Monday, February 7th, 2005
11:59 am - Why Time Begins on Opening Day, and Other Baseball Notes...  
I finished rereading Thomas Boswell's Why Time Begins on Opening Day over the weekend. It's a collection of essays written at various times in the early eighties, so the quality is uneven, but most are interesting, especially in a compare-and-contrast- with-the-current- state-of-baseball way. The book opens with an essay on what it's like to watch games in various ballparks. A lot of the parks he talks about no longer exist, victims of the retro ballpark craze that began in the early nineties. Most, like Riverfront and the Vet, won't be missed, but it's sad to think that one can no longer go to Tiger Stadium, where you could get closer to the action than anywhere else.

Many of the articles focus on the Orioles, the team he both covered and was a fan of. Unfortunately, they tend to be the weakest, maybe because it becomes clear that he's left all objectivity behind when it comes to these guys, maybe because the stories and anecdotes all seem to run together. The best of these is a profile of Jim Palmer. Palmer is a very complicated man, on one hand he's a golden boy, raised in wealth, with movie star good looks and Hall of Fame talent, an easygoing, erudite man who spends much of his spare time doing charity work or helping friends build their deck. On the other, he's a hypochondriac prima donna who would take himself out of games on a whim, leading to much growsing by his manager and teammates, who occasionally accused him of being a quitter.

The most off-target of the Oriole essays is one about the Ripken family, Cal Ripken, Sr. and his sons, Cal, Jr., and Billy. The essay is a victim of circumstance really, as it was written in 1984 or so, right after Cal, Jr's., MVP season, and speculates on what the future might hold for the family Ripken. Boswell postulates that 1988 would open with Cal, Sr., managing the Orioles, with Cal, Jr., and Billy as his two star players, and how it would be a wonderful time for Oriole fans. What actually happened in '88 was that Cal, Sr., was the manager, and Cal, Jr., and Billy both made the team, but things didn't turn out well for the Oriole faithful at all. The Orioles opened the seasoning by losing 21 games in a row (new league record), and 34 of there first 40. They finished the season 54-107, their worst season ever in Baltimore. Cal, Sr., was fired after six games. Billy Ripken hit .207 with an OPS of .518. Billy's only claim to fame in '88 was that one of his teammates wrote the words "fuck face" on the knob of the bat he was holding when Topps took his photograph for his baseball card that year. Oops.

There are a number of essays that I liked a lot. The one on ballparks, an essay about the four basic managerial styles is kind of neat, and lets one speculate on where many modern managers would fall (although I think if he had to do it now, he'd move LaRussa from the Peerless Leader category to Tactician). There's an essay that looks at several different pitchers, each one at a different point in their careers. Especially touching is the glimpse at Mark Fidrych trying to recover from his injuries and recapture the magic he had as a rookie, but always coming back too soon. Two of the essays are interesting in how they compare with today's game. The first is one about the sudden appearance of so many great third basemen in the mid-seventies, and how it changed to perception of the positon, much the same as how the appearance of Nomar, ARod, Jeter, and Tejada twenty years later changed the way shortstops are looked at. The other is one about Charlie Lau, and his approach to teaching hitting, which was all the rage in the eighties, but has been mostly abandoned now by a generation of hitters who gone back to a style closer to that advocated by the other great guru of hitting, Ted Williams.

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A fan is suing the Phillies claiming he lost some of his vision when he got hit in the head by a foul ball at a game. He claims that the Phillies should have extended the backstop to prevent this from happening. Apparently all the warnings about balls entering the stands that are printed on tickets and announced over the PA, not to mention basic common sense, aren't enough. And it's not as if he was looking the other way. He admits that he was trying to catch the ball when the incident occured. In other words, it's the Phillies fault that he has bad hands.

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Jose Canseco has a new book focusing on his steroid use. He names lots of names, including how he injected steroids into Mark McGwire. McGwire denies this. His most interesting claim is that Dubya, who was owner of the Rangers when Canseco played there, must have been aware of the steroid use by the players on the team.

I'm not sure I know who to believe anymore. This is a situation where you really have to consider the source. Tony LaRussa is being pretty vigorous in his defense of McGwire, but McGwire played for LaRussa for a very long time. I can also see the owners being in deep denial about it for a long time.

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A couple of weeks ago mlb.com changed the way they list teams on the drop down list to go to the individual sites. They used to list teams alphabetically by city. Now it's by team nickname. I'm guessing it's because they couldn't decide whether to list the Angels as "Los Angeles (A)" or "Anaheim". No skin off my nose, as "Dodgers" appears at about the same place on the list as "Los Angeles" did, but the Sox got dropped from right near the top all the way down to the bottom of the list.

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The Dodgers have signed a Japanese third baseman, Norihiro Nakamura, to a minor league deal, presumably as insurance in the event that Antonio Perez washes out. He's 31, been injured, and already had his stats start to decline in Japan. Shrug.

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Only eight days until pitchers and catchers start to report.
 
 
Current Mood: anticipatory
 
 
( Post a new comment )
Herewardhereward on February 7th, 2005 - 10:06 am
I was hoping you'd post today, so I could get your take on the Nakamura signing. It seemed like a low-risk deal with a chance to get a guy who could make the roster if he adjusts well to the pitching. It does look like he is in decline, but he might have something left.
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Veejaneveejane on February 7th, 2005 - 10:12 am
I am mystified by the appeal of aging/ill Japanese players. Like, if you're going to go to all the trouble of importing a player from away, why aren't you snagging the Next Big Thing, instead of Nakamura (31, hurt) or Denny Tomori (37)?

I guess I just wish I could throw $500,000+ into a wishing well now and then. Okay, I would not actually throw it into the well if I had it. This may be why I am not a GM.
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DXMachinadxmachina on February 7th, 2005 - 10:33 am
Ar far as Nakamura goes, it's because he walks a lot, and he's cheap. Guys like DePo and Theo love that. I hadn't heard about Tomori. It looks like he wasn't exactly a star in Japan, but again, he's cheap, and nowadays, you can't have too many experienced relievers, regardless of where they've come from. At least, that's the thinking.
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Herewardhereward on February 7th, 2005 - 12:21 pm
I think the issue is that the Next Big Thing is not a known quantity. With various Moneyball types floating around several GM offices in the league, the Scott Hattebergs aren't sitting around unappreciated for no money anymore. So, with Japanese players, at least you have proven history. You're spending a small amount of money on a reasonable chance that the player will perform at 80-90% or better of their numbers in Japan. Other major league teams don't own the rights of the Japanese players, so if you get someone who helps your major league roster, it is like getting something for nothing, I'd guess.

I think a certain amount of GMing has to be gambling to try to get an edge. Like Theo Epstein's dice-rolling on power pitching relievers with injury problems in Boston. Most of the time, you get nothing, but when one pays off, you get a lot for a little (I guess the theory goes) and you otherwise would have been paying someone mediocre who wouldn't have gotten in many games anyway.
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