26 September 2007

The Joba Rules, v. 2.0

I. Thou Shalt Not Try to Contrive Clever Puns on Joba's Name.

No "Joba the Hutt" or "Joba the Heat" or "Joba Fett" or "Gotta Getta Joba" or "Take this Joba and Shove It" or anything of the sort. Enough, already. He's got a nickname. It's "Joba". His real name is Justin. If he wants a better nickname, let him do something in the postseason to earn it.

II. In Case of John Sterling, Thou Shalt See Rule I.

"A great job-a, by Joba"???? "Joba gets the job-a done"???? This is the best you can do?!

III. Thou Shalt Not Mispronounce Joba's Name.

It's JAH-ba. Not JOE-ba.

IV. Thou Shalt Not Continually Refer to the Original "Joba Rules" or "Book of Joba".

These appear to have fallen out of use.

Chamberlain's original handling rules included that he should not be brought in to pitch in the middle of an inning, but he did this on September 19th, relieving Andy Pettitte by striking out Melvin Mora with two outs in the 8th.

In addition, he is supposed to get two days of rest if he pitches two innings, but this rule has apparently been scrapped as well. Having pitched two full innings (30 pitches) on September 21st, he then came in to pitch after only one day of rest, on September 23rd (again with two outs in the 8th, tisk-tisk) and picked up his first Major League Save. This was the day after the Yankees had used 10 different pitchers in a 12-11, extra inning win over Toronto, so they were admittedly a little short handed (armed?) the next afternoon, but let's not pretend like Joe Torre and the Yankees have some priority higher than winning, shall we?

The last of these Rules, that Joba should not be used on consecutive days, is likely to be scrapped some time in the playoffs, wherein many of the games are played on consecutive days, and all are crucial. This is especially likely if Joba threw only a handful of pitches the night before and/or Torre needs him to get Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guererro or David Wright out in a pinch.

Mark my words. The original Joba Rules never outweigh the Steinbrenner Rules, which number exactly one:


V. Thou Shalt Not Attribute Joba's Fastball to his Size.

Joba is 6'2" and 230 lbs and can throw a baseball over 100 mph. Billy Wagner is listed at 5'10" and 180 lbs and in his prime, he could throw over 100 mph. I am 6'5", 255 lbs and my fastball would not get pulled over for speeding in a School Zone at 3PM, much less an Interstate. Clearly size has very little to do with it.

VI. Thou Shalt Not Refer to Joba's Native American Heritage as Though it Presented a Significant Roadblock to MLB.

Not to diminish the history of hardships suffered by the Native American people, which have been both real and severe, nor the currently sad state of affairs on many Indian reservations. I should know, as I used to be Native American myself (it's a long story). But the kid throws 100 miles per hour! If you can throw 100 mph with some semblance of accuracy, it doesn't matter if you're descended from Indians or Martians or antelope. It won't matter if your skin is black or red or green or purple or teal with orange stripes and a sort of light yellow hint of plaid. You will get a college scholarship, and if you help the Nebraska Cornballers get into the College World Series, a major league scout will find you.

VII. Thou Shalt Not Pretend That Joba's Being Native American is New to MLB.

Baseball Almanac lists nearly 50 players whom they identify as having some significant portion of Indian ancestry, including Hall of Famers Charles "Chief" Bender and Zach Wheat, All-Stars like Rudy York, "Indian" Bob Johnson, Allie "Superchief" Reynolds and Pepper Martin. In addition, according to baseball-almanac.com, Gene Bearden, Virgil Trucks, Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell & Early Wynn, among others, have some share of Native American blood. As recently as 2005 there was a Native American in MLB, Bobby Madritsch, with the Mariners. Red Sox rookie Jacoby Ellsbury was in the majors as early as June 30th and has been playing regularly (hitting .367!) this September. (Incidentally, Ellsbury, not Joba, is the highest-drafted Native American in history. Many outlets, including the Allen Barra article in WSJ linked above, have erroneously stated the otherwise.)

VIII. Thou Shalt Not Continually Bring Up Joba's Father and His Polio, and His Poverty, and His Divorce, and His Appendix...

Harlan Chamberlain used to catch Joba when he was a kid, sitting in his wheelchair (the dad, not Joba) and he finally got to see him pitch in the majors, in person, on September 7th in Kansas City. He struck out a batter and allowed only one hit in two scoreless innings (Joba, not the dad), so he did not disappoint, and his dad must be extremely proud and very excited and gratified for all the hard work they did finally paying off.

But you're killing me, here. Can't we come up with something more cheerful to talk/write about? Can't we just be excited for the kid and the cool things he might do in the postseason? Do we have to be constantly reminded of his dad's condition? And that he had an emergency appendectomy and nearly died last summer? And that his wife left when Joba was 3? What's next? Tornados and smallpox and packs of wild, rabid dogs? It's baseball, folks. It's a game. Leave the family melodrama for another original HBO series or something.

IX. Thou Shalt Not Fawn All Over Joba Like He's The Greatest Pitching Prospect Ever.

Listen, I'm as excited about all the talent oozing out of the Yankee farm system this year as aynbody, but just because he started his career with 16 consecutive scoreless innings (in 12 games), don't think he's going to be unhittable for his whole career. Sure, he's got great stuff, but he did just turn 22, and nobody ever comes up to the majors and cruises through an entire career without a few bumps in the road.

The immortal Victor Cruz started his career in 1978 with Toronto, at age 20, and rattled off 21.1 consecutive scoreless innings. By age 26, he was out of baseball. Erstwhile Yankees prospect Matt Smith came up last year and pitched a dozen scoreless games with New York before being traded to Philadelphia, where he added ten more games to the streak, totaling 18.2 scoreless innings before allowing his first run in the majors. This April, Smith walked 11 and struck out only one batter, allowing 5 runs in 4 innings, before being sent back to the minors, where he pitched until June and then went on the DL.

In total, going back 50 years, 17 different pitchers have started their career with at least a dozen games in which they did not give up a run, and most of them did not even pitch 5 or 6 years in the major leagues. The best of these was Dick Radatz, the briefly great Red Sox reliever from the early 1960's, whose last really good year was his third in the majors. The longest-tenured of these was Bob McClure, a crafty lefty who managed to stick around for 19 seasons but racked up 10 Wins or 10 saves only once each.

Joachin Andujar wisely summarized this peculiarity in one word: Youneverknow.

X. Thou Shalt Not Make Joba a Reliever Next Year.

This one is particularly important, even though it only applies to the Yankees front office and not to, say, anyone who might actually read this. Chamberlain is (if you'll forgive the pun) setting himself up here to be the Closer of the Future. We all know that Mr. Automatic is hardly that anymore, and that the Yankees need to start grooming his replacement. Mo will be 38 next year and can't last forever. But please, please, don't let Joba follow in his footsteps. Granted, you could do a lot worse than to have Mariano Rivera's career. He's 3rd on the Career Saves list, and will likely be at least 2nd by the time he retires. With his frequent 1+ inning use and postseason success, he's as good a bet as any among the modern closers to get a plaque for himself in Cooperstown.

But Joba could be much more than that. As a rule, the Closer is an overrated commodity. The Cleveland Indians are cruising into the postseason with Joe Borowski, who leads the AL with 43 saves but has a 5.15 ERA. Clearly, Saves are not that hard to accomplish.

Last year, the Red Sox installed rookie Jonathan Papelbon as their closer, despite his impressive numbers as a starter in the minors, because they needed one so badly. He was so good at it (a 0.92 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 35 Saves in 68 innings) that he nearly won the Rookie of the Year Award, and now he can't get his job back as a starter, even though they promised it to him after last season.

With Roger Clemens likely to really, really (no seriously, he means it this time) retire after the season, and the uncertain nature of much of their starting rotation after Chien-Ming Wang (Pettitte's got a mutual option, Igawa's sketchy at best, Mussina's old, the rest are young and erratic) they'll need Chamberlain to give them 6 or 7 solid innings every 5 days if they're going to get to the Promised Land. They can't afford to give him 70 innings of work when they need 200 out of him. There isn't enough bonafide talent on the Yankees pitching staff to pick up all that slack.

So, in short, if you follow only one of these new Rules, let it be this one. Let the fans see Joba pitch as much as possible, within reason, and the team will be better for it.

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20 September 2007

Yankees Only 1.5 Back…Who Cares?

There are probably things less important than whether or not the Yankees manage to wrest first place in the AL East from the clutches of the Boston Red Sox, but right now, I can't think of any.

I predicted back in June that there was no way this could happen, and though I wouldn't mind being proven wrong (it was bound to happen sooner or later) I stil don't expect it.

Don't get me wrong. As a Yankee fan, I would certainly like to see the Yankees continue their impressive streak of Division Titles. This would make ten in a row, if they can pull it off. The Atlanta Braves supposedly have a MLB record 14 in a row, from 1991 to 2005, but in reality, it's only 11 in a row, as they were decidedly not leading anything when the strike hit in 1994. MLB curiously did not name division winners for that year, even though all the other awards, batting and ERA titles, Cy Young and MVPs, etc., were named. Probably because if they had, Atlanta would not be on the list. However, that, and the chance to somehow demoralize the Arch Rival Bostons once again, are about the only reason that this division race is of any interest at all.

And why is that?

Because it really doesn't matter.

The Yankees and the Red Sox will both get into the playoffs, somehow or another. Barring some kind of historical collapse by the Yankees, Red Sox, Anaheim Angels of LAnahfornia, or the Cleveland Indians of Cleveland, there is no way that the four teams currently leaidng the AL divisional and Wild Card races will not all be in the playoffs this year. The reigning AL Champion Detroit Tigers are 7.5 games behind Cleveland and 5.5 games behind New York, so they've got a tough road ahead to catch anybody. The Seattle Mariners, just one game out in the Wild Card race when they beat the Yankees back on Labor Day, are now 6.5 games behind the Bronx Bombers, and 8.5 back in the AL West. In addition, eight of their remaining 11 games are against Cleveland and LAnahfornia, so they're not going to make it either.

Which leaves the Yankees, Sawx, Tribe and Halos.

"But wait," you say, "isn't there some kind of advantage to winning your division?"


There have been 12 World Series played since the onset of the three-division, Wild Card System. With eight teams in the playoffs each year, the odds of winning a Championship should be roughly one-in-eight, if you assume that winning has more to do with luck than skill, once you get into the playoffs (and after the patently mediocre, 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals managed to win it all last year, how can we assume anything else?).

Wild Card teams have made up eight of the 24 teams to play in the Series, including at least one each of the last five years running, and have actually won the Series in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004. That's 4-for-12, or 33%, almost three times the natural odds. So it would seem that there's no particular disadvantage to going into the playoffs as the Wild Card. If anything, there's a notable advantage to it, though it would have to be admitted that 12 years is a pretty small sample size.

So, if anything, the Yankees should hope not to win the division. Think about it: Four of the last 12 world championships have been won by Wild Card teams, and four of them have been won by the Yankees. If the Yanks falter a bit, and let Boston keep the division title, they would then be BOTH the Yankees and the Wild Card! That gives them something like a 67% chance of winning it all, right?

Maybe not.

Either way, all this made up melodrama about whether or not the Red Sox will cough up the division seems pretty pointless, especially when there are legitimate races for every single division AND the Wild Card over in the NL. San Diego is only one game behind Arizona in the NL West division, and leads the Wild Card by just 2.5 over the Phillies, whoe are just as close to the Mets in the East. In the central, The Cubs lead by a mere game over the Brewers. That's six teams within striking distance of only four playoff spots. Something's gotta give.

Incidentally, for you Rockies fans who think you can still make up that 4.5 game spread in the Wild Card race...think again. All 10 of your remaining games come against division rivals with winning records (LA, San Diego, and Arizona), and six of those 10 are on the road, where the Rox are 33-42. Not gonna happen.

The Cubs remaining games all come against the soft underbelly of the National League, the Pirates, Marlins and Reds, while the Brew Crew must play Atlanta and San Diego, in addition to St. Louis, who are not completely awful, so the Cubs should hold onto that division. Then again, these are the Cubs.

The Padres have a lot of road games left, where they haven't been great, but they should be able to handle San Francisco (especially if Barry doesn't make it back), Colorado and Milwaukee. Arizona's got the Dodgers, Bucs and Rockies, and their record is almost entirely due to how well they've played in 1-run games (32-18) which has a way of being kind of fickle. Their luck could change at any moment. Don't be too surprised if the Padres take the division from them and they miss the playoffs, with Philly picking up the Wild Card.

Seven of the Phils' remaining 10 games come against the Nationals, and while they don't look like they've got the pitching to get into the playoffs, the Nats don't have the pitching (or offense) to stop them either. They're not likely to catch the Mets though, as New York has no games left against teams that don't suck. They've got 7 left against last-place Florida, with the worst record in the Senior Circuit. They've also got three against Washington and a makeup game against the Cardinals, who, while they don't really suck, are not particularly good either. The Mets also play their last seven games at home, which should help.

So there you have it: If you want to get excited about the pennant races, the National League is the place to look. As for the Junior Circuit? That race was over a week ago, and only an unprecedented collapse by one or more teams will make it any different.

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18 September 2007

Three (3) tickets to Saturday 9/22 Yankees/Blue Jays game

I've got three tickets for sale for Saturday's Yankees/Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium. It's "The Bronx is Burning" DVD Sampler Day, and the game starts at 1:05.

You can buy them on eBay here.

I have another commitment and need to get rid of them, but of course I don't want to take a loss. The $200 minimum bid covers my expenses only, though if I can make a profit, all the better.

Happy bidding!

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13 September 2007

Selig's Everywhere He Wants to Be

It must be great to be the commissioner.

Allan H. "Bud" Selig left his position as a team owner to try his hand at running Major League Baseball. He's the very face of the industry, and baseball's self-professed #1 fan. His name has been in the headlines several times recently, and not because he was doing anything inappropriate in a public restroom, either. Which is good.

One such time was when he endorsed the Houston Astros' choice of Cecil Cooper as their interim manager, and encouraged them publicly to make him the permanent successor to Phil Garner, who didn't deserve to be fired in the first place, I must add. Initially I thought this might be a way in for me, that perhaps Selig was looking for more managers who were born on December 20th, in which case, I'm set, you know? But it turns out that Selig thinks that there ought to be more ethnic minorities, especially blacks, holding managerial jobs, though frankly it seems to me more than a little inappropriate that he should be trying to influence a decision like this, especially based on race alone. Maybe MLB has some Afirmative-Action quotas we don't yet know about? In any case, I don't know that jackie Robinson would have approved of this sort of thing, or of the ridiculous tribute Bud started when he allowed 2,347 players to wear Jackie's #42 back on April 15th.

Selig, of course, chimed in important stuff, like when the Braves and the Cubs were both sold earlier this year. He spoke about starting the regular season in 2008 in Japan again. But he also had his name involved or at least implied in much more trivial matters, like whether or not the Red Sox manager is required to wear his jersey while out on the field, and allowing the Orioles and several other teams to play with pink bats to raise breast cancer awareness on Mothers' Day.

There have, of course, been lots of times where Selig's name has come up in a story about steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. He wanted Jason Giambi to meet with investigator George Mitchell. He responded to questions about Gary Matthews' alleged HGH use.

Selig also made a public appearance last month when the Minnesota Twins broke ground on the new stadium they plan to build. Or, more accurately, they plan for the taxpayers of Hennepin County to pay to build, as these will be footing about 75% of the bill, despite the fact that Twinkies' owner Carl Pohlad is one of the richest men in America. He could easily spend the $522 million the ballpark is supposed to cost (though that may increase, especially considering that they don't even own the land they want to build on yet) and still be worth over $2 Billion. Also, he's 92 years old. Didn't anyone ever tell him that he can't take it with him?

At this point, nobody has bought the naming rights to the new Twins Ballpark, but that's likely to change, if only because everyone else's new stadium seems to be at least partially funded with such a sale. Also, any monies the Twins would normally have contributed to the revenue sharing plan will be mitigated by those they spend on building the new stadium, so they will receive money from the revenue sharing agreement without actually sharing much (if any) of their own revenue.

If Pohlad wanted to, he could probably get PepsiAmericas Inc., in which he also owns controlling interest, to buy the naming rights to the ballpark, and then write that off as a business expense for the bottling company, saving himself several million more dollars. But I digress...

The irony here is that not too long ago, Selig and Pohlad were conspiring to get rid of the Twins entirely. Back in 2001, arguing that the Minnesotas couldn't possibly compete with that lousy, old, non-descript ballpark, Selig and the other owners threatened to contract the Twins, to basically disband the team, and pay owner Carl Pohlad a hefty sum for his trouble. This, of course, was a nonsensical and thinly-veiled extortion threat to try to get Minnesota taxpayers and, more important, lawmakers, to pony up the funds for a new ballpark.

It worked. So well, in fact, that Selig and Pohlad were both be there for the photo-op and to talk up how this new stadium will help them be competitive with the other teams in their division, all of whom either laready have a relatively new park or will have one soon.

Never mind the fact that the Minnesota Twins don't compete for fans with the Tigers, Indians, Royals or White Sox. The closest of those cities is over 350 miles away.

Never mind the fact that the Twins have won their division four times in the five full years since Contraction was first threatened, and had a winning record (83-79) in the other season, and might end up with a winning record this year as well (they're only two games under .500 right now).

Never mind the fact that their players have won two Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy in that time.

Never mind the fact that Twins attendance has increased from 1.7 million in 2001 to 2.3 million last year and are on a pace for even more than that in 2007.

Never mind that their 2007 average home attendance rank (7th out of the 14 AL teams) places them ahead of Texas (8th), Baltimore (11th) and Division rival Cleveland (10th), all of whom already have new stadiums in which to play.

And all of this is true long before they'll get the new stadium they supposedly need so badly. Nevertheless, Selig, according to the AP, had the nerve to say,

"They couldn't survive in the Dome. The revenue streams just weren't there. It was as simple as that, and I think mostly people up here understood. From time to time there were a couple that didn't, but it's too nice a day for me to go back to that."

Well, clearly they survived pretty well in the last several years. I think that the people who understood what Selig means were basically Carl Pohlad and the other Twins shareholders, if there are any. They wer ethe ones who wanted this new stadium, because they are the ones who stand to gain from its presence in Minneapolis and the fact that the county taxpayers are mostly paying for it. Andrew Zimbalist and others have demonstrated that there really are no significant, long-term benefits to the taxpayers that would justify shelling out the kind of money required to build a sports stadium.

Selig at least admitted,
"This is a day that we've looked forward to for a long, long time. [...] I don't mind telling you personally I've looked forward to this."

Well, of course he's looked forward to it. He's not paying for it. Selig doesn't live in Minnesota, so not a dime of his own money will go toward helping Carl Pohlad to make more money he can leave to his children when he dies. And yet Selig will get to check off the building of the new Twins stadium as something of an accomplishment of his tenure as Commissioner, along with the building of the new stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, Seattle, Chicago (AL), Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, plus soon-to-be-built parks in Washington, Miami, northern California, and two in New York.

Stadiums in Boston, LAnahfornia, Toronto and Kansas City have all either been recently renovated or are in the process now, though some of these just pertained to getting rid of the AstroTurf. Given that expansion teams Arizona, Tampa, and Colorado all had stadiums built for them in the last 15 years, that leaves only the Dodgers and Cubs who will not have either a new stadium or a newly renovated one by the end of this decade. That is a whole lot of feathers in Bud's cap, but even more of an accomplishment is that many of these stadiums are being largely paid for by the taxpayers themselves, who are shelling out their own money for the privelige of paying higher ticket and concession prices when the new places open.

What a country!

But Selig was conspicuously absent when Barry Bonds tied and then broke Hank Aaron's career home run mark last month. Back in February, Selig had said,
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: If and when Barry Bonds breaks that record, it will be handled in the same way every other record in baseball that has been broken has been handled."

Which made the situation about as clear as mud.

Selig, for example, was present back in 1998 when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season record, and everyone remembers that. People remember that Bowie Kuhn was there to see Aaron tie babe Ruth in 1974, even though he missed the record-setter in Atlanta, and they remember that Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit was witnessed by Peter Ueberroth in 1985, but they also remember that Selig did not make it to milestones like Roger Clemens' (or Tom Glavine's or Greg Maddux's) 300th win, or Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit, though it seems to me that i remember him being there when Tony Gwynn hit his 3,000th, but that might just be something I dreamed.

Nobody thinks that the Commissioner has nothing better to do than fly aorund the country watching players set milestones. The line's got to be drawn somewhere, and any time the event in question is something that a few dozen peopl have done (like winning 300 games or amassing 3,000 hits) I don't think there should even be a discussion, but 756 homers? Nobody had ever done that before, just like nobody had ever his 62 homers in a season before, and the Commish ought to have been there to congratulate him for it. Even if he thinks that Barry Bonds is nothing mre than a cleverly designed android, who's only this good because he's absolutely 100% synthetic, he still deserves to be congratulated in person for doing something nobody had ever done before. Innocent until proven guilty, you know?

But Selig, in an effort to save face for himself as he continues to construct his legacy, made himself scarce at that time last month. For good measure, he didn't attend the game when Trevor Hoffman's 479th Save was recorded either, if only so he could have some kind of precedent to which to point when asked about Bonds. Selig ssurely realizes that if Bonds is someday proven guilty of taking steroids or something, that he would look bad shaking hands and congratulating him in that picture, and if he's never convicted of anything, well, the great majority of public opinion is enough of a deterrent. And even if Bonds' name is somehow cleared, Selig can always point to scheduling commitments and other conflicts that kept him away at the time.

In short, he shows up where it serves him to do so: At a groundbreaking ceremony, chiming in against steroids or for Civil Rights, that kind of thing. But where he should be, where he by all rights ought to be, for good or bad, he's nowhere to be found. He could have made a great living in politics...

...but of course the money's here in the private sector.

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08 September 2007

Pirates GM Littlefield (Finally) Fired

Well, it's about damn time.

Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager David Littlefield was fired yesterday. He had held the job since mid-July of 2001, and though it was hoped that he would help to turn around a franchise that had not had a winning season since 1992, reality turned out to be quite a bit harsher than hope.

Littlefield's predecessor, Cam Bonifay, had essentially run the franchise into the ground by mid 2001, or long before that if you asked most Pirates fans, and Littlefield was expected to "turn things around", "build from within", "develop young talent", "win some games"...very little of which actually happened. Littlefield entered the job in 2001 with the deck already stacked against him. He had the albatross contracts of not one or two, but several aging, underproductive, overpaid players to deal with. Kevin Young, Pat Meares, Derek Bell, Todd Ritchie...and he got little or nothing for most of these guys in trade or free agency compensation.

Hard to blame him too much for that, given how worthless these players generally were, and Bell and Meares were done after 2001 anyway, but even the trades he made didn't seem to make much sense at the time. One of his first moves, at the 2001 trading deadline, was to get rid of John Vander Wal, a 35-year old backup OF/1B forced into a starting job and making almost $2 million the Pirates couldn't afford to pay him, and Jason Schmidt, who was a decent starting pitcher about to become expensve as a free agent. These two went to the Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Schmidt, of course, promptly became one of the best pitchers in the National League, whereas Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong continued to be, well, Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong.

Terry Mulholland, an aging, replacement level relief pitcher having a decent season, was sent to the Dodgers for Mike Fetters, an aging, replacement level relief pitcher having a lousy year, plus a non-prospect. Mike Williams, another such commodity, was sent to Houston for Tony McKnight, who was young and cheap but got overworked and never again pitched in the majors after 2001. Williams, it should be noted, was brought back as a free agent in 2002, making twice as much money as he had in 2001, and was again traded in mid-2003, this time to the Phillies. Granted, he had an ERA of 6.27 at the time, but all they got for him was a minor leaguer named Frank Brooks, who had an occasional cup of coffee in the majors but never got to stick around long enough to finish his danish.

In the 2001-02 off-season, having promised to "build from within" Littlefield apparently decided that the best way to do this was to sign a whole bunch of retread free agent relief pitchers, who would then theoretically be "within" the Pirates organization and therefore count towards that goal. From the end of December 2001 to March of 2002, Littlefield signed Salomon Torres, Mike Williams, Scott Service, Al Reyes, Brian Boehringer, Wayne Gomes, Ron Villone, Joe Roa and Brian Meadows. All of these guys cost them something, and several of them never even pitched for the team before being released, and of those who did, only Torres had pitched effectively over the long term for Pittsburgh, and the others yielded little or nothing in trade.

Even those who could have fetched a marginal prospect were inexplicably allowed to continue pitching for the Bucs and were then lost to free agency, and this was generally true throughout Littlefield's tenure in the Steel City. Julian Tavarez, Matt Stairs, Reggie Sanders, Mike Lincoln, Daryle Ward, Joe Table, Rick White and others were signed as free agents and allowed to leave as free agents, despite demonstrating that they had some value in trade for Pirates teams that were going absolutely nowhere in the last several years.

Not that everyone was allowed to leave as a free agent. There were some trades made, and some of those proved worthwhile, at least for a time. Dave Williams was traded for Sean Casey and cash, and even though Casey was no great shakes, he was soon sent away for a minor league pitcher who might actually have a future, whereas Williams basically fell apart. They sent Rob Mackowiak, a sub-mediocre utility player, to the White Sox for Damaso Marte, who's been a pretty decent relief pitcher for them the last two seasons.

There were a few solid trades. They managed to get Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez from the Red Sox for two months worth of Jeff Suppan. Gonzalez was a good relief pitcher for them for a few years and then netted them Adam LaRoche in trade, and of course Freddy Sanchez won a batting title and led the NL in doubles last season and has been an All-Star twice. When Brian Giles was getting too expensive, he was traded to San Diego for Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, the 2005 NL Rookie of the year and a two-time All-Star. Those two probably complete the very short list of "good" trades that Littlefield made during his tenure in Pittsburgh.

Craig Wilson, who was declining rapidly in value, was traded to the Yankees for Shawn Chacon, who took his time at it but eventually became a useful pitcher again, while Wilson bounced around and looks washed up at age 30. After the 2001 season, when Todd Ritchie got too expensive, they shipped him and a minor leaguer to the White Sox for Kip Wells, Sean Lowe, and Josh Fogg. Wells was both decent and cheap for two years before injuries and arbitration made him lousy and expensive at the same time, and Fogg, if not particularly good, was neither terrible nor pricey, at least for a while. (Meanwhile, Ritchie promptly fell apart and was out of baseball by the end of 2004.) The Kris Benson trade netted them Jose Batista, their current regular thirdbaseman, Ty Wigginton, who could have been a regular something if they'd given him a shot, and a minor leaguer. Not a bad return for an injury-prone, sub-LAIM pitcher making $6 million in his walk year.

But for every good move, it seems there were about five bad ones. They lost Bronson Arroyo, Dave Ross, Chris Young, Ty Wigginton, Duaner Sanchez, Gary Matthews and others, all of whom have gone on to have notable success elsewhere, either by getting little in trade or by waiving or releasing them outright. Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez and CASH, which the Pirates can hardly spare, were sent to the Cubs for Matt Bruback, Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill, who was later flipped to the Padres for a non-prospect minor leaguer.

Jason Kendall is now generally thought of as a waste of a roster spot, but in the winter of 2004, he was a 30-year old catcher with a career .306/.387/.418 batting line who stole bases and played good defense. Nevertheless, all Littlefield got for him, due mostly to his exhorbitant contract, was Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes, and some money, though probably not as much as he sent along with Kendall. A year later, Redman was flipped for a couple of prospects you've probably never heard of and Rhodes was traded for Matt Lawton. And Lawton, when he was having a decent year that should have netted them some kind of prospect at the trading deadline, only got them Jody Gerut, an injury-prone retread from the Cleveland organization.

The last several years have seen the Pirates employ a maddeningly long list of has-beens and won't-be-anymores, like Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Joe Randa, Jose Hernandez, Daryle Ward, Benito Santiago, Mark Redman, Joe Table, Chris Stynes, Raul Mondesi, Jeff Reboulet, Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Pokey Reese, and Jeff D'Amico, just to name a few. For a team that was supposed to "let the kids play" that's an awful lot of guys on the wrong side of 30, some on the wrong side of 35.

Even the players the Pirates developed themselves have turned out to be disappointments. The Pat Meares signing, which, to be fair, was not Littlefield's work, was widely ridiculed at the time, and I'm sure Littlefield was glad to be rid of him when his contract expired at the end of the 2001 season. But his successor, Jack Wilson, has been at if for seven seasons, is making more money than Mears ever did, and his #1 comparable player, according to Bill James' Similarity Scores, is (wait for it...) Pat Meares.

The current roster, with a few exceptions, does not have a lot of bright spots. Freddy Sanchez can hit for average, but has no power or speed and is not a good defensive 2B. Jason Bay is an excellent talent having an off year. It gets pretty thin after that. Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche would be effective role players on a championship team, but are little more than stop-gaps on this one. Chris Duffy is already 27 and has proven that he can steal bases but can't get onto them in the first place. Nate McLouth may be in the same boat, except that he's only 25. Jose Bautista has aver 1000 major league plate appearances and a career .241/.329/.398 batting line. He's 26, and might get better, but will probably never be an All-Star. Catcher Ronny Paulino hit .310 last year but had a below average OPS because he doesn't walk and has no power. Jack Wilson ain't gonna get any better than he is right now, which is pretty bad to begin with.

What they do have is a trio of cheap and solid young starting pitchers. Tom Gorzellany, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm could form the core of a rotation that's both win- and cost- effective for years to come, and Matt Capps can close the few games they'll actually win for something close to the major league minimum for at least another year or two. They'll all get more expensive as they enter arbitration, but should still be manageable for a while, especially with all the money the Pirates must get from revenue sharing. That's a lot more than some teams can say. Young catcher/OF Ryan Doumit might be something special, but at 26, it's time to start proving it. After that's it's mostly question marks.

The top tiers of their farm system , with a few exception, don't have many pitchers who strike batters out with much consistency, which does not bode well for thir long-term success. Keith Law and others have outlined already how Littlefield's failure to effectively stock the farm system was ultimately his undoing, so I won't rehash all of that in this space, but there are two quick ways of looking at the situation to get a sense of how dismal his efforts have been.

1) The best players the Pirates have drafted on Littlefield's watch are Maholm and Gorzellany (1st and 2nd round, 2003), and maybe Matt Capps (7th round, 2002). In the meantime, they could have had Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, BJ Upton, Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Matt Cain, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francis, David Bush, Jesse Crain, Brian McCann and/or lots of others who've had more success in the majors than the best the Pirates have to show for their trouble. And those names are all just from the 2002 draft.

B) The Pirates #1 draft pick in 2002, Brian Bullington, is struggling to get to and stay in the majors. His minor league record is unimpressive at best. He walks too many and strikes out too few and has trouble staying healthy...and he's starting for the Pirates on Tuesday.

In short, it's been a long, strange trip with Littlefield at the helm for the Bucs, but most Pirates fans are probably glad to see someone else get a chance to Captain this once proud ship.

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29 August 2007

The Case For/Against Mussina: Not All His Fault

Mike Mussina's been stinking up the joint lately, as you probably already know. Monday's 16-0 drubbing at the paws hands of the Detroit Tigers was only the latest exhibit in the case against Mussina's still belonging in a major league rotation. The evidence in that case, it appears, is building up faster than they could pile up bloody gloves and DNA reports in the O.J. case, but Simpson is currently "looking for the real killers" at book signings and golf courses all over the U.S., so maybe Moose still has a chance to avoid the virtual lynching being perpetrated upon him by some of my colleagues in the blogosphere.

The Prosecution:

Exhibit A: Mussina's been teetering on the brink of useless all season. Mussina is no longer the pitcher whose knuckle curve, funky delivery and low-90's heat could win games in a number of different ways. He's now almost 39 years old, and never had an "overpowering" fastball to begin with. His control is still there, at least in terms of avoiding walks (he walked 2.11 batters per 9 IP this year, and his career mark is 2.02), but he's not striking batters out very much. When Mussina first came to the Yankees as a free agent in 2001, he struck out 8.42 batters per nine innings, the second best mark of his career, at age 32. Two years later, it was still as high as 8.18. With his nagging injuries in 2004-05, he was down to a little over 7 per 9 innings, which is still quite good, and he jumped up to 7.84 last year, when he made 32 starts and totaled almost 200 innings.

Mussina, courtesy of Boston.comBut this year? In 2007, he's down to 5.53 K's per nine, well below the MLB average of 6.59 whiffs per game. Unless you've got stellar defense behind you, pinpoint control and/or a cavernous ballpark, none of which is the case for Moose, you can't survive in the majors striking out a batter below the MLB average, at least not for long. (I know, I know: Chien-Ming Wang is 15-6 and he never strikes anyone out. But Wang also never allows a home run. Heck, he hardly ever allows a fly ball, doesn't waste time throwing balls outside the strikezone, and the Yankees score 7 runs per game for him, so he's a special case.)

The handful of times I've seen Mussina pitch, it's seemed to me that when he could locate his breaking stuff, he did OK, but otherwise, he was doomed. You just can't get away with an 85mph fastball if they know your breaking stuff either won't be a strike or will hang. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it's true. (Someone commented about him on Rob Neyer's blog on ESPN.com that they should trade him to an NL team, that he'd win 18 games in the NL Central. "Over there, 86mph is the new 91." they said. Of course, that's just speculation, so the judge has to throw it out.)

Exhibit B: I haven't once seen him pitch this year and thought that he really looked good. He's only got 11 "Quality Starts" in his 23 games this season, and four of those just barely meet the 6-inning, 3 Earned Runs criteria for that stat, which is little more than a benchmark for mediocrity anyway. If Mussina can't even do that half the time, what business does he have pitching in the majors at all? Let alone making $11 million to do it.

Exhibit C: And this, even though Torre's handled him with kid gloves. He hasn't thrown more than 98 pitches in an outing since June 24th. Even in games where he's been effective, Torre has taken him out a little earlier than you would think for a 17-year veteran with almost 250 career victories. Perhaps Joe is trying to save him for the playoffs, or get the young guys some work, or maybe he just wants Moose to be able to go into the clubhouse knowing that he did something right, so he'll have some confidence on which his psyche can build next time. You wouldn't think that you should have to pamper such a grizzled veteran, but who knows?

How bad is Mussina? At the moment, there are about 101 pitchers in the majors who have pitched at least 120 innings (Moose has 124) this year. Mussina's 5.53 ERA ranks 96th among those 101. He's 8-10 only because the Yankees are, well, the Yankees, and they score 5.6 runs per game when he pitches. On a mediocre team, he'd be 5-13. On a bad team, if he had pitched more, he might be flirting with 20 losses. Yeah, he's been that bad.

The Defense:

However, there is some reason to hope. According to ESPN, Mussina's defense-independent pitching ERA is only 4.14, about 75% of his actual ERA, which is the lowest ratio in the majors (among the 101 pitchers with that many innings). Baseball prospectus indicates that the Yankees' Defensive Efficiency, the rate at which balls in play are turned into outs (or the complement of batting average on balls in play) as a team is .692, which ranks 19th in the majors. They were 3rd last year. In other words, opposing teams have hit .308 against the Yankees when they've put the ball in play, i.e. on pitches that don't end in walks, homers, whiffs, hit batsmen, etc., notably worse than the MLB average, which is about .300. For an individual player, the difference of .008 points in batting average is almost negligible, fewer than 5 hits over the course of a season if you get 600 at-bats, less than one per month. For balls in play, which typically are more like 450 at-bats, we're talking about 3.5 hits. But for a whole team, with about 4,500 at-bats that result in a ball in play, that paltry .008 difference in batting average means about 35 more hits per year.

Moose, courtesy of Starwave.com

Unfortunately, it gets even worse for Moose. Opposing batters have hit .348 against him this year when they've put the ball in play, which is the highest opponent balls-in-play average in the majors. (Overall, opponents have hit .313 against him this year, the second highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched.) And we're not talking about errors here. Those are not the main culprit. The Yankees' team .986 fielding percentage and 70 total errors are both 7th best in the major leagues. Indeed, Mussina's only had two batters reach base on an error all year, and has allowed only three unearned runs, so it's certainly not that. It's just that the balls that Moose allows into play are not getting fielded, either because luck lands them where they ain't, as Wee Willie Keeler used to say, or because the Yankee defenders aren't good enough at getting to where the balls are.

Historically, it seems that Moose has had pretty hittable stuff for quite a while now.

2001 0.295 3.15
2002 0.295 4.05
2003 0.289 3.40
2004 0.317 4.59
2005 0.328 4.41
2006 0.285 3.51
2007 0.348 5.53

Or, shown another way:

Last year's apparent resurgence, that full-run drop in ERA, was mostly due to the fact that his bad luck (and/or porous defense) from the previous few years had reversed itself, at least temporarily. This year's atrocious performance, it seems, is largely attributable to the re-reversal of that trend, so that now it's worse than ever. In short, Mussina's been sabotaged by his defense's inability to do their jobs more than anyone in the majors this year.

Not that it's all their fault. "Luck is the residue of design," according to a man who built World Series contenders in three different cities. You notice how Mussina's ERA changed significantly from 2001 to 2002 to 2003, despite the fact that his BABIP was almost exactly the same? That's because his strikeout rate dropped in 2002, then went back up a bit in 2003. If you noticed on the BABIP list I linked to, among the other pitchers with high BABIP numbers were Scott Kazmir and King Felix Hernandez, who are considered two of the rising young stars of the American League. They both have winning records and ERAs below 4.00, in spite of their high BABIP numbers, because with all those strikeouts, they hardly ever allow a ball in play.

So, what does all this mean for Mussina's chances of staying in the rotation? Frankly, I doubt that Joe Torre has looked at many of the numbers we've just seen. At most, he probably sees that opponents have hit .313 against the Moose and stopped there. Mussina's right when he says,

"I want to keep going out there and figure out what's going on, because I can't believe in three starts that I forgot how to pitch after seventeen years. So I hope he [Torre] has confidence enough in me to keep sending me out there and let me figure this out, but at the same time we've got to win ballgames, and I'll understand if he thinks that we need to do something else." [from Cliff Corcoran at Bronx Banter]

He hasn't forgotten how to pitch, per se, but he has forgotten how (or more accurately, lost the skill) to strike out 7 batters per game, and that, coupled with bad luck and/or bad defense, is enough reason to seriously consider putting someone else in there instead of Moose for his next start. In terms of options, the Yankees have:

Matt DeSalvo: 8-5, 2.82 ERA for Scranton, but almost a walk every other inning, and got hammerred when he was in the majors back in May. Not the answer.

Steven White: 6-4, 3.62 ERA in Tampa and (mostly) Scranton. Doesn't walk so many as DeSalvo, but doesn't strike out a lot of batters either. His best talent is preventing homers (only one every 14 innings or so in the minors) but that probably won't be enough. Has never pitched in the majors.

Jeff Karstens: Looked good in his last two starts (11 IP, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K), but has had only three outings after coming back from the broken leg, and didn't strike out a batter in 5 innings last night. Probably needs more time. And maybe a fastball.

Kei Igawa: I know, you don't want to hear it. You wish we'd never spent that $50+ million to get him here, but he's here, and the fact is that he's been decent in AAA the last few times out. He's had three out of four Quality Starts, and more important, he's walked only 3 batters in 25+ innings in those 4 starts, while striking out 24. This may be the answer.

Ian Kennedy: Has blown through three levels of the minors this year, going 12-3 with a combined 1.91 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 146 innings in A, AA and AAA. Only has 34 innings of experience above AA in his career, so you would think that it's probably too early to throw him into the heat of a major league pennant race, but apparently the Yankees don't agree. They'll bring him up to pitch in Mussina's spot on Saturday, at which point, he will not have pitched for a week.

so long, Moose, courtesy of Scout.com

Personally, I would have gone with Joba Chamberlain, who was a very effective starter in the minors before he came up to the majors, but I guess they're trying to keep his 21-year old arm fresh, so they don't want to have him starting and logging lots of innings in the majors.

In the meantime, I guess Moose will get mop-up duty until Torre's confidence is restored or until enough of the other starters suffer injuries that Joe has no choice but to give Mussina his job back.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

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15 August 2007

The King is Dead...Long Live the King!

The King Lives!

OK, not really.

Elvis Aaron Presley, the first and only King of Rock and Roll, died 30 years ago today at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 42 years old.

To commemorate this, I have compiled some lists for your perusing pleasure:

Current and Former MLB and Minor League Baseball Players Named Elvis:

Elvis Alayon, OF
Elvis Augusto Andrus, SS
Elvis Alberto Avendano, P
Elvis Ciprian, P
Elvis Leonel Corporan, 3B
Elvis N. Correa, P
Elvis Enrique Cruz, OF
Elvis De la Rosa, C
Elvis DeJesus, P
Elvis Hernandez, P (b. 04/27/1985)
Elvis Hernandez, OF (drafted from Cal. State in 1996)
Elvis Herrera, 2B/3B
Elvis Jimenez, OF (played in low minors in 1994-95)
Elvis Jimenez, P (b. 08/30/1985)
Elvis Lara, 2B
Elvis D. Montilla, P
Elvis Morel, 2B
Elvis Pena, 2B/SS (only Elvis ever to make it to The Show)
Elvis Andres Perez, P
Elvis Polanco, P
Elvis Reyes, P ('Reyes' is Spanish for 'kings'...kind of redundant, isnt it?)
Elvis Romero, P

Also, there was a player named Delvis Lantigua who was in the Yankees organization for a while. I had a little fun with his name in a blog post I wrote a few years ago.

Notable Major-Leaguers Named (or Nick-Named) "King":

King Bailey. Linwood C. Bailey pitched one game in 1895. He gave up 8 runs in 8 innings, went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and got the win.

King Cole, P, 1909-1915. Leonard Leslie Cole went 20-4 and 18-7 with the Cubs in 1910 and 1911, respectively, but never had another decent season after that.

"King" Felix Hernandez, currently the 21-year old anchor of the Seattle Mariners' pitching staff.

Carl Hubbell, "The Meal Ticket" or "King Carl". Hall of Fame pitcher won 253 major league games throwing mostly screwballs, including 20+ wins in five straight seasons and two NL MVP awards. In the 1934 All-Star game, he famously struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row. These were, in reverse order, Joe Cronin, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth, the King of Clout.

Charlie Keller, "King Kong", a 5-time All-Star outfielder with the Yankees in the 1930s and '40s, also played with Detroit.

King Kelly. Hall of Famer Michael Joseph Kelly played from 1878-93 and was a player/manager three of those years, winning a pennant in the NL rival Players League in 1890. Was arguably baseball's first "superstar" and scored 120+ runs in five different seasons, only one of which was as many as 125 games. Hit .348 or higher three different times and stole 50+ bases five times.

Frederick Francis "King" Lear, so nicknamed for obvious reasons. Had an unremarkable and brief career as a backup infielder around the end of WWI.

Charles Bernard "King" Lear, ditto, except that he was a pitcher.

Clarence Emmanuel "King" Lehr, again, nicknames for a Shakespearean character, though the spelling is a stretch. Hit .148 in 27 at-bats for the Phillies in 1911, playing OF, 2B and 3B.

Norm (Norman Carl Michael) "King" Lehr pitched four games in relief for the Indians in 1926, without getting a decision, and got the same nickname for the same reason. Apparently the sportswriters at the team were A) not terribly creative with nicknames and 2) really, really starved for someone to name "King" who would stick around for a while, so they dubbed everyone "King" if they could even remotely justify it, just in case.

Jack (John Albert) Morrissey, played infield and outfield for the Reds in 1902-1903, and might have gotten the King tag from his middle name. If he were alive today, his Bermanism would be John "King Albert in the Can" Morrissey, except that nobody under 40 would get that.

Clyde Edward King, Had an unremarkable career as a relief pitcher from 1944-1953, then followed it with a career as a Manager that spanned three decades! Of course, his only full managerial season was 1969, then he managed parts of 1970, '74, '75 and 1982, the last one being with the Yankees.

Jeff (Jeffrey Wayne) King, 1989-1999 had a largely unremarkable career as a corner infielder with the Pirates and Royals, though he did get to play on two playoff teams with the Bucs. Drove in 110+ runs and hit 30 and 28 homers in 1996 and 1997, respectively, but faded quickly after that.

Jim (James Hubert) King, 1955-1967 Hit .240 over 11 years, mostly with the Cubs in the 1950's anf the Washington Senators (Version 2.0) in the 1960's. Talk about born under a bad sign.

Ray King, 1999-2007 Only current major leaguer actually named King. With his 6th team in 9 years and not pitching well for the Nationals, so he may be done soon.

Silver King, 1886-1897 Charles Frederick King had some incredible years in the 1800's in the American Association and the Players League before joining the national League, but he fizzled out quickly. Apparently pitching 600 innings in a season isn't good for your arm. Who knew?

Jim Leyritz, 1990-2000 Baseball-Reference.com says that he was nicknamed "The King" but I don't remember anyone ever calling him that. Parlayed a couple of clutch postseason homers into an 11-year major league career.

Nellie (Nelson Joseph) King, 1954-1957 Had an unremarkable career as a relief pitcher with Pittsburgh, but made a name for himself as a Pirates radio announcer after his retirement from MLB.

Steve (Stephen F.) King, 1871-1872 Hit .396 in 29 games during the inaugural year of the National Association, 1871, then .305 the next year, then retired from baseball and has been writing creepy novels ever since.

Guy Isbel "King Tut" Tutwiler, 1911-1913, also nicknamed for obvious reasons, played briefly in 1911 and 1913 for the Tigers. Most notable thing about his career is that he got to play with Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford.

Larry (Lawrence King) Yount appeared (and I do mean appeared) in one game in 1971, during a situational double pitching change. He then immediately disappeared, without having thrown a pitch, swung a bat, or caught a ball, never to be seen in the majors again. Larry is the brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount. Interestingly enough, Tommie Aaron, the comparatively talent-less kid brother of Hank Aaron, was used as a pinch hitter for the other team in the same game. Also, pitching for the Braves in that game was Phil Niekro, who is the brother of the Joe Niekro, who of course is the brother of Hall of Famer, er... Phil Niekro. Talk about coincidences.

George King Murray pitched really badly from 1922-1933 for the Yankees, Red Sox, Senators and White Sox. Baseball-reference.com says he was nicknamed "Smiler" and it must have been his happy personality that kept him in the Bigs, as it sure wasn't his pitching. Went 2-9 with a 6.72 ERA for the Sawx in 1924, a year in which the AL ERA was 4.35. Amazingly, two years later, he resurfaced with the Senators, pitched just as badly, though he went 6-3 this time. He pitched only 18 innings the next year, then showed up again for two games with the White Sox in 1933. he had been traded by the Red Sox along with two other players and $50K for future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock, back when the Red Sox served as the Yankees' top farm club, so maybe people thought he was worth something because of that.

Jim (James King) Romano pitched in three games for his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, two relief appearances and one start, allowing six runs (4 earned) in 6.3 innings. And that was it.

Charlie ("King" Charles Otto) Schmutz pitched briefly and unremarkably for the Brooklyn Robins in 1914-1915. I'm guessing the King tag comes from the actual King Charles, the many British monarchs of that name, though that's not totally clear. Another desperate attempt by the sportswriters to find their leige. That's only fair, I suppose, given that the guy's real name means "dirt" in Yiddish and German.

Babe (Jay King) Towne caught 13 games (and pinch hit in one more) for the 1906 "Hitless Wonder" White Sox, who beat the cross-town Cubs in the World Series. None of his 10 hits in 36 at-bats went for extra bases, though he also walked seven times. Unfortunately he made four errors in those 13 games. He went 0-for-1 in the World Series and never played in the majors again.

Sol "King Solomon" White is a Hall of Famer who was a pioneer in the early Negro Leagues, a player, manager and executive who established and managed some of the best clubs in the Negro Leagues at the time. An educated man from Ohio, he also wrote the first book on the Negro Leagues, Sol White's History of Colored Baseball, in 1907, which has been republished several times since.

(William Aloysius) Bill "King" Brady, 1912-1912
(James Ward) King Brady, 1905-1912
Both were so-named for a prominent dime novel detective of the 1880's and 1890's, "Old King Brady". The former pitched in only one game, while the latter pitched between one and three games in five different seasons in the majors, but never more than that.

(King Lewis Albert) Lew Brockett, 1907-1911 Presumably named for the King of France from the Shakespearean plays, pitched intermittently for the Yankees back when they were the New York Highlanders, before they were any good.

Clay (Clayton King) Fauver, pitched one game, an 11-hit shutout in 1899, and was never seen in the majors again.

Zaza (Ervin King) Harvey, 1900-1902 Spent some time as an outfielder and pitcher with the Cubs, White Sox and Indians around the turn of the last century, back when the Cubs were the Orphans, the Indians were the Blues and Bronchos, and the White Sox were AL Champions in the pre-World Series era. He once collected six hits in a 9-inning game, but I can't figure out how he got nicknamed "Zaza."

John Gottleib "Big Jack" or "King" Karst played one game at third base for the Brooklyn Robins in 1915, and participated in a double play, but did not bat, and never appeared in the majors again.

(Walter Brockton) "King Bill" Kay played 12 games in the outfield and pinch hit in 13 more (gitting .333 in 60 at-bats) for the Washington Senators, worst team in the AL in 1907.

Guys Named King About Whom I Couldn't Think of Anything Interesting to Write:
Lore (Verne) "King" Bader, 1912-1918
Chick (Charles Gilbert) King, 1954-1959
Curtis Albert King, 1997-1999
Eric Stephen King, 1986-1992
Hal (Harold) King, 1967-1974
Kevin Ray King, 1993-1995
Lee King, 1916-1922
(Edward) Lee King, 1916-1919
Lynn Paul King, 1935-1939
Mart (Marshal Ney) King, 1871-1872
Sam (Samuel Warren) King, 1884-1884

And of course, last but not finally, there was Jim Presley, who played eight years in the majors, mostly with Seattle, as a third baseman. He was the classic "swing hard in case you hit it" type of batter, who mashed 24 or more homers three years in a row, but also struck out 100+ times six years in a row. he hit .247/.290/.420 in over 3,500 major league at-bats, striking out 859 times in 959 games, though he was an All-Star in 1986, when he drove in 107 runs and smacked 27 homers. He's now the hitting coach for the Florida Marlins. Answers.com says his nickname was "Hound Dog", though baseball-reference.com makes no mention of that.

Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.

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14 August 2007

“Scooter” Retrospective: Phil Rizzuto Dies at 89

Phil Rizzuto, erstwhile New York Yankees shortstop and 40-year Yankees radio and TV broadcast announcer, died last night at age 89.

To quote the Scooter, "Well, that kind of puts the damper on even a Yankee win."

Obviously, a lot more people mourned the passing of Pope Paul VI in 1978 (about whom Rizutto uttered that line) than will cry for the Scooter, and rightly so, but in his own niche, he was just as beloved.

Phil Rizzuto, courtesy of National Italian American FoundationPhil Rizzuto's major league playing career started when he was 23 years old. A Brooklyn native, and only 5'6" tall, when he was called up from the minors in 1941, he supposedly had a hard time convincing the guard at Yankee Stadium that he was on the team and should be let inside. When he went to try out for his hometown team in 1937, he was told by then-Dodgers manager Casey Stengel to go and shine shoes for a living, but later became one of Stengel's favorite players when Casey helmed the Yankees in 1949. One story Rizzuto related about Stengel dealt with a death threat he had received in the mail before a series against the Red Sox in September of 1950, the year he won the MVP. The letter supposedly said that he, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra and Johnny Mize would be shot if they showed up in uniform. When Rizzuto showed the letter to his manager, Casey gave him Billy Martin's uniform to wear, and sent Martin in with Scooter's #10 on his back.

Not surprisingly, Scooter's diminutuve size prevented him from exploiting the game the way most of his peers did in the late 1940's and early 1950's, a time when walks and homers dominated the game, and an average team stole only about 40 bases per season. Scooter frequently stole 15-20 bases all by himself, finishing in the top 6 in the American League eight times in his 13-year playing career. He also ranked in the top 10 in triples three times, another testament to his speed, inspite of his short legs. His brand of slap-hitting, aggressive base-running and self-sacrifice brought a breath of fresh air in an otherwise boring era for baseball. Rizzuto led the AL in sacrifice hits four times and is third on the Yankees' all-time list, and ranks 10th among Yankees with 49 hit-by-pitches. He was widely regarded as one of the best bunters in baseball history, and later would try to impart his knowledge on the subject to Yankee players as a special instructor uring Spring Training, after his own playing career had ended.

A patient hitter with a keen eye (he walked 651 times in his career but only struck out 398 times), Scooter was not a sabermetrician's favorite type of player, but his skills clearly helped the Yankees to the nine American League pennants and eight World Series championships they won with him on the team. The sportswriters of his era recognized this, voting him the AL MVP in 1950. He placed second to Ted Williams in 1949 and got MVP votes six other times, ranking as high as 6th, in 1953. Though he hit only .246 in postseason play, he ranks among the top ten in hits, singles, walks, stolen bases, at-bats, and times on base, mostly because his 52 World Series games rank 6th all-time. He made the All-Star team five times, four of them after WWII, though he was never the same hitter he had looked like before he went into the service.

Much of Scooter's value as a player owed to his prowess as a defensive shortstop. Long before Cal Ripken proved that a man built like a Greek god could play short effectively, Rizutto was the quintessential defense-first, any-offense-is-gravy shortstop that most teams employed. Contemporary Hall-of-Fame shortstops like Pee Wee Reese, Arky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau and Luke Appling were all better offensive players...and were all at least three or four inches taller and weighed 15 or 20 pounds more than the Scooter. That he got as many hits as he did out of his wiry little fram is fairly impressive. And in spite of that, his defense, at its best, could rival many of the best defensive shortstops in history. Baseball Prospectus gives him four seasons with 20+ Fielding Runs Above Average, while Ozzie Smith, widely considered the best defensive shortstop in history, has only six such seasons, despite a much longer playing career.

Rizzuto, like many of his contemporaries, lost much of his career to the Second World War, playing three years (1943-45, his age 25-27 seasons) for the U.S. Navy's baseball team instead of in the American League. Certainly he could have compiled more stats if he had those three seasons in the prime of his career back, but more important, he might have helped the Yankees not to finish 3rd in 1944 and 4th in 1945 as he and his star teammates Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, Red Ruffing, Johnny Murphy and others were off contributing to the war effort.

Scooter's playing career ended in 1956, when he was apparently called into the general manager's office to look over the roster and help them decide who on the roster they should cut to make room for the recently acquired Enos Slaughter. After suggesting several names and having each one opposed for one reason or another, it became apparent to Rizzuto that his was the expendable name, and he was let go. Nevertheless, at the insistence of Ballantine Beer, one of the Yankees' biggest sponsors at the time, Scooter was almost immediately hired to do broadcasting, a job he held for about 40 years.

Rizzuto became a fixture on WMCA radio and in the WPIX broadcast booth, working with the likes of Mel Allen, Red Barber, Bill White, Bobby Brown, Bobby Murcer and many others during his long career. He became famous as an almost unabashed homer, more than occasionally lapsing from announcing the Yankee game to actually rooting for them. He famously always referred to his broadcast partners by their last names, as he had his former teammates. (The reason Bill White jokingly gave for why he was leaving the Yankees' booth to become president of the National League in 1989 was that after 18 years of working together, his partner still didn't know his first name!) Fans loved his humor, his "Holy cow!" exclamations during broadcasts, and toward the end of his career, his general lack of ability to follow the game itself. Though it became a challenge to follow the game when even the announcer would admit to lapses of attention (Rizzuto would mark his scorecard "WW" for "Wasn't Watching" whenever he missed a play, which was often), the genuineness and endearing nature of his broadcasts made him the longest-tenured and most loved announcer in Yankees history. His monologue full of baseball/sex-related double entendres, on the recording of Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light", continually introduces new generations of horny teenagers to his style as they hear the song at parties and on the radio, even if they don't know it's the Scooter.

He retired from broadcasting for the last time (after threating to do so for years) after the 1996 season.

Phil Rizzuto, courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com

Rizzuto was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, by the Veterans Committee, after years of waiting, even though he had what most knowledgeable fans consider sub-par numbers. Despite that, and despite the fact that Bill James used him as a frequent illustration in his book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, James ranked him as the 16th best shortstop in history when his Historical Baseball Abstract was re-published in 2001.

Phil (Fiero Francis) Rizzuto
25 September 1917 – 14 August 2007

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13 August 2007

AL, NL Pennant Races Heating Up...

Who says the Wild Card has ruined the excitement of playoff races?

One of the major criticisms of the three-division/Wild Card system, implemented back in 1994, wa sthat it would ruin some of the great pennant races. That the "Down the stretch they come..." excitement and intrigue of years past would be lost, because there would suddenly be a consolation prize for whomever lost out on the division title. In the 1993 NL West, for example, the Braves edged out the Giants on the last day of the season, winning 104 games to the Giants' 103, so they could have the privilege of choking in the playoffs against the Phillies. The Giants would have been in the playoffs anyway with the three-division format, so how exciting is that, really?

Well, it would have been exciting for the Cardinals. They finished 87-75, and would have won the NL Central, if such an animal had existed at the time. They'd have made the playoffs ahead of the Montreal Expos, despite having seven fewer wins, and they'd have had the Cubs and Astros right on their tail, both within three games at the season's end. That would have been exciting for lots of people around the midwest, don't you think? And the Phillies would have won the NL Wild Card with their 97 wins, not particularly close to the Braves' record, but worrying about the gaining Expos, who finished just three games behind them. So while we would not have had two 100+ win teams vying for one playoff spot, we would have had five teams competing for two playoff spots, which would have kept a lot mor efans interested for a lot longer.

Fast forward to 2007, and I've got some even better examples for you.

American League...

In the AL, you've currently got six teams competing for four playoff spots. The Boston Red Sox, who looked so unstoppable for the first three months of the season, have, well, stopped. Winning, that is. Their closest competition was 11.5 games out as recently as July 5th, but their lead has been whittled down to just 4 games by the end of this weekend. The'll get to beat up on Tampa Bay, the worst team in baseball, for six of the next nine contests on their schedule, and indeed, the remaining 44 games on their schedule include only 16 against teams with winning records. If you discount Toronto, which just barely has a winning record at 59-57 right now, that's only 10 games against "good" teams the rest of the season. The Yankees, by contrast, have 27 of their remaining 45 games against winning teams, so their road looks much tougher, at least on paper. I doubt that even the Red Sox could mess this up. The will win the AL East.

That leaves five teams for three remaining spots, and the field is wide open at this point. The LAnahfornia Angels have a 3.5 game lead over Seattle at the moment, but they've got a stretch of 17 straight games against teams that currently have winning records, and the Mariners' schedule is comparatively soft for the next few weeks, so that lead could slim down even more. In a virtual tie with Seattle for the AL Wild Card at the moment are the Yankees, of course, with the Cleveland Indians only 1.5 games behind. The Tribe, however, is only 1/2 game behind the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central Division lead, which I'm sure they'd much rather have anyway.

My best guess is that the Angels and Sawx will hold onto their respective division leads, that the Yankees will cool off a bit but will probably still win the Wild Card. Seattle may have a 65-50 record right now, but their runs scored and allowed suggest a more pedestrian 59-56 team, and I expect them to start playing like that again soon. Cleveland and Detroit are both trying their darndest, it seems, to let each other take over the AL Central lead. The Tigers are just 13-18 since the All-Star break, with a 5.71 team ERA, but the Indians are right on the Tigers' tail as they tumble, 13-17 since the break, with a .698 team OPS and a .252 batting average in that stretch. One of them, however, is going to have to win it, as the Twins (58-59, 7 games out) don't look like they're equipped to make a run this season. Look for the Tribe to take advantage of the relatively soft schedule they have for the rest of the year and overtake the Tigers to win the Central.

National League...

If the pennant races are hot in the AL, then they're positively on fire in the Senior Circuit. All three divisions are contested by no more than three games, and the NL East has three teams within 3.5 of the lead. Concurrently, there are six teams within three games of the NL WIld Card lead, which means that there are nine teams vying for four playoff berths. That's more than half of the teams in the National League still in contention with a month and a half left of the season. You odn't hear anybody lamenting the Wild Card system this year, do you? They're all too busy checkin gthe box scores.

To begin with, the NL East has been led by New York virtually all season, but the Metropolitans are losing ground to the Phillies quickly, mostly because the latter are starting to play like I said they would. The Atlanta Braves, despite a terrible season by Andruw Jones, an injury to Edgar Renteria, a couple of no-names at the back of their rotation and a half dozen pitchers on the DL, are only a half-game behind the Phillies, 1.5 out of the NL Wild Card race.

In the Central, the Milwaukee Brewers finally took Tom Hanks' advice, stopped crying poor, and started playing good baseball. They built up an 8.5 game lead as recently as June 23rd, but have watched it ebb away ever since. They're 12th in the majors in runs scored, and 14th in ERA, and their runs scored and allowed suggest a 59-59 team instead of their actual 62-51 record, so I fully expect them to wilt in the heat of the race, though they'll probably finish with a record at or just above the break-even mark. The Cubbies, despite losing records in both April and May, went 34-20 over the next two months before cooling off again in August. They're only 1.5 games behind the Brew Crew at the moment, and if their pitching can keep them in contention until Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez are healthy, they should be able to take the Central title. The defending world champs are currently 7 games out, with a record 5 games under .500, so they're not likely to turn things around this late in the season.

The wild, NL West has four of its five teams within 6 games of the division lead, and any and all of those could win the Wild Card as well. The Diamondbacks sit atop the division as I write this, with a 67-52 record, but they've actually allowed more runs (523) than they've scored (502), owing their status as division leaders to a luck-and-relief-pitching-induced, 26-16 record in 1-run games, so I don't think they'll stay there. The bullpen is composed mostly of rookies who have yet to see opponents ofr a second or third time and veterans playing way over their heads, so it's just a matter of time before things fall apart out there in Arizona. The Dodgers are 6 games out, with a 60-57 record, and one of the best pitchers in baseball in Brad Penny, but their offense is going to have to turn it up a notch if they're going to make a run.

The other two temas, the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies, are three games and five games behind 'Zona, respectively, but the old Yogi-ism could not be better applied than to these two. That is, if you'll forgive my paraphrase, "You can't compare the two. Their similarities are different."

The Colorado Rockies play in the best hitter's park in the history of recorded baseball, Coors Field, and their offense takes advantage of it. Their 602 runs scored overall are second only to the Phillies in the NL (In the AL, only Detroit, Boston and New York have scored more runs.), and nobody in the NL has scored more runs at home than the Rockies, which helps to explain their 35-23 record at Coors Field. The team has six players with at least 10 homers and every regular his hitting at least .279. Unfortunately, they're dreadful on the road, scoring less than 4.5 runs per game, and dropping to 26-33. Amazingly, their pitching is somehow consistent, with a 4.48 ERA at home, and a 4.34 mark on the road.

San Diego, by contrast, has four guys with double-digit homers, but nobody who's likely to join them before the season is out. The Padres play in one of the best pitchers' parks in the majors, and it shows. Brian Giles is hitting .298, but with only 7 homers and 31 RBIs in 77 games. No other regular is hitting more than .269, and half the lineup is hitting .240 or worse right now. They're last in the NL in batting average and OBP, 13th out of 16 NL teams in slugging, and 11th in Runs Scored. On the other side of the equation, though, lies their pitching, and this is how San Dego has stayed in contention all season. Thier 3.54 collective ERA is easily first in the NL, best in the major leagues, actually, and almost half a run better than the Mets, their closest Senior Circuit competition. Not surprisingly, the Padres have a winning record at home, 32-26, but they've also played decently when away from Petco, 31-28. Both teams have half of their remaining schedule in their home parks and half on the road.

So my guesses for the NL are that the Mets will hold on to the East, the Brewers will fade adn give way to the Cubs, who will take the Central, and the Snakes will cool off, allowing the Padres in to take the West for a third straight year. The D-Backs' youth and inexperience and the Rockies' inability to win on the road will keep them both out, and the Dodgers' age and inability to hit for power will kill their chances, though Penny could win the Cy Young Award. The Phillies will win the NL wild card...

...and then lose to the Cubs in the playoffs.

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