Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This one can be short

What strikes me the most about the runs vs. outs argument is that it's not unlike arguing whether light travels in waves or particles. It's both. Runs and outs are both extremely valuable; the only factor that makes outs > runs is that without the former you can't have the latter.

Would I "give up" a run to preserve an out? There's no one answer to that question; it depends on the situation. But knowing that more outs translates into more opportunities for scoring runs, I would tend to be very conservative when it comes to the concept of sacrifice. And, considering the statements you made about Juan Pierre and hit-and-runs, you agree in principal with the approach toward baseball decision-making I advocate. As far as I'm concerned, the nuances of the thought process behind our coming to fairly identical decisions is better discussed when there's alcohol and raised voices involved.

As for the defense/pitching thing, I didn't mention those things because it's a lot more difficult to talk about, and I do tend to concern myself more with offensive philosophy because it's the area in which you see the most variance. Murray Chass and I probably won't disagree about much when it comes to sound pitching and defensive decisions, with the possible exception of pitch counts and bullpen use. But does anyone really want to argue bullpen use? It's a little dry. On the other hand, Murray Chass and I disagree so much on offensive philosophy we might as well be discussing different sports.

BTW, it takes everything in my power to not comment specifically on what Chass wrote today, but it's been done elsewhere and frankly it's too goddamn easy.

You mentioned that pitching and defense are more important than offense. I don't believe that; at most, it's half offense and half split between the other two, which are so intertwined that it's unwise to discuss one without considering the other. But that's another topic for another day.

p.s. — Since I've ripped him a few times for saying dumb things, I figured I should give Wojo some dap for his reaction to Ron Santo getting fisted by the Vets again. Unlike Murray Chass, he's not always determined to be a moronic gasbag.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Smallball, con't

There are a lot of good points/counter-arguments being brought up, and it's hard to address all of them directly. But there are two interesting statements that I think provide the best opportunity to dilineate how I see baseball.

St said: Runs are actually more valuable than outs in baseball. I say that only half-sarcastically -- it's a valid point and one that I think is often overlooked in intricately-statted arguments.

Ryan said: My point is that — and you'll kill me for this — THE GOAL IN BASEBALL IS NOT TO SCORE AS MANY RUNS AS POSSSIBLE. It's to score more than your pitchers allow.

St's point is that runs are more valuable than outs, and Ryan's is that a team need only concern itself with scoring more than the opponent, as opposed to as many as possible. I believe both points, while well-considered, are ultimately flawed because of the specific circumstance of baseball; namely, that there is no independent, moving clock that restricts opportunity as time goes on.

The relationship between outs and runs is what creates the imbalance in value; one cannot score runs (which a team needs to do in order to win) without any remaining outs. Thusly, the only way a team can hope to maximize its run-scoring opportunities is to treat not making outs as its primary goal. When you cease approaching outs in that fashion, or start trading them for runs, you ultimately undermine your goal of scoring as many runs as possible, because every out in a game decreases a team's scoring expectancy.

But, of course, the goal of baseball is to score more runs than the other team, which is the point Ryan makes (which would support St's argument as well). Well, sure. When it's all said and done, there's no real difference between a one-run nailbiter and a five-run romp as far as the W-L ledger is concerned. But what Ryan is arguing for is a completely outcome-oriented approach to baseball strategy, and that's not how it works during games. Managing a baseball team is a predictive exercise, which means in every situation a manager should make the decision that is most likely to produce the most positive outcome. And the most desirable outcomes of every situation are, in order of importance, preserving outs and scoring runs.

Using Herzog's success with KC and St. Louis, again, as an exemplar of smallball, the idea was that his teams were so good at inducing attrition on the part of opponents through excellent defense and pitching, he could afford to employ hitters who were not particularly good hitters themselves. Without getting further into the vagaries of Whiteyball, this is a perfectly acceptable strategy, statistically speaking, provided one has the right type of players. But, again, how many teams in baseball today actually boast that kind of defense and pitching staff? Truly, none, and even if there are a few, there are far more teams with meddling, "smallball" managers than there are teams with rosters that would suit such a philosophy.

But, most importantly, how is restricting one's potential to score runs ever a good idea? Just because you can do it doesn't necessarily mean you should.

I will say this, not necessarily apropos of anything but important nonetheless: In conversations like these, baseball strategy begins to sound like it's binary. Smallball vs. Moneyball, stats vs. guts. It's really not that way, at all. If I managed a team, I would do whatever was best for the players I have. If I have Carl Crawford, you're damn right he's got the green light whenever he wants it. My point has always never been that the stolen base is bad, my point is that trying to steal bases with guys like Juan Pierre who get thrown out close to 1/3rd of the time is incredibly dumb and self-defeating. My point has never been that there aren't good times to bunt runners over, it's just that it's a much better idea with your pitcher in the batter's box than it is with your No. 2 hitter, unless that No. 2 hitter is Neifi Perez, in which case it really doesn't matter what he does because he's definitely making and out, so he can swing at the fucking ball with a fungo bat jammed halfway up his ass for all I care, it's my own goddamn fault that he's in the lineup anyway (not to mention hitting No. 2 [!]) and I deserve to be fired and replaced by Dusty Baker who looks a little like a lizard and clearly wants his son dead.

Take that, Bill Safire.

There is no good time for a hit-and-run. Or rally caps. Or the wave.

In case you can't tell, this post is the product of roughly 30 5-minute sessions. It was impossible to keep focus. I hope it makes even a little sense, because I'm not even going to bother editing it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On "smallball"

My soccer-centric friend has asked a very legitimate question in re: Manny Acta not "helping" his likely mediocre offense this season by trying to move runners along using strategies like bunting and hit-and-runs.

First of all, I don't think bunting is a completely useless exercise, nor is the stolen base. However, I think both tactics are abused like crazy in baseball, because they're conceptually easy to teach and, as Acta alluded to in his quote, create action on the field, which makes it look like the team is trying harder. But statistics have borne out that making liberal use of sacrifice bunts and hyper-aggressive baserunning actually lowers a team's chances of scoring runs, for one simple reason: There is nothing more valuable in baseball than an out.

Part of the reason baseball is the most beautiful sport, in my mind, is that there's no clock. The action moves along at a variable pace, which creates a situation for each game to have a distinct personality of its own. Every situation in a game can result in a team losing 1/27th of its opportunity to win. A bad pass in soccer can lead to a goal by the other team, which is certainly no small deal. But scoring, or bad passes, or flops don't change the opportunity for the teams; the clock is sovereign, and it keeps ticking no matter what happens, which means that every passing minute is 1/90th of each side's chance to score. Conversely, in baseball, every mistake on defense is compounded both by the prospect of the opponent scoring, and the knowledge that the opponent still has as many opportunities to score as it did before the mistake. This is no small difference.

Similarly, what statistical analysis has shown us when it comes to offense is that the most damaging thing a baseball offense can do, in any given situation, is concede an out, or 1/27th of its total opportunity to score. As Acta said, analysis using millions of individual samples has proven that a team has a better shot of scoring with a runner on first and no outs than it does with a runner on second and one out. But Bryan's question had less to do with the "facts," as they were, in general, and more with the specific situation relating to the Washington Nationals, a team that promises to make all other teams in the NL East feel good about themselves.

Bryan contends that the nature of the Nationals' lineup, which promises to feature the worst positional player in the major leagues (Christian Guzman, who also has the honor of owning one of the worst individual offensive seasons in major league history for a full-time player, in 2005) and few valuable ones around him, would dictate that Acta's approach will actually worsen the expectancy of the offense. Intuitively, he's got a point: If your hitters are not good at getting hits, doesn't it make more sense to take what few baserunners you have and advance them aggressively by trying to steal bases or bunt runners ahead? Isn't the "station-to-station" approach better-suited for slugging teams like the Yankees, who have good-to-great hitters at every spot in the lineup?

The answer is still no. And the reason is simple: For a team like the Nationals, which will make outs with relative ease when not trying to make outs, things will only get worse if the manager decides to start adding guaranteed outs to the mix.

Thems some good sentences, there.

Anyway, the "smallball" approach does have some historical support for its efficacy, most notably with Whitey Herzog's "Whiteyball," which stressed pitching, defense and speed on the basepaths. What people tend to miss about Herzog's approach was that, when his teams did well, he had excellent, slugging hitters in the middle of the lineup, and that the "speedy" guys around those sluggers were high-percentage base stealers who also got on base a lot. In short, when "Whiteyball" was truly effective, it was because he had composed lineups (and pitching staffs, and defenses) that were perfectly suited to the task. Very, very few teams in our lifetimes have looked anything like those assembled by Herzog, for myriad reasons.

I could go on like this for hours -- one of the French benefits of getting into sabermetrics is you become a de facto expert on shit like smallball -- but the point is that the Nationals are no re-incarnation of the '82 Cardinals. As Bryan pointed out, the Nationals defend as if struck with polio. The team's pitching staff, save the oft-injured John Patterson and closer Chad Cordero, promises to be as rancid as a morgue after a two-week power outage. The vast majority of the hitters in the lineup ... they're just going to be bad hitters. The point is, the Nationals will likely be bad at baseball this season, because very few of the individual players on the team are any good at baseball. Herzog's teams, on the other hand, had many good players, even if they were only good at a few specific things, like playing good defense, being fast, or getting on base a little better than the average bear. So, let me change the word "good" into "players of utility." That sounds rather noble, considering I'm talking about Tom Herr.

(Interesting side note, at least for me: Herzog may have actually stumbled on the first conceptual relative to "Moneyball," which is often misconstrued as being an anti-smallball philosophy. Herzog put together his rosters the way he did because he found that he could find fast, good-glove guys a lot cheaper than trying to get great "hitters" at those same spots. His was as much a market-based approach as it was a strategic one [not unlike the totally misunderstood gambit the Mets are taking this season by passing on the starting pitching market and attempting to build the best bullpen in the major leagues], much the same as Beane's OBP-centric approach was.)

Looking at the components that make up the Nationals, there aren't many good gloves, only a few guys that are above league-average base stealers (both in terms of total SBs and success rates), no strong pitching staff that will do a good job of shortening the game for opponents, and two "sluggers" in Austin Kearns and always-injured Nick Johnson. Needless to say, on the off chance that anyone in the lineup actually makes it to first base, it would be absolute suicide to then give away 1/3 of your chances of actually scoring that poor, lonely, soul.

p.s. -- I learned today that the Spanish press is ripping Ronaldinho after the loss to Liverpool in the First Leg for being fat. I wonder if internationally renowned Spanish football analyst Dustino Bakerio will accuse Rondalinho of "just clogging up the passing lanes."

p.p.s. -- That's much less funny that it sounded in my head.

p.p.p.s. -- Fuck Chelsea.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Manny Acta is clearly the world's biggest athlete

Since it appears we've waned a little on the previous topic ("I hate xenophobics. Let it be known," said Justin. "I don't like it. It shouldn't be world or the United States. Hegemony, I mean."), just wanted to let everyone know that I now have a Pronk-sized man crush on Manny Acta.

"The stats, they're all and fine. I mean, they don't lie but I need enough of it to back me up. ... If I have enough data, let's say over twenty, over thirty, a hundred sometimes you have access to all of that then I can go by the stats, because they don't lie. I mean, it's been proven to me that a guy from first base with no outs has a better chance to score than a guy from second base with one out. That's been proven to me with millions of at-bats. So I don't like moving guys over from first to second unless there's a pitcher up or it's real late in the game. ... Top of the lineup guys will bunt, bottom of the lineup will bunt in those types of situations. ... I'm telling you right now you're not going to be seeing me bunting guys from first to second in the middle of the games or early unless it's the pitcher. ... I'll be straight up to you guys, I'm not going to be running all over the place just so 20-25,000 people in the stands are saying that I'm aggressive while people are getting thrown out on the bases." -- Found at a great Nats blog called Banks of the Anacostia.

Two things: 1) Manny said this publicly, at Spring Training, in front of baseball writers. While I don't wish to enter into another media-baiting frenzy, I would say on the whole that baseball writers (especially the older ones, or the ones who appear often on TV) are often the most prejudicial assholes when it comes to statistics, anywhere. Worse than Joe Morgan. OK, maybe not, but for reals, they hate that statistics bullshit. 2) Manny needs a speechwriter like I need a replacement layer of skin cells for my right palm. But we'll forgive him, because he's my man now and you need to back the fuck off, bitch.

So, here's my question: In a day and age when Ozzie Guillen is praised for absolutely killing his team with small-ball bullshit (check out this post at FJM for a more thorough explanation of that statement), what does Acta's attitude, in combination with the sheer decrepitude of the team the Nationals are going to trot out there, portend for his future?

I don't know about you, but I would be stunned if this guy lasts more than one season. The sports writers in Washington, who will have nothing good to write about, will brandish the knives after the first five-game losing streak, blaming it all on Acta "not preaching the little things" and "waiting for the three-run home run" and "trying to play Earl Weaver baseball with a Whitey Herzog roster." All of it will be untrue, but if you hear or read the same thing 500 times in the course of one season, you come to believe it. It may not be a stretch to say that Acta might be grooming himself for a blackballing; anyone think an owner is going to give Paul DePodesta another shot at being a GM after the way Plaschke spent two whole years writing nothing by hate speech about him? Doubtful, though it would be nice to think the Padres might see him as a post-KT option. Not that I want KT to go anywhere.

Anyway, that's it. Proceed with whatever else it was you people were arguing about.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

(Probably) the last thing I'll say about this ...

I don't have any problem with Pat's Tiger argument as stated in the last comment he left. And I don't have any problem with his related claim that Tiger's the best athlete in the world. I don't necessarily agree with either, but I have no issue with them and wouldn't have responded to them stridently.

Where I got strident was in response to his hegemonic horseshit, both directly stated and implied, about America being the only country that matters when it comes to producing sports icons. As a matter of fact, the much-debated "sports star" isn't the biggest problem with his original phrasing. The problem is claiming that he's the biggest in the world, and the real problem -- my big problem -- is when he supported that claim by saying that America's opinion was the only one that mattered in terms of global importance. It's just not the kind of thing any of us can say with any authority -- what does Pat really know about sports fans in the rest of the world? What do I? You? Even B, who's seen his share? -- and so it smacks of Ugly Americanism.

I'd still take my five over Tiger.

With all due respect

I think everyone's getting a touch hyperbolic considering the relative absurdity of the argument, and the premises being offered.

Pat, you know I think you're totally wrong about Tiger. Even if I were to allow you the opportunity to re-frame your argument, or fiddle with the definition of "biggest" so it's slightly more nebulous, I still think you're wrong. But, it's cool, because I also think VORP is the most important stat in baseball, and none of you retards will even spell it right. I mean, who can pass up a stale acronym pun?

Justin, while I agree with you about it not being Tiger, I also disqualify Yao for the same reason you do Pat's choice. Furthermore, I think you're taking the lead in SONBDs (Stridency Over Normally Breathless Dudes) with your turning Pat's, or anyone else's, choice of Tiger in this argument as a sign that Americans are xenophobic and egocentric (as a collective? not sure) on the whole.

The problem we're all facing is that we're basing our arguments on scant evidence and tons of conjecture. I was born in Canada and ran away from my problems in Italy for a while, so I probably lean to the European sports side of things, which means I choose guys like Beckham, Henry and Zidane. However, I'm a baseball stat geek, so the correct answer is Travis Hafner (this meeting is adjourned). Pat's lived in S.D. and the most racist state in America, so his cute mixture of superficiality and racist guilt makes him pick a black golfer with no personality and a blond wife. Bryan's history in Israel and deep study of the Talmud caused him to pick Tamir Goodman and the dude that was killed by Miles Dabord. Ryan's early-onset Parkinsons means his vote's for Lute, hands down (and shaky!). And Justin's tireless work in the ethnic slums of China as part of a small, non-profit Christian mission named after the hirsute St. James the Greater that preaches non-violence and increased peripheral vision when driving has evidently caused him to favor Yao Ming above all others.

The point is, none of us is an acceptable voice for the rest of the world on this. Except for me.

And I choose Pronk.

Sorry, but I detest the comments section...

so I'm going to continue the debate with another post. We should consider getting you guys passwords so you can just post rebuttals instead of commenting. Although then I guess we'd have to change the title to six guys who rarely agree.

Anyway, here's Pat's last comment on the last post:

I'm not racist, Ste.
I'm just saying that, to discount America as having only 6% of the world's influence isn't accurate. Corporate dollars and wide-ranging media -- not to mention the depth and variation of sport here -- makes the country's athletes more influential on a global scale than those of, say, Thailand or Cote d'Ivoire.
I would hardly accuse most sportswriters of "xenophobia, racism, and a grossly inflated sense of entitlement and importance."
The nature of media in itself is either to cater to a niche market (sports, baseball, curling) or to a region (Tucson, Abu Dhabi, etc). That does not make any institution "xenophobic" -- it means they're writing to their audience.
To have a true global worldview, the Philly papers would have to run Nippon Ham Fighters gamers next to their Phillies stories.
That's not happening, but it's not because they hate the rest of the world or have an inflated sense of importance. They're writing about what their audience cares about.
To assume that sportswriters, in particular, do not espouse a broader worldview doesn't make sense to me -- in what situations, exactly, have you seen them be given the opportunity to? (And no, the "David Beckham's coming to America, but Soccer Still Sucks!" columns don't count; those are stupid).
And how is arguing for Tiger Woods and not white Michael Schumacher racist? If anything, I've said that the influence of Woods as a black American has changed the way his sport operates across the world. I don't care if he's American or British or even French Canadian.
I'll pose this question to you again -- do you know what Michael Schumacher looks like? If Ronaldinho walked into the bar and ordered a drink, would you give him a second look?
I say no.
I brought this up to Doyle earlier; NASCAR, as an inherently American "sport" -- not ubiquitous (that's No. 3) -- will never have any kind of global pull. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be popping up on billboards in Germany.
There are sports in America -- damn near all of them -- that only matter here. I do in no way suggest that those athletes will ever be popular on a global scale.
I'm just saying that Tiger Woods is, in part because he happens to cull American advertising and television exposure.
This week's Match Play is on TV in 180 countries; the PGA COO told me the other day there was no way there would ever move it out of the country because it doesn't make sound business sense, TV-wise. And golfers, as they did in Austrailia in 2001, won't go to Match Play then.
Do we penalize Tiger for this? Of course not.
Stupid Xenophobic media.

And my response:

Pat, what the fuck are you talking about? Your writing and arguments generally make sense to me, but on this issue you're all over the place. First it was biggest sports star, then it was best athlete, then it was biggest athlete in America because nowhere else matters, and now you're presenting some twisted false binary about sports journalists having to choose between covering a region or having an international appreciation of sports.

First of all, I want to return (yet again) to the original point, which was your claim that Tiger Woods was the biggest sports star in the world. You didn't say he was bigger than any sports star from Thailand or the Ivory Coast. You didn't originally say that Tiger Woods was the best individual athlete in the world (this is where you continue to muddle your argument re: Beckham and Yao). You didn't originally say that Tiger Woods was the best currently active sports figure. You said none of those things, so stop changing the terms of your original claim, on which everybody else's arguments are based. You said Tiger Woods was the biggest sports star in the world. I say he's not. The rest are red herrings. Don't be a sophist about it.

As far as sportswriting and racism/xenophobia/etc. goes, I really don't think that's a topic I want to discuss here. Sportswriting has its problems, but society at large has the same problems.

What I will say about sportswriting is that your argument about sportswriters lacking the opportunity to espouse a global worldview is total horseshit (isn't there a World Cup and Olympics every four years?). It's the classic cliche trotted out by the media: we're not responsible, blame our readers for wanting it. And your example about Nippon Ham Fighters is even worse. Your whole argument depends on false binaries: for example, the idea that the media must either cover local events or espouse a global worldview. It doesn't have to do one or the other -- espousing a global worldview doesn't mean running sumo wrestling recaps.

In fact, it can mean as little as not believing (I'm not talking about saying it in a lead, I'm talking about actually believing) that the biggest star in America is also absolutely and necessarily the biggest star in the world. It can mean acknowledging foreign athletes and sports as more than curiosities -- Yao's the Chinese basketball player, Ichiro's the Japanese baseball player -- or admitting that they're relevant even though they're not relevant here (Schumacher, the soccer stars). That's why it doesn't matter whether I would recognize Ronaldinho. That's my whole point -- it doesn't fucking matter! Even if your average American sports fan doesn't recognize his face, he can still be the biggest sports star in the world! America might count for more than 6% of global sporting influence, but that's the biggest false binary of all: just because the US has a lot of influence doesn't mean it has it all. It doesn't mean it single-handedly decides and defines the global worldview.

And I don't give a rat's ass if some PR shill says the Match Play Championships will be broadcast in 190 countries. Let's see the ratings for televised golf even in the U.S., the country where it's probably most popular. I bet they're dismal. Nobody fucking cares about golf. It's a rich man's game, and the world is mostly poor.

And that's what really pisses me off, is the implication that everybody else in the world just follows us because we're so powerful and wealthy and great. That we're the Worldwide Leaders in everything. It's true to a point -- though that point is much duller than most Americans think -- but it's also a xenophobic and small-minded thing to think, and it's also the reason most of the world hates us.

You want to ask whether an average American would recognize George Weah? OK, the answer's no. They wouldn't, because as a culture, we don't follow soccer. But what if an average American sports star -- hell, what if just an average American -- walked through the streets of Liberia? Me or you could do that and be openly gawked at like some kind of celebrity, because we represent a completely different world. Their world is not the same as our world. And yes, while that is a source of their fascination with us and emulation of us, it's nothing but xenophobic, racist, and grossly egotistical to say that when we speak, we also speak for their world. Their world doesn't give a fuck about golfers.

And yes, I would recognize David Beckham if he walked down the street.

Following up from the comments of the last post ...

The author of the original article was kind enough to respond in the comments of the last post (which also contain some interesting insights from our resident soccer expert), and I was going to reply to him, but instead figured I'd just post my response here. So read his comment before this, if you want this to make any sense.

Pat: I can understand the argument that Tiger is the best athlete in the world, although I really think it's impossible to compare athletes in individual sports to those in team sports. I also think Federer might enter the discussion, even talking in terms of cracker-ass individual sports. But OK -- Tiger's the best. No problem with that claim.

But I don't think he's the world's biggest sports star, which was the phrasing that started this whole debate. It might be a matter of semantics -- these things usually are -- but "star" implies celebrity, implies notoriety and influence and fascination and so on. I simply don't agree that Tiger is the biggest athlete in the world in terms of those attributes. I'll get to the reasons in a second.

First, let me say that, with all due respect -- and that's quite a bit -- your comparison between Tiger's social relevance and that of Ali, Jackie Robinson, or even Michael Jordan is categorically, egregiously, laughably wrong. Tiger Woods won the Master's and became the greatest golfer ever. He broke a color barrier that had already been broken three decades ago. In terms of performance on the field (or course) of play, his accomplishment was probably the greatest by a black athlete ever.

But he's not even in the same conversation as Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan when it comes to social relevance. And comparing him to Jackie Robinson is absolutely ridiculous -- what, was Jesse Owens not available?

Let's just narrow it down to Ali.

Muhammad Ali was more relevant than Tiger Woods for a whole bunch of reasons, the most obvious being that he entered his prime as a black athlete during the height of the civil rights movement, was an outspoken political figure who lobbied for equality, fought in Africa, converted to an especially militant and controversial brand of Islam, refused to fight in the most controversial war this country has ever seen, and remains to this day -- more than 20 years after his retirement, as a disease-ridden shell -- one of the five most famous athletes in the world. Never mind the ridiculous Jackie Robinson comparison; what Ali did would be the equivalent of Tiger winning all of his titles, calling Jack Nicklaus a punk, getting drafted and refusing to fight in Iraq, living in exile, lobbying for reparations, changing his name to Tiger X, and winning the Afghanistan Open on international TV. And also somehow transcending his sport and making huge portions of the world care about golf just because he played it.

Tiger could never do that because, for the hundredth time, TIGER WOODS PLAYS GOLF AND NOBODY FUCKING CARES ABOUT GOLF! I don't know where you got the idea that I think most of the world cares about golf, or that golf ranks among the ten most popular sports in the world, but I don't, and it doesn't. Maybe five countries legitimately give a shit about golf, and I can almost guarantee you golf is not the most popular sport in any country in the world (I bet it's not in the top 3 anywhere). Guessing conservatively, 90% of the world has never held a golf club. I'd bet more than 80% has never seen a golf course. Hell, I'm a college-educated American, and I can't afford to play golf regularly. AMERICA IS NOT THE WORLD -- LESS THAN 6% OF THE WORLD'S POPULATION LIVES IN AMERICA! Jesus Christ, people, let's rein in our innate cultural ego for just a second and realize that Tiger Woods cannot possibly be the biggest sports star -- star, the person with the most sporting celebrity -- among 5,650,000,000 people who don't know a goddamned thing about the sport he plays. Muhammad Ali made people care about boxing because he transcended his sport through sheer personality and controversy. Tiger has no personality and shuns controversy, so he can't do that and never will.

As far as endorsements go, I really don't think the endorsements money makes for an accurate barometer of worldwide star power, because America dominates the wallets of the world, but not the hearts of sports fans. If Americans cared about soccer, the biggest soccer star in the world would instantly be the highest-paid sports star in the world. Know why? Because Americans have money. More money than just about anybody else. But poor people play sports, too, and poor people love sports, maybe even in ways we don't (see last post's comments for more on that). So his money doesn't make him the world's biggest sports star -- it makes him America's. There is a difference.

George Weah might indeed be unrecognizable to many Westerners. But he's not unrecognizable to many sports-loving people in Africa or Asia or South America (not to mention Europeans, many of whom are Westerners), and so it really doesn't matter whether 6% of the world (America) doesn't recognize him. He's still among the world's biggest sports stars.

Am I getting through here? Have I mentioned that America is not the whole world, nor does it speak for the whole world? Sweet me on a cracker, I feel like I'm talking to George W. Bush or something.

Not to mention that you never said active sports stars. So, just for kicks, here's a list of five bigger worldwide sports stars than Tiger, written in twenty seconds:

1. Yao
2. Jordan (no Jordan = no Nike = Tiger who?)
3. Beckham
4. Pele
5. Schumacher/Ronaldinho/Ronaldo/maybe even Zidane

Now, in closing, I realize that this no longer really relates to your story's lede. Even if you do actually believe it, I'm assuming that the reason you said Tiger was the biggest sports star in the world was because he's the biggest thing to hit Tucson maybe ever, and even adding a "maybe" makes the lede sound like shit. I would have said the same thing. So I'm not saying any of this discussion had any place in your story.

I just can't believe Tiger's the biggest sports star in the entire world.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Regarding "people," and other minor issues...

Well, since we actually agree on the main point, that makes this less fun. But I'll still take issue with some of the minor ... um, issues.

I think I stated my argument in a much more reasonable manner than you would have. If you wrote the same post as my first one, it would have probably read something like this:

"Not only is he not in the Top 50 in worldwide popularity -- Tiger Woods is just a bad golfer. His CAFHR (Course-Adjusted Fairways Hit Ratio) currently stands at 12.7. 12.7! Meanwhile, Davis Love III has a VORG of 2.819. In fact, Tiger isn't even the best black golfer in the world -- Vijay Singh's PPR (Putts Per Round) is off the charts."

Regarding Pat's history as an exaggerator, I think you're probably right. He seems more prone to questioning other people's exaggerations than to making his own. Unlike, say, you.

Regarding other points made by you:
1. Race -- I don't think non-white peoples like Tiger Woods as much as white people like to think they do. White people love him -- I don't think anybody's arguing that -- because he's a token (pun intended) of their non-racism, and by extension, of a traditionally white upper-class sport's supposed embrace of diversity. And I'm sure a fair amount of blacks and Asians are glad to see him succeeding in said lily-white sport. But I don't think a lot of those people actually watch him play golf or buy his gear. And it's also worth pointing out that Tiger wasn't even close to the first black or Asian to play on Tour.

The Nas lyric makes for an interesting artifact in regards to Tiger's standing amongst blacks. In the song "These Are Our Heroes," which is all about how white people lionize blacks who act white and promote them as credits to their race (which, btw, is one of the single most racist phrases extant). This is from the first verse:

Let's hear it, two for the spooks who do cartwheels
'Cause they said they played they parts well
Now they claim caviar, hate that oxtail
Lambda Sigma Phi badge on lapel
Whitey always tell him, "Ooh, he speak so well"
Are you the one we look to, the decent Negro?
The acceptable Negro -- hell nah
But they say, "These are our heroes"

Later, Nas annihilates Kobe (and other unnamed NBA stars) for "abusing white pussy" (actually "pus-say"). And then near the end, after naming who he considers real black heroes in the third verse (Nikki Giovanni, Miriam Makeba, Jim Brown, etc.), he has a spoken section where, in a voice that sounds sarcastic (to me), he gives "big ups" to Tiger Woods, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Taye Diggs.

Here's why I think he's taking a dig at Tiger: first, he mentions him in the same breath as Cuba Gooding Jr., who's been called a Tom more times than most people named Tom, rather than in the same verse as Jim Brown, which says something -- namely, I think, that he's being sarcastic, and insinuating that Tiger is a Tom. (And have you noticed how Jim Brown has been forced to the margins of society since his retirement, despite the fact that many think he was the greatest running back of all time? That's because white people can't embrace him, which in turn is because he seems too dangerous with his colorful hats and angry talk about equality. White people pick America's black heroes -- that's what the song is about, I think.)

Further, Nas spends the song lamenting a few things: black heroes who act white to appeal to society at large, black athletes who sleep with white women, and prominent blacks who don't "give back to the hood," so to speak.

Tiger Woods grew up in suburban California, went to Stanford, married a fluorescent white Swedish supermodel, makes hundreds of millions of dollars and keeps a very low profile on the political and humanitarian fronts -- even in regards to race. He must have watched Jordan closely as a child.

In other words, given the tone and context of his statement, I don't think Nas is seriously giving big ups to Tiger. I also don't think many middle- or lower-class blacks care much about Tiger Woods. Much of which is because ...

2. Nobody cares about golf. First I'd like to point out, my geographically challenged (and Westernist, Americanist, Northern Hemispherist, etc.) friend, that I originally said that nobody outside the US and the UK cares about golf. So your counterargument that Ireland and Scotland care about golf loses a bit of its trenchantness, considering the fact that Scotland and part of Ireland are both in the United Kindgom! Add to that a former British colony, South Africa, and Japan, and it's not exactly a compelling set of counterexamples to my point. Japan is the only country in that list that wasn't once part of Great Britain, and while I don't know much about Japanese culture, I'd be willing to bet golf isn't one of the three most popular sports there.

3. Yao Ming -- the misbegotten Mehmet Okur comparison speaks to the fact that you had no logic to support your claim about Tiger being bigger than Yao on a global scale. There's no reason to believe that's true. Yao's a 7'6" center and the first Chinese athlete to succeed in America. There are a billion people in China. It would be a stretch to say that Ichiro was bigger globally than Tiger, but I don't think it is with Yao. There's also the fact that he's emerging as a legitimately great player.

Incidentally, I think your Schumacher and Ali arguments suffer from this same Americanist focus. There's no questioning the fact that America is a cultural juggernaut. But let's not forget that America has roughly 350 million people, and the rest of the world has about 6 billion. If entire other continents -- Europe with Schumacher, Africa with Ali -- follow and care about an athlete, it's a pretty safe bet he's bigger than Tiger.

I maintain that most of the world knows Tiger Woods as that Nike spokesman who plays a sport they don't care about (and in most cases, have never seen played), and that he lacks overwhelming support from American minority groups. White people, upper-class minorities, and golf fans love him. Nobody else really does.

Motherfuckin' right, my pockets looking kinda tight

I was waiting for something -- anything -- to interest me enough to write a post. I was going to lay down a missive on the abortion thing, but Gilbert Gotttfried's "Too Soon?" kept running through my head and I decided to scrap it for the simple link. I was going to write something about the sheer awesomeness of Dick Bavetta and the Chuckwagon getting to first base during the All-Star game, but I was forced to realize that I really didn't have anything to add. I was even going to write about the last week for me in poker, which has been awesome, but I figured that would only drive away the few readers our little blog has. So, I opted for discretion, hoped for valor, and waited for something.

Well, thanks for the dime, big man. Now I'll have a TNT with extra Ls, and make it snappy. Cunt.

We seem to suffer from a similar ailment, my mephitic friend. No, not scabies, but close. We suffer from a constant need to over-defend our arguments, and it often leads us to doing what it is we sought to prevent, which is allowing those with whom we disagree to poke holes through individual assertions and ultimately discredit the larger argument, which is not wrong.

I think I'm the only one between us who suffers from the constant need to create run-on sentences. I wish I could say it was for effect.

Your argument: Tiger Woods is not the biggest athlete in the world.

This is correct. In every imaginable sense of the word "biggest," Beckham is clearly ahead. I fail to see how "biggest" can translate into "most dominant" in this situation, because if Pat meant "most dominant," I think he would have just said it. Mind you, I don't think this overstatement is a capital offense; Pat's record, as it were, is fairly unblemished, and Tiger's No. 7 ranking in terms of global popularity doesn't change his story all that much.

To conclude: Justin, I agree.

However, some of your defenses fell a little short of the "correct" classification. And, by that, I mean some of them were totally, utterly, ceaselessly wrong.

1. Tiger's race as a stumbling block: I think the real case is the complete opposite; Tiger's lack of a certain racial identity makes him more accessible to a broader base of fans, not less. White country club types like Tiger because he's very much one of them. Everyone else likes him because he's a non-white dude tearing shit up in a sport that's been whiter, historically, than an orgy in Paris.

2. Nas actually gives props to Tiger Woods in his song, "Our Heroes," which is what you're referring to. Take that for whatever you want it to mean, I just know he was offering Eldrick as a counterpoint to many of the black athletes he was slamming, most notably Kobe, who he compares to Toby. Which is still the most awesome thing I've ever heard in rap, outside of "Don't one of you niggas got sickle cell or something?"

3. (Jumping back) Golf is a very big deal in Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Japan, off the top of my head. In every one of those countries, in fact, I would say golf is taken more seriously there than it is here. Golf is fucking huge, and Tiger in turn is huge. Not that it means that your main point is wrong; it just means that you're less right than you thought.

4. Yao Ming is less a global phenomena than Tiger Woods, unquestionably. His ubiquity within the world's most populous country does not offset the fact that most people around the world do not find virtual equivalents to Mehmet Okur all that exciting.

Also, addressing a couple of things brought up in the comments section, which should never be read by anyone, ever:

- B: The Schumacher analogy is false. While it's incorrect to think that what Americans think dictates what the rest of the world thinks, it's also wrong to believe that Americans are inconsequential in the process of global popularity building, either. Schumacher might as well be a scheisse porn star, as far as most Americans are concerned (were he, I bet you more people would care about him). I don't care how popular he is in Europe -- and he's very, very popular there, unlike condoms -- his lack of penetration in the U.S. market is the decider.

- Ryan: Ali isn't even in the conversation. I suspect that he might be the prime example of American conceit in re: Athlete popularity. Also, VORA is not a ratio, it's a counting stat, like your beloved RsBI and R. Unlike the latter two, however, it actually means something as opposed to simply hinting at it. We count stats like VORA in that fashion, so people like you who still hyphenate "base-ball" find it a little easier on the eyes, and stop mumbling about how computers can't teach you anything about baseball offending people.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I should have learned my lesson about this ...

but Pat, I'm calling you out on the blog. Hopefully this won't lead to another shitstorm. I was just reading your otherwise lovely article on Tiger coming to Tucson, and my eyes seemed to be sticking on the first line:

The biggest sports star in the world was annoyed.

For a few seconds, I couldn't figure out why. And then I thought, "Oh, I know what it is. It sounds weird because there's no fucking way Tiger Woods is the biggest sports star in the world."

Now, I know hyperbole is a time-honored staple of sportswriting, and I don't blame you for using it in that context. Tiger's unquestionably the biggest sports star ever to come to Tucson for an event. I'm not saying you even actually believe he's the biggest sports star in the world.

However, just in case you do believe that, allow me to summarily disagree.

A few reasons he's not:

1. He's a fucking golfer, for chrissakes. He plays golf. No golfer will ever be the world's biggest sports star for a very simple reason: nobody outside of the UK and the US really gives a rat's ass about golf (and even in those countries, it's a low sporting priority).

2. While US pop culture and its attendant branding unquestionably dominates world culture -- whoever the biggest pop star/let is at the moment is also probably the biggest pop star in the world -- not even mighty Nike can make Tiger Woods the biggest sports star. Not when they already burned Michael Jordan's silhouette into every young retina from Siberia to Sierra Leone. Not when Yao Ming is from China. Not when soccer exists.

3. Race. I know you brothers Finley are probably throwing things at my lawn-jockey effigy right now, yelling "this has nothing to do with race!" But I'm not talking about racism here -- at least not in the usual sense. I'm just pointing out that Tiger's mixed heritage makes it hard for any ethnic group to really embrace him. For all the Nike-propagated ballyhoo about Tiger bringing golf to the diverse masses, you don't see a whole lot of black people really pulling for Tiger. There's a reason Nas mentioned him specifically in that song where he calls everybody Uncle Toms. I'm not sure exactly what that reason is -- maybe he's not "street" enough (there, now you can call me a racist, too) -- but it's true and it's obvious. Maybe Filipinos love him, but how big can the Filipino golf-fan base really be? In other words, while his mixed race makes whites embrace him like perhaps no black athlete ever (an interesting phenomenon in itself), he's doesn't have all of Africa rooting for him -- not like Yao does with China. And even if he did, China has a billion people and change.

I'd be willing to bet that this topic has already generated some discussion in the Finley household, and I'd further be willing to bet that you, Pat -- you crafty bastard -- chose the phrasing of your lead carefully, more carefully even than you normally do (and to your credit, your stuff seems to me carefully written -- I'm actually serious about that, and mean it as a compliment -- much more so than most writing I read, sports or otherwise). "Biggest" is vague and hard to argue against. But, judging by the overall focus of the story, it seems like you mean it in terms of star power (rather than ability, which is an impossible argument to have): name recognition, image recognition, and just all-around famousness and pull.

Still, though, I disagree. I don't know enough about soccer to say who the biggest star in international soccer is at the moment. As a reprehensible racist, hegemonist, Westernist, mutist, etc. (saved you the trouble, Seth), I'd guess that in terms of international star power, the biggest soccer star is David Beckham. But if B or some other soccerite wants to suggest other options, particularly nonwhite stars who might appeal to the non-whites who comprise the majority of the world, I'm listening. In any event, I'd be willing to bet that soccer, being unquestionably the world's most popular sport, has at least three stars bigger than Tiger (on the world stage -- and really, as my boy Billy once said, all the world's a stage).

I also think Yao Ming is bigger than Tiger. He's the first major American sports star from the most populous nation and continent on earth. He's also pretty popular among Americans.

I'm not sure which of them is necessarily the world's biggest sports star. And maybe I'm forgetting somebody, in which case I hope Doyle or some of our readers will stridently rebuke me.

But it sure ain't Tiger.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Breaking Point

Read this.

If there's a single person reading this blog who isn't enraged by this, fuck you. I could say more -- so, so much more -- but I think that sums it up.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Let's be fair

I don't want to paint Pat Burrell as a sabermetric pin-up. His EqA last season was .297, which is good but not great and didn't even make him one of the top-5 left fielders in the majors, not to mention outfielders. As opposed to a lot of high-K guys like Dunn and Abreu, his strikeouts aren't always due to selectivity as much as an inability (as you stated) to lay off low-and-away sliders. The opening of the hip thing is clearly a problem, and he's a horrible fielder, and he's overpaid.


I hope that clears up all of those points, because there's a really big one here we need to deal with:

If Pat Burrell "sucks" in any sense of the word, it's in no small part because everyone in the Phillies organization, the local sports media, and the city as a whole has fucked with this kid since he made the mistake of having an exceptional sophomore season.

You said, yourself, that Schmidt worked with him personally after his breakout year. What do you think they "worked" on, exactly? Well, I wasn't there, but I bet you it had something to do with strikeouts. I say this, because it's about the only thing people have talked about since Burrell arrived on the stage. I get it: When you strike out a lot, particularly swinging (as Burrell often does), you kind of look like a jackass. It's the nature of the game. You know when you don't look like a jackass? Bombing a fucking three-run homer two innings later because the terrified pitcher who got you to chase that slider also showed you pretty much his entire arsenal due to the fact that you took some pitches and had a long at-bat. Say what you want about Burrell, but he wears the shit out of pitchers. And did the Phillies, who had just decided to overpay this young gentleman, say to themselves, "Well, that's the way it is; if he gets better, that's gravy!" No, they didn't fucking say that! Instead, they had someone with all the makings of a bad hitting instructor (great hitters like Schmidt often make the worst teachers, because so much of what they were able to do was due to talent instead of technique; I think this has been borne out in his case, particularly) fuck around with his kid and make him worry about not striking out or hitting it the other way, or whatever, instead of just telling him to pick a spot in the parking lot beyond left field and try and hit it there every time he's up at bat. The kid was a power hitter with good-to-great plate discipline, and they worried about the fact that he was going to punch out 150 times a season.

So the fuck what.

Well, now you've got an overpaid headcase who's surly with teammates and the media and in general wishes he could bring an assault rifle with him out to left field (we're not even going to bring up the Bowa thing ... didn't everyone hate Bowa?). You mean to tell me he might not be inspired to do Philly proud? I am absolutely blown away by that. Philly fans, honestly, can treat their athletes however they want to; I just think it's entertaining that every time a really good, young athlete comes through that city, you know there's at least a 40 percent chance that he's going to be a shell of a human being in three years. They can't all be as tough as ol' Ronnie Hextall. And, no matter what you say, or whatever RISP numbers you pull up (you're right, totally flukey, in part because horseshit, unhelpful stats like those tend to have extremely small sample sizes), he is absolutely not playing badly. He is still an above-average hitter for the Phillies who is responsible for many more runs than he costs the team in the field or by not getting a hit when there's a runner on third with one out.

Getting back to the actual baseball talk here, my issue isn't with Schmidt, who seems like a nice enough guy when he isn't being portrayed by the local media as a crotchety old ballplayer who spits sour grape juice all over younger players. My issue is with the prevailing thought in baseball that a strikeout demands nothing less than Yubitsume, and that any player who strikes out a ton is somehow hurting himself. It is dumb, and it drives me crazy. As displayed by the list of last year's NL strikeout leaders, oftentimes the best hitters in baseball are also the ones who strike out the most, either because that's the price one pays for having a longer, more powerful swing (Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn) or because they're so willing to get themselves in to two-strike counts that a certain percentage of those situations have to end up with collars (Bob Abreu, Travis Hafner).

Folks, I'm not saying that strikeouts are great, or should be encouraged. I'm saying that, almost universally, strikeouts are no different than grounding out to the shortstop. And don't even bother with the "not advancing runners," stuff, because you also can't ground into a double play by striking out. The goal of every hitter should be to make fewer outs, period. As long as you're making an out, it's bad; it doesn't really matter how it looks.

Anyway, you're telling me that Schmidt is responsible (possibly) for your conception does not make me any more likely to not kick him in the nuts if I ever see him.

Post Script: I just want to explain my calling RISP "horseshit." The problem with a stat like RISP averages is the same as the problem with batting average in general: When you have runners on base, getting a hit isn't the only positive thing a hitter can do. It's incomplete data. It doesn't measure the number of times someone drew a walk, which extended the rally, or the number of sac flies. Like many aspects of old-fashioned baseball statistic-gathering, it is a sideways glance instead of an adoring gaze. And the sample size, on an annual basis, is too small to suggest anything more than the possibility of there being a problem or a positive attribute.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Riddle me this...

Just when you say I haven't been trying hard enough to make this work, Doyle, just when you say it's like I don't even care anymore, I come with the two posts in one evening. I put the "g" in tag team -- don't you forget it. (Which means you put the t&a in it, I guess? Awkward!)

I've got some thoughts to offer on this Schmidt dealy. (The Sixers unis just distracted me momentarily. I'm a sucker for red. And yes, that is a Valentine's hint for our readers.) But first, a disclaimer, even beyond the usual I-am-incapable-of-objectivity-when-it-comes-to-Philly-sports disclaimer. I gotta set shit straight before I talk about Mike Schmidt.
Because Mike Schmidt is in the Panthéon. What's the Panthéon? Glad you asked (I was hoping you would). The real Panthéon is a lot like the Pantheon, only pronounced differently and also way better because it's French (check here for more, and check your hegemony at the door. Then get your ass out on the floor and ... yeah). But my Panthéon is my own personal house of sporting worship, where dwell those rarefied few athletes who have had a material effect on my life. It's a subjective place, and the criteria are lofty but difficult to define. Perhaps examples will help.

The only people in the Panthéon thus far are, in no particular order: Lenny Dykstra, Charles Barkley, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Julius Erving, and one Michael Jack Schmidt.

All of them share a few qualities or characteristics. First, all were or are incredible athletes in some sense -- not only incredible in the badly cliched and hyperbolic sense of the word, but truly incredible, as in stretching credulity. There will never be another player like any of those players. (Dykstra's a stretch, OK, but nobody will ever eat as many steroids and fit as much chew into their mouths and bang as many 16-year-olds. The others I shouldn't have to explain, not if you've ever seen them play.) Second, I was alive to see all of them in their prime, with the possible exception of Schmitty and Doc, but more on those two later. All were my favorite player in their sport at a key epoch in my sporting development. All were idols of sorts. Third, all of those people either brought titles to Philly or very nearly did so, nearly enough to give me hope that one was imminent. Most of them did it nearly single-handedly. Doc won the only title Philly's seen since I've been sentient, and Schmidt capped his greatest season with the Phils' only Series win on, in all likelihood, the night I was conceived.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I will not rip on Mike Schmidt. Not now, not ever. I kept Mike Schmidt's baseball card in my wallet as a kid. I got in a fight my first day of school (ever) when some kid said Mike Schmidt sucked. One of my earliest real memories is watching Mike Schmidt announce his retirement, bawling, both of us, and I still remember some of his lines. ("I was just a kid from Ohio with two bad knees," or something like that. He was crying, I was crying, it was 19 years ago, sue me if I can't quote it verbatim.) To this day, one of the best ways to make me irrationally livid is to suggest that Brooks Robinson is the best third baseman ever.

You know what else I like about Mike Schmidt? He's not holier-than-thou, Doyle, despite what you seem to assert. This is the guy, remember, who, while every dickhead in sports journalism was bleating self-righteously about steroids (a few years after they all willfully ignored them), admitted that he probably would have done them if he played in the steroid era.

In other words, hey, I don't give a shit what Mike Schmidt said about Pat Burrell. Mike Schmidt is Mike Schmidt, and Pat Burrell is still Pat Burrell (the single most disappointing Philadelphia Phillie of my lifetime, and that's saying something [paging Mitch Williams...]). Mike Schmidt can say whatever the fuck he wants.

What I have a problem with is the whole setup. Hey, it's a slow news day and Mike Schmidt's in town, I'll stir up some shit. I'm Hal McCoy. I can do whatever I want. (Resisting a blindness crack...) I'll lead Schmitty, who's never been good with the media, into dropping some stodgy-sounding bullshit about a player nobody in the world likes anyway. But only Philly papers would care at all about that -- maybe I can get him to dis Adam Dunn, too, so there's a Reds connection and one more slim justification for manufacturing a story.

In short: who gives a fuck what Mike Schmidt says about Pat Burrell? To reiterate, Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman ever, the greatest Phillie ever, among the ten best living baseball players.

Oh, and another thing: Pat Burrell really does suck. I know he's the pet cause of every stat geek on the interwebs, and I know the RISP number last year was fluky, and I know if you only look at his hitting stats (classic statty argument) he's better than average. But how about these minor issues:

1. He had his best season in his second year. Then he signed a ridiculous contract and has chronically underperformed. Staff, media, former managers, et. al. universally describe him as lazy and disinterested, if not downright apathetic.

2. He's fragile. He missed half a season a couple years back with some mysterious wrist ailment that was going to need possibly career-ending surgery, but then miraculously healed in the offseason. He also has a chronic foot injury (also mysterious) that has rendered him nearly immobile. I don't know if any of you have actually watched him field in the last two years, but defensively, he's a half step above Barry Bonds.

3. He often clashes with teammates and coaches. Notably, he nearly fought Larry Bowa and has refused to change his approach to hitting despite the entreaties of multiple hitting coaches, every fan in Philly, and every person less blind than Hal McCoy, all of whom -- along with every pitcher in the NL -- can tell that he's been throwing his hips early for the last four years and he'll swing wildly at every outside slider. I know you don't believe that team chemistry exists, or that non-quantifiable data has any place in evaluating baseball players, but it does, and it does.

Lastly, I'll tell you one other thing about Pat Burrell and Mike Schmidt: Schmidt knows what he's talking about when it comes to the player formerly known as Pat the Bat. He worked individually with Burrell for most of the 2003 season. Remember that one? The year after .282/37/116? Right after he signed the enormous contract? Yeah, the year he hit .209 and choked the Phillies right out of a Wild Card spot. That year. Schmidt tried to help his sorry ass but couldn't, because he wouldn't listen to one of the greatest hitters ever. So either Mike Schmidt has some room to talk about how stubborn and shitty Pat Burrell is, or it's Mike Schmidt's fault that Pat Burrell sucked that year. Hint: Burrell continues to suck relative to his 2002 performance.

Now, I'm not saying Schmidt's a great coach. Neither are the Phillies. He managed the single-A affiliate for a year and then they parted ways. But he could hit, and so he must know a thing or two about hitting. So I'm willing to take his word for Pat Burrell's misguided approach to hitting.

Oh, and as for former Phillies going batshit, you know that supposedly Steve Carlton is now some raging anti-Semite recluse in Colorado, right? It's an epidemic, I tell ya.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Do not attempt to feed the HOFers

Check the technique, yo: Mike Schmidt is wicked pissed, and he's dropping shit like a pidgeon.

Unprompted, Mike Schmidt ticked off two names that, well, "tick me off. Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn, because they strike out so much."

First of all, I absolutely adore how incapable the Philadelphia media is of spending more than one week without broadsiding Pat Burrell. If Jim Salisbury walks into a McDonald's, and sees Burrell not tip the guy at the cash, it'll be in a story the next day. Nevermind the fact that no one tips people at McDonalds; that Burrell doesn't is more evidence that he's not a team player who strikes out too much and doesn't hustle to first and isn't even an adequate defensive left fielder and is responsible for the Great Hunger, because he was a secret British eco-terrorist in 1845.

Anyway, Schmidt has a problem with Burrell, and Dunn as well, because they strike out a lot. They are also high-OBP power hitters who are expected to slug at least .500 on a yearly basis. But I understand, to a point; Schmidt was one of those extremely rare power hitters who also managed to strike out infrequently. We can't expect him to understand the toils of lesser mortals ... oh, yes, we totally can:

This came from a guy who struck out 1,883 times during 18 years with the Phillies, including five seasons of more than 135 whiffs. He struck out so much early in his career that teammate Willie Montañez called him "Ah-choo" because strikeouts create the same breeze as a sneeze.

A guy who struck out so much that a nickname of his referred to his inability to avoid taking the collar is really pissed off that Burrell and Dunn strike out so much. It should be noted that the nicknames of those players are "Pat the Bat" and "Big Donkey," respectively. I do not believe either of those nicknames have to do with striking out, so obviously they have baseball talents that far outweigh their weaknesses, real or imagined.

Schmidt, the keynote speaker yesterday morning at a breakfast in Dayton, Ohio, said he regretted the way he approached hitting during his Hall of Fame career.

"Now I know that if I had choked up on the bat with two strikes and hadn't been so aggressive and gave in to the pitcher, I wouldn't have struck out so much. And that's what guys like Dunn and Burrell have to realize," Schmidt added.

Poor Mike Schmidt. I'm sure what he's thinking, when he's named to another publication's All-Century Team and is called pretty much unarguably the greatest third baseman of all-time by people who study baseball for a living, he thinks to himself, "They shoulda picked Carney Lansford!" You know why? Because Carney Lansford choked up on the fucking bat when there were two strikes, dammit.

Mike Schmidt career OPS+: 147
Mike Schmidt career SsTP (Sumbissions to Pitcher): 1883

Carney Lansford career OPS+: 111
Carney Lansford career SsTP: 719

Yep, Schmidt really should have spent less time being one of the singular offensive forces in the game and more time worrying about "not giving into the pitcher," which apparently means assuring the pitcher that you're content tapping out to the shortstop in an effort to avoid the ignominy of striking out.

Schmidt said that with a game on the line, pitchers don't mind facing guys like the Reds' Dunn and the Phillies' Burrell because they know they can strike them out.

"How do I know this? Because when I played, pitchers wanted me up there with the game on the line," he said. "They'd rather face me than a guy behind me like Greg Luzinski, who would put the ball in play.

I want to meet the pitcher who doesn't mind facing Burrell or Dunn in tight situations. I will not meet this pitcher, because he is such an idiot that he drowned yesterday in his bathroom sink while shaving.

As for the whole "they'd rather face me than Luzinski because he'd put the ball in play," thing, I think Schmidt has been dipping into my hash supply.

Mike Schmidt, SsTP/162 games: 127
Greg Luzinski, SsTP/162 games: 133

Anyway, not content to simply be wrong with his anecdotes, Schmidt decides to also be wrong with statistics. This is a wonderful quote:

"I look at Dunn and Burrell and I go, 'My God, if these guys cut their strikeouts down to 75 or 80, they put the ball in play 85 or 90 more times a year.' That's at least 15 more home runs a year and at least 35 more RBIs a year."

Mike Schmidt has already told us the way a batter can, theoretically, cut down on his strikeouts is to choke up on the bat, shortening his swing. When one shortens his swing, it cuts down (often drastically) on his power. Or so one would think; Mike Schmidt has actually found the door to the Matrix, here, because he's theorizing that shortening one's swing will actually cause one to hit home runs more frequently.

Burrell, HR/balls in play, 2006: 11.4
Burrell, HR/balls in play, in Schmidt's fantasy world of shortened swings: 6

That's fucking genius.

Schmidt hit 548 home runs, was National League MVP four times, and was named the top major-league player of the 1980s, despite his strikeouts. He wonders whether Dunn and Burrell watch St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols, a guy who hits not only for power but also for average, and strikes out fewer than 70 times a year.

"I mean, why would Dunn and Burrell watch what Pujols does and not want to be like him, as good as he is?" Schmidt said. "When their careers are over, they are going to wonder how much they left on the table, how much they left on the field. If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great, it is mediocrity."

We're going to ignore the fact that trying to compare Pat Burrell to once-in-a-generation hitters like PooHoles and Joe DiMaggio (guys who hit for power despite not striking out a ton) seems to be a favorite theme of Philadelphia sportswriters. What we are not going to ignore is the sheer lunacy Schmidt is displaying here: He actually thinks that the only thing separating PooHoles and Burrell is the latter's stubbornness in re: Striking Out. If only Burrell would strike out less, he'd suddenly turn into one of the single most incredible offensive players in the history of the sport.

Justin, my good friend, can you please explain to me why it is that retired Phillies greats are turning into total fucking retards?

Also, just because stuff like this is interesting to me, did anyone notice this?

Burrell in 2005: .289/.389/.504
Burrell in 2006: .258/.388/.502

Burrell, at one point, was benched because he was having such a "horrible" season (that is not a quote from anyone in particular), but did anyone on the coaching staff notice that, with the exception of batting average, he was having a virtually identical (and excellent) offensive season this year as he did last year? If anything, Burrell's '06 is more impressive, because he had to fade a 31-point drop in BA in order to keep his OBP and SLG in order. That's unreal! By all means, Kevin Towers, if Pat Gillick is dumb enough to pay any portion of this gentleman's salary, I would be more than happy to remove this albatross from the Philadelphia lineup.


Take a gander at 2006 most egregious SsTP offenders in the NL:



I mean, fuck those guys. Always giving in to the pitcher and shit. When they're not too busy being five of the most valuable hitters in all of baseball.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I used to speak the King's English, but got a rash on my lips

I realize that non-sports posts are probably 200 percent less fun for everyone, but since this is my only platform these days, tough.

Here is a recent quote about Barack Obama from Joe Biden, soon-to-be-erstwhile Democratic Presidential Candidate:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

First, you have to love the audacity of someone who uses the left branch "I mean" and the phrase "you got" with any kind of frequency commenting on how articulate others may or may not be. Mind you, the rest of the quote -- if not Biden's entire career -- has proven that when the Flying Spaghetti Monster was handing out brain synapses, Joe Biden was mysteriously not present.

Of course the media's going to make a big deal out of this. And that's not an indictment of the media; considering the last six-plus years, I want to have an idea of how long a presidential candidate thinks about something before saying it, or usurping the Constitution for that matter. But what strikes me in these situations is how meta-whatever the analysis is; it always comes down to how the "slippage" is going to affect Biden's run (which is doomed anyway, since he's running against two of the most dynamic Democratic Candidates in my lifetime) and how his "slip" displays a lack of political couth. Whether or not those two things are important in general is irrelevant; they're clearly not the most important things.


For some reason, I am amused by those moments in someone's life when his or her prejudices are laid bare. I find it especially fun when that person spends much of his or her life preaching tolerance and equality. It's not because I mock those virtues; it's because I often find that the people who speak out the most about something do so out of guilt. Ever notice how politicians -- or, say, preachers -- who get outed have often spent much of their careers talking about how horrible homosexuality is? Or guys like Mark Foley, who combat a desire to sex up 15-year-old boys by passing bills that make pedophilia even more illegal than it already was (it's now tremendously illegal, gentlemen; as Bill Walton has proven to all of us, attaching the superlative "tremendous" to anything makes it exactly 123.5 percent more awesome or condemnable)? Sure, Biden hasn't exactly made civil rights the keystone of his political career, but like many Democrats, he knows that the minority vote is extremely important and usually his to lose, and thusly spends his time sucking more African-American dick than a Colorado football hostess (as opposed to Republicans, who spend more time sucking Evangelical Preacher dick than a male prostitute). I can't help but think that after pandering to a specific group of people for so long, it's natural for someone to build up a certain amount of contempt for that group. If you think about the nature of pandering -- which usually involves discovering the most base common denominator of that group, and then treating it (at least when addressing that group) as if it's the only issue in the world worth talking about -- it almost has to lead to a candidate thinking that every group of people is nothing more than a brainless, one-issue mass waiting to be manipulated. When people address the NAACP, they don't discuss Russian foreign policy; conversely, when people address the Promise Keepers, affirmative action isn't going to be on the agenda. The concept of cognitive complexity -- particularly when speaking in sociological terms -- is anachronistic with campaigning, if not politics as a whole. But none of this is particularly earth-shattering news, so I'll move on.

End aside.

Biden fell into the same trap that thousands of sports writers have fallen into: When trying to find ways to describe a black person in flattering terms, the issue of elocution almost seems unavoidable. Mercifully, the concept of criticizing athletes (or black people in general) for poor grammar (or at least doing so publicly) seems to be a thing of the past. But lauding those who speak well appears to be a cultural artifact that will die hard. The idea that one would expect a black person to speak a certain way is inherently prejudicial and arrogant. And if that's the case in sports, where intelligence or level of education is not an entry requirement, then it's even more galling when the setting is politics, a field where (presumably) one's intelligence is his or her most vital trait.

Essentially: How the fuck else would Biden expect a black presidential candidate to speak?!?

My issues with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aside, neither would be considered a purveyor of poor English. In fact, I can't think of a single presidential candidate -- black, white or redneck -- who has suffered in the enunciation department. It's not only a job requirement, it's a de facto candidacy requirement. So, Biden's remark is not only prejudicial, but monumentally stupid. It's like saying a presidential candidate is great because he wears ties.

That Biden has made a living out of saying dumb, unfounded things as loudly as possible makes this statement relatively unremarkable; it would be more surprising if someone like John Edwards, who won't open his mouth without asking his pollster if it's OK, said something similar. But I'm not sure that this was actually a "slip" on Biden's part. I really, honestly think he was aiming to start the Uncle Tom chorus ASAP. Obama is relatively unimpeachable, especially since he's taken the offensive against the morality police by owning up to doing stuff, like blow, in his past. The time appears to be right, with the perfect storm of Clinton running against him (a woman who is easily demonized, especially with her recent metamorphosis into a hawk, which will allow many in the party to avoid guilt for not supporting the first viable female presidential candidate in the country's history) in his primary, and a complete and utter liar running against him in the form of John McCain for the big chair. The only chance someone like Biden has is turning the primary into a referendum on Obama's blackness, which isn't a winning strategy at all. But any casual follower of American party politics will realize this is exactly what Democrats do every presidential election cycle. There are times I'm convinced the Republicans pay off the no-chancers like Kucinich and Biden to do the real dirty work in the primaries.

One last note: Re-reading Biden's quote for the 40th time leaves me less stunned at his blatant, patronizing tone toward Obama, and more stunned by just how poorly he speaks. "That's a storybook, man"? Even my Italian grandfather, who has trouble ordering a sandwich in English, knows that "storybook" in that context is an adjective. How has this guy managed to stay in national politics for so goddamn long?