Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for August, 2008

August 31, 2008: When The World Is Running Down

August 31, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

Well, I have probably just seen my last game at Yankee Stadium, at least the stadium as I knew it. My very earliest trips to the stadium were before the mid-70s renovation. I even remember a doubleheader at Shea on a day it poured rain so hard that the decks looked like waterfalls. But the vast majority of my baseball memories are of the renovated stadium. It was a favorite destination for birthday parties and family outings. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that we were there when Dave Righetti pitched his no-hitter, which to this day is still spoken about as a famous day in Tan family history.

And now there are only ten games left at the place, and I will probably not be back again this season. I’ve put my tickets for the final game on sale and it seems likely they will be bought.

Am I nostalgic? Yes. But I managed not to cry, although the National Anthem almost did me in (as usual) and I only staved off tears by singing louder than usual.

It seems to me the Sunday crowd sings more than on other days of the week. Not only was the National Anthem audible, but there was definitely high participation on Take Me Out to the Ballgame also.

The game itself was not that memorable. The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays 6-2, after Pettitte walked the leadoff batter and then Nady lost a ball in the sun in the first inning. It was pretty much downhill from there, except for two solo home runs off Halladay, one from A-Rod, who heard some real cheers for the first time basically all week, and Jason Giambi, who has been, as they say on Lon- Gisland, “awn fiyah.” I saw three games at the Stadium this week; Giambi hit a homer in each one. (He must be getting the memos that say I’m there.)

The weather was beautiful, though, warm and dry, with a blue sky barely marred by just one or two clouds throughout the afternoon. The Yankees’ playoff hopes fade day by day, and you can feel the lethargy in the crowds as they wonder whether they should get excited or not. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle: the team doesn’t seem to have the horses to make it, so people won’t clap, and you can’t will a team to do more than it’s capable of, can you?

Anyway, the thing is… even with the team losing, the playoffs dwindling on the horizon, and the destruction of the Stadium imminent, it was still a pretty nice day at the ballpark. Am I a sap? Yeah. But we got to see the major league debut of Alfredo Aceves, who pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three. His throwing motion looks a lot like Mariano’s, but he differs from Mo in one major way, which is that he throws a change-up.

I now present a collection of observations and snippets of overheard conversation from the past week of baseball here in the Bronx:

Prior to the Wednesday game against the Red Sox, these words were delivered wistfully: “It must be nice to have a new Stadium.”

Prior to Sunday’s sold out tilt, to a scalper: “You got any cheap tickets?” The reply: “Yeah. At Shea Stadium.”

The Red Sox fans sitting next to us the other night, as A-Rod came to bat. The girlfriend said something we couldn’t hear, which prompted the boyfriend to respond: “With Madonna?!?! But she’s old!”

Did Carl Pavano always have a lazy eye, or did that happen after he got hit in the head with a ball?

Talk about feeling like it was the 1970s again; there was old school sky writing above the Stadium today. It read: I N T R E P I D M U S E U M . C O M

We watched yesterday’s game from a bar on the boardwalk (Spicy in Seaside Heights), where there was a live singer with a guitar (I’m so sorry I didn’t get his name—he was quite good). He kept pausing between songs to ask us what the score was. He tried to egg on the White Sox (who are playing the Red Sox) by playing “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” The scoreboard department today opted for AC/DC “Highway to Hell” when the Yankees failed to rally.

While watching the game from the bar, which is a pleasant experience thanks to the weather and booze and nice music, even when the Yankees lose as a result of a Cano error (but I’m not bitter)… we learned that the song “When I Come Around” mashes up perfectly with “No Woman, No Cry.” While we’re at it, have you noticed that “Sweet Home Alabama” mashes up with “Werewolves of London?”

I admit my sadness over the ending of the Yankees’ season is tempered somewhat by a feeling that certain things are inevitable. First off, Cashman has pulled a rabbit out of his hat year after year after year to replace injured players and find the last pieces of the puzzle so many times. From David Justice to Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, he keeps plugging the holes. This year, though, there was really no way to replace the loss of Chien Ming Wang and Jorge Posada. Pudge Rodriguez doesn’t have enough left in the tank to fill the need (he’s like 10 for 55 since putting on pinstripes), and using Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner in place of Hughes and Kennedy hasn’t lifted them above mediocre. So, Cashman’s luck was bound to run out some time.

The inevitability, though, stems partly from the overall feeling that an era is coming to an end. The Stadium is coming down. We’ve already lost Eddie Layton, and Bob Sheppard seems sure to go next; I’m not sure he has been well enough to work even a single game this year? Even Derek Jeter is having an off year and whispers about his age are starting to crop up.

So it’s hard to separate my feelings about the season from all the other things that seem to be winding down. Or maybe it’s just that I literally do not remember what it is like not to make he playoffs, so I don’t know how to feel.

I actually have not given up. But it is feeling a lot like it’s the bottom of the eighth and we’re down by a lot of runs, making the comeback unlikely. But not impossible. And how amazing it would be if they did.

August 29, 2008: The Giambino Saves the Day

August 29, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

The two Yankees who have defined the post-Paul-O’Neill era were the stars yesterday in one of my final visits to Yankee Stadium, Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina.

A look back at their Yankee careers shows a saga of “not quite.” Mussina had two of the ultimate “not quite” experiences, narrowly missing a perfect game in Fenway Park on Labor Day Weekend in 2001 (not even a full month before September 11th would change everything) and then pitching the incredible lights-out 1-0 must-win game in Oakland (the “slide, Jeremy, slide!” game) where if he had let in even a single run, the Yankees would have been going home… only to sit helplessly by while the ninth inning of Game Seven of the World Series unraveled around Mariano Rivera.

Giambi’s initial blush as a Yankee had one incredible Ruthian moment to it, in which with the team down 3 runs in the 14th inning against the Twins, in the pouring rain, Giambi did the seemingly impossible, which was came to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a walk off grand slam. The sports pages reported it as a feat to have only been performed by one previous Yankee, Babe Ruth himself. But the steroid scandal and myriad health problems have plagued Giambi in his time in New York, making him often no better than a bench player who was being paid like a star. Most of us have forgiven him all the steroid stuff, mostly because of all the players named in the Mitchell Report, he is the one still playing who actually ‘fessed up about it, both in the courtroom and in the papers. He’s proved himself to be a regular guy who gets it, who just wants to mash the ball and get cheered, and whose relationship with the fans is as simple and pure as Alex Rodriguez’s is complicated.

Yesterday, the Yankees faced the Red Sox at The Stadium for the final time (unless some miracle pits them against each other in the postseason). On the day Yankee Stadium opened, the two rivals met, and Babe Ruth hit a three-run shot to beat his former team in a fitting inauguration for the House that Ruth Built.

Yesterday, Giambi once again performed a Ruthian feat. With Sox lefty Jon Lester on the mound, Giambi had been given the day off. Mike Mussina took the mound for the Yankees, and pretty much stifled their potent lineup other than one rally where the Sox managed to get two runs (sparked by the return to life of the bat of Jason Varitek, who has been hitting around .200 all year and whose selection by the players to the All Star Game baffled many). As such, when he left the game with the Yankees down 2-0, Mussina would either be the hard-luck loser or get no decision. It’s impossible at this point for me to accept that a pitcher “must” have a 20-win season in order to be elected to the Hall of Fame, when Moose has been a victim of low run support for nearly his entire career (including with the Yankees, go figure). Moose held the Sox to 5 hits over 7 innings, walking two (Big Papi twice, and who can blame him). He contributed to his own demise slightly by hitting Alex Cora with a pitch with two strikes on him, and if Robinson Cano had stepped on the bag and thrown to first on a ball off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, they might have gotten out of the inning only giving up one run. Instead he had flipped to Jeter and Ellsbury beat it out, letting the second run in.

But one run or two, it doesn’t matter if the Yankees don’t score.

In the bottom of the seventh, with two out, Cody Ransom, who had been inserted at first base for Giambi in the lineup, came to bat. Ransom, a 32-year-old rookie, for those of you who don’t recall, hit two homers in a spring training game, but no one really wrote about it because that was the day that Billy Crystal “played” for the Yankees. Ransom had also had to give up his number so that Crystal could wear it, and then after the game stood off to the side in a towel and his shower shoes because the media horde around Billy was so large that Cody couldn’t get to his locker to put his clothes on. Ransom also had one of the more unique displays of batting stats when he came to the plate, which showed he was batting 1.000 with 2 homers and 5 RBI. In his first plate appearance of the day he was hit by pitch, and then did strike out against Lester in the fifth. But in the eighth (with his average having plummeted to .667) he doubled off Lester and drove the lefty from the game.

At that point, Girardi sent up Giambi to pinch hit. After the game Suzyn Waldman would report that Girardi picked him in the hopes that he’d tie the game with one swing. None of this “just hoping he’d get on base” stuff. Down 2-0, with Papelbon in the wings, the manager (and everyone in the Stadium) wanted a two run shot.

We got it.

It was, surprisingly, a shot to left center, not the direction that Giambi usually hits the ball. But he has supposedly been working with hitting coach Kevin Long all year on taking the ball the other way. He took it all the way into the Yankees bullpen. Did I mention he hit the shot off lefty Hideki Okajima? Girardi told Waldman that it didn’t matter who they brought in to pitch, whether they left Lester in there or brought in their lefthander from the bullpen, his orders to Giambi were the same. Tie the game.

The very first time I saw Jason Giambi play live was when he was with Oakland. He was, then, my favorite player in the American League who was Not A Yankee. So I always wanted to see him hit a home run. My rule of thumb for seeing teams in other stadium is simple: always root for the home team unless they are playing the Yankees. I saw a game in Anaheim, for example, where when the Angels were winning handily in the late innings, I then rooted for Giambi to hit one for the A’s—and he did. We saw the Yankees play Oakland a few times at the Coliseum, too, and he pretty much hit one each time there—including one that left me totally conflicted when he hit a walkoff homer off of Mike Stanton’s 12-6 curve ball, which you KNEW Stanton was going to throw on the first pitch, because he almost always did. corwin joked that Giambi must have gotten a memo that I was there, and hit it for me.

Anyway, since then, most of the games I have seen live have featured a Giambi home run, since of course he came to the Yankees after that. He even hit one for me the night before, as we sat sulking in the upper deck with the score 11-2 Red Sox. Apparently, he got the memo again.

So, here he did it AGAIN, this time tying the game and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Our entire section of the tier seemed to have been taken over by Red Sox fans, but they were silenced by the blast, and Yankee partisan voices, which had been very subdued all day and also the night before (I’d rarely heard the Stadium so quiet), finally were raised.

Oh, did I mention Jeter had three hits yesterday? It’s probably my imagination, but it feels like he often comes through with a big day the day after the Yankees get humiliated. A-rod, on the other hand, did not have a big day, but at least he wasn’t actively awful like he was in the opening game of the series. Please, Alex, keep up with the therapy, because when you make the mental breakthrough to deal with pressure, you’re going to be a monster. (His numbers according to FanGraphs for this year are not only not clutch, he’s anti-clutch. Last year’s clutchiness was fine, but this year…? Blame Madonna?)

Oh, and did I mention that the Yankees are 19-9 in Mike Mussina’s starts, but are below .500 otherwise? If I wear my Mussina jersey a thousand more times, will Mike Mussina get into the Hall of Fame?

Now, with the score tied 2-2, Joe Girardi did not fool around, using three relievers to retire three batters in the top of the 8th. Brian Bruney got Pedroia, Damaso Marte got Big Papi, and then Mariano Rivera came in for a four-out appearance. Not a save, since the score was tied. According to the Star Ledger this morning, it was the first time since September 22, 1996 that Mo has entered a game at home with the game tied before the ninth inning—and back then he was not even the closer.

Mo retired Youkilis on a fly ball to center. Terry Francona countered with two outs in the eighth, bringing in Justin Masterson to strike out Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod ended the day with three strikeouts (one caught looking on a highly questionable call, but when you’re going bad, stuff like that happens) and one pop up to the infield on the first pitch with two men on in the 6th. Yeah, ouch, but A-Rod is not the story here.

Jeter made a throwing error to lead off the ninth, but Mariano shrugged it off and retired the next three men easily. Jeter has looked somewhat stiff in the field this series, as if his back or legs are stiffening up on him. Old age setting in? Or an injury that’s being well-hidden? I’m curious to see if something will be revealed after the season.

So, to the bottom of the ninth. Xavier Nady, who has been really a nice surprise since coming to New York at the trade deadline, led off with a single off Masterson. Brett Gardner, the guy my mom dubbed “Speedy Dynamo” in spring training, came in to pinch run. Robinson Cano (who has been hitting his traditional post-All-Star-break .320 or so) then hit a line shot … but right into the glove of Lowrie at third. Gardner stole second, so they intentionally walked Matsui. That brought up Pudge Rodriguez, who has been hitting dismally since coming to the Yankees, and who traditionally is an aggressive hitter.

He told reporters after the game that he just kept telling himself over and over “don’t swing if it’s not a strike.” He worked a walk, loading the bases and bringing Giambi to the plate.

Francona brought in Papelbon with no margin for error. With Giambi down 0-2 he left a ball over the plate that Giambi smacked on a line into center field for the game winner. Gardner held up in case it was caught, but crossed the plate easily as Ellsbury merely swiped at the ball in disgust as it came to him. Giambi was mobbed at first base.

We exited into rush hour traffic but creeping along in the car burning valuable fossil fuels is so much easier to take while singing “New York, New York.”

July 15, 2008: All-Star I Was There

July 16, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

One of the things I relish most about experiencing baseball live and in person is the ever-present possibility that I might see something special. Maybe something that’s never been done. Maybe something historic. Everyday baseball is full of possibilities like that. Postseason baseball of course creates special opportunities for it. And the All-Star Game produces a unique set of circumstances that pretty much nearly guarantees something special.

Put the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium, in the final year of the building’s existence, and you create an even more unique situation.

But ultimately it was the play on the field that distinguished the 79th All Star Game as an unbelievable “I-was-there!” experience.

And yes, I was there.

The details of the game will be analyzed and recorded in a thousand places. I know because not only did they have to build an auxiliary press box in the outfield loge (like they do for the postseason), they built a third one around section 20 in the upper deck, way up under the roof. So perhaps I should not even try to detail all the amazing things that happened…

But then I think that so many of the reporters there are limited to a certain number of column inches. How many of them won’t even mention Ichiro’s amazing throw from the right field corner to nail the batter trying for second? More of them will probably mention that Dan Uggla set a new record for the most errors in an All Star Game, racking up three (and also striking out three times and grounding into a double play).

I should back up first, I suppose, and say a few words about the FanFest that went on down at the Jacob Javits Center. corwin and I slept late, then headed out after a terrific breakfast of bagels and lox courtesy of our gracious hostess (who would join us at the game later). We decided that what might seem like a high price to pay to park at the Stadium (thirty bucks) actually seemed reasonable for all-day parking in New York, so we drove to our favorite lot (which was already open at 12 noon) and parked, and then took the D train from the Stadium down to midtown.

FanFest might best be termed Tchotchke Fest. The sheer amount of stuff we acquired might require a blog entry of its own. Actually, I’m sure that it will – suffice to say that by 5pm we were tired out and laden with many bags of goodies. We made our way back to the Bronx and put all the stuff in the trunk, then still had time to grab some excellent Dominican food before going into the Stadium.

For a while I was worried that the game itself was going to be overshadowed by the pregame buildup. For this grand sendoff for Yankee Stadium, they did a special pregame introduction, position by position, of all the living Hall of Fame players. So that meant the Yankees like Reggie and Yogi and Goose (who’ll be inducted next month), but also Bill Mazeroski, and Henry Aaron, and Luis Aparicio, and even Earl Weaver.

Even Lee MacPhail, who I hadn’t even realized was still alive. MacPhail was the architect of some seven World Series championships and I think also served as president of the American League. I’m writing this entry in the car at 3am on the way home from the game, so I have no Internet to check my facts with, and hardly any brain to recall them with in the first place.

Sheryl Crow sang the National Anthem. And there were four ceremonial first pitches, from the four living Hall of Famers whose plaques feature a Yankees hat, Yogi, Reggie, Whitey Ford, and Goose. They were caught by the four Yankee All-Stars of this year: Jeter, A-rod, Mariano, and Joe Girardi, who was on hand as a coach.

A B-2 Spiirt Bomber did the flyover at the end of the anthem and was pretty nifty.

There were huge cheers for anything Yankee-related, and boos so loud for Manny and Papelbon that the concrete under my feet vibrated. Papelbon apparently mouthed off in the preceding 24 hours that he, and not Mariano Rivera, ought to close the game. That’s patently ridiculous for a number of reasons, and even the New York setting and the respect due to Mariano for other reasons aside, Mo’s numbers this season alone blow Papelbon’s out of the water. 23 for 23 in save situations, and until a week ago had not allowed any runs at all in those saves.

As things turned out, with the game going into an extra innings situation in which each manager was down to the last pitcher in his bullpen, no one got a save at all. Papelbon got booed roundly and was greeted during his mound appearance with chants of “Mari-ano!”

During the first inning, the Bleacher Creatures did the roll call for three men only: Derek Jeter, A-rod, and Bobby Murcer.

In keeping with the All-Star theme, and things like bringing out all the Hall of Fame players… during the traditional “YMCA” dragging of the infield the actual VILLAGE PEOPLE came out and performed it! There were a lot of little touches throughout the game which were purely Yankee Stadium. They did the “match game” but with All Stars instead of Yankees (though of course it was Alex Rodriguez whose face they were looking for), but there was no Cap Game. There was Cotton Eye Joe in the 8th, but no Subway Race.

While I’m on the topic of the scoreboard, I have to say that the scoreboard department did not acquit themselves like All Stars. I can only assume that various things were impeding their normally flawless work, like maybe the plethora of All Star media and rightsholders, and all the out-of-routine things that had to happen at various times. There were a few times when the wrong stats appeared on the board, things like that. The worst night, though, was had by Jim Hall, the announcer, who has been Bob Sheppard’s understudy for many years and who has been doing all the announcing since Sheppard fell ill.

He mangled several names, calling Justin Morneau “Monroe,” and getting Justin Duchscherer’s name utterly wrong. He also had trouble following the game at times, announcing the next batter when the original batter had only gone to get another bat after a foul ball broke his—things like that. All the substitutions were a problem for him, too. Apparently, I could follow the changes better just by watching, without the aid of any scorecard (or even any idea who half the national league players were), than he could.

But the game!

The game. For a long time the AL just couldn’t get any offense going. They had given up single runs twice, and with the score 2-0 going into the seventh, J.D. Drew hit a two run shot to tie things up. But Papelbon gave up a run to huge disapproving boos, and it took a rally in the bottom of the eighth, including an RBI double from Evan Longoria, to even the score again.

That meant there would be no save situation. Because just a simple win with a Mariano save simply wasn’t a good enough story for the final All Star Game in Yankee Stadium. No. Instead, an epic battle that included amazing defense (making up for horrible defense), incredible pitching, and the total exhaustion (pun intended) of both rosters ensued, which would turn out to be the longest All Star Game by clock time by a wide margin, and would tie for the longest at 15 innings.

In the end, Terry Francona had to pitch Scott Kazmir, who was supposed to not be used, and Clint Hurdle was down to the closer he had saved until the end, Brad Lidge. Kazmir would get the win, Lidge the loss, when the AL finally managed to push across a run. It was 1:37 in the morning, and we had already sung Take Me Out to the Ballgame twice by then (the 14th Inning Stretch) AND had a second round of Cotton Eye Joe.

Huh, I totally forgot to mention Josh Groban’s totally smarmy rendition of God Bless America. Ronan Tynan can beat you black and blue any day of the week, Groban.

There’s more to say but I’m starting to nod off. And I had better take a nap, since in another 50 miles or so, I’ll have to drive. Suffice to say it was well worth the high price of admission when such an amazing game is played!

Home now—it’s six a.m.–and I’m going to sleep… thankfully today and tomorrow, too, are off days for the Yankees! zzzzzzzz….

July 14, 2008: Home Run Derby!

July 15, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

Well, now I have proof that the Home Run Derby is even better live than it is on television. And I’ve always enjoyed it on television. Tonight I sat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium and watched at least 106 balls sail out of the park. And that’s not counting batting practice!

We arrived at the Stadium around 5pm, managed to park in our favorite parking lot, and then headed out to find some food before being at the mercy of stadium concessionaires for the next six hours or so. What we found first, though, was a large Nike-sponsored amusement area, with a batting cage, PlayStation 3 setups for MLB: The Show, and souvenir stand. We amused ourselves there for a bit, then moved on to the pizza joint we like. Sitting in the back in the air conditioned area of the shop, eating Real New York Pizza ™ — the likes of which cannot be gotten in Boston where corwin and I live – I counted fans of no fewer than five major league teams, including the Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees (of course), Mets, and a large contingent for the Twins.

Outside the Stadium Chevy was running a promo where if we answered a survey about our car-buying habits, they would give us a free DVD about Yankee Stadium. Score!

Once inside, we wandered around the Main level for a while, watching batting practice. The American League was taking their practice then, and we hung around in the box seats watching that for quite a while. We were about to go off to see if they would do Designated Driver signups on an All-Star night (they do) when we realized Alex Rodriguez was about to bat. We decided to wait.

It was worth the wait. A-rod put on his own personal home run derby, launching the first ball that I have ever witnessed go into the upper deck in LEFT. Many of his shots were mammoth. It was impressive and really made me wish he had decided to do the Derby, but on the other hand, I would rather see him hit 25 more homers this season than see him hit any in a meaningless exhibition.

After that, we collected our free Designated Driver drinks and headed up to our seats.

There is lots of entertaining hoopla around the derby, of course, one piece of which is the introduction of all the Major League Mascots. Wally the Green Monster got one of the loudest boos I have ever heard at the Stadium. Yankees fans are already anti-mascot (an early 80s experiment with one was a horrible failure) but add to that the Red Sox connection and, well, the result was predictable.

Meanwhile, there is some stuff that makes it feel not that different from other special game days, like of course there is the National Anthem, and Reggie Jackson threw out the ceremonial first pitch. His catcher was Derek Jeter, which prompted a loud, unified, “Derek Jeter” chant from the fans.

The first contestant in the derby was Dan Uggla, whom I love just for his name, plus I’m partial to hard-nosed guys who make the most of their shot. Uggla, in case you don’t know or remember, labored in the Diamondbacks minor league system for years until he was left unprotected by them and went to Florida in the Rule V draft in 2006. That same year he was picked to be a reserve on the All-Star team, and has torn up the league since. He broke the ice immediately with a blast to left, and racked up a respectable 6 homers in his first round.

In between almost every hitter (or at least each pair), there are commercial breaks in the TV coverage, so for people in the stands there are all kinds of other filler, including video montages, various people being given charity awards and such, and little interviews with players. The on-field host for the event was Michael Kay, and at one point he interviewed Mariano Rivera. Mo is so soft-spoken half the time you cannot make out what he says anyway, and this time there was no chance since the fans broke into a quite loud and unified “Mariano” chant.

The man who would get the most and loudest chants of the night though was not a Yankee. Oh sure, there was a very strong chorus of “ass-hole, ass-hole” at the umpire who ruled that one ball which was going to fall short of the wall, but which was grabbed by a fan Jeffrey Maier style, was not a home run. But the thing that really raised goosebumps was the hitting of Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton is already MLB’s feel-good story of the year. A 1999 draftee, with a near-$4M signing bonus, he was working his way through the minors with his parents in tow in an RV. They had quit their jobs to follow his career. But a car accident resulted in injuries for his mother and his parents headed home to recuperate. On his own, Hamilton ended up falling into drug addiction, and then out of baseball from 2002 through 2005. He worked his way back, then was left unprotected by the then-Devil Rays and was taken by the Cubs in the Rule V draft. He’s bumped around a bit since then, but as a Texas Ranger this year he has been phenomenal, winning the starting center field job out of spring training and tearing up the place since.

We saw almost every major league team represented among the fans tonight. I never did see anyone wearing either Diamondbacks or Washington Nationals gear, and for the AL we saw no one with Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s, or LA Angels stuff. I imagine we’ll see more of them tomorrow, but at least 50% if not more of those in attendance were Yankees and Mets fans. Since there was neither a Yankee nor a Met in the derby, the crowd quickly adopted Hamilton as our own, when one of the first homers he hit banged off the BACK WALL OF THE BLEACHERS. That got him a standing ovation, and while people were still on their feet for that, he hit one that hit the BANK OF AMERICA sign! Five hundred feet.

He hit them into every part of the ballpark. The upper deck in right. The bullpen. The “black.” He was also the hitter who came closest to hitting the “HIT IT HERE” sign, which if he had would have meant MasterCard had to pay some lucky fan a million dollars. He never did hit it, but he came within 50 feet of it, and the crowd stayed on their feet for most of his incredible 28 homers in the first round, a new single-round record for the HR Derby. Between pitches, he received one of the greatest honors a Yankee Stadium crowd can bestow, which is the rhythmic chanting of one’s name. For about a half hour or so, Josh Hamilton was adopted as an honorary Yankee.

The rest was mostly anti-climax, fun but not the incredible show-stopping performance that Hamilton’s first round was. In the end, too, because of the way the derby rounds work, Hamilton lost the final round to Justin Morneau, 5-3. Morneau is the guy I was betting on (though not with actual money…), so that is kind of neat. But in the end I was as won over by Hamilton as anyone.

Now we hope he smashes a couple more balls like that in tomorrow’s game. More to come! I’m going to FanFest and then to the All Star Game itself!

June 28, 2008: SABR Day Three

June 29, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Book Reviews

Here, we are, day three, the final full day of the SABR convention for the year. Tomorrow has an awards breakfast I won’t be attending (I was trying to do this convention on the cheap), and that is about it. So this will be my final report from the lovely, baseball-crazy city of Cleveland.

I may have mentioned in earlier chronicles that one of the ways I judge how baseball-crazed a part of the country is, is by counting how many baseball and softball diamonds one can see when coming in to land at the airport. Coming in to Logan, for example, you can count literally a hundred fields from just a few minutes before landing. Orient Heights alone has a dozen. (Whereas the Dallas area… not so much.) Cleveland definitely counts.

The morning’s first session was by Jeff Katz, who has just written a book on his presentation subject: how the Kansas City A’s were essentially a farm club for the Yankees. (The book is The Kansas CIty A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees published by Maple Street Press.) This is not ground-breaking news–it’s common knowledge and was widely lambasted in the press during the era when it was going on (1954 to 1960). But Katz’s research uncovered some really wonderfully damning evidence, including letters of Walter O’Malley bitching about the situation, and such. If you’re not familiar with the story, it goes something like this. When Connie Mack was trying to sell the financially ruined A’s, a man name Arnold Johnson wanted to buy them. At the time, he had just bought Yankee Stadium and he stadium of the Kansas City Blues,the Yankees’ farm team in KC, from Del Webb. Some AL owners opposed the team sale to Johnson, including Calvin Griffith in Washington and one or two others. Mack even organized a syndicate to try to buy the team and keep it in Philadelphia. And Charles Finley was also interested in buying the A’s.

But the fix was in, and after a few fruitless meetings, the team was sold to Johnson, who then hired Del Webb’s construction company to rebuild the Blues’ stadium for a major league team. The entire font office of the A’s consisted of former Yankees employees. In the 5 years before Johnson had bought the team, the Yankees had made 28 trades, only two with the Philadelphia A’s. In the five years after he bought the team, the Yankees made 29 trades, 16 of them with Johnson’s KC A’s. And pretty much every trade was in the Yankees’ favor. When Enos Slaughter wasn’t doing that well, they dumped him in KC. Then when he rejuvenated and became KC MVP, the Yankees gt him back.. for the waiver price. Ralph Terry was sent to KC for 2 years for some seasoning, then brought back to New York when he began to excel. (Not mentioned in the presentation, but I will here: KC Is also where Billy Martin was exiled after the Copacabana incident.)

The relationship was so blatant that when the A”s traded for Roger Maris, various Yankees weer hear to remark in the clubhouse “We got Maris, we got Maris,” and although Clete Boyer was a bonus baby for the A’s, meaning he had o stay on their roster for a minimum of two years…. they gave him to the Yankees before that. Rumor also was that he ha been signed with “Yankee money,” and indeed in later years Tom Greenwade, the famous Yankee scout who signed Mickey Mantle, would talk about Boyer being one of “his” boys on the pennant winning clubs.

What put a stop to it was Johnson’s death in 1960, after which the team was sold to Charlie Finley. A photograph that appeared in the newspaper depicted Finley standing next to a schoolbus on fire with gouts of smoke pouring from it. Painted on the side of the bus were the words “Shuttle Bus To Yankee Stadium.”

I then made a last swing through the book dealers room. I was about to leave to go find some lunch while the banquet was going on when a friend gave me his banquet ticket because he decided to spend the time in the microfilm stacks of the Cleveland Public Library.

I sat with Merrie Fidler, author of a great book on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League). The cheesecake was quite delicious, and Mark Armour won the Bob Davids award for service to SABR.

The keynote speaker was Ron Shapiro, who is a motivational speaker who writes business how-to books, also a lawyer, and also one of the first baseball agents when free agency came along. He had close ties to the Orioles, was Cal Ripken Jr.’s agent, as well as Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett, and many others. He told a number of anecdotes about the Orioles of the late 70s and 1980s, including a hilarious one about Len Sakata that I can’t do justice to. Then he gave a 20 minute motivational talk on how to “Dare to Prepare,” which is the theme of the book he recently wrote (on mega sale right now through Amazon: Dare to Prepare, and a copy of which was given to every attendee of the luncheon. It was odd because it felt a little like a sales pitch, and yet he wasn’t selling us the book–we all already had a copy. I conclude that he really believes what he says and like an Evangelist loves telling others and helping others. As it turned out, I found a LOT Of what he said to be right on target to the turnaround my small publishing business is having (or hopefully having). It still seemed odd to preach it to a SABR audience, but, at least it wasn’t boring.

After that came a “roundtable’ which was really just a Q&A session with Ron’s son Mark Shapiro, the GM of the Indians, and Mike Veeck (son of Bill Veeck as in Wreck and the man once known as the creator of Disco Demolition Night, bu now better known as the genius behind the St. Paul Saints and the author of a how-to-succeed book himself called Fun Is Good.)

The questions ranged far and wide. Among the tidbits I jotted down because they are of interest to me, Veeck said that 46% of his minor league team fanbase is female, and that in Charleston, SC where he has a team they have worked a lot with the local community such that their African-American attendance is aruond 9%, which is twice the national average. Shapiro admitted he is not involved at all on the marketing side of things, but he acknowledged that although they want to please purists, the flat truth of the matter is that the team needs to appeal to “people who are not white 50-70 year olds.” Which I thought was a gutsy thing to say to a group like SABR which is, well, mostly white 50-70 year olds. But people seemed to respect his honesty, if not the answer itself. One member asked how Veeck would market SABR itself, which has a desire to be not just a haven for that demographic. Veeck said “I would use a photo of [names a member who is well known to the group and is a middle aged white guy], and caption it ‘We’re not just about beautiful figures.’” Which got a huge laugh. He went on to say emphasize what’s fun about SABR and people’s mutual love of the game.

I nearly forgot the other special event of the day from this morning, was the premiere of a new movie documentary, “Baseball Discovered,” which was made by MLB Advanced Media and which followed SABR member David Block on a trip to England in search of baseball’s ancestry. John Thorn is also prominently featured in the film, and after the one hour film was shown Block, Thorn, Tom Schieber of the Hall of Fame, and Sam Marchiano (the producer of the film for MLBAM) all spoke on a panel and took questions. The documentary is really great, and while in the UK making it, publicity about their filing led a woman in Surrey to bring forth an 18th century diary she had found in an old shed which clearly has the earliest recorded written mention of baseball, in the 1755 diary of one William Bray. And by wild coincidence, there is a Bill Bray pitching in the major leagues right now who is a relative of his! Not only that, Bll Bray pitched in the game LAST NIGHT for Cincinnati, which meant he was in town! MLBAM invited him to the premiere, too, and he got up and said a few words about how awesome it was to be connected to the history of the game that way. Really neat.

There is no DVD on sale yet. It will son be available on iTunes, will stream from mlb.com (www.mlb.com/baseballdiscovered/) and soon will be distributed (still being worked out).

I made sure not to miss David W. Smith’s presentation on the Importance of Strike One (art 2). He started this topic last year and continued it. Using Retrosheet pitch by pitch data, he analyzed over 3.4 million plate appearances and over 13 million pitches. Among the things he found: batters foul off a lot more pitches now than they did in previous eras, and that the path one takes to get the first strike or to 1-1 matters. Batters who swung and missed on the first pitch or the second pitch weer likely to do badly in he at bat even if they worked the count full later. He described perfectly the “first pitch dilemma.” The pitcher is suppose to “get ahead in the count” by throwing a strike, but if the batter puts the first ball in play, his chances of getting a hit are much higher than on later pitches in the at bat. So he has to throw a strike, but not give him anything good to hit. Hmm.

Then Pete Palmer and Dick Cramer repeated their 35 year old study on clutch hitting, but with using he more and better data now available, to see if Bill James’ assertion that perhaps clutch hitting does exist, we merely haven’t been able to isolate it from the statistical “fog” of randomness around it. The new conclusion for Palmer and Cramer was the same: clutch hitting probably doesn’t exist and that the fog is still really darn thick. David Ortiz really did have two extraordinary years in 2005 and 2006 though.

My brain was full at that point, so I did not see the last two research presentations, and went off to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

As it turns out, the museum is having a “Baseball Rocks!” exhibit, which was really neat and interesting, combining stuff from their own collection with memorabilia from the Baseball Heritage Museum, for an exhibit that could easily ave fit right in at the Cooperstown National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was basically a lot of juxtaposition of popular music artifacts like sheet music and 78 and 45 records with baseball memorabilia and text describing the importance of each thing. Like sheet music from the 1858 “Base Ball Polka”–the earliest known published baseball song–written by J. R. Blodgett, who played with the Niagara Base Ball Club of Buffalo, NY. Or the 1935 song, by Eleanor Gehrig and Fred Fisher, “I Can’t Get To First Base With You,” the cover of which showed Lou (smoking a cigarette and looking very Hollywood) with an inset of Eleanor and both of their signatures printed on. They also connected the emergence of black entertainers into the fledgling rock and roll in popular music with Jackie Robinson breaking the color line. Apparently Denny McLain played the organ at a professional level (he apparently had to do organ practice before baseball) and that George Thorogood played semi-pro ball before making it as a musician.

I finished off the night with friends and a beer at the Bier Markt, a place with a fantastically large selection of belgian beers, and also delicious pomme frite (fries) with flavored mayo belgian style to go with. Yum.

So, signing off from another great SABR Convention. Next summer will be in downtown Washington DC!

June 27, 2008: SABR Day Two, Part 2

June 28, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Book Reviews

Back from the ballpark where the Indians pulled off a nice 6-0 shutout of their in-state rival Reds, C.C. Sabathia pitched 8 innings, 4 hits, 11 strikeouts, 2 walks. His only rough inning was the first when with 2 men on Grady Sizemore saved Sabathia’s sizable bacon by making a sickl leaping over-the-shoulder catch that had him land almost Spiderman-like with his spikes buried in the padded wall. After that, he cruised. And then the game was toppe off my a rather impressive fireworks show. Perhaps the single show I’ve seen with the highest explosions per second ratio. It was very nice, but a constant barrage of color and noise.

Now, when I left off today, in the mile of the day, I was running to try to catch a presentation on the “Mitchell 89.” That is, a study of the 89 players named in the Mitchell report and looking at whether taking performance enhancing drugs actually enhanced their performance. The study was undertaken by four researchers, Pat Kilgo, Jeff Switchenko, Brian Schmotzer, and Paul Weiss.

Among the fascinating facts their study seemed to uncover is the fact that players taking steroids appeared to enhance their offensive statistics by a factor of 12%, but if you cut Barry Bonds from the study, the effect is lessened to 7 percent. Still significant, but he was a big skew factor. Also, they found that the players reported to have taken HGH did NOT show any improvement in performance–in fact some measures were slightly negative. (This doesn’t mean HGH is harmful to performance, more likely that the guys taking it were doing it to try to recover from injury, and the effect of the injury is seen in the numbers.)

Andy Andres, a SABR member and a college professor who teaches both physiology and baseball statistics at Tufts, Harvard, and B.U. has posited from his studies that steroids ought to give between a 5% and 10% increase in offensive statistics, and that HGH ought not to, and interestingly this seems to bear it out. Further study is needed, but it was an interesting analysis.

Earlier, I was describing the beautiful Cleveland Public Library, was I not? They have an outstanding baseball photograph collection, which they ad a lot of on display to coincide with the SABR convention, and also some rare books and a collection of scrapbooks and memorabilia — great stuff. In the “Treasure Room” they had a bunch of the things on display that could actually be touched and looked through with care, including Henry Chadwick’s 1878 Our Boys Base Ball Rules for 1878 book, and The “Bull” Durham Baseball Guide 1910, which listed itself as “Published Annually by the Baseball Publishing Company, 2 Park Square, Boston.” They also had a selection of early novels mentioning baseball, including reference to Jane Austen’s 1798 book Northanger Abbey, which I JUST referenced in the Baseball Early Bird newsletter last week!

Not related to baseball, but equally fascinating to me were the exhibits in the library of Miniature Books (define as books from half inch by half inch in size up to 2″ x “3). The first well known one was made in 1475, just 20 year after Gutenberg’s Bible, the Officiam Beatae Virginis Maria. In WWI, a Scottish publisher produced a one-inch Koran that was issued to Muslim Allied soldiers in a metal locket case that included a magnifying glass. The other exhibit that caught me was one on Conlangs, or Constructed Languages, including not only Esperanto, but Elvish and Klingon. Folks I know tangentially, like Suzette Haden Elgin, whose Laadan language and “Linguistics and Science Fiction” newsletter are very familiar to me, fascinating to see. And fascinating to be reminded of the highly brainy and very geeky world I come from in science fiction/fantasy that is totally parallel to the one I know through SABR.

Next, a historical presentation by a SABR member from Japan, Yoichi Nagata. He presented on the Tokyo Giants’ north American tour of 1935, in which they barnstormed all over the western USA, plus a little Mexico and Canada. With pro baseball set to take off in Japan, the Giants (who were given that nickname by Lefty O’Doul, one f their major supporters in the USA), wanted to come to acquire American baseball skills.

Nagata was drawn to researching this tour because all records of the tour that were in Japan were lost during World War II. He had to used 102 local newspapers from all over North America to recreate all he results of the tour. He was able to recover 82 box scores and in the end, they had 104 games, only 31 losses and one tie, playing 74 different teams on the 118 day tour.

Among the facts I fond surprising, were that the Giants tam included one Russian-born player whose parents had fled the Bolsheviks to Japan when he was 3 years old, and one American citizen, a Nisei born in Hawaii.

During the tour they played 16 games against Nisei teams, going 14-2.

They also exhibited certain behaviors that charmed American fans, such as bowing to the umpires and forming a player “huddle” between innings. They also wore Chinese number characters on their backs. All three of these things, though, weer not usual for Japanese baseball–all were suggested by Lefty O’Doul as marketing ploys, and photographs featuring bowing, the huddle, and the numbers were sent out in press kits to all the newspapers.

In the end, the tour was not a financial success, but the team did acquire American baseball skills, so was considered an overall success, and thus was professional baseball launched in Japan the following season.

I’m amazed at the significance of this event culturally, and that Nagata was forced to come to the US to study it because of the devastation of the war.

The final research presentation of the day was Vince Gennaro’s talk on Free Agent Salaries. If you have not read Gennaro’s book Diamond Dollars, I recommend it. He explains in that book, among other things, why it is so key for the Yankees and Red Sox to spend as much on players as they do, and other factors that affect financial decisions in the game.

Here e described coming up with a model for predicting a player’s fee agent worth, adjusted for premiums of position (pitchers get paid more, middle infielders less), injury history (more durable player got a premium, injury-prone ones a discount), age, player quality, marquee value, and other factors. His study was only looking at the 2007 free agent class, but he is working on an expanded version that will cover 5 years and about 600 free agents to see if it holds up. By his model, Kaz Matsui is overpaid (valued around $3M, paid around $5M) while Cliff Floyd is getting $3M but is valued around $4.9M. He also noted that three guys who did not get jobs this season still carried value: Mike Piazza around 3.5 million, and interestingly, Barry Bonds $12.2 million. Barry says he’s been blacklisted. Has he?

Edit: Gennaro won the award for best presentation at the conference!

The final thing I saw before going off to the ballpark was Rick Wilber read from his new book published by McFarland & Company, entitled My Father’s Game. Rick is the son of major leaguer Del Wilber, but I know him as a science fiction writer. He and I and Eric Van (who runs the Readercon convention and works for the Red Sox) are about the only three people I know who crossover between the two sub-cultures.

Rick read some moving passages from his book, which deals with his perfect childhood as the son of a ballplayer, and his not-so-perfect adulthood where he was his father’s caregiver in the last stage of his life. I bought the book, and also Dorothy Seymour Mills’ book, A Woman’s Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour. Dorothy was Harold’s wife, and his major collaborator, though in the early years of his fame as a pioneer in baseball research, her contributions were not acknowledged. In those days, women were not allowed in the press box. You get the idea. Thankfully, Dorothy is well-recognized now!

That’s it for today. It’s one in the morning, and the first session I want to see tomorrow is at 9am, so I had better get to sleep.

Sorry again about all the typos. I’m writing this on the television web access thing in my room and it’s very hard to edit (or even see).

June 27, 2008: SABR Day Two (first half)

June 27, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

Began the day this morning with breakfast with my roomie at the hotel buffet, then to the Women in Baseball committee meeting. The meeting was lovely, as Justine Siegel was there to present a pilot qualitative study she has done on a current girl playing high school baseball who is trying to get a Division II scholarship. Justine is special to me because she was the one who pointed me at the Pawtucket Slaterettes when I was falling out of the revamped New England Women’s Baseball League. She’s now getting her PhD in Sports Psychology and still running a 12-and-under girls team for the annual Cooperstown tournaments (where they play against boys teams), coaching a men’s collegiate baseball team, and helping to organize international tournaments for women’s baseball programs. And probably more. And raising a daughter, too.

The first research presentation I attended at Alan Nathan’s presentation on Pitchf/x. This is Sportvision’s three-camera system that has been installed in all MLB stadiums and if you look at the live Gameday pitch by pitch window at MLB.com, these days you will see a graphic showing the trajectory of the pitch and data on the pitch speed, location, and the amount of break that it displays. It is the same technology that you see on ESPN as K-Zone, and on Fox as Fox Trak. The center field camera is used only to determine the height of the strike zone. The other two are a “high home” camera, and a “high first” camera, whose angles are calculated together with software to determine pixel locations in each plane, and which then makes a three-dimensional set of coordinates for each frame.

The system is accurate to within a half mile of pitch speed (both at release and as it crosses home–the usual pitch loses 10% of its speed as it travels), with a half inch for location, and within 2 inches for magnitude and direction of break. It also records the type of pitch (fastball, slider, curve, etc.), and because it records each pitch live, it is also recording what each batter does with each pitch. Not only that, all this data is available FREE online. (He gave URLs for Dan Turkenkopf, who has a tutorial online on how to mate Pitchf/x data with Retrosheet, but I didn’t get it written down so you’ll have to Goggle for it, and Dan Brooks’ site: brooksbaseball.net/pfx/, who also has info on how to use the data.

Among the things Nathan was able to show that Pitchf/x demonstrates are the fact that pitches really do move differently in Colorado than elsewhere. He combined the data from 3000-7000 pitches in Toronto versus Denver. In Toronto the average speed dropped by 10% after release and broke 12″. In Denver pitches broke only 8″ and lost only 7.5% of their velocity. He also showed some fascinating graphs of pitchers Jon Lester, Brandon Webb, and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, which I cannot really describe here. Also he showed how pitchf/x shows how the slider and the fastball really do look remarkably similar for the first 40 feet of their trajectory (with only a 4″ variation), and then drastically different for the final 20 feet, resulting in a 12″ difference in where they end up. Nathan’s own website about the topic is: http://webusrs.upl.uiuc.edu/~a-nathan/pob/pitchtracker.html

Then it was time for a little culture. Anthony Salazar presented a really fascinating look at the baseball art of Jacob Lawrence, a painter of the Harlem Renaissance. He was born in Atlantic City in 1917. He moved to Harlem when he was 13 and took classes in arts and crafts at Utopia House. There he met such figures as Langston Hughes and others, and by age 21 had his first painting exhibition. He was very influenced by the Mexican painter Diego Rivera and mural painting, with much emphasis on triangular shapes, elongated hands, and primary colors “right from the jar.”

In 1949 he painted two paintings, both 20″ x 24″ in egg tempera, with baseball themes. “Strike” depicts a black catcher, catching a pitch, while a white batter strikes out, and a racially mixed audience is depicted. In “The Long Stretch,” a white first baseman is catching the ball, as a black player barely gets one spiky toe onto the bag, and a white umpire calls him safe.

The images are imbue with great energy, highly stylized, and capture the tenacity of the pioneers integrating baseball at that time. Salazar pointed out similarities between the catcher figure and Roy Campanella, and the runner with Jackie Robinson. It’s fascinating art and a fascinating way for art to capture the complex situation and that moment in history. Thanks to Power Point, Salazar was able to show the paintings to good effect.

Then came Zak Hudak’s talk on how many home runs Babe Ruth might have hit, had he been on steroids. Hudak is 14 years old, very poised for his age (and probably tired of hearing people tell him that), the youngest presenter ever at a SABR convention.

Hudak started with a study done by Professor Tobin at Tufts University that posited that the muscle development from steroid use would increase homer production by 50% to 100%. Looking at the careers of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Bary Bonds, and a couple of other sluggers who weer alleged to have used steroids, and found they tended to have a 4-5 year surge of about 50% above their usual production late in their careers.

Predicting that if Ruth had used enhancers, he would have also followed this pattern, Hudak calculated a 50% increase for Ruth’s 5 most consecutive productive years toward the end of his career, and came up with 842 home runs. By the same token, Aaron would have ended up with 856, and Ted Williams 608, among others.

Then it was off to the beautiful and wonderful Cleveland Public Library. There was an author roundtable, where Tom Swift, who just published a book on Chief Bender, Rob Neyer,

oops, just realized I am late for a presentation about the “Mitchell 89″ — more later!

June 25, 2008: At SABR in Cleveland

June 26, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

Well, here I am in Cleveland! Apologies in advance for typos in this report. My trusty Macintosh laptop, which has, shall we say, high mileage on it, finally went kaput on the way here. I am forced to post this via he wacky WebTV thing in my room. I’s keyboard is horrible, I can barely see the TV screen, and it shows me maybe a tenth of the page?

But we persevere.

My flight last night flew right over the Indians’ home ballpark, which I still think of as Jacobs Field, but which has been renamed Progressive. I’m not actually expecting much about Cleveland to be very “progressive,” but well, let’s face it, I am an East Coast liberal, and my peer group when finding out I was going to Cleveland was full of jokes like “I think they have running water and electricity there now.” And Internet, I was assured! I feel a bit like I am riding a horse and buggy using WebTV….

Anyway, yes, they have electricity. The lights of the ballpark could be sen when we were still miles away, the distinctive “toothbrush” style lightstands making it look sort of like a kid’s birthday cake from a distance. Or perhaps a crown of some kind, though it does not look like this year the Indians will be capturing that.

Went to four fascinating research presentations today. Jim Odenkirk presented a very enjoyable recap of the years when the “rivalry” was between the Indian and Yankees, not just the Red Sox and Yankees. He used some attendance figures and such to prove that the Indians/Yankees rivalry from the 1940s and 1950s was every bit as hot and exciting as Red Sox/Yankees. I’m not so sure about that, as the rivalry between the cities of NY and Boston pre-dates the existence of professional baseball, and even when NL ball first came to the Northeast Corridor, supporters of the tams would waves signs rooting for them from the train platforms all along Connecticut (which has always had to divide loyalties);. But it was a very enjoyable reminscence of what was a very unique era in baseball. Mr. Odenkirk lived through it, and even was paid $3 per ride to drive a busload of 40 kids to ballgames on weekend afternoons, where owner Bill Veeck gave away thousands of tickets to children.

I unfortunately had to miss most of the talk on the decline of the inside the park home run by Ron Selter. I was on the phone to a friend who works at the Apple Store, and I was buying my replacement computer. I did hear his conclusions though, which were basically:

-outfielders are bigger/faster/stringer now days
-there are fewer bunts & hit & run plays
-smoother field result in fewer bad bounces
-better gloves
-smaller outfields

Anne Aronson gave a nice presentation on Women’s Baseball in Australia. Interestingly, one of the reasons they have significant womens baseball recreation programs there is because baseball is not a hugely popular sport, the state baseball federations there sponsored women’s baseball as a way of promoting the game to more people–why limit yourself to half he population? It also helps that the majority of sports played are organized through sports clubs. You pay your membership in a club, and that club will sponsor a whole menu of teams including T-ball for the kids, multiple men’s and women’s teams, and more. Since club membership and participation are largely family-oriented, when baseball was introduced, there were already plenty of women, including mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, etc… who weer ready to give it a try. They also lack the “baseball is for boys, softball is for girls” weirdness that rules American attitudes.

The best presentation I went to though, which truly fascinated me, was Geri Strecker’s talk about wartime baseball in the Philippines. The USA took over the Philippines in 1898 and by 1902 they had a professional quality ballpark. Early filipino newspapers show photos of native Ingorot tribesmen as the “G-String Basebal Team” (because that was pretty much all they wore.) By 1913 the All-Filipino team was touring the US and Japan in more traditional baseball uniforms.

The professional Manila Baseball League incorporated in 1909 and players got shares of the profits of about $45 – $60 per month. I imagine not only was that a fair it of money back then, but in the Philippines especially. Heck, that’s probably a good salary there NOW.

The playing season went from Thanksgiving to July 4th, to avoid typhoon season. They once had a rain delay that lasted 3 weeks for an All-Star Game because 3 typhoons came one after the other.

Her research centers around the 24th Infantry, an all black company serving in Batangas. The Manila League had four teams, the All-Filipino team, made up of native filipinos of many ethnicities, the Manila team, made up mostly of US citizens in the Philippines, the Army, and the Marines. But the Marines pulled out of the Philippines in mid-season. At the halfway point, the 24th infantry were invited to join the league, making the league integrated for a time. There were protests, though, and the experiment only lasted for that half-season.

Interesting to note that many of the presenters are women. The presentations are chosen based on blind abstracts, so the committee does not know the gender of the people they pick. It’s interesting that although general SABR membership runs about 4% female, it would appear that a greater number of them are doing presentable research than among the male population. I hypothesize that women who join SABR are more likely to do so BECAUSE they are motivated to do research, and not as content to just sit back and enjoy SABR as a passive experience, which is how I think some guys do.

Brain is full now, so must rest and then dinner with baseball writer/editor friends.

I’m not sure if I’ll post again! Depends on how painful this WEBTV continues to be.

June 8, 2008: “Making Of” A Game Story

June 09, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

These days every movie or TV show has a “making of” documentary to accompany it. And every sport is analyzed up and down, from the drafting of talent to the construction of the roster, from the strategy employed on the field to examination of each and every play that happens. So I thought it was about time I parted the shrouds of mystery on how to turn out a top notch game story, including the secret techniques employed by all sportswriters, myself included, and tips for getting the most out of every game story.

A sure-fire way to grab people’s attention is with some kind of pun, double meaning, or play on words. Sometimes this can be in the title of the piece, or it might just be a clever (or painfully obvious) connection, like “It was 95 degrees at game time today in the Bronx, and Joba Chamberlain was hitting 95 mph on the radar gun.” I considered that one for todat’s piece, but actually Joba hit all the way up to 99 in the first inning, so for the sake of accuracy. I scrapped it. How about “The bats that heated up yesterday stayed hot in the Yankees’ 6-3 win over Kansas City, while the fans stayed hot because of surprisingly sweltering temperatures.” Eh, kind of wordy and not that sensical. maybe something simpler, like: “Temperatures soared and Joba was throwing heat.”? You get the idea.

The Yankees have a lot of history associated with them, and especially any story about a game that takes place in the final season of Yankee Stadium ought to have a patina of nostalgia on it. So, for example, making a comparison to games or figures of the past, allows you to pull in some history. Joba’s barrel chest, jowly face, and exuberant spirit make him an easy comparison to Babe Ruth. The pitcher he looks the most like from the upper deck, though, is actually Roger Clemens. Opposing players can be useful for evoking the past, too. After Joey Gathright ended the Yankees’ first inning rally, and prevented another one from starting in the second, both with unbelievable catches in center field, the old fellow sitting behind me remarked that he was “like Willie fucking Mays out there or something.” (These are Yankees’ fans, remember.)

Sometimes the hero is really obvious. Like in yesterday’s game, Johnny Damon went six-for-six and every hit was part of a rally, not to mention that he had the game-winning walk-off hit. Today, though, we could debate whether Bobby Abreu deserves the hero title or Jason Giambi. Abreu, after all, hit the two-run shot in the first that gave Joba some breathing room, whereas Giambi hit a solo shot in the sixth that broke the 3-3 tie and was ultimately the difference in the game. When anointing a hero, it’s important to take into account past performance–and to recap recent heroics if relevant. Right now Giambi is leading the major leagues in home run frequency, hitting one per 11 at bats or something like that. Not only that, he had a pinch-hit walk-off with two outs in the ninth in Thursday’s game, and just yesterday ALSO had a solo shot to break a tie in the sixth. I’d say Giambi gets it this time around, also because…

Now, when you write about the Yankees, the term “underdog” can seem a bit ironic, if not oxymoronic. But in the eyes of some fans, a guy like Giambi went from MVP to underdog when he had all his health problems, and then fought back into shape. There are not many candidates for underdog in today’s game though, unless we count the Kansas City Royals themselves… Wait. How about Dan Giese? This is a pitcher who has been waiting for his chance to pitch for a long time, and who got called up for Joba’s first start last week, as the team has Joba on strict pitch counts while they stretch him out from short relief to a starting role. He pitched extremely well in the long relief role, and then the next day was sent immediately back to Triple A. He was recalled after just a few days and praised by team management for being cooperative and professional about the whole thing. And he pitched effectively again: two and a third innings, no hits, no runs.

The overwhelming theme of the day had to be heat, but I’ve already harped on it so much. The last time I remember being so steamy at the stadium was in August 2005, when we took in a game that was stopped twice by passing thundershowers. And Bernie Williams hit two home runs. The Belmont Stakes was yesterday and Big Brown, trying to win the Triple Crown, came in dead last. Hm. Probably not a good comparison. I hope. I’ll be avoiding horseracing references for a while just in case.

Authority in baseball writing is always conveyed by the use of numbers. Some of my best friends are baseball statisticians. And I do some number crunching myself, though I often have the feeling that if there is a case I want to make, I can surely dig up numbers to support it that will look extremely convincing to all except perhaps my stat geek friends. So I try to look at the numbers with an open mind, and see what they suggest to me. Among other things, what they suggest is that Mariano Rivera is still improving with age. The solo shot he surrendered yesterday (in a non-save situation) was only the second run he gave up all season. It caused his ERA to “balloon” to 0.64. For those of you who are new to baseball, that’s SMALL. He has converted 15 of 15 save opportunities. Not much arguing one can do with numbers like that.

Of course if you want to give your readers the feeling that you are really, really on top of everything, write about not only what you saw, but what you didn’t see. I didn’t see any hint of Kyle Farnsworth in yesterday’s game. Now that Joba Chamberlain is in the rotation, doesn’t the eighth inning belong to Farnsworth? Unfortunately, with his recent tendency to give up the long ball, he has lost what tentative trust the crowd had begun to put in the “re-invented” reliever. “He’s a bum,” is what the 12 year old sitting next to me said. “We better get some more runs,” said the guy on my other side, “because you know Farnsworth is coming in and he’s going to give up at least one run.” But although the Yankees got two insurance runs on a two-RBI double by Alex Rodriguez (which he tried to stretch into a triple but ended up thrown out at third), Farnsworth did not appear. Instead, Jose Veras pitched, and pitched well. That’s two games in a row that Veras pitched. After the game, manager Joe Girardi said he held Farnsworth out of the game because he has a slight tweak in his biceps. Interesting. I think Girardi is bending over backwards to maintain his trust in Farnsworth, because he knows the moment Farnsworth thinks Girardi has lost confidence in him, Farnsworth will fall apart. And unfortunately, they need him to contribute because if there were better alternatives, they’d have already explored them. It looks to me, though, like Jose Veras is on the verge of earning the 8th inning job.

Sometimes the amusing anecdotes come from the clubhouse, from players, other times from other people associated with the game. And still other times they come from my own observations, in which case maybe they are only amusing to me. Here’s today’s: I have a new nickname for Jorge Posada, which is El Jardinero. “Jardinero” in Spanish means “gardener,” and in Spanish baseball lingo also refers to “fielders” especially outfielders. However today was the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City, which perhaps put me in mind of the Dominican salsa master Wilfrido Vargas, who had a huge salsa hit in the 1980s under the title “El Jardinero.” So Jorge, who is proudly Puerto Rican, earns the title for all the gardening he does around home plate. After Joba finished throwing his warmup pitches, the first thing Jorge did was fluff up the dirt right in front of the plate. He seemed to be carefully building up a layer right at the edge of the plate, and then smoothing the rest. He also obliterated the lines of the batters’ boxes closest the the plate, presumably because of glare in his eyes on the sunny day? I’m not sure why. I just know he spent a lot of time looking like he really wanted a garden spade in his hand.

Of course, every piece should end with something that makes the reader go either “aww” or “aha!” or “wow.” This effect can be achieved by looping back to the beginning to close the thematic loop (“and as the weather stays hot, hopefully the Yankees will, too…”), by making bold predictions for the future (“and Joba Chamberlain will likely be in the rotation for the rest of the season…”), or by adding one last tidbit that was held back until now. Um, except I didn’t actually hold back a tidbit. I left it all out on the field.

June 7, 2008: Comeback Kids

June 07, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

I was in the house for a wild, wild win in the Bronx today.

Um, by “in the house” of course I mean “at Yankee Stadium.” The scoreboard counting down the number of games left by increments went from 51 to 50 today, and at various points in the game we were treated to video montages of: great moments in Yankee Stadium, time lapse of the construction of the new stadium, aerial video of the new and old stadiums (stadia?) standing side by side…

It all feels a bit like the Yankees are hoping we’re really going to like moving into that snazzy new condo, even though nothing can replace the family’s ancestral home. One can’t help but stare at the grand and classic-looking facade across the way while waiting in line to enter the old place. I don’t know. Every now and then I worry that we’ve been sold a bill of goods. But I guess we won’t really know until we move in over there and see how it is.

The thing that will make the new place as special as the old, of course, is that the Yankees will play there. And if they play a lot of games there that were like the one we saw today, it won’t be long before a whole new generation cherishes that building nearly as much as the old one.

It started out a hot, humid day–the first really summer-hot day of the year. Last night it was chilly and foggy, and the Yankees lost 2-1 to Kansas City in another game that starter Darrell Rasner deserved to win, except the Yankees could not score for him.

Andy Pettitte did not have that problem today, as the offense came alive in the hot weather. Unfortunately for him, it came alive for both teams.

The pounding began in the first inning, when with two outs Mark Teahen hit a booming double which would later cause Johnny Damon to remark that he knew then that it was a good day to be playing deep. He couldn’t play deep enough for the next batter, though, Jose Guillen, who hit a two run shot. Andy seemed to be struggling with his control, but he got the next hitter to end the inning with a soft comebacker.

The Yankees bats then got to work. Damon himself started off with a big double. Jeter moved him over with one of his patented bunts in a sac situation but which could have been a hit if the Royals hadn’t fielded perfectly. Giambi singled him in for the Yankees first run, and the Royals’ lead was cut in half.

Pettitte was still a little wild in the second, walking the leadoff man, but appeared to settle down with the ensuing double play and strikeout.

Then, in the top of the third, the first pitch of the inning was bunted at by Joey Gathright and the glancing foul hit the home plate umpire in the head. A twenty minute delay ensued while he was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons, and Jim Wolf had to change into the chest protector to take over behind the plate. The delay seemed to “ice” Pettitte, whose wildness returned, and after retiring Gathright on the very next pitch (4-3), the then gave up a single and a triple, walked Teahen, gave up an RBI single to Guillen, struck out Olivo, then gave up another RBI single to John Buck who was caught out trying to stretch it into a double. The Royals now had a 5-1 lead and Pettitte had thrown 64 pitches in 3 innings.

Pettitte did settle down after that, recording 1-2-3 innings in the 4th, 5th, and 6th, and giving the Yankees a chance to catch up, which they did in the 4th. A-rod led off with a single, Giambi (who has been red hot of late) walked on four pitches, and the Jorge Posada, in his only his second game back after a long stint on the DL, slammed an RBI double. Cano brought in another run with a base hit, and then Wilson Betemit brought in Jorge with a deep sac fly to center, proving that these days he is the only man who can hit a fly ball with a runner on third and fewer than two outs. But the rally didn’t end there, no. Melky singled, then Damon followed with his third hit of the day, making it now 5-5 with men on the corners and one out.

Up came Jeter, who then had a 3-0 count… and swung at the next pitch and fouled it off. He ended up hitting a high pop to right, not terribly deep, and Melky tagged up and tried to score… and ended up out at the plate in a 9-2 double play. To that point Jeter had hit into two double plays and he and Abreu were the only two in the lineup who had no hit or RBI.

And it was only the fourth inning.

The Yankees took the lead in the fifth when Giambi hit a solo shot–one of those ones where the crack of the bat rings in your ears–a soaring blast into the upper deck. Everything was peachy.

Until the seventh, when Pettitte began to tire. The temperature was in the 90s, perhaps expecting him to pitch a full seven inning was to much? Alberto Callaspo greeted him with a double, light-hitting Esteban German followed with a bunt base-hit, and Gathright followed that with an RBI single to tie the game. Damn. DeJesus bunted the runners over, and so Mike Aviles was intentionally walked to set up the double play. Pettitte actually struck out Teahen though, and then was one strike away from sealing the deal against Jose Guillen. If he’d been able to sit Guillen down, he would have gotten out of the inning giving up only one run.

Unfortunately, Guillen then hit a grand slam. Ouch. It was now 10-6 Royals, and Pettitte had earned all ten runs. Jose Veras came in and struck out Olivo on three pitches, but the damage was done.

The Yankees, however, were not done. In the bottom of the inning Abreu finally joined the party with a base hit, followed by a no-doubter off the bat of A-rod that landed in the visiting bullpen. It was now 10-8 Royals, but it seemed likely the score wouldn’t stay that way.

And indeed, in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees made up their second four-run deficit of the day. Cano led off with a bit, and after a Betemit strikeout, Melky added his own. They moved to second and third with Damon at the plate. Damon had a 3-0 count and had already gone four-for-four in the game. Could he actually get five hits? Yes. He knocked in both runners to tie the score. Jeter followed with a hit, but both he and Damon were stranded, and Mariano Rivera entered the ninth inning with the game tied.

Not for long. Mariano’s first pitch went deep off the bat of David DeJesus and it was 11-10 Royals. It was the first homer Mo has given up, and only the second run he has allowed all year.

One more comeback, Yankees, please?

The fireworks began with one out, when Jorge Posada, jumping right into the thick of things, hit a solo shot into the lower deck in right off KC closer Joakim Soria. Tie game. With two outs, Betemit worked a walk, and then Melky Cabrera got lucky, rolling a slow grounder up the third base line that just never rolled foul.

And so up came Damon, who was then 5-for-5. Betemit on second, Melky on first, and two outs. It was two pitches into his at bat that corwin reminded me to eat sunflower seeds. You see, in each of the two big scoring rallies for the Yankees that day, we had been eating them. Clearly, we needed to eat them now. We each took a handful and began munching.

And it worked! Damon laced a single, Betemit raced home, and Damon was mobbed by his teammates at first base. Final score 12-11 Yankees, with the two teams having 31 hits between them.

We’ll be back at the Stadium tomorrow, to see Joba Chamberlain in his second start. Hopefully the Yankees’ bats will stay hot, and the Royals’ will not.

June 1, 2008: For the Birds

June 01, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Great Ballparks, Yankee Fan Memories

I have now initiated my friend Brian (let’s call him Brian…) to the fun and wonder of Major League fandom. I took a trip to Baltimore to take him to his first major league game, a tilt of Orioles versus Yankees.

The reason I went all the way to Baltimore for this is that the company he works for gets tickets at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Nice tickets. Behind home plate nice. So when he asked if I’d come down and see a game with him and explain what all the fuss was about, of course I said yes.

April 6, 2008: ‘Fantasy’ Baseball

April 06, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

I recently found my notes from a panel discussion I did a few years ago on the subject of baseball at a science fiction convention.

Why, you may wonder, were they having a panel at a science fiction convention about baseball?

Well, first of all, have you ever noticed how many of the great baseball novels have an element of the supernatural, fantastical, or unexplained about them? There are some ways in which baseball literature can be said to be a sub-genre or offshoot of fantasy. (And you should know that “science fiction” in the common vernacular encompasses not just space opera and cyberpunk, but things that have no science in them at all, like high fantasy, vampire fiction, and so on. Why fantasy and science fiction are one genre in the bookstore is a topic for some other journal.)

Second, there’s the simple fact that many hardcore fans of science fiction and fantasy are also fans of baseball. On the panel with me were noted writers like Shane Tourtellotte and comic book creator Ken Gale. Since then I’ve done similar panels including noted figures like Eric Van, who both works for the Red Sox as a stat-head and is an organizer of the annual Readercon sf/f literary convention.

Anyway, on this particular panel, we came up with the Ten Reasons Why Baseball Is Like Fantasy.

1. It’s something you get hooked on as a ten-year-old.
2. The movies are adapted from books.
3. The books are better.
4. Everyone complains about how much better it used to be in the old days.
5. Involves a system of rules that seem like magic to the casual observer.
6. Current stars often seem to imitate previous stars.
7. There are always moments of comedy and drama, and sometimes you don’t know if you’re headed for tragedy or triumph.
8. An appreciation of history can increase one’s appreciation of it.
9. If you like one, you’ll probably like the sequel.
10. Some people just don’t get it.

This led to a discussion about how fantasy baseball and Dungeons & Dragons are similar. A closer analogy is Strat-o-matic baseball and D&D, which both rely on the statistical probability of events occurring to determine the outcome. And how wiffle ball is the equivalent of baseball boffer fighting.

But if I try to explain what boffer fighting is, I’ll be here all day. Hm, although I suppose if I say “it’s the wiffle ball equivalent of sword fighting,” people might get what I mean.

April 1, 2008: Being There

April 01, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Baseball Musings, On Playing the Game, Yankee Fan Memories

This is going to be a kind of personal piece today, about life and baseball. Or perhaps about baseball and life.

I cried a lot yesterday. There are a lot of reasons why, and they all come back to baseball.

I drove to New York City Sunday night, had a lovely dinner with my good friend Lori in the Bronx, who shares the same birthday with me. We have a tradition of going to Opening Day at Yankee Stadium together, since the home opener often falls on or next to our birthday, and then having dinner at a steakhouse in Yonkers that we like (and that gives birthday discounts).

I thought I was going to miss the opener for sure last year, since I had a trip to China and Japan planned for early April, but as it turned out I was able to go to the game, then head home and leave pretty much the next day for the Far East. This year would have been my ninth Opening Day in a row.

And of course, as the media has trumpeted repeatedly, the last home opener ever in The Old Ballpark.

I wanted to be there. Sure, it’s just a game. Sure, I’ll have plenty more chances to attend games this season. I’ll very likely be there for the last game of the season. So you’d think it wouldn’t have been such a Big Deal that yesterday’s game was rained out, postponed to tonight, and that I decided to drive back home instead of trying to stay another day.

But it wasn’t until I was partway home that the tears hit. That the disappointment came on me like a wave.

I’ve often said one of the most amazing things about baseball is how it can reduce a mature adult to being ten years old again. I didn’t quite feel the disappointment as keenly as I would have at ten. But the more I thought about it on the way home, the more I realized I wasn’t just upset over one game or one rainy day.

The two-hundred mile drive back to my house from the Stadium is never longer than after a loss, and I associate it with nights like the time my friend Rich and I drove down to see Game 2 of the ALDS in 2001, with our hearts still raw from 9/11 and the game felt like attending a wake. Coming home after various other playoff losses, too. That drive is joyous and wonderful after clinching–one can get WFAN late at night through over half of Connecticut and there was one night after they clinched a round we did the drive and listened to happy fans calling in until well past New Haven. We also listened as long as we could the last night of Joe Torre’s tenure, too, the night Suzyn Waldman cried from the clubhouse while trying to report on the radio about how all of Joe Torre’s coaches were in tears.

Yes, there’s crying in baseball. Because people care. Because it’s a huge thing in the fabric of our lives, as huge as the things we associate it with, like family, and religion, and triumph and defeat.

They’re going to tear down my stadium! MY stadium, I say, like it belongs to me. I’ve been resigned to the destruction of the place since an Old Timer’s Day in 2002. I was sitting in the stands before the game, just looking around, and the realization hit me then that even if they did tear it down and rebuild on the same spot–it would never be the same. At the time we didn’t know what the plans for a new building were going to be. But preservation was pretty much out of the question.

As a historian, I hate to see real, actual things disappear from the world. The reason some of the things one sees in Cooperstown at the Hall of Fame are so striking is because these are the actual objects that were involved in the history. It’s one thing to know the story of how Jack Chesbro’s one wild pitch at the worst possible time cost the Yankees the pennant, handing it to the Red Sox in 1904. It’s another thing entirely to see the actual ball that got away sitting there behind Plexiglas.

I talked to Reggie Jackson this spring about the Stadium. And here’s what he had to say. “I don’t think I am as caught up yet, because I’m not there now. When the end comes, I’ll probably get teary-eyed.”

He went on to explain all the good and valid reasons why we’re going to enjoy the new stadium. And I have no doubt that I will. I believe that the fans that will cheer and root and pour their hearts out there are what will give that new building life, and the feats that the team that plays there accomplishes are what will make it precious to us eventually. I have no doubt about that.

But he went on to say, “I’m just not that sentimental yet. Maybe when it gets closer. I really wouldn’t want to be around to see them tear it down.”

No, I don’t think I could stand that. At the time I was nodding my head right along with him, excited about the new stadium, and the new season, too. It was a spring full of optimism in Yankee camp, after all. But he was right, I think, about not feeling as sentimental because he wasn’t there. I think Reggie will be feeling it as much as I am when the end actually comes.

“[The new one] won’t have its history,” he said. “And I don’t think you’ll lose the history. It’s just like I don’t play anymore, and I’m nothing in baseball except an old name, but I have my memories. They’re always with me. So if you wouldn’t let me in the ballpark, or you took my uniform away from me, I would be sad, but you wouldn’t take my memories away. I don’t think I’m explaining it well. But the memories that I have in my mind and in my head, whether it’s old cars or old homes or things like that, things change, things get better, and so I try to understand what they’re doing. You know, I remember when Mickey Mantle walked in front of me in Yankee Stadium and I looked down at his shoes, and he had the tongue turned over and it said number 7. Players don’t even have tongues on their shoes now. They’re not marked the way they were before, you know. And the 407 foot sign in right center, the 344 in right center… those are all numbers for me that I’ll always remember, forever. The field was sloped, it was sloped down toward left field. The old fence, the low fence was a Cyclone fence like that (points). The new fence hasn’t taken away my memory of the old one. So it’s not going to be gone for me. I was lucky to see it. And to have lived in it for a while. I’m not sad about it.”

He’s right, in that nothing will take our memories away. But I can’t deny that real things have power. Artifacts have power.

And for all my rationalization about how great the new place is going to be, that doesn’t negate the hurt that the ten-year-old in me feels about losing the old place.

When I was ten years old, my family moved from one place to another. We’d left New York City a few years before, and this was a move from one New Jersey suburb to another. I had a terrible time adjusting to my new school. I regularly came home crying and miserable.

Is that some of what I’m feeling, when I look at this move? I fixated a little on our old house. But it wasn’t the house itself that I missed–it was my old life, my old friends. But the house seems like such a tangible thing.

The House That Ruth Built. The outraged ten-year-old in me cannot believe they’re going to tear it down.

Meanwhile, I may as well take this opportunity to announce that I’m retiring from the playing field. I’m forty. The Slaterettes are happy to have me so long as I can haul my ass down to Pawtucket to get in uniform. But it’s not fun in the late season when the light gets real dim and you know the ball’s coming because you saw the pitcher wind up, but it seems to disappear into the sepia-tone of the world.

I actually had a decent season last season. My team was fun and my bad knees even held up pretty well. But I don’t think I’m ever hitting .400 again, and I don’t ever want to feel like I’m the 15th player on the 15-woman roster.

Of course, then comes the question… if you quit playing, what are you going to do with yourself?

I don’t know. I’m going to miss it terribly. I don’t want to find some 40+ softball league near my house that plays on a well-lit field and allows courtesy runners. Just so I can smell the dirt and touch the grass?

I’ve thought about learning to umpire. But, I don’t know. Maybe someday.

The truth of the matter is that baseball isn’t fun when you miss your pitch all the time. I played my last season at forty years old and that seems like a good time to call it quits. Playing more years won’t make up for the fact that I wish I had started much younger and that the opportunity to play didn’t come along until I was in my thirties.

corwin says he won’t believe I’m really retired until I actually sit out the season, though. He’s right. There’s always a possibility that I won’t be able to stand it and I’ll show up on when Slaterettes season opens with a bat and glove. But as of right now, no. The hill is getting too steep to climb. Which is a depressing prospect, but there you have it. Maybe I’ll have to look into vintage baseball…

The next logical step for me, actually, is starting a women’s and girls league in Cambridge, MA. But honestly right now I don’t have the time. Perhaps that is something for some years down the road, too.

Meanwhile, in this year, it’s been a very long winter. And they’ve been teasing us with the start of “baseball season” with several false starts, too. The Red Sox played an opening series in Japan over a week ago. The Nationals opened their new ballpark a night earlier than everyone else because… I’m not sure why. I guess because ESPN wanted them to. And yesterday, things were supposed to finally be underway.

But they weren’t. It rained. And then it rained some more. And I drove 200 miles in the rain to get home after the game was called, crying. I’m definitely depressed and I should be old enough by now to recognize the symptoms. But the best treatment I’ve found is baseball itself, so go figure.

Meanwhile, tonight, they will play the first home opener at Yankee Stadium that I have not been at in almost a decade, and the fact that it will be the last home opener in the building really does make a difference. Because as a historian and as a fan, I know that Being There is a meaningful thing. Real events happen in real places and are witnessed by real people. “Reality TV” is such an oxymoron. The compelling thing about sports on TV or radio is that they are live, the next best thing to being there, but nothing beats being there.

Now that my retirement is upon me, it is starting to sink in how significant being on the field really was. This thing happens when you play, I think, where your mind focuses so much on the game and on the mindset necessary to play, that you forget a lot of the other stuff around the game. Playing itself, the act of playing, fielding, baserunning, keeping your head in the game, and so on is so all-absorbing at the time it is going on that you develop a mindset for playing that is quite different from the one you have as a spectator, or fan, or historian.

This is why I was surprised today when I finally started going through the stack of baseball books that have accumulated on my desk over the past 12 months and discovered my name so prominently featured in one of them. I’ve gotten a lot of good books. Some I bought, some were sent to me by publishers or authors hoping for a review, others I got as gifts. I’ve been meaning to read them all, but I haven’t had time.

One of the largest in the stack is the “Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball,” edited by Leslie Heaphy Mel May. Leslie gave me a copy of the book at last summer’s SABR convention in St. Louis. I’ve been a member of the women and baseball committee of SABR for a couple of years now, and we’ve corresponded a lot in email about it. I recalled sending her some photos of the New England Women’s Baseball League and such.

I didn’t realize, though, what a lynchpin in the system I apparently was, as a bridge between the historians and the current players. But I am the very first person thanked in the Acknowledgments. “There are many individuals who deserve special thanks for their help in gathering materials, starting with Cecilia Tan,” it says, “who is herself a player. Cecilia provided information not only about her own experienced but also about the 24-hour benefit game in Arizona. Most importantly, she provided contacts with a couple of hundred other ball players.”

Yeah, I guess I did! It was only then that it occurred to me that… holy crap… am I actually IN this encyclopedia? Yes. There I am on page 282. 162 words encapsulating my sporting and athletic achievements.

In other words, I was there.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like much. What did I do really, but drive around like a nut searching for the right out of the way ballfield in Lynn where the North Shore Cougars were due to take on the Lowell Robins? But put on cleats and tear up the grass two nights a week in Slater Park in Pawtucket, RI? Maybe I’m the Joe Garagiola of the women’s leagues. I was never the best player, but I’ve told the most stories about it.

I can tell the stories differently because I was there. You can look it up.

And so, yes. It would have mattered to be there for this home opener. But I’m not going to be there. I will pin my hopes instead on being there for Game Seven of the World Series, which would be the only truly fitting occasion to say goodbye to the old ballpark with. We’ll see if it happens. A lot depends on the weather, and the Yankees, and things beyond my control.

March 17, 2008: Another winner!

March 17, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

The Yankees beat the Red Sox today. Yeah, sure, you can say it was only spring training and that the games don’t count and that if it were a real game, for example, Andy Pettitte probably would have pitched more than 3 1/3 innings. But it was the Red Sox, which always adds excitement, and it was St. Patrick’s Day, meaning that the crowd looked rather like it had sprouted moss overnight, in addition to looking somewhat rusted, thanks to all the red jerseys that appeared for the matchup. It felt even more like a real game than the day before.

The theme of today was pitching. Pettitte did not give up a hit until the third inning, while Boston’s starter, Bartolo Colon (yes, that Bartolo Colon) did not make it out of the first inning.

Colon looked very sharp against leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, but maybe Damon is suffering from the allergies that have hit over the past two days as the pollen count has spiked near 11 (on a scale that goes to 12). Colon simply could not locate his fastball for a strike, and after walking Wilson Betemit, the number 8 batter, was lifted having given up four runs.

Julian Tavares took over, got the final out, and then gave up three runs in the second on a two-run Abreu blast, which followed sweetly after Jeter had been hit by pitch, and a sharp Giambi double over Dustin Pedroia’s head and a Matsui single were all it took to make the score 7-0. After 9 Yankees had come to the plate in the first, eight batter in the second, meaning Pettitte had more than 20 minutes to sit, two innings in a row.

He was not as sharp in the third inning, having trouble finding the strike zone from time to time. And he wasn’t helped by Damon who lost a ball in the sun that went for a double. Andy gave up two runs in that rally, one on his own wildness as a pitch in the dirt scooted between Posada’s legs and allowed the runner on third to score, and in the fourth he gave a solo homer to Kevin Youkilis. Still, compared to both Colon and Tavares, he looked brilliant.

Heath Philips, one of the many lefty control pitchers to get an invite to camp, took over, and did not pitch well, giving up another run on four hits, while both outs he records were both line drives to second, snared by Cano.

Everyone else for the Yankees pitched great. Jonathan Albaladejo, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, and Scott Strickland kept the Sox in check, limiting their offense to two hits over the final five innings and no more runs.

All in all, a very pleasant afternoon.


Jeter has always had some interesting rituals associated with his game, like rubbing Don Zimmer’s head and having Joe Torre hold his bat in the dugout. (Which makes me wonder… who holds his bat now?) This year prior to every at bat he seems to have adopted a procedure by which he uses the tick of pine tar, and then throws it at Bobby Abreu, usually hitting him in the stomach.

It being a Red Sox-Yankees matchup, there were plenty of “mixed marriages” in evidence, and the Yankees, perhaps in a diplomatic move, invited an acapella group from Yale University to sing the National Anthem. (Though the boys were all wearing Yankees’ caps, no doubt provided by the team). Sitting in front of us was a man and his full grown son, both wearing Red Sox hats. But when Jorge Posada came to the plate, the man called out “Hip Hip!” starting a rousing round of Hip-Hip-Jorge. His son turned around and tried to take the man’s hat away. “Now now!” he said, grabbing the hat back, “I’m from Rhode Island! I’m allowed to root for both teams if I want!”

Every inning in baseball is almost universally preceded by the first baseman tossing grounders to the other three infielders while the pitcher throws eight warmup pitches. After the final pitch, the catcher throws down to second as if catching a base stealer, and then the inning can begin. Well, at the start of the second inning, Robinson Cano was chatting away with Jeter all through the warmup tosses, and when Jorge was ready to throw through, Cano wasn’t in place. He waved his arms until Cano got in position and then threw down. Before the third inning, once again Cano missed his cue to cover second and Jorge, apparently fed up with waiting, just threw the ball into center field.

P.S. My interview with David Cone is up at Gotham Baseball magazine, here.

March 16, 2008: Run Through

March 16, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

Today’s game at Legends Field (soon to be re-christened George M. Steinbrenner Field, but they haven’t had the official ceremony yet, though the local government already voted in the change) was almost like a Real Game! With Real Excitement!

It’s difficult for fans who live and die by the Yankees to grasp just how laid back Spring Training games can seem. Winning the game is not the goal. Each player has things that he is working on, like mastering a specific pitch, or testing the health of his knees, and so on. Getting in shape to play in April is the goal of playing in March.

This means that in crucial situations in a spring game, you might see the very effective starting pitcher lifted because he’d reached his pitch count and the game handed over to some no-name journeyman who is fighting for a spot on the roster, and who is likely not to succeed in either pitching well in the exhibition or making the team.

A good analogy is to think of these games like dress rehearsals. You’ll see a lot of the understudies instead of the stars, and just when you are getting into the swell of emotion of a really good song, they keep breaking in and changing things around. If you’re disappointed by watching the rehearsal because it wasn’t like the Real Thing, well, guess what, you need to buy a ticket to The Show for that.

But, today, the Yankees pulled off a pretty bang up rendition of an exciting cast with a big production number at the end.

Things started well, with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound with a nice 1-2-3 inning, which included strikeouts of Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. His second inning did not go as smoothly, as he gave up three runs, but still ended the inning with a strikeout to David Dellucci. He then sat down six of the next seven, the only hit being a pop fly into no man’s land that dropped for a hit. In the fifth he showed a little fatigue, perhaps, as Grady Sizemore, oopsie, got a hold of one and hit a long homer, and then after striking out Dellucci again, walked Hafner and was declared done for the day.

Scott Patterson (no, we hadn’t heard of him either) followed, getting them out of the jam with a 6-4-3 double play, and then pitching a 1-2-3 sixth. Darrell Rasner pitched the final three innings and, oopsie, gave up another homer to Sizemore, and they nicked him for one more in the ninth, giving the Indians a tally of 6 runs.

The Yankees were perpetually playing catch-up in the game. After Wang had given up the three in the second, Giambi led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, followed promptly by a Shelley Duncan dead-center blast that was absolutely crushed. Much earlier this spring, Joe Girardi had remarked that he didn’t understand why any pitcher would ever throw him a fastball ever. Apparently C. C. Sabathia had not gotten that memo, though and the shot made it 3-2 Indians.

In the fourth the Yankees tied the score, as Cano led off with a hit, stole second, and then came in on a Jose Molina double. Molina is one of the few catchers I’ve seen who does not look as though he is running perpetually uphill into the wind. He even tagged up and took third on a fly ball to right. Unfortunately, he was stranded there, and the Yankees were unable to take the lead. After Sizemore’s two homers it was 5-3 Cleveland, and the Yankees scratched back one more in the bottom of the eighth on a Greg Porter triple (yes, he plays for our side… we’re in the understudy territory now) andd a Bernie Castro RBI single. Castro nearly scored the tying run on the next hit, but ended up gunned down at the plate.

After the Indians got that insurance run off Rasner in the ninth, things were not looking good. 6-4 in Cleveland’s favor with Chad Moeller, Brett Gardner, and Justin Christian coming up for the Yankees.

But Moeller is no slouch, a former big league backstop who is currently jobless and looking to hook on with a team after the Nationals released him about a week ago. And Gardner is the guy my mother just loves. “This guy can run like crazy!” is her scouting report on him. Every time he’s come to bat this spring, my mom has said to me, “I hope he hits the ball so we can see him run.” The crowd, which had been sun-lulled all afternoon, came to life with a “Let’s Go Yankees” cheer.

Moeller doubled, and Gardner did not get to show off his speed–at least not right away–because he walked on four pitches. (That did not keep my mom from cheering “Way to go Speedy Dynamo!”) Justin Christian then tried to hit a ball in the big hole between short and third, but ended up lining to the left fielder. Damn.

So up came Kyle Anson in the DH slot. This is a guy who was a third base prospect but the Yankees converted him to catching because of the strength of his arm. I have no idea if he’s any relation to Cap Anson, the great 19th century baseball player. Anson doubled and Moeller scored. Now it was 6-5 Indians with one out and two men on… Gardner the Speedy Dynamo at third, and Anson at second.

Up came Nick Green, who at least most casual Yankees fans have heard of, even if they couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. The sparse crowd was on its feet and he did not make them wait. He hit the first pitch for a single, bringing in the tying and winning runs with one sweet, walk-off stroke, and the strains of Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “New York, New York” filled the house.

Not bad for a dress rehearsal.

March 15, 2008: Duncan Donuts, and other Tampa tales

March 15, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

After all the sturm und drang of the previous two matchups between the Yankees and Rays (collision at the plate, catcher broken wrist, Duncan slid spikes high, bench-clearing brawl, suspensions levied, okay now you are caught up…), there was absolutely nothing to report about conflict or tension between the two teams at all.

Shelley Duncan, the player who landed at the center of the controversy after his slide into Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura, had the following to say after the game. “It was a normal baseball game. We could just play baseball.”

When asked if conversations at first base were any different than usual, he said no, there was just the usual “standard first base talk,” which led the writers to ask… so… what is standard first base talk?

“Oh, you know, I always say hi,” Duncan explained. “You know, if they walked, congratulations on your walk. That kind of stuff.”

And if the batter had been hit by pitch? “Where’d he get you? Was it a cutter? Does it hurt? Don’t rub it! Doooon’t rub it!”

Joe Girardi is different from Joe Torre. He rocks in his chair as he holds his daily postgame with the writers, and his office door is often closed… because he’s rarely in there. He is more likely to be sitting at a table in the coaches’ locker room, talking with them, than to be at his own desk. Where Joe Torre drank green tea, the Styrofoam cup on Girardi’s desk smells distinctly of sweet hazelnut. (I presume it’s coffee.) And this morning, as the writers were all leaving the clubhouse prior to batting practice, Joe called everyone into his office to show them something on his laptop. (If Joe Torre had a laptop, I don’t remember it.)

“Take a look at the weather forecast for Tuesday!” he enthused.

On the screen were the predictions for Blacksburg, VA, where the Yankees will play a game at Virginia Tech. “On like March 1st I said it would be 65 and sunny when we got there,” Girardi said, then pointed out one of the longtime writers. “You said it was going to be like thirty-nine.”

Another writer confirmed that both statements were true. The weather forecast is calling for 66 degrees and partly cloudy. “And that means partly sunny, right?”

Apparently I don’t even have to make one of those glass half-full analogies for Girardi’s outlook on success, because his sunny outlook is even better.

Mike Mussina is no longer alone. He’s the eminence grise of a whole club of pitchers who do crossword puzzles, now. This morning Moose, Billy Traber, and Daniel Giese (both non-roster invitees) all worked on a puzzle together. Traber held the pen. Giese also did a sudoku.

Traber was described by Joe Girardi today as “a very intriguing guy for us.” The non-roster invitee was added to the 40 man roster today. He is one of a passel of control pitchers invited to camp to try to make the bullpen (including Giese and Heath Phillips). Girardi described his former experience as a starter as valuable because “he developed all his pitches and he can get lefties and righties out.”

When asked about his improved status, Traber was happy but kept his emotions in check. “Me being healthy and being able to pitch is exciting, too,” he said, when asked how he felt about the move. “I’m pleased that I’m getting an opportunity to pitch and get innings in. I don’t want to get too caught up in the contract [technicalities]. I just play.”

Many of the Yankees’ staff members are still in touch with their cohort who went to the Dodgers with Joe Torre, including former bullpen catcher and BP pitcher Mike Borzello. Borzo is apparently on the current trip to China that the Dodgers are taking part in, the travel team being managed by Tommy Lasorda–and is coaching first base. In the first game they played, there was a close pickoff play at first, and Borzo got to witness firsthand a Lasorda Dodger-blue-in-the-face argument.


Overheard: “Okay, your job is to go into the gift shop, find this guy’s parents, bring them to the front desk and make sure they get passes and all taken care of for today’s game. Oh, and make sure they get 50% off in the gift shop.”


It’s hard not to notice that Jason Giambi’s beard stubble is quite gray. Especially since he still dresses like he’s 19.


Pitcher Darrell Rasner smelled something amiss. Very amiss. “Do you smell dog poo?” he asked a gaggle of writers standing nearby. Writers all checked their shoes… nothing. Rasner checked his locker… nothing. Someone was probably pranking someone but by the end of the day the joke had not come out. Later, Chien-Ming Wang and Kei Igawa, who locker right near Rasner, also expressed displeasure with the odor. Sadly, Igawa really stunk up the joint once he got on the mound.


More to come tomorrow and Monday, when we’ll see the Red Sox… or at least who of the Sox make the trip to Tampa and aren’t already packed to go to Japan.

March 13 2008: Live from Tampa

March 13, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Uncategorized

It’s a gorgeous day in Tampa, Florida, today. Sunny and warm and dry, not humid or hot, nor chilly or rainy. And with Spring Training games about half done with, it was a perfect day for some diversion.

Much of today’s hullabaloo revolved around Billy Crystal, who lived a dream for his 60th birthday where he was signed to an actual contract with the Yankees organization, worked out with the team for a couple of days, and then today took a turn in the batting order. He led off the game against Pirates pitcher Pat Maholm, who pitched him exactly like he would any other right-handed leadoff man. A lot of cutters inside. The one pitch he threw on the outer half of the plate, Crystal fouled sharply down the first base line.

Perhaps the best thing about the comedian’s turn with the Yankees was just how serious he took it all. Crystal did not approach this as a media stunt at all, nor did the Yankees. Derek Jeter suggested the idea and was the one to get the ball rolling, but Crystal himself handled it all with grace and humility. He began his own workouts with a hitting coach, Reggie Smith, earlier in the spring, and took batting practice with the Yankees yesterday and today.

Young Cody Ransom gave up his number 60 so that the 60-year-old Crystal could wear it, and also ended up lockering next to the “non-roster invitee.” This meant that although Cody hit a home run today (Aside: A homer I called, when I saw it was Byung-Hyun Kim warming up and I turned to my mother to say “Look for a home run soon.” I’m almost sorry I was right. B. K. is a sweet kid, but he’s never adjusted to the United States nor to major league hitting. Every time it seems like he’s getting it together, something happens like… he gives up a home run and gets Korea eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. For example. On the other hand, he ended up the Winning Pitcher in today’s game, only because the Yankee pitching who follow him were worse.) which put the Yankees on the board after a six inning drought, he had to stand aside wearing nothing but a towel, waiting to get dressed because the media horde were surrounding Crystal.

We also knew Billy Crystal was a “real Yankee” when during BP he had perfected the ability to always be facing away from the cameras. “Most of the comedy today came from Robin Williams who was sitting right by the dugout,” said Joe Girardi. “We could hear him the whole game.”

Mike Mussina wishes umpire Mark Carlson would be behind the plate for all his games. He got a lot of called strikes in the first, and as the game wore on, he looked better and better. He had an outstanding changeup today, and although he was not going to the big yakker as often as he did last Saturday, he threw all his pitches for strikes.

Manager Joe Girardi summed it up nicely. “Moose was excellent today. That is as good as he can throw.”

Indeed, in five innings (64 pitches, 41 for strikes), Moose gave up the proverbial “bupkus.” No hits, no runs, no walks. Five perfect innings. “He was living on the corners, changing speeds,” said Girardi. “Leading me to believe he’s going to have a very good year.”

Some things I noticed in the Yankees clubhouse today.

Yogi Berra does not fall for the shoulder tap trick. Come up behind him and tap him on the right shoulder while you’re actually on the left… and he turns to the left.

Andy Pettitte has what looks like a larger-than-usual box of fan mail waiting by his locker. (It’s still nothing compared to Jeter’s–Derek has a whole separate locker just for his mail.) I have to wonder if the whole HGH-Clemens-McNamee kerfuffle has generated extra mail for him.

What’s up with Morgan Ensberg wearing #21? He’s the first man to wear the number since Paul O’Neill retired, and the longstanding surmise among fans and the media is that O’Neill’s number will be retired. Does wearing the number make it more or less lkely that Ensberg will make the team?

On the whiteboard next to Mike Mussina’s locker, someone with very neat handwriting had written “5 innings + 0 hits = Gutsy.” It was signed “Kennedy.” Presumably Ian Kennedy, the youngster whose stuff is often compared to the Moose’s.

Joe Girardi’s office door is closed a lot more often than it was when it was Joe Torre’s office. That’s because Girardi does not seem to spend much time in there. He grabs his lunch from the clubhouse spread and takes it into the coach’s locker room to eat.

Figures from past dynasties abound. From the 90s, David Cone, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez are all here. Tino threw BP to Melky Cabrera and some other young hitters in the cage under the stands this morning, while Cone and O’Neill both worked the YES Network broadcast today. Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, and Reggie are all in attendance from the 1970s “Bronx Zoo” crew. You don’t, however, see so many people hanging around from the Yankees’ fallow periods.

Melky Cabrera’s clubhouse nickname is “Leche,” which is Spanish for “Milk.”

On the section of cinderblock wall between Mussina and Philip Hughes’ lockers, Hughes hung a poster that looks like a window to brighten things up. Next thing you know, some of the other guys added a sill and curtains to it, and have decorated around the “window” with vintage gas station advertisements and the like.

After the game, Paul O’Neill came down to the clubhouse, bummed some new sneakers and some workout clothes off the clubhouse attendants and then declared “I’m gonna go get some iron in me.” He was last seen in the weight room.

I’ll be reporting again from Tampa on Saturday, and don’t miss my exclusive interview with David Cone, slated for Gotham Baseball’s web site.

March 8, 2008: Spring Rolls

March 08, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

It is raining, freezing and cold here in the North, but I am heartened as I spend this Saturday afternoon listening to Spring Training broadcasts from Florida. As it turns out, it’s chilly and rainy in Florida, too, which is not really what I want to hear, but, well, there are many things about the reports from Florida that one must accept.

I want to hear, of course, that Mike Mussina is sharp, that he’s looking like the pitcher with the glare in his eye who nearly pitched a perfect game at Fenway Park in 2001. I want the news to be sunny, in other words. But although Mussina’s outing is encouraging (2 2/3 inning, one run on a solo homer, two hits, five strikeouts but two walks), it is riddled with missed calls and/or missed pitches.

This has been an ongoing theme for Mussina in recent years, ever since he lost the edge off his fastball and started to rely more on deception. He’s always had a variety of breaking pitches including a big yakker, the knuckle curve, and every other possible pitch you’ve heard of, but he didn’t need to rely on them until late in his career.

It was at a game at Yankee Stadium last year when I was talking with a colleague of mine who is now a top writer for ESPN. We were in a rain delay and sitting in the press box amusing ourselves by talking baseball. I asked him what he thought about Mussina and the umpires. “His pitches are so good, it’s not only the batters who are fooled,” he said.

So how does a man get past the fact that his pitches are so deceptive that he cannot get them called for strikes? The result of all the called balls is more men on base, longer innings, more pitches thrown per batter, shorter outings, an inflated ERA… the list goes on and on. And if he throws more obvious strikes? Well, you have what we’ve seen, which is Moose giving up more home runs.

The one he gave up today was a windblown flyball that the weather ended up carrying over the wall. Overall, Mussina showed the shtuff that will keep him in the rotation, eating up inning at the back end. He’s no longer an elite pitcher, and you won’t see him turning to a syringe to try to chase induction to the Hall of Fame.

In contrast, we have Kyle Farnsworth. Where Mussina is considered hyperintelligent and a respected eminence griese in the clubhouse who throws with finesse, Farnsworth has been viewed as a troublesome fireballer who is at best something of a blockhead and at worst is a total head case. The truth, of course, is not necessarily what is in the papers, but Farnsworth’s awful stats cannot be denied.

Joe Girardi has a history with Farnsworth, though, as he was a catcher with the Chicago Cubs back when Farnsworth was “good.” Wrigley Field is not exactly a pitchers park, either. Girardi’s first task as new Yankees manager (and upon seeing that the only bullpen help he would be getting this offseason was a new mop-up man in LaTroy Hawkins) was to build up Farnsworth’s confidence. The “I believe in you” message has supposedly been drilled into Farnsworth all spring.

And who is to say that is more or less important than the fact that pitching coach Dave Eiland also rebuilt Farnsworth’s mechanics? Eiland identified a hitch in his delivery that supposedly was the reason his ball was up. Indeed, although Farnsworth’s first pitch of the spring went over the wall for a home run, since then the majority of his pitches have been at the knees, right where they should be.

So, maybe some of the news is sunny after all.

By the way, I head to Tampa on Tuesday for my annual trip and will be reporting daily from there. Tune in to Why I Like Baseball for all the news!

February 21 2008: Blood Portents

February 21, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

As I was looking at the rather hematic smudge in the sky last night, it occurred to me that the last time I’d seen the “blood moon” eclipse was in 2004. Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, too. And the Sox themselves won the World Series.

And, as it turns out, they won the most recent World Series, also.

But if I am going to try to use voodoo, feng shui, and the Farmer’s Almanac to predict next year’s winner what signs and portents should I be looking for in the news and current events?

  • While appearing at a rally for Senator John McCain in Arizona, President George W. Bush is bitten by a rattlesnake. Diamondbacks over Texas Rangers in 5.
  • Paris Hilton starts a new rage in fashion when she and her dog begin appearing in public with a bengal-striped hair dye design. Winner: Detroit Tigers.
  • Paleontologists uncover the remains of a human ancestor that turns modern evolutionary theory on its head. Unlike all previous skeletons unearthed, this find shows a pre-homosapiens that is much much bigger than the average human. Winner: San Francisco Giants.
  • Further research into the remains shows that it was a Neanderthal after all, mysteriously pumped up on hormones. Speculation runs rampant that early humans were experimented on by space aliens. Winner: Houston Astros.
  • New Pope. San Diego Padres.
  • Divine intervention: The Angels, wherever they are.
  • The Devil Rays drop the word “devil” from their name and… oh, wait. never mind. They’ve still got no shot.
  • Panda bear breeding program doubles population. Chicago Cubs get hopeful. Then they figure out pandas are not really “bears,” but more related to the raccoon family. Rangers over Cubs in four.
  • Ted Williams is revived from cryogenic freeze and sets out Old_man_and-the-Sea-like solo in a boat to land the big one. He disappears. Marlins over Red Sox.
  • He reappears: Red Sox over Marlins in seven.

February 18 2008: Taking One for the Team

February 18, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

It seems like Roger Clemens, and baseball as a whole are just going to continue to “take it in the nuts” so to speak as a result of the Mitchell report, so former major league pitcher Mark Littell is right on time with his new product, The Nutty Buddy.

Now, I thought a Nutty Buddy was an ice cream cone coated in chocolate and dipped in nuts. I swear that’s what I used to buy from the ice cream truck that trolled my neighborhood. But Littell has other ideas. He has built the proverbial Better Mousetrap. Well, actually, he’s built a better protective cup.

Before we go any further, you should probably watch Littell testing the product for himself on YouTube. The two-and-a-half-minute video opens with the ominous words: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

In it, Littell takes a shot straight to the business center, from a pitching machine only a few yards away. They have a young blonde woman drop the ball into the machine. My guess it’s because no man could bring himself to do it. Littell, like any good stunt man, has his athletic trainer standing there to supervise the stunt. That poor guy looks like watching what happens hurts him far more than taking the shot does Littell.

The latest craziness in the Clemens soap opera has Brian McNamee’s lawyers practically throwing in the towel in frustration because they believe Clemens will lie through his teeth only to be pardoned by George W. Bush later. They figure if Bush would pardon Scooter Libby for screwing around and lying on matters of actual national security, then pardoning Roger Clemens for carrying on his longstanding tradition of self-centered egoism ought to be a no-brainer. Pun intended.

As for where I stand on the whole issue, I think the whole story has yet to be known. Who “leaked” Clemens and Pettitte’s names to the press as appearing in the Grimsley affidavit? When Grimsley’s testimony was unsealed, their names were nowhere to be found. Is there more going on here than just a drug and cheating scandal? It reminds me a bit of when the Iran-Contra Scandal was unfolding and bits and pieces emerged over time. Except, again, that was a story with actual implications for national security and our government.

I suppose one of the things that makes the Clemens and other baseball-performance-scandal stuff so compelling is that regardless of its relative “importance,” (or unimportance) in the grand scheme of politics and American life, it feels highly relevant. Because people actually care about baseball. For people like me, it’s a part of our way of life, not just a mindless form of entertainment that we could take or leave. Baseball will not be replaced by episodes of “Lost,” Texas Hold ‘Em, or blogging as a part of the fabric of American life. It is important because we make it so, because we care. So, no, I have no problem with Congress spending time on the issue–up to a point. There is a war going on, and the economy is in a shambles. On the other hand… it’s the offseason. I know, I’m so fickle.

To distract myself from political circuses of all kinds, I’m reading the news from spring training and discovering things like… it’s amazing how many YouTube videos come up if you type the words “hit in the nuts” into the Search box. Hey, didn’t they say Do Not Try This At Home? Maybe this is outside the guy’s office:

42 days to Opening Day!

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