Thursday, January 31, 2019

Some Eve Of February Thoughts - Free Agents, HOF, Others

Here we are on the last day of January and all of us (fans, writers, etc.) should be thinking about Spring Training which begins in two weeks. Instead, we are still looking at the top free agents on this year's slate unsigned. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are still searching for homes. Every single day, I go to Major League Trade Rumors to see what has happened and the answer is still the same - Nothing! Can we end this misery so we can go on thinking about the season?

The funny thing is that I remember thinking the same thing last year. We were all wondering where J.D. Martinez was going to land. And when he did, and where he did gave me the sinking feeling that the Red Sox were going to win the division and the World Series. I really felt that way and I was right.

I also know I am correct in what I wrote about the consequences coming from the last two off seasons. While my reasoning might be a bit flawed, the players' union and MLB are headed to a showdown about compensation since the dynamic has changed for free agency. It is all about youth now and value and we are going to have a work stoppage if things do not get worked out.

But how much of this is the players' fault? The money gets ridiculous after a while. If Machado and Harper take $34 million for five years instead of ten, is that not still a ridiculous amount of money? I think I could survive the future with $170 million. We'll never be sure, but the rumor is that the Nationals already offered Harper $30 million per for ten years. Three-hundred million dollars is not enough? Oh my. If a really good "real life" salary is $100 thousand a year, then 40 years at that salary is equal to $4 million in a lifetime! Come on now! Figure out where you want to play and sign on the dotted line already!

From a fan's perspective, I would love to see Harper's swing in Yankee Stadium. And I love the walks. I do not mind him taking Brett Gardner's spot in the outfield. Though I do think Giancarlo Stanton is a better player playing in the field at least half the time.

On the other hand, I would hate to see Machado land with the Yankees. I have made that clear all along and I know it is not a popular stance. I know it is kind of stupid, but I like rooting for likable as well as talented players. I do not like Machado and I never will. Plus, I love Miguel Andujar and Didi Gregorius and want them playing the left side of the Yankee's infield.

Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel need to find homes too. Kimbrel is probably asking for too much and Keuchel is probably asking for too long. I just want to think about Spring Training and dream about what the Yankees and other teams are going to do in 2019. I simply want this over with.

         **********************************************************************

I cannot quibble with those selected to the Hall Of Fame this year in the writer's vote. The committee vote held earlier was a joke. But the four selected were deserving.

As a longtime Yankee fan, of course I am ecstatic that Mariano Rivera is a HOFer. He was the classiest player that ever put on a uniform. Mike Mussina had a more valuable career than both Schilling and Halladay, but, if you listen to Michael Kay, he was not a class act.  It takes all kinds and it is about the value the player's performance was when they played.

That is why I continue to maintain that the HOF is bogus as long as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not enshrined there. Perhaps "enshrined" is part of the problem. Being in the HOF is not a beatification. We are not creating saints here. We are designating players as the best of their eras. In the supposed steroid era, there were no better players than Clemens or Bonds. Until this is rectified, I will never go there or celebrate the organization.

And how does Scott Rolen keep getting overlooked!?

         ***********************************************************************

Super Bowl Sunday is upon us and I must say that I really, really want the Patriots to win. I moved from New Jersey to New Hampshire in 1975 and was never a Jets or Giants fan. I liked the Bills when O.J. was there. Stupid me, eh?  But I was not passionate about any team.

After I moved, in the pre-cable days, the only games we could get on Sunday were the Patriot games. Those were the days of Steve Grogan, Sam "Bam" Cunningham, Darryl Stingley and Russ Francis. I have adopted them ever since. That means that I am not a "winner" and rooting for a team because of its success. The same is true for the Yankees (though the Patriots will never be as important to me as the Yankees).

The game scares me and to predict the Patriots to win would be foolish. I certainly hope they win and add another notch in the team's dynastic run.

Oh, and one thing about that "run." It is said by many to be the best dynasty ever in sports. While it is amazing, these people should look at the Yankees from 1947 to 1964. Yogi Berra has twice as many rings as Tom Brady.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Would A Steve Balboni Career Happen Today?

I want to say right up front that I am not going to knock Steve Balboni in this piece. I really like (liked) the guy when he played and I respected his love for the game (for reasons I will explain in a bit). I am using "Bye-Bye" as an example of a type of player that simply might not exist in MLB today. Steve Balboni set a record for homers by a Kansas City Royals' player that stood for 22 years. But if you look at his valuation through the eyes of the statistics we use now, the Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni we liked back then would not fly today.

Balboni is claimed affectionately by both the Royals and the Yankees' fan bases. He started in the Yankees' farm system after he was drafted in the 2nd Round. He had brief glimpses of playing time for the Yankees in 1981, 1982 and 1983 while mashing a prodigious amount of dingers for the Yankees' farm teams in each of those seasons.

He was then traded before the 1984 season, along with Roger Erickson, for Duane Dewey and Mike Armstrong. Nobody remembers any of those other guys. But Balboni hit it just right with the Royals as they made the playoffs in 1984 and won the World Series in 1985. Balboni played in 120 games in 1984 and hit 28 homers. He played in 160 games in 1985 and set the franchise record for homers with 36. That record stood until 2017 when Mike Moustakas broke it.

Balboni's homers and his ascension as a Major League player cemented him in the hearts of Royals' fans and even more so when he hit a single in the bottom of the ninth to start a rally in Game Six of the 1985 World Series (against the Cardinals). Believe it or not, Steve Balboni received regular season MVP votes in both 1984 and 1985.

And there is the rub. He got himself a World Series ring (and check). His Royals' fan base loved him and he received MVP votes. But according to today's valuations, his season that year was worth 1.1 win above replacement. By comparison, in this past seasons MVP vote, the lowest WAR total by someone who received votes was 2.9.

By today's valuation, Steve Balboni was only the 16th best first basemen in the game that season. If that was today, there would be rumbling by MLB Trade Rumors that his team was in the market for an upgrade.

Steve Balboni played in parts of eleven seasons. Four of them were not of the regular playing time variety. He had seven seasons of major playing time. If you add up all the partials, you could argue eight seasons worth of playing baseball at the highest level. Steve Balboni's career WAR total (according to baseball-reference.com) finished out at 0.9 WAR. So if you do the math, his average yearly WAR total for eight seasons came to about 0.11 per season.

Looking at those valuations, would Steve Balboni have seen eleven seasons in MLB today? The answer is probably no. First base is an offensive position. You want your first baseman to be a bopper but also to play decent defense and get on base at an at least league average rate. Balboni only had the first talent of the three. His lifetime OPS+ is 101. So he was basically just a tick above league average for his career (despite hitting 181 homers). His fielding metrics are not pretty at all.

In Balboni's biggest season, he made 18 errors. As a first baseman? Mark Teixeira only reached ten errors once in his entire career. In 1985, baseball-reference.com rated his defense as costing the Royals to the tune of -1.6 wins.

Steve Balboni made $3.5 million in his career plus the World Series check. With eleven years of service, he has an MLB pension. That is good on him. I always liked him so I'm glad he got those things. On top of his 181 MLB homers, Balboni also hit 239 more homers in the minors including 86 for the Texas Rangers' Triple A team in three years after his MLB career was basically over. After he retired from baseball at its highest level, he went home and played for semi-pro teams. The guy loved the game. You don't ride the buses at the Triple A level for three seasons after your MLB career has set you up for life.

My favorite factoid about Steve Balboni is that he did not play in the Major Leagues in 1991 or 1992 after the Yankees (in his second act there) released him after the 1990 season. He had three very successful Triple A seasons for the Rangers and finally, at the very end of the 1993 season, the Rangers gave him a courtesy call up and he started the last game of his career on October 2 and his second MLB game of 1993. He played all nine innings and had three hits in four at bats.

Steve Balboni had his career at just the right time. He is forever cemented in the hearts of Royals' fans and he did one thing well. He hit the ball over the fence. I imagine he had a heck of a good time playing and I am glad for that. I just do not think today's MLB world would have a Steve Balboni. And maybe that's a little bit sad.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Fan's Ode To Mel Stottlemyre

Passionate baseball fans fall in love with baseball players. Or they do not. We all have different ways that asserts itself meaning that a player I love might be a player you hate. Most of that passion is for players on your favorite team. Some players--say a Mike Trout--transcend the team orientation and are universally loved. And some are universally hated. Barry Bonds was probably in that category. Dave Winfield's constant smile won most over and Randy Johnson's constant scowl turned most people off.  The reason I am thinking about all of this is for a story in the Yankee universe this week: the passing of Mel Stottlemyre.

Before I delve into those that story, I will digress a bit on how being a fan of baseball players has changed. I have been a fan a long time--well over half a century. Growing up, the most important part of any week was getting The Sporting News in the mail. That weekly was our source of statistics and stories about players on every team. It gave me many happy hours of reading. Since it was delivered in large newspaper format, the end of the reading left your hands black with newspaper ink.

I filled scrapbooks of pictures of the players that I would cut out of the weekly. Each team had its own pages. I knew all of the players on every team. I did not really know them. I knew whatever the team's PR department wanted me to know. But you got a feel for who was who, what they meant to their teams, how hard they worked and it felt intimate. There were also baseball cards. They were a must and you would mark the ones you had on the checklists that were provided.

There was little national coverage. You had the Saturday game of the week, the All Star Game and the World Series. That was it. So you watched the league your favorite team played but not the other league.

I mentioned the statistics. They were always interesting to me. They fascinated me. I believe the love of them helped me get high scores on the math portion of the SAT. To this day I can tell you the batting average of a guy with one hit in anywhere from one at bat to twenty. I still know how to figure out ERA and slugging percentage. But the numbers were a way of ranking players but had little to do with how you rooted for them.

Maybe that was just me. It was a way I worked around the fact that my favorite team stunk every year. Pretty much all of the players were terrible on the Yankees during the years from 1965 onward, so I rooted for the players we had. When I kept score to a WPIX broadcast, I was happy that Stick Michael got a hit and not much thought was into what he did not hit pretty much most of the time.

I think it is different now. The constant information, the 24/7 sports media, up-to-the-minute statistical breakdowns and scouting reports for MiLB players never existed back then. Players are dissected and valued or not valued based on the lab results. We know what young players to root for because we have been anticipating them for years and have followed their progress. Players are commodities for our fantasy leagues and our betting.

The point is that if you were an Orioles' fan last year, you did not like the crappy players because everyone pointed out how crappy they were. You did not like the crappy players as much as the good players like I did when I was young.

But you did realize, even back then, when a player was really good and sometimes those players became your idols. Bobby Murcer was one of those for me and so was Mel Stottlemyre. When the latter pitched, you payed even more attention.

Mel Stottlemyre was not exciting. He was like a metronome. He was constant. He always kept the Yankees in the game. He was not flashy. In a day where they did not have today's fielding charts to determine where to place fielders, Mel Stottlemyre got the other team to hit the ball to his fielders...consistently.

Take 1969, for example. It was the first year without Mickey Mantle. The Yankees had no offense. The team's OPS+ was 86. Roy White was their best hitter. Joe Pepitone led the team with 27 homers. The 1969 Yankees finished fifth in a six-team A.L. East and ended up 28.5 games behind the division winning Baltimore Orioles. The team went 80-81.

Mel Stottlemyre started 39 of those games. 39! He finished 24 of them. The team's record when he pitched was 23-15. That was a .590 winning percentage for a team that finished under .500. Stottlemyre went 20-14 that season and pitched 303 innings. In 23 of his starts, his team scored three runs or less. It was the third and last time he won 20 games. He struck out only 3.4 batters per nine innings. It was not Randy Johnson-esque. But it worked. Stottlemyre made $53 thousand dollars that year.

Beginning in 1965, Stottlemyre made between 35 and 39 starts for nine straight seasons and pitched between 251 to 303 innings. In those nine seasons, he won 149 games and completed 141 starts including 38 shutouts. Most of those nine seasons were pitching for a terrible to mediocre team. Only in 1970 and 1972 did his teams have decent seasons.

He was a rock for us fans. He was stoic, workmanlike and reliable. He went out there every fourth day and gave his teams a chance. He fielded his position well and was a pretty good hitter for a pitcher (seven homers). Of course we would would idolize the guy. Despite pitching only nine full seasons and two partial seasons, Stottlemyre compiled 43.2 rWAR. He is definitely in the Hall Of Very Good.

It did not end well for Mel Stottlemyre in New York. His shoulder fell off in 1974 and the team said thank you very much and dumped him to the curb. His passing was hardly noticed by Yankee fans (especially since he refused to come back for Old Timers Games) who saw the signs of a building franchise on its way to the top in 1977 and 78. Some of us missed the guy who got us all the way through the Horace Clarke days.

But then there he was with Joe Torre in 1996. His calm demeanor matched Torre's and they were the quiet leaders of the beginning of the Core Four (it should be five or six) dynasty. Steinbrenner could do what he wanted and spout off but Torre and Stottlemyre and Zimmer made a strong team stronger. Stottlemyre and Zimmer finally tired of the owner and split. But the pitching coach, when he was there, was the same guy and brought continuity to the teams of my younger days.

After his passing, there feels like a need to thank Mel Stottlemyre for that continuity of excellence and stability. He was strong through his career and strong through the illness that ultimately took his life. He was a man to look up to and emulate. He taught by doing without being flashy. And for nine years, he was the source of many a pleasant summer afternoon and evenings either listening to him pitch on the radio, watching on Channel 11 or at the Stadium itself.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Someone Smack Carly Simon - Anticipation Stinks

The Major League Baseball off season has become such a major drag in recent seasons and this year has been the worst yet. Here we are on January 10 and some of the biggest names on the board are still out there. Of course, we are talking about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But there are others as well. Part of the reason has already been discussed in this space before. With organizations now run by analytical types, teams are very hesitant to outlay big money that stretches out beyond a player's declining years. Knowing what's going on, and yet not, is enough to drive a fan crazy.

Fans of the New York Yankees are sorely vexed that Machado is still not signed. Very rarely has such a situation polarized a fan base. Half of those fans are fuming that the team has not yet signed Machado and question George Steinbrenner's son's manhood. The other half (:::raising hand:::) do not want the guy no matter how good he is and need to know one way or another how it is going to go.

There is no need to worry about Harper as he does not fit with the Yankees. Imagining his swing in Yankee Stadium is enticing, but where would he play? So unless there is some kind of major shock, the wait on Harper is not killing the fan base all that much. The same could be said about Yasmani Grandl who apparently shot himself in the foot by not taking a multi-year deal from the Mets. The only catcher the Yankees would ever consider instead of Gary Sanchez is J.T. Realmuto.

The power-reliever market has been somewhat lively and the Yankees already made a splash by re-signing Zach Britton and still may pull the trigger on Adam Ottavino. But it sure did hurt to see David Robertson sign with the Phillies. Robertson is such a known commodity and it really stunk to see him get away. Most fans would have traded Britton for Robertson in a heartbeat and the same with the unproven (long-term) Ottavino.

Craig Kimbrel has yet to find a landing spot. It seems he has well over-stepped what teams are willing to give him (whether it be years or dollars). The prediction here is that he signs with the Red Sox for two years with an option.

Meanwhile, the New York Mets just made a steal by signing Luis Avilan to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite. Avilan has bee used mostly as a Loogy, but has shown he can get right-handed batters out as well. He has been very solid every year he's pitched in the Majors. Smart move.

There are other players out there who would have signed much earlier in the past. Dallas Keuchel is still out there as is A.J. Pollack. Adam Jones would have been signed by now in years past and the same can be said of Mike Moustakas or Nick Markakis. Being an older player in today's game is not a good thing anymore...just ask Josh Donaldson.

Of course, we were in a similar position last year when the Red Sox let the bottom fall out of the market to sign J.D. Martinez. He is a once in a generation example though as he totally revamped his teammates' mindset and was as much responsible for their season and championship than can be said about anyone in a very long while. There are no gems like him out there in the current land of the unsigned.

The real drama is whether Harper and Machado back down their demands or whether a team will blink in the headlights. There are no manhood questions for Hal Steinbrenner here. Despite those who think otherwise, just because the Yankees have the money to spend, it doesn't mean it should be stupid about it.

Meanwhile, we wait. And wait. And wait. That song hinted at in the title was okay for ketchup, but not for those fans heavily invested in the outcome of this free agent tug-of-war.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Troy Tulowitzki Pick Up Is A No-Brainer

Troy Tulowitzki is a name that appeared many times over the years in this blog. He has been coveted, mourned and buried for dead. He was once the best shortstop in the game. But he has averaged only 107 games a season in his twelve-year career. Now coming off another lost season, dumped by the Blue Jays, the New York Yankees have taken a no-brain decision to sign him for the league minimum. The Blue Jays, clearly licking their wounds and rebuilding, will pay the rest of his salary.

What is the worst that could happen from this deal? Nothing really. If he gets hurt again, Tulowitzki did not cost anything.

What is the best thing that could happen? The best that could happen is Troy Tulowitzki summoning a bit of his old glory giving the Yankees a fill-in for the injured Didi Gregorius (thus keeping Gleyber Torres at second where he will be when Gregorius returns anyway). He could be a real boost for the Yankees early in the season and it would be a nice story for the former #1 draft pick to rebound for a hurrah.

Consider that despite his injuries, Fangraphs.com has never given Tulowitzki a negative score for his fielding. Baseball-reference.com gave him one negative season for a season he only played 42 games. So, even an older, slightly rickety shortstop like Troy Tulowitzki should give the Yankees some solid defense. If he hits, which he could still do as of 2016, that will be a bonus.

The looming problem will be what will happen if he plays well and Didi returns? Other than DH, Troy Tulowitzki has never played a position other than shortstop in the Major Leagues. Can he fill in at second? Can he fill in at third? Can he play first base? Those are all question marks. He does not fit the normal profile of a utility infielder (and he does not seem to want that either).

One possibility if things go well is that the Yankees can flip him in a trade for a needed piece once Didi returns.

Notice that these thoughts are trying not to mention Manny Machado nor Miguel Andujar. The continued hope here is that the latter will still be here when the season starts and the former will not. A strong comeback for Tulowitzki would be especially needed if the former does not come to Yankee Stadium.

It is truly a shame that Troy Tulowitzki could not totally play to his career potential. His story is not a rare one. Others like Tony Oliva, Rico Carty and even George Brett come to mind. Even if the Yankees had not taken this step, Tulowitzki would be worth rooting for after a career far too marred by injuries.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Things That Irritate Me in MLB's Off Season

We are fresh into the new year of 2019 and the Off Season (is that what this is called?) drags on with news items, signings and trades few and far between. Rumors (rumours for my Canadian pals) become the news when there is no news. The last two Off Seasons have been particularly draggy. With teams taking a much harder look at free agency and the cost benefits, potential deals seem to take forever to happen. And many (like last year) may not happen at all. This is not Aaron Boone's father's Off Season (or even Aaron Boone's when he was playing). This paragraph is just one of the irritants of the season. Here are several more...

1. Reporting.

  • MLBTradeRumors.com is required reading this time of year. That is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that you know all the important happenings will be reported here with (usually) very good analysis to go along with it. What is irritating is that when things are slow, you get a bunch of non-stories about..well...rumors that never end up happening. The most irritating is when a signing or trade results in the same article being posted three times as more information is added about the deal. I guess it would be okay if the original article was appended and left where it was in order. But it is irritating that any update to the original article pushes it back to the top of the list. It makes me grouchy.
  • Jon Heyman is a respected baseball writer who has put in the time and walked the beat. There is no arguing his place among his peers. But it sure seems like he is in the agents' pockets. Have you ever noticed that he always has the sweaty details of each deal? How would he get that so quick? If he is deep inside the agents' pocket (read Scott Boras)--and I don't know if he really is--then couldn't he be used to put out false information to help those agents (unbeknownst to him of course)?
2. Every Twitter baseball fan knows more than the team does.
  • I remember last season as the Red Sox were on their way to winning five-thousand games, one of their fans was calling the team's manager every name in the book for his use of the bullpen. Excuse me. Can you at least wait until after they are no longer World Champions before you start questioning the guy?
  • Those same fans and bloggers (like me, I will admit) think we have all the answers about what our teams should do this time of year. Most Yankee fans and bloggers are begging the team to sign Manny Machado. I will wear black on the day that happens. It's not what I want at all. And then, no matter how it works out the brain trust making the decision will be criticized as being the worst in baseball. I will also wear black if Miguel Andujar gets traded. I will be just another idiot complaining.
3. The Hall Of Fame
  • The HOF has been a boil on my butt (lovely imagery there) ever since Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds got on the ballot. The former MLB players have already put two or three guys into the HOF that do not belong there (with Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner out when they should be in) and for another year, writers who vote (shame on you who turn in empty ballots) based on some morality plane. The HOF is NOT the HOF if the best players of their generation were left out.
  • I applaud writers who take the heat and publicize their ballot choices. That's brave. But if you disagree, the irritation builds because you cannot do anything about your disagreement. Tweeting the guy that he is a putz is not really pretty.
4. No baseball means the other sports get all the air time.
  • The NBA is the paragon of sports. It is the greatest thing since Red Auerbach smoked his cigars while coaching. Meh. It's been all downhill for me since the last time the Knicks won the title with those marvelous players like Frazier passing to Bradley, who hits Debusschere in the corner--SWISH!
  • Baseball will always be a better game than basketball.
  • The NFL is America's Game. Uhh...Not to me. They have a commissioner who thinks he is God and the game turns the players into Swiss cheese. It's okay to watch. But it is not baseball.
  • Soccer...seriously!?
5. Two more things...
  • There are still no games to watch and won't be for two more months. :::sigh:::
  • It is that time of the year when I start thinking about how I can afford MLB.TV for another season. It sucks being poor.
Oh! One amendment! The Off Season allows my Twitter follows too much time and they talk politics. That is probably the biggest irritant of them all...

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The New Moneyball And The Corner Bakery

My first admission is that I am 62-years-old. As a fan of some 56 years of MLB, I have to fight my inner Murray Chass (or Tony La Russa apparently) and not be a curmudgeon about baseball analytics. I use them. I enjoy them as rating tools. But there is just something about the entire game being run by them that rubs me in all the wrong George Orwell places.

My curmudgeon side will complain that analytics is the cause of shifts in baseball and lower batting averages. They are the cause of being unhappy that Justin Verlander's career was petering until he went to Houston. Can't a guy I don't like die a graceless death already?

My inner Murray Chass will bemoan strikeouts that are just outs when I will never accept that or that they are worth it if launch angles create more homers along the way. I won't ever be able to figure out why Designated Hitters who never touch a glove all season get negative dWAR. I'll never understand how Didi Gregorius never rates higher defensively than he does or how the defense of a lousy hitter makes him a better player than a really good hitter.

My second admission is that I long ago accepted that is the game now as we know it. I get it. I am, after all, the kid who played multiple Strat-o-matic baseball game seasons each summer knowing they were an early form of statistical analysis. I will never be an Eno Sarris, but I've done my best to understand as much as I can about what the numbers mean. It's okay. I'll deal.

But then I saw this video on Twitter. And the ever smug, I-know-more-than-you, Brian Kenny introduces Mr. Sarris to talk about the new Moneyball and how analytics is taking over the game from every angle right through player development. I remember when the (very pleasant) Mr. Sarris was a hack blogger like the rest of us. Good on him for carving a career out of figuring this stuff all out. I root for people like him.

So anyway, I watch this video and instead of marveling at how far technology has come in baseball, I got this sinking feeling. There is a sort of innocence lost in being able to parse the game into its minutia.

For some reason, the thought process made me think of cookies. Yes, this is the time of year I think about cookies. I am really good at making cookies. My cookies taste better than ANY cookie I've ever bought at the grocery store. Why is that? Nothing you can buy in a package tastes as good as it did when we used to go down to the bakery and buy from a nice man and his wife. THOSE were cookies!

Is there a similarity here? I think there is. The act of making cookies in mass production came from information. The basic formula is how a company can mass produce cookies that consumers will buy despite not tasting as good as their bakery forebears. Use the cheapest materials, find artificial replacements for real ingredients and design machinery and packaging to produce a somewhat tasty, cheaply-made bulk product for the masses.

All those cookie decisions were made by analyzing data. And these companies, whether it be Nabisco or Keebler rely on tons of data to balance performance versus cost. It sounds similar does it not? The bottom line is maximizing the dollar.

But some of the magic was lost. Bakeries cannot compete with mass production. They make a better product but it costs more. I feel a loss not making a special trip to a bakery and smelling the delicious odors and trying to understand what the owners were saying.

Some of the magic of baseball is being lost for me. Does that make me Murray Chass? Gosh, I hope not. Players do not play their entire career with the same team. Next year's roster will look totally different than this year's. A hit up the middle is no longer a hit. Strikeouts with a man on third with one out are okay. No, it's not!

When a rookie came into a league, it was like trying a new cookie recipe. Would it be a winner or a disappointment? Now rookies are measured from molecular structure to entire psychological profiles. Sure, some still flop. But young players just seem to have it so much more together than they did even ten years ago.

I am having a problem describing what I am feeling here. The game just seemed more basic and rooted in my past. If my scorecard read, "5-3," it meant that the third baseman fielded the grounder over by third base, not between first and second (and no, I am not advocating doing away with shifts). There was more mystery to the game which made it unpredictable and accessible.

I wish I could express things better. Let's just say that the attached video that started this thought process made me feel like I had lost something. Cookies no longer melt in my mouth (unless I make them myself). And baseball feels more like a science project than a game.