Thursday, March 31, 2005

Mo' Linkin'

Linking worked well in my "getting back to blogging" workout scheme, so here are a few fresh hits:

The New York Times started off the day by making me grouchy. They've disemboweled the Circuits section, which is one of the few reasons that I ever plunked down money for the publication. (Other reasons: the Science section on Tuesdays, and because La Chiquita goes into withdrawal if she goes more than two days without her Times fix.) In Sports, they have an interesting piece today on Kimberly Bell, Barry Bonds' alleged ex-girlfriend/personal harpy. We've gone over this ground before, but I was interested to see that Ms. Bell claims to have collected answering machine tapes from throughout her and Bonds' relationship. That's one of those warning signs your relationship isn't on solid ground, by the way--when your girlfriend makes sure to keep incriminating evidence against you. Kinda like Monica Lewinsky keeping the blue dress...

Jay Jaffe takes on the Yanks in his latest piece over at Baseball Prospectus. It is a subscription article, but the readers' digest version of the post can be found at his website, Futility Infielder.

Last, but not least, I got a small mention in an article by Dejan Kovacevic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the Pirates' ace, Oliver Perez.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Link o' the Day

Spring Training is over, and like the athletes down in Florida and Arizona, it's time for me to prove that I'm in shape for the season. That means no more of this "two posts a week" crap, as I prepare for the daily grind of blogging during the baseball season.

Today's link is only tangentially related to sports. One of my favorite local columnists, the Daily News' David Hinckley, is doing a history of New York music in installments for the newspaper. Today's entry is about that mysterious stadium favorite "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" and the ultimate one-hit wonder band, Steam, which was created exclusively for the song. In Hinckley's words:

As with "White Christmas," probably 90 people out of a hundred can sing only the chorus.

And probably only two out of a hundred even know it has verses.

But its message in the arena is as clear as the message to the gladiator when the emperor turned his thumbs down.

Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, kiss him goodbye.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sweet SweetBarry's Baadasssss Song

Barry Bonds is out until mid-season, and maybe for 2005. Or maybe he's ready to call it a career.

He says he's exhausted and I believe him. A few thousand sportswriters take turns sticking pins into voodoo dolls of him, the government seems fixed upon getting him on perjury charges for his testimony before the BALCO grand jury, an alleged spurned ex-girlfriend wants to do anything her power to take him down, and his knee hurts.

Part of me suspects that this is just one of those "player vacations", and maybe Barry will just skip the boring part of the season, and return for the stretch drive and playoffs--if the Giants are able to keep it close in his absence.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be shocked if Barry decides to rehab that knee in a country that doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Call me a Bonds apologist, but I still don't have any anger to direct at Baryy. He used steroids, perhaps unknowingly, which calls into question his achievements of the past several years. It seems that at the very least he was involved in some sort of relationship with this Kim Bell who testified before the BALCO Grand Jury, and who's been appearing on any media outlet that will have her. That makes Barry a cheat on his marriage, which isn't a terribly nice thing to do. He's also been kind of a crybaby as the vice has closed in on him. None of this is admirable behavior.

So Barry Bonds isn't a hero. Maybe he's not even a role model. For some reason, and I'm not certain it's rational, I'm still pulling for the guy.

You see, Barry's become baseball's anti-hero. Like Preacher in Superfly or Harry Callahan, he's not a nice guy. He's not playing by the rules, or doing things for the noblest of reasons. But some of us are still rooting for him.

Is it that we're immoral? We don't care about the legacies of poor Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and Hank Aaron? Maybe we're seduced by Barry's charisma? I dunno.

Part of what makes a decent anti-hero is the quality of his opposition. In the blaxpoitation tradition, the bad guy you rooted for was eclipsed in his badness by the even worse guys that were out to get him. So sure, Preacher was a drug dealer who'd threaten to pimp out his best friend's wife. But he was up against a bunch of racist, murderous drug-dealing cops, so that kind of takes the edge off the drug dealer thing.

Maybe that's Barry's appeal. The people who have been after him are so unpleasant--one reads the nasty gloatings of Selena Roberts in the Times and it's pretty hard not to feel some simpathy--that Bonds looks less hypocritical by comparison.

Maybe it's just that I find it hard to judge ballplayers on anything other than their performance, which makes it very difficult for me to give a damn about a player who's a "bad person." I've seen so many players switch hats between villain and hero in my short time as a fan, that it feels as if MLB is the WWF (or WWE, or whatever they call the big pro wrestling group these days).

I mean, first Wade Boggs was a great guy, a real ballplayer. Then he was a selfish guy, sitting out at the end of the season to win the batting title. Then he was a real bad guy, because he cheated on his wife and made the Red Sox clubhouse a "25 guys, 25 taxi cabs" no-chemistry place.

Then he shows up in the Bronx, and he's a gamer again, a clubhouse leader. The judge of the friggin' kangaroo court! How did that happen? Did he get a personality transplant?

Some of this is games that the sportswriters play, rewarding the guys that are nice to them, and burying the fellows that aren't so polite. The real issue is, do we ever really get to know the folks that play baseball for our favorite teams? You get your impressions: I've always thought that Don Mattingly was a great guy. No one ever had anything bad to say about him, not that I've heard, anyway. But do I really know that he's a good person?

Nobody'd ever dared claim that Kirby Puckett was anything but an adorable Teddy Bear. That reputation, as much as the glaucoma that cut his career short, got him into the Hall of Fame. He retires, gets inducted, and suddenly it turns out that Puckett's a sexual predator, a wife beater. An ugly human being.

Did he move to the dark side once his playing days were over, or was there just another side to the fellow, which the beat writers and press guys either never saw, or never reported? I mean, Kirby was in the public spotlight for eleven years. He played in two World Series, under the most intense scrutiny the game can muster.

We knew this guy. It just turns out we didn't know him.

The point is, you never know. I don't know Barry Bonds. From what I've heard, that's possibly for the best. The one thing I know is that I've never seen anyone hit like him. Before all this home run hoopla and steroid talk, he was still one of the most incredible players I'd ever seen--part Rickey Henderson, part Ken Griffey Jr.

Before any of that stuff, there were folks who loved to tear him down. "He's aloof," they'd say. "Bonilla's the real power on that team," they claimed when Bobby Bonilla and Bonds were both Pirates. "He's a post-season choker," they carped when the Braves mowed the Pirates down in the playoffs a couple of times in a row. He missed a couple of MVPs, and not for the best reasons. Later they bitched and moaned about Barry's "body armor" his clubhouse recliner, his surliness.

And maybe now, all that I'm left to root for or against is his performance, which I hope continues to tumble Aaron's career home run mark. Even if he's a cad, a juicer, and an adulterer.

How weird is that?

A few more incoherent ramblings:

The Score Bard's epic poem about the steroid hearings is so funny, it should carry a "don't drink anything while reading this" warning.

Speaking of that, I've always wanted something like this to happen, for all the folks that make the folks that assume Bonds was lying in his grand jury testimony. The setup--Bonds gives an exclusive, no-holds-barred interview with Bob Costas. We pick it up in progress:

BOB: ...and you actually thought it it was flaxseed oil?

BARRY: Yes, Bob. That's what they told me it was. I didn't know what the heck flaxseed oil is supposed to look or taste like.

BOB: But what do you say to everyone who doesn't think it's...credible...for a world-class athlete like yourself to claim he didn't know exactly what he was putting in his body. You have to admit that's pretty...far fetched.

BARRY: Funny you should mention that, Bob. You remember when we were in the green room before the show? I handed you that mug of coffee you're drinking right now.

BOB: I don't see what that has to do with anything...

BARRY: I put 25 cc's of THG in your coffee, Bob. Did you know you were taking steroids?

As they say, one Vial of THG: a couple of hundred bucks, and ten years in Federal prison if you get busted with it. Watching Bob Costas do a spit-take on National TV? Priceless.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Stream of Unconsciousness

This is the way of spring training, for me, at least. We wait all winter for spring training, then it arrives and we celebrate. But the joy of the whole thing only lasts so long--eventually, you get tired that most of the games aren't televised, and that the team's about a thousand miles away.

Eleven days left. It's getting difficult to wait for baseball.

One thing that last week's congressional hearings are doing, it's improving some fellows' chances of making the Hall of Fame. Already, Mike Lupica is stumping for Roger Maris's inclusion in the Hall of Fame, for the distinction of having played before steroids were a factor in athletics. Next year, I expect that Jim Rice will get the nod, for having played--presumably, of course, since anabolic steroids certainly existed during Rice's career--without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs.

That is, if you don't count things like amphetamines, which were a staple in Major League clubhouses during both players' careers, and continue to be a staple today.

But hey, at least they're not steroids. I mean, it's not like speed is illegal like steroids, and lord knows no-one's ever died from taking amphetamines.

That's irony, for those of you that haven't heard.

A couple of other guys whose Hall candidacies got a boost last week: Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy.

If I keep it up with the one-sentence paragraphs, this could amount to a Mike Lupica tribute post.

Allright, let's have some conspiracy theories: Rick Ankiel's out of options, so he very publicly announces that he's quitting the mound and becoming a minor league outfielder. Since Ankiel would probably be a 25 year old learning to hit in low-A ball, no one picks him up on waivers once he's released. If Ankiel changes his mind about pitching, once he safely makes (made?) it through waivers, we're going to be treated to some more of George Will bleating that Tony LaRussa is a genius.

Spring stats aren't worth a damn--small sample sizes and whatnot, but a quick stroll through the numbers leaves a few definite impressions. Bernie Williams has had a brutal spring. He's batting .091 with 2 doubles and 2 walks. That's almost as bad as Damian Rolls, who's hitting .107 without any extra base hits. On the pitching side, Steve Karsay and Paul Quantrill have combined for 9 1/3 innings pitched, 25 hits and 14 runs (all of 'em earned). Quantrill's been hampered by a strained muscle in his side. Don't know what Karsay's excuse is, but this could open up a spot for Chien Ming Wang (1 run in 9 innings), Scott Proctor, and/or Buddy Groom (both have yet to allow a run in a combined 10 1/3 innings).

Other impressive guys, based on the spring stats? Andy Phillips has a shot at making the club as the backup/platoon firstbaseman and utility infielder, he's batting .333/.428/.625. Hideki Matsui has 5 homers and a .938 slugging percentage. Bubba Crosby is having another impressive spring, trying to nail down the 4th outfielder spot (.321/.387/.643), as is Colin Porter (.308/.308/.538).

Oh, and everybody's favorite whipping boy, Tony Womack? Try a .528 batting average with 2 triples and a homer.

Yep, it's still spring training.

Oh, by the way, I dropped a Prospectus Triple Play on you last week, and didn't do any self-promotion. Silly me. And promoting the work of others, Will Carroll has the Yankees' Team Health Report up at Prospectus, and you don't have to be a subscriber to partake! Enjoy.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Laws and Sausages...

I remember, for one month shortly after I graduated college, I became a CSPAN junkie.

At that point, there were two CSPAN channels, one at almost all times dealing with boring academic symposia--only DC-area colleges or universities in Cambridge, MA, needed to apply--and the other dedicated to the business of the people, the workings of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

After watching several dozen floor debates, hearings, and votes called, I came to the conclusion that the business of the people might be the most boring stuff in the history of humankind, certainly the most boring thing ever put on television. After the first week, I kept on watching in horror, because I simply couldn't believe that the system--the government of the most powerful nation in the world--was this inefficient. They were having votes about whether they would decide to vote! A whole month went by, and I'm pretty sure the nation's legislature failed to accomplish a single thing in that time.

Of all people, it was Newt Gingrich who finally clued me in on what I was seeing. On one of the boring academic symposia shows, he said, off-the-cuff: "The genius of the Constitution is that the framers made the government so inefficient, no tyrant could force it to function for his benefit."

That was a relief. The design flaw was intentional. I was free to go back to watching ESPN.

Today, we had the intersection of CSPAN and ESPN in the form of congressional hearings into steroids in baseball. Because I have a day job, I couldn't follow most of the hearings--excellent fill ins on the first two panels (which featured steroid victims, steroid experts, and inexplicably Jim Bunning) were provided by the pros--Will Carroll over at the newly-renamed Juice Blog, and Dave Pinto at Baseball Musings.

Luckily for me, the House of Representatives is way inefficient, and so hearings that were supposed to last until 2:00 PM went on until 9:00PM, so I got to listen to the players testify, and even got to see some of the final panel, made up of MLB representatives and Donald Fehr.

Man, was that ugly.

The whole atmosphere of the hearing was like watching a well-dressed person talking to an emotionally disturbed homeless guy--there's a lot of agreeing with whatever the homeless guy has to say. Congressmen spent the entire evening telling the players and the MLB guys that they were angry--real angry!--and that baseball was going to have to put its house in order. And the witnesses were all in heads-a-bobbin' mode "Uh-huh, yeah, house in order, whatever you say, please don't hurt me."

The formerly brash and bold Jose Canseco turned into a house-broken kitten in the face of the committee: all that "steroids are the way of the future!" stuff he was pitching in his book was out the window--now 'roids were wrong and harmful and man, was he sorry that Congress wasn't looking out for him back when he played the game. Jose looked pretty big, which makes me think that if the committee had insisted on a urine test on the spot, Jose might've flunked it. But for one day, at least, he had seen the light, and gotten the message: steroids bad!

Still, Canseco wasn't the biggest loser of the day. That distinction would belong to Big Red, Mark McGwire. His oft-repeated lines "I'm not here to discuss the past, but to talk about the future" and "I wouldn't know, I'm retired" were among the lamest evasions in human history--bad enough that several congressmen mocked him openly. From his opening statement on, this was a bizarre performance--he choked up unexpectedly throughout his opening statement, and was often incoherent in his testimony. He told the panel that his foundation was dedicated to fighting the steroid problem. When asked what his foundation was doing, it turned out he'd just decided to re-dedicate his foundation to fight steroid use. When pressed further, as to what his message would be, the answer was: "Steroids's bad. Don't do them."

I'm serious. That's what I heard, and I couldn't believe it as I heard it.

The only spark of rebellion that could be seen from any of the witnesses came from MLB's attorney Rob Manfred, who looked at various times like he wanted to bitch-slap the congressmen in attendance. I thought there was actually a threat of a fist fight when Representative Lynch of Massachussets started babbling about how he was always happy to allow drug testing of his unions into the many collective bargaining agreements he negotiated.

It's always easy to give away someone else's rights. After an evening of listening to congressmen tell baseball that they should merrily agree to random drug testing and two-strikes-you're-out Olympic discipline rules--because baseball players are role models, y'know--I was more than happy to support the "Steroid and Drug Free Congress Act of 2005" which would call for random drug testing and Olympic discipline for all U.S. Representatives and their staffers.

I mean, what better way to send the right message to our children?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Down in the Dumps

Just a couple of notes after a couple of days spent home sick.

The walls really close in on you after a few days on the shelf. On the plus side, I got to watch the Yanks in pre-season action on Thursday night, which meant seeing Mussina look sharp, Matsui look powerful, and Carl Pavano look up in the zone. I was overjoyed to see some pinstripes on the field again, but Pavano concerns me. Maybe my observation was tinged by my prejudice against Pavano, but he just didn't didn't seem to have much on his pitches--not velocity or movement. I know this is Spring Training, but the whole thing gives me the fear.

On the minus side, this is the worst possible weekend for me to be out of action. My mom's birthday is this weekend, the birthday party for my college pal Aaron is tomorrow, and I'm going to miss tonight's Baseball Prospectus book signing at Colisseum books. This upsets me.

So we have joy, fear and anger, which is about half the pallete of human emotion. Now, if I could leave the damn apartment, maybe I'd get to experience the rest of it.


Just the other day, I mentioned that I need to update my links. So I'm busily preparing to do so, and off go some of my top bloggers and change addresses--again. Bronx Banter, Will Carroll Presents, and the Humbug Journal have all moved from their respective homes to a new construct, The Baseball Toaster. Could someone please email me when it's finally safe for me to update my links?


"We need to to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U. S. House of Representatives?"

Can't claim credit for that one, that's from the West Wing. Still, I think it captures my opinion of the announced congressional hearings on steroids. Look, it's not the HUAC--we're not tearing at the fabric of american society here. Steroid distribution is a federal crime, and major league baseball is a federally-regulated (or rather, considering the anti-trust exemption, deregulated) business. This means that Congress does have an arguable legitimate interest to poke around, educate themselves with regard to future legislation they might pass on steroids or on baseball.

Then again, it's not the Watergate Hearings, either. Steroids are, after all, already illegal. They've been present in sports for decades, and MLB's already taken action to improve testing. So the purposes given by legislators for this investigation are pretty vague and flimsy ("We're going to show kids that steroids aren't cool" seems to be the prevailing idea).

What this is just going to be is an amateur talent show, for a bunch of folks with their own agendas. Politicians will get their names in the paper--in the Sports pages, which are probably read by more people than Congressional Register. They'll try to convince people that they are pro-children and anti-cheating (it would be much more interesting to see them argue the contrary positions). Jose Canseco will try to sell a few more books. Curt Schilling will audition for a post-baseball career in politics. Jason Giambi will try to walk a tightrope, again.

I didn't say it had to be a good talent. Still, I'm expecting that Big G's agent, Arn Tellem, will have a good time, with hopes of getting to play the Tom Hagen part in Godfather 2 "This committee owes an apology, Senator!"

Still, while most people worry about the effect that these hearings will have on baseball, I'm a little more concerned about the effect that they'll have on Congress. It is, after all, a more important body than Major League Baseball, and here we stand helplessly watching it waste their time and our money, on something that won't make one bit of difference to anyone except for the various amateur talent show contestants.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Stupid, Part I: Try Not to Break the Law on Your Way to Work...
Marriage Penalty: Visa Woes Plague Dominican (Kline & Manuel, Baseball America)

As a Dominican-American, it hurts to see a story like this. Ten guys (and possibly 20 more) who've worked so hard to make it to the minor leagues in the U.S.-we don't know the names of the players, so we can't yet comment on how close or far these guys were to making it to the Show--blew it in the worst way possible.

They gave up their dreams for a reported $5,000, to engage in an immigration scam. The scam? They use their U.S. work visas (sponsored by the Major League ballclubs) to bring fraudulent spouses into the country. The criminal masterminds behind this scam didn't figure anyone would suspect anything if a bunch of players all applied for their visas at the same time, claiming brand-new spouses married in the same time frame.

Yeah, that doesn't look suspicious at all.

It's doubtful that the guys who thought up this scam will face anything close to the punishment that the players have--they're basically banned from ever travelling to the U.S. again. Career over, in U.S. baseball, at least.

Stupid Part II: Yeah, Call the Yankees Satan and then Wonder Why You Get Hate Mail...
Excerpt from The Devil Wears Pinstripes by Jim Caple (

In the latest attempt to cash in on the Red Sox/Yankees phenomenon,'s Jim Caple has released a book on "why we hate the Yankees and -- sigh -- why we also desperately need them." Judging from the excerpt, it's supposed to be a humor book. I say "supposed to be" because the jokes in this excerpt seem kinda stale, and I can't really count Caple as one of my favorite ESPN writers.

There was one humorous bit on Caple's website, a fake timeline entry that reads: Oct. 16, 2004: Steinbrenner celebrates the Yankees’ 19-8 victory over the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS by hanging a banner that reads “Mission Accomplished’’).

Not a big belly laugh, but a quiet chuckle.

Anyway, since Caple's a former Seattle writer, there's a post about the excerpt on USS Mariner. I'm featured in the comments as the curmudgeonly Yankees Fans Rights' advocate.

Stupid Part III: Let's Get Upset About Exhibition Games, Shall We?
Ire Springs from Boss (Bill Madden, NY Daily News)

This article, apparently not in the News' online edition, talks about George Steinbrenner being angry about the Yanks poor Grapefruit League action (their win against the Sox last night was the first win of the Spring) and because the Yankees' scouts haven't provided the team with any good prospects.

To be specific:
Although Steinbrenner declined public comment, sources told the Daily News he was "furious" over all these early spring losses that largely were the result of of using nonroster minor league players who will not be going north with the team.

"Who are the scouts that signed these guys?" Steinbrenner demanded.
First of all, this getting upset about Spring Training record is the kind of thing that feeds the Yankee Haters. They're exhibition games, fer goodness' sake! Guys are supposed to be preparing for the season, working on their skills, not acting like winning is a matter of life and death. You'd think George is too darn old to get bogged down in crap like this.

That second part's a legitimate gripe, but what, George only just noticed the dearth of prospects in the Yankees' system? It's a fact that has been staring him in the face for the past three years, at least.

Not Stupid: Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold
Giambi HR Hits Back at Nation (Borden, NY Daily News)

The Red Sox Nation, that is. Giambi went 2-5 with a homer in a start against the Red Sox in split-squad win in Fort Myers. The print version of the Article features a handy boo-meter (the very punny "Jeer-Ambi meter") which recorded the admittedly subjective strength of the booing of Giambi before the game, and in each of the DH's 5 at bats.

Hopefully, the lesson Jason learns from this experience is that the one way to shut his detractors up is to beat the living daylights out of the ball. Well, that and sign lots of autographs before and after the game.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Like Kissing Your Sister...

Oh yeah, it's Spring, all right.

Yesterday, I was home sick. I hear on the news, Grapefruit League action begins today.

I remember that the Yanks open up against the Pirates. This is perfect, I'm laid up and good for just about nothing but watching TV, and I get baseball--two of my PTP teams--on TV.

Oops. Not yesterday. Yanks/Pirates was today, and instead, ESPN was showing the Mets and the Nationals yesterday. It was still baseball, I should be grateful. But I totally missed the Yankee opener. Even though I was still sick, I couldn't afford to miss another day of work.

Luckily, Cliff Corcoran and Steve Goldman didn't miss the opener, and each provided their own special moment-by-moment analysis of the game. Enjoy.