Monday, March 31, 2008

Rob Neyer to Die Today

Well, probably anyway:
On Monday, we have a special chat in honor of Major League Baseball's Opening Day. ESPN.com MLB Insider, Rob Neyer, will be chatting during every pitch of every game.

That's right. Neyer will start with the first pitches of the day in the Royals-Tigers game and Blue Jays-Yankees game, which both start at 1:05 p.m. ET, and continue through the last game of the day, Angels vs. Twins, which begins at 8:10 p.m. ET. But that's not all. Neyer will keep chatting through the midnight ET edition of Baseball Tonight.

If Neyer is able to complete his mission, he will have chatted for close to 12 hours, which would break the current SportsNation individual chat record of 7 hours, 4 minutes, held by Bill Simmons.

Programming Note (again)

Because I originally posted it over the weekend, and because it is now buried by several posts, I wanted to once again plug my new writing space, craigcalcaterra.blogspot.com.

For those of you who didn't see it before, the new site is nothing major. It's just a place for me to park some non-baseball writing. There's a link to it in the upper left of this page in case you ever feel like stopping in. As of now the only thing up there are four installments of what looks to be a long travelogue of a road trip I took a few years ago. After I get through with that, the randomness will likely increase. It certainly won't be updated as often as this place, but then again, not much is.

Anyway, feel free to click over if you're bored. Obviously it's not going to be for everyone.

Conte to Tell-All

Just what you've been waiting for:

[Victor] Conte, who has remained mostly silent as the government, the media and the athletes involved have examined, analyzed and dissected the most explosive drug case in sports history, says he will now tell his side of the story. Slated for publication in September under the Skyhorse imprint, the book's working title is "BALCO: The Straight Dope on Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and What We Can Do To Save Sports." Conte, in conjunction with co-author Nathan Jendrick, promises to share "the dirt, the drugs, the doses, the names, dates and places, and a 'prescription' for a brighter future."

I'll be sure to clear my calendar. Or not. Anyway, this is more interesting:

One of Conte's biggest targets is likely to be Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who sniffed out the BALCO conspiracy in 2003 and has tenaciously chased down every twist in it ever since. Conte claims Novitzky, who is on the witness stand Monday in the government's prosecution of cyclist Tammy Thomas (the first BALCO athlete to refuse a plea bargain and take her case to trial), fabricated a confession he says Conte gave on the day of the BALCO raid, and lied in court documents . . .

. . . Novitzky faces cross-examination Monday by Thomas' attorney, who may attack the credibility of the secretive agent and uncover weaknesses that lawyers for Barry Bonds can exploit when Bonds goes to trial next year. Novitzky was also the subject of an internal investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) for leaking confidential investigative information about the case and for missing evidence, according to Conte.

If Conte is right about that, Novitzky is a damaged witness. How damaged? Well, I suppose we'll see after Tammy Thomas' lawyers cross-examine him.

Not that he has to be damaged all that much for Barry Bonds' attorneys to make hay out of it. Remember: while Bonds may be a pariah in the rest of the country, he's still quite popular in the places from which the jury pool will be drawn. Like another California jury in a high profile case, a jury standing in judgment of Barry Bonds could be inordinately swayed by even the slightest evidence of police shenanigans. At the very least, it's something I'd be worried about if I were prosecuting this case.

Just something to ad to my list of reasons why I think Barry, as he has done so many times before, will walk.

Juan Gone

Well, not gone, but on the bench:
Andre Ethier won the Dodgers' starting left-field job from veteran Juan Pierre and will start Opening Day vs. the Giants on Monday, Los Angeles manager Joe Torre announced Sunday.

"I just feel I want to start that way and see," said Torre. "He had an outstanding spring. Sometimes you don't make enough of Spring Training, sometimes you make too much of it. I'm curious. I want to see more. He's had a number of home runs, he's hit off left-handers and right-handers."
I love Torre's "well, I am totally surprised I had to bench Pierre, I'm still needing to check this out, wow, who would have thunk it?" tone. Well Joe:
Pierre had a disastrous spring offensively, hitting .169 with six stolen bases in 24 games. Ethier, 25, hit .365 with six homers and 16 RBIs. Right fielder Matt Kemp, 25, hit .307 with a team-high 18 RBIs.
I'm not all that sure you need to see more.

Opening Night in Nationals Park

This isn't a live-blog, because (1) I had to DVR the game and watch it on about a two-hour delay due to some pesky chores I had to attend to, so there was nothing "live" about it for me; and (2) I wasn't paying close enough attention to get the silly amount of detail captured by your typical live-blog. Let's just call it observations:

I know people paid for their tickets and didn't surrender their free speech rights at the stadium turnstiles, but President Bush being loudly booed as he made his way to the mound for the first pitch was, I dunno, strange. I mean, I've been done with the guy since he decided to pander to the religious right on stem cells back in the summer of 2001, but I still think there's something to be said for being judicious with one's jeers in these situations. He wasn't there to flog his agenda. We can never be sure with him, but I'm fairly certain that he wasn't there to start any wars with anyone. He was doing one of those nice stately functions presidents do, and to that end I considered it a non-partisan act. Give the guy some polite applause for crying out loud. It's not like 95% of the world hasn't been politicized already. Let's try to protect what's left of non-partisan baseball.

First pitch was to Acta, not Lo Duca, thereby diffusing the steroid stigma thing. I wonder who brokered that political compromise?

This may be the season when I finally start to look around at other teams, because I just don't know who my Braves are anymore. Blue alternate uniforms? One of the things I have always loved about Atlanta was that, for the last 20 years at least, they had kept it classic. No softball shirts, vests, or or other wackiness for them. But then a couple of years ago they adopted those ugly reds for Sunday. Now it's blues. I feel like I've been dating the prom queen for the past 20 years only to have her show up at my house one day in hot pants, platform shoes, and teased hair. Wait, what am I saying? That would be kind of cool, actually. The blue uniforms, on the other hand, suck.

Odalis Perez is the opening day starter? It seems that the reports of the Nationals' dark horse status are greatly exaggerated.

Joe Morgan is pretending that the A's-Red Sox games from last week didn't count ("I only recognize tonight as opening day"). Thanks for sharing, Joe.

I really like the stone walls behind the plate. Great color. The whole stadium looks pretty nice, actually.

It seems that reports of Nick Johnson's weight problem were greatly exaggerated, because he looks just fine. Reports of Dimitri Young's weight problem, however, were grossly underestimated. He looks like Cedric the Entertainer. Actually, he looks like he ate Cedric the Entertainer.

President Bush in the booth. OK, it's getting a little more appropriate to jeer now. Very uncomfortable all around. Unlike the state of our Republic, this is not all Bush's fault, though. Miller and Morgan aren't sure where to take the conversation, and miss a great opportunity to follow up when Bush mentions that he warmed up with Jose Rijo before the ceremonial pitch. Really? Jose Rijo? Update: OK, I see that Rijo works for the Nats. I was sort of hoping that there was some odd Rijo-Bush connection going back 20 years, because I find those sorts of random connection fascinating.

The Braves look awful. Bad base running. Clueless hacks at middling stuff from Perez. Throwing the ball all over the diamond. Ugh.

Bush says he recently saw Nolan Ryan "on another matter." Maybe it's related to national security. Has Robin Ventura been making provocative diplomatic moves or massing troops on anyone's border lately? In other Bush news, I can't decide if I am really impressed or really terrified that Bush seems to know more about Jeff Francoeur's beaning in spring training than he does about matters of state.

Yuks at Bush's expense aside, I will say that the worst part about these guest-in-the-booth things are that they make it so easy to lose track of the game. I probably depend more on the announcers than I should, so when they're not focusing I tend not to focus. I feel like two innings have vanished in the ether.

After a shaky first inning, Tim Hudson looks sharp. Given how this night is going, though -- quick and relatively punchless -- that first inning is looking like it will be enough to sink him.

Peter Gammons is openly reading when they throw it down to him. The content was all good, but the fact that he has to (or at least feels he has to) read from a script is worrisome. He's simply the best, and I don't want to think that he's off his game, even though anyone who has had the health issues he's had in the past couple of years is bound to be.

Reports of Ray King's offseason weight loss were greatly exaggerated.

Nats have a one-run lead entering the ninth inning and there's no Chad Cordero? Uh-oh. Update: Gammons jumps in and mentions that Cordero was feeling some stiffness in the pen. I don't really care about Chad Cordero (that "uh-oh" was offered out of sympathy for Chris Needham) but I am happy to see that Gammons was quick and on the nose with it. Maybe the earlier reading was a function of opening night rustiness or jitters or something.

Bad night for Paul Lo Duca. First his pariah status bumps him from catching the first pitch, now his passed ball with two outs in the ninth has blown the win for his starter and risks the game for his team. I don't like Lo Duca much so this doesn't bother me, but in fairness, I think the passed ball was Rauch's fault. Lo Duca was set up outside and the ball went nowhere near the target.

Ryan Zimmerman walkoff homer!!

OK, the homer was impressive, but his interview with Gammons after the game was even more so. Very mature. Didn't duck the "are you this team's leader?" question. He says the Nats are tired of being mediocre, and even better than the words were the calm and confident manner in which he delivered them. He just put a dagger in my team's heart, but I'm sitting here nursing a man-crush.

Maybe it's the Zimmerman fairy dust talking, but it's only five minutes after the game ended and I am feeling way less upset that my team lost than I am pleased that the result -- exciting game-ender by the impressive young face of a historically downtrodden franchise on the biggest night in its history -- is both a good story for them and for the game as a whole.

This one game doesn't mean anything, but I've felt that vague feeling -- like I'm a bigger fan of the game than any one team -- for some time now. I'm still going to root for Atlanta, of course, but I'd be lying if I said I had the same passion for it that I did five or ten years ago.

Check back with me if they start off 35-7 or something, but it's certainly worth thinking about.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who Needs a Left Fielder?

Check out the defensive alignment for this evening's game in the L.A. Coliseum:

A Brief Programming Note

Bob Dylan once sang that he had a head full of ideas that were driving him insane. I sort of know the feeling. Baseball still constitutes about 97% of those ideas, but I needed someplace for the other 3%. Accordingly, I have set up a second place -- craigcalcaterra.blogspot.com -- to catch the runoff. There's a link to it in the upper left in case you forget.

Not much there yet, but over the next few days I'll be putting up an old road trip travelogue to get things kick started. After that I will post whatever the hell comes to mind. The plan is for it to skew more creative and less bloggy, but you know what they say about plans. It certainly won't be updated as often as this place. Of course the original plan for this place was to do a post a day and you see how well that turned out.

Anyway, feel free to click over if you're bored. Obviously it's not going to be for everyone.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Revisiting the Indian Uprising of 1987

As we wait out the final couple of days before the season begins in earnest, many of us will be tempted to take one last look at the season previews. The ones that preordain the Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Mets, Cubs, and well, everyone but the Giants in the NL West as favorites. Reading such stuff may be depressing if you're, say, a Blue Jays or Braves fan, and it must be downright miserable if you live in San Francisco or Baltimore.

So, if your team isn't projected to be all that good, what can you do?

My suggestion: read the 1987 Sports Illustrated baseball preview issue which famously touted the Indians as the best team in the American League.

I vividly recall receiving that issue in the mail as a thirteen year-old. I didn't know shit from shinola about baseball analysis in those days, but even back then I raised an eyebrow, thinking to myself that the only way the Indians could win the AL was if the airplanes carrying the Blue Jays, Tigers, Red Sox, and Yankees simultaneously crashed, and if every member of the Brewers came down with dengue fever.

How could Sports Illustrated -- THE sports authority of the time -- get it so wrong? Since we have nothing to do until Sunday night's Braves-Nats game, let's take a closer look at Ron Fimrite's infamous feature story and see what happened.

After a very entertaining paragraph at just how bad Indians' baseball had been for the previous thirty years, Fimrite says:
True enough, but last season the Indians won more games (84) than they had in any year since 1968, and they passed 1985's attendance in their 38th home date. The fans are excited. It's like 1948 all over again. There's a feeling that this is the year. People, baseball people, are starting to talk.

All of that may have been true, but a look at that 1986 Indians' team (with two decades of hindsight-aiding statistical analysis under our belts) reveals that things weren't as encouraging as they may have appeared to be. For one thing, the 1986 Indians were outscored 841-831 by their opponents, outperforming their Pythagorean record by four wins. For another thing, that record was padded somewhat in relatively meaningless games, as the Indians were eliminated on September 19th, after which they went 10-5 to close out the season against the expanded rosters of other also-rans. Above all else, the AL East was loaded in the mid 80s, so even if the Tribe was on the rise, Fimrite would have done well to tell us why, exactly, the Blue Jays, Tigers, Red Sox, and Yankees were going to just go away, which of course they didn't.
The Indians have quality players at every position, so many good ones, in fact, that first baseman Pat Tabler, a .326 hitter in 130 games last season, will not start against righthanded pitching; and leftfielder Mel Hall, a .296 hitter in 140 games, will not play against lefties.
The Indians actually did have a number of quality players, but in 1987 they either (a) weren't optimally utilized; (b) suffered off years; or (c) both. For example, while Fimrite was correct that Tabler would split time at first base, manager Pat Corralles stuck him at DH on those putative off days, giving him 618 plate appearances that year, a full 431 of which were against the righthandeders he wasn't supposed to be able to hit. Well, he didn't hit them. He pulled off a .281/.350/.383 line against righties which, while not that bad in the on-base department, didn't represent the sort of power you want from a 1B/DH. Against lefties? .366/.412/.564. Shoulda stuck with the platoon, Pat.

Corralles did stick with the plan to platoon Mel Hall. That backfired too, as Hall went .274/.301/.434 in 472 plate appearances against those righties he was supposed to handle. His .364/.417/.515 against lefties in limited plate appearances suggests that maybe he should have played more against them instead.

The regular infield averages 27 years of age and 87 RBIs. It's a team that is just approaching its peak.
Believing that the infield would drive this team was actually a pretty reasonable assumption. Fimrite imagined a Tabler/Joe Carter platoon at first which may have actually helped the team if (a) Tabler didn't didn't play so damn much; and (b) Carter hit .300 like he did the year before. As it turned out, Carter's average -- which constituted almost all of his on-base ability -- fell 40 points, resulting in a bat which was barely above league average and far below league average for a first baseman.

Second base was a bigger nightmare. Far from "approaching his peak," Tony Bernazard would record only 12 more Major League at bats after 1987, and all of those came after a three year exile from the bigs. Not that anyone had a reason to expect such a thing. Coming off a fabulous 1986, Bernazard would crater in '87, posting a .239/.300/.399 which got him sent to Oakland that July for two fellas -- Brian Dorsett and Darrel Akerfelds -- who would fail to aid in any Indian uprisings. One shudders to think how bad things would have gotten if Julio Franco (.319/.389/.428) and Brook Jacoby (.300/.387/.541) weren't manning the left side of the infield. Well, how bad offensively anyway, because those guys accounted for 39 errors between them.

But the real beauty of the 1987 Indians was their pitching staff, because that's where this team really earned its 101 losses. Let's see how Fimrite saw things in April:
Yeah, but how about pitching? Understand they've got some 48-year-old geezer starting for them. Not just any 48-year-old. He's Phil Niekro. Knucksie. And they have some young guys, including a phenom, Greg Swindell, who throws hard. They also picked up Rick Dempsey, a smart catcher. He'll be a big help.

I can imagine some SI editor seeing this copy in 1987 and wondering if that's all Fimrite had to say about the staff. I can also imagine some conversation between the two of them in which Fimrite convinces the editor that no more detail is needed because he envisioned the Indians as a "Niekro and Swindell and pray like hell" kind of thing. In short, I can see Fimrite getting the benefit of the doubt.

So what happened?

Niekro started 22 games for the Tribe, putting up a 5.89 ERA. He was traded to Toronto on August 9th for a minor leaguer and a player to be named later. The Jays gave Knucksie three starts in which he put up an ERA of 8.25. Toronto lost all three games. The player who was named the day after the trade was a slightly above average (for that season anyway) reliever named Don Gordon. On the day of the trade the Jays were a half game ahead of the Tigers. They finished the season with a seven game skid, losing the division to Detroit in a final, suspense-filled weekend series.

Query: you think the Jays had wished they hadn't given Niekro those three starts? You think they wouldn't have minded having an extra useful reliever like Gordon around during that train wreck that ended the season? Me too. Back to the Indians:

The less said about the rest of the staff the better. In 1987 Greg Swindell began his decade-long campaign of proving that not every big hoss of a pitcher from the University of Texas was as good as Roger Clemens, even if he did pull off a pretty mean Tony Fossas impression late in his career. Unfortunately, Swindell's midseason elbow injury wasn't even the worst thing that happened to the Indians' rotation that year. You may recall that Steve Carlton's rotting corpose made 14 starts for the Tribe that summer (ERA: 5.37). The rest -- among them Ken Schrom (6.50 in 29 starts) and the aforementioned Ackerfelds (6.75 in 13 starts) -- were simply ghastly. Their two best starters ended up being Tom Candiotti (4.78) and Scott Bailes (4.64). Not surprisingly, the 1987 Indians gave up a baseball-high 957 runs -- 77 more than the next worst staff. Not even Rick Dempsey (.177/.295/.270) could help these guys.

The remainder of the preview was dedicated to coverboys Joe Carter and Cory Snyder and Fimrite's musings on a future for those two in Cleveland that seemed brighter than the burning Cuyahoga. Fimrite, quoting Carter:
"I think we've got the kind of ball club anyone would want to play for," he says. "We're all in our prime. This is not just a one-year thing. We've got nothing to look forward to but the future. They say everything that goes around comes around. Well, I think it's finally come around to us. I think our time has come."

It's every bit as easy as it is unfair to check this prediction, but check it we must. Carter, as most of you know, never did put up a season as good as his 1986 again, and after three more good but by-no-means great years he was traded to the Padres for players -- Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Carlos Baerga -- who actually would help bring a winner to Cleveland. Snyder delivered even less on his promise, recording a single decent year -- and three dreadful ones -- in Cleveland after Fimrite's article went to press.

But you knew all that already. So why did I bother with this exercise? Certainly not to simply rehash the unspeakable fate of the 1987 Indians (the less said about them the better). And certainly not to simply pick on Ron Fimrite who, as even this unfortunate article shows, could turn a pretty decent phrase. Rather, I bring all of this up to remind you of just how easy it is to get carried away this time of year.

As we sit here, a little over 48 hours before the first pitch in Washington on Sunday night, most people are convinced that Johan Santana will win the Cy Young Award and lead the Mets to glory. Most people are convinced that Soto, Fukudome, and Pie are going to hit the ground running on the north side, allowing the Cubs to outlast the Brewers. Most people are convinced that Pettite, Mussina, Hughes, and Kennedy will all be productive and healthy enough to keep the AL East a two-team race. If I had bothered to write season previews I probably would have come down that way as well.

But for the past twenty-one years, I have read every preview I could get my eyes on. I have kept the memory of that SI cover in the back of my head, remembering as I read each one that nothing that we wiseacres say about the season matters after the pitcher's toe hits the rubber and the rubber hits the road. Could it happen the way the experts say it will? Maybe. But maybe not, and that's why they play the games.

Now. Let's play ball.

REVIEW: Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends

Rob Neyer has been a good friend to ShysterBall. Most of you never would have found this site if it weren't for his frequent links back this way, and Lord knows I've made my admiration of his work abundantly clear. In light of all of that, there's really no way I'm going to convince every single last one of you that I'm on the up-and-up when I say that his new book -- Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends -- is wonderful. But it is wonderful. In fact, I believe it's the best book he's written to date, and you're just going to have to take my word for it.*

Not that you'd necessarily know that from the first few pages. In the Foreword Bill James -- Neyer's own mentor, champion, and occasional co-author -- openly questions the wisdom of Rob's mission which, as I mentioned the other day, is to check the accuracy of those old yarns which sound too good to be true, probably because they usually are.

Specifically, James notes just how much detailed, organized knowledge about baseball's past is available now, and how easy the old stories are to check. You might be surprised to learn, however, that he is quite ambivalent about this fact:
This explosion of knowledge about the past, roaring up from behind us, exposes every exaggeration, every fictionalization, every enhancement, every substitution. It's a little sad. Paper-thin lies, once protected by layers of darkness, are now transparent in the glare. We know now that it wasn't Mickey Mantle in the batter's box, it was Roger Repoz, and it wasn't the ninth inning, it was the fourth, and the bases weren't loaded, and the score wasn't tied, and the frog did not become a prince.

Accuracy is a prickly concept for the modern quasi-journalist. Everybody is certain that that he is more accurate than the other guy is. God forbid that anyone should think that I am speaking against accuracy in journalism, but something is happening here that borders on being unnatural. Journalists a hundred years ago . . . and did the concept of "journalist" even exist then? . . . journalists put things in the newspaper that were never quite meant to be taken as entirely true. Everybody understood that this was just supposed to be a good story . . . Accuracy is a nasty concept, a bristle-wire toothbrush that strips off the plaque and the enamel and cuts right into the tooth.
James concludes his opening remarks about journalism's sad but understandable push for essence-killing accuracy by quoting a line from the movie Shattered Glass in which the main character admits that his story, while not true, "was accurate." After all of that I found myself wondering if Neyer -- upon reading his mentor's seeming disapproval of the very undertaking upon which he had spent a couple of years of his life -- had any misgivings about the book. Neyer immediately puts that notion to rest, however, when he notes that his research reveals that James was wrong: the movie he was quoting was actually Absence of Malice.

If Rob is OK with calling out Bill James' hooey, I think he's just fine with debunking sacred history.

But you know what? "Debunking" is probably the wrong word. "Debunking" implies a sort of impatient and disdainful exposure of frauds or perfidies, and that's certainly not what Neyer is up to here. To the contrary, he is very respectful of the scores of old baseball legends he relates, telling each of them with care while adding the sort of context, detail, and flavor about which even their original relators likely had no idea. The result are stories, erroneous or otherwise, made all the richer by virtue of their retelling.

For example, there's a funny old tale about how, in 1971, an aging Willie Mays took himself out of a game against the Astros in order to avoid the embarrassment of a fourth strikeout at the hands of a young and supremely intimidating J.R. Richard. But guess what? Neyer checked it out, and it turns out it never happened (get used to that, by the way; while Neyer confirms a handful of legends, most are shown to more truthy than actually true).

Are we worse off for learning that an archetypal passing-of-the-torch story like the Mays-Richard tale didn't really happen the way we heard it the first time? Of course not, because rather than simply checking Retrosheet and reporting the falsity of the story with a wagging finger, Neyer takes the opportunity to tell us about the times the Say Hey Kid actually did get turned around four times in a game and, while he's at it, explains why it was possible that Ray Chapman actually did once give up and walk back to the dugout before allowing Walter Johnson to ring him up with an inevitable strike three. As Neyer puts it in his introduction, we're all the better off for learning about that stuff:
Whether or not the story is completely true -- and I'll let you find out in due course -- is, if not beside the point of this book, certainly just one point. The stories tell us something about their subjects and they tell us something about those who tell the stories.
And that's the case with Willie Mays and J.R. Richard and Bill Mazeroski and Zach Wheat and Whitey Herzog and Bobo Newsome and Honus Wagner and Fred Haney and Tommy Lasorda and each and every one of the hundreds and hundreds of ballplayers, writers, managers, owners, umpires, heroes, goats, villains, rakes, rogues, saints, knuckleheads and oddballs that populate this book. Indeed, few or none of the tellers or subjects of the baseball legends with which Neyer grapples come off diminished as a result of the grappling. That's because while Neyer is provocative, he's never disrespectful. While he's skeptical, he's never dismissive. Above all else, Neyer has not committed an act of heresy, even in the story in which God plays a major role (you'll have to buy the book to find out about that one).

That last point may seem a bit defensive, but given the environment in which writers like Neyer find themselves these days, it is inevitable that someone sitting in a press box or newsroom somewhere will accuse him of disrespect, nitpicking, joy-killing, or worse. Let us kill that notion before it takes root. Checking these stories the way Neyer has is not disrespectful nor heretical. In fact, a healthy portion of these stories -- maybe even a majority of them -- are ones most readers have never even heard before. Ask yourself: are we better off letting these stories die with the after-dinner speakers who tell them or vanish into history as the old tomes in which they appear go out of print, or are we better off with Neyer giving them new life here, even if some of them are cut down to size a bit in the process? Seems an easy question to answer.

Ultimately, however, any such debate that springs up surrounding this book is a phony one. That's because Baseball Legends represents that rare ground upon which the old school and the sabermetricians can meet and find some semblance of a consensus, with the former enjoying the colorful tales and personalities which populate them while the latter can find satisfaction in the analytical, Retrosheet-fueled certainty of each story's denouement.

Ideally, of course, each of these self-defined camps will enjoy both aspects of Neyer's work, but I'm not much of an idealist and therefore take comfort in knowing that there's a little bit here for everyone, all of it good.

I recommend Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends without reservation.


*For those of you who get prickly about this stuff, allow me to offer a bit more on my objectivity: While we link each other's work and exchange the occasional email, I've never met Rob in person, don't get any money from this blog he so generously promotes from time to time, and don't stand to gain one iota based on the success or failure of his book. Beyond all of that, I hope you've realized by now that I am a soulless and heartless lawyer who would sooner cut someone to the quick than blow sunshine up their nether-regions. If the book sucked I would say so. Actually, on some perverted level I may have even preferred it, because it's way more fun (and much easier) to slam something than it is to praise it.

If, after all of this you think I'm completely out to lunch on this review, I'll make the following offer: buy the book, read it, and if you hate it, tell me why. Assuming it's a reasoned criticism possessed of decent grammar and a couple of cogent points, I'll post it here and we can play book club.


HEY Y'ALL! MORE SHYSTERBALL!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I have a little trouble flying on airplanes. I’m afraid the thing will plummet from the sky and we'll all die screaming."

-- Josh Wilker

Just "a little" trouble is all.

Joe Torre on Managerial Decision-making

Joe Torre talks about the difference between managing in the AL vs. the NL:
How many games can a manager win by his decision-making in a 162-game season?

I think there’s more of opportunity to win games in the National League than the American League because there are more decisions to make. A lot of times the managing decisions that you make are based on what you know about your player at a particular time of year. I think that’s a talent that a manager has to have, a feel he has to have.

Given that Joe Torre's record managing in the NL is 894-1003, it would seems there's a pretty big opportunity to lose games based on those decisions too. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but if Joe is unwilling to say that talent distribution has way, way, way more to do with winning than managerial decisions, he's walking right into such a criticism.

Stadium Financing

Pete Toms' first column -- a detailed look at stadium financing -- is up at The Biz of Baseball.

Art of the Diamond

I love stuff like this:
For decades photographer George Brace documented the Chicago Cubs in pictures and earned visiting players' trust, capturing images of baseball greats huddling with young fans and hanging out with teammates.

Brace's collection is still under his family's ownership, but several black-and-white prints from the original negatives are now the property of Appleton Art Center in downtown Appleton. They'll be on display when the center's new exhibit, "Art of the Diamond: Baseball," opens April 3 as a visual timeline of baseball in the United States from the late 19th century through the present day. . .

. . . Brace captured rare on-the-field yet off-the-field moments, those in-between-play pockets of time when players could relax and let their personalities shine through. Visitors to the exhibit will see New York Yankees player Babe Ruth with his arm around the shoulder of a Chicago Cubs batboy. They'll also find a shot of New York Yankees players at the 1938 World Series in a lineup, posing with their baseball bats as though they held rifles.

This is the sort of thing I'd go see if I were able to write for a living. I love road trips, even when they seem at first glance to be putatively boring drives. Appleton is like 550 miles from me. I'd take one day to meander up to Appleton and blog from the hotel room that night. The next day I'd go see the exhibit and wander around Appleton just to say I've been there (putatively boring cities are often the most fun to explore), and blog some more that evening. Next day I'd drive back a different route. On day four I'd write about 4300 words about the trip and the exhibit. In other words, it would be fabulous.

Sure, after three or four of these kinds of jaunts my wife would file for divorce, but every artist suffers for his work, right?

The First of Many Low Points

The Giants lose to their AAA team:

The Giants' visit to their Triple-A affiliate really was a big deal. Chukchansi Park was sold out long ago, local hero Mark Gardner tossed the ceremonial first pitch and the teams lined up along the base lines for introductions as if this were Game 1 of the World Series.

One of the squads appeared set for Opening Day, and it wasn't the Giants, who lost to Fresno 4-3.

In his final appearance before he starts the opener against the Dodgers, Barry Zito allowed four runs (three earned) over 62/3 innings against a Grizzlies lineup in which Nate Schierholtz was the Big Man On Campus, with 112 big-league at-bats. For the spring, Zito gave up 24 earned runs in 25 innings.

And you thought the horror wouldn't begin until Monday.

The Look of a Champion

Everyone continues to anoint the Mets as the favorites in the NL East. This despite the fact they are doing things like giving their left field job to a guy who has had one full and effective season in Major League Baseball, with that season occurring during the Clinton administration:
While his regular position is third base, [Fernando] Tatis was back in left field again Wednesday, and the Mets are making it obvious that they're leaning toward him.

There are a few drawbacks. Tatis, 33, spent all of last year at Triple-A New Orleans, logged a total of 81 games in the majors from 2005-06, and has played only four games in the outfield (three in left) since 1997.

I realize that Johan makes all the clouds go away, but Mets fans do realize that he's only going to play in like 35 games max, right?

Have You Heard About The Possibility of Brian Roberts Being Traded To the Cubs?

From the Sun:
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail acknowledged today that it's unlikely that Roberts will be traded before Monday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards.
Little known fact: talks between the teams began when Larry MacPhail was calling the shots, heated up under Lee, and now that Andy has taken over, they're on a slow simmer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Foreign Baseball

How dare they play the American game in another country?

Click the "View Full Article" option for full effect.

Time's Arrow

It's just a throwaway digression from the body of his post, but Posnanski's digressions are better than the stuff most people write:

And I’ll be 41 this whole season, which you will note is old. This is a depressing year for me. Not only am I older than every single member of the Royals — that almost goes without saying anymore, unless Julio Franco stops by — I’m also one month older than Royals general manager Dayton Moore. Also, it appears I really will have to do that colonoscopy at some point. Isn’t there any way to get back to, say, 35. I was OK with 35.
I turn 35 in July, so I suppose that makes this my age 34 season (yay for the baseball calendar!). Like Posnanski, I've been playing that compare-the-age-to-the-ballplayer game for a long time. I felt good about it until Nomar Garciaparra -- nine days my junior, and the player I've always used as a point of reference for player ages -- started to break down a few years ago. Then I started to look around at players my age, and noticed that their examples provide a nice little microcosm of where I am these days, both for the good and the bad:

My future held so much promise back in 1997-98, but after moving around a lot, I realized that, despite flashes of brilliance, I was merely competent (albeit underrated) at my job, never destined to be a superstar like some of my contemporaries.

There are times lately when I feel like the only reason I'm sticking around is because my production, while not fabulous for my position, isn't as easily replaceable as you'd think. Indeed, there are some days when I feel like I'm merely hanging on to this job by a thread and watching my waistline expand. Still, I've been far more fortunate in my career than I've had any right to expect, and there are many days when I feel like a champion, even if I spend a lot of time seeming somewhat dazed and distracted, wondering what might have been. These are the sorts of thoughts that can bedevil a man's soul.

So, here I am, my long tenure making me feeling older than I really am. Realizing that, like many, I haven't felt all that young since I took that victory lap back in 2003. I wonder sometimes: can I still be productive? Useful? Desirable to the opposite sex?

Hard to say. All we can know for certain is that, in the future, there will be some aches and pains along the way, and that some day I'm going to have to take medication just to get by.

Yes, the future is uncertain. Thankfully, obsessively updating a website has kept me sane, and hopefully, will keep me from disappearing into the ether.

Standing Room Maybe

From the "game information box" in ESPN.com's recap of today's A's-Sox affair:
Game Information

Stadium: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Attendance: 44,735 (131.3% full)
Game Time: 2:51
Weather: indoors
Umpires: Home Plate - Hunter Wendelstedt, First Base - Tim Timmons, Second Base - Paul Nauert, Third Base - Rick Reed


No word on whether the A's and Red Sox gave 110%.

201 Feet to Left, 440 Feet to Right

The NYT's Alan Schwarz takes a look at baseball in the L.A. Coliseum:
The Dodgers are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their move to Los Angeles by crashing for a night at the Ping-Pong parlor that put them up for their first four seasons. Some 92,000 fans will fill the gargantuan seating bowl; another 20,000 or more will pay simply to stand and mill and gawk. The players will enter majestically in uniform through the fabled stone arches beyond right-center field, see the Little League left-field line and be overcome with ... um, emotion? . . .

. . . “They’re going to walk in and be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Juan Pierre thought someone was. Pierre, the Dodgers’ probable left fielder (rather, deep shortstop), said he did not believe the dimensions when he was told of them a few weeks ago. He gradually feared for his safety. “I’ll be like 180 feet from the hitters, and those Boston guys hit the ball pretty hard,” Pierre said. “I might have to wear a cup.”


I'll give Juan Pierre the benefit of the doubt on fear of getting racked up as "being overcome with emotion."

(link via ShysterBall reader Dre)

Petroskey Backfill

As we await the juicy details regarding the sacking of Dale Petroskey, let us take a walk down memory lane with Eric Enders' excellent exposé of Petroskey's politicization of the Hall of Fame from the summer of 2003. Lots of interesting stuff in there, including this bit that probably only the most ardent Hall of Fame geeks ever knew:
As foolish as Petroskey's actions were, he is in little danger of losing his job because he answers only to one person: Jane Forbes Clark, the heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune who runs the Hall of Fame—and the rest of the village of Cooperstown—with an iron fist. (Both Petroskey and Clark declined to be interviewed for this article.) Technically the Hall is a nonprofit educational institution run by a board of directors, but Clark, as chairperson of the board and also the Hall's main financial benefactor, controls the whole show. Her board of directors—a collection of famous baseball names that includes Bud Selig, Tom Seaver, and Brooks Robinson—generally stays out of the way and lets Clark do as she wishes.


There's much much more, so by all means, check it out.

(link via BTF poster SoSHially Unacceptable)

Gibson's Opponents

I'm inspired this morning. You see, I had the privilege of snagging an advance copy of Neyer's new book, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else, and I finished it just last night. I'll have a full writeup in the next day or two, but in the meantime, know that aside from entertainment and edification, the purpose of the book is to check the accuracy of "tracers."

What's a tracer? A tracer is the term Bill James and Neyer use for those old, often repeated anecdotes of ballplayers, writers, and the like usually delivered on the after-dinner circuit years after the fact, all of which beg to be debunked. In the book, Rob takes something like a hundred of them -- some of which even the most hard boiled of us have accepted as gospel for a long time -- relates them with care and added context -- and then proceeds to either debunk or verify them with the aid of Retrosheet, news accounts, game logs, or whatever. That description doesn't necessarily do the book justice -- like I said, full writeup coming soon -- but that's generally what he's doing.

After I began reading the book, I found myself seeing tracers everywhere and wondering whether things really happened the way the fella doing the telling says it did. Example: this morning's story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Bob Gibson's stellar 1968 season:

"You knew you weren't going to get a lot of runs," Gibson said. "Shoot, every time I pitched it was against Ferguson Jenkins or Juan Marichal ... every one of my starts was just about against one of those guys. What were the chances of us scoring a lot of runs? It just didn't exist. You had to keep other teams down, or you'd lose."

I'll grant that the question presented -- just how many times did Gibson face Jenkins and Marichal in 1968? -- is a bit of a petty one. Hey, I'm not writing a book, so I can afford to be more petty than Rob. But it's one that, after reading Baseball Legends, you're going to find yourself asking every time you read a quote from a reminiscing ballplayer.

So how bad was the onslaught from Jenkins and Marichal in 1968? Looking at Gibson's game logs on Baseball-Reference.com tells us the answer rather quickly: out of 34 starts, three came against Fergie Jenkins (April 20th; June 20th, and August 4th); and one against Juan Marichal (July 6th). Those three against Jenkins were the most starts Gibson had against any single pitcher in the NL that season. He got off easier on Marichal -- only one game -- but he did have multiple starts against guys who actually put up better years than the Dominican Dandy did that year. Guys like Gary Nolan (132 ERA+) and Bob Veale (141 ERA+); not to mention matchups against guys named Seaver, Perry, Niekro, Drysdale, and Sutton, all of whom were half-decent hurlers. It was rough out there in 1968.

But Gibson was right: his team didn't score a lot of runs against Marichal and Jenkins. In those starts, the Cardinals scored one run, one run, five runs, and three runs, respectively. 1968 was a historically-bad run scoring year, but the Cardinals did average 3.5 runs that season, so with the exception of that relative shelling of Jenkins on August 4th, runs were harder than usual to come by for Hoot in those games.

Not that support was always Gibson's biggest problem against those guys. Gibson was shellacked (relatively speaking) in two of the three games against Jenkins' Cubs, losing 5-1 in the April start and 6-5 in August (he did manage to shut them out 1-0 in June). Only one opponent, the Pirates, scored more runs against the Cardinals in a single Gibson start that year, with six on August 24th (blasting Gibson's ERA from 1.00 to 1.07). Marichal didn't fare as well, with his Giants getting shutout 3-0 in July. Of course, given that Gibson spun 13 shutouts that year, he had company.

Is debunking (or in this case sorta kinda not really debunking) these kinds of stories worth it? You may be surprised to hear that Bill James, in the foreword to Rob's book, openly questions the wisdom of the endeavor as somehow robbing the past of its comforting charms (he ultimately comes down with his trademark ambivalence). But I tend to think that it is.

For one thing, going back over these stories with a fine toothed comb provides a wonderful opportunity to simply hear them again, and that's always worth it no matter how full of beans the storytellers were. What's more, you find yourself discovering little nuggests you never knew before, like the fact that Bob Veale had a hell of a season in 1968 despite going 13-14.

More importantly, though, it serves as a handy reminder of why most of us got into baseball analysis in the first place. To separate the wheat form the chaff and the fact from the hoodoo. Some have and always will hate that kind of approach. I, for one, credit it for rekindling my love of the game as an adult, and am happy to engage in it whenever possible.

What say you?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Petroskey Is Out

You may remember that back in 2003, Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey cancelled a commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham because, in his Bush-worshipping mind, he believed that Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were undermining the safety of U.S. troops by exercising their First Amendment rights.

If that bugged you a bit, you may be happy to know that just in time for the 20th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham, Petrosky has been forced to resign his post for being a miserable failure of a President:


Dale Petroskey resigned Tuesday as president of the baseball Hall of Fame after its board's executive committee found he "failed to exercise proper fiduciary responsibility." The Hall's executive committee said it found there were "other business judgments that were not in the best interest of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum."

Long live democracy, free speech and the '91 Braves - all improbable, glorious miracles that I have always believed in.

That Wicked Retahded DirectTV Outage

DirectTV explains itself:

"We experienced some temporary technical difficulties early this morning that resulted in some channels not being available to customers. The majority of our channels were not affected and we have since corrected the problem. In the case of the Red Sox season opener, we were able to bring the NESN channel back up at the top of the seventh inning. ESPN2 came back on later, after the game was over. (Customers who have NESN or ESPN2 inHD were able to see the entire game.) We deeply apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our customers - and particularly Red Sox Fans. ESPN2 is planning to carry a repeat of the game at 2 p.m."
Of course 95% of that is information -- hey, your channels were out! -- A's and Red Sox fans already knew. Then again, what else are they going to say? Nothing short of an alien spacecraft blasting the DirectTV satellite out of the sky with plasma rays would assuage the outrage of Red Sox Nation.

Even then they'd probably blame the alien attack as part of a vast New York conspiracy.

Bill James on Freakonomics

Bill James will be taking questions from Freakonomics readers in a couple of days. Give him a second chance to pass on Jeff Bagwell by posting your questions in their comments section.

Uniwatch Season Preview

Paul Lukas -- uniform expert without peer -- has posted his annual preview of the season's new sartorial stylings. The highlights:
  • Appropriate criticism of the Royals for bungling the reintroduction of powder blues. Someone should start a "free the blue pants" campaign in Kansas City;

  • The Phillies and Indians have new, sweet-looking alternates. I'm particularly fond of Cleveland's look (right) -- especially the cap -- and hope they consider adopting it on a permanent basis. It's a Wahoo arm patch away from perfection; and

  • Something you never knew about road grays.

As a closet uniform geek, I can't get enough of Lukas. If you're the same way, check out his non-ESPN blog as well.

Neyer's Top 50 for Five Years

ESPN runs some rare, non-Insider Neyer. It's like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free:


This winter, I made lists of the top players at each position over the next five seasons (2008 to 2012). Mistakes were made, readers were horrified and corrections were issued. With that experience to guide me, I've now combined all those lists for one uberlist: the top 50 major leaguers for the next five
years.


Drink up while it's cold, ladies.

An Experiment in Information Overload

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post subjects himself to 24 uninterrupted hours of newsaper, television, and Internet punditry and decries the drinking-from-a-firehose nature of the Information Age:

There are too many voices, competing too hard, fighting for attention, ranting, redundant, random. The dissemination of fact and opinion is no longer the sole province of people and institutions with the money to buy network monopolies or ink by the ton, as it was a half-century ago when information was delivered to us, for better or worse, like the latest 1950s-era cigarette: filtered, for an illusion of safety. Now, all is out of control. Everyone with a computer is a potential pundit; anyone with a video camera can be on a screen.


Pfft. Call me when he tries to do it while balancing a job in a big law firm and raising pre-schoolers.

(link and like-minded dismissive shrug via Sullivan)

Canseco Reportedly Unloads on A-Rod in New Book

A fellow by the name of Joe Lavin claims to have snagged an early copy of Jose Canseco's new book, and based on his review, it's gonna be pretty ugly:

As for Alex Rodriguez, Canseco says he didn't inject Rodriguez, but that he introduced Alex to a known supplier of steroids." Canseco didn't mention Rodriguez in the first book because he "hated the bastard." He was worried that people would have "questioned [his] motives" had he included Rodriguez.

Why all the hatred, you ask. Well, Canseco claims that A-Rod was trying to sleep with Canseco's wife. Apparently, even after Canseco had been nice enough to help A-Rod find a friendly steroids supplier, A-Rod kept calling Canseco's wife.

And, in case there's any further confusion about Canseco's true feelings, he ends the chapter by saying:

So A-Rod, if you're reading this book, and if I'm not getting through to
you, let's get clear on one thing: I hate your f***ing guts.
We'll have to wait a week or two to see if this is true, but Lavin appears to be a journalist of some type, so if he's making up the content of the book he has just committed career suicide. As for Canseco's allegations? He has a history of being right about the big things while being wrong about the little things, so who's to say how this all cuts?

The only thing we know for sure is that the New York Post is going to have a blast coming up with headlines.

(Link via Deadspin)

A Word On Opening Day

This morning I said something about how I'm having trouble embracing today's game in Tokyo. Just to be clear, that trouble has little to do with the fact that it's taking place in Japan. This article and all of its thinly veiled xenophobia, for example, is just dumb.

No, setting isn't my problem. My problem is that despite this official opening of the regular season, there are still spring training games going on, and this has thrown off my equilibrium.

I watched a little bit of the A's-Red Sox game before work, and my mind said "Yay! The regular season has started!" Then I sat at my computer and scanned this morning's headlines and I was momentarily discombobulated, thinking that the news about, say, the Yankees renaming their field, or performances in yesterday's games were regular season stories. It only lasted a millisecond, but it was disorienting all the same. It will probably continue until Sunday night.

To me, the beauty of opening day has little to do with freshly cut grass, azure skies, and red, white, and blue bunting. Really, I don't care if the regular season starts in Tokyo, Singapore, Lisbon, or Lahore. Opening day does, however, have everything to do with new beginnings, and when you still have the final returns of the exhibition season trickling in, the fresh start that is the promise of opening day is diminished.

So in the future, start the season wherever you'd like. Just make sure that when it starts it really starts.

Je suis mon chapeau

The people at New Era saw you at the paddock before the second race. They saw you before you woke up this morning:

According to Gina Goss, New Era's women's product development manager, your choice in cap is a dead giveaway for the rest of your wardrobe. "You can tell where they shop, what kind of car they drive, what kind of sneakers they wear,"she said.

Try this: If you're wearing the 59Fifty, visor flat but backward, you may be an aspiring or pro skateboarder. Hot pink and glittery? You're probably a Texas girl.

If your cap is made from what looks like a comfy grey T-shirt, you're probably home in the Northeast. Does the pattern play to your Gucci handbag or Pucci scarf? You're probably a New York City or Toronto trendsetter who will be looking for something simpler next season. Prefer bright colours, maybe floral or Hawaiian-style, or crisp white? You're in Florida. If it's a plaid "trucker" you don, where the back half of the crown is mesh, or a super distressed cap, you're probably in California, maybe just in
from surfing.
Um, OK. For something a little more useful about New Era hats, check this out.

Flicks

There are three new DVD editions of movies you have probably seen 20 times already: Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, and Pride of the Yankees.

The first two bear repeated viewings, so I can see picking them up. Pride of the Yankees is more of a "sit and watch the rest of it if you flip to it on AMC" kind of thing.

Butts In The Seats

Unless you count this morning's game (which, like many, I'm having a hard time embracing), opening day is still almost a week away, yet the Yankees have already sold a staggering number of tickets:
The Yankees announced today they have exceeded 3.8 million tickets sold for the 2008 season, marking the earliest the club has ever reached that level. With one week until Opening Day, the current tally is 400,000 tickets ahead of the Yankees' total on the same date last year.
For some perspective here are the Yankees' attendance numbers for their last ten championship seasons:

2000: 3,055,435
1999: 3,292,736
1998: 2,955,193
1996: 2,250,877
1978: 2,335,871
1977: 2,103,092
1962: 1,493,574
1961: 1,747,725
1958: 1,428,438
1956: 1,491,784

It should also be noted that in most of those seasons, the Yankees led the league in gate as well.

A-Rod: Unguarded

Alex Rodriguez speaks freely about Boras and career choices with John Harper of the Daily News:
The three-time MVP says that at some point after his opt-out decision in October, he realized he could be headed for a similar scenario, with Boras dictating his next destination.

"So to make the right decision just feels really good," Rodriguez said, "versus being taken down a road where I'm like, 'Oh, my God, where am I? Oh, $400 million to play in some place I hate? Great, I'll blow my --- head off.'

Pretty interesting interview from a subject who normally goes out of his way not to say anything interesting.

Lo Duca's Pool

Paul Lo Duca runs the Nats' NCAA pool:
Paul Lo Duca spent a good chunk of his Monday meticulously updating the NCAA tournament pool charts hanging in the home clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium.

There he was in the morning, down on the floor, using a metal rod to help make sure the lines he drew were straight. And there he was in the afternoon, up on a stool, filling in the points accrued by teammates with their picks.

I run the basketball pool for my firm so, along with my utter inability to contribute anything positive to a major league team, that makes two things Lo Duca and I have in common. I sort of enjoy being like Lo Duca. Maybe I should start paying my drug dealer with checks too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pete Toms to Business of Sports Network

Starting soon, ShysterBall reader emeritus and all around nice guy Pete Toms will be contributing to Maury Brown's Business of Sports Network, most likely on the Biz of Baseball site.

It's a good match, as those two guys have more sports business knowledge in their little fingers than any of the rest of us have in our whole body. Another fun thing about Pete: he's about the only Internet writer I've heard of who actually writes from his basement. Still, he openly disdains the concept of blogging:


I'm soon to be posting stuff @ Maury Brown's Business of Sports Network. Probably most of my blogging ( this insert hyperlink, block quote, comment & repeat hack shit ain't writin') will be found on Maury's The Biz of Baseball platform.



Ain't no loathin' like self-loathin', Pete! You'll come around eventually. Gooble gobble . . . one of us . . .one of us . . .

Smoltz's Shoulder

The Braves fan in me had been toying with the notion that my boys may be friskier than many give them credit for this year. Indeed, I had even constructed a non-emotional argument that they stand a much better chance of winning the East than the Mets or Phillies. It wasn't perfect, but I was liking it more and more as the spring wore on. Then I read that John Smoltz is going on the DL with shoulder stuff, and the dream, such as it was, died.

Sure, the story tries to spin it into a positive: "Hey, now we have a roster spot for Jeff Bennett!" Bobby Cox even goes so far as to say that the timing of this is "perfect."

I love the optimism, but long-time Braves watchers know that, under the Cox regime, injuries to stars have often been described in somewhat Kremlinesque terms. The series of Smoltz setbacks between 1998 and 2000 were often spun this way (hey, check out Smoltzie's new arm slot! Wow! With that knuckleball, no one will ever be able to hit Johnny!" All that changed of course once Tommy John finally came calling.

I'd like to think that this is nothing but a 41 year-old player feeling like a 41 year-old, but we've been through this before, and frankly, I won't believe that he's OK until I see him pitching in a real game with real, pain-free effectiveness.

In the meantime, forgive me if I fail to get excited over the Braves' newly found roster flexibility.

Answer: All of the Above

If you're Jim Leyland, you play Brandon Inge at shortstop in a spring training game because:

a) You want to have a little fun before breaking camp;
b) You want to showcase a disgruntled player's versatility in order to increase his trade value; or
c) You just realized that your starting shortstop missed 37 games last year and ain't getting any younger.

I hope this isn't a one-time thing and that Inge can actually handle the position, because I can't think of anyone other than one-game gimmicks like Jose Oquendo who actually played catcher and shortstop.

Inge did play an awesome third base last season, so here's hopin' . . .

Update: ShysterBall readers, as always, come through. Check the comments for the full discussion, but for a glimpse into how rare the air Inge could be breathing really is, I turn things over to Roger Moore in comment 10 below:

Poking around with the Lahman database, it looks as though there have indeed been very few players to put in significant time at both catcher and short. There are only two players who put together as many as 100 games at each position: Jack Rowe and Bobby Bragan. Fewer than a dozen had as many as 50 games at each position, and most of those were 19th Century guys. Bragan and Mo Berg are the only players who debuted after 1900 to get even 50 games at both positions.

Even if you relax the standard to 10 games at each position, you can only extend the list to 12 post-1900 players. Noteworthy names in addition to Bragan and Berg are Don Zimmer (mentioned by mr. thursday) and Jamie Quirk. The pre-1900 list is much more distinguished. It includes 4 HOFers: Orator O'Rourke, King Kelly, Ned Williamson, and Buck Ewing. Those 19th Century guys were obviously forced to be more flexible than today's players.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm lucky to have the bestest readers on the Interwebs.

False Sub-Headline Cheap Shot Theatre

"Wells, Nearing 45, is Not Ready to Walk Away"

Seems there's still some good stuff left on the buffet table.

Numbers

The Yankees', I dunno, first baseman I guess, wants his old number 14 pretty bad:

Morgan Ensberg wants to wear No. 14 with the Yankees so badly that he offered his teammate Wilson Betemit $5,000, but Betemit would not relinquish it. “Tough league,” Ensberg said.

Dude, take it from Jeff Feagles: in-kind contributions are much more effective with this sort of thing:

Plaxico Burress the erstwhile No. 80 in Pittsburgh, is a stylish No. 17 for the Giants . . . But first he had to purchase the number from punter Jeff Feagles. He asked for the cost of an outdoor kitchen in his vacation home in Phoenix, and in a deal brokered by agent Drew Rosenhaus, Burress complied. It was the second windfall for Feagles -- now No. 18. He gave quarterback Eli Manning his No. 10 a year ago in exchange for a family vacation in Florida.

In other news, I'm taking Jeff Feagles with me to my next mediation.

Can We Build It?! Ev-en-tu-ally!

Watch the blimp shots for next Sunday's Braves-Nats game on ESPN:

Nationals Park opens this weekend and appears nearly complete. But it's surrounded for blocks by a construction zone. Fans arriving by Metro will emerge from a station housed in a building that is a still a maze of concrete and steel girders. From there, they will walk an unsightly path along a chain-link fence -- protecting a four-story-deep hole, soon to be a hotel basement -- en route to the glitz and game.

By car, it won't look any better. Motorists must navigate streets bounded by Jersey barriers, then find parking lots set among towering cranes and shells of office buildings and condominium high-rises.

I suppose these things happen. What say you, city fathers? Is everything going to be OK?

Still, as the Verizon Center experience showed, it takes time for shops and restaurants and bars to spring up between office towers and condo buildings. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said it took about eight years for now-bustling Gallery Place to become built up. "You're looking at a decade before you really see the effects of the baseball stadium. But it will happen."
Know what? Something tells me slogans like "you gotta wait 10 years for this to work out" weren't part of Evans' pitch back when he and his colleagues were voting to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from impoverished D.C. residents to wealthy baseball owners.

It's Tough Out There for a Ballpark Organist

First they replace you with taped pop music, and then a goddamn crane falls on your apartment.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cabrera Deal

Miguel es muy rico:
Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers reached a preliminary agreement Saturday on an eight-year, $153.3 million contract extension, a source close to Cabrera told ESPNdeportes.com on condition of anonymity.

The Devil is in the details, but pending those, I'd say this is a wonderful deal for the Tigers. Cabrera is one of the best young hitters to emerge is my lifetime, and anytime you can lock up someone like him for his age 25-32 seasons, you make the deal.

As for Cabrera, there will no doubt be some -- Yankees' fans among them, I'm guessing -- who wonder why he doesn't test the free agent waters first. And they're not necessarily wrong, because I'm guessing he could command more if did so. But for all that gets written about the alleged absurdity of players' salaries, ultimately most of these guys want security, and $150M+ is security. Cabrera -- like all players -- no doubt worries about rotator cuffs, ACLs, and Tony Conigliaroifcation, even if only in the back of their minds.

A bigger question than money might be why he would sign this deal before ever playing an inning in Detroit. A risk, I suppose -- he may hate playing there -- but I'm struggling to think of anyone aside from Juan Gonzales who has ever had issues with Detroit for its own sake. The Tigers are blessed with a good, loyal, and knowledgeable fan base. The Detroit media has never been out to get players. While the city itself is, well, Detroit, players only spend a few hours there before retreating back to Grosse Pointe or wherever. The Pistons and Wings have certainly not had many stars want to leave because of geography.

If I'm Cabrera, the two questions I think about -- which are related -- are (1) how long will this team win?; and (2) who will replace Jim Leyland one day? Unless you're the Yankees or Red Sox, the answer to the first question is always going to be up in the air. The second question is important, but Dombrowski has shown that he knows what he's doing here. Apart from those beasts of the east, I'm having trouble thinking of an organization that has its act together as much as the Tigers do right now.

Other than the hundreds of millions of dollars in this contract, there are no guarantees in life. Given the risks and rewards of the situation, this deal, while a potential steal for the Tigers, looks to be pretty good for Miguel Cabrera too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Keeping Score

Driven by a fascination with how data can be represented visually, a fellow by the name of Alex Reisner has spent a lot of time studying score sheets. He has over a dozen available -- including some originals -- for study, download, and use on his site. I'm not much of a scoring guy -- I tend to concentrate more on beer acquisition, consumption, and processing while at the ballpark -- but I know many of you are. If so, definitely check out Alex's work. He has some neat statistical research tools as well, though I'll admit they're lost on a Luddite like me.

More up my alley are his road trip pages. I'm a road trip freak myself, even if having small children at home has put off my driving pursuits for a few years. When time permits, I find myself obsessively reading other people's online road trip stories. Some are good, some are bad, but almost all are interesting on some level. I found Alex's particularly enjoyable because, unlike so many, he doesn't feel the need to document every single diner, gas station, and rest area on the road, which can quickly becomes tedious. Instead, he focuses on the major themes and emotions which serious road-trippers will easily recognize, and augments them with some excellent photography and even audio.

Go there. Waste some time. You'll enjoy yourself.

Where Did I Put the Guest Towels?

Brett Boone is coming to my town!
The Nationals reassigned second baseman Bret Boone to Minor League camp on Thursday evening, and he will accept the assignment to Triple-A Columbus. . .

. . . "It's not fair to me to have 37 at-bats and judge myself on that," Boone said. "This makes it a lot easier for me, because the guys who [manager Manny Acta] knows for sure are going to play need to get ready for the season. That's important to me. There are so many people right now, and I need to play every day and it makes sense for everybody."

I haven't been this excited to go to Cooper Stadium since Hideki Irabu's last rehab stint back in 1999!

McNamee Throws Himself Under the Bus

I'm struggling to imagine someone having a worse year than Brian McNamee.

How is Sabean Skating?

CBS' Scott Miller takes a look at the post-Bonds Giants and, as so many others have this spring, concludes that things will be bleak by the Bay this season. And he's right, of course.

One thing I'd like to see in these articles, however, is less of a "what will the Giants do without Bonds?" tack and more of a "how in the heck did Brian Sabean allow this team to so thoroughly crater" analysis.

As Miller notes, the Giants lost 41 more games than they won over the past three seasons, all three of which featured a Barry Bonds who, while still quite effective when he played, was clearly in decline and soon to be gone. Sabean should have been preparing for the post-Bonds world years ago, but in no event should he have put this off any later than 2005, when the Giants played the first 142 games without him. Finishing that year with 87 losses, Sabean was offered a clear glimpse of the near future, which should have inspired him to spring into action.

He didn't, however, eschewing any hint of a youth movement and choosing instead to keep or add a cast of relative geriatrics: Reggie Sanders, Marquis Grissom, Michael Tucker, Omar Vizquel, Moises Alou, Mike Matheny, Steve Finley, Randy Winn, J.T. Snow, Matt Morris, Armando Benitez, and Tim Worrell. Guys who were capable of turning in some good seasons and in some cases did, but guys who in no event were going to be part of a future Giants' championship run. As a result of this strategy, the Giants now have the worst offense in baseball, no position players in the pipeline who are worth a tinker's damn, and a comically-old roster which stands to do no damage whatsoever in the foreseeable future.

Nine out of ten stories you read about the Giants as they embark on what stands to be a historically bad season will be pegged to the absence of Barry Bonds. As you read them, however, you should remember that the true architect of this crumbling edifice was Brian Sabean, whose negligence or ineptness -- or both -- are responsible for his team's sorry state.


Update:
the influx of Rob Neyer readers (welcome!) are revealing just how angry Giants fans really are. Within the last 20 minutes, I've received several emails voicing their displeasure with the Sabean regime. One commenter (below) noted that in order for season ticket holders to get All Star Game tickets last year, you had to buy season tickets for 2008 as well. Another contends that, no matter what the official attendance figures say, the butts in the seats are going to tell the real story:
I've had season tickets since Pac Bell opened. 4 of my 5 ticket partners have bailed and I can't even give free games away to entice others to buy. As a CSL holder you're forced to buy or lose your license. Go on craig's list and there's a horde of people trying to sell their Charter Seat Licenses below cost, which for me was $6K for 2 seats. Tickets on top of that are $6500 a season. Magowan and Sabean should be hung for letting this team disintegrate for the sake of 1 player and their bottom line. The place will be empty by July, paid seats or not.
Yeah, there is some displeasure here, and I can't say as I blame them. If you're a Giants fan, and if you're mad, feel free to let me know about it. Even better? Feel free to let the Giants know about it.

HGH Study Redux

Dex at Gaslamp Ball accuses me of offering misleading commentary in connection with this post the other day about that Standford HGH study.

I'll admit that the post would have done much better to have a question mark after "The HGH Myth" in the title, as the study described in the article I linked to does -- as I said in the post -- have a ton of caveats. But to claim, like Gaslamp does, that I have some sort of PED-apologist agenda, or that my post, when linked by someone like THT creates some misleading propaganda campaign is silly.

The three assertions in my post were (1) a study just came out suggesting that the notion that HGH helps athletes may be wrong; (2) of course this is not definitive because there are many, many caveats in the study; and (3) no matter how thin the evidence in this study is, the evidence that so many rely on to brand players as PED users is just as thin if not thinner. I know I'm biased, but I'm having a hard time seeing where any of those three propositions are false.

More to the point, neither Dex (to my knowledge) or myself are scientists, so what either of us say about the study doesn't really amount to a hill of beans (unlike my longer opinion pieces, the point of that post was to simply put the article out there for people to read). I may have been off base in calling the effect of HGH a "myth", but as the critical reader comments after my post indicate, I'm obviously not fooling anyone, mostly because I'm not trying to.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Predictions

I'm not a big fan of preseason previews. There are so many good ones out there already and so many good annuals, that if you've gotten this far in the Spring without knowing what's on tap this season, nothing I can say is going to help you.

But I do like wild-ass guesses about random stuff, and Mac Thomason has a bunch of them over at Braves Journal today:

Carlos Delgado: .210/.299/.340, 84 games;
First manager fired: Ned Yost;
Dusty Baker throws Homer Bailey under the bus: April 17;
Dusty throws Joey Votto under the bus: May 22;
Jay Bruce: June 11;
Number of times media points out that Joe Torre doesn’t know what he’s doing: 0
Feel free to add your random predictions in the comments.

Gotta Love Papelbon

John Papelbon plans on playing a lot of poker during the flight to Tokyo (which is probably in progress as we go to press):

“I’m going to play the whole trip,” closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “My plan is to slow play the (expletive) out of them and take all their money.”
Then he said:

Texas Hold ’Em - and nothing else, said Papelbon - will be played. . . and “for entertainment purposes only.”
Those two statements don't go together. Of course, Papelbon probably doesn't know that he need not worry about appearances given that gambling is perfectly legal in international airspace. Why wouldn't he know that?

“I don’t read books,” he said.

Not that you have to read much when you can throw a 97 m.p.h. fastball with a lot of movement. Or attract arm candy like the young lady to the right.

Window Dressing

The Mitchell-requested and Selig-promised background checks of clubhouse personnel have begun:
Employees subject to the examinations were asked to sign waivers authorizing MLB's new Department of Investigations or an outside contractor to obtain the required information. The screening begins with a consumer background check, meaning financial and criminal histories are being probed. Halem says if any irregularities are found, investigators would expand to a more thorough inquiry in which friends and associates would be interviewed.

This, of course, is all about closing the barn door after the Radomski and McNamee horses escaped. Query: Weren't both of those guys clean as whistles before being hired by teams? Is there any indication that either of them wouldn't have passed the background checks if they had been in place when they were brought on?

Stealing Thunder

Bobby Valentine isn't happy with the timing of the A's and Red Sox' trip to Japan:
"I hope the Red Sox and A's have a great time here and I'm sure everyone will enjoy it but it's ludicrous that our games will be going on at the same time," Valentine said. "The timing is a mistake and I guess that's something that slipped through the cracks when they were planning the schedules."

With all the fanfare surrounding the arrival in Japan of the World Series champions Boston and their Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the opening of Japan's professional baseball season on March 20 seems like an afterthought.

I suppose he has something of a point, but when else could the visit take place? While I suppose there is some fat built in to the schedule, the A's and Red Sox feel they need five days' lead time before the first game that counts next week, and then four more days of fluff (including exhibitions in LA) on the backside. I presume this is to allow everyone to deal with the hoopla and travel. When else, other than at the beginning of the season, could such a trip take place?

That aside, anyone notice that whenever there is a story about the intersection of Japanese and American baseball, the only person quoted is Bobby Valentine? There are two other American managers in Japan and dozens of American players. It strikes me that stories like these would be helped by their opinion. I mean, for all of his virtues, Valentine is a bit of a crackpot, so maybe his opinion on the subject needs to be placed in some perspective.