In 1881 the future National League wanted to upgrade its image and target a more upscale fan base by doubling ticket prices, banning gambling, and outlawing alcohol sales. Several team owners who happened to be brewers refused to accept the new rules and banded together to form what would eventually become the American League. The National League attempted to discredit the new league by dubbing it the Beer and Whiskey League. This, of course only made the new league more popular. Duh!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Opening Day (version 5.0)

Well, not exactly opening day but rather the first full weekend of baseball. And boy does it feel good to be home again, so to speak. To continue briefly on the bashing-the-voices-of-baseball thread that’s been running through here the past few days: I think there should be a rule that you can use the phrase “a catcher’s best friend” once per game. I don’t care how many double plays occur in a single game: you can only say it once! You hear that, Ron Fairly, only once and definitely not twice in the same damn inning.

Anyhoo, so here are some observations from the first full weekend of the baseball season:

* Do you remember that Seinfeld episode when George Costanza decides to completely turn his life around by doing the exact opposite of what his instincts tell him to do? This is the episode in which not only his personal life gets better but his professional life as well: he ends up working for the Yankees. Conversely, Elaine’s life begins to go downhill really fast in every way possible. After seeing George’s sudden success she realizes that she has become the “new” George. Very funny episode. Oh, and by the way, the Mariners are 1-5 and the Tigers are 5-1. Very funny episode, indeed.

* And speaking of the Mariners: when Randy Winn overran the line drive by Eric Chavez on Friday night how many thousands of people in Seattle do you think were crying Mike Cameron’s name into their microbrews and organic lattes? (If you follow the Cameron link, scroll down a bit and you will see a great article about Mike Cameron as the most underrated player in baseball). Defense is probably the most difficult aspect of baseball to gauge in any objective manner. Sure, we can have errors but they really only tell a very small part of the whole story. Having been spoiled the last few years with the amazing defensive play of the Mariners, seeing this year’s Cameronless version feels like watching a AAA team. Even those plays that are not counted as errors just look sloppy.

* And speaking of Mike Cameron: I recently rented Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. It had been quite a while since I last saw that film (and, by the way, it’s as good as now as it was then). Anyhoo, the movie is set in Seattle and there are two very minor characters: one is named Mike Cameron and the other is DON Wilson. It appears the future was written in 1989. Whatever became of Ione “Daughter of Mellow Yellow” Sky?

* And speaking of questions, big thanks to Rob M. for solving the riddle regarding why the Angels have Angels and not Anaheim on their gray, away uniforms:

The Angels have dropped the "Anaheim" formerly on their away uniforms because new owner Arte Moreno wants to market the team to all of Southern California.

Back when I was a kid growing up in Southern California, I was actually quite an Angels fan. I got to see the arrival of Rod Carew (after he had given his best years to Minnesota, of course) and the implosion of the 1986 ALCS. And by the way, for any Red Sox fans out there whining and bitching about Bill Buckner and Game Six, I’ve got two words for you: Donnie Moore. Enough said.

* And speaking of the Red Sox: After the world series, and more specifically after the pathetic lovey-dovey kisses Tim McCarver threw at his favorite Mr. Clutch (Dirk Jeter), Aaron Gleeman did a wonderful breakdown of Jeter’s at-bats during late and close situations (defined as an at-bat in the 7th, 8th or 9th innings with your team being no more than two runs behind or ahead). During these situations, Mr. Clutch’s numbers dropped dramatically. I won’t go into them here but you can check them out for yourself on Gleeman’s page. So, what does this have to do with the Red Sox? Well, in their Easter Sunday, extra-inning win against the Toronto Blays, David Ortiz hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the twelfth to win the game. This compelled the radio announcer, Jerry Trupiano, to declare that Ortiz had a “flair for the dramatic.” This, of course, made me think of McCarver’s loving odes to Mr. Clutch so I decided to do a little check on Ortiz’s late and close numbers and yes, indeed, Mr. Trupiano was correct. In fact, so much so that from now on, David Ortiz will be hereby known as the Drama King. In the 2003 regular season, the Drama King had an AVG/OBP/SLG of .288/.369/.592 (over 448 at-bats) but during the close and late situations, Drama King stepped it up to .306/.390/.681 (over 72 at-bats). Most impressive indeed.

* And speaking of Drama: Those Tampa Bay Drays are playing a pretty exciting brand of baseball. I started paying attention to them last year (like most people not living in the greater St. Petersburg metroplex). I remember their having played lots of very close games and now it seems a little bit of that luck is turning their way. They split four games against the hapless Yankees and won two of three against Baltimore. Do the Drays have a chance at the playoffs? Will Victor Zambrano (currently 3-0) win twenty games? No, of course not. I’m not that stupid. Zambrano is a good pitcher but one who is benefiting from providence (his 15K/10BB ratio is not very encouraging). But I do think they might have a shot at fulfilling Lou’s promise that the Drays will play .500 ball over the season. Then again, Lou did promise that the Mariners, after dropping the first two games of the 2002 ALCS against the Yankees, would bring the series back to Seattle and we all know what happened then. The big test for the Drays will be this upcoming week when the Drays go up to the Bronx to play the team formerly known as the Manhattan Highlanders.

* And speaking of the Yankees: I know it’s early and you can’t tell too much from just the first week of the season but while their questionable pitching has been fairly decent (Mike Mussina aside), their supposedly potent offense seems MIA. As a team, their AVG/OBP/SLG numbers are: .205/.323/.371. By any standard, that is not good. One might chalk this up, of course, to Chicago’s stellar pitching except that they were playing the Chicago White Sox and not the Chicago Cubs. Garland and Shoen-knife both have career ERA’s in the 4.5 range and Dan Wright owns an impressive 5.52 Career ERA.

* And speaking of the White Sox: while the AL Central may be the "weakest division in baseball," I certainly do think it is the most exciting. (Go to Steve's post, "AL Central: Central to What?" to explain the scare quotes). For all intents and purposes, the AL West and the AL East are two-team races. Between the East and West you have four teams vying for three spots. The AL Central, on the other hand, is a three-team race with all three teams hoping for one playoff spot. Heck, with the way the Tigers are playing, the AL Central could be a four-team race well into the dog days. By the by, if there are any Tigers fans out there, I’d be curious to know how many of the everyday starters were actually starters last year. From my count, only half of the starting eight were Tigers last year (Sanchez – CF; Higginson – RF; Pena – 1B; and Munson/Young – 3B). The other four (Guillen – SS; Vina – 2B; Rodriguez; and White – LF) were all off-season transactions. With such a large turnover the Tigers could be looking at the biggest single-season turnaround. To some extent, the Tigers and the Drays seem to be using the same formula: hold on to their core group of talented youngsters and match them with some veterans who have come from winning teams.

* And speaking of the Tigers: Do you remember that Seinfeld episode when George Costanza decides to completely turn his life around by doing the exact opposite of what his instincts tell him to do?