24 October 2003


Somebody needs to tell the Florida Marlins that they don't have to win.

...that nobody expected them to win.

...that most of us still expect them not to win.

...that no one will really mind if they don't win.

Somebody needs to tell them that they don't have to try so hard.

...Let an opposing runner on third with less than two out cross the plate once in a while.

...Let a ground ball through the infield once in a while.

...Let Aaron Boone have a meatball once in a while.

Somebody needs to let the Marlins know that their season is already a success.

...that nobody expected this, so it's a pleasant surprise.

...that nobody cared about them until three weeks ago.

...that nobody will care about them next year if they don't re-sign Pudge.

...and Luis Castillo.

...and Ugie Urbina.

Somebody needs to remind the Marlins that the Yankees make three times as much money as they do.

...that the Yankees have more than four times as many playoff appearances as the Marlins have seasons of existence.

...that the Yankees have about four times as many future Hall-of-Famers.

...that the Yankees have about a hundred times as many fans.

...and much cooler uniform colors. (Teal?! c'mon!)

Somebody needs to refresh the Marlins memory.

...that the Yankees won ten more regular season games than they did.

...that the Yankees had to beat two teams better than them, the Giants or the Cubs to get here. OK, maybe not the Giants.

...that Roger Clemens by himself or any two of the Yankees' starting pitchers have more career wins then their entire pitching staff combined.

Somebody needs to tell the Marlins that their manager is too old.

...that their ace pitcher is too young.

...that their rookie 3B/RF/DH/whatever is way too young.

...that their catcher is too...Pudgy.

Somebody needs to inform the Marlins that the Fates are against them.

...that History is against them.

...that Mistique, Aura and Buffy the Pole-Dancer are against them.

...that the Best Team on the Planet is against them, and ought to win.

Somebody needs to instill in the Marlins the understanding that it's OK to loosen up a little.

...that nobody will be fired in Florida if they don't win. (Not so in NY.)

...that they're going to have a hard time outdrawing the Expos again next year anyway.

...that a pansy-ass little expansion franchise that can't decide from year to year whether it wants to win or lose, stay or move, exist or be contracted, isn't supposed to beat the Mighty Yankees.

Somebody needs to tell the Marlins to lose.


...They're running out of time.

...And they're not listening to me.

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Noted baseball/history author Harvey Frommer, for whom I have done several book reviews, and who is in the midst of conducting an e-interview with me, to be published next week, has two books coming out soon. I hope to have reviews of these available for you as they become available, but for now, here are the plugs:

*Coming Spring 2004
New York City Baseball :
The Last Golden Age, 1947-1957
By Harvey Frommer
At one time New York City had three major league teams: the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. In the days after World War II, the New York teams owned baseball. Relive the golden days of the 1950s in this amazing account.
When the lights came on again after World War II, they illuminated a nation ready for heroes and a city--New York--eager for entertainment. Baseball provided the heroes, and the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers--with their rivalries, their successes, their stars--provided the show.

"We shall not have such an era again except in such loving books as this one." --RED BARBER

“No red-blooded baseball fan will want to be without it. A genuine social history of New York sports in 1947 to 1957. A compulsively fascinating book.” - - NEWSDAY

“A look back at the heyday of Big Apple baseball when at least one New York team appeared in the World Series in 10 of the 11 years. - - “USA TODAY

”Lovingly described.”- - -NEW YORK POST

*New edition with an introduction by Monte Irvin


Covers nearly a century's worth of epic battles on and off the baseball field between these age-old rivals.
Featuring exclusive interviews with former governors Mario Cuomo of New York and Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, former press secretary Ari Fleisher, congressmen, reporters, broadcasters, and especially players, coaches, managers and front-office execs from the Red Sox and Yankees including Don Zimmer, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Lou Meroni, Dwight Evans, and Theo Epstein.
Two unique features of the book are a Rivalry Timeline and a "Talkin' Rivalry" section, a free-for-all in print among fans, journalists, players who all have something to say.
Other chapters include Marker Moments, In-depth Profiles of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
More than two years in the making, this coffee-table book will have nearly 400 pages of text and more than 125 photos, some in color, some archival.
A perfect book for Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, and all baseball fans.
Harvey Frommer is the author of 34 sports books,
including "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia, "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," "Growing Up Baseball" with Frederic J. Frommer and "Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Line," "A Yankee Century: A Celebration of the First Hundred Years of Baseball's Greatest Team."
Frederic J. Frommer is an Associated Press correspondent based in Washington, D.C. This is his second book.

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22 October 2003

Sports Theology

Andy Pettitte pitched a great game on Sunday night, which the Yankees won, 6-1. Eight & 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, only one, unearned run. (My wife thought I was in physical pain when she heard me screaming at Boone's 9th-inning, shutout-ruining, second-error-of-the-night from upstairs. She'll learn...I was.)

But this column isn't about baseball, at least not directly.

After the win, Pettitte said this to Fox Sports' Steve Lyons:

"...And the main reason is just...I've got so many people back home at my church, praying for me and I know they're there, and around all over the country praying for me and I just thank God that he just blessed me to be able to do this tonight."

Right there on live, inter-national TV, a grown man is standing there telling another grown man and about 13 million other people who are still watching that the Lord of the Universe helped him win a baseball game because a bunch of people from his church in Texas asked Him to do so.

Of course, you couldn't find the text of this quote anywhere on the internet if you so desired, which I did. I had to go to Fox Sports' web page, sign up for a free trial of RealOne Superpass and then download the video of Pettite's interview with Steve Lyons. Any of the normal news sources who had quotes from Pettitte in their game stories didn't bother to include this particular comment, which fell in the midst of a response to a question that Lyons asked about how Pettitte handled the speedy Pierre and Castillo at the top of the Marlins' lineup, but obviously encompassed more than that. Most writers left their stories to baseball, which, while a little biased against religion, is probably appropriate, in my opinion.

Getting back to the point...

Andy Pettitte is a Christian. So am I. Otherwise, we're pretty different. For one thing, he's left handed, and makes about 250 times as much money as I make every year. But this column isn't about money. It's about (get ready...)


More specifically, it's about God and Sports. My particular take on this issue is that God and Sports is a little like peanut butter and tunafish: they just don't go together. But clearly there are those who disagree with me. Andy Pettitte, for example.

It's not that I don't think God cares about the people who play sports. Clearly, if "God so loved the world..." this must have included professional athletes, right? Right.

But what about the other professional athletes? The ones competing against Andy Pettitte? This is where the issue gets dicey. You see, I'm willing to bet dollars to potluck supper buntcakes that there are Christians on the Marlins team as well. I'm not sure whom, exactly, but there's got to be somebody, and if you assert that Andy Pettitte was caused to and/or helped to win a baseball game by God, then it logically and necessarily follows that some other people, some of whom may also profess an allegiance to Christ, were specifically caused to fail by God, because God for some reason likes Andy Pettitte better, or something. I have a hard time with this notion.

For one thing, how do you explain times when Pettitte has not succeeded? Were the prayers of Pettitte's church more effective in 1997 (18-7, 2.87 ERA in 240 innings) than in 1999 (14-11, 4.70 ERA in 191 innings)? Was God angry with Andy or his church in 2002 when he sustained an injury and was only able to make 22 starts? Does God like it better when Andy pitches during the day (2.43 ERA in 2003) than at night (4.83 ERA)? Or do the people in Andy's church pray harder on Tuesdays (5-1, 2.72) than on Thursdays (1-2, 9.14)?

And if so, why? Why would Jesus care how well Andy Pettitte (or anyone else) does in any given baseball game? And why should Andy Pettitte's requests for success be honored any more than anyone else who prays to God for such things? Who does God decide to listen to when a potential game-winning field-goal is about to be kicked in a football game and there are circles of players on both sidelines praying for both it's success and failure? Can we really take him seriously when Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield thanks Jesus for helping him to turn his opponent's face into an impressive Memorex of raw hamburger? Pretty tough to imagine that the same Jesus who said, "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."


Back in 1996, the Yankees won their first World Series in almost two decades, and some (not all) Christians attributed their success to the presence of professing, Bible-believing Christians: Pettitte, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera, John Wetteland, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. (Doc and Straw, as you may know, only met Jesus after running thier lives into the ground with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and/or tax evasion. This means, therefore, that all their early success was accomplished without the supposed aid of a higher being, or at least, presumably, without a significant number of prayers on their behalf.)

So these six players somehow, supposedly, managed to sway the favor of the Lord of Creation toward themselves and their teammates, the other 19 of whom, presumably, only pray when being shot at. Frankly I find this pretty hard to believe. I don't know off-hand, how many of the 1996 Braves would profess to be Chrstians as well, but I would guess that it's less than six. It would be an interesting study, sort of an antithesis to the "Ex-Cubs Factor", to look at the correlation of born-again Christians to World Series winners over time. Informative? Probably not, but interesting. Scott Brosius, apparently also a Christian, had an interesting take on this, from the Google translation of a French Christian webpage:

"Several claim that, if our team counts many Christian players, we will gain the world Series, Brosius entrusts. It was certainly amusing not only to belong to a gaining team, but côtoyer players who gained good way, by showing the true characteristics of humility. Many guy understood that they received many things, which are actually blessings that they did not deserve. I life a really formidable experiment! "

Well, I guess that clears things right up!

A Lesson From History

So from whence does this notion come? It seems to me that it's probably rooted in the same sorts of ideas that cause someone to be a fan in the first place, to be loyal to a particular team or city's teams. Identifying with a particular place, and with the team that represents it is nothing new. People have been doing so for centuries, rooting and praying for their athletes probably since the Athens Red Sox competed against the Sparta Yankees in the first Olympics (Athens later being permanently cursed by Zeus for allowing thier star shot-putter, Bambinostotle, to defect to Sparta and become a full-time javelin thrower.) Praying for these athletes made a lot more sense, because:

A) they were actually from your city, and not just a collection of mercenary ringers.
2) If you didn't have the Olympics, you'd have probably had a war instead.

Personally, I'd pray for victory too, if it meant that I wouldn't have to fight a war. But such is no longer the case, in 21st century America, where the biggest war addressed in a baseball game is either the battle for elbow-room in the urinals or the bean-ball war on the field. And that's only when Punk-Ass is pitching.


So we're back to pondering the veracity and applicability of Andy Pettitte's statement. It seems to me that there are a few ways in which his statement might be interpreted, depending upon whether or not God exists and whether or not Andy Pettitte really knows Him very well. Let's see:

1) There is no God. Andy Pettitte is a delusional weirdo. This stuff all happens either by random chance or because someone "wanted it more".

PROS: Charles Darwin and Joe Morgan both believe at lease some aspect of this scenario. Your fate's in your own hands, which is good news for control-freaks like me!
CONS: If the Universe can exist and hold itself together without a Designer, then life isn't really worth living, which would suck, and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

2) There is a real God. He's on Andy Pettitte's side when it comes to baseball games, and maybe other stuff too.

PROS: Andy thinks this is true. Other people, not just athletes, do also.
CONS: Andy doesn't win all the time, which either means that God is fickle or powerless, either of which would suck, and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

3) There is a real God. Andy Pettitte just thinks He's on his side in these things, but really God doesn't pay that much attention to these things. He's off somewhere playing cosmic marbles with planets we'll never see or something, and it would come as a surprise to Him that Andy Pettitte thinks He helped him win a baseball game.

PROS: Joan Osbourne believes this. It would explain why Andy doesn't always win, without making Pettitte out to be either delusional or a liar. That's good.
CONS: This scenario makes God out to be in less than complete control of all things at all times, and therefore less than all-knowing and all-powerful, which would suck and is therefore an unacceptable conclusion.

4) There is a real God. He is all-powerful and has control over, indeed, has already determined the outcome, of every event in the course of human history, including professional baseball games. Therefore, any prayers offered up by Andy, his church, or other fans "around all over the country" are not so much effective in terms of swaying God's mind as they are good practice for the praying people in relating to God and potentially understanding him better. This God is only concerned about the results of baseball games in so much as His people honor him in playing them, watching them or paring about them, which is appropriate, what with Him being the Lord of the Universe and all.

PROS: I believe this one, as did a lot of saints and theologians. Blessed assurance, right? God's got it in control, so you don't hafta worry. Pretty cool, I think.
CONS: An unpopular option, since it means that ultimately we don't really have as much control over things as we think we do. Also, this option requires much more faith and a lot of residual life choices that the other options don't necessitate.

Well you know where I stand now: Extremely glad that the people who control the Google translation tools don't control any of the rest of the Universe, but for the record, I'll be praying that God helps Roger Clemens to pitch the game of his life in his swansong performance tonight and beat those backward, Neanderthal, Cretan, pagan SOB's the Florida Marlins tonight, and for David Wells to do the same on Friday night. Amen.

Let's allow Andy to have the final word, though, from that same Google-translated French Christian webpage:

"People observe how you act, how you face the situations. When I gain a world Series, it is easy for me to hold to me in front of a crowd and to thank God. And much of players make in the same way, and it is well. But I really smell that I was faithful to my Christian faith,"

We smell it, too, Andy. We smell it too.

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15 October 2003

Curse Re-Trac-Tion

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no urse Re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m playin’ towards the wall
And that fan wearin’ the radio
Gets in the way of the ball
So I can’t catch it for an out
And I have to scream and shout!
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no Curse Re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that ball goes toward the short stop,
Who can always play the short-hop.
But he can’t play this one ‘cause it hits his glove
And I watch…it…to…the ground…drop!
I can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no Curse re-trac-tion.
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no.

When I’m pitchin’ ‘gainst the team
And I’m curvin’ this and I’m slidin’ that
And I’m tryin’ some outs to glean,
But I can get no outs, ‘cause the fielders reek,
’cause you see we’re on a (95-year) losing streak.
We can’t get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
I can’t get no satisfaction,
No satisfaction, no Curse re-trac-tion, no satisfaction….

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13 October 2003

Spineless Coward

Not long ago, an athlete with a world of talent at his beck and call, though perhaps a bit past his prime, found himself on centerstage in his sport, the place he most liked to be, against a formidable adversary. Finding that despite his best efforts, he could not beat this adversary at their game, this athlete became distraught and, perhaps not knowing how to deal with these feelings or perhaps not caring to try, he lowered himself to the basest level of human existence: Recognizing the victory he so desired slipping from his usually capable grasp, and lacking the wherewithal to stop it, he lashed out at his opponent, choosing instead to injure him physically, if he could not best him at sport.

The opponent, in justified (if not entirely righteous) anger, yelled obscenities back at our Anti-Hero, as the crowd cheered and jeered, according to their own dispositions toward both the Anti-Hero and his opponent. As the dust settled and the benefit of time and hindsight allowed fans, writers and other athletes to review the situation in all its grotesque angles, almost all agreed that the Anti-Hero was little more than a gutless, impetuous, selfish and childish punk.

But enough about the Tyson-Holyfield fight.

There was baseball played this weekend!

Sadly, last week my home computer decided that the ability to connect to the internet was not nearly as high a priority for itself as it was for me, and therefore left me without any realistic ability to comment on these happenings until now. Bronchitis hasn't exactly been helpful either.

Because I was working on the computer most of the day, I only got to listen to most of the game on the radio, rather than watch it.

Baseball is a game that lends itself to spoken description in ways that basketball, hockey and football simply do not. For example:

...The unique dimensions and character of individual ballparks, like Boston's Green Monster or Montreal's crickets (criquets?), allow the radio announcer to tell you exactly where the action is at any given moment. The uniformity and continual two-way movement along an ice rink, a basketball court or a gridiron simply cannot hope to be as interesting.

...The generally one-dimensional direction of play (mostly outward from home plate or back towards the infield), makes it easier for the listener to focus his mind's eye on whomever has the ball, where the ball is headed and what it's doing or has just done.

...Te ease with which the men who participate in the game can be seen, due to the relative lack of equipment on their persons (Barry Bonds' and Gary Sheffield's front elbows notwithstanding), allows the radio announcer to paint a much more descriptive portrait of the players's appearances than you can in say, football. Compare:

"McGuire steps in, a Hercules of a man at 6'5", 230 pounds of sheer muscle, rippling beneath the polyester double-knit uniform. He holds the bat with the ease of a flyswatter, weilding it as an ordinary man would a Wifle ball bat, as he prepares to swing. And here comes the pitcher's delivery...it's a fastball inside and McGuire's tied up, he grounds weakly to second and the inning is over. That's right folks, this Mr. Olympia of baseball was brought to his knees by the local office manager from H&R Block. Oh, wait. Sorry, folks, that was Greg Maddux."


"And Steve Young is down, he appears to have a concussion, again. He was sacked by...number 68, a 360-pound lineman from Fresno State who looks like, well, a big fat guy in tight pants."

...The variation of physical stature in the players themselves makes us all feel as though it could almost be us out there. Players as varied in size and shape as Jeff Nelson (6'8" 240 lbs.), Nellie Fox (5'9" 150), Rich Garces (6'0" 250), and Darryl Strawberry (6'6" 200) have all enjoyed at least a reasonable degree of success in Major League Baseball. You don't have to be a physical freak to succeed in baseball, like you do in basketball or football. We can all relate to it better.

With that said, the Yankees announcers did a less than admirable job in understanding and describing some of the events of the melee on Saturday afternoon. When Pedro Martinez (henceforth to be known as "Punk-Ass") threw at karim Garcia's head, John Sterling and Charlie Steiner spent more time trying to discern whether the ball hit Garcia's bat than informing the rest of us that Punk-Ass was taunting the Yankee bench and threatening to bean Jorge Posada, who would have been a much greater loss to the Yankee cause than Garcia, frankly. Eventually they told us that the guys on the bench were screaming at Pedro, but I'm not sure they ever mentioned the taunting from Punk-Ass.

"If I weren't such a gutless coward, 

you'd really be in trouble!"

Later on, when Manny Ramirez ("Dumb-Ass") ducked to get away from a Roger Clemens pitch that wouldn't have hit him if he were standing a foot closer to it, and all hell broke loose, Steiner told us at first that David Wells had been knocked to the ground by Punk-Ass, when, in fact, it turned out that Don Zimmer actually did the stop, flop and roll. Wells (6'4", 250+), as we alls wells knows, knows how to handle himself in a fight, and would not likely have toppled so readily to a man (and I use the term loosley) who stands 5 inches shorter and weighs 180 pounds dripping wet and carrying a bag of Quikrete. Steiner corrected himself quickly, but still...

The Yankees were, as you may recall, pretty bummed when the Red Sox traded Carl Pavano, Tony Armas Jr. and another young pitcher (anyone remember whom?) to Montreal and then signed Pedro to that ~$15 million/year contract, but for my money (and some of it is...) I'll take a boring, composed, college boy like Mussina over a punk-ass like Punk Ass anyday. Didn't see the Moose letting loose at Trot Nixon's head when it looked like he was about to take his third defeat of the postseason, did you?

"...And now Mussina holds the ball, And now he lets it go,
And now Trot's skull is shattered! The blood from his head doth flow!"

Not exactly the classic picture of good, old-fashioned American sport Ernest Thayer imagined, is it?

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09 October 2003

Winter of Their Discontent

I mentioned yesterday how exciting most of the postseason has been, and despite the Yankees' loss to Boston last night, and the Cubs' pummeling the Marlins into submission, it's still exciting.

Thankfully, we didn't see the kinds of bone-headed plays to which we've become accustomed in this postseason in either game. ESPN's Jim Caple reviews some of the low points.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the Oakland/Boston game in which the A's played like the Nine Stooges. A friend tried to explain it to me and I almost gave up trying to listen, it was so hard to follow all the screw-ups. I did, however, catch the end of the Giants/Marlins game that ended the former's season and propelled the latter into the NLCS for the second time in their history. As exciting as it was, I couldn't believe my eyes when J.T. Snow came barrel-assing around third and tried to knock the ball out of Pudge's glove. You'd have better luck trying to knock the sword out of the Governor of California's hands.

That sounds weird.

Pudge isn't one of my favorite players. I think he's egotistical and self-absorbed and pretty over-rated in almost every category. But I know that he's good at what he does, and I don't think I'd have sent the runner in that situation.

Caple lays the blame on Snow for running late, I guess, and not making it to the plate on time, but I saw the hit, and it wasn't that deep. Most people don't score from second base on a bloop to left field, so it seems to me that the Giamts third base coach is to blame, more than Snow, at least. Unless Snow ran through the 'stop' sign. (He didn't, did he?)

Not only was it a dumbass play because the gamble of scoring one run still only ties the game vs. the chance that the game/series/season will be over if it doesn't work (high risk, low reward). It was also a dumbass play because they'd have had the bases loaded with a one-time pretty good hitter coming up next in Rich Aurilia, and another pretty good hitter behind him. You might have heard of that guy. His name is SuperMan. And of course, by the time Barry Bonds would have gotten to the plate, the game would have already been at least tied, and there'd have been no where to put him, so someone would have to pitch to him.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Aurilia might have struck out with the bases loaded. Even if he didn't, and Bonds came up with a tie game and the bases loaded, there's no guarantee that he'd have deposited the ball in the Gulf of Mexico. He might have struck out, just like Mighty Casey, and given the fans one more thing to hate about him. But either of those options would seem better in retrospect than the colossal "what if" that the Giants and their fans have to deal with over the coming winter.

Here's hoping that Willie "The Human Windmill" Randolph doesn't do anything that stupid...

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08 October 2003


With apologies to Rob Neyer...

A few random notes while wondering where Carl Weathers will show up in the vast, right wing conspiracy to get the entire cast of Predator elected to public office...

First of all, the fact that the games have been so competitive this far into the playoffs is simply fantastic. There have only been four games (coincidentally, one in each Division series) decided by four runs or more, and only one decided by more than four runs (the Yankees' 8-1 clincher at Minnesota...so much for home-carpet advantage.) In fact, three of the four series were decided by four runs or fewer, with the Oakland-Boston series decided by only one run. Almost all of the games have been exciting, some of them going to extra innings. Hey! Free baseball!

What's more, half (count 'em) of this year's playoff participants come from cities that have been traditionally considered non-contenders because of being in a small market. Oakland and San Francisco, with essentially the same market, the Florida Marlins, and the Minnesota Twins have all been the subjects of conversations about "competitive imbalance" and the Twins were even threatened with contraction less than two years ago. It seems that Commissioner Bud has a lot less to say about the issue now that Oakland has made the playoffs for four straight years, with two MVPs and a Cy Young Award winner along the way, and the Twins are were in the playoffs for a second straight season.

Last year, Selig was bitching and moaning that the teams who had won the recent World Series' were all in the top tier of payroll, but this year the Cubs (12th) and Marlins (20th) still have as good a shot at it as the Yanks (1st) and Red Sox (5th). And even if neither of the National League, cheapskate teams wins (please...) the playoffs are almost a crap-shoot anyway. It's getting there that's the tough part. Winning once you're there is little more than good fortune.

For the record, I still pick the Cubs to beat the Marlins in the NLCS. The Marlins didn't strike out much this year (3rd fewest in NL), but they also aren't very patient as a team (4th fewest walks in NL in 2003), and don't hit for a lot of power (11th in homers). The Cubs are among the best at preventing homers and striking out the opposition, even though they walk more than their fair share. Florida doesn't have the patience to take much advantage of that tendency, and won't be able to overcome two appearances each by Wood and Prior.

FuzzyCubbies in six.

And, as you might imagine, I will still pick the Yankees in the ALCS. They're rested, they've got their rotation set up, they've got home-field advantage, and Boston's never beaten them in the playoffs. OK, so they've only met in playoffs of any sort twice, but still...

More importantly, the Yankees have their rotation set up exactly how they like it, as well as a rested bullpen, since they only needed a total of 7 innings and change from their relief pitchers to put away the Twins. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cowboy-upping Red Sox are trying to patch together their starters from the tatters in which Oakland's hitters left them after five games that all came down to the wire. Their bullpen, despite not giving up a run after the first game of the Division Series, has not exactly been a bullwark of out-making fortitude this season. Byun-Hyun Kim, their supposed closer, isn't even on the roster for the series. And their starting lineup will sorely miss Johnny Damon, however long he's gone.

The Yankees left Chris Hammond off their ALCS roster to make room for an extra backup infielder, Erick Almonte. If it were me, I'd probably prefer to leave one of the RF/DH types off the roster and keep Hammond. Some of Boston's key hitters (Nixon, Ortiz, Walker) struggle mightily against lefties, and Gabe White is the only one Torre's got now in that bullpen. Not the way I'd have done it, but then maybe that's why I don't have four World Series trophies to my credit.

There will be some messy games, but they'll be fun. and the Yankees will win it in Six.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a dog to watch and a game to walk. Or something.

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01 October 2003


Error n. A defensive fielding or throwing misplay by a player when a play normally should have resulted in an out or prevented an advance by a base runner.

OK, so I was wrong.

The Yankees set out to embarass themselves right off the bat this year as well. Bernie "Can You Throw This For Me?" Williams misplayed a flyball, which led to a 2-run "triple" by Torii Hunter that should have been a single, first and third, at worst. Matt LeCroy isn't exactly a speed demon, and they might both have scored on Koskie's double anyway, but the point is that Bernie's play is an error if I ever saw one. For the record, I didn't see this one, but I heard it on MLB radio over the internet. (Free for the playoffs if you try eight free issues of Sports Illustrated, which they're hoping you'll forget to cancel in November. I won't.)

In addition, Bernie's universally acknowledged misplay led to Alfonso Soriano knoblauching a throw past Aaron Boone when he was pressed to make the play on Hunter, trying for third.

SOAPBOX TIME: Isn't it high-time that the rules were changed concerning errors? I mean, every report you hear or read tells you that Bernie Williams screwed up yesterday, and yet the box score doen't even mention the "misplay". It just says "triple". And Mike Mussina is laden with three earned runs, instead of the one or two he really deserved.

For whatever reason, the Powers That Used-to-Be decided that a player has to actually touch a batted ball for the play to be ruled an error. Now this kinda makes sense, considering that it's pretty hard to screw something up if you never get to handle it. On the other mitt, though, after 150+ years of playing this game, pretty much everybody knows how a centerfielder is supposed to play that ball: i.e., if you can't get to it, cut it off and keep the batter from running to second, or, say, all the way around to home plate.

Bernie didn't do that. He screwed up the play, allowing a single to be streched into an RBI "triple" and forced another error (actually called as such this time) that allowed another run to score. So why is that not an error? Why is Mike Mussina blamed for that run instead?

Tradition. That's why.

Tradition says that he's got to touch the ball. So if a ball is hit up the middle, and the shortstop dives to his right, everyone would acknowledge that this was a stupid thing to do, but the official scored can't actually call it an error.

Tradition says "You can't anticipate the double play." This means that with a runner on first and less than two out, the middle infielder can step on second base and then knoblauch the throw all the way to Tibet and he's not credited with an error. It simply goes down as a fielder's choice and a putout at 2B. But in the 21st century (and for most of the last one) hundreds, if not thousands, of double plays are turned every year, and we all know that if you can't get the throw off cleanly, it's better to just hold onto the ball. Everyone knows that, and yet the Rules still say it wasn't an error.

It's time to give Tradition the boot and bring in some common sense.

The Yankees still lost, which is ultimately what matters, but let's call a spade a spade here, eh? Or, you know, an error.

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29 September 2003


Not that I'm really any good at this (I picked the Angels to win the World Series over the Giants last year, and by "Angels" I mean "Yankees." Oops.) but I'm going to give you my three and a half cents on the 2003 postseason anyway. Because what the hell, you're here anyway, might as well do something productive, like read. Let's take the playoff series one at a time, because four at a time is just too messy, and I'm too lazy to clean up after myself.

Yankees vs. Twinkies

You can probably guess what I think about this one. The Yankees will certianly not allow themselves to be embarassed in the first round of the postseason for a second consecutive year. No sir, we're waiting until at least the second round before we start playing like bench-warmers from an American Legion team. Overall, it's hard not to like the Yankees' chances with Mussina & Pettitte (81-30, 3.46 ERA career at home) at The Stadium and then Clemens and Mussina (20-2 career against Twins) in the Dome.

Besides, how hard can it be to beat only two guys?!!? WITH THE SAME DNA??! They're twins!

Seriously though, kudos to the Twins for winning them when they counted, playing hard and pulling out all the stops when they needed to, but they're not getting past the Yanks. The Twins took advantage of a mostly soft schedule down the stretch, and it took them until the last week of the season and collapses by the WhiteSox (only 8-10 since Sept 10th) and Royals (13-15 in Sept) to wrap up a very weak division.

Sure, anything can happen, but it won't. Yankees in 4.

Oaklands vs. Bostons

Normally, this would probably be billed as Boston's vaunted offense against Oakland's vaunted pitching, but Mark Mulder is on the shelf, and nobody from the Athletics is really hitting like they'll need to in order to get past the RedSox starting pitching. As for the rest of you, well, if you can't be an Athletic, be an Athletic Supporter!

I'll give this one to the Wild-Card-Winning BoSawx. But I won't like it.
Red Sox in five.

Braves vs. Cubs

This should be interesting. The Braves had, uncharacteristically, the best offense in the National League, while the Cubs' pitching was among the best in the Senior Circuit, including setting a new record for team strikeouts in a season. But in the end, I'll give Atlanta's wonderful offense and decent pitching the edge over Chicago's "Team of Destiny (and Strikeouts)" and mediocre offense. Dusty Baker is great at getting whatever he can out of aging veterans during the regular season, but's he's hamstrung himself with older, slower and less on-base prone hitters in the lower lineup and bench, and he won't get what he needs out of them.

All over North Chicago, businessmen will skip out early to watch the Braves put the nail in the Cubs' coffin.
Braves in 4.

And last, but not finally...

Marlins vs. Giants

This is one of those series that would scare the crap out of me if I were a Giants fan, and if I hadn't just gone already. The marlins, frankly, are not that good a team, but they deserve credit for winning the games they had to win, and the Phillies (13-13 in Sept) don't. The Marlins were 8th out of 16 NL teams in both ERA and runs scored, decidely mediocre on both counts, but they won the close games, and with their pitching, they're usually close. Bonds and the Giants are pretty good at taking walks, but the Marlins don't give a lot of them up, so it might not matter.

Also, the Marlins' offense isn't built around walks, so the fact that SanFran is good at preventing these doesn't necessarily help them. I hate to say it, but I really think that the Marlins could ride their hot pitching and timely hits to a quick defeat of the Giants, whose offense gets extremely thin after Barry Bonds.

Marlins in 5. But I hope I'm wrong.

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23 September 2003

CYA, Wouldn't Wanna BYA...

It feels a little disingenuous writing a column about the American League Cy Young candidates now, since the front-runner for the award a month ago, Esteban Loaiza, has gone 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA in his last four starts and essentially pulled the trigger for his White Sox teammates as they shot themselves in the collective foot in the AL Central race. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Loaiza’s primary competition, Roy Halladay, rattled off four consecutive complete games, two of them shutouts (including a 10-inning gem!), and allowed only one earned run in those 37 innings. He leads the AL in starts (35), innings pitched (257), K/W ratio (6.03) and wins (21), is 2nd in the AL in complete games (8), walks/9 IP, and strikeouts (195), 3rd in baserunners/IP (1.07) and tied for 6th in ERA (3.22) with Barry Zito.

As I mentioned, it’s a little late to be writing a “debate” column about this “race” as most experts have likely made up their minds in favor of Halladay at this point. But let it be said that I was supporting Halladay three weeks ago, when he and Loaiza were both 19-6, and Loaiza’s ERA edge was 2.60 to 3.42. ERA is probably the most significant means of measuring a pitcher’s effectiveness, but it’s not the only means. When you consider that ERA titles have been won by the immortal likes of Joe Magrane, Allan Anderson and Atlee Hammaker, it doesn't seem quite so important. Hell, Steve Ontiveros once won an ERA title, but there weren’t many folks picketing outside the offices of their favorite BBWAA members when the AL Cy Young award was bestowed upon David Cone.

The major factor that Halladay has going for him is quantity. He’s got more wins (as antiquated and potentially useless a stat as it may be) than anyone else in MLB, and has almost 20 more innings than his closest AL competitor, Tim Hudson. His eight complete games trail only Mark Mulder’s nine, who sadly had his season cut short by a hip injury last month. In an age when pitchers rarely complete what they start, when Roger Clemens won the first ever Cy Young Award for a starter without a complete game to his credit (2001), it’s refreshing to see a pitcher go the distance at least a few times.

I understand, in terms of actual wins and losses, that run support has a lot to do with a starter's record. I'll be the first to tell you that Loaiza has lost or gotten no decision for six Quality Starts (6+ IP, 3- ER) this year, while Halladay has had only four such experiences. Halladay's run support, over 6 runs/game, has been very good, 6th in the AL, but Loaiza's is over 5 runs/game as well, thanks to playing in front of Chicago's (until recently) great offense.

Ironically, some people will tell you,

"For the Cy Young award, I don't factor in a team's performance, because I see it as a best pitcher or pitcher-of-the-year award."

...immediately after telling you that the first thing they consider is the number of Wins a starter has. Which is a lot like a movie critic saying that he only considers individual performances, right after he tells you that he thinks that Keanu Reeves ought to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Matrix Resuscitated.

So Wins can't be the only metric, nor should it even be the first. The main problem with only looking at ERA, or even Support-Neutral Wins and Losses, as Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan pointed out here, is that the pitchers don’t all face the same teams, thanks to the newly unbalanced schedule. The fact that Loaiza has won four games in six starts, with a Bob-Gibson-esque 1.21 ERA against the woeful Tigers (helps to blow up his record’s appearance. Overall, Halladay’s average opponents have hit to the tune of .265 BA/.336 OBP/.430 SLG/.766 OPS, which is in the Tino Matrinez, Wes Helms, Randy Winn, Craig Biggio, Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter Neighborhood. Loaiza’s opponents have hit only .261/.327/.411/.738, which is akin to Juan Encarnacion, Eric Young, Casey Blake, and Adam Kennedy.

Clearly a notable drop in quality. Sheehan described the difference as being worth less than ten runs over the course of a season, but then he dismisses its influence out of hand. Actually, if you look at the difference in average batter quality, it works out to about 5 runs/450 outs, which doesn't sound like much for a batter, because it's not. But Halladay’s 257 innings pitched yielded 771 outs, which extrapolates the difference between (roughly) Mike Cameron and Casey Blake to about 8.5 runs over the course of Halladay's season. If you take away eight earned runs from his season total, do you know what his ERA becomes?


Which suddenly is not so different from Loaiza’s 2.92, trailing only Hudson (2.74) and Pedro (2.25, but in only 183 innings). Heck, even if you only take off seven runs, it’s still 2.97, and I’d say that’s more than fair given the difference in the qualities of the batters these two have faced.

And now, when you’re looking at two pitchers who allow earned runs at almost exactly the same rate but one of them has forty more innings to his credit, which one do you say was better? Hallady becomes the clear winner.

Tim Hudson probably has a better case for the Award than Loaiza does, if you consider how well he's pitched and not how well the team's hitting and defense have done on his behalf. But Hudson won't get much support from the writers, with his mere 15 wins, so it comes down to Loaiza and Halladay.

I'll take Roy.

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16 September 2003

Quien Es Mas Valioso?

There seem to be two great debates raging currently in the world of Major League Baseball. The first is who should be voted the NL MVP, with Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols as the main contenders, Gary Sheffield, Todd Helton, Eric Gagne and others following a distant third, fourth and so on. The second debate regards the AL Cy Young Award, with Esteban Loaiza and Roy Halladay the main contenders. We’ll take these one at a time, since trying to read a column about two different issues would be almost as hard as trying to write it. I'll get to the AL CYA argument in a day or two.


Barry Bonds has already won five (!) NL MVP Awards, while no one else in NL history has more than three (Stan Musial, Roy Campanella and Mike Schmidt shared this record until 2001, when Barry won his fourth). Some would argue that it’s time for Barry to step aside and let some younger blood in to share the glory. This is just about the dumbest argument I can imagine for naming Pujols the MVP instead of Bonds. But are there any cogent arguments for Pujols over Bonds? Let’s look at their overall numbers:

Pujols 626 547 127 199 48 42 122 69 .364 .441 .686 1.127
Bonds 512 361 104 123 20 42 84 142 .341 .534 .751 1.285

This happens to be something of a convenient time to analyze these two players, as they both hit their 42nd home run of the season on Monday night, but in most other respects, their numbers are quite different. The most glaring differences you should observe are those between their at-bats (AB) and plate appearances (PA), as well as Barry’s edge in the walks (BB) category. Pujols has over 100 more plate appearances than Bonds, and nearly 200 more at-bats, because Bonds has played 26 fewer games than Pujols has, and has walked over twice as many times.

Now the question arises: What do we do about such disparities? How do we compare players with different skills and with different amounts of playing time? Well, let’s try normalizing for playing time. We’ll project Barry’s numbers out over the same number of plate appearances that Pujols has and see what the differences look like then.

Pujols 626 547 127 199 48 42 122 69 .364 .441 .686 1.127
Bonds 626 441 127 150 24 51 103 174 .341 .534 .756 1.276
Diff 0 106 0 49 24 -9 19 -105 .023 -.090 -.065 -.158

With more playing time, the theory goes, Bonds would have nine more homers, 105 more walks, and just as many runs scored as Pujols, but would still have almost 20 fewer RBI, half as many doubles, and almost 50 fewer hits. Bonds’ edge in the “rate” stats (on-Base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS) remains, as does his 23-point deficit in batting average. A 158-point advantage in OPS, largely due to Bonds’ penchant for walking, is nothing to sneeze at. It’s roughly the difference between Alex Rodriguez and Mark Loretta, at least this year. So don’t let the relatively small percentage increase fool you: It’s huge.

Still, though, two problems remain:

1) Bonds still has a lot fewer RBI than Pujols, even with his additional projected plate appearances.

B) Bonds doesn’t have any additional projected plate appearances.

Bonds has only what he has, which is a lot less playing time than Albert Pujols. ESPN.com’s Jim Butler has made a good case for Bonds as the MVP, citing his runs created per 27 outs as significantly above Pujols’s number in that stat. RC/27, in case you don’t know, is a measure of how many runs a team of nine Barry Bondses or nine Albert Pujolses or nine Travis Nelsons would score, given average pitching and defense. Bonds blows Pujols away in this category, about 15 to 11. (For perspective, no one else in MLB has a mark higher than Todd Helton’s 10.05, which he owes largely to the Greatest Hitter’s Park Ever.)

Bonds, it seems, is the better player. I can’t really argue with that. But who’s more valuable?

I heard Bobby Valentine on the radio the other day discussing Bonds,

“…the walk is a very powerful play in baseball…Bonds is the best player I’ve ever seen…there are pitches that Barry could hit, I think sometimes Barry takes a walk in a close spot by taking a close pitch just to prove how good he is…”

Bobby V. did not seem to notice the irony in his statement: He acknowledges Bonds’ greatness and the utility of the Walk as a hitter, but then says essentially that Barry would somehow be better if he walked less often. Sounds a little like saying that Tiger Woods might be a better golfer if he didn’t hit the ball so darn far all the time, doesn’t it?

Ted Williams realized, a long time ago, that the batter’s eyes were the key to his success. Specifically, not giving the pitcher anything that the rulebook didn’t allow him. Swinging at a pitch just two inches off the plate increases the size of the strike zone roughly 20%, depending on how tall you are. This means that the pitcher has an area 20% larger at which to aim in order to get you out. (Note: If Eric Gregg happens to be umpiring, the area jumps to about 150%. If Alfonso Soriano is at-bat, this number increases to something like 200%. If both are true, I think Soriano’s out as long as they can find the ball at the end of his at-bat.) So Barry knows that giving the pitcher anything more than what he absolutely has to give will work against him, and against the team, much more often than not. So he doesn’t swing at those pitches. Which is why he’s so great.

With that said, I still think that Pujols will, and perhaps even should, win the NL MVP. The awards voters like RBIs, they like Runs, they like batting average, and Pujols has a big lead in all three. But more importantly, Pujols has played a lot more. Twenty six games is a lot to miss when your team is jockeying for position in a pennant race. Granted, the Giants have had their division locked up since July, but they could have gotten home-field advantage in the NL playoffs instead of the Braves, and they probably won’t. The step down from Bonds to Jeffrey Hammonds or Trever Linden or whomever plays left field when Barry's not around is a huge step down, especially when the Giants don't have another regular with an OPS over .800. He leaves a gaping hole in the lineup whenever he's not in it, and Neifi Perez can't swing at enough extra pitches to ocmpensate for it.

I understand that with his injuries and his father’s illness and death, Bonds had every right to miss those games. I don’t begrudge him that. But I (and the BBWAA) have every right to count those against him in deciding whether he or Albert Pujols has been the more valuable player over the course of the season.

I mentioned earlier that Bonds has a significant edge in RC/27 over Pujols, and he does. But Pujols, thanks to his 26 extra games, actually has more Runs Created overall, 151 to 140, which is not a huge advantage, but it’s something. If you like Baseball Prospectus’ numbers better, you get the same story: Bonds has an enormous edge in their rate stat, Equivalent Average, .424 to .366, but Pujols actually has a slight edge in their counting stat, Equivalent Runs, 142 to 140. Obviously this is a lot closer, but it’s still an edge.

The analogy goes like this: If you have a stack of $100 bills, say, 50 bills tall, it’s worth $5000. If you have another stack of $50 bills, only this stack is 101 bills thick, its worth, its value, is $5050. You can argue all you want that the $100 bills are worth more, and you’ll win that argument, because that’s not the contention I’m making. I’m arguing that the stack of fifties is more valuable, if only slightly.

And so is Albert Pujols. At least this season.

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09 September 2003

No Sense of History...

This Thursday, the second anniversary of the Worst Day In American History, I plan to take a friend to Yankee Stadium. What better way to stick it to the evildoers?

This date will be historic for a number of other reasons as well. For one thing, my friend (we'll call him "Cary" since that's what his parents named him) has never been to Yankee Stadium, so it is quite a privelige for me to be able to take him, a man who has been a Yankee fan in some sense for his whole 56-year life, to his first game.

As far as I can tell, this will be the fifth person for whom I've been able to do this, including my mom and my wife, and it never gets old. I cannot even describe the look of pure joy on my mom's face as she crested the stairs on the way to the tier section ('tier' comes from the French word for "entirely too high") to see her first game, at age 51. My mom is, frankly, a much more rabid Yankee fan than Cary is, but I'm sure he'll have a honkin' good time nonetheless.

Another reason that this Thursday may be historic in nature is that Roger Clemens is scheduled to start. This isn't really that big a deal, since he's done that over 600 times in his career already. But there's an excellent chance that this Thursday, 11 September 2003, will mark the last regular season home start of Clemens' career.

His next two starts should be at Baltimore and at Tampa Bay, and then his final start of the season could be at home, against Baltimore again, on the second to last day of the year. But if the Yanks have wrapped up the division by then, they'll likely sit Clemens to rest him for the playoffs and start some poor schmo in his place. And if they do that (I know, that's a lot of 'if's) then Cary and I will be present for the last regular season home start of the Rocket's illustrious career. Of course, Rocket hasn't exactly blasted off this year at home, going only 5-7 with an ERA over 5.50, but hey, it's only the Tigers, right?

The other reason that this could have been an historic occasion, but probably won't, is that Mike Maroth should have been scheduled to start against Clemens. Maroth, as you may know, is the newest member of the 20-Game Losers' Club, and the first since 1980, when Brian Kingman paid his dues and joined up.

Kingman was, amazingly, not that bad a pitcher in 1980. Despite the 20 losses, 1980 was the best season of his career. His 3.83 ERA, eight wins, 211 innings pitched, 32 games (30 starts), 10 complete games and 116 strikeouts were all career best numbers for him. He didn't even pitch on a particularly bad team, as the 83-79 Oakland A's had five starters with at least 210 innings pitched, a combined AL-best 3.46 ERA and no other starter with a losing record. Sadly, they scored only enough runs to rank 10th inthe then 14-team American League, and Kingman got only about 2.9 runs of support per game. Jim Rome apparently doesn't think that Kingman had anything of which to be proud, but then...

A) ...for a guy whose voice sounds like Jacob Silj with a head-cold, I'm not sure I'd be criticizing "losers" if I were Jim. And besides...

2) How many games has Jim Rome lost in the major leagues? Thought so.

Maroth is a different story. He's a bad pitcher on a bad team. A really bad team. The worst team in Tigers history, and they've had some doozies, having lost 100 games five times in their history, and without a winning season since 1993. Kudos to Tigers manager Alan Trammell for continuing to trot him out there as much as he has, in spite of the 20-loss stigma, but why suddenly the thought of losing 21 is so daunting I can't figure out.

So instead of watching the classic matchup of the Immortal Roger Clemens vs. the (now) Infamous Mike Maroth, we'll get to see Immortal Rocket vs. the Inconsequential Nate Cornejo.

At least the tickets were half-price.

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04 September 2003

The Gammons People Play

Peter Gammons' ESPN column from last week is full of the head-scratching, incoherent babbling that we've all come to know and love from 'Ole Pete. Like this:

"People win championships," said Joe Torre, and so it is that through all the Yankees have faced -- serious injuries (Jeter, Williams, Nick Johnson and Mariano Rivera), bullpen roulette, public spats with Raul Mondesi, David Wells and Jeff Weaver, the unraveling of Jose Contreras -- they came out of the Labor Day Weekend series in Boston with not only a safe six-game lead in the loss column but the final family reunion of Roger Clemens, who effectively buried the Red Sox's chances of catching the Yankees as he exchanged a figurative hug with New Englanders that reminded one and all how much they meant to one another."

Wow. That’s one sentence. 107 words, one sentence. Gammons sometimes writes as though preparing for when the Commies take over the world and make periods illegal.

I've already written about the Yankees bullpen in another column, so I won't go into that again.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Contreras has “unraveled”. He’s been injured, like a lot of guys, but he’s actually pitched pretty well when they’ve used him as a starter. It’s only when they tried to get him to do long relief that he’s sucked. As a starter he’s 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA, 20 hits and 30 strikeouts in 31 innings. On the other hand (where I have four fingers and a thumb) the teams he’s beaten don’t exactly scream “Clutch October workhorse”: Detroit (37-102), Cincinnati (60-79), Toronto (69-70) and Baltimore (63-76).

Gammons also wrote:

"We know what we have to do," Giambi said. "[...]You learn to fight through it all."

Including Pedro Martinez. On Saturday, Martinez was still weak from his bout with a flu bug and threw one pitch above 89 mph, but the Yankees forced him into an early exhaustion with their patience.

Listen, Peter: The word "but" is what's called a logical connector, which serves to establish a contrast between what follows it and what preceeded it. For example:

"I was going to go wax my bronze statue of myself in the portico, BUT I decided that I would rather stay inside and practice looking menacing to opposing basestealers."

In this sentence [extra points if you can name the speaker!] used the word 'but' to show that one activity was excluded by the other. It was different from what had been expected.

In your sentence, (paraphrasing) "Pedro was still weak...couldn't throw hard..." shows that he should have been easier to beat than usual, which means that when the Yankees wore him out early, it was not unexpected, and so the logical connector 'but' does not belong. 'And', 'so', or 'therefore' would all have been better choices. Now, I'm going to have to start charging you for these grammar lessons if you don't start improving.

"Over the entire weekend, there were few obscenities, few of the "Yankees (----)" that usually litter the city. It was as if Red Sox's fans were getting over Roger, appreciating what it means to watch Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter play their hearts out with dignity, understanding that even when Pedro doesn't win he leaves his soul on the mound and that, indeed, these guys named Williams and Giambi, Jeter, Posada, Johnson, Pettitte, Mussina and Rivera will never stop trying to overcome all the shrapnel that surrounds them."

How exactly does one "overcome shrapnel"? Don't you just duck and hope for the best? Oh, and Pete's getting better: That sentence only contained 89 words.

Gammons' next segment:

Marlins get tougher with Conine

Tougher? Maybe. Better, probably not much.

"We felt," said Beinfest, "that we've come this far, so we owe it to our fans and to the players to do whatever we can do to win."

"But then we decided to trade two of our best prospects for Jeff Conine instead." Right? Look, Conine's not the worst player around, and there's something to be said for versatility, but Jeff's only had one season in the last seven when he was worth more than 3.5 wins more than a replacement level guy at his position. Which means that, even in the midst of a decent season (for him) he's not likely to be worth more than half a win over the last month of the season. But with the wild-card race as close as it is in the NL, it might just come down to that. I guess we'll see.

Conine is actually having a pretty decent year, right around his career average, and the Marlins needed something when they lost Mike Lowell, but don't make it out like they got some kind of steal in giving up two good pitching prospects for an aging, overpaid mediocrity. They were hard-pressed to make something happen and they did the best they could in a bad situation. Kudos for that, no more.

Regarding NL Manager of the Year candidates, Gammons had this to say:

"But has anyone faced more adversity than Felipe Alou? While holding a significant lead in the NL West, Alou has had to use more than 100 lineups and employ 13 starting pitchers. The Giants moved their two innings horses, Russ Ortiz and Livan Hernandez. They lost Rob Nen. Kirk Rueter has been injured. They've had J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia, Benito Santiago and Ray Durham on the DL, and seen Edgardo Alfonso struggle at times."

The Giants have had their issues, and Alou may very well deserve the Managers' highest honor, but the fact that he has had an enormous lead with which to work is an advantage. Sure, there's pressure to stave off those chassing you, but nobody's been closer than about five games since the middle of July. Give him credit for patching together a winning lineup in spite of the persistent inneptitude of J.T. Snow and Neifi Perez at the plate, the surprising struggles of Alfonzo and Rich Aurilia, and Barry Bonds' personal distractions. Heck, you can even give him credit for winning despite having only one pitcher with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (Jason Schmidt) and patching a rotation together with untested rookies, but don't tell us that he had this huge lead and present it as though it somehow worked against him.

And finally, Peter Gammons' trademarked...

News and notes

One NL executive suggests that if the Cubs could find one more starter to go with Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and Clement, that Kerry Wood could be their answer to Eric Gagne and John Smoltz.

This is my absolute favorite item from this particular column. Gammons doesn't really comment on it, but the fact that he included the statement without ridiculing it outright is perhaps an indication that he actually finds the possibility intriguing. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why anyone who runs a baseball team with Kerry Wood on it would be interested in making him a closer.

I thought that this was something of a curious statement from a man who seems to understand as much about baseball as Peter Gammons does, but then I did a search of some of his previous columns and found the following:

"One State Department Official suggests that if the President could find one more Cabinet Member to go with Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, that Condoleezza Rice could play a mean mariacci guitar at state department picnics."

"One Hollywood executive suggests that if the Universal Studios could have found one more actor to go with Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Ed Harris, that Tom Hanks could have been a great "LEM Controller White" in Apollo 13."

"One baseball historian suggests that if the '27 Yankees could find one more outfielder to go with Bob Muesel and Earle Combs, that Babe Ruth could have been one heck of a pinch hitter."

So maybe Peter's viewpoints are a little skewed.

Here you've got a pitcher who's had some injury issues, yes, but who has been pretty healthy for the last two years, can pitch 200+ innings per year when healthy, and strikes out more than 10 batters per nine innings and allows only about 7 hits in that span. Why the hell would you want to relegate such a talent to pitching only 65 innings per year? So he can make some impressive looking stat lines? 120 strikeouts in 70 innings looks nice in the history books, but it doesn't help win games like starting 34 times and mowing them down the way Wood can when he's on. The fact that he's yet to win more than 13 gemes in a season is more a function of his team not providing run support than it is an indictment of his abilities as a starter.

The problem is that pitchers like Eric Gagne and John Smoltz and Mariano Rivera were once starters who have become great closers, but people forget that they were bad starters. Or often-injured starters. Or superfluous to the starting rotation. You'd be hard pressed to pick up another pitcher somewhere who would be good enough to relegate Kerry Wood to a relief role. Besides, what the heck is wrong with Borowski?

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19 August 2003

Signed, Zeiled, Delivered

The Yankees released 15-year veteran Todd “Good Housekeeping” Zeile on Sunday.

Housekeeping was about all Todd had to do of late, given that the Yanks had recently acquired 3B Aaron Boone and jettisoned the lefty-susceptible Robin Ventura, whom Zeile had been hired to complement (“Nice bat, Robin.”) Besides this, Nick Johnson has recently come back from the DL, making it pretty tough to find playing time for Zeile at the 1B/DH spots.

I have two major observations about this:

1) I could have told you that Zeile was gonna suck.
B) The guys who pushed him out of a job have not exactly been hitting the cover off the ball.

Last year, Zeile hit .273 with 18 homers and 87 RBI, which looks pretty decent until I tell you that he played for the Rockies, and that his home/road splits looked like this:

Home 248 41 11 56 43 39 .315 .414 .500 914
Away 258 20 7 31 23 53 .233 .291 .353 644


So, given that a player's actual ability correlates much better with his non-Coors stats that with his Coors stats, what might we have expected out of a 38-year old with this kind of record? That's right:

.210 .294 .349 .644

...which is exactly what we got. Nothing to write home about, unless you're Gary DiSarcina.

In fact there is good news here: Despite his relatively advanced age for a baseball player, Zeile didn't really decline at all from 2002 to 2003. He had the exact same 644 OPS, which, while stinking to high heaven, is almost Bonds-ian in its age-defying consistency.

Nick Johnson came off the DL in mid July after recuperating from (yet another) wrist injury, and has hit only .230 since. Thankfully, he walks often, so his .390 OBP bolsters his otherwise unimpressive .410 slugging percentage on the way to a decent 800 OPS. Presumably, Johnson’s patience and health will allow him to start hitting .300 or so again, but he hasn’t been scorching since coming back thus far.

And what about Aaron Boone? Boone has hit a pathetic .169/.182/.238, for a sub-Neifi .420 OPS. Two lousy walks in 63 at-bats? Three extra base hits in two weeks? Zeile must be really upset. At least he wasn’t traded for Dooley Womack. Or worse, Tony Womack.

Don't worry about Zeile. He'll catch on somewhere. Dusty Baker is bound to bench some kid and give Todd another shot at mediocrity.

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14 August 2003

Could He be (H)Appier?

Kevin Appier beat the Yankees last night, pitching six shutout innings on the way to an 11-0 laugher due largely to Jeff Weaver's continued and inexplicable suck-ness. This was Appier's first start at Kauffman Stadium since rejoining the Royals, who traded him away to Oakland during the 1999 season. At the time, I was appy for Happier, er...appy for Appier, happy for Happier, er...I was glad for him because the Royals sucked back then (probably more than Jeff Weaver does now...maybe not). But now the Royals don't suck, at least not as much. And whomever in the AL Central can get through the rest of the year having sucked the least will win that weak-ass division and have a real, live shot at getting eliminated from the playoffs by the Yankees or Mariners. You can't beat that with a 19-or-20-inches-worth-of-pine-tar coated stick.

Appier spent the first eleven seasons of his career in Royal blue, pitching extremely well for some extremely lousy teams. Baseball-Reference.com's schedule breaker-outer indicates that only the Tigers, Phillies, Devil Rays, Marlins and Twins had a worse record than the Royals in that span, and that includes a 92-win season in 1989 in which Appier didn't play much of a role (1-4 in 21+ innings).

It also includes his best season, an 18-8 campaign in 1993 in which he won the AL ERA title by almost half a run less than the next closest competitor and almost a whole run less than the Cy Young winner, Black Jack McDowell. Jack had the good fortune to pitch for a team that could actually hit and therefore won 22 games despite a higher ERA and about 30 fewer strikeouts in 20 more innings. If the punchless Royals had somehow averaged more than the paltry 4.1 runs/game they gave Appier, he might have that trophy in his den instead of Black Jack.

For that matter, where would Appier's career numbers be if he'd had a team that could hit behind him for most of his career, say, like Andy Pettitte. Pettitte's got an ERA for his career roughly 18% better than the park adjusted league averages, which is pretty darn good. Granted, Pettitte's career isn't even ten years old yet, while Appier's been pitching in the bigs since 1989, but look at the contrasts:

Pettitte's career 3.95 ERA, roughly 18% better than average, has gotten him a career record of 141-77, so far, for a .647 winning percentage. That ERA ratio doesn't even rank him among the top 100 pitchers in history.

Appier is somewhere around #60, with an ERA about 24% better than average. That ratio is slightly better than current or future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Silver King, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Eddie Plank, Don Drysdale, Clark Griffith, and Joe McGinnity. What's more, it's only slightly worse than Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez, Tim Keefe, Jim Palmer, and Dazzy Vance. Pretty good company, if you ask me, which you must have, since you're still reading.

And yet Appier just doesn't have the wins to show for his effort. If not for the lousy run support he's received throughout most of his career, Appier might already have 15-20 more wins (and fewer losses). His "Support Neutral" record works out to about 175-130, instead of 169-135, but with good run support that could easily have been 190-115, which would place him squarely among some of the best pitchers in history. Where he is already, except that nobody knows it.

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11 August 2003

"Feature Analyst"

I haven't felt this important since the first time a clerk at the mall called me "Sir."

I add links to other baseball sites all the time. Other people link to me fairly often as well. Hopefully, at least some of those people actually think enough of something I write occasionally to mention it more specifically in their own writing. This is not completely unusual.

I have even been asked for my opinion, on occasion, on a certain subject in spirited debate. But now, I am syndicated.

That's correct folks, as you can see from the link on your left (right your to look should dyslexics you) I have linked a new site called Baseball Interactive, and, as you might have guessed from the 'interactive' part of their name, they have linked to me as well. Not just linked, syndicated. For now I am a member of the staff of writers at BI, and am listed as a "Feature Analyst" which is a somewhat cooler title than "Sir" and a much cooler one than "Ma'am," at least for me.

I won't necessarily be doing any extra posting, though I may get the chance to be part of an electronic round table discussion once in a while. The coolest part is that BI looks much better than Boy of Summer, and hopefully it will have an extent of reach beyond what I can do on my own. It'll be billed as "A Fan's Notebook", which will allow me to continue posting at random times on random subjects of my own choosing without having to have any sort of real responsibility at all! But I am proud to join Mike Carminati, Jay Jaffe, Brad Dowdy and a boatload of other writers to try to make BI a great fans' site. Should be fun.

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10 August 2003

What Goes Around Came Around for Pettitte

The Yankees lost today. Not such an unusual occurrence that it would normally be write-worthy, but it's the way they lost today that bothers me: They lost by playing well.

OK, so their hitters didn't play so well. They managed to scrounge together only three lousy hits and a walk. Four baserunners in nine innings does not often allow you to outscore your opponent, but given that they've averaged six runs per game over the last week, it's not as though they're in a "slump". Seattle Mariners starter Gil Meche just out-pitched them.

Meche was a super-prospect who broke through in 1999 and 2000, but had an undiagnosed injury to his pitching shoulder that shelved him for a while. Now, two years and two shoulder surgeries later, Meche is finally doing what everybody expected he would do in the first place: winning. He's now 13-7, 3.63 ERA, and strikes out twice as many batters as he walks, which isn't too shabby. But tip your cap to him and let's move on. This column isn't about Gil Meche.

It's about Andy Pettitte. Pettitte had the unusual misfortune of losing a game in which he pitched well. Since Pettitte hadn't seen an "L" next to his name in a boxscore since June 8, he might have forgotten what it felt like to lose. That performance (five outs, sig earned runs, two homers allowed to the Cubbies) stank very much bad. But since then, he may have begun to think that he led a charmed life, as even when he was less than stellar, his teammates picked up the slack. Four of his ten starts since that abysmal performance saw him allow four runs or more, never with more than 7 and a third innings pitched, but the Yankees hit in all of those, so he either got the win or someone in the bullpen vultured it from him. So this loss helps to make things even. If a man can be credited with a "Win" when he allows five runs to the lowly Devil Rays, then it only seems fair, if not appropriate, that he can be given a "Loss" for holding the mighty Mariners to two runs. But this column isn't about today's game.

It's about history. More specifically, Andy Pettitte's history. The guys announcing the game for FOX this afternoon were talking about how Pettitte has taken to working out with Roger Clemens, and how (presumably) this has helped Andy to improve his game. It seems that few, if any, of Rocket's teammates have been able to keep up with his workouts, but Pettitte is the exception, not the rule, and is the better pitcher for it. Apparently.

Year CG SHO   IP IP/GS H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 W L ERA
1995-97 9 1 636.33 6.42 9.12 0.64 2.83 6.25 51 24 3.58
1998-00 8 1 612.67 6.45 9.71 0.84 3.76 5.76 49 31 4.42
2001-03 5 1 482.00 6.34 9.73 0.71 2.02 7.26 41 21 3.87
Total 22 3 1731 6.51 9.50 0.73 2.93 6.36 141 76 3.96

Pettitte's never been much for stamina, averaging only about 6.5 innings per start over the course of his career,
somewhat less than most "aces" (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, etc) usually tally. He was quite a find,
the first Yankees pitching prospect to make a serious impact in quite a while. He finished third in a close vote for
1995 Rookie of the Year. (The 'close' was between Marty Cordova's 105 points and Garret Anderson's 99. Pettitte
finished a distant third with 16 points.) He finished a close (really this time) second to Pat hentgen in the 1996 Cy
Young voting, winning 21 games en route to the Yankees' first World Series triumph since 1978, and then found
himself among the leading CYA vote-getters in 1997, when he posted a career best 240 innings and 2.88 ERA,
allowing only seven home runs all year.

But then something happened. I don't know what, exactly, if Pettitte got complacent or if he just fell in love with that cut-fastball or what, but he slipped a little. From 1998-2000 his strikeout rates and innings pitched fell (though he was still a work-horse, averaging about 200 innings per year), his walk rates, homerun rates and ERA went up, and naturally he didn't win quite so often or lose quite as rarely.

But if his workouts with Clemens really are the reason for his turnaround, then it really didn't start to show until two years after Clemens joined the team. From 2001 to 2003, Pettitte has lowered his ERA, raised his strikeout rates, and cut his walk-rate almost in half. The hits have stayed about the same, as they are wont to do, but the things he can control, strikeouts and walks, he has controlled. And he should be commended for it. Where other pitchers may have gotten frustrated with lack of success or indignant towards new instruction when they had a hard time following success, Pettitte has seemed to embrace the advice and practices of someone who knows how to win and how to keep winning. Who better to look towards as a mentor than a guy who was your childhood hero, your rival for four years, and now your teammate for five? The only guy in history to win six Cy Young awards? The only guy to strike out twenty batters in a nine inning game twice?

Roger Clemens is to pitching longevity what E.F Hutton wa sto investment in the 1980's: Listen to him.

It's worked for Andy.

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09 August 2003

Mythological Figures...

Myth: (n) A popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal

There is a myth in the baseball world. Actually there are many of them, including the notions that “defense and pitching win championships”, “never make the last out at third base” and “Joe Morgan doesn't know what he's talking about". Well, maybe that last one has something to it.

The Yankees traded RHP Armando "Most Homers Allowed In Postseason Play By A Reliever In History" Benitez to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Jeff Nelson. The myth goes that you need solid middle relief (the Yankees already have a solid closer in Mariano Rivera, his recent penchant for allowing runs int he ninth inning notwithstanding) to win in the postseason, or maybe even to get into the postseason. The myth is probably right, in this case, but there's really no reason to believe that Benitez would have been any worse off in that role than Nelson will. The only real difference is that Nelson's done this job for years, while it's supposedly a relatively recent reaquisition for Benitez.

The myth has it that the Yankees relief corps just hasn't been right since Jeff Nelson departed for Seattle after the 2000 season. And in a move that would have made my freshman psychology professor cringe, they note that the Yanks haven't won a World Series since he left. But, as they say in France, "correlation never implies causality", and so I looked it up:

Yankees Right-Handed Relievers, Regular Season Performance

Year Saves Holds Innings HR/9 K/9 WHIP ERA
2003* 41 24 249 0.759 7.23 1.45 4.08
2002 47 29 288 0.719 6.66 1.30 3.59
2001 57 25 330 0.846 8.02 1.23 3.55
2000 40 22 333.3 0.729 6.26 1.40 3.94

*projected over 162 games

So we can see that the Yankees righty relievers actually got better after Nelson left. In 2001 and 2002 the right handed half of the Yankees Bullpen Monster had more saves, more holds, a lower ERA, allowed fewer baserunners, and struck out more batters than the team had in 2000, with Jeff Nelson. So there goes that theory.

So I thought to myself, "Self, I wonder if it was the POST-season that they were talking about..."

Yankees Right-Handed Relievers, Post-Season Performance

Year Saves Holds Innings HR/9 K/9 WHIP ERA
2002 1 0 14.0 2.57 5.79 1.50 5.14
2001 5 2 34.0 0.79 8.21 1.32 4.50
2000 6 3 29.7 1.21 6.67 1.11 3.94

This makes things a little tougher to evaluate, largely due to the small sample size. Clearly the Yankees relievers have nt been nearly as effective in the post season as they have in the regular season, and this is true for almost every year. But you can hardly blame the Yankees lack of post season success in recent years on the relievers.

In 2002, the Yankees' starters had a combined ERA of almost 11.00!, so the fact that the relievers didn't do so well seems hardly relevant. It's not as though there were many leads for them to protect.

In 2001 the starters were not so bad as all of that, but Andy Pettitte managed to lose three games in the postseason all by himself, which constituted half of the losses attributed to the Yankees starters in that post season. Mariano Rivera was the only reliever who was credited with a loss that year in the playoffs. So again, it's hardly for a lack of middle relief that the Yankees didn't win that World Series either.

And in 2000, the last year the commisioner's trophy did end up in the Bronx? Jeff Nelson did get three "Holds" that year in postseason play, but his ERA was 7.04, so I'd say that they were sucessful in spite of him.

Joe Sheehan has an article in Baseball Prospectus' Premium area in which he says it's a win-win trade. That the Mariners are better off having a righty who can get both lefties and righties out, and that the Yankees are better off having a situational pitcher with whom Joe Torre is comfortable, especially for the postseason. I don't disagree, necessarily, but the Yankees may end up with egg on their collective faces if Benitez comes in to close out games against them and succeeds, or if Nelson is asked to pretect a lead against the Mariners in the ALCS and fails. I guess we'll see.

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06 August 2003


I have been made aware that a couple of my fellow bloggers have moved over to Movable Type. I don't really know what this means, but I assume it costs money or something, so I doubt that I'll be doing it any time soon. However, if you're interested, you can now find the illustrious John J(acob Jingleheimer) Perricone's Only Baseball Matters at http://www.grousehouse.org/obm/. Of cours, if you go to his former site, there's a banner that will take you right over anyway. The only difference I really see is that he doesn't seem to have the papyrus font like he did before, but hey, you don't go there for the font, right?

Also, Brad Dowdy's Atlanta Braves Blog, **No Pepper** has moved to http://www.nopepper.net. No font change here, I think.

And of course both of these can be reached from my blog links on the left, as soon as I update them, which should be shortly.

While you're surfing, you may find Baseball Crank Dan McLaughlin's analysis of the Red Sox potential to finish the season with a team slugging percentage over .500, which has never been done before, and some ensuing comments, one from Yours Truly.

And Last, but not Finally, Elephants in Oakland has just become one year old. This Post marks their anniversary, but if you haven't read more of their writing by now, you're really missing out. EIO may be going the route of Movable Type or something even cooler soon, so stay tuned....

And speaking of being a year old, my own anniversary is Friday, August seventh. Here is my first post. Cool.

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05 August 2003

Trade Analysis...

How did this happen?

I went away for a couple of lousy days, and I came back to find that my favorite team's starting right fielder, third baseman and best pitching prospect had been jettisoned to the National League, and that they had gotten an overrated thirdbaseman, a backup outfielder, an injured lefty reliever and a couple of prospects in return. Not good.

What's more, my favorite team's immediate rival had gotten the second-best available starter (Jeff Suppan), two of the best available relievers (RHP Scott WIlliamson and LHP Scott Sauerbeck) and had given up only a couple of marginal prospects to do so.

Now don't get me wrong, I think that Yankees GM Brian Cashman did a pretty good job in getting a new, fairly productive thirdbaseman (Aaron Boone) to replace the aging, underproductive one they had (Robin Ventura), who was necessarily dumped into the Dodgers' already underachieving hitting ranks. And though I don't happen to put much stock in "team chemistry", if you hafta get rid of Raul Mondesi, it's best to get something for him and to send him someplace where he can't come back to haunt you. Arizona seems pretty safe.

Aaron Boone isn't that much of an upgrade on Robin Ventura, but it's something. Even when Ventura's batting average dips below .250, he walks enough to keep up a respectable OBP, but his almost complete lack of power this year (13 2B, 9 HR) and his age (36) meant that some upgrade was needed. There really wasn't anywhere else in the lineup they could expect to significantly upgrade anyway. And they got some decent (albeit old) prospects back in Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor.

Boston, on the other hand (...yep, still five fingers!), did a wonderful job shoring up their bullpen with Sauerbeck and Williamson, not to mention getting Byun Hyun Kim earlier in the year, while essentially giving up only a 2B prospect, once most of the original deal was un-done.

Suppan, frankly, I'm not very worried about. While he's a durable pitcher having a pretty good year (for the Pirates, no less) his career ERA is almost 5.00, and he's really not giving up any fewer hits or getting any more strikeouts this season than he normally does. What he is doing is allowing fewer walks (about one per nine innings less) and homers (about one-half per nine innings less). This, as Oakland GM Billy Beane and any sabermetrician worth his salt will tell you, is a good way to keep your ERA down. Unfortunately, it might just be a fluke. Suppan may revert to giving up that extra homer and extra walk and revert to the league-average innings muncher he usually is, in which case the Red Sox playoff foes have little to fear from him.

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