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Archive for November, 2008

November 3, 2008: Not So Risky Business

November 03, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

To be fair, we recently mentioned a Derek Jeter interview in SI.com which featured much talk about him playing in an EA Sports Video Game Tournament with Tiger Woods.

Well, now Alex Rodriguez is in a commercial for Guitar Hero, with Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, and Tony Hawk. Ripping off Tom Cruise, no less. This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen since Jack Cust fell down between third and home one night at Camden Yards…

Born Again in Baseball: Rookie

November 02, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Baseball Musings, Yankee Fan Memories

(Originally posted February 13, 2000, reposted to new site November 1, 2008)

So, how did a young fan of Reggie Jackson, the Year of the Comeback, Bucky Dent, Ron Guidry, and Thurman Munson, a woman who still counts among one of the best days of her life witnessing Dave Righetti’s Fourth of July No-Hitter live at Yankee Stadium, lose her faith in the late ’80s, forget the sport of baseball entirely, and then find it again in 1999?

Let’s turn the clock back to the 1970s first. There I am, a young tomboy growing up in suburban New Jersey. I have to credit my Dad with getting me hooked on baseball, though I never got hooked on any of the other sports he liked to watch on tv (golf, tennis, football…). Perhaps this is because although we watched a lot of ABC’s Wide World of Sports (remember back when that was pretty much all there was?), the only sport we went to witness live and in the flesh was baseball, and the place we went was Yankee Stadium.

As a kid, I was very concerned with history and fame. How did famous people get remembered? I had this notion that I wanted to be famous someday, or at least remembered for something. I remember going to Yankee Stadium when I was about 9 or 10 years old and thinking, wow, history gets made here every day. Pretty mind-blowing for a ten year old.

There’s also no doubt about it that a lot of the bonding that went on between me and my Dad happened while we were sharing a scorecard at the ballpark, or stuffed into the same armchair at home watching the games. (We were skinny back then.) He’d tickle me during the commercials. At the ballpark, we’d take turns keeping score. I still keep my scorecard the way I learned back then–it’s a little less fancy than the mini-diamonds they have now. But, let’s not skip ahead.

When I was eleven years old, I was at 4-H camp when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. My parents were really worried I’d be devastated, and were fretting over how to tell me when I got back to the real world. But as it turned out, I had already found out. One kid at camp had twisted his ankle or something and gone to the emergency room, and while at the hospital had seen the news report. With a whole staff of counselors on hand they announced the sad news in the dining hall that night. When I got home, I made a little shrine on my closet door, with a poster of Munson, and fifteen pictures of him I cut out from the newspaper in the weeks following his death. Fifteen because that was his uniform number.

For either my 13th or my 14th birthday party I made my parents take not only me to the park, but all my friends, as well. Our family tradition was to pick up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way, because at Yankee Stadium you can bring in your own food (as long as you don’t bring cans or bottles). Two carloads of teenage girls, plus my parents and brother–how could we not have a good time? You know, I don’t even remember who they played or if they won. I suppose in my childhood memories, they always won, even though I know they didn’t.

I remember sitting behind home plate once. My father and my grandfather and I had gone to the ballpark, just the three of us, and bought our tickets at the gate. Those seats must have been held in reserve for press or players’ friends, and were released before the game when they went unused. That was the night I learned what grand slam was. Bobby Murcer came in to pinch hit with the bases loaded, and hit one out. I remember everyone around us jumping up and down and screaming. I was too short to actually see Murcer cross the plate what with all the adults around me standing up. But I guess you never forget your first grand slam.

And of course there was that incredible Fourth of July, thanks to Dave Righetti. It was already an incredibly exciting day for me and my brother (his name’s Julian, by the way), because Chuck Mangione, who we thought was the coolest for some reason, played the national anthem, and then paratroopers came flying down into the stadium on parachutes with smoke shooting out of their shoes. Cool. Then comes young, good-looking, Dave Righetti to the mound. The opponents were the Red Sox, who we had been indoctrinated to loathe by other fans (“Boston sux! Boston sux!”) so tension was high. Righetti was pitching perfectly, and after the first couple of innings the words “perfect game” were on everybody’s lips.

OK, then at some point someone got walked. I can’t remember who, but I’m sure if I wanted to I could find a scorecard of the game somewhere on the web or in a stats book. So then “no-hitter” became the watchword.

It was the most exciting game I’ve ever seen, and all because almost nothing happened!

The tension and suspense was almost too much to stand. By the eighth inning, the two strike claps were becoming one-strike claps. (They tell me two-strike clap–the audience making rhythmic claps on two strikes hoping for a strikeout, which started with Ron Guidry in Yankee Stadium– has spread to some other ballparks as well.) The audience was going crazy and yet also subdued, holding our breath, not wanting to blow it for the young pitcher.

And he didn’t blow it. He did it! And so me and my family were witnesses to history in Yankee Stadium. After the game we waited outside the clubhouse with the media, tv cameras, etc… and a lot of screaming fans. We waved to Dave Righetti as he departed the park. We were a little disappointed that you couldn’t see us in the newscast that night, but so what? As if that wasn’t great enough, from there we went to the East River to see the awesome fireworks, and then to Chinatown for a dinner that, as Arlo Guthrie says, couldn’t be beat.

With memories and formative experiences like that, how could I leave the Yankees and baseball fandom behind?

Find out more in tomorrow’s entry.

Offseason Blues

November 01, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

(Originally posted February 13, 2000, reposted to new site November 1, 2008)

I never anticipated how difficult the offseason was going to be this year. It’s my first offseason since my return to baseball fanaticism, and I just had no idea it would be this hard to get through the dark months.

Oh, sure, in November there were a few tidbits, like the awards and such, that counted as “news.” Trade rumors. Actual trades. A trickle here, and a trickle there. I found myself re-reading my dog-eared copy of Yankee Magazine from August ’99, and watching video highlights of past games on various web sites.

As of this writing, it’s February, and to get my “fix,” I’ve been surfing the web almost every day. I’ve grown fond of The Sporting News site, and I also pop in to majorleaguebaseball.com, and I check the Yankees web site (which is terribly over-designed, by the way–very graphics-heavy and printed in tiny, tiny white type on a dark blue background… it’s painful to look at but I have to keep going back…). I get most of my direct Yankees news from the Yankees index of The Bergen Record online. Pathetic, aren’t I?

But today Spring Training officially started, and not only that, it was above freezing here in Boston! All of a sudden, real anticipation is shooting through my veins–the 2000 Season is upon us!

My boyfriend, corwin, who lives with me, thinks I’m nuts. But when he gets on my case about my obsession, I remind him of last fall. That’s when he was the one who was so dejected when a Yankee game was called off due to rain, we ended up going to see the Kevin Costner movie “For the Love of the Game” that night! This after he’d had to rent “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams” on two other “off” nights. (Here in Red Sox Land the only way we can hear the games is to listen to them on the world wide web through Real Audio. It’s not as if we missed going to an actual game…)

When I was a kid, I never missed baseball this much. Maybe because even as a young fan, I never followed the season quite that closely. Or maybe it’s because there’s no more zealous zealot than the born-again, eh?

In any case, the wait is almost over. And I can hardly stand it. Play Ball!

October 31, 2008: News and Notes

October 31, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Uncategorized

Baseball season is really over, and the pickings become slim for us information junkies. I’ll be dong my part this offseason to keep things interesting as I migrate my old posts from ceciliatan.com to the new URL here at Why I Like Baseball. So look for a new posting here every day from the old site! I’ve got posts from 2000 – 2006 to move, so there will be plenty of good reading.

Meanwhile, some fun places to look into. The Baseball Early Bird, a daily newsletter of baseball news, history, recs, and more, will continue to be published in the offseason! Check it out at baseballearlybird.com.

Over at Jim Nemerovski’s site GirlsPlayBaseball he has republished Dorothy Jane Mills’ article Our Mother’s Game, about how women are storming the gates of baseball scholarship (as well as front offices, umpiring, and the field itself).

Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter blog is moving from Baseball Toaster over to the SNY group of blogs. You’ll find him and his crew all over at www.bronxbanterblog.com. Always readable.

You know how we make fun of the fact that Derek Jeter never says anything of substance? In this kind of goofy interview with SI.com, he actually comes out and tells the interviewer he’s not going to say anything. (Although to be fair, the interviewer was trying to ask him about his love life and politics…) SI.com.

Re-posting starts tomorrow!

October 29, 2008: Fading Days

October 29, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: On Playing the Game, Women In Baseball

The World Series is not yet over, but snow fell in parts of Pennsylvania yesterday, and I woke up this morning with my skin feeling dry. So dry that several calluses on my left hand were peeling.

I stared at them for a while after I got out of the shower, trying to figure out what they were from. What could I have been doing that built up a callus there, on my left hand, on the pads between the second and third knuckle of my grip?

I think these are my batting calluses, finally wearing off, nearly 14 months after I played my final game of hardball.

I used to go to the batting cage at least once a week. It was bit the way other people must make surreptitious stops at bars and whorehouses. Sometimes I’d make a special trip and plan to go to the cage, but more often than not, in my busy life, trying to fit baseball in around two jobs, community volunteering, writing, editing, and socializing, I’d have to sneak in a trip on my way to or from somewhere else.

I’d go to the Home Depot near the cage instead of the hardware store closer to my house, to justify the trip. I’d meet friends at the movie theater near there, but leave an hour early so I could get some hitting in, first.

I’d bring batting gloves with me on vacation. I’ve hit in batting cages in Aruba, Florida, the Jersey Shore. (Never did find one in Mexico, though.)

My car still has a pile of Iron Mike tokens in the ashtray.

But my last two years playing, I hardly went to the cage at all. I was too busy. My work life has gotten more and more pressing (which is good, it means I’m earning more through writing and editing). Just making time to get to the games I was supposed to play in was getting harder and harder.

And it showed on the field. After the season where I batted nearly .500 for fifteen games (and dropped to just under .400 after a slump in the last few – it’s only a 20 game season), my hitting dropped off the following year. The time not spent in the cage was part of it.

My fading eyesight is the other. No, it’s nothing so dramatic as Kirby Puckett—I’m just over 40 now and dusk light is the hardest to see in. The baseball that was bright and white and whose seams I could see spinning easily in the first inning would be dirty and sunset-colored in the fifth, melding into the dying day like a ghost. We play(ed) on a field without lights.

I’s funny, because one would think I’d miss playing baseball the most during the summer, which is when I played, but here it is, more than a full season since I retired and it’s only really hitting me, today. I worked hard for those calluses. I’ll miss them.

Of course, there’s nothing to say I can’t still go to the batting cage…

October 20, 2008: The Improbable Dream

October 20, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

Baseball in 2008 as a haiku:

“Devil” was struck out
Thrown out of the Rays team name
World Series here we come

You can’t make this kind of thing up. The team that has been so bad for so long, the perennial butt of jokes, finally not only has a winning season, they win the AL East, then beat the Red Sox in 7 games, AND go to the World Series. It remains to be seen whether the final flourish in the tale will be actually winning the World Series, or if just reaching the biggest stage of all for the first time will be the top of the mountain.

Tonight’s game saw the flourishing of a new breed of fans in Tampa Bay, too, starting what could be their own continuing traditions if their club continues to be good in seasons to come, like the proliferation of cowbells. When there was just one “cowbell guy” in Tampa, whose percussive enthusiasm rang hollowly in their usually half-filled domed stadium, was one thing. Now that there are droves and droves of cowbell-ringing fans, game seven’s starter, Matt Garza, wore earplugs. One fan held up a sign that read: MORE COWBELL.

Another clever fan held up a sign that read “The Improbable Dream,” a historical nod to the team they were about to beat, the Red Sox, whose “Impossible Dream” in 1967 revived baseball in Boston, as 2008 has revived it in St. Pete. Ownership there has been trying to get the city to build them a waterfront, open-air ballpark… Winning a World Series seems a great PR move in that direction.

The Rays, whose franchise is only 11 seasons old, will face one of the oldest franchises in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies, whose franchise was founded in 1883. They adopted the name Phillies officially in 1890, and have won exactly one World Series since then, in 1980.

The homer happy Rays should have a good time in the hitter haven that is Citizens Bank Park, while the Phillies outfielders will probably not enjoy trying to play balls against the beige canvas dome at Tropicana Field. The franchises have faced each other before in Interleague play.

An interesting note which may or may not presage anything: of all the NL East teams, the Phillies have had the worst record in interleague play. Often this has come from playing “down” to bad teams in the AL East like the Orioles and then-Devil Rays, rather than getting beat by the historically strong teams like Boston and New York. In 2001, the Phillies ended the season only 2 games out of first place, but had been swept at Tampa Bay earlier in the season.

When the two teams met in 2006, both Cole Hamels and James Shields were rookies pitching for their respective teams. Now they are both aces. The three-game series was played in Philadelphia and both Shields and Scott Kazmir earned wins for the Rays, facing a lineup that looked similar to the one the Phiting Phils will field on Tuesday: Jimmy Rollins leading off, and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming soon after, and other familiar faces like Shane Victorino. Hamels was hammered for 7 hits, 6 runs (5 earned) and knocked out in the fourth inning.

The one Phillies pitcher who did beat them back in 2006 was a highly touted prospect, Ryan Madson, who this season was a cog in bullpen, one piece in the “bridge to Lidge.” He notched a 3.05 ERA and an excellent 1.23 WHIP.

Of course, all the numbers mean nothing once the game actually starts. Great hitters can fail, shaky pitchers can get at’em-balls, and anything an happen. In fact, it is exactly the things that are against all odds that amaze us the most about baseball. Each and every game can be an Improbable Dream.

October 17, 2008: Goodnight, Tom Tresh

October 17, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Interviews

I was listening to the Red Sox broadcast last night of the Sox/Rays showdown. While wallowing in misery when it was 7-0 in favor of the Rays, Joe Castiglione, that most bipolar of broadcasters, mentioned that former Yankee Tom Tresh had passed away at age 71.

I was sad to hear that. Tresh was one of the good guys, a smart, articulate, funny man who was gracious with his time when I was working on the book “The 50 Greatest Yankee Games.” He, like so many retired ballplayers (and others…) lived in Florida, just a few hours from my parents. I got his address through a contact at the Yankees and I wrote him out of the blue asking if he’d be willing to get together for an interview. We set one up, and one sunny morning I drove south from Tampa to a Cracker Barrel intending to meet him for lunch.

When I arrived, there was no sign of him. I didn’t know what he looked like now, and so spent quite a while going in and out trying to see if there was anyone browsing the shop or sitting in the rocking chairs outside who might be my quarry. It was quite busy—there was not a parking space to be had, either. Eventually I determined he wasn’t there, and called his house.

His wife answered to say she thought he was playing golf. He’d left about an hour before. My heart sank. Nine holes of golf takes like three hours. Eighteen holes takes all day. And I had to be back in Tampa that night for the game. She said she’d call his cell phone though, and try to see what he was up to. A little while later he called. I could hear he was outdoors, but he said he was just finishing up and would be right over. He was very apologetic. Friends from out of town had dropped in for a few days and got his schedule all out of whack.

Now I felt guilty, because I was sure I was pulling him away from a day of golf with good friends. When he arrived he told me not to worry, he had only had a golf lesson that morning, and so he really was finished when he came to meet me, and he was incredibly apologetic for forgetting.

We talked for hours. We got a table—by the the crowds had begun to abate—and talked all through the meal and then sat for a long time afterward. I ran out of tape; I think that’s the only reason we ended when we did.

What follows is an edited transcript of the interview. When I say Tresh was articulate, it’s quite evident in the long paragraphs that I include in his own words.

So who was Tom Tresh? He was the Derek Jeter of his generation of home-grown Yankees. In his rookie season, 1962, he won the shortstop starting job out of spring training as Tony Kubek had to leave for a stint in the military. That year Tresh won Rookie of the Year honors, and in the World Series led the team in hitting. When I spoke to him in the spring of 2004, Tresh had a lot to say on what it meant to be a Yankee.

Cecilia Tan: You had a cup of coffee at the end of the ’61 season, just in time to catch the end of the Maris/Mantle home run race, right?

Tom Tresh: I came up the last month of the season. You know when you dream of being a New York Yankee for many years….? My idol was Mickey Mantle, even though he was about 7 years older than I was. I was playing in Richmond, VA in Triple A ball and they increased the roster the first of September and I was the only minor league player they called up. They were in a race at that time and they had a one game lead over the Tigers. So I met them on the first of September. I got to the stadium before anybody else did. You’d met most of the guys, it wasn’t like I hadn’t yet, because being in the organization for three and half years at that time, you’d met Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and Bob Richardson and Tony–spring training and so on–but you don’t know them well. You’re still kind of a minor leaguer at that time, they’re a major leaguer, but they know who you are and you know who they are, so it’s a little different than being traded and meeting everybody at once.

CT: What happened on September first?

Tom Tresh: So I got there that morning, earlier than anybody else would be there. And I went in and Pete Sheehy–the clubhouse man who was there forever, a great man–met him and he took me over to my locker and they had my locker right next to Mantle’s, and my locker number was 15 which was my dad’s number. My dad played in the major leagues for 12 years and wore number 15 with the White Sox, so you know everything was just a thrill. And I did the thing that everybody does, you know, I walked out through the dugout and I walked out to home plate and stood there in my dress clothes with the sun shining and nobody is in the stadium yet, and you look out there and you see the center field area where the monuments are… it was a tremendous feeling to know that Babe Ruth stood there, and DiMaggio, and Gehrig, and Mantle and all these great players throughout the history of the Yankees. That was it and you were there.

CT: Do you remember anything else from that time?

And then games started and it seems to me, and I might be wrong, but it seemed to me that we won every game that homestand. You can check that but it just seemed to me we never lost while we were home. Maybe that’s just my memory of it. [Ed: Tresh's memory is quite good. Starting September 1, 1961, they swept three home series in a row, 12 games against Detroit, Washington, and Cleveland. Then they had a 13 game road trip where they went 6-7, and came home to play the final 5 games of the season, going 4-1. So they did win every game that homestand, and only lost one while he was there that year at home.]

Mickey and of course Roger were in the midst of a home run derby, and my locker being next to Mickey’s meant that right after the game was over–and there was a lot of papers in New York then and they were getting a lot of coverage from Japan and foreign countries, and my locker was on the end and Mantle’s was right here (holds up hands)–the press would come right in. You had screens between your lockers and they would move right into my locker [to be able to see and hear Mickey]. So as quick as I got in I would get right out, it wouldn’t matter if I sat there or not because they’re going to be hanging over here trying to get to ask Mickey questions and whatever. And right across from me on the other side of the locker room was Maris with HIS crowd, so it was this constant crowd, this back and forth from one locker to the other.

CT: How did you deal with it?

I quickly learned that the thing to do was to go in and take off my uniform real quickly and head for the training room, and grab a beer or a pop or something and go into the training room until it was all over, and then go out and get dressed. It was a tremendous thrill to be a part of that. I was in the game where Roger hit his 61st home run. It’s kind of a dream come true, the excitement of it. In those years, the Yankees were the number one sports team in the world. There wasn’t anything comparable, so being a part of the New York Yankees at that time was a tremendous feeling. You’re part of a limited roster of players that have that opportunity. In those days there wasn’t a whole lot of movement of team players. You kind of got there and stayed there–or didn’t. It was a big thrill.

CT: So then in 1962, you got your shot at a starting job, because Kubek went to the army, and you and Phil Linz competed for the job.

Yeah, Phil and I were the two better middle infielders coming up at the time. I had started a little bit before him, so I had the jump on him. He was playing one level lower than me. In 1961, to begin the season, we were both at Richmond, and I think they had him working out at third, and they decided to send him back to double A in Amarillo. So I got called up at the end of the season and he didn’t, so I still had that kind of a lead on him so to speak. And when Tony went in the army, also Joe DeMaestri retired. So not only was Tony gone, but the utility shortstop was gone. So they really had two positions in spring training open. So Phil and I just approached it where there were two positions, and we could tell real quick that the press wanted to try to get something competitive going on, and we just weren’t going to let them do it. When they talked to me about Phil I would just tell them good things about Phil and I thought he was a heck of a player and then he’d do the same thing for me. We never bad-mouthed each other in the press, and we’ve been very very close friends and are today. But we probably did both know that we both would make the ball club. I think we ended up leading the Yankees in hitting that spring training, he was first and I was second. [Ed: Again Tresh's memory is good.] So we both had a real good spring. But he was in an unfortunate situation because I had the lead, and you’re both doing the same, but you can’t catch the other person because the other person isn’t falling down. He could have easily been a starting shortstop with any other team in the league. But at that time, they could protect players, and they weren’t about to get rid of Phil Linz and give him to somebody else. Then when Tony got back, they moved me to the outfield, and that put Phil in the utility job still, didn’t change his status, so he was just second to Tony.

CT: They basically had to find you a position because you were hitting too well to be taken out of the lineup.

They couldn’t do that. When Tony came back, they couldn’t move me from the lineup, and left field just worked out well because it was a platoon. They were playing Hector out there, and Johnny Blanchard out there, Yogi, Elston, that was in ’61 when the Yankees catchers hit over 60 home runs–they didn’t do it as catchers, some of them did it while they were playing the outfield and the other one was catching, so a couple of them were in the game at the same time. I’d be interested to see how many home runs did they hit where there were one in each game, because if both guys are playing in the same game, that shouldn’t count. Although if somebody hits two, you can count one… you’d have to look and see which one the one was catching hit, not the outfielder.

CT: So you moved to LF when Kubek came back, yet you still won rookie of the year in ’62…

Yep. There’s a lot of advantages being a rookie playing on a team as good as the New York Yankees are, on the one hand. On the other hand there’s a lot more pressure to play well on the Yankee team. One of the biggest thrills I ever had was hitting in the third hole in the World Series. Generally that’s reserved for their best hitters. But we had so many ‘best hitters’ you couldn’t designate which hole the best one should be in. I always think that was a thrill, when I look through the lineup and the guys around me — that showed they had a lot of confidence in me.

CT: There are two themes in that 1962 series, rain and the redemption of Ralph Terry. Did the guys ever talk about what had happened in 1960?

The Pittsburgh game? No, they never did talk about it that much. They really outplayed Pittsburgh by a ton, and yet they lost, and that’s the only thing they talked about. They really felt that they won that series, they should have won that series. Big time statistically, Bobby Richardson, I don’t know if he still holds the record but he used to hold the record for 13 RBI in a World Series, in Pittsburgh in the losing effort. You have to give the credit to Pittsburgh, because they won.

CT: What kind of guy was Ralph Terry?

He was the ultimate professional pitcher. He didn’t have an overpowering fastball, or an overpowering curve ball, but he knew how to pitch. He knew how to get people out. That was the name of the game. You have your pitchers and your throwers. He was a very competitive individual, quiet-spoken, but a real nice individual. I don’t know if there’s any one thing to say about him. Just picture a real quiet easy going southerner–even though he’s from out in Kansas or somewhere. That’s the way he was. Didn’t seem like anything bothered him.

CT: Was he still laid back after winning that game?

I don’t know. Things can get pretty chaotic there.

CT: The game ended with McCovey hitting that line drive into Richardson’s glove. Could you even see that from left field?

It happened so quick. I mean, you’re a nervous wreck. You know a mistake can mean the ball game. Some of these guys, you know, Cepeda, and Mays, and McCovey, just to name a few, these are great players, coming up all the time. It’s hard to get through a ball game like that and win it one-nothing. You look back and the one run that we got came on a double play ball. That’s exactly the move that you make early in the ball game, you give up a run to get the two outs. Very seldom would that one run ever win you a ball game. It was a great ball game. Most nervous I’ve ever been in a ball game.

CT: So how did you know it was over?

Well, you know how many outs there are, and you know what has to happen, it just happened so fast that you’re kind of shocked. The ball was hit-caught. It’s one thing if it’s a long-running catch or something, but this was boom-boom. I’m glad he hit it to Bobby. I’m glad he didn’t hit it to me. I’d had enough that day and I didn’t need another one. That was a great game.

CT: So then what did you do, go running in?

Oh yeah. That’s part of it, right? That’s what you’re in training for, so you can get in there and get on the pile! The hardest thing is that being in the outfield, it takes you a lot longer to get to the pile. The good news is that you don’t get spiked because you’re on the top. It was a great thrill. To be young and to be with those guys.

CT: So I have that you led the team in hits that series.

I think I led in hitting too, with .315. [Ed: He did lead in hitting. with .321.]

CT: And you were the youngest player on the team. How did that feel?

Yeah, I was. I guess I was deserving to hit in third whole then, huh?

You know, I grew up with my dad being a major league ball player and because everything was there in front of me all the time, I never paid a whole lot of attention to it, to stats and all that. But I tell you there are a lot of people out there today who do. Playing in these fantasy camps and so on you really run into people who know everything. They know everything about you. Those have really been fun, for the players as well as the people who come. I’ve been doing them for over 20 years now but some of my best friends are people I’ve met through fantasy camps. It’s like every year you have a week’s vacation with your friends. So it’s fantastic. As close friends as I’ve ever had. I’ve got friends of my own background that I might have known longer that I don’t see a week a year. But the thing that makes it all work is that everybody has a love of the game, they have that one thread of common thing, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a fireman from New York or you’re an attorney from Tampa, there are so many different variations of jobs and careers and so on that are all mixed together, and nobody wears that hat during that week, everybody wears a Yankee hat. It just really works well. I really enjoy it.

October 9 2008: Pennant Eve

October 09, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Great Games

So, the Red Sox and Rays are getting ready to have a pennant showdown, and I find myself getting very antsy that there has been NO BASEBALL for the past several days. I know this new schedule is supposed to boost the TV ratings of the various playoff series’, but it going to be the opposite for me. I’ll be busy all weekend and see NONE of it, whereas the past few nights after dinner I’ve been twiddling my thumbs. Heavy sigh, winter is coming.

The date of the ALCS beginning, October 10th, is an auspicioys one for the Red Sox, though. It is the infamous day on which the fledgling New York Yankees challenged Boston for AL supremacy for the first time, only to have their chance thrown away—literally.

The culprit was “Happy Jack” Chesbro, the pitcher without whom the New Yorkers would not have contended at all. In 1903, their first year in the American League, the New York club (called variously the Highlanders, Hilltoppers, and many other nicknames including “Yankees” by the newspapers) was inconsequential, while Boston won the league and the World Series. But in 1904, Chesbro served notice on the champs on Opening Day, facing Cy Young and leading New York to an 8-2 win. The two clubs would battle all season, and the balance of power between them was evened when AL president Ban Johnson arranged for one of Boston’s dominant sluggers to be traded to their rival in exchange for sickly Bob Unglaub (who was so sick,he didn’t even play).

Chesbro would finish the year with one of the best single-season performances for a pitcher in the 20th century, going 41-12, pitching complete games in 51 of his starts, and relieving in 4 others. In the final 3 weeks of the season, he started 9 games and relieved during a doubleheader, earning wins on both ends. And because of rain-outs and rescheduling, the pennant race came to a crescendo at the wire; the final five games of the season would all pit Boston against New York, including two doubleheaders, one in New York, and one in Boston.

Chesbro pitched the first game of the five in New York and earned a hard-fought 3-2 win. With four games to play, New York needed to win any two of the remaining contests and the pennant would be theirs. They headed to Boston on the train to play the next two. Manager Clark Griffith planned to leave Chesbro in New York and pitch him again when they returned, but Chesbro chased the team to the station and talked his way into taking the ball. Griffith granted his wish, but Chesbro faltered in the fourth and Boston won both games.

Now New York needed to win both of their games in the home doubleheader. There was a day off thanks to rules against Sunday baseball, which allowed Chesbro to rest. He looked fresh and strong upon taking the hill on the fateful day, retiring the first three batters easily. He escaped a few jams, but guarded a 2-0 lead jealously into the 7th. Jimmy Williams, New York’s second basemen, made three unfortunate errors that inning, letting in two runs. With the game tied 2-2, Chesbro went out to pitch the 8th inning.

With two outs and Boston’s catcher Lou Criger perched on third, Chesbro needed only retire Freddy Parent, a hitter he had owned. Throwing his signature spitball, Chesbro quickly put Parent into an 0-2 hole. One more unpredictable, impossible-to-hit spitter would do it.

Unfortunately it was impossible to catch. The ball went to the screen, the run scored, and the Yankees’ bubble had been burst. Newspaper accounts describe Griffith as falling to his knees at the fateful pitch and Chesbro collapsing in tears. Though they batted twice more, New York did not rally. The second, now-inconsequential game, was called off after 5 innings. New York would not contend again until the arrival of Babe Ruth in 1920.

By the way, I’m rooting for the Rays.

October 8, 2008: Hold that Tiger!

October 08, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Ballparks

You can Save Tiger Stadium.

This from the Old Tiger Stadium Convervancy:

Reports of Tiger Stadium’s demise are greatly exaggerated. For over a year The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy has been quietly working on a plan to preserve the entire playing field and a significant portion of the beloved old ballpark. (See what is still standing: http://www.aerialpics.com/G/TigerStadiumDemo.html)

On Tuesday, the Detroit City Council rejected a plan that would have demolished the entire structure, but have given the Conservancy only until Friday to come up with the money to fund their plan. The Conservancy has “reached agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding that will ultimately transfer title to the stadium to the Conservancy and grant a long-term lease of the playing field. We … are continuing to pursue our goals of preserving and redeveloping the historic Navin Field grandstand and upper deck, restoring the playing grounds as a first-class youth baseball facility and revitalizing Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood.”

To move forward, the Conservancy needs to raise $50,000 by Friday “to provide for six months of onsite security while we put our long-term financing in place. Our $15M project plan expects to receive $4 million via a federal earmark and more than $6 million in historic preservation and economic stimulus tax credits.” They have already raised $170,000 and must hit their goal of $219,000 in the next 24 hours.

Make your donation at http://www.savetigerstadium.org. The Conservancy is a registered Michigan non-profit corporation and has been accorded 501(c)3 status by the Internal Revenue Service, making all donations tax deductible.

For updates, visit: http://savetigerstadium.wordpress.com/

October 2, 2008: Nine Questions about the 2008 Postseason

October 02, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

So, since the Yankees are out of it, and I find myself without a real rooting interest, I am looking at the postseason like if a daytime soap opera suddenly decided to wrap up its run with a prime-time mini-series. All questions will be answered! All the suspense hangs in the balance! Here are the subplots I’m looking to see tied up. There are nine of them in my lineup, of course:

1. Will the Cubs be the first Cubs team in one hundred years to win a World Series? They’ve been so good all year, but the monkey on their back (or is it a goat? the monkey’s in Anaheim…) is even bigger than the one the Red Sox shook off in 2004. Even their crosstown rival White Sox got rid of their “curse.” Could this be it? Do Cubs fans even dare to hope?

2. The Rays. Who writes this kind of a script? Perennially losing team, the only franchise in baseball history to still have never reached the postseason, removes the word “devil” from their name, and immediately wins the impossibly tough AL East. The baseball gods, that’s who. The story is already amazing, the only question is how much more amazing can it get?

3. Which means more, that the Red Sox have beaten the Angels soundly in every postseason meeting between the two teams in the Scioscia-Francona era, or that the Angels trounced the Red Sox in nearly every regular season meeting this year? The Red Sox can always be schizoid, as in last year’s ALCS where for a few days it looked like they were going to steamroll the Indians, then suddenly it looked like they were never going to get the job done… only to steamroll the Rockies. The Angels can be kind of like that, too, though. Could be a sweep, could be a seesaw.

4. Will C.C. Sabathia’s arm fall off? He pitched his team into the playoffs on three days rest. Now he’s going to pitch again on three days rest, with the PLAN to pitch him AGAIN on three days rest. A lot of teams are just counting the hours until he becomes a free agent (the Yankees among them), and you know each time he goes out there, they are cringing that he’s adding wear and tear to his arm. But Brewers fans have to be loving it, and any fans of old school hard-nosed baseball.

5. Philadelphia beat out the Mets at the wire two seasons in a row, now, but last year that momentum didn’t help them in the playoffs. They were summarily bumped from the first round and the pressure is on them to avoid that this year. The first game they lose, expect half the city’s attention to turn to the Eagles.

6. Manny being Manny. He’s been hitting .400 since going to LA, playing a good left field, and in the opening game against the Cubs, actually beat out an infield hit! To Boston fans, that only proves all the more how he was dogging it while a Red Sox. The Sox were taking BP last night when Manny blasted a home run one-handed at Wrigley. If Jason Bay hadn’t broken the ice in the Sox’ own game a few hours later with a homer, then the trade of Manny would have surely been lamented. Instead, Boston fans can continue to say good riddance… unless the Sox and Dodgers end up facing each other. Another World Series MVP trophy would suit Manny just fine.

7. Joe Torre’s vindication. The Steinbrenners decided they’d had enough of a good thing, apparently, and let Torre walk away. Now the Yankees are at home carving pumpkins with their kids for the first time since 1994′s work stoppage, and Torre is loving life. But he still has to get his team out of the first round to be able to really gloat. (Not that Joe would gloat.)

8. What will Ozzie Guillen say this time? Whether the White Sox win or lose, Ozzie is always good for some great quote that will set the media and the clubhouses buzzing. The White Sox had to fight tooth and nail to finally quell the uprising of the Twins, they might now have their hands full with the Rays. But wouldn’t it be a fine thing to see Junior Griffey be a hero?

9. Who am I going to root for? Since I don’t have a horse in this race, should I root for a cool matchup in the World Series? Cubs/White Sox would be a spectacle. Cubs/Red Sox could have a nice historical appeal, and I could drag out all my old stories about 1918. (There are some doozies from that World Series.) I don’t like the Angels or the Red Sox, though. Honestly, I rooted for the Red Sox in 2004, but I’m kind of tired of them winning now. Red Sox/Dodgers would be cool for the Manny angle. I think, though, ultimately, I have to root for the Rays. They’re new, they’re young and exciting, and they’ve got nothing to lose. I’m an AL gal at heart, and besides, that’d just make it sweeter when the Yankees beat them next year.

September 21, 2008: The Curtain Comes Down

September 22, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Baseball Musings, Great Ballparks, Yankee Fan Memories

Here’s a trivia question you’ll be able to stump your friends with in 2013. Who hit the last home run in Yankee Stadium?

Answer: Jose Molina.

Jeter tried to do it, but his line drive was caught just short of the wall. Johnny Damon tried to do it, blasting a three-run shot to put the Yankees ahead in the third inning. But after the Orioles had tied it up again in the top fourth, it was Molina who came up with the two-run blast that put the Yankees ahead for good.

If the Orioles’ defense had been a little bit better, then Mariano Rivera would have gotten a save. Instead, it was a comfortable 7-3 lead when the strains of Enter Sandman blared for the last time, but the appearance was no less pressure than in any playoff game. National media watching. Fans in full voice.

Oh, and did I mention, the Yankees elimination number stood at one when the game began? (more…)

September 21, 2008: This Time Last Year

September 21, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Interviews

Following last week’s post about September 22, 2007, in which I had arrived at the press box at 9am, following a 14 inning night game the night before, and then didn’t leave until nearly 9pm because of rain delays and another extra inning affair, what follows is the account of what I did during the delay, which was chat with Bob Rosen from the Elias Sports Bureau.

I’ve had some of my most memorable times at ballparks during rain delays. In Columbus, OH one time I spent the evening listening to the stories of Joe Santry, the historian for the Columbus Clippers, then a Yankees farm club for most of my life. Today that day dawn foggy and gray, but the sun was trying to break through the mist all morning. Batting practice had been cancelled because of last night’s extra-innings marathon, so when the writers met with Joe Torre in the dugout all was quiet in the ballpark. The sun looked as though it would burn off the mist fairly soon, and just before noon everyone trooped inside as usual to have lunch and get ready for the game.

Going up in the elevator from the clubhouse to the press box, though, some fans on their way to the luxury suites looked particularly wet.

“Is it raining?” I asked one particularly bedraggled looking young woman.

“Yes, and it sucks,” she replied.

Indeed, I got upstairs to find the tarp on the field and steady water pouring down. I had set up my computer and such in the third tier of the press box–the top row in seats means the bottom rung in terms of writer seniority–and sat down to make some notes.

A gentleman with no computer had sat in the chair next to mine and was busily filling in a crossword puzzle, but when he looked up from that I introduced myself.

Turns out he was Bob Rosen, a life-long Dodgers fan who after the team left in 1957 swore he would never pay to attend another baseball game. He loved the game itself, though, and by 1962 had gotten a job with the Elias Sports Bureau, which has had him attending major league games for free (in fact, for pay) every since.

We proceeded to regale each other for the next hour of rain delay with tales and stories of our lives as baseball fans who are also baseball professionals.

There is no cheering in the press box, that’s true. But no one signs up for a job covering or working in baseball who does not love it. It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.

Among the topics we covered: the wild card, expansion, difficulty keeping up with all the teams, will A-rod stay or will he go, stadiums around the country, fans around the country, our first ballgames when we were young, and so on.

Bob went to his first game when he was already 12 years old. His father “wasn’t a baseball fan. he was a Brooklyn fan. He was a fan of Dixie Walker and Duke Newcombe. He didn’t know anything about other teams.” Bob was bitten hard by the bug, though, and soon was not just a Dodger fan but a baseball fan, playing dice-based baseball games and keeping stats. “That was what I liked, stats.” How perfect, then, that he found a home with the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I was working my way up the corporate ladder and hating it,” he explained. “But my wife, who was truly wonderful and still is the most perfect wife to me, told me if you don’t give this a try, you’ll always wonder.” So he took the job with Elias 45 years ago and never looked back. The boy who loved baseball stats made it his livelihood.

“Did you ever join SABR?” I asked.

“Nah. That seemed like overkill. You?”

“Yeah, I joined because I thought it would be a good chance to meet people who love baseball as I do.”

“And did you?”

“Yes. Yes, definitely.”

“The people I meet in this business are incredible,” he said. “Bob Sheppard and I are like this,”–here he held up his crossed fingers–”and I’ve made so many good friends.”

Well, Bob, it was lovely to meet you, which means, I couldn’t agree more.

And best wishes to the other Bob, Sheppard, who as of tonight it appeared would not be well enough to do the announcing at tomorrow’s curtain call for the Stadium.

September 9 2008: Moment by Moment

September 09, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

Last season, on September 22, 2007, I had press credentials at Yankee Stadium, doing some photography for one project and some interviewing and writing for another, so I arrived at nine in the morning, and ended up keeping the following log as I went along that day. I just found it and decided it could make a nice post unto itself.

9 am
Foggy over the Hudson and East River, sun trying to burn through.
There are already fans parking their cars and lined up one deep at the barriers toward the press gate. Autograph seekers.

The calliope begins to play shortly before 9:30.
Loose-wheeled ‘trains’ of carts laden with Cracker Jacks, pulled by small tractors, rattle through the concourses.

9:45 am
A lone player, unrecognized, runs along the warning track.
Tony Pena exchanges greetings in Spanish with the door guard at the press gate.

By 10:15 the sun is starting to come through, making the grass seem to glow. A trio of women works as a team to hand-clean every seat in the lower stadium bowl, their equipment and supplies pushed in a shopping cart.

Everywhere there is polishing and washing going on, including on the field where a groundskeeper spends 45 minutes tamping down dirt around the batters box and making it perfect.

Others work the infield and mound

Every plaque in Monument Park gleams like new.

At ten am sharp Bobby Murcer takes his seat in the YES booth, begins reading the newspaper while techs are still doing techy things around him.

Down in the press dining room they are serving brunch, scrambled eggs, a salad bar, coffee.

The Toronto writers begin to trickle in before New York’s. The jays bus arrives at 10:30, but the Yankees will be slower to come in after the late night last night. [It had been an epic, extra innings game.]

From the press box, one can hear but not quite see, the gap in right where the trains go by.

What will the press box in the new stadium be like? Will it be glassed in like the one in Tampa, with windows that open? Or will the try to recreate what it’s like here? This is possibly the last true open-air press box in the majors.

These are the best seats in the house… and yet the foul lines down the line are still obscured. Sitting in the upper deck above this might be slightly better if farther from the action.

Two players are working out with a coach, two Yankees. The coach is hitting grounders to a guy at third base while a first baseman stands by just to take his throws. The first baseman really looks like Giambi but from here it’s hard to be sure — I haven’t brought my binoculars.

No idea who the kid is, but he might be wearing a U of Texas hat, some kind of faded orange hat.

The replay of the previous night’s game is on the monitor above my head right now, at 10:40am Jorge Posada is clearly safe on replay at first, sparking the rally.

The guy who worked the batters box is now working on the slope of the mound

On Cano’s broken bat hit, Halladay’s face is one of shell shock, stricken, whereas when Giambi strokes a ball into left to tie the game, he looks purely glum and holding it in for all he’s worth.

GAME NOTES

3:07 pm — men on the corners, no one out, Jorge at the plate, first outbreak of “Let’s Go Yankees” of the day.

From the press box everything seems louder; I think bc the shape of the stadium angles the fans and captures the sound.

At the same time it is quieter — we are not listening to the broadcasts and everyone in here is concentrating on the game or on writing something so there is not the kind of boisterous chatter one gets in the stands.

It is a very pure baseball watching experience.

Giambi lashed the bat in frustration after swinging at strike 3 with a man on 3rd and no outs.

As Cano came to plate in 2nd, 2 on, one out, one in, the sun came out.

5:24 pm folks in the LF bleachers start the wave while the Blue Jays are batting and Jose Veras has put two men on with no outs. Section 39 of the RF bleachers proudly and steadfastly refuses to participate. (I approve.)

After the wave goes around 5 times, Veras strikes out Matt Stairs.

5:31 After throwing a wild pitch that moved men to second and third, Veras strikes out Alex Rios (with no help from the crowd this time).

6:05 pm One of the writers in the front row–can’t quite see who–slams his computer shut and then bangs it forcibly against the desk in a fit of emotion. It’s doubtful it’s caused by the 3-2 count that Bobby Abreu has just received, though perhaps he’s put off by the organist playing a riff from Beethoven to outline the tension.

6:07 Abreu walks.

6:08 A-rod gets yet another two-out hit to put the Yankees ahead. Today, he’s the epitome of not doing too much.

6:16 Posada sets up low and away. Farnsworth’s pitch is up and in. Farnsworth goes to a 3-0 count on Reed Johnson and gets booed.

6:17 Farnsworth walks Johnson on the next pitch. Gets booed. Joe Torre goes to the mound. Gets booed for leaving Farnsworth in.

6:24 After giving up the tying and go-ahead runs, Farnsworth is booed. Torre emerges from the dugout and is cheered. Farnsworth gets one more round boo before disappearing.

6:37 Jorge Posada manages an infield hit. No, I don’t make this stuff up. Mr. Tantrum’s computer seems to be working fine, by the way. No, I can’t see what brand it is from here. Probaby something cheap, though.

6:43 As the Jays’ seventh pitcher goes to a full count on Wilson Betemit, I notice the guy in the seat in front of me surfing eBay. A game with thirteen pitching changes in it already, on top of a 90 minute rain delay, will do that.

6:53 Mariano Rivera throws his first pitch of the day to a burst of flashbulbs. Every succeeding pitch draws another flurry.

8:22 pm The stadium is empty, all the players but Matsui are gone. The lights are low at the stadium and the writers have returned from their quote-gathering expedition to Joe’s office and the clubhouse.

8:23 Family of a Yankee or employee make their way onto the field. Two small children and one older one with three adults, gleefully tossing white baseballs back and forth and catching them in undersized gloves.

A single bulb on the Armitron scoreboard is flaky. In the expanse of black, it flickers like a lone candle, sometimes barely visible, other times wavering into brightness.

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!

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