USA Today

[Cranky old man voice] Back when I was a youngin’, way back before they had these fancy-pants Inter-Nets, I was livin’ in the Old Country across the ocean, walking six miles in the snow every day, uphill both directions, with nothing to think about ‘cept how cold and miserable it was, cuz thar warn’t no way to get baseball scores ‘cept what the newspapers wanted to tell ya. And the only paper that wanted to tell ya anything was the International Herald-Tribune, and all they’d give ya was some line scores and the standings.

But then one day, the USA Today started publishing Over There, and hallelujah, it was a miracle! Box scores! Real, full, honest-to-goodness boxscores available to read five days a week. When I saw that, right then and there I jumped up, clicked my heels together, a let out a whoop of pure joy I ain’t never heard before or since, for life in that frozen hellhole had now become bearable.

So y’all can rip up your USA Today to shreds if you like, but they’re a savior to me, and I love them with every creakin’ bone in my body. And ‘taint nothin’ you can say to get me to change my mind.

First things first

My brother’s neighbor, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, spent an hour yesterday with President Bush. Apparently they spoke about such things as Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a Swedish citizen being held at Guantanamo, and the situations in Afghanistan, Turkey, Cyprus och North Korea.

When I went to Sweden’s most respected newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, to read about the meeting, I had to dig a little bit. The top story of the day was this (my translation):

“Henke” Larsson is back!
Henrik Larsson has changed his mind. He will play for the Swedish national team in the European Soccer Championships, and beyond.

Glad to see that the Swedes have their priorities straight.

Harveyized

I made the mistake of reading the latest Jackie Harvey just before I read Scott’s entry on the White Sox. The effect was strange, as I half expected Scott’s essay to contain a bunch of bungled names and misstatements, something like this:

You’re fired! Despite the Giants’ poor 9-18 start, Felipe Alou won’t have to worry about hearing those words. Giants owner Peter MacGyver just extended Alou’s contract another year. Congratulations, Felipe!

From day one, Felipe has stated that the Giants would play aggressive baseball, not being afraid to manufacture runs by playing small ball. Of course when your starting roster has Barry Bonds, Edgardo Alfonzo, Gus Grissom and A.J. Hinch, small ball doesn’t seem like the best strategic plan. (And no, I’m not saying that just because I love to see those home runs splash into the Pacific Ocean at SPF Park. No angry comments, please!)

Know what I miss? I miss when “BP” stood for “batting practice”. Now it stands for those statistical wizards over at Baseball Perspectives. Maybe they know how to fix the Giants, because GM Brian Saberhagen has struck out on the acquisitions of Dustin Mohr, Jeffrey Leonard, and Chris Tucker for right field. But we know that sooner or later, shortstop Deivi Perez will catch fire.

You’re traded! Word from the grapevine is that the Giants are trying to beef up their starting rotation, but Saberhagen doesn’t want to give up their best prospect, David Aardvark. How would Justin Duchsouper look in orange and black? I like his style–he reminds me of a young Stan Laurel!

Last item! One month into the season I would give the Giants a B-grade. That’s B as in Bonds, Barry Bonds, who hasn’t let all this PETCO nonsense distract him. Bully for him!

This one however: Ouch!

6:30pm is family dinner time, so I mercifully missed the Great Bullpen Disaster of April 27. All was well when I sat down for dinner, but apparently the Yankees dribbled a bunch of balls through the infield off Jim Mecir and came back from a four-run deficit to win. Yet another Tim Hudson no-decision. Argh.

I don’t know why Hudson was lifted. He had only thrown 97 pitches; he could have gone another inning without hitting any alarms on the pitcher abuse meter.

The A’s middle relief doesn’t match up well with the Yankees if Mecir can’t perform. Ricardo Rincon is a pure LOOGY: you really don’t want to see him facing righties. Chad Bradford is a ROOGY: you don’t want him facing lefties. Mecir can face both, at least in theory, because his screwball gives him a good weapon against lefties. There’s also Chris Hammond, but Macha seems reluctant to use him in a tight spot, for whatever reason.

Usually, Ken Macha can set things up so Rincon and Bradford face the hitters Macha wants them to face. But the Yankees have five switch-hitters on their roster, so if Mecir’s having a bad day, the A’s have problems. Either Rincon or Bradford is going to end up facing someone from the wrong side of the plate. Macha chose Rincon to face Ruben Sierra; a line drive hit the chalk, and there’s your ballgame. That one stings.

Swept

Yeah, the A’s got swept. It was more weird than stinging. The Angels are good. Some Angel hits a home run, or you make an error (Bobby Crosby’s defense has been missed), and then you’re behind and have to face K-Rod, who is just unhittable right now.

And then there was the absence of Roy Steele, the A’s PA announcer, who was out this weekend with hernia surgery. Steele had only missed one previous Oakland A’s game ever. Dick Callahan filled in, and he’s a competent and familiar voice, having been the PA announcer for the Golden State Warriors and Cal football, but it wasn’t the same. Steele’s deep voice is so entwined in my mind with the Coliseum that hearing someone else’s voice there made it seem like I was living inside a badly dubbed foreign film. The stadium felt disembodied.

So it was a weird weekend, in many ways. Hopefully, Steele will be back soon, as will Crosby, and things will get back to normal.

The A’s are headed to New York to play the Yankees now, and that suddenly seems like an easier task that what the A’s have been up against recently.

I’m tired of facing the same three teams. I’m VERY curious to see how the rest of the AL compares to the AL West, which looks really tough this year. We’ll start finding out this week.

Drafts

For some reason, I enjoy the NFL draft more than I enjoy the NFL games themselves. I like all the speculation, all the trading up and down.

One quibble: 15 minutes between picks is too long. We don’t need a gazillion hours per round.

It’s weird, I hardly even watch college football at all, or the NFL. I know absolutely nothing about these players. But for some reason, I form strong opinions about these picks, anyway, based on little to no information whatsoever. It’s just fun to cheer and bicker.

For example, I am certain that the Chargers are idiots. With the first pick in the draft they trade down to take a high-risk quarterback and then use the third-round pick they got to draft–a kicker?

Every kicker is a replacement-level talent. Drafting one is a waste. Drafting one early in the third round is just plain stupid. It’s not like the Chargers were a good kicker away from the Super Bowl.

Best drafts: Detroit, New England, Oakland. The Raiders actually picked a good player and not lame QB (Wilson/Marinovich) or kicker (Janikowski) for a change. They picked a guy who will open some big holes.

I have more opinions like that, but who cares, because what do I know?

But for those who say that a televised baseball draft won’t work because people don’t follow college baseball: pshaw. You can be as ill-informed as I am, and still get sucked into the show.

Redman Considered Dangerous

I have season tickets behind the screen at the Network Asso…er…McAfee Coliseum. When I first purchased the seats many years ago, I specifically asked for tickets behind the screen, because I have young children, and I don’t want to have to worry about my kids being hit by foul balls.

My seats usually serve that purpose very well. Foul balls in my section are rare, maybe three or four a year. If ball is hit too low, it hits the screen. If it’s too high, it usually goes into the second deck. Reaching my section requires a weak pop foul by a right-handed batter off a soft-tossing, fly-ball lefty.

On the fourth pitch of today’s game, David Eckstein hit a weak pop foul off of a soft-tossing fly-ball lefty, Mark Redman. At first it seemed headed right toward me, but then it started spinning away. I tried to catch it, but it landed just out of my reach, in the row in front of us, and two seats to the right. It bounced off the seat and into another section.

In my row, directly behind the seat where the ball hit, sat my three-year-old daughter. My wife had jumped in her way to protect her from the ball, so she wasn’t really in any danger. But the thought that my daughter was less than three feet away from serious injury was very frightening.

Four pitches later, Vladimir Guerrero hit a pop foul that also seemed headed straight for us. It fell short, landing three rows in front of us.

Four pitches after that, Troy Glaus hit one that landed about three rows behind us.

A couple of innings later, another pop fly nearly hit a man sitting in a wheelchair at the end of our row, five seats down. All in all, we got six or seven foul balls hit into our section in the first five innings. That’s about twice as many as we usually get all year.

As soon as Mark Redman was removed from the game, the assault from above mercifully ended. I like watching Redman pitch, but from now on, if Redman is the scheduled starter and I have tickets, the kids are staying at home.

Rule Question

I have a rules question. Maybe someone knows the answer.

In the top of the tenth in Monday night’s game between the A’s and Mariners, Mark Kotsay struck out, then got ejected.

The game was tied after the ejection, but the A’s still were at bat with runners on base. The only true outfielder the A’s had remaining was Bobby Kielty, but he was the DH. So they had a choice for replacing Kotsay: lose the DH and have the pitcher bat, or put an infielder in the outfield.

I wondered: did the A’s have to make the choice of who replaces Kotsay right then and there, or could they wait to decide? If the A’s took the lead, they might want to put Kielty out there, to maximize defense and protect the lead. If it remained tied, they might want to keep the DH in the lineup.

The A’s ended up not scoring, and Eric Chavez was moved to left field.

I looked it up in the MLB rules, but found nothing. So I’m assuming that the A’s didn’t have to decide how to replace Kotsay until either (a) Kotsay’s turn at bat came up again, or (b) the A’s had to take the field.

Am I assuming correctly?

Guilty Pleasures

How many of the 50 worst songs ever do you actually like?

I’ll admit to five: #3 (Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Wang Chung), #13 (Illegal Alien, Genesis), #35 (Shiny, Happy People, REM), #48 (Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, Beatles), and #49 (I’m Too Sexy, Right Said Fred).

I’m not saying these five songs aren’t bad. But I think they’re silly bad, which I guess appeals to my sense of humor.

Party Dactyl

I don’t know if I should thank or curse George Wallace for turning me on to double dactyls. It’s pretty addictive form to write in.

They’re similar to limericks, but the requirement that one line be a single six-syllable word makes double dactyls harder to write.

The scarcity of those six-syllable words make them valuable. Now, every time I hear a six-syllable word with the ON-off-off-ON-off-off beat needed, I feel compelled to build a double dactyl poem around it. Can’t let a word like that go to waste.

And hence:

Wishy-in-Washington?
What should we dub it when
people in politics
stay unaligned?

Right-leaning Democrat?
South Park Republican?
Liberaltarian?
Make up your mind!

RIP, RISP

After my rant about the A’s not driving in runs I heard: “The A’s will be fine. Small sample size.”

Sure the A’s will be fine. They’ve been fine for four years. It’s just this one detail about them, their inability to drive in runs, that annoys me. But I disagree about the sample size. The sample size is not that small.

With 2 outs, when a walk is not as good as a hit, is when I get the most annoyed at the A’s failure to drive in runs. So here are the AL batting averages for Runners in Scoring Position, 2 Outs for the last three seasons (’04/’03/’02):

Team 2004 2003 2002 ’02-’04 avg
Bos .304 .275 .262 .270
Chi .327 .263 .268 .268
Sea .228 .287 .248 .266
Tor .144 .297 .232 .259
Kc .302 .272 .239 .257
Nyy .155 .250 .265 .253
Ana .310 .244 .257 .253
Min .228 .249 .254 .251
Tam .143 .241 .258 .245
Tex .239 .241 .240 .240
Bal .274 .247 .211 .231
Cle .296 .210 .226 .221
Oak .217 .223 .219 .221
Det .211 .188 .229 .209

Sure, the A’s might improve on their current .217 average with RISP and 2 outs. I keep waiting for our luck to even out. But I’ve been waiting over two years now, and the A’s keep regressing to Detroit instead of to the mean.

So far this year, it looks like the same old stuff as the last two years. How much longer should I hold onto my faith in regression to the mean before I give up and declare this a flaw in the design?

2-1, 2-1

Let me now curse all those Mariner bloggers who cursed the Raul Ibanez signing. &#$*(@&$#*)^@!*(@#*&$* you!!!

Also, losing a game on a fake-to-third-throw-to-first balk? What do the A’s think they’re doing? That’s the kind of stupid way to lose the A’s usually reserve exclusively for the postseason.

One thing drives me nuts watching the walk-walk-walk A’s. Nobody can drive the damn run in. They had the bases loaded multiple times last night, got two walks in the first and three in the third tonight, and scored nothing out of any of that. Kielty and Durazo, Beane’s darlings, are the worst offenders. Popups and strikeouts when all you need is a grounder or fly ball to score a run. I don’t mind seeing them lead off an inning, because they can get on base OK, but if there are runners in scoring position, Lord help us.

It’s not just this year. The year Tejada won the MVP, the rest of the A’s lineup batted like .208 with runners in scoring position. The numbers may not support my feelings about this, but it seems like a chronic problem with Billy Beane teams.

I’m beginning to think the optimal lineup would be to have two or three Dusty Baker types mixed in with the Billy Beane guys. Get some guys on base with walks, and then sprinkle in some guys who make a lot of contact. A little diversity can be a good thing.

African-American Pitchers

Every weekday afternoon, I hear the tink-tink-tinking of aluminum bats emanating from Willie Stargell Field, one block from my house. Over time, the sound has become oddly soothing to me, like the ticking of a favorite clock. I often wonder, am I listening to the sounds of the next Dontrelle Willis or Jimmy Rollins to come out of Encinal High?

Willis, who grew up two blocks from here, was mentioned in two recent articles about the scarcity of African-American baseball players. Tim Keown pointed out that there are only four African-American starting pitchers in the majors now: Willis, Darren Oliver, CC Sabathia, and Jerome Williams. Bruce Jenkins points out that only 10% of major league rosters are now African-American.

Keown blames the urban/suburban cultural split. Jenkins blames TV. But is there really a problem?

I count 207 foreign-born players on current 25-man rosters. So that means that there are 543 American-born players.

If 10% of all 25-man rosters are African-American, that’s 75 players. That means 13.8% of American major leaguers are African-American, compared to 12.9% of the general US population (pdf). Jenkins’ complaint looks like it’s not really even a problem.

Keown, however, may have a point. Since 20% of major league rosters are starting pitchers, you should expect about 15 African-American starting pitchers out of 75. Instead, there are only four. But the issue isn’t, as Keown and Jenkins present it, why African-Americans are not playing baseball enough. The issue is why, when they do play, they don’t become pitchers.

It seems unlikely to me that the cause of that is TV or suburbia. I’d guess that stereotyping is the most likely culprit. If you’re African-American, you get stereotyped as an athletic type, so you get to play a position where speed or strength matters. Often, that means “not pitcher”.

Willis, Oliver, and Sabathia are all from Northern California. Williams is from Hawaii. It is a coincidence that the only African-American starting pitchers come from the only two US states where no ethnic group has a majority?

[Correction: New Mexico also has no ethnic majority. Texas does, barely, according to the 2000 census: it’s 52.4% “white, non-Hispanic”.]

Useless Info

Apologies to Jayson Stark: A Google search of the phrase “is the worst hitter” returns the following names:

Mike Bordick
Bill Bergen
Derek Jeter
Enrique Wilson
Cristian Guzman
Rey Ordonez
Brad Ausmus
Gabe Kapler
Mike Thurman
Rey Sanchez
Keith Osik
Junior Spivey
Johnny Damon
Brandon Inge

23/5 Quiz

The latest blogosphere meme (from here via here) is to open a book to page 23 and write down the 5th sentence on that page.

I’ll add a little twist to it. Here are the 5th sentences from page 23 of ten baseball books. Can you match the quote to the book?

1) Even now before a world series you find a lot of the experts predicting that “pitching will win the series.”

2) Devore beat out an infield hit, and Doyle bunted and was safe, filling the bases.

3) Neal and Zimmer looked unchanged–Neal intense, withdrawn, talented, too tighly wound for an ideal infielder, and Zimmer eager and competitive, angrily trying to make pugnacity compensate for what he lacks in size, skill, and luck.

4) He lost, but I haven’t noticed any holes in his shoes.

5) He’ll get a look in camp and will pitch in the BOB at some point this summer, perhaps stepping into Valverde’s setup role after Mantei breaks down again.

6) But to get back to that day in 1898 when I first reported to Louisville.

7) If modern players battle fiercely for starting assignments, I have to say that the old-timers were even more wolfish.

8) Yet the Whammer felt oddly relieved.

9) Together with their own first round pick the A’s had, in effect, seven first-round picks.

10) Even now, I can’t stand a dirty house.

And your choices are:

a) Babe Ruth’s Own Book of Baseball
b) Ball Four, by Jim Bouton
c) Baseball Prospectus 2004
d) The Glory of their Times, by Lawrence Ritter
e) Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
f) My Turn At Bat, by Ted Williams
g) The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
h) Pitching in a Pinch, by Christy Mathewson
i) The Summer Game, by Roger Angell
j) Ty Cobb: My Life in Baseball

I’ll let you guess, then I’ll post the answer in the comments.

Drawing a Blank

I (Ken) went to San Diego this week. Thursday evening, I went to a game at Petco Park. I’ll assemble my thoughts on Petco later, but here’s a quick story:

I was wandering along the main concourse at Petco, when I realized I was walking shoulder-to-shoulder with someone. I turned to look at the guy, and I recognized him.

I searched my brain for a name to match the face, but I drew a blank. Where did I know him from? School? Work? TV?

Nothing. I couldn’t think of a name, or where I had seen this man before. He turned to look at me, and we made eye contact.

If I hadn’t recognized him, I could have just smiled or nodded and moved on. But what if it was an old friend or something? I didn’t want to be rude. I had to say something. So I entered into chit-chat mode.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” said the man.

I recalled once running into Paul Molitor this same way, walking along a concourse. Is this guy an ex-player? A scout? A GM? Maybe he works for the Padres, I thought. I decided to say something about Petco.

“Nice ballpark,” I said.

“It is a nice ballpark,” he agreed.

Then he turned to enter his seating section, and we parted. An instant later, the name came to me: Frank McCourt.

I had just been chatting with the owner of the Dodgers, and the only thing I managed to say to him was how nice the Padres’ home ballpark is. D’oh!

I’ve been suffering from a major case of l’esprit d’escalier ever since. If you have the chance to say one sentence to Frank McCourt, what should you say?