Friday, August 31, 2007

Mike Hargrove Has Regrets

His words say that he is enjoying his retirement:

"I miss being around the players and I miss the game itself," he said. "I miss the excitement of winning, but not the dregs of losing . . . It has been like an offseason . . . I haven't missed all the things that have caused me to make the decision. I've missed all the good things and none of the bad things."

But his actions say otherwise:

Hargrove's scheduled hunting trip to Canada in October could get canceled if the Mariners make the World Series. Seattle entered Thursday night a half-game behind the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card race.

"I won't go goose hunting," he said. "I'll go to the World Series."

Let's do the math. He obviously didn't schedule the hunting trip before he quit, right? I mean, no active manager is going to schedule a trip for October. But, if we assume that he made the plans for the hunting trip after he quit, what other than a bit of regret and uncertainty is causing him to consider cancelling now? The Mariners have been in contention from the moment he quit. The possibility of the World Series has been there since day one. The only possible explanation, it seems, is that when Hargrove made his reservations, he couldn't give a shit what the Mariners would be doing in October. Now he's planning on changing his plans to watch if they do make it.

Hargrove regrets quitting and misses the game. Don't let him tell you otherwise.

Procopi Herrera

Shyster is in Nashville today, takin' care of some business for the folks who put groceries on his table. It was a fun cab ride from the Nashville airport to my hotel yesterday afternoon. searching for something to talk about with my cabbie, I asked "so, how do the Titans look this year?"

The cabbie clearly detected my utter lack of interest in pro football and smelled me out as the charlatan that I am. Knowing he had me dead to rights, he leveraged his moral advantage into an opportunity to lecture me about something that has obviously been on his mind for some time, knowing full well that, having burned my political capital, I had no choice but to listen silently and nod.

What had my cabbie agitated on this hot Thursday afternoon was gambling. He asked me what I thought about Michael Vick. When I meekly responded that I thought that the whole situation was terrible, he said "the worst thing about it is the gambling! Because of that plea, Vick will rat out gamblers. He may as well have just killed himself right there!"

It soon became apparent that my driver believed that not only would Michael Vick be killed for snitching on those who would gamble on dog fighting, but that every single high profile sports-related death in the past 20 years was gambling related. The list, according to my cabbie:

  • Tony Dungy's son: killed by gamblers displeased when the Colts' coach refused to continue throwing games, as my cabbie believed he had been doing for several years;

  • Nicole Brown: O.J. didn't do it, it was the mob running the gambling ring to which Simpson was seriously indebted, sending a message. O.J. thought it was better to risk life in prison than to rat out the real killers;

  • Michael Jordan's father: the teenagers convicted of his crime were framed. It was really MJ's bookie that did it.

  • Isiah Thomas: No one died, but according to my cabbie "he took, um, $50 million to throw the 1989 Finals. The other dudes on his team took, like, a couple million each. They won, and the only reason they didn't kill Isiah is because he went on the TV and told everybody about it, so like, he was cool."

I gave a moment's thought to telling my cabbie that I had no recollection of Isiah Thomas admitting to taking tens of millions from, and subsequently double-crossing gamblers, but then I decided that it was best not to angry up his blood any more than it already was. Thankfully, we soon got to my hotel and I got out. I tipped him well, more out of fear than generosity.

The bad juju of that cab ride had me desperate to find something good about Nashville. A bunch of legal work to do had me stuck in my hotel room so Printer's Alley was out of the question. I had to turn to Google. One search of "baseball" and "Nashville" brought paydirt:

Procopi Herrera strode out of the fog hanging over Nashville's Sulphur Dell ballpark and into San Antonio baseball history in the fall of 1950. The native of Nuevo Laredo, who died last week in Mexico City at the age of 81, had pitched nine innings for the Missions just two days before, winning Game 5 of the 1950 Dixie Series between San Antonio and Nashville.

But with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Missions manager Don Heffner needed his hottest pitcher for Game 7 of the series between the Texas League and Southern Association champions. Herrera was the best he had. And he delivered, allowing just one base runner the rest of the way to preserve the victory and San Antonio's only title in the 39-year history of the Dixie Series.
The full obit is here. I had never heard of Procopi Herrera, but he sounds like everyting that was right about smalltime baseball. A man who took the rock whenever he was needed. A man who, despite a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Browns in 1951, didn't seem to build his life around making the majors, and continued to play semi-pro ball for several years after his time had passed. He was simply a ballplayer just like your old man was a construction worker or an insurance salesman. It was his job, and he worked hard.

The days where someone could play for years, never come close to the bigs, yet still consider themselves to have had a long, successful career are long gone. The men who did this, like Procopi Herrera, are dying out. It is my sincere hope that their stories are being preserved, be it by family members, obit writers, or quixotic bloggers cum would-be biographers. To lose their stories to history would be an utter tragedy.

Nice Timing, Dunn

One day after I make a case for giving him $13.5 million, Dunn craps the bed:

The Cincinnati Reds had two runs taken off the scoreboard and Edwin Encarnacion lost a hit when Adam Dunn was called out for missing third base on an apparent two-run single in the fourth inning Thursday night . . . The misplay was Dunn's second mistake of the game. He overran Adam LaRoche's RBI single to left in the first, allowing LaRoche to advance to third on a two-base error, but LaRoche was stranded there.
Reds win, though, so I suppose it's all good. But for those of you who don't follow the Reds all that closely, you may now be startin' to see why he's such a polarizing figure in Reds Nation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Money Than Sense

When I first started reading this story about a Danville, California family -- the Lowes -- who built a private baseball field on their property which has offended the neighbors and the local zoning commission, I was prepared to root for the family and hate on the NIMBYs who want it torn down. Then I read this:

Lowe, a private equity investor, offered to lower the fence around the field to 6 feet and obscure it with landscaping. But Planning Commissioners on Tuesday called those measures too little too late.

Lowe said he built the sports field because he wanted to coach his son's team but could not make the 3 p.m. weekday practices at a local sports field.

"Son, because I'm an important private equity investor, it is far too inconvenient for me to leave work early a couple of days a week to coach your little league team. I can, however, buy a parcel of land, hire lawyers to attempt to obtain a zoning variance, clear the land, and construct a baseball diamond, fence, and batting cage so that your team may come here to play." Now run along, son, Daddy has some prospectuses to peruse."

I think the biggest losers in all of this has been the little league team coached by Mr. Lowe. Based on the example he has set, there is no conceivable way that he has taught his players how to sacrifice.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is There Hope in Cincy?

Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer cautions Reds fans not to get so damn excited about the Reds strong second half:

Baseball's best asset is the integrity of its regular season. You don't fly under the radar gun in baseball. Across 162 games, you wear the face you deserve. Six games a week for six months is better than truth serum.

Which is why when the Reds finish this season with 78 or 79 wins, no one should be excited. Least of all ownership.

What if the halves had been reversed? What if Jerry Narron's team started 51-31, and not vice-versa, then tumbled to 60-70, its record before Tuesday's doubleheader? We might not be praising the manager, mentioning a division title race or suggesting this team is closer to contending than had been imagined.

Daugherty is basically saying that the Reds' strong second half is ascension to the mean. They looked like an 80 win team at the beginning of the year, he argues, and they're probably going to win around 80 games. By focusing so much on the second half, Daugherty believes that Reds fans are choosing a random endpoint that is likely to fool them into thinking the Reds have a shot next year when they truly don't, so let's everyone calm down.

Is he right? For starters, whether focusing on the second half is truly a random endpoint is open for debate. Some real things did actually happen that may make placing more emphasis on the second half success defensible. A managerial change for one thing, as Pete Mackanin's replaced Jerry Narron on July 1st, which correlates with the Reds strong second half performance. But as most folks should know, correlation is not the same thing as causation, and if there is to be hope, one must be able to look at the things he has done as manager and determine whether they represent real change that has led directly to improved performance or if, rather, he has simply rearranged deck chairs and has ridden the Reds as they ascended to the mean following a disappointing first half.

So why have the Reds picked up the pace, and is it something that should give Cincinnati fans hope for 2008? To answer this question, I enlisted the help of my coworker, Cincinnati Reds expert, and occasional road trip companion Mark Noel for his opinion as to what he thought was responsible for the Reds' rise. Here, generally, is what he had to say:

The Pen: Since the beginning of July, Rule V selection Jared Burton has posted a 1.56 ERA in 25 appearances. After a terrible beginning of the year followed by a month or so back in Louisville to get his head together, Gary Majewski has put up a better-than-expected 3.52 ERA for August. Billy Bray who, like Majewski was picked up in the Kearns-Lopez trade that, for some reason people still think was bad for the Reds, has logged a 1.35 ERA since his August 11th callup. These guys, along with the typically-reliable David Weathers, have brought much needed stability to a bullpen that, early in the year, was a house of horrors. Breaking the Reds' Coffey addiction has helped too. Now, if Mackanin would stop trotting Mike Stanton and Eddie Guardado out there every other day . . .

Jeff Keppinger: Since being placed in the starting lineup nearly every day (mostly at short, but spotting at second, third, and in left), Keppinger has flat out raked, posting an OPS of .882 in July and 1.069 in August. He hasn't been too shabby with the glove in that time either, committing only one error in 25 games at short, and posting range factors and zone ratings that would place him among league leaders if qualified. Sure, it's a very small sample size, but it is nonetheless impressive considering that he had never played a game at short in the majors prior to this year, and had only played five games there over a seven year minor league career.

Valentin over Ross: Even before David Ross (.680 OPS through July) went on the DL, Javier Valentin had begun getting the majority of starts behind the plate where he has hit to the tune of .349./406/.492 in the month of August.

Freel's Injuries: You never wish injuries on anyone -- not even the scrappiest scrapper whoever scrapped a scrap -- but the fact that Freel's absence this month has diverted at-bats to players who aren't posting a sub-.700 OPS (Keppinger, Josh Hamilton, and even Norris Hopper). Yes, Hamilton would have returned to center full time whether Freel was hurt or not, but simply having the world's highest-paid utility player around would have tempted Mackanin to actually use him, so it's fair to say that Freel's owies have actually helped the Reds on the field.

Brandon Phillips Figuring it Out: After many had written off Phillips as a once-promising prospect gone bust, he has put together a nice season at second base for the Reds. While no one is about to send Phillips to an All-Star game, he has shown steady improvement at the plate all season, with July and August coming in as his best two months. Phillips is now fourth among NL second basemen in OPS in addition to playing above-average defense.

Other Stuff: Obviously Adam Dunn has been the Reds' best hitter since Mackanin took over, but that is to be expected. The difference this year is that he hasn't wilted in the August heat like he did last year (August 2006 OPS: 700; August 2007 OPS: 1.059). Whether it's better conditioning or better focus or something else altogether, Dunn, with an assist from Keppinger, has been the straw stirring the drink in Cincinnati in the second half. After a July slump, Griffey has rebounded to the form he showed in May and June. The rotation? Ah, the less said the better. If the Reds had gotten some decent starts from anyone not named Harang, they would probably be up with the Cubs right now.

So if that's what has happened, is Daugherty right? Should Reds fans write off the hot second half as a mere ascension to the mean, or have they really laid the groundwork for real hope in 2008? It's close, but I think there's hope.

One never knows what one will get with any assemblage of bullpen arms, but Krivsky and Mackanin's reshuffling of the bullpen has been a step in the right direction. Though no one is going to confuse Burton, Bray and Majewski with Putz, Papelbon, and Jenks, they are cheap yet valuable relievers who, along with David Weathers, could stabilize an area that has been the biggest headache for Reds managers since the Nasty Boys broke up. Of course it's not all roses in that Mike Stanton is still under contract for next season, which may mean that the Reds might actually, you know, use him. The Reds likewise have a club option on Guardado ($3M!), which one would hope they won't exercise. But even if they do break training with Stanton and Guardado and they pitch as poorly as one might expect, the Reds have a handful of minor league arms that could prove useful. All in all, not a great bullpen, but certainly not the club's biggest headache either.

Based on his track record, Jeff Keppinger, currently enjoying the year of his life, is not likely to maintain anything close to his current pace. His minor league numbers and decent play at short this year suggest that he can be a useful player, but there is nothing to suggest that stardom is in the offing. Last year the Reds made a mistake signing Freel to a multi-year deal based on a similar, though less-spectacular pattern. It will be interesting to see how they deal with Keppinger's hot streak -- maybe he has earned a hard look as the everyday shortstop -- but if Reds' management enters 2008 banking on him batting .370 again, well, God help them.

As for the rest of the offense, it strikes me that the Reds would be foolish not to exercise their option on Dunn. No, he's not the most popular player with casual fans or the Reds broadcasters, but there is simply nowhere the Reds can turn to replace Dunn's .900+ OPS for the $13.5M his option would cost. Maybe the Reds don't exercise the option if they're rebuilding, but given how up-for-grabs the NL Central has been, can they truly consider that now? An even simpler decision involves Scott Hatteberg, who at $1.85M (club option) will again be one of the biggest bargains in baseball. Griffey is under contract at what is likely an unmovable price, but he will still provide above-average offense. Hamilton, Phillips, Keppinger, and Encarnacion (who I suspect will rediscover his gap power that mysteriously abandoned him this year) are all cheap, useful players. All in all, the offense, she looks strong.

Starting pitching is the big x factor. After Harang and Arroyo, things have been grim. But again, this is the NL Central. The addition of one decent arm -- the Reds' version of Gil Meche? -- could put Cincinnati over the top next year. Rather than obsessing about Adam Dunn, releasing Adam Dunn, and then vainly scrambling to find someone to replace Adam Dunn, the Reds should focus almost all of their offseason effort on finding someone -- anyone -- who can provide a reasonable imitation of a third starter, plug Homer Bailey in at number 4, and pray that someone like Bobby Livingston or Matt Belisle can nail down five. There will be many teams going into battle with less.

So, while the Reds are far from perfect, I think Daugherty is wrong. Their strong second half does provide a basis for hope because rather than mere chance, much of the success has resulted from Krivsky and Mackanin's willingness to try new things at catcher, short, and in the bullpen when the status quo wasn't working. These are real changes that have brought tangible improvement which, Keppinger's Rod Carew imitation aside, could easily extend into next year. And even if those particular changes don't work, the mere willingness to change when necessary is a good sign.

Based on these changes and improvement, I suspect that Mackanin will be given the full time job. I think he's earned it.

Fixing Florida

Selig brings his devil-may-care looks and Cary Grant charm to Miami to lobby the local pols for a new stadium for the Marlins:

Selig said the Marlins are handcuffed by playing in the Miami Dolphins' stadium. He noted that three teams in Florida's division -- the New York Mets, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies -- either have a new stadium or will soon.

Wow. Turner Field, currently enjoying only its eleventh season, is too old to be mentioned in the list of new parks in the NL East. What else ya got, Bud?

"I believe in this market," Selig said. "You give the Marlins a new stadium with all the revenue streams their competitors have, and this will be a great franchise, I'm very confident."

Look, I'm not going to say that the Marlins don't need a stadium -- they certainly do -- but it seems to me that Bud needs to couch his sales pitch on the very existence of the franchise in Miami as opposed to its "success." This is, after all, a team that has won the World Series twice in the last decade. I realize that Bud's definition of success is more aligned with profits than pennants, but he has to understand that in lobbying for a publicly-funded stadium, he is engaging in a political operation. There are a lot of voters in Miami who aren't baseball fans and are wondering why a team that can win more titles than anyone besides the Yankees over the past decade needs their tax dollars for a new home. Bud, you probably have most of the baseball fans behind you already. Make the case to the swing voters.

Bud's not all wrong, however:

The Miami Hurricanes' decision last week to move football games from the Orange Bowl to Dolphin Stadium beginning next year fueled speculation the city will lure the Marlins to the Orange Bowl site. The franchise and Major League Baseball prefer a downtown Miami location. DuPuy said no sites were ruled out Tuesday. He and Selig declined to discuss the Orange Bowl as an option.

Selig is right to not discuss the Orange Bowl, as it's a terrible location for a number of reasons. I know less about Miami than I do most major league cities, but those more savvy than me tend to agree that downtown is the only viable option. If Selig and Loria can't make that happen, they'll almost have to find a place for the Marlins to move, because anywhere is going to be better than the status quo or the Orange Bowl.

Would it be easy for baseball to abandon such a potentially attractive market as Miami? Sure it would, because my guess is that it wouldn't be abandoned for long. I'm just spitballin' here, but if the Marlins were to leave town, isn't it reasonable to assume that a few years down the line that the politicians will feel like they made a mistake in letting baseball go? Isn't it also reasonable to assume that they'd do an awful lot to lure another team to Miami? Isn't it also reasonable to assume that the Devil Rays will be absolutely aching for a new home by then?

None of this should be construed as support on my part for a publicly-funded stadium in Miami, because I personally hate the notion of tax dollars being used to purchase cash machines for rich team owners. If you want to see how owners should think about their relationship to the stadiums in which their teams play, here's a great example. For some reason the Miami politicians are still willing to dance with Bud, however, and as long as they are one can't really fault him for trying to land some corporate welfare.

If he's going to try, though, he needs to be smart about it, and he needs to be willing to walk away from Miami if necessary. Another city will jump into breach. They always do.

Cecil Cooper: Borderline Hall of Famer?

Lance Berkman on Cecil Cooper, the interim skipper in Houston:

"He's been around a long time and, in my opinion, he's a borderline Hall of Fame player," Berkman said.

I suppose he's right if you assume that the borderline is about ten miles wide. Don't get me wrong, Coop was a good player who had a nice little run there in his late 20s and early 30s, but a "borderline Hall of Famer?" Eh, not so much. Cooper's career line is .298/.337/.466, and most of that OBP was batting average-driven. He did better in MVP voting than his production warranted, finishing fifth three times, yet only breaking the top 10 in OPS for his league twice. Bill James ranked him as the 28th best first baseman of all time in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, and he has probably slipped in the six years since that was published. I'd Keltner-list him, but that's not going to help his cause.

I'll suppose I'll give Berkman a pass, though, because hey, who hasn't kissed up to the new boss from time to time?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Over-40 All Stars

There's an over-40 baseball tournament being held in Canova, South Dakota starting on September 6th. Details about prizes appear sketchy, but I have to assume that we're talking big money, it being Canova and all.

There's nothing I love more than grifting silver foxes, so in the spirit of Montgomery Burns, I have assembled a team of ringers which, despite lacking a true third baseman, figures to take home the grand prize. It is certainly more of a pitching-strong team than a hitting team, but I think we could rake pretty good by South Dakota standards. Heck, the outfield alone would represent an improvement for half the league. Here's my squad:

C: Sandy Alomar (age: 41; OPS+ -3). I know he was designated for assignment and can't play anymore, but I don't need him to hit, I only need him to catch and throw it back to the centerpiece of my team, the pitching staff;

1B: Jeff Conine (age: 41; OPS+ 84). Hey, he's had playing time on both the team with the best record in the NL all season and the team with the best record in the NL over the past two months. Count tha rings, baby!;

2B: Craig Biggio (age: 41; OPS+ 75). It's hard to find scrappy and old in the same package, but Biggio brings both to the table;

SS: Omar Vizquel (age: 40; OPS+ 62). He's obviously here for his glove;

3B: OK, we're kind of screwed here. I have a couple of options. I could play Omar fairly deep in the hole and hope he can cover both short and third. That may work, because I'm guessing that the competition is going to be pretty slow-of-foot. I could also alter Jeff Cirillo's birth certificate, setting him back a couple of years, though it would be pretty embarrassing to get caught cheating in an over-40 tournament. Finally -- and this is probably the option I would go with -- I could put Conine over here and install Julio Franco at first base. I mean, c'mon, you have to put Julio on this team somewhere, don't you?

RF: Moises Alou (age: 40; OPS+ 125). Really a left fielder, but given the hits I'm taking with infield offense, I have to work his bat in somewhere;

CF: Kenny Lofton (age: 40; OPS+ 108). You know he still wants to cover center. Plus, this would give him, what, a twelfth team on his resume?

LF: Barry Bonds (age: 42; OPS+ 184). The heavy hitter on this club. And given how much Geritol, ginko biloba, Ben-Gay and Gold Bond Medicated Powder that will be used by the players in this tournament, it's not like Barry's drug use is going to raise any eyebrows;

Now the pride of my team, the pitching staff:

SP: John Smoltz (age: 40; ERA+ 143). He's among the best in the big leagues this season, so I think he could handle the South Dakotans fairly well;

SP: Orlando Hernandez (age: 41; ERA+ 137). My only concern is that we'll find out that he's actually 50 and will be disqualified for being too old. If that happens, he's still guaranteed to be the ace of my slow-pitch softball team;

SP: Curt Schilling (age: 40; ERA+ 110). Health may be an issue, but there are many potential replacements if he breaks down (see below). Even if he stays healthy, though, the rest of the team may get so sick of his mouth that we leave him behind at a Stuckeys during the bus ride to Canova;

SP: Tim Wakefield (age: 40; ERA+ 109). Gotta have a knuckleballer;

SP: Greg Maddux (age: 41; ERA+ 106). Won't benefit from PETCO in this tourney, but he's still crafty enough to get the job done);

There are many other options for the rotation. If we go by ERA+, Clemens just misses the cut. By the way, it must be pretty hard to be a Yankees' fan this year given that the team's putative savior couldn't crack an over-40 squad. Glavine falls short too, which breaks my heart, because I would love nothing more than to assemble the old Braves rotation for this tourney. Heck, I'd love to have Glavine and Maddux for the back end of the Braves rotation this year. Also-rans include Kenny Rogers, Woody Williams, and David Wells, who I may include on the roster even if he can't pitch, because you never know when you'll need a speedster to leg out a bunt.

The bullpen is a bit thin, but I'm sure I can cobble together some mix of Mike Timlin (age: 41; ERA+ 158), Doug Brocail (age: 40; ERA+ 110), Roberto Hernandez (age: 42; ERA+ 71), and Mike Stanton (age: 40; ERA+ 75) and make things work. Maybe this is where I stick Glavine too, just so he can be on the team.

My guess? We win the whole damn thing. An additional guess? We'd be pretty competitive in the NL this year. After all, no less than five of these guys have played for the Mets this year, and they are the class of that alleged league.

With that (and a brief nap) let's play ball!

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Wearing it"

Too much has already been written about 30-3, but the Sporting News is running a piece today by Todd Jones, giving the insider's perspective of a mega blowout:

At some point, the Orioles had to decide whether to let a position player take the mound. Teams don't like to do this, but sometimes there's no choice. When the difference is 20-plus runs, you'd think there would be no choice -- especially with it being the first game of a doubleheader.

But the Orioles decided to let Paul Shuey "wear it," which is when the manager decides you'll be the last guy to pitch no matter how many runs are scored. Wearing it isn't much fun.

First baseman Kevin Millar would have been an ideal guy to suck up those last two innings for the Orioles. He would have saved the bullpen and prevented Shuey from killing his ERA. You'd like to think your skipper would do everything he can to prevent that from happening.

With so many people writing, blogging, and bloviating about baseball these days, it's easy to forget that the ballplayers are the only ones out there who can truly provide a unique perspective. Sure, there is nothing worse than a vapid, boilerplate ballplayer guest column, but when the ballplayer is smart, insightful, and allowed to offer a semblance of an opinion, this kind of thing really works.

Erin Andrews is not the biggest problem facing 12 year-old boys

A quaintly unhinged, stream of consciousness rant against the Little League World Series by Philadelphia talk radio host Sandy Penner, who has unwisely attempted to use the written word as a means of communication. Take a drink for every instance of alarmist "what are they doing to our kids?!" horribles identified for which there were no examples extant during this year's LLWS or that would simply go away if ESPN turned off their cameras. The most ridiculous statement in the whole bit, however, is this:

For the record, I'm not anti-Little League baseball. I played for many years growing up right here in Philadelphia. They were fun summers, and I look back on them fondly. However, when the game was over, we went to South Philly for water ice, not straight to an interview session with Erin Andrews.

Dude, if you're trying to say that little league is messed up today, citing "chance to meet Erin Andrews" as evidence is not helping your cause. But enjoy your water ice, whatever the hell that is.

“Those Japanese guys know how to paint”

That's a quote from Manny Ramirez in today's NYT profile of Boston's unhitable Japanese pitcher. No, not that one. The other one.

The Washington Nationals' Miserable New Ballpark

Because there is a certain sad sort of person who can't leave work at the office for even three hours at a time, the Washington Nationals are making their new park business-friendly:

The Nationals are targeting the Washington business community in their new 41,000-seat stadium with 66 luxury suites starting at $150,000 per season, an exclusive President's Club restaurant for the 500 seats arced behind home plate and a 1,300-seat Diamond Club one level up. There's another Stars and Stripes Club, which is available to holders of luxury suites and club seats. There's talk of a business center equipped with fax machines, a conference room, computer screens and a message center.

Attention Important Businessmen: I don't go to your office and eat peanuts and drink beer, so why don't you refrain from leveraging synergies or whatever it is you do in my frickin' ballpark, OK?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Score One for Age and Experience

I love David Wells. Earlier this evening, with his new team, the Dodgers, down 2-1 to the Mets in the fifth inning, the 44 year-old, 300 pounder leads off the inning by dropping a bunt down the third base line, legs it out, and is safe at first. I can't imagine that he's done anything like that since, oh, Clinton's first term. A Rafael Furcal single later and Wells is huffing and puffing on second. A fielder's choice gets him over to third, where I am certain he is going to drop dead from all of the running. He scores one batter later on a single, completing his 360-foot journey. Whew. I was winded just watching him, but give credit to the big guy for some savvy play.

Contrast this with teammate Matt Kemp. Kemp, not yet 23 years-old and possessing considerable speed, hit the single that scored Wells. Next batter is Ramon Martinez who doubles. Kemp is standing on first and running with the pitch, but somehow loses sight of both the ball and his third base coach and he only manages to make it to third base on a play on which he should have scored standing up. A couple of pitches later, Kemp is picked off third base, killing the rally.

I don't know how many more pitches Wells has left in that left arm, but if he craters, maybe he can stick with L.A. coaching base runners.

Friday, August 24, 2007


John Marshall, the Seattle P-I's book critic, provides a rundown of some of the better baseball books that have come out this year. With the exception of the Shaughnessy memoir and the book of baseball haiku (seriously, does anyone find this amusing anymore?) they all sound worth a thumbin'.

Braves meet Fork

Tell me: does a playoff team drop three of four to the Cincinnati Reds? The Braves are now six back of the Mets and three back of wild card leader San Diego. There's still time for a run I suppose, but Atlanta is essentially going to battle with a two man rotation and a bullpen that seems to show up once every three nights. That's simply not going to cut it.

Someone put Mac on suicide watch.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Boomer to the Dodgers

An act of desperation I suppose, but I'm not sure if it's David Wells or the Los Angeles Dodgers who are more desperate at this point.

Saving the Save Rule

The best thing about the Rangers' 30-3 annihilation of the Orioles last night is the fact that because Ranger Wes Littleton pitched the final three innings of the game, he was awarded a save. Hey, it's in the rule book:

Rule 10.20

Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:

(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and

(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and

(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:

- (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or

- (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or

- (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings. No more than one save may be credited in each game.

Subsection (c) is obviously what earned Littleton his save. He pitched three innings effectively, shutting out the Orioles over that span. My guess is that if he gave up five runs each inning -- which he could have and still technically held the lead -- the official scorer wouldn't have awarded him the save. That said, Littleton's save shows just how divorced from the notion of actually "saving" a game the save rule is.

Lawyers often say that hard cases make bad law, so the Texas-Baltimore example probably shouldn't be the basis for changing the save rule. But consider this scenario:

1. The Yankees are tied 1-1 with the Red Sox in the seventh inning one Saturday night late in September. Boston loads the bases with no one out, and Torre brings in Joba Chamberlain. Joba proceeds to strikeout Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramierz in order, getting out of the jam.

2. Two innings later, the Yankees score three and bring Mariano Rivera to pitch the ninth in a 4-1 game. Rivera retires three of the four hitters he faces, and the Yankees win.

Who has truly "saved" this game? According to the rule, Rivera, because he finished a game his club won, having entered with no more than a three run lead. To suggest, however, that Rivera was the key relief pitcher that night is silly, yet we award him with the stat -- the save -- which folks have come to regard as the most important one for relievers.

If made commissioner for a day, one of my first moves would be to scrap the current rule in favor of a simpler one that, while subjective, would attempt to award the guy who really put out the fire, whether that fire was doused in the ninth inning or the sixth inning, and whether his team had the lead at the time or not. We could tweak the language for a bit, but basically, I'd ask the official scorer to make a judgment call as to which relief pitcher for the winning team, who came in at a time when the score was tied or when the lead for either team was less than three runs, contributed most to his team winning the game. I'd even be open to the possibility of awarding more than one save in a game if the situation dictated it because, hey, games are often "saved" on more than one occasion.

Doing this would award Joba Chamberlain with the save in the above hypothetical, because he truly did save the game. It would also take away the cheap ninth inning, three run lead save which artificially inflates the value of so many "closers" these days. Finally, it would encourage managers to use their best pitchers in the tightest spots rather than save them for the ninth inning when, all too often, the outcome is already more or less decided.

Getting out of jams and dousing rallies is the whole point of a bullpen, so why not make that the key inquiry when deciding to award a relief pitcher's performance?

UPDATE: David Pinto at BP (subscription requred) beat me to it, and it's a proposal well worth reading.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Candidates' Baseball Bonafides

Some say baseball and politics don't mix. But for as long as there has been baseball, there have been politicians seeking to exploit it. This exploitation usually takes the form of candidates cloaking themselves in the glorious Americana that is our national pastime, and trying desperately to ride those coattails to higher poll numbers. More recently it has involved piling on baseball when it has faced challenges like steroids, labor difficulties, and the like in an effort to appear to be fighting for the rights of the common fan.

Neither dynamic is stopping anytime soon, and as the playoff races heat up, we can expect to see more and more baseball photo-ops and sound bytes from the seventeen ambitious folks who have declared (or in Fred Thompson's case have all but declared) their candidacy for the office of First Fan.

I was curious to see how the field stacked up baseball-wise, so I spent several hours with a bottle of bourbon and my trusty laptop trying to Google my way to the truth. Who do these people root for? What is their record when it comes to the national pastime? What, if anything, do their baseball bonafides say about what kind of president they'd make?

What follows represents my best effort at answering those questions, setting aside (for the most part anyway) my own political leanings and my personal feelings about each of these folks. For purposes of this exercise I am a monomaniacal, single-issue voter, and that issue is baseball.

The Republicans

Sam Brownback

Declared rooting interest: I couldn't find any reference to one, though given that he's from eastern Kansas and came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, I'd guess he's more likely to be into the Royals than the A's.

Record: Then again, maybe he's a Monarchs fan. Brownback once issued a press release praising Buck O'Neil and was one of 16 members of Congress who sent a letter to Selig asking that O'Neil be reconsidered for induction into the Hall of Fame. He was previously given a personal tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City by O'Neil. Bowie Kuhn and former Tigers' owner Tom Monaghan were on his exploratory committee, but that probably had less to do with baseball than it did with Catholic activism and philanthropy. Brownback likens the role of judges to that of umpires, though he doesn't comment on how Ques-Tec fits into the judicial system.

Analysis: While I'd prefer that the person who has his finger on the button be a somewhat bigger baseball fan than Brownback's record seems to indicate (both pursuits require patience and an appreciation of history that brings greater perspective to one's thinking), I'd still prefer a president who is a casual or non-fan to one who is a pandering, phony fan, and Brownback doesn't appear to be the latter. In addition to being nice, the hat-tips to O'Neil appear genuine as well given that, as a politician from Kansas, Brownback has never had a need to pander to either Missiouri residents or, let's face it, black people simply to win votes.

Rudy Giuliani

Record: In a word, extensive. He allegedly sports a Yankees' World Series ring, tried his damndest to deliver Steinbrenner a West Side stadium, and sat front and center for all 40 playoff and World Series games played in the Bronx during his tenure as mayor. Some have argued that, in 2001, he was more supportive of the Bombers in the Bronx than he was of those cleaning up after the bombers at Ground Zero. Rudy's campaign is currently offering baseball tchotchkes as incentives for fundraisers.

Analysis: Rudy may or may not be the biggest baseball fan in the pool, but he's certainly the most conspicuous. Like many of the other candidates (see Clinton and Richardson), his embrace of baseball has caused controversy, though he is probably the only one who could wind up being investigated over it (how much did you pay for those WS rings, Rudy?). The biggest baseball issue for him, however, may be the fact that he's a Yankees' fan, which, among discriminating baseball fans, makes him even more of a polarizing figure than Brownback.

Mike Huckabee

Declared rooting interest: Nothing could be found. By geography he's likely to be a Cardinal or Braves fan, but my personal history (Braves fan from West Virginia) has taught me that it's a fool's game to predict such things in a baseball no-man's-land like Arkansas.

Record: Recently used a Charlotte Knights baseball game as the backdrop for a fundraiser. Given that hot dogs > rubber chicken, this is a good thing. While Huckabee himself appears not to have said anything about it, a blogger-for-Mike apparently believes that Huckabee thinks that the federal government should keep its nose out of baseball. Huckabee himself likens the Iraq situation to baseball inasmuch as he believes there should be no set timetable, though he has not opined on whether there should be extra innings or a mercy rule.

Analysis: As a baseball fan, Huckabee appears to be a non-entity. He lost over 100 pounds a couple of years back and has since become an avid runner. Guys like that tend not to enjoy sitting on the couch for three hours flipping between the Cardinals-Cubs and the Yankees-Angels.

Duncan Hunter

Declared rooting interest: Before we get there, allow me to inform you that Duncan Hunter is a Congressman from San Diego. No I did not know that, nor did I know until now that he was running for president. Anyway, Hunter appears to be a Padres fan, though I couldn't find anything definitive about it anywhere.

Record: Hunter, along with other members of Southern California's congressional delegation bet New York City's congressional delegation a meal of Rubios Fish Tacos against some New York cheesecake on the outcome of the 1998 World Series.

Analysis: I am certain of two things in this world: (1) the fish tacos in San Diego -- even at chain places like Rubio's -- are better than New York cheesecake; and (2) in 1998, no one with a lick of sense was picking the Padres to beat the Yankees in the World Series. What this tells me is that Hunter, as president, would be inclined to risk too much for lost causes. Troubling.

John McCain

Declared rooting interest: Diamondbacks, though he'll put on a Greenville Drive hat for a fundraiser.

Record: No one has used -- or threatened to use -- the power of the federal government to influence sports more than McCain. When he didn't like MLB's first draft of a drug policy, he threatened to introduce legislation to do it for them, and declared that "baseball can't be trusted." That aside, he wasn't above accepting some tickets to the World Series back in 2001. Outside of baseball, McCain has been out front in efforts to clean up boxing and eliminate gambling on college sports.

Analysis: One's support of McCain may very well depend on how one feels about the government regulating big-time sports. If elected, he may very well eliminate the DH, raise the mound, and declare Tony La Russa an enemy combatant. Not that any of those would be bad things.

Ron Paul

Declared rooting interest: Though a congressman from Texas, he grew up, went to college, and spent his medical residency in the Pittsburgh area, where, as a youth, he claims to have delivered milk to Honus Wagner. In light of that, if he isn't a Pirates fan he has a lot of 'splainin' to do.

Record: His supporters were recently booted out of a Marlins game for displaying campaign signs. According to John LeBoutillier at NewsMax "Paul is a great hitter in baseball. We played in 1981 and 1982 on the House Republican baseball team and he has great wrists!"

Analysis: Given his strong-libertarian leanings, one assumes that Paul would be the anti-McCain when it comes to mixing politics and sports. I suppose he'd probably have a lot of bad things to say about publicly-funded baseball stadiums too. There simply isn't much else to be found online about Paul and baseball. That may be because a third of the internet's aggregate bandwidth seems to have been used up by Paul supporters talking about how no one ever talks about Ron Paul.

Mitt Romney

Declared rooting interest: Red Sox, but he may not be fully up to speed on the vast body of Red Sox arcanum. Not that anyone with a life can really be expected to. A far more serious chink in Romney's Red Sox armor is the fact that he owns stock in the YES network, which seems pretty unforgivable even to a casual observer of the rivalry like myself.

Record: Son Tagg Romney was, until recently, VP and Chief Marketing Officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Signs (literally) indicate that he didn't do that good a job. Earlier this summer, those who donated more than $100 to the Romney campaign were entered to win tickets to watch a baseball game with Tagg. Considering that the Romneys are Mormons, that means no beer at the ballgame, which violates just about every principle in which I believe.

Analysis: Given his inconsistent stance on other issues, I wouldn't be surprised to see a President Romney wearing a Devil Rays jersey if the polling dictated he should. I am nowhere near as fanatical about sports bigamy as Bill Simmons is, but Romney has not shown that he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt on this score.

Tom Tancredo

Declared rooting interest: Colorado Rockies (at least if the Rockies giving Tancredo's staff free tickets qualifies as a rooting relationship), but given his zealous anti-immigration positions, he probably has a place in his heart for the Yankees or the White Sox, with an emphasis on the White.

Record: Used baseball as a springboard for a foreign policy broadside against China. Not much else, really, though I'm guessing that he has a few things to add about the prevalence of ballplayers from Latin America on major league rosters.

Analysis: Though he will never win the nomination, the prospect of a Trancredo presidency is terrifying for baseball fans due to the fact that if the Rockies don't win the NL West, the sumbitch may very well bomb Phoenix.

Fred Thompson

Declared rooting interest: None that I could find, but then again, he's not very big on declaring. Born in Alabama, raised in Tennessee, but a longtime inside-the-beltway resident, he may be a Cardinals, Braves, or Nationals fan. As with everything else, Thompson the baseball fan seems to be an inkblot test in which we all see that we want to see.

Record: Despite appearing in stellar NASCAR, football, and, um, zebra racing films, Thompson has never played a role in a baseball movie, which only goes to support the charges that Thompson suffers from inexperience. Recently declared a distant second to New York Giant Bobby Thompson as the Thompson most likely to be remembered by history.

Analysis: About as weak a baseball record as any candidate in the field. If I was a one-issue voter and that issue was baseball, Fred would not be getting my support. He's not getting my support anyway, but that's neither here nor there.

The Democrats

Joe Biden

Declared rooting interest: According to Biden's MySpace page, he's a member of the "Phillies Phans" group. Not sure if the page is legit or not, but given that he was born in Scranton and has lived all of his adult life in Delaware, I'd be surprised if that wasn't true.

Record: Wrote the 1990 law making steroid trafficking illegal and the 2004 law banning andro and THG. Was quite vocal around the time the sluggers came to Capitol Hill, writing an op-ed about the scourge of steroids. Was criticized for misstating the actual definition of the strike zone during Justice Roberts' confirmation hearing, though until we start expecting umpires to properly recite the Senate's cloture rules, I'm inclined to give him a free pass. Was recently front and center, along with three other Democratic challengers, at Iowa state Rep. Polly Bukta’s annual corn boil, which took place right smack dab on home plate at Alliant Energy Field in Clinton, Iowa.

Analysis: Along with McCain, Biden has been the most vocal of all of the candidates when it comes to steroids in baseball. Unlike McCain, Biden seems to have spent more time actually doing stuff like writing laws to make them illegal and writing op-eds about their health risks as opposed to simply rattling his saber at Major League Baseball. The most troubling thing about a President Biden: the awkwardness that will ensue when he ends his inaugural address by saying "today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

Hillary Clinton

Declared rooting interest: Oh dear, this is complicated.

Record: Recently had her cleavage compared to Barry Bonds' steroid use. Claimed in 1999 that George Steinbrenner wrote her often to discuss their mutual travails. Was at the corn boil.

Analysis: The whole Cubs-Yankees rooting thing overshadows all other baseball issues on Clinton's plate. Until she can clearly establish that she was, in fact, a Yankees fan as well as a Cubs fan as a child, anything she says about baseball will be forever suspect.

Christopher Dodd

Declared rooting interest: Die hard Red Sox fan. Isn't above talking anti-Yankees smack to friend and Dodd-campaigner Paul Simon either.

Record: Is a close, personal friend of Bud Selig's, and took the time to praise Selig, at length, on the Senate floor when he was named permanent commissioner. Spoke at length about sports in a recent interview with Deadspin, where he revealed that that he spent time in the Dominican Republic while in the Peace Corps (contrary to popular belief, he managed to walk off the island); is against the embargo against Cuba and can rattle off the names of Cuban ballplayers like Yuniesky Betancourt, Livan Hernandez or Danys Baez without prompting. Was at the corn boil.

Analysis: One gets the sense that Dodd knows his stuff when it comes to baseball. Probably vulnerable on steroids inasmuch as he is officially on record as being a huge fan of the 1998 chase of Roger Maris, the home run boom, and basically everything else Selig has ever done as commissioner. As a Democrat, maybe even more vulnerable over the fact that his dear, personal friend Mr. Selig has chosen Ari Fleischer as his political adviser as opposed to a someone in the donkey party. If your bestest buddy in the whole world doesn't seek your counsel, why should the American public trust you?

John Edwards

Declared rooting interest: I couldn't find one. Something called the Presidential Brands Study says "if we have to pick a baseball team for Edwards, it would probably be the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox – a bit of hard luck story with a lot of nostalgic appeal." I imagine that the inferiority complex and the obnoxious supporters is simply assumed.

Record: Not much out there on Edwards when it comes to baseball. Extrapolating a bit, his laser-like focus on the lack of egalitarianism in the "two Americas" leads one to believe that he'd support a salary cap. Won two gold gloves behind the dish for the Reds in the mid 60s. Was at the corn boil.

Analysis: When it comes to baseball, he's the Democrats' answer to Fred Thompson.

Mike Gravel

Declared rooting interest: Coming from Alaska, I assume he's into the Goldpanners and that whole Midnight Sun Classic thing.

Record: As the man who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record, Gravel may be the guy who can finally force the owners to reveal how much dough they're really making. Big direct democracy advocate, which bodes well for keeping the fan ballot for the All-Star Game.

Analysis: Did you know that there is less on the internet about Mike Gravel than there is about Duncan Hunter?

Dennis Kucinich

Declared rooting interest:

Record: Won 1964 Cleveland Indians season tickets as first runner-up in "Why I Want To Be the Batboy" essay contest. Keeps a 1966 Rocky Colavito baseball card
in his wallet. Was so unpopular as Cleveland mayor that he wore a bullet-proof vest while throwing out the first pitch of the 1978 season. Introduced something called "The Baseball Fan Protection Act" in 2003, which made tax breaks to franchise owners contingent upon them increasing the number of home games shown on free, broadcast television.

Analysis: Decades as an Indians fan has no doubt fueled his love of lost causes, and absent some sort of King Ralph scenario, he won't be winning the presidency in 2008. Still, his baseball record is weighty compared to many of the others on this list, and the fact that he carries around the Colavito card entitles him an infinite amount of cosmic love as far as I am concerned.

Barack Obama

Declared rooting interest: White Sox.

Record: Recently sputtered about 300 incoherent words when Keith Olbermann asked him if he'd honor Barry Bonds' at the White House if he were president. Knew well enough to apologize when an appearance at a New Hampshire bar interrupted a Yankees-Red Sox game.

Analysis: Like Thompson, a thin record, though he has not shied away from liking the pale hose. Given his willingness to negotiate with Iran and Syria, he may be called upon one day to try and talk to Scott Boras, though I'd hope he'd warm up with the dictators first. You know, to ease into things.

Bill Richardson

Declared rooting interest: He's all things to all people.

In his autobiography, Richardson wrote that baseball was “the ruling passion of my young life.” Once claimed to have been drafted by the Kansas City A's in 1966, though later admitted it to be bogus. Likes to tickle the scalps of comely lasses at minor league baseball games.

He says he's a Yankees and a Red Sox fan. I think Abraham Lincoln identified the flaw with this thinking 149 years ago.

So that's it, folks. I've reported, you decide.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Legalize it?

Peter Singer notes professor/physician Julian Savulescu's suggestion regarding what to do about PEDs in sports:

Savulescu, who directs the Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics at Oxford University and holds degrees in both medicine and bioethics, says that we should drop the ban on performance-enhancing drugs, and allow athletes to take whatever they want, as long as it is safe for them to do so.

Savulescu proposes that instead of trying to detect whether an athlete has taken drugs, we should focus on measurable indications of whether an athlete is risking his or her health. So, if an athlete has a dangerously high level of red blood cells as a result of taking erythropoietin (EPO), he or she should not be allowed to compete. The issue is the red blood cell count, not the means used to elevate it.

I'll leave it to doctors and scientists to figure out if this is actually plausible, but given how many football players have been able to perform at a high level in their playing days -- which suggests that they were perfectly healthy at the time -- only to get sick or die young a decade or so after retirement leads me to believe that, ethics aside, this would be disastrous. Indeed, if there were some medically and scientifically definitive evidence regarding how safe or unsafe various PEDs were for athletes, don't you think that evidence would have been trotted out somewhere over the course of the six gajillion articles written about steroids and baseball? We simply don't know the long term effects in anything approaching a comprehensive fashion, and I am dubious that we could know the risk any given athlete was facing based on a snapshot blood test taken during his athletic prime.

That aside, who exactly would be in the business of certifying that any given athlete was OK to compete, with "OK" being defined by Savulescu as that athlete being shown to not be risking their health? The leagues? Don't you think that Roger Goodell, David Stern, and, yes, even Bud Selig are savvy enough to see the sinkhole of liability that such a certification process would create? If such a system were in place in the 70s, John Matuzak's family would own beachfront property right now.

But perhaps Savulescu's most ridiculous assertion is this:

To those who say that this will give drug users an unfair advantage, Savulescu replies that now, without drugs, those with the best genes have an unfair advantage. They must still train, of course, but if their genes produce more EPO than ours, they are going to beat us in the Tour de France, no matter how hard we train. Unless, that is, we take EPO to make up for our genetic deficiency. Setting a maximum level of red blood cells actually levels the playing field by reducing the impact of the genetic lottery. Effort then becomes more important than having the right genes.

It's not ridiculous for scientific reasons. Genetics matter, probably way more than most folks in a putatively egalitarian and democratic society are comfortable acknowledging. No, what makes it ridiculous is the use of the term "unfair." Sure, we can get philosophical about what truly is or is not unfair, but the average sports fan -- and remember, without fans, pro sports don't happen -- simply doesn't view natural genetic advantages as something that is "unfair" or in need of remedy. People who hate Barry Bonds do so because they think he's a jerk and they think he cheated. They don't hate him because he's Bobby Bonds' kid, nor do they consider the advantage that he has received by accident of birth to be all that problematic. Probably because for every Barry Bonds there is a Dale Berra or a Lance Neikro.

Lest I get too snippy at Savulescu, I will remind myself that he, like Singer, is bioethicist, and bioethicists are supposed to think the big thoughts about this kind of stuff. As big thoughts go, however, this one strikes me as lacking.

Real Flu-like Symptoms

Mark Teixeira was a wrecking crew last night, smacking two homers and collecting six RBIs. Of note: Teixeira says that he had been barfin' his guts out all day before the game, suffering from a flu bug of some sort.

I can't think of a way to really analyze it statistically, but it certainly seems like we have seen an awful lot of great sports performances by athletes who were suffering from the flu at the time. The classic example is MJ against the Jazz back in the 1998 finals, but it seems to happen really often.

I always wondered how that was possible, but Teixeira has an explanation:

When you [play with the flu], for some reason you get more focused, because you know you can't do everything you're used to doing. You're slower and your body hurts a little bit. So you focus and you're going to have nights like this.

That makes sense to me. It also reminds us that, despite the monster athleticism of anyone good enough to make the majors or the NBA, focus and mental discipline is what separates those who are simply gifted with athletic prowess from those who are truly elite.

Speaking of Teixeira, his line since being acquired by the Braves is .294/.388/.745, with 9 home runs and 25 RBIs in 18 games. The Braves haven't been setting the world on fire since they acquired him and haven't made up any real ground on the Mets, but that's certainly through no fault of his own.

Even with their middling play, however, they now stand only a game back in the wild card standings. With two strong starters, a lot of bats, and Teixeira in tow, the Braves may have a better chance of making more noise in the playoffs this year by squeaking in than they did in most of the years in which they coasted in.

Just Rub Some Dirt on That Elbow, Aiden!

Dusty Baker works his first game of the Little League World Series tonight on ESPN2. I don't usually watch the LLWS, but I might tonight just to see what he has to say about the 85-pitch count rule the little fellers are subject to.

I will buy his colleagues Orel Hershiser or Gary Thorne a car if, upon the rule being invoked, one of them says "you know, Dusty, if they had this rule in Chicago four years ago, Mark Prior would still be pitching today, don't you think?"

Monday, August 20, 2007


It's not baseball, but here's a fun video link and story about Barack Obama's basketball days.

I love the reminiscence from the guy who used to play pickup games with him. It's obviously intended to be complimentary, but the translation is: "he really had no inside game, he really had no outside game, he really didn't have any ball handling skills, but he acted like a leader and often brought the ball up the court anyway."

Anyone who has played pickup basketball knows a guy like this (i.e. no skillz, but who still always wants to hold the rock). I like Obama an awful lot, but I'm glad the primaries are still months away, because it may take me that long to convince myself to vote for a chucker.

(link via Sullivan)


I hadn't heard this when it was announced back in June, but it seems that Bruce Froemming is retiring after this season, which is his 37th in the big leagues, and 50th season as a professional umpire. George Will had a nice little piece about it in yesterday's Washington Post.

I say "it" meaning the retirement as opposed to "him" meaning Froemming, because there isn't all that much interesting about Froemming himself in the piece outside of the statistics incident to his longevity. Presented with some potentially provocative questions -- you really gonna end game seven of the World Series on an appeal to first base, Bruce? You ever give Maddux or Glavine an extra couple of inches on the corner? -- Froemming toes the company line and says that he calls every single one like he sees it, with nary a lapse in attention, fairness, or objectivity.

Having watched Froemming in action for something like 22 years, I can truthfully say that he's full of horse hockey. He's very pitcher friendly, even more so if that pitcher is an established star. Hey, as a Braves fan I've loved it, but I'd be lying if I said he was among the more even-handed umps out there. Don't believe me? Ask the guys who have a monetary interest in such things. Pitchers themselves? Heck no. I'm talking about the actuarially-precise wonks in the betting business:

The men in blue that have called an abundance of ‘under’ games this season include Bruce Froemming (4-1), Ed Montague (5-1), Jeff Nelson (3-0), Jerry Crawford (4-1), Jim Wolf (4-0), Kerwin Danley (4-0), Mark Wegner (5-0) and Randy Marsh (5-1). These umpires have bigger strike zones, meaning more strikeouts and quicker, low-scoring games.

Froemming and Montague have been ‘under’ umpires for years, with Froemming overseeing just 6.4 runs per contest and Montague allowing an average of 7.83.

Oh well. No matter his faults -- and there are many -- the guy has done seven months worth of road games every season for longer than I've been alive, and no one aside from Milt Pappas complains about him all that loudly anymore. So enjoy your retirement Bruce. You've earned it.

Dog Bites Man

Bonds gets day off

MIAMI (AP) -- San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds wasn't in the Giants' lineup for their game Sunday afternoon against the Florida Marlins. Bonds, baseball's career home run leader, often gets day games off following a night game, and manager Bruce Bochy said Saturday that the left fielder wouldn't be playing Sunday.



The first time I had ever heard the name "Tim Keefe" I thought he was some random middle reliever I couldn't place. Just sounds like some 1980s-1990s name, no? Guys who pitched in the 19th century are supposed to have names like Alexander or Tricky, or Gentleman or something, aren't they?

My favorite player of all time tied little Timmy on the all-time wins list yesterday, leading San Diego past Houston. He'll likely pass Keefe this season, but that is probably the last guy he'll pass. Clemens is next, but he's still going. Kid Nichols is two seasons away, and I don't think Maddux has two more seasons in him. Ability wise, sure -- he's basically a league-average starter now and could probably crank out average seasons for a little while longer -- but one wonders how long Maddux will feel like being average.

In any event, congratulations Greg.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Holy Santana!

Johan Santana just fanned 17 Rangers over eight innings, walking no one and allowing only two hits, as the Twins beat Texas 1-0. Game score: 95, which is tied for the second highest all year, and is -- by far -- the highest game score for a pitcher who didn't go nine innings.

Friday, August 17, 2007

There Will Always Be Asterisks

Gotta love Ruben Bolling (click for full size -- via

Have a nice weekend.

Leverage: You're Doing it Wrong, MLB

I don't follow the draft as closely as the Keith Laws of the world, so I was scratching my head a bit when I read a week or two ago about the new use-it-or-lose-it deadline that caused all of those 11th hour signings the other night.

Then I read that the imposition of that deadline was a result in the change to the Basic Agreement during the last labor go-around that was, theoretically anyway, designed to help the teams pressure the players:

When the summary information of Major League Baseball's new basic agreement was sent out to the individual teams last October, one of the subjects covered was the "Rule 4 Draft." . . . the league's general managers and assistant general managers were informed in a memorandum that "several changes were made to the Rule 4 Draft that will increase the Clubs' leverage in negotiations with Draft selections."

In the past those will-I-go-to-college-or-not players were allowed to twist in the wind for as long as a year. While many were ultimately lost to college, wasn't the risk of not signing a big one? After all, if they didn't sign, couldn't they be idled for a long time while they dickered with management, all while watching their friends and colleagues work their way towards the majors? Now the teams seem to be under the gun far more in that, with the deadline, players can be assured of enrolling or re-enrolling in classes in the August right after the draft, and will be on a baseball diamond just after the first of the year, unchanged from their previous schedule.

Maybe this year was a unique situation, but I'm struck by the notion that if keeping draftee contracts low was the goal, MLB didn't exactly think their cunning plan all the way through.

Best. Aribitration Case. Ever.

It ain't gonna happen, but wouldn't this be tons of fun:

Asked if it would be cost-prohibitive for the Yankees to pursue A-Rod as a free agent, Cashman said yes. He also confirmed that if Rodriguez opts out of his deal, the Yankees can offer him arbitration.

The number one thing arbitrators look at in a given case is what players at the same position with comparable service time make. In A-Rod's case, that would have us looking at third basemen or maybe shortstops that debuted in 1994 or 1995.

Let's see: Chipper Jones ($11M plus some deferred money); Jeff Cirillo ($1.5M); Olmedo Saenz ($1M); Russ Davis ($5.10/hr at Orange Julius); the bad Alex Gonzalez ($3.00/hr + whatever he gets when the other members of the Outback waitstaff tip out at the end of the night); Mike Mordecai ($10M -- not for baseball, but for the proceeds of the blackmail he obviously used to get over 100 ABs on a World Series team in 1996).

No, something tells me that A-Rod will do better by not going through arbitration.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rob Neyer Likes the New Boss

On Monday, Rob King,'s new honcho gave an interview for Sports Business Journal in which he said there'd be a lot fewer "I-think-I-feel" columns on the site going forward:

King wants his writers to think about how they are serving fans beyond writing what he calls “I-think-I-feel columns.”

“I looked at a lot of Web sites when the Michael Vick story broke, and they had an AP story with four people saying ‘I think, I feel,’” he said. “Isn’t it as important what the user thinks or feels? What are you doing to get that person closer to information that helps him or her figure out how they feel on this subject? … There’s only so much space for I-think-I-feel. After a while, it just becomes people yapping.”

Yesterday, Rob Neyer said this [link goes to Insider content] about reporters who conduct post-game interviews:

But I find myself accidentally watching a lot of these postgame interviews, and the interviewers can't seem to get through them without asking, usually first thing, a "feeling" question . . .So here's my question for you: Are those really the questions you want the "talent" to ask? I have this theory that TV people do a lot of things because they think it's what the audience wants or expects, even though the audience might want something quite different. I think the audience wants information rather than some obligatory profession of "feelings."

Having read Neyer for nearly a decade there is absolutely no question that such, um, feelings about feelings are genuine on his part and that the timing of this sentiment isn't an exercise in apple-polishing. Indeed, if there is anyone over at who is about getting readers "closer to information that helps him or her figure out how they feel on this subject," it's Rob.

One has to think that, of all of the writers at the WWL, Neyer will benefit the most by a move away from the I-think-I-feel yammering of talking heads and towards information delivery.