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, May 02, 2004

Around the Horn (Finals Week Edition)

Home Stretch: Whew, I never thought I’d get time again to put up a post. It’s finals week where I teach and whatever amount of stress students might be experiencing at having to take finals is matched by the amount of labor professors have to go through grading those finals. Times like this I wish I gave multiple choice exams instead of essays. Anyhoo, so enough of that. Let's get on with the baseball.

All in the Family: Well, the Crosby boys got together earlier this week when the slumping Stoneboners hosted Billy’s Bean-counters and suddenly the Yankees’ bats were alive with the sound of money. Even The Jeter managed to get a hit, breaking his 0-32 slump. Most exciting for the Crosby watch was the fact poor little Bubba got to start one of the three games.




As you’ll notice, one of the Crosby boys finally managed to get a stolen base and with each update, the two seem to be getting closer and closer in terms of their batting averages. Maybe we should rename the Mendoza Line the Crosby Line. Also, Bobby still hasn’t managed to score a single walk.

No, they really hate Detroit: A couple of postings ago, I mentioned that the broadcasters for the Mariners, Niehaus and Rizz, snickered at the phrase "beautiful Detroit." I later amended this statement when a reader informed me of the ugly history between Rizz and the Tigers. Well, on Friday, Niehaus mentioned that during a lull in the game the Tigers fans were trying to get the wave started. He then muttered under his breath, "Are we suddenly in the 1970s now?" Man, they really really hate Detroit.

I Told You So: Last week I posted the Beer and Whiskey power rankings (and, yes, I will get back to that soon and have an updated posting). If you recall (and if you don’t, the rankings are just a click away), I had the Rangers ranked number one. I know that seems weird and I had to do the math at least three times to make sure that was right and it was and apparently the folks over at ESPN have also seen the light and are beginning to recognize the Rangers are in fact for real … and of course their sweeping the Bridesmaids over the weekend can only make them stand out that much more. Anyhoo, both John Kruk and Tim Kurkjian have articles explaining why the Rangers are so damn hot right now.

I know most stats-oriented folks think this whole team chemistry factor is rather silly (and, sure, you can look at the 1978 Yankees via Roger Kahn’s October Men as proof that you can win games without chemistry) but in a game that requires a good head just as much as it does a good body you can’t help but think that team chemistry must count for something especially when you read something like this:

If you want to know what it means to be a teammate, you need to look at how guys interact when the game is over. When R.A. Dickie came to Texas last year, he brought his pregnant wife with him. What does Blalock do to make him feel welcome? He tells Dickie to move into his place so he can take care of his family. Blalock says he and his wife will find another place to live for a while. He's 23 years old, and he has that kind of leadership? That's a team I root for.

Maybe I’m just a sucker but stories like that make me feel good about being a baseball fan. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll never root for the Rangers. Remember, I’m a Mariners fan first (even though they are really starting to piss me off) and I’ll never root for a division rival. But, still, it’s a nice story. I especially like the fact Kruk takes a nice little stab at A-Hole whose departure helped make this new-look Rangers possible. By the way, R.A. Dickey is the guy who came one out short of pitching a complete-game shutout against the Bridesmaids on Sunday (more details on this exciting game below).

And speaking of A-Hole jabs, here’s the penultimate paragraph from Kurkjian’s piece on the Rangers (specifically on Hank Blalock):

Blalock is not in this for fame or publicity, just to win and to hit, much like one of Showalter's favorite players, Don Mattingly. Former teammate Alex Rodriguez offered Blalock the chance to fly to last year's All-Star Game on A-Rod's private jet after the Rangers' game that Sunday. Blalock respectfully declined, opting to take a 7 a.m. commercial flight the next day with his wife. Blalock said he might never get back to the All-Star Game, and he wanted he, and his wife, to savor every minute of it.

Let Them Eat Cake: For those of you who may not be familiar with the origins of this phrase, this was supposedly a remark made by Marie Antoinette when told that the French peasants were starving and had no bread … and of course Her Royal Majesty was soon beheaded during the French Revolution. So, what does this have to do with baseball? Well, it’s never too early to speculate about which GM or manager is going to get fired first. Since I follow the Mariners more closely than any other team, I’ve become accustomed to hearing the daily rants and ravings of those who want Bavasi’s head (from the first signing no less) and of course with the painfully slow start the Mariners are off to, there’s been grumbling about BoMel. Well, it was certainly nice to take a quick look around the blogosphere and see that even those in Bean land are calling for the head of their manager, Ken “low-fat” Mocha. On the other hand, I’d love to trade GM’s with those Elephants down South. Imagine what Billy boy could do with a real budget.

Rock You Like a Hurricane: Did anyone notice that on Sunday’s ESPN game featuring the Bridesmaids and the Rangers, the P.A. system at one point started blaring a song from Interpol. On the one hand, I think it’s pretty cool that a relatively little-known band on a medium sized independent label like Matador could get played in a sports arena. But, I found this particularly ironic because it was being done in Arlington. You know, where the Rangers play. You know, the Rangers … owned by Tom Hicks … the guy who owns fucking clear channel … you know, the big music radio conglomerate that is destroying the airwaves? Yeah, that guy. Prick.

The irrepressible force meets the unmovable object: Well, it looks like the Texas Rangers just might be for real (maybe). The Boston Bridesmaids went into Arlington in a showdown that brought the AL’s best pitching staff (.295 Team ERA) against the AL’s top hitting team (.316/.362/.501). They say that good pitching usually beats out good hitting and that may be true but pretty good pitching will always beat out mediocre hitting. The Rangers, amazingly enough, have the third best team ERA (.431, right behind Boston and Oakland) while last year’s record-setting offense sits smack in the middle of the AL this year (.260/.349/.417).

While the Bridesmaids got off to a hot start this week with a sweep of the Drays, they apparently forgot to bring their arms and their bats with them when they went to Texas. Apparently the old cliché rings true: “don’t mess with Texas.” Not only did the Rangers manage, in the back half of the doubleheader, to send little Pedro into the clubhouse early (four innings, nine hits, six earned runs) but they also managed to end the 32.1 scoreless innings streak by getting two runs in each of Saturday’s games.

Talk about the passion: Both of Saturday’s games were pretty darn exciting to follow. With the Bridesmaids down 4-2 in the ninth inning, The Passion (a.k.a. Damon) managed to get a double with McCarty on base to make it a 4-3 game. Unfortunately, Mueller struck out immediately afterward and Francisco Corduroy got his eighth save of the season.

But wait, there’s more (as Ron Popeill might say), in the second game, with the Bridesmaid down 8-2, Varitek scored on a Belhorn single to make the game 8-3. A few batters later, along came The Passion with the bases loaded and again he unloaded with a double to make the game8-5 (apparently, Daubach, on first at the time, was apparently a tad too slow to make it home). Mueller once again managed to choke by striking out but this time there was still an out to spare and then along comes none other than The Drama King (Ortiz) representing the tiring run. Wouldn’t it be just grand if he could hit a home run and tie the game? Yes, it would be grand but it also didn’t happen. The Drama King apparently doesn’t have the super-powered “clutch” gene that makes Tim McCarver get so hot and wild.

And just when you think that’s all you could take, well, along comes Sunday’s ESPN featured game of the night. R.A. Dickey held the Bridesmaids to three hits and no runs over the first eight innings. In the top of the ninth with the Rangers up 4-0, Dickey got Ortiz out on a swinging strike and then allowed a single to Money “Just Happy to Be Here” Ramirez. Daubauch then makes the second out with a line drive to right field. Millar then walks and there are men on first and second. Showalter finally pulls Dickey out of the game and puts in Cordero who then proceeds to walk Bellhorn to load the bases and then walk Varitek to score a run. He finally gets Crespo to fly out to shallow center and the sweep was complete.

Curtain Call: Rob Neyer, in his continual pursuit to prove that now is the best time to be a baseball fan, recently had an article on how despite the seeming dominance of the Stoneboners, we are truly in an era of parity. Well, while I certainly would not argue with Neyer on this point, I’d like to zoom in on his argument and say that this last week was probably one of the best weeks to be a baseball fan. There were so many exciting, close games that I felt compelled to go through them. Certainly, none of these games could match Boston’s World Series Game Six -- no, not that game six but the other game six; the one with Carlton Fisk’s arm-flailing, contorted body-english home run in the eleventh inning of the 1975 world series – but for late April baseball, it sure was a fine week to be a fan.

Tuesday: (Cleveland at Chicago) Chicago’s bullpen implodes once again by giving up four runs in the top of the tenth inning to the almighty Cleveland Tribesmen.

(Oakland at New York) In what looked like a sure loss for the struggling Stoneboners, the Bean Counters’s bullpen does a great impression of Chicago’s bullpen and manages to give up six runs in the bottom of the eighth and relinquish a four-run lead.

(Toronto at Minnesota) Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Tori (not Spelling or Amos) Hunter hits an RBI single to tie up the game. Then with men on first and third, Jacque Jones smashes a three-run homer to win the game. Fortunately, there was no pathetic little homeplate dance a la the Cincinnati Reds.

Wednesday: (Cleveland at Chicago … again) Down 8-4 in the bottom of the ninth, the ChiSox return the favor from the previous day by drilling the Cleveland bullpen for five runs. The first runs of the inning came from Magglio’s two run homerun to make the score 8-6. A few batters later, Joe Crede scores an RBI single. Score: 8-7 with men on first and second. The very next batter, Perez, gets a single to tie the game and, most importantly, put a man on third with less than two outs. Then Sandy Alomar, Jr. (who currently has the second most at-bats of any current major leaguer) hits a sacrifice fly to win the game.

Thursday: (Texas at Kansas City) Down by one run, Michael Young hits a solo shot to tie the game at seven. Then, a few batters later, with Hammerin Hank Blalock on base, Brad Fullmer hits a two-run homer to take the lead and ultimately win the game.

Friday: (Seattle at Detroit) Although Freddy pitched one hell of a game (see below) he made the mistake of allowing one run over eight innings since it would be silly to assume that Seattle’s singles-happy offense could actually score more than a run themselves. Leaving the game with the score tied at one, Raw-wool Ibanez hit a two-run homer in the top of the tenth. There was much celebration all throughout the Emerald City since this would mean that, at the very least, the Mariners could count on not being swept. (Much like when I was a student at Berkeley, our football team was so bad that our usual football cheer was, “Beat the spread! Beat the spread!”)

Saturday: (Baltimore at Cleveland) Finding yet another way to blow a wonderful outing by C.C. (again, see below), the Orange Birds scored a run off the Tribes’s bullpen in the eighth to tie the game and eventually go into extra innings. Five innings later (the 13th inning, if you’re counting) Coco Crisp (is it possible to make any sort of pun on this name?) hit an RBI single to score Matt Lawton and win the game.

(Toronto and Chicago … what is it with Cleveland and Chicago and these extra inning games?) A ten-inning affair, the score was tied by the Blays in the eighth inning off of Carlos Delgado’s solo home run. Then in the bottom of the tenth, the ChiSox took back the lead and the game off of Joe Crede’s sacrifice fly.

(Anaheim at Minnesota) Well, this is either a pitcher’s duel or an example of offensive ineptitude. Perhaps both. Aaron Sele kept the Twins to two hits and no runs. The bullpen also allowed two hits and no runs. The Angels, on the other hand, managed to get seven hits and three base on balls over the first eight innings but came away with no runs. Then, in the top of the ninth they had back to back singles to put men on the corners. This was then followed by Chone “my parents can’t spell” Figgins who hit the go-ahead, game-winning RBI single.

(Oakland at Tampa Bay) Down 6-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Drays started an impressive rally that ultimately fell one run short. The first runs of the inning came when Carl Crawford hit a two-run triple making the score 6-3. Juan Cruz, Jr. then hit a home run to bring the Drays within one run. The next batter, Aubrey Huff, grounded out. Then, with two outs and the Drays behind one run, up came to bat Mr. Rocco Baldelli, the future franchise player for the Drays. Really, if you’re a TB fan, this is the man you want especially considering that he was 3-4 up to that point. But, alas, Mr. Rocco flailed and the Bean Counters won the game 6-5.

Sunday: (Anaheim at Minnesota) With the score tied 1-1 in the eighth, Figgins led off with a single and then stole a crucial base that would eventually lead to Guerrero being intentionally walked. With one out and men on first and second, Troy Glass grounded out but moved both baserunners up ninety feet. Jose Guillen then singled to score both Figgins and Guerrero and eventually give the Angels another win.

Now, wasn’t that pretty exciting? I know a lot of people love watching their teams but I have to say that with the quality of baseball what it is today, it’s exciting watching just about any game (except those annoying Braves games on TNT).

Hard Luck Freddy: Last season, Ryan Franklin had some of the worst luck a pitcher could possibly have. Yes, I’m talking about that terrible role of the dice that we call Run Support. Although Franklin’s RS shows up only as the tenth worst last season, his actual run support was much worse (since RS is calculated as an average over nine innings like ERA). In his eleven losses, the Mariners managed to score more than two runs only once. Well, this year’s potential winner for the hard luck award just might be Franklin’s teammate, Freddy “the Chief” Garcia. After all the fuss over his ruptured ear drum as the cause of his down year last season, Garcia’s come back to be the dominant pitcher who in 2002 had the league’s lowest ERA (losing the Cy Young award to a sentimental old fart: the artist formerly known as Retired Roger). Unfortunately, while his devastating change-up may be making opposing batters look silly, his own teammates are doing a fine job of looking silly themselves.

His 35.1 innings pitched over five games puts him fifth in terms of innings pitched while his 2.27 ERA places him second best (right behind C.C. “not from Poison” Sabathia who has a sick 1.61 ERA). So, in those five outings in which he’s given up a total of nine total runs, how many wins does the Chief have? You guessed it, ZERO. In fact, his record is 0-1. I know baseball is a team game and sometimes when a pitcher is not doing well his teammates can pick him up but this is ridiculous. The offense can’t hit and the Mariner bullpen – yeah, you know, the one that used to be good – is just looking sad as sad can be. Perhaps the ghost of Bobby Ayala has returned to Seattle. For those of you not familiar with this particular aspect of Seattle Mariner’s sorry-ass history, let’s just say that last year Ayala was voted the most despised former Mariner by the listeners of a Seattle-area sports radio station.

Of course, one could also make an argument for C.C. to win the hard-luck award since his 1.61 ERA (god, that feels weird just writing it down … I keep having to check and make sure that’s right) has netted him a fantabulous 1-0 record over five starts. Yep, like Freddy, C.C. has pitched 35 innings (giving up a total of 6 runs over those 5 starts) and has exactly one win to show for it. On Saturday, C.C. pitched seven innings and allowed one earned run. When he left the game the score was tied 1-1. By the eighth, the Tribe were down 2-1 (although they did manage to get a win after 13 innings).

Lew Who? Who’s on first? I mean, who’s first in the AL in OPS? Not surprisingly, Carlos “soon to be sold to New York” Beltran. Number two is Jorge Posada. Again, no surprise and it’s also no surprise that Frank Thomas is number four. Oops … I missed one, didn’t I? And it’s an easy one to miss because Lew Ford, of the Minnesota Twins, is currently third in the AL in OPS. This relatively young kid from Texas playing in his first full season (he played 34 games last season), is on a tear. But, aside from his being a relatively unknown, what makes Lew’s presence on the leaderboard so interesting is the simple fact this guy is an utter bonehead … and I mean that in the best way possible. Check out this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune … just heelarious. Oh, and if you don’t want to fill out the stupid subscription form, you can find excerpts over at Bat-Girl.Com.

A Few Loose Threads: Just a couple of interesting articles I saw in the blogosphere that I thought I would pass along to you folks.

Hardball Times has a good article on K-Rod that argues the young 22-year old lad just may be the best reliever in the American League and possibly the best reliever in all of baseball second only to Eric “the second G is silent” Gagne.

Those crazy Minnesotans over at Bat-Girl.Com have a nice little stab at Oakland. Apparently, in the collective imagination of the Twins Nation, Billy Koch is to Oakland what Fred Merkle is to the New York Baseball Giants.

And finally: Thanks again to those e-mailed us especially those with suggestions regarding the Affordability Index. I was going to post the numbers for ramoN and Magglio but I’ve decided the formula still needs more tweaking. I’ll be taking many of your suggestion into consideration and hopefully will be able to present a more polished version of the formula in the near future.