Baseball On My Brain


Sometimes you need an eye-opener
February 26, 2008, 9:28 pm
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About a week and a half ago I was in Portland, OR for the quarterly meeting of the Northwest chapter of SABR, at which there was a presentation by the Savvy Girls of Summer.

If you’ve never heard of the SGoS, you will. They’re going to be pretty influential before too long. Stay tuned. If you have heard of them, well then you should have a good appreciation for what I’m talking about.

During their presentation, they basically asked why do you go to a ballgame? For me, the answer is simple – to see who wins and find out why along the way. Baseball is a game with an end result that at some level I’m interested in – and I want to pay attention to figure out why the result will come out the way it will. Simple, huh?

Well – not so fast. Not everyone is as interested in the result of the game as I am. Turns out, some people just like going to the ballgame to socialize, spend time with their families, get some sun (my apologies to those still in domed facilities) and so on. Hmmm…Houston, we have a problem.

Now I’m a pretty open minded guy — but this seems kind of hard to fathom. I could see and accept a lot of reasons to go to a ball game — to see your favorite player, and maybe hope to learn something about how to better play the game. Those I’m cool with. I’m sure there are more –they’re just not coming to me right now. But I think all of the reasons I’m OK with would having something to do with having a vested interest in the playing of and/or outcome of the game.

Maybe it’s the environment I work in, maybe it’s the people I socialize with. Maybe it’s just the way I am. Nevertheless…

Later that night I went to see a guy by the name of Tim Berne. I had never heard of him, had no idea what I was in for, and so on. I simply was excited to be in town for the Portland Jazz Festival and wanted to see and hear as much as I could as possible.

So to the show I went – I got a great ticket at a great price – and needless to say I was probably the most uninformed jazz fan there. At least I want to think that way. Makes the story better.

There were people all around me who had a much better idea what they were listening to — now I listen to my local jazz station like a lot of folks, but I really don’t have a depth of knowledge about the subject. Nor do I play a musical instrument — another talent I wish I had.

And suddenly I understood what the Savvy Girls were talking about. I wasn’t there to learn about music, nor was I particularly interested in what Mr. Berne was playing. I was just there for the entertainment. It was like walking into a ballgame and not knowing that they even keep score and were playing to win — let alone that they keep statistics and this process happens 162 times a year and has been happening for decades in cities all across the country – and all over the world.

I felt almost vulnerably ignorant – but not ashamed or embarrassed of it. When I went to an open-mic and open-instrument jam session afterwards, the process was repeated. Sure I had heard some of the tunes that were played and I had a basic understanding of how the music was being made – I certainly had no idea of what the thought process was in the heads of the musicians, or probably in the heads of most of the other people in that room. I sat there and soaked it in, unhampered by the filters that we all absorb the world through — our prejudices, stereotypes and pre-conceived notions. It was raw – and it was pretty cool.

Translate that to a baseball game — I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands of baseball games by this point in my life. And while no two are exactly the same – I know that I watch them with certain biases.  I watch the catcher probably more than most, and I like watching the little movements of the fielders as they respond to the differing circumstances and situations that the game constantly presents. I’m not as pitcher-hitter focused as I think most people are — I like watching the surrounding show. Only one guy can have the ball at one time — it’s fascinating to me to see what the other eight are doing.

In one day I went from the relative comfort of a baseball meeting to jazz – an environment where I am a card-carrying novice-novice. And I’m all the better for it. And what fitting environments to go between — two things that America will hopefully be remembered for long after we’re all gone – and something that greats like Buck O’Neil held in high esteem as two things that mirror each other. “It’s all jazz…”as Buck would say.

I think we all get stuck in our comfort zones too much – maybe out of a sense of security, maybe out of laziness to find something new to explore and expose our ignorance within.

So while I won’t change why I go watch a ballgame – I can at least say I have a little bit more appreciation and understanding when it comes to people who don’t watch for the same reasons I do.

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Ryan Howard’s new deal

In case you missed it, Ryan Howard got paid today. Yet again, I wish I would have become a big-league ballplayer.

But that’s not the point. After reading Jayson Stark’s article, two things stuck out at me:

A) How much this will cost the team (that means how much more fans will have to come up with) over the coming years, and how other teams will find themselves in the same bind.

B) The inner workings of the arbitration and salary process.

The first part is fairly easy. The Phillies are now on the hook for an extra $3M than they probably budgeted for, and now someone (the fans) has to come up with it. They drew 3,108,331 fans last year (according to ESPN.com), so you might see a $0.96 “arbitration surchage” on your ticket this season. Maybe not, but it will show up somewhere.

The second part is the one that is much more intriguing to me. Stark mentions that if the Phillies had seemingly done their homework on previous arbitration cases and offered more than Miguel Cabrera got last year, things would have worked out in their favor since that’s who the panel was comparing Ryan Howard to.  Now not only will this decision cost them more in 2008, it will cost them more for several seasons to come, particularly if they want to lock him up for a long-term deal.

With player salaries continuing to increase and owners always concerned about where to find more revenue from, it seems hard to believe that the Phillies didn’t see this one coming. But then I again I don’t know who’s running the show there – I’m just supposing it’s league average ability folks.

For instance though – do you ever wonder why teams sign a veteran to a one-year deal  when they have a guy seemingly ready to go in triple-A? Often times it’s because that they can delay his arbitration eligibility date by delaying his MLB debut. If you know you’re not going to be in the pennant race this year, why accelerate the time table to the day you’re going to have to give the next Ryan Howard his big paycheck? Save him for half the season, in which case you’ll effectively get a free (or at least discounted) season out of him. Kind of a smart thing to do.

(BTW – the MLB Players website is really a great resource. Lots of good info on it.)

What has happened is that the game has changed, the road map isn’t as handy, and the idea for who the model is has changed. Ryan Howard is certainly an accomplished ballplayer – he may have put in the books  the most impressive first two years of an MLB career ever.

But with salary discussions having one foot rooted in the past and the other in the future – I have to wonder how the next Ryan Howard will be dealt with, and how that will in turn filter down to the fans.  While it’s in your team’s interest to invest money in talented players – that will ultimately come at a cost to you — a higher cost of experiencing a Major League ballgame.



Football is a fireworks show, baseball is a painting

Comparing football to baseball is commonplace. George Carlin’s famous commentary is fairly well known. And now with Superbowl XLII in the rearview mirror, I add this brief comparison…football is a fireworks show; baseball is like watching an artist create a painting.

If you couldn’t enjoy watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, or Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa, you probably couldn’t enjoy watching a baseball game.



I did steroids. So now what?
February 5, 2008, 11:46 pm
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I was reading some scouting reports today and came across several guys who had received suspensions for using performance enhancers.

What bothered me was that their suspensions were listed fairly matter-of-factly; that is, the same way an injury was listed or any other potential characteristic issue.

“Struggled with hamstring issues in first two seasons, some wonder if it will reoccur under the stress of longer seasons and tougher competition.”

“Known for late nights…coaches don’t think he appreciates what he has been blessed with.”

“Suspended for 50 games last year after using performance enhancing substances.”

As I read all these reports, the question “so now what?” kept coming up.

Most of these reports were “Top 10 Organizational Prospect” documents — basically who teams are looking strongly at in their own system and what their pluses and minuses are, as well as how well they might fare in a perfect-world scenario.

My question though — how is a steroid suspension seen by the people who evaluate talent? Does it matter? Does it rank higher or lower than chronic injury or inability to get to bed on time?

I know that as a society we believe in second – and often times third, fourth, fifth, etc… — chances for our celebrities. Short of first-degree murder, we are generally willing to agree to punish someone and let them have another swing at life. I generally agree with that – in baseball just as much as in life.

But when you stop and think about it – is that really the best way to go? In the marathon that is the race to become a big leaguer, steroids and other PEDs seem like a shortcut. Once you’ve taken that shortcut, how do you go back? Do you send a guy who tests positive while in double-A all the way back down to rookie ball and tell him to start over? I doubt it. So would the chance of a 50-game suspension be worth hitting the turbo button to supercharge your career and possibly advance up a level or two?

[I know that taking steroids don’t result in an instant change in performance – so forgive me if I make it seem that way. Sometimes you just have to illustrate the point.]

The question I think we’ll all be asking as more light is shed on the steroid era is just that…so now what? Collectively and individually we’ll have to answer that question as it relates to our views on players – past, present and future.