I was reviewing the 2006 Hall of Fame ballot
at Baseball Prospectus, I mentioned Puckett in connection with Albert Belle's Hall of Fame case. Like Puckett, Belle had a short but dominant career that ended prematurely due to health reasons. But unlike Puckett, Belle wasn't a threat to win any humanitarian awards; he was loathed by the press and the feeling was mutual. Here's what I wrote:
Belle was no choirboy, as his several clashes with fans and media reveal, but consider the case of perceived nice guy Kirby Puckett, whose own JAWS credentials (91.9 career WARP3/61.8 peak/76.9 JAWS) fall short of Belle's [88.5/ 73.3/ 80.9], and whose off-the-field behavior was -- allegedly -- much worse. Should one be in the Hall and the other outside based on a popularity contest whose results were decided too early?
Of course, Belle's recent arrest for stalking his ex-girlfriend
brings him closer to Puckett territory, not further, but that's not my point.
My point is that we all bought Kirby Puckett's act because he was an amazing player between the baselines, and we wanted to believe he was just as amazing a human being off the field as the press clippings said. We cheered even harder when Kirby got his due, only to realize later that one could field a starting nine with the skeletons in his closet. In an era where we've made a routine habit of knocking yesteryear's heroes off their pedestals with alarming speed -- Goodbye, Mark McGwire! So long, Sammy Sosa! Get bent, Jose Canseco! -- Puckett's transgressions went far beyond the alleged chemically-enhanced gamesmanship of those pilloried sluggers.
That's a harsh reality to square even with the fondest of memories of his playing days. And it compounds what was already a senselessly premature death into a complete and total bummer. I'm sad for the premature demise of a player who once thrilled us, but I'm sadder still for what Puckett took from us.
Friday, March 03, 2006
The New Phone Books Are Here!
Been meaning to get to this for a few days, but work and deadlines have been in my way...
• I've had similar feelings of pride when holding my initial copies of The Juice
and Mind Game
, but nothing felt quite like seeing my name on the front page of Baseball Prospectus 2006
when it arrived on Thursday. Will Carroll
once compared joining BP to donning the pinstripes, and by that analogy, this feels like hearing Bob Sheppard
intone my name in front of 55,000 fans on a chilly October night. "Attention ladies and gentlemen... writing the Dodgers chapter... page two-hundred and forty-two... Jay... Jaffe!"
Having been privy to nothing but my own contributions to the book prior to receiving it, I spent a good couple of hours browsing through it, when a telling moment happened. My Bob Sheppard moment having long passed, I reflexively turned to the Dodger chapter , thinking to myself, "I wonder what they say about..." and then it hit me: *I* wrote the chapter. In the introduction, co-editor and co-founder Christina Kahrl had mentioned that one of BP's goals was to write the book that they wanted to read. If that's not a case in point, I don't know what is.
• The Fantasy Baseball Index Internet Update, including updated depth charts and some 7,400 words covering all 30 teams from yours truly, is is available here
; you'll need your copy of the Index to find the day's password.
• Enough about me already. One of the more exciting developments to come down the pike in awhile at BP is the addition
of Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball America, to our roster. I met Kevin at the Anaheim Winter Meetings in 2004, and found him to be personable, incredibly knowledgeable, and immensely entertaining. On the final night
of the meetings, Goldstein and Carroll kept a group of us in stitches with their imitations of various Cubs announcers, with Goldstein lampooning the homoeroticism of Hughes' descriptions of bulging calves and pectorals. By the time he and Carroll were finished, I felt like I'd done about 100 crunches, my abs were so sore from laughing.
Goldstein brings more than a fine sense of humor to BP. He's got an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge when it comes to prospects and player development; my Dodgers and Braves chapters in BP06 were considerably enriched by lengthy discussions with him, and he provided a hefty chunk of background on David Ortiz for my Mind Game
chapter on Big Papi. He'll be covering the prospect beat for BP, writing 4-5 times a week during the season, adding a voice that might stand in stark contrast to the stathead bent which dominates our coverage. Riffing on Dayn Perry
's favorite analogy for the need to mix a statistical perspective with a scouting one, Nate Silver's introduction of Goldstein is tellingly titled 2"Now Serving Beer... and Tacos!"
In addition to an introductory chat
laden with prospect questions, Goldstein has begun his time at BP with a six-part series called "State of the Systems," a division-by-division rundown of each team. Friday's installment is the AL East
, and here's what he has to say about the Yankees:
What's Working: This is a system on its way up, but it's going to require patience. Because the Yankees are always good at the major league level, they never get a high draft pick, and their annual forays into the free agent market leave them with even fewer picks. Compounding the problem was that until 2003, the Yankees did a horrible job with what few picks they did have. The 2003 and 2004 drafts showed a little more promise, and new scouting director Damon Oppenheimer had a solid 2005 set of selections -- despite Big George's insistence that the club hand out no major league deals to draftees, preventing them from selecting Craig Hansen in the first round. It will be interesting to see if what the Yankees did with Austin Jackson will be the beginning of a trend. Jackson entered the draft with possible first-round talent, but also a perceived stronger desire to play basketball, where he was one of the top point guards in the country with a full ride to Georgia Tech lined up. So teams shied away from Jackson, but the Yankees took him in the 8th round and lured him away from hoops with $800,000. Just like the free-agent market, the Yankees are uniquely able to draft and get under contract some of the more difficult signability players in any year, and it's an ability that they should take advantage of more often. Beyond the improved drafting, a dramatic shift in international scouting is also paying dividends. Always one of the bigger spenders in Latin America, the Yankees have gone away from getting involved with the big names (like Wily Mo Pena for $2.44 millioin in 1999), and instead spreading a number of six-figure bonuses around to a number of talents, which has stocked the low levels with some exciting high-ceiling talents like outfielder Jose Tabata and shortstop Eduardo Nunez. As you can see by the size of this paragraph, even at the minor league level, things are always interesting in Yankee-land.
What's Not Working: Despite the unquestionable uptick in the system's overall talent pool, there's still plenty to make up for from the moribund years early in the decade. Nearly all of the system's top players have yet to play above the Low-A level, and the upper levels are filled with minor league veterans and fringe prospects.
2006 Rookies: None, zero, nada, nunca, zilch. If there is a player in the current Yankees system getting significant playing time with the big league club this year, that means that something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong.
I Like Him Better Than Most: Tabata is potentially one of the most exciting prospects in baseball -- his distance from the major leagues is the only negative thing one can say about him. At the same age of most American high school sophomore and juniors, Tabata hit .314 in the Gulf Coast League, walked more than he struck out, led the league with 22 stolen bases, and showed big-time power potential. He'll play in a full-season league this year, and he doesn't turn 18 until August 12. His ceiling is as high, if not higher, than any low-level prospect in the game, but he so far from it there's just so much that can go wrong.
Don't Believe The Hype: Eric Duncan may have won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, but the AFL record book is littered with names like Steve Pegues and Orlando Miller. So do you want to base your excitement off those six weeks, or his 316 minor league games in which he's hit .258 with just OK power and a ton of whiffs? Add in the fact that he's not really a third baseman and he is moving to first, and I'll take a pass.
Good stuff from Goldstein, and definitely some value added to the price of a BP subscription.
• One of the more interesting tidbits that I discovered in my trek through all 30 teams is that the likelihood of the Dodgers two top prospects getting a shot with the 2006 team appears to be increasing. Earlier this week, the team moved its top hitting prospect, 6'6" Joel Guzman, out of the shortstop position and announced that he's headed for leftfield, and will have a chance to supplant Jose Cruz, jr. as the team's Opening Day starter. The catch is that Guzman has no experience in the outfield yet, so while he'll work on the side with the Dodger coaches at getting up to speed, he'll likely be playing first base -- a position he's played in winter ball -- in the early exhibition season. Guzman ranked 14th on BP's Top 50 Prospect list
, and Nate Silver's PECOTA system -- a component of the other list, but the former also includes more subjective consideratins -- has him as the most valuable prospect
among shortstops, with only Prince Fielder, Chris Young, Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, Howie Kendrick, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Zimmerman, and Andy Marte outpacing him.
Meanwhile, pitcher Chad Billinglsey, Guzman's teammate at Double-A Jacksonville last year, will reportedly get a long look in consideration for a spot in the rotation. With Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez, Brad Penny, Brett Tomko, and Jae Seo ahead of him, Billingsley will need a break -- likely in the form of an injury to one of that quintet -- to make the grade. Given that Perez and Penny combined for just 48 starts last year due to various woes, that's hardly out of the question.
Billingsley ranked 24th on BP's Top 50, and Silver's system has him as the 11th-most valuable
among current pitching prospects. Still, the team has a balancing act to do to avoid rushing the 21-year-old, who's never pitched above Double-A. The lessons of since-traded Edwin Jackson are fresh in memory, but I do think it's imperative for the Dodgers to have Billingsley bypass the heartbreak of Triple-A Las Vegas, where Cream of Pitcher is the soup du jour. Breaking camp in the bullpen seems like the best outcome available.
• I'm still looking forward to my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, where I'll see a pair of World Baseball Classic games, but the endless stream of player withdrawals has dashed a bit of my enthusiasm for the tournament. ESPN's WBC home page
has no shortage of headlines regarding withdrawals: Pedro Martinez and Aramis Ramirez due to injury, Vlad Guerrero due to the death of his cousin, Melvin Mora due to being asked to play outfield, Manny Ramirez, Billy Wagner, C.C. Sabathia... the list goes on. The Yankees rather tastelessly apologized to fans
for the absence of their stars at spring training games, which is somewhat ridiculous when one considers that the big names rarely get more than one or two at-bats in the early exhibition season.
Still, this is turning into a PR disaster for Bud Selig and company, and not without cause; taking players away from their teams for three weeks in springtime is likely to have all kinds of ramifications, from the risk of injury in a glorified exhibition to WBC pitchers not getting enough innings to prepare for competition to the players left behind playing against substandard competition. But I do think that the perspective of Americans on this event differs from view of those in the Carribean countries, in particular. I don't know too many of us who are swollen with pride at the thought of Team USA, but the nationalistic fervor appears to run deeper when it comes to the Venezuelan, Dominican, and Puerto Rican teams and the nations they represent. Not only are those teams, in particular, gunning for a shot to beat the US, but they've also got bragging rites amongst themselves at stake. Hopefully I'll get more time to write about the WBC before I depart.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Things have been a little quiet around here for the past several days, but I've been as busy as a mop-up reliever at Coors Field. Not that you should read anything further into that analogy, because the news is actually quite exciting (for me at least).Fantasy Baseball Index
has contracted me to do their Spring Training coverage, updating subscribers on the moves which have transpired since the magazine went to press in mid-January. I'll be cranking out five updates over the next six weeks, running through fantasy-related developments on each team, updating depth charts and tweaking playing time and stat projections. The first issue, which is free to those who bought the magazine, comes out tomorrow, March 2. There's no issue for March 9, but there's one for every week -- called "The Fantasy Index Cheat Sheet Update" -- after that up through the first week of April.
It's a serious workload, and there's serious money behind it, all of which makes it a hell of a lot of fun. Who knew that fantasy baseball would be the vehicle to fulfill my own fantasy of being a full-time professional baseball writer, even if it's only for a month or so here and there? Nice work if you can get it, and right now, baby, I've got it. If you can't see my smile, you're using the wrong browser.
The side benefit is that all of this work is my own spring training for the Prospectus Hit List. I'm building up the stamina to go around the majors once a week, working on my keyboard posture, squinting at stats (well, I do that every day), trying to sweat out all of those cliches and horribly elongated sentences -- you know, the ones with lots of em-dashes, and subordinate clauses, and tangents that go on for days. This one sentence back a couple weeks ago was like watching Tony LaRussa make multiple pitching changes -- you get the idea. Within my schedule, I'll find some time to crank out the preseason PHL, which is sure to enrage about half of those who read it (especially White Sox fans, not that I should be offering anyone hints). If I get some cooperation from certain quarters, I might even get to provide a glimpse at how past years' PHLs would have looked.
And yeah, someday I'll finish dumping my DIPS spreadsheet onto the website, if I don't claw my eyes out first, or decide to bury myself in the fantastic pile of baseball books that's keeping my doorman busy. Seriously, six books in three days, and BP 2006 is on the way too. Aw yeaaaaah!
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