08 June 2008

The Greatest Game: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the Playoff of ’78 by Richard Bradley

“It felt not just like a singular moment, but a fragile one, a rare convergence of tradition and rivalry and timelessness that would not be easily, if ever, re-created.”

- Richard Bradley in The Greatest Game

You know the story: The Yankees storm back from 14.5 games down in July to overtake the Red Sox in September, only to end up tied at the end of the season, forcing a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. The unlikeliest of players hits a home run to put the Yankees on top to stay, and then they sweep through the ALCS and the World Series to become MLB world champions for the second consecutive year.

This might have been the shortest book ever written. I mean, Peter Gammons and Murray Chass probably summed it all up in about 1000 words the next day, right? But don't bet against Bradley. Thirty years later, with most baseball fans (especially those of the Yanks and Sox) having heard the story hundreds of times, Richard Bradley managed to find more. A lot more. He has put together a book that tells you not just about the game, but about the histories of the teams, the circumstances and events leading up to the game itself and background on many of the personalities involved.

And what personalities they were. George Steinbrenner. Mike Torrez and Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson and Carl Yastrzemski, Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Goose Gossage, Billy Martin and Don Zimmer, Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk, George Scott, Mickey Rivers, and of course, Bucky (F-ing) Dent. There are fewer characters at a Loony Tunes convention, and Bradley does each of them justice, in their turns.

The book gives some background, but then goes into the game itself, following pitch-by-pitch, an inning at a time, discussing personalities and histories of each of the players as they come to bat. In the alternate chapters, he goes into more detail on some of the more prominent people involved in the game, so the reader can have a better sense of the meaning and experience of the game from various perspectives. It’s an approach that works very well, as you really do find yourself identifying with each of these people, in turn, but the story of the game itself retains its tension, even though you already know how it turns out before you ever pick up the book.

Bradley’s prose is excellent, as you should expect from someone who has written a bestselling biography of JFK, has written for some of the best known periodicals in the country, and is a former executive editor of George magazine. About Billy Martin, he says,

“Martin carried that me-against-the-world attitude, a combustible mix of courage and insecurity, pride and fear, into his play on the baseball diamond.”

About the Reggie Jackson chocolate bar fiasco, he writes, “…and Reggie! Bars were raining from the sky like some high-calorie biblical plague.”

Describing the aging, out-of-shape Bob “Beetle” Bailey: “…Bailey’s stomach pressed enthusiastically against his uniform.”

The writing is very good, tight but descriptive, expressive without being verbose, and a pleasure to read.

If there is a problem with the book, and really, there aren’t many, it’s that Bradley mixes up a few of the minor, baseball related details. He’s written often and well before, but never about baseball, and it shows, though just barely. He gets a statistic wrong here and there (baseball fans are notoriously sensitive to this sort of thing), mixes up right and left field at least once, and gets a few other details wrong.

He mentions that the regular season tie in 1978 was the first such occurrence since 1948, but that’s only true for the Junior Circuit. He did not realize that since the National League’s by-laws were different, the regular season ties that happened in 1962, 1959 and 1951 (ending in Bobby Thompson’s famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”) were resolved by 3-game series between the two tied teams, rather than the American League’s one-game playoff.

Still, such qualms are relatively minor for such an otherwise excellent book. Bradley’s composed a volume that should be of interest to not just fans of the Yankees or Red Sox, but of MLB and history in general. OK, so maybe just baseball.

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29 May 2008

Royals Lose 10th Straight in Epic Fashion

Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli and Joe Posnaski are complaining about the Royals losing their 10th straight game last night. Hard to blame them. If I were a Royals fan, I'd be complaining too. Other medium-sized midwestern cities have fielded competitive teams, at least occasionally, in the last 20 years, so why can't the Royals do it?

I don't know, and frankly, that's beyond the scope of this post, which I'm writing mostly so I can get some credit for all the thinking I've done about this, and not just post a comment on Rob Neyer's blog.

Posnaski is always the most fun to read about this stuff. here's his explanation of what happened as an 8-3 lead slipped away:

And then Brendan Harris loops a fly ball to right field that looks like it very well could be the third out. David DeJesus should run that down and … wait a minute. David DeJesus is not in right field. No, that’s, um. Ross Gload in right field. Why is Ross Gload in right field? Oh, right, Hillman pinch-hit for DeJesus the previous inning. So, no, wait … why did Ross Gload pinch-hit for DeJesus? I’m very confused.*

*OK, I just got a call from Royals TV voice extraordinaire and good friend Ryan Lefebvre … apparently, in the seventh inning, DeJesus broke out in hives. Yeah. Hives. Now, this team has biblical plagues descending upon them. Hives. I mean, seriously. I still couldn’t tell you why Gload didn’t go to first, where he’s actually pretty good, and Teahen go to right field, where he’s played all year. Trey Hillman’s explanation is that he didn’t want to switch TWO positions. Whatever that means.

You can't make this stuff up.

Anyway, the problem (at least last night) was that in a tight spot, Royals manager Trey Hillman looked at his bullpen, didn't like his options, but picked one and it didn't work out. And by "didn't work out" I mean "a miracle did NOT happen" because apparently everyone who knows anything about baseball and/or likes the Royals (not that there are many of them...) knew that this was the wrong move.

Here's Joe Posnaski again:
...at this point, the Royals decided to take [Ramon] Ramirez out of the game. Part of me understood — Ramirez had given up four hits in the inning. But part of me cringed because they were pretty soft singles, one probably should have been caught, and Ramirez had struck out two in the inning, and he was quite unlikely to give up a home run to Monroe because of his sinker (Ramirez has not yet given up a home run this year).

Instead, Hillman goes with Joel Peralta, a fly-ball, homer-prone pitcher with control problems, to face Craig Monroe, a hacker who's going to be looking fastball all the way and swinging for the fences. This was so obviously a bad move that it's hard to wonder why Hillman would even think of it, much less do it.

This is not the same thing as trying a squeeze play or a hit-and-run in a place where everyone knows you're going to do a hit and run and you get into a strike-out, throw-out double play. That kind of thing happens, and you deal with it, and move on. But when your manager chooses perhaps the worst of all possible options from his bullpen, and then the inevitable happens, well, you have to wonder.

You can't blame Hillman for not having better options available to him than he has (that's GM Dayton Moore's fault) but you can blame him for not seeing the options he actually has:

- Ramon Ramirez, for just one more out, as Rob Neyer mentioned. Go up there, calm him down. Remind him that they still haven't hit him hard, and that the defense will pick him up. Granted, this is a lie, but it sounds good. Tell him to give you all he's got, as this is the last guy he'll have to face tonight. Let him buck up and try to make you proud. Maybe he'll surprise you.

- Jimmy Gobble. Sure, he'd thrown 33 pitches the night before, but he tossed 2 scoreless innings, which might have given him some confidence, right? In any case, those pitches hardly take a toll on you like having guys on base all the time, or whatever. You only need half a dozen pitches out of him, for crying out loud. Gobble's a lefty though, and an extreme flyball pitcher, so I can understand leaving him in the bullpen. No argument here, not really.

- Ron Mahay. He'd also thrown two innings the night before, but he used only 17 pitches to do it. Craig Monroe is hitting .118 with ZERO homers against lefties this year. Make him prove you wrong. What's the worst that could happen? Monroe gets a homer, wins the game, Mahay gets hurt and his career is over. He's 37 years old, it was gonna happen sooner or later anyway, and he's only Ron-freaking-Mahay!

- Joachim Soria. Sure, 31 pitches the night before, but he pitched very well, and again you're only asking him to get one lousy out. Throwing half a dozen pitches on short rest ONE TIME is not going to kill him.

- Yasuhiko Yabuta. 6.80 ERA, righties hitting .426 off him. Put the bullpen phone down, and slowly step away.

So it seems to me that obviously, short of an in-game trade for Mariano Rivera, Ramirez or Soria or Mahay would have been much better options. Why I can see that and Trey Hillman can't is beyond me.

For the most part, maybe 85 or 90% of the time, a manager's job is probably pretty easy, at least during a game. According to Fangraphs.com, there was a 99.8% chance that the Royals would win that game, with a 5-run lead and two out in the 9th. I mean, you really had to go out of your way to screw this one up, right?

Everyone who watches a significant amount of baseball generally knows what strategies to employ at what time, what kinds of pitchers to use when, and etc. Having more talent on your team can make that easier, but failing to understand the situations you find yourself in ("They're going to be swinging for the fences...maybe I should use a ground-ball pitcher?") is an unforgiveable sin in this business.

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Yankees Beat Baltimore, but Still Struggling

Sometimes things just work out.

Everything went to plan for the Yankees in Baltimore last night. After a couple of demoralizing losses to the Orioles, the good guys managed to salvage a game from the birds and avoid a 3-game sweep, which would have been the Orioles' first over the Yankees since 2005.

In the first game of the series, Darrell Rasner again pitched brilliantly, allowing only one run in six innings, but took the loss anyway when O's starter garrett Olson didn't allow any in seven. The Yankee bullpen (hawkins and veras) gave up 5 more runs in their two combined innings, putting the game out of reach.

In Game 2, Ian Kennedy struggled, as I had suggested he might, allowing 4 runs in three innings, and leaving the game with a pulled lateral muscle. Ross Ohlendorf relieved him, trying to protect an 8-4 lead, and did fine his first inning, but then he allowed a single to Brian Roberts and homers to Melvin Mora, Luke Scott and Kevin Millar in the 5th, which tied the game. He did strike out Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff and Ramon Hernandez, so technically, he struck out the side.

Don't you hate when announcers say that, when it isn't true? He struck out the side. I mean, can we really say that anytime a pitcher gets three strikeouts in an inning? "Struck out the side" should mean that he struck out the first three batters, not just any three batters that came up that inning. What the hell difference does it make if he struck out the side when he also gave up three homers, allowed four runs to score, blew his cushy lead and put the game in jeopardy? If that's the way we're going to look at it, well Ohlendorf also homered the side, except that doesn't really sound right. And I think they's throw John Sterling off the air if he ever said something as goofy as "Ohlendorf allow-homered the side."

On the other hand...Hey, Sterling, I've got a suggestion for you...

Anyway, a series of relievers for both teams continued to put up goose eggs into the 11th inning, when a 2-out single by Hideki Matsui made it 9-8. But then, disaster struck. Not satisfied with having put the previous night's game out of reach, LaTroy Hawkins came in to protect a 1-run lead in the bottom of the 11th (Mariano had just pitched 2 innings), Hawkins came in and gave up a single and a double to tie the game, then, after two intentional walks to load the bases (not his fault, really) he allowed another single which lost the game.

At least Pettitte pitched well, as he seemingly always does against Baltimore. Indeed, Andy's 24-6 against Baltimore in his career, which is far more wins than he has against any other single team. For that matter, it's more than any active pitcher in the American League has against any other team (Mike Mussina's got 23 wins against Toronto, but nobody else is really even close.) In the NL, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux also have 24 or more wins against at least one team. Heck, Maddux has that many or more against nine different teams.

Anyway, Pettitte pitched well, Chamberlain followed suit, and Mariano Rivera, a day after he had tossed 31 pitches in two shutout innings, added a near-perfect 9th (A-Rod committed an error on a grounder) for his 13th save of the year. The Yankee offense got a few key hits, with three singles from Johnny Damon, and two doubles each from Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera. They also got a single, a homer and two RBIs from Jason Giambi, who has quietly returned to respectability. His batting average has gone from a low of .150 on May 4th to .244, as he has hit .382/.507/.818 with 6 doubles, 6 homers, 11 Runs and 13 RBIs in that span. Not that I expect him to keep it up or anything, but I did think that early-season accounts of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Or at least premature.

Kennedy's placement on the DL before yesterday's game necessarily speeds up the timetable for putting Joba Chamberlain in the rotation. Joba relieved Andy Pettitte in the 7th and threw 28 pitches in 1.1 innings of work, plus another 25 or so in the bullpen before and after his game-work, so he's making progress toward having the necessary stamina to start, but he really should get another week or more of throwing longer stretches in games.

For that matter, I don't really understand the logic of taking him out of last night's game in the 9th. The Yankees had a 2-run lead that that point, and Chamberlain was doing well. he's supposed to be getting more work anyway, and they just had him go back to the bullpen to do some more throwing in the 9th anyway.

Why bother? Why not leave him in, give him another inning of real work, and a chance to protect a lead? He's going to have to get used to pacing himself, and pitching in tight spots as a starter anyway. Mariano was already warmed up, so they could have brought him in if they saw Chamberlain getting himself in trouble. And if not, then he's got 2.1 innings of work, and those other 20+ pitches he threw actually counted for something. Seems silly to me to send a guy who's pitching well, who you want to "stretch out" back to the bullpen to do that while another pitcher comes in to actually try and get batters out, simply because it's the 9th inning and you've got a lead of 3 runs or less.

Overall, it would have been nice to win 2 out of 3 from baltimore, which would have gotten the Yankees over .500 and out of last place. As things stand now, they'ye 26-27, half a game behind the Orioles, and I doubt that they're taking any solace in the fact that they're the best last-place team in the major leagues.

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23 May 2008

Omar Vizquel's Weak Hall of Fame Case

UPDATE: I have taken an updated and more thorough look at Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame credentials here.

Rob Neyer links to a column by Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle suggesting that some writers might be thinking of voting Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame, once he's eligible. Shulman says he conducted "a small straw poll of hall voters" which probably means he asked two guys while they were sitting in the press box together, covering the same game.

Let's hope so. If not, the Hall of Fame is about to lower its standards a bit.

Shulman says that Vizquel's credentials as the all-time leader in games played at shortstop, plus his 11 Gold Gloves and his 2700+ hits (by the time he's done) should make him a solid Hall candidate. Neyer argues that the fact that the man was never considered a great player, not just defender, should mean that the writers wouldn't even consider voting for him. Sure, he got all those Gold Glove votes, but when it came down to it, he only got any votes for the MVP once, finishing a distant 16th in 1999. This despite anchoring the infield defense of half a dozen playoff teams with the Tribe in the late nineties and early oughts. Also, he's not much of a singer.

Here are the 23 current players whom the Hall considers shortstops, with their Baseball Prospectus career WARP3 totals, which is Wins Above Replacement Position, adjusted for all time, encompassing offense, defense and even pitching.

Shortstop          WARP3
Luis Aparicio 91.2
Luke Appling 127.9
Dave Bancroft 82.2
Ernie Banks 119.9
Lou Boudreau 110.1
Joe Cronin 112.6
George Davis 130.3
Travis Jackson 73.9
Hughie Jennings 76.3
Pop Lloyd ???
Rabbit Maranville 92.9
Pee Wee Reese 105.8
Cal Ripken 173.1
Phil Rizzuto 75.3
Joe Sewell 91.5
Ozzie Smith 132.5
Joe Tinker 81.2
Aarky Vaughan 131.5
Honus Wagner 203.0
Bobby Wallace 112.8
Monte Ward 83.7
Willie Wells ???
Robin Yount 132.0
Average 111.4
Omar Vizquel currently sports a total of 100.3 WARP3.

It should be noted that some of these guys spent significant amounts of their careers at other positions. Ernie Banks actually played more games at first base than he did at short. Yount played almost half his career as an outfielder. Boudreau and Cronin were, in addition to being very good players, managers for a long time, with some degree of success.

Wells and Lloyd were both presumably very good players in the Negro Leagues, but we don't really have any credible numbers for them. Monte Ward was also a pitcher, and a pioneer in the early days of major league baseball. Joe Tinker was elected by a suddenly generous Veterans Committee in 1946, right after a World War, when they were feeling especially nostalgic, apparently.

But even if you throw all of those guys out, the average for the remaining players stays almost exactly the same, 111.3, instead of point four. So don't worry about that.

Vizquel's WARP3 number fits in rather nicely with the career marks of several of these guys. It's more than Rabbit Maranville, Joe Tinker, Joe Sewell, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Hughie Jennings or Luis Aparicio. It's also more than Rizutto, and almost as much as Pee Wee Reese, but still way less than Aarky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau or Luke Appling, all five of whom lost time to the War.

If you go by the argument of pointing out the existing bar, which is down there somewhere in the neighborhood of Travis Jackson or Phil Rizutto, even accounting for the war, it's obvious that Omar has done more in his career than those guys, despite never being great in a single season. But it's also obvious to most observers that those guys shouldn't be in the Hall in the first place, so that's not a terribly convincing argument.

Even if you want to use the benchmark of where the average is, it would seem that Vizquel would at least reasonably maintain, if not raise the standard of MLB HoF shortstops. Of course, so would Bill Dahlen, and I don't see anyone clamoring for his candidacy.

This type of argument is something of a slippery slope. It's not a bad starting point to only enshrine players whould maintain or even raise the standard of the existing crop at a given position, but that's not enough, in my mind. We ought to want to make the Hall more exclusive, and therefore more impressive, not less.

Sure, we can put Omar Vizquel in. he's better than Travis Jackson, right, even though he doesn't have as cool a first name? Then we've got to let Ron Santo in, too, though, since he's better than George Kell, right? And what about Harold baines, since he has the most games and hits and what-not as a Designated Hitter? Shouldn't he be considered Hall-worthy?

If you think instead about where the bar should be, instead of where it is, I think you have to leave Vizquel out of the Hall. Not everyone in the Hall has to be Honus Wagner or Cal Ripken, but "appreciably better than Gary Gaetti" doesn't seem like such an outlandish requirement to me.

We've had more than 125 years to see what great players look like, and to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I think we should know them when we see them. Omar Vizquel is not one of them.

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Yankees Rotation Issues Sorting Out; Hitting, Well, Not So Much...

The New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles last night, 2-1 in New York, their second consecutive win after a 4-game losing streak. They're still in last place in the AL East, but they're only a game behind Toronto in next-to-last! More important, they're 5 games behind the Devil Rays, who somehow have the second best record in the American League, and there are still 4,147 games left to play this season, though not all of them by the Yankees and their competition.

The Yankees have scored only 191 Runs to this point, good for 11th in the 14-team Junior Circuit. On a scale of one to ten, that sucks. Worse yet, they're 10th in team ERA, which is also lousy. Granted, with Alex Rodriguez back and Jorge Posasa Jopefully returning soon, they should start hitting like we all know they're capable of, but it's more than just the absence of two of their stars.

Three of their regulars are hitting just barely above the Mendoza Line, with Jason Giambi and Jose Molina both sitting at .205, and Robinson Cano at .207. Morgan Ensberg, who got most of the playing time at third base while A-Rod was on the DL, is hitting .208 with one homer, which is 100% more of them than Molina has hit. Giambi's 8 dingers and 24 walks have helped keep his OPS respectable in spite of the low batting average, but getting a hit, any kind of hit, only once every 5 at-bats is simply unacceptable, even more so for a guy making $21 million this year.

Oh, and I love hate to say "I told you so" but Melky Cabrera is hitting .248 with a .316 OBP and hasn't hit a homer in almost three weeks. He is currently 53rd in OPS among the 71 qualified outfielders, and is, as much as anybody, killing the Yankees. Just as I said he would. So there.

With that said, Giambi, and especially Cano, are bound to improve, and nobody's really even gotten hot yet, so I expect them to hit better from here on out, and not just because A-Rod is back.

The starting rotation, which has been just as big a problem, seems to be taking shape. Chien-Ming Wang (6-2, 3.51), while no longer untouchable, still seems like a solid pitcher, and Andy Pettitte should provide some decent innings for them, thought you'd like to see a little more consistency from him. Mike Mussina had a pretty solid stretch in there where he won five straight decisions, bet he couldn't get anyone out on Tuesday, and the Yankees must be concerned about that. Darrel Rasner has been a breath of fresh air for the rotation, winning each of his three starts in impressive fashion and increasing his pitch count each time out.

The best news from yesterday's game, however, has to be Ian Kennedy's start: 6 IP, 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts, and only one run. This from a pitcher who entered the game with an 0-3 record and an 8.48 ERA to his credit. Great news, but before we get too excited, consider the following:

Three of Kennedy's K's were against Nick Markakis:

  • In the first inning, Kenned got two "gift" strikes called, way outside, and then managed to make Markakis swing and miss on an 89-mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. With markakis' power, that could just as easily have been a homer.
  • In the 3rd inning, with the bases loaded, Markakis was pressing to make something happen, and swung at a 2-1 pitch half a foot outside, and then another one a foot outside for strike three. That could have easily been a walk, which would have scored a run, or, with a 3-1 count, Kennedy might have had to come back inside and his 89-mph fastball would not have fooled Markakis again.
  • In the 6th, Markakis watched an 89-mph fastball sail right down the pipe, then fouled one off just above that, then chased one high and out of the zone for strike three. Good pitching by Kennedy there, no doubt.
  • The other strikeout was against Brian Roberts. He threw him two fastballs on the inside corner, then wasted one away, then came back inside for a called third strike. Again, nice work by Kennedy.

In short, only two of his four strikeouts were "legit". The other two were mistakes that he got away with, hardly a dominant performance. With a fastball that rarely cracks 90 mph, Kennedy doesn't have much room for error, and teams like the Red Sox will make him pay for those kinds of mistakes. Let's see how he does in Baltimore next week.

The other glimme rof hope for the rotation is the announcement that Joba Chamberlain is being groomed to join it, perhaps as soon as the All-Star Break. Fans have certainly enjoyed seeing Joba pitching, dominating, out of the bullpen, but the Yankees have said all along that his future is in the rotation, and they appear to be sticking to their word, for once.

Some fans may be a little disappointed by this news, having hoped thay Joba might inherit the closer's role from mariano Rivera, but you shouldn't want him to become a closer. Joba's skill is much more valuable as a starter than as a reliever, assuming that he'll be a good starter. It's much harder to find good starting pitchers, and the 200+ innings they amass help the team considerably more than pitching about 70 innings, even very well and in high-leverage situations.

If you think about it, relief pitching is just an easier job to do. Mariano Rivera, as great as he is, would never have made it as a starter, because he doesn't really have a second pitch, not a consistent one. He can give it his all for one, maybe two innings and get batters out, but by the second time through the lineup, they'll have seen all he's got, plus he'll be starting to tire, and they can sit on that pitch or wait for him to make a mistake. He may be one of the best relievers ever, but he'd flop as a starter. So if you can get 200+ innings with an ERA around 3.50 or so out of Joba every year, that's much more help than pitching 70 innings with an ERA around 2.00.

As for timetable, I'm guessing that they'll have him pitch 2-3 innings a few more times, give him a chance to remember how to pace himself, and force him to work on his other pitches. If Kennedy continues to be reasonably effective, the Yankees will have the luxury of putting Joba in to pitch 3, 4 even 5 innings if they want, in a start in which someone gets knocked out early, OR, they can even start Joba, expecting only 3-4 innings out of him, and then inserting Mussina or Kennedy whenever Joba tires out. More likely, they'll probably send him to AAA for a start or two to make sure he has the necessary stamina in games that don't have as much meaning.

They'll miss his arm in the bullpen, of course, but relief pitching is such a fickle business, that someone like Chris Britton or Ohlendorf or Bruney could just as easily step into that role and thrive. Scott Proctor, you'll recall, was lousy in 2005 (6.04 ERA in 45 innings) before becoming the main man in the bullpen in 2006 (102 innings with a 3.52 ERA). Like Joaquin Andujar said, you can sum up baseball in one word: youneverknow.

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21 May 2008

Mike Piazza Hangs Up Tools of Ignorance

I did some research about four years ago when Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for homers by a catcher, in which I estimated that Ivan Rodriguez, not Mike Piazza, and not Johnny Bench, was probably the most valuable catcher of all time. I'm not a fan of Pudge, and I haven't been since he came up with the Rangers, so I wasn't happy with those results, but that was where they led.

In light of Mike Piazza's retirement from baseball, I thought I would look at that work again and see where he ends up. What follows is an edited version of that column:

In May of 2004, Mike Piazza broke the all-time record for career home runs by a catcher, when he hit #352. That homer surpassed Carlton Fisk's mark, which he set a decade or more ago, but which took him about 800 more games to do than Piazza, so clearly Piazza's the superior hitter of the two. For that matter, Piazza is easily the greatest hitting catcher ever, by virtually any measure you can conjure. Shysterball mentions that his career OPS (on-base plus Slugging percentage) was 15 points higher than his closest serious competition.

Piazza polarizes baseball fans. Lots of purists, old-schoolers especially, think that a catcher must catch, first, and any offense you get out of him is secondary, gravy, as it were. This is why Moe Berg and Bill Bergen had careers. For that matter, this is why Brad Ausmus and The Flailing Molina Brothers have careers.

Seamheads like me will tell you that you can't possibly do enough with the glove, regardless of your position, to make up for being a terrible hitter, and that likewise an average hitter can't do enough defensively to catch up to the overall value of a great hitter.

Four years ago, Rob Neyer argued that the ten best catchers were, all things considered, in order:

                      Games  Caught  OPS+
1. Johnny Bench 2158 1742 127
2. Yogi Berra 2120 1699 126
3. Carlton Fisk 2499 2226 116
4. Bill Dickey 1789 1708 128
5. Gabby Hartnett 1990 1793 126
6. Roy Campanella 1215 1183 123
7. Mike Piazza 1699 1629 142
8. Mickey Cochrane 1482 1451 127
9. Gary Carter 2296 2056 116
10. Ivan Rodriguez 2190 2099 111

You can see fairly easily that one of these guys stands out significantly, and it's Piazza. The question Neyer wrestled with, then, as now, is whether or not Piazza's defensive liabilities take away enough from his hitting to knock him all the way down to #7 on the all-time list.

If you look at Bill James' rankings in his most recent Baseball Abstract, he has Yogi first, then Bench, then Roy Campanella, then Cochrane and Piazza at #5, and Pudge all the way down at 13th. But James' rankings are simultaneously more comprehensive and more subjective than what I'm doing here. James used career Win Shares, WS/season, peak value, and other metrics in the numerical valuations, but he also admits to a subjective element, including postseason contributions, leadership, clutch performances, etc. Also, Pudge was only about halfway through his career when that book came out in 2000, and I'm sure James would put him in the top 5 or so, at least, by now. None of that has any real bearing on my statistical approach, I just thought you might like to see what someone smarter than me thinks. Or, thought, eight years ago.

In Rob Neyer's column in 2004, he mentioned that he would have been happy to take Fisk down a peg or two, and Piazza up a peg or two, if he were inclined to investigate the matter more, which he wasn't at the time. Subsequent responses to emails from his readers dealt more with the lack of Josh Gibson on the list (no, I don't know where he belongs either, but would be interested to hear arguments about him one way or the other) and the difficulty of comparing offense across leagues and eras. Nobody, apparently, wrote in to rally for Piazza's ranking to be higher, and evidently lots of people think that I-Rod belongs a lot higher, if not at the very top. I don't happen to be one of those, or at least I wasn't before I did a little research.

I had planned to try to give Mike Piazza a little more support than he seems to have gotten, and to support Neyer's contention that I-Rod is overrated, but now I'm not so sure. Let me tell you what I did and you can tell me if I'm all wet, OK?

I used Baseball Prospectus DT Cards for the ten players on the list (Josh Gibson is omitted from the discussion, of course). I used their WARP3 numbers, which stands for Wins Above Replacement Position, and includes hitting, pitching and fielding contributions, adjusted for all time. I then (roughly, I admit) prorated those ten players' numbers for the games in their careers they actually caught(GAC). This isn't perfect, but it assures us that players like Yogi don't get extra credit for prolonging their careers by playing the outfield.

I then divided the wins into the games as catcher, and prorated this over 162 games, to level the playing field and to get the numbers into a useful range. And do you know what I found? Of course you don't, or you wouldn't still be reading.

Name                WARP   GAC  WARP/162GAC
10. Ivan Rodriguez 122 2099 9.45
7. Mike Piazza 94 1629 9.37
8. Mickey Cochrane 82 1451 9.16
4. Bill Dickey 96 1708 9.11
1. Johnny Bench 95 1743 8.83
6. Roy Campanella 63 1183 8.63
9. Gary Carter 107 2056 8.43
2. Yogi Berra 88 1699 8.39
5. Gabby Hartnett 87 1793 7.86
3. Carlton Fisk 100 2226 7.28

Four years ago, I found that Ivan Rodriguez appeared to be the best catcher ever. At the time, he had a rate of 9.83 Wins per 162 games at Catcher, which was far above anyone else. Mike Piazza was second, though, not seventh, with a rate of 9.37 W/162.

Well, four years have passed, and interestingly enough, Piazza's rate hasn't changed at all, even though his OPS has come down 14 points, from 156 to 142, and his WARP has gone up from 80 to 95. That's mostly because he's been a part-time player the last four years, and has only caught an additional 200 games. His worst year with the bat was also the only year that he only used the bat, 2007, when he was a lackluster DH with the Oakland A's.

As for Rodriguez, his OPS has come down a bit, from 113 to 111, but he's caught about 400 more games and continues to be a very good defensive catcher, at least according to the metrics used by Baseball Prospectus. Though his rate of Wins above Replacement per season has dropped, as you would expect for an aging player, he still leads the pack in that area, and of course he's now got more WARP in his career than any catcher in history.

I don't even like Ivan Rodriguez. I think he's overrated, both on offense and defense, and arrogant and self-absorbed. But if Baseball Prospectus is right about him, then "pound for pound" as they say on boxing, he's the best.

But, Piazza, despite his uninspired defensive reputation, is a very close second.

Those two are followed by Cochrane, Dickey and then Bench all the way down at #5! Campanella and Carter follow, and then Berra at #8. (As a Yankee fan, I had hoped that Berra would do better, but what can you do?) Hartnett and Fisk round out the top ten.

I don't really know if this means anything or not, but from looking at the DT cards, I can see how Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez gain so much ground. Piazza's offense is SO much better than anyone else's that he can't help but jump way up in the rankings. He's got almost exactly the same number of equivalent runs (EQR) as Bench, but Bench needed about 900 more outs to amass those! As a fielder, Bench was as good as Piazza is bad, with +166 fielding runs above average vs. negative 143 for Piazza. This helps Bench, but you just can't make up for such a tremendous difference in offense with your glove, I think.

This is the same reason that Rico Brogna wasn't as good a firstbaseman as Jason Giambi, or that Pokey Reese is not as good a secondbaseman as Alfonso Soriano. Granted, there's a lot more to the defensive requirements at catcher than there is at first base, but if the methods Baseball Prospectus uses to measure defense and offense are at all reliable, then, we've got to take the numbers seriously, and the numbers say that Piazza has thus far been worth approximately the same number of wins as a catcher, as Bench for his career, in about 100 fewer games as a catcher. Put simply, the bat makes up for the glove.

I-Rod isn't as good a hitter as Bench was, but his defense (amazingly, to me) actually rates better! He's +204 fielding runs above average, and has caught about 350 more games than the First Pudge. Rodriguez has had six seasons of at least +20 Fielding RAA, whereas Bench had only two, at exactly 20, and his overall defensive numbers are hurt by the fact that he was a bad firstbaseman, a bad thirdbaseman and a bad outfielder, but even factoring that out probably doesn't give hime more than a win or two over the course of his career.

Like I said, I don't even like Rodriguez. I originally did this study hoping to prove that Mike Piazza'a offense makes him the Greatest Catcher Ever, despite his defense, but it didn't happen. I found what I found, and even though I didn't necessarily like the result, I've got to be honest with you about it.

Regardless of that, Piazza rates, "pound for pound" as the second greatest catcher in history, right behind Ivan the Terrible at Taking Pitches, and should easily be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes. If Pudge keeps playing but his defense slips, he could drop down further and that rate of Wins per season as a catcher would fall below the mark that Piazza is now sporting, and with which he's retiring.

But Pudge is still a semi-regular catcher only because he's still a good catcher, if not much of a hitter anymore. Right now he's hitting .264/.307/.386 with one homer and 16 RBIs in 37 games. Last season he became the first player in the American League in over 60 years to qualify for the batting title without walking at least ten times. He's not a good hitter anymore. But just as Piazza's bat made up for his glove, Rodriguez' glove makes up for his bat. When Piazza's bat went south on him, he had no other skills to offer, and had to retire, and eventually, the same will happen to Pudge with his defense.

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20 May 2008

Red Sox Lester Tosses No Hitter...Good Sign for Kansas City???

I'm so tired of hearing about the Red Sox.

First it was beating the Yankees in four straight games after being down 0-3 in the 2004 ALCS.

Then it was winning their first World Series in 86 years.

Then their highly-touted rookie threw a no-hitter while the Yankees' best prospect was touting a 2-3 record and a 5.65 ERA.

Then it was winning another World Series, just three years later. That made them the only multiple-championship team of the new millenium.

And now this.

Not only are the Red Sox in first place. Not only did one of their young pitchers make a successful comeback from cancer last year (he was 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 63 innings). But now Jon Lester has thrown a no-hitter.

While the Yankees are in last place.

Granted, it was only against the Royals, who have the worst team OPS and the fewest runs scored in the American League. But still, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The Royals had not been no-hit since 1973, as Rob Neyer points out. I sure haven't ever tossed one.

Lester's no-no comes in the Red Sox 47th game of the season, and is 73 regular season games since the one that Clay Bucholz threw last September 1st. That seems pretty close to me, so I looked up how frequently no-hitters have happened.

It turns out that they're really not as uncommon as you think. There are literally hundreds of times that teams have been no-hit, 256 of them, in fact, and that doesn't include the games that went into extra innings and got broken up, or official games shortened by rain or darkness, or 8-inning no-no's lost by the away team (like Andy Hawkins in 1990).

Frequently we get to see several no-hitters in the same year. Heck, there were seven in 1990, and then seven more in 1991! Besides those, there hasn't been a year with more than three no-hitters since 1976, but there have been three each in 1977, 1981, 1983, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, and 2007. And both 1981 and 1994 were strike-shortened years, don't forget.

In terms of proximity, that is, how soon a team has someone throw a no-no after a no-no, the Red Sox are far from that record. Before this 73-game span between no-no's the next closest recent span was (get this...) by the Red Sox, between Hideo Nomo's on 4 April 2001 and Derek Lowe's on 27 April 2002.

Back in 1974 and 1975, Nolan Ryan no-hit the Minnesota Twins in the California Angels' 160th game of the season, and then no-hit the Baltimore Orioles in the 49th game of the 1975 season. Ryan also had no-hitters against the Royals and the Tigers, eactly two months apart, in 1973, that one against the Royals being the last time Kansas City was no-hit. (Ironically, the Royals had no-hit the Tigers themselves just twoweeks earlier.) Warren Spahn repeated the feat even quicker, from 16 September 1960 to 28 April 1961, about one month's worth of games.

Back in the 1800's, especially in the old American Association, it was pretty common for the same team to pitch two no hitters in about a week's time. The Louisville Eclipse did it 8 days apart in 1882. The Columbus Buckeyes did it 7 days apart in 1884. The Philadelphia Athletics did it just 5 days apart in 1888.

That, however, is not the quickest repeat no hitter by one pitcher, as that record is held by Johnny Vander Meer, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938. He no-hit the Boston Braves on July 11th and then no-hit the Brooklyn Dodgers just 4 days later, on the 15th.

But the quickest repeat of a no-hitter by one team came back in 1917, St. Louis Browns no-hit the Chicago White Sox twice in two days, May 5th and 6th. Granted, there was a double-header on the 6th, and the no-no was in the second game, so no team has ever been no-hit in consecutive games, but still, it's gotta be pretty demoralizing to play three games in two days and only get a hit in one of them. (They lost the other game, too, 8-4.)

Here's the best part: The White Sox won the World Series in 1917.

So, Kansas City fans: Let's hope the Royals get no-hit by Justin Masterson tonight!

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09 May 2008

Cleveland @ Yankees: Musings on Pitch f/x

Technology is pretty darn cool.

I got to see a few moments of the Yankees-Indians game yesterday, and while I'm certainly glad that the Yankees won, well, heck, they're supposed to beat Paul Byrd, so that's not too terribly exciting, is it?

However, in the process I got to see Joba Chamberlain and later Mariano Rivera pitch. With the exception of a double to right field that Bobby "Gold Glove" Abreu mis-played, Rivera was his usual, Automatic self.

During the at-bat of Franklin Guttierez, however, I got a little annoyed whren I saw that Mo's 1-2 fastball, which appeared to be right down Broadway, as they say in New Yawk, was called Ball 2. Disagreeing with the umpires, for good or bad, is nothing new, but then I remembered that with Pitch f/x, we can actually see whether or not they were right. So I wnet online and looked. Here is the image I downloaded from the Guttierez at-bat:

It shows you the trajectory and eventual location of each pitch thrown in the at-bat, and if you're in the module online, you can mouse over each pitch and it will tell you both the release speed and the eventual speed of the pitch as it crossed the plate, plus how much the pitch broke in each direction while en route, and what the result was (i.e. called strike, foul ball, etc.).

Green means "Ball", red means "Strike" and blue means the ball was hit in play somewhere. The numbers in the circles represent the order of the pitches. Here, for example, you can see that Pitch #1 was a ball, knee-high over the middle of the plate, which therefore should have been called a strike. Pitch #3 was a strike (in this case a foul). Pitch #4 was another ball, and this was the one I thought was a strike, though it appears to be right on the inside corner (Guttierez, at 6'2" is tall enough that it the ball was right at his belt, despite what the graphic to the left seems to show). Pitch #5 was in play, a pop-up to Robinson Cano.

And Pitch #2? You can't see #2 because it is literally underneath Pitch #4, in the EXACT SAME LOCATION, only that one was called a strike. Evidently the strikezone gets smaller for home plate umpire Scott Barry as the at-bat goes on. Gonna make you work for it, this guy.

To his credit, Mariano does not let this get to him. Ever the consummate professional, he just smirks, lets it roll off his back, and then throws a third pitch in almost the same spot, inducing Guttierez to pop up on a pitch that was actually off the plate inside, if only by a hair. Rivera's velocity and control appear as good as they've ever been, despite his advancing years.

Contrast this with Mike Mussina, who stared the game for the Yankees. Moose pitched well enough to win, but he did give up three runs in only five innings of work. At the beginning of the game he was throwing in the mid- to low-80's, and the Pitch f/x technology couldn't decide how to categorize his pitches:

As you can see, he's got three pitches at almost exactly the same speed (85-86 mph) with a 7" break and a 14-15" PFX (whatever that means), but two of them are called change-ups and one is a "fast"ball. And it's not that the benchmark for calling something a fastball is 86 mph, either. They called an 84-mph pitch a fastball in the at-bat before this one. Furthermore, pitch #2, at 81-mph looks to me like it's almost exactly the same pitch, with just a little off it, and that one gets called a "slider". Mike Mussina doesn't throw a slider. He has a big overhand curve (what I think used to be known as his knuckle curve, though I don't know if anyone calls it that anymore) and another, little side-arm curveball, with sharper but less pronounced action on it. But not a slider.

Looking at the rest of his outing, I noticed that Pitch f/x frequently calls pitches that seem to have very similar characteristics either sliders or change-ups, and often calls pitches as fast as 85 mph change-ups, and sometimes calls pitches as slow as 83 or 84 mph fastballs, which of course is impossible. At least one of those labels has to be wrong.

While Mussina did manage to dial it up as high as 88 mph once or twice yesterday, most of the time his fastball sits around 84-85 these days, an dof course, that's just the speed at the release point. Wind resistance and spin can slow a pitch down 5-6 mph on its way to the plate, which means that when Mussina throws a fastball at 84 mph, it's really only about 79 mph when it gets to the plate. At the ballpark or on TV, for the sake of the fans, they usually have the radar gun up a few ticks, usually about 2-3 mph, which you can see from almost any game, comparing the Pitch f/x numbers (assuming even those are accurate) and the numbers on the screen. When Joba Chamberlain wa sin to pitch the 8th inning, they were adding as much ad 4-5 mph to his velocity, nearly always calling it 99 mph, while it was really more like 94-97, which is plenty, I think.

Bob Feller

By comparison, here's some video from an old newsreel of Bob Feller pitching, measured at 98.6 mph. But the machine they're using is measuring the speed of the pitch as it crosses the plate, whereas the radar gun readings you typically see on TV and at the ballpark ar at the pitcher's release. Feller must have let it go at around 104 mph!

That's neither here nor there. I just found it interesting.

More important than speed, of course, is location, and as you can see from the Mussina/Carroll at-bat above, all of Moose's pitches were about belt-high, regardless of their speed or type, which is not good. Several of his at-bats look like this, though they're not always this consistent. With that kind of predictability, it's amazing he only gave up four hits.

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05 May 2008

Lehigh Valley IronPigs: Stinking Up the International League Since 2008...

They've got the best name in minor league baseball.

They might also have the worst team.


The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, in their inaugural season as the Philadelphia Phillies AAA affiliate (aPhilly-ate?) currently have a record of just four wins and twenty-eight losses, which easily makes them the worst team in the International League, and for that matter, at the moment, the worst team in all of Minor League Baseball.

How bad is 4-28? Well, their closest competition for the dubious honor of the worst record in baseball comes from south of the border, specifically from the AAA Mexican League Guererros de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Warriors). That team is currently 8-31, in dead last in thier division, or, roughly twice as good as the Iron Pigs (los Piggos de Iron...no, not really).

The IronPigs would have to rattle off 24 consecutive wins just to be able to call themselves "mediocre". That means they would not be allowed to lose another game until almost June.

On opening night, they were stymied for six perfect innings by Kei Igawa, who had a 6.25 ERA in the majors last year, and has a rather pedestrian 4.54 ERA against the rest of the International League this year.

A team this bad does not come around all that often, at least not without some extenuating circumstances. Sure, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) might be the worst major league team in history, but they had a good excuse: Their owner bought them specifically so he could siphon off all their decent players to another team he owned. Which is why you're not allowed to do that anymore.

The 1962 Mets were an expansion team playing the year after the majors had just expanded by two teams, so the talent pool was pretty dry at the time. The 1998 Florida Marlins lost 108 games, just one year after winning the World Series, but this was due to their famous fire sale. The 2004 Detroit Tigers lost 119 games, but they were rebuilding and they did play in the World Series just three years later.

Those of course, are only a few examples from the majors. There are a lot more teams in the minors, not to mention all the independent league teams, so I'm sure you could find some examples of pretty bad teams. The Pennsylvania Road Warriors of the Atlantic League, for example, went 23-104 in 2004, worst in the league, mostly because

1) They had to play every game on the road, hence the name, and
B) They sucked.

But the 2008 Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, despite the new digs and the new name, are not a new team. The Phillies had a AAA team in Ottawa last season, a team that was bad, certainly, but not historically bad. They finished 55-88, last in the Northern Division, 29 games behind the first place Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees. The team relocated for the 2008 season, once the new stadium was completed, but most of them seem to have left their talent in Canada.

So far, 14 of the players who were on the team last year have made some, oh, shall we say...contribution? ...to this year's team. But among those 14, only four are 25 or younger and have any real potential to help a major league team someday. These are LHP J.A. Happ, catcher Jason Jamarillo, OF Javon Moran, RHP Joe Bisenius, and among those, only Happ even seems to be hinting that he might end up as something more than a middle reliever or a career backup.

Happ's 2.97 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 39 innings this year belie his 0-4 record, but the fact that he insists on walking a batter every other inning is going to keep him from getting a real shot at the majors anyway. There are also a couple of journeyman, 30-ish relief pitchers who haven't been all that bad this year, though in limited amounts of work.

Brian Mazone, another lefty starter, has three of the team's four wins (along with three losses) and his 3.32 ERA and solid control (only 5 walks in 38 innings) might get him called up to the big leagues some time soon. Already 31 years old, the future is now for Mazone. He's not really a prospect, just a potential stop-gap, and he probably knows that.

Nobody else on the roster is threatening to be good any time soon.

As a team, the IronPigs have a 5.00 ERA, roughly 3/4 of a run higher than the next closest teams, Durham, Columbus and Indianapolis. Pitching coach Rod Nichold played for seven years in the majors, his last in 1995, retiring with an 11-31 record. Like his charges, Nichols walked too many batters and didn't strike out enough, and was washed up by age 31. (At this rate, this will probably prove to be the fate of many of the players on his current team as well.)

If they played in Denver or Colorado Springs, you could chalk that up to the effect of the thin air, but they don't and the hitting is terrible, too.

The team does not have anyone in the top 25 in the International League in Slugging or Batting Average, and their only player anywhere near the league lead in OBP was Val Pascucci, a 29-year old journeyman outfielder, whom they released a few days ago, and who now toils for the Mets' AAA team in New Orleans.

First baseman Andy Tracy (34, a journeyman minor leaguer), leads the team with 5 homers and 16 RBIs, but is only hitting .233, so he hardly looks like a keeper. Another 30-something re-tread, firstbaseman Mike Cervenak, leads the team with 13 runs and is second with three homers. Nobody else has scored more than 7 runs or hit more than 2 homers.

The team is hitting .219 as a whole. Think about that for a second. Julio Franco hit .222 last season with the Mets and Braves, and he just retired. Granted, he is 49 years old now, but if you can't out-play a guy who's almost eligible for AARP, you should get out, dont you think? Players get released outright for hitting .219, and here we've got an entire team that bad. The next closest team is 20 points higher and .239 still sucks.

The IronPigs also have the worst on base percentage and the worst slugging percentage in the league, the fewest walks, fewest doubles, fewest triples, fewest steals, the second fewest homers (by one) and therefore have scored the fewest runs in the International League by a huge margin. Only 79 runs in 32 games, or 2.47/game. The Durham Bulls, the next team up, has scored almost 4 runs per game.

Of course, when you hire Greg Gross as your hitting coach, you're asking for trouble. Gross played for 17 years in the major leagues, and he hit for a decent enough average (.287) with some patience, but he didn't have any power at all. he hit 5 homers in 1977, when he was 24, and then one homer in each of two other seasons. That was it: Seventeen years. Over 4,000 plate appearances. Seven dingers. Seven. That may have worked in the '70s, but it's a different game now. You've got to be able to hit homers once in a while, and their hitting instructor wouldn't know a Home Run from a Home Depot.

So, what does this all mean?

Most teams have their top prospects in AAA, along with a crop of journeymen who have some major league experience, guys who can play in the majors for a few weeks without embarassing themselves, though nobody would expect them to duplicate the star-level production of whomever they're replacing. But the Philadelphia Phillies are basically on their own. If they have an injury to Cole Hamels or Ryan Howard or Pat Burrell, or (God help them) Chase Utley, they're done. There is no help in AAA, so don't come looking. Actually, the way Howard has been hitting, maybe a stint on the DL wouldn't be so terrible for the Phillies. But anyone else, forget it.

It also means that they don't have much (read: anything) from the IronPigs to offer other teams in trade, if they should find that they need a lefty bat off the bench or a short reliever or something for the pennant drive and want to make a trade before the July deadline. That forces them to surrender someone from AA or Single-A to get what they need, which means that they're giving up a younger player, one with more upside.

In the unlikely event that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs continue to lose games at this pace, that is, seven out of every eight contests, they will finish the season with 18 wins and 126 losses. Though it would be a lot of fun to have them to kick around all summer, this probably will not happen. They'll cut loose some of the dreck they've signed, like Oscar Robles and Steve Kline and Kevin Bierne, and as they already have done with Vic Darensbourg and Val Pascucci. They'll find that some of the guys they have in AA right now are worth promoting, and those guys may prove to better the team.

Plus, over 144 games, they're bound to get some breaks here and there. Thy've lost 28 games, but only five of those have really been blow-outs (losing by 6 runs or more, and before you ask, I just came up with that benchmark arbitrarily). They're not always competitive, but they've lost a lot of games by one or two runs, which means that they might have won them with a little luck, or someone coming through in the clutch once in a while.

I'm going to see the Lehigh Valley Catastrophes IronPigs in person this Friday night. Will keep you posted...

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30 April 2008

Roger Clemens-Mindy McCready Affair Quasi-Update

Deadspin yesterday had some comments about the Roger Clemens Boinks Little Girls story, but then followed it up with an email response they received from someone purporting to be a cousin of the troubled country singer.

Here's part of that:

I wouldn't be surprised if Mindy leaked the story to the press herself as she is probably the most cold-blooded, attention-seeking, self-promoting person I've ever met. She may be an emotionally-damaged person as you labeled her in your post but she's also manipulative and prettly much always looking out for number one.

Mindy's dad, Tim, is raising her son in FL. Mindy hasn't seen the kid in at least a year yet a couple months ago she was on "Extra" pimping herself out talking about how her son is the most important thing in her life.

The only thing Mindy cares about is self-promotion and if she's lucky, getting back on the County Fair concert circuit.

Who knows whether this is true or not, though I can't think of why someone would bother to pretend to be her cousin and have some inside scoop on the woman's personal life. She looks pretty bad without this. I had sugeested yesterday and Monday that McCready probably doesn't mind the bad press all that much, but I didn't think she would have leaked it herself.

On the other hand, it makes sense, if this e-mailer's words are to be believed. I mean, it's horrible to think that someone would do something like this, leak news of her own affair to either the press or the lawyers for Brian McNamee, who have probably been telling anyone who would listen that they're looking for dirt on Clemens. When you consider that their supposed 10-year affair has presumably been over for several years, McCready isn't likely to burn any bridges with the Rocket by making this public anyway.

If you want to know who leaked this information, one way of going about it is to take Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein and "follow the money." In this case, though, we'd have to follow the potential money, and the only one who stood to make any money off of this information was Mindy McCready. Sure, the McNamee camp stood to gain from it, but how would they even know it was out there if someone didn't leak the information to them? With a new CD, a TV show and a documentary coming out all about the same time, but her fame as a country singer long-since past, how else could she get herself back in the public eye?

Another Update: The NY Daily News is reporting that their source has indicated other affairs that Clemens had, and going so far as to actually name one of them. Angela Moyer, a former bartender in Manhattan during Clemens' tenure in Yankee Pinstripes. They also mention women in Boston and even California. I guess he needed someone for those long West Coast trips. At least this one was legal at the time. She's evidently 30, which means that if she was involved with Clemens when he joined the Yankees, she'd have been 22, while he was 36. And married.

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Injuries, Pitching Big Problems for Yankees

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson:

"D'oh! It just gets worse and worse!"

Not only is Jorge Posada on the disabled list for the first time in his 13 year career, now Alex Rodriguez is joining him. This is the first time since Y2K that A-Rod has had to go on the DL, though hopefully his strained quadriceps will be able to heal with two weeks of rest. Posada's shoulder injury, though the team is hopeful that it won't end his season, might take more than that. Torn rotator cuffs usually do.

For those of you scoring at home, that's $41.1 million in salary on the shelf (not including Carl Pavano's $11 mil). Last year, those two players combined for 74 homers, 234 runs, 246 RBIs and an approximate percentage line of .325/.425/.600, and missed only 22 games between them all year. This year they've already combined to miss 14 games, and we're only 28 games into the season.

Needless to say, the Yankees were counting on them a great deal coming into 2008, though as I mentioned the other day, the fact that the Yankees are hovering around .500 is as much the fault of the starting pitching and Robinson Cano's and Jason Giambi's failure to hit as it is result of any injuries.

I was wrong about Posada's expected replacement, though. Apparently Chad Moeller wore out his welcome in Yankeetown. (Lot of nerve he had, hitting .350 in those six games!) Actually, he had to be waived so they could make roster space for Jonathan Albaladejo and Chris Britton). The new backup is someone named Chris Stewart, a 26-year old non-prospect (his minor league line is .253/.314/.361 in 1425 at-bats). River Ave. Blues has a decent profile of him, but basically says you shouldn't get two attached to him since he expects Moeller back after he clears waivers.

Worse yet, Phil Hughes had another awful outing last night: 6 Earned Runs in 3.2 innings, including 11 baserunners and two wild pitches. Hughes now has an ERA of exactly 9.00 and has walked 13 batters in 22 innings this year, after averaging just over two walks per nine innnings throughout his minor league career.

People who know more about pitching mechanics than I do are saying that he's got something wrong with his, but I've looked at some of his footage from last night and compared it to footage I took when he was wiping up the field with the Portland Sea Dogs a year and a half ago, and I can't see anything. Whatever it is, if he doesn't start showing some promise, he's going to find himself working out the bugs at Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The American League is no place to be ironing out one's kinks.

As a side note, after last night's game, Johan Santana is now 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. The Yankees could have had him, at one point, for Hughes, OF Melky Cabrera, pitching prospect Jeff Marquez and another prospect. You think they're still glad they didn't make that trade?

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29 April 2008

No Longer "Allegedly": McCready Confirms Clemens Affair

Well, that didn't take long.

I expected that we would hear more about the affair that Roger Clemens was supposed to have had with country music singer Mindy McCready, and I might have suspected that we'd have more info within 24 hours...

But I sure as hell didn't expect the confirmation to come from McCready herself.

The NY Daily News is reporting this morning that McCready has confirmed her affair with Clemens.

"I cannot refute anything in the story."

McCready was described as "tearful but resolute" by the Daily News, which contacted her to get a confirmation or denial of the story they ran yesterday alleging the affair. That she "cannot refute" the details implies that they did meet in a bar in Fort Myers, Florida, during spring training in 1990, though there was no mention of why her parents would allow their 15 year old daughter to hang out in a bar frequented professional athletes twice her age.

Craig Calcaterra at Shysterball rightly says that Clemens is, "an evil and loathsome monster who contributed to the destruction of a young girl in a major way." But while we're at it, let's not let McCready's parents off the hook either. Until she's an adult, she's their responsibility, and it appears that they dropped the ball here.

More from the Daily News:

"After the teenage McCready met Clemens at a Fort Myers bar called The Hired Hand, she returned with the Rocket to his hotel room, but there was no sex that night, sources told The News.

It wasn't until later, after McCready had moved to Nashville and become a country singing star, that the relationship turned intimate."

Reading McCready's admission of the relationship this morning, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, could not have made me more surprised than if I'd woken up this morning with my head sewn to the carpet. But within the confines of that, this particular detail comes as no surprise at all, or at the very least, it does not surprise me that she would say that. This, just like Andy Pettitte's confession to using HGH back in 2003, before it was banned by MLB, comes off as the perfect confession: Yes, I did something wrong, but not that wrong.

It's all very convenient that McCready says that her sexual relationship with Clemens did not begin until she was 18 - and therefore legal - but is it a credible story? Are we supposed to believe that this testosterone-ridden egotist took an attractive young girl, totally enamored of him, back to his hotel room that night and they...what? Just talked? Watched TV? Painted each other's toenails? Come on, people.

But let's give him the benefit of the doubt here. Let's say that they were attracted to each other, but that they restrained themselves. After all, to get where he was, Clemens obviously has to have a lot of discipline, so maybe he drew upon some of that reservoir to keep him from Little Miss Jailbait. If they saw each other in the intervening time, between 1990 and 1993, when she turned 18 and moved to Nashville to destroy herself become a star, are we supposed to believe that they acted with similar restraint each of those times?

McCready did not say that she never saw Clemens between the ages of 15 and 18, just that the relationship did not turn sexual until then. I find it extremely hard to believe that someone as self-absorbed and impressed with himself as Roger Clemens would be able to keep seeing this young girl who seemingly threw herself at him and be able to keep turning her down. (And if you have any doubts about the man's enormous ego, you need look no further than his kids' names: Koby, Kacy, Kory, and Kody. It's surprising he hasn't legally changed his own name to KRoger Klemens.)

In McCready's position, as I mentioned yesterday, it's not necessarily a bad thing for her name to be coming up now, even in this manner. After all, she's releasing a new album, filming a documentary about her life and starting a reality show. She needs all the free press she can get. There are probably thousands, maybe millions of people who heard of her for the first time ever yesterday (yet more evidence that she should not be referred to as a "star"), and who therefore may be more inclined to watch her show, buy her CD, and/or pay $9 to go see here movie. Which will probably go straight to video anyway. So never mind.

Richard Emery, the lawyer defending Brian McNamee in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Clemens has been very clear about his motives in this:

"If the case heads to trial and is not dismissed, as we feel it should be, we will be calling [McCready] as a witness," Emery said.

"The point is whether he was damaged by the allegations that he used steroids - he claims he was hurt. But if there are other women - and there's not just one case, but many - and he holds himself out as a family man and an American paradigm, it's relevant."

"None of this would have been revealed but for his lawsuit and sanctimonious testimony before Congress."

Let me sum those three points up for you:

1) Be afraid. Be very afraid. If you let this go to trial, your reputation will be forever sullied, whether it deserves to be or not.

B) We have evidence that you have cheated on your wife with other women, too. We brought this one up because she's a big name (or at least she is now), but there are others. Do you want everyone to learn about those?

iii) This is all your fault.

That second point may just be a threat, or it may be the real thing, but Emery suggests that there are "many" cases like this one, and he's basically daring Clemens to keep going with this lawsuit, so they can bring more women forward. Time will tell if they actually have anything (or anyone) else up their sleeve.

Clemens and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, look rather foolish now, after denying any wrongdoing when this story broke yesterday. According to Hardin:

"At no time did Roger engage in any kind of inappropriate or improper relationship with her."

Well, whether it was illegal or not is still up for debate, but cheating on your wife definitely qualifies as "inappropriate or improper" in most people's minds. And if the woman herself is admitting it, there's not much room for explanation on Clemens part about this denial. He either lied to his lawyer or his lawyer lied to us. It's that simple.

Maybe he'll tell us that she "misremembers" having had sex with him regularly for ten years?

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28 April 2008

Clemens Story Gets Weirder: Linked to Washed-Up Country Singer

You'd think it would be a welcome distraction for Roger Clemens to wake up in the moringin and see his name in the paper for something other than allegations of performance enhancing drugs.

You'd be wrong.

The New York Daily News this morning broke the story that Roger Clemens is being accused of having had an affair with country music singer Mindy McCready. Other sources have variously referred to McCready as a country music "star", but it seems to me that someone who hasn't had a hit record (either a single or an album) in a decade does not qualify as a star. By that metric, Hanson and Chumbawumba are also "stars".

Clemens, of course, was exactly that, though his sterling reputation has been tarnished somewhat in recent months because of all theis steroid talk. Apparently that's what has led to the revelations about this affair: in an effort to discredit Clemens' testimony, lawyers for his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, have dug up the dirt about McCready, which was previosuly unknown. McNamee's lawyer, Richard Emery, makes no apologies for the mud-slinging:

"If it's proved that he's a philanderer, his reputation is already damaged. When
you sue for defamation, you put your whole reputation in the community at issue.
Anything is fair game, including his claim of sanctimonious purity. [...] He's a 'family man' - he implies that. It's about what his damages are. All is
fair game." [AP]

This is a little bit disingenuous on Emery's part. He knows damn well that he doesn't need to prove that Clemens is a philanderer, any more than Johnny Cochrane needed to prove that Mark Fuhrman was a racist. All you really need is doubt in the minds of the decision makers, whether they're a jury, a judge or a congressional committee, and - voila! - you've got yourself an acquittal. Or whatever it was you're seeking.

The fact that McCready was allegedly only 15 alleged years old when the alleged affair allegedly started (I think I've got myself legally covered there...) is just icing on the alleged cake for McNamee and his lawyer. Allegedly. No, they can't prove anything. They may have some evidence, a witness or something, but they sure aren't going to have video tape of Clemens having sex with a 15 year old aspiring country singer. And that's what they would need for "proof".

Nevertheless, this allegation should prove to be a master stroke for McNamee. His defense in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Clemens was pretty weak, for even though there were others who suggested that Clemens might have been using PEDs, these were often seedy characters themselves, like Jose Canseco, so their word didn't count for much in comparison to a guy with the kind of reputation Clemens had. But the possibility that Clemens befriended the McCready family (as they admit he did) and then started boinking their 15-year old daughter is going to make a lot of people wonder how credible, and how moral, this guy really is.

Canseco, ironically, in his book Juiced, suggested that while Clemens may have been juicing himself, he took his wedding vows pretty seriously, and as far as Canseco knew, didn't cheat on his wife while he was on the road, as many players apparently do. Of course, if I were Clemens, I wouldn't tell someone like Jose Canseco about that even if I were doing it, so that may not be the best evidence in Clemens favor. But it's something, anyway.

Obviously, everyone in the Clemens and McCready camps is denying any wrongdoing. They admit that the two know each other, even that McCready traveled on the team plane with Roger during road trips, but her mother indicates that they wer eonly platonic friends, as far as she knows. Why she would let her 15-year old daughter hang out with a man almost twice her age is beyond my obviously limited comprehension.

Her producer, of course, knows that there's no such thing as bad publicity, so he's only too happy to defend his client's honor. And while he's at it, did he mention that she's got a new documentary and an album and a reality show comeing out? Reminds me of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: "Yeah, I'd just like to mention that I'm no longer mainlining LSD...and that my show airs Thursday nights at 8PM, after your local news!"

It should be interesting to see how this pans out. Don't get your hopes up about Clemens doing the perp-walk on child-endangerment or statuatory rape charges. You need more than accusations for something like that, and they're just not likely to get it. If there ever was any such evidence, it was probably destroyed within minutes of when the story broke this morning.

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Posada Proves Problem for Yanks, Just Not the One I Expected

The Yankees won a tight game against the Cleveland Indians yesterday, after dropping the firt two games of their hard-fought series with the Tribe, but it turned out to be a lousy day anyway.

Jorge Posada is going on the DL.

Posada's throwing shoulder has been bothering him all season, so much so, that would-be base stealers are almost always successful, nabbing 14 steals in 17 tries.

As a rule, steals aren't that big a part of the game, but in a situation like this, when opponents know they can steal on your catcher at will, the story changes a bit. The pitcher has to re-focus his energies to try to keep the runners close, which takes his attention away from the batter, which leads to mistakes, and it's more or less all down hill from there.

One approach to this problem, naturally, is to just not allow anyone on base. Chien-Ming Wang made it work for him yesterday, allowing only 4 hits and two walks in seven shutout innings against the potent Cleveland offense. Effective though it may be, this is not very likely to happen. Putting Posada in there in the hopes that your pitcher will be that niggardly with his baserunners every time out is a foolish strategy, so to the DL Posada must go.

I expected Posada to be a problem for the Yankees this year, but in my case, I thought it would be his bat, not his arm that haunted them. I figured that he had nowhere to go but down after hitting .338 last year, and that his age-related drop in production would hrt the Yankees' pennant hopes. Of course I was right that he would drop off, but he's still hitting about .300 this year with a slugging percentage almost exactly on his career mark, despite only having gone yard once so far.

Jose Molina and Chad Moeller have to try to pick up the slack, which is no easy task. In 2007, Posada led all MLB catchers in Runs Created, Secondary Average, VORP, batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, adjusted OPS and doubles. He was second in homers and Win Shares (behind Victor Martinez) and third in RBIs (behind Martinez and Brian McCann). That's one heckuva hole to fill.

Obviously it wasn't reasonable to expect Posada to keep hitting like that at age 36, but I'm sure the yankees expected something like .275/.375/.475 from him with 18 homers and 80 RBIs. The drop from that level down Jose Molina and a random backup catcher is a steep one. The Yankees have enough offense that they can withstand a month of missing Posada, assuming that rest is all his ailing shoulder needs, but to do that, they need some of the others to step up and help.

And in this case, I don't mean the offense: I mean pitching.

Specifically, the two youngsters in the rotation, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

BAD NEWS: Hughes and kennedy are now collectively 0-5, with an ERA of 8.20, with 27 walks and only 26 strikeouts in 34 innings.

GOOD NEWS: Ian Kennedy' opponents' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this year is .361, and for Phil Hughes, it's even worse, at .388.

Why is that good news? Because on average, most major league pitchers allow a BABIP around .300 these days. (That hasn't always been the case, but a study of that history is beyond the scope of this post.) If Kennedy and Hughes are so far above the normal average, and there isn't something physically wrong with them, then they're likely to regress toward the mean eventually, and start pitching like we've been told they can.

On the other hand, Mike Mussina's not been exactly great this year, only 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA and only 10 strikeouts in 27 innings. Worse yet, he's got a BABIP of only .250, which means that when the mean catches up with him, he's likely to get worse, not better. Moose's problem to this point is that he's just not fooling anyone with his mid-80's fastball and 68-mph knucklecurve, so he never strikes anyone out anymore, allows a homer every 4 innings, and makes the defense work for him. Unfortunately, the Yankee defense is better known for its ability to hit than its collection of Gold Gloves, Derek Jeter's small collection of them notwithstanding.

Regardless, the two young guys have got to start pitching better if the Yankees are going to compete. Mussina, too, of course, but if he falters, they can always try Joba Chamberlain in the rotation and relegate Moose to mop-up duty. Or they can try Moose as a once-a-week starter, keeping him a little more fresh for each time he pitches, and helping to take some of the pressure off Joba and Hughes and Kennedy, so they don't have to rack up so many innings on those young arms.

Not that they're likely to try something that unusual, but don't ever let it be said that there were no alternatives out there.

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MLB.tv Black out Problems

FOX broadcast the Saturday afternoon Yankees-Indians game, so I got to watch some Yankees baseball on my television instead of MLB.tv, which was nice. These kinds of games are of course blacked out from MLB.tv as well as the MLB Extra Innings package you can get on most satellite and some cable systems. fair enough. But on Thursday night, I was blacked out of both the Yankees-White Sox game and the Mets-Nationals game, neither of which was being broadcast natioanally.

Several emails to MLB.tv customer service have done nothing to explain to me

1) Why this happened, or
B) if I should expect it to happen again.

According to their website, MLB.tv only has me blacked out of Phillies games, since my hometown (Bethlehem, PA) falls in their broadcast area. I live over 100 miles from New York city, and while I get some of the NYC broadcast stations, we do not get the YES network out here, not Sports NY, which does most of the Mets games, so it's not like the Yankees or Mets think of eastern PA as their broadcast area.

When I emailed MLB.tv customer service, they sent me the obligatory confirmation email, followed up by another one in which they asked me to provide more information (like my IP address, zip code, and where I was trying to watch the game from) which they said had been "previously requested". When, or by whom it had been requested, they did not say, but the remark had a distinctly snotty tone to it, like one of those teenagers who works in the computer store at the mall and gives you attitude because you don't already know the difference between DDR RAM and SODIMM.

I don't think I was supposed to respond directly to the email, but they did not provide clear instructions as to how I should furnish this information to them, so in my view, that's a failing on the part of MLB.tv as well.

They also suggested that I should make sure my "wallet preferences" were up to date and accurate. For the uninitiated, this means that I should make sure the credit card they have on file for me is accurate, though this should not matter either. For one thing, I bought the MLB.tv package for the whole year, and for another, even if I was paying for it monthly, We're still in the first month of the season, so there's no reason that I should be out of date on that front either. And besides, it's not as though the whold MLB.tv module wasn't working. I could watch the Reds game or the Padres game or the Mariners game if I so desired. Just not the Mets or Yankees.

All I know, at this point, is that I'm not supposed to be blacked out of any of these games, which I already knew, and that if I have troubles in the future, I can contact them through their website, which as it turns out, is pretty useless.

MLB.tv's product itself is pretty darn good, but on the whole, its customer service interface leaves a lot to be desired.

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22 April 2008

Book Review: Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, by John Rosengren

The word "skeptical" barely begins to describe my demeanor as I was asked to review John Rosengren's new book, Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid.

First of all, I'd never heard of its author, so how good could the book be, right? Well, I'd never heard of Michael Shapiro before I read his excellent book on the Brooklyn Dodgers a few years ago. Before I happened upon A Dirty Job in the Allentown airport last summer, I'd never heard of Christopher Moore either, and he's now my favorite author. So I didn't give that particular prejudice too much weight.

More important, the book's subtitle "The Year That Changed Baseball Forever" kind of put me on my guard. And not just because it referred to 1973, and therefore happened before I was born. I had to take the title with a grain of salt, mostly because I just read a book last year about a team that (allegedly) changed baseball, just two years before this book supposedly did the same thing, and that, frankly that was a crock. And a really boring book.

Rosengren's book is neither.

This well-written, insightful and intriguing tome relates how the events of the 1973 baseball season, and several events that unfolded around it, really did change the game, and perhaps the country, for all time. Think about it:

* You had Hank Aaron chasing babe Ruth, right down to the last day of the season, contending not only with his aging body and racist death threats, but also the ambivalence of the baseball establishment (read: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn) and the people of Atlanta, who mostly ignored him right to the end.

* Willie Mays, the once great Giants centerfielder, was linping along in his last year as a player with the Mets, who somehow managed to get to the World Series despite winning only 82 regular season games.

* Reggie Jackson was trying single-handedly to not just win the AL pennant again, but to become the superstar that we all now know him to be, and while he was at it, he was also trying to change the way players dealt with both management and the media. He succeeded at all three.

* Pete Rose collected his 2,000th career hit, won his third batting title and his only NL MVP award.

* Charlie Finley was an odd juxtaposition of both progressive and traditional baseball values. For example, he lobbied for the Designated Hitter rule, which was accepted, as a way to improve offense levels in the attandance-challenged American League. He also suggested orange baseballs for night games, though these were only used in exhibitions. At the same time, he was a world-class cheapskate, losing his players' loyalty (and ins ome cases their contracts) over comparitively trifling sums because he simply could not stand to give up a dollar if he didn't absolutely have to.

* George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees for a song from CBS, and despite promises to keep building ships for a living, it was not long before he started meddling...and winning.

At the same time, America was still trying to get out of the Vietnam War, and the Paris Peace Accords were signed, though it would not be the end. By the end of the year, both the President and the Vice President were forced from office over separate political scandals, though Nixon made significant inroads with both China and the Soviet Union, helped to start the DEA, the Alaska Pipeline, and signed the Endangered Species Act, before he was forced to leave.

The World Trade Center, the CN Tower in Toronto and the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Bosporous Bridge in Istanbul and the Sydney Opera House all opened. The SkyLab launches mark the next step in manned space flight and exploration. Thalidomide settlement. The Stockholm Syndrome. The American Indian Movement standoff at Wounded Knee. Roe v. Wade. The Yom Kippur War. The Arab Oil Embargo.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon was the biggest selling single of the year. Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii was seen by over one billion people, and they didn't even have YouTube. Dark Side of the Moon was released. The Miami Dolphins became the first (and still, only) team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated. Secretariat won the Triple Crown. O.J. rushed for over 2,000 yards. Bobby Riggs and his big mouth were beaten (easily) by Billie-Jean King. Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

It was a tumultuous time, you have to admit. And I hadn't even been born yet!

To his credit, Rosengren doesn't try to cover all of that stuff in his book, but he does touch on some of the bigger issues (like Watergate) and how the baseball world could never be wholly insulated from the larger culture. Steinbrenner's illegal campaign contributions to Nixon in 1972 were given special attention in the book,as was the effect of the investigation, and his eventual conviction, on his business with the Yankees). Rosengren also discusses the ways in which Steinbrenner almost immediately renegs on his promise to practice "absentee ownership" and "stick to building ships", and apparently had no shame about the way he wanted to run things. When Mike Burke, the general Manager of the team under CBS's ownership, was forced out, George simply explained that, "[he] didn't agree with everything I wanted to do, so I fired him." (p. 82)

Speaking of contentious and controversial owners, the Oakland Athletics, despite their success in 1972, were a wild bunch, and hated their cheapskate owner. "They disregarded authority with exhuberant contempt." (p. 29) Moreover, they nearly mutinied during the World Series when Finley's meddling forced secondbaseman Mike Andrews to agree to a false medical report in order to get someone else on the roster. Finley eventually forced out his manager, Dick Williams, lost his best pitcher, Catfish Hunter, and the AL MVP Reggie Jackson, once free agency took hold.

Finley's brainchild, the DH, was proposed essentially as a gimmick to improve attendance, which, it was though, would increase with increased offense. The American League in 1972 had averaged just 3.47 runs per game, 13% lower than the Senior Circuit, and almost exactly as low as the anemic 1968 season. Run scoring (and attendance) increased dramatically in 1973, and everyone was so pleased after only the first season of what was supposed to have been a three-year experiment, they decided to make the DH permanent. Hard to blame them.

With that said, I do have to take issue with Rosengren's contention that, "The experiment had improved offense, no question." Offense improved, sure, but how much did the DH have to do with it? Plenty, but not everything. The AL scored 4.28 runs per team per game in 1972, a 25% increase from the previous year, but only about half of that was due to the DH. The rest of it was due to the fact that the League as a whole just hit much better, and much more in line with historical trends. Designated hitters scored 0.58 runs per game in 1973, compared to only 0.14 runs per game by pitchers and pinch hitters in 1972, but everyone else in the American League jumped from a paltry 3.17 R/G up to a much more palateable 3.56 R/G. In short, it looks in retrospect like 1972's pitcher's paradise was just a fluke, which would likely have reverted to the mean anyway, at least to some degree.

Anyway, I'm off-topic. Back to the book.

Rosengren manages to relate some of the social and historical implications of the DH, the ways it was perceived and who actually embraced the role and succeeded at it. Ron Blomberg may have gotten his name in the record books as the first player to serve in the role, But Orlando Cepeda was the one who made the DH look like a good idea. Cha Cha was basically washed up at 35, but got a second chance in Boston in 1973 due entirely to the DH rule, and probably owes his Hall of Fame induction to it. (Rosengren mentions that Cepeda won the inaugural Outstanding DH Award in '73, though he fails to include the fact that Frank Robinson had a much better season. Baby Bull only got the award because it was started by a newspaper in New Hampshire, which is obviously in Red Sox Nation.)

The book, in fact, is really quite good. The author seems to be one of those select few people who can look at an array of information from various and sundry sources and not only see the big picture, but relate it to others as well. It seems that a lot of things really did change in 1973, and Rosengren weaves all the intricate parts of that season together for you, presenting the tapestry and explaining how it all fits, and what it all means.

How he managed to do this is beyond me. His bibliography lists over 50 different books, plus numerous websites, periodicals, audio/video sources and more than a dozen personal interviews with players and other personalities who lived the events in the book. And talk about meticulous! After the brief first chapter, every chapter has at least 29 end notes, and most have at least 60! The man obviously paid enormous attention to detail, working his butt off to verify and cite his sources.

The result is an interesting, well-researched, well-written and comprehensive work that tells the tale of a season that really did change the world of baseball forever.

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