27 February 2008

The Curious Logic of Tony LaRussa

This is an interesting time of year, in a remarkably interesting year for Major League Baseball. Since the MLB training camps are all open, and nobody has started playing actual games or releasing players yet, there is literally nothing else to talk about besides steroids. I mean, you can talk about position battles, how good each team's starters/lineup/bullpen/batboys compare to those of other teams, how well new managers are fitting in...but really, none of that much matters. That's all stuff the sportswriters usually use to pad their columns until Something Important happens.

But of course, one of the most Something Importants in MLB history happened two months ago, when the Mitchell Report was released, and people are still talking about it, as they should be. Everyone has his own take on it. Most of us haven't read the whole thing, but we know enough about it to be dangerous, and of course we can follow the fall-out from the report in the daily news media. Some people think the players mentioned in it were all cheaters, some think they were all innocent, or that if they did use performance enhancing drugs, it wasn't cheating because it wasn't banned at the time. Most of us are somewhere in between.

But Tony LaRussa?

Believe it or not, the MLB manager most closely associated with steroids and the proverbial Steroid Era, doesn't believe any of it. Not a word, it seems.

With credits due to Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (who interviewed LaRussa) and to ESPN's Rob Neyer, who made reference to the story in his blog, I would like to take a few moments to analyze the odd thought processes (or lack thereof) that allow LaRussa to maintain his innocence, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Burwell: When you were deciding on bringing in Juan Gonzalez, were you at all concerned about his name being linked to the Mitchell Report? This isn't even a moral issue. Just from a pure baseball standpoint of not knowing what kind of guy you're getting now?

La Russa: "There are a lot of players who have done something to enhance their performance who don't have that swing. It's one of the best swings of our time. [...] The issue of that stuff from the Mitchell Report doesn't cloud my mind because we're going to evaluate him only on what he does now."
That initial response makes it sound like LaRussa's saying, "Heck with the cheating rumors...look a that swing!" but really he's saying that Gonzo has enough talent still that he might be worth the risk, and really, for the Cards, the risk is minimal, since he's only got a minor league contract. That makes him something of a bad example. Now, if they had Barry Bonds (whom LaRussa wanted but upper management nixed) and were paying him millions of dollars in guaranteed money, that would be a different story.

And as for "evaluating him only on what he does now" well, fair enough. If you presume that he's clean now because there's a pretty stiff testing program now, then you can evaluate him purely on what he does now. Of course, you should do this anyway, shouldn't you? With a guy who's trying to make a comeback, what else would you use to evaluate him? "Well, he's hitting .163 with no walks and no extra base hits...but he did win MVP awards in 1996 and 1998...let's give him another month!" Not gonna happen, and it should not be a surprise.

Burwell: You have more than your fair share of Mitchell Report guys on this team. Does it bother you that there's a perception that you give safe harbor to steroid guys?

La Russa:
"No, and I'll tell you why not. One way I was taught to survive is my No. 1 accountability factor is myself. This is my 30th year doing this at the major league level. There isn't anybody — the commissioner, our owner, the fans, you — there isn't any person, man or woman, who can make me any more accountable than I am now right now because of myself. And I know there isn't anything we've done in all those years that was — with one small exception where we stole signs, a little hiccup — there isn't anything else that has happened on our ballclubs in Oakland or St. Louis that there's a hint of illegality. There isn't anything that we didn't actively and proactively attempt to do it right."
Ummm...Tony, I dunno if you've been paying attention or not, but there have been LOTS of hints of illegality. There is a huge, 400+ page report, several books (including Juiced, by Jose Canseco, who played and cheated for you in Oakland). Heck, there was a column by Tom Boswell of the Washington Post over 15 years ago alleging that Canseco was using steroids at the time. how many more "hints of illegality" do you need?

Burwell: But that's not what most of us think.

La Russa: "You're missing my point. If I'm going to base the way I survive on everything that others think, I have no chance."
Bryan Burwell is right: most of us don't agree with Tony's view. Because we can read. And we've been paying attention for the last 20 years. Tony, it seems, has taken to focusing only on what he thinks and feels in order to ignore everything going on around him that he might someday be held accountable for. By someone besides his own, strange mind.
And besides, that wasn't his point at all. His point was that he doesn't think he did anything wrong, or allowed anyone to do anything wrong.

Burwell: Does it bother you that rightly or wrongly, you and (assistant coach) Dave McKay have gained the unflattering label as the so-called godfathers of baseball's steroid era with your connections to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire?

La Russa: "That's one of the crosses you have to bear, but let me tell you something about Dave McKay (the strength and conditioning guru of those Oakland and Cardinal teams). Dave McKay has as much or more integrity as any man I've ever met. He's so pure in his integrity, and that's why I fight so hard to defend what we've done. There's no chance that what happened officially at Oakland was tainted. Does it mean that we were policemen or that when our guys are not in our facilities, are not in our weight rooms that guys didn't experiment? No, you can't make that claim.
Kudos to Burwell for the follow-up question, which is basically a re-phrasing of the previous one.

And as for, "There's no chance that what happened officially at Oakland was tainted."? Really, Tony? Because one of your own players wrote a book about how essentially his entire career was owed to his use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, and that he taught McGwire to use it too. That means that his "official" AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1986 and his MVP in 1988 were in fact "tainted" along with (probably) McGwire's 1987 RoY award, plus your three AL pennants and the 1989 World Series win over the Giants. We're not talking about third-party allegations, here. Canseco has confessed. He's proud of it! I mean, sure, he could be lying, but why? And in any case, I think that at least qualifies as a "chance", don't you?

If, for your own emotional well-being, you need to plead ignorance of those events, that's one thing, but you can't pretend they didn't happen. Canseco, unlike Clemens, has admitted his usage.

Burwell: Would you have cared if you did know they were "experimenting"?

La Russa: "Yeah, I would care because when I saw a guy who got stronger quickly without working hard, oh yeah, that implies a lot of other things about what he's willing to do."

What other things? Isn't cheating with banned substances enough? What else does he have to do? Doctor baseballs? Steal signs? The Hidden Ball Trick?

More from Burwell. LaRussa's assertion that both McGwire and Roger Clemens' success was due solely to their fanatical work ethics:

"There's a certain amount of credit that should be given to a guy who's worked hours and hours to get stronger and bigger," he [LaRussa] said.

I [Burwell] reminded him that the whole point of using many performance-enhancing drugs is to increase the ability to work and train harder. "So working hard doesn't give you an alibi that you didn't use drugs," I told him.

"Well, that's what you believe and you're probably right according to testimony, but that's not what I believe," La Russa said. "I watched Mark McGwire work."
Welcome to the Post-Modern world, boys and girls! A wonderful place where you can believe anything you want, as long as, well, you believe it a lot. You can ignore any evidence that disagrees with your own worldview simply by saying that it is someone else's worldview, and therefore does not apply to you. There is no absolute truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth. It's great! Unless you don't think so. In which case it's not. But only for you, get it?

Pat Jordan wrote about some interactions he had with Clemens in 2001, while he was profiling him for an article in the New York Times, and suggests that Clemens' maniacal workout routine was perhaps because of the PEDs he was taking (though Jordan never actually says this outright). Jordan cites himself and Tom Seaver as world-class athletes who, at a similar age, could not do a fraction of what Clemens did in his training regimen. That's just anecdotal evidence, of course, but it's still evidence. LaRussa, in support of his own opinion, cites no evidence at all.

Speaking of Evidence, here's some:
Now (or about a year ago):

The first picture is, presumably, from the height of the Steroids Era, i.e. the late 1990's. The second picture was taken about a year ago (I think), at Cal State-Fullerton, and is the best example of a recent picture I can find of McGwire. McGwire doesn't look all that much bigger than the guys he's with, who's just a kid from the college newspaper, not a fellow athlete. Big Mac is still big, and he appears to be in great shape, but he could lose 40 lbs of muscle from his peak playing weight and you might still not necessarily notice it if he had a suit on instead of the double-knit, skin-tight baseball uniform. In any case, I think his face looks a little thinner.

Interestingly, with the exception of that appearance, last January, which he probably scheduled before he knew about the Hall of fame vote, and the one before Congress last year, we've hardly seen anything of McGwire since he retired after the 2001 season. I think he's been keeping a low profile in order that people would not use his appearance, whether its changed much or not, to support their arguments for and against his use of PEDs. That's just a theory, of course, but it's a sound one.
Getting back to Burwell, his piece ends with a he-said, he-said about whether or not McGwire's physical appearance has changed appreciably since he stopped playing, which is hilarious. I would read the article just for that. But it basically ends with the two agreeing to disagree about the steroid stuff, and "talk baseball" as Clemens said we should yesterday.
But this conversation is not over.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

20 February 2008

Andy Pettitte Interviews Self, Disappointed in Self

Embattled New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte appeared in training camp after a delay that the Yankees had granted for him to deal with the congressional hearings about the Mitchell Report, in which he is a key figure.

Then, in a move reminiscient of Woody Allen in Bananas, Pettitte posed questions to himself about the controversy surrounding his use of PEDs. For nearly an hour, Pettitte patiently and thoroughly answered questions he had posed about the Mitchell Report, steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, his relationships with Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee, and the season ahead.

Pettitte began his interview with himself by stating that,"Part of me was a nervous wreck and scared to death to come up here today."

Pettitte did not clarify whether it was the "Pitcher" part or the "Interviewer" part of him that was nervous, though both guessed that it was the other. But Pettitte reassured himself that "we're all friends here" and that he need not be apprehensive, that he would be fair with himself.

With that assurance, Pettitte had the following dialogue with himself:

"Was it stupid? Yeah, it was stupid. Was I desperate? Yeah, I was probably
desperate," he said. "I wish I never would have done it, obviously, but I don't consider myself a cheater, no."
Pettitte justified this to himself this way:

"I didn't do it to try to get an edge on anyone. I didn't do it to try to
get stronger or faster or throw harder. I did it because I was that it might be
able to help me," he said.

When he challenged himself on the issue, however, Pettitte had to admit to himself,

"Well, I guess I did it to get an edge on the guys who couldn't or wouldn't use
HGH to try to recover from an injury faster. But that doesn't count, does it?"
"If people think I'm lying, they should call me a cheater," Pettitte said, before he reminded himself that there have been literally thousands of articles, columns and blog entries calling him exactly that.

Pettitte had no comment to himself on that.

Changing his own subject, Pettitte said, "I felt like I need to come out, be forward with this. Whatever circumstances or repercussions come with it, I'll take and I'll take like a man and I'll try to do my job."

He then clarified the statement for himself:

"No, my job as a pitcher. This interviewing gig is just a hobby."

Pettitte then brought up Roger Clemens' name and asked himself if there's any animosity between himselves and Clemens.

"Obviously it's put a strain, I think, on our friendship. I love him like
a brother."
Pettitte agreed that there was a strain there, though it was unclear which Pettitte had been responsible for the rift. When he asked himself about the allegations levied by Clemens that he had "misremembered" one or more conversations with Clemens about steroids and HGH, Pettitte responded,

"I'm just not going to go there. I've had to testify under oath. So has Roger. And, you know, I don't think that's anything I need to sit here and try to elaborate on with anyone else."
"Or even myself," he added.

Pettitte then apologized for bringing up the issue, but promptly forgave himself.

"I am relieved … [because] I felt like I had all this bottled up inside me," he said as he handed a urine sample to a testing technician for Major League Baseball's drug program.

Later in the afternoon, Pettitte got into uniform and worked out for the first time this spring, including throwing 35 pitches off a mound, also to himself.

"I'm hoping that, now that this HGH thing is behind us, I can focus on baseball, and that as I get into game shape, my fastball will return and I won't be able to do that anymore," he said.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

18 February 2008

Clemens Controversy out of Control, Credibility Questionable

The steroid controversy surrounding Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, their former trainer Brian McNamee and others has spiraled way out of control.

Originally, there was The Mitchell Report. Everyone had something to say about it. Some of them had even read it. Or, you know, some of it.

That was almost two months ago. At the time, Roger Clemens said he was "...shocked, SHOCKED, to find that his name was going on in there." He said that he had no idea that he was named until the report was issued. He said that he would have spoken to the Mitchell investigators if they had let him know that he was going to be named. Well, that was a load of crap.

Last week it came to light that Brian McNamee had tried to warn both Pettitte and Clemens that they were going to be named in the Mitchell Report, and that he had been the one to finger them, even though federal investigators had warned McNamee not to talk to anyone before the report came out. McNamee spoke to one of Clemens' many lawyers, and Clemens even heard a taped recording of the conversation, as much as a week before the Mitchell Report was released. Now, he says, he didn't talk to the Mitchell people because he didn't think they'd want to talk to him. These are the same people, it should be noted, who had repeatedly tried to get in touch with Clemens while they were researching the report, just like they had everyone else who might have had any tied to steroids and the like. So that, too, is a load of crap.

In the last two months, Roger Clemens has tried just about everything to deal with this situation, short of taking any actual responsibility and/or telling the truth. He's tried:

1) Righteous Indignation
This tactic rarely works, even when it's appropriate. It didn't work for the Hollywood Ten, half a century ago when the Red Scare had everyone hunting for Communists under their couch cushions. It didn't work 35 years ago when Richard Nixon and some of his top aides were found to been complicit in the burglary of their political opposition's headquarters. It didn't work 14 years ago when both sides of the pending MLB strike kept insisting that the other side was already getting too much of the profits and should not be entitled to any more than that. It didn't work a decade ago when President Clinton told us that he "...did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now. Usually, this is because the person exhibiting the righteous indignation is not, well, righteous. But even if they are completely innocent, the approach generally proves ineffective, if only because nobody likes to see someone act like that. The public likes humility and contrition and a perspective outside oneself, which the Righteous Indignation approach typically makes you look like a pompous jerk.

2) Discrediting the Witness:
Brian McNamee's been called a "drug dealer" and his criminal history has been brought to the forefront, even things of which he was accused but never convicted. In addition, there are indications that he was pressured into helping the Mitchell investigation, though it's not clear that they had any authority to get him convicted of anything, given that this was, in fact, a private investigation. He was not, however, offered immunity.

A standard legal defense, this one actually has some merit. If you can make your accuser look like something less than a fine, upstanding citizen, or if you can demonstrate that they had some reason to make up lies about you, you can gain some ground. In the court of public opinion, where this fight has mostly been staged to this point, this will win you some supporters, or it will at least give the people who already wanted to support you an excuse to do so. In criminal court, painting your accuser in such a bad light can be just enough to establish a reasonable doubt, and therefore get you off the hook. In a government hearing, however, especially one in which a report written by a formerly high-ranking member of that governing body is being discussed, it's unclear how much this does to help you, other than force people to take sides. Which brings us to tactic #3...

3) Divided We Conquer
If you can't beat 'em...get 'em to beat each other! A lot has been made of the apparent situation that has Republicans generally believing, or at least supporting Roger Clemens, and disparaging the name of Brian McNamee, while Democrats tended to believe McNamee more and regard Clemens' statements with greater skepticism. Though there are various possibilities as to why this might be the case, I think Occam's Razor will help us a lot here, i.e. the simplest answer is usually also the correct one:

The Democrats who run the committee brought Clemens in because they're concerned about this whole Steroid Thing and Clemens has publicly stated that the allegations made against him in the Mitchell Report are not true. They want to know why he thinks that (or at least says it). And the Republicans? Well, they're Republicans. So if the Democrats are going to bring in Roger Clemens and accuse him of doing something wrong, then he MUST be innocent, and by golly, they're going to defend him. It's their duty to the Fox News Channel! Or America! Or something.

If the Democrats were going to haul the sky into a congressional committee hearing and accuse it of being blue, the Republicans would line up to scoff at them and tell any reporter they saw that the sky is so obviously green that they can't even believe they're still talking about this. And naturally, it works the other way around, too. It just happens that the Dems are in charge of Congress right now.

And then, as if this were not enough, we get to hear one of Clemens' 5,237 lawyers telling a reporter that he's convinced that Clemens will get a Presidential pardon for anything he's done wrong, because he's such good friends with the Bush family. That's not wholly implausible, since Roger apparently knows G.H.W. Bush (i.e. Bush-41) from all the time that the the former president spent at Houston Astros games whil Roger was one of those. Bush-43 (the one everyone hates) is a huge baseball fan, and surely appreciates Roger Clemens' legacy to the game, even if he couldn't appreciate Sammy Sosa's potential when he was the GM of the Texas Rangers. (I'll bet he gets tired of hearing about that.) Of course, this Bush is presumably a Rangers fan, and Clemens never pitched for them. In fact, he beat them 18 times in his career, so George Junior may just let him fry. Revenge, served cold. Another problem with this approach is, rightly or not, if Bush were to pardon Clemens, he would essentially HAVE to pardon Barry Bonds. Their cases are so eerily similar: Both were world-class athletes, winning the highest award for their positions three times in their younger days, and both had a late-career resurgence allegedly fueled by performance-enhancing drugs. Both won 4 more awards in that timeframe, played well into their 40's, and then got slammed with drug allegations. Whether we like it or not, whether it's appropriate or not, the Public will see them as the same, and for Bush to pardon one and not the other would be unforgivable. And because one of them is white and one of them is Barry Bonds, at least some of the public will have a reason to call President Bush a racist. I mean, someone other than Kanye West. Of course, if Clemens' lawyers had any brains at all, they would not count on that. Rob Neyer, whose job it is NOT to figure out these kinds of things, pointed out that by the time the dust settles on this case, there won't be a Bush in the White House any longer, and therefore nobody with any reason to pardon him. Well, if the Yankees are in the Series next year and Hillary Clinton decides to be a Yankee fan that week, she might do it. On the other hand, if John McCain gets elected, Jason Grimsley might have a shot at getting off the hook. 4) Try to Look Cooperative Even if you're not going to be helpful, it's helpful to look like your being helpful, you know? So Clemens goes to the hearings, he meets privately with committee members, he answers questions at a public hearing. He even holds his own press conferences and brings tape-recorded phone calls PROVING that he didn't do anything wrong, because, you know, in any 15-minute telephone conversation he has, if he's done something wrong, either he or the other party would definitely mention it, right?

5) Weapons of Mass Distraction

If you can't beat 'em...get 'em to focus on something else!

This is slightly different from tactic #3 in that instead of making your accusers focus their energies on someone else, you make them focus on something else. Like, for example, you take a 400+ page report with dozens of witnesses and pages of references and volumes full of appendices...and you use the questionable nature of one little statement in that report (namely, whether or not Roger Clemens actually went to a party at Jose Canseco's house one day ten years ago) to call the veracity of the entire report into question. This is basically the same approach that got O.J. Simpson acquitted in his criminal trial, and we don't have anywhere near as much evidence that the Rocket's a Juicer as we did that the Juice was a killer.

In the same vein, there was also a so-called statistical analysis report demonstrating that Clemens' late-career success was not so unusual. Of course, when you actually looked at it intelligently, this wasn't really true, but in any case, it gave people something else on which to focus for a while.

With that said, we do have plenty of evidence. Proof? Proof doesn't really exist, not in a scientific sense. All you have is evidence for and against something, and you have to figure out which weighs more. What it comes down to is this:

In order to believe that Clemens was clean all those years, you have to believe:

A) That Brian McNamee, Kirk Radomski, Andy Pettitte, Jose Canseco, and several other people are lying or that they "mis-spoke" or "misremember" the facts. (Personally, I find it easier to believe that Clemens is full of "mis-malarkey".)

B) That, whether he suggested it himself or not, Roger Clemens would allow his wife to take HGH in order to get her in shape for a photo shoot, but that he would never consider taking it to improve his own game.

C) That Clemens played a whole season with Jose Canseco in 1998, watched Canseco have one of the best years of his career, but never asked him how he did it, never heard him when he talked about steroids (which, if you read Juiced, you know he did all the time) and never tried the same things himself.

D) That George Mitchell and all of his investigators, professionals whose job it is to root out the truth, were all duped by a amatuer like McNamee.

E) That Andy Pettitte, a self-avowed devout Christian, who therefore values the truth, would either lie about his good friend Roger Clemens or would risk telling a falsehood based on sketchy recollections and/or misunderstandings. You'd have to believe that Pettitte would risk pissing off both Clemens and Jesus by doing something like that.

F) That Clemens' resurgence late in his career was either the result of his maniacal workout regime, which in itself shouldn't even be possible for a man in his late 30's or early 40's without a little chemical help, or that it was a fluke.

There are probably a few other intellectual gymnastics you need to do to buy the Clemens party Line, but those are the big ones.

On the other hand, if you want to believe the opposition, all you really need to believe is that

A) Clemens is lying, and

2) He's getting others to lie for him. People like his wife, and highly-compensated lawyer-types.

That's not so hard to believe, is it?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

02 February 2008

Book Review: Harvard Boys, by John Wolff and Rick Wolff

I wanted to like this book.

I was offered a chance to review Harvard Boys back in November, and I finished reading it weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to reviewing it now. That should tell you something.

John Wolff went to Harvard, like his father, and was drafted in the later rounds as a secondbaseman, like his father. So, like his father, he decided to write a book about his experiences in the minor leagues. (His father's book, What's a Nice Harvard Boy Like You Doing in the Bushes? had a much better title.) Like his father, he's going to have to make a living doing something other than playing baseball, because he hit .207 in the Frontier League in 2006, and did not do much when he got signed by the Mets for the 2007 season.

John does have some interesting experiences here and there, and meets a few interesting characters. He has some successes and failures in his rare opportunities at playing time. He has a lot of ups and downs: getting signed by the White Sox and reporting to Spring Training, then getting stuck in extended Spring Training for two more months, getting assigned to a Rookie League team in Virginia...and then getting released two weeks later. He then got signed by an independent team in Michigan, and was doing pretty well when his shoulder got injured. Trying to play through the injury trashed his stats and eventually ended his season, though he did get signed by the Mets (as noted in the epilogue.)

But none of that, or almost none of it, is anything we haven't heard or read before. Another review of this book (I won't embarass its author) suggested that Harvard Boys was interesting because there aren't many other books that give insight into the lives of professional baseball players, besides Ball Four, of course. But really there are lots of books that do exactly that, and most of them better than this one. Pat Jordan's A False Spring, and A Nice Tuesday, and Jim Brosnan's The Long Season and Pennant Race, are classics of the genre. Newer variations on the minor league, "prespective of a nobody" theme incude Brett Mandel's Minor Players, Major Dreams, Steve Fireovid's The 26th Man, and Neal Karlan's Slouching Toward Fargo. On the major league level, Sparky Lyle's The Bronx Zoo gave unprecedented (and much more irreverent and biting) access into the clubhouse, and there are autobiographical books by Goose Gossage, Bill Lee, Mickey Mantle, Robin Roberts, Carl Erskine, Jim Kaat, Bob Gibson, Don Zimmer, John Kruk, Dick Allen, and Jose Canseco, just to name a few. Harvard Boys has nothing that these books did not have, John Wolff's personal feelings notwithstanding.

I tried to like Harvard Boys. I really did. John Wolff and his dad went to Harvard, a college with an academics-first mentality, much like my own (though I make no pretense that Lehigh is anywhere near as good a school as Harvard), so I had a soft spot for them before I ever picked up the book. I read the whole thing, cover to cover, unlike many book reviewers. I kept thinking that I must be missing something, that it would get better, but it never did. I tried and tried, gave it my best shot and all that, but alas, Harvard Boys never rose much above "mediocre" on my Book-o-Meter.

It's written reasonably well. No problem there. John Wolff has a Harvard education, a degree in psychology (at least he does now, having returned to finish his degree after his first stint in pro ball). So he can write. His style is mostly proper, though informal, but it's not terribly clever or interesting. He doesn't have many creative turns of phrase or quirky expressions or other literary goodies that make a book enjoyable to read. The book was compiled as a series of journal entries that John sent to his father, Rick Wolff, via email during the 2006 season, and it reads exactly that way: like he was sending emails to his dad, with no need to impress anyone with his mastery of the English language, no efforts to wax eloquent in any way. In and of itself, this might not be a bad thing, except that his subject matter does not make up for it either.

John Wolff repeatedly tells us, on almost every page, it sometimes seems, than minor league baseball is boring. The long bus rides, the long practices, long rain delays, long games with obscure players, the long waiting between chances to play, long nights and days off in cities and towns of which you've probably never heard, where there isn't much to do...yep, sounds pretty boring. You've got us there, John...but do you have to keep telling us so? The minor leagues are bad enough without being constantly reminded of how bad they are, don't you think?

One of the major differences between John's book and the one his father, Rick wrote (with Phil Pepe's help) about his time in the Tigers' minor league system back in the 1970's is that John's book includes his father's reflections and insights as well. Most of John's journal entries are followed by a brief response from his dad Rick, and some of these are interesting stories about amusing or odd things that happened to him back then, but sadly, many of Rick's insights aren't all that insightful. Some selected observations from Rick Wolff:

"Playing baseball is all about...playing." (p. 68)

"Even minor leaguers
have to pay rent and buy groceries." (p. 127)

"Travel in the minor
leagues is not glamorous." (p.184)

"John's right." (p. 202)

"Bottom line? It's boring." (p. 242)

"Nobody cares that you
tried hard. All that matters are the results." (p. 245)
Unfortunately, that last one is also true of this book. It was, to be sure, a very good idea for a book, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Generaly speaking, I'd rather not review a book than give it a bad one, but with this book, I felt that it would be a disservice to my readers (the six or eight of you who regularly tune in here), not to tell you of my disappointment with Harvard Boys.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

30 January 2008

Santana Trade to Mets: Best for Yankees

I realized this morning that in my haste to get something out there about the Santana deal last night, I entirely forgot to mention how this affects the Yankees:


Why? Why would losing out on an opportunity to acquire the best pitcher of the new millenium come as welcome news to Yankee fans?

Because he didn't go to the Red Sox.

Much like the Pedro Martinez deal in the winter of 2004, the trade of Santana to the Mets represents the best of all possible worlds for the Yankees and their fans.

Of course, the best scenario for the Yankees, when you consider all non-possible worlds, includes that universe in which the Yankees can trade Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and, oh, let's say Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester (hey, this is MY fantasy world...I can trade other teams' prospects if I want!) to the Twins for Johan Santana, who not only thrives and wins a dozen Cy Young awards in Yankee pinstripes, but also works for the MLB minimum, does community service, and saves a flock of nuns from a burning building on his way to Yankee Stadium for Game 7 of the World Series, whereupon he throws a perfect game. And also war and disease and poverty come to an end and Jesus returns. And I have hair.

But back in this universe, this is really the best we Yankee fans could have hoped for. No, we don't get Johan Santana. But neither do we have to give up any of our prospects for him, only to have them win MVPs and Cy Young awards forother teams later. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy are all still Yankees, at least for now.

Along the same lines, even though Santana is a great pitcher, he's going to be very, very expensive, likely making $20-$25 million per year for the next 6 years or so. That's a helluva lot of money to invest in one player. That would mean that between Alex Rodriguez and Johan Santana, two players on the yankees would make more than 5 or 6 entire MLB teams did last year. That's a huge risk, even with a pitcher as good as Santana.

Of course, if he's awesome for the next 6 years or so, the Yankees would gladly pay that kind of money to have him on their roster, but there's not guarantee that he won't get hit by a bus or something, not to mention the kind of general erosion of skill that comes with age anyway. So, on the flip side, because the Yankees' closest rival and only real competition for the annual AL East crown did not get Santana either, there's no conceivable way in which Santana could come back to bite the Yankees in the ass that way either.

Sure, they play the Mets twice a year, so Santana might conceivably pitch against the Yankees twice in the regular season. Last year, the Yanks faced Curt Schilling five times(!), and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett four times each. Back in 2005, Tim Wakefield made six starts against the Yankees. can you imagine having to face Santana six times in one season, not to mention the possibility of meeting him again in the playoffs? On a scale of one-to-ten, that would suck.

So, things being what they are, the yankees are now in a good position to let their young pitchers demonstrate what they can do, as Yankees, and the Red Sox are no better off than they were two days ago. A resolution has been reached. Balance has been restored.

Short of the Rapture and/or my hair growing back, this is a darn good outcome.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

29 January 2008

Twins (Finally) Trade Johan Santana...to the Mets?

Well, I guessed that one wrong, too.

Johan Santan was, at long last, traded today, to the New York...


Not what I expected.

The deal is contingent upon Santana passing a physical and agreeing to a long-term contract, which he reportedly has until 5:00 PM on Friday to do.

The Twins knew they had to trade Santana, to get as much as they could for him now, before the season starts. If they couldn't pry Phil Hughes away from the Yankees or Jacoby Ellsbury away from Boston in January, they had no shot at getting such decent prospects in return for two or three months worth of Santana's services in July.

The Mets had been rumored, at various times, to be the faforites int he negotiations, if only because they play in another league and Santana would be therefore less likely to come back and haunt the Twins in the future. But is that really a good enough reason to sell yourself short in a trade of the best pitcher in baseball? Would you willingly accept less than you know you deserve in return for a commodity like Santana just to make sure he didn't go to one of your rivals?

Neither would I.

So, that means that either the Twins really did get just as much value from the Mets as they would have from the Yanks or Sawx or the Dodgers or whomever, or at least they think they did, or...

the Yankees and Red Sox really weren't offering as much as we think they were.

Let's look at what they got for him:

Phillip Humber, RHP, age 25, put up decent numbers in AAA last year as a 23-year old but bombed in his second MLB cup of coffee. He's averaged nearly one strikeout per inning in the minors, which bodes well for his long-term success, though his homer rate became alarmingly high all of a sudden this year. Hopefully that;'s a fluke, and he just needs some seasoning. Humber apparently had Tommy John surgery, I think in 2005, and his curve isn't the out-making panacea that it used to be before that, so his upside is as a #3 or #4 starter.

Carlos Gomez, OF, age 22, has the speed and the arm to play centerfield, and is a good base stealer (31 for 38 last year overall) but does not have much power or patience. He's young enough that he could develop either, or even both, but projects as Coco Crisp with a better arm, according to Keith Law. He's listed at 6'2", 170 lbs, obviously very thin still in his youth, so I'm guessing that he'll gain some pop as he fills out. With fewer than 100 games of experience above Double-A, he's still very much an unproven commodity.

Deolis Guerra, RHP, is very young, as he won't be 19 until April, and already very big (6'5", 200 lbs), but his best pitch is a change-up, and he doesn't do anything consistently except be inconsistent. He walks too many batters and his fastball isn't fast enough to get a lot of strikeouts, even in the low minors, so he has a lot of work to do, but the tools are all there. Right now, the tools are all that's there.

Kevin Mulvey is a smart, polished college pitcher (he went to Villanova) who uses finesse and changes speeds to get outs, compensating for his lack of a dominant pitch. He's listed as 6'1", 170 lbs, so he could gain some velocity as he fills out, but pitchers don't necessarily have to be big to throw hard. Unfortunately for Mulvey, that lack of an out-pitch will probably keep him from having any real success in the majors. They have a name for guys who can throw four pitches for strikes but can't get major league hitters out: "Pitching Coach." He'll bounce back and forth between AAA and the majors, but probably won't ever be an impact player.

So that's it. That's all the Twins got for Santana, their A-1, blue chip, hot-shot pitcher. The Mets managed to keep Mike Pelfrey and Fernando Martinez, their best pitching and hitting prospects, respectively. None of the guys the Twins did get was as good a prospect as Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy or Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury, not to mention some of the other names that came up, like Melky Cabrera.

The rumors we heard last month that involved one or more of those players in exchange for Santana? I'm guessing that they were just that: rumors, perhaps floated by the Yankees, Red Sox and/or Twins to gauge whether the other teams would go for such a deal without having to officially offer it.

Or maybe, just maybe, they were trying to gauge public opinion? Ultimately, though, rumors aren't really worth the electrons that carry them. Otherwise we'd call them facts.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Yankees, Phillies, Sign Infielders Who May or May Not Suck

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano has reportedly been signed to a 4-year, $30 million contract for the 2008-11 seasons, with options for 2012 and 2013 that could make the whole thing worth $55 million. Cano had three more years of arbitration eligibility, so this signing represents a departure from the Yankees' usual approach of waiting for free agency, which frequently requires them to pay top dollar and then some for their players.

I was not that high on Cano when I saw him in the playoffs a couple of years ago, and you can read why in the second half of this post if you like. At the time, he almost never walked, flipped everything he hit weakly to left field, and was not making the routine plays at second base. Since then, however, his Isolated Power has increased slightly, and his Secondary Average (a way to measure how many bases a batter gains independent of batting average) has increased dramatically. This is a good sign, since batting average tends to be pretty fickle from year to year.

In addition, Cano has become one of the better defensive seocndbasemen in all of MLB, at least according to Baseball Prospectus, +26 Fielding Runs Above Average, good for about two and a half Wins right there. All of that made Cano worth more than 9 Wins more than a replacement-level second baseman, which is usually MVP-voting territory. Alas, the voters do like their shiny objects, though, so Cano did not get any votes this year, as he did in 2006 when he hit .342, even though he was not as productive a player overall that year.

Since he just turned 25, this keeps Cano locked up through his "prime years", his age 25 through 28 seasons, plus two more if they want him, and "only" a $2M buyout if they don't. Cano's walk has rate improved dramatically since his freshman campaign, from about once every 35 at-bats in 2005 to about once every 18 ABs last year, but that's still well below the AL average, which is about once every 10. He's demonstrated that he can turn on a pitch once in a while, and if the improvement in his defense is real, the Yanks should have themselves a key player at the Keystone for the next half a decade.

By contrast, the Phillies have signed San Francisco Giants' castoff third baseman Pedro Feliz to a two-year, $8.5 million deal. There's an option for a third year and performance bonuses that could net Feliz $15 million before the deal is done. Feliz has essentially two things going for him as a player: He's durable, having averaged about 152 games per season since the Giants made him a regular four years ago, and he's a decent fielder, with +9 and +14 FRAA the last two seasons, respectively. After that, the race downhill would rival one of Bill Cosby's go-cart racing stories.

  • Feliz looks like he hits for power, because he's got 20+ homers the last four years, but really, he's average in that department. The average MLB thirdbaseman hit .273/.341/.442 with 21 homers and 89 RBIs last year. Feliz hit .253/.290/.418 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs. Lee Sinins rates him as 22 runs below an average MLB hitter, and Baseball Prospectus has him as -14. That's bad, either way, and his defense doesn't make up for it.

  • Feliz doesn't hit for average, with a career .252 BA, and doesn't walk. His OBP last year ranked him #158 out of 162 players in MLB who got at least 502 plate appearances last season. In 2006, he was 157/160. In 2005 he was 146/148 and in 2004 he was 154 out of 161. That means he's never finished better than 8th from the bottom in OBP in any season in which he's been a regular, and this in the most important statistic in baseball. You just can't make up for that kind of poor hitting with your defense, not at a corner infield position.

  • Feliz' walk rate was once every 21 at-bats for the last two seasons, but unlike the aforementioned Cano, that rate doesn't have much hope of changing, because...

  • Feliz will be 33 in April, and is therefore past the point where we should expect him to improve, learn new skills, or in any way, well, get good.

The irony here is that the Phillies already had Greg Dobbs on their roster, and have decided to keep him in spite of the signing of Feliz. Dobbs was picked up off the waiver wire from Seattle last winter, and played quite well for such a cheap acquisition, hitting .272/.330/.451, more or less just like I said he would, though he's nothing special with the leather. Still, when you've already got a 29-year old thirdbaseman who's worth about 3 Wins above replacement over the course of the season on the roster, making the major league minimum, why would you go out and find another thirdbaseman of similar worth, and pay him ten times as much to supplant someone of similar quality?

Well, I'll tell you why. There are two possibilities:

1) You're insane.

B) You're stupid.

Because no sane person charged with running a major league baseball team would want to do something that so obviously hurts the team, and I don't think that Phillies GM Pat Gillick is insane, I have to go with option number B. Maybe "stupid" isn't the best word, but "grossly underinformed" might be. OK, so that's two words. Why Gillick, who helmed the Toronto Blue Jays when they won two World Series back in the early 1990's, would do something like this is beyond me, unless he simply does not understand how important OBP is. Money to burn, I guess.

Still, in some ways, this is par for the course with Philadelphia. They had a "hole" at third in that they did not have a "name player" at third, and even though there wasn't really anybody any good available on the free agent market, when the guys who actually were good were taken, they overpaid for an also-ran. If it doesn't work out, Gillick can, like his predecessor, Ed Wade, lament the over-priced, underproductive nature of the free agent market without taking any kind of accountability for helping to inflate those prices.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

16 January 2008

ADD Test for MLB Players

Rob Neyer mentioned in his blog today that during the Congressional hearings on performance-enhancing drugs Tuesday, MLB was asked why so many of its players sought and were granted exemptions for amphetamine-like drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder.

According to John Tierney (D. - Mass), the MLB rate is about 8 times the national average for ADD, and while I think it sure is possible that the crybaby millionaire primadonnas who play major league baseball have only 1/8th the attention span of the Average American (who himself, as it happens, has only 1/8th the attention span of a can of Cheez-Wiz), it's more likely that they're just using this as a loophole so they can keep using amphetamins and the like. neyer asked if they even administered a test or anything for the players or if MLB's doctors just rubber-stamped the requests.

Well, with a little research, I have found the test they used, and reproduced it here for your perusal. See how you do.


Pre-Diagnostic Questions

1. Have you ever been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or any other psychiatric/ psychological disorder?
No Yes

1a. Did you diagnose yourself, like, just now? That doesn't count, you know.
Oh, alright, we'll let it stand.
No Yes

2. Do you have any parents, children, or siblings who have ever been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or any other psychiatric/psychological disorder?
No Yes

2a. Anyone at all?
No Yes

2b. Really? C'mon, you can think of someone.
No Yes

2c. There, that's better.

3. Do you use drugs or alcohol excessively? (Besides "Vitamin B-12" *wink-wink* and rubbing alcohol to clean your syringes?)
No Yes

3a. Well, why the hell not? You're really missing out here!
Sorry, I'll get on that right away.

4. Do you have any parents, children, or siblings who use drugs or alcohol excessively?
No Yes They're passed out. I'll ask when they've had a chance to sleep it off.

5. Do you have any serious problems with your memory?
No Yes

5. Do you have any serious problems with your memory?
No Yes

6. Do you have any parents, children, or siblings who have dementia or serious memory problems?
No Yes

6a. Isn't that fun?

7. Do you have any parents, children, or siblings who are mentally retarded?
No Yes Does "not believing in on-base percentage" count?

8. Have you ever been diagnosed with a neurological disorder, such as epilepsy?
No Yes

5. Do you have any serious problems with your memory?
No Yes

9. Do you have any chronic health problems?
No Yes

9a. "Constantly being hounded by blood-sucking reporters" does not count as a health problem, Mr. Bonds.

10. Have you ever had a serious head injury (where you were knocked dizzy or unconscious)?
No Yes

10a. Mr. Fosse, we already know about you. You don't qualify for this program.

Past History

1. Is there a history of ADD symptoms in your childhood, such as distractibility, short attention span, impulsivity or restlessness. ADD doesn't start at age 30.
Never Raurely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently I Had a Childhood?

2. History of not living up to potential?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

2a. Mr. Drew, feel free to skip this one.

3. History of frequent behavior problems in school?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

3a. Mr. Bradley, in my office, right now, mister!
Yes, Sir.

4. History of bed wetting past age 5?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Eeewww...

5. Family history of ADD, learning problems, mood disorders or substance abuse problems
Never Occasionally Frequently I'm not here to talk about the past

Short Attention Span/Distractibility

1. Short attention span, unless very interested in something?
Never Occasionally Very Frequently I'm sorry, what were you saying?

2. Easily distracted, tendency to drift awa....
Never La-de-dah Very Frequently I'm sorry, what were you saying?

3. Lacks attention to detail, due to distractibility
Never Rarely Never Frequently Never

4. Trouble listening carefully to directions?
There were directions?

5. Do you frequently misplace things?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently

Very Frequently

6.Skips around while Rarely reading, Very Frequently or ? goes trouble Occasionally staying to the end on track Frequently first,

7. Difficulty learning new games, because it is hard to stay on track during directions?
Never Occasionally Frequently I'm good. I only had to learn baseball.

8. Easily distracted during sex, causing frequent breaks or turn-offs during lovemaking?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

8a. Dude, you should really do something about that.
I know.

9. Poor listening skills?
Never Rarely Frequently There's audio on this test, too?

10. Tendency to be easily bored (tunes out)?
Never Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

10a. Please turn off your iPod and finish the test.


1. Restlessness, constant motion, legs moving, fidgetiness?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

1a. Mr. Garciaparra: have you ever stopped moving?
No Yes qqqmqmyyyrr whhhy...

2. Has to be moving in order to think?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

2a. We always just assumed that you had to pee, Mr. Mazzone.
10 minutes til Judge Wapner, I'm an excellent driver, Definitely not wearing my underwear...

3. Trouble sitting still, such as trouble sitting in one place for too long?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

3a. Yes, we know. That's why you're not a manager anymore, Mr. Bowa.

4. An internal sense of anxiety or nervousness?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

4a. Not just about your job security, Mr. Cashman.
Oh, Right.


1. Impulsive, in words and/or actions (spending)?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

1a. Please don't try to justify yourself, Mr. Angelos.

2. Say just what comes to mind without considering its impact (tactless)?
Never Rarely Frequently Who needs tact? I'm rich and important!

2a. Yeah, Hank, we've been meaning to speak to you about that...

3. Trouble going through established channels, trouble following proper procedure, an attitude of "read the directions when all else fails"
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

4. Impatient, low frustration tolerance?
Never Occasionally Frequently AAAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!!!

5. A prisoner of the moment?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

5a. A prisoner of Venezuela?
Probably for the rest of my life.

6. Frequent traffic violations?
Never Occasionally Frequently Preparing for NASCAR...

6a. If Sidney Ponson, please hand your carkeys to the bartender and get a cab.
Yes, sir.

7. Frequent, impulsive job changes
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

7a. Yes, going back to the same job two months later counts, Mr. Epstein.

8. Tendency to embarrass others?
Never Occasionally Frequently Special answer for Mr. Santana: And proud of it!

9. Lying or stealing on impulse (no, not just bases)
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

9a. Mr. Rivera, put that back and get out of the clubhouse.

Poor Organization

1. Poor organization and planning, trouble maintaining an organized work/living area
Never Occasionally Frequently I own the Royals...what good is planning?

2. Chronically late or chronically in a hurry?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

2a. No, Mr. Olerud, you just run really slowly.

3. Often have piles of stuff (money, drugs, girlfriends, SUVs, etc.)
Never Occasionally Frequently Yeah, Baby!!

4. Easily overwhelmed by tasks of daily living
Never Rarely Frequently I can't even decide which BMW to drive!

5. Poor financial management?
Never Occasionally Frequently Did I mention that I own the Royals?

6. Some adults with ADD are very successful, but often only if they are surrounded with people who organize them, (like Brian McNamee or Scott Boras).
Never Occasionally Frequently My Attorney will answer this question...

Problems Getting Started and Following Through

1. Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

1a. Other than in Spring Training?
No, not really.

2. Starting projects but not finishing them, poor follow through?
Never Occasionally Frequently Yeah, but I have cat-like reflexes...

3. Enthusiastic beginnings but poor endings?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

3a. Maybe being a Closer wasn't the right line of work for you, Mr. Chacon?
You're telling me.

4. Spends excessive time at work because of inefficiencies?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

4a. Taking extra batting practice because you don't like to talk to people doesn't count.

5. Inconsistent work performance?
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

5a. Oh, by the way, the manager wants to see you in his office.

Negative Internal Feelings

1. Chronic sense of underachievement, feeling you should be much further along in your life than you are
Never Occasionally Frequently You've noticed it too, huh?

2. Chronic problems with self-esteem
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

3. Sense of impending doom
Never Occasionally Frequently We're all gonna die, man, we're all gonna die!

4. Mood swings
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Weeeeee!!!!!

5. Negativity
Never Rarely Dammit Crap This Sucks

6. Frequent feeling of demoralization or that things won't work out for you
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

6a. Maybe you should have thought of that before you went into such a difficult profession?
Too late now.

Relational Difficulties

1. Trouble sustaining friendships or intimate relationships, promiscuity
Never Occasionally Frequently Hey, Baby, what you doin' later?

2. Trouble with intimacy
Never Occasionally Frequently No, I go into Macy's all the time.

3. Tendency to be immature
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

3a. Stop holding your breath and answer the question.
My head hurts now.

4. Self-centered; immature interests
Never Rarely Frequently My video games are all marked 'M' for mature.

5. Failure to see others' needs or activities as important
Never Rarely Frequently What others?

6. Lack of talking in a relationship (infield chatter doesn't count)
Never Occasionally Frequently Heybattaswingbatttaheahbattaheybatta

7. Verbally abusive to others
Piss off Rarely Bite Me Frequently F*** You.

8. Proneness to hysterical outburst
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

9. Avoids group activities
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Yeah, man, calisthenics suck.

10. Trouble with authority
Never Rarely Frequently I find authority, authority always wins.

Writing/Fine Motor Coordination Difficulties

1. Poor writing skills (hard to get information from brain to pen)
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

2. Poor handwriting, often prints
Never Rarely Frequently Why do you think I'm donig this on a computer?

3. Coordination difficulties
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

The Harder I Try The Worse It Gets

1. Performance becomes worse under pressure.
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

1a. God help you if you ever make it to the postseason.

2. Test anxiety, or during tests your mind tends to go blank
________ ________ ________ ________ ________

3. The harder you try, the worse it gets
Never Rarely Frequently Isn't this the same as Question #1?

4. Work or schoolwork deteriorates under pressure
Never Rarely Frequently This is definitely the same as Question #1.

5. Tendency to turn off or become stuck when asked questions in social situations
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently

6. Falls asleep or becomes tired while reading
Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently ZZZZzzzzz....


In Summary, if you answered all the questions on this test, you do not have ADD/ADHD, regardless of how you answered them. Seriously, who sits there answering silly questions for this long?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

14 January 2008

Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus: MLB Challenge Trade!

Nothing livens up the Winter Baseball Doldrums like a good, old-fashioned challenge trade.

The St. Louis Cardinals are allegedly about to implement just such a trade with the Blue Jays, swapping disgruntled third-sacker Scott Rolen for his couterpart in Toronto, Troy Glaus, who is reportedly not all that gruntled himself.

Image Courtesy of jsonline.com

Rolen, once the preeminent thirdbaseman in the National League, has not had a full, healthy season since 2003, though he played so well in 142 games in 2004 that he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting. The last three years, however, he's been rather injury prone, playing only 56 games in 2005, 142 in 2006 and 112 last year. He first hurt his left shoulder in 2005 in a collision with Hee-Seop Choi, then of the Dodgers, and has had three surgeries on it since. He did manage to play most of the season in 2006, hitting .296 with 22 homers and making his 5th All-Star team, but he slumped badly in the second half of that year, hitting only .253 with 8 homers after the All-Star break. This year, the bad shoulder robbed him of his power, so that he managed only 8 homers all season, and then did not play after August 28th. He had a third surgery on that shoulder and is expected to be ready for Spring Training, but shoulders are notoriously fickle healers, especially thrice-cut shoulders.

Rolen's apparent lack of communication about his injury with manager Tony LaRussa during the postseason in 2006 turned out to be the start of an ongoing feud between the two, one that never has been settled. Both men feel like they've done everything they should do or had to do, and that the other has acted like a petulant child. But of course childish behavior is part and parcel of the world of professional sports, where everyone is fabulously wealthy and constantly surrounded by people telling them that they can do no wrong, so both are to blame.

Image Courtesy of MLB.com

But LaRussa is the manager who just signed a two-year deal, LaRussa is the manager who brought the Cardinals their first World Series title in a quarter-century, LaRussa is third on the all-time managerial Wins list, and LaRussa is the one that's definitely going to the Hall of Fame someday (unless they find out that his win totals were inflated by something other than bourbon).

So Rolen is the one who had to go.

The trouble with that, however, is that usually nobody wants an oft-injured, 32 year old third baseman who's owed (depending on your source) either $33 or $36 million over the next three years, especially not one who's got a history of feuding with his manager.

Enter the Toronto Blue Jays and their unhappy thirdbaseman. Glaus, however, is not unhappy with his manager, but with the playing surface at Rogers Center (the erstwhile SkyDome). Glaus, too, is coming off a surgery and is expected to be ready for the spring, but in his case, it was his left foot (plantar fascitis) that needed the surgery. His ego, unlike Rolen's, appears to still be intact.

Glaus has had other injury problems as well, including various nagging injuries in 2003 (wrist tendonitis, back spasms, and infected little toe (eewww...)) and a partially torn rotator cuff in his shoulder that wound up costing him about 70 games that year. When off-season rehab didn't fix it, the shoulder needed arthoscopic surgery, and that and other minor injuries (knees, back, hamstrings, etc.) cost him another 100 or so games in 2004 as well. He was pretty healthy the next two years, playing about 150 games in each, but then the heel thing flared up and he missed about 45 games in 2007.

But that's all in the past. Assuming that these players are both reasonably healthy going forward, what can we expect?

I stole this one from another blogger.

Rolen and Glaus, though they play the same position, get their value as players in very different ways. Glaus, for example, does not hit for average, and consistently not. His career batting average is .254, and with the exception of his Y2K season, when he hit .284, he's never been higher than .262 (this year) or lower than .240 (his rookie campaign). He compensates for this with patience and power, averaging 91 walks and 36 homers per 162 games in his career. And though he's shown himself capable of playing shortstop in a pinch, Glaus is generally thought of as a brutal fielder at the Hot Corner, having twice led the major leagues in errors by a thirdbaseman and being last in the AL in Zone Rating each of the last two years.

Rolen, on the other hand, is an excellent fielder, with seven well-deserved Gold Gloves. According to Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Average, Rolen has not been worse than +4 FRAA since his first cup of Major League joe in 1996, and since that year has averaged +15 FRAA. Rolen's batting average however has not been as consistent, fluctuating between .235 and .314, though admittedly when healthy he's usually hit .280 or better. Rolen does not walk as much or hit for as much power (averaging "only" 77 walks and 28 homers per 162 games) though he's no slouch in either department. A little more mobile on the basepaths, Rolen hits more doubles than Glaus (averaging 41 per 162 games, compared to just 31 for Glaus). Both men are quite big (6'4" or 6'5", over 240 lbs), bat righty, and at one time stole a few bases but don't any longer.

According to Baseball Prospectus, over the course of his career, Rolen has been roughly twice as good a player as Glaus. He's racked up 83.8 Wins Above Replacement Position (WARP) in 1504 games, which works out to about 9 WARP/162 games. Glaus has only 41.9 WARP in 1244 games, which works out to 5.5 WARP/162. OK, so Glaus is about 60% the player that Rolen is, not half.

Image courtesy of MLBlogs.com

But Glaus is more than a year younger than Rolen, and at least for the last three years, has been slightly more valuable than Rolen, if only because he's played more games. Going forward, I don't see any reason that this should change, as Glaus' foot issues should be alleviated by both the surgery and the scenery, while Rolen's likely to start griping about the ToronTurf the first time a reporter sticks a microphone in his face in April. That will alienate the front office and the manager and the players, not to mention the three or four-dozen fans in Toronto, and Rolen will have worn out his welcome in a third city, not to mention a second country.

The thing (I think) nobody is talking about with this trade is that Rolen specifically did NOT sign a long-term deal with the Phillies back in 2002 because he so disliked the hard turf at Veterans' Stadium. It wasn't the money, as they offered him $140 million over 10 years at the time, and it wasn't the team, which had won 86 games in 2001 and was building toward being a perennial choke-artist contender. It might have been the manager, but then Larry Bowa rubs everybody the wrong way eventually, so he shouldn't have taken that personally. It was the turf, and maybe the obnoxious fans. But is there any good reason to expect that Rolen's knees, now five years older and with about 650 more games under them, will be more fond of the turf in Toronto? I don't think so.

Glaus, too, is heading into a sort of bad suituation for him. Of course, he'll be in the relatively soft NL Central instead of the tough-as-nails AL East, so that should help his batting stats a little, but with defense as bad as his, can it be long before a baseball purist like LaRussa gets a little tired of the errors and mis-plays? Glaus has never played the outfield, and he's sure not going to supplant Albert Pujols at first base. The NL does not offer the DH, so LaRussa may have to bench him or take him out for late-game defense if Glaus doesn't improve, which means more hurt feelings and yet another feud. It's just a matter of time.

Another wild card factor for Glaus is that his name came up in the Mitchell Report as one who received steroid shipments from a lab in Florida in 2003 and 2004, when he was with LAnahfornia. Nobody really knows how those allegations will affect the players, whether they'll be roundly booed in visiting stadiums, or even in their own, and how that might hurt their production. Another issue is that, if players like Glaus were still somehow taking something like HGH or steroids last year or the year before, not just in 2003, would the increased scrutiny of being named in the Mitchell Report force them to stop using, and if so, how would that affect their production?

Fortunately for Glaus and LaRussa, Glaus is only signed for two more seasons, totaling about $24 million, so if they're not happy with him, he's gone after 2009.

So, getting back to my self-imposed question of what we should expect from these two in the future...

*UPDATE*: Donald Evans reports that both the ZIPS and Bill James Projections for 2008 have Glaus playing more, between 20 and 30 games more than Rolen, with a better OPS. Bill James has a marginal difference between them (.851 vs. .842) while ZIPS shows a huge difference (.819 for Glaus and only .728 for Rolen). Baseball Prospectus unfortunately does not have their projections available yet.

I suspect that if both men were totally healthy from here on out, the Jays would probably get more out of Rolen for the next two years than the Cards will get from Glaus, mostly because Rolen's bat, while different, is roughly as valuable as Troy's, if not more so, plus he helps a lot on defense, whereas Glaus kinda sucks. Or blows. Or whatever derogatory word you think best describes a lousy defender.

However, I don't think Rolen's shoulder woes are behind him, and I wonder whether he'll even be able to play the full three years remaining on his contract. If that shoulder gets him shut down, or worse yet, nags him just enough to rob him of his power but not enough to get him out of the lineup, then the Blue Jays are stuck with a singles-hitting thirdbaseman who plays decent defense but costs them $33 or $36 million dollars. Through 2010. When he'll be 35. It's like paying for a superstar but getting Mike Lamb or Sean Burroughs for your investment.

Whatever happens, it sure will be an interesting challenge for both sides.

Stumble Upon Toolbar