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, April 02, 2008


Clearing the Bases: The Clipboard Edition

Clearing out some notes as I breathe a heavy sigh of relief at the passing of my final Fantasy Baseball Index update deadline and sit down to watch the Yankees' second game of the year -- my first chance to see the on my big new TV...

• As eager as I always am for the season to start, I've never been to an Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, never cared enough to fight the absurd supply versus demand discrepancy for a cold-weather game that will be a distant and almost insignificant memory come October. I love Yankee Stadium with the familiar love that only a hundred-odd trips to the ballpark can bring, but its security excesses and the pressure on its infrastructure as the team has shot past the four million attendance mark have quite literally made the last few years ones of diminishing returns for me. I can't blame somebody else for wanting to go to the opener, but it's one day that I can do without fighting the throngs.

My BP colleague Derek Jacques deflates some of the hype about the final Opening Day of Yankee Stadium:
We can look forward to these "historic" markers growing increasingly absurd as the year wears on, with broadcasters encouraging fans to catch the historic final midweek series against the Rays in July, and in August alerting us to Carl Pavano's historic final trip to the Yankee Stadium Trainers' Room. (I can almost hear Suzyn Waldman reverently running down the historic implications of the latter event: "Should Pavano somehow stay with the Yankees next year, and need a cortisone shot, or a rub down, or a precautionary X-Ray, it will be at the new Yankee Stadium.")

Of course, there will be an audience for all the sentimentality that's being unleashed with the Stadium's send-off. In a sport that conscientiously markets itself on its past and its traditions, the Yankees trade most effectively in nostalgia. Possibly the greatest achievement of the Yankees' nostalgia machine is the perceived continuity between the building that Colonel Ruppert built in 1923 to house Babe Ruth's bat and the current Yankee Stadium. The 1976 "renovation" was more of a gut-and-rebuild job than a simple sprucing up of the structure. Just about every significant detail of the building -- its dimensions, the playing field, the seats, the scoreboard -- was altered, resulting in an arena that doesn't fit in with the great classic ballparks like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but doesn't quite have the plastic uniformity of the cookie-cutter parks of the '60s and '70s, either. Although many still admire its timeless look, Yankee Stadium II (as we sometimes like to call the post-1976 structure) shares little with the original other than its address.

Across the street, the new new Yankee Stadium looks a bit like the Death Star, circa Return of the Jedi, enough so that I half-expect it to sprout a laser cannon and vaporize the present stadium sometime after the last pitch of the 2008 season is thrown. Its still-under-construction exterior shell self-consciously recalls the original structure, but the ballpark within will be thoroughly modern and built from scratch-there's no longer any plausible deniability that this isn't a break with history. Talking to fans around the ballpark, the recurring theme was anxiety about the new ballpark. Will they be able to afford tickets? Will they be near the other regular ticket plan holders in their section? Will the new Stadium be the same kind of place the old one was?
• My parents were just in town, and in addition to getting to watch the Dodgers opener with my dad, I took him to see the plaque commemorating the signing of Jackie Robinson to a professional contract at the Dodgers' offices on 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn, a few minutes' walk from my new apartment. Speaking of Robinson, Steven Goldman has a great (and free) piece on his arrival in the majors, set up by another scene from Steve and Jay's Excellent Promotional Adventure:
I hope you enjoyed Opening Day, or as I like to think of it, the 61st anniversary of America. Yes, there was 1776, when the 13 colonies declared independence, or 1787, when the current Constitution kicked off, or even 1865, when Abraham Lincoln both ended slavery and established the supremacy of the federal government over the states by force of arms. Yet, in all that time, the country never began to close the gap between its rhetoric and its realities. That had to wait for 1947 and Jackie Robinson.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. A couple of weeks ago, Jay Jaffe and I were in Philadelphia for a BP book signing. We were doing our usual Q&A when an older black man, standing at the back in a tweedy newsboy cap, raised his hand. He didn’t really want to ask a question, but to say a few words — well, a lot of words — about Barry Bonds, and how the color of his skin influenced the way he had been treated by the media and by official baseball. I’m not completely clear on how the conversation progressed, because the gentleman was making a speech without stopping to breathe, let alone allow us to answer, while Jay and I were simultaneously trying to respond and reclaim our platform, with the result that the three of us were talking over each other in a way that became unintelligible even to me.

I do know that at one point, while the gentleman was indicting baseball for racism, I brought up Jackie Robinson, saying that whatever happened since, the breaking of the color line was a huge, gigantic thing, more than just a seminal moment in baseball but in all of American history.

That gave him pause. "Why?" he asked.

"Because for the first time in this history of the country, something that had been promised at the very beginning was finally delivered: equality of opportunity."

"Well, I don’t know about that," the gentleman said. At that point Jay jumped in again, and the conversation spiraled off in another direction. Eventually, the gentleman thanked us for the use of our soap box and left.
The point I tried to make in that three-way scrum was that I have colleagues who don't consider any major league baseball before Robinsons's arrival in 1947 to be valid -- an extreme view, perhaps, but by no means an unreasonable one. Anyway, what follows that excerpt is a lengthy history lesson involving democracy and baseball, one that rises above even Steve's usual high standards. Read it.

• Hat tip to Yanksfan vs Soxfan: This isn't an April Fools joke, though the outcomes of Steve C. Wang's use of Chernoff faces to graphically represent managers' tactical tendencies look like the help at a Mongolian yak-farming outpost. From the article: "Dr. Wang used a kind of statistical Mr. Potato Head to portray the spectrum of managerial characteristics in a way that intrigued even the skippers themselves."

If I'm reading these correctly, Joe Torre keeps a stable lineup, goes with the platoon advantage, uses a lot of pinch-hitters, tends to steal, sacrifice bunt, and hit and run. A pretty good summation of his tendencies with the Yankees.

Randomly picking a couple of others... Oakland's Bob Geren: lots of lineups, lots of platooning, few pinch-hitters or pinch-runners, almost no stolen base or sac attempts. Washintgton's Manny Acta: big platoon advantage, lots of pinch hitters, lots of lineups, few sacs, few hit and runs or steals, few sacs.

Acta incidentally, considers Mind Game to be his baseball bible. So now I'm rooting for the Nationals, too.

• Acta's not the only manager reading BP. Joe Girardi has an annual in his office, and from the sound of it, the New York Times' Tyler Kepner is the one who's unfamiliar: "...I don’t think I ever saw a Baseball Prospectus volume like the one Girardi has in his office." And he calls himself a respectable journalist!

• Another no-fooling April 1 selection, from when I was surfing through the Giants' MLB page in search of details for the fantasy update and reveling in just how craptacular they looked on Opening Day. The top headlines (none of these are made up):
With news like that, an 11-151 record appears optmistic. And then there' this: it's no secret that Brian Bocock, the 23-year-old who's playing shortstop in Omar Vizquel's absence, isn't qualified to be a major leaguer. Last year the guy hit .220/.293/.328 in High-A and he was old for his level. He hit .183/.247/.183 this spring in 71 at-bats, and while those numbers don't count, that's not a typo either. There are PE teachers all across America who can hit that.

• Larry Bowa creeps me out by wearing Dodger blue, but at least I know his ass will be forever red.

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