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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Stick a Fork in the 2007 Yankees

"Kick in the idiot box and wait for the news in the history books/ It's like junkies who hate their heroin." -- d. boon, lead singer of the Minutemen, "Shit You Hear at Parties"

I give up. I'm done. To hell with the 2007 Yankees, and while I'm at it, to hell with the managerial reign of Joe Torre. I'm not spending one more iota of energy fretting this sorry-assed team's demise after Tuesday night's debacle in Baltimore. Stick a fork in 'em, they're cooked.

I don't like to lose perspective about one game -- I'm usually the one counseling friends and readers to crawl off the ledge -- but this one was emblematic. If Torre couldn't be bothered to use a rested Mariano Rivera in the face of a sudden-death bottom of the ninth to thwart a potential three-game losing streak and 1-6 slide, then this team, this season, maybe even this regime is beyond redemption. Torre inexplicably chose to pitch Scott Proctor in that situation, and despite a terrific play to snare a pop-up bunt, Proctor walked two men, including Ramon Hernandez to force the winning run home with the bases loaded. That came moments after a wild pitch/near-HBP which should have done the job one way or the other.

Not calling Rivera's number was an indefensible decision, even moreso because Torre's made the same mistake before. Absent a note from the doctor or a visibly detached limb, there's no reason Rivera shouldn't have been in the game -- he hadn't pitched since Friday, so Torre's explanation about the length of Mo's previous outing doesn't wash. The man's thrown 1.2 innings, 20 pitches, in the past nine days! If the team is disguising a Rivera injury, what's the point? The Yankees might as well put their heads between their legs and kiss their asses goodbye, because they'll go nowhere with Proctor and/or Kyle Farnsworth closing things out.

Eleven games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, eight back in the Wild Card with six teams ahead of them, the Yanks can ill afford to fritter more games away. But they seemed content to do exactly that Tuesday night, so I'm officially now Beyond Caring. No more objects thrown at the TV, no more Tivoing their games so I can cling to a shred of hope. This season is done for the Yankees. Throw them on the pile of expensive toys that broke all too quickly. Go spend some time with your loved ones rather than tuning in for the daily rust and rot. You've got better things to do than to cheer on this trainwreck.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Spirit of '77, Part III: The Dandy Dons

Dear Alex,

Oy, it feels like ages since you responded to my first volley, which gets at one of the drawbacks of a set as massive as this -- particularly during baseball season, finding the time for a three-hour dig through the archives takes some doing.

Anyway, you did a great job of bringing the Yankees into the Series with your last post, so as we turn to the Game One disc, it's time for me to bring the Dodgers into this. As I said before, they got out to a 17-3 start under new skipper Tommy Lasorda, who had taken over from Walter Alston after the latter's 23 years at the helm. Lasorda was an organization man who'd reaped the benefit of managing in the Dodger chain during one of the great player development bounties in baseball history. He won five pennants in seven years in the minors, managing the longest-running infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey at various stops, along with other notable future major leaguers. His 1970 Spokane team -- Garvey, Lopes, and Russell, as well as league MVP Bobby Valentine, pitchers Charlie Hough and Doyle Alexander, catcher Bob Stinson, first baseman Tom Hutton and outfielders Bill Buckner, Tom Paciorek and Von Joshua -- is considered one of the greatest in minor league history. Nine players on his '77 club had played for him on their way up.

Lasorda had become Alston's third-base coach in 1973, and he quickly proved a Technicolor contrast to the taciturn black-and-white skipper who'd been managing the Dodgers since 1954. He was a holler guy, basically, and a celebrity in the making, pals with Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles. On July 31, 1974 NBC famously miked Lasorda for a Game of the Week broadcast in which he predicted a home run from Cey; when it happened, he became the game's highest-profile third base coach.

Even after he took the helm, Lasorda was viewed as more of a cheerleader than a tactician. That's not an unfair description; his specialty was motivating his players, and he did so by trying to impart as much confidence in them as humanly possible. Famously, he got through to Reggie Smith, the rightfielder acquired from the Cardinals midway through the 1976 season. Smith's reputation as talented but moody can be traced to the racism he experienced early in his career as a member of the Red Sox (in Shut Out, Howard Bryant would write, "Outside of [Celtics center] Bill Russell, no black player would endure a more pronounced conflict with Boston than Reggie Smith."). He'd gotten along better in St. Louis, but when Lasorda told him he needed him, those were words that none of his previous managers had bothered to impart. Smith was effusive with praise for Lasorda: "He gave us a greater sense of being part of something, and we had to believe in ourselves because he never doubted us. He preached to us from day one that we were going to win it. In all my 15 years, I had never heard a manager say it so emphatically." Smith responded with a .307-32-87 season in 1977, becoming part of the first quartet of 30-homer teammates in baseball history (Cey, Garvey, and Dusty Baker were the others) as well as pacing the Senior Circuit in On Base Percentage (.427).

The '77 Dodgers went virtually wire to wire, spending just three days out of first place, all in the first week. They beat the two-time defending World Champion Reds by 10 games, clinching the division on September 20, and winding up the regular season at 98-64. Health was a huge factor; the Dodger starters missed just two turns all year; one through five, they made at least 31 starts apiece, with everybody topping 212 innings. That kind of staff durability is just unreal. Tommy John (20-7, 2.78 ERA) and Don Sutton (14-8, 3.18) led the way.

Perhaps flat because they'd clinched so early, the Dodgers dropped the first game of the League Championship Series to the Phillies, who were in the midst of a three-year run as NL East champs and had won 101 games in 1977 under Danny Ozark, the man whom Lasorda had replaced as third base coach (Ozark was part of the Dodger organization from 1947-1972). Russell made a pair of errors that led to four early unearned runs, chasing John in the fifth inning. Though Cey smacked a grand slam to tie the game in the seventh, the Phils scored two in the eighth off Elias Sosa. The Dodgers came back to tie the series the next night when Don Sutton tossed a complete-game nine-hitter.

That set up Game Three, which I wish had been included in this set, as it's a crazy classic. The Dodgers scored a pair in the top of the second off Phillies starter Larry Christenson, but their inning ended when catcher Steve Yeager was thrown out at third base on a double by Dodger starter Burt Hooton. The Phils came back with three runs in the bottom of the inning; Hooton walked Christenson, Bake McBride, and Larry Bowa consecutively with the bases loaded, forcing in a run each time. Lasorda gave Hooton the hook, and it paid off. Rick Rhoden came out of the bullpen to get the dangerous Mike Schmidt to foul out to catcher to end the threat. Rhoden then went four more scoreless frames as the Dodgers chased Christenson in the fourth and tied the game

The score remained knotted at three until the bottom of the eighth, when the Phils netted two on a Richie Hebner double, a Garry Maddox single, and an error by Cey on a Bob Boone grounder. That set up a legendarily wild ninth where the Dodgers were down to their final out against ace reliever Gene Garber. Pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo, a 40-year-old who'd been plucked out of the Mexican League in mid-August, beat out a drag bunt -- with two outs! Pinch-hitter Manny Mota, no spring chicken himself at 39, launched a fly ball in the vicinity of leftfielder Greg Luzinski ("the worst outfielder I have ever seen, bar none," wrote Bill James a few years ago. My dad bought me a Luzinski glove when I was a kid, which explains a bit about my playing career). Luzinski could only trap the ball after Mota's drive hit the wall; his relay sailed past second baseman Ted Sizemore, allowing Davalillo to score. Lopes then hit a ball that apparently hit a seam in the turf and ricocheted off Schmidt's knee. Bowa recovered the carom and threw to first "in a dead heat with the flying Lopes," as the New York Times' Joe Durso wrote, while Mota broke for home with the tying run. Ump Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe; "the Phillies were shocked, outraged, and tied," wrote Durso. Garber tried to pick off Lopes, but threw wildly, allowing the speedster to take second, and then Russell brought him home with a single. Mike Garman worked through Bowa, Schmidt, Luzinksi (whom he hit) and Hebner to close out the game and give the Dodgers a series lead.

The Phillies came back with ace Steve Carlton -- who'd gone 23-10 on his way to the second of four Cy Young awards -- versus John in the fourth game. Dusty Baker clubbed a two-run homer in the second, and sparked a two-run rally in the fifth with a leadoff walk. Carlton took an early exit when he walked Cey to open the sixth, while John went the distance to give the Dodgers the pennant. Baker, who'd gone 5-for-14 with a double, two homers and eight RBI, won the LCS MVP award.

So that takes the Dodgers into the World Series, where we pick up the visuals. This was the ninth time they would meet the Yankees in the Fall Classic, but the first since their four-game sweep in 1963. What stands out in retrospect is the contrast between the two teams. The Dodgers were largely homegrown and at least during the initial stages of Lasorda's reign, had reputation for harmony, or more accurately, an outward facade of harmony. The Yankees were the first team to succeed via free agency, adding Catfish Hunter prior to the 1976 season and Reggie Jackson and Don Gullett prior to 1977, and of course they were anything but harmonious.

Gullett got the Game One call for the Yankees. Even at 26, he was already a seasoned vet of the postseason, having pitched for the Reds in four World Series, including the previous year's defeat of the Yanks. But the signs of Gullett's demise were already apparent. The broadcast crew -- Keith Jackson on the play-by-play, Howard Cosell on the color commentary, and Tom Seaver as the jocko analyst -- commented on his problems with shoulder soreness; Gullett had lasted just two innings during his LCS start. Here he worked his way into trouble early, walking Lopes to lead of the game and then surrendering a triple to the number two hitter, Russell, who tagged a ball into deep left-center, about 410 feet. That would be a home run today, but the dimensions of Yankee Stadium post-renovation were 312 down the leftfield line, 430 to left-center, 417 to center, 385 to right-center, and 310 down the rightfield line. Billy Martin popped out of the dugout and Dick Tidrow began warming up.

As to the broadcasters, you called them the worst ever in one of your comments. That's overstating the case a bit; Jackson, who was the game's preeminent college football voice, and Cosell, better known for his work on Monday Night Football, were simply out of their element covering baseball. The former had no idea what to do with numbers; when the switch-hitting Smith was batting, he'd cite the guy's homer and RBI splits with no sense of proportion as to his batting average or number of at-bats. The latter's bombast was a poor match for the sport ("Dusty Baker is one of the most dramatic figures in all of baseball"?) and the received wisdom he spigoted was painfully apparent. I have a ton of affection for both men's work calling football games -- my brother and I started doing Cosell imitations around the time we became conscious of TV sports -- but they're completely miscast here. As for Seaver, even 30 years later I can't stand the sound of his voice, which manages to be both nasal and piercing enough to cut tin.

Anyway, the Dodgers picked up Russell's run on a sacrifice fly by Cey. Cosell let out a groaner when he introduced the Dodger third baseman: "They call him the penguin, he walks like a duck." What the? But Gullett managed to escape the inning despite issuing three walks and the triple, aided by Smith getting caught in a rundown on an attempted steal.

Getting the start for the Dodgers was Don Sutton, the team's link back to the days of Koufax and Drysdale. He was their big game starter; up to that point Sutton had compiled a 4-0 record and a 1.39 ERA in five postseason starts. Permit me to gush for a minute here, as the guy was a personal favorite of mine. Goofy frizzy hair and all, he was simply one of the most unheralded of his day. He stuck around to win 324 games and strike out 3,574 hitters, a figure that ranked fourth at the time he retired and is still seventh two decades later. But since he never a Cy Young award and had only one 20-win season -- a byproduct of the Dodgers shifting to the five-man rotation well ahead of the curve -- in an era where the likes of Seaver, Carlton, Perry and Fergie Jenkins dominated in the NL, he gets short shrift.

Sutton was eminently adaptable, with a five-pitch arsenal that included one of the game's great curveballs, a knuckle-curve that draws a lot of comparisons to Mike Mussina. He was also reputed to dabble in the black art of scuffing a baseball, and he relished the allegations. There's a story that when he met Perry, the spitballer offered him a tube of Vaseline, and Sutton handed him a sheet of sandpaper. "I'd wear a toolbelt out there if they'd let me," he told Tom Boswell.

He was still a workhorse at this point in his career, but as he aged he understood the changing dynamic that made him a six-inning pitcher. He cashed in via free agency, signing with the Astros after the 1980 season -- friction with Lasorda and Garvey played a part, but the Dodgers were idiots for letting him go -- and later famously exclaimed, "I'm the most loyal player money can buy." He's reputed to have never missed a turn or spend time on the DL durig his 23 year career, but both of those are myths; he missed the 1981 postseason after sustaining a broken kneecap when a Jerry Reuss pitch got away from him (he wound up having surgery to insert two screws), and he went on the DL with a sprained elbow in 1988, the 23rd and final year of his career.

Sutton gave up a run in the first -- three straight two-out singles, with Chris Chambliss delivering Thurman Munson home -- but that aside, he pretty much cruised through to the sixth. But just moments after Garvey was thrown out at home on a single by centerfielder Glenn Burke, Willie Randolph jacked a solo homer to shallow leftfield to lead off the bottom of the frame.

It's weird and more than a little sad to see Burke, a guy whom I know plenty about but have no memory of as a player. A light-hitting speedster who really never got it together in the majors, he's remembered for two reasons. First and foremost he was gay, a fact that was acknowledged only after his career was over. I actually remember reading the Inside Sports article that outed him; I rarely got ahold of that magazine but for some reason I scored that particular copy when we were flying somewhere. Apparently the Dodger brass had its suspicions about Burke because he was close with Lasorda's flamboyantly gay son (sadly, both of them would die of AIDS in the '90s). By the middle of the 1978 season, Burke would be traded to the A's, and he'd be out of baseball before 1981 due to a knee injury and drug problems. The really shitty thing about his outing, I've learned in researching this, was that it was his long-term boyfriend, Michael J. Smith, who wrote the Inside Sports piece without disclosure that they were partners.

Second, and on a much lighter note, Burke reputedly invented the high-five when he greeted Baker at home plate after the latter's 30th homer. Moments later, Baker returned the favor when Burke followed with his first major-league homer. That's pretty cool, and it was something of a relief to find Retrosheet corroborating the order of events if not the genesis of the predominant sports gesture of the past 30 years.

Anyway, Lasorda kept Sutton in after yielding the tying run, even let him bat for himself in the top of the seventh, and he drew a walk. He dodged trouble in the bottom of the frame when Lou Piniella lashed a single to right-center and was gunned down by Smith trying to take second. Bucky Dent followed with a chopper to Cey, whose throw to Garvey pulled him off the bag, safe for a single. The play prompted an aside from Cosell about the rivalry between the two Dodger infielders, and Cey's outspokenness regarding Garvey's image-consciousness. Fissures in the facade of harmony.

Of course, it would be Sutton and Garvey between whom the fur really flew the next summer, but I'll let you hit that note, Alex. And since I've more than gone past my pitch count here, this seems as good a point as any to hand the ball over to you.

Get 'em...


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Saturday, June 23, 2007


Friday's Child

Another week, another Hit List, this one completed under the influence of my wife's 103-degree fever, Sammy Sosa's 600th home run, a suspicious-looking early-morning handoff of a laptop at Port Authority, and my editor Christina Kahrl's impending move to Chicago. As such, it didn't go up until late Friday afternoon and missed inclusion in BP's daily newsletter, but it's there in all it's linkalicious glory.

"Hurting Hurlers" is this week's title, and with injuries to Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Jason Schmidt, John Lackey, Dontrelle Willis, Brad Lidge, Anibal Sanchez, A.J. Burnett, and Ian Snell, there was certainly no shortage of high-profile ones. Here's what I had to say about Schmidt, the ninth-ranked Dodgers' $47 million investment:
Another troubling outing prompts Jason Schmidt to go under the knife; he's got the Deluxe Torn Labrum Platter with all the trimmings, so forward his mail to Spring Training 2008. Chad Billingsley takes his spot in the rotation, and while he's much improved over his rookie season, the move may upset the balance of the league's second-best bullpen (not that I'm advocating more Brett Tomko or Mark Hendrickson). Meanwhile, hitting coach Eddie Murray takes the fall for an underperforming offense that's 11th in EqA at a subpar .253, but he didn't sign Juan Pierre (.240), Nomar Garciaparra (.237), or Rafael Furcal (.254) to those big deals.
One more note on the Dodgers: yesterday's L.A. Times featured a surprisingly rational column from Bill Plaschke, in which my nemesis tells GM Ned Colletti not to panic over the Schmidt injury by trading exciting youngsters such as James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, and Andre Ethier. Shocking to find the two of us on the same page for once.

Turning to the Yankees, even after being swept in Colorado, they're ranked seventh; I addressed their first base situation in my entry:
Mile High Drub: fresh off a Subway Series win that caps a 14-3 run, the Yankees are swept in Colorado while being held to just five runs in a series more memorable for the 2007 first base debuts of Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon. As injured Jason Giambi cuts a deal to meet with Grand Inquisitor George "Torquemada" Mitchell, the picture at that position appears dire. Yankee first-sackers have hit .270/.336/.416, well below the league average (.274/.352/.452). With Damon possibly DL-bound, Posada needed behind the plate to minimize the presence of .116-hitting Wil Nieves, Josh Phelps DFA'd in favor of Andy Phillips, and a surprisingly torrid Miguel Cairo still representing what Joe Sheehan rightly terms "baseball malpractice," it's clear somebody's license to assemble a roster may have expired.
My colleague Derek Jacques' linked parody of the Monty Python Flying Circus "Spanish Inquisition" sketch is a must-read. Bring me the comfy chair!

It certainly felt like a particularly interesting week, or at least one where I felt I had plenty more to say than would fit in a typical Hit List entry. A few asides:

• I believe I set a personal record on the Rangers' entry, which discussed Sosa's home run as well some foolishness by owner Tom Hicks and the grim track record of boy wonder GM Jon Daniels. Lone Star Ball's Adam Morris challenged me on my assertion that the Rangers were "smoked" (to use my word) on the John Danks/Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Cordero/Carlos Lee trades. While I agree they've got longer time horizons than the infamous Padres deal (Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge for Akinori Otsuka, Adam Eaton and a minor leaguer) or the Alfonso Soriano/Brad Wilkerson trade -- both of which would make a Texas pitmaster jealous -- they're certainly short-term losses. Throwing out reliever Nick Masset and his 7.16 ERA, Danks has been much more usable than McCarthy, and it may take years to evaluate whether the first-round pick the Rangers received as compensation for Lee's departure was worth the trouble. In the meantime, I've yet to be impressed by Daniels, I don't think there's much merit to his extension, and if I'm a Rangers fan I'm worried he comes back with something like Jay Payton, Danys Baez, Steve Trachsel and Billy Ripken's unwashed laundry for Mark Teixeira, or Jason Grilli for Eric Gagne even up.

• Lest I stretch the Orioles entry to the extreme, I decided to let Miguel Tejada's injury go. Then again, all I really had to say about that was a Nelson Muntz-ian "Ha-ha!" I find Tejada to be one of the game's most disappointing stars. The guy's stats against the Yankees the past few years are actually impressive -- .312/.357/.545 in 2004, .373/.407/.547 in 2005, .419/.451/.514 in 2006 -- but the images of him loafing down to first base or making a lazy-ass defensive play are so indelible that they color my whole opinion of him. And let's face it, I'm still wary of him after that 2003 Division Series baserunning blunder (as I am of Eric Byrnes, but that's a story for another day), and I'm no fan of consecutive game streaks, particularly when they're artificially extended as Tejada's was the other night. As for Joe Girardi turning down the managerial reins, this proves he's not stupid; Andy MacPhail's arrival or no, the O's haven't been worth a damn in a decade, and Girardi will have better options at his disposal -- perhaps even the Cubs, White Sox, or Yankees -- this winter.

• Speaking of the White Sox, one of my colleagues got me laughing yesterday in response to my entry. "I still think your research on the White Sox bullpen is wrong -- those numbers look WAY better than what I've seen seeing. If you asked me to guess the bullpen-Jenks ERA in the last month, I would have said somewhere in the thousands." Oh, SNAP! I had the bullpen ERA besides Jenks at 8.70, with a 2.28 WHIP, which is pretty ugly, but then I haven't been suffering through the daily litany like this.

• Also, I pulled up short in discussing the Milton Bradley situation; Bradley was designated for assignment by Oakland on Thursday, a surprising move even given his three trips to the DL this year and the backstory about his impatience with the timing of his activation. For whatever it's worth, if he's had problems in Oakland, they've been kept under much tighter wraps than in L.A., which makes the move all the more surprising. From a roster standpoint, various reports have noted that the A's have Nick Swisher, Travis Buck, Mark Kotsay, Shannon Stewart, Bobby Kielty, and Chris Snelling in various states of readiness; as a GM or a manager, I'd take Bradley, warts and all, over all of those guys except the first two unless the guy was missing a leg or beating his wife again. Given that the A's looked ready to settle for the Royals' Leo Nunez -- a 23-year-old righty reliever with a career ERA of 6.99, a K rate below 5.0, and a bleak PECOTA outlook -- in a trade that was scotched by an apparent oblique injury to Bradley, I have to think there's far more dirt under this rug than is being discussed.

As I said, it was an interesting week.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007


Sammy Sosa, 600, and the Hall of Fame [BP Unfiltered]

Rockin' the blockquote:
Last night, Sammy Sosa hit his 600th home run, becoming just the fifth player in baseball history to do so. Ironically, he hit it against the Chicago Cubs, the team for whom he walloped 545 of those homers, including 243 over a four-year span. While that barrage arguably made him the game's most popular player at the time, it has since raised numerous eyebrows as BALCO and other steroid scandals have come to light. Most famously, Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly smugly challenged Sosa to pee in a cup to prove his innocence; when Sosa refused, Reilly wrote a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife column about it. Sosa, for his part, made a lackluster showing at the 2005 Congressional Steroid Circus, and many other writers treated his 2006 quasi-retirement as a de facto admission of guilt, working steroids into their narrative of his departure.

For all of the innuendo surrounding Sosa, there's no smoking gun, and far less circumstantial evidence surrounding him than his two other contemporaries who crossed the 61-homer Maris threshold, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds (corked bats, on the other hand...). Earlier this year, reports surfaced via a leak that the dubious Mitchell Investigation had called for Sosa's medical records; Mitchell refused comment as to any justification for doing so. In most quarters, that's called a smear.

But enough about steroids for the moment. Multiple readers have asked me about Sosa's JAWS case, so here goes. Coming into the year (working with January 2007 set again), Sosa had 103.1 career WARP3 and a seven-year peak total of 64.3, good for 83.7 JAWS. The average Hall of Fame rightfielder (including freshly-elected Tony Gwynn) scores 119.8/65.5/92.7, leaving Sosa significantly short on the career front, a consequence of him ceasing productivity after his Age 35 season. ESPN's front page trumpets his 30-homer/131-RBI pace, but 12 homers into his comeback, Sosa's hitting just .242/.297/.458, good for 0.7 WARP1, and a projection of 2.3 WARP3. In other words, he's not helping his cause beyond padding his career totals and distracting the focus away from the Rangers' myriad other problems.
JAWS table and more after the jump.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Yo, Baby!

I came off the bench to pinch-hit for one of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues yesterday. The fruits of my labors can be found in my latest New York Sun piece, about the fall of the Cardinals, the recovery of the Brewers, and some bad behavior and worse spending by the Cubs. A quick taste:
It didn't take genius to foresee the collapse of the World Champion Cardinals. With a poorly-executed off-season plan and a nearly barren farm system, general manager Walt Jocketty did little to upgrade a club that limped into last year's playoffs with an 83–78 record before their unlikely title run. With ace Chris Carpenter sidelined by bone spurs in his elbow since Opening Day, plus sluggers Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen all off to slow starts, it's been clear for weeks that a repeat performance just isn't in the Cards.

Filling the power vacuum in the NL Central so far have been the upstart Brewers. Storming out to a 24–10 record behind the potent 1-2 punch of first baseman Prince Fielder and shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Brewers opened up a 6.5-game lead on the retooled Cubs before the latter's irascible new manager, Lou Piniella, had earned his first ejection. Even when gravity brought the Brewers back to earth — they lost 19 of their next 28 games — neither the Cubs nor any other Central team seized the initiative; Milwaukee's lead never dwindled below 4.5 games.

That lead is back up to seven games, and if you were in the vicinity of Miller Park Monday night, you may have heard the window of opportunity slam shut on the rest of the division. Yovani Gallardo, considered one of the top 20 prospects in the minors by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, put together an impressive major league debut, limiting the Giants to four hits and three runs over 6.1 innings. Rickie Weeks doubled twice in his return from the disabled list, and Fielder socked his NL-best 26th homer to give the Brewers their sixth win in eight games.
That ought to make the in-laws happy. I didn't see more than brief highlights of Gallardo's start, but by all accounts he's the real deal. After leading the minor leagues with 188 strikeouts in 155 innings last year, he had put up a 2.90 ERA with a 110/28 K/BB ratio in 77.2 innings at Triple-A Nashville before his recall. My BP colleague Kevin Goldstein ranked him 14th in his Top 100 Prospects list, while Baseball America had him 16th. Here's Goldstein's tale of the tape from his Top 10 Brewer prospects piece last December:
Yovani Gallardo, rhp
DOB: 2/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2004, Texas HS
What He Did In 2006: 2.09 ERA at High A (77.2-54-23-103), 1.63 ERA at AA (77.1-50-28-85)
The Good: Very good stuff plus excellent command equals outstanding pitching prospect. Pitches off a heavy 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96, as well as two plus breaking pitches – a hard-sweeping slider and a downer curveball. Throws strikes and has advanced polish well beyond his years.
The Bad: Changeup is an average pitch, but that's nitpicking. Body doesn't offer the same projection as other top pitching prospects. That's nitpicking as well.
The Irrelevant: Are groundball ratios fluky? Gallardo was nearly 2 to 1 (83-43) in the Florida State League, yet gave up more flyballs (79) than grounders (61) at Double-A.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter and occasional All-Star.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low – Gallardo will turn 21 in Spring Training, yet he's ready for Triple-A, and the Brewers don't think he'll need a full season there in preparation for the big leagues.
The bottom line is that Brewers fans have every reason to be as excited about him as Yankee fans are about Philip Hughes, with the bonus that Gallardo's actually healthy, and his team is in first place. Can't beat that with a baseball bat.

• • •

With the next installment of our Spirit of '77 series stuck in the pipeline, my partner in correspondence Alex Belth pitched in with his poignant Bombers Broadside 2007 memoir, "Dad, Reggie and Me." You don't need me to tell you it's a must-read.

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Monday, June 18, 2007


Vin Santo

Buried within his daily column, Salon's King Kaufman takes note of a wonderful moment on Friday night when Dodger announcer Vin Scully let a ninth-inning confrontation between Dodger closer Takashi Saito and Angel slugger Vlad Guerrero speak for itself. The Golden Throat of baseball history told his listeners, "Boy, when you get a matchup like this, Guerrero and Saito, I think the best thing to do is shut up. Just, uh, you concentrate, and I'm gonna have some fun myself."

Watching the scene myself on Friday night, I thought back to Scully's artful handling of Nomar Garciaparra's game-winning home run in the now-legendary 4+1 game:
Leftfielder Roberts had already turned back to face the plate as the ball went over the wall as pandemonium broke out both in Dodger Stadium and in my own private viewing box; somehow I managed to keep from waking my wife. The Dodgers dogpiled at home plate as Scully, with admirable restraint, let the celebratory scene do the talking.

Two minutes later, the master of the mic remarked enthusiastically, "I forgot to tell you: the Dodgers are in first place!" Another minute of crowd shots and stadium noise passed, un-Scullyed, before he finally signed off: "I think we've said enough from up here. Once again, the final score in 10 innings -- believe it or not -- Dodgers 11, Padres 10."
I remember showing that clip to Alex Belth a few months back, just after he'd commented that there wasn't anything particularly memorable about Scully's calls during the four consecutive homers that had transpired the previous inning. Alex left my home whistling a different tune.

Once again, thanks to Vin Scully for giving the gift of his understated style.

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Hip Hip Jorge and other Bronx Tales

Lovely win for Yankees last night to take round two of the Subway Series against a reeling Mets club that looks as though all nine players are channeling Jay Payton's brain waves. Seriously, Carlos Delgado forgetting how many outs there were was just one more ugly moment for a team that's been in vaporlock for the past couple weeks; having watched them against the Dodgers I've seen plenty of the Mets during their slide.

Chien-Ming Wang's career-high 10 strikeouts were impressive, showcasing his much-improved slider and change-up but perhaps also a byproduct of his struggling opponents; the sight of Jose Reyes corkscrewing himself into the ground on the latter in the eighth and then trying not to crack up was worth the price of admission, but it also speaks volumes as to how out of whack the Mets' heads are these days.

The Yankee offense looked in fine form, piling the late-inning runs on in true Bronx Bomber fashion (always good to leave a footprint on your opponent's neck). I missed a live viewing of Alex Rodriguez's monster home run, but then I've seen plenty of those lately; over his last 14 games, the kid is hitting .412/.492/.961 with eight homers, and he's been having great at-bats all over the place.

Also nice to see Jorge Posada rip that eighth-inning short-porch special, which came shortly after I saw his ESPN promo for the first time. Today I took a quick JAWS-flavored look at Hip Hip Jorge's budding Hall of Fame case over at Baseball Prospectus Unfiltered. The short version is that his peak is about average among Hall of Fame catchers but that he'll probably need two excellent or three solid seasons after this one to reach the career WARP levels, no sure thing for a catcher who turns 36 in August. Still, it's pretty impressive that he's even on the Cooperstown radar.

Update: There's much discussion of what I had to say about Posada over at Bronx Banter. I've got about a post or two worth of comments in there myself, some pertaining to Thurman Munson, and a couple of charts whose formatting got messed up, so I'll repost here.

The first is a ranking of the 32 catchers under discussion according to Fielding Runs Above Average. Sparky Anderson famously dissed Munson after the 1976 World Series by telling a reporter, "Don't ever embarrass anybody by comparing him to Johnny Bench," but his boy is no longer the benchmark by which defensive catchers should be judged:
Player           FRAA
Ivan Rodriguez 200
Gary Carter 149
Yogi Berra 145
Johnny Bench 142
Tony Pena 127
Del Crandall 123
Gabby Hartnett 113
Bill Dickey 111
Buck Ewing 100
Ray Schalk 98
Jim Sundberg 95
Lance Parrish 89
Charlie Bennett 83
Thurman Munson 79
Roy Campanella 74
Mickey Cochrane 58
Darrell Porter 54
Carlton Fisk 47
Jorge Posada 34
Benito Santiago 32
Bill Freehan 28
Javy Lopez 20
Rick Ferrell 14
Jason Kendall 2
Joe Torre -2
Gene Tenace -5
Deacon White -11
Ted Simmons -23
Wally Schang -51
Roger Bresnahan -72
Ernie Lombardi -126
Mike Piazza -150
The second is the other side of the coin, the best hitters among catchers according to Equivalent Average, a rate stat which measures relative offensive ability, with park and league adjustments built in. EqA is essentially runs created per out, adjusted to a batting average-like scale. Slugging and ability to get on base are in there, as they are in OPS+. A .260 EqA is defined average, a .300 is outstanding, .230 is replacement level (note: the previously published version of this at BB and here used the wrong version -- adjusted for season, rather than adjusted for all-time -- of the stat. The correction helps Posada considerably.):
Player            EqA
Mike Piazza .315
Gene Tenace .309
Joe Torre .298
Jorge Posada .298
Bill Dickey .295
Mickey Cochrane .295
Ernie Lombardi .295
Johnny Bench .292
Gabby Hartnett .292
Roy Campanella .292
Roger Bresnahan .289
Yogi Berra .288
Carlton Fisk .285
Wally Schang .285
Ivan Rodriguez .284
Ted Simmons .284
Thurman Munson .282
Darrell Porter .282
Gary Carter .281
Buck Ewing .281
Javy Lopez .279
Bill Freehan .277
Jason Kendall .277
Deacon White .276
Charlie Bennett .273
Lance Parrish .271
Del Crandall .263
Rick Ferrell .261
Benito Santiago .256
Jim Sundberg .255
Tony Pena .248
Ray Schalk .246
Note that Piazza ranks last with the leather and fist with the lumber. If I were to "zero out" his defense, giving him credit for league-average defense every year, his numbers would shift from 97.5 career WARP/66.1 Peak WARP/81.8 JAWS to 114.9/69.9/92.4, which would put him in the Bench-Carter-Rodriguez-Berra group, the crème de la crème of catchers. His lousy defense has that big an impact on his case by my system, but it won't keep him from Cooperstown.

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Friday, June 15, 2007


Cross-Platform Synergy

Another week, another Hit List, this one completed at breakneck speed since I more or less put myself out of commission on Wednesday with a combination of radio, my BP chat, and a trip to Yankee Stadium to see the hottest team in baseball. And no, I don't mean the Diamondbacks, who left New York looking like the "Join Or Die" snake after being trounced by a combined score of 18-4 during the three-game sweep.

Wednesday night's game was the only one where the Diamondbacks even got a lead; they scored off Mike Mussina with two outs in the second, but Jorge Posada led off the bottom half by drilling Livan Hernandez's first pitch just over the rightfield wall. Number of outs over which Arizona held a lead = 1. The Yanks loaded the bases with two walks and a single, but neither Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves -- two absolute zeroes with the stick -- could take advantage.

That was the last bit of luck for ol' Livan, whose velocity seldom reaches higher than the mid-80s at this point. A leadoff walk to Derek Jeter in the third -- one of five walks Hernandez surrendered during his brief stint -- was soon followed by Alex Rodriguez's 25th homer of the year, a no-doubter into the leftfield stands. That was nothing compared to the fourth inning, when a two-out single by Bobby Abreu sparked a rally. Abreu stole second and scored when A-Rod singled to leftfield. A Posada walk was followed by a monster shot to right-centerfield by Hideki Matsui, and as fast as you could say "Go Go Godzilla!" the Yanks had expanded their lead to 7-1. That would be the last inning for Hernandez.

Meanwhile, Mike Mussina baffled the D-back hitters in what may have been his best outing of the season. He threw first pitch strikes to 13 out of the first 17 hitters he faced and 20 out of 28 overall, and struck out seven -- four of them looking -- while walking none. Brian Bruney and Mike Myers came on to make things interesting, but in the end, the Yanks took their eighth straight. With Thursday afternoon's win, they ran that to nine straight and 12 out of 14; they're #8 on this week's Hit List and have shaved seven games off the once-ridiculous 14.5-game lead the Red Sox held on May 29.

Next up for the Yanks is the crosstown Mets, who are amid a slump in which they've lost nine out of 10. Spent a good deal of time watching them play the Dodgers, who had problems of their own coming into the series, in front of a star-studded Dodger Stadium audience that included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (having it both ways with a Brooklyn Dodgers cap), Hilary Swank, Jerry Seinfeld, and -- for the first time I can recall in the 25 years since he left he organization -- Steve Garvey. Anyway, here's what I wrote in the Hit List:
Code Blue: amid a 1-5 skid that sends them tumbling into third place in the NL West, the Dodgers recall James Loney and Matt Kemp to fortify a flagging offense that's second-to-last in the league in homers; they've gotten just one from Nomar Garciaparra and none from Rafael Furcal, a duo that combined for 35 last year. The moves pay off as the Dodgers sweep the swooning Mets, with Wilson Betemit, Kemp, and Hong-Chih Kuo--the lineup's 7-8-9 hitters--homering on three straight pitches. In addition to adding a Bonds-like flourish to his longballs, Kuo's pitching in on the mound, yielding just two runs in his last 13 innings while striking out 12.
Mets color analyst Ron Darling spent an endless amount of time discussing Kuo's bat toss amid an interminable multi-night lecture series on proper conduct amid a losing streak. Darling felt Kuo should have gotten some chin music for his admittedly egregious display, and had he left it at that, things would have been fine. But he'd been pressing the same kind of "Don't hit 'em so hard, Reggie" whine line for two nights in a row, and I was ready to puncture my eardrum with an icepick after listening to him. I don't usually watch the Mets, given that I have two teams to follow already. But while I like the clean graphics of their TV network better than those on YES, and while I dig a good number of the Mets players -- Jose Reyes, David Wright, the slugging (or struggling) Socialist Carlos Delgado, El Duque, Carlos Beltran, etc -- so much about that organization -- from the announcers to Shea Stadium to the life and times of Brooklyn's own Paul Lo Duca (who looked amusingly pained amid the Mets' ridiculously poor play) -- is irreducibly Met-like, and every bit as enthralling as a make-out session with Gary Carter. Yeah, eeeuw.

Anyway, the Dodgers swept the Mets, and combined with the D-bags' sagging fortunes, narrowed the NL West fight down to two teams for the moment. The aforementioned recalls illustrate a club that's clearly undergoing a midseason transition; my man Jon Weisman covers the changes over at Dodger Thoughts. Interestingly enough, as the team has cycled through prospects Andy La Roche and Tony Abreu in an attempt to get some production from the hot corner after Wilson Betemit's woeful .125/.297/.161 start (thought May 4), it's Betemit himself who's re-emerged as the best option. Since losing his job, he's hit .340/.446/.851, including a 7-for-15, 1.200 SLG turn as a pinch-hitter. Nice.

As for the chat, it was a breezy one that likely didn't piss off as many people as I have recently with remarks about Murray Chass or Tony La Russa (I guess I lacked the rojo, as Ron Darling would say). I'll cherrypick a few of the better exchanges:

Malcolm Little (Lansing, MI):
We're a little more than 1/3 of the way through MLB v.2007.... ....Can you think of a couple of teams who are very unlikely to get back on track this "late" in the season (beyond the obvious)? Is there a wayward team out there still likely to get it together in time for at least a perfunctory run?

JJ: The last two World Champs, the White Sox and Cardinals, look to be in horrid shape right now. I know the latter has made some advances in the past week or so, but their run differential says that even at 27-34, they're overachieving. As for the White Sox, man, that offense is just kaput, and the low BABIPs of the rotation have been regressing to the mean pretty quickly over the last few weeks.

On the other side of the coin, I really don't think the Cubs are as awful as they look or as the media is making them out to be. For all of their problems they've still got a +25 run differential and they're only 5.5 out. Maybe the Aramis Ramirez injury changes things, but I still think this team can wait out their troubles and give the Brewers a scare.

bloodwedding (BK): Let's face it: Sheffield's last month makes him a lock for the Hall.

JJ: Sheffield's a fantastic hitter, no doubt about it, and he's put up an OPS around 1100 for the past seven weeks. Suffice it to say that no matter what kind of trouble his mouth gets him into, his bat usually manages to hit his way out.

Shef's JAWS coming into the year is already ahead of the HOF rightfielder standards (120.2/68.0/94.1 for him, 119.8/65.5/92.7 for the average), so he's plenty qualifield. The question will be whether the various controversies that surrounded him throughout his career, from the infamous "intentional error" quote to the endless bitching about his contracts to his involvement in BALCO to his latest comments about race are held against him. I'm inclined to think that the writers like him because he give them good copy, and that may help. But I do think there's a lot that can be held against him, with the steroid allegations the biggest threat to him being elected

akachazz (DC): Hey Jay, The situation with the Mariners really REALLY needs to be addressed. Nothing about their roster seems impressive, their hitters are impatient, their staff is mediocre, and they are run by the dunce of the GM world. But their record is outstanding. ???

JJ: The Mariners would rank 10th on the Hit List if it ran today. They're nine games over .500 but only 16 runs above even, which tells me they're not nearly this good (as if their roster didn't tell me that). At the same time, ESPN's Strength of Schedule numbers say that they've played the seventh-toughest schedule, so there is something going on there that's positive.

What's working? They've got a good bullpen, third in the league in WXRL. They may well continue to maintain that, but I think they'll have a hard time preserving the 21-12 record they have in games decided by three runs or less without some serious help from the rotation, which is fourth-to-last in the majors in SNLVAR.

In other words, locate your parachutes.
Regarding the Mariners, I had some serious vertical integration going on Wednesday, as I was able to use the same set of factoids for chat, radio, Hit List, and even idle ballpark chatter -- not that my friend Julie was particularly concerned about the doings in Seattle beyond Jeff Weaver's weird season. Gotta love the cross-platform synergy. Also, there was lots of Hall of Fame/JAWS talk in the chat, with Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, several Mets, and Jorge Posada all up for discussion. I'll have more on Posada in an upcoming Unfiltered entry at BP. Until then...

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007



Once again -- the tenth time, by my count -- I'll be hosting a chat at Baseball Prospectus on Wednesday at 1 PM Eastern. Dodgers, Yankees, Hit List, JAWS, The Sopranos finale, the eternal genius of Tony La Russa, anything but the draft -- you're barking up the wrong tree there. Drop by with a question or submit one beforehand.


Saturday, June 09, 2007


Spirit of '77, Part II: Very Serious

Alex Belth's follow-up to my initial entry in our discussion of the seven-disc New York Yankees 1977 World Series Collectors Edition is up at Bronx Banter. In it, he discusses the '77 ALCS between the Yanks and Royals at length. Here's the start:
Yo Jay,

Dude, one of the main reasons why I loved football so much as an early teenager is because that was also the time I first really started getting into movies, and NFL Films had an enormous impact on me. The way they visually presented the game, the melding of movies and sport, defined the sport for me. It had a reverence for the sport and mocking sense of humor too. We didn't have to just read about Jim Brown or Gayle Sayers, we could see. But we can't see Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays in the same way because Major League Baseball has never had anything close to NFL Films. Part of this is understandable because baseball has such a long season with so many games. You'd go broke if you filmed all of it waiting for a great moment to go down. I understand why it hasn't happened, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't of have, to some extent. The other part is that baseball has simply never been blessed with a creative partner like the Sabols....
Ah, NFL Films, how I love thee; far more than football itself, actually. Anyway, be sure to read the rest of Alex's entry. I'll be back with my next installment sometime in the coming week.

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Hit The Road, Jack

For the second weekend in a row, I'm on the road, this time up in Northampton attending my good friend (and frequent FI foil) Nick's wedding to his lovely bride Atoussa. As such, I didn't even get to stick around to see this week's Hit List go up.

The Red Sox remain #1 on the list, with the Mets second and the Padres, who swept the Dodgers in three straight this week, running third. I couldn't get Thursday night's San Diego-LA game on Extra Innings for some reason, and pulled away from the computer and the in-progress Hit List with the Dodgers carrying a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth. When I checked back in just before bed and saw that five-spot staining the bottom of the ninth, I was not a happy camper; the absence of hamstring-addled Takashi Saito appears to have caught closer-in-waiting Jonathan Broxton at a bad time (11 earned runs in his last 5.1 innings), though given that the inning began with an infield single and an error on Nomar Garciaparra, it's not like he acted alone.

Perhaps it was all karmic payback for my vociferously summoning enough anti no-hit mojo to prevent Curt Schilling from finishing his job against the A's earlier that day; I was texting, emailing and IMing my friends, who loathe the Big Schill every bit as much as I do, in order to prevent the deal from going down. To quote a Deadspin commenter, "If Schilling gets a no-hitter, it will give new meaning to the word 'insufferable.'"

I wasn't alone in trying to do so; oddly enough it was a Sox fan who first invoked the Chatter curse by emailing Baseball Prospectus' internal list to alert us to the no-hitter in progress; when I counted last fall on the occasion of Anibal Sanchez's no-no, no fewer than 15 potential no-hitters had been jinxed during my time in BP. Like just about everyone else, I was resigned to the no-hitter's inevitability by the time it reached the ninth, so it was more than a pleasant surprise that Shannon Stewart lined a two-out single into rightfield to end Schilling's bid. To my wife's horror, she had barely walked in the door to find me jumping up and down like a rabid monkey, shouting "Take that, Fatty!" A Great Moment in Schadenfreude History somewhat spoiled by being made aware of my childish behavior. Oh well.

In any event, the Yankees rode their 6-2 run back into the Hit List top ten at #9, one spot below the Dodgers. Special guest stars include the late James Brown, C. Montgomery Burns, Ghostbusters, Win Remerswaal, and Bob Barker. Not pictured: Roger Clemens' fatigued groin, about which enough has already been said, at least until the aftermath of this afternoon's game. Check it.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


There's a Beer Riot Going On (encore)

The following is an encore presentation of one of my favorite FI blog entries, originally posted June 5, 2004 and itself recalling one of my favorite baseball books (thankfully restored to in-print status since the original entry). More beer-soaked linkaliciousness here.

• • •

Friday marked the 30th anniversary of one of the more colorful -- or dubious, depending on your take -- events in the history of baseball, the 10-Cent Beer Night Riot. On June 4, 1974, at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, a promotion -- ten ounces of Strohs for ten cents -- went predictably awry, resulting in a fiasco of epic proportions and a game forfeited by the Indians to the Texas Rangers. Nine people were arrested and seven hospitalized, and an an example of preposterously bad judgment on the part of the Indians' organization turned into a very strange baseball legend.

Put it another way: I don't condone angry, drunken mob violence, but I refuse to not be entertained by it when it suits my purpose. Anyway...

Trouble was brewing between the two teams even before the first beer was served. As James G. Robinson recounts for, the bad blood between the Rangers and the Indians centered around the actions of Rangers second baseman Lenny Randle in a ballgame six days earlier. Randle slid hard into second base on one play, then later gave a forearm shove to a pitcher fielding a bunt and on the same play crashed into the first baseman. A bench-clearing brawl ensued, and Rangers fans threw beer on Indians players.

When the two teams rematched, the Indians fans were carrying a serious grudge. The team had been averaging only 8,000 fans a game in cavernous Municipal Stadium, but 25,000 turned out for 10-Cent Beer Night, many already plastered by the time they arrived. Writes Robinson:
After the Rangers took an early lead, the alcohol-fueled frenzy that had pushed fans through the turnstiles began to push them onto the field. In the second inning, a large woman jumped into the Indians' on-deck circle and lifted her shirt; in the fourth, a naked man slid into second as Rangers outfielder Tom Grieve circled the bases with his second homer of the game; and in the fifth, a father-and-son team welcomed [Mike] Hargrove to Cleveland by leaping into the infield and mooning the crowd. From the seventh inning onwards, a steady stream of interlopers greeted [Jeff] Burroughs in right field. Some even stopped to shake his hand.

The stadium simmered until the Tribe came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, down 5-3. With one out, an Ed Crosby single scored George Hendrick; two singles later, a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center by John Lowenstein plated Crosby to tie the game. But slugger Leron Lee never had a chance to drive in the game-winner (Rusty Torres) from third. As the Cleveland fans pelted the field with golf balls, rocks and batteries, someone took the opportunity to swipe Burroughs' glove. Burroughs chased the fan back to the stands and in response, people began swarming into the outfield, surrounding the Rangers' star outfielder and ending any hope for an Indians rally.

Dodging more than a few flying chairs, Texas manager Billy Martin grabbed a bat and led his team on a rescue mission to right field. "The bat showed up later," Hargrove recalled, "and it was broken." Even the Indians were helping to fight off their own fans. Umpire Nestor Chylak, hit by both a chair and a rock, quickly forfeited the game to Texas, officially ending the Indians' comeback. "They were just uncontrollable beasts," said Chylak later. "I've never seen anything like it except in a zoo."
Wild and crazy times. Incidentally, Grieve, Burroughs, and Lee are all fathers of current major leaguers: Ben Grieve, Sean Buroughs, and Derrek Lee, respectively.

In an article from last November (excerpted from a book called Cleveland Sports Legends: The 20 Most Glorious and Gut-Wrenching Moments of All Time), Bob Dyer of the Akron Beacon Journal noted that while the idea of the 10-Cent Beer Night seems self-evidently idiotic today, "The media didn't seem the least bit put off by the prospect. In his pregame story in the Cleveland Press, writer Jim Braham gleefully proclaimed, 'Rinse your stein and get in line. Billy the Kid and his Texas gang are in town and it's 10-cent beer night at the ballpark.'"

In his lengthy report of the affair (which is well worth reading), Dyer recalled that you could buy six cups of beer at a time, and that some 65,000 were consumed on this particular night. "Let's say half the crowd consisted of teetotalers, juveniles, and the elderly," he wrote. "In that case, the average consumption would have been more than five cups per person. And plenty of fans were imbibing even before they got to the ballpark."

The definitive account of the evening was written by gonzo journalist Mike Shropshire in the hilarious memoir of his stint covering the Rangers in the mid-Seventies, Seasons in Hell. I've cherrypicked some of my favorite lines from his seven-page account to paint a picture of the surreal milieu:
On the commuter train from Hopkins Airport into downtown it became clear that something really special -- or at least different -- was looming at the ballpark on 10-Cent Beer Night. At each stop the train was filling with young people obviously headed for the game to take advantage of the promotion. Everybody was wearing Indians baseball caps and Indians batting helmets. As a court-certified expert on brain abuse, it was my educated guess that most of these fans were already loaded on Wild Turkey and whatever medicine it is that truck drivers take to stay awake on long hauls. Their condition suggested that they might be on their way home from, and not on their way to, a 10-cent Beer Night game.

...If it is true the decade of the Seventies was earmarked by behavioral residue of the spirit of the late Sixties, then Beer Night in Cleveland was the archetypal illustration of what all of that was to represent.

...When the game reached the bottom of the ninth inning, the temperament of the crowd became strikingly like that of Billy Martin when he reached his hour of belligerence in the cocktail lounge. What had been a largely congenial gathering turned combative. Woodstock had become Kent State.

...From my safe haven in the pressbox I was delighted by the entire spectacle since my dispatch to the newspaper back in Texas would offer something out of the ordinary and I figured that the players' post-game quotes might not be as clichéd as usual.

...When I talked to the Rangers, most of them appeared rather shaken by what they had clearly regarded as an ordeal. Billy Martin was predictably verbose. "We got hit with everything you can think of," Martin recounted with an air of seeming wonderment. "Chairs were flying down out of the upper deck. Cleveland players were fighting their own fans. First they were protecting the Rangers and then they were fighting to protect themselves. Somebody hit Tom Hilgendorf [Indians pitcher] with a chair and cut his head open."

...About a dozen players were in the bar when I got there. One -- Burroughs -- pulled me aside. "Hey," he wondered, "do the stats count in a forfeit? I hope not. I went 0-for-4, but the marijuana smoke was so thick out there in rightfield, I think I was higher than the fans."
No truth to the rumor that the smoke came from the Indians' management as they dreamed up their next promotional stunt. And sadly for Burroughs, the stats did count, though he was actually only 0-for-3 with a walk. Fortunately, he did recover to hit .301/.397/.504 with 25 homers and 118 RBI on his way to the AL MVP award.

If you haven't read Shropshire's book, I can't recommend it highly enough. My first copy of it, a $6 paperback, circulated to about seven or eight people and traveled around the world before falling apart somewhere in Thailand. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and the Beer Riot is just one of its high (or low) points. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson as a beat reporter for a lousy but eminently colorful ballclub -- managed at times by Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, brains a-fryin' in the Texas heat, the fire only put out by copious quantities of beer and cocktails. Somebody ought to make a movie.

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Monday, June 04, 2007


Spirit of '77, Part I: Grand Entries and Royal Exits

I'm pleased to announce that today marks the beginning of an extended series of correspondences with Alex Belth of Bronx Banter that will be unfolding over the next several weeks as we discuss The New York Yankees: 1977 World Series Collector's Edition DVD Set recently released by A&E TV (list price: $69.95). The format of our discussion was inspired by's Sopranos exchanges. In addition to the correspondences, we will be holding trivia contests to give away additional sets provided by the folks at A&E.

This also marks exactly the 1000th post of the Futility Infielder blog, a milestone I'm quite proud to note.

• • •

Dear Alex,

As I broke the shrinkwrap on this seven-DVD New York Yankees 1977 World Series Collectors Edition set that I recently received from A&E -- the same good folks who sent along those Dodger and Yankee World Series film collections we reviewed last year -- I couldn't help but think, this is where it all began. I was seven years old in 1977, and to me, baseball was still a game of catch or whiffle ball in the back yard, and an occasional TV show Dad watched. I knew vaguely of the Dodgers because an old pennant -- as red-white-and-blue as the American flag -- had hung in my bedroom from the time I moved to Salt Lake City around age four, but the comprehension of baseball as a professional sport whose players had discernible personalities, and whose comings and goings were as accessible as the morning paper, hadn't reached me yet.

Fast-forward a year later, when the Dodgers and Yankees would meet again in the World Series. By the 1978 Fall Classic, I was collecting baseball cards (that delightful Topps set with the script and the event-by-event game on the back), knew how to read a box score, and followed the pennant races in the daily standings. Somewhere in between those two World Series, the switch flipped, and as fast as you could say Lopes-Russell-Smith-Garvey-Cey-Baker-Monday-Yeager-Sutton, I knew what the hell was going on, from the Steve Garvey-Don Sutton dustup to Bucky Dent's home run.

At the center of my newfound baseball consciousness wasn't a Dodger but a Yankee, Reggie Jackson. While I'm sure I saw bits of the World Series games contained in this set, I must have been safely tucked in by the time Jackson's three-homer game applied the coup de grâce to the Dodgers. Obviously, Reggie made a big impression on my father, himself a second-generation Dodger fan who had no truck with the pinstripes. Via him, Reggie gained larger-than-life status in my eyes. When we played catch, occasionally Dad would toss me one that would sting my hand or glance off my glove. If I complained, he'd shout, "Don't hit 'em so hard, Reggie!" In other words, don't bellyache, and don't expect your opponent to cut you any slack.

Jackson had come to the Yanks prior to the 1977 season, and while the previous year had seen the reopening of Yankee Stadium and the team's return to the World Series after a decade of dry seasons, this was the year that gets remembered. That probably has something to do with the championship halo; we remember teams that won it all better than the ones that didn't. But as I've come to appreciate as an adult resident of the Big Apple, it was also a major year for New York City, which was still emerging from its Sucking in the Seventies nadir, its brush with bankruptcy. The blackout, the Son of Sam murders, the advent of Studio 54, and the mayoral race that serves as a backdrop in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, which I've only just begun reading -- all of that and more lent the city an edge while casting a long shadow on the events that follow right up until this day. And the Yankees were at the center of it, with Jackson the self-proclaimed Straw That Stirred the Drink. Aside from the special features on this set -- and I'll wager some of the commentary from the broadcast crew -- Jackson's fussing and feuding with Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, and Thurman Munson is on the periphery here. His bat and his magnetic smile are the stars of this show.

And then there are the Dodgers, who had reached their own critical moment in history. The 1977 team was Tommy Lasorda's first at the helm after 23 years of Walt Alston. Aside from a trip to the World Series in 1974, it had been a dry stretch for the Dodgers since the days of Sandy Koufax. Anchored by their longest-running infield (Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey, a homegrown unit who had played together since 1973), they got off to a 17-3 start that buried the Big Red Machine that had reigned over the NL in 1975-1976.

At the same time, and I know this from having already watched the 1977 World Series film from the Yankees set, celluloid consigns these Dodgers to patsy status. Particularly in their road greys, as the imperial Jackson goes deep off Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough in the decisive Game Six, the Dodgers give off a stoop-shouldered, already-defeated vibe. That they'd lose the next series as well, blowing a 2-0 lead to the Yankees, put them well on their way to Brooklyn Bum status even in the eyes of a kid who didn't yet know his team's colorful and occasionally heartbreaking past. As Roger Kahn wrote of dem Bums in The Boys of Summer "You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat."

I know these are themes you and I have talked about a million times in our conversations and explored some of them at our respective blogs and beyond. Given that the 1977 season occupies a similarly key moment in your life and your burgeoning baseball consciousness, I thought this set would be the perfect vehicle for the two of us to collaborate via an extended dialogue, something more than a perfunctory review that says, "I liked it more than Cats."

So I'll start it off by taking a quick physical measure of this set. From a design standpoint, it's most impressive. The individual discs are housed in thin cases that wrap with a cover page of tidbits -- line score, starting pitchers, attendance, temperature -- and trivia, a Retrosheet-quality play-by-play on the inside, and the game's full box score on the back. All in all, a very efficient delivery of information. As much as I wanted to see the Dodgers, my Dodgers, I refrained from skipping over the set's bonus disc, the deciding game of the League Championship Series with the Royals. In some ways, that KC team mirrors the Dodgers, with a similarly stable cast of stars -- George Brett, Frank White, Hal McRae, Darrell Porter, Amos Otis -- who carried them through multiple battles with King George's minions, sometimes successfully.

It wasn't until I moved to New York City that I could even remotely consider pulling for the Yankees, so the sympathy and nostalgia for the guys in Royal blue that I felt while watching this disc was accompanied by amusement that by the bottom of the first inning of the LCS, about 10 minutes into the disc, bedlam has already broken out. With one out and McRae on first base, Brett triples over centerfielder Mickey Rivers' head. He goes into third hard, and overslides the bag. As he's popping up, his right shoulder gets tangled up with Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles. Interpreting it as an act of aggression, Nettles kicks Brett. To the surprise of no one who's viewed the Pine Tar Incident that would happen a few years later, Brett comes up swinging. With his left hand he grabs Nettles by the collar, and with his right he clocks him with a haymaker. Yankee starter Ron Guidry risks life and limb to separate the two as players from both sides, including Munson, jump into the fray. Miraculously, nobody is ejected, but I think you have to go to the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura "brawl" to find a fight as satisfying as this one. How did I not know about this?

It's pretty much all downhill for the Royals from there, despite their knocking out Guidry in the third (fallout from intervening in the fight?). Paul Splittorf, who like Guidry was working on three days' rest, gives K.C. seven good innings, but then Whitey Herzog La Russas himself to death, chasing platoon matchups through five more pitchers as the Yanks mount a late rally with a flurry of singles. Reggie nearly steals the show with a key eighth-inning pinch-single that cuts the lead to 3-2. He flattens Royals shortstop Freddie Patek on a force out — great diving stop by Frank White, who could really pick it — and the inning ends with Jackson cutting short an argument with the second base ump to sheepishly acknowledge the havoc he's wrought on the 5'5" Patek, who's writhing on the ground in agony. It's not the last time we'll be hearing from him.

Anyway, I'm sure you've got plenty to add here, so I'll refrain from mooching all the good stuff from this disc, including the generous selection of interviews and special features.

Have at it, hoss...


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Saturday, June 02, 2007


Men Behaving Badly

Writing this from Las Vegas, where I'm spending a weekend of debauchery for my brother's bachelor party. It's the first time I've been here since I was 19, and likely the last for a good long time; writing about baseball doesn't exactly yield the kind of money you can hemorrhage here without conscience ("call it a rounding error," seems to be the weekend's mantra) the way my brother's investment banking friends do. Anyway, I'm taking a break from the heat and the scenery to catch the latest meltdown by Scott Proctor (his drilling of Kevin Youkilis last night was about all I caught of that game). Not exactly the ideal cure for what ails, but it beats the Jessica Simpson tunes blaring poolside, and I can break down and shave my tongue any time I need to.

First things first, the Hit List is here. Rather than expending another drop of energy discussing the sad state of the Yankees and the various Alex Rodriguez storylines -- I did a radio hit on Wednesday and the first thing the host wanted to talk about was the New York Post cover, as if T&A scandals on athletes stepping out were my area of expertise -- I'll cut and paste what I wrote at Baseball Prospectus:
Desperate Times: a five-game losing streak sinks the Yankees to the bottom of the AL East standings before Alex Rodriguez takes a page from the McGraw Orioles by distracting Howie Clark from a popup. For all the bush league accusations (and who knows bush league better than John Gibbons?) and "Yankee Way" hoohah, you can guarantee former pinstripers such as Billy Martin and Leo Durocher would spike their grandmothers in envy of such gamesmanship. As for that other A-Rod story, it stinks of a smear job; since when does such alleged behavior among this demographic merit multi-tabloid, multi-news cycle coverage? How many times would Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio have made the cover of the New York Post if such "reporting" had carried the day? ... Elsewhere, Jason Giambi endures a 4-for-44 slump amid heel problems of multiple varieties, and the Yankees strap in for a $28 million Rocket to Nowhere; they're just 8-14 and have fallen eight games in the standings since announcing the Roger Clemens signing.
The Yanks are #14 in this week's list, having fallen from two weeks at #12. As bad as they've been, they still hold a +30 run differential, which is a good indicator that they should be able to play better than .500 ball (you have to crawl before you can walk). The problem is that they've underperformed by a whopping 6.3 games, the largest shortfall in the majors according to BP's Adjusted Standings, which factor in run elements, park adjustments and quality of competition. That said, now that it's quite apparent the Yankees won't be sweeping the Red Sox this weekend, I'm fully prepared to attach the Do Not Resuscitate tag to their chart.

Moving along to more amusing topics, while you may have seen Cub manager Lou Piniella's meltdown, which comes a day after Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett brought new meaning to the term "batterymates" by scuffling in the dugout and again in the clubhouse, the one you really shouldn't miss is that of Mississippi Braves Double-A skipper Phillip Wellman. There's a brief description here, but the video -- available on ESPN and now YouTube -- is an absolute must-see.

Wellman amplifies a couple of tried-and-true tantrum tricks, not only covering home plate entirely in dirt (shades of Piniella and Art Howe, among others), but doing so with his hands and then redrawing a new home plate about three times the size. Additionally, he uproots not one but two bases (Earl Weaver, Lloyd McLendon), tossing third base into rightfield (Piniella) and carrying it and second base with him into the outfield. But in between those two bases, he adds a new one to the tantrum lexicon, crawling on his hands and knees, infantry-style, to the mound and lobbing the rosin bag at the home plate umpire as if it were a grenade. This being Vegas, I'll wager that's a vacation of about 10 days.

Freakin' hilarious -- do not miss it.

Update: Better yet, now that I've figured out how to embed YouTube video, you can watch it here. Or run for the hills before I unearth every great managerial tirade video on YouTube.

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