The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Cool Things

The only baseball I ever retrieved at a ballgame was at a Walla Walla Padres game in 1980; my grandparents lived in that sleepy little Washington town, and as my grandfather took us to many games in the early '80s I saw future stars like Tony Gwynn and John Kruk play many times. Other future major leaguers on the Padres included Jimmy Jones, Greg Booker, Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams and current Padres GM Kevin Towers; I've got programs with many of their autographs.

Anyway, on this particular occasion somebody hit a foul ball, and my brother and I chased it down the leftfield line, past where the grandstands ended (Borleske Stadium was a Low-A ballpark, and as such, rather rudimentary), near the Padre bullpen. Upon picking the ball up, for some reason I let the Padre bullpen catcher sign it.

I kept the ball; it still sits somewhere in my childhood bedroom, and I always followed the career of the guy who signed it. That guy was Bob Geren, and according to a report, he's about to become the new Oakland A's manager.

Geren hit .254 with two homers and 16 RBI in 1980, his second go-round at Walla Walla. That winter, he was the player to be named later in a major trade between the Padres and Cardinals, sent to St. Louis along with Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley and Gene Tenace for catchers Terry Kennedy and Steve Swisher (whose son Nick is a current A), pitchers John Littlefield, Al Olmstead, John Urrea, and Kim Seaman, and futilityman Mike Phillips. Whitey Herzog then turned around and flipped Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers for Sixto Lezcano, David Green, Lary Sorensen, and Dave LaPoint, a move which helped build both teams for the 1982 World Series (though I think the Brew Crew got the better of that).

Geren had slogged it out in the minors for ten seasons before getting a cup of coffee with the Yankees in 1988. He had a fine rookie campaign in 1989, hitting .288/.329/.454 with nine homers in 205 at-bats while backing up Don Slaught. Promoted to the starting role in 1990, he didn't hit (.213/.259/.325) and the Yanks went 67-95. He lost his job to Matt Nokes in 1991, serving as the backup (.219/.270/.289), then floated around for a couple of years before getting a final shot with the Padres in 1993. For his career he hit just .233/.283/.349. He was much better behind the plate, nailing 37.7 percent of would-be thieves.

After his playing career ended, Geren got a job in the Red Sox organization, managing at three different stops from 1994-1998. He joined the A's org in 1999, managed a year in A-ball then three at Triple-A Sacramento, served as the A's bullpen coach for three years, and as Ken Macha's bench coach last year. Despite the A's extended search for a successor and the presence of another viable candidate on the staff (Ron Washington, recently named the Rangers manager), Geren's ascension to the managing job always had an air of inevitability about it, given that he had a history with GM Billy Beane (he was Beane's best man at his second wedding).

I have no idea of his personality or his managing style, or how he'll fare with the A's, but following his road to this job over the past quarter of a century has been a pleasurable little slice of fandom. That ball always meant a lot to me, and now it means even more.

• • •

It's been awhile since I stopped evangelizing about the mighty, but Sean Forman is cooking up some awesome stuff this winter. In partnership with Retrosheet, B-R now has box scores, game logs, and player splits, all going back to 1957. Even better, those new features extend the capabilities of Retrosheet's data. Click on a pitcher's game log and then on the red Innings Pitched column and you can see a breakdown of his performance in every inning. Click on his Situation In/Out, and you can see who was at bat, on base, and in the field when he entered the ballgame, and what the score was. Handy charts also tell you how often he worked on X days of rest, when he was used, and how many multi-inning appearances he made.

For hitters, the game logs are pretty cool as well, telling you what innings he played (if he entered or departed the game midway), and the red Plate Appearances column produces a summary of what transpired in each trip to the plate. Categories at the bottom of each game log summarize the longest hitting, on-base and homerless streaks. The Box Scores include very detaileld, easy-to-read play-by-play accounts, a huge improvement on Retrosheet's presentation, not to mention ESPN's. I wish I'd known about all of this while writing up my BP07 player comments, as the site is so much faster to load and easy to navigate.

Anyway, Forman's rolling out a new subscription service as well, and he's got a blog summarizing recent changes to the site. Did I call B-R the best thing since sliced bread? Hell, it's the best thing since the invention of the wheel...

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