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, August 24, 2006


Beantown Beatdown, Briefly

"Where the f---- is your opus on the Yanks-Sox sweep already? I'm getting impatient already." -- Alex Belth

Apologies to Alex and the rest of my readers expecting an opus; there will be none this week. Instead I'll refer you back to the usual suspects, Alex (and again), his compadre Cliff Corcoran, Joe Sheehan, Steve Goldman, Steve Goldman, and Steve Goldman. Them's my go-to guys for this one.

I didn't get a chance to watch very much of this past weekend's five-game Beantown Beatdown, but I took great pleasure in the result nonetheless. My wife and I spent the weekend up in the Catskills with two other couples, in a beautiful log cabin without cable TV or Internet access. I caught the first four and a half innings of Friday afternoon's game at home while packing, including Johnny Damon's two-run homer, then the last few innings while driving upstate -- this despite having to endure a woman going thermonuclear at the rental car agency for some 20 minutes while we tried to calmly slink though. Already the rout was on, but who knew it would take such lopsided proportions?

Nestled in the Catskills and engrossed in a game of Trivial Pursuit (we wuz robbed!), we were reduced to following Friday night's game via a line score on my cell phone, repeatedly texting the Google SMS service like nickels grew on trees. 5-1, 5-5, 7-5, 7-10, 14-11... it's no wonder the game wound up the longest nine-inning contest in big-league history, and I'm not certain I could have sat through it. At 12:45 AM, I was brushing my teeth and the bottom of the ninth was still going. Sweet.

Similarly, while we were able to read the newspaper accounts of Game One, and even managed to scroll through the cumbersome web interface on my cell phone to get the wire service account of Game Two, we had little to do with Saturday afternoon's game beyond score checking. Even being back in the pocket by Sunday night's game, I didn't get a heck of a lot of viewing time; starting this week's Hit List almost as soon I walked in the door, I was forced to speed through much of the game on TiVO. Given the rain delay, the continuous blathering of Joe Morgan, and the preening of Curt Schilling, that wasn't a bad choice at all, and by the time Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada crushed 10th-inning homers off of Craig Hansen, I was only minutes behind. Still plowing the fallow Hit List fields, I heard more than I watched of Monday afternoon's game, though I did have to smile at David Wells' valiant effort in defeat. Fond memories of one of my favorite games -- and writeups -- of the Torre era. We miss ya, Boomer.

But wow, what a massacre. By now the figures I cited in this week's Yank and Sawk Hit List entries are old news: 39 runs for the Yanks in the first three games, 28 walks issued by Boston pitchers in those games, nine of them by Josh Beckett, 20 runs surrendered by Boston starters in 13.2 innings, Johnny Damon 9-for-18 with 20 total bases in those games, Robinson Cano with 10 RBI, two Sox pitchers DFA'ed, the accomplishments of Bobby Abreu endlessly measured against Boston's deadline inactivity... it's all a blur. And while it did suck a bit to miss so much action amid an otherwise lovely weekend, my pals and I momentarily relished the thought of those beleaguered Sox fans twisting on the knife, those Boston Globe busybodies churning out "Sky Is Falling!" declarations as they throw sainted Theo Epstein under the bus. This beatdown's been in the mail since October 2004, and while it doesn't mean nearly as much -- hell, in the grand scheme of things, it may not mean anything -- capping those three wins with two harder-fought games more befitting this balanced rivalry does clinch the season series in short order and provide an indelible memory.

Through Tuesday's play, Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds Report estimates the Yanks' chances at reaching the playoffs, either by flag or by Wild Card, at 97.2 percent, while the Sox's chances are calculated at just 10.3 percent, down from 32.2 percent on Friday. I don't put a ton of stock in that, but if it's not bad enough, Deadspin has unearthed a YouTube clip of David Ortiz endorsing a product that, uh, puts the wood in one's bat. Say it ain't so, Papi. And speaking of which, how about a round of applause for Mike Myers, the Yanks' lefty specialist who held Ortiz to an 0-for-4 in the series?

In any event, my time to blog is brief; I'm headed to Salt Lake City on Thursday, then Wyoming for my annual backpacking trip, then to Milwaukee for my brother-in-law Aaron's wedding. Back just after Labor Day, with a long-awaited, historically-based Hit List piece, and a New York Sun piece on the Dodgers and the Wild, Wild NL West race that should land this Friday.

In honor of a series where everything came up Milhouse, I'll leave you with a list of my seven favorite things about this week's Hit List:

1. "Neifi Perez for a bucket of yak spit and a rusted-out tuba" is the best deal I've conjured up in ages. It's almost good enough for Dave Littlefield.

2. Barry Bonds in orange and black. Thank you, stock photography!

3. "Reduced Fat Milk status levels" are perfect for describing slim chances. And I love watching the Blue Jays' ship sink.

4. The Orioles becoming my designated entry where Simpsons references go to die. "Give me five bees for a quarter, is what we used to say..."

5. Nothing beats a western with an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. I'm partial to the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood trilogy culminating in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which worked perfectly for the Cleveland Indians' entry, but I'll put in a good word for Once Upon a Time in the West; the scene where the man in the black hat is revealed to be noted good-guy actor Henry Fonda is one of my favorite moments on film.

6. Being pretty damn close in the Guess When Mike Sweeney Goes Back on the DL parlor game; I said August 19, and while he didn't go on the DL, he did leave the game injured. Not that I wish injury on the poor bastard, I just like looking like I know the future once in awhile.

7. That Ozzie Guillen rant could have driven half a dozen entries.

See you on the other side, my friends...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Jeff Angus Turns Two

I'm about the last person in the world who needs a management book. Most of the work I do, whether graphic design or writing about baseball, is done from home by a squad of one... unless you count my bobbleheads, a/k/a the Futility Infielder Executive Board. They're pretty much a bunch of Yes-Men, as in, "Fellas, should I write another rant about Barry Bonds?" Nods all around; they're an easy bunch who, aside from regular dusting, require little attention from the boss.

Nonetheless, back when I was attending the SABR 36 Convention in Seattle, I talked my way into a copy of Management by Baseball by Jeff Angus. I'd seen the renowned blog of the same name, and heard Angus' presentation the night before at an Elliot Bay Bookstore panel and was taken by the author's engaging, accessible style and persuasive approach as he described his a-ha moment of combining baseball with his management consulting skills: an unsuccessful steal of second base bay the Mariners' lumbering Jeff Burroughs as ordered by the worst manager in the history of history, Maury Wills. A couple days later, Angus presented a paper titled, "Punctuated Equilibrium in the Bullpen: The 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox Blend Sabermetrics & Sociology to Deliver a Successful Innovation," a mouthful of a title, but one of the best presentations of the convention.

So despite my prejudices against management books, I quite willingly gave Management by Baseball a shot, and I was pleased to find a book every bit as engaging as its author's presentations. Angus' central thesis is that whether you're talking about the old-school, cigar-chomping by-the-Book game of yore or the post-Bill James variety, baseball is managed far more rationally than most other endeavors, and its openness makes tracking the effects of decision-making relatively easy. As such, there's no shortage of lessons that can be drawn from the national pastime and applied to the workplace. "Baseball management," he writes, "reflects more general management principles, more clearly and more broadly, than any of the academic teachings we normally use in organizations." From the anecdote about Wills and Burroughs, for example, comes a lesson about the pitfalls of expecting that the talents that have been most important to a manager's career are the key to success: "a classic management blunder," as Angus notes in the intro.

I'd be doing the book a grave injustice if I simply reduced my take to a clichéd "it's a hit!" endorsement, because first and foremost, Angus does a very good job of avoiding such groaners. This is not a book about "getting to first base" with your client, "hitting a home run" with your big project, or invoking the kinds of trite, baseball-flavored phrases which make a true fan want to throttle a boss awkwardly invoking the ol' ballgame simply to connect with his underlings. Though Angus works with a four-base diamond model that may seem a bit clunky at first, each base refers to a set of management skills that become progressively more difficult to acquire yet important -- an effective conceit.

If that's all Management by Baseball was, it would hardly be worth mentioning in this space; I'd have put down my copy long before finishing. What kept me coming back was the myriad examples Angus uses in drawing from his baseball background (he was a sportswriter for the Seattle Sun, now writes a sabermetrics column for the Seattle Times, and is an active member of SABR) to find examples of innovation in management and their applicability to the rest of the workaday world. From long-dead icons like John McGraw and Branch Rickey to successful skippers of yesteryear like Earl Weaver and Dick Williams to modern-day winners like Joe Torre, Ozzie Guillen, and Mike Scioscia, to off-the-field deep thinkers like the aforementioned James and Leonard Koppett, Angus deploys a richly diverse cast of characters while mining the game's history and literature to illustrate his points.

Now, to cover those bases. First base is what Angus calls "operational management," or "managing the mechanics," the ability to master the nuts and bolts of the inanimate objects that make up a job -- money, time, schedules, tools, rules, processes, and so forth. In baseball, this covers a fairly wide scope of a manager's job -- setting the lineup, researching the opposition, knowing the rule book, deploying strategies. The fundamentals, in other words. Here we get sage advice from Rickey on time management, Weaver and Williams on keeping practice drills interesting, Lou Piniella on turnaround skills (accompanied by a chart showing Sweet Lou's successes in taking over the Mariners, Reds and Devil Rays; Angus doesn't shy away from offering up actual data to back up his assertions throughout the book). We also get a telling quote from Scioscia (whom Angus interviewed) about the Angels' aggressive, contact-centric style, its suitability in relation to the talents of the team, and the sabermetrics underlying the style. Contrary to what you might think, Scioscia knows and understands his run-expectancy matrix as well as the next man, which is why he so emphasizes going from first to third on a single.

Second base is "managing the talent," and here Angus hammers home one of the book's most important points. In baseball, the talent IS the product; it's the players' skills which are the difference-maker, not only determining its winners and losers but selling the game and ensuring its long-term survival (think of the lessons of the '95 lockout's replacement players). So should it be in your workplace, counsels Angus. Take an active role in hiring the right people, understanding that you not only need the raw talents of superstars but the diverse skill sets of those jacks-of-all-trades like Tony Phillips (an Angus favorite) and even "chemistry" types like Doug Glanville. Improve performance by experimenting with roles to reveal otherwise-hidden strengths and weaknesses that may become valuable as circumstances change. Observe, measure and analyze what works and what doesn't; baseball's ability to collect data to facilitate analysis may not have easy parallels in some workplaces, but the rewards of finding means of measurement are worthwhile. Apply what's been learned from that analysis to put employees into situations in which they can play to their strengths; hello, platooning! Coach them on the side to help shore up those weaknesses to build a stronger team. Among the baseball examples here, we've got McGraw breaking in a young Frankie Frisch at third because second base was occupied by Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft; Weaver recording pitcher-batter matchups on his legendary index cards; Allen Roth talking Dodger owner Rickey into his stat-gatering services; Dick Cramer's Edge 1.000 data collection system making its way into front offices, where it was run by underlings such as future GMs Dan Evans and Doug Melvin; George Stallings using platoons to drive the 1914 Miracle Braves from worst to first; Rick Peterson learning from his students in order to facilitate passing on his own teachings; and Ozzie Guillen using his double-wide bullpen to deploy "closers by situation" on their way to a world championship.

Third base is "managing yourself," applying those second-base skills to oneself by being emotionally and intellectually self-aware and avoiding "the Six Deadly Skins" as Angus calls them, six common behaviors generally imprinted from one's upbringing. Each deadly skin except one -- Anxiety -- is linked with a manager of some notoriety: Uncontrolled Anger (Piniella), Perfectionism (Williams), Intimacy (Bobby Bragan, Williams' inappropriately parental mentor), Denial (Hank Bauer, Weaver's predecessor), and Uncontrolled Niceness (Chuck Tanner). Alas, while there are an interesting handful of baseball examples here -- the "Management by Terror" style of George Steinbrenner, the psychology of the imagined curses of the Red Sox and Cubs, the virtues of Ichiro Suzuki, and the raw deal that Hank Sauer got early in his career -- the section feels thin, its lessons the most nebulous.

Home plate is "managing change," being flexible enough to respond and adapt to evolving conditions by recognizing the importance of patterns and probabilities rather focusing solely on facts and results. Angus gets a bit heavy here as the syllable count rises, but his points are worthwhile. He discusses punctuated equilibrium, the way cataclysmic events (asteroids hitting the earth, the strike zone being expanded) wipe out existing paradigms and leave room for experimentation and variation until a new order emerges. He advocates "prevolution" via stochastic strategies -- investing resources in alternate means of distribution, deploying a lineup of both righties and lefties, and a rotation of power and finesse pitchers -- as the key to success in this difficult-to-master skill set. From the history books, he invokes McGraw hanging onto his Deadball-era offense long enough to find dead-pull power hitter Mel Ott, whose swing was tailor made for the Polo Grounds' short dimensions down the line; Rickey creating a farm system out of minor league teams to save on scouting and profit from surplus player production; Walt Jocketty trading for Larry Walker in 2004 to improve an already-winning team's offense and defense; and Ed Barrow deciding a talented pitcher named Ruth would be more valuable to the team as an everyday outfielder.

Throughout the book, Angus draws not only on his model and the baseball examples but also his own real-world experiences in the workforce, a diversified resume that ranges from picking citrus as a teen to working on a manufacturing in a plastics factory to starting up a test center for computer products to serving as the marketing director for a $45 million computer company and ultimately as a management consultant to mid-sized and larger entrepreneurial ventures. The variety of his experiences enhances his tales from the trenches; he's not just some MBA simply telling you about the dysfunctional corporate megaliths whose cubicles and boardrooms he's graced. His vision of the workforce is ultimately a refreshingly humane one; if talent is your product, then it's vital to nurture the skills and development of your employees in these ever-changing times so that everyone wins.

I'm no veteran of the genre, but I've watched enough pained laptop jockeys fly coast to coast to know that management books aren't supposed to be fun; their jargon-laced blend of didacticism, drill sergeancy, and self-help fills up many a bookshelf in Hell's anteroom. But ultimately Angus has written a book that not only comes off as a handy how-to for managers but that's pleasantly readable even for such a cynical outsider as myself. Even better for seamheads, he's written a concise, entertaining history of baseball innovation along the way. That's a pretty cool way to turn two.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Blue Movies Trivia Answers

Congratulations to Justin Liu, Schuyler Dombroske, and Lance Golden on winning the Dodger World Series DVD sets reviewed here. Here are the answers:

1. Several Dodgers won multiple World Series rings as a member of the club, but only one player appeared in four of the team's winning World Series. Who is he?

Jim Gilliam appeared in the 1955, 1959, 1963, and 1965 World Series victories for the Dodgers (and the '53, '56, and '66 defeats). Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres both played for all four editions of those champions, but Koufax didn't appear in the '55 Series, and Podres didn't appear in the '65 Series.

Gilliam wasn't much of a hitter; his .265/.360/.355 career line plays out to a .266 Equivalent Average, so he wasn't a total liability thanks to his speed. But he was an incredibly versatile player; from 1953 to 1966, he served as the Dodgers' equivalent of Tony Phillips or Chone Figgins, slotting in mainly second base, third base, or leftfield. In 1962 he made 113 appearances at second base, 90 at third, and 11 in left -- an average of 1.34 positions per game.

Gilliam served as a Dodger coach after his playing career ended, but in that capacity he's mostly remembered because he collapsed and died on the eve of the 1978 World Series. The Dodgers wore black patches on their sleeves for the Series, and team captain Davey Lopes, who hit two homers in an emotional Game One victory, dedicated his performance to Gilliam (you can read Thomas Boswell's fine Washington Post writeup of that game in a PDF here). Just eight years old at the time, I remember Lopes saying as much in a TV interview, and if I'm not mistaken, that soon followed with a lesson from my Dad about Jackie Robinson and his role in baseball history.

As I learned from Jon Weisman and Rich Lederer when I attended a game at Dodger Stadium earlier this summer, Gilliam is the only Dodger with a retired number (#19) who's not in the Hall of Fame.

2. Everybody remembers Bob Lemon's decision to pinch-hit for former Dodger Tommy John in Game Six of the '81 Series, but what other dubious decision did he make in that series regarding John?

In the seventh inning of Game Four, with the score tied 6-6, bases loaded, and nobody out, Lemon summoned John (who was on his throw day between starts) instead of Goose Gossage to replace George Frazier. The Yankee manager could have been looking for the double play, since John was an adept groundball pitcher, or he could simply have been looking to get the platoon matchup with lefty Mike Scioscia, who was due up next.

Either way it was an odd choice to tap John instead of Gossage, who in addition to being used to working out of the bullpen, was much more likely to get a strikeout and hold the runners in place. Tommy Lasorda countered Lemon's move by pinch-hitting for Scioscia with righty Steve Yeager, who broke the tie with a sacrifice fly. Steve Howe (RIP) sacrificed the remaining runners to second and third, and Lopes drove in another run before John could get the final out of the inning. Had Lemon simply called Gossage's number, he might have fared better than John, who allowed two out of the three inherited runners to score.

3. Which former World Series MVP comes off the bench to play a key role in one of these World Championships?

1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey was Scioscia's backup on the '88 team. Scioscia had to leave Game Four of the series after hurting his knee on a stolen base attempt that was the result of a busted hit-and run (batter Danny Heep took the pitch). Dempsey caught the remainder of the series for the Dodgers, hitting an RBI double in the decisive Game FIve.

Dempsey (shown there in a picture I took at Vero Beach in 1989) was already a favorite of mine when he came to the Dodgers; his rain-delay antics were legendary and his postseason performances totally clutch (.303/.370/.515 in six series, including the MVP award), so I loved that the Dodgers picked him up as a backup. I always thought of him as the exemplar of the light-hitting, defense-first catcher and am still surprised he never won a Gold Glove despite throwing out 40 percent of baserunners.

I'm even more surprised Dempsey's not managing a big-league club today. He's currently the Orioles' first base coach -- one of the team's few tangible links to the Earl Weaver era -- and has served as their third base and bullpen coach as well. He also coached the Dodgers for a couple of years and even managed in their system, winning a PCL title at Albuquerque in 1994. He may well be the heir apparent when Sam Perlozzo finally gets put out of his misery, but c'mon, the guy deserves better than the decrepit franchise the O's have become.

Speaking of which, my weekly whipping of the O's is up at Baseball Prospectus, along with the rest of the Hit List.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Clearing the Bases -- Junk Drawer Edition

From the junk drawer of my mind...

• The Dodger DVD contest is still on; thus far one of the three sets remains unclaimed, and can still be won for answering this:

Everybody remembers Bob Lemon's decision to pinch-hit for former Dodger Tommy John in Game Six of the '81 Series, but what other dubious decision did he make in that series regarding John?

• Alex Belth invited me out to Shea Stadium for Wednesday night's Mets-Padres tilt, and we were treated to quite a scene. Pedro Martinez was totally in control of the Padres, with one exception. Mike Piazza, playing in his first series at Shea since departing in the offseason, homered twice off of Pedro, who gave up just one other hit in 7.1 innings. Piazza received a standing ovation from the crowd prior to his first at-bat; he even stepped out of the box to doff his helmet before striking out.

As he came up for his second at-bat in the fourth inning, Alex and I were headed to gather some refreshments, but we stopped behind home plate when we realized who was up. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Piazza drilled one to rightfield. Alex had his hand on my shoulder and was jumping up and down like a little kid as soon as the ball left the bat. The Mets still led 4-1, and perhaps with that score not seeming threatening, the crowd not only gave Piazza another standing O, but even a curtain call -- as a visiting player. I've never seen that before.

Piazza came up again in the sixth, and this time he drilled Pedro's first pitch over the leftfield wall to cut the score to 4-2. The applause and reaction was considerably less enthusiastic, except where Alex was concerned; again he was jumping up and down as he grabbed my shoulder, like a sugared-up kid. Just before he came up for his final at-bat, with the score 4-3 and two men on, manager Willie Randolph pulled Martinez and replaced him with Aaron Heilman. Piazza, now being booed, nearly jerked Heilman's first pitch out, instead sending a ball to the left-centerfield warning track as the crowd of about 50,000 held its collective breath.

In the end, the Mets preserved that slim margin. Belth -- like any good writer rooting for the story as much as any particular team -- wrote up the game for Baseball Prospectus:
Still, for one night, Piazza was the Prince of the City again. He admitted to being nervous before Tuesday’s night’s game, but seemed completely at ease last night. He appeared genuinely humble, smiling easily, at the reception he got. Piazza was clearly touched, if slightly uneasy with all the attention.

"Being on the home field,” he told Jay Greenberg of the New York Post after the game, "the last thing I want to do is show up the other team, but the bottom line is that this game is nothing without the fans. So when they ask you to go, you hope [the Mets] understand. I had so much history with those fans." It was a virtual Love-In, with one joyous moment after another, and it was endearing to see the locals show their appreciation so effusively.
I'm still shocked that an AL team like the Angels, Blue Jays, or Twins didn't sign the free agent Piazza to DH and catch occasionally; had the Twins reached out for him instead of the vulture-pecked remains of Rondell White, they'd probably be in the catbird seat vis-à-vis the Wild Card):
         AVG   OBP   SLG  HR RBI
Angels .275 .334 .462 19 69
Twins .284 .336 .389 5 46
Piazza .299 .355 .542 18 51
Consider that Piazza plays in the very pitcher-friendly PetCo Park and has about 100 less at-bats than those two teams' DH slots, and that the Twins' stats are distorted by a 23-for-46 (.500) showing from Joe Mauer on his off days from squatting. Even with Mauer, the OPS of Twins' DHs is 13th out of 14 AL teams. Consider that Piazza signed a one-year, $2 million deal with incentives that will still keep it under $3 mil, and that next year he's got a mutual option of $8 mil with a $0.75 mil buyout. There are a lot of teams that slept through that while making much worse signings.

• Oh, and thanks to the Mets sweeping the Pads in three games, the Dodgers have retaken first place in the NL West for the first time since June 26. Woohoo!

• Belth, Joe Sheehan, and Steve Goldman each make cameo appearances in Eric Neel's fine ESPN piece on America's hatred of Alex Rodriguez, a topic I can't really find the breath to waste on:
"He's held to an impossibly high standard," [Yankee broadcaster Michael] Kay says. "I really believe they expect him to get a hit every time up. The guy gets his temperature taken every single at-bat."

And he's found wanting. Every single time. Every single time he collects a check. Every single time Jeter makes a play or Papi goes deep. And every single time he takes his shirt off in the park. It's all fair game.

What's often lost in this game is the fact the guy is ridiculously good. Once-in-a-generation good. "He can only be compared with some of the best infielders in baseball history," Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan says. "We're talking about someone who's already one of the top 25 players ever, and who will probably end up as one of the 10 best."

Will we ever come around to him? A world championship ring or some dramatic October heroics would go a long way, no doubt. We've seen big-time transformations in the past. Before winning his first Wimbledon, Andre Agassi was an image-conscious punk. Until the Bulls beat the Lakers in '91, Michael Jordan was a me-first highlight reel who didn't make the players around him better. Not until his Masters victory in 2004 did Phil Mickelson begin to shed his reputation as an empty talent who couldn't handle the big moment. Before his back-to-back Super Bowl titles, John Elway was a gunslinger who couldn't truly lead.

But although a ring would put A-Rod in a familiar category, the more interesting, and more likely scenario (the Yankees are an aging, pitching-weak team) is that things continue on the track they're on now. He's only 31, and we've had Bonds and Clemens to concentrate on these past 10 years, but if A-Rod stays healthy and productive in the years to come, it will become increasingly clear that he is hands-down the best player in the game, and is very likely the best all-around player any of us will ever have the privilege to see in person. Even without a title. Even with what we think is a sensitive heart. Even with what we perceive to be a scripted tongue.
I'm going to skip all of the emotion-based BS surrounding this and simply note the following AL Third Basemen Team Aggregate Stats from ESPN:
RK  TEAM         HR   RBI   BA    OBP   SLG  OPS
1 NY Yankees 23 81 .290 .390 .501 .891
2 Chicago Sox 25 80 .297 .338 .529 .867
3 Kansas City 15 69 .292 .366 .494 .860
4 Toronto 28 88 .256 .355 .498 .853
5 Tampa Bay 18 68 .300 .350 .493 .843
6 Boston 17 60 .285 .342 .491 .833
7 Texas 16 80 .303 .365 .465 .829
8 Detroit 21 63 .256 .313 .478 .791
9 Baltimore 12 65 .286 .355 .407 .763
10 Seattle 13 54 .258 .327 .425 .751
11 Minnesota 7 49 .263 .345 .396 .741
12 LA Angels 12 46 .261 .321 .404 .725
13 Oakland 17 58 .222 .331 .390 .722
14 Cleveland 6 46 .239 .304 .342 .645
In other words, even in a down year, Alex Rodriguez and your mother have combined for the top OPS among AL third basemen by a good 24 points, and they're among the league leaders in HR and RBI. Also:
NAME            TEAM   MLVr   VORP
Troy Glaus TOR 0.193 29.6
Alex Rodriguez NYA 0.166 27.6
Joe Crede CHA 0.194 25.3
Mark Teahen KCA 0.129 17.4
Nick Punto MIN 0.103 16.9
Mike Lowell BOS 0.056 12.6
Melvin Mora BAL 0.007 11.7
Aubrey Huff TBA 0.066 8.9
A-Rod's prodction via VORP, while still below his usual standards, is still second-best among AL third basemen, though admittedly, it's just third according to the per-game Marginal Lineup Value Rate, the number of runs per game a player adds to an otherwise league-average lineup. For the grief Rodriguez is receiving, mainly due to his performances in clutch situations, you'd think he was selling poisoned milk to schoolchildren. The numbers don't match up to the salary at the moment, but they're hardly shameful.

• Speaking of emotion-based arguments, more than a week after the trading deadline, people are still talking about Yankee GM Brian Cashman's beatdown of WFAN mouth Chris "Mad Dog" Russo. Cashman nearly does for Russo what Jon Stewart did for Crossfire: humiliate a total asshole in front of his own audience in devastating fashion and practically raze the whole enterprise.

Cash calls the rabid Russo on his dismissal of Chien-Ming Wang, defends his acquisitions of Bobby Abreu, Kyle Farnsworth, Cory Lidle and other players Russo trashes by calling on good ol' facts and stats (such as the poor performance of the team's fifth starters) instead of the emotional "I-just-know" bullshit that Russo traffics. When Russo tries to harangue Cashman over the fact that Abreu's teams have never won anything, Cashman plays the sainted Don Mattingly card, reminding Russo that his teams never won anything either, and that whatever feelgood stories (Melky Cabrera, Bernie Williams) are swept aside by the deadline moves, the championship is what the Yanks are playing for, dumbass. I can't imagine Russo actually giving the Yanks a pass, as he says they would have received, without those moves. Somewhere in the future he'd be ranting about how, injuries or no, a $200 million payroll doesn't excuse not winning.

I've said it before: guys like Russo are the polar opposite of the type of analysis Baseball Prospectus -- or any reality-based stathead anywhere, really -- strives for. A total pleasure to hear him have his ass handed to him. Do not miss hearing this gem (scroll down to July 31).

• Speaking of must-hears and Michael Kay, check out Yankee play-by-play blowhard going off on some caller on his radio show who criticized him for using the words "perfect game" while one was in progress, violating "baseball etiquette." Kay goes thermonuclear and loses all sense of proportion, invoking slavery, the Nazis (hellooooo, Godwin's Law), and his own uncertainty about the existence of God (followed by some serious dead air). Amazing.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Blue Movies

The 2006 Dodgers are certainly taking their fans on a rollercoaster ride. Having lost their first 13 out of 14 after the All-Star break, they won 11 straight to nearly even the score before losing last night. Key contributions from deadline acquisitions Greg Maddux (who tossed six no-hit innings in his Dodger debut) and Wilson Betemit (three homers and a .306/.359/.611 line in his first nine games since being traded) have made GM Ned Colletti look pretty smart lately, though that's balanced out by the lack of wisdom and foresight shown in the Mark Hendrickson trade from late June. All in all, Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds put them at a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs, up from the 43.1 percent cited in this week's Prospectus Hit List, now up at BP.

If you've got the Dodger blues and need a reminder of the good times for a team that's won just one postseason game in the past 17 years, A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball have teamed up to release a collection of vintage World Series highlight films for the L.A. club's five World Championships in a snappy two-disc set. Why the team's lone championship as the Brooklyn Dodgers (1955, of course) isn't represented here is a very good question, but for the $24.95 this costs at A&E's online store, it's still worth the money. Stay tuned and you could even win one of three sets that A&E has provided me.

World Series films are a curious genre unto themselves. Slicing and dicing highlight footage from each year into a package of around 40 minutes, they don't offer the heft or time-machine caliber immersion of catching a game on ESPN Classic, and they certainly don't bottle up every precious moment of a championship season the way an avid fan would like. But the films do offer a generous supply of nostalgia for those teams -- sweet memories of the 1981 and 1988 squads, the two of my lifetime -- as well as a window into the times when they were created. And for Dodger fans, the range of favorites covered in these victories from 1959 to 1988 -- from Gil Hodges and Duke Snider to Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to the Longest Running Infield, Pedro Guerrero and Fernando Valenzuela to Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson -- simply can't be beat.

Over the course of the 29 years spanned by this set, we also see the state of the art in covering sports advance rapidly. Take the 1959 footage of the Dodgers battling the White Sox; the Series had only been broadcast in color since 1954, and the footage from this matchup hasn't aged particularly well. It's not very sharp, the camera angles are relatively limited, there are no closeups of action, and instant replay hadn't even debuted; for key plays, the footage (some of which is in slow motion) is just freeze-framed when the ball hits (or misses) a fielder's glove. Longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully does the narration, but he hadn't come into his own yet either. His voice, deeper and less mellifluous than it is now, his tone and pace like that of a generic newsreel narrator. In this early footage, Scully offers very little beyond the play-by-play, often even dispensing with batters' first names.

None of which is to say that it isn't still fun to watch. We see plenty of 23-year-olds Drysdale and Koufax working against the Sox, along with some late-career footage of Boys of Summer Hodges, Snider, Carl Furillo, Jim Gilliam and Johnny Podres. This was just the Dodgers' second season in L.A., the team was still an odd mix between old and new, and Dodger Stadium hadn't even been built. Instead the Dodgers played in the enormous, awkwardly configured L.A. Coliseum (251 feet down the leftfield line with a 40-foot high screen, and a huge half-circle of foul territory running from pole to backstop), where they set World Series attendance records with crowds of more than 92,000. Hodges, highly underrated second baseman Charlie Neal, and reliever Larry Sherry (who earned two wins and two saves out of the bullpen to garner MVP honors) led the way in the 4-2 Series win. For the Go-GoSox, we get to see the keystone duo of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, sleeveless Ted Kluzewski and beer-soaked Al Smith, who got doused in one of the more memorable World Series photos of all time. At the close of the series footage, a message exhorts the viewer to "See a ball game often. It's fun and excitement for the entire family!" Wohoo!

By 1963, the presentation in this set is upgraded considerably. Even with footage that's occasionally noisy, the color is much more vivid, with both legendary Yankee Stadium and still-new Dodger Stadium (which had opened the previous season) looking particularly lush. There's even instant replay, the new kid on the TV block, but the old freeze-frames are still used as well. Scully is again at the mic, and despite a rather poor audio quality (sounding a few generations removed from the source) his voice has grown more distinctive, his pace a bit more relaxed even if the script carries odd details like him noting the arrival of the colorguard and the pregame umpire huddle.

The Series opens with a for-the-ages matchup between Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford, with Scully building the tension as Koufax sets a Series record with 15 strikeouts. Packed with 69,000 fans, Yankee Stadium is a star unto itself, the distinctive white facade of the upper deck, the trio of monuments (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Miller Huggins) in play, 450 feet deep in centerfield along with the flagpole, with the plaque of GM Ed Barrow looming on the wall behind them. "The Subway Series has gone transcontinental!" remarks Scully as the action shifts to Dodger Stadium, with shots of L.A.'s freeways (oh, the irony!) celebrated as progress, along with the newfangled ballpark. It's all Dodgers in this series, as they swept the Yanks, holding Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and company to the grand total of four runs. Dodger pitching carried the day, with Koufax hurling two complete games; in the second, we see fantastic slow-motion footage of his delivery. Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres each pitched well, and in fact the Dodgers used just one reliever, Ron Perranoski, for a grand total of 2/3 of an inning in the entire series. The Dodger championship ends on a weird note, the team storming out of the dugout before an ump's call on a force play at second base is reversed, keeping the Yankees in business for one last out. It hardly mattered.

By the 1965 film, the visuals have improved even more; the colors are even richer, the shots closer and with more variety. But this seven-game epic between the Dodgers and Twins is missing something, namely Games Two and Four, and with a running time of just 31 minutes (the shortest of the bunch by about seven minutes), that's downright inexcusable. It should be noted that's the original producer's fault, not A&E's -- they're not adding outtakes or even commentary tracks to these films, just batching them together and presenting them in a bare-bones format.

So after the Twins, led by four RBI from MVP shortstop Zoilo Versailles, beat Don Drysdale in Game One in Minnesota, the second game (also won by the Twins) is absent except for the game's defensive highlight, a diving catch made by Minnesota leftfielder Bob Allison. And after the Dodgers work their way back into the series via a Claude Osteen shutout in Game Three, the Dodgers' Game Four win (behind Drysdale and a three-RBI day from Ron Fairly) is summarized with a 15-second montage and a couple sentences from Scully. Grrrrr. Nonetheless, when what remains centers around prime Sandy Koufax, it's tough to complain. As with the absent Game Two, Koufax is paired up with Jim Kaat in both Games Five and Seven. He stifles the Twins on four hits in the former, though perhaps the most memorable footage is of Dodger Willie Davis tripping on the basepaths during a steal attempt and crawling to second base safely. Great comic relief. Still, even with plenty of Koufax in Game Seven -- before the game, chatting with reporters and posing for the obligatory photo op with Kaat, then running through the Twins lineup like a hot knife through butter -- this is the least satisfying of the batch.

The Yankees are back at the start of the set's second disc, matching up for the third time in five years in the 1981 World Series. This film starts with a brief montage of the two teams' highlights from that year's strike-created, three-tiered playoff system, so even before the opening credits have rolled, we're treated to Blue Monday, and Reggie Jackson admiring a towering home run. In fact, this film is full of montages which offer plenty of spectacular plays without context or narrative, a common sight now, but still jarring compared to the Al Gore-stiff linearity of the earlier World Series films here. There's also some of that funky NBC Sports theme music, great period stuff sure to take anyone back to the day. And yes, Vin Scully is still on board.

The 1981 Series featured many of the same characters from the two teams' 1977 and 1978 matchups: the Longest Running Infield (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey) and Dusty Baker for the Dodgers; Reggie, the fearsome Goose, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, and Lou Piniella on the Yankees side, and Tommy John crossing the divide via free agency. Managers Tommy Lasorda and Bob Lemon, a study in contrasts if there ever was one, also return. But this time there's a difference. After the Dodgers lose the Series' opening two games in the Bronx (with a few sparkling plays by Nettles conjuring up an ominous sense of déjà vu with its echoes of 1978), they stay alive via a gritty performance from 20-year-old rookie phenom Fernando Valenzuela. The young screwballer tops 140 pitches while allowing 16 baserunners, and while that might not have been in his best long-term interests, it makes for great theater, particularly when a miked Lasorda visits the mound to offer bilingual encouragement straight out of the Slap 'Em on the Ass School of Pitcher Management, as the Dodgers hang on to win. Amid the comeback, in which the Dodgers took the final four games, we also see Cey getting drilled in the helmet by a fierce Gossage fastball, one of the scariest beanings in World Series history. The only thing missing from this triumph is any mention of George Stienbrenner's dubious claim of a scuffle with two drunken fans in an L.A. hotel elevator, and his apology to New York fans after the Dodgers clinched on their turf.

In the set's finale, Scully is joined by NBC cohorts Bob Costas and Joe Garagiola as the team battles the Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series, the most unlikely of these Dodger championships. If the recent past has colored our view of the A's, led by Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, as juiced-up wonders, then it's only fair to admit that after watching this, one comes away with the sense that the Dodgers weren't skimping on the pharmaceuticals either. They look greenied to the gills from the moment Steve Sax, after getting drilled in the back by fearsome A's hurler Dave Stewart, sprints to first base in the home half of Game One's first inning. Indeed, what looked like a mismatch on paper between the heavily favored A's and the underdog Dodgers turns out to be one going in the opposite direction because of the super-energized play of Dodger scrubs such as Mickey Hatcher (who runs the bases with abandon, arms aloft, after homering) covering for the absence of injured Kirk Gibson.

But the Dodgers couldn't have won without Hershiser, who after tossing a record 59 scoreless innings to close the regular season, yielded just five runs in 42.2 postseason frames. Hershiser's memorable save out of the bullpen in the League Championship Series is featured here (along with my favorite Dodger home run of the season, Mike Scioscia's game-tying ninth-inning dinger off of Dwight Gooden) prior to footage of the series proper. Before we get to see him continue his dominance, we get one of the most memorable moments in World Series history, Gibson's game-winning pinch-homer off of Dennis Eckersley. Nearly every pitch of the at-bat is here, along with intercut talking-head clips of Lasorda and Gibson, and of course Scully's classic call. It simply doesn't get any better.

Hershiser's talking-head clip, discussing his Game Two pitching, hitting, and aggressive baserunning as the highlights intercut, is a real hoot; he looks like a grown-up Opie, but on the mound he's all business as he clamps down on the A's. Even with Oakland taking Game Three on a McGwire walkoff and the final two games decided by a total of four runs, this Series wasn't even close. Willed on by the ebullient Lasorda, guys like Hatcher, Mike Davis, John Shelby and Franklin Stubbs (nearly justifying six years of disappointment as a Dodger with a 5-for-17 performance) ran roughshod over Tony LaRussa's smug superstars in five games, even as Scully and Costas marvelled at the Dodger lineup's obvious weakness.

Amid the rout are two nice featurettes which round out this film to about an hour, by far the longest in the set. The first flashes back to the two teams' prior World Series meeting in 1974; we see a green-and-gold Reggie and Rollie Fingers along with a youthful (and equally ebullient) Lasorda, then the Dodger third-base coach, and one hell of a throw by Dodger rightfielder Joe Ferguson to kill a run at the plate. The second is a memorable three-minute tribute to director Harry Coyle, a 36-year-veteran of the World Series at the controls for his final Fall Classic. The segment flashes back to such Coyle-directed moments as Billy Martin's famous grab of Jackie Robinson's bases-loaded pop-up in Game Seven of the 1952 World Series, Carlton Fisk's home run, Bill Buckner's error and Gibson's homer.

Such touches make this by far the most accomplished of the World Series films here, and help the set wrap on the highest of notes. There's really no better way to soak up so many great Dodger moments across the eras than these two discs.

• • •

Now, as for the the chance to win one of these sets, please email answers to the following. The first correct answer to each question wins a set.

1. Several Dodgers won multiple World Series rings as a member of the club, but only one player appeared in four of the team's winning World Series. Who is he?

2. Everybody remembers Bob Lemon's decision to pinch-hit for former Dodger Tommy John in Game Six of the '81 Series, but what other dubious decision did he make in that series regarding John?

3. Which former World Series MVP comes off the bench to play a key role in one of these World Championships?

I'll be back with a review and similar promotion of a five-disc Yankee World Series set, hopefully next week.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Clara Gottfried Jaffe (1912-2006)

This week's Trading Deadline Extravaganza Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus. Rather than delve into its baseball content -- it's all free there, if you care to read it -- I'll skip to the dedication at the bottom:

This week's column is dedicated to the loving memory of Clara Gottfried Jaffe (11/2/1912-8/1/2006), wife, mother, grandmother and so much more to three generations of baseball fans
My paternal grandmother -- the last of my surviving grandparents -- passed away in the early hours of Monday morning in Walla Walla, Washington. She was 93, and her death wasn't a surprise; my family had been bracing me for this inevitability for about a month. She'd been moved to the "maximum security" portion of her assisted living facility, had stopped taking her medication, and "wasn't really there." So it goes.

My grandmother led a remarkable life, and I spent a good deal of time on Monday revisiting that via a taped interview I did with her from 2003. She was born in 1912 in Buchach, Ukranian Galicia, a region that was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but at the end of World War I became part of Poland. At that point, her family -- she was the only child -- took her to Vienna, where she grew up and got her education. She graduated from the University of Vienna School of Medicine in 1937, a year ahead of my grandfather, Bernard Jaffe.

Bernard, a graduate of the University of Maryland, had saved up money working as a pharmacist and hustling pool in Baltimore to attend medical school, a remarkable story in and of itself. Unable to afford the exorbitant cost of attending med school stateside and stymied by the quota system which limited the number of Jews, he managed to start his studies in -- of all places -- Hitler's Germany, at the University of Göttering. He didn't know German when he came over, but he learned the language by reading newspapers and walking the streets. He somehow managed to wrangle a ticket to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he saw Jesse Owens show up Hitler by winning four gold medals.

After a year at Göttering, he was advised to leave, and he transferred to the University of Vienna. The story goes that he met Clara (who was a year ahead of him) one Saturday night while she was studying for an exam in a coffee house; he was playing pool, saw and recognized her, and offered to walk her home. They married in Vienna on March 29, 1938, and with the situation there worsening vis-à-vis the Nazis, began planning their exit. When he finished his studies, Bernard didn't even wait around to receive his diploma; a classmate named Dr. Samuel Schoenberg picked it up along with his own, and escaped by walking over the Alps into Switzerland.

A cousin of Clara's father named Marcus Helitzer had come over to Austria to help her obtain a visa to travel to the U.S.; the visa was granted when he opened an American bank account in her name with $1,000. They booked passage on a ship and arrived in the U.S. on July 15, 1938. But Clara never saw her parents again. Her father, Lazar Gottfried, who worked in the wheat industry, was stuck in Romania when the Russians occupied it. Clara recalls that the last time she saw her dad, it was when he'd come home to spend Passover: "It was my intuition. I ran to the window, called his name, waved to him. He turned back and waved, and that was the last time we saw each other."

Declared an enemy alien, Lazar went into hiding, but was pinched when he got fed up with his confinement and went out for a pack of cigarettes. He is believed to have died in a labor camp. They managed to obtain a visa for her mother, Josephine Fenster Gottfried, and bought her a ticket on an Italian ship, but when Mussolini and Hitler strengthened their ties the ship's voyage was cancelled, and alternate plans fell through as well. She was still in Vienna during Kristalnacht, and was eventually sent to a concentration camp. She perished in the Holocaust, as did nearly all of my grandmother's relatives.

Stateside, my grandparents settled in New York City. Bernard got an internship at Brooklyn Lutheran Hospital (and continued his affair with the Dodgers, which had begun, so the story goes, when he saw Babe Herman get hit on the head with a fly ball). He lived on hospital grounds while Clara lived out on Long Island with the Helitzers, and they saw each other on weekends. She got a job working as the physician for a girls' camp in Liberty, NY, and soon earned enough money to get an apartment of her own on 86th street. He entered the Army Reserves in 1939, and she took over his internship, having passed her medical boards in April. She credits this to her partially photographic memory which allowed her to visualize and remember her texts.

When Clara completed her internship, Bernard asked her to join him down in Asheville, North Caroina, where he was the physician at a Civil Conservation Corps base. In those uncertain times, he wanted her to settle down. "I enjoyed medicine," she recalled. "I was good at it, I had a potential, I was pretty smart, and I had a good memory. But I was an old-fashioned girl in those days. Marriage came first, and when he could make a living, I decided I should follow him."

He got his first position in Hot Springs, NC, outside of Asheville. When the Reserves called him up for active duty, he failed his physical. The story goes that he'd been playing tennis (he was a hell of an athlete, and was said to have been offered a pro baseball contract by the Washington Senators) and not having a car, had to run several miles to the offices. When he arrived, he was sweating profusely. The doctor asked if this happened often, and when he said yes, the doctor feared he had a cyst. He was turned down for active duty and sent to Augusta to train for the Veterans Adminstration hospital. There, my father was born in 1941.

They bounced around -- the life of an Army doctor -- and finally settled in the farming town of Walla Walla, Washington in 1944; they had another son, Bob, in 1946. While my grandmother adapted to life as a homemaker, m grandfather made his practice as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor), and practiced at the VA hospital there until his retirement in 1973. Upon leaving the VA grounds, they bought a house at 1966 Scarpelli, and lived out the rest of his life there; he passed away in November 2000.

I spent many a wonderful summer day with my grandparents, who came to be known as Nan and Pop. They would come down to Salt Lake City, and after a visit of about a week, they'd drive us back to Walla Walla; he'd do the whole thing in one 12-hour day, and we'd stop for dinner at Sizzler about an hour or so outside of town. We'd stay in Walla Walla, sometimes for as long as three weeks, then my parents would meet us there or we'd rendezvous at a family reunion on the Oregon coast or at the Black Butte Ranch near Sisters, Oregon.

While at my grandparents' house, my brother and I were in baseball immersion camp. Pop found time to play with us every day, pitching from behind home plate as we'd smack balls, five a turn, into a backstop where one rung meant a single, two a double, three a triple, and over the backstop a home run. We'd also play catch in his endless backyard; he'd throw long balls and we'd chase after them, laying out for "spectacular catches," the name we gave that particular drill. We'd play in his huge garden; while he would spend endless hours picking enormous raspberries (which Nan would turn into delicious jams), we'd throw the various fallen fruits and vegetables into an oversized barrel of dirt and compost which we called "elephant stew." In the evening we'd watch baseball on his new-fangled cable TV system, which included the fledgling ESPN station. Nan was just as much a part of those endless summer days, feeding us, taking us to the swimming pool or to rendezvous with her friends' grandchildren, indulging us with shopping trips for toys and baseball cards, joining us on the golf course (though when I grew frustrated with the game, I usurped her cart-driving duties), and making sure we spent time reading. Both of my grandparents were avid readers and firm believers in intellectual pursuits.

In retrospect, I realize how lucky my brother and I were to share so much time with my grandparents; my cousins, who are five and seven years younger and lived much closer in Seattle, didn't get the same mass quantity of quality time, didn't know them in the same way. I've written before about Pop's impact on my love of baseball and the Dodgers, but Nan figures into the story as well. I inherited her near-photographic memory, and it's served me well in my baseball fandom when it comes to remembering stats or recalling where I read something.

Pop's hearing seriously declined in the last decade of his life and he never really adjusted to wearing a hearing aid, often turning the damn thing off and missing out on a lot of conversation. The same thing eventually happened to Nan, I think, but she retained her mental acuity well into her nineties, and up until a couple years ago, we could still carry on a lengthy conversation. She was a sharp, funny woman, with a strong sense of what was right and wrong in the world.

Pop had always discouraged Nan from talking much about her life before coming to the U.S. because it would upset her so, and it wasn't until his passing that we finally got the full story of their escape from Vienna and the fate of her parents. She had come down to Salt Lake over Labor Day weekend when I was there, and at some point, said she wanted to "tell it all." I didn't give her much chance to reconsider, running out to buy a microcassette recorder even when I had two sitting in my desk drawer back in New York City. I interviewed her for about an hour, and while we occasionally had to pause for some chronological corrections from my dad, we got her amazing story in about as much detail as we ever would. I'm incredibly grateful for that, and extremely proud that she was able to pass it on -- even moreso as I prepare to say goodbye to her.

So long, Nan, and thank you for all of the wonderful years you gave us. We love you and will miss you, and we'll always remember you.


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