Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'm not sold

I'm not sold on this whole Lakers/Celtics thing. Sure, I'm happy the Celtics are in the Finals, but I don't see what this Lakers/Celtics series has to do with those from two decades ago.

These teams play each other twice a year. How can that sustain a rivalry? It can't. The uniforms are the same as the Bird/Magic era, but that's all. There's no narrative here whatsoever, whereas Bird and Magic played each other for the NCAA title; came into the league at the same time; were, obviously, of different races and played in cities with different demographics; and jousted for the league title for a decade. The best you could say about Kobe and KG is they represent the new NBA. They're two of the best players to come straight out of high school and both were talked about in trade rumors in the offseason. KG actually got traded, and the New Celtics were born the second he stepped into town. That's great and all, but why pretend like the Celtics have been building toward this, when it's a product of the NBA free agency system?

Some great basketball is about to be played, and until it is, everyone is going to talk about ghosts. The ghosts of Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Bird, McHale, Parish and the rest, and how these teams are playing for the legacies of the old teams. They're not. When John Havlicek presented the Celtics with the Eastern Conference Finals trophy and told them how proud they should be to be wearing Celtics green, it was hogwash. He was ignoring the two decades worth of embarrassing teams Celtics management has put on the floor, expecting this Finals appearance to wipe the slate clean. It doesn't, but it represents a chance for everyone to turn the page on the last 20 years in Boston country. While we've been twiddling our thumbs and missing jump shots, the Lakers have won four titles and appeared in the Finals seven times. They're two titles away from the Celtics. Havlicek should have said: you're playing against those guys, and here's your chance to push them back a bit. He made it sound like we were the favorites just because of the jerseys we wear. We're not. Bill Russell may still be alive, but his Celtics teams are distant memories. The Lakers are the NBA's top franchise now, and have been for quite some time.

That's why, also, the Pau Gasol and KG trades are not quite identical. KG was traded to the Celtics because of Danny Ainge's and Kevin McHale's relationship; the Lakers flexed their muscle to get Gasol. The Celtics got lucky, whereas the Lakers put themselves in a position to succeed. Instead of seeing ourselves as the antithesis of the Lakers, we should be trying to emulate them to make our success a long-term one, instead of KG-dependent. Winning a title would go a long way toward restoring that, but competent management and coaching would go much farther. Enjoy Lakers/Celtics — we will — but reviving the rivalry is going to take more than one best-of-seven series.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Go With The 'Ston(e)s

Back in 2004, our good friend Cleveland Frowns was at a bar in O'Hare Airport during the Conference Finals. The Lakers/Timberwolves game was on TV, and Frowns sidled up to the bar next to exactly the type of sloppy drunk man great stories are made of. After a bit of small talk, Frowns asked who he liked in the series.

The man, ignoring the question, snarled, "Go with the 'Ston(e)s!"

From that moment on, Frowns rode the Pistons — ahem, the Stones —
straight through the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals, advising all his associate Savvy Sirs to do the same. He was rewarded, handsomely. Something about the guy not even answering his question, and pushing him toward Detroit, was too much for Frowns to take. Forget the talking heads — Frowns reads the tea leaves of everyday life to inform his picks. Everything is connected, and if everything is connected, how could he pass on the Stones after that? (Note: we don't just like this approach, we love it and condone it in all forms, for everything.)

So here is our advice: Go with the Stones.

After watching that fourth quarter in Boston, is there anyone who thinks the Pistons will lose tonight? The Pistons work like clockwork, and the Celtics, for all their talent, play a sloppy, disjointed brand of basketball. In the war of attrition, who's going to win: the self-confident, precise team or the team that can't figure out how to score in big spots? Take the Pistons in game 6 and the Pistons in game 7, and get ready for another Detroit/L.A. final.

This is an obvious departure from my pick of last week of Celtics in five, which I stuck to after Game 2 because the Pistons had to make literally every shot to beat the C's, and, sure enough, the C's whupped them in Game 3. But Game 4 was a complete embarrassment for the Celtics, as was the end of Game 5, and you're supposed to play like this less and less as the series goes on. The Pistons are the stronger team in every subsequent game for one reason: the maturation of Rodney Stuckey.

If my refrain at the beginning of the series was, "Who's going to get to the basket for the Pistons?" the answer is Stuckey. The guy gets to the hoop better than anyone on both teams. He also hits his shots, the only miscue being a missed foul shot late in Game 5. But seriously: if that game went on one more minute, the Celtics were toast. These knock-down, drag out games come down to who can get the foul calls and get to the hoop when it's close. Billups is good at that, but Stuckey can be the difference between a good Pistons team and a great one. He also could be the reason the Celtics are going home early.

But he's no Rip Hamilton.

Quite simply, the fourth quarter of Game 5 was a masterpiece for Hamilton. He hit everything, from anywhere. He shot with confidence, a confidence that the Celtics sorely lack. Health permitting, he'll do it again tonight, and he'll lead the charge to the Game 7 win either way. It seems inevitable. By the end of Game 5 no one on the Celtics could, or even seemed to be inclined to keep up with him. It's only going to get worse for them. So, for a final time: Go with the Stones.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paul Purse

I feel the same way about Paul Pierce that Juno's father/stepfather/whatever felt about her baby daddy: "Paulie Bleeker? I didn't think the kid had it in him."

I'm not the biggest Paul Pierce fan. I like watching him score and have some level of admiration for, as I believe it was Eric Neel said, "his funky, earthbound way to the basket." I have no real idea how he succeeds in the NBA without any sort of dominant skill.

But he does. However, for years he's done it and pouted at the same time. Now, it's hard to blame him entirely, as he was given jack sh*t to work with until Kevin McHale popped in an old Celtics tape, drank half a bottle of Southern Comfort and dialed the first person in his phone (Ainge, Danny). You ready to vent? LET'S VENT!

Even by his own admission, Pierce sort of mentally checked out last year. This year has obviously been different, but there have still been times when he'll force his shot, do that crazy thing where he drives and throws his arms up and then looks like he's going to cry when he doesn't get the foul call.

(Speaking of fouls, what on earth is his foul-line foot arrangement? That's straight out of the Nick Van Exel school of weird stances. He's got one foot way in front of the other and is half crouched over. It's odd, especially for someone who lives at the line.)

In the playoffs, though, he's starting to live up to his role as "Captain." Now, I have argued in non-Internet circles that it's absurd that Pierce is the captain when Garnett is clearly the team leader. But, as has been discussed ad nauseum on the various tubes, Garnett isn't a cutthroat playoff baller. Neither is Pierce, really, but he'll have to do, and he's comfortable trying. He's been succeeding so far, but we'll see what happens when he throws up a stinker. He's not Kobe for a reason, and the reason is consistency. If Garnett or Rondo (or that other guy) can pick up the team once or twice, as they have done so far, the C's can win it all. It's truly a team effort.

All that said, I think the Celtics are going to have a surprisingly easy time with the Pistons. The problem against the Hawks and the Cavs was that both teams had one scorer who could destroy the Celtics' superlatively-good defense. The Pistons have many very good players, but they don't have a superstar scorer. The Celtics should be able to shut them down, as a unit. And despite what sounds like a column full of dogging Paul Pierce, he should really shine in this series (It's the next one that I'm potentially worried about, vs. Bowen or Kobe, when rough play and ego battles will get ratcheted up to crazy level). So I'm going to say something ridiculous like Celtics in five, having been spotted game one, leading to an ESPN about-face on tired the "can they win a road game" storyline so fast that you'll feel all whiplashed like Mike Mussina spinning to watch balls fly into the bleachers.

(That is a pretty ridiculous photo btw)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tomfools and philosophers

What does one say after dropping three of four to the seventh worst franchise in sports? There is frustration and there is fear as the Rays' mighty stingers beams of light advance rapidly (half a game back!). But mostly I'm just mad at Moneyball. Damn you, Moneyball! If only Terry Ryan had not become infatuated with Livan Hernandez way back in 2002, dubbing him "Greek God of 6-1 Record Despite Having Higher WHIP Than Both Sidney Ponson and Odalis Perez," none of this would have happened. Also, I think the trip to Japan is finally catching up with the Sox. Yes, bad sushi, I think it was.

Moving along, just when you thought the rivalry couldn't get any more absurd, news that a Yankee fan in California punched a Red Sox fan, injured his hand, sued the Red Sox fan and won $25K.

“I’m a musician and I depend on my hands to make a living,” said Melendez, a professional bongo player whose phone message identifies him as “The No. 1 Yankee Fan in the World.” He sued, and the jury awarded him $15,297 for medical costs and $10,000 in punitive damages last week.

Are we sure this Melendez character isn't Jason Grimsley in disguise? He's just the sort of unscrupulous tomfool to pull off a stunt like this. Bongo player? Come on, Grimsley, you can do better than that.

Speaking of steroid abusers, Craig Hansen is inspired by the following pearl of wisdom from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.

Funny, here I had always imagined Hansen's personal philosophy was more in line with the Jesse Ventura school.

Il Gattopardo

We were the leopards, the lions. Those who take our place will be jackals, sheep. And the whole lot of us—leopards, lions, jackals and sheep—will continue to think ourselves the salt of the earth.

Tonight those words, spoken by Burt Lancaster's Prince Don Fabrizio Salina as the aristocracy erodes around him in Luchino Visconti's The Leopard, were echoed by whom?

A) Julian Tavarez to Mike Timlin as he packed his belongings and left the Metrodome in a scene very much reminiscent of the day Nomar was traded. Except this time Manny was sad.

B) Suzyn Waldman to John Sterling after the Rays scored four runs in the fourth en route to a 7-1 defeat of the Yankees.

C) Omar Vizquel to Rich Aurilla, Ray Durham and Dave Roberts(!) as they waited in line to visit with the trainer before tonight's 7-3 loss to the Astros.

D) Wily Mo Peña to Rob Mackowiak while the two shagged fly balls prior to tonight's 10-4 win over the Mets.

E) All of the above.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Craig Monroe should hit with a pink bat every game

That is all.

Sunday dealings

It's been a very active Sunday for the Sox. Bryan Corey has been traded to the Padres. Jed Lowrie has been sent down to Pawtucket. Manny Ramirez is out of tonight's lineup with a sore hamstring. And there's news that the Sox remain in talks with the Rockies regarding Julian Tavarez.

Happy for Bryan Corey, a 34-year-old minor league journeyman who might now be able to enjoy his first extended stay in the big leagues. Sad for Jed Lowrie, a 24-year-old rookie who deserves a spot on the 25-man roster but is better off playing every day in Pawtucket. Devastated that my prediction of Manny hitting numbers 498, 499 and 500 tonight will not come true. Optimistic that the Sox can unload Tavarez, Lugo and $2M for David Nied.

Oh wow, Juan Marichal is on Baseball Tonight. That's pretty sweet. Which is the bigger hit to Marichal's reputation, attending that cock fight in the Dominican or being seen with Kruk and Phillips?

The Rays just took three games from the Angels to improve their record to 21-16. Today they got four innings of one-hit ball from the bullpen and toasted Justin Speier for three runs in the sixth. Cliff Floyd returned to the lineup for the first since his April 9 knee surgery and collected 2 hits and 2 RBI. The Rays have the second-best home record in the American League (13-7), a solid bullpen, a rotation headed by Shields and Kazmir and a lineup that is really enjoyable to watch. I wish they weren't in the AL East so I could get behind them just a bit more.

Sunday papers

Hanley Ramirez signed an extension with the Marlins. This is great news for the Marlins and for baseball. For Sox fans holding out hope for the much-rumored Julio Lugo, Brandon Moss, Kevin Cash for Hanley Ramirez trade, this is a bitter defeat. By the way, if you're wondering about the whereabouts of Anibal Sanchez, he's still rehabbing from a torn labrum, hopes to return by July.

Elsewhere in the NL East, Ryan Howard is in a slump. This is not news. There might be a point to this column on Johan Santana, but I cannot find it. Smoltz could be back by end of month and will probably become the Braves' closer. Wily Mo's outfield struggles continue in D.C. Semi-prescient sentence: “Hours before yesterday's game, Wily Mo Peña took some extra drills in the outfield with first base coach Jerry Morales.” If Wily Mo has a future, it’s at first base. Right coach, wrong area code.

As for the Sox, how about we don’t mention Hanley Ramirez and Julio Lugo in the same sentence again? It’s best for all parties. You know what else is best for all parties? Not lying. Lying is when Julio Lugo, asked if his confidence is shot, replies, “"No way. I know I'm one of the best shortstops in the league.” Did you hear Jed Lowrie his first big league home run last night? Oh, and he has zero errors on the season.

In Tampa, the second place Rays’ top pick is still a jumble and one writer think Iwamura is growing into the leadoff role. Iwamura's .309 OBP could not be reached for comment. Some Schmuck in Baltimore apologizes for giving up on Cabrera. Goose tells Joba to act like a Yankee. No comment. The Jays can’t catch a break, subject fans to Armando Benitez.

The NL Central is chock full of closer intrigue. Gagne accepts blame for being awful, asks out of closer role. Izzy’s role changes, too, and one man says his problems could make for an eventful summer in the Cards' pen. In Chicago, there is gloating that Kerry Wood is better than his division counterparts. In Houston, no closer talk, just compassion for those closing out careers. I don't know who the Pirates closer is (Jose Mesa?) but it seems they're on a five-game winning streak. In Cincy, it sounds like this chap JUST learned what on-base percentage is and he’s SO giddy about he refuses to write about anything else.

There is concern about the stress of the job taking its toll on Ozzie Guillen. Whatever would give them that impression? Fortunately there is no better stress reliever than visiting Seattle and taking three from the Mariners. Oh, and being in first place is probably good for the nerves as well. In Minnesota, the Twins must adjust to life without Pat Neshek. The Indians have pen problems of their own and concern about Hafner's diet mounts:

I’d be willing to bet that if Hafner changed his diet slightly, cutting out bad carbs, etc, he'd be mentally and physically quicker.

White foods, such as bread, rice and potatoes, make a person lethargic. Hafner looks very lethargic to me.

Meanwhile, the Tiggers have a lot of bad carbs in the starting rotation and the Royals have bad carbs at home.

Eric Byrnes is struggling in Arizona. Andruw Jones draws jeers in Los Angeles. Mark Redman gets demoted in Colorado. Emmanuel Burriss misses his pal in San Fransisco. The Padres are atrocious in San Diego.

The Angels infield injury troubles multiply as Figgins joins Iztruris and Kenrick on the DL. In Oakland, the second-place A's get healthy with Buck, Calero and Chavez on the mend. Having lost five in a row, the Mariners find themselves in last place and without a pulse. What’s wrong with this club so many thought would contend for a division title? To hear the Seattle Times’ Jerry Brewer tell it, the Mariners lack three important ingredients: “Leadership. Chemistry. Winning savvy.” Some might blame the manager. And in Texas, some think Ron Washington deserves a more substantive vote of confidence.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

History strikes out

When I first heard that Ben Sheets set the Brewers' career strikeout record today I was a bit surprised. Sheets is twenty-nine years old, has never won more than 12 games in a season and because of arm trouble has not been able to start more than 24 games in a season since 2004. I still think of him (wrongly) as a young pitcher on the rise, so it seemed odd for him to be setting a franchise record. But then I took a look at the Brewers' all-time pitching leaders and it all became clear.

Milwaukee Brewers franchise might have the least impressive collection of pitchers of any franchise that has been around for more than two decades. At least the Expos had Cy Young Petey and the Rangers had Charlie Hough and a few good seasons from Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Fergie Jenkins. The Brewers' career wins mark (117) is held by a man, Jim Slaton, who had a losing record (151-158) in his sixteen year career. Slaton also leads the Brewers in innings pitched, hits, walks (760, an astounding 312 more walks than the number two man, Cal Eldred), earned runs and home runs. Slaton was an all star in 1977 when he went 10-14 with a 3.58 ERA, and in 1982 he was a valuable member of a bullpen that helped the Brewers to an AL Championship. Slaton attended Antalope Valley High School in Lancaster, California, which also produced Frank Zappa, Judy Garland and and 1995 AL ERA champ, Kevin Appier. Sheets, Slaton, Appier, Zappa, and Garland would comprise the best rotation in Brewers' history.

Unlrelated to the pitching, did you know Jeremy Burnitz is the Brewers' all-time leader in slugging percentage (.508) and Jeff Cirillo is tops in batting average (.307) and OBP (.398)? Robin Yount leads everything else.

Lamb shanked!

A few thoughts on last night's 7-6 Twins' victory:

  • Lester only walked one!
  • I got home from work, turned on the game, saw that the score was 4-2 in the fourth and each side had committed an error, and I knew the Sox' error belonged to Lugo. There's comfort in that.
  • Boof Bonser had some bum luck. Looked like Delmon Young should have caught Lowell's two-run double.
  • Pedroia threw a laser to get cut down Young at home plate. If Ellsbury hits the cutoff man there, does Lugo bobble it?
  • Speaking of Lugo, when the Tolbert fellow game crashing down on his head at second base my eyes were elsewhere and I when looked at the screen and saw a man rolling around in pain I did not immediately recognize who it was. I felt some concern, but then, "Oh, it's only Lugo." That's not good.
  • Stolen base streak ends at twenty when J.D. Drew was nailed at second by Joe Mauer's picture perfect toss.
  • Okajima was great as always (15 pitches to retire six batters). But two innings again? If the pen doesn't shape up to the point where we can trust Delcarmen, Timlin or Hansen with a one-run lead in the seventh, Okie will be toast by Sepetember. Like last year.
  • The Twins' pen was superlative with runners in scoring position.
  • The American League has figured out Papelbon! No. There's been come wildness, but the big hits in the two blown save losses have been a broken bat bloop by Polanco and a knob job by Lamb. Something worth noting, Papelbon has zero K's in his last four appearances (4.2 innings).
  • What's with closers not caring about base runners? If Delmon Young isn't able to steal third.... ah forget it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Praise and the opposite of praise

Sometimes it seems like we're endlessly piling criticism on Julio Lugo and heaping praise on Kevin Youkilis. So here's this: Julio Lugo has a higher OBP, more doubles, more walks and the same number of home runs as Derek Jeter. THE Derek Jeter! Also, Julio Lugo did not have any errors last night. And then there's Youk, who operates a rather pathetic blog. Shameful. Also, he hasn't had any errors in, what, 230 consecutive games. A little excessive, don't you think? And what's with that golden glove of his? Does he think he's better than everyone else? What say we divert the monies going to the Filipino boy and put them toward the "Julio Lugo Platinum Glove Fund"? Lord knows he deserves it.

Anyway, Youk is is no doubt displeased to be moving his act to the Metrodome where he has posted .269/.321/.346, 7 hits, 0 home runs, 2 runs, 1 RBI, 1 walk in 28 plate appearance. Youk's career numbers in 59 plate appearances at Detroit's Comerica Park are very reminiscent of Julio Lugo in his prime (June '06): .327/.424/.857, 16 hits, 8 home runs, 15 runs, 17 RBI, 7 walks.

Speaking of the four game set with the Twins, here's something terrible. This atrocity might deserve a post all its own. A ten worst franchises in sports list that includes the Minnesota Twins but not the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles. It is most unfortunate. He characterizes Moneyball thusly, "it's a creative way of saying, 'we're not going to pay for our stars or reward our veterans who have earned their keep,'" and then proceeds to dumbly and lazily slam the Twins for being cheap while failing to acknowledge that they have managed to stay competitive (they're currently in first place) while others working under similar financial constraints have been, well, not competitive. Why is it the Texas Rangers so often seem to avoid getting put on lists like this? They've never won a playoff series in the history of their franchise. Never! And they're located in the fifth biggest television market in the nation, so the unfortunate realities of baseball in the 21st century are not as threatening to them as they are for others.

Speaking of terrible things, here's this from the Washington Times. A list of five reasons to get over the Caps and Wizards losing. I discovered it when I was checking in on our pal Wilfredo, as I am want to do. Here it is:

1. You can now tune in to watch Wily Mo Pena hit all those home runs.

2. Under D.C. United's new deal with Volkswagen, all concession stands at RFK will sell only German beers.

3. More time to spend with your wife and kids outdoors. Ha!

4. You can go back to not caring all that much about hockey.

5. Three full months to study up on track and field, archery and handball before the Summer Olympics.

Oh mercy, that's hilarious. And quite edgy for a newspaper, don't you think? But seriously, doesn't that guy know that having fun at Wily Mo's expense is under my purview. Honestly, it's probably the worst five reasons for anything ever. It's as though the editors of the Washington Times were burning the late night oil, looking for the next big thing in online newspapering when suddenly the real hip one with his ear to the blogosphere said, "I've got it! What if we get the guy who does Marmaduke to riff on sports!" If this guy and the ten worst franchises guy joined forces Me and Pedro would be out of business faster than you can say, "Just because they're paid to write about sports does not mean you should reasonably expect them to watch sports."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Renteria Cha-Cha-Cha

The second-worst part of last night's game was watching Edgar Freking Renteria trot home for the winning run after the cranially-gifted Placido Polanco hit a broken bat single over Julio Lugo Stinks' head. A lot of people across baseball — we'll call them "National League fans" — swoon at Renteria's name, calling him a great, throwback ballplayer. Let's just say we've heard it too many times, especially in light of the Titanic wreck that was his 2005 season with the Sox. Oh yes, but he does the little things. Splendid. That's exactly what we want out of our professional baseball players: for them to concentrate on the little things. Who cares about the big things, like hitting or fielding?

Now, players are entitled to off years, and Lugo's made a late career out of them (His error, of course, being the worst moment of the night). But we always figured Renteria was kind of a dick, so we were happy to read this ESPN The Truck Magazine article about Renteria's beef with O-Cab, the man he replaced on the Sox roster, in which Renteria sounds like a total jerk. At issue is an investment that Cabrera, the second most popular player in his native Colombia, made in the Colombian baseball league, which is run by Renteria — the most popular player. There was a falling out, and Renteria holds a hard grudge against Cabrera, who can't figure out why. You can read the entire article here, but here is the end, which sums up their frosty relationship nicely:

Cabrera says it was Edinson [Renteria]'s mismanagement of the league that caused him to walk away, and he's stunned by the personal attacks. "That's what happens when you deal with people who can't separate business issues from personal issues," Cabrera says. "My intent in what I've said publicly has been good for the league. It's promoted the league to move forward, to be recognized."

This dispute won't soon be resolved. The Tigers and White Sox have 12 more games this season — another dozen opportunities for uncomfortable moments on the field. During their first meeting of the year, when Cabrera reached second base in the fifth inning, he tried to engage Rentería in conversation, saying, "Man, it's cold out here, huh?"

Rentería, planted at shortstop, stared straight ahead. He did not say a word.

Maybe we're being too hard on Renteria, as he did ground out to Keith Foulke to end the 2004 World Series (which was nice), though he gave part of that back by pulling off the same stunt to end the 2005 series against the White Sox with Papi on deck (we don't forget these things!). Actually, between those series and the 1997 World Series, Renteria has been the last batter of three postseason series. Is that some sort of record? You'd have to figure that it is, given that the last batter is almost always going to be on the losing team, and the losing team is less often likely to repeat their performance. I mean, it gets way deeper than that, but I don't plan to go into it unless someone can think of a good candidate off the top of their head. Someone from the 01-07 Yankees or 90's/00's Braves, perhaps?

Speaking of repeat playoff performances, we remembered that Jordan's Furniture had a promotion last year where, if you bought furniture during Spring Training, that ish was free if the Sox won the World Series. This year, they've apparently upped the ante, demanding a(nother) Sox sweep. While I obviously think the odds of that are fairly excellent, not everyone agrees, though Carl Bialik of the Wall Street Journal tried to pin the exact odds down:

So I turned to several sports statisticians, whose answers for the probability of a Red Sox sweep are higher than you might think: Somewhere between 2% and 5%. They all pointed to sports books that had the Sox as among the favorites to win the American League pennant, at about one in four or five. (See, for instance, TradeSports or BetFair.) That reflects their dominant championship last year and their high level of talent. Then the probability that the Red Sox sweep the Series is equal to about 0.2 — the chance they make the World Series — multiplied by their probability of sweeping the Series. If each game is a toss-up, that’s one in 16: 1/2 multiplied four times, for the four wins needed for a sweep. That translates to one out of 80 that Boston will sweep the Series. But sports-book odds suggest that the Red Sox are likely to be better than their World Series opponent, because the odds they’ll win it all are greater than half their pennant odds. That can nudge the probability of a Sox sweep up to one in 50.

If you're looking for a duvet... this seems like easy money.

Back to the Renteria series-ending thing for a moment. I personally think the odds are less likely that Craig Counsell would have scored the winning run in two World Series Game 7s — for two different teams — than one batter ending three series. But who knows. By the way, Craig Counsell? 34 career home runs.

And now, your moment of zen:

You again?

Gordon Edes writes, "An error by shortstop Julio Lugo, who lost his juggler's license when he failed to transfer a slow-hit tapper from his glove to his bare hand."

One can only assume his juggler's license had been fraudulently obtained in the first place. Perhaps he can put some of the $9,250,000 owed him in 2008 towards improving his technique.

Tito, ever the professional:
"You know what happened is he made the three in Toronto that are going to bite him for the rest [of the season] 'cause he has a lot now. I actually think lately he has played a more aggressive shortstop. He's gone in the hole a couple times. He made those errors in Toronto. That's a bad day. That's going to up his total. We stay on him all the time about being that guy that's aggressive and fearless because that's when he's a better player."

Aggressive and fearless! I know that's what I think of when I think of Julio Lugo. That and the defensive wizardry.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Is Okie better than Joba?

It's 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon, which means it's time for another episode of Trapped in the Office. Today's a tough day to be here, too, because it's Absolutely Perfect outside, but between the five-game winning streak and that picture on the left, it would be hard to get too upset. Seriously, we live for things like "David Dellucci three-run bombs off Joba." They could not possible make us happier.

We live in New York, so we see the Joba Adoration Society up close, and belive me, it ain't pretty. They've got shirts, posters, everything Joba-related in this town. We love us some Okie, but we let the man do his thing. Except for their results (which, after last night's game, are remarkably similar), the men couldn't be more different. Joba's the next Clemens (ha!), bound for superstardom; Okie's the southpaw who gets batters out through smoke, mirrors, and a wild-ass motion.

I looked at their numbers from last year, through the same number of innings, and it's a tough comparison. Joba's better, but not by all that much, given that Okie gave up an ER in his final outing (putting him at 24.2 innings to Joba's 24), and how delicate Joba was used.

24 IP, 34K, 6BB, 1HR, .38 ERA

24.2 IP, 24K, 6BB, 1HR, 1.05 ERA

This year, things have turned toward Okie, as Joba's come back to Earth (though his numbers were worse than Okie even before last night's glorious HR):

13.1 IP, 15K, 5BB, 1HR 3.38 ERA
(Pre-last night: 12.1, 14, 3, o, 1.46)

14 IP, 13K, 4BB, 1HR, .64 ERA

Analyzing these numbers, it shouldn't be a surprised that the younger Joba, in limited and controlled usage last year, posted better numbers — and posted ridiculous numbers, actually — than Okajima, who was used heavily coming out of camp. But this year, you're seeing what happens to Joba as an every-day setup guy, and — ta da! — their numbers are almost identical. That's not bad for a guy (Okie) who was more or less called Dice-K's translator when he was signed by the Sox and gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw in the majors. (Perhaps Classy Freddy Dolsi, whose first ML pitch was deposited into downtown Detroit by Manny last night, will have a similar career path.) It also speaks to the Sox' ability to breed popular players that a phenomenon like Okajima isn't taking up all the headlines with every step he takes. The Yankees are desperate for a new star and have latched onto Joba, their only homegrown standout of the last decade (I'm not counting Cano) whereas the Sox have Pedroia, Ellsbury and Buchholz, with Lowrie and Masterson waiting in the wings. Okajima may not be homegrown, but he's something new and awesome; the Joba comparison above should show just how awesome he really is.

Do I expect him to fall off a bit as the year goes on? Of course. The Sox' pen, like the Yanks', features two huge arms and then some movable pieces. But I also expect Joba to give up some homers, like he did yesterday. This will be Joba's only full season in the pen, so it'll be an interesting comparison at the end of the year, but one that I think Sox fans will be happy with.

Hot dogs, scowls and drunkards

Got home from work last night just in time to see Carlos Guillen's fly that Sox' 5-0 win in the books. So I've got little to say about the game aside from, How 'bout Mike Timlin and his incredible, shrinking ERA! Also, Julian Tavarez now has not pitched in twelve days. Trade rumors abound. Papelbon said in an interview yesterday that Tavarez ordered two hot dogs in the bullpen during Monday's game. Funny because two hot dogs is reportedly what the Rockies are offering for Julian's services.

Tigers, I sincerely hope you're enjoying your nap, we'll do our best not to wake you. Ah, but in Detroit some are happy that at least they're not the Indians. And in Cleveland Neville Chamberlain continues with his Indian appeasement. Meanwhile, Seattle denizens react to the impending move to Oklahoma City with a robust boycott.

Julio Lugo has accounted for 50% of the Sox' errors, 50% of the caught stealings, 85% of the scowls, 67% of the cup adjustments and 0% of the home runs.

Tomorrow the Sox face Armando Galarraga, a twenty-five-year old righty with a 1.88 ERA and 399 career home runs. He eagerly awaits interleague play so he can finally hit number 400.

Recently we've had the much-publicized story of a Yankee fans killing a Sox fan with an automobile and less recently the less-publicized tale of the Red Sox mob that battered a Yankee fan. Awfully sad days for the rivalry. And for drunkards. While it's true that the buried Ortiz jersey had a happy ending, what an astonishing circle jerk it took to arrive there. I think all involved on both sides could use some of NBA star Chris Bosh's humility. If you're in search of some pleasant news relating to the rivalry, look no further. We'll win the border war one school bus at a time! All of your children will belong to us, Connecticut!

Cora, Casey Pawtucket-bound.
Schilling's throwing session a success
Apparently MLB released some kind of Sox DVD today.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Steals, Wins and Wang

We get the sense that we're constantly being attacked by our co-worker here at Me and Pedro; that's okay, because we are. The other side refuses to admit such a beef, perhaps hardened by years of enduring barking-mad baseball rants from recently Sabermetrically-indoctrinated people such as myself, which we understand (we also hate the word "Sabermetrics" and any of its variants). For instance, in our last post, Ben writes:

I've been chided in the past for my fixation with the stolen base. But look here, thirty stolen base attempts for this Sox this season and only FOUR times have they been caught. Surely that kind of efficiency makes even the most hardened stolen base skeptics excited about the team's base running.

Let me parse this paragraph for you, Fire Joe Morgan-style:

I've been chided in the past for my fixation with the stolen base.

By Bryan.

But look here, thirty stolen base attempts for this Sox this season and only FOUR times have they been caught.

"Only four times have they been caught... asshole."

Surely that kind of efficiency makes even the most hardened stolen base skeptics

— and by that, Bryan, I mean YOU, on your couch in Queens —

excited about the team's base running.

"... asshole."

While I think Ben would be surprised by the amount that I've come around to many non-sabermetrically endorsed ideas, he's right: those type of numbers would make even the most hardened stolen base skeptics cock their eyebrow in interest. Quite simply, the Sox — led by (never-shhh) Ellsbury — steal bases very well. For any Sox fan familiar with the history of the team long or short, this is astonishing. The Sox have never been a base-stealing team. In their 107-year history, a Red Sock has led the league in steals a whopping six times, or the same number as Vince Coleman in the 80s (and five less than Rickey). I couldn't find team steals stats, but they'd be about the same. The last time a Sock won the steals title was in 1973, when Tommie Harper did it. So yes, this is rare. And yes, it's a lovely change of pace, especially when they never get caught.

For those of you who don't know why I was "shhh"-ing the boy wonder Jacoby's name above, it's because he's converted his first 20 SB attempts going back to last season, seven shy of the record held by Tim Raines to start a career. I think Ben is absolutely right when he says stolen bases are not entirely about speed, and that's what makes Ellsbury's achievement so impressive. While the kid's got speed to burn, he knows what to do with it at a young age. Contrast him with someone else who's got ridiculous speed like Jose Reyes and you see how impressive this is. Reyes is a valuable base stealer, and led the league with 78 swipes last year; he also was caught 21 times, which also led the league. The best base stealer on the Mets is Carlos Beltran, who swiped 25 bags and was caught three times. In fact, Beltran has the highest stolen base percentage in major league history, if I remember correctly, with players who have 250 or more steals (whatever his rank, it's 87.8%). The Sox' best base stealer is their fastest player. That's straight fire right there.

Also straight fire right now, as Ben said, is Kevin Youkilis, who's tearing sh*t up right now. To recap as of this morning:

Ranks 9th in AL in RBI
Ranks 8th in AL in Runs
Ranks 8th in AL in Walks
Ranks 7th in AL in OBP
Ranks 8th in AL in SLG
Ranks 6th in AL in OPS

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but Youkilis is a notorious hot starter/slow finisher (Hey, the games count the same in April and September!) To wit, here are his splits as a full-time starter:

Pre All-Star: .297/.406./.467
Post All-Star: .257/.347/.381

Pre All-Star: .328/.419/.502
Post All-Star: .238/.356/.391

This year, he's right in line with the early-season stats at .305/.397/.517. But the pattern is there and will probably repeat itself: dude is just better early on, for whatever reason. Contrast that with another Me and Pedro favorite, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis, who starts slow each year but rakes when the Mercury tops 90:

Pre All-Star: .268/.335/.348
Post All-Star: .311/.364/.531

Pre All-Star: .279/.340/.431
Post All-Star: .325/.389/.550

This year, he's at .263/.391/.456, having cooled down after an early hot streak. So what is it that causes these streaks? Youkilis is a bigger guy than Markakis, waistwise, and you'd have to figure there's an element of Youkilis wearing down as the year goes on and Markakis playing into shape. But there's got to be more to it than that, something that makes Markakis see the ball better in July and August and Youkilis to start hitting like Craig Counsell. The mind wonders what it could be. Summer television? Maryland crab?


There were some points I promised to touch on today, so I'll cover them now. The first was last night's Sox/Tigers game, which is only notable for the hocus-pocus Dice-K used to walk eight batters and still pick up a "W." We've been thinking a lot about the concept of a "win" recently, as it's been all but dismissed by the statistical community, but I think it still has some value. Certainly, wins and losses alone won't tell you very much about a pitcher, except a pitcher with 20 wins is unlikely to be terrible and a pitcher with 20 losses is unlikely to be Josh Beckett. But there's something about the W, when not haphazardly applied — as in, to a closer who blows the game to see his team rally for "him" — that's has an integrity we like. We recently saw Chien-Ming (F'ing) Wang beat C.C. Sabathia in a 1-0 twin masterpiece, which is about as tough an "L" the hefty lefty could earn. That's also about as tough a win as a pitcher can get, and if someone ever deserves one, it's Wang in that situation. And all Wang does is win. He doesn't have the best numbers of all the pitchers in the league, but the guy is on the mound when the Yankees win. That may be, as stat guys may argue, a matter of circumstances — circumstances like Wang being consistently good on a high-scoring team — but we only watch baseball for the circumstances that do happen. The win-loss system, as imperfect as it is, is something we smile when we're considering.

I think I've said enough for today without getting too in-depth into Bronson Arroyo and Hideki Okajima. The former Sock is getting roughed up in Cincy, and Okie keeps on rolling through smoke and mirrors, or so it seems. We still love that Gary Sheffield said that Okajima was the toughest lefty he had ever faced. Gary Sheffield said that. Gary Sheffield is going to the Hall of Fame. And Okie owns him.

God, I love baseball.

Steals and hand outs

Before the weekend's sweep gets too distance in the rear view, let's talk about the two double steals in one game! I've been chided in the past for my fixation with the stolen base. But look here, thirty stolen base attempts for this Sox this season and only FOUR times have they been caught. Surely that kind of efficiency makes even the most hardened stolen base skeptics excited about the team's base running. I also wish to praise Dustin Pedroia, who has managed four stolen bases in four attempts. It's true what they say, you don't have to be fast to be a good base stealer.

Now, moving to last evening, EIGHT walks for Daisuke! Good god. But even with the plentiful walks, he and Lester have admirable WHIPs in their past couple of starts (1.17 and 0.86 respectively). Lester has allowed five hits in his last fourteen innings, Daisuke four over twelve. If both of them could get the walks under control and go deep into games with consistency, mercy. But we've been saying this for a minute now...

And speaking about a guy who, if only he could find the plate, could be very special, there's been a lot of talk lately about how Craig Hansen could be the bridge to Okajima and Papelbon. Last night from Hansen we saw a great sixth inning and a horrible seventh. I've seen little to suggest that Hansen is ready for a big role at the major league level. But frankly Manny Delcarmen, having allowed 10 base runners over his last 2.2 innings, has been so dreadful of late that I'm growing curious about the availability of Bobby Jones. And I'm still not ready to give up on Timlin. His ERA is nearly below 12.00, you know!

Also, Kevin Youkilis:
Ranks 9th in AL in RBI
Ranks 8th in AL in Runs
Ranks 8th in AL in Walks
Ranks 7th in AL in OBP
Ranks 8th in AL in SLG
Ranks 6th in AL in OPS

In closing, I am proud to announce that through Children International Me & Pedro recently became the sponsor of a young man in the Philippines. That's right, other blogs ask for handouts, we give handouts. We eagerly await our first letter from the chap, but in the meantime, here are his vitals: ten years old, 4 feet tall, 49 pounds, resides in Quezon City. His favorite school subject is mathematics, and while he professes no love for sports, only "Drawing, playing with toys and cars," we will be mailing him a baseball very shortly. We will do our part to mold him into the best Filipino ballplayer since Benny Agbayani. Or the best mathematician since Euclid.

Books and the left side of the infield

A few days ago Bryan submitted a list of his favorite sports books. We can only assume he forgot to mention Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer. But that's nether here nor there, for today I am happy to announce the release of a new book that is sure to crack many a Top 10 list in the near future.

Ladies and gentlemen, Deep Drive: A Long Journey to Finding the Champion Within, by Mike Lowell, foreward by Josh Beckett.

We traded Hanley Ramirez and all we got was a stinkin book!*

I learned about the book thusly,

Mike Lowell couldn’t have picked a better time to break out of his season-long slump.

Today, his book, Deep Drive, authored by the Boston Herald’s Rob Bradford, hits the shelves.

Last night, Lowell gave sales a boost by falling a triple shy of the cycle, and falling a few feet short of a two-homer night in the Sox’ 6-3 victory over the Tigers."

I'll be damned if that's not one of the more most shameless plugs I've seen for a fellow Sox writers' book. Points for effectiveness though.

If only today's Worcester Telegram & Gazette story on Lugo began this way,

The projection is 44.

That’s how many errors Julio Lugo will wind up with this year if he keeps making them at the same rate he has so far this season — nine in 33 games, which is a ridiculously high amount.

It's fitting that Lugo's error total is piling up in conjunction with today's release of his book, E6: My Failed Efforts to Sabotage the 2007 Boston Red Sox, authored by Dan Sh*********.
*And a few wins last October.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sox Sweep, Game Seven, And Queens of the Stone Age

We at Me And Pedro can read the signs as well as anyone: when you write a post lamenting the fact your team can't score and they throw down 26 runs in three days, you've to be pleased. We will be judicious in applying our (invisible) touch to our favorite sports teams from now on. The Goddz, as they are, are fans of modesty, even if there was nothing modest about the 7-3 shellackings of the Rays sandwiching a 12-4 thumping of formerly unhittable Jamie Shields.

There was also nothing modest about the critical beatdown applied to the Atlanta Hawks yesterday by the Celtics. We had a sense this might happen, and we were absolutely thrilled with every second of it (except KG's unnecessary shoulder-drop), but we have fears going into the second round against LeBron and the Cavs. It's not that we're worried that the Celtics are old, because we know they are and that they can still win — we're worried that they're self-conscious about it. Basketball is a game of actions and reactions, not of deep thought, which is why the Hawks were able to sweep their home games but got absolutely bludgeoned on the road. Both teams won where they were supposed to win because they thought they could, and didn't win where they weren't supposed to win. Maybe the C's should have won in Atlanta, but there was no way the Hawks were winning in Boston. They won 12 road games all year, and this is who they beat:

Philly (twice)
Washington (twice)
Knicks (twice)

There are some playoff teams on there, but the biggest beast is Orlando, and that happened once. More than half the games were against absolute worst teams in the league.

The Cavs also posted a losing road record, going 18-23, but they won on the road in Dallas, San Antonio and L.A. Now, the Celtics handled the Texas Trifecta a couple months ago, only to get pasted by the speed of the Hawks in the last two weeks. Maybe it was just nerves, or maybe it was a veteran team struggling to find its playoff identity. You have to figure that the "Big Three" gimmick has worn a little thin this year: shooting commercials together, sitting for group interviews, etc., but it worked for the regular season. There's one thing to have a "Big Three" across 82 games and another to know exactly whose role is what in a given situation; it's the difference between Nash, Amare and Marion (circa 2005) vs. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili. The knowledge that Duncan is the man frees the other guys up to play loose, but the Celtics, as an institution, have been loathe to give Garnett the reins in full. Pierce is still the captain, which is understandable given his seniority but otherwise absurd. He's a moody scorer who wanted out of Boston until they got him reinforcements; does that sound like a captain? Having him introduced last gives the wrong impression. It gives the impression that KG is not the pivotal man in crunch time, or at any time, when he is. Now, KG has historically been maligned for fading in the playoffs, but he seems to be taking that reputation head-on in Boston. Let's let him do it in the pilot's chair as the captain of the team (and for an MVP discussion including yours truly w/r/t Kobe, KG and LeBron, read here and in the comments). I, and I think the Celtics, would feel a lot better about it and would cruise to a victory over the Cavs. In the current situation? I'm not so sure.

When I started this, I was leaning toward Cleveland in seven, just because I can't shake the feeling that LeBron is going to win a game at the Garden. And if he's going to win one, it will be Game 1. So here's my prediction: if the Cavs win game 1, it's Cleveland in 7, if not, it's the C's in 6. And yes, I recognize that I just said that LeBron is going to win "a" game at the Garden and then implied he would win two or zero. That's because, in the words of Kevin Millar, "In Game 7, anything can happen."

Tomorrow we promise to talk about baseball, as this is supposed to be a baseball blog. We'll have thoughts on the Sox/Tigers game, the disturbing efficiency of Chien-Ming Wang, talk about what's wrong — if anything — with Bronson Arroyo and laud a Me and Pedro favorite, Hideki Okajima. We love the idea of Hideki Okajima so much it makes our head hurt.

(The following is dedicated to the Sox' twin 7-3 wins over Tampa, courtesy of some dude rocking the sh*t out of Guitar Hero. This song rocks so hard it's ridiculous, btw.)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bill James on The Sound of Young America

It's always a special moment when you discover that two of your favorite entities have joined forces. Reminds me of the time I saw Roberto Clemente on the Wheaties box. For those that aren't familiar with The Sound of Young America, it's a public radio show about things that are awesome. Thus, it is only fitting that last week host Jess Thorn spoke with the exceedingly awesome Bill James. Good stuff. Much more rewarding than the 60 Minutes pap from several weeks ago.

The Sound of Young America: Bill James

"Working with the Red Sox is the most fun thing I've ever done."
-Bill James

Sunday papers

We begin with premature speculation that Brian Cashman could available to the fill the impending GM opening for the NL East leading Phils. Meanwhile, if the Mets don't get it together they could have be looking for a new manager. New York's offense has been disappointing (21st in the majors in runs) but things could now be looking up as Carlos Delgado finds his groove. Elsewhere in the East, the Marlins are hanging in the race (1/2 game back) despite rotation woes. With the Braves under .500, we reflect on Chipper Jones legacy in Atlanta. The Nats' Ryan Zimmerman is out of the lineup today, likely ending a 205 game streak. The holder of the longest active streak might surprise you.

The NL Central leading Cards are anticipating the return of Mulder. The second place Cubs are reconfiguring their pitching staff. Likewise, the 16-14 Brewers and shuffling the roster with Turnbow being sent to the minors and Gallardo likely out for a while with a torn ACL. But much more importantly, there is a movement afoot in Appleton, Wisconsin, that could change the course of Brewers history.

Turning to the duller half of of the NL Central, it turns out lying about age not uncommon for Dominican players. Who knew? Here's the story of the Astros' Wandy Rodriguez. The most interesting tidbit in this Pirates notebook is news that Sean Gibson, great-grandson of Pittsburgh baseball legend Josh Gibson, threw out the first pitch at yesterday’s game. The Pirates are the most boring team in baseball. And it’s not even close. Name five players on their roster, I dare you. No, Don Slaught isn't catching for them anymore. Is Lloyd Mclendon still their manager? Fired three years ago, you say? Remember that time he picked up the base and stormed off with it. Hilarious! Yeah, I think that was the last Pirates highlight I saw.

In Cincinnati Dusty Baker draws praise for his cagey use of the bullpen and criticism for the way he sets the batting lineup. Oh, and Bronson Arroyo should bat eighth when he starts because he, “has bat speed and a sense of adventure.” Incidentally, the Arroyo-Peña trade talks began when Theo stumbled across a Craigslist posting in the "barter" section that read, "Looking for starting pitcher with bat speed and a sense of adventure. Can offer an outfielder with bat speed and a sense of unfulfilled potential."

Arizona has been phenomenal, but the rest of the NL West, not so much. In a development that seems at least a year too late, Barry Zito's deal comes under scrutiny. The Dodgers ponder an equally curious signing, the dreadful Rockies will be without Tulowitzki till the All Start break, and the slightly less dreadful Padres can blame their woes on poor drafting.

In the AL East Jays' GM J.P. Riccardi seems to be growing desperate. Perhaps he's wishing he hadn't been so hasty in releasing the Big Hurt. With Markakis struggling in Baltimore the lineup gets a slight tweak. In New York the on about whether Joba should be inserted into the rotation. But the urgency would be lessened if Mussina can maintain his recent form. The Rays ponder who to select with the first overall pick in this year's draft.

The AL Central is a division in search of answers on offense. Minor personnel tinkering in Cleveland, lineup tinkering in Detroit and proposed coaching staff tinkering in Chicago. Raise your hand if you think Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco can save the Indians? Didn’t think so. The tigers offense is sputtering and “the more you listen to Leyland, the more it becomes clear he believes one reason for the Tigers' offensive inconsistency is their lack of speed.” That doesn't sound promising. In Minnesota Carlos Gomez wants to return to the Twins lineup after being hit in the head and Ron Gardenhire will miss Ron Gardenhire bobblehead day due to attend the funeral for his brother, Mike Gardenhire. And in K.C. the pitching staff is so frustrated with the bats they have turned to self-mutilation.

Through the first month the AL West is a division of expectations exceeded (A's), expectations unmet (M's), and the ever steady Angels. We consider the reasons A’s may be for real and submit that Mariners' manager John McLaren is in over his head. After a tough 2007, Ervin Santana has returned to form for an Angels team playing well despite being without their top two starters. And in Texas, the lone bright spot in what is to be a very long season, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was named AL Player of the Month.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Week in Review: Invisible Touch

Since last Saturday, the Sox are 2-4 and have scored exactly four runs. That's two less than Derrick Turnbow of the Brewers gave up in two-thirds of an inning on Wednesday; unsurprisingly, the Milwaukeean was designated for assignment today. We don't have luxury with the entire Sox lineup, which, in a dramatic reversal of fortune is seeing only David Ortiz hit nowadays. They scored three runs total in the Blue Jays series and managed to win two games because Jon Lester and Dice-K managed to finally find the strike zone, possibly using ESPN's K Zone as a road map. See that box? Throw it there!

Ortiz is up to .196 now, and with another even subpar game, he'll be back over the Mendoza Line tonight. Unless it rains. Rain and cold weather have re-infiltrated the Northeast, and we ought to know because we were in what passes as a baseball stadium in Queens on Tuesday night. Holy crap, was it cold. We even left after the seventh inning because of the chill, and we were far from the only ones. The Goddz must have been looking after us, as well, because, despite an hour-long trip home, we managed to catch the final two innings of the extra-innings game. We only went because the tickets were $1 each, slashed fifty percent from their face value price. We have to say that the shame of the new Citifield will be the lack of similarly priced tickets, as the 45,000 seat stadium has a lower capacity than its home club's average 2007 attendance. We've spent probably $50 on $2 seats over the years and have enjoyed our exposure to major league baseball at the price of a subway fare or slice of pizza.

That is not to say we are without complaints. The stadium is concrete, and the ushers, especially on $2 seat days, are rapacious in enforcing the $2 seat rule (as in, they make you sit in your seats). After having a go at some seats about 30 feet in front of us that cost probably a whopping $13 more each, we were asked for our ticket stubs. Now, the friends I was with pulled out their tickets and did the whole natural kabuki theater routine, which is to pretend we're oblivious to the fact that we're in the wrong place. The usher, in on the act, played his part, eye the ticket and jabbing first at its numbers and then into the altitude at our section. I'm not a fan of this play-acting anymore, and just said "These aren't our seats" and started walking up the aisle, waving at all the empty seats right in front of me like a New York jerk who wants something for nothing. Which is exactly what I was, but who can blame me?

Also, the concession stands on the upper level at Shea are abysmal. For cold-weather games about a quarter of them are open, the only offer hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, beer and soda and there's always a line. On Tuesday I just walked down one level and found a wide range of food products and a completely vacant Sam Adams stand that was charging $8 for a beer. Now, I've paid (against my will) even freaking dollars for a beer in Manhattan, back when I was dating a woman in banking who wanted to Be Seen out on the town, so $8 for a beer at beer at the game doesn't faze me much, especially when just 20 FREAKING FEET OVER they're charging the same thing for Bud Light. I mean, mine came in a plastic cup, but even the residual plastic shavings (mmmm... plastic shavings) couldn't put a damper on this discovery. When my buddy and I went back for round two, there was still absolutely no one waiting there. We both, out of a sense of good fortune at our discovery and sadness that our server would be getting next-to-nothing in the way of tips for her efforts on a 35-degree night (after you factor in the wind chill), gave her two dollars, and I can honestly say that's the first time I've done that at a concession stand at a baseball game or even had the slightest inclination to do so.

For a long time, I wasn't a beer guy at the game: I'd try and get liquored up beforehand or cruise on a pretzel and a hot dog. But the times, they are-a changing. I had a couple beers, an italian sausage and a hot chocolate, and together with my $1 ticket, spent about $25. That, my friends is a deal. Now think about the same operation virtually anywhere else where there's a popular baseball team, including 2009 at Citifield, and we're talking upward of $50 at least. Say what you want about Shea, but even if you're not a complete penny-pincher there's something to be said for the old building and its ancillary pleasures. The Baseball Goddz smile at such economical joys.

Speaking of economical joys, I bought six Phil Collins songs off iTunes today. Don't know what it was, I had Invisible Touch in my head and blasted the 30-second version of the song for NYGK (Not-Yet-Girlfriend K.) today. She had never heard it, and was aghast. Yes, I know what you're thinking: Invisible Touch is Genesis. Well, I don't draw much of a distinction between the two. For the record, Invisible Touch was my favorite album growing up, and despite not having listened to it in 10 years I knew every word to the first trio of songs. Here's what I bought:

Invisible Touch
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Land of Confusion
Don't Lose My Number
In The Air Tonight

Perhaps unsurprisingly, In the Air Tonight was far and away the top selling Phil Collins song. Sussudio and (Billy) Don't Lose My Number were close to each other, and I remember liking them both, but what surprised me is how much (Billy) Don't Lose My Number absolutely blows Sussudio away. Seriously, it wasn't even close. And now, since this is a baseball blog and not American Psycho, we'll bring it back to the last 365 days in baseball:

Invisible Touch - The story of Matt Holliday's phantom tag of home in the 2007 one-game playoff versus the Padres.
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight - The 21-inning Padres/Rockies game
Land of Confusion - Hitters vs. Max Scherzer
Sussudio - I have no idea what this means. Pass.
(Billy) Don't Lose My Number - Frank Thomas' Plea
In The Air Tonight - The Barry Zito story

(Okay, I looked up Sussudio... it's supposedly an imaginary girl's name, meant to "symbolize any girl," according to Wikipedia. I mean, did that make sense in the '80s? Her name is SUSSUDIO. There's an anti-drug message in here somewhere.)

Tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby, but I'll be at a wedding and won't be able to watch. Quite unbelievably, the wedding is right next to the Museum of Sex. Oh, and the good thing about missing the Kentucky Derby is that I don't care.

(And yes, in this Week in Review I reviewed the week and not our posts from the week)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Trapped in the Office: The Beginning

For the next few weeks, I'm going to be trapped in the office. I have a large amount of work to do. This is my last hurrah before things get really bad, but this is not goodbye.

During this three-week long stretch, which ends for better or worse on May 21st, I'm going to set aside some time each day to write a long-ass blog post. If there's one thing the Bissinger/Leitch "Costas Now" dust-up did, it was fire me up again about blog posting. I'll admit this much: not many people read this blog. Maybe that's because the posts aren't good enough. Instead of being short and snappy, I'm going to write long-ass articles about whatever's on my mind and tie it into baseball somehow. I used to have a weekly sports column. How hard could it be?

Actually, it could be very hard. I wrote that weekly sports column for a community newspaper, but I wrote it only after writing six articles for every issue. On Wednesday afternoon, I'd string together whatever latent sports ideas were floating in my head and use my 600 words to cleverly tie it into current events, politics, whatever. My signature was a clever closing line, plucked out thin air, that tied the whole thing together. I thought the closing lines were gimmicks designed to obscure the insignificance of the columns, but looking back at them now, they're quite good. The lesson being: the more you write, the better writer you are, no matter how bad or insecure you may feel about it.

So anyhow, back to Bissinger and Leitch. There's not much argument against the notion that Bissinger crossed some imaginary line in condemning the Black Tabler-turned-Deadspinner, but there is a wide range of opinions about the character of the man impugned. Blogger/author/poet extraordinaire Joe Posnanski called Deadspin "funny and edgy and perceptive," while Jason Whitlock bemoaned that Bissinger "surrendered the moral high ground to someone who couldn't find it with a map, compass and Mother Teresa serving as a guide." Ouch. I'm solidly a part of the former school, as I find Deadspin funny and edgy and perceptive enough to interview its founder about the site. I'm also solidly against equating what goes on in the blogosphere with one's moral rectitude; even Bissinger seemed to be talking about writing, and was more offended by the language and tone of the work than the morality of the items covered. He seemed to be offended, as someone who has spent his life trying to "perfect the craft," with the morality of knowingly publishing bad writing.

As is infamous now to anyone who cares, most of them in the pro-Leitch crowd that dissected the exchange on the Internet the following day instead of watching it through half-moon eyes when it first happened, Bissinger asked Leitch if he had read any W.C. Heinz, whom he considered an artist of the highest craft. When Leitch responded that he had read The Professional, Bissinger tried to bait-and-switch and asked if Leitch had read any of Heinz' sports columns before the bluster swallowed the non-point. And let me tell you this: as someone who has read many, many sports books in his life, I'm damn glad I wasn't on that panel, because I had never heard of W.C. Heinz until this exchange, and I could not be any less ashamed of it. I've read virtually every sports book that has been recommended to me, from Ball Four to Men and Work to Moneyball, and next, I'll pick up The Professional. We learn things when we learn them. That Bissinger's gambit backfired on him is almost besides the point: the point is, as someone who has been a professional sportswriter like myself, the only credentials one needs to have are the ability to show up to work every day and write. As Leitch said, sports blogging is hard work. My column was hard work. But at least I was doing it.

I haven't been writing enough to say that I've given this blog a good-faith effort, so now's the time to try. My current inspiration is more Posnanski than Leitch, given that the latter rarely writes long posts, though when he does, as in his response to Bissinger immediately after the taping, they're mature and eloquent. I'm also inspired by my friend Cleveland Frowns' work, as he brings a passion for, well, everything into his writing that is damn infectious. So what if he doesn't know for sure that contract negotiations are bogging down C.C. Sabathia's performance this year? When you write well, you don't need to know. The words do the work for you.

And that's the final point: in an age where athletes are programmed to say absolutely nothing, we have ample room to conjecture as to what's actually driving them. It's not irresponsible journalism. It's not journalism at all: it's called being a fan. It's the same conversation we'd have at a bar, only recorded, sometimes beautifully, for all to read. When someone can tell me what exactly is wrong with that, I'll stop doing it. Now is when I start again, hopefully for good.


Despite having not read The Professional, I think I have a fairly good list of sports books that would compose my "Top 10" list. I'm always looking for suggestions or, better yet, free books, but this is what I've mangled up in 30 years or so. These rankings are pretty ephemeral, but they're probably close to the truth.

1. Wrecking Crew by John Albert
Surprise, surprise — it's a book you've probably never heard of. It's about Former drug addicts, aging rock stars and other formerly "unsavory" characters who come together in their 40s to form a baseball team in Los Angeles. If Bissinger was upset that sportswriters today lack Heinz' power to describe the beauty of the games, no book has better described baseball's awesome power. If the theme of redemption is at the core of one idea of the consummate American experience, that idea is intertwined with baseball; look no further than The Natural, Rick Ankiel or Josh Hamilton. Wrecking Crew takes this on at the non-professional level and is all the better for it. I don't know how it stands on repeat readings, but I loved it the first time, maybe because it's so unknown — but maybe not.

2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Does Infinite Jest count? Probably not, but there isn't a better tennis writer anywhere than Wallace, period, end of story (except his stories never end).

3. Moneyball by Michael Lewis
I also like Star Wars, Bill Simmons and Juno. In other words, I'm not afraid to like things that other people like. In the entirety of the history of baseball, there have been about four cosmic events. I see them as a) founding of the leagues, b) integration, c) free agency, d) Moneyball. Okay, the integration of smart business practices might not be consequentially tied to Moneyball, but it's certainly inextricable from it. Even the DH rule is less important than that book, and that's saying something.

I actually can't think of any more right now... that is, any that leap to my mind as being Best in Class. I have to look at my bookshelf. Maybe this will be tomorrow's post. Good ones are Bo Knows Bo, Men at Work, Eight Innings... I'm seriously blanking beyond that. I'll get back at it tomorrow after the next Sox/Blue Jays 9th inning victory. When was the last time this happened? I think it was probably the consecutive games — in '06 I think — that were won on a Papi home run one day, and a 'Tek homer the next. Exciting stuff. Tonight's Wakefield versus Burnett, so let's hope for a vintage '95 Wakefield start. Do you remember about eight years ago when the big question was whether Wakefield would ever start again? Seems like ancient history now. Actually the story of Timmy W — THAT would make a great book.