Thursday, March 30, 2006
Was watching the new Mets network, SNY, since Brother Joe was on Daily News Live. Entertaining show, but the production values scream "new network." Hard cutaways, graphics sometimes covering a player's face during interviews, really shaky handheld camera work. It'll take some time for the dust to settle; I remember glitches when YES first hit the air.
As much as I understand many people's objections to the YES Network, SNY has a strange generic quality to it--the call letters sound like Fox Sports New York or Sports Channel New York. It'll be interesting to see the SNY develop a personality.
As for the subject matter of the show Brother Joe was on: thanks to Bud Selig, George Mitchell gets the unenviable task of sorting out the steroid story. Whether that means hunting down every player who shot up a testosterone derivative over the past seven, or ten, or fifteen years; or if it just means getting Barry Bonds, is anyone's question.
The posters for the new X-Men movie--y'know, the ones with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry looking off into the distance, the ones that are plastered all over the transit system here in the Big Apple--look like ads for the H&M clothing stores.
I'm not sayin', I'm just...sayin'.
Under the file of "things I wish I could forget," I'm in the bathroom in my office building, and there's a guy in one of the stalls, doing his business and talking on the phone. Now, that's a matter of questionable etiquette right there, but after a second, it becomes evident that he's on the phone, setting up a job interview with a protential employer, while dropping a deuce.
I'm profoundly happy that I didn't know who was on that phone. Nonetheless, kinda curious--did he get that job? What kind of place keeps an interview appointment with a guy who's grunting through a phone call?
Word's coming through the grapevine that perhaps the Kris Benson/Anna Benson union might be on the rocks. If so, I hope that, no matter what the end result of the divorce, Kris keeps his Anna Benson Cy Young Incentive Plan.
Not that it was likely to happen, or anything. But we can all dream, can't we?
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Sure, Randy Johnson may earn $16 million annually pitching for the New York Yankees, but that hasn't stopped the baseball star from trying to legally nickel and dime a woman with whom he had a "secret" child out of wedlock.It doesn't look like TSG sought Johnson's comment on this story before running it, so the story contains uncontested claims by the child's mother that Johnson has only seen his daughter once, is totally uninvolved in her life, that Johnson agreed to continue paying the daycare expenses when the mother decided to stop working full-time, and that the fight started because Johnson was too cheap to pay for community college classes and a car for his daughter. As expected, Johnson's public image--already pretty dim--has taken a hit, with people saying all the usual things about out-of-touch millionaires and such.
As someone who has a bit of professional experience in this area, I find it hard to get moralistic on Johnson, based on this article. When you're talking about Family Law, there's almost always more to the story than meets the eye; given the sums in controversy between these folks, this looks like a situation where Johnson's motion is motivated by personal factors or principle. With just the mother's say-so to go on, there's no way to say much of anything about this story, other than "ooh, Randy Johnson has a kid we didn't know about!"
These days, that's not much of a story.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Nothing like a good, activity-filled Sunday to point out how lousy the workweek can be. Last Monday, I came back from a long weekend, sunburned and distracted. This Monday, after spending my Sunday talking baseball, meeting some cool people, and shooting pool with Brother Joe, things came at me too fast and furious to loll around in a daze. I'm lucky my sunburn has passed, because I didn't even have time for pain today.
Since I have to get to sleep, in order to have a similarly hectic Tuesday, here's a question for everyone: are you ready for the season?
It's less than a week away, now, and I feel unprepared. Sure, I want baseball to start, but I find myself a bit unengaged with the Yanks. This Yankees team is basically the same as the one that lost to the Angels six months ago; the only significant difference being Johnny Damon. And as relieved as I am to have Damon on our side, his addition is not a transformative change--not like the overhaul of the starting rotation last year, or the addition of A-Rod and Sheffield two years back. Damon's a good player, but basically he's coming aboard to recoup some percentage of what the Yanks lost when Bernie Williams decided to start aging on them. And the fact is, as much as I like Damon's defense (if he can take the field, that is) I don't think there's much chance he'll be the offensive force that Williams was on the championship teams of the late '90s. It's not extremely logical to expect any of the starting pitchers--except maybe Carl Pavano, when and if he finally shows up--to perform better than they did last year. Mussina and the Unit are both old, and Mussina, at the very least, seems to be in an inescapable vortex of decline. Chacon and Wang (and Aaron Small) don't strike guys out, meaning that they are stuck depending on the Yankees' not-so-awesome defense for support. I'm having a hard time being optimistic, specially when I think of any ball hit to the right side of the field, where Cano, Giambi, and Sheffield are left to deal with it.
So I guess you could say I'm in the doldrums a bit. No, I'm not predicting a pinstriped collapse. The Yanks should be right up there against the constantly-improving-but-still-vulnerable Red Sox in the division, with a really good chance at another first place finish. None of the other contestants improved enough to move into the Yanks/Sox weight division, meaning it would be a great shock for any of the three remaining teams to finish second, much less first. But that's not the kind of thing I cheer for.
Maybe I'll feel better on Tuesday.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
When I wrote yesterday's (technically, earlier today's) piece about the Romona Moore story under the title "Predictable," I'd actually started out intending to write about Barry Bonds and Alfonso Soriano. But when I was done writing about grisly murders and biased news coverage, who wanted to write about baseball anymore?
The Alfonso Soriano semi-debacle was the predictable showdown of the spring, setting up prior to the WBC, simmering while Soriano was in the tourney with Team Dominican Republic, and coming to a boil after the Dominicans were eliminated by Cuba. That Soriano refused to take the field the first time his name was written into the lineup was no surprise (Soriano's story is that there were two lineup cards and some confusion, but I don't find it terribly convincing). It was also no surprise that he caved a couple of days later. His only hope was that transactional ADD-sufferer/Nationals GM Jim Bowden could make a trade that would allow him to save a bit of face after trading for a guy who's no good at second, and both unwilling and inexperienced in the outfield.
Sounds like a disaster? Ya think so, doctor?
Soriano's dilemma is one I've never heard of coming up before, and that fact surprises me. The closest I can come is various starters over the years who have groused at being sent to the bullpen. None of them (that I recall) have ever refused to pitch--although maybe a few have retired. It probably doesn't come up that much because it's a player's game now, and because I probably wouldn't want someone as my leftfielder who didn't want to be out there. Doesn't sound like a winning formula.
But while the right principle is being served here--Soriano shouldn't be able to refuse an assignment to left, particularly on a team that has an established secondbaseman like Jose Vidro--I wonder if there are any limits. What if Frank Robinson wrote in Soriano's name at catcher or pitcher, positions where a player could easily get injured if they don't know what they're doing? Should a player just say, "Yes boss," under those circumstances?
Even though those aren't the circumstances in this case, I still feel a little bit of sympathy for Soriano. Before Bowden got it in his head to acquire him, Soriano was a second baseman in a park ideally suited to his skills, where he was virtually guaranteed 30+ homers in his walk year. That's a valuable asset, no matter how bad his glove is at second. He goes from that to being an outfielder in one of the worst offensive parks in the majors. There's a word for low-OBP, 20 or so homer corner outfielders in the majors--that word is "fungible." Bowden may have cost Soriano $30 million or so. Yep, that would tick me off, too.
In other predictable news, the headline that made its way around on Thursday "Bonds Planning to Sue." Although the idea seemed to cause many folks much consternation, the analogy that kept running through my head was "Aaron Gleeman Planning Threeway with Jessica Alba and Elisha Cuthbert." It's pretty much the same deal: both are situations where the planning isn't the tough part, it's the execution that's tricky.
In Barry's case, the early word is that the execution isn't going so well. As far as I can tell, Barry's case against the writers of Game of Shadows (horrible title!) isn't that they lied about his steroid use, but that they used illegally-obtained Grand Jury testimony to do it. To Bonds's credit, this means that he wasn't trying to suppress sale of the book, but rather trying to make sure that the writers and publishers saw no profit from the book's sales.
But still, one gets the feeling that Bonds is suing more for the sake of being able to say that he sued than for any other reason. This was utterly predictable given the universal calls from reporters, upon the release of GoS's excerpts, that "If Bonds is innocent, why doesn't he sue?"
When people find out I'm a lawyer, they'll often rattle off some complex scenario, always ending with the sentence "Can I sue?" Not to be a semantic jackass, but that's the wrong question. Just about anyone can bring a law suit, for just about any reason. The question is never truly "can I sue" it's "can I win?"
I'll go out on a limb and say Barry can't win. Sometimes, winning isn't the goal. Sad, but predictably so.
Tomorrow I'm out in Montclair, New Jersey, at the Yogi Berra museum, with the crew from Baseball Prospectus. Hopefully, see you there.
For example, this story in the New York Times brought up the disparity in treatment between three crimes. Three years ago, a young college student named Romona Moore went missing. She was a good girl, well-known for keeping her routine. At that time, when her parents tried to get help on Romona's disappearance, they couldn't get the police to open a case, and they couldn't get any attention from the media. Romona's disappearance was overshadowed by the disappearance of a white, middle-aged rare books dealer from the Upper East Side. Sixteen days after she disappeared, Romona turned up dead. She had been violated and tortured before she died. Eventually her killers were caught, although--based upon the Times' account--it was no victory of strong policework:
As the trial of the two men accused of killing Ms. Moore has unfolded, the allocation of police resources has been on display. Defense lawyers pointed out lost evidence and searches in which investigators overlooked condoms, condom wrappers, chains, bloody tools and clothes stained with bodily fluids. On the witness stand, Detective John Cantone was forced to admit that he had left several rooms out of a crime scene sketch and marked north as south.In contrast, the rare book dealer was never found, despite the unusual care and resources allocated to her case.
The reason that the disparity of treatment Ms. Moore's disappearance received three years ago was in the spotlight this week, was because the trial of the two men responsible for Romona's death concluded, and the verdict was held until Thursday--just in time for the verdict to be overshadowed by the redball crime of the moment, the case of Imette St. Guillen. Ms. St. Guillen was raped and murdered a few weeks ago, after a night of drinking in bars downtown. Since then, her picture has been a fixture on the covers of the local tabloids, every detail of her case a new excuse to run pictures of the pretty, young, tragically dead woman.
The treatment Ms. St. Guillen has received, in death, is typical of New York City's reaction to the death of someone beautiful. All violent deaths in New York seem to be placed on a spectrum, in the decision of how much attention we pay to them. The top of the charts are young women, beautiful, whose family and friends have lots of good photographs of them. Ranks are drawn according to race, neighborhood, and perceived virtue (i.e., social workers, students, and "actresses" have priorities over strippers and junkies). Next in line are children, again, seemingly ranked by looks and the number of good photographs available, girls taking priority over boys. Mixed in there, are members of society, with emphasis on people with good connections to government (police priority) or to the press (media priority). There are x-factors throughout the process: more attention paid to someone who's killed on a slow news day, for example.
And it's not just New York, either. I mean, how many front pages and hours of television news have been dedicated to Natalee Holloway, the teenager who didn't return from her vacation to Aruba? Yes, her disappearance is tragic, but the coverage is out of all proportion with the event. How many teens have disappeared since Holloway disappeared last May? Why is this young girl, and her family, more important than anyone else who's gone missing in that time?
Back to Romona and Imette, the conflict noted in the Times piece was that by announcing the verdict in the Moore case on Thursday, it would run afoul of the arraignment of the suspect in the St. Guillen murder, in the same courthouse.
The Times called it correctly on Thursday morning. On my ride to work the next day, I didn't pick up the newspaper--a combination of disgust, and the simple fact that there's not much baseball news around this time to make the newspaper worth my fifty cents. Then, on the train, I wound up sitting next to an abandoned Daily News.
Imette's story got three whole pages of the newspaper, pages 2-4. That's one page on her family's reactions, one page on the arraignment, and another page divided between one of the News' columnists, and a graphic pointing out the evidence against the accused murderer.
The first degree murder convictions in the Moore case were buried on page 9, at the bottom of the page. Without irony, the story noted Romona's mother's anger at the news media and the police.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Some context: last month, a person from National Public Radio approached me for an interview on the Florida Marlins. They'd noticed that I was the primary guy writing Notebook columns on the Fish, making me, in effect, BP's reporter on the Florida beat. My first instinct, as always, is to turn over an opportunity like this to someone more qualified. This is a risk when you run with the guys at BP, because there's always someone more qualified: Brother Joe does lots of radio and television appearances, Neil DeMause knows more about ballparks and finance, and Dayn Perry and Rany Jazayerli know more about the team's prospects. I could go on and on.
But then again, I thought to myself, this guy read the website, and the things we write there. He picked me, so me he gets.
So, a few weeks later, I found myself in a broom-closet-sized room at the offices for Canadian Broadcast Radio, which also contains the New York Bureau of NPR's Marketplace. In the room with me was a computer terminal, hooked up to some headphones and a big honkin' microphone. In California, Ethan, the correspondent who'd contacted me, was on the other end of a similar (but in my mind, better-looking) setup.
I don't know why the high sound quality of my cross-country studio hookup surprised me. This was, after all, a professional radio outfit. I guess my idea of talk radio comes from the generally lousy reception of WFAN I used to get in my old apartment. As Ethan and I talked prior to getting started, my voice boomed over the headphones--and for once, I wasn't appalled. Usually, I hate my voice, to the extent that I wince whenever the answering machine kicks on while I'm at home. But with the high-quality feedback, I tried my best to file down the qualities in my voice that annoy me most, prior to answering any questions.
What followed was about 15 minutes of Q&A (with emphasis on the "A") on the Marlins, their ownership, their relocation chances, and their prospects for 2006 and beyond. Since we were on tape, Ethan asked few questions and each time basically just let me run my mouth to the point of exhaustion, before asking the next question. The upside was that I'd prepared for the interview, and had all sorts of facts at my disposal. I'd even gotten Jonah Keri to advance me a copy of his terrific essay for Baseball Between the Numbers, about the genius of previous Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga (and yes, I did manage to work the plug into an answer). The downside is, with that high-fidelity microphone, turning a page in studio sounds like you're ripping apart a piece of aluminum siding.
Still, it was a good talk, with only a few hiccups--asking a lawyer (okay, maybe just asking me) about the finer points of tax law is not good radio. After the interview, Ethan told me that he would be interviewing Marlins' president David Samson for the piece, and that I'd be alerted when the piece was to air. To be fair, I wasn't terribly dilligent, until I suddenly thought, earlier this week, "whatever happened to that interview?"
Turns out it aired three weeks back. Here's a link to the piece. The fifteen minutes I spent talking got condensed to about 15 seconds, little more than a sound bite in a short (circa 4 min) segment. But it's a fine beginning, and the next time someone asks, I'll be nowehere near as nervous.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
In retrospect, the matchup did favor Japan. Cuba's righthanded-heavy lineup played into the strength of Japan's righthanded pitchers, particulaly those with unorthodox deliveries. Japan, with more lefty bats in the lineup, also enjoyed the advantage of Petco Park, which favors southpaws greatly.
The game featured an exciting middle section, where Cuba got into the game and threatened to take the lead, bracketed between the early innings, where Japan got a quick 4-1 lead, and the ninth, when the Japanese team cracked it open.
All told, it was a fine end to a fine tournament. The only sad thing was the scheduling, which had the game ending around 1:00 AM Eastern. With work the next day (and my mother-in-law sleeping on our couch) I couldn't stay up to watch the post-game celebration or awards ceremonies.
So, what did we learn from the first WBC? Let's start with some concrete suggestions:
The Schedule. I'll join the bandwagon of folks who think that this tourney would be better held in November, away from College Basketball, and at a time when most of the major leaguers are closer to playing shape. This will never happen. I think (no inside information, just applying some common sense) that the major reason the WBC is in March is because that is time that the Major Leaguers are supposed to be working, anyway. Remember: there are two forms of currency in labor negotiations, namely money and days off. March, when any player under contract is supposed to be doing calesthenics in Spring Training, doesn't cut into the MLPBA boys' vacations.
More Foreign Umps. This one has to happen, if only for smell test reasons. Major League umps can man the non-USA matches, but umpiring crews for Team USA's games should have, at least, a neutral crew chief, if not an entire neutral country crew. I was relieved when the Japanese team advanced to the semis--even though it was at Team USA's expense--because it would have been horrible for the first WBC to have been marred by that horrible call from the Japan/USA tilt.
Can Everyone Please Take This Seriously? I was pretty shocked when Team USA showed up for only a couple of days' worth of workouts prior to playing in the WBC. You'd have thought that someone would be coordinating to make sure pitchers started their throwing early, guys were at their playing weight earlier than usual, etc. There's no evidence that there was any more formal preparation for this than there is to playing in the All-Star Game. From the Major Leaguer's part, that is. Pretty sure that the Japanese, Cuban, and Korean teams didn't take this so cavalierly.
This is more a U.S.-specific concern than one aimed at the tourney as a whole. If you're going to play this thing, play to win. Folks want to make sure that their players are ready for the major league season, which is all well and good--but playing yo win sometimes means that you sometimes play a player out of position when there's a glut (like the U.S. had with third base--ARod and Chipper Jones made the roster, David Wright and Eric Chavez didn't), and that playing time isn't always distributed equally, to let guys get their work in. Rockies outfielder Matt Holiday and Yankees' retiree Al Leiter didn't belong on Team USA--and Leiter cost them in the first round against Canada.
Until Team USA takes this thing seriously, the WBC isn't going to be everything that it should be.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Yep. Teams from the USA, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela featured players with payrolls near or over $100 million. I don't know how much Japan's players make--there are some big ticket items in that bunch--but Cuba, whose National Team's combined salaries possibly wouldn't match the major league minimum for a single player, is in the final, while all those teams sit and watch.
Seriously, Japan wasn't favored, missing their biggest national star (Yank leftfielder Hideki Matsui), and predicted to be competing against the U.S. in the semis. That didn't happen due to the surprise performance of Korea, and the U.S.'s surprising lackluster performance (more on that in the next post).
No one gave Cuba much of a chance, despite their general domination of international baseball tourneys over the last thirty or so years. Two things made me somewhat scared of this team coming in. First, the logical issue, was that the Cuban team was coming off of its regular season, and therefore had the advantage of being in midseason form when they came to the WBC. Second, somewhat less logical, was a picture of the Cubans that they ran in the New York Times. The picture featured the team not-quite posed for the camera, as they practiced for the WBC in Cuba. There were no smiles in that shot. The look in the eyes of many of the players was hard, almost malevolent, Hungry. This is a team for which the WBC wasn't a meaningless exhibition, or an inconvenience along the way to their regular season. These guys wanted to win. Had to win.
Will they? We'll see tonight.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
I'm talking about injuries on Team USA. Cub fans might be somewhat grouchy that Derreck Lee is on the shelf, getting an MRI after he jarred his left shoulder on a diving play during the US's win against Japan. He won't be able to play in the U.S. team's Thursday matchup against Mexico.
Unlikely to play on Thursday, also, is Johnny Damon, who has a sore shoulder on his throwing arm. No word about how the soreness happened--the lack of reports of any traumatic damage makes me think he's just sore from normal baseball activities. If so, Steinbrenner should save the histrionics--players get sore in the springtime, it's part of the process of getting ready for the season. We've seen Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi go through that so far in Grapefruit League action--did we really think the WBC would be different?
Back to the Tournament, Team USA's Thursday game might not be all that important, since the U.S. could be eliminated prior to taking the field. If they survive the results of the Japan/Korea showdown, the U.S. will put Roger Clemens on the mound for the Mexico game, in hopes of making it to the semis.
This isn't quite what anyone imagined when this tourney was announced--Team USA having to sweat a game against Mexico, or losing to South Korea. One of the ways that baseball is different from other games is the way that any one starting pitcher can change the tide of a short series. Dontrelle Willis is a good pitcher, who had two bad starts. In the regular season, conscutive bad outings are a hiccup, in a tournament like this, they're the difference between success and failure.
On a happier note, the Dominican team made the semis, by beating Venezuela, 2-1 last night. After the game, fellow BU alum Paul, one of the guys on the BP email list wrote in just to say "What's better than that game?" That was the whole email. That said it all.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Bad defense (catcher Juan Brito failing to tag Jose Cruz Jr. after Cruz Jr. failed to tag the plate in the 7th). Boneheaded baserunning (Moises Alou getting tagged out trying to stretch a single into a double, down 7-1 in the bottom of the same inning). Bad, bad, horrible in-game managing.
Pop quiz: 2nd and 3rd, 2 outs, down 7-1 in the 7th inning. Do you go down with Juan Brito, your hitless catcher (.561 OPS in MLB, .258 BA, .342 SLG in nine years in the minors)? On a team with Ronnie Belliard, Placido Polanco, and Willie Mo Pena, and two other catchers on the roster? As they said in Boogie Nights, "Ya think so, doctor?"
Manny Acta, the Dominican Manager, thinks otherwise. Swing away, Juan, and hope for the best!
How 'bout this: in the 6th, game tied at 1, Carlos Beltran, Javy Lopez, and Jose Cruz, Jr. coming up. Lopez bats righty. Beltran and Cruz switch-hit, but both are better against lefties than righties over the last three years--Cruz more than 100 points of OPS better.
Who does Acta bring in? Damaso Marte. Lefty Damaso Marte. Marte doesn't retire any of those three batters, and all of them score.
I've heard that Acta's the best guy out there without a managing job. I've heard his name attached to a few managing rumors. Maybe he just had a bad game, but he showed us nothing in this game.
If it weren't for the utterly boneheaded way the Dominicans played tonight, this would be an all-time great day of baseball viewing for me. Starting in the early afternoon, with me catching the tail end of Cuba/Venezuela (nice performance by Cuba, in victory); continuing with USA/Japan in Anaheim (missed the first inning because my cable system insisted that "Tennis" was what was showing on ESPN2); then DR/PR, and (as I write) Mexico/Korea on the tube. I doubt I'll see this to the end, but I'll go as long as I can, and still make my dental appointment in the morning.
Team USA's victory against Japan was marred by controversy, and to be quite honest, the Japanese got hosed by bad umpiring. Japanese second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka was on third base with one out in the 8th inning. Batter lofts a soft, short fly ball to the spaghetti-noodle arm of Randy Winn in left, and Winn throws wide of the bag as the speedy Nishioka comes in to score easily. The U.S. appeals at third, the catcher throwing to Derek Jeter for a tag, and second base ump Brian Knight called safe at third.
Buck Martinez--not my favorite manager, by any means--came out to argue that Knight should not have made the call, that it was the home plate umpire's call to make. Former major league ump Bob Davidson overrode the call, and called Nishioka out.
Bad call, the replay showed.
Not to slag the umps, because when I first saw the play it looked like Nishioka left early. It looks to me like this is the result of Nishioka's baserunning technique. Normally, when you see the tag-up play in the majors, the runner backs up to the bag, and rests his back foot on the edge that faces home plate, like a pitcher against the pitching rubber. Once the ball is caught, the runner--who has been standing still for at least a beat--pushes powerfully off that back leg and tears ass toward the plate.
Nishioka (it looked to me, if you saw it differently, please feel free to comment) seemed to start straddling the bag and run across it on his first step, putting his body in motion just before Winn made the catch, but with his lead foot still on the bag as the ball dropped into Winn's glove. It seems like a great way to handle that play, a half-step running start prior to leaving the bag probably makes a big difference.
Except, it also makes it harder for the ump to make the call. Davidson likely only saw that Nishioka's body was in motion prior to the catch, without actually seeing whether his foot was on the bag or not. I felt badly enough for Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh that it dimmed my joy at seeing Alex Rodriguez collect the big walk-off hit in the ninth inning.
One decision that didn't get a lot of press, but was mentioned by Bill Madden last week, is that MLB tried to get the Major League Umps to work these games. However, given some hard-nosed (some would say hard-headed) negotiation by the Big League umps, and the time pressure that there was to put these games in place, minor league umpires were signed up to work the WBC. I don't know that it would have made a difference, but if the Japanese wind up missing the semi-finals, it'd be nice to be able to say that the very best umpires available made the call.
Terminator IV: The Barry Bonds Edition: Speaking of Madden, here's what former commissioner Bowie Kuhn had to say to him about Barry Bonds's place in the record books:
"I certainly believe the commissioner has the power to invalidate records," Kuhn said by phone from his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "In my view, it's inherent in the 'best interests of the game' clause. I think if a player was found to have cheated his way to a record, that record could be and probably should be invalidated."The question here isn't whether the Commissioner has the power to invalidate records, but rather, whether the Commissioner has the power to go back in time. Records are just documentation of what happened in the games. You can try to erase Bonds's name from the record books, but you can't change what happened in those games where Bonds hit homers. You can't change the 2002 NLCS or NLDS.
Unless Bud Selig finds out how to change the past, he should leave the record book alone. What happened, happened. The best you can do is make people understand why it happened.
I wish that there could be an amnesty on the steroids issue: no consequences so long as players come clean about what they were doing over the past 20 years (an arbitrary time frame). Then we could actually figure out what the heck was going on, and what the effects were on the game.
Sure, it's a pie-in-the-sky idea. Players would never risk prosecution by the authorities to tell the truth. But wouldn't it be nice if it could happen? To have actual knowledge of the truth, rather than doubts and questions overshadowing a whole era?
Sulu! What Has Happened To You? I know Bartolo Colon's heavy, but man, I gasped when I saw him on the mound in the Quisqueya/Boricua battle. The reigning AL Cy Young winner is simply rotund, Rick Reuschel-sized. Looks like Babar. And yeah, I say that knowing I'm not quite a matchstick myself.
It's amazing to see someone so corpulent do so well at such a high level, but you'd have to wonder if Colon would have been better-equipped to pitch in the playoffs last year if he put any effort at all into staying in shape. For any of you who forgot, Colon had to leave Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yanks, after one inning, and then was unable to answer the bell in the ALCS, which the Angels lost to the White Sox in five games.
Again, You Use That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means:In the PR/DR game, one of the color guys--I think Orestes Destrade, but you can never tell--described the "hitting zone" where you want to hit a baseball, saying "It's an imaginary zone..."
Imaginary means it doesn't exist in reality, just in the mind. No matter what you say about the strike zone, or any place within it, it exist in the physical world. Bat actually meets ball in reality. I heard that, and I started wondering if someone had slipped me some crazy pills.
The World Has Gotten Too Complicated: Damaso Marte comes into DR/PR in the sixth, and play is stopped because he had on the wrong Dominican Republic lid--blue bill instead of red bill. Manny Acta was probably so concerned about the rule requiring that a team's uniforms be, well, uniform, that he forgot that Marte was lefthanded, facing three guys that mash lefties. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
This just made me nostalgic for the days when teams had two uniforms--road and away--and one cap they wore all year. Yeah, I know how important it is to squeeze the WBC for every cent possible with the merchandizing, but did D.R. really need two caps for a tourney that is, at best, eight games long? Nonetheless, the Team DR unis for the Classic do look good, beating the "Dominicano Soy" ("I am Dominican!) unis Licey wore in the Caribbean World Series.
A Total Ellipse of the Heart: After praising DR's getup, I have to admit that Team USA's lids are a complete tragedy. The "U.S." logo, in front of a star, looks like an abstract painting, and I don't mean that in a good way...The matchup I'm currently watching, Mexico-Korea, sounds like a great restaurant concept. I'm sure I'd much rather have a Taco Deop Bap than a Caesar Salad Burrito, by Taco Bell...Kind of ironic that the vaguely racist "Samurod" ads--video game ads featuring a fat guy who claims to play for Osaka in the Japanese League--are running during the WBC...Did I miss anything, watching baseball rather than the Sopranos tonight? On second thought, don't answer that.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
- A seven-inning mercy-rule no-hitter by Shairon Martis in the eliminated portion of Pool C (the ones in Puerto Rico), Nederlands over Panama, 10-0. I'm sure someone out there will blame Mariano Rivera for this. A walk and an error keeps this from being a perfect game, but Martis doesn't get all the credit: he didn't register a single strikeout, so he needed a little help from his friends to get every single one of those outs. I guess you need to do that in order to register a no-no in only 65 pitches.
- Team USA giving South Africa the sort of treatment Schillinger gave Toby in the first season of OZ (or, you could argue to extend the metaphor, the type of treatment the U.S. often gives Africa as a whole). That's 17-0 in five innings, for those of you scoring at home. A-Rod and Jeter each got three hits, both were outperformed by Ken Griffey Jr, who went 4-4 with two homers and seven RBI. Roger Clemens threw 58 easy pitches before being removed, with 6 Ks.
- Puerto Rico flambasted Cuba, 12-2, for the 8th-inning mercy rule. Now, here's how you know you're a baseball junkie: you haven't slept terribly much over the last few days, and you had a long day of work on Friday. Flipping around the channels, you see "baseball" on at 2:00 AM on ESPN2. It's 1:00AM, but you start saying to yourself maybe. Then you're watching the pre-game and it's PR-Cuba, and you think to yourself, "I'll just catch an inning to see that second baseman everyone's so excited about." Next thing you know, your favorite Yankee of the early 90's Bernie Williams, blasts a big home run against the Cubans, to put PR up, 2-0. And eventually, you realize that you're waking up and falling asleep in small slices, to the point where the fourth inning features a strobe effect. At one point, you think you're going insane because you doze off and wake up four times, and each time a different guy is on the mound for Cuba (or is he?) and each time, it still says fourth inning on the screen. Finally, you go to sleep, disgusted at yourself for being a lightweight who'll only stay up until 4:00AM to watch baseball.
- And the one non-mercy-rule game of the day, the Boys from Down Under gave Team DR a harder than expected time, ultimately losing 6-4. For the Dominicans, the keyword of this matchup was "heat" as Oriole pitcher Daniel Cabrera and Twins phenom Francisco Liriano took the mound for Team DR. Things got exciting toward the end of the game, when Duaner Sanchez opened the door for the Australians, before former Yank farmhand Damaso Marte went out there and shut the door, again. It was not a must-win for DR--the team was advancing to the second round any which way you cut it.
Guilty pleasure watching Team Cuba. On the one hand, I had to watch, because of the lure of seeing ballplayers that we are usually banned from seeing play--such as Yulieski Gurriel, the second baseman I mentioned earlier. On the other hand, I understand the pain of protesters against Fidel Castro's government, who initially supported the ban on Cuba's national team in the Classic. Indeed, I wouldn't have been that broken up had their plan, of allowing Cuban ex-pats and folks of Cuban heritage to form their own Team Free Cuba--even though this would have been the diplomatic equivalent of a slap on the face, followed by urinating all over them while they're trying to pick themselves off the floor. So I was happy to see that protesters got to say their piece on TV, by bringing "Down with Fidel" posters into Hiram Bithorn stadium, for a game that was carried live in Cuba.
A few days ago, I read someone over on Baseball Primer get all upset at Dan LeBatard, for what they considered inconsistent views on Barry Bonds and Cuba. The idea was that LeBatard didn't care about the rules when it came to Barry, but was a stickler for them when it came to Cuba--only because his relatives had been mistreated by Castro.
OK: Castro has been known to jail and murder people for dissenting against his government. And for owning books. And for being gay.
But Barry Bonds is a worse guy than Castro (mass murderer and tyrant), that's for sure. No two ways about it: Barry likely perjured himself in front of a Grand Jury, and he might have cheated on his taxes. Oh, and he almost certainly took illegal drugs to improve his athletic performance.
I'm wondering why everyone isn't more worked up about the taxes. Barry Bonds is in the category of people I'd term "absurdly wealthy." He can't pay taxes on money he gets from card shows? He's possibly robbing money from our service men and women in Iraq and from schoolchildren in the Bay Area! If it's true, I hope they throw the book at him.
But the last "crime" sure doesn't come to the standard of the first two. But it's the one everyone--Fay Vincent, the press, Congress--is talking about. Ugh.
Look, I'm someone who actually has reason to be angry at Barry Bonds. Back in 2002, I believed his steroid denials, and went on the record with it, on the very first baseball article I had published online, I put these words in Barry's mouth:
Oops. My bad. Barry made a fool of me, and that makes him a certified Lying Bastard, and takes him off my Christmas-card list. But I still can't get too worked up over the "crime" of juicing, particularly before MLB bothered to ban the practice. Go figure. And if that makes me one of those "dangerous" moral relativists, so be it.
Barry Bonds, one of the suspended players, objects to the new policy.
"First they said that baseball had been diluted by too much expansion, bad pitchers, small ballparks. Then they said I must have cheated, but I didn't take steroids and my bat wasn't corked. Now it's that my genes are too good.
"I broke the stupid record. Get over it."
Thursday, March 09, 2006
On one front, he faced reports from a new book, about the steroid abuses of Barry Bonds. Game of Shadows (awful, awful title!) is the culmination of intense investigation by two respected San Franscisco reporters (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams). Excerpts of the book are in this week's Sports Illustrated, and they've ignited a firestorm around Bonds, and around Selig, as more and more people demand that the Commissioner's office investigate the allegations from this book.
Now, I haven't read the book, or picked up SI to get the full excerpts, yet. What I've read are the teases and summaries available online, but it doesn't seem like there's much new material in this book, just more details on previously-published reports about the BALCO grand jury testimony, Bonds' ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, and the various statements the BALCO defendants gave to federal investigators. This is about as close as I ever expect to come to "proof" that Bonds used performance enhancing drugs, from 1998--after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation by belting the ball out of the park at a rate not seen since the 60's, and ultimately, not seen ever before--until this BALCO story broke, in 2003 or 2004.
Selig's dilemma is twofold. First of all, this Bonds situation stands to cast an ugly shadow over the 2006 season, a time when Bonds is almost certain to pass Babe Ruth on the career home run list, if he can play. The second problem Selig faces about Bonds, is that while seemingly the whole world--including former Commissioner Fay Vincent--is demanding that a John Dowd-style investigator be appointed to dig into Bonds's past, Selig would probably have a hard time justifying an investigation of conduct which wasn't against Major League Baseball's rules at the time that Bonds is alleged to have done it.
Again, I tend to blame Selig for everything under the sun, but I can't blame MLB's lack of a steroid policy pre-2003 on Selig alone. Vincent, his predecessor, made the same mistake. So the question I would love to ask Fay Vincent is: for what purpose should Selig investigate Bonds? Does Vincent think that Selig has the authority to discipline Bonds for steroid-related things prior to the MLB policy coming into effect in 2003? If so, how?
On another front, Selig's pet project, the World Baseball Classic, was under dire threat on Thursday. You see, on Wednesday the Canadian team (yep, the same Canadian team that almost lost to South Africa the other day shocked the world, besting team USA. For reasons Bud can't have appreciated at the time, baseball knocked the NBA and College Basketball off the back pages for a day.
That left the WBC's premier team at a small but substantial chance of being eliminated prior to their Friday game against South Africa: a low-scoring win by Mexico (2-1 or less) would have eliminated the U.S. under the WBC's twisted sense of tiebreakers.
Luckily, those scenarios were out the window in the first inning of the Canada/Mexico tilt, as Mexico scored four times in the opening frame, and went on the beat the Canuckers, 9-1. Since it's pretty well certain that the U.S. will beat South Africa, America's place in the Tourney is safe.
Now, if we could only say that about the Commissioner.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
- The rematch of the Dominican Republic/Venezuela grudge match, this one won by D.R., 11-5. The Dominicans got off to an early lead against Johan Santana thanks to some early thunder by David Ortiz. Big Papi hit two homers, and was matched by Adrian Beltre--probably the guy who was happiest when A-Rod wound up on the U.S. roster.
- Team USA playing a close-looking match against Mexico, winning 2-0. According to Brother Joe, who was in attendance, the U.S. pitcher's dominance was more profound than it will look in the box score. Derreck Lee and Chipper Jones supplied all the offense the home team needed.
- A pitcher's duel between Puerto Rico and Panama, which P.R. won, 2-1. The go-ahead run was driven in by lead-off man/DH Bernie Williams, scoring Alex Cintron.
- And the wildest game of the day, the Canada/South Africa matchup. South Africa, one of the much-derided teams allegedly brought in to pad out the tournament, took a lead into the ninthlame-duck reliever Paul Quantrill. If they could have held the lead, this would have been a shocking victory for the South Africans, who don't have a single major leaguer (or, apparently, even any former major leaguers) on their roster, against a team with a fair amount of major league talent.
I think it's fair to say that many of the folks who were tearing down the WBC kind of forgot that live baseball that means something is pretty cool, regardless of strange rules, pitch counts, and depleted rosters. I'm dying because--since two of the games happened while I was at work, and another was on ESPN Deportes and not carried on my cable system, I missed it all. At least I caught part of this afternoon's Spring Training game against the Twins, which the Yanks won, 5-0.
On the sadder side of things, Kirby Puckett passed away. Personally, I feel bad because recently, I wrote some negative things about Kirby in the context of Albert Belle. It's a shame to be left with such an awful final impression of a great player like Puckett. In his prime, Kirby was a slasher with great hops, a threat on offense and defense. From all outward appearance he enjoyed playing the game, truly and deeply. For all of that, he was one of the most admired players of my youth.
I wish I didn't know all the stuff that came later. One of the things I enjoy about the kind of work I do for Baseball Prospectus is the fact that I don't have to meet the athletes. I've always been apprehensive of meeting athletes, artists or other celebrities whose work I really like, because I want to be able to enjoy the work for itself. I don't want the fact that so-and-so was rude when I went to get an autograph interfere with my enjoyment of his home runs, and I don't want to be thinking about a guy's extramarital affairs while I'm watching him pitch a shutout. I'd rather enjoy the game than "know" for certain that the player's a great guy or a jerk.
The possible enjoyment I could derive from meeting Don Mattingly, or Martin Scorcese, or Prince is outweighed by the chance that after meeting them, I might no longer be able to enjoy Donnie Baseball's coiled snake batting stance, or Raging Bull, or Purple Rain. Not being able to enjoy those things is a price that's too high for me to pay. Sure, that's a kind of cowardice, but so far, it's a kind of cowardice I can live with.
I wish I could say that losing Kirby Puckett was painful. I see the way that Batgirl is taking this, and, in a strange way, I envy her emotion. I know that once upon a time I would have been floored by Puckett's extremely untimely death. I would have been able to wax poetic about how we don't see players like Kirby anymore--not his style of play, not his joy on the field, or even simply the shape of his body. All the personal revelations robbed me of that, and they've left me dry-eyed.
So all I can do is to give my condolences to Mike R (the first Twins fan I ever met) and to Batgirl, and to Aaron Gleeman, and John Sickels, and to all those other people whose lives were genuinely touched--for the better--by this man. You have my sympathies.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
First of all, the WBC est arrive! Two games a day from the Asian pool in Japan--sadly, one of them starting around 4:00 AM EST. So far, Japan and South Korea have impressed, China and Taiwan (or "Chinese Taipei") not so much so. Korea starts an entire outfield with the surname "Lee."
Although the Asians are already playing, the rest of the world is just tuning up. Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Al Leiter left for Phoenix yesterday, to commence their search for WBC...er, Gold? Do these guys even get medals if they win?
Whatever they get, Team USA's chances took a decided upturn this week when three future Hall of Famers begged off the WBC for the Dominican Republic. The most predictable of these was Pedro Martinez, who has been struggling since last year with a damaged big toe. Although this is a loss for Team DR, Mets fans might feel some relief that their ace won't be taxing himself in the pre-season. Manny Ramirez says he isn't ready to play, but whether that's a measure of his physical shape or mental preparation is an open question. Vlad Guerrero's problems are on the mental and emotional side--he lost three cousins this week in an auto accident. Our condolences go out to him, and his family.
The idea's out there that these losses for Team DR mean that the tournament is now a meaningless side show. After all, the point of the competition was to see DR's murderer's row of Ramirez, Vlad, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, and Miguel Tejada, against the Yankee top of the order (Damon, Jeter, Rodriguez) Barry Bonds, Derrick Lee, Vernon Wells, and Chipper Jones.
With Bonds, Manny, and Vlad out of action, the super-duper All Star Team feel of this event is certainly diminished; but the real test will come with the games, and the crowds. As we saw with the Caribbean World Series, you don't need All-Stars at every position to get a crowd excited for the national team. If the games are good enough--that is, if the better teams don't treat this like an All-Star exhibition, the WBC will have made a fine enough debut.
Back to Team USA, prior to the stars' (and Al Leiter's) departure, the Yanks opened up Legends Field, complete with fireworks, F-15 flyover, and all that jazz. You can't say that George Steinbrenner doesn't care. Nonetheless, the display wasn't enough to make any of his high-priced stars give up this WBC foolishness and stay in Yankee Spring Training, where they belong (in George's mind at least). The beat goes on...
A few notes:
- Let the hand-wringing begin! The first serious injury of the WBC has been reported: South Korean cleanup hitter Kim Dong Joo has a broken bone in his shoulder, expected to sideline him for at least three months. Dong Joo, Korea's starting thirdbaseman, suffered the injury on a head-first slide into first base against Chinese Taipei on Friday--which is just further confirmation that the slide into first is one of the dumbest plays in baseball.
- Headline in Newsday reads "Specter of Injury Haunts Wright." My first reaction was, Will Carroll may be losing weight, but calling him a "specter" is sheer hyperbole. Seriously, Jaret Wright talks with candor to Jim Baumbach about how afraid he is that he'll get hurt again. I appreciate the candor, but where was this prior to him signing a big-money deal with the Yanks? I wonder if Wright ever asks himself if he could have stayed healthy, if only he'd remained with Leo Mazzone and the Braves.
- One more note about the Negro League election. Among the 17 persons inducted by the special committee were five executives--Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, J.L. Wilkinson, and Sol White. Going into this election, there were 24 Executives and Pioneers in the Hall, and one of them, Rube Foster, was previously inducted through the Negro League process. That means that in one jump, the size of the execs "wing" of the Hall of Fame rose by 17%, and that roughly a quarter of the top executives in baseball history came out of the Negro Leagues or its predecessors (for this purpose, I'm eliminating guys who were solely pioneers, like Candy Cumming, Henry Chadwick, and George Wright). Not to begrudge anyone the honors bestowed upon them--and this isn't a rhetorical question--but does that seem a bit high to anyone? Is it low? Just right?
- Speaking of the new inductees, the Battle of the Buck has highlit some of the downsides of one inductee, Alex Pompez, who apparently once ran an illegal gambling ring, and at one point fled the U.S. while under indictment. Personally, I doubt that makes Mr. Pompez a worse person than Ty Cobb, but I'm sure that it might breathe new life into the partisans behind Pete Rose's candidacy. Yuck.
Friday, March 03, 2006
A more reasoned, but angrier response comes from the KC Star's Joe Posnanski. Here's a taste:
By dumping 17 persons into the Hall of Fame, they matched the number of persons inducted into the hall the past seven years. But when it came to why Buck was left out, no one was talking.
“I don’t think the individuals are going to be willing to discuss their individual votes,” said Fay Vincent, who served as a nonvoting chairman of the committee. “We agreed we would not do that.”
In other words, they decided to hide. After this travesty, you could not blame them. On Monday, when it appeared that O’Neil was short the votes he needed, Vincent apparently made a frantic plea to the committee to consider O’Neil’s lifetime achievements and not just his playing days. According to the committee member, he sounded almost desperate.His words held no sway with this committee. They left him out without a word of explanation.
Joe's a terrific writer, probably my favorite "mainstream" baseball writer. Still, as a matter of full disclosure, he should have mentioned in this piece that he's writing a book on O'Neil (not that it's a secret, or anything, perhaps Posnanski assumed everyone knew). So he's close to the subject, and was probably to some extent upset about the implications of this unexpected snub on his narrative--after all, O'Neil's induction speech this July would have been a pretty good natural end-point for a book on his life.
Anyway, Joe's piece (and various other O'Neil pieces, including the Olbermann one) have ignited a bit of a firestorm at at the Baseball Think Factory (maiden name, Baseball Primer). This conversation has included most of the Primer...er, Think Factory regulars, as well as ESPN's Rob Neyer, and a cameo or two by Posnanski himself.
I take issue with two points that Neyer, and others, have raised in these conversations. The first issue is the claim that it's unreasonable for Posnanski to expect the committee members to justify their non-vote on O'Neil, in large part because nobody ever has to justify who they didn't vote for. Members of the BWAA are constantly called to the matt by readers over why X candidate didn't get into the Hall of Fame. Maybe they don't hold a joint press conference to announce the reasons why they voted for this one and not for the others; but BWAA members frequently write about those reasons, regardless of whether they're asked. It's one of the fringe benefits of voting for the Hall--most of them get a couple of easy columns a year out of their participation in the voting.
The more important reason the Committee should talk about their votes is because--unlike with most elections--part of the reason they were making this decision was because it was considered that everyone else was unqualified to. To put it more simply, if the BWAA snubs Bert Blyleven--as they did this year, again--I have an opinion about that. I can look at the historical record, see how he performed, see how other Hall of Famers from his era performed, and see whether I believe he belongs. Thanks to tools devised by guys like Clay Davenport, I can do the same if the Hall of Fame is considering a 19th Century player. If they're considering an executive, there's usually a large body of literature on the specific team or person being considered for enshrinement, and again facts (you might call them stats) on how well the executive's team performed or the effect of their innovations.
Although there's quite a bit of literature on the Negro Leagues, the volume of literature isn't the same. The prospect of this Negro League ballot was the election of a number of names I'd never heard of (and I'm not proud of that fact) and two fellows that I did know: one because he was a major leaguer (Minnie Minoso) and the other because he was the voice of the Negro Leagues, the insistent voice requiring that those names I never knew not be forgotten. That's O'Neil.
So, yeah. If the result of the Committee's election is that 17 dead people we've never heard of make it, and the two living people we know don't, I'd like to hear their reasoning. They're the experts, they shouldn't have trouble justifying those choices. I know it's not standard practice, but then again, neither was this election standard practice.
The second big complaint from the Buck O'Neil thread was that you'd have to create a new category of Hall-of-Famer in order to enshrine Buck O'Neil--"CONTRIBUTOR" as Neyer all-capsedly called it, as opposed to the current Hall of Fame categories of Player, Manager, Umpire, and Executive/Pioneer.
With all due respect to Rob, "Look, a straw man! Let's beat it!"
The argument goes, "Buck wasn't good enough as a player to be in the Hall of Fame, his career as a manager was not long enough or distinguished enough to be in the Hall of Fame, and he wasn't an umpire or an executive (scouts don't count as execs). So you'd need a new category to induct him under, likely one called 'being Buck O'Neil.'"
Then, when you point out that "/Pioneer" in "Executive/Pioneer," and point out that O'Neil was the first post-segregation black coach, that he helped found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and that he spearheaded the charge to have other Negro Leaguers recognized by the Hall, including, most probably, all the other inductees from this and previous special elections, and maybe all that is a bit pioneering; the CONTRIBUTOR people say, "Well, that's not really being a Pioneer. Pioneers create something that changes the game on the field."
Nevermind that the definition of "pioneer" isn't the same as "inventor", never mind that some of the "pioneers" in the hall didn't actually invent anything (like Candy Cummings, who we're pretty sure didn't invent the curve ball). This is the kind of argument where you can just go 'round and 'round ad infinitum, unable to reach any resolution because the two sides have defined the terms to suit their desires. And the Hall of Fame itself isn't much help there, either--they list no criteria for electing an "Executive/Pioneer." Indeed, the "pioneer" part isn't even in their vet's committee voting rules--although some guys who never held an Executive (or management, or umpiring) position in baseball, like Marvin Miller, are eligible on the Vet's Committee ballot. Miller, by the way, did not found or "invent" the Players' Association, and technically, the MLBPA's existence doesn't change the game on the field.
Of course, the CONTRIBUTOR guys could just change the definition of Pioneer (again) to fit Miller...
My take on this is that the term "Pioneers" is there as a catch-all, to induct folks like Henry Chadwick (journalist and original stathead) Cummings (the supposed man behind the deuce) and George Wright (player who "revolutionized" the shortstop position)--people whose qualifications might defy simple or rigid definition. That, it seems to me, is Buck O'Neil. It's not a simple candidacy. It's not a slam-dunk. And possibly, it stretches the definition of things a bit--but isn't that what this election was about, to some extent?
So, going back to the first point, it would sure be nice to hear one of the four or more people on that committee who didn't vote for O'Neil explain their reasoning. Was it the no-category issue? Did they think that O'Neil's accomplishments were not baseball-related but rather media-related (we call this the "Who ever heard of him before the Ken Burns documentary?" argument)? It'd sure be nice to know.
Until then, there's nothing to do, other than mention that there is an online petition on this issue.