Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Flight 93

Fit of insomnia tonight, found myself flipping channels while meandering between a few writing assignments. On A&E, I see that the next thing on is the September 11 movie, Flight 93, about the hijacked Newark-San Francisco flight--presumably en route to Washington and the Capitol--that crashed in rural Pennsylvania after the passengers revolted against the highjackers.

I'd seen some good reviews, and the movie had come up in conversation with my brothers during our family dinner on Sunday. So I said to myself, "I'll just catch a few minutes."

Forty minutes later, I turned the TV off. It wasn't that the movie was bad--the reviews were dead-on--it was that, even four-plus years later, I could still feel that sinking feeling in my stomach. The same feeling that I had that morning, when I was running late for work, put on NY1 (the local all-news cable channel) to check and see if I needed to put on an overcoat, and found the weather report preempted by footage of the World Trade Center on fire.

The world was so different at that time, that when I saw One and Two World Trade on fire, "plane" wasn't in the top 5 explanations that came rushing into my mind. (To share some embarassment with you--and show how useless my brain can be before my first cup of coffee--one of the thoughts that popped into my head before "plane" was actually "meteor." For a moment, I looked at those assymetrical fires and thought "the trajectory is all wrong for a meteor to have hit both buildings.")

Back to the TV movie, Flight 93 is told in an un-exploitative, matter-of-fact way that seems ripped right out of the 9/11 Commission Report. Despite the lateness of the hour, the queasy feeling I got when they replayed the footage of the second plane hitting its target, I was riveted by the story--and would still be watching right now, if A&E hadn't let me off the hook with a commercial break a little bit after the half hour mark (the movie was being presented with limited commercials). When I shut off the television, my hand was shaking--the segment before the commercial break showed the highjackers storming the cockpit--and I was agitated. I still am.

I'm glad for that commercial break. I really want to see that movie, but now is not the time (literally--the film doesn't end until 2:45AM). Still, I wonder when I'll be ready to see something like this, even in TV movie reenactment. I sure wasn't ready the first time around.

Friday, January 27, 2006


...In Which We Return to Stuff We've Already Talked About, Recently.

For example, I have a new piece up over at Baseball Prospectus, an expansion of the post I wrote here earlier about the Angels'/Anaheim lawsuit ("What's in a Name?"). Since we've already gone over the legalistics, I'll give you a taste of an interesting factoid about the team that unseated the Yanks in 2002 and 2005:
Given that [Edgardo] Alfonzo has been worth less than seven WARP over the last three years, and only just turned 32 years old, he’s aged about as well as McCoy after visiting Gamma Hydra IV. Nonetheless, Alfonzo’s addition, along with the departures of Ben Molina, Paul Byrd, and Jarrod Washburn, leave the Angels with a team that’s stacked at third base (Alfonzo joining Chone Figgins, apparently-lapsed prospect Dallas McPherson, and Robb Quinlan) but thin in the outfield, at catcher, and in the rotation.

Given the current roster composition, PECOTA projects that the Angels would be the second-worst offensive team in the league, after the Royals, in 2006. That’s even with highly-touted Casey Kotchman taking over at first base, and incumbent first baseman Darin Erstad returning to center field. The next wave of Los Angeles of Anaheimian offensive talent--shortstop Brandon Wood, second baseman Howie Kendrick, Cuban refugee Kendry Morales--have played a grand total of four games at the Triple-A level (all by Wood), and are each presently blocked at the major league level. While one has to admire the Angels’ player development system, and their discipline in thinking of the long-term, this season could prove a rude awakening for Angels fans who have grown used to contending over the past few years.
In context, for the past two years the Angels have been right in the middle of the pack in terms of runs scored (7th place). Although the team is successful mainly because of its outstanding run prevention, the last time they finished lower than 10th in runs, the team finished below .500. Could be hard times in Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Revisiting Zomboid! ("Transcendental Donkeys?"), the New York Times finally got around to reviewing the play, and seemed just a little less confused than I was. As one Foreman fan who wrote in might like to note, the reviewer doesn't talk about Zomboid! being a laugh riot, and certainly not an intentional laugh riot. Still, it's a cool review of a cool performance piece. I recommend checking both out.

One downside about the WBC ("Names, Notes and Such") is that it may cause as much strife around the world as joy. At least it has in Panama, where Mariano Rivera has gone from being a local deity to being an unpatriotic SOB. The criticism actually seems to be getting to the Sandman:
Rivera's defense is simple and seemingly irrefutable: He's yet to pick up a baseball this winter and insists he won't be ready to throw a mid-90s fastball by the first week of March.

Rivera called Panama's manager Roberto Kelly, himself a former Yankee, to officially remove himself from the roster. Rivera said Kelly wished him well; the conversation ended without rancor. But peace between the two Panamanians hasn't softened the winds of war back home, where fans continue to question Rivera's priorities, if not his national pride.

"They're killing me," he said by telephone this week. "They're ripping me apart. It's like my head is in Haiti, my legs are in China. I never said anything to anyone about the team being incompetent. I never said Panama is incompetent. They have a chance to win like any other team, as long as they play hard. This is about my arm."

This is Mariano's second straight year with issues in Panama, after he didn't spend much time back home last off-season, after the tragic death of his relatives in an electrified pool. Now he's a pariah in Panama because of the WBC. It's a shame for a person some considered to be a legit presidential candidate there, when he retires.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Schrodinger's Baseball

I know it's a silly thought, but do you ever feel like the act of observation changes the result of what you're observing?

Maybe it's a sports thing. Most every sports fan has some story, about how they thought their unrelated behavior, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles away, changed the course of a sporting event. Every October, someone out there isn't changing their undershirt or their socks because those socks are "good luck." We don't mention no-hitters in progress because of the possibility we'll jinx it. During Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, my brother sat on his terrace from Hideki Matsui's double until Aaron F. Boone's home run because he stepped out into the cold (wearing only a t-shirt, if I recall correctly) and the Yanks chose that moment to rally against Pedro Martinez, Grady Little chose that moment to lose his damned mind.

I'm just saying this because I picked up the newspaper today, and got water poured on two of the prospects that got me most excited. Remember the other day when I mentioned my excitement about Barry Bonds playing in the World Baseball Classic? Well, that ain't going to happen. Barry's out, worried about getting injured. Remember the idea I discussed with Brother Joe about the Yanks picking up Piazza? That one sounds like a loser, also (at least according to Bill Madden).

It's kind of jarring to see Mike Piazza as the kind of guy whose agent is publicly making calls to publicly indifferent teams. Unlike some of the former superstars getting persona non grata treatment this winter--such as Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas--Piazza isn't really damaged goods. It's extremely likely that he can still be a useful part of a team, particularly one where he could DH occasionally.

It could be that the Yanks' indifference is just the new house negotiation style, courtesy of the new, improved, Brian Cashman. After all, Mike Piazza isn't a bargain if he costs seven or eight million dollars a season. But on a day like this, I can't help but have the silly thought that I should have kept my mouth shut.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Transcendental Donkeys?

This weekend, I found myself at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, there to attend a work of the Hysterical-Ontological Theater, by the name of Zomboid! (Film/Performance Project #1).

OK. I feel I may have lost some of you. Stay with me: I promise some sports at the end of this post. This is a New York slice-of-life thing.

Backing up a moment. About two weeks ago, my wife, La Chiquita, forwards me an email from her actress friend Lian, about Zomboid. To lure us to join her in a night of experimental theater, the following promo blurb was attached:

For many years Richard Foreman has performed dense, multi-layered theater for sold out audiences. But now he risks everything!

As announced - he is departing from his normal theatrical mode and beginning a new adventure. ZOMBOID! marks the advent of a series of performances dominated by projected tableaux vivants against which live actors (and in the case of ZOMBOID!, multiple transcendental donkeys) appear and disappear.)

ZOMBOID marks the space of a new and uniquely Foreman kind of philosophically oriented performance which lives in the heretofore unfathomable territory between projected image and on-stage corporality.

As La Chiquita put it, "I don't think we can let [Foreman] down when he's risking it all on heretofore unfathomable territory." I was a little leery about transcendental donkeys, but when you live in New York, you can't really afford to be a wuss about these things.

Back at St. Mark's we're sitting in a small, packed theater waiting for Zomboid! to begin. A woman's face is projected on two of the three stage walls. The third has a rectangular hole in it, like for a crawl space. The stage is simple, but cluttered with props, most notably a huge eyeball with Hebrew characters on it...and a stuffed donkey--maybe 50% of life size, looking for all the world like a much bigger Eeyore.

I'm not much for experimental theater, overall, but what little I know I'll share with you. The most difficult thing about it is that your experimental theater troupe is actively attempting to push your buttons, make you uncomfortable, disconcert you, and just plain be weird. This makes it pretty hard to figure out, even in retrospect, whether the performance you saw is actually...good, or not.

I mean, there could be something deep and intellectual about a woman, wrapped in a carpet, singing to a stuffed donkey in a childlike voice. Or not.

The other thing about about experimental theater, is that you have to control the giggles. Some of the stuff they're saying and doing is going to sound way funnier than it's supposed to be, and if you lose it, if you start laughing, not only are you going to be labeled an experimental theater busher, you're not going to be able to actually sit through the performance. Since it's so hard to tell good experimental theater from bad experimental theater, just making it through the performance is most often your reward--it's something like climbing a mountain or completing a marathon.

So about ten minutes into Zomboid!, I figured I was doing pretty well. The live troupe is four women and one man, and in the manner of such things they're identified not by their names but by their descriptions--"Beret" for example, is Temple Crocker, dressed, goth-style all in black, but wearing a beret. They're all dressed in black, a woman in a tutu, a woman with a "neck scruff", a woman with long hair, and the guy, who's identified as "6'2" Male." They, along with the sound/video crew threw everything and the kitchen sink at us--they're buzzing along the stage with the props, only occasionally speaking, music's playing, intercut with the occasional uttered word or phrase, not always in english, sometimes from a disembodied voice, sometimes coming from one of one of the Australian-accented characters on the matching video screens.

From time to time they feel a need to flash very bright lights in our eyes. Often, one or more characters on the set or screen will be blindfolded. Nonetheless, it's all going OK.

Then it happens. A voice, using one of those distortion technologies, like a TV-movie serial killer, is e-nun-ci-a-ting words ve-ry slooooowly. It's okay, I figure I can deal with that, but then it belts out a word so simple, funny, yet predictable, that it killed me:


I held it together, but just barely. It hurt. It was so hard not to laugh, I almost cried.

I guess we all suffer for Art.


Alright, the promised baseball talk. The Red Sox are chatting up the Indians, hoping to net themselves Coco Crisp to patrol the centerfield pasture recently abandoned by Johnny Damon. The deal's still fluid--Sunday it was supposed to be a straight up swap of Crisp for Andy Marte, today it's a six-player deal, and under any circumstances it seems that the whole thing hinges on Cleveland acquiring Jason Michaels (remember when the Yanks coveted him?) for chump change.

The interesting thing about the proposed swap is how we downgrade or upgrade the abilities of players, depending on whether they're just arriving to our team, or going away. Once upon a time, talking up Damon's skills was the typical Red Sox fan's primary hobby. Now that Johnny's a Yank, Coco Crisp would make the Sox "much, much, better, this year."

Don't get me wrong--I like Coco Crisp, he's a good young player with the emphasis on "young." But if I'd suggested that Crisp was a better centerfielder than Damon (mind you, Crisp spent most of last season in left field) folks would be screaming about Yankee bias.

Not that Yankee fans are any better. To most Yankee fans, Damon wasn't the best leadoff hitter in baseball coming into this off-season. But now that he has a new haircut and pinstripes on his uni, he sure looks a lot more like Rickey Henderson to some guys. It's just the way of the world.

We'll be watching the Crisp situation, because, nothing else is going on in baseball right now.

On a different note, we can all sleep safer now that Rocco Graziosa is serving the rest of his misdemeanor sentence for sucker-punching David Wells. Right now, there's a bit of worry about star athletes receiving preferential treatment in the Courts, particularly in light of some very sympathetic (and rightfully so) press that former reliever Jeff Reardon is receiving in the wake of his bizarre jewelry store robbery last month.

It's hard to imagine Reardon going to jail in light of the relatively recent tragedy of his son's death, and the seemingly-obvious craziness of his actions. At the same time, you have to ask if a less well-known thief would get a pass just because he's had some real hard times, and has been taking prescription drugs. Indeed, drug-using, mentally disturbed petty thieves typically get some very harsh treatment in the American justice system.

Not arguing, just wondering.

Back to Rocco, usually I'd be wondering about his incident with Wells, the possibility of David's fame and relative popularity (at the time) in New York tainting the judicial process. But then I remember Rocco hamming it up for the cameras outside of the courthouse during his trial. And then I read that our pal Rocco's on probation for feeling up an unconscious 21 year old on New Year's Eve...and I don't really worry so much about the scales of justice, for him. He had a jury, and an Appellate Term panel, and now he has a jail cell.

That's pretty much as it should be.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Moment of Silence, Please

She came, she lit up all our lives, and just like that [snap!] she's gone.

I'm taking the Anna Benson trade hard.

Sure, Anna was crazy. She had a big mouth and loved to run it off. But she was probably the best thing the Mets had going. Well, her and David Wright.

Without Anna, who will be Santa's very special helper next Christmas? Why couldn't Omar Minaya think about the children before making this trade?

In return for Mrs. Benson (and her husband) the Mets receive Jorge Julio. Julio was the Orioles' ex-closer, a hard thrower who didn't last in the closer role, and whose performance has gotten worse every season since his breakout year in 2002. They also get righthander John Maine, a promising player who seems to have hit a wall at AAA.

That's not a great rate of return for Kris Benson. For all that I've criticized Benson, the trade that brought him to New York, and the Mets' subsequent market setting signing last off-season, the market finally adjusted itself to the point where Benson's contract worked out--with Jarrod Washburn and Matt Morris getting $9 million per year, and Kevin Millwood getting $12 million per year, paying a league-average pitcher like Benson $15 million over the next two years doesn't seem all that crazy anymore. Even with Baltimore picking up Benson's contract, you'd have to think he was worth more than one bad reliever (even if he's only 26 years old) and one C-level prospect.

Julio gave up one homer every five innings last season, and a 5.90 ERA. I haven't seen his PECOTAs or anything, but you'd have to think that even moving to a much better ballpark, he isn't likely to do much better than Benson's 4.13 2005 ERA--and he'll pitch 100 or so fewer innings.

All I'm saying is, Jorge Julio better have one darn hot wife...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Names, Notes 'n' Such

One thought left over from yesterday's poorly-edited piece on the Anaheim Name Case: why do we go along with all these team namings and re-namings? Why did anyone call the Angels the "L.A. Angels of Anaheim" when they went with the name change last year? Why does anyone call the football Giants and Jets "New York" when they're actually pretty deep in New Jersey? Is there any justification for this? If you're a New Jersey tax payer, paying for infrastructure on a proposed new stadium at the Meadowlands for these teams, aren't you steamed that these guys are happy enough to take your money, but they won't take your name?

Take it a step further. Why do we give in to the folks who sell off stadium naming rights? When someone decides to re-name an existing ballpark "3COM" or "US Cellular" or some other unpronounceable crap, why do we play along?

Every time I hear a reporter choke their way through one of these corporate monstrosities, I imagine the scene in Roots where they're whipping LeVar Burton, trying to get him to say that his name is "Toby," not Kunta Kinte.

I think the rule should be that these sponsorship deals are like someone giving themselves a nickname: if it's a good nickname, you can use it, grudgingly; if not, they're on their own. When the late, great Ol' Dirty Bastard wanted to rename himself Big Baby Jesus, did people go along with that? Heck, no. He was still the ODB. Same rule should apply here.


Our Long National Their Brief Regional Nightmare is Over
. All of New England can now sleep safe, as their homegrown dreamboat-intellectual-with-a-guitar GM is back, even if no one will say whether he's actually a GM again. Now Kid Theo dedicates himself to a life chained to Fenway, with the Curly Haired Boyfriend as the vulture who pecks out his liver every day. How nice.

For the inevitable press conference next week, they really need to stage a big, fake hug-and-kiss photo op between Theo and Lucchino. Here's my preemptive offering for the inevitable caption contest:

"You're like something I can't scrape off the bottom of my shoe, junior."
"You'll be dead within year, old man. Dead."

What can I say, it's been a boring off-season.

One of the things that has demolished my WBC column is the continuous stream of mamby-pamby will-they-or-won't-they waffling that comes out of the Classic. For example, the powers-that-be finally agreed to let the Cubans participate, in an international tourney, which sure is big of them. Alex Rodriguez, after yet another "I'm not sure I'm going" stint, and after having been placed on Dominican Republic's provisional roster, is with Team USA...um, all the way, right?

All this mess has made it hard to root for what should be a no-brainer for any baseball fan. Short-form, here's five reasons to watch the Classic:

1. Baseball that matters in March. No mystery about this, it's simply more baseball at a time when the alternative would be watching B teams in Spring Training. I'm already fiending pretty hard for some baseball on the tube, so I'll probably be a raving maniac by March.

2. The Shuuto
. I want to see a pitcher with mechanics we've don't see in the U.S., throwing a pitch no major league pitcher throws.

3. Barry Bonds
. At the WBC, he'll be under the Olympic drug testing regime. It won't help anyone who believes that Barry Bonds has a magical undetectable genetically-taylored super-soldier serum flowing through his veins, but it might allay some doubts (or create some new ones if Barry stinks up the joint) as Bonds heads toward Ruth and Aaron in 2006.

4. Team Italy.
What's the over/under on how many players on the final roster will actually be from the U.S.? I'd love to see footage of Italian reporters interviewing guys whose Italian language skills are about as good as mine. (Expect a lot of "Ah. Aha." dropped into those conversations. Worked for me.)

5. The Off-Chance Someone Might Shock the World. I expect this would be very bad news for A-Rod, but could you imagine the attention that would be drawn to this if Team USA lost, or came close to losing? Much of the disinterest so far has come from the assumption that Team USA will easily whup any other team on the planet. The second it looks plausible that the best ballplayers in the world might hit the canvas--and it could happen--all sorts of ears are going to perk up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What's in a Name?

As mentioned (somewhat obliquely) in Sunday's post, the case of one of the most-derided name changes in history has gone to Court this week. Arte Moreno and the Angels organization are being sued by the municipality of Anaheim, over whether their ridiculous name change--from the "Anaheim Angels" that won the World Series in 2002 to the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" who beat the Yanks in the ALDS last season (but lost to the World Champs in the ALCS)--violates the Angels' lease.

On the one hand, it looks like, under the plain language of the contract, the Angels found a loophole to make them Los Angelenos of Anaheim rather than Anaheimians. The contract says only that the Angels will "include the name Anaheim" in any team name, and specifically rejected contractual language that would limit them to only the name "Anaheim Angels." Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

The City, on the other hand, is arguing that no language was put in the contract was put in barring the Angels from adding another city name because...well, it's stupid! There was no way that Anaheim could envision a tragedy of nomenclature on the level of the "... Angels of Anaheim." They say that baseball's tradition has only allowed one geographic reference--the name of one city or state--in any team's name at any time, and that it was understood within the contractual language that any name would adhere to baseball's tradition in this regard.

The Angels have been a team with an identity crisis for their entire existence. For the first four years of their existence, they tacked on "Los Angeles" in front of their name, then for the next 30 or so years, they were the "California Angels," before becoming the "Anaheim Angels" for seven years after their latest lease negotiations, and a stadium renovation that cost Anaheim at least $30 million, according to ballparks.com.

In the law suit, the City seems somewhat absurd, claiming $200 million in damages from the Angels' switch to the L.A. name. It doesn't seem as far-fetched, when we consider the overblown "benefits to the community" Major League Baseball claims whenever they're trying to convince a municipality to finance a new ballpark. While the too-simple contractual language does seem to give the Angels the edge, there are fundamental issues of equity that seem to go in the City's favor. Basically, Anaheim funded ballpark renovations in exchange for an advertisement--their name attached to that of the Angels team. Including the name of another, better-known municipality defeats that purpose of making Anaheim a "major-league city." In the new naming scheme, they're back to being an obscure suburb of L.A.

No other advertiser would stand for that, and neither should Anaheim.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bye-Bye Jorge?

Here's a conversation-starter from New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden:
Poor Benji Molina, who weeks ago found himself without a chair when the music stopped and still is looking for a team. What were the odds that Alan Embree (Padres), Fernando Vina (Mariners) or, for that matter, Bret Boone would get jobs before Molina, who hit .295 with 15 homers and 69 RBI last year? Molina turned down three years, $21 million from the Mets and will probably wind up with a one-year deal from the Blue Jays. But now that Molina can probably be signed on the cheap, maybe the Yankees should consider signing him and releasing Jorge Posada (who they have to pay anyway next year) in order to save themselves $12 million on the '07 option that kicks in if he starts 81 games in '06? Just a thought, although they would probably have to first consult with Randy Johnson.

Now, this is just something provocative from a Sunday columnist on a slow, slow week. The rest of the column is about how Mark McGwire won't get into the Hall of Fame on the first try (man, that story should only be worth about eight or nine thousand words to Madden between now and next January), pot shots against John Thorn and Jeff Bagwell, praise for pitching coaches who cheated during their playing careers (stark contrast to the vitriol targeted at McGwire, when steroids weren't even banned in baseball during McGwire's career) and pimping baseball banquets, including one he runs. Nice.

The idea that Jorge's gonna give way to Benjie Molina is pishposhed in Murray Chass's New York Times column:
Some speculators thought the Yankees might trade Posada and sign Molina, but Cashman scoffed at the idea.

"We've never tried to trade Jorge Posada," he said. "I've had teams express some interest in him, but I've never picked up the phone and made a proposal for Jorge Posada. But that's been written about quite often."

The theory behind the idea that the Yankees would trade the 34-year-old Posada stems from the option in his contract for the 2007 season. If he is the starting catcher in 81 games next season, the option becomes guaranteed for $12 million and he receives an option year in 2008 with $4 million guaranteed.

Now, Jorge has shown definite signs of decline, is 34 years old, and is going to be making big money for the next two years. Meanwhile, Benjie is three years younger, has a better defensive reputation, and was only three points of EqA behind the Yankee backstop.

But isn't it supposed to be the "real baseball people" (and mainstream sports columnists always put themselves in that group) who cherish the leadership that a Jorge Posada brings to the table, the hard-nosed winner-ness that comes with Posada's collection of World Series rings? My money says that if the Yanks took Madden's advice, by mid-June he'd be flaming them for having let the "heart and soul" of the team leave.

What do you think?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Runaway Rocket

Another solo flight for me on Notebook, this time covering the Astros. Figure this one may actually be interesting to Yankee fans because it deals with Roger Clemens, who is currently an X-factor hanging over baseball--still one of the best pitchers in the game, available to all and sitting on the sidelines...for now. The Rocket has already declared that he won't decide on a new team until after the World Baseball Classic (yes, that article is still coming), but he's not elligible to sign with Houston until May 1, because of the 'Stros decision not to offer him arbitration. Here's a taste from the article:

Clemens taking off the month of April is not necessarily a bad thing--each of the past two years, the Rocket has worn down in the second half of the season. In 2005, his ERA jumped by nearly a run after the All Star break. If Clemens were to re-sign with the Astros in May, he stands a chance of being fresher down the stretch, and perhaps more durable through October.

However, as things stand now, Clemens is a free agent, also coveted by at least two other former employers, as well as by Texas’s American League franchise. Not to call the Rocket fickle, but he has been known to change his mind about team allegiances. And if Clemens scampers off with another team, or rides off into the sunset, the Astros are stuck with the unenviable task of replacing his MLB-leading 9.4 SNLVAR.

The dregs remaining in the free agent barrel won’t be able to replace Clemens’ production. Only Jeff Weaver would bring some fraction of Clemens’s value to the table. We mean that literally--Weaver’s SNLVAR in 2005 (4.2) was less than half of Clemens’, but was also 2 wins higher than the next best free agent starter. Weaver would bring innings to the table, and would fit very well in the Houston’s Juice Box given his susceptibility to lefthanded batters, (.875 OPS and 46 HR against him over the past three years) and his relative dominance of righthanders (.632 OPS, 24 HR over the same span).

The problem with Weaver is price--he’s a Scott Boras client and unlikely to pitch for a discount. Signing Weaver for the $8-10 million Boras is likely seeking would foreclose the possibility of signing Clemens, should he decide that pursuing the pennant in Houston would be a fun use of his time this summer, and would probably put a crimp in the team’s ability to dish out raises to their arb-eligible players--Morgan Ensberg, Brad Lidge, Adam Everett, and Dan Wheeler. Unless, that is, they can convince Jeff Bagwell to retire due to injury.

Clemens's situation reminds me a bit of that of the protagonist in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. For those of you not into foreign flicks, it's the same story that was remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars (arguably Clint Eastwood's breakout movie) and most recently by Bruce Willis as Last Man Standing.

The protagonist of each of these stories is a badass (masterless samurai in the original, independent gunfighter in the others) who wanders into a town in the middle of a gang war. The two feuding factions almost automatically sense that he's someone to be reckoned with, and immediately start trying to recruit him, each believing that he's the key that will turn the tide in their favor.

In the original, there's a great scene where the two factions have a squirmish in the town square. As each gang approaches from their respective side of town, our guy climbs a structure in the middle of the square (a water tower?) to get a better view of the competition. As the two gangs ineptly try to wage war with each other, the warrior sits, neutral and literally above the fray, his intentions a mystery to both sides. The ultimate free agent.

I wonder if a similar scenario will play out in a small town called the AL East next Spring?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Goose Egg

Just a quick note from the end of my lunch break.

The word came down about a half hour ago from Hall of Fame, with only Bruce Sutter getting the necessary 75% supermajority of baseball writers needed to get that bronze plaque in Cooperstown, New York.

My first reaction is anger. I don't see how you can put Bruce Sutter in the Hall of Fame while excluding Goose Gossage. If you don't believe in relievers in the Hall of Fame, I understand that--it's hard to justify letting a pitcher into the hall that's pitched only a small fraction of what the top starters have done.

But if you let relievers in, then be consistent. Gossage was dominant, and had much greater longetivity than Sutter. Gossage contributed to championship teams, and had a 2.87 ERA in postseason play. Yet he wasn't within 10% of getting elected in this, the best possible year for his cause.

It's disappointing. Maybe I just don't "get" Sutter, because when he was at his best, I was pretty much an AL-only fan. Does anyone else see why on Earth the BWAA electorate would consider Sutter Gossage's superior?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Real World Series

Working on a piece about the WBC which should be ready tomorrow. In the meanwhile, I'd like to draw everyone's attention to a related development. Over at Baseball Prospectus, they're doing a simulated series between the North American "World" Champions--the Chicago White Sox--and the Champions of the Nippon League--the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan.

The simulation uses the Diamond Mind baseball program, and translated stats by BP's Clay Davenport to bridge the gap between the Nippon League--with its smaller baseballs and ballparks--and Major League Baseball.

This real World Series, dubbed the Battle of Champions by BP's Dave Haller (who's also one of my wingmen on Notebook), is already up to Game 2. You can read the game stories for Game 1 here and Game 2 here, and Dave's overview of the project and its methods here. Without ruining any of the fun--quick, go read the articles and come back!--I will say that the simulation's results have been extremely cool, so far.

One question that I'd love to present to any Japanese fans of the game, is how a Japanese player playing for the American squad would be received by his countrymen (and women). If (to take us away from the example of the Sox and the Marines) Hideki Matsui were to blast a big home run against gyroballer Daisuke Matsuzaka, in a hypothetical Yankees/Seibu Lions series, would Japanese fans be happy that it was Matsui (and not some foreigner) who beat them, or upset at Matsui for helping a U.S. team beat a Japanese club?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Mad Max: Beyond Pro Player Stadium

New Notebook piece up at Baseball Prospectus (here's the link, second article down). This time the victim is the Marlins, whose major league roster gives evidence of a grand disaster, and made me think of 1980's futuristic post-apocalypse movies. Here's a taste:

After the apocalypse, civilization has collapsed. Grown men eat dog food straight out of the can while scavenging for gasoline. An entire infield is dispersed across the continent. Roving gangs of minor league pitchers prey on the weak, desperate for a place on the 25-man roster.

In those few places where society, in some form, persists, petty warlords insult each other’s height, and argue about how to pay for a retractable Thunderdome.

Oh, things are ugly in Southern Florida.

Thinking about Mad Max raises some questions. Sure, it was cool for Max to have his leather jacket and drive "the last of the V8 Interceptors" but given the heat of the Outback, and the scarcity of fuel, wouldn't he have been better off with a reasonable windbreaker and a subcompact, preferably something with a Wankle engine?

Just askin'.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy Birthday Post-Its

Yesterday was the WTDB's second anniversary. I (cad that I am) celebrated by not posting anything.

The problem is, I've been trying to put 2005 into perspective, and it just wasn't working for me. I just couldn't decide on a perspective. The Yanks? There isn't a larger theme to their 2005, really, just a combination of the themes we've run into in the past--team getting older; my, isn't that expensive; another year that most fans would envy, but not us. There's nothing really to say here. A personal perspective? I have much to be thankful for in 2005--nuptials to La Chiquita foremost among them--but that's a snoozefest, even for an audience as small and hard-core as mine. A blogger's perspective? Double the snooze, and raise the nausea of above. I put out the suggestions box a couple weeks back on how to improve this space; anyone with ideas feel free to leave a comment back there. I know that I have to turn out more content (the 159 entries I posted in 2005 won't do, even supplemented with 37 pieces at BP) and regularize the writing schedule. But that's just navel-gazing.

As pointed out by Jeff Angus, the year-end/beginning article is somewhat lazy and frequently passe. So aside from the little bits above, I'm not doing it. On to some good old-fashioned notes.

One of the 20 or so posts that I started writing last year, but did not finish, was about the World Baseball Classic. Basically, it was born out of a defense of Alex Rodriguez's decision to play for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, a decision that Rodriguez was catching some heat for.

Alex killed that piece by deciding to duck out of the WBC completely last month, now, he's put the tournament back on my radar by supposedly agreeing to participate as part of team USA.

The decision itself isn't that interesting--rosters aren't set on these games, so there's not much fun to be had handicapping the squads, yet. However, Rodriguez has set another PR (public relations, not Puerto Rico) low mark, because by declaring he was playing for the Dominican squad, then saying he was undecided, then saying again that he was playing for the Dominican Republic, then saying he was out, and now saying he's in and playing for ol' USA, he seems like a waffling, weak-willed, unpatriotic (I just couldn't continue the alliteration, there) Hamlet-wannabe.

It was a tough decision to screw up, but A-Rod managed to do so. I'd initially admired Alex's decision to play for team D.R. because 1) as a fellow Dominican-American, I can relate to what he was thinking, and 2) it was one of the few times in his career that Rodriguez was set to do something that wasn't the "easy" thing to do. It was a gutsy call, one likely to be both unpopular with many fans and unprofitable (financially, at least). It looked like a principled position, even if you didn't agree with A-Rod's principles.

Unless you're one of the people who has volunteered to put yourself in harm's way to protect this country, it's pretty easy to drape yourself in the flag and declare yourself a patriot. It's much harder to explain that it's not disloyal to the U.S. to honor your heritage by playing for another country in a baseball tournament. It's not like Rodriguez is a necessary cog to put team USA over the top in this competition: at third base team USA still had David Wright, Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, Morgan Ensberg and possibly Eric Chavez to choose from; at shorstop, Derek Jeter, Michael Young, and Jimmy Rollins.

But even if A-Rod wants to wrap himself in the flag now, it's an empty gesture--everyone will remember that playing for the Dominican Republic was his first choice, and now it looks like he's only playing for the U.S. because Bud Selig ordered him to, or because he wants to appease the crowd. In other words, he's left himself in a position where he can't possibly please anyone.

I know I've said this before, but I keep on trying to figure out what player in baseball history has been as good as Alex Rodriguez, while not being in any way graceful. Bonds is a horror with the media, but he's got panache in his game. Ripken's game was just as unadorned as Rodriguez's but he was nowhere near as good, and he had that Iron Man strong silent type thing going for him. Do we have to go back to Rogers Hornsby? Does anyone who was familiar with Hank Aaron as a player want to weigh in on this?


The Mets have acquired Brett Boone
. I suppose that's because golf course workers in New York don't receive enough abuse, or perhaps because when you have Kaz Matsui on the roster, anyone looks good.


Speaking of Mets, while Brother Joe was in NYC for the holidays, we had a chance to discuss the Pinstripers a bit. The one player he was surprised the Yanks weren't pursuing? Mike Piazza. If you think about it a bit, Piazza fits: the Yanks could use a righthanded bopper/DH/insurance against something happening to Jorge Posada. Plus it has all the earmarks of a George Steinbrenner move, tweaking the Mets fans while making the club stronger.

The question is, is Piazza ready for a part-time role? Is he priced out of the Yanks' budget (don't laugh)? I say that if Piazza is still unsigned in a couple of weeks, we might hear rumblings.