Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dude, need 2? I got 2.

Scalpers are poised to rejoice in New York as the state is about to remove price caps for tickets sold on the secondary market. Not that this means anything given the ubiquity of scalp sites on the internet which have pretty much rendered the old restrictions unenforceable. Still a good thing inasmuch as having old, reality-defying laws taken off the books lessens the likelihood of some poor sap being prosecuted for something that society doesn't truly consider a crime anymore.

Most interesting thing in the article:

Both the Yankees and their archrival Red Sox recently have made a practice of cracking down on season ticket holders who are caught selling their unwanted seats on the Internet, in violation of team policy.


Never having held season tickets for anything before, I wasn't aware that teams had rules against this. Next week I will be visiting ShysterBrother in California and I want to do things up in style, so I recently purchased some expensive Padres tickets online. However, the seats I had my eye on didn't appear on most of the Petco Park maps I saw, so worrying that I may be getting ripped off, I called the Padres ticket office to get the lowdown. The lady who answered was really nice, looked up the season tickets, confirmed for me that they were authentic, confirmed for me that the seller was a season ticket holder, and told me to enjoy the hell out of the game.

The Yankees and Red Sox wouldn't do this?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Legends in Living Color

I wanted to kill Ted Turner the first time I saw a greenish-skinned Bogart placing the letters of transit in Sam's piano. Though the fad of colorization of movies is now thankfully in the past, I will never get back my early teenage years in which I could have been fantasizing about Ingrid Bergman but wasn't due to the off-putting, alien hues of her modest but powerfully evocative d├ęcolletage.

But I kind of like this story about a guy in New York who is creating near photo quality, in-action paintings of old baseball stars we only know in black and white. Why not?

I tend to think that many of the alleged problems alarmists point to in today's game are only considered such because they don't occur in rich sepia tones. Maybe illuminating the titans of yore with the full spectrum will convince a few people that it's the same game now as it was then.

Takeru Kobayashi Cringes

The Columbia Blowfish of the Coastal Plain League (amateurs! No, really), have announced a stunning new addition to their lineup:

It’s called the Ruthian Dog.

This massive wiener is named for legendary slugger Babe Ruth, whose hot-dog-eating exploits were as prodigious as his home-run-hitting feats.

“It’s nearly a half-pound of meat. And that doesn’t include the bun or any condiments you slop on it,” said Blowfish owner Bill Shanahan, who thinks the fabulous frank will be a huge hit with fans.

It costs $7.14, but that includes a Coke.

I, for one, welcome our new half-pound wiener overlords.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

And the Buckeyes Breathe a Sigh of Relief


The NCAA field of 64 has been announced, and there is good news for Ohio State fans like me:


No Florida Gators.



Freel's Scrappiness Oozes Onto His Teammates!

Some are born to scrappiness, others have scrappiness thrust upon them. To wit, watch Ryan Freel's teammate Norris Hopper add to the Freel legend by placing the ball in the fallen outfielder's glove while he was unconscious. Video here. Watch Hopper's hands between the 18 and 25 second mark.

Did he catch it? Seems to have, with the ball rolling out once he came to rest. The video doesn't show how long he had it, but it obviously didn't get far. Probably an out anyway, with Hopper doing what he did out of an abundance of caution, but I have complete confidence that the next Freel hagiography will contain a nugget about him being so dedicated and hard-nosed that he held on to the ball despite being knocked cold.

Update: Sam M over at BTF has set me straight on this point:

Under Rule 2.0, it doesn't matter how long Freel had it:

A CATCH is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or
glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his
cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession.
It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his
contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls
down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball. It is not a
catch if a fielder touches a fly ball which then hits a member of the offensive
team or an umpire and then is caught by another defensive player. If the fielder
has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw
following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught. In
establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long
enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional
.

Holding the ball a long time would matter only if it could establish two
things: that Freel had "complete control of the ball" (check), AND that "his
relase of the ball [was] voluntary and intentional" -- which it wasn't. Since
Freel's release of the ball was the "result of such collision," and was not
"voluntary and intentional," it wasn't a catch.Except, of course, the umpire
said it was . . . so it was.


Ok, so it wasn't a harmless fraud. Scientists are discussing what this means for Freel's legend. They're limited in what they can do, however, because scrappiness is neither created nor destroyed, it simply transfers from one white player to another.

Bonus: Listen to Reds' announcer George Grande imply that the collision was Norris' fault. Maybe it was, but until he hears who was calling who off -- if at all -- how can Grande say that the collision wasn't the fault of the "little guy" who has been the "beating heart of the Reds since he put on the uniform"?

Note: Some wisecracks aside, I have no real beef with Freel and I would never wish an injury or a horrific collision on anyone, nor do I take any joy at seeing him getting cold-cocked. My beef is with the media who always seek to lionize small, hustling white players to a greater degree than their talent level would normally dictate. Freel has been the recipient of a ton of such coverage in the past year, and some of this b.s. needs to be called out.

Barry's Stuff and the Hall


Given that no event has occurred, and no quotes appear in the article which actually support the headline, I'm sort of scratching my head at "Bonds might not donate prized items to Hall of Fame."

Bonds does say "I'm not worried about the Hall . . .I take care of me," but there's no indication that answer came in response to a question about whether he'll donate memorabilia. Indeed, it seems like an answer Bonds could give to any question that has been asked of him since 2003. I'm not a Bonds apologist, but it strikes me that the purpose behind this article is to add another Bonds-is-a-jerk log to the fire.

That aside, what to make of this "issue"? Not much, really. If I were a Bonds handler and was taking the long view regarding how to craft his legend in light of what will no doubt be a PR train wreck if and when the Baseball Writers decide to deny him entry to Cooperstown someday, I'd slowly craft the story to be one in which maverick Barry never needed the Hall of Fame before and certainly doesn't now. Ideal? No, but it certainly beats the Pete Rose beg-a-thon we've experienced over the past couple of decades.

Obviously, however, Bonds either isn't interested in spinning his life story in such a way or is simply unable to do, because if he was he wouldn't be the pariah he is now. No, I think the real answer can be found in this passage in the story:

Bonds is careful with personal items related to his home run pursuit. He makes certain that hats, jerseys and other things he wears are authenticated, and he keeps them in a warehouse.

He marks them, he said, "so people don't steal my stuff." By his count, he's already able to take care of his next three-plus generations.

Bonds has made nearly $200M in his career on salary alone, and no doubt tens of millions more from endorsements, licensing brick-a-brack, and other assorted revenue sources. Despite this, if you believe Game of Shadows, his whole impetus to juice was because guys like Sosa and McGwire were stealing the spotlight -- and the dollars -- that he thought were rightfully his.

No, if Barry is withholding stuff from the Hall, it isn't as protest, preemptive strike, or simply because he's difficult. It's because a jersey in Cooperstown is one that he can't consign and sell at a strip mall in Walnut Creek. Judge that how you will, but that's Barry.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Stars and Stripes Rocks the Yakyuu

A Stars and Stripes writer on the delightful weirdness of Japanese baseball:

And then there’s the food. Japan has played ball almost as long as America has, but they bring their own flavor to the game. You can slurp ramen in the stands. Cram down some curry in the crowd. Peck at some pork with brown sauce. Even the vanilla ice cream is different. In Japan, it’s genetically engineered not to melt all over your fingers.


Vanilla ice cream has genes?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Battle of Lake Erie

I couldn't care less about the Pistons and Cavs, but I have watched the first two games of the Tigers-Indians series, and am currently watching the third (it's 5-3 Tribe in the top of the 8th). Just a lot to like about this series and presumptive pennant race, both for subjective and objective reasons.

Subjectively, I was a Tigers fan until I moved away from Michigan in 1985, and while the absence of Ernie Harwell and Alan Trammell mean that I no longer root for them, they are a part of my baseball DNA. At the same time, I have lived in Ohio for 13 of the past 16 years so, even if they'll never be my favorite team, the Indians have kind of grown on me, so I enjoy seeing them do well. In light of all of this, having the Tigers and the Indians competing for a title is a special treat indeed.

Unfortunately, this is the only year in my lifetime -- or even my father's lifetime -- in which that has been the case. With the exception of a handful of years in the mid 1990s when Detroit was in the AL East and the Indians were in the Central, the Tigers and Indians have always competed in the same division, and before that the same league. Despite this, it has been decades since the two teams have gotten their act together simultaneously.

Indeed, since 1941, either the Tigers or the Indians have won the flag for which the two have immediately competed -- be it the division or the league -- eleven times, with the Tigers winning the AL in 1945 and 1968, the AL East in 1972, 1984, and 1987, and the Central in 2006, and the Indians doing so in 1948, 1954, 1998, 1999, and 2001. In those eleven years, the closest the losing team came to the champ was when the Indians finished eleven back of the Tigers in 1945. The average number of games separating the two in those seasons has been 23.9 games.

One has to go back to 1940 to find the last time these two teams were in an honest to goodness pennant race. It was a good one. After the post-Gehrig Yankees faded by June and some pesky advances by the Red and White Sox were rebuffed, Cleveland and Detroit spent the rest of the summer neck-and-neck. Needing a win in the first of their season-ending three-game series in order to stay alive, Bob Feller, in arguably his greatest season, took the mound for the Indians. He didn't have his best stuff, however, and Rudy York took him deep twice. The Tigers clinched, mailed in the next two, and finished the season a game ahead of Cleveland.

It's far too early to say if we'll have similar drama on the shores of Lake Erie this year -- assuming that you can even call a race for the division title in the age of the wild card "dramatic" -- but these teams match up well. At press time, Cleveland and Detroit are 1-2 respectively in runs per game, and are flip-flopped at 7-8 in runs allowed. Both teams are out-performing their Pythagorean records by a skinch, but each look to be the real deal. While the Red Sox appear to be the class of baseball this year, a hard-fought, season-long battle between the Tigers and the Tribe may very well harden them up enough into something Boston can't handle.

At least I hope so, because I don't think humanity -- or our precious forests -- could take another Boston World Series title, and my Ohio and Michigan friends would all be quite happy.

Mahalo from Elvis













You know someone has made a brilliant observation when, upon hearing it, you are more stunned at the fact that no one had made it before than you are at the observation itself. Posnanski does this regarding Barry Bonds over at his Soul of Baseball Blog:

. . . Bonds was two different players. [in 1990-94] he was the young Bonds who hit homers, got on base, stole bases, played brilliant defense (except when Sid Bream was rounding third) ... I've sometimes wondered which Bonds was better, this Bonds or the later, two-hat-sizes-bigger Bonds who hit every other ball into the Bay. It's a lot like the question: Which Elvis was better, young hip-swinging Elvis or fat, cape-wearing Elvis? I really don't think there's much of an argument in Bonds case -- he clearly was more valuable later in his career. But I think he was a lot more fun to watch when he was young.


Genius.

By the way, it's worth noting that Posnanski writes his usual 3-4 columns a week for the Star, presumably catches all of the Royals games, emcees presentations all over town, and then turns around and spews nearly 9000 words about the greatest hitting peaks in baseball history for his pro bono blog, with every other entry containing some interesting, insightful or profound observation.

Someone needs to check his basement for a crank lab.

Not Baseball, but Definitely Newsworthy

Ashley Judd may be awesome, and her husband may just have won the Indianapolis 500, but there's no denying the fact that . . .


She's got bye-bye arms.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It Was All Dandy Until His Heavy-Handed Crackdown on Excessive Chatter

Giuliani takes in some little league:


Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani aimed to raise $250,000 tonight at a fundraiser -- but first he took in a Little League game played by 6- to 8-year-olds.

"Number 2! Let's go, Number 2!" the former New York mayor cheered as he watched the Raptors take a 1-0 lead over the Sand Gnats.Giuliani, wearing a white shirt, light blue tie and dark slacks, visited the game played by 7-year-old Drew Ehrlich, a right fielder who is the son of former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Ehrlich, who was defeated in his gubernatorial re-election bid last year, is now Giuliani's mid-Atlantic regional campaign chairman.
Given that it's Rudy, I have no doubt that he'll find a way to turn this into a scandal for himself. My guess: he accepts cut-price Raptors souvenirs or helps himself to some of the kids' free post-game pizza. I don't have any better lines than one offered by his campaign chairman:

"I guess he couldn't find quality baseball in New York," Ehrlich joked.


Schilling Should Probably Turn Off the Comments


A survey of the comments section to Schilling's blog entry following last night's shellacking by the Yankees:



  • "Way to be older and crappier then Mussina was last night."



  • "It seems like they know what you are throwing so throw something different at different times. I am not a major league player but reason would tell me to keep them guessing."



  • "What happened to the changeup? Don’t see it in the arsenal anymore. I thought that just showing from time to time would give you a little more life on the fastball and also give you a little wiggle room with control."



  • "Schil, you were awful tonight. Like you said you never gave the Red Sox a chance to get into this game. You can’t have bad outing like this especially against the Yankees . . .If I were you I’d try extra hard to get your game together especially since you want to play next season."



  • "Hey Mr. Schilling: It’s too bad you didn’t serve up a purpose pitch to A-Rod in response to that cheap shot he took on Pedroia sliding into second on Tuesday."

What do you think Schill likes better: the armchair coaching, or the out-and-out abuse?



AAA Baseball: The Costs of Progress

Stumbled upon this account of some lad's recent evening at Raley Field in Sacramento, home of the Oakland A's AAA affiliate, the River Cats.

Raley field, built in 2000, is one of the new wave of AAA stadiums that have all but supplanted the likes of Cooper Stadium, the venue that houses my hometown Columbus Clippers. From a baseball perspective I say good riddance to the Cooper Stadiums of the world. They're cramped, and antiquated, and in the Coop's case, located in a part of town to which no one really cares to travel. Well, at least not yet. While one may have made a cogent, albeit vain argument against replacing venerable ballparks like Tiger Stadium with mallparks like Comerica Park, that dog simply doesn't hunt when it comes to aging minor league stadiums like the Coop, which almost uniformly lack the history and utterly fail to inspire the nostalgia of their big league counterparts. The new places have comfy seats, good sight lines and, with the exception of a single metric, outpace their predecessors.

That metric is price. According to our lad at the Sacbee, his ticket at Raley ran him $17. A sandwich and a Coke cost $11.75. A burger was $6.50. A "regular" draft beer ran $6.75 and a large was $8.75. Dumpy old Cooper Stadium is a bargain by comparison, where the priciest single game ticket is $10. There isn't an equivalent to Raley's "tri-tip sandwich," but a burger at the Coop is $3.75. A soda is $3.25. There are no Hefeweisens to be had there, but a 16 oz. draft macrobrew is $3.75 and a 32 oz. (Thursday's only!) is a cool $6.25. That all adds up to a savings of nearly $15 per customer for a night at the Coop comparable to the one laddie enjoyed at Raley. Your mileage may vary, but to me that's a price difference for which the presence of Hefeweisens does not adequately compensate.

The Clippers are scheduled to get their new mallpark in 2009. While I hope by then I too have figured out a way to get paid to go to and write about ballgames, I also hope that they keep a little bit of the Coop around. Otherwise I'm going to have to stick to Shystering.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Greatest Day in Baseball

On Saturday, KC Star columnist and Soul of Baseball writer Joe Posnanski will be hosting a special event at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum:


The theme is: Your greatest day in baseball. There will be all sorts of guest stars — Royals Hall of Famer Frank White will be there along with captain Mike Sweeney, general manager Dayton Moore, announcer Ryan Lefebvre and numerous others.

We’ll talk about their favorite days and some of us will stick around afterward to sign my book, The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America, which is filled with some of the best days of my life. All proceeds will go to the Negro Leagues.

Makes me wish I was in KC. If, like me, you can't make it, however, Posnanski is accepting submissions of your greatest baseball memory, which you can email to him at jposnanski@kcstar.com, some of which he will read at the event and include a few in a later column. Spiffy!


Yeah, I sent him one. You should too.

The Rainiers Gussy Up the Joint

Art for baseball's sake in Tacoma:

Tacoma artist Jennevieve Schlemmer is helping her neighbors decorate their
remodeled house. It’s just that her neighbors are the Tacoma Rainiers, and their
house is Cheney Stadium. Schlemmer, 33, is designing a six-panel tile mosaic
that will greet fans as they walk by the stadium’s new group party decks along
the third base line. The panels will be installed this week. The decks are
replacing a section of bleachers in the Central Tacoma ballpark.

. . . Schlemmer’s Pop Art-influenced panels are “all about the anticipation of
baseball,” she said recently in her backyard studio, where she can hear the
stadium’s cheering crowds and see fireworks from the ballpark, which is about a
mile away. There’s a bat hitting a ball, a ball surrounded by a colorful burst
and a soaring ball, among other things.


Call me a commie, but I'm a sucker for WPA art, and this seems like $15K well spent. Maybe I'd feel better about publicly-funded ballparks if the governments that bend over for rich owners demanded that more of the money, effort, and prime real estate was devoted to the public good. You want a stadium in Miami, Loria? Fine, but you gotta put this next to the jumbotron:




It Will Repair Your Losses and Be a Blessing to You

Yeah, the Cardinals may be in town tonight, but you've pretty much given up on them this season, haven't you? Of course you have.

So rather than head to Busch for all-you-can-drink beer, if you're in St, Louis, why not go to Left Bank Books and get some culture for a frickin' change as poet Wayne Lanter reads from his book A Season of Long Taters: Baseball Poems, described thusly:


A delightful (and sometimes not so delightful) look at the American madness we call baseball. From the bottom beginnings of kids in open Midwestern fields with feed sacks for bases to the exalted wily veterans (black and white) of the early part of the twentieth century, this poetry explores the psychology and mythic proportions of our fascination with the game. There are hucksters here, con men, saints and sinners who parade on and off the field, some of them on their way to Cooperstown, some on their way to skid row. There are legendary feats, and silly pastimes, violent outrages and heartbreak in these poems. A Season of Long taters is a poetic report from Olympia and Hades on the truly American game.
This sounds way more interesting than Pirates-Cards or the Lost season finale, so if you're in St. Louis you should really check it out. If you're not in St. Louis, you should also check it out.

First pitch is 7PM.




Huh?

"The walks are killing me"

-- Barry Bonds, attributing his recent swoon to the thing -- plate patience -- that is perhaps most responsible for his dominance over the past 22 seasons.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Don't Get Sick at Chiba Marine Stadium


The Chiba Lotte Marines have been using unqualified medical trainees -- illegally -- to staff the little clinic inside Chiba Marine Stadium that attends to fans who get hit by foul balls, drink too much Sapporo, or whatever.


My favorite part of this story is that it's being reported by The Daily Yomiuri whose parent, The Yomiuri Shimbum, owns Chiba Lotte's NPB rivals, the Yomiuri Giants. The Yankees and the Red Sox may hate each other, but no one on the YES Network tells fans that they're in danger if they go to Fenway. All is fair in the NPB, however.


It seems that Chiba Lotte could have avoided this embarassment if they had simply let their skipper, Bobby Valentine, help them evade detection.

Milano Brings the Noise at MLB.com


It's fashionable for smarty-pants baseball bloggers to bash MLB.com writers as mere apparatchiks for the league. Look left and you'll see that I refer to it as Pravda. To be honest, however, it's a cheap and easy joke, and one that isn't really deserved. Yes, MLB.com is often late or MIA when it comes to stories that may give baseball a black eye, but they do a pretty decent job over there. At the very least I find their shilling to be was less prevalent and obvious than much of what you see over at ESPN.


Proof of that can be found in Alyssa Milano's blog post from yesterday, in which she lays into baseball over steroids:



A grand jury, a congressional committee, a tell all book and still . . . this topic is being white washed by the league and the players union. Perhaps, this is a direct reflection of the trickle down effect of our government’s capacity to cover up and deflect the major issues that face us politically. Perhaps, it’s true what my brother says: “Baseball is a mirror to our country.”

Before MLB can solve this issue they need to recognize the problem and apologize for it. If any employee of any major entertainment corporation were to act inappropriately and offend or alienate their audience, the CEO would apologize on behalf of the company. Why is it so hard for Bud Selig to say, “I apologize for the steroid era. We made a mistake with our complacency and we are taking the appropriate measures to make sure the future game of baseball is played with dignity and integrity.”

As of today, I believe MLB.com's "This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs" disclaimer much more than I did yesterday.


I also have a bit more respect for Alyssa Milano's blogging chops. It's an analogy that has been made before, but the notion that steroids-is-to-baseball as botox-is-to-entertainment hits a bit harder coming from an actress who, come Christmas, will be closer to 40 than 30.


I am a bigger fan of her more subtle point that the need for baseball's apology is based just as much in the contempt its current head-in-the-sand stance shows for the fans as it is in competitive integrity on the field.


Good show, Milano.

Department of Modest Proposals: How About a GI Bill for Baseball?


Since no one pays nearly as much attention to college baseball as college football, many probably didn't notice last month that the NCAA Board of Directors instituted a boatload of rules changes affecting eligibility and scholarship rules for college baseball players.

Designed to boost academic performance, the changes impose new standards for handing out scholarships, cuts roster sizes, changes the dates by which players must be academically eligible, and imposes a football-style rule pursuant to which players who transfer to another Division I school must sit out a year.

While the rules regarding academic performance and transferring will probably affect the college game the most, I don't care all that much about on-the-field college baseball, mostly because their bats ping instead of crack. I'm way more interested in college baseball's role in coughing up players for major league teams, and one of these rules -- the new limits on how scholarships can be divided up -- seems like it will impact that role negatively.

Currently, baseball teams are limited to 11.7 full scholarships, which they are allowed to divide up among their 30-40 players (some teams have more) however they see fit. Starting in 2008, teams will be obligated to give any player who receives some scholarship aid at least one-third of a full ride. The net result of this will be that fewer total college baseball players will receive scholarship help, though some may see a larger proportion of their tuition paid.

While there are several other causes of the phenomenon of Blacks shunning baseball in favor of other sports, these rules would seem to exacerbate the problem given that Blacks are, on average, poorer than Whites and in therefore in greater need of scholarship dollars. Lowering the number of players receiving some portion of help is likely to cause poorer athletes who want to go to college to look to football and basketball -- sports in which there are significantly more scholarships, and certainly more full-rides -- instead of baseball.

I am concerned with the incentives currently in place that (a) steer Blacks away from Major League Baseball; and (b) steer those Blacks that are interested in Major League Baseball away from college. Because the production of future major leaguers isn't at the top of their agenda, however, this isn't college baseball's problem, nor do I think it should be.

It is MLB's problem, though. Potential solutions? How about MLB providing college assistance or, at the very least, college incentives, for players it drafts out of high school, which are designed to be used at a later date a la the GI Bill? If it did, athletes who may be inclined to take a crack at baseball but who worry about the long odds of success may be inclined to take a chance knowing that they won't be foregoing an education by doing so.

I can't help but think that even a pilot program along these lines would snag for baseball a couple of multi-sport athletes who would have chosen football or basketball due to the softer post-sports landing the richer scholarship opportunities they provide.
If that were to happen, maybe the next Lou Brock would be an outfielder instead of a cornerback.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Steroids, Pitchers, and Minor Leaguers

As I've said several times, the steroids problem isn't about star sluggers and the record book. It's about the marginal players willing to do anything to catch on or hang on. It's also about pitchers more so than hitters. SI's Jon Heyman does the legwork:

One revelation from the testing has been the surprising prevalence of usage among pitchers compared to hitters. Pitchers have accounted for 97 failures to 77 for all position players. Only 16 tests were failed by major leaguers; minor leaguers accounted for the remaining 158.

But please, let us continue to fret about home run records and the Hall of Fame.

Giambigate: The Yankees Wag the Dog

Since it's New York and it's steroids, there isn't going to be any shortage of verbiage about the Yankees' purported desire to void Giambi's deal over his admissions of steroid use, so I will attempt to be brief:

February 2005: Giambi's grand jury testimony, in which he admits to using steroids, is leaked and reported on in the San Francisco Chronicle. After Giambi apologizes, albeit vaguely, and his agent, in response to reports that Giambi was apologizing for steroid use, says "The answers are there if you look for them," the Yankees admit that they took any references to steroids out of Giambi's contract, and decide against trying to void his deal.


May 2007: Giambi says he was "wrong for doing that stuff," but provides no further specifics. Now the Yankees are hot to void the deal.

What has changed so much that the Yankees now wish to change course? Nothing that I can see.

If the Yankees thought they could void his deal, they had every incentive to do it in 2005. He was coming off a horrific, illness-laden season, many speculated he would never be a productive major leaguer, and the Yankees were still on the hook for $104 million. The Yankees were armed with grand jury testimony that, while perhaps unusable in a legal proceeding, was damning, and statements from Giambi and his agent that, taken together, amounted to an admission. While I think the effort would have ultimately been unsuccessful, the Yankees at least stood a puncher's chance of getting his contract voided.


Now they have that same information, but its usefulness in any kind of an adversary proceeding is greatly diminished due to the passage of time and the Yankees' willingness to go into battle for the past three seasons with Giambi on the team. "I was wrong for doing that stuff" doesn't seem to add anything else to the party that wasn't there before, and thus the case for voiding the deal doesn't seem any more compelling.


What has changed is that, unlike 2005, the Yankees are now 10 1/2 games back and sinking like a stone. There is open speculation that their manager and, possibly, their general manager are going to be fired. If I'm Yankees' brass, I need a scapegoat and/or a distraction and I need it fast. Putting the heat on Giambi does both of those things, and keeps the back pages off my case.

What I wouldn't do if I'm the Yankees, however, is to move beyond the bluff stage and actually try and go after Giambi's contract. Aside from it not likely being successful, it will expose the team to ridicule. even if Giambi becomes a pariah over steroids and never plays baseball again, he has every incentive to try and protect the close to $50M left on his deal, so you can bet that he will fight an attempt to void it tooth and nail. His legal team's first line of defense will be to inquire about what the Yankees knew and when they knew it regarding his steroid use, with the hopes of establishing that they knowingly assumed the steroid risk.

If I'm sitting across the table from Brian Cashman at a deposition, my first question would be whether Giambi's demands that references to steroids be stricken from his contract in 2001 put him on notice that maybe, just maybe, Giambi had a steroid problem. If his answer is no, I ask him if the 2005 release of grand jury testimony and the subsequent hubbub made him wonder about it any more.

If he still says no, it means that Cashman is an oblivious imbecile and the Yankees are hanging their whole case on "I was wrong for doing that stuff," which is no case at all. If he says yes, the Yankees are hypocrites that were happy to turn a blind eye to steroids when they thought they were going to get seven years of .343/.477/.660 out of it, but find it appalling at .268/.384/.431.

Eureka! I just thought of a more coherent position for the Yankees to take! They should admit that they knew Giambi took steroids before they signed him, and thought that were contracting for was a player who would continue to do so for the whole seven year deal! When he quit juicing, he changed the basis of the contract, suffered diminished production, and cost the Yankees millions!

Frankly, I'd rather go into court with that one.

Great Moments in Team Spirit

It's almost Memorial Day and Minnesota is six back in a brutal division, have lost seven of ten, aren't scoring runs, and have relief pitchers not telling their manager when they're injured and stuff like that. Solution? Haircuts:

A decision was made during the players' meeting for everyone to get their hair cut as short as possible. It coincided with both teams honoring the armed forces Saturday.

A few Twins, including Nick Punto and Jason Tyner, resisted as long as they could before going along. One unnamed Twin actually text messaged his wife over the weekend to warn her that she was going to see less of her man.

What Gardenhire liked was that his team looked relaxed.

Nothing says relaxed like a high-and-tight. And I really love that Jason Tyner had the guts to hold out on the haircut for even a little while. Tyner, you're one of the worst major league regulars this decade. You have been waived and released by the likes of the Rangers and the Devil Rays. While there are some dudes out there who can afford to be the clubhouse iconoclast, you ain't one of them. Your answer should be an immediate "yes" even if the team leaders suggest that everyone get high top fades.


Pitching Preacher

A fun slice of independent league life in the form of a pitcher/Lutheran minister-in-waiting on the St. Paul Saints:

"Hey!" he hollered to a clubhouse worker. "People drop F-bombs around Charlie Ruud all the time, don't they? He doesn't care, does he?"

Later, Ruud laughed hard as that conversation was recounted.

"It's not my job to judge people," he said. "That's for God to do."


My knuckles would have been so much better off if Sister Theresa had felt that way back in grade school.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

You're engine's blown; time to change the tires

While I have enjoyed watching the Yankees lose as much as the next guy, I just can't fathom the calls for Joe Torre's head. The latest is from Jeff Pearlman over at ESPN, and it's as stupid as any other riff I've seen on the subject.

Pearlman's basis for canning Torre: everyone else has failed to do their job. Torre was great, Pearlman notes, at motivating respectful, farm-raised talents like Jeter, Posada, and Pettite, but now that the Yankees roster is full of lackadaisical high-priced mercenaries, he's got to go. Bring in Bobby Valentine is Pearlman's prescription. Or re-animate Billy Martin.

How about canning Brian Cashman or whoever is responsible for turning an organization known for a never-ending supply of talent into a bunch of ill-fitting parts with no depth? How about acknowledging that, as a result of an improbable number of injuries, Torre has been forced into using a cast of starters that would make the 2002 Devil Rays blush? No, Pearlman says, time for Torre to go.

Aside from the curious notion of Torre's seeming failure to motivate players (A-Rod, Abreu, Giambi) everyone acknowledges to be unmotivatable, I have yet to see one single critique of Torre that identifies a flaw he has which would be corrected if he were removed as manager.

And I'm still not ready to write the Yankees off this year as many seem to be willing to do.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Baseball Jazz Opera


If you happen to be in Cooperstown tomorrow night, $10 will get you in to see something called a "baseball jazz opera":



"Cooperstown," a jazz opera set in current-day baseball about an up-and-coming pitcher struggling with fame, fortune and love, will make its world premiere at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Grandstand Theater in Cooperstown.

. . .Using an on-stage jazz quintet and a cast of five principal vocalists, including Tri-Cities opera resident artists James Barbato and Matthew Edwards, "Cooperstown" explores, with the tools of opera, musical theater and jazz, professional baseball's inherent dramatic range and power . . .

Sounds nifty. It's about a nine hour drive for me, so I'll have to make up some excuse to tell Ms. Shyster why I'm leaving tomorrow morning and won't be back until late Sunday. Maybe I can pretend I'm having an affair? Somehow I think I'd get in less trouble for that than driving 550 miles to see a play about baseball.


Famous First Words?


Because I'm an Atlanta fan, every morning I get emailed the latest Braves headlines from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This morning's email had this item, linking to an interview with the CEO of new Braves owner, Liberty Media.


No Steinbrenners in Liberty Media crowd


To be fair, the headline of the article that link actually took you to had been changed to Liberty CEO: We'll leave baseball to Braves. The interview went on to confirm the "No Steinbrenners" meme from the email, with the CEO saying that Liberty is content to stay out of the day-to-day operations of the Bravos.


While there's no reason to disbelieve that at the moment, we should remember that when Steinbrenner took over the Yankees in 1973, he promised to take a back seat too, leaving the running of the team to others. That, of course, lasted for about ten minutes.


It strains credulity to suggest that anyone could micromanage the way Steinbrenner did when he still had his fastball, and I personally doubt that Liberty will meddle in such a fashion. But Liberty -- led by its alpha-shareholder John Malone -- has a well-documented history of, well, being complicated:




Over the past 30 years, cable pioneer Malone has built, sold, and dismantled several empires. In doing so, the engineer has always favored complexity over simplicity.


Since founding Liberty in 1990, he's presided over a bewildering succession of recapitalizations and stock splits, mergers and spin-offs and distributions that seem to have amounted to a somewhat dubious feat of engineering—devising a structure that the market values at less than the sum of its parts. It is taken as a given that Malone's deals are shrewd and brilliant. But most investors have had a tough time puzzling out his logic.


What does this mean for Braves fans? Hard to say. The team's previous owner -- Time Warner -- certainly wasn't complicated in that it allowed the Braves to do anything it wanted as long as it didn't involve spending any money whatsoever. Ted Turner was batshit crazy, but that tended to work to the Braves benefit.


Based on two comments in the interview -- that the Braves deal was primarily motivated by tax considerations and that Liberty is making no assurances that they're going to hold on to the Braves for more than 4 1/2 years -- I'm inclined to believe that the hands-off promise is genuine. If anything, I can see Liberty upping the Braves payroll in an effort to lure the types of stars that would make them an attractive product that can be flipped come 2011 (c.f. the Cubs 2006-2007 offseason moves).


Whether that makes them a championship caliber team again is anyone's guess.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mitchell is Looking in the Wrong Place

While George Mitchell looks to blow the lid off of steroid use by Orioles players who were more or less washed-up three years ago, the eighth player from the New York Mets was just suspended for juicing.

With the exception of Guillermo Mota, all of the suspended Mets players have been career minor leaguers or guys perpetually on the shuttle to Tidewater or New Orleans.

Everyone wants to talk about Barry Bonds and the record book, but the real impact of steroids in baseball is going to be felt in ten to fifteen years when former, desperate farm hands start dropping dead of heart failure in their 40s.

Baseball and the writers who cover it should stop focusing so much on what's happening on the tiny peak where the elite tread and start worrying about what's going on down at base camp.

No Fun Allowed


And thus baseball's Destro, Bob DuPuy, spake against players interacting with heckling fans during games.

Thus far this season, Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. autographed an athletic supporter and threw it at a fan in Los Angeles, and Toronto's Vernon Wells threw an autographed ball with a message to a fan in Cleveland.

"It's inappropriate and won't be condoned," DuPuy said.


While it's one thing for players to get into dust-ups with hecklers, it seems to me that Griffey and Wells each turned boorish, heckling idiots into happy fans with some refreshingly self-effacing humor and by giving them one-of-a-kind collectors items. The guys Griffey and Wells allegedly taunted are going to tell their grandkids about these incidents, and it will only help the game.

If DuPuy cracks down on gestures like Griffey's and Wells' without paying attention to context and intent, he's going to turn baseball into the farce that is the NBA.

Performance Enhancing Sunflower Seeds?

Greenie-seeds?

Baseball players and truck drivers who chew sunflower seeds at work no longer have to down a cup of black coffee or a Red Bull for an extra energy jolt.

A South Dakota company is infusing sunflower seeds with caffeine and other boosters commonly found in energy drinks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance Watch: The St Louis Cardinals and Booze


A report about the Dodgers' free-food-for-bad-seats gambit:



The view of the ballgame from the right-field pavilion isn't exactly the best Dodger Stadium has to offer, but Bryan Collins was enjoying the evening anyway. Even before the second inning had begun, he had eaten six hot dogs. Before the side was retired, he had also consumed a bag of peanuts and several handfuls of cheese-drenched nachos.

And Mr. Collins, a lanky 16-year-old from La Ca├▒ada, Calif., didn't plan to stop there. "We'll see if my stomach can handle it," he said. Nearly a dozen of his friends were similarly engaged.



While I find the WSJ and NYT's use of formal titles for folks to be a pleasantly quaint practice, it seems to me that someone who eats six hot dogs, a bag of peanuts, and cheesy nachos before the second inning forfeits the right to be called "Mr." But that's not what interests me about this article. This is:



While teams such as the NHL's Florida Panthers and baseball's St. Louis Cardinals have tried this with cheaper seats -- at the Cardinals' Busch Stadium, inclusive packages even include beer -- these tickets still cost $60 or more.



For those of you keeping score at home, the St. Louis Cardinals -- who just had a relief pitcher die in a horrific drunk driving incident and made a big show of how responsible they are by banning beer in the clubhouse -- offers all-you-can-drink beer to fans who buy tickets in certain sections.

While I think the clubhouse bans are an empty P.R. exercise, if a team is going to go through the motions of pretending to care about alcohol abuse, wouldn't it be wise to put an end to the beer troughs in the cheap seats?

Proof that God is a Yankees Fan


Bet you didn't know this:


As a student, Jerry Falwell was a star athlete and prankster who was barred from giving his high school valedictorian's speech after he was caught using counterfeit lunch tickets. He ran with a gang of juvenile delinquents before becoming a born-again Christian at 19. He turned down an offer to play professional baseball and transferred from Lynchburg College to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.


The baseball part, not the lunch ticket thing. I searched for a while to get more info, and found this quote from Calvin Falwell -- cousin of Jerry and namesake of Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg, VA -- regarding the good reverend's relationship to the national past time:


"Jerry's a baseball fan. Matter of fact, the Yankees tried to get him to sign up
years ago when he was a kid. He's a good ballplayer."

Assuming this is true, that would place a Yankees offer to Falwell in 1951 or 1952. I don't think I have to tell you what the implications for history would have been if Falwell had decided to answer the Yankees' call rather than Jesus's. That's right:

Johnny Blanchard never makes the team, Bob Purkey fans Falwell in the 8th inning of game three of the 1961 World Series, and the Reds use the momentum to stage a stunning come-from-behind 7-game victory. Having won the World Series recently, Bill DeWitt feels less pressure to trade Frank Robinson before the 1966 season, and he remains a Red. Having Robinson in the fold puts the Reds over the hump in 1969. There are no Miracle Mets, Sparky Anderson isn't hired before the 1970 season, and the Big Red Machine never exists, which throws everything that has happened in baseball since the 1970s out of whack.


Oh yeah, and there's no Moral Majority either, so Jimmy Carter wins the 1980 election, but I'm guessing that doesn't change things nearly as much as having Joe Morgan stay with the Astros.


Scary stuff.

Uppity Grub


What's cookin' in San Francisco?:

The next time you find yourself in San Francisco, consider spending an evening dining outdoors, perhaps enjoying a fresh flatbread filled with salad, a Fishermen’s Wharf-style seafood sandwich or another local favorite, the 40-clove garlic chicken sandwich.

And to complete your meal, don’t forget to add a nice California red wine and a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae.

No, we’re not talking about visiting one of San Francisco’s many nice restaurants. For these epicurean indulgences, you can take a trip to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

Great. But can I still get a hot dog?

Even the good old hot dog is getting a makeover. Some parks now feature fresh-toasted buns, more upscale condiments and higher-quality meat . . .

"Saaaaay . . .is that real Heinz ketchup? Oooh la la . . .



Stitch and Pitch

Purl two at RFK:

"Stitch and Pitch" games, sponsored by the National NeedleArts Association, bring knitters to Major League Baseball games -- 23 of them this season. The events are designed to promote knitting . . .


That's OK as far as it goes, but if you let the knitters in, the scrapbookers are soon to follow. From there it's a short slide to anarchy.

"I'm gonna go up there and knit and watch the people get drunk," she said. "Watching drunk people at baseball games is my hobby."


And stop lookin' at me.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thoughts on an Old Flame


When I was 15, I had a huge crush on a girl named Mandy. Mandy was a senior and had some problems -- she drank a lot and wrecked her car too often and no one's parents trusted her -- but those were the things that made a clueless, horny teenager like me love her. Yes, she was a tad rough around the edges, but I defended her to the death because, the way I figured it, I was going to marry Mandy someday, and everyone needed to know just how amazing she was.

I finally got my chance at Mandy when I was a senior. She had been hanging around town for a couple of years, going to community college, and not really doing much with her life. We dated for three weeks. Though I had grown up enough to realize that my earlier illusions of marrying Mandy were wildly misguided -- the parents were right not to trust her -- it was a fun three weeks that made me feel like all those hours spent pathetically longing for her were not wasted.

Jack Cust is the baseball equivalent of Mandy. With all apologies to Hee Seop Choi, Roberto Petagine, Euribiel Durazo, Bobby Kietly, and Jeremy Giambi, Cust is perhaps the poster boy for stathead man-crushes. Whereas Mandy had a rockin' body that helped me to ignore her erratic behavior, Cust's minor league numbers (.900+ OPS in extensive minor league play) had me and all of the other SABRboys looking past the fact that he had no natural position on the diamond and couldn't run any faster or smarter than I could. If you asked us about him in 2001 or 2002, however, we knew that he'd be an all star if given a chance.


Though some may argue whether Cust ever got a real shot, there has been little to suggest that we were right about him. Yes, he had an.878 OPS in 73 at-bats in 2003, but it was surrounded by 71 at-bats of pure stank in four other brief call-ups. Statistics aside, he usually looked awful in a major league uniform, with his vaunted patience at the plate transformed into seeming timidity. A high-profile baserunning mishap in 2003 -- Cust fell down twice between third and home in the 12th inning, costing the Orioles the game -- is what most people think of when his name is mentioned, his pedigree for mashing the ball notwithstanding. In being judged based on what he does poorly rather than what he does well, he hasn't fared much better than any of the heirs to Rob Deer's title to King of the Three True Outcomes.


At least until now. His rampage since being signed by the A's -- six homers and fourteen RBI in seven games -- has been something to behold. Because baseball is no different than any other entertainment outlet, Cust's success will cause other teams to look for other Jack Custs. I can just see Keith Woolner rolling his eyes as some Cleveland Indians assistant GM asks him if he knows what Hee Seop Choi is doing these days or if he thinks that Petagine still has anything left in the tank.


Though I hope he continues to mash all year, my suspicion is that Cust will come back to earth hard once pitchers realize he's not some kid you can simply overpower with straight heat. Like Mandy, he has some serious flaws in his game, and I imagine once he faces some nastier stuff his considerable vulnerabilities, like Mandy's unsuitability for marriage, will present themselves.


But, also like Mandy, it sure will be a fun ride while it lasts.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Actually Feel a Bit Sorry for Selig on This One


Dayn Perry on the quandary baseball faces regarding how to honor (or not honor) Bonds' imminent breaking of Aaron's record:

How does MLB credibly honor an accomplishment when its own internal investigation may one day undermine it? On the other hand, how do you take the head-in-sand approach when it comes to the breaking of baseball's most vaunted record? As Selig is learning, the answers to those questions are hard-won. Even worse, every answer may be the wrong one.

If there were a sensible middle ground to this issue, baseball would find it. But there's not. Ultimately, Selig must decide whether his endorsement of the moment — however languid that endorsement might be — or his snubbing of it is best for the game's image. It's up to him and his handlers to read the tea leaves properly.


It really is a lose-lose situation. I can't help but think that Barry will suffer some mysterious "injury" when he's one or two jacks short of Aaron. One that miraculously heals just as the Giants begin a long home stand.

Los Diamantes

Story about the D-Backs efforts to target the Hispanic fan base.

Given that over a quarter of the Phoenix-area population is Hispanic -- and the fact that Hispanics are rumored to, you know, be into baseball a bit -- this is something of a dog-bites-man story.

Still, the reporter (or his editor) felt it necessary to say this:

Considering the volatility of the immigration issue and controversy surrounding public use of the Spanish language in the United States, one might think the Diamondbacks’ push into the Hispanic market would be criticized in some circles.


Given that no one is quoted as being against the D-Backs marketing plan in the story, I can only assume that there is a mandate in newsrooms to inject every story -- however innocuous -- to a controversial issue, which seems kind of silly to me.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours


The Braves fast start is largely attributable to their revamped bullpen. Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzales and, to a lesser degree, Tyler Yates have done much to cover for the shaky back end of the Braves' rotation and have rendered last year's late-inning breakdowns a distant memory. The Braves' opponents are finding that if they're not up by the seventh inning, they ain't gonna be up at all.

One has to wonder, however, if they can maintain the quality relief pitching all year in light of the unprecedented workloads their relievers are enduring.

At present, Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, and Tyler Yates are on pace for 88, 76, and 81 games, respectively. If Bob Wickman stays on the DL longer than anticipated, those projections could climb.

Prior to this year, Soriano's heaviest workload was 53 games, Gonzales' was 54, and Yates' was 56. While Soriano probably would have been in the 60s last year had he not been beaned in the head, all three of these guys are going to be testing the limits of their endurance this year. Things seem particularly risky for Gonzalez in light of the fact that he missed a month at the end of last year with a sore elbow, suffering a minor recurrence of it in spring training.

While there's no reason for the Braves to panic -- all three of these guys may hold up just fine -- the heavy workload their relievers have experienced intensifies Atlanta's need to go out and get another starting pitcher.

Jason Marquis Pumpkin Watch


Jason Marquis continued his totally unexpected fast start last night, pitching a gem. For the season, that brings him to 5-1, with a 1.70 ERA. This after stinking up the joint and being left off the Cards' post-season roster last year. While I have little doubt that starting today we will see columns talking about Larry Rothschild pep-talks, a change of scenery and all manner of other epiphanies, there's a pretty good argument that Marquis has simply been a lucky dog thus far:

20072006Career
K/IP.50.49.60
BB/IPP.27.38.38
H/IP.631.131.02
HR/IP.04.18.13


He's still striking people out at the same putrid pace he was last year, which is below his slightly less putrid career rates. He's walking slightly fewer people than last year and his career rates, but not enough to account for his dramatically improved results.

The real reason he's doing so much better, it would seem, is that he's giving up close to half the hits on balls in play that he did last year. I'm no DIPS expert, but smarter folks who are suggest that allowing fewer hits is a function of luck and defense. No one has yet to quantify luck, but the Cubs have given up way fewer errors than almost any other team so far this year.


The fewer homers allowed -- which DIPS suggests is under a pitcher's control -- seems puzzling in light of the fact that they are obviously not the result of Marquis striking more guys out. I'll leave it to smarter people than me to figure that one out (seriously, if someone has any thoughts about this, shoot me an email), but for the time being I'm skeptical that Marquis has somehow found the secret of tater prevention.


The home run caveat aside, I'm not convinced that Marquis results will continue to hold up as the season progresses, but even if they do, I'm not prepared to say that such results will be attributable to Marquis somehow "figuring it out."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sweet Fancy Moses!

Baseball-Reference.com unveiled a redesign sometime late this afternoon. Check it out.

The front page now has current standings. And yesterday's box scores. And the top game scores from those games.

Please excuse me and every other baseball blogger for a few moments. We need to compose ourselves.

Gagne's Activation: Innocuous Roster Move, or Sabermetric Test Case?


Eric Gagne is handed back the Rangers' closer job despite coming off of, oh, eleventeen years of injuries (the latest literally being a pain in the ass) and despite the fact that his replacement, Akinori Otsuka, is pitching pretty damn well. Why? Take it away Ron Washington:



"He knows how to close a ballgame down," manager Ron Washington said before his team played the New York Yankees. "So, even though he may have been in and out, he has knowledge. You can't teach that."


Setting aside the curious suggestion that one "can't teach knowledge," what, exactly, is involved in closing a game down that isn't involved in pitching effectively in other situations? Unless they do things really differently in Texas, a pitcher is trying to get guys out whether it's in the ninth inning with a three run lead or the fifth inning down seven.

That said, how this story fits into the myth of the closer doesn't interest me all that much.

I'm more interested in this story as a test-case of both Billy Beane's influence on his former employee, Ron Washington and the extent to which Rangers' GM Jon Daniels subscribes to sabermetric principles like many of the other baby-GMs hired in recent years do.


You'll recall that in Moneyball, Washington, then an A's coach, was portrayed old-fashioned and somewhat reluctant to adopt many sabermetric strategies. This reluctance, many argue, cost him a chance to take over as A's manager when Ken Macha left. The fact that he hired Art Howe -- another man who often found himself in the doghouse for not following the Beane orthodoxy -- as his bench coach leads one to conclude that Washington is content to play things old school rather than implement the strategies to which he was exposed in Oakland.


The whole Gagne-Otsuka situation, however, presents Washington with an outstanding opportunity to exploit one of those sabermetric strategies. As Bill James has demonstrated, the use of a team's best relief pitcher protecting three-run leads in the ninth isn't efficient. In fact, using your best reliever -- your "relief ace" -- when the game is tied late, a team can substantially improve its winning percentage. Games aren't "saved" in only the ninth inning, the logic goes, and they can very easily be lost in the seventh, so a right-thinking team would do well to use it's best guy at the most critical time, and not just when there's a chance to chalk up a formal save.


Given his comments about Gagne's "knowledge," it's very possible that Washington's demotion of Otsuka in favor of Gagne is a textbook example of favoring the "proven veteran*" despite having better options available. It's also possible, however, that the move is motivated by a desire to get the seemingly better pitcher, Otsuka, into higher-leverage situations while allowing his vet to feel better about himself in the less-important closer role. We may not ever know if that's his true motivation, but perhaps some of of Washington's other moves throughout the season will give us insight into whether that's what's really going on. He couldn't have spent all that time in Oakland without some of it rubbing off on him, could he?


Daniels too has the opportunity use the Gagne-Otsuka situation as a platform to exploit sabermetric thinking. Specifically, the Billy Beane-patented "pump and dump" strategy in which Beane instructed his field manager to designate his less-than-best reliever as the "closer," allowed them to collect a healthy save total, and then traded him away for a greater return than they were probably worth by virtue of the unwarranted value teams place on the save stat. Billy Taylor and Billy Koch are two examples that spring to mind, each of whom Beane managed to dump to other teams for better players (though Beane was arguably a victim of the pump and dump, albeit a seemingly willing one, in acquiring Koch from the Blue Jays in the first place).


Unlike Washington's adoption of the Jamesian relief-ace strategy, we need only read the rumor wire to see if Daniels is trying to turn Gagne and his $6M salary into trade bait for a desperate contender by allowing him to rack up a handful of easy, one-inning saves. Though the season is still young and Texas could theoretically contend, it's certainly what I'd do if I were in his position.


Whatever happens, this is the first time in years I've cared about what's happening in Texas.


*Otsuka is four years older than Gagne, but has five fewer years of MLB experience.

Putting Rocket's Age in Perspective

Thoughts on Clemens from someone in Sea-Tac:

Clemens is older than Sparky Anderson was when he managed Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine during the 1970s, and Sparky might’ve been the most ancient looking man in a baseball uniform I’d ever seen.

Clemens is older than George Washington when he was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, older than Thomas Jefferson was when he originally retired to Monticello in 1781, older than Teddy Roosevelt was when he became president.

Clemens is older than Lorne Greene was during the premiere season of “Bonanza” – Greene, remember, played the father of three still-home-on-the-ranch sons pushing 30 – and older than Carol Channing when she first appeared in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway.

Hope for Miguel Olivo!

Seems that steroids improves walk rates!

Parents who give steroids to boys who have muscular dystrophy can expect to see their sons walk three years longer on average, according to a new study.

To analyze the long-term effects of steroids, Ohio State University researchers reviewed the medical history of 143 boys seen at the muscular dystrophy clinic there.

And here I thought they only helped improve slugging . . .

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Closer Look at the Ellen Massey Lawsuit

The story about the lawsuit filed by Ellen Massey -- the Mets fan who got her back broken by a flying fat man -- inspired what's left of the lawyer in me to wonder about her chances of success. After some moderate review of the matter, my sense is that she has a technically-valid legal claim, but one that will be pretty hard to prove.

Based on the news reports of the case, it appears as though she is going to premise her claim on the notion that the flying fat guy was over-served by Aramark, the Mets' beer vendor. It's worth noting at this point that the largest ever jury award arising out of the magical confluence of booze and sports venues came in a recent New Jersey case against Aramark and Giants stadium. There, Aramark was rung up to the tune of
$105 million for selling beer to a drunken football fan who later caused an auto accident, leaving one Antonia Verni, a 2 year-old girl, paralyzed.

While that verdict was overturned on appeal, the reversal was based on some overly-emotional and irrelevant testimony that was let in at trial, and which appeared to have contributed to the inflated damage award. The central premise of the case, however, -- that a stadium beer vendor can be liable for injuries later caused by a drunken fan -- remains intact.
Verni, now 9, is appealing the reversal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. But even if she loses the damages award in the Supreme Court, she is going to get a chance to prove her claim at a new trial. New York's dram shop laws are similar to New Jersey's, so it appears that, like Antonia Verni, Ellen Massey has a case.

Well, at least technically. Even if she can avoid having her case dismissed out of hand, she's going to have a tremendous proof problem that Antonio Verni never faced in that the drunk fan in the Verni case was in an accident after which his BAC was taken, establishing (a) that he was drunk at the time of the accident; and (b) that he was almost certainly visibly drunk at the time he was continuing to get beers at the Giants game.

Massey has yet to identify her fat, flying assailant. Even if she is able to, she will have no way of conclusively establishing that he was drunk back in April, rendering it a he-said, she-said situation in which plaintiffs often fair quite poorly. Even in the unlikely event that the fat man admits to being drunk,
for Aramark and the Mets to be on the hook, Massey must prove that they served an obviously drunk man. Given the lack of a BAC it will be impossible to say just how drunk the guy was when he ordered his last Bud Light.

So, while it may get hairy for them for a few months, I like the Mets' and Aramark's chances of ultimate success.

Sosa Suing Somebody

Sammy Sosa is suing a developer for the alleged late delivery of over $8M worth of Florida condo (beisbol has been berry berry good to heem).

The developer isn't taking this lying down. He's counter-suing, alleging that Sosa contributed to the delays when Sosa belatedly tried to customize the units.

Slow news day, ain't it?

Is There No End to the Good that Lawyers Can Do?

Shyster approves of lawyers giving money to youth baseball.

For the past four years, [the Tallahassee law firm of Fonvielle, Lewis, Foote & Messer] has been the biggest supporter of youth baseball, donating $4,500 annually to cover the cost of uniforms for nine teams in the Dizzy Dean League at all six city parks.

Shyster also approves of cognitive dissonance:

Not only does their sponsorship help to put a well-dressed team on the field, but it's a morale boost, Messer said.

“The more professional you look, the more professional you feel and the more competent you feel. I think it makes for a better team . . ."

This from a group of high-priced private practice attorneys who look like this:



There is nothing more professional and competent than three lawyers with two pairs of Dockers between them. Sharks, I tell you. Sharks!

A Ballpark in Progress

Brian VanderBeek of The Modesto Bee muses about Thurman Field, a ballpark that remains a work in progress ten years after its putative completion:

I've been there for most of the games since the 1997 grand opening, with the number of national anthems and first-pitch ceremonies somewhere near 700. The one constant in those 10 years has not been a constant at all, but the ever-changing face and feel of Thurman Field.

It was erected in a design-and-build fashion, the construction industry's polite way to say "on the fly." New things were proposed each day, then erected, or altered or eliminated completely as the budget would allow.

What the city got was the best ballpark $2.2 million of taxpayer money possibly could build, and a work in progress. I think it was meant to be that way — perpetually.


From how he tells it, it's not necessarily a bad thing. There are several major league venues that would have benefited from such an approach as opposed to the "let's cram all of the charm we can into the place on day one" aesthetic that prevails in today's retro parks.

OMFG I got ur tix!!!one11!!

The A's are going to let you use your mobile phone as a ticket.

When the old man at the gate rips your phone in two, don't say I didn't warn you.

There Are No Such Things as Accidents

But how this is the Mets' fault, I have no idea:

A die-hard Mets fan whose back was broken when a boozy fan tumbled onto her has filed a lawsuit against the team.

Ellen Massey sustained a cracked vertebra during the team's home opener last month when she was slammed into by a flying fan who was allegedly toting a cup of beer.

Flying?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Guest Shyster: Mark Noel Rants on About Kearns, Lenin, and Andy Griffith

A bunch of people took me to task last week for the piece on the Kearns trade. Mostly fair task-taking in that I made a lot of sloppy mistakes, the sort of which are inevitable when one tries to blog clandestinely while pretending to do real work. But you'll have that, I suppose.

Most of the vitriol, predictably, came from Reds fans who claimed that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. That's probably true too, but so much of it seemed to come from that special slice of fandom who will simply not tolerate someone writing anything kind about their team's management. These folks long-ago decided that Krivsky was the anti-Christ, and far be it from some dumb blogger to tell them otherwise. They too are entitled to their opinion, so I took it all with the grain of salt I hope they intended and went on to other things.

My friend Mark Noel, however -- the man who inspired me to write about the trade in the first place -- is not willing to go so gentle into that goodnight, and so he wrote down a few hundred measured but intense words on the subject. I don't want to detract from the grandeur of his post by crudely excerpting it, so I'm going to post his whole rant below. Enjoy.

If anyone wants to tell Mark he's full of it, go register your objections to him directly at the RedsZone forums (go here -- registration required to get into this thread), where he is taking on all comers. I'll also freely pass on to Mark anything you have to say to him. Note: Mark is a real person, not some blogger's construct designed to distance myself from the argument. I'm not a Reds fan, and I'm done with the Kearns trade. Mark is just getting started.

A word of warning, however: like me, Mark is himself a shyster. Unlike me, however, Mark is not so burned out on the litigation business that he's above suing you until Hell won't have it if you piss him off, so watch your step. Also, contrary to what Mark says, I'm almost certain that he does believe that the cancellation of the Andy Griffith Show caused the assassinations and social unrest of 1968, and is merely pretending that he doesn't for rhetorical purposes. Doesn't change the point, but I thought that you should know what you're dealing with.

-- Shyster

REASSESSING "REASSESSING THE KEARNS TRADE"


"A lie told often enough becomes the truth" - V.I. Lenin

As the Reds fan who inspired Shyster's latest column, "Reassessing The Kearns Trade," I feel a good deal of responsibility for some of the critical remarks Shyster has taken on baseballthinkfactory.com and redszone.com. The article has generated over 100 posts at redszone.com. Generally speaking, those who still disagree with the trade will admit that the Reds have since improved with Hamilton and Gonzalez but raise two arguments on why the trade was nevertheless a mistake: (1) the Reds should have gotten more value for those players; and (2) the trade failed to achieve its stated purpose, which was to make the team better in 2006.

As to the first argument, it can only be debated with conjecture. The Reds gave up an average hitting NL right fielder with good defensive skills. They gave up an error-prone shortstop with a decent bat. It is clear that both players, arbitration eligible with free agency on the horizon, were getting expensive relative to their production. It is also clear that Wayne Krivsky wanted to go in a different long-term direction. Who knows what type of return Krivsky was offered for these players. My sense is that it was much less than Reds fans expect. Teams can go out and get players with similar production for perhaps a bit more money in free agency and not have to give up any players in return, even if those players are unproven prospects or major league rookies. It's very similar to my mentality when I am trading in a car, holding a garage sale, or selling my junk on eBay - I am consistently disappointed in the selling price. Human beings tend to over-value their own property relative to what is offered on the free and open market. I think that goes for fans of sports teams as well.

While the first argument may be worthy of debate, the second argument is where I was most concerned. I read posts pointing out that the Reds were 45-44 before the trade and 35-38 after it. As one poster on redszone.com put it: "Pre-trade: A winning ballclub. Post-trade: A losing ballclub. That makes a trade whose stated purpose was to push the team into the playoffs, a failure." Another poster pointed out how the Reds team batting average and runs per game dropped after the trade.

I began to worry. Had I been wrong? Had I let Shyster down? Had the loss of Kearns' and Lopez's bats really caused my Reds to miss out on that playoff spot for which they fell 3.5 games short. I decided to investigate by checking the stats. My conclusion is that many Reds fans have fallen for (or purposefully refused to see through) the fallacy that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. The Andy Griffith Show went off the air on April 1, 1968. Within the next couple months, great Americans Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. I suppose one could argue that without the Andy Griffith Show, Americans lost their sense of civility and family values and that was the cause of these senseless tragedies. However, my gut tells me that there were other causal factors in play and the Andy Griffith Show-1968 assassinations was merely a spurious correlation.

Like the above example, after looking at the statistics, I became convinced that while there was a drop in run production and wins during the post-trade 2006 Reds season, that decline had very little to do with the absence of Kearns and Lopez. Rather, it is almost exclusively attributable to the horrendous September slumps of the other six starters in the Reds lineup.

Trade bashers ignore that the Reds improved their record from 45-44 at the trade on July 14th to 67-61 by August 24th. In so doing, they gained five games on their pre-trade record and were in a virtual first place deadlock with the Cardinals (who were 66-60 on August 24th). After August 24th, the wheels fell off. The Reds went 13-21 and finished 3.5 games behind the Cardinals for the NL Central title. The reasons for this decline can almost exclusively be explained by the September batting averages of the Reds' other six position players:

Adam Dunn: .157
Ken Griffy, Jr.: .071
Edwin Encarnacion: .214
Brandon Phillips: .149
Scott Hatteburg: .206
David Ross: .185

Given that team-wide futility, Alex Rodriquez and Alphonso Soriano could not have made the Reds winners in September, 2006, much less Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. Royce Clayton was bench for most of September (going .206 in only 34 at bats). Meanwhile, Rich Aurillia, who ended up replacing Clayton at short for most of the games in September, hit a tidy .344 in September with 90 at bats. Austin Kearns was replaced by a platoon of Ryan Freel and Chris Denorfia. While Freel struggled along with the rest of the team (a .206 September batting average with 53 at bats), Chris Denorfia hit .352 in September in 54 at bats. The Reds got equal or better offensive production during their decline in September 2006 from the Kearns and Lopez replacements. The problem was everyone else.

I wasn't the biggest trade supporter at the time. But I've come to realize that it probably resulted in a net benefit for the Reds organization and did not cost the Reds a 2006 run at glory. I think that some were so vehemently against the trade that, in an attempt to prove they were right, they have endorsed bogus arguments such as the trade cost the 2006 Reds a playoff spot. That sentiment has been echoed so many times that even though clearly wrong, it has been generally accepted as the truth.

I don't think every move Wayne Krivsky has made has been correct. I'm still scratching my head at the Rheal Cormier acquisition. I am frustrated that the Reds have not gone out and gotten a legitimate closer. However, from the top down, the Reds organization was one of the poorest run MLB systems in the 21st Century prior to Krivsky's arrival. If one looks realistically at the Reds roster prior to spring training 2006 (when Krivsky took over), I don't see how one can contend that the Reds have not improved in starting pitching, defense, and offense. Arroyo is pitching brilliantly, Lohse has started the season well, Gonzalez is an upgrade at short, Phillips is an upgrade at second, and Hamilton has been an upgrade from the beloved Austin Kearns. The bullpen is a disaster, but Rome was not built in a day. I'm excited about the long term signings of Arroyo and Harang, the prospect of Homer Bailey being in the rotation, and the nucleus of young players in who could shine in the next 3-4 seasons (Hamilton, Phillips, Encarnacion, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce). Reds fans should give Wayne Krivsky a little patience in turning around the train wreck he inherited.

In the meantime, debate whether Krivsky got enough in return for Lopez and Kearns. However, don't fall victim to the notions that the Reds have downgraded at those positions long-term or that the trade cost the Reds a playoff spot in 2006. The numbers say otherwise and, unlike popular perception, the numbers don't lie.

-- Mark Noel