Friday, March 05, 2010

Another Writer Uses the "Throwback" Line

First, let's get out of the way immediately that this post isn't an anti-Chase Utley piece. Utley is one of the best in the game and there is no doubt when hearing from his manager and others that the guy has a great work ethic and focus. No, this piece is about cliches that writers fall into all the time. Check out this Mr. Bodley piece about Utley. One line in particular stands out:

"To me, Utley is a throwback, the type of gritty, no-nonsense player from a forgotten era."

How many times as a sports fan have you heard a line similar to that? It is so hackneyed and so trite and yet writers do that all the time. First, there was no forgotten era. Each era is unique and yet the same. Each era contains players and people that work hard and others that just slide by with as little exertion as possible. There are no such things as throwbacks. Every era has guys that work harder than others.

In his career, Jeff Kent was a "throwback." Before him there were others. There are always no-nonsense guys and nonsense guys. For every Jeff Kent, there is a Moe Drabowski. And Utley is not even alone in being the type of player he is. Let's see, there are Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox. That's just two off the top of the head.

The truth is that ballplayers today probably work harder at their craft than in bygone eras. Players train year round whereas in the past, before the big money, players would drive milk trucks in the off season (among other jobs). There is more of an emphasis on conditioning than ever before. Doesn't seem like ole' Mickey Mantle spent much time in the weight room.

And yet, every so often, writers will dust off the old throwback line or phrases like "a forgotten era." As a writer, the Fan can sympathize with Mr. Bodley. Perhaps just a story about how hard Utley works or how he never smiles and always has his game face on didn't seem to have enough zip to it on its own. Or perhaps Bodley should have just trusted his readers to understand what he was trying to say without dusting off the old cliches from the Sportswriting 101 class.

The Fan doesn't mean to come down too hard on Mr. Bodley, who happens to be a very good and very respected writer. But let's put a ban on such cliches okay? The same can be said for, "grizzled lefthander," "scrappy shortstop," "fiery manager" and "runs like a gazelle." Sure as shooting though, the Fan's plucky readers will be searching themselves for when the Fan pulls out the old cliches. Well, you should.

The Giants Get Revenge. Oh Please.

Remember last year when Prince Fielder hit an extra-inning, walk-off homer against the Giants and the entire team did this fall to the thunder act when Prince jumped on home plate? Remember that? Apparently the Giants did because Barry Zito plunked Fielder in the back in a Spring Training game to show the Brew Crew that the act wasn't appreciated. Oh geez.

The best part of the story I heard was that after his "drilling," Fielder saucily picked up the ball and tossed it back to Zito. There are SO many things wrong with this story that it's actually a fun one. Let's list them shall we?

1. If you are going to get back at Fielder, shouldn't somebody that throws harder than Zito do it? Zito doesn't exactly throw bullets anymore.

2. Come on, Giants, where is your sense of humor? That stunt was one of the most fun and most endearing moments of 2009. It was a team building, fun experience that celebrated life in MLB baseball. If the average ballplayer lives 80 years and their MLB experience only lasts a quarter of that, shouldn't it be fun?

3. If you are going to hit Fielder, who is massive, what part of him would hurt if he was hit in the back? The ball probably suffered more damage than he did.

4. The Giants sure showed them upstart Brewers a thing or two about professionalism eh? Nice job, guys. You sure showed them how tough you are and how you play the game the right know, all that honor crap and stuff. While you're at it, maybe that cool Panda of yours can tuck in his shirt once in a while.

5. Which team did the stunt bring closer together, the Giants or the Brewers? By the tone of this post, you can probably guess the Fan's opinion.

6. Fielder's response showed two things: First, he's a class act and was just amused by the whole thing. Secondly, you can hit him all you want, the man is going to have his fun and more power to him.

7. It was a Spring Training game for crying out loud. Just what did that whole thing prove anyway?

8. Zito was probably acting on orders, so he gets a slight pass on this one. Which is good, because he has been the Fan's underdog for a few years now.

The Brewers were a mess a few years ago. They were a small franchise just on the edge of existence. They are drawing three million fans a year now. So this Fan hopes that they just keep on doing what they are doing and have a blast of a time doing it. This Fan is looking forward to the next fun moment from the guys in Milwaukee.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough...

[[switching to first person]] I was looking over my posts for the last two days and noticed a bit of petulance and negativity in there. So I sat down tonight determined to write an upbeat post. After all, they actually played games today! There were box scores and everything. Today in northern Maine, the sun came out after eight straight days of clouds and it felt good. But despite all of that, there is too much pensiveness inside to quite pull off the genuine cheer.

We've all heard it before that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I feel like I'm a pretty tough guy. Nothing has come easy in this life. My dad died when I was ten. We lost our home and then my mom married this drunken lout with five kids of his own who absolutely detested that we invaded their home. In retrospect, it's hard to blame them. They were kids after all, but it was definitely not the Brady Bunch. I've worked hard my whole life. And there were times when that hard work paid off. But those times never seem to last. I've had this weird thirteen year cycle where every thirteen years or so, the wheels fall off, I lose everything I've gained and have to start from scratch.

Do the tough always get going? I think sometimes they do. But what you can most say about the tough is that they don't give up. Working hard is what I do. From the moment my son was born thirty years ago, I have put in sixty to seventy hours a week at whatever I've been doing. Sometimes, being that tough means you crash and burn and there are no guarantees in life. In our not too distant past, farmers worked from dawn to dusk year round and at times still lost their farms if prices fell or the weather didn't cooperate.

So life has felt sort of bipolar. There have been successful times at least twice in my life where I had the means to do pretty much whatever I pleased. There have been just as many times when I've been just as low as I was high. This is one of them. This is probably the worst of them. We have our health and we eat and so far (thank God), the mortgage is getting paid. But everything else is a crap shoot.

My new business doubled in size last year but expenses were just as high. But it's enough growth that lends itself to keep trying. It's like golf, you hit just enough good shots that you keep going despite the nine you might have carded on that last par five. It really helps that I have all the support I need from my wife. She believes in what I am doing and believes it will be successful. Me? Well, let's just say that I am equally as optimistic as I am scared to death.

The one key problem I have at the moment is that I need new equipment to get this to the next level. The problem is that I haven't worked in a year and a half and no one is going to fork over the kind of money needed for that equipment. And so I look to the heavens for wisdom and keep stumbling along with what I have and despite it's weak nature, I make really nice stuff.

My first reaction so far to what this post is shaping up to be is to apologize. This probably isn't what you came here to read. But the heck with apologizing. Sometimes you just have to write what is on the heart and in the mind and leave it at that. It's all a bit indulgent, to use a Simon Cowell term, but it's my indulgent and it's my blog, so there it is.

So where am I now in the scheme of things? Well, despite the loss of my former career, the budget cuts that just eliminated my wife's teaching position and the battles with drug addiction by a family member, let's just say that I'm tough. There are some days where it is hard to concentrate and keep working. There are other days where the work keeps my mind off of other things. But the bottom line is that I believe I was put on this earth for a purpose. And that purpose is still a work in progress. I don't mean to offend any of my atheistic friends, but if I truly believed this life was a random and fluke event, then why bother? Why keep trying. It's just too hard and it would be far easier to just curl up in a fetal position and stay there. So, yeah, I think this is just a valley. A real deep one.

I really hate some of what's on the radio now. All of that electronic music where the voice is obscured by the computer is a cheap circus trick and shows no art whatsoever. And let's face it, Miley Cyrus isn't exactly art inspiring. But her song about climbing that mountain came on the radio recently and I cried like a baby. Yeah, that's what I'm doing. I'm going to climb that mountain. I'm going to get on the other side. I do care how fast I get there though.

Two people really dear to me are having a tough time right now. He is 93 and his wife is 90. She has gone through enough to kill twenty people in the last five years. But she still smiles whenever I see her. She's still here. It hurts to watch people that worked hard all their lives not being able to care for themselves, though he still gets on his tractor occasionally. I've talked to him quite a bit over the years and he remembers some really tough times. He went through the Depression and took over his father's potato farm as a teenager because his father couldn't handle it. He almost lost everything until by some stroke of genius, he converted the farm to egg producing. It worked and at his peak he had 20,000 hens.

His story encourages me because he climbed that mountain despite how low the valleys were. But they also had this incredible secret to being happy. They enjoyed each and every day and appreciated such simple things. Strawberries and taking the van to sleep overnight in the woods were things they just adored. So they worked hard and they were content with things that didn't cost a lot of money to enjoy.

So I'm in a bit of a hole. Heck, I'm at the bottom of Crater Lake. But I'm going to climb that mountain. I'm going to work until I can't anymore and I will have faith that it will work out and I'll get to the other side. But I'm also going to try to be thankful for a good hamburger and a round of golf (the one indulgence from the tax refund) and a good book. And yeah, I'm going to be thankful for baseball. Through everything, there has always been baseball. And other writers may want to dwell forever on a Canadian doctor who treated Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez in some strange ways. Other writers may want to dwell on how the game isn't what it used to be. But the poetry and the passion of every day box scores and new stars and new years will never grow old for me. Life is too hard right now to look for new demons around trees. I choose to look for angels in the outfield.

Thanks for being here for me and after this, I promise to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The More Things Change...

It's a familiar lament in baseball that just like in life, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Just ask any Kansas City fan. Teams like Kansas City can't compete because of the imbalance of financial conditions of certain teams that can fill holes with money to spare. Typical for Kansas City was to lose one of the best up and coming outfielders. They bowed down to financial pressure and let the outfielder go to a richer team. He went on to become a star and his team had success on the field. Poor Kansas City fans riled with bitterness watching that outfielder perform on the national stage in the post season. Typical and a product of modern baseball, right?

But we're not talking about Johnny Damon or Carlos Beltran. The outfielder was Roger Maris who had a 126 OPS in 1959 for the Kansas City Athletics. Maris, as most of us know, went on to win two straight MVP awards with the Yankees in 1960 and 1961.

Another power house team won appeared in the World Series and the very next year landed in last place. No, that team wasn't the Marlins, it was the 1914/1915 Philadelphia Athletics. Connie Mack's team had been to the World Series four out of five years while averaging 96 wins during that span (in a 154 game season). They won three of those series. But by 1914, the team was broke and Mack had a fire sale. The next two years, that once powerful team won a combined 79 games. Wow, that should make some fans feel better.

There has always been teams that were richer and teams that were poorer. The Boston Braves couldn't buy anything and escaped to Milwaukee and just barely. And yet, we are constantly hearing that there is unfair competition because some teams have more money than others and it's getting worse and it's a recent phenomenon. It isn't. It's always been that way. Always.

The Oakland A's were the best team in baseball. With Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and others, they won several championships. But eventually, Charlie Finley couldn't afford them and they all went away to richer teams. It was true then and it's true now.

So yeah, Royals' fans can talk about Beltran and Damon and others and say it isn't fair. And they have some merit in their feelings. But it's no different when the Kansas City team of the 1950s was joked as being another of the Yankees' farm teams because of all the players the A's sent the Yankees' way. The Red Sox sent Ruth to New York for the same reason 90 years ago as Sabathia signed with them last year--the Yankees could afford them.

As many writers have pointed out, MLB competition over the last 20 years fares very favorably with the NFL and other sports. That means that poorer teams can reach the top. The reality is that just like Connie Mack's A's and Charlie Finley's A's, they just can't stay there for very long.

Update - Here is a link to someone who said it much better than this post ever could.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Mets Hitting to the Wrong Field

We've heard much about the Mets hitting IN the wrong field (Citi that is), but now Rob Neyer is quoting John Harper as stating that the Mets were hitting to the wrong field (see Mr. Neyer's post here). Apparently, everyone's favorite whipping boy, Tony Bernazard, the deposed Mets' executive was not only rude, but misguided in his hitting approach. According to Mr. Harper, Bernazard insisted that the major league club hit more to the opposite field. Mr. Neyer wondered if the numbers back that up. They do indeed.

In 2008, the Mets had 706 plate appearances where the ball was hit to the opposite field (the stats will be broken further later). In 2009, that number increased to 863. The Mets hit 2719 balls up the middle in 2008 and that number was down to 2661 last year. In the pull category, you can really see the difference. In 2008, the Mets pulled the ball in 1216 plate appearances. That number dropped to 1157 last year.

Was the philosophy the problem or was it not having the same players doing the hitting due to injuries? Well, that's harder to determine without more study. But what is clear is that the Mets rock when they pull the ball and become Miguel Cairo when they don't. Here are the numbers broken out a bit:

2008 (where the ball went, number of plate appearances, OPS)

LHOF - 447 - .830
RHOF - 259 - .585
LHM - 1621 - .727
RHM - 1098 - .728
LHP - 660 - 1.020
RHP - 556 - 1.257


LHOF - 450 - .745
RHOP - 413 - .746
LHM - 1411 - .745
RHM - 1236 - .746
LHP - 609 - .863
RHP - 548 - 1.137

Numbers from the one and only

The numbers speak for themselves. Where do you think the Mets should try to hit the ball?

The Most Entertaining Post Ever

Chad Moeller has been a backup catcher for ten years. He's one of those guys that make you scratch your head and wonder how he has had a job for so long. The guy has never hit. He was a starting catcher only once in his career. Refreshingly, he knows he is lucky and wonders himself how he has stayed around for so long.

The feature baseball writer for the New York Times simply lets Moeller talk about pitchers he has caught and stays out of the way. It's a brilliant post and easily one of the most entertaining this Fan has read in a long, long time. Check it out yourself here.

The Fan doesn't know about you, but if Moeller and other catchers would put out a book with honest remembrances about pitchers they've caught it would be on the Fan's must have list in a heart beat.