Saturday, January 01, 2011

Beer And Baseball

Major League Baseball and Budweiser have kissed and made up which means we are primed for another season of the beer maker as the "official beer" of the sport. Frankly, this was a more acceptable when Budweiser was owned by the Busch family than it is now that the "American" beer is owned by some foreign company. But it is what it is. Beer and baseball have always gone together and the sponsorship of baseball by beer has a long history. Why it has currently led to a plethora of "guys are really stupid" types of beer commercials is beyond this Fan.

The Fan has nothing against beer. If people enjoy drinking beer, then live and let live. But the Fan doesn't like beer and has never gotten the determined attachment that leads to the mindset that pulsates in the dumb commercials beer makers make. This devotion is skewed for this author by the fact that beer only starts tasting good after the seventh or eighth bottle/glass/can/mug. And drinking that many is a huge problem. The Fan would prefer a bottle of Coke. But the Fan also gets that for some, beer can be a religious type of thing.

The current crop of beer commercials seem to play on those who view beer that way. In this famous ad that was banned from the Super Bowl, a clothing drive goes far too well once a free beer was given for each article of clothing. The bottom line for these commercials is that beer is more important than clothing, social mores, sex (the number one topic of beer commercials) and family. A guy comes home and his wife/girlfriend has left a trail of clothing hinting blatantly that she would like some romance. But the guy can't get past the fridge and his beloved beer.

The Fan just doesn't get this. A pretty, half-dressed girl would always be preferable to a carton of beer. But one of the Fan's favorite blog buddy peppered his baseball travelogue series with the pursuit of beers as much as baseball, so it must exist. At least in the clothing drive ad, women as well as men gave up their clothes for a beer. Most of these commercials make total morons of the male species. The men of these ads would sell their mothers for a beer.

The Fan isn't exactly comfortable with this partnership of the American Pastime and beer. A lot of time and energy is devoted to keeping kids away from alcohol and every station paid for by SADD and MADD. And yet these commercials are on our favorite baseball telecasts and kids all across the land are seeing beer as something so greatly valued that people (men in particular) would rather have them than act appropriately and decently. That message isn't too far away from Joe Camel on the Fan's morality scale.

But the two have long coexisted and it's not surprising. Beer ads have made the beer companies a lot of money and have made teams a lot of money for the advertising. From this Fan's earliest memories, beer was always a part of baseball. Growing up, Ballantine was the sponsor of the Yankees and Schaefer was the Mets' sponsor. In this one case, the Mets out-classed the Yankees as Schaefer had a much better song. Though that song isn't as politically correct as it was then, "The one beer to have when you're having more than one."

Never has baseball and beer coexisted more than in Milwaukee. The home of Miller High Life and other beer makers was formerly the home of the Braves. When the Braves moved to Atlanta and the city wanted another team, the aborted Seattle Pilots (of Ball Four fame) moved there and naturally were renamed the Brewers. If the Fan is not mistaken, the mascot there slid into a brew of beer whenever the Brewers hit a homer. And of course, their color television commentator, Bob Uecker, became a cult hero largely due to his famous Miller Light commercials.

Well, St. Louis might argue the point of the previous paragraph. After all, the Cardinals were once owned by the Busch family and their stadium still has that name. And since Budweiser and Miller have a century old battle for supremacy, we'll call it a tie...except that the Rockies play at Coors field and...well, you get the point.

Yes, beer and baseball have gone together for a long time. The most popular vendors at ball parks are the beer vendors and their frosty concoctions in those large wire trays is a fixture in this Fan's mind. For some, the experience of going to the ballpark is about drinking beer as much as it is watching a game. Again, the Fan has no problem with that except some fans lose their heads when a few too many foamy liquids pass through their lips. Then it becomes a problem for any family with kids to deal with. But you can't picture a baseball stadium without the beer.

So, yes, Budweiser and baseball have patched things up which means that the St. Louis beer maker can once again call itself the official beer of Major League Baseball. As you can certainly tell from this post, that moniker is an important one because baseball and beer have had a love affair going on ninety years.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Just Your Typical Year End Post

Happy New Year everyone. Since it is the last day of 2010, it seems obligatory to write one of those recaps of 2010. The Fan has already mentioned that it seems a challenge simply to remember the events that happened yesterday. So how can you remember the moments of 2010? Sure, the Fan could cheat and find someone else's time line, but we'll leave the plagiarism to ESPN. Oops. Sorry. That was low. The guy did apologize. Not wanting to risk another scandal, this Fan will rely on his shoddy memory and warped sense of what was important to recap 2010 in Fan style.

The things the Fan can remember about 2010 are:

  • The Texas Rangers ending a long strangle hold the Angels held on the American League West. From Josh Hamilton's MVP season through the ownership issues and finally, the addition of Cliff Lee and a series win over the Yankees, it was exciting to see a new team crowned in a division.
  • The rebuilding of Dusty Baker's managerial image as the Reds surprisingly won the NL Central. Joey Votto won the MVP but there was a large cast of characters nobody expected to excel enough to win a division. The pitching was just good enough, but not good enough for the playoffs. Still, it was a fun ride for 2010 in Cincinnati.
  • The hex someone put on the Boston Red Sox. Despite a heroic effort from their manager and a very good season for David Ortiz, the Red Sox stayed relevant up until two weeks were left in the season even though a bunch of their stars were injured for good chunks of the season.
  • The collapse of the St. Louis Cardinals. They swept a series from the Reds to regain the top spot and everyone thought they would then go on to win the division again. Then they folded faster than a sheet in a hotel laundry room. Carpenter faded during the stretch, King Albert was only Duke-like and their centerfielder became an outcast.
  • The agony of watching Jeter strike out or ground out weakly in just about every big moment of the season. It was painful.
  • Mark McGwire returning to baseball. He fessed up so that he could rejoin the game he loves. That's a good story, not a bad one. McGwire's healing magic won't be forgotten despite the PED haze that followed.
  • The White Sox having such a weird season. They started poorly and looked like a complete mishmash of square players in round holes. Then they got hot and caught the Twins. Then they sunk like a Mafia hit. Ozzie and Kenny feuded. Yet both survived. What a soap opera!
  • The Astros and their never-say-die team. They cronked the first two months so much that their two star players wanted out and got their wish. Then the team took off. It was a fun box score season for them in the second half. Now if the moralists could get off of Bagwell so he could rightfully take his place in the HOF...
  • Watching David Price while on vacation in Florida. That guy is so cool. He's fun in the dugout when not pitching and masterful when he is.
  • Enjoying the Bay Rays' broadcasts while in North Palm Beach. They do have one of the best television crews in baseball.
  • Not enjoying the Marlins' broadcasts while in North Palm Beach. They have one of the worst television crews in baseball.
  • Watching Andy Pettitte pitch before he hurt his leg. He was dominant and this Fan will never forget that stare over his globe. Come on, more season?
  • The enjoyment brought by watching Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson play the field and run the bases. Truly special.
  • Watching the Braves overachieve knowing how hard the team was trying for Bobby Cox.
  • Hearing about the find of the 1960 World Series game. How cool is that?
  • Learning how to use's play index. How cool is THAT?
  • Reading Buster Olney every day. Love him or hate him, he is the only big time writer that nearly writes every day and on weekends. God bless his fortitude.
  • All those no-hitters and perfect games. All topped, of course, by the perfect game that wasn't and the nice story of Tim Joyce and Galarraga.
  • The San Diego Padres. They almost pulled it off. Every week we expected them to fold. They didn't until the last week of the season. Well done!
  • Still in awe on how the Giants became World Champs without an offense.
  • The big seasons for old men like Jim Thome, Mariano Rivera and Omar Vizquel.
  • The thrill ride of the Fighting Showalters the last third of the season.
  • Bautista's mammoth homers and fantastic season. Shush you conspiracy theorists and simply enjoy it for what it was. This Fan hopes he repeats it.
  • Following Josh Borenstein's Jewish ball players everyday. The Fan still maintains that we Sicilians are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. But more likely, it is because of Josh that these guys are now must sees in the boxscores each day.
  • Reading the Satchel Paige book. What a great read. A book should make you long to have actually seen a player play and that book succeeded.
  • Learning more about Bob Feller and coming to appreciate him. The Fan spent a lot of life thinking he was a jerk like Jack Dempsey.
  • Watching Roy Halladay dominate the National League. The guy is a man's man. Or is that a Fan's man?
  • The pure joy of watching Stephen Strasburg pitch his first big league game. What a thrill! The dismay at him getting hurt.
  • Watching Ubaldo Jiminez pitch and the agony of watching the Rockies squander every change to get him to 20 wins.
  • All those strikeouts in the All Star game. If you love pitching, that was a treat.

Those are just a few of the joys and agonies of 2010 the Fan can remember. On the personal side:

  • This is the Fan's 760th post of the year or an average of 2.08 a day for the year. Judging by word count, that's close to 1,140,000 words or almost six million taps on the keyboard. Some was very good. Some was schlock. But it was all enjoyable.
  • The Fan didn't miss a single day since before the season started.
  • The Fan's son moved to Florida. Will never forget the tears that day, but the Fan is so proud that he is on his own and making his way in the world in a new place. And somewhat jealous of his new digs...
  • The Fan's publishing business survived another year. This was perhaps the hardest and perhaps now that this year was survived, the new Alexander of the publishing world can finally fight his way out of Greece.
  • The Fan's daughter started high school. How did that happen? She is beautiful and a wonderful girl.
  • The Fan joined the Baseball Bloggers Association (BBA) and Yardbarker. Both associations have been wonderful and there is much hope for this blog in the coming year.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 1984 Detroit Tigers

People remember great teams. The 1927 and 1998 Yankees, the 1948 Indians, the 1996 Boston Red Sox, the Big Red Machine and the Cardinals of the mid-60s. But the 1984 Tigers seem to have passed into oblivion. And it's a sad thing really. Kirk Gibson is more known for the homer he hit for the Dodgers against Eckersley than he is for crushing two homers against the Padres in the 1984 World Series. Sparky Anderson's role as that team's manager is overshadowed by his years with the Reds. The simple fact is that something special happened in 1984 and it should never be forgotten.

A lot of this post was inspired by the news story that the architect of that team, Bill Lajoie, just passed away this week. Some will say that Lajoie inherited a great team to start with since 1984 was his first year as general manager. But it was his move to bring in Willie Hernandez at the last minute before the season began that might have sealed the whole deal (more about Hernandez later). All of those sentiments would be true except that as a long time scout, he had a hand in landing players like Gibson, Parrish, Petry, Trammell and Whitaker for the Tigers organization. It was this great home grown core that were the rock of the 1984 season.

But a lot of teams have had talent. There was just something special about this team and it manifested itself right out of the gate. The team won it's first nine games. In those nine games, they outscored their opponents 60-23. They lost to the great Saberhagen but then won seven more in a row and their record stood at 16-1. That is a start that had never happened before and hasn't happened since. By the end of April, they were 18-2 and Jack Morris was 5-0. By May 24, the Tigers were 35-5. No team has ever won more in the first 40 games. Jack Morris was 9-1, his only lost being a 1-0 loss to Bobby Ojeda and the Boston Red Sox. By the end of May they were 37-9, a two month clip at an .803 winning percentage.

Sure enough, there was no way to sustain that kind of winning percentage. But despite slowing down a bit, the Tigers never had a sub-.500 month that season, had two more months over .600 and owned first place in the American League East (there were only two divisions back then) from the first game to the last. The team won 104 games total that season, swept the Royals in the playoffs and beat the Padres four games to one in the World Series. Their final tally for the year was 111-59. The Tigers were 25-11 in one-run games. They were 11-2 in extra inning games and 30-12 in blowout games. They were simply dominant.

And it wasn't just one facet of the game that brought them such success. They weren't just a pitching team or a hitting team. They had perfect symmetry. They led the majors in OPS+ as a team at 113 and they led the majors in ERA+ at 113. They came in third in the majors in fielding percentage.  In the American League, the Tigers were first in runs scored and home runs and On Base Percentage. They were second in walks, slugging and OPS. On the pitching side they were first in ERA, saves, hits and runs and earned runs allowed. They gave up the second fewest homers. Or to put it more simply, they were a great team.

And they were a very good mix of the old and the young. Darrell Evans, Larry Herndon and Dave Bergman were on the plus side of their 30s (Evans was way plus) and all contributed. Several key home grown Tigers like Gibson, Trammell and Whitaker were all entering their prime years. And youngster like 23 year old, Howard Johnson, were just beginning to grow into good major league players.

The defense was particularly excellent up the middle. Trammell and Whitaker were entering their peak years, years that should have made them Hall of Fame players, but just like the 1984 Tigers themselves, those two have been overlooked in the Hall. And Chet Lemon was a superb center fielder. Rupert Jones, when he played, which was often, was an excellent outfielder. Bergman wasn't your typical first baseman with pop, but he was excellent with the glove and still contributed a 113 OPS+. Gibson was just average in right as was Herndon in left. HoJo was a little below average at third. And behind the plate, Lance Parrish threw out 46% of potential base steal attempts. It was a great defense that aided a very good pitching staff.

It seems weird that this team didn't have a twenty game winner. Morris, who was 9-1 after 40 games ended up at 19-11 with an ERA+ of 109. He wasn't spectacular, but he was very good. Dan Petry was 25 but already had excellent control. He went 18-8 that year with an ERA+ of 124. This was a year after he went 19-11 for the Tigers in 1983. By the time Petry was 26, he had already won 93 games in his career. He would only pitch six more seasons and win 32 more games.

Milt Wilcox was the third starter and he went 17-8 with a 4.00 ERA. The lefty was 34 at the time and two years later was out of baseball. Juan Berenguer was the fourth starter and went a hard luck 11-10 despite an ERA+ of 113. Even so, it was the only year he won more than ten games in a season. He became primarily a reliever after that season and had some very good seasons with the Twins and Braves. He pitched 15 seasons in the majors.

The rotation was rounded out by Glenn Abbott at first and finally by Dave Rozema. Abbott started the year in the rotation but was ineffective. Rozema went 7-6 and was just barely above league average. But he was good enough for the fifth spot on that team. It was Abbott's last season in the big leagues and Rozema was out of the majors after 1986.

Probably what most Tigers' fans will remember about that season was the duel relief tandem of Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez. Hernandez was an abosolute steal from the Phillies in a big trade before the season. Hernandez and Bergman went to the Tigers for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss. Wilson and Wockenfuss were somewhat useful major league players, but Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 1984 AND the MVP. And he was unhittable.

Willie Hernandez wasn't a one inning closer. He led the league in appearances with 80 and he pitched 140.1 innings! He gave up only 96 hits and 36 walks. He saved 32 games and won 9 more against only three losses. After the Tigers had such a rapid start, their attendance heated up and they ended up leading the AL in attendance that season. Whenever Hernandez entered the game, it became a huge event and the excitement in the crowd was amazing. For better or worse, it may also be where the "Wave" became a popular major sporting event in the stands. Words alone can't describe what it was like when Hernadez came into a game. It was legend.

Willie had one more very good year, another good one and was out of baseball after the 1989 season.

Aurelio Lopez was about as opposite a pitcher to Hernandez as there could be. But the Tigers wouldn't have been as good without him just as much as Hernandez. Lopez, a Mexican pitcher didn't get a full time job in the majors until he was thirty when the Cardinals traded him to the Tigers in 1978. He was a very good reliever for the Tigers for five seasons leading into the 1984 season, a season in which he was 35 years old. Lopez got into 71 games in 1984 and pitched 137.2 innings in relief. He picked up 14 saves and went 10-1 while giving up only 109 hits en route to a 2.84 ERA. It was the fourth time in six years that Lopez pitched more than 110 innings for the Tigers and he won ten or more games three times.

It was the last gasp for Lopez as he was not effective the following year and Lopez had two lackluster years in Houston before retiring in 1988. He finished with a 62-36 record in the majors, mostly in relief to go with 93 saves.

The 1984 Tigers finished 15 games in front of the second place Toronto Blue Jays. They then went on to face the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs. The Royals barely finished 1984 with a winning record and won a very weak American League West division. The first game of the playoff featured a 8-1 blowout as Morris and Hernandez combined on a five-hitter. Trammell, Herndon and Parrish all hit homers. The second game provided a lot more drama.

The Tigers jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on Saberhagen, then at the height of his career. Kirk Gibson hit a homer of the great Royals' pitcher. But the Royals pecked away at Petry and despite Hernanez coming into the game in the eighth, tied the score 3-3. Dan Quisenberry and Aurelio Lopez both came in and pitched the ninth and tenth and the score was still knotted at 3-3 going into the top of the 11th. Quisenberry, a great relief pitcher who doesn't often get his due, gamely went out to pitch the 11th, but he had little left. Two straight sacrifice flies pushed across two runs and Lopez pitched a scoreless bottom half to get the win.

The third game featured sterling performances from Charlie Leibrandt and Milt Wilcox. Leibrandt gave up a run early but then shut the Tigers down in a complete game gem. But Wilcox was even better and pitched eight scoreless innings. Hernandez came in the ninth and shut the game down giving the Tigers a 1-0 thriller of a win and the Tigers went to the World Series. Kirk Gibson was series MVP.

The Tigers faced the Padres in the World Series. It was the Padres first World Series and the Tigers couldn't have had a better situation. The Tigers won the first game, 3-2, on a complete game by Morris and a homer by Herndon. The Tiges played a sloppy game in Game Two and made three errors on the way to a 5-3 loss. Petry got the loss.

The rest of the way, it was all Tigers. Milt Wilcox pitched six shutout innings in game three and Willie Hernandez rescued the Tigers in the 7th and pitched the rest of the way for a save. Marty Castillo, who got the nod over HoJo in the post season by Sparky Anderson hit a big homer for the Tigers. Jack Morris pitched another complete game to win the fourth game, 4-2. Alan Trammell hit two homers to seal his World Series MVP. Petry started Game Five and was again not effective. But Hernandez and Lopez pitched from the fifth inning on and shut the Padres down. Kirk Gibson hit two homers and Parrish added another and the Tigers were World Series Champs.

The series capped a remarkable season and finished the storybook season. That the Tigers couldn't hold on to the magic is probably what has kept this team from the heights of attention that it deserves. The Tigers would come in third place in their division the next couple of seasons, contend one more season after that and fall into mediocrity. But for one glorious season, the Tigers were on top of the world and it sure was fun to watch.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dotel a Mild Risk for Blue Jays

Octavio Dotel has agreed to be the Toronto Blue Jays' closer in 2011. The good news is that Dotel has been a strikeout machine his entire career, including the past three years. So even though he will be 37 in 2011, there should be no reason he should not continue to be a strikeout machine. Plus the Blue Jays didn't need to extend another silly three year deal to get the reliever they wanted. A one year deal mitigates the risk if Dotel doesn't have a good season.

And there is a risk that he won't have a good season. Octavio Dotel has been all over the map in his career as a reliever. He's had some very good seasons and he's had some that weren't so great. You probably wouldn't want to ask Yankee fans or Atlanta Braves fans about him. There have been two basic flaws in Dotel's numbers his entire career: Homers and walks.

Dotel has a 1.2 homer per nine innings rate for his career. He hasn't had a season since 2003 where that rate wasn't over 1 per nine. Thrown in the mix was the 1.6 he put up for the White Sox and the same figure he put up for the Athletics. His walk rate has also typically been high. His career mark for walks is 4.1 per nine innings. The last three years, that figure has been closer to five walks per nine.

But there are all those strikeouts. His career rate is 10.9 and he's been well over 10 in each of the last five seasons. Plus, Dotel has always been stingy with hits. He's allowed only 7.2 of them per nine innings for his career.

Dotel has never been known as a pure closer. He had one season where he saved 36 (in 2004 for two teams) and he has two seasons where he saved 22 (including last year when he pitched for three different teams. And that is part of the problem with Dotel. He's like a hired gun. He's pitched for ten different teams in his 12 seasons in the big leagues. It's like a team starts the year with him, tires of him and some other team in contention salivates over all his strikeouts and picks him up.

But again, this is a one year risk at relatively few dollars, which makes this a good pick up by the Blue Jays. If Dotel is at his best, he will certainly help them. If he's not, some team will panic at the trade deadline and want him.

The Beatles and Baseball

Last night my wife and I watched the Kennedy Center Honors on television. The special is a yearly event that honors great American contributors to the arts. As such, it was a bit strange that an Englishman named Paul McCartney was one of the honorees. While watching Sir Paul get honored, which has to be a little lower on the list of getting knighted by the Queen of England, once again the thought occurred to me that the two great constants in my life have been the Beatles and baseball. My entire life has been woven in and among the threads of those two great institutions.

I was born the year Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown. Of course, I don't remember his great exploits that year, though I was born in the midst of his great season. I have no recollection of the 1961 Yankees and the chase of the Babe by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. I would have been five at the time and it seems weird that I remember other events of my life from those times but not the Yankees. Perhaps it was because my father was not a Yankee fan. I don't think we even owned a television at that point, but we might have.

My earliest baseball memories are from the Mets who began life when I was six or seven. My father adopted the Mets like all fans of that area who would not be Yankee fans. His father was also a Met fan and would have the games on television when we visited. I believe Lindsey Nelson was the play by play man. He had a nasally voice.  My first live ball game was in Shea Stadium and I remember how beautiful it all looked back then since the site was the same as the World's Fair, held there shortly before (we went to that too).

Children's television was different back then. The shows were corny, but a lot less dark than they are now. There were shows like Wonderama and Bozo's Big Top. Wonderama was hosted by Sandy Becker. It was on his show that I first heard about the Beatles. It was 1964 and the Beatles were going to appear that night (Wonderama was on Sunday mornings) on the Ed Sullivan Show. Becker was going around to the kids in his studio audience asking them what they thought of the Beatles. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was eight years old.

But our curiosity was piqued and we begged our mother to stay up to watch. She relented and the whole family gathered around to watch Ed Sullivan. The rest, to use the old cliche, was history. I was hooked on the Beatles' charisma, their smiles and their music. That Christmas, my brother and I got Tiger Guitars as a present. They weren't real guitars of course, but we could act like we played them while listening to Beatles records.

The world was turning upside down then. President Kennedy had been shot. Grass roots music was softly echoing change. But it was the last little bit of innocence in my life. My father was still alive and my parents were not yet fighting every day. We had a comfortable life full of play and romping around. The Beatles music reflected that innocence. Their early music was more joyful and boyish than profound and deep like it would become. Their movies, Hard Days Night and HELP! came out and cemented them in our consciousness. Baseball was still a game of day games on weekends and double-headers. There was no hint of a player's private life or talks about contracts and money was never mentioned at all.

1965 began the dark years. The Beatles released Rubber Soul, which was less innocent. The Yankees began their long decline during the CBS years. My parents started fighting every day. Ugly words were thrown around and divorce proceedings were begun. The years after are all filled with confusion. My dad was killed in a car accident under dubious circumstances. The Beatles went psychedelic. We still loved them. We were just trying to figure out what it was all about. We got to see our share of games at Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees stunk. There were more assassinations. The world got scarier and the news got bolder.

I assume that the years between 1963 and 1970 shaped my character. Not knowing if I have a clue about what I am talking about, those years seemed to shape my insecurities, my longing for simpler times, my ache for innocence that have never left me. The Beatles, especially their early years, and my baseball memories are the constants in my life that bring me comfort and peace through all the turbulence. My consciousness went from Leave it to Beaver to Woodstock in the span of five years. I went from upper middle class to low middle class and from a traditional family to the anti-Brady Bunch.

It is impossible to describe the angst that living through such change can do to a soul. No days were ever truly innocent, but the darkness was simply hidden better. Now it is plain to see wherever you go and whenever you turn on any media. Baseball has become a battleground of contracts and drug prevention. Playoff and World Series games start ridiculously late and have lost a lot of the magic it used to hold. But the game itself, the wonderful slow moving intricacies that are so familiar still occur during every game. Seasons still unfold and youngsters become new stars and old stars fade. That is the baseball I hold onto.

The Beatles' career feels eerily familiar to my own life. From joy and innocence to complication and black times. Baseball has gone from innocence to every wart being revealed a thousand times over every day on every outlet imaginable. But like my life, there is still enough to savor and to remember and to continue to enjoy each and every day. You can wrap life and my music and my sport in the truth. But at the core of it all comes joy and it can't be killed and it can't be washed away. That joy is the thread of a life...a life still worth living.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

There is no joy at writing another post about the steroid situation in baseball. Of all the buzz kill conversations concerning baseball of the last decade, the steroid conversation has to be the most debilitating. Nothing has sucked the juice out of being a fan more. And yet, the topic completely overshadows the entire Hall of Fame vote this year. To this point, the only "known" user trying to gain entrance to the HOF was Mark McGwire. His candidacy hasn't gone well. But this year the issue stains Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and still Mark McGwire. Fingers have pointed to Jeff Bagwell, though those closest to him have vehemently denied he ever used. The entire voting process has become not about the player's performance, but about what the steroid accusations say about the players' character. It is a debate which will rage for years.

The Fan has gone on record several times. Frankly, the Fan doesn't give a crap who used, for how long and when. The entire mess was a forfeiture of responsibility from teams, their managers, their owners, the league, Bud Selig, the players union, team doctors and team trainers. It was a mess in which we can never and will never know the scope and depth. Some estimates are that seventy percent of players used. Other estimates say fifty percent. We have a supposed list somewhere that's top secret that has over 100 names listed of those who tested positive. That's a lot of names. And yet, only a small handful of those names have been "leaked." The Fan doesn't care because we can never know the depth of the problem. All baseball can do is go on from where George Mitchell left them and make baseball as clean as possible from here on out.

The Fan's personal guess is that those that were called to Congress that fateful week that Mark McGwire refused to talk about the past and Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at the camera and said he didn't use, were all players that were on that imfamous and unknown list of those who tested positive. Why else would they be called to testify? Congress had to have stacked its deck with some of the biggest stars in the game because that would make the most impact. But what about all the players that didn't testify? What about all the players that used and were never caught or outed? They get a pass. When their names come up for election to the Hall of Fame, only their stats will be considered. Some think that a steroid user is already in the Hall of Fame. So how fair is it, then to make examples of only those that have been outed? It isn't.

This Fan understands that the question is polarizing. Blog buddy, Josh Borenstein, will never cut the "users" any slack. Understandable. But the Fan's question for Josh and for all the writers who have declared they will NEVER vote for McGwire or Palmeiro or Clemens or Bonds is this: How do you know who the others are and how do you know those that get your vote weren't just as "dirty?" People have actually pointed fingers at Bagwell. Do they understand that such claims are libelous without proof? Most have avoided the libel problem by stating someone is "suspicious." But isn't that guilt by association anyway? If this writer ever ran for Congress, a paper could write its suspicion that the Fan was a communist. Would that be any less of an attack of character?

Which again leads us back to the question of the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro has a failed test. He says that he didn't know there were steroid derivatives in the B-12 shot Miguel Tejada gave him. Do we give him a lie detector? Will we believe the results anyway? In this entire issue, we have allowed evidence to become the verdict. There is no "shadow of a doubt." These players have already been judged in the court of public opinion. Very few, namely Bonds and Clemens will actually have a legal case involving their public stances on whether they used or not. So again, Palmeiro tested positive. We now know that the evidence against him has become the verdict. So that discounts everything he ever did in baseball? Does it?

Can anyone give the Fan any scientific percentage boost steroids gave these players? Could they hit the ball five feet further? Ten? Two? If you say that the steroids that Palmeiro supposedly took improved his performance by ten percent, then he would still have 524 homers instead of 583. The Fan has heard people say that McGwire only did one thing well in baseball (homers) and the steroids helped him with that one thing. Forgetting all those walks he also took and his on base percentage, is that kind of "cheating" much different than Gaylord Perry who only did one thing well and used Vaseline or whatever to help him do that one thing much better?

The question leaves us only two options. Either we vote for nobody from this era or we vote based on statistics relative to the era the player played. You can't cherry pick. Roberto Alomar will get elected this year. Does anyone know he never used? Can you say that for sure? We can think or believe he didn't. But is that any more fair or accurate? We just don't know. And because we don't know, then all players from Alomar's era are suspect and shouldn't get in. Or, we can reverse that same thought. Since we can't be sure, then we will have to vote for a player only based on the criteria of if the player was one of the best of his era. You can't have it both ways. For another view of the same type of dilemma in thinking, click here.

You know of course, where the Fan stands. Rafael Palmeiro is a Hall of Fame player and so is Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and whomever else is whispered about. Juan Gonzalez is not a Hall of Fame player; not because he used steroids (and it is alleged that he did) but because he did not sustain his statistics long enough.

We have to get past this issue. We can't let it sit and fester here forever. It robs and shames those who grew up becoming fans during this era of their favorite players. It colors all players in a suspicious light no matter how clean that player might be. There was a hole in baseball's armor and that was a lack of commitment to testing and investigation. That hole should be smaller now and the MLB should do everything possible to make that hole as small as possible. The game goes on, but it needs to throw all this stuff up. We can't be having this debate forever.

2011 HOF Tracker Showing Us What We Expected

On a blog with the whimsical name of The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte, the facilitator of that blog has been running a "Hall of Fame Tracker" for a couple of years. It's a really neat idea and quite handy and interesting as long as you take into account that the list is based on here say from the voters themselves who will post in their own writings who they voted for. In some cases, the voters will only mention one person they voted for and not others. In some cases, they could be fibbing. But otherwise, the list gives us a pretty good idea of who is going to get in and who isn't.

Roberto Alomar seems to be an easy glide. Of the 42 ballots compiled on the site, 40 have Alomar's name listed. Former players need 75% to get elected. It also appears that Burt Blyleven will finally get in. He is polling just above 80%.  It is expected that someone as wrong-headed as Jon Heyman would not vote for Blyleven. But when Buster Olney doesn't, that's really disappointing.

Jack Morris is polling around 69% so he looks to fall short this year again. What really surprises is the lack of support for Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell is currently getting around 46% of the votes. That's just sick. The guy has every argument for why he should be in the Hall of Fame and none against.

Barry Larkin is polling well and is at 66%. It apears that his case is warming up and he will get in eventually. Edgar Martinez is getting no love with only 35%. Tim Raines and Alan Trammell again appear to be totally unappreciated and are gaining no traction from a year ago. The voters are also speaking clearly about the candidacy of guys like Olerud, Mattingly, McGriff, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy. All of those only have a handful of votes each.

This year's vote appears to be a statement vote against users of PEDs as McGwire, Juan Gonzales and Rafael Palmeiro are getting very little support. Perhaps these caped crusaders of American morality will die off soon.

And so it looks like the Hall will have two new members this year. Those two deserve the vote big time and this Fan will be happy for them. But the votes against Trammell, Raines, Bagwell and the dual PED guys, McGwire and Palmeiro simply are misguided and an injustice to baseball. But a big tip of the cap goes to The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte for her work on this useful and interesting tool.

J. C. Romero - Why We Hate LOOGYs

The Philadelphia Phillies and J. C. Romero apparently can't get enough of each other. Even though the team declined Romero's option earlier in the off season, Romero--who will be 35 in 2011-- has signed on for his fifth season with the club. Romero is a LOOGY. What's a LOOGY? He's a "Lefty-One-Out-Guy." In other words, he's one of the human rain delays that comes into a game in relief for one guy, a left-handed batter. And Romero has been at this for twelve seasons. He'll get one more.

So why is the Fan's ire reserved only for Romero. It isn't. He's just a prime example. This is the kind of game a guy like Romero pitches:

Joe Blanton pitches six effective innings facing the Washington Nationals. But he starts to labor in the seventh. He gives up a hit to Nyger Morgan and then a sacrifice bunt to Adam Kennedy. Blanton then walks Zimmerman and Adam Dunn is coming up (yeah, this is a 2010 scenario). Out pops the manager and points with his left arm and taps it to signal he wants his LOOGY. The people in the stands sit around for several minutes while those watching at home must endure another commercial with the middle aged couple sitting in separate bathtubs. Romero comes in and tries without success to get Dunn to fish after his Frisbee-like slurves that end up a foot or two outside. Dunn walks. Out pops the manager and taps his right arm this time since Willingham is a right-handed batter and the folks in the stands wait another few minutes while the folks at home watch a dumb beer commercial that again makes men look like the dumbest creatures on earth.

THAT, folks, was a LOOGY moment. And if you think this Fan is fooling about Romero being the prime example, consider that he pitched in sixty games and logged a grand total of 36.2 innings. Consider that Romero walked 7.1 batters per nine innings, his second year in a row over the seven mark. Consider that Romero was over the 1.5 mark in WHIP for the sixth time in his twelve year career. All that adds up to what makes him a LOOGY extraordinaire.

In Romero's defense, seven of his walks were intentional passes. He would be the guy walking Zimmerman to get to Dunn. That will inflate your walk total some. Nearly 1/7 of his career walks have been intentional. And he did register a .217 batting average by left-handed batters with a .277 slugging percentage. But the point stands that he will still put three out of every ten left-handed batters on base.

If there was one rule this Fan would make it would be to only allow one pitching change per half inning. The entire match up game just kills fans with terminal boredom. It's the only baseball equivalent to the NFL's extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial snooze-fest. And it is a completely lazy event for a manager. They will make that move 999 times out of a thousand. It's tedious and unnecessary. If you didn't like that rule, then the other rule would be that the second and third (and fourth and fifth) relievers in an inning don't get warm up pitches. Why do relief pitcher need warm up pitches anyway? They just warmed up in the bullpen right?

No offense to Romero. He's just a lucky schmuck who was born to throw with his left hand trying to ride his wave as long as he can. More power to him. It's simply a case where the news of his signing set off this wave of ennui for this writer. LOOGYs are a bane to baseball. But one-and-done is the standard operating system for lefty relievers. It has been for a long time and will be for a long time to come.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ricky Nolasco Needs to Miss More Bats

When you look at Ricky Nolasco's statistics, you have to wonder why his ERA remains so consistently high. The pitcher has a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio of the last three years (4.43, 4.43, 4.45) and that should lead to dominating pitching. And yet in those three seasons, his ERA tallies have come in at 3.52, 5.06 and 4.51. That is the puzzle that needs to be figured out after Nolasco was signed to a three year contract extension that will keep him in a Marlins uniform for quite some time.

Nolasco is 28 years old and should be coming into his best years. He missed five or six starts in 2010, but otherwise has been quite durable. He pounds the strike zone and is excellent at limiting walks. When most pitchers average around three walks per nine innings, Nolasco has put up figures of 1.8, 2.1 and 1.9 the last three years. And he strikes out eight to nine batters per nine innings. Those are all great numbers. But he has to figure out how to pound the strike zone and not allow so many hits and homers. We'll see if the hits are aided a bit by poor defense, but you can't defense a homer.

Nolasco's homer per nine rate sits at 1.2 for his career. Last year it jumped to 1.4. A full 12% of his fly balls land over the fence. Since he pitches in a home park that isn't conducive to homers, that number stands out even more. And it appears that his fastball is a culprit. Fangraphs has consistently rated his fastball in the negative value territory. He either needs to locate it better or find a way to get more movement on the pitch. His slider is rated highly.

Ricky Nolasco has a high hit rate per nine innings which also doesn't make sense for someone with his K/BB rates. He sits at 9.2 for his career and was at 9.6 last year. Part of that comes from his team's defense. Let's just say that it hasn't been stellar. The Marlins ranked 13th out of 16 teams in defensive efficiency in 2010 and next to last in fielding percentage. That certainly helps balls land safely when other teams would turn them into outs. His xFIP, which takes fielding and other factors out of his ERA was almost a full run less than his ERA last year and that figure has been lower than his actual ERA for several years.

Hanley Ramirez needs to have a better year in the field and Infante should be a clear fielding upgrade over Dan Uggla. That will help. But the questions of moving Coghlan to center along with other inexperienced outfielders on the corners may offset some of that improvement. Nolasco is more of a ground ball pitcher though and his infield defense will be key.

The Fan likes that the Marlins have tied up Nolasco. He really should be an elite pitcher with his stuff and durability. He still went 14-9 in 2010, but he really could put up superior numbers with better defense and if he can find a way to keep more of his fly balls landing inside the fences instead of over them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

More Than 200 Hits, Less Than 81 Runs - Ichiro's Season in Perspective

A couple of days ago, this space featured a post about how Ichiro Suzuki scored only 74 runs even though he had 214 hits and was on base 262 times (not including the times he hit into a force out and was on base). This remarkable feat of having that many hits and scoring that few runs has happened only ten times in major league history. Jayson Stark put Ichiro's season in perspective by noting that Ichiro scored 74 runs on 214 hits and was outscored by Mark Reynolds (79 runs) even though Reynolds had 115 fewer hits. To further put this feat in perceptive, or simply just to celebrate its silliness, here are the ten times a batter got 200 or more hits and scored 80 or fewer runs:

  1. Michael Young - Texas Rangers (2007). Young had 201 hits that season and walked 47 times. He was hit by the pitch 5 times. He stole 13 bases, hit nine homers, a triple and had 37 doubles. Yet he only scored 80 times. Ian Kinsler scored 16 more runs on that team than Young despite getting on base 55 times less that season and playing 26 less games. The Rangers scored 816 runs that season and Young only scored 9.8% of them.
  2. Garrett Anderson - California Angels (2003). 2003 was a bad season for the Angels. But it was a good year for Anderson. He had 201 hits, walked 31 times and remarkably, never got hit by a pitch. But for his 231 times on base, he only scored 80 runs. What makes Anderson's season all the more remarkable is that he hit 29 homers, led the league with 45 doubles and had 4 triples. Yet, he only scored 51 times in the 202 times he was on base and didn't hit a homer. How can you be on third or second 49 times and only score 51 non-homer times!?
  3. Steve Garvey - Los Angeles Dodgers (1980). Garvey played 163 games in 1980 (every game) and had 200 hits. He had 26 homers and 27 doubles (and a triple) and was on base 239 times and only scored 78 runs. Take away the homers and he scored 52 times in 213 times on base. Crazy. The Dodgers only scored 663 runs that season but still finished in second place. Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and one other player on that team outscored Garvey.
  4. Joe Sewell - Cleveland Indians (1925). Sewell had 204 hits that season, 64 walks and was hit by four pitches. He had 37 doubles and a triple to go along with one homer. That's 272 times on base and he scored 78 runs. That wasn't a bad hitting team either. They had four guys in the line up that hit over .300 including Tris Speaker who hit .389. Sewell's teammate, Charlie Jamieson was on base 242 times that season and scored 109 runs. Sewell still made it to the Hall of Fame just like Ichiro will. If you want a stat to pull out at a party, try Sewell. He stuck out only 114 times in his 14 year career. One of the most amazing stats of all time.
  5. Kirby Puckett - Minnesota Twins (1989). Puckett had a great season in 1989. He hit .339 with 215 hits. He was on base a total  of 268 times. Puckett hit 45 doubles, 4 triples and 9 homers and stole 11 bases. Still, he managed to score only 75 runs. In what must have been a frustrating season, the 1989 Twins were second in the Americna League in batting, on base percentage and slugging and Puckett STILL led the team in scoring with those measly 75.
  6. Ichiro Suzuki - Seattle Mariners (2010). You already know the gory details here. The Mariners scored only 513 runs all season. At least Ichiro scored a higher percentage of his team's runs than Young did.
  7. Willie Montanez - Giants and Braves (1976). Montanez played 163 games that season in what was hit best campaign. He had 206 hits, 36 walks and was hit by a pitch once. That's 243 times he was on base and he scored only 74 times. He hit 26 doubles, 2 triples and had 11 homers that season. Montanez played 14 seasons with nine different teams. He led the league in grounding into double plays twice with 26 (including this year in question). He did one other triva worthy feat. In 1975, he drove in 101 runs despite hitting only ten homers.
  8. Felipe Alou - Atlanta Braves (1968). 210 hits, 48 walks, 37 doubles, 5 triples, 11 homers and 4 HBP and he only scored 72 runs despite 262 times on base. He stole 11 bases so he was in scoring position a lot! 1968 was the famous year of the pitcher with makes Alou's season all that much more remarkable. The Braves scored only 514 runs that season despite Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, Felix Millan and Alou all having solid seasons.
  9. Eddie Brown - Boston Braves (1926). 201 hits, 23 walks, 2 HBP, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 2 homers. 226 times on base and he scored only 71 times. "Glass Arm Eddie" only played seven seasons and 1926 was his best though he did hit over .300 in four of his seven seasons. The Braves were a bad team and scored only 624 runs in 1926 despite three batters hitting over .300.
  10. George Sisler - Boston Braves (1929). Gorgeous George Sisler spent his entire Hall of Fame career with bad teams. The 1929 Braves were a terrible team. They did manage to score 684 runs. As for Sisler, that season, at the age of 36, he had 205 hits and walked 33 times. He hit 40 doubles and 8 triples and he was hit by 4 pitches. Despite all those times on base, he scored 67 runs that season despite three .300+ hitters in the line up. The funny thing is that earlier in his career, Sisler, who hit .406 and .420 in his two greatest seasons, scored over 120 runs several times. But not in 1929.

As you can see from the above list, what Ichiro Suzuki did in 2010 is not unique, but it's certainly rare. He joins a pretty cool collection of players that bore the frustration of what it was like to be stranded on base over and over again.