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!

Monday, July 12, 2004

The pre-All Star Edition Update

Ok, here's the rather longish post I promised. Again, thanks to all of you who've written in with links, suggestions, questions, ideas, etc. Many I've written directly and others I will address indirectly below. To begin with, however, I would like to post a response to Mr. BK's questions regarding the term "southpaw" and the corresponding vectors of baseball fields.

1. Are all major league diamonds oriented to the east?
[related: Is it regulation or custom? Which vector is
parallel to the equator: the first-base line, or the
line between the mound and plate?]

Traditionally, home plate always faced east so that
the sun would be behind the batter; however, in the
era of large stadiums (that can block out direct sun
in the batter's eye) and night baseball this tradition
has been abandoned.

There are no rules as to the orientation of any
particular vector. There are, however, three main
configurations in use today:

Parks such as Jacobs Field, the Skydome, the Juice
Box, and the new Citizen's ballpark have run straight
south to north from the plate to the mound (some might
be slightly off the axis but it's pretty close).

The most popular, however, tends to be where the first
baseline runs along a West-East axist (west being
homeplate). Your beloved Wrigley field would be one
such example as would Orioles Park at Camden Fields,
Shea, and Pro Player.

The third option, one rarely used, and really kind of
odd, is when the first baseline runs at a north to
south axist (again, with homeplate being on the north
end). The only two I know of that follows this
configuration is the Ballpark in Arlington and the
Great American Ballpark.

2. Are all retrieved batted balls switched out for new ones?

Technically, this is up to the discretion of the
umpire (which is why you always see him looking at a
ball when it is retrieved). If the ball has any marks
or scuffs on it then yes it is not put back into play
(and saved for either the minor leagues or for batting
practice depending on the condition of the ball). An
average MLB game will go through about 90 balls which
is about two dozen more than the average number of
balls used between 1919 (the end of the deadball era)
and and 1994.

The reason for the jump after 1994 is that teams
began to give out foul balls to the fans. This was
part of a general directive on the part of MLB to be
more fan-friendly in light of the bitterness attached
to the cancellation of the 1994 season due to the
player's strike.

And back to our regularly scheduled programming ...

Not too long ago, I was in Portland for my occassional biblio-fix at the legendary Powell's City of Books. I had selected about forty books to take into a corner and peruse. Generally, I read the first chapter of a book to figure out whether or not to purchase it. By the way, The Rookie, is a far better movie than it is a book (the book's title officially being The Oldest Rookie. Jim Morris's narrative voice is incredibly annoying (yes, there's that ugly word again) in its hagiographic and self-aggrandizing tone.

One book I did end up purchasing was Art Thiel's Out of Left Field: How the Mariners Made Baseball Fly in Seattle. Unlike the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, and (even) the White Sox ... there aren't a whole lot of books about the Mariners. Heck, unless you count the infamous Ball Four there isn't much about Seattle baseball period. Art Thiel is a sportswriter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I generally find him worth reading on a regular basis but not particularly exciting and truth be told I normally would not have bothered purchasing his book had it not been for the simple fact that instead of reading the first chapter I skipped directly to the chapter on Seattle's now-legendary 1995 season.

I was living in Minnesota at the time and while the internet was certainly up and thriving, it was still difficult to follow an out-of-town team. Heck, back then, each team had designed their own web page so there was no design uniformity as there is now. Anyhoo, I still remember that great ALDS (Mariners vs. Yankees). The Yankees took the first two games and Seattle fought back to take the next two. I then desperately called every obnoxious sports bar in the twin cities to find some place that would be broadcasting the game. This being 1995, the year after the strike, there was not a whole lot of interest in baseball. The general disinterest in baseball was amplified in Minnesota by the fact the hometown nine had managed a very paltry 56-88 record in a shortened 144-game season (translated into a 162 game season, that would be a 63-99 record).

My friend Scott (a fellow Seattlite living in the frozen tundra of Minnesota) and I were the only two people watching the game and, in fact, we had to pester our server to change at least one of the TVs (for chrissakes, this was the playoffs). And then, in that dramatic ninth inning, when Edgar Martinez hit "the double" to score Griffey (the go-ahead, game winning run) from first, Scott and I both jumped out of our seats and screamed only to be told by the manager that we had to keep it down (in a fuckin' sports bar!) or we would have to leave.

The reason I bring this all up is that when one's team sucks as bad as the Mariners are sucking right now (32-54 ... a half-game ahead of Kansas City for the worst record in the American League), a fan must find solace elsewhere. No, not necessarily in another team (although, as I've mentioned before, I am finding some excitement in the Devil Rays) but in the glory days and/or the oh-so-bright future. In other words, when the going gets tough, it's time to dream, baby. And the going has been brutally tough.

The other day on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, I heard Peter Gammons mention that one of the big shocks of the season was the fall of Kansas City, last year's feel-good story. I don't disagree with Gammons that there is something sad about how miserable the Royals have been playing; however, it seems a bit short-sighted to call the Royals terrible the season a major shock. No, that would most definitely have to be the Seattle Mariners.

True, not many (if any) sports pundits picked them to win the AL West but this is the first season since 1999 that the Mariners have not led the AL West at the all-star break. Even the crankiest/most critical Mariners bloggers (a.k.a. those folks over at U.S.S. Mariner) could not have imagined a season so dismal. It seems that just as everything went so right in 2001 (during their 116-win campaign) everything is going so wrong this year. Jayson Stark, I think, put it best in his mid-year report. The AL Least Valuable Player went to Juan Gonzalez but the runners up were, "pick a Mariner ... any Mariner."

So, granted, this season is a complete wash. I see no hope in the Mariners (sure, you had the great comebacks like the 1977 Yankees and the 1995 Mariners -- both of whom were double digits behind first-place as late as August -- but that's not going to happen to this year's Mariners)... for this season. I do see great hope in the next year or so, however.

After suffering through years of non-moves by "Stand" Pat Gillick, we're finally going to see some of those great minor-league prospects that the Mariners just could not part with. Add to that the end of some weighty contracts (like Olerud's) and the Mariners should be primed to spend some good money to get the likes of Adrian Beltre, Beltran, Ordonez, etc. (no, not all of them ... we're not the Yankees) to complement what may be a pretty good (though not necessarily great) roster of young pitchers.

Now, enough about me, how about you?

Money can't buy you love and, apparently, it can't buy you a winning record (well, unless you spend oodles and oodles of money ... then you can buy both love and a winning record, I suppose).

I wonder if the Orioles made a mistake building their new ballpark over the site of the tavern once owned by Babe Ruth's father. I mean, if the Red Sox are suffering the curse of the Bambino then why not the Orioles? In the 90's, they spent a lot of money on a lot of free agents that turned into busts and it looks like the same has happened this year. Well, it's not so much the free agents are busts but the team as a whole is 11 games below .500 (and four games behind the Devil Rays!) and currently last in the AL East.

Of course, it could all be a matter of spending the right money in the wrong places (or, again, just not spending ooodles and oodles). The Orioles have the fifth best team batting average (.280) while the Yankees are a surprisingly mediocre (.266). Of course, the Yankees do have the second-best OBP (right behind the Red Sox). But the Orioles are second-to-last in the AL in team ERA (5.06). Hmm, this reminds me, I should do another power-ranking pretty soon.

Ok, there was a lot more I wanted to say but I'm going to end it here and spread out my posts over the next week. My butt is getting numb.