Saturday, July 28, 2007

Congratulations, Aaron Rowand ...

You have suffered the lamest Phillies injury since Ricky Ledee went on the DL with hemorrhoids a few years back. From the Inquirer gamer last night:

Michael Bourn, playing center field because all-star Aaron Rowand was injured while playing tag with neighborhood children on Thursday, lashed a career-high four hits and the sizzling Pat Burrell launched a two-run homer to key an 11-hit attack.

What neighborhood does he live in where a major leaguer can run around playing tag with kids without getting mugged? I bet he lives in Jersey.

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's football season!

At least Chase picks a good time to get hurt and end the Phils' season. Because today, veterans report to Lehigh for Eagles camp. The best six months of the year begin now.

As your football-season/festivus present, dear readers, I got you something special: Donovan McNabb's blog! Get in on the ground floor, before everybody's talking about it. In six months he'll be posting pictures of his MVP.

Click here, then press apple + D (ctrl + D for you suckers still using Windows).

And before you make some snarky remark, Seth, you don't have to feel left out. I hear Hasselbeck's hot bitchy wife keeps a blog for him on the View's website.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's all your fault, Bill Conlin!

And with this pitch...
Chase Utley just broke his hand. Goodbye, MVP. Sayonara, slim playoff hopes.

And worse yet, it looks like it was intentional. (I wasn't watching the game.) Some dumbfuck Nats rookie got shelled and decided to drill Utley and Howard.

Congratulations, John Lannon. You've just passed Scott Olsen on the "pitchers I hope die in a fiery go-cart crash" list. You'd better pray to God you make it out of Philly alive. Buy a battery-proof helmet, you sorry piece of shit.

The difference between sportswriters and porn stars

... is that sportswriters only suck some of the time.

Seriously though, in a comment to the last post, Big C raises an interesting point. Here’s the relevant part:

I really enjoy reading this blog, and have no interest in ripping the scab off of the whole sportswriting dust-up, but kvetching about overwrought, hyperbolic sportswriting is like complaining that porn is repetitive, superficial, and flashy.

Both porn and sportswriting are diversions; entertainment, if you will, and to be successful in the field of entertainment is to be as outrageous and attention-getting as possible. Calm, metered and pensive sportswriting would not, on the whole, sell papers. When the least-common-denominator sports fan sits on his toilet to peruse the daily rag, he is not looking to read a exquisitely written 10,000 word piece by William Safire or George F. Will. He wants the over-the-top rant from Joe C. Schmo (the C is for Cuuunt), so that he and the world of sports radio have something to yell about the next day. I believe that this is the reason that some of the most loud and obnoxious figures in sports media (Rome, Cowherd, and, to an extent, Screamin' A) are also the most popular. Popular commentary and column makes for increased sales, period. If it were in the sports media's best interest to devote an entire 10-hour program to John Clayton, they would have. (Aside: Does Clayton have his own show? I love that guy.) Homers buy papers and watch TV, and that is just a gruesome fact of life.

I love the sports and sportswriting related stuff, really, as it is probably the most entertaining and fun part of my typical workday. But wailing about the horrible, sloppy and preachy sportwriting that you voluntarily endure is an odd thing to put next to telling people to shut the fuck up about high ticket prices.

As usual, I agree with you, to a point. And the point is well taken that our complaints about overwrought sportswriting are, themselves, often overwrought. Also as usual, I’m going to use this discussion as an excuse to get way too philosophical.

To put myself in the unusual position of defending the field, the difference between sports journalism and the other forms of entertainment you mentioned – porn and entertainment television, and really any form of entertainment -- is that sports journalism is still journalism. And journalism has much higher aims than simply entertaining. It's fundamentally an informative medium: that's why I generally like guys like Hansen (the AZ Star's columnist), as well as great non-fluff feature writers or investigative guys or beat reporters. They tell you something you didn't know before, whether that something is that Ryan Howard has hit more home runs off of lefties than anybody else this year, or how blind people play sports (Beep Baseball!).

That's precisely why I hate post-Disney ESPN so much, as well as sports talk radio, most of the Page 2 writers, etc. They view their field as purely entertainment. And while it would probably cripple the field to neglect the fact that you have to entertain your reader/viewer, it completely invalidates it, in my eyes, to treat it as purely entertainment. I don't think a sports page should read like Star magazine.

If you’ll allow me a (hypocritically) hyperbolic analogy, imagine the results if the entire field of journalism took the approach you describe, and figured all that mattered was getting readers. Would we know what our city councils decided in their last meeting? Would we hear about yet another bombing in Iraq? Probably not, and definitely not as much: we’d get Paris Hilton, 24/7. Look at the difference between the New York Times front page and the New York Post’s. In a purely ratings-driven profession, we’d have much more of the latter: look at TV news with its fearmongering, “it bleeds it leads” approach.

Another example would be art. Say every movie producer just wanted to maximize viewers and, thereby, revenues. You’d have no more indie films, no more film for art’s sake at all. You would have never had a Hitchcock or Fellini. You’d get Transformers or Spiderman 7 twenty times a year.

What I’m saying is that an art, especially one as important as journalism, cannot succumb completely to the marketplace and retain its function. You’ve mentioned in passing, I think in jest, your socialist leanings. If you're an anti-capitalist or familiar with capitalism in any respect, you probably realize that journalism is placed in a precarious position within a capitalist system. (Not as precarious as under fascism, and precarious in a different way from socialism, but precarious nonetheless.) News outlets need to sell ads to survive, and they need readers to do that. But if they abandon any pretext of a guiding purpose and morality to their profession – if they say they’re going to be purely entertainment – then they’ve betrayed the purpose of the press.

And it has a purpose. For all my bitching about journalists, I do believe that journalism – including sports journalism – is a noble profession. Ideally, it’s an art – maybe the only art -- that serves a critical purpose beyond aesthetics or entertainment: it is the Fourth Estate ideal, an entity that ensures Democracy. I actually think journalism is the most perfect form of writing, because of who it can reach, and because of what it can do. (Elitist rant alert!) The American proletariat has proven itself, in recent years, as dangerously, overwhelmingly uninformed. Promoting that ignorance by pandering to it is not going to help our society. And journalism is supposed to help a free society.

Of course, it’s a hell of a big step down from the Fourth Estate to Bill Conlin’s latest dumbass diatribe. Sports journalism has a vaguer sense of purpose, which complicates this whole nobility discussion: because it comments on a form of entertainment rather than the workings of the government or the world, it probably should rely a bit more on entertaining its viewer. But I don’t think that means it should abandon information and analysis altogether. I still think that pursuing such an important profession demands a commitment and responsibility beyond pandering to whatever people want to read or watch. I still think sports journalists should be journalists.

Is that pandering the fault of the journalists themselves, or of the institutions? Both, I would think. But it's disingenuous to suggest that a sports journalist has to do that pandering; it’s still possible to succeed without it. Look at Gammons or Neyer or Wilbon (or thousands of others, including the vast majority of non-ESPN journalists and a few of our readers). In fact, I don’t think many sports journalists actually do forsake the informative purpose. But the people you and I have mentioned – sports talk radio hosts, Sportscenter anchors, the worst of the print columnists – do exactly that. And so I think it’s necessary to call them out for doing it. Even if their bosses tell them to do it – even if it is their job – they still choose to do it. And it’s still shitty.

That's one of the reasons I feel the need to rip sensationalist sportswriting.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Boras?!? Maybe more like, "Big Asshole!"

Summarizing baseball's feelings about Scott Boras, the sport's most successful player agent, the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey once wrote, "He is a very, very bad man. Exquisitely bad, in a foreclose-on-the-farm sort of way." When Boras brokered his latest jaw-dropping contract—a 10-year, $252 million "merger" between the Texas Rangers and shortstop Alex Rodriguez—the animus only intensified. Writing in the April issue of Esquire, Scott Raab called Boras "the Most Hated Man in Baseball, the heartless bastard hell-bent on destroying our National Pastime, the keen-eyed pimp of ball-hogging, bat-whipping, splitter-hurling youth."
- "Scott Boras, Motherhood and Apple Pie," Slate, May 9, 2001

That quote wasn't really cherry-picked; I can't think of another figure — save perhaps Barry Bonds — who can inspire more instances of bobbing for epithets than Boras. A three-second Google search will bring up an overwhelming number of journalistic hatchet jobs on Boras' reputation, and very few measured pieces that actually delves into something resembling reality.

(LATE EDIT: The author of the Esquire article, Scott Raab, has clarified that his comments about Boras were taken out of context in the Slate piece. Raab was being facetious, which is kinda obvious now, and ended up arguing against the blind hatred of Boras. I wish I could read the full article myself [and link to it], but Esquire hates poor bloggers. If anyone can find a copy, I'd love to read it)

The hyperbolic reaction that he receives from columnists is absolutely insane, and serves as proof that very few men of the major metro sidebar actually think for five seconds before forming an opinion on something. Boras has done nothing in his career except represent his clients, and their interests, to the best of his ability. That's his fucking job. It's like criticizing a defense attorney for getting his or her client acquitted. Of course, many baseball writers aren't willing to accept that this is a business involving two parties attempting to get rich off the other, and without talented representation, it would be the players who get ripped off by the millionaire/billionaire owners who don't suffer for negotiating acumen or astute legal advice.

Two major issues with Scott Boras coverage, specifically:

1) This man cannot possibly dictate the terms of players' careers as much as many columnists would have you believe. How many times, during the Carlos Beltran free agency bidding war, did we hear about Boras "steering" Beltran to Queens when the player really wanted to stay in Houston? Anyone with half a brain has to call bullshit; there is no fucking way that a player of Beltran's caliber was going to do anything he didn't want to do. Frankly, the attitude many of these columnists took with Beltran, and continue to take with all of Boras' clients, couldn't be more condescending if they referred to the player as "boy." Yeah, I realize that intelligence isn't a prerequisite for a baseball player, but to suggest that Boras gets to dictate the terms of his clients' careers is insulting and unacceptable.

2) Big salaries, for the last time, are not ruining the game, unless you believe the game needs to be played for free in order for it to have any value. Yes, I know, you would play the game for free, but that's because you suck at it and no one would want to watch you play. Yes, I know, $10 million is an insane sum of money, and it just seems greedy to want $20 million when $10 million should be more than enough. And yes, I know, ticket prices have gone through the roof, and you believe it's because of outrageous player salaries. But none of those arguments are actually rooted in logic; they're the kind of emotional responses one expects from six-year-olds. Grow the fuck up. Baseball revenues are counted in the billions, and that's almost totally because of the players themselves. If George Steinbrenner is going to get rich off of baseball, the persons responsible for his team's profits should be getting rich, too. And, the fact that a lot of people are getting really fucking rich is as much proof as you need that baseball is far from ruined. In fact, I couldn't think of a better time to be a baseball fan.

More: Boras is almost solely responsible for destroying the "slot" system in the MLB draft, a system that served to move almost all the risk associated with a baseball career onto the players, leaving the owners in a situation where they were guaranteed low-risk, high-reward investments in prospects.
That the odds of any particular draftee finally making it to the league — not to mention be good enough or lucky enough to play long enough to earn a commensurate wage through free agency — are so staggeringly against any individual player is the main reason why Boras' advocacy was so needed. A player should take every opportunity he has to get paid as much as possible, since a long athletic career is so improbable. If a pitching prospect blows out his shoulder in High-A thanks to mismanagement, his career is effectively over, and teams wouldn't think twice about casting him off to the land of used auto sales. He has every right to ask a team to make a sizable investment in what they perceive as potential, big-league talent. There is strong evidence to support that the cautious, safety-oriented approach taken with most top prospects is owed almost entirely to the fact that teams are making multi-million dollar investments in top-level prospects. That's a positive for everyone involved. Furthermore, owners still stand to make huge profits for relatively low investments, even with the "outrageous" bonuses that are being given to top draft picks. Sure, paying a guy who plateaus in Double-A a million bucks stings, but paying Albert Pujols roughly $500k/season to produce DiMaggio-like makes all of those failures well worth it.

(Aside: Not all criticism of Boras is off-base; Peter Gammons recently argued that Boras' handling of prospects in his private training facility might actually be hurting the players in question. Interesting stuff.)

In short, it's flabbergasting to me that the kind of weak populism that colors the criticism of huge contract figures for baseball players serves only to benefit the fattest cats of them all, the owners. Anyone who wants to tell me that David Glass, Carl Pohlad or — gasp — the motherfucking Yawkeys are more sympathetic characters than A-Rod, Barry Zito or Carlos Beltran should be slapped in the face in that frenchy, limp-wristed, glove-in-hand way.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Ninth Level of Dante's Hell Is Reserved For Sanctimonious Sportswriters

I've been trying to avoid discussing the Michael Vick indictment because it seems too easy and everything's already been said, then some. But I just can't take it anymore. I've heard more sanctimonious, hyperbolic horseshit out of the sports media in the last few days than I have since, well, take your pick: the height of the Bonds grand jury, the Duke lacrosse case, the Kobe case (which I am loath to even mention since Ryan tried to bludgeon me with his Blackberry last time it came up), or even O.J.

This post could make a lot of different points. Off the top of my head:

I could talk about the role of race, which I do think is a factor in the coverage, but probably not in the investigation itself, and not nearly to the degree of the aforementioned issues.

We could discuss the hypocrisy involved in all this hand-wringing by meat eaters over dogs being electrocuted. (Please, somebody get all pissed and say, "but cows and chickens don't get electrocuted or hung or beaten." Pretty please. If you take this tack, your only real argument is, "but dogs are cute!" Unless you want to be one of those armchair animal psychiatrists who claims to understand the intelligence levels of all animals on a sliding scale, and further to construct an equation that derives the value of their pain from their relative intelligence.)

I could talk about the fact that the predominant response from the sports media thus far has been to moralize and bleat, rather than trying to figure out what other athletes might be involved: As ProFootballTalk pointed out (no way to link directly to the relevant section -- search the page for Dorsey Levens, about 1/6 of the way down as of this writing), maybe when ESPN had Dorsey Levens in the studio the other day, they should have asked him why his dog training company has Michael Vick's picture on its "Satisfied Celebs" page. Maybe they should have asked him if he attended dogfights. Maybe they should have asked him for more than his opinion on the matter, and maybe they would have, if they weren't busy pumping out opinion columns and asking everybody from Emmitt Smith to Vinny in North Jersey to give their opinion. Opinions first: they've got their priorities.

But I'd rather just focus on the sanctimony itself, because this has long been one of my primary complaints about mass sports media. I'm on vacation and have been trying to avoid the coverage of this issue as much as possible, but thus far I can remember hearing the following.

First it was Romy on the radio describing in grisly detail a scene involving Mike Vick slamming a dog on the ground repeatedly until it was dead. He proceeded it with a perfunctory "if it's true," the classic copout of opiners who need an excuse to sermonize: what always remains unspoken in these situations is the baseline assumption that it is, in fact, true. If they really allowed for the possibility that it wasn't true, then they'd have to shut their traps, and that wouldn't fill fifteen minutes of their show, or fifteen inches on the page. Never mind the fact that the indictment (available here) doesn't actually, technically, say that Michael Vick slammed a dog on the ground repeatedly until it was dead: saying it sure lights up the phone lines.

Then I heard some other radio hack essentially saying that it must be true, because the Feds don't take cases to court if they can't win. The Feds win something like 90 percent of their cases, he said. That's almost a definite. And, in horseshoes, hand grenades, and sports journalism, almost is enough.

I should pause here and acknowledge that the response has not been completely one-sided: the requisite chiding "wait and see" columns have sprung up as well. Screamin' A held up an open hand the other day. ESPN's coverage has been atypically muted, as exemplified in a worthy effort by Mike Sando (which also outlines how air-loose a grand jury indictment can be).

By and large, however, the response has been shrill and condemning. Vick's hometown paper even has a photo retrospective of his career posted on its website, as if he were dead. But maybe the single most flagrantly self-righteous piece of writing I've seen about Vick came from Philly's own Bill Conlin. I don't do the FJM bit often -- indeed, I've objected to it on this blog before -- but I'm going to do it here, because I've been itching to rip Conlin, and because I think his latest screed is an extreme example of the sanctimonious tendency I'm describing, as well as its most common and most bothersome undertones (I'll explain what those are later). I'll try not to take anything out of context or make any cheap shots, two tendencies of the form which I usually object to most.

NFL can't really let Vick play, can it?

SEE, HERE'S the thing with Michael Vick and the heinous crimes for which he has been indicted.

Right to Life activists have a history of blowing up abortion clinics and reaching "out-of- court" settlements with pro-choicers that, in some cases, involve extreme prejudice.

Two paragraphs in and already he's comparing killing dogs to killing people. I want to establish this right now, because the opposite belief is a major crux of a lot of the anti-Vick vitriol, and one Conlin (and others) rely on: killing dogs is not the same as killing humans. Human lives are more valuable than those of animals. As far as I'm concerned, that's a moral absolute, one I would hope I don't have to explain.

Remember this human/animal issue, because it arises later in interesting ways.

The animal-rights folks take similar umbrage to people who engage in the abuse or wanton slaughter of animals. They really, really get upset about the breeding of dogs for the sole purpose of mauling each other in a blood sport depicted as a deeply rooted and "traditional culture" form of entertainment.

Guilty or innocent, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, massively marketed as the new breed of multitalented National Football League star, has become the face of an activity so vile that a long prison term is not punishment enough for those at the rotten core of dogfighting.

While I understand what he's trying to say here, the way he phrases this last paragraph reveals much of his agenda. First of all, "guilty or innocent" shouldn't be treated as a throwaway matter, as it is here. Second, I think calling him a "new breed of multitalented star" sounds suspiciously like something coded. And we all know dogfighting is vile and rotten. But amid all that rhetoric, all this sentence really says is that Michael Vick has become the face of dogfighting. If you separate what Conlin is saying from what he's suggesting, you realize that he's not saying very much, and he's saying it very carefully.

There should be a level of Hell in Dante's Inferno reserved for humans who aid and abet the unspeakable horrors that attend this barbaric "sport." It should be very close to the circle reserved for death-camp commandants and terrorists who blow themselves up in crowded public places.

This is hyperbole of the grossest kind. Dante? "Unspeakable horrors"? And are we seriously supposed to lump dogfighters in with death-camp commandants and suicide bombers? Is it necessary to invoke, even obliquely, the Holocaust and September 11th every time something bad happens? You're talking 11 million and 3,000-plus murdered people, respectively, and relating it to the killing of eight dogs. Let's take some responsibility for the words we write, to ensure that they continue to mean something: sentences like that cheapen the words inside, the ideas they represent, the author, and the paper they're printed in.

And don't tell me, "Lighten up, it's only a dog . . . " I'm more dog-tolerant than dog-loving, but this story and its ramifications transcend outrage even for somebody who has never wished the companionship of man's best friend.

So, the first thing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should do is guarantee Michael Vick's safety. This fresh-faced voice of a long-overdue morality should assign 24-hour security to a man about to surpass Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson and Pete Rose in the Hall of Infamy's jock wing. He should protect Vick from the reach of potential vigilante justice. It's going to take a few more news cycles for the full impact of this story to hit home. But it will hit harder than anything since O.J. was leading the Freeway Grand Prix in his white Bronco.

And the ridiculousness continues. Can we just stop here and consider the fact that this man just said Mike Vick is going to surpass O.J. Simpson in the "Hall of Infamy," whatever the fuck that is? He invokes the Juice twice! Just come out and say it, Bill: you think killing dogs is as bad as killing people.

You think I'm kidding? What this man is accused of doing - one count in the bill of indictment accuses Vick of supervising the multigrisly killings of eight dogs - is a grenade tossed at more than 70 million American dog owners.

I hope you're kidding, because it's not a grenade. In no way is Vick's indictment comparable to throwing a grenade at anybody. Just stop it.

Imagine if the Falcons had a game scheduled this season in Cleveland, against the Browns. With the sound system blaring "Who Let the Dogs Out." With all those hirsute crazies in their dog masks . . . It will be bad enough in stadiums where Rover is not the symbol of a team's tenacity and ferocity.

Except the Falcons don't play Cleveland this year, so your vivid little scene doesn't work. We might as well be imagining what would happen if the Falcons had to play the Canton Bulldogs. And does it really matter if the mascot is a dog? Would those fans take more umbrage at actual dogs being killed? I'm a psychotic Philly fan, but I don't recall ever tracking down and fighting any eagle poachers.

And that's why Michael Vick must never play again in an NFL uniform - until the indictment has run its legal course and he is acquitted by a jury. And try to imagine the jury-selection process if the quarterback's legal team fails to reach a satisfactory plea bargain: "Do you now own, or have you ever owned one or more dogs?"

Hey, there were people who supported the Vietnam war who wanted to impeach Lyndon Johnson when he was photographed holding up his beagle by the ears. I think a few million John Madden video games featuring Michael Vick just became the equivalent of your old eight-track tapes.

Hold on just a second: "Michael Vick must never play again in an NFL uniform -- until the indictment has run its legal course ..."? What does that mean? He should never play again in an NFL uniform for six months? A year? That's not never! So don't begin by making a statement like he should never play again and then immediately hedge it into nothingness. If you're going to say it, say it. Otherwise, don't.

There is already a Greek chorus of bleeding hearts calling for Vick to be allowed to continue overthrowing receivers and running around like a very fast rat in a maze until he has his day in court.

And here's where the human/animal confusion takes on some very obvious and very disturbing overtones. I'll only say this: no white quarterback would ever be described in a large national newspaper as a "very fast rat in a maze," regardless of what he did or which animal he allegedly electrocuted.

That due process-rooted sentiment confronts the unofficial national religion with a public-relations disaster of unprecedented scope.

Ah, yes, the unofficial national religion, that beacon known as the NFL. The sport more Americans watch than any other, in which men -- humans, not dogs -- hit each other so hard and so often that players' brains turn into sponges, until they retire and get put out to pasture for a meager pension. The electrocution of dogs is a stain on this religious institution.

I love the NFL as much as anybody I know, but let's not pretend it's a noble institution.

Goodell has been suspending the NFL's growing list of social misfits at a heartening rate. Vick's alleged involvement in caninecide should draw a suspension - for involvement in illegal gambling? - that carries beyond the legal resolution of the case. When a law-enforcement officer or teacher is accused of a crime, aren't they put on "administrative leave" pending an in-house investigation? Let the NFL investigation begin - but proceed slowly.

One of Franz Kafka's most chilling short stories is called "In the Penal Colony." It involves the use of an instrument of torture whereby the sentence imposed on a prisoner is carved into his body in an ornate script.

In the case of anybody guilty of involvement in the killing of dogs used for this illegal blood sport, a simple brand would suffice:

"Dog Killer." And make the letters big . . . *

He closes with a suggestion that Vick -- "if guilty," of course, only "if guilty," if not he takes it all back -- should be branded. Not jailed, not electrocuted or slammed on a floor -- not even eye for an eye -- but branded.

You know, like they do to animals. Like they did to slaves. So tell us, Bill Conlin: in your column, which is Vick, the (alleged) dog-killer, supposed to be?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Philly State of Mind

My current East Coast swing has made this joint into Diesel Agreeing With Himself, so I figured I'd offer some scattered observations from the 215. (In all seriousness, props to VORPy for holding it down.) I just got back from the horse track/casino and am now sitting in my grandfather's living room, smoking cigarettes I bummed from him earlier, drinking a Budweiser 40 he had in the fridge, and watching Phils/Pads.

Phistory -- Since the Phils are beating the Pads at the moment, thanks in large part to your 2007 NL MVP Chase Utley's two-run job, I'll begin with them. Utley's blast to the deepest part of Petco has reminded me that this Phillies team could really be historic.

10,000 was one thing -- although, as A Citizen's Blog points out, it really wasn't such a significant loss, considering the ineptitude of many younger teams. What's more interesting, to me, is that as of right now, the Phillies are on place to possibly have six players with 20 homers. Six! The candidates:

Howard -- 25
Rollins -- 18
Utley -- 17
Rowand -- 13
Burrell -- 12
Victorino -- 11

Those last three need a little luck to do it. Rowand needs to continue an atypically hot-hitting first half. Burrell needs to stay in the lineup enough to get the ABs. And Victorino might need another big month like this past one, in which he's hit six homers. But there's a real chance they'll all get there, and the Phils will almost undoubtedly have five 20-HR guys on a non-playoff team.

The last team to do that, as far as I can tell, was the 1997 Rockies -- Burks, Bichette, Cash-steala, Galarraga, Walker -- a bunch of sluggers who played in pre-humidor Coors Field, by far the most favorable offensive park in modern baseball history. (They were also 3 Jeff Reed homers shy of having six guys do it.) Those Rocks finished third in the West, four games over .500.

Citizen's Bank is admittedly a bandbox, but nothing like the Coors Field of old. According to Park Factor, it's not even as bad as Cincy's Great American in terms of HR/game. (The fact that the Reds, a worse team, actually have a better shot at getting six 20-HR guys, providing they keep Griffey, makes me wonder whether I'm wrongly awed by this idea.)

At the very least, it gives me a reason to keep watching the Phils play. At least until the NFL season starts.

The Beast Coast -- Whenever I'm back East I'm reminded how much different the sporting environment is out here. For instance, I'm watching baseball right now, live, at 1:40 in the morning. Phillies and Eagles gear is ubiquitous in a way you'd never see in SoCal or AZ, as is at least a casual fandom: I was visiting my grandmother and great-aunt at a retirement community the other day and got into a discussion about Donovan McNabb. (One old bat said Garcia was better, so I stole her cane and whacked her in the hip. Stupid old c-words.)

But maybe my favorite difference is the AM sports talk. I hate sports radio in Arizona: with the exception of certain illustrious guests of Vinny's, all you get is local hacks agreeing with homer callers and syndicated feeds of Romy or Dan Patrick. Here you get essentially the same thing, except both the callers and the hosts are overwhelmingly negative. And it's awesome.

On the way here, I turned on Mike and the Mad Dog somewhere in Connecticut. I left them on until I was halfway into Jersey -- I forget what exit, but it was roughly at the point where it stops being a suburb of NYC and turns into a suburb of Philly -- and then switched to The King.

You've got to love four hours of talk radio (a dump truck flipped on the turnpike and I was stuck in traffic) that included:

Mike and assorted callers railing for an hour straight about how bad the Mets are, despite the fact that they're in first place and will probably win the East.

Mike claiming that Reyes has not been great this year, and going on to insinuate that he's actually somehow been disappointing.

Mike going on an epic rant about "Who's More Now" being the single stupidest piece of television programming he's ever seen. (Amen!)

Mike making fun of a bunch of callers who collected sports memorabilia in response to the unconscionable auction of Joe D's diaries.

Eskin debating for an hour whether D-Mac is worthy of having his number retired by the Eagles.

Another Eskin caller talking about how much he hates Barry Bonds for cheating by taking steroids, then saying that he loved Lenny Dykstra.

And that's not even mentioning the Philly sports print media, which today did the impossible, defending Barry Bonds and Michael Vick in the same section.

The Rolls Make All the Difference -- I had a turkey hoagie from Lee's Hoagie House this afternoon. It made me feel all redeemed and good, like Communion with less guilt and more hot peppers. I really ought to send all you poor taco-eating bastards out West one of their send-a-hoagies. They make East Coast Super Subs seem like Blimpie.

Time to go. El Pulpo's batting, and I've got to see this.

Because my Scott Boras post might take a few days

A non-random sampling of some of the most interesting things I've read on the interwebs recently:

• I should probably read the Hardball Times more often, especially since stuff like this is pretty commonplace. What occurred to me as I read Brattain's piece is how few people have pointed out that, in so many ways, the medium is the message with Sampson. He's not only a megalomaniac, he's an absolute disaster as team president. I don't believe it's an accident that one of the worst administrators in baseball is also one of the loudest.

• I'm actually not an avid blog reader these days, for lots of reasons. But Shysterball has become a daily — sometimes twice-daily — destination for me. Not only is dude prolific, but he's almost always completely right. And he makes great post headlines. I really need to know how a lawyer with a family can find the time to make between two and five posts per day, when I'm winded if I punch out three in a week.

(Also: He has great taste in blogs, as well. I promise, I was going to give him some dap before I saw this today, and now I just look like a putz. Whatever. Read his stuff. It's good.)

• It appears Will Carroll is suffering from an affliction I refer to as the "Conceit of the Enlightened." One of the most difficult things about figuring something out is being unable to realize why everyone else can't see what's now so plain to you. This is theoretical for me, of course, because I'm an idiot and I haven't personally figured anything out. Also: Computers have taught me everything I know about baseball. 010001011110101001010100100111101001.

• Does anyone really need to link to FJM anymore? Just in case you don't check it every day, this is one of the funnier posts they've had in recent memory. The lone comment is the clincher.

• Four words: What the blood clot?

• Joe Posnanski is not only my favorite sports writer in the world, he's probably one of my favorite people I've never actually met. It helps that he's one of the few mainstream sportswriters out there who doesn't get the giggles when someone mentions VORP. But — I say this with all due respect — I think his whole stance on the Bonds thing is a cop-out, and he gives a couple of columnists a fairly easy ride when they should be taken to task for uttering complete nonsense.

I do understand what Joe's saying, and I sympathize. The toughest part about being a sports columnist is knowing that you're expected to constantly have a great take, even when you're out of great takes to have. I do believe that most major metro guys are asked to write too many opinion pieces per week, which results in a dilution of the writer's body of work and ultimately makes the newspaper look like an amateur operation.

But, at the same time, it's the nature of the job; hearing sports columnists complain about stories that are tough to write about is kinda like hearing the President bitch about not getting to choose his own house. And, particularly in the case of a guy like Bonds, I really don't believe there's an excuse to be had. No one will mind terribly if sports columnists just played this one straight and saved us the lectures, booing advice, and steroid sanctimony. But, if you're going to add something to the debate, then please think it out. Ask yourself if you're actually adding anything at all, or simply mailing it in. Because if you're going to mail it in, find a high school athlete in your city who has diabetes, and write about what a hero he/she is. At least then someone in your readership will be happy to read your piece the next morning.

• This is an old one, but it's probably the funniest conceit KSK has used (mind you, I don't read them as often as I used to). Needless to say, one need not say more than construda in any context to make me laugh.

Anyway, I'll try and get the Boras thing up this weekend. It should be a good conversation-starter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Helmet Law of Sports

You know how most girls hate the word "panties?" That's how I feel about the word "parity." It's a gross-sounding word, and even more it's been beaten to death in a manner befitting a non-ferocious dog at the Vick Ranch.

Parity is often provided as a main reason for the NFL's meteoric rise in stature and eventual usurping of Major League Baseball as the country's prime male addiction that doesn't involve pornography. There may be some truth to this, but it's likely an overstatement; people are obsessed with the NFL because football might be the most fundamentally American sport imaginable. It's the perfect mixture of violence and strategy, and the league has never shied away from using sex to help sell it, too. Plus, the concentrated nature of the game's season — 16 games, as opposed to 164 — seems a better fit for recent generations of Americans who have not only been raised to think they have ADD, but probably have psychosomaticaly contracted it because they want the drugs.

This is not meant to impugn football; I am a football fan, though admittedly I've always preferred the college version. I do suggest, however, that there are a myriad of reasons why the NFL is more popular than baseball these days, and I don't think it has a whole lot to do with the fact that one sport has a salary cap, and the other doesn't. That assertion is supported by the fact that both the NBA and the NHL have caps, and no one gives a shit about either of those leagues unless the Suns are playing.

My other beef with the whole parity thing is that it really isn't true. Yes, the structure of the NFL's salary system makes it so that tons of players are cut every season, which means there's a constant stream of acquirable commodities for struggling teams with a keen eye for talent. But if that's the case, why have the Lions continued to suck right through the parity era? And the Cardinals? Furthermore, why is it that the Patriots and Eagles are almost always division favorites? If financial clout — the ability to spend more than another team — is the primary ingredient to superior roster building, then in the NFL's universe, all teams should hover around the same level, with random fluctuation in W-L records and jersey colors serving as the only methods of differentiating teams. We see that's not the case, however, and immediately know that the answer is: Some teams are better run than others. Yes, you can point to an example like the New Orleans Saints' one-year turnaround as an example of "parity," but I'm not sure that's the case. The Saints got better because they landed one free agent who was undervalued on the market because of an injury situation, benefited from an incredibly productive draft leading into that season, continued the development of young players who had underperformed in years past, and implemented a new coaching and management strategy under Sean Payton. That kind of story can happen in any sport; look at what's happening with the Brewers right now.

The Brewers, in fact, serve as an excellent illustration of the non-necessity for a salary cap in baseball, but they're not alone.

Cleveland 55-39 $ 61,673,267
Minnesota 49-45 $ 71,439,500
Milwaukee 53-41 $ 70,986,500
San Diego 52-41 $ 58,110,567
Arizona 50-46 $ 52,067,546

All five of those teams are among the best teams in their respective leagues. All fall well below any kind of reasonable salary cap MLB would institute.

And here's another four teams:

Chicago 42-51 $ 108,671,833
Baltimore 42-52 $ 93,554,808
San Francisco 39-53 $ 90,219,056
Houston 40-55 $ 87,759,000

All four of these are among baseball's worst teams. All would probably be right around, or above, any kind of reasonable salary cap MLB would institute.

I know, I know. I'm cherry-picking the examples which support my argument, right? In a sense, that's true. Most of the teams who spent close to, or more than, $100 million a season are in playoff contention. But that's really only eight teams, five of which are in the American League. And four of the six division leaders are among that group, thanks to the big-spending Dodgers recently overtaking the Padres in the West by a half-game. But, for most of the season, half the division leaders have been "small-market" teams, and Cleveland has been in a dogfight with Detroit all season long, despite spending almost $34 million less than the Tigers.

The point is that while there is some correlation between money spent and on field results, it's far from guaranteed that a large salary will equate with success, and the correlation is in fact fairly weak.

(Apropos-of-nothing aside: I checked the calendar before writing this, and have confirmed it's 2007. Why the fuck does almost every rap CD still have skits? This shit was old by the time De La Soul dropped De La Soul Is Dead, and that abortion was released in 1991. Yet, here I am listening to the otherwise excellent Like Father, Like Son by Birdman & Lil' Wayne, and I'm forced to skip through ridiculous cliché Godfather-ripoff skits about "being a part of the family for life." Really? Really? I feel like kicking Lyor Cohen in the nuts every time I hear a rap skit, because he's smart and probably could have put a stop to this trend in its infancy.)

There are a few big reasons for this. One of the prime ones is something I've posted about before, which is that many big-ticket free agency acquisitions are disasters for the teams involved. Activity does not equal improvement when it comes to the free agent market, and it can often mean the opposite; I'm quite positive that the Dodgers would be running away with the NL West right now if they hadn't signed (or re-signed) Luis Gonzalez, Juan Pierre and Nomar Garciaparra in the offseason, and instead had let Kemp, Loney, Betemit and LaRoche take up those at-bats. That would also trim more than $25 million off the team's 2007 payroll. Money spent is not always money well spent.

Furthermore, there already exists an artificial market constraint that serves to allow lower-income teams to compete without the benefit of a Warbucksian approach to free agent acquisition; it's the fact that a player needs to earn three years of major league experience before they can begin receiving compensation more in line with their value on the open market. I can't find the specifics on this, but a player needs to log between two and three years of major league service before he's eligible for salary arbitration, and (I believe) six years of major league service before he's eligible for free agency. During this six-year period, a team essentially controls the player; the player has no leverage, outside of a holdout, to negotiate a better deal for himself. Arbitration is binding for both sides, but only the team can opt out of the process; the player has no say. And even an arbitration award in favor of the player rarely nets him close to what he could earn on the open market. So, a team is essentially guaranteed six years of service (roughly) at bargain rates from any player it develops. In addition, savvy teams like the Indians and Braves have sustained success by signing players to long-term contracts at below-market values early in players' careers. Recently, the Padres were able to do this with Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young, both of whom are making at least $7 million per season less than either would on the open market.

All this proves is that there are lots of ways to skin a cat when it comes to building a competitive major league baseball team. In fact, it's become clear to teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, Exhibits A and B for those who argue for a salary cap, that the way the Indians and Braves operate is actually preferable; the administration of both teams have made it clear that their days of opting for pricey free agents over young, home-grown players. This isn't to say that the money for free agents is going to completely dry up, but it does suggest that there will be some market correction in the future thanks to the lessened interest from the league's two biggest spenders.

All of this argues for there actually being a situation that allows for competitive balance. And I believe the results are there: The last seven World Series winners have been St. Louis, the Chicago White Sox, the Red Sox, the Marlins, the Angels and the Diamondbacks. Even the NFL, paragons of parity, can't claim six different champions in six years. In fact, there's only been three.

There's one remaining reason — and it's a big one — for there to not be a salary cap in baseball; it really serves to protect owners from themselves. Owners have created the problem by offering ridiculous deals to players who aren't deserving the money. In many cases, they've done so while really only bidding against themselves. It would not require collusion for the market to undergo a correction; it would just require owners to stop allowing, as one blogger put it recently, Scott Boras to convince them that Barry Zito is Steve Carlton.

Small Market teams love to claim that its a lack of money that keeps them from competing, but it's simply not true. The reason the Pirates have sucked since Barrold left town was because they've made horrible decisions with the money they actually have. Same goes for the Royals, who can be counted on to load their roster up with overpaid veterans almost every offseason. Interestingly, those two teams can be counted on to make a healthy profit every season, thanks to the revenue sharing that takes place in baseball; they're pocketing the money that's supposed to be going toward player salaries, all the while protesting the unfairness of the system. The players — or agents — aren't to blame for the problem, yet the solution serves only to restrict their ability to make as much money as possible. Not only do I not think a salary cap is needed, I actually think it's wrong. It will be a cold day in hell before you can convince me that millionaire owners, who already have the run of the shop, need even more help to properly run their affairs.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I remember once saying I liked Rick Sutcliffe ...

... but I realized today that, despite his charm and willingness to provide one of the greatest guest appearances in the history of baseball announcing, he is a complete and total idiot who hasn't paid attention to baseball since 2001.

During the Cubs-Giants broadcast, it is announced that the Cubs have acquired catcher Jason Kendall from the Oakland Athletics in return for recently-optioned catcher Rob Bowen and a minor-league lefty. No word if the Cubbies are picking up any of the approximately $6.5 million dollars owed to Kendall through the remainder of 2007.

Kendall so far this year: .226/.261/.281. Some have referred to Kendall as the worst position player in the major leagues so far this season.

This is what Sutcliffe had to say about the deal, verbatim (I love DVRs):

"They (the Cubs) just got better in a hurry."

"Oh wow. Good for the front office here at Wrigley."

"You know, you've got to applaud him (Cubs GM Jim Hendry) right there for being able to go out and make that happen."

"Lou Pinella saying before the game, the first thing he wrote down every day in the lineup was the catcher hitting eighth. He knew that, because offensively they (the catchers) had been really struggling. Well, you're not going to struggle there now. Jason Kendall is a proven, big-league hitter."

"And they had to pay some money. Jason Kendall, he does not come cheaply. But you know what? Neither does winning."

Unless Hendry somehow convinced Billy Beane to pick up the majority of Kendall's remaining salary — something I truly doubt — this is the equivalent of the Detroit Tigers trading for Neifi Perez. I still think the Cubs will contend for the Central this year, but this could possibly go down as one of the most lopsided deals in recent history, particularly if Beane uses the freed-up salary space to go out and get a bat down the stretch.

Rick Sutcliffe: Proving that the term "functional alcoholic" is kind of a misnomer.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Philadelphia 10K: A Marathon of Losing

Going into today, the Philadelphia Phillies have lost 9,999 games. Hamels pitches this afternoon, but Eaton is tomorrow, so, barring uncharacteristic luck, I'm pretty much guaranteed to get my birthday present early, in the form of yet another historic loss in the dismal annals of Philly sport. Indeed, bad luck is the only kind they've ever had. Take, for example, last Tuesday's game, the last one I got to watch, when a clearly blown call on the final out of the game led to extra innings led to Jose Mesa, and that particular road ends, as we all know, in a godforsaken burg known as Walkoffloss. Or take, for example, 9,998 other instances: for those of you less versed in their sordid history, Paul Hagen offers a primer. (Remembering the Biggio homer in 2005, and that hard-luck stretch run last year, still makes me cringe.)

They're a .500 ballclub at the break, despite the best offense in the NL and the perennially high preseason hopes, a fact which should surprise exactly nobody considering how static their mediocrity has been the last five years: they've had a similar record at the break every year since 2003. If tradition holds, they'll scuffle through July and mount a late-August run at the playoffs, only to fall short in the final week. Philly expects this; Philly knows its teams. And that's why Philly is celebrating the losingest franchise in professional sports history's epic suckiness. There are multiple fan websites (this is the best). There's a debate over whether or not to include the record of the Worcester (pronounced, for you left-coasties, something like "worschmermer") Brown Stockings, whom the Phillies replaced in the National League in 1883. There's the aforementioned retrospective of notable losses.

Because Philly fans don't remember wins. It is one of the singular characteristics we share (along with bad hair, fatness, vulgarity, sociopathic tendencies, alcoholism, an inferiority complex, rabid hatred of all things New York/Washington/Dallas, and a perverse sense of pride in all the aforementioned. Oh, and a lingering belief that Rocky was real). Any Eagles fan can tell you where he was for all three of the NFC Championship losses, not to mention the Super Bowl.

(For instance, I distinctly remember banging my head against an Old Chicago table when Ronde Barber broke on the short out pattern and began his 85-yard TD prance. I left my smarting forehead pressed against the woodgrain. Minutes passed. Finally, Doyle poked my shoulder and said, "Dude, I spilled buffalo sauce on your jersey." Never loan that guy clothes.)

I'm loath to mention this around Diesel, but the loss I remember most vividly doesn't even count. Yes, you guessed it, this one:

It served as a primer to a twelve-year-old Phan who'd dodged much of the late-80s misery thanks to relocation. Before that season I never saw the Phils on TV, and it was probably for the better -- since their lone Series title in 1980, won on what was most likely the date of my conception, it had been a slow downhill slide. They lost the '83 Series. Charlie Hustle left. Carlton retired and Schmitty followed, hobbling close on his heels. That scrappy, cerebral, blue-collar '93 team that hustled so much was, oddly, America's darling. At least until it lost.

They finished last the next year. Dykstra, my favorite player and the man whose number I wore in Senior League, suffered a litany of steroid-fueled injuries and retired soon after so he could start a chain of car washes and commit statutory rape. Kruk got testicular cancer, had his ball removed, went to Chicago, and retired after giving perhaps the greatest retirement speech ever, then disgraced himself on the Best Damn Sports Show Period for a few years before moving to ESPN. Dutch Daulton, after whom I named my dog, went to the Marlins, of all places. Then he won a title. Then he made contact with the Fifth Dimension. Schilling bitched and moaned his way into a trade to Arizona. And then he won a title. And then he wanted to come back to Philly but management wouldn't spend the money because they thought he was using them as a pawn in negotiations with the Sox (they were probably right). So he went to Boston and he won another title. Mitch Williams got death threats, went into hiding, and bounced around the minors as a pitching coach. Even that lovable team ended in a litany of disappointment.

Any Phils fan who's been around a little longer has their own stories of the teams they loved, and all of them except one -- 1980, the one fucking title in 124 years of their existence -- disappointed the city. They all lost. The epic collapse of '64: 6 1/2 games up with 12 to go, and still they lost the pennant. The historically bad teams that played second fiddle to the A's. You name it.

I don't think any Phillies fans are really all that invested in 10,000. We've seen enough to know it's a lot -- we don't need some arbitrary milestone to remind us. We'll hear about it for a few days on ESPN, read snarky puff pieces in national outlets shitting on the franchise and the city, maybe -- if we're lucky -- get a few more apocryphal recounts of the time we booed Santa. And I think the organization and the fan base and even the Philly media should be commended for their collective tongue-in-cheek celebration of the feat; not a lot of cities would call attention to such a dubious distinction. I think it's mildly funny myself; I'm definitely buying the commemorative t-shirt.

But here's what's not funny, and what every non-Phillies fan won't understand about 10,000. The vast majority of the real misery -- 100-loss seasons and the like -- happened before the Vet was event built, much less CBP. Currently they're just mired in mediocrity. And the depressing thing about all of this is that in all likelihood, this Phillies team will add its name to that dubious list of disappointments. All this playoff talk has been passed around every spring since Thome showed up. We've finished a grand total of about ten games out of the playoffs in the last four years. But it's still been 13 years since we made the playoffs, and it had been ten before that. And while squeaking in this year would be a welcome surprise, what wouldn't surprise me would be if none of the unparalleled (at least in Phillies history) core of young talent -- Utley, Howard, Rollins, Hamels, Myers, even the surprising Victorino -- ever plays an NLCS game in red pinstripes.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't make the playoffs for another five years. The organization is still horribly mismanaged, year after year -- it doesn't seem to matter who the manager or GM is, not anymore -- and, as has been the case as long as I can remember, there's no pitching. Sure, the offense should only improve next year, but where exactly will the pitching help come from? Our bullpen is full of guys way past their expiration dates (Gordon, Mesa, and even Alfonseca, whose shocking capability cannot last), young guys who I wish were still unproven, but have probably proven everything they ever will (Matt Smith, Geary, Madson), castoffs and rejects (Romero, the guy from the Jays whose name I can't think of at the moment), and the franchise's second-best starting pitcher.

Or how about the rotation, which looks like this right now and projects to look like this for quite some time, unless they make a trade:

Kyle Kendrick
TBA (I've never heard of this guy, but he seems to have joined the five-man, because he's penciled in for the third time in three weeks to start Tuesday at the odgers.)

I don't give a shit how good your offense is. We've had some of the greatest offensive forces in the game the last few years -- Thome, the player formerly known as Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley -- and what has it gotten us? New managers, a new GM, a new ballpark, the same result, and the same prognosis for next year. Maybe it's the owners' faults, as Bill Conlin seems to think, in yet another incomprehensible column the other day. Maybe it really is William Penn.

So, Phillies, great, go ahead and celebrate 10K. And then you'd better ponder doing something drastic before the deadline -- drastic as in the list of trade untouchables should have two guys on it, Chase and Cole -- to get some fucking pitching. And I don't necssarily mean the Javier Vazquezes of the world -- I don't necessarily mean pitching for this year. It's hard to argue with Rich Hoffman's take on a hopeless pitching situation; it might be time to admit that Gillick was right last year when he said this team wouldn't contend until 2008, and think about rebuilding with some pitching. I don't know what that means, whom you trade for whom, but you'd better get more value for Rowand or Bourn or Ruiz than you did for Abreu and Lidle, both of whom you gift-wrapped for absolutely nothing.

But if you live up to your nickname, Stand Pat, the losses are going to keep on mounting long after all the humorous milestones are past.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cuntjustification: Tony La Russa

From an AP story about Pujols' reconsidered take on the All-Star Game situation:

Since the 2002 game ended in an extra-innings tie, managers have tended to hold a hitter back just in case. La Russa said if he ran out of position players he'd rather forfeit than use a pitcher, and called for Major League Baseball to alter rules to allow for more re-entry.

This man has often claimed — or let sycophants like Buzz Bissinger claim — that he's a master of baseball managing strategy, if not an outright pioneer. Yet:

1) He's allowed the post facto criticism of Jim Frey's 1991 "gaffe" in which he ran out of position players and had to have Dave Steib bat in a critical situation — the use of the 2002 example is a red herring either on the part of the writer or La Russa himself, as the ramifications of that situation would impact this situation not at all — to influence his ASG roster management;

2) He actually said he'd forfeit the fucking game before he'd let a pitcher hit, which should be argument enough for MLB to never let him manage the midsummer classic ever, ever again;

3) Because of his tactical incompetence, he wants the rules changed, so he doesn't have to be faced with any difficult decisions that might be second-guessed.

Remember, folks: This man is supposed to be one of the very best managers in the entire game, yet he responds to criticism of his unjustifiable botch job of the AGS by whining about rules.

Cuntjustification: Complete

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Man, those pitchers are some fucking pussies

Get back on the mound, Dravecky.

One of my favorite things about baseball is the length of its season; summer has always meant, to me, the irreplaceable ubiquity of baseball. No other sport is so intertwined with a season that one cannot be thought of without the other.

However, one of the pitfalls of the 162-game season is the need to hear morons repeatedly say moronic things. Maybe Joe Morgan's most "charming" attribute is his insistence on introducing "new" concepts like batting average not being the most telling measure of offensive performance on every fucking telecast. Then, as a bonus, he tells us RBI is the most telling offensive statistic. And people still wonder why Donnie Moore committed suicide.

Joining that list of non-arguments that get bandied about in virtually every baseball telecast is an apparent (and overwhelming) antipathy to the "new school" method of preserving pitchers, which involves pitching coaches tracking pitch counts, innings and mechanical flaws that may indicate fatigue. In all cases, the emphasis is on attempting to keep pitchers from throwing while tired, or overtaxing arms to the point where something goes pop. Not all methods are equal in efficacy — there's an excellent argument to be made that the five-man rotation (which means fewer innings/more rest between innings for starters) has no real redemptive value beyond its now being the custom — but all are well-intentioned enough.

Pitchers, especially good ones, cost millions of dollars and are completely useless if they get hurt (as opposed to hitters, who can achieve some measure of usability when injured). Thus, it makes sense to handle them with care, even if it means erring on the side of babying. I've never been particularly sure why this concept is so offensive to some (Dusty Baker), because it makes so much sense (Dusty Baker). It's intuitive (Dusty Baker). Yet, people get absolutely riled up when the subject of complete games comes up (Dusty Baker).

Surprisingly, it's hard to find these people saying as much in print. But in the last week, I've heard Rick Sutcliffe, (surprise!) Dusty Baker and Orel Hershieser get a little frothy at the mouth when the subject of today's starting pitchers comes up.

Then, this morning, I read an old BP interview with Juan Marichal in which he stated this (God bless the ability to actually attribute something in this post):

We were broadcasting a game during the Dominican League season, and Manny Aybar had allowed just two hits in five innings and the game was tied at one. In the top of the sixth, a couple of hitters got on base and Licey manager Manny Acta took him out of the game. Why !? I just cannot understand why he did it. Those things surprise me a lot, because I pitched in a time when you were supposed to finish what you started. It was a different era. I remember guys that won twenty games, and completed just six or seven games. The moment they were going to discuss their next contract, the first thing the GM would say to them is that they didn't deserve a raise because they just completed six or seven games. Nowadays 20 wins means millions of dollars, and six complete games means you led the league. (Laughs)

I'm not accusing Marichal of being unhinged here; I understand his point, and he seems relatively composed. However, I guess the question is this: Who gives a fuck?!?

Things, besides the complete game and unlimited pitch counts, that are no longer a "part of the game":

• Segregation
• Rampant steroid use (or so we think)
• Rampant amphetamine use (or so we think)
• Excellent sports writing
• The spitball
• The 16-inch-high mound
• The Montreal Expos
• Connie Mack

We can safely assume that all of these things died a natural death, and in almost every case a welcomed death (except for Les Expos). I honestly don't hear color men complain about the fact that Greg Maddux can't take a fucking belt sander with him onto his 25-inch-high mound, but if Felix Hernandez leaves the game after the sixth inning because he's thrown 130 pitches, we get a fucking lecture from someone on how this kind of shit would have never happened 20 years ago, and no one was worse for the wear for it.

And this is precisely the kind of statement made all the time by "baseball men" that end up becoming the crux of so many arguments. There's no evidence to back up their recollections, only the anecdotal evidence that it seemed like guys were healthier back then, or something. And it's a disprovable argument, because injury reporting and care was pretty lax back in the day. I suspect the oft-cited regressive — if not outright nihilistic — culture of baseball back in the day and the fear of losing one's job forever — a very real fear before the era of collective bargaining and guaranteed contracts — more than likely caused a lot of pitchers to ignore serious elbow and shoulder injuries and continue pitching. Basing conclusions on information like this is like measuring changes in atmospheric temperature with the thermometer in your backyard.

(Aside: Here's a very interesting article from the Hardball Times in which the writer argues that pitch counts not only haven't helped keep pitchers healthy, but might actually be hurting them. He makes a few too many assumptions for my taste, and there's one massive logical gaffe regarding the usefulness of injury history for any era's highest innings-throwers [prize, albeit a shitty one, to the person who knows what it is] but it's important to note that there's legitimate argument to be made when it comes to the effect of pitch counts. The intentions behind them, however, are pretty clearly good.)

(Aside #2: It's relevant, but not central, to the argument to point out that today's conditions for pitchers are much more difficult than they were in the heyday of 300 inning starters. Ballparks are smaller, balls and bats are harder, hitters are smarter and better, and video research is prevalent. I am a firm believer that pitchers could "coast" a lot more in those days, when hitters in the last third of almost everyone's lineup had a better chance of curing cancer than hitting home runs, and "pitching to contact" didn't almost always mean "walking on the razor's edge of a seven-run inning." But since I don't have a lot of evidence to back this up, I'm putting myself square in the same boat as people who argue that pitchers got hurt less when they threw more. So, I'll leave it at that, and not base my argument on it.)

But let's say that I'm wrong for the sake of argument, and that things were the same — or maybe even better — in terms of injuries back in the day when Marichal and Warren Spahn were throwing 16-inning complete games. And that critics of the current pitcher use methodology are correct when they say it's possible that pitchers could simply condition themselves into pitching deeper into games, which would allow them to avoid fatigue-related injuries. Even if that's the case, doesn't it still make more sense to approach bullpen use the same way we currently do?

With rare exception, pitchers get less effective the more they throw. It's not only a matter of fatigue, though that certainly plays a role. Mike Marshall believes a pitcher should never face the same batter more than three times in a game, because there's only so many ways an individual pitcher can skin a cat. I think that makes a ton of intuitive sense, and I wish I knew how to mine the necessary data to prove whether there's a statistical basis for such an approach. Furthermore, the deeper a pitcher gets into a game, the more leverage there's likely to be on every at-bat. Starters are poorly suited to such situations, especially in the case of facing opposite-handed batters who feature large platoon splits that become more relevant as the game wears on. What honor is there in leaving Josh Beckett out there in the eighth inning of a two-run game to face Travis Hafner with a man on second? Doesn't it make way more sense to have Okajima face him?

I am a critic of the way many managers approach bullpen use, particularly when it comes to closers. But that doesn't mean bullpens should be pushed back to the margins; to the contrary, I'd rather have a situation where I'm only looking for my starters to go six or seven innings, provided I've got at least three guys in the pen (including one lefty) that I can deploy in late-inning, high-leverage situations where fresh arms are almost always more preferable to ones that have already thrown 100 or more pitches.

In other words, bemoaning the loss of the complete game is a little like pining for the hot ex-girlfriend who cheated on you; she may have looked nice, but at the end of the day you just couldn't count on the bitch.

P.S.: Baseball Prospectus is free this week. You all should check it out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hate to say I told you so

Apologies to all five of our readers for the siesta, but I actually lost about 1,000 words because the new Firefox keeps crashing on me and Blogger has decided to do away with saved drafts. The topic I was writing about, I think, is a good one for argument, so I'll try and re-create it in the next couple of days.

Anyway, I hope all of you watched the All-Star Game, for a couple of important reasons:

1) It verified anything I've ever said about how totally fucking stupid Tim McCarver is;
2) It verified anything I've ever said about how totally fucking stupid Tony LaRussa is.

The writing, I believe, was on the wall with LaRussa's bench selections for this game. In addition to the loyal army of prostitutes closers he mystifyingly decided to load his roster with, he made some horrendous picks with hitters. His picks of Orlando Hudson and Freddy Sanchez over Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins looks even worse, now, than it did a week ago. Are you telling me this game doesn't turn out differently with those two guys available in the late innings?

But the absolute clincher was putting Hudson and Rowand up in the ninth, with Albert Fucking Pujolshis fucking guy! — sitting there on the bench wondering exactly how the fuck he's arrived at the point in his stunning career where he's being sat for two guys who can't carry his jock.

Hudson, then Rowand!

I don't even know where else to go with this. I don't know that a worse job of managing an All-Star game is possible.

Go kill another pitcher, LaBortion, before everyone realizes what a total moron you are and you never get a job in baseball again.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wait ... it's the fans who are idiots?

Bitching about All-Star snubs is cliché at this point, I know. I don't plan on listing the team I would have chosen, or anything; I think that's dumb and since no one can agree on the correct criteria for All-Stars anyway, you end up having "Bruce Armstrong is clearly a better actor than Billy Zane"-type arguments, which ultimately is good for no one.

What I wanted to bring up was the fact that the old sportswriter/broadcaster saw about how unjust the fans balloting is got turned on its ear this year, since both the AL and NL squads are perhaps the most justifiable starting lineups I can remember. At almost every position, the fans nailed it; you can squabble about Polanco over Roberts, Beltran over Holliday and Wright over Cabrera, but all of those were either close enough or justifiable based on a wider range of criteria to not be worth it. Whether its a newfound awareness of statistics on the part of the fans, or a shortage of "legacy" players like Ripken and Gwynn hanging around that get in based on popularity, the bottom line is that no one can accuse the fans of fucking this one up.

You know who you can accuse of fucking things up? The NL players, and perennial dickbag/pitcher killer Tony LaRussa. For the love of Pete, what a fucking hatchet job those assholes did on the reserve team. You, my friends, are the ones who got it wrong.

Chief on the list is the mystifying absence of Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins from the squad, with an honorable mention to Edgar Renteria. It's a goddamn golden age for NL shortstops right now, with four players at the position coming up in the NL's top 20 in VORP. You want to know which one of the headlining shortstops isn't in that group? J.J. Hardy, the only fucking shortstop selected to the reserve squad. I'm sorry, but that's absolutely insane; there's not a single, knowledgeable fan of the game who doesn't realize that Ramirez, Renteria and Rollins have all been better than Hardy this season. I don't even think you need to use nerd statistics to back this one up; besides HR, there isn't a single category of stats in which you'd conclude that Hardy was better than any of those three.

You know who ended up getting a reserve spot over those awesome and exciting players? Pirates 2B Freddy Sanchez, that's who. Sanchez has torn up NL pitching to the tune of a .305/.336/.380 line, with a whopping 1 home runs and and eye-popping 0 steals. If LaBortion decides to pinch-sac-bunt (and he so would in an All-Star game, that cocksucker), we all know who his man is. And, yes, I know that each team has to have at least one representative (notice how I'm not getting all pissy about Meathook getting the nod over my boy Adrian Gonzalez), but are you telling me that Tom Gorzellany or Ian Snell wouldn't have made clearly better selections for the team? According to VORP, those two are the third- and sixth-best pitchers in the entire league. They should probably both be on the team. And, again, you don't need to dig nerdy statistics to know this.

Know why Snell isn't on the squad, though? It's because LaBortion decided he needed six fucking closers on the team. Six! Six! Sure, every one of those guys is doing well this season, but at some point shouldn't you just stop? Swap Papa Grande out for Snell, and give Fuentes' and Sanchez's spots to Ramirez and Rollins (or one of the other very deserving candidates, like Chris Young, Eric Byrnes (sigh ... I admit it, he's good, and I need to stop hating him), Adrian Gonzalez, or Renteria). Instead, though, we've got LaRussa trotting out more closers than the Bellagio blackjack pit. Sweet Kelly Gruber on a Triscuit. LaRussa must be figuring that if they're all ninth-inning guys on his staff, none of them will die the night before the game.

The fans will get to vote the final spot for the NL, and I've got a feeling that it's going to be Ramirez or Rollins taking that last spot (I'm voting for Rollins, just because he's on my keeper team and I have an unhealthy love of him, though I know Ramirez is probably the better objective choice). But that race shouldn't have included no-brainer guys, and it didn't have to.

As always, the moral of the story is: Don't trust people who wear sunglasses inside, or at night. They are probably bad at managing things.

(Late edit: Neither Ramirez nor Rollins is on the last-man vote ballot. Fucking brilliant, MLB! Who would want to showcase one of the two most entertaining young players in the game?)

Why not ban extra digits while we're at it?

My good friend and part-time Marxist "Big C" brought up some points vis a vis steroids and the need for there to be a decision, on the part of the baseball media and its administrative arm as to how the accomplishments of suspected PED users will be treated in terms of HOF eligibility and general sentiment. Of course, any argument about PEDs centers around Mr Barry Bonds, he of the expanding dome and expose-worthy suspicions. I have no interest in worrying about the "did he?" argument; I think it's fairly evident he was juicing, and since this isn't a court of law I have no use for holding my judgements to reasonable doubt standards. Sure, Game of Shadows was a perfect example of the modern media's inability to distinguish between sensationalism and investigative journalism, but there's an awful lot of smoke surrounding Barrold for there to not be any fire.

But there's a big difference between acknowledging Bonds' PED use — not to mention the likely chemical enhancements undertaken by Messers McGwire, Sosa, Palmiero, Clemens et al. — and determining that said steroid use is the breach that cannot be forgiven or accepted. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is my suspicion that, when we're better able to place a figure on the enhancing effects of steroids within the role of baseball, we will be surprised to learn its much less than we suspected or were led to believe. HGH has already been credibly shown to have basically zero competitive benefits for baseball players, and that was at one time considered by some to be an even bigger threat to the sanctity of the game than steroids. Furthermore, the issue of just how widespread the use of steroids actually was according to the few former players who have fessed up, and the fact that the "steroid era" coincided with the bandbox ballpark boom and the hardening of baseballs and bats, makes the conclusion to completely marginalize the accomplishments of the suspected akin to what one would expect from a scorned child.

But I think the single biggest, fundamental problem with the wringing of hands over steroids is how little has been done over another drug that was officially banned at the same time as the aforementioned PED: Amphetamines. There have been, probably, 4000 or so columns about just how shitty it is that these steroid users attacked the sanctity of the game — our game! — written in the last couple of years. Also: two books, just on Bonds, and a handful of other tomes documenting, or sermonizing about, steroid use in baseball. Yet, in regard to amphetamines, the silence has been deafening. The only book that's seriously addressed the issue of widespread amphetamine use in baseball is Jim Bouton's Ball Four, and that was written 37 fucking years ago! If anyone involved in baseball was ignorant to the ubiquity of amphetamines in baseball clubhouses prior to 1970, they certainly couldn't be afterward without purposely remaining ignorant about the subject.

But it wasn't until steroids forced baseball's hand that greenies were made to disappear, as well. For more than 30 years, baseball didn't even feel the need to keep amphetamine use a secret; it was accepted, laughed about, and most importantly participated in to the point where one was considered to be "playing naked" if he was to take the field without aid of the drug.

Sportswriters have done an excellent job of pretending that they didn't have a clue about PED use until the Steve Wilstein peeped the bottle of Andro in McGwire's locker, and even a few of them have had the nerve to write "self-effacing" columns about how they should have known, or should have dug deeper. Once you get past wanting to shit down the throat of anyone who insults you by writing a column about their ineptitude without accompanying it with notice of his or her resignation, what strikes you is how much sack it takes to apologize for not finding out about steroids when there was a blatantly obvious and rampant problem staring them in the goddamn face every time they walked in a clubhouse (admission: I have been in a baseball clubhouse, and I did not notice any greenies; that's probably because I was so enamored with Mark Grace while he discussed the merits of Montreal strip clubs that I pretty much don't remember another goddamn thing about the hour or so I was in there). If any of the parties involved — the media, baseball administration, the players themselves — cared about the sanctity of the game, they could have done something about it a long time ago.

The easy answer as to why nothing was done about amphetamines is that no one thought it was all that big a deal. Beyond the sheer stupidity of no one thinking that widespread abuse of a stimulant that is highly addictive and potentially life-destroying is a big deal, what does that say about what people mean by "the sanctity of the game?" Greenies were used to combat the deleterious effects of a 162-game regular season, which usually involves six-game weeks and long road trips. They aided in recovery time, allowing players the ability to play at peak performance without the aid of rest or superior conditioning. Bouton also documented (I'm pretty sure, though it's been a while since I last read the book) that use was more pronounced among older players or fringe major leagues, who saw use of the drug as a way to ward off the ill effects of age or a way to overcome a talent deficiency.

And what is it about the effect of steroids that's so different than what I just described?

All things being equal, I think it's better that players don't use drugs, whether they be greenies, steroids or anything else. It would allay my guilt as a sports fan to not deal with the knowledge that men are damaging themselves to such degrees for my entertainment. But just because I wish for something to be the case doesn't mean it ever will be, and I suggest to anyone who thinks that cheating and baseball aren't a lifelong couple that they are as high as any baseball player ever has been. It's not that questions like Colin's are invalid, it's just that the nature of the sport itself would render any exclusion of suspected steroid users as hypocritical to the extreme.

Furthermore, I suggest to any baseball writer — and I'm looking right at you, Buster Fucking Olney — that you quit being all haughty about steroids in public, lest people rightfully ask why the shit you never wrote word one about the fact that there were clearly marked "leaded" and "unleaded" pots of coffee in more than a few of the clubhouses you sauntered into over the course of your career.