24 August 2006

The Team That Changed Baseball: by Bruce Markusen

The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates
By Bruce Markusen

c. 2006 Westholme Publishing Inc. 240 pgs. $25.00 (paperback)

Fellow blogger Bruce Markusen's newest book covers the story of the 1971 Pirates team from beginning to end, and goes beyond that, really, since it starts with General Manager Joe Brown’s assembly of the club in the winter of 1970-71 and ends with a “where are they now” epilogue. Markusen’s fond memories and thorough research, buttressed by numerous personal interviews with some of the surviving personalities form that team and that time, provide for an extremely detailed description of the season, the players and the games. The reader is led through the year, month by month, game by game, and gets the kinds of details most people would only know from having been there, which is generally a good thing. But baseball isn’t called “the long season” for nothing, with a month of spring training, 162 regular season games and (mercifully, in 1971, only) two rounds of playoffs to cover, not to mention the important events of the preceding and following winters. Over such a long span, the particulars of individual games get a little tedious, especially if you aren’t as invested in the Pittsburgh franchise as Markusen evidently is.

The premise of the book is that the 1971 Pirates, being the first team in Major League Baseball to field an all-minority lineup, and actually winning as they did so, showed the rest of MLB and the world that success could be achieved regardless of the colors of players’ skin. GM Joe Brown’s acquisitions of players to bolster his roster based on his team’s needs, and the players' talents, rather than their status as black or white or Latino, served as a model for other franchises to consider abandoning any official or unofficial racial quotas they may have utilized. That manager Danny Murtaugh daily filled out his lineup card without regard to race or ethnicity is a credit to his open-mindedness and gave other managers an example to follow. But if the team had not succeeded, if they had not won the National League and eventually the World Series, perhaps fewer heads would have been turned and the impact that Markusen discusses might not have been realized in MLB for much longer.

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11 August 2006

DPD: Stark, Stats, and South-Side Starters' Struggles

ESPN's Jayson Stark appeared on Mike & Mike in the Morning on Wednesday, his weekly radio appearance in which he frequently makes bold, polarizing types of statements. Such contentions regularly play havoc with the show's email in-box, as fans and listeners feel compelled to write the show and either agree or disagree vehemently with Mr. Stark. This week was no exception to that rule, but since I have a number of blogs from which I can pontificate on this issue, I don't need to further clutter the Mikes' email system.

This week's polarizing remarks were that the reason for the Chicago White Sox struggling starting pitching this year is...

They've pitched too well.

OK, so that's not exactly what he said. He actually said that the White Sox starting pitchers are currently struggling because they've thrown so many pitches in the last two years, and because they throw a lot of pitches in an average game. Trey Wingo (sitting in for Mike Golic) pointed out that the White Sox received a lot of quality innings from their starters last year, which led to their success, and that this year's pitching struggles are largely to blame for the team's difficulty in repeating that success. He asked Stark if we could expect more of the same from this point on, to which Stark replied (audio here):

"I think what you're seeing is a rotation that is paying the price for all the pitches and all the innings that Ozzie Guillen has allowed it to throw over the last two seasons. [...] If you look at the numbers, of the top 12 pitchers in the American League in pitches thrown per start, the White Sox have four of them: Contreras, Garland, Vazquez, Garcia...and the fifth guy, Mark Buehrle, has thrown more total pitches in the last two seasons than any pitcher in the American League except Barry Zito, and he'd be first if you count the post-season. So, I think all those pitches, all those innings, are wearing this rotation out."

Well, this was easy enough to validate, if not particularly convenient. Neither ESPN.com nor mlb.com has pitches per start available in their sortable stats pages, but BaseballProspectus.com does. Now Jayson didn't mention his source on this, but I emailed him and he graciously responded. He told me that the first stat came from Stats, Inc., which is of course the supplier for ESPN and a lot of other news agencies out there. The other number, about Buehrle's total pitches in 2005-06, he said came from the Hardball Times.

As far as I can tell, his sources were wrong on both counts. Here are the top 40 American League pitchers in average pitches per start in 2006, according to Baseball Prospectus:

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07 August 2006

DPD: Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders

Mr. Wrigley [...] announced [...] the College of Coaches. The idea was that eight top coaches would rotate through the organization, from Class D all the way up to the big club, ensuring that players at every level were taught the same way to botch rundowns, miss cutoff men, ground into double plays, and so forth. [But...]

Who would manage the Cubbies?

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders

by Rob Neyer (duh)
c. 2006, Simon & Schuster, NY
Paperback, $16.00 US/$22.00 Canadian

The newest book from ESPN's Rob Neyer, the self-named Big Book of Baseball Blunders, follows on the heels of last year's Big Book of Baseball Lineups. I don't know if Neyer is planning a while series of such works, (Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Managers, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Equipment, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Ballparks, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Bubblegum...maybe not.) but you can count me in on the rest of the collection.

In this book's introduction, Neyer makes a particular point of defining the difference between a blooper and a blunder. Bloopers, i.e. on-field, spur-of-the-moment mistakes, happen all the time, and while they make the game more interesting, there's not really any way to second-guess a blooper. They just happen, and if you could prevent them, you would do so. But blunders, pre-meditated, well-thought out decisions that somehow go horribly, horribly wrong, those make for some pretty good conversations, and a pretty interesting book.

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