Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moving on over

Been gone for a while, sorry about that. I'm going to be putting Baseball Mud on hiatus for a while to concentrate on my new blog, The Ghost of Babe Ruth. Check it out.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yankees Top 10

I'm a sucker for lists of top 10 greatest players, and here's a new one, provided by the great Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus fame: Top 10 Yankees. He has a rule that only time with the Yankees counts, so no Winfield, Reggie, A-Rod, Maris, etc.

The only real argument is near the bottom of the list. Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Earl Combs finish at numbers 8, 9, and 10, but I could see replacing one of them with Don Mattingly or Tommy Henrich or Charlie Keller or Elston Howard (or Winfield or Reggie, for that matter).

Obviously, this is a formidable team, and, in spite of the fact that I hate the Yankees with every fiber of my being, I can't bring myself to hate any of the guys on the list. Strange.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Must-reading for fans of the blog

A very, very important story for fans of the blog to read: Baseball Rubbing Mud: Road to the Hall Is Paved with Good Inventions.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Padres All-Time Team

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the San Diego Padres, This Week in Baseball is set to name its all-time Padres team on its episode:

TWIB studied the rosters of every Padres team and came up with the top player at every position on the diamond as well as three pitchers.

Benito Santiago gets the nod at catcher, Nate Colbert is at first base, Mark Loretta is at second, former MVP Ken Caminiti starts at third, Garry Templeton mans shortstop while Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield join Steve Finley in the outfield.

The rotation includes former Cy Young Award winners Jake Peavy and Randy Jones while the all-time leader in saves, Trevor Hoffman, is set to be the club's closer.

This is a pretty good selection. I was surprised to see Mark Loretta, who played only three seasons with the Padres, but second base is kind of a weak spot for the franchise. Roberto Alomar was a better overall player, but he also played just three years in San Diego, and Loretta's three years were better than Alomar's. When San Diego won its first pennant in 1984, the second baseman was Alan Wiggins, a speedster who didn't hit much but stole a ton of bases (every team in the '80s seemed to have one of those guys: Vince Coleman, Omar Moreno, Otis Nixon, etc.). But Wiggins lasted only three years. So it's Loretta by default.

I like the choice of Nate Colbert,* who is mostly forgotten today. Adrian Gonzalez may one day stake his claim to the position, but for now Colbert is a great choice, even over Ryan Klesko. (Klesko has better stats but Colbert played in a less offensive-minded era.)

*I assume his name was pronounced "KOL-bert" but thanks to Stephen Colbert (KOL-behr), I can't pronounce it that way.

In the outfield, the only quibble I have is with Steve Finley. I think Brian Giles deserves it more, but reasonable minds can disagree.

In all, the Padres can boast two Hall of Famers (Gwynn and Winfield) and one sure Hall of Famer (Trevor Hoffman). Not bad for an expansion team.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The price of honesty

Well that didn't take long:

CINCINNATI -- Major League Baseball has requested a meeting with Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo about his admission of taking supplements not approved by the league, USA Today reported on Thursday.

I guess we won't be seeing any other players talk honestly about taking supplements for a while, not if Big Brother is going to have a sit-down with them.

At last: An honest ballplayer

Kudos to Bronson Arroyo for speaking honestly about why he takes supplements and why he used to take andro and amphetamines. I'm not saying kudos for taking them or kudos for his f-you attitude, I'm saying kudos for being honest.

I wasn't an Arroyo fan before and I'm not now (especially after he admits to driving drunk at least once per year and claims "pretty much everybody" does it), but this article helps provide some clarity to the whole issue of drugs in baseball. You should read it.

No Olympics for you!

To no one's surprise, baseball and software were rejected by the International Olympic Committee the other day:

Softball and baseball had been seeking a return after being voted off the program four years ago for the 2012 London Games. Attempted reinstatements were rejected by the IOC in 2006. International Softball Federation president Don Porter said he would continue his fight to get his sport back into the Olympics, though International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller said he saw no point of mounting another Olympic bid for his sport.

That's a good move for baseball. There's no point in having it as an Olympic sport because we (a) already see the greatest players in the world on a daily basis and (b) we already have the World Baseball Classic.

To me, the Olympics are about seeing athletes and sports that I never get to see otherwise. I care almost nothing about swimming, track and field, team handball, skiing, speed skating, etc. during off years. The Olympics are my one chance to care. I would like to see tennis and soccer and other familiar sports eliminated from the Olympics too, especially because many of those sports already have international competitions.

And don't get me started on sports that hinge on capricious judges (gymnastics, diving, etc.) rather than timers and scorekeepers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

HOF induction speeches

I'm a couple of days late on this, but here are a couple of links for watching the induction speeches to the Hall of Fame:

Rickey Henderson

Jim Rice

Judy Gordon, daughter of Joe Gordon


Friday, July 24, 2009

Mark Buehrle, Hall of Famer?

No, I'm not advocating or even predicting that Mark Buehrle will one day make the Hall of Fame. But with yesterday's perfect game, it's the perfect time to point out that he is on a Hall of Fame track.

Yes, he is on a Hall of Fame track, even though he's never really been an ace and has never struck fear into the hearts of opposing batters and managers.

So how is it possible? Because there are two ways to get into the Hall as a pitcher:

1. Dominate in your 20s, like Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, Don Drysdale, and many others.

2. Be a workhorse in your 30s and 40s, like Early Wynn, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, and many others.

Rare pitchers do both: Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, etc. Those are the true greats of the game, the inner-circle Hall of Famers. The other guys are mostly outer-circle Hall of Famers (not Koufax and Dean, but the other guys).

Buehrle clearly did not dominate in his 20s, but he did win 122 games before turning 30. And he did it without missing time due to a major injury. From age 22 on, he has started at least 30 games per season every year. He's solid, dependable, and good.

And because he has good command of his pitches, he's the kind of player who could continue as an effective pitcher for a very long time. If he does that--if he wins 12-17 games per year for the next decade, he'll probably end up with 300 victories, or close to it. And that will make him a strong Hall of Fame candidate.

Will he? I have no idea. An errant line drive could end things suddenly. Or he could blow up like Barry Zito. But if the Mark Buehrle of the next decade pitches anything like the Mark Buehrle of the last decade, he can start preparing his induction speech.

(I'm not the only person to think of this. After writing this, I Googled "Mark Buehrle Hall of Fame" and found these others making the argument here and here and probably elsewhere.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ballplayer showing class? True!

Great to see a big star honor the game's past:

Ichiro, in St. Louis for his ninth All-Star Game, visited the grave of St. Louis Browns star George Sisler, whose single-season record of 257 hits was broken by the Mariners outfielder in October 2004.


"I wanted to do that for a grand upperclassman of the baseball world," Ichiro told MLB.com. "I think it's only natural for someone to want to do that, to express my feelings in that way."

I'm not sure if there's going to be a Hall of Fame debate about Ichiro due to the limited time he has spent in the U.S. major leagues, but he deserves induction in my book and this move just raises his stature in my eyes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Voice of reason on steroids

Craig Calcaterra flags a voice of reason on the steroid issue: Bob Gibson.

Guys have always been cheating. Period. It just takes a little different form today. I'm just glad they didn't have steroids when I was playing. I don't know what I would have done. It's very difficult to go out and perform when you know the guy next to you is taking steroids or some kind of drug to make you perform better and not do it yourself, to let this guy get an edge on you . . .

. . . I don't know that I really criticize the guys. Whoever the first guy is that started it, that's the guy I criticize. The rest of the guys just followed suit. I don't think its OK. I'm not sanctioning it, but I understand why it happens.

Gibson's statement pretty much crystallizes my thoughts on the steroid issue. It should have been the players who policed it, because they knew what was really going on. But nobody -- or almost nobody -- stepped up to the media or the union to get the others to stop it. So it became an arms race.

Yes, I'm glad the arms race is over, but I don't really blame or want to vilify the players who shot up. Either does Bob Gibson.

The Anonymous All-Star

Great article in the New York Times about Andrew Bailey, the A's closer and sole representative to the A.L. All-Star team. You can forgive yourself for saying, Who? In fact, Bailey wasn't the only head-scratcher of an All-Star this year. I'm hard-pressed to name the teams represented by Freddy Sanchez, Hunter Pence, Josh Johnson, Ben Zobrist, and Brian Fuentes.

But that's what you get when you require that every team gets a representative. I'm happy for those guys, who may never get this chance again. But you can hardly call those guys "stars."

However, it's not as if past All-Star games featured only big stars and future Hall of Famers. Just taking a random gander at some past games, we find the following forgotten All-Stars:

1933 (the inaugural game): General Crowder, Oral Hildebrand, Sam West, Tony Cuccinello, Woody English, Jimmie Wilson
1941: Sid Hudson, Thornton Lee (immortalized in the great song "Van Lingle Mungo"), Marius Russo, Harry Danning, Lonny Frey, Hank Lieber, Eddie Miller, Al Benton
1965*: Max Alvis, Jimmie Hall, Bob Lee, John O'Donoghue, Turk Farrell, Sammy Ellis
1977: Wayne Gross, Jim Kern, Jim Slaton, Butch Wynegar, Willie Montanez, John Stearns
1989: Mark Gubicza, Greg Swindell, Tim Burke
1996 (the most recent NL victory): Roger Pavlik, Dan Wilson, Ricky Bottalico, Henry Rodriguez, Eric Young

One of the problems with the All-Star Game, in my opinion, is that the people picking the squad feel they have to reward every player who has put together a fine half-season, regardless of whether they're actual stars. I would prefer to see actual stars, even if they're having a bad season, rather than anonymous guys who put together a good few months. Sure, they'll feel snubbed, but if they really have what it takes to be a star, they'll earn their spot next year.

*Side note: Check out the firepower on the NL team that year: Aaron, Allen, Banks, Clemente, Mays, Robinson, Rose, Santo, Stargell, Williams; on the mound, Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal, Gibson. Wow. And it was a great game, too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Old-Timer's Game Lives Again

Check out this story on SI.com about 90-year-old Bob Feller pitching in an Old-Timer's Game at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

I wish I had been there.

(Showing my age here... the greatest moment in the history of Old-Timer's Games came in 1984 when the 77-year-old Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling actually smacked a home run against 63-year-old legend Warren Spahn. Can you imagine your father/grandfather/great-grandfather putting on a uniform, standing at the plate in a major league stadium, and hitting a pitch over the wall?

If anybody has that game recorded, may I beseech you to upload it to YouTube?)

Monday, June 22, 2009

So much for that idea

Well, it was too good to be true, I guess: Moneyball the Movie has been put on hold. It never made sense to me how they could translate that great book onto the big screen, but I was eager to see them try. Alas, the power brokers with the money weren't so excited. Maybe it'll restart sometime in the future, but for now, Jeremy Brown and the gang will remain in obscurity.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Satchel Paige

I just heard a great interview with Larry Tye, author of a new biography of the great Satchel Paige called Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. Who was Satchel Paige?

The most famous player in Negro league history, Paige was its preeminent showman in addition to perhaps its best pitcher. Locked out of major league ball until he was well past his prime, he pitched against white players often enough during winter barnstorming trips that Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio, and Charlie Gehringer, among others, called Paige the best pitcher they ever saw.

For much of his career, he was the biggest gate attraction in the league. Huge crowds would gather to watch whether he fulfilled his promise to strike out the side on nine pitches, and he usually came through. His income was good—probably as high as $40,000 per year—which was more than almost every major league, but Paige's income required him to work year-round.

When Cleveland owner Bill Veeck finally brought Paige to the majors in 1948, the pitcher was 42 years old, the oldest rookie in major league history. Still, he could fill the seats. His first three starts drew over 200,000 fans to set night-game attendance records in Cleveland and Chicago. His major league stats seem undistinguished—28–31, 3.29 ERA—until you remember his age, which Veeck tried to say was higher than it was. To generate publicity, Veeck claimed his “team of detectives” had determined Paige was born in 1899 when in fact Paige always knew he was born in 1906.

In another publicity stunt, the Kansas City Athletics hired Paige to pitch a game in 1965; the 59-year-old tossed three shutout innings, allowing only one hit.

By the time he was finished, Paige estimated that he and his overpowering fastball (known variously as his “bee ball,” “trouble ball,” and “Long Tom”) had seen action in more than 2,500 games, winning 2,000 of them, against Negro league and semipro teams; other estimates include 100 no-hitters, 22 strikeouts in one game, and as many as 153 games pitched in one calendar year. Take those estimates with an appropriately sized grain of salt.

Aside from his dominance on the mound, Paige’s unique brand of wit and charm has entered American folklore. In his much-quoted article titled “How to Stay Young,” Paige offered these suggestions: “Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

But Paige was no clown. When the Hall of Fame decided to honor a number of stars with a special wing for Negro leaguers in 1972, Paige observed, “The only change is that baseball has turned Paige from a second-class citizen to a second-class immortal.” Paige’s criticism encouraged the Hall of Fame instead to put the Negro leaguers in the same wing as everybody else—a decision that, in retrospect, seems like a no-brainer.

Whether you buy Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legendor Paige's own autobiography, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever, you owe it to yourself as a baseball fan to learn more about Satchel Paige.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Conan visits 1860 baseball

I'm very late to the game on this one, but it's very worth watching.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More Moneyball

When you heard that the great Michael Lewis book "Moneyball" was going to be made into a movie, did you say to yourself, What the hell? I did. And luckily, so did Patrick Goldstein. And since he's a writer for the LA Times, he was actually in a position to find out more. His article in yesterday's paper is must-reading for baseball wonks.

Tom Glavine and the Hall

The word "unceremoniously" seems to apply to this situation:

Tom Glavine's second go-round with Atlanta ended in abrupt, businesslike fashion, which is perhaps appropriate for a player who, as the Braves' player representative during the acrimonious negotiations that led to the 1994 strike, knows better than most the business side of the game.

Unless some other team takes a chance on him, it appears that Glavine's next stop is Cooperstown. With 305 career victories and two Cy Young Awards, he's a lock to get in on the first ballot.

Thinking back on it, I'm trying to recall other Hall of Fame players who received such apparently ignominious treatment by their longtime clubs. I mean, most great players get the opportunity to retire on their own terms, but not all. Here's what I've come up with off the top of my head (by no means an exhaustive list):

- Babe Ruth, who was released by the Yankees abruptly after he thought he'd get a chance to manage the team. (To the Yankees' credit, they obviously recognized that Ruth would not have been a good manager.)

- Steve Carlton, who was released by the Phillies in the middle of the 1986 season. He then signed with the Giants, who kept him for about a month then released him. Of course, Carlton had pitched horribly for both teams and should have retired on his own, so it's hard to blame the teams.

- Honus Wagner, who at the end of his career feuded with Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss so badly that Wagner had nothing to do with the Pirates club for two decades.

- Juan Marichal, who was sold by the Giants to the Red Sox after 14 seasons in San Francisco.

- Tom Seaver, who was accidentally placed on waivers by the Mets.

- Casey Stengel, whose departure from the Yankees after the 1959 season practically redefined "unceremonious." Stengel was basically fired for being too old.

Now, to be fair, in Glavine's case (and probably in the case of others on this list) what may have happened is that the team encouraged him to retire and he just didn't want to. (There is a complicating factor that Glavine would have earned a $1 million bonus if had made the club's active roster, so it looks like the Braves were just trying to save a buck, whether that's true or not.)

Whatever the circumstances, it's never fun when the business of baseball smacks a future Hall of Famer in the face so hard.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rickey Henderson

A lot of writers over the years -- myself included -- have written about Rickey Henderson's eccentricities and some of the silly things he has said and done over the years. FanIQ has a list of some of the most interesting, which is a fun read.

But Wayne Hagin, a veteran broadcaster now with the Mets, has a story about Henderson that nobody knows about. It involves the young Henderson standing up for a teammate in need against the most obnoxious manager of all time, Billy Martin.

I always respected Henderson's supreme talent. Now I have more respect for Henderson's character.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Death at the Ballpark

A new book chronicles 850 deaths at ballparks over the past 150 years, and Slate.com has an excellent review of it.

I'm sure all of us have seen near-misses at games... a fan isn't paying attention as a foul ball screams past, a first base coach gets nearly decapitated by a line drive. This book seems to bring it all home. (It turns out that errant line drives and fastballs aren't the most frequent culprit in on-field deaths.)

Here's the most improbably tragic story:

During a 1949 amateur game in Florida, the third baseman, shortstop, and second baseman were all killed by a single lightning bolt, which struck the backstop, then shot around the infield as though completing a double play.

The book obviously wont appeal to everyone, but at least the Slate review is worth a look.

Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007 by Robert M. Gorman and David Weeks

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pedro and Maddux

The amazing Joe Posnanski has a post today proposing that Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez have posted the two best seven-year stretches for pitchers in baseball history. I was dubious at first, but I'm convinced he's on to something. Good stuff and totally worth reading.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New iPhone App: MLB World Series 2009

A new baseball game has hit the iPhone App Store: MLB World Series 2009. My colleagues at Slide to Play have done a great job reviewing it, so I encourage you to check it out. The key quote:

[W]hile MLB's World Series 2009 does the hitting, pitching and catching well, its lack of any substance beyond that leave it an incomplete game at best.
It looks like we're still waiting for the perfect baseball game for iPhone.

Billy Beane and Moneyball

Somehow, it looks as if a movie is going to be made based on the seminal baseball book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. I'm as dumbfounded as you about this development, but Steven Soderbergh is a pretty great director, so I'm sure he'll figure out something good.

The key protagonist of Moneyball is Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland A's. So I thought it'd be worth a few moments to take a closer look at Beane.

Beane, the player, qualifies as one of the biggest busts in the history of the amateur draft. Beane, the general manager, qualifies as one of the most successful team-builders in the history of baseball.

As described in Moneyball, Beane was one of the most coveted amateur players in the nation when he was taken in the first round by the New York Mets in the 1980 draft. Everything came easy to Beane—until he got to the minors and he wasn’t able to adapt to the higher-quality pitching. Scouts loved him; he was built like the star ballplayer they all thought he would become. But Beane never succeeded at the plate, and he finished his major league career with a .219 average and 3 homers over parts of six seasons.

Before the 1990 season began, at the age of 28, Beane abruptly walked into general manager Sandy Alderson’s office and asked for a job as a scout. Imagine turning down a chance to play on a major league team in order to drive around small towns scouting amateurs. It shocked Alderson so much that he gave Beane the job and kept a close eye on him.

It didn’t take long for Beane to work his way up to assistant general manager, and when Alderson left the A’s in 1997, Beane took charge. During his tenure, the A’s either made the playoffs or at least contended more often than not, despite one of the league’s lowest payrolls. He did it the way a good investor operates: by buying low and selling high. For example, Beane believed that ace closers are overvalued. So he would sign an unknown or out-of-favor hard-thrower to be his closer, watch him succeed, then trade or let him go when he became too expensive. This tactic worked with, in order, Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch, and Keith Foulke.

Beane’s most glaring failure as GM has been his team’s inability to win in the post-season. Pundits claim it’s because his teams rely too much on walks and home runs and can’t play “smallball”—bunt, steal bases, hit and run, and so on. In fact, I think the reason his teams haden’t won in the post-season (until 2006, when they won a first-round series) simply comes down to bad luck. In a short series, almost anything can happen, and blaming Billy Beane because Jeremy Giambi failed to slide or Miguel Tejada didn’t take an extra base is just wrong. Still, despite the A’s victory in the 2006 ALDS, the lack of significant post-season success is a stain on Beane’s record and will remain so until his A’s win at least a pennant or two.

And now he's going to be played in a movie by Brad Pitt. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sabermetrics and baseball

Another "traditionalist" has decided to flaunt his ignorance by writing a blog post bashing sabermetrics and the people who love it.

I don't know who this guy is or why he hates me (and people like me who like numbers). But his attitude tracks the attitude of many old school sportswriters -- Murray Chass among them -- who thing modern statistical analysis has no place in baseball and is practiced only by guys living in their mothers' basements.

The original blogger, "Alex," says a lot of stupid things and they're not worth refuting. But one point I want to make regards math:

These traditionalists revel in basic baseball stats: batting average, ERA, slugging percentage, and maybe on-base percentage. But they seem to have forgotten that those stats all involve math!

What's the difference between batting average and VORP or WARP or Win Shares... other than the lengths of the formulas?

So I guess the traditionalists are OK with math until it gets complicated. Which means they're not traditionalists at all but rather anti-intellectuals.

It's one thing to be ignorant. It's another entirely to hate knowledge. But that's what people like Alex do. Bravo, Alex.

Friday, April 17, 2009

iPhone App: MLB At Bat

MLB At Bat is the big daddy of iPhone apps. It comes in two versions:

Lite - Free

The lite version is nothing more than a real-time scoreboard. It's barely worth the price (free).

Full - $9.99

The full version gives you so much more. In a word, it's awesome. Here's what you get:

- Real-time scores, including box scores and scoring summaries, of every game
- Video highlights of key plays minutes after they happen. Not just scoring plays, but key defensive grabs and other important moments.
- Live play-by-play using the GameDay engine. You get pitch-by-pitch updates and more.
- Best of all, radio broadcasts of every game. You can even choose home or away broadcasters.

How well does it work? Not perfect. I've experienced quite a few kinks in the system. Last night, for example, I wanted to listen to Vin Scully's play-by-play of the Dodgers-Giants game, but I kept getting an inexplicable error message. The Giants broadcast worked fine (and Jon Miller is the best in the business anyway, so it wasn't much of a problem), but I was disappointed in not hearing Scully.*

*In fact, listening to Vin Scully is the main reason I bought the At Bat application. He's been with the Dodgers for 59 years, but I've never lived in L.A. so I never really got to hear him except occasional TV broadcasts. This is my chance to hear him before he retires, whenever that will be.

I've used the audio over both Wi-Fi and 3G, and both generally worked. There are occasional hiccups and you'll lose the feed periodically, but in my experience, the feed comes back pretty quick (except the Scully example above).

The GameDay play-by-play is spotty at times. It doesn't always keep up with the action, but it usually catches up after a while.

Bottom Line

In spite of the hiccups, which I'm sure MLB Advanced Media is working on, getting the At Bat app is a no-brainer. The audio is rekindling my love for play-by-play broadcasting (which I used to do myself, though not very well), and I'm finding myself listening to games I don't have much interest in. The live box scores are great for tracking my fantasy players. And the GameDay updates are great for following games at lunch or on the couch.

If you're an iPhone-owning baseball fan, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

iPhone App: Baseball Statistics 2009 Edition

The first app up for review is Baseball Statistics 2009 Edition, by Bulbous Ventures LLC.* Price: $1.99

This is version 2 of a formerly free application previously called "Baseball." It's pretty simple, really: it uses data from Sean Lahman's Baseball Archive to deliver up-to-date statistics for everybody who's ever played baseball. You can view stats by team and year, or you can search and view by player.

If you have the free edition from last year, the only things you're missing are 2008 statistics, plus salary data and a few other pieces of information.

Bottom Line

This is a very functional and utilitarian application, and it doesn't blow your socks off. If you're at the ballpark and you want to know the career stats for a particular player, you can do it with this app. If you don't want to pay $1.99 for a dedicated iPhone interface, you can do the same thing for free by visiting Baseball-Reference.com in the Safari browser. The no-cost method is harder on the eyes, but you can always apply the $1.99 you save toward the price of a hot dog at the park.

*Note: Link opens in the iTunes Store.

Baseball Apps for iPhone

Now that the season has started, iPhone-owning baseball fans have numerous ways to track the sport using their miracle phones. The iTunes App Store has a helpful page linking to some of the latest baseball apps and videos. In the next few days, I'm going to test out several of them and provide reviews. Check back tomorrow and later in the week.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Back to blogging: Joe Carter

OK, no more blogging vacations. I'm going to get back into it starting today.

Today brings us news that Joe Carter believes his Game 6 home run against the Phillies that ended the 1993 World Series gets overlooked:

"Mine, it will make the top 10 but it's never No. 1, it's never been No. 2, it's always been in the middle of the pack," Carter said Thursday. "Had it been for the Yankees or the Dodgers, then I think it would have been No. 1. But because it was in Toronto, it has not gotten the respect that I think it really should deserve."

For some book projects, I've done a lot of research into clutch baseball moments, and I can tell you exactly why Carter's home run isn't the greatest clutch performance in the history of the World Series:

1. Stakes

2. Drama

First, in Carter's favor, I should point out that his home run came in the bottom of the ninth with the Jays trailing by one. If Carter had struck out, the Jays might have lost and the series would have headed to game 7. There was a lot at stake.

But there was more at stake when Bill Mazeroski hit his famous home run in game 7 of the 1960 World Series, with the Pirates and the Yankees deadlocked. There literally was no tomorrow. (On the other hand, the game was tied and a Mazeroski came to bat with no outs.)

As for Kirk Gibson and his home run in game 1 of the 1988 World Series, there was much less at stake when he hit it than during either Carter's or Maz's moments. But what he has going for him is drama. He limped to the plate. He had two strikes against him. He grounded a foul ball up the line and could barely run it out. It looked like The Natural come to life.

Also working against Carter is that the Blue Jays simply aren't a high-visibility team in the U.S. Carter is right about why people don't remember his shot. But he shouldn't whine about it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Greatest Ever: Chicago White Sox

Last season, I wrote a bunch of posts about the greatest-ever pitchers and position players for each franchise. Check the archives to find the posts. Needless to say, I didn't get through all the teams, so now that spring training has begun, I'm starting up again. Today, we'll take on the Chicago White Sox.

The White Sox are interesting. They've been around over 100 years, all in the same city, yet they haven't had a ton of great players. Not like the Giants or Yankees or Dodgers or Cardinals. So it makes choosing their best players a fun exercise. Let's begin.


Contenders: Ted Lyons, Red Faber, Ed Walsh

Identifying the top three pitchers in White Sox history turned out to be pretty simple: Lyons, Faber, and Walsh are the three leaders in wins for the Sox, and they're all in the Hall of Fame. They're all old-timers, though, and I hate to focus exclusively on old-timers for these rankings because it implies that modern players aren't as good as the old folks. But in the case of the White Sox, there simply aren't other options.

Walsh was the best pitcher in baseball for a couple of years, and he has the lowest career ERA of any pitcher in baseball history (with long careers) at 1.81. Of course, he pitched in the dead-ball era, when nobody hit home runs, and he pitched in the comparatively weaker league at the time. He won 40 games once and 24+ three other times, but that's about the extent of his contributions to the Sox. He only pitched seven effective years and was basically finished at 31.

Faber pitched 20 years, all with the Sox, and finished with 254 victories and a 3.15 ERA. More than half his career occurred during the lively ball era, so he had a tougher time than Walsh. He won 20+ games four times, and at least 12 in eleven seasons. He was a solid but unspectacular pitcher, and his Hall of Fame induction is a little generous. There are a lot of pitchers not in the Hall who were much better (including Bert Blyleven).

Lyons was another solid but unspectacular pitcher whose career is filled with seasons like 15-8, 14-7, 12-10, but he pitched until he was 45, so his career numbers look great. He never struck out more than 100 batters in a season (!), and his ERAs were barely above average. Again, his HOF induction is strange.

The winner: I'm going to go with Walsh for this one. His career was much shorter than the other guys, but his peak was much higher, and he was clearly one of the 2 or 3 best pitchers in baseball for several seasons.

Player: Eddie Collins, Nellie Fox, Frank Thomas*

I really want to pick Frank Thomas for this one. He was the most devastating offensive force in baseball (except for Barry Bonds) throughout the 1990s. He hit home runs, got on base, drove in buckets of runs, won two MVP awards, and won a few division titles. He finished his White Sox career with franchise records in both doubles (447) and home runs (448), the latter more than 200 more than the number 2 guy (Paul Konerko).

Yet I have to pick Eddie Collins for this honor. Whereas Thomas is one of the top 10 first basemen of all time, Collins is one of the top 2 or 3 second basemen, and possibly one of the top 15 players of all time. Collins's weapons were speed and slap hitting, and he, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker were the three top offensive players of the 1910s; Collins was still pretty damn good in the 1920s when the lively ball hit.

Nellie Fox is a distant third to Thomas and Collins, but that's no knock on Fox. He was a great second baseman for a long time, and, as Bill James has pointed out, he's the only player who won an MVP award during Mickey Mantle's peak years who actually deserved it over Mantle.

The winner: Collins

*Why not Joe Jackson? His career is too short and he played only five years with the White Sox. He also played for the Indians and, briefly, the A's.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Public Enemy #1 (apparently)

Alex Rodriguez took steroids, got caught, and now is apparently continuing to cover up the truth.

So what?

It seems to me like journalists are spending more time analyzing his statements and investigating his cousin and getting his teammates reactions than they did investigating the Iraq war or Watergate or any other recent scandal that actually has an impact on this country.

Hey, I'm against steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs that wreck your body and cause other people to wreck their bodies just to keep up. I get it.

But is it really worth all the outrage to focus on one guy who did it six years ago? He's going to pay the price for his behavior when he gets older and suffers from all the steroid-related maladies that have afflicted others.

Enough is enough. Just make sure your kids don't do steroids, keep drug testing baseball players as we're doing now, and be done with it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Give me a break

The headline says it all: "A-Rod controversy spoils entire 2009 campaign before it begins."

Are you telling me that in September -- when there are great pennant races -- and October -- when there are great playoff games and World Series -- are you telling me that because one player (or 104) tested positive for steroids 6 YEARS AGO, the whole season is ruined?

Why not claim that baseball is ruined forever now? That nobody's going to come to games anymore?

Need we remind them that baseball attendance has never been higher than the last few seasons?

A-Rod. Uh oh.

Of course the big news over the past few days is about Alex Rodriguez and his positive steroids test from 2003. I guess the only thing worse would be if Albert Pujols got caught. Pujols is about the last clean big superstar left.

I think we can all agree that almost every ballplayer, past or present, does whatever he has to do to succeed. In previous generations, it meant taking "greenies," or methamphetamines. Or OD'ing on caffeine to stay alert. Or corking the bat. Or stealing signs. Or spiking opposing players. Or grabbing a baserunner by the belt to slow him down. Or throwing a spitball. Or whatever.

It's called cheating, and it's wrong, and it happens all the time. A-Rod didn't invent it. He won't be the last. The only thing A-Rod has going for him is that when he cheated, he wasn't breaking any of baseball's rules, and he never lied about it to a grand jury (though he did lie to reporters and the public).

A lot of people -- like this guy -- are saying now A-Rod won't make it to the Hall of Fame. That's nonsense. I think that there will be an amnesty for the guys of this era who juiced up, and that superstars like A-Rod, Clemens, Bonds, even McGwire, will eventually get in. Cheaters like Palmeiro, who are on the bubble, may have a harder time, but he was on the bubble as a HOFer even before the steroids taint.

My feeling is that we either need to have an amnesty like that, in which everyone gets a pass and players are judged on their merits compared to other players of that era. Or else we shouldn't induct anyone who starred from 1990 to 2004. Those seem like the two best options. And I favor the former.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Updike

If you've read and enjoyed John Updike's fantastic essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," you have to read this analysis by David Margolick at Huffington Post. It's almost as worth savoring as Updike's essay.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP: John Updike

John Updike, the great American writer, died today at age 76.

Why mention this on a baseball blog? If you've ever bought an anthology of baseball writing, you probably know why: “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” the marvelous essay Updike wrote in 1960 originally for The New Yorker magazine.

The essay describes the last game in Ted Williams's career, a day that was “overcast, chill, and uninspirational” but that nevertheless produced one of baseball’s most remarkable moments: the home run hit by Williams, aka “The Kid,” in his last major league at bat. Updike viewed the action from a box seat with the eyes of a loving fan, not as a cynical sportswriter sitting in press row. The result is a much-recommended piece full of beautiful prose and surprising turns.

You can read the article in its entirety here at Baseball-Almanac.

Goodbye, John Updike.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Farewell, Jeff Kent

Jeff Kent is announcing his retirement tomorrow after 17 years in the big leagues. Last June, I assessed his Hall of Fame credentials. I predicted that eventually he'd get in to the Hall in the class of 2024, but that was just a guess without knowing when he'd retire. Now that he's retiring and will be eligible for the Hall in 2015, I'm going to change my prediction to say that he'll be enshrined in 2020.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don Larsen's perfect game re-broadcast

I haven't written anything about the MLB Network's broadcast of Don Larsen's perfect game on New Year's Day because, unfortunately, I have Dish Network and it doesn't carry the network. Hopefully they'll work that out soon enough. But in the meantime, I wanted to direct you to an LA Times story about Vin Scully's memories of that game. Scully, only 28 at the time, called the second half of the game. Check it out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Congrats to Rice and Henderson

Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson were just elected to the Hall of Fame, so they deserve congratulations. Here are some random thoughts:

- It's a travesty that Henderson received not quite 95% of the vote. If he's not a guaranteed unanimous selection, then no one is. Those 5% of voters who didn't include Henderson should be ashamed of themselves.

- Rice was a very good player, even great for a couple of seasons. But his induction opens the floodgates for outfielders/DHs with solid but flawed credentials. I mean, how can you say yes to Rice (.298 BA, .352 OBP, .502 SLG, 128 OPS+, 382 HR) but no to these guys:

* Dale Murphy (121 OPS+, 398 HR)
* Andre Dawson (119 OPS+, 438 HR)
* Dave Parker (121 OPS+, 339 HR)
* Fred Lynn (129 OPS+, 306 HR)
* Albert Belle (143 OPS+, 381 HR)
* Dick Allen (156 OPS+, 351 HR)
* Reggie Smith (137 OPS+, 314 HR)

And when these guys come up for the honor, how can you say no:

* Andres Galarraga (118 OPS+, 399 HR)
* Ellis Burks (126 OPS+, 352 HR)
* Fred McGriff (134 OPS+, 493 HR)
* Juan Gonzalez (132 OPS+, 434 HR)

Will they all make it? No, but they all have a solid case now that that Rice is in. Of course, Hall voting is totally inconsistent and unpredictable. For borderline cases like these, it usually requires some passionate advocates in the media to beat the drums for them. Rice has the powerful Boston media behind him, so that really helped. These other guys don't seem to have the advocacy. Check out Joe Posnanski's post about Dale Murphy for his take.

- Bert Blyleven and Tommy John got screwed again this year. Blyleven still has a few years left on the writers' ballot, but now it's up to the Veterans Committee to take up John's cause. Talk about inconsistent voting patterns. If they follow their usual brilliant timing, they'll wait until after John is dead before realizing he should be inducted.

- Mark McGwire. When he retired, he was talked about as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Now he struggles to get 25% of the vote. I wonder what he has to do to rehabilitate his image. Maybe if he admits taking steroids, explains why, and starts campaigning against steroid use, that might do it. But so far, he seems content to keep quiet and let the cloud hang above him. Maybe the Hall of Fame just doesn't mean much to him, which is fine by me. But it is interesting to watch.

- Tim Raines. I loved watching him play and I hope he makes the Hall someday. He was a great player and deserves it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hall of Fame, Part 2: Blyleven

Reader Steven makes some good points about the Hall of Fame in his comment about my last post on Rickey Henderson, which is totally worth reading.

Choosing to make the case for Henderson in the Hall of Fame wasn't exactly a controversial stand. Steven is right that Henderson should be a unanimous selection, but I'm sure some sportswriters -- who (a) stupidly don't believe a player should be inducted on his first try, and/or (b) were slighted or offended by Henderson sometime during his career -- will conspire to keep Henderson from achieving the magical 100% mark. Bill James once said that you could split Henderson in half and each half would be worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame.

I want to tackle a more controversial subject: Bert Blyleven. The hard-core baseball historian community really wants him to finally get the recognition he deserves. Joe Posnanski has a very good explanation of why Blyleven belongs, and I can't argue with any of it. Based on the numbers, Blyleven certainly belongs. The guy was excellent. I will add that his curveball is routinely named as one of the best of all time.

Here's the opposite argument. Blyleven played when I was growing up a baseball fan, and I can't recall anyone ever touting him as a future Hall of Famer when he was toiling for the Indians and Twins. Was he ever truly great? And do non-greats belong?

Lots of people say no. And I might have said no, too, at least before I really took a look at the people in the Hall of Fame. When lots of people think of the Hall of Fame, they think of the inner circle: Mays, Mantle, Ruth, DiMaggio, and so on. But that's not the standard for the Hall. The standard is more like Gabby Hartnett and Dazzy Vance, Duke Snider and Al Kaline. Players who excelled at their positions for many years. To believe in the first standard would mean the Hall would have about 30 members. It actually has over 280.

Does Bert Blyleven belong among those 250+ players? Of course he does.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hall of Fame ballot: Rickey Henderson

The Hall of Fame will announce its new inductees, if any, on Jan. 12. One of the best evaluations of the players on the ballot comes from superblogger Joe Posnanski, and I suggest you check out his HOF post.

As for me, I'm going to take a few moments to talk about the top players on the ballot. Today we'll focus on the sure-thing lock for the Hall, Rickey Henderson.

Henderson combined power, speed, strike zone judgment, and high-average hitting like no player in history, easily earning him the title of greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history. In his prime during the 1980s, he could steal 80 to 100 bases, smack 10 to 20 homers, score 100+ runs, and draw enough walks to give him an on-base percentage over .400. He’s one of the few lead-off hitters to win an MVP Award, and he holds career records for both runs and steals.

He was a great player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who probably deserves even more accolades than he gets. But he was almost equally famous for me-first escapades such as playing cards in the clubhouse while his Mets teammates lost in extra innings during the playoffs, or holding out in spring training for a bigger salary with the A's.

So how do we factor in that extra stuff in our evaluation of him as a player? In the case of an unparalleled talent like Henderson, we don’t. Sure, he made good copy for sportswriters, and he created a few headaches for management. But his antics never seemed to distract his teams from winning. And win they did. He played in the post-season eight times and won two World Series. Even with the baggage, you’d be crazy not to want Henderson on your team.

I'm very eager to hear his Hall of Fame induction speech.