28 January 2004

It's Getting Better All The Time

Sorry for the long layoff. I've been waiting for something good about which to write, but it seemed nothing to inspire a whole column had occurred, until I realized that the lack of activity was actually a story in itself: High-profile players haven't been signing contracts because the market's correcting itself, and they haven't realized it yet. And this is a story.

So you get a "notes/week-and-a-half-in-review" column today, with a theme, and hopefully with better prose than Peter Gammons'. Not that that's such a stretch for me.

Roy Halladay Signs 4-Year, $42 million Contract With Jays

Darn, if that JP Ricciardi isn't one heckuva negotiator, eh? (Actually ESPN's initial headline read "$4.2 million" and I thought they'd really pulled a coup, but alas, 'twas naught but a typo.) Still, to sign a recent Cy Young winner, still in his prime (26), to a four-year deal for just over $10 million annually is pretty good by today's standards.

*Roger Clemens, 39 years old when he won the Award in 2001, managed to hornswaggle the Yankees out of an additional $10.1 million for his 2003 contract, even though they were already paying him over $10 mil that year not to pitch, as part of his 2001-02 contract.

*Randy Johnson, also much older than Halladay, and Pedro martinez, have both gotten $13-15 million each of the last several years, winning several CYA's in that span.

*Tom Glavine, Kevin Appier, Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort, Mike Hampton, Greg Maddux, Matt Morris, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz are all inferior pitchers to Halladay in one sense or another. Yet in 2003, all made as much or more than the $10.5 million annual average he'll be getting.

For that matter, Kevin Millwood asked for more than $10.5 million in arbitration, after finishing the season with an ERA over 4.00 and a record of 14-12. This leads us into our next topic...

What's Up With 'Service Time'?

Speaking of Kevin Millwood, Take a look at these two pitchers:

2002 27 34 217 186 78 16 65 178 18 8 3.24
2003 28 35 222 210 99 19 68 169 14 12 4.01
Totals 69 439 396 177 35 133 347 32 20 3.63
2004 Salary: $10 million, minimum

2002 25 32 206 198 75 16 53 128 14 11 3.28
2003 26 32 209 196 84 22 62 133 14 12 3.62
Totals 64 415 394 159 38 115 261 28 23 3.45
2004 Salary: $2.95 million, max

"Kevin" of course, is the aforementioned Kevin Millwood, and "Vince" is Millwood's teammate, Vicente Padilla.

What I haven't told you (sneaky, I know) is that 2004 will be Kevin Millwood's eighth year of service time, while Padilla has only been active for five years, so he's not elligible for free-agency yet. And this minor discrepancy in service time is what allows the same team to pay two nearly equivalent players very-not-equivalent sums of money. Therefore, Padilla's salary is in the range of what other 5-year veterans get, instead of what other 14-game winners, or 200-inning, 3.5ish ERA pitchers get, like Millwood.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus argues that the arbitration system is generally a good one, but that there must be some understandable exceptions to the rules, most notably Albert "Almost two MVPs" Pujols. He's right, but it's gotta feel a little lousy when you know you can produce like 90% of barry Bonds, or Kevin Millwood, and only make 25-50% of their salary. Of course, I'd like to feel lousy about having to "settle" for $7 million too, but it ain't gonna happen.

Former Florida Marlins Waiting For More Ridiculous Contract Offers

As you must know, Ugueth Urbina and Ivan Rodriguez still have not signed with anyone.

Ugie, apparently, has started to believe his own hype, and the lies spewed by the One-Inning-Closer Machine, and think that he's somehow more valuable than the $3-3.5 million that good-but-unspectacular free agent relief pitchers are getting these days. Jayson Stark reports that Urbina's agent can't even get that much (or that little, as he might tell you), but I suspect that tis is really just a negotiating ploy to get someone to start a conversation with them, so they can end up raising the ante to the level they wanted in the first place. Ugie and his agent are apparently threatening to sit out the year if they don't get the money they think he's worth, trying to somehow buck the general trend of the market correcting itself.

Kinda reminds me of Cleavon Little threatening to blow his own head off in Blazing Saddles. Heck, it worked for him, right?

And speaking (writing) of negotiating in the media, Scott "Super Agent" Boras has managed somehow to complain enough about his client (Pudge) not getting the deal he thought he should (4 years, $40 mil), that he now is negotiating with the Tigers for even more, even though they've already offered him exactly what he requested, which is about two years and $25 million more than anyone else has offered.

I don't know how he does it, but as Rob Neyer says, it's got to be considered genius. Even if you resent him and/or Pudge for it, you've got to give Boras credit. I, for one, hope that the "market correction" wins this battle, and that Pudge will have to acknowlege the changing ecomnomic climate and take what he's offered, which is already more than market value for him. The Tigers, in recognition of their position on the bottom of the barrel, are already giving him more than they should, just to try to lend some credibility to the sinking franchise. Boras and Pudge seem to have mistaken their desparate position for generosity or stupidity, I can't tell which.

So while Lennon & McCartney may not have been completely right about it getting better all the time, it seems at least that this situation is getting better: players are realizing that they're not worth as much as they think, and GMs are realizing that they don't have to overpay for mediocre talent.

Can you imagine what kind of reception Darren Dreifort would be getting if he were looking for a job now, instead of after the 2000 season?

"Sorry, Darren, we've already got an oft-injured, sub LAIM pitcher making $11 million per year. Maybe the Tigers can use you."

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14 January 2004

Payton Through the Nose?

So much for the Jason Kendall trade. Padres GM Kevin Towers must have read my blog yesterday. Well, probably not.

I see now that instead the Padres have signed Jay Payton to patrol centerfield in their new stadium (Petco?!) for the next two years. He's gotten a $5.5 million dollar deal for those two years, which is not bad, but it's not as good as he'd have gotten two or three years ago with the same track record. His bad luck, being born in 1972.

Towers made a big deal about the fact that his offensive numbers in 2003 were not as skewed as some other players' have been by Coors Field. They pointed out that 15 of Payton's 28 homers and 16 of his 32 doubles actually came on the road in '03. What they failed to tell the press conference attendees is that all five of his triples came at Coors, that his batting average and OBP were about 40 points higher at home than on the road, and his slugging average was almost 60 points higher.

In fact, over the last three years...

Avg/600AB 88 174 29 6 22 78 38 78 .290 .339 .468 .807
Non-Coors 72 159 24 3 20 65 34 84 .265 .312 .414 .726
Coors Field 119 192 39 12 26 100 45 56 .357 .411 .616 1.027
?????????? 103 190 42 4 27 104 51 39 .357 .418 .603 1.021

So you can see that there is a significant disparity between his home and road numbers.

His overall numbers are decent, but his road splits, when projected over a full season's at-bats, make him look a lot like Ken Harvey. (Everybody's favorite Internet baseball columnist/Royals fan, Rob Neyer, will tell you that Harvey himself has an abysmal L/R platoon split, but his overall numbers are sub-mediocre. He's ranked #135 in OPS out of 165 MLB players with enough plate appearances in 2003 to qualify for the batting title, not that that will ever be a likely accomplishment by either Harvey or Payton. But now you know ...the rest of the story.)

Interestingly, his (Payton's, not Paul Harvey's) numbers at Coors Field over the last three years, when projected out over a full season's at-bats, resemble one of Nomar Garciaparra's better seasons, 1999. (That's who all those ?????????? belong to, in case you were wondering.) Ironically, at the press conference, Towers indicated that when he saw both Payton and Garciaparra play at Georgia Tech, Payton was the better hitter. We can't really verify this wiothout contacting GA Tech's records department, but at least through some of their minor league careers, Payton was a better hitter, in terms of batting average. But Nomar had better plate discipline and a reasonable knack for preventing the phrase "season-ending [something] injury" from appearing in newspaper columns about himself, while Payton didn't. Nobody's arguing that Payton is still a better hitter than Nomar, but at Coors Field at least, they're pretty even. Unfortunately for the Padres, they play fewer than twenty games at Coors each season. Actually, on second thought, that's probably a good thing for the Padres, as everyone else pretty much hits like Nomar at that altitude as well.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that this is a bad deal. I was just reading Bill James explanation last night of why evaluation systems like the Linear Weights method, in which everyone's relative value is based on being above or below average, do not work, in his book Win Shares. Value, he appropriately argues, does not lie merely in being above average, but in being above the skill of those who cannot play at this level at all.

Travis Lee, for example, is obviously a below-average offensive first baseman, and plays a sufficiently easy defensive position that he cannot possibly make up for that hitting deficiency with his glove, no matter what Ed Wade or Terry Francona used to tell you. Travis, however, keeps getting jobs in the majors because, as below average as he is, he's still better than all but about twenty or twenty five guys in the world at what he does. The replacement level first baseman is still a notch or two below Lee's paltry contributions, and so he has value to the team. He does not have as much value as, say, Carlos Delgado does to his team, but he has more than say, Travis Nelson would if anyone offered him two million dollars to do the same thing. Not that I wouldn't take the job.

Similarly, Payton's got value because he's better than a replacement level CF, even without the aid of Coors Field, though he's not as good as Kevin Towers and some of San Diego's beat writers might have you believe. But players rarely fall as far as their non-Coors stats would suggest will when leaving Colorado, so Payton will probably end up with something like a .275 average, 35-40 walks and about 18 homers, which is just about what you'd expect from a 32-year old journeyman outfielder making under three million a year.

Looks like the Padres got one right after all.

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13 January 2004

Anything You Kendall, I Kendall Better

And you thought the A-Rod for Nomar trade was dragged out?

The Pirates and Padres have been having these on-again/off-again discussions about Jason Kendall since he was playing Tee-Ball, it seems. At least as far back as mid-summer, before the Brian Giles trade was completed (it was completed, wasn't it?), they were talking about making Jason Kendall a part of that trade. It didn't happen then, but it might now.

The theory goes like this:

Team A has overpaid, injury-prone, possibly underproductive* (*relative to his salary) player under contract for three more years making approximately, All the Money in the World, per season. But Team A wants to slash payroll by, let's say, All the Money in the World, per season. This is necessary because their brand spanking new, state-of-the-art, downtown stadium, Beautiful and Intimate though it is, only has about thirty seven seats in it, including those in which the players themselves must sit while not grounding into double plays, and therefore is not bringing in nearly enough revenue to justify paying All the Money in the World to one guy, even if he does have a knack for bouncing back from injuries that would leave lesser men broadcasting. Or playing first base.

So the logical thing to do is to find another team to take said player off their hands, which is easier said (or blogged) than done. First of all, you hafta find another team dumb brave enough to want to take on three years worth of All the Money in the World. This process can be aided if said team has its own shiny, new, beautifully intimate ballpark being constructed right now, in preparation for 2004. The alleged revenue stream from this new ballpark should help to offset the need for All the Money in the World, so long as it occurred to the architects to put more than thirty seven seats in the place. Let's hope it did.

Secondly, you need to convince said team, brave though they may be, that there's some reason they would want this guy. After all, you're trying to get rid of him, so there's gotta be something good enough about him that Team B would want him even though Team A doesn't. The two typical ways of going about this are

A) Player would be happier in new city and therefore play better.
2) Player is from new city and is therefore a bigger fan drawing card.

And of course, you'll probably have to eat some ridiculous contract that the other team wants to jettison just as badly, if not more.

I don't think that anyone is contending that Jason Kendall will play any better in San Diego than he did in Pittsburgh (though he would apparently like to be reunited with Brian Giles), so that's not it. The main thing is that the Padres do in fact have a new stadium opening this year and they, like everyone else, need someone back there to catch the balls their pitchers throw, at least the few that won't get smacked into left field or some nearby body of water.

The Padres have one of these already, in Ramon Hernandez, for whom they traded fewer than two months ago. Hernandez though, they may realize, is just coming off his age-27 season and easily the best offensive performance of his career, so his value is probably as high as it will ever be, especially since he's under contract for two more years at a reasonable rate. This gives him the value they need to package him in a deal with Jeff Cirillo, who used to not suck, but now he does, and sucky players making $7 million/year and playing a position for which you already have a young, reasonably productive and cheap solution are not, as they say in France, "good P.R." So Cirillo and his sub-Neifi .555 OPS have gotta go.

So the Padres get rid of one of the headaches for which they recently traded (Cirillo) and a decent-but-soon-to-be-overvalued catcher (Hernandez) and they get a somewhat better catcher, who's a little older but WAY overpaid, and hopefully some cash to help make up for that.

But how much better is the team? Sure, they got rid of Cirillo, who, like Greg Vaughn and Dr. Kevorkian, makes everyone around him just a little worse. Sure, they upgraded from Hernandez to Kendall, but what's that really worth?

Player, Team	RC	RC27	outs	WS	EQA	RARP

J. Lopez 107.6 9.11 319 27 .337 64.4
J. Posada 100 7.35 367 23.1 .318 58.4
J. Kendall 99.5 6.46 416 21.6 .286 40.8
I. Rodriguez 85.4 5.93 389 17.7 .293 41.6
M. Lieberthal 83 6.13 366 17.5 .292 39.4
J. Varitek 80.3 6.16 352 17 .293 37.5
A. Pierzynski 78.6 5.96 356 16.3 .285 33.5
R. Hernandez 71.2 5.15 373 13.4 .272 26.8
G. Myers 56.3 6.13 248 11.9 .293 23.8
P. Lo Duca 68.1 4.14 444 10.4 .257 18.1

These are the top ten catchers in MLB, 2003, ranked by offensive Win Shares (the short form).

The numbers also include their Runs Created (RC), Runs Created Per 27 Outs (RC27), Outs made, Win Shares (WS), Baseball Prospectus' EqA and Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP).

A Win Share, as you may recall, is worth roughly one-third of a win, so, for example, Javy Lopez's 27 WS in 2003 are conveniently worth about 9 wins, total. Ten runs in BB Prospectus' calculations are also worth approximately one win. The difference between Kendall and Hernandez is 8.2 Win Shares, fewer than three wins over the course of the season. However, that's not the whole story. Kendall also made almost 45 more outs, which is not insignificant. If you normalize for the same number of plate appearances that Kendall had (661, or 133 more than Ramon) the difference would be only 4.8 Win Shares, about a win and a half. If instead you use RARP, you get an actual difference of 14 runs, approximately a win and a half worth, and a normalized difference of only 7.2 runs, less than one win. So, it's fairly safe to say that with the same playing time, Kendall is worth something like one to two wins more than Hernandez, at these production rates.

However, it must be said that it's not likely that they will see the same playing time, because Kendall's increased number of plate appearances is due partly to his being a pretty decent baserunner for a catcher, not that he steals bases much anymore, but that he's fast enough that it rarely makes much sense to put in a pinch-runner for him late in a game. Hernandez, on the other hand, runs like Wade Boggs towing Cecil Fielder, and has a nasty reverse platoon split (hit .208 vs. lefties, .302 vs. righties in 2003) so he probably gets lifted for pinch runners/hitters all the time.

(Speaking of Wade Boggs, having a home-town boy doesn't really do much to draw fans. Tampa Bay tried this in 1998, and they managed to draw 2,506,293 more fans than they had in 1997, but considering that the team didn't actually play in '97, that's not saying much. They lost almost a million fans in '99, and have continued to watch attendance drop in every year since. It didn't work with Jose Canseco in '99 or Fred McGriff in 2000, or Lou Piniella in 2003, so somehow I don't think that Tino Martinez will help things next year, unless he and the rest of his teammates remember how to hit like Tino did in 1997. And (back to the point...) Kendall won't really help the Padres draw fans unless the team is good. That's the main thing that baseball fans will pay to see. That, and bloopers videos, but since the Tigers have pretty much cornered the market on bloopers, the Padres really hafta put a decent playing team on that shiny new field or nobody's going to give a slice of rat-tart where their catcher grew up, or how beautifully intimate the shiny, new stadium is, after the first year. So there.)

But the point is that Hernandez and Kendall are not so different in terms of production despite their differences in style and playing time, and I think that's clear. I don't see what's really in this for San Diego, other than getting rid of Jeff Cirillo.

Both players will likely suffer something of a drop-off in 2004. Kendall will because he's hitting 30 years old and much of his value is tied up in his .325 batting average, which can fluctuate easily. But he's always had great plate discipline, usually walking as much as or more often than he strikes out, so he shouldn't drop as far as Hernandez might. Even though he's younger, Hernandez's offense is based almost entirely on his decent power (21 homers)and mediocre batting average (.273). With only 33 walks in over 500 plate appearances, and already 27 years old, he's not likely to start taking more pitches at this age, and will be facing almost an entirely new set of pitchers and parks in the NL. He'll probably revert to something like the .250 with 15 homers he usually provides, which is still better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but won't make the Pittsburgh fans forget What's-His-Name.

Oh, yeah: All the Money In The World.

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12 January 2004

Rocket's Returning

Back in Septober, I suggested that the baseball game to which a friend and I were going on 11 September 2003 might be the last time that a certain pitcher (we’ll call him “Roger Clemens” because he could kick our ass, or just throw a fractured bat at it) was ever going to pitch at home in the regular season. My reasoning was that his next scheduled home start would fall on the second to last day of the season, and that Torre, having wrapped up the AL East title sometime back in July, would likely rest Clemens in preparation for the playoffs. As it turned out, Clemens was availed the opportunity to beat up on the lowly Orioles on September 27th, and did just that, for his 310th career win.

So while I had expected to see an historical game, it was not nearly as historical as I had hoped. There have been only nineteen wins #307 by any major league pitcher in history, and fewer than half of those pitchers are still alive. Only eight of these wins could have been seen by fans who are still alive and able to recount said 307th win in some sort of reasonably lucid manner. So I’m among maybe 100,000 to 150,000 people who attended such a game. So I got dat goin’ for me. Which is nice.

Ah, but the real suckers are all those people who went to the Baltimore game, thinking that they were guaranteed to see the last regular season game of “Roger Clemens” and spent a pile of money on Rocket souvenirs and film and flashbulbs and such. The joke’s on them now, because the Rocket’s not gone at all, he just changed his mind and decided to go to Houston instead. Maybe he figured that a half decent year (( wins) bumps him up into a solid 12th on the all time list, just behind Phil Niekro and his hero (Roger’s not Phil’s), Nolan Ryan. And of course, he only needs 38 strikeouts to surpass Steve Carlton for second place on the all-time list right behind Nolan Ryan, who, as you will recall, is not Phil Niekro’s hero.

Apparently Clemens was talked into un-retiring by his good friend and fellow defector, Andy Pettitte. Both of them live near Houston and can therefore stay at home whenever the team is at home, and thereby spend more time with their kids and wives, which, on a scal of one-to-ten, is an honorable desire. Let's just see how well he likes giving up fly balls that Bernie used to catch and watching them clear the wall at the JuiceBox, and having to stand in and hit against a teammate of a guy he just plunked.

For his part, Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn't apparently taking the news too hard, and has not bashed Clemens for changing his mind, at least not publicly. On the other hand, have you ever seen Brian Cashman? Clemens picks stuff bigger than Cashman outof his spikes between pitches, so I guess I wouldn't be badmouthing him either, if I were that puny.

The problem is that Clemens was supposed to retire. Give up. Walk away and not look back, you know? Because of this, the Yankees did not bother to offer him salary arbitration, preferring instead to just let him go and not take the chance that he would change his mind, accepting arbitration. Had he done so, the Yankees would have been prevented from cutting his salary more than 15% (I think) from what he made in 2003, which was technically only a little over $7 mil, but actually closer to $10 mil, with all the deferred money. They might have been on the hook for something like $9 million to pay for a 41-year old LAIM pitcher who won’t likely contribute 200 innings in 2004. But if they’d known that he would be willing to come back at all, don’t you think they would have offered him a contract before the deadline, for something like the relatively paltry $5 million the Astros gave him? Of course they would! Five million bucks for something like 180 innings of slightly above average pitching is (sadly) a bargain these days.

And even if they chose not to resign him, the Yankees could have at least gotten a draft pick out of the deal. With their success, it’s not often that they get a very high draft pick, and with all the free agents they tend to sign, it’s sometimes the third or fourth round before they get any at all. Pettitte and Clemens would likely have given them Houston’s top two picks in the 2004 draft, and the Yanks, unlike the Giants, actually like bringing additional, young talent into the organization.

But in the end, as I mentioned, the real joke is on us, the fans. For we all wasted a lot of film trying to take that last picture of that last pitch of that last out of that last inning of that last game at [City and Park names] during [day/night] on a [Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday] for the distinguished career of “Roger Clemens.”

I hope all the memorabilia dealers managed to sell those pictures already, because they just became pretty worthless.


Incidentally, Dan McLaughlin, the Baseball Crank, has got a post discussing the established Win Shares levels of the best 25 players in baseball. Way to break it down, Dan.

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08 January 2004

Hall of Confusion


A very good column on your HoF ballot. You did a good job of presenting your arguments, though, as you might have guessed, I have a couple of bones to pick with your choices. I will try to be respectful as I point out what I believe are some of the holes in your arguments, and stick to what the numbers tell me.

#1 - Jim Rice. I understand that he was very good, but being young enough (29) not to have my opinion tainted by seeing him play, I can go to Baseball-Reference.com, look objectively at his numbers and admit that they are very good, but only borderline for a Hall of Famer. But then I can also visit Retrosheet and see his home/road splits and realize that he was helped a LOT by Fenway Park throughout his career. He hit .320/.374/.546 at home but only .277/.330/.459 on the road. I think you can’t vote for him for the same reason you likely won’t vote for Andres Galarraga (a better fielder with similar career numbers) or Larry Walker (a better fielder with better numbers). Their parks helped them too much.

#2 – Jack Morris. Sure he won more games than anyone else in the ‘80s, but that’s a confluence of circumstances more than anything, since he happened to come into his own just as the ‘70s were ending. Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Sutton, Ryan, Niekro, Fernando, Guidry, Dave Stieb, and a bunch of other pitchers were as good as or better than Morris for most of the first half of his career and Clemens, Hersheiser, Cone, Gooden, Viola, Saberhagen, Dave Stewart, Mike Scott and others were comparable or better than Morris for most of the latter half of his career. No other pitchers of his quality or better happened to come up around the same time and last as long, but being the best of a weak era doesn’t make him one of the best of all time.

Morris really wasn’t the “ace” of any of the World Series teams for which he pitched. He led the ’84 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays in innings, and led those Tigers and Jays in wins, but his ERA was over 4.00 in ’92, and there were two other pitchers on the Tigers with nearly as many wins as his 19. Tapani and Erickson both pitched better than Morris in 1991, Dan Petry was slightly better in ’84 and Jimmy Key and Juan Guzman were both better in 1992, though in fewer innings and with less run-support. It doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t the ace, but you really can’t just throw “clear #1 starter” out there uncontested, at least not in terms of performance.

His set of “peak seasons” is not really the 14 years you present. Though he won 41 more games than anyone else during said span, he had seasons in which he went 16-15, 17-16, 15-13, 15-18, and 6-14! That’s five seasons (out of 14) you could hardly call dominant. In six of those 14 seasons, his ERA was between 2% better and 22% worse than the park-adjusted league average, and another season (when he was the supposed “ace” of the World Series-winning ’84 Tigers, it was only 9% better. Those are seven hardly "peak" seasons.

Morris was helped by his teams’ success tremendously. From 1979-1990, when he was the preeminent starter for the Tigers, the only team that won more games in those 12 seasons was the Yankees. And he followed that up by pitching his swan song years for three World Series winners and a would-be Wild Card team, the 1994 Indians. Put him on the Cubs for most of that career and you can summarize his candidacy for Cooperstown in two words: What candidacy?

Sure, he pitched a 10-inning shutout in the 1991 Series, but his career postseason record was only 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA overall, including an 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA in the 1992 postseason. If you give him credit for coming through in the clutch, you’ve got to give him demerits for blowing it at other times. You can’t have it both ways.

#3 – Bert “Be Home” Blyleven. Besides having one of the best Bermanisms ever, this guy was a heck of a good pitcher. Blyleven’s ERA was better than the league and park-adjusted average in 16 of the 18 seasons in which h pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title. The man started pitching in the majors at 19, and was 37 years old before his adjusted ERA for a full season dropped more than 5% below the league average, and it had done that only once before. His adjusted career ERA (118) is better than Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Early Wynn, and others, I’m sure.

Only twelve guys faced more batters in their careers, and they’re all in the Hall. Only four have ever struck out more of them, and they will all be in the Hall. In the 20th century, only Tommy John, who had the benefit of good teams and pitchers’ parks, has more wins and is not or will not likely be in the Hall, and he’s only got one more.

I just don’t see, based on what they did, not what their teams did around them, how Morris gets in while Blyleven doesn’t.

But that’s my opinion. If you haven’t already hit “Delete” thanks for reading.



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06 January 2004

It’s the End of the World, As We Know It

REM was right.

This weekend’s biggest story in sports wasn’t the College Football (Half-) Championship Game, it wasn’t the Colts bucking the Broncos in one of their worst playoff losses ever, it wasn’t Brett Favre and the Packers continuing to beat their opponents with adrenaline gleaned from the sudden loss of Favre’s father two weeks ago.

It was Pete Rose.

Pete Rose hasn’t played in the majors in almost twenty years, hasn’t managed a major league team in almost 15 years, and yet once again he has succeeded in making himself the center of attention when there are much more deserving stories out there.

In a story roughly as shocking as the revelation that all of those Christmas gifts children around the world recently received were not delivered by a fat, old man who can stop time and drives a sled pulled by flying reindeer, Pete Rose admitted in a recent interview with ABC and a soon-to-be-released book (what a coincidence!) that he actually did bet on baseball, including betting on the Reds while he was Cincinnati’s manager.

There is, of course, a myriad of jokes to be made in light of this admission. I sent an email to the Tony Kornheiser show with a few of my own, but since they probably won’t read it on the air, I’ll show you here:


I heard about Pete Rose. ABC broke the amazing story that Pete Rose actually did bet on baseball, but that's not the end of it. In an effort to compete with ABC, some of the other networks will have similarly revealing stories coming out later this week:

CBS will break the story that OJ Simpson in fact is admitting being guilty of murder, but only of one of them, because he "just couldn't help himself" and that he would like to be forgiven. And please buy his new book.

FOX will break the story that Rush Limbaugh is, is fact, a big, fat, idiot, but that he's losing weight to try to dispel that notion. And also, please buy his book.

UPN will break the story that Britney Spears actually has had breast implants, but only in one of them, and that she would like to be forgiven. And please buy her new CD, as she doesn't write books.

NBC will break the story that Michael Jackson actually has admitted to having had plastic surgery, but only once, for medical reasons, and that he would like to be forgiven. And please buy his/her new book.

HBO will break the story that Michael Corleone was, in fact, involved in running the Corleone crime family, but that he was "just a lackey", and that he only did it because he needed the money. No word on who's going to break the story to HBO that Michael Corleone doesn't really exist. But please buy his book anyway.


Besides the jokes, though, there is some significance to this story. Reportedly, Rose’s admission of guilt in these matters is a steppingstone to his reinstatement into the Game we all know and love. Astonishingly, though, his admission is not only that he bet on baseball, as he has persistently (if not believably) denied for the last 15 years, but also that he actually did bet on the Cincinnati Reds while he managed them.

Some will argue that the fact that he didn’t bet against the Reds is a reason to consider forgiving him. They’d argue that, of course, he was trying to win anyway, as their manager, and so it’s really no different, right?


The clause in the official baseball rules is very clear, and they make no distinction between betting for or against your team. The only distinction lies between betting on baseball in general and betting on games in which you have some direct responsibility.

Rule 21(d):

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.

So Rose is now admitting that he actually did the latter, the one action that a sign in every clubhouse in the majors and minors warns you will get you banned from the game for life, and somehow this admission of guilt is going to help get him reinstated? I don’t understand this at all. It’s like telling accused murderers that if they’ll just admit that they killed the guy, they can go free.

Since when is this a wise or effective policy? Do you think that if Senator Kennedy finally admitted that he was something more than an innocent bystander in the incident at Chappaquidick, the public would all just forgive him? Do you think that if former President Reagan, in an Alzheimer’s-induced stupor, admitted on record that he knew about the Iran-Contra affair all along, people would just let it slide? Don’t bet on it.

It’s like the movie Quiz Show, in which Ralph Fiennes’ character owns up to the gameshow-fixing scandal in a Congressional inquiry, and everyone wants to forgive him, because he seems like such a nice guy. Congressman after Congressman chimes in to offer their opinion of what a sincere, heartfelt apology and admission he’s given, as though it somehow wasn’t his fault and they should just let him walk. It seems like maybe Pete Rose just watched the movie, got to this part, and suddenly realized that he could admit his wrongs and the public would receive him with open arms, and instantly ran off to start writing his book. The trouble is that Rose must have turned off the movie before one congressman finally gets up and says:

I'm happy that you've made the statement. But I cannot agree with most of my colleagues. See, I don't think an adult of your intelligence should be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth.

And there are plenty of people who feel like this about Pete, but Rose isn’t even as contrite as Charles Van Doren was, as evidenced by his own book excerpt:

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong. But you see, I'm just not built that way. […] So let's leave it like this: I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family that it hurt. Let's move on."

Let’s move on? You’re not sorry for what you’ve done, only that you got caught, and that it screwed things up for you, but let’s move on? You don’t admit to actually making the choices that have placed you in this position, preferring instead to present the situation as an “it” that just somehow “happened” to you, but let’s move on? I don’t think so.

There are a few reasons why it is important not to allow the rules to bend for anyone, even an icon like Pete Rose. First of all, the whole reason that the gambling clause exists in the playing rules is that a gambler whose debt to a bookie has gotten out of hand has a rather easy means of making up some of that debt: If he’s a manager, he can do something to fix a game, or he can provide inside information to his bookie, which helps the bookie to fix the odds in his favor. Perhaps even more importantly, he can do things that increase the physical risks to his players, and to the welfare of the organization, in an effort to win a game (and the money consummate with his bet on that game) he wouldn’t normally need to win, like leaving in a young, fragile-armed starter for too many pitches, or sending a runner barrel-assing into the catcher on the off-chance that he could score the winning run, but perhaps injuring one or the other of those players for life.

It can be argued that in today’s game of multimillionaires, no one would ever have the need to do this, as they should always have plenty of money to pay off bookies, if they become indebted. But gambling, as I understand it, is an addiction that feeds on itself, in which the piling up of losses only serves to whet the gambler’s appetite for more, until he’s beyond the scope of what he can handle on his own salary. If Pete Rose was making $500K to $1 million in salary and was placing hundreds of bets for thousands of dollars each, there’s no reason why a similar figure making ten or twenty million dollars in today’s game couldn’t get in similar trouble making bets for tens of thousands of dollars at a similar pace. So it's still a relevant issue, and until greed and selfishness are things of the past, it always will be.

This is not the first time I’ve written on this subject, and you can see from my columns from last year that my opinion on Rose hasn’t changed since last summer/fall. Lots of others have written about it as well:

Jayson Stark doesn't seem to think he's done enough to get back into baseball. For once, I agree with Stark's analysis.

David Pinto appropriately says that baesball Prospectus is not owed an apology for the denials of the story they ran last summer.

John Perricone, amazingly, still finds a way to blame Fay Vincent and John Dowd.

Mike Carminati finds the news earth-shattering, but figures that it's only a matter of time before baseball forgives and forgets.

Elephants in Oakland, who is finally back to writing consistently, think that Pete Rose vs. MLB seems to them rather like a Monty Python sketch.

And of course there's no shortage of other opinions out there. But now you know mine.

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01 January 2004

Book Review: The Catcher Was a Spy

The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg
By Nicholas Dawidoff

Nicholas Dawidoff might better have entitled this book “The Sad Life and Death of Moe Berg.” For a man so known and so beloved in the public eye, a man with such talent and potential inside him, a man like Moe Berg, to have met his pathetic and prolonged demise in such manner does not seem appropriate. And yet, whether we like them or not, these are the facts. At least in so much as Dawidoff was able to discover them.

Dawidoff must have taken years to compile all of the information necessary to write this book. Given the seemingly pedantic nature of some of the minutiae he includes in the text, the reader must wonder at some point whether or not Dawidoff omitted anything he discovered in his interviews and research. The book’s epilogue is comprised of a list of everyone he interviewed or relied upon for information for the book, and a list of notes on his sources of quotations, which takes up over about 80 pages! At least nobody can accuse him of not being thorough.

The chosen subject, Morris Berg, would seem at first glance to be an exceedingly interesting catcher. His 15-year career as a major league catcher places him among the elite in almost any conversation, despite that he only managed to hit .243 in said career, but that’s just the beginning. Moe was Ivy League educated, graduating magna cum laude BA in modern languages from Princeton, where he was a star (not a third-string) shortstop. He also graduated from Columbia Law School and passed the bar exam, making him perhaps the first player who was truly qualified to represent himself in free agency, if such a thing had existed at the time.

As if this were not enough, Moe Berg retired from an exclusive and exciting existence as a professional athlete to embark upon perhaps an even more elite and exciting career: He became a spy for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, precursor to the CIA) during the Second World War, and traversed Europe in search of secrets regarding the German Atomic Bomb Program.

And sprinkled throughout this interesting juxtaposition of occupations, Berg somehow found the time to learn to speak or write (by varying accounts) Latin, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, Sanskrit and/or Swahili. Hence the old joke that, “Moe Berg could speak a dozen languages but he couldn’t hit in any of them.”

Indeed, Berg could not hit, or perhaps would not hit much in the majors. He was not a bad player, but he was fortunate to have laid claim to his position in a time when good-hitting catchers were the exception and not the rule, as today. Interestingly, the author reports that Berg’s status as a third-string catcher was by his own design, that Berg sought the freedom and privileges of life afforded to ballplayers, but did not desire to make himself a standout amongst them, at least not for his play. Berg seemed to prefer sitting in the bullpen, chatting up the pitchers and other players, impressing them with his knowledge of law, history, art, language or other trivia, rather than actually playing consistently. Dawidoff posits the theory that Berg chose to play only when he felt spry, in an effort not to shame himself between the white lines. Ironically, it could be argued that a man of such obvious talent in college might have been a better player overall if ha had allowed himself a bit more practice. Or, as Berg feared, he might well have been washed-up before he was ready to leave, and forced to do something rash, like work for a living.

Berg’s career as a spy is able to be presented in detail by Dawidoff for two reasons: First of all, it turns out that the Germans had no more progress on the Atomic Bomb Project during WWII than they did on their Time Machine Project or on their Perpetual Motion Machine Project. If any project existed at all, it was at worst a ruse, a failed scheme-turned-distraction-to-the-Allies at best. Secondly, Berg was not a very good spy. Virtually everyone who knew him, even in his own times, knew he was a spy, and he was always doing silly things like hushing people for mentioning certain issues or hiding behind beech saplings with no leaves when someone he didn’t want to see walked by. This is not a good spy. If either of these things had not been true (i.e. if Berg had been a good spy or if the Nazis really had developed an A-Bomb) we would not be allowed to know what berg did during the war. That we can know these things is simultaneously enlightening and distressing.

But the greatest distress to be derived from these pages lies in the story of Bergs pitiful life after the War. This man of such varied talents and skills, with such a background as his, could have chosen virtually any occupation he wanted after returning from the war. Let’s face it: There aren’t many people out there who could list two Ivy League degrees, a barrister’s license, a Medal of Freedom and a baseball career spanning almost two decades, on their resumes. But Berg would have none of it. Instead he squandered his waning years, traveling constantly, dropping in on old friends unannounced, staying until he had worn out his welcome (sometimes longer), and moving on. Always moving on. He never found an occupation that suited him as well as either baseball or espionage had, and so he apparently gave up trying, and live out what would be his remaining 25 years or so in a vagabond's life, charming hospitality out of anyone he could.

The book is a comprehensive, well-written piece, but even the greatest of writers could not have made this a thoroughly interesting book without embellishing the facts a little. To Dawidoff’s credit, he provides only the facts, and does little to suppose that he knows what any of the characters was thinking at a given moment in Berg’s history. But this lack of interpretation leaves something of a void for the reader. Where you had hoped to find answers, it turns out that there may only be more, unanswerable, questions.

And even if you have the penchant for minute details that I do (to an irritating degree sometimes, my wife will tell you) this book was hard to get through at times. It took me nearly a year to finish it, and even though it was a year busy with other responsibilities, any avid reader will tell you that they’ll make the time to finish a great book. This one was merely good.

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