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!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Like No Business

I must say I'm curious. When I made my "Jeter-sense" comment, I was referring to Darren Rovell's hypothetical situation in which Derek Jeter turned a double play, thus stepping on one of the hated Spider Man bases. My comment ("What the fuck does Jeter have to do with it?") was intended to express puzzlement with Jeter's celebrity cameo in this otherwise business-oriented article. Why, I wondered, of all the players, in all the stadiums, in all the possible scenarios, would you choose Jeter's suspect defense as your lead-in to an article on MLB's decision to sell ad space on the bases? A day after the article was posted, it was revised; now, if you follow the same link to that ESPN article, it's Barry Bonds rounding the bases after a home run, rather than Jeter turning a double play.

Anyway, in case you haven't picked up the New Yorker this week, the May 17th issue has, in addition to more by Seymour Hersh, a nice piece by Ben McGrath called "Project Knuckleball." It's a nice read, and touches not only on the physics of the "butterfly with hiccups," but also makes the heretofore unbeknownst-to-me link between Red Sox knuckleball prospect Charlie Zink and the legendary Luis Tiant. At art school.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Around the Midsummer Night’s Horn (The Shakespeare Edition)

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't. (Hamlet): Apologies for my insane rant on the whole Spiderman episode last week. I have to remember not to put up posts when I’m tired. Trust me, you sit at your desk with about ninety papers to grade and you’ll start to get irritable real quick (not that I’m making excuses). Anyhoo, so here’s a more standard look around the American League.

Is there not a double excellency in this (Merry Wives of Windsor): On Friday night, Edgar Martinez became the 29th player in MLB history to hit 500 doubles. Appropriate enough, it came against the Yankees. As any Mariner fan (and most New York fans) may remember, Edgar’s double in the 1995 ALDS is often called the hit that saved baseball in Seattle. The Edgar also hit his 299th homerun.

In the crazy world of baseball numbers, there are only six other baseball players who have ever had more than 2,000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 homeruns, and a .300 career average. As you might have guessed, all six of those players are not only hall of famers but downright legends: Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gherig, Al Simmons, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial.

Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice, And lift my soul to heaven (Henry VIII): Buster Olney, on EPSN.COM, recently had an article arguing for the sacrifice (also known as the productive out). Amongst the stats-oriented community, the sacrifice is often seen as being a wasted out and so, not surprisingly, folks at the Hardball Times and U.S.S. Mariner have both chimed in with their own articles breaking down Olney’s argument.

On a tangential note, the Pearly-Gates has a rather entertaining anecdote on Darin Erstad. A few more quotes like that and he just may take the Baseball Boob prize from Lew Ford.

Wherever sorrow is, relief would be (As You Like It): If you’ve been following the American League, you’ll know that the A’s bullpen managed to blow two hefty leads (once in NY and once in Oakland) against the Yankees. The folks over at Athletics Nation have a good piece on the A’s bullpen woes.

One might think that Oakland’s bullpen meltdown was just a case of the pitching staff coming up against a surging NY offense (and really, did anyone think they would suck all year long?). Yes, you could think that but you’d be wrong because they also managed to blow pretty sizeable leads against the Minnesota Twinkies.

Last Friday, Oakland won a thirteen-inning game against the Twinkies but the game would never have gone into extra innings had it not been for the fact Rincon and Hammond managed to give up two runs each in two thirds of an inning. The very next day, the A’s went into another extra-inning game (this time, only into the tenth) and lost because of yet another bullpen fiasco.

O love! be moderate; allay thy ecstasy; In measure rain thy joy; scant this excess (Merchant of Venice): The Twins seem to enjoy playing extra innings. I wonder if Carl “the cheapest man in baseball” Pohlad pays his players overtime for those innings? A few days before the two aforementioned extra inning games against the A’s, the Twinkies played a 16-inning marathon against the Mariners (which the Twins lost).

A month ago (April 5 and 6), the Twins played back to back extra-inning games. Although they won both games, Minnesota burnt out their bullpen playing a total of 26-innings over two days.

O villains, vipers, damn'd without redemption! (Merchant of Venice): I don’t what kind of PR the Yankees are running right now but there seems to be a fuzzy-feel-good redemption of old King George Stoneboner. Tom Verducci of SI has online an excerpt from a longer article about old George. Ken Rosenthal has also recently done a piece on George. In both pieces, to differing degrees, Stoneboner comes off as a sweet old man who wants nothing but to give the people of New York happiness and joy.

The timing of these articles is particular interesting to me as I had just begun to read Roger Kahn’s October Men. The book is basically about the 1978 Yankees. I say “basically” because as anyone who has ever read any Roger Kahn book might have guessed, the book is about so much more. Anyhoo, there’s quite a bit about Stoneboner in Kahn’s text that seems to “explain” (if not outright excuse) many of his legal and ethical transgressions.

The magnifico is much belov’d, And hath in his effect a voice potential As double as the duke’s (Othello): Well, it seems that every week more and more people are jumping on the Texas Rangers bandwagon. Even the worst ex-athlete turned commentator, Joe Morgan, is cheering on the rangers as John Donovan of Sports Illustrated.

For we bid this be done, When evil deeds have their permissive pass And not the punishment (Measure for Measure): And speaking of the Rangers, they have followed in the footsteps of the Chicago White Sox … no, not by putting together an incredibly inept bullpen, but by selling off the naming rights of their stadium. Although the Ballpark in Arlington never had quite the ring of Comiskey (or the New Comiskey), their new name, Ameriquest Field is about as pleasant sounding as U.S. Cellular Field. Apparently, whenever someone hits a homrun, a big bell out near the centerfield scoreboard will ring (you know, to mark a “dinger”).

In my previous (crazy, ranting) post, I mentioned how I appreciate maverick owners who just want their team to win (even if this means signing really stupid contracts). And, indeed, when asked about this name change, Tom Hicks justified the selling of the naming rights as “a chance to be more competitive, and I think that's what it's all about – winning.” Can’t argue with that, of course, unless of course you take into consideration the horribly corrupt and evil ways the Rangers originally got their ballpark built (you listening, George W.?!?!).

Wherever sorrow is, relief would be (As You Like It): And speaking of Chicago’s weak bullpen, Tim Kurkjian recently remarked on ESPN Radio that the Chicago White Sox were definitely a team to watch because they were winning so many close one-run games. Apparently, Tim only looks at the final score and doesn’t bother to read the box scores or much less watch any Chicago White Sox games. As those crazy Canadians over at the Batters Box point out:

One might think that a team that excels in one-run games to the tune of winning eleven of twelve might have a dominant closer. Instead, Damaso Marte has been shaky, and Billy Koch has converted more than his share of comfortable leads into one-run nailbiteers.

Apparently, these nailbiters are starting to make members of White Sox nation twist and turn until their panties get all up in a bunch. Most recently, Cotts managed to give up two runs in the 8th inning for a 4-2 Chi Sox Loss.

Of course, the White Sox are the not only team with bullpen woes. Aside from the aforementioned Oakland A’s, Peter Gammons recently reported that:
The plight of the Cleveland Indians and, to a lesser degree the White Sox, Mariners and Blue Jays, is testament to the fact that with the exception of the elite few, relievers are the most unpredictable commodities in the game. Going into spring training, the Indians thought their bullpen was going to be OK, with Bob Wickman closing behind David Riske, Rafael Betancourt and Scott Stewart. Wickman got hurt. Riske has been a disaster, and this is a guy who in 68 games last year had a 2.29 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .196 average. This year, Riske is being hit at a .412 clip. But his year-by-year ERA defines the second tier of the bullpen profession: 8.36, 1.98, 5.26, 2.29, 12.27. That is enough to drive a GM to insanity.

Are my discourses dull? barren my wit? (The Comedy of Errors): For those who may not already be aware of this, there is an excellent baseball show on ESPN Radio every Saturday from 12:00-4:00 PM (Pacific Time). The show is hosted by Karl Ravech (who also hosts Baseball Tonight) and former Nasty Boy, Rob Dibble.

The gaudy, blabbing, and remorseful day … with their drowsy, slow, and flagging wings Clip dead men’s graves (Henry VI): On a quick note, there seems to be a lot of talk about how the Stoneboner’s slow start might be a result of their trip to Japan. What no one seems to mention is that the Drays actually got off to a pretty fast start (relative for them, that is) after their trip. Silly silly excuses.

Third Out. Stand, sir, and throw us that you have about ye (The Two Gentleman of Verona): The Tribe have a 4-0 lead in the 4th but the Birds come back to tie the game. In the 5th, the tribe score 3 runs to go up 7-4 but the roaring Birds come back again in the 7th with four runs of their own and take an 8-7 lead. In the bottom of the 8th, they tack on an additional two insurance runs and ultimately get a 10-7 victory.

Nothing special about the game until Baltimore’s closer, Jorge Julio, comes in to shut the proverbial door. The first batter in the top of the 9th, Omar Vizquel, strikes out on three straight pitches. Gerut comes up to bat, swings on the first pitch and pops up to centerfield. Victor Martinez then comes up to bat and also swings on the first pitch and grounds out to first. Five pitches, all of them strikes, three outs. Now that’s a performance.

I throw thy name against the bruising stones (Gentleman of Verona): Now, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum is the pathetic pitching performance in the now rather infamous 5th inning of the Detroit/Texas game also played on Saturday.

With the score tied 4-6 after four innings, the Tigers come up to bat in the top of the 5th: Having gotten into some trouble in the 4th inning, R.A. Dickey had been replaced by Brocail who proceeded to get the last out of the 4th and was put back in to pitch the 5th:

1.Pena walks.
2.Guillen walks.
3.Higginson walks … three consecutive walks to load bases.
4.Craig Monroe scores two runs with a soft blooper to center
5.Omar Infante walks to load bases again (still no outs) Mahay comes in to replace Brocail.
6.Alex Sanchez lines into center for a 2-RBI single
7.Vina gets hit by a pitch and bases are loaded again.
8.I-Rod gets a swinging bunt to score one run with bases loaded
9.Rondell White called out on strikes –9th batter, 5 runs scored, first out
10.Pena comes back to bat and hits a line drive to right field for a 2-RBI single. Men on the corners.
11.Guillen – fielder’s choice. Grounder to second but couldn’t pull of the double play. I-Rod scores from third. Guillen safe on first. 2 outs.
12.Higginson – 12th batter of the inning – 0-2 count, fouls off the third pitch and then gets a single to score one run and put men on the corners again. Counted as a hit but really a result of bad defense on Soriano. Jay Powell comes in to pitch.
13.Craig Monroe – 13th batter – first pitch swinging, fly out to center.

So, at this point you’d think, “hoo boy, those Rangers sure blew it” and even the fans in Arlington seemed to think so as many of them started leaving the stadium. But, remember, this is the Tigers. With last year’s 20-game loser, Mike Maroth, still pitching:

1.Michael Young singles
2.Blalock Homers – 2 runs scored.
3.Soriano Doubles
4.Herbert Perry Homers – 4 runs scored.
5.Teixeira – the cutest girl in all of baseball – walks – Danny Patterson comes in to pitch.
6.Brian Jordan – currently in a .091 slump – walks on four straight pitches
7.Eric Young – first three pitches are balls, third pitch is wild pitch that advances Teixeira and Jordan. Patterson throws a strike for a 3-1 count and then walks Young. Bases loaded, no outs. Al Levine comes in to replace Patterson.
8.With Kevin Mench due up, David Delluci (a lefthander) comes in to pinch hit (.315 for Mench vs. .324 for Delluci). First pitch swinging, hits single to score two runs and put men on the corners. Six runs scored thus far and still no outs.
9.Gerald Laird singles to score one run. Men on the corners again.
10.Michael Young strikes out – first out.
11.Hank Blalock walks. Bases loaded … again.
12.Soriano 2-RBI single. Men on first and second. 9 runs scored thus far in the inning.
13.Herbert Perry – singles. Scores Blalock. Soriano goes to third and Perry to second on the throw.
14.Craig Dingman comes in to replace Al Levine. (7th pitcher of the inning … 3 pitchers used for Texas, four pitchers used for Detroit). Teixeira swings on a 3-0. Should have been ball four (high cheese) but hits it foul. Walks to load bases.
15.Brian Jordan back up to bat. First pitch, swinging strike (after five balls!). Jordan swinging at borderline pitches. Hits the sixth pitch for a double play to end the inning but should have been a walk. Previous five pitches were all borderline pitches.

Rangers score ten runs in the inning and the game is now tied at 14-14 – after five innings!

To make this even funnier, the very next inning the Tigers decide to play small ball. The lead-off batter, Omar Infante, leads off with a walk and Alex Sanchez bunts to move the Infante over to second.