Baseball On My Brain


Requiem for a season
May 28, 2008, 7:21 pm
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While the doctor hasn’t made the official time of death call, my team’s season has been given a terminal sentence by the baseball gods. And while recovery is not completely out of the question, it would certainly defy logic, good sense, and history if it were to happen.

A season should not die this young. The blossoms had not opened, the fragrant smell of its buds had not yet enchanted those who came in contact with it.

Yet here it is, four days before the start of June and the prognosis for my ballclub has been rendered – a long, slow, painful demise.

Maybe it was conceived with a defect that would claim its young life; or maybe it was handled improperly upon delivery.

The grieving process is never easy, let alone when it is for one for whom such high hopes were held. Would this be the season where the cylinders would line up and click open the door to the postseason that the city and the faithful had been eagerly anticipating?

Sadly, it would not.

Instead, the promise of a bountiful harvest was interrupted by the frost of our offense’s cold bats. What should have been hard sliders and fastballs of our pitching staff were overripe, coming out soft and fat to be picked by the thieverous hands of our opponents.

Sure the crop will bear some fruit – the occasional highlight play, a walkoff homerun and such. Maybe if there is an exceptional one in the bunch it might even bear a no-hitter. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves for fear of further disappointment.

Sadly, with our hearts and minds we lay to rest hopes of a prosperous 2008 campaign, hopeful for a rebirth as a contender in 2009. Let us cherish the days we have with this season and enjoy what we can out of the remaining four months, hopeful for good times that we will be able to take with us.



This is what happens when my Sunday paper doesn’t get delivered (and my team has the worst record in MLB)
May 27, 2008, 7:40 pm
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If my New York Times delivery person is reading this, I hope that you are OK. You didn’t deliver my Sunday NY Times, and I was just about to be OK with it until someone forwarded me this link. Luckily the NY Times makes their articles available online, so I can work around it. But I don’t want to wish you ill if something truly bad happened to you that prevented my paper from showing up in my driveway. But if you just forgot, didn’t care, or otherwise neglected your duties, know that I am not happy and am thinking ill thoughts about you.

Which segues us nicely into my point – Francis X. Clines wrote the aforelinked piece regarding booing your home team, which right this minute I feel like doing until I go hoarse.

But is that the way to behave? Or is the boo in baseball meant to be heard in other ways?

Booing certainly doesn’t seem like the highest class of behaviors. I don’t feel like a better person on the occasions I boo; it’s almost a relief mechanism for a physical discomfort.

Still – I don’t feel that justifies the act. I don’t belch in public, something to which I equate booing. I just don’t think it’s classy or becoming of a decent member of society. Nor is it a good impression to cast on other people as something that’s OK to do in a public setting.

Yet it seems to be more and more common as Mr. Clines points out – even to the point where fans are booing their own players.

Mr. Clines makes a valid call to Gil Hodges and the undying love of Brooklyn Dodgers fans whose team subsequently left them for the greener pastures of southern California.

But would Hodges be as loved if he was on his third team in 6 years? If he was making $15 million, hitting .200 with limited power and on a sub .500 team? Would the family of four who dropped $80-$200 on tickets, plus another $100 in related expenses still cheer him on after sitting in traffic for an hour?

What about the season ticket holder who has already forked over a couple thousand dollars? Would he or she be first in line to buy a Hodges t-shirt, let alone stand up and clap for a sub-par performance?

Some argue that booing is part of the package that comes with the price of admission. Some say it’s part of the experience; part of the emotional roller coaster that sports becomes. You cheer, you boo; you laugh, you cry.

Maybe it’s my passive-aggressive Scandinavian nature or my Northwest upbringing that has inhibited my desire to boo. I’m not a rip-roaring fan; I don’t lead cheers, I don’t start the wave – if anything, I try any shut it down. I’ll stand and applaud a home run, although I’m more inclined to hoot and/or holler for a nice defensive play. And while I have booed players here and there (Matt Thornton comes to mind) – I certainly wouldn’t call it part of my normal repertoire.

But to boo one’s own? That’s where the problem – and dare I say disconnect – comes in to play. These players aren’t my own; at least not when they’re losing. I’m already disconnected enough from guys who are earning the league minimum of $390,000, let alone those who are earning eight-figure salaries to play this wonderful game of baseball. I’d venture to say I don’t even want to connect with these guys, despite the commercials, TV specials and in-stadium video board features that try and expose me to the members of the hometown club. Knowing what they order at Starbucks or who their favorite actress is really doesn’t make me cheer for them any louder when they’re down by four in the first inning.

Now I know that I’m in the minority along with Mr. Clines. I don’t care for the dancing groundskeepers, the kiss cam or the t-shirt toss – it does nothing to enhance my fundamental experience at the game. There’s only one thing that does – winning.

But my lust for winning doesn’t have to come at the expense of bad behavior – particularly along the lines of the fans that boo their hometown players, then cheer for them upon a success, only to boo them again for not giving them the curtain call they ask for. That is selfish and condescending – stemming from an attempt to control those who have gotten out of the realm of our understanding. We have no power over them and even less relation to them, so a mean-spirited boo or a come hither round of cheers may just be our attempt to exert some level of control.

No matter how much I pay, or how early I camped out to get the autograph that never happened, there is no entitlement that comes with going to a baseball game, other than to be free of such poor behavior by those with whom I share the experience.



The words just keep coming…looking at the 5/19/08 ESPN: The Magazine
May 24, 2008, 7:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Page 29 of the 5/19/08 issue of ESPN: The Magazine makes my teeth hurt. Not just because it’s a picture of Oregon State’s Braden Wells getting hit in the face with a baseball, but because it reminds me of all the times I saw a guy by the name of Tony Hurtado get hit when I was in college.

“Hurt” set the NCAA Division I record for most times hit by a pitch – 92 times in 221 games, which stood until this season when it was broken in April of this year by Brett Lilley of Notre Dame, who by my count ended up finishing with 108 HBPs, which would set the mark across all divisions of the NCAA.

It kind of became a dubious thing to be known for – the guy who wouldn’t get out of the way of a baseball, but at the same time, became a rallying point for the team and fans. On the team at the same time was Tagg Bozied, who went on to play professionally and as of this minute is at Triple-A Albuquerque. Tagg was the NCAA homerun champ in 1999, which provided an interesting contrast between the slugger and the guy who would wear a pitch whenever he could.

Oh, the memories.

Back to the magazine — nice piece on the Mariners’ Bob Christofferson…he’s the head groundskeeper at Safeco Field. It’s a short piece, but it gives you just a little glimpse of insight into the world of groundskeepers and the work they do that can influence the game. There’s a book called Level Playing Fields that does a great job explaining it in more detail, if you’re so inclined to read about it.

The Elijah Dukes story is also pretty engaging…sadly he’s been on the DL most of the year and only has 30 ABs as of now, which he’s only managed to generate a .111 average, no HRs and a lone RBI. With all the good news about Josh Hamilton in Texas who has seemingly conquered his demons, it would be nice to add Dukes to the storyline as well.



Where else baseball pops up

I’m always interested to come across baseball articles in non-baseball publications…for instance the April 2008 issue of Conde Nast Portfolio had a brief feature on the Chicago Cubs in their “How To Value It” section.

The Cubs have been in the business news thanks to talk of a sale, selling the naming rights to Wrigley Field and so on. So Duff McDonald took on the task of placing a value on the Cubs, which he listed at just over $650 million, which I consider to be a low estimate.

If the Red Sox sold for $660 million in 2002, wouldn’t you think the Cubs would be able to push the $750 million barrier? Seems reasonable to me – especially with speculation that if the Yankees were to be sold after the new stadium is complete, it would be well over a $1 billion transaction.

Thoughts?



Catching up on some reading…

A couple of new posts are over on my other site, BaseballBookReview.com – a wonderful site that is worthy of a click. You’ll find reviews of two new books, Far From Home and The Code, both solid utility players in the lineup of baseball books.

In the meantime, I’ve taken this opportunity to clean my desk off – finally. I’ve got weeks of junk magazines, books, and other things to read, so I’m going to do it. Along the way, I’ll post up a few thoughts on the topics that catch my eye.

So Manny Ramirez thinks he’s the best left fielder in Red Sox history? According to an article in the April 29, 2008 Boston Herald, that’s the verdict in Mannyland. I don’t think this one merits much discussion.

In the May 21-27 USA Today Sports Weekly, Jorge Ortiz and colleagues put together a nice piece on different paths that managers have taken to get to the big legaues, and more importantly the idea that great players turn into great managers. I’ve never for once subscribed to that theory — not saying that there can’t be a good player who turns into a good manager, but being an All-Star certainly shouldn’t get you to the front of the managerial line. The consensus from the piece seems to be that while a successful playing career does bring some perceived credibility, ultimately it’s about the kind of rapport that a manager is able to develop with his players.



Look into my eyes…do you see a bunt?
May 24, 2008, 11:31 am
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I’ve had this article by Alan Schwarz of the New York Times on my desk for some time now, reading it, re-reading it, then reading it online, hoping to come up with some tremendous amount of insight and understanding that I’d be compelled to share with you.

Hasn’t happened yet.

Maybe I’ve become too attached to numbers as my means of analysis…I know, hard to do in baseball, right? But Dr. Wang’s results seemed a bit too much to process for me, and while the results are interesting to study, the information in the article proved much more relevant.

There’s been an increase in attention towards the manager and his decisions as analysts and number crunchers try and figure out what makes teams win. Dr. Wang’s is definitely an interesting contribution to that research, although not sure if it really unlocks the door to anything significant.

As Manny Acta of the Nationals put it best, “I’ll adjust to what I have,” which I think tells the story of the plight of the manager better than almost anything. Sure, there are managers that probably are able to do that better than others – but at the same time, the manager lives between a rock and a hard place — he doesn’t sign the players that his GM gives him, nor can he go out there and hit, pitch or field. He has to find a way to take the 25-plus guys he’s given and make it work.

This underlies the importance of a healthy relationship between the general manager and field manager. If these two guys aren’t on the exact same page – then it becomes almost impossible to produce winning results on the field. If the field manager believes in stealing bases and putting the game in motion but is given a bunch of slow-footed, low-average but high power number hitters, the conflict becomes apparent.

And when that conflict becomes apparent through losing records, seemingly disenchanted players and thus frustrated fans, who is generally the one to take the bullet? The manager.

Which really makes me appreciate at times just how well things have line up to foster a healthy relationship and winning results. Most managers only have stints of a couple of years with the club, and they’re coming into a group of players who were there before them and are charged with the task of possibly changing a culture that wasn’t working prior to their arrival. In a way, it’s like trying to reroute a cargo train going full bore down the track without letting off the accelerator.

That in turn makes you appreciate when teams hang on to their managers in times of turmoil — or at least seeming turmoil. Remember – wins and losses don’t always indicate the climate of a clubhouse. There have been plenty of teams with lots of wins and not a lot of love in the clubhouse, and plenty of teams whose on-field performance didn’t reflect the chemistry they had.

So remember that the Chernoff faces that Dr. Wang puts forward on behalf on the 2007 managers may not be the true expression that each of them has. It might just be the mask that they are donning to the ball they’ve been invited to.



…but we’re already at the ballgame…?
May 23, 2008, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I wanted to share this story that Larry Stone of the Seattle Times wrote about the 100th anniversary of Take Me Out To The Ballgame. It made for a good read the other day.

And don’t forget to pick up your TMOTTB stamps in July.