The Vocabulary of Bill King

There’s nothing better than listening to Bill King when he’s cranky.

Listened to the game on the radio this afternoon, and King was in fine form. I was doing some dishes in the middle innings, and only sorta paying attention to the teasing banter going on in the booth, when King suddenly said to one of his radio mates, “Don’t be an ass.”

There was a moment of silence, as everyone (including me) was rather stunned that King would say that on the air (especially considering that KFRC is now a religious station). Then, just as suddenly, you could hear people bursting into laughter in the background.

If this were someone else, they probably wouldn’t have laughed, as the announcer might be looking at some trouble. But this is Bill King. You laugh because you know he can get away with it. After all, this is the guy who four decades ago got away with the infamous “Mother’s Day” incident, when, while still on the air, he shouted down an incompetent NBA ref, using a compound word that would get bleeped even today on cable TV.

Bill King can say whatever the heck he wants. If they couldn’t stop him before, they can’t stop him now, when he’s an institution. He can use a phrase like “Katy, bar the door” as he did in the post-game show, and when his younger collegues look at him in confusion, he can just refuse to explain what it means. Bill King answers to no one.

I once heard an interview with King, where he was asked what advice he would have for young broadcasters. He suggested working on expanding your vocabulary, because the more ways you have to describe something, the more ways you have to describe the action in accurate and interesting ways. That’s obviously helped King, as I doubt that any broadcaster can match his vocabulary.

When a guy with Bill King’s ability to turn a phrase goes on a rant, there’s nothing better. Come to think of it, maybe Sandy Alderson took his firm stance and busted the umpires’ union, just because he had listened for years to Bill King’s colorful opinions about how horrible the officiating was, and became convinced something had to be done. The umps are better now, and King complains less often about them. While baseball is better for it, the broadcasts are not. I miss those umpire rants.

But all is not lost; there are still things that irk King, such as interleague play. A couple weeks ago, Ken Korach mentioned on the air that MLB was considering reversing where the DH was used during interleague play next year: in the NL parks and not in the AL. It was the first King had heard of it, and his reaction was classic:

What???!!!

That sounds just like Selig logic. And that’s an oxymoron.

Villains Foiled Again

Hot day in Alameda. Took photos of the kids swimming lessons in the morning using my new Superhero Camera™. Afternoon, pulled kids to the library in their red wagon. Borrowed some books. Pulled kids in wagon back home. Drove to Round Table Pizza to pick up a free dinner, a promotional gift given to all fans in attendance at A’s 16-0 victory over the Giants on Sunday. Drove back home. Ate.

Headed to the game in the evening, sans children. The day was dragging, full schedule, and then when I got to the High Street Bridge, the drawbridge was up, so I had to just sit there, stuck between cars, nowhere to go, waiting for about 10 minutes for the boat to pass, for the bridge to come back down, and for the tomato growing out of my forehead to ripen so I could finally pick it.

All that waiting made me a bit cranky, and I missed the top of the first, and that made me more cranky, and then as I sat down in the right field bleachers with Zachary Manprin and Kerry Haas, the golden sun aimed its dragonfire breath into our eyes, and that made me crankier still. If the game had gone badly, and lasted deep into the night I might have been seduced to fall for the temptations of pure villainy. But happily, it was a short, merciful victory for Our Heroes; the game only lasted 2:09; and I stayed on the Right Side of the Law.

The most interesting moment of the evening was when Nick Swisher’s home run headed straight for me like a monkey outta nowhere. For a terrifying instant, I thought I might have no choice but to try to catch the darn thing, and then, in an even more terrifying instant, I realized I didn’t bring my glove.

If you look at a replay of the home run, you can see me; I’m the guy wearing the moth costume, holding his hands up in front of his head, and shouting “Not in the face! NOT IN THE FACE!” Zachary, just to my left, was much more cool about it, of course. He said, “Remember, baseballs are more afraid of you than you are of them,”, but that’s easy for him to say, considering he’s about twice as big as me and darn near invulnerable in his big blue suit.

Fortunately, however, the ball didn’t quite have the juice to reach me; it fell directly in front of me, two rows short, and bounced back onto the field. I felt relief. Said my big blue friend, “Gravity is a harsh mistress.”

Well, there you have it. It was a very long day, the tights were uncomfortable…but we’ve covered that before. Victory: well pitched (Blanton), timely hitting (Johnson, Crosby), good defense (Chavez). Game: played quickly, sans ennui. Other French words: Coliseum, demitasse.

I could go on, but when tomatoes grow out of your forehead, it gets you thinking. What is life for but to grow? And to grow, you must eat, and also, you must sleep. And to sleep, you must dream, dream of a life that is better, a life that is filled with GOOD THINGS. And that, my friends, is why we say Good Night. Good night children, good night tomatoes, good night Nick Swisher, good night monkeys outta nowhere, good night Brad Fischer, good night golden dragon, good night green elephant, good night red wagon.

The Outer Midnight Zone

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Consider, if you will, a team that looks like the worst team in baseball one month, and then suddenly turns around and looks like the best the next. What kind of twisted mind writes a plot like that? The author is going mad, and trying to take the audience with him.

* * *

And if not mad, then sick. My wife and kids are all suffering from bad coughs; when I’m around them, I feel like I need to cough, too. I am I getting sick, too? Or is coughing psychologically contagious in the same way that yawning is?

* * *

How weird is it that the voices of Tigger and Piglet died on the same weekend? And as someone who was born on the very day that Disney released the first Winnie-the-Pooh film, it kinda freaks me out. They say…but I won’t.

* * *

To sound a happier note: they say that winning is contagious, and I will, too. Last night, Barry Zito finally caught that victory virus that’s been afflicting the rest of his team. For the first time in ages, his mates didn’t screw up a well-pitched game, and he picked up that fourth win he should have had a long time ago.

* * *

More happy notes: my new Nikon D70 Digital SLR camera arrived today. Haven’t had time to play with it much yet, but I already love it. Plenty of pictures to come, I’m sure…

* * *

Pictures, meet weirdness: can someone explain to me why several fans at the Coliseum last night were holding giant, four-foot-tall cardboard cutouts of the head of Paul Giamatti?

They didn’t show any giant cutouts of baseball players: no Barry Zito heads, no Eric Chavez heads. There weren’t superstar actor cutouts of Tom Cruise’s head or Russell Crowe’s head or Harrison Ford’s head. Nope, just giant Paul Giamatti heads.

Why Paul Giamatti? Sideways or not, Paul Giamatti is a classic Hey-It’s-That Guy, the kind of actor you recognize but forget his name.

The stands of the Oakland Coliseum during an A’s game was almost as bizarre a place to find a picture of a semi-famous actor as the whole Colin Mochrie / fanimutation thing.

* * *

I missed Ichiro’s leadoff home run against Zito, because I was (a) playing with my camera, and (b) flipping back to the NBA draft to see who the Warriors were going to pick with their two second round picks.

* * *

I’ll watch any draft, in any sport, anytime. I have no idea why; I just love ’em.

I can’t help but think that Chris Mullin could have traded down a few spots and still ended up with Ike Diogu. I saw only one mock draft anywhere that had Diogu higher than 15th: Dick Vitale had him pegged to the Warriors at 9. Many other drafts I saw didn’t even have him going in the first round. Part of the art of drafting is picking the right player, and part of it is maximizing the value of your pick.

The Warriors lack the kind of inside presence that Diogu supposedly will provide, so it sounds like a good fit, if Diogu can actually play. If he can, then Mullin is a genius. Very few other people had him rated that high. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for awhile now that Mullin, unlike a lot of GMs (and darn near every Warrior GM ever), can tell a real player from a stiff. Diogu is the ultimate test of that theory.

I was looking back at all the Warriors first round picks since Mullin joined the front office. Since 2001, the only mistakes the Warriors have made have been passing on a high school player (Amare Stoudamire) or two. When you look at where they’ve been drafting, and how all the players below their picks turned out, they’ve really done a darn good job at picking the best player available.

I half-expected the Mullin to grab a European player with the second-round pick, since he seems to like them so much, but instead he went for a high-school player (Monta Ellis) who needs to bulk up and a college player (Chris Taft) who probably came out a year too early. Good picks for second-rounders; they each have flaws right now, but Tremendous Upside Potential.

* * *

Every draft has one: the guy expected to go in the top six or seven, who ends up plunging to the end of the first or the second round. 2005’s top draft-droppers: Aaron Rodgers (NFL), Luke Hochevar (MLB), and Gerald Green (NBA).

Bill Simmons is probably so giddy about Green falling to the Celtics at 18 that he’s having trouble getting his running draft diary written, just like that guy in that movie who was at a complete loss for words because he was so surprised he got the girl he had been longing for that he couldn’t come up with a metaphor based on a motion picture to explain how being happy about being so surprised about getting the girl had made him speechless, but I could be wrong, just like that guy in that TV show who thought he was doing the right thing but in a twist of cruel irony at the end turned out to be doing the very wrong thing he had been trying to avoid, but it would be very hard to explain how exactly I was wrong because at that point the plot becomes so convoluted that you need a small, devilish author (another Hey-It’s-That Guy whose name you can’t remember) from the Outer Midnight Zone to show up and explain everything with a quick elegant summary, which we don’t have, so you’ll just have to do without and assume I’m correct until proven otherwise in the morning when this long nightmare is over.

Swisher’s Revenge

I think the most remarkable thing about the A’s blowout victory over the Giants was the time. The A’s scored sixteen runs, and yet the game only took 2:14.

Normally, in a blowout, you start counting the hairs on your arms by about the fourth inning for some excitement, but not today. Rich Harden was breezing along; although he wasn’t completely unhittable, he was throwing strikes, and every ball the Giants managed to hit hard was right at someone. When Deivi Cruz got a broken bat bloop hit to break up Harden’s no-hitter in the fifth inning, I said to my wife, “there goes the last bit of tension that was left in this game.” To which she replied, “No, the A’s still have a chance to score in every inning.”

Jason Christensen must have felt the missing tension, too. When the A’s scored three more runs off him in the bottom half of the fifth, Christensen added some intrigue to the proceedings when he intentionally threw at the feet of Nick Swisher, who had homered earlier in the game. Swisher managed to dance out of the way, and both benches were warned.

I didn’t know if Swisher had done anything that would make the Giants angry at him (knowing Swisher’s cockiness, it wouldn’t surprise me), or if the Giants were just frustrated from getting their butts kicked. In any case, that made things a bit more interesting for about thirty seconds, wondering if the A’s would get back at the Giants in some fashion. But then Swisher hit another homer two pitches later, and that’s the best form of retaliation of all. I’m a fair-weather Giants fan, so I don’t derive any particular satisfaction from beating the cross-bay rivals, but Swisher’s revenge was sweet. Even though it was 14-0 at the time, I jumped out of my seat to cheer it over the fence.

Incidentally, Swisher became the first A’s player to homer from both sides of the plate in one game since Ruben Sierra. Which in my mind makes him the first A’s player to ever to accomplish that feat, because I’ve had Ruben Sierra’s existence in an A’s uniform surgically removed from my brain. The procedure cost a lot of money, but it was worth every penny.

After Swisher’s second homer, the teams started going through the motions. The A’s passed up several opportunities to take some extra bases, and didn’t score again. The last 2 1/2 innings were relaxing, and went by briskly.

Ron Flores followed Harden and pitched a perfect eighth. I like Flores. The guys throws slop, but he throws slop for strikes. Of course, he hasn’t given up a run yet in the major leagues, so what’s not to like? The only thing that bothers me about him is that every time I see him with his left-handed motion, wearing that #47 on his back, I have to stop myself from wondering when the A’s signed Jesse Orosco.

Kiko Calero followed with a 1-2-3 ninth, and it was time to head home. Nothing like a blowout and a sweep to make a team look great. The pitchers are pitching, the hitters are hitting, and the defenders are defending. It was a good day to be an A’s fan.

Since Bobby Crosby returned on June 2, the A’s are 15-8; four of those losses are owned by Ryan Glynn, who is no longer in the rotation; and three of the other losses were to probable 2005 All-Stars: Roy Halladay, Livan Hernandez, and John Smoltz. This team is playing really well.

I got home, looked at the standings, and noticed that the A’s are now just five games under .500, and those five games are the five games they’ve played below .500 in 31 games against the AL East. The A’s have only played six games so far against the AL Central. The Angels, on the other hand, have had thirty games against the Central, and only six against the AL East; the LALALAAs will spend half of July and most of August working their way through the AL’s best division. The A’s are still 10.5 games out, but hope is alive.

Bout of the Year

Danny the Rabbit continued the recent streak of excellent A’s starts Saturday, allowing three runs in a complete game victory over the Giants. I’ll be out at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday, to see if Rich Harden can keep it going.

Which means I won’t be home to follow the Bout of the Year: the Toronto Blue Jays versus the Washington Nationals.

Not only are these teams 1-2 in the MLB Heavyweight Standings, but Sunday’s losing team along with its entire league will be eliminated from the Heavyweight Title for the rest of the year.

Originally, Livan Hernandez was scheduled to start, but he threw on Saturday instead. Now the hopes of the National League will rest on the hyper-inconsistent arm of Tony Armas. The AL is placing its hopes on Gustavo Chacin. Chacin has had a much better year than Armas, but Chacin’s last two starts were not very good.

It could be any kind of game. I’ll keep my eye on that out-of-town scoreboard.

Update:
The Blue Jays break a 5-5 tie with two runs in the eighth, and two in the ninth, to eliminate the Nationals and their league, 9-5. Congrats American League, and may the best team win!

Sabermetridar

I’m not a sabermetrician. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you.

I should probably trigger a big flashing red light on people’s sabremetridar. I love baseball. I’m an A’s fan. I do computers. I know SQL like the back of my hand. But sabermetrics just doesn’t turn me on.

I think here’s why: The single thing I enjoy most about baseball is the art of pitching. I love trying to think along with the pitcher, figuring out what to throw next, how to keep the hitter off balance.

Suppose I’m Barry Zito, and I’m facing Richie Sexson, and I’m behind in the count 2-1, having thrown an inside fastball for a called strike, and two consecutive curveballs out of the zone. What do I throw next?

To me, that’s by far the most interesting question in baseball. But without detailed pitch-by-pitch data, sabermetrics cannot answer that question, and must remain silent.

If we really want to understand why Barry Zito has struggled the past two seasons, we’re not going to find that understanding in his K/9 rates. That understanding lies in his pitch-by-pitch decisions, in how often he gets himself backed in a corner, with few options to deceive the batter.

Justin Duchscherer is a mystery to me. How does he keep getting people out? He has a nice 12-6 curveball, but otherwise he doesn’t appear to have good stuff. But there’s this: I find it really difficult to guess what he’s going to throw next. What is he doing, exactly? What’s his M.O.?

Kirk Saarloos has pitched decently all season, but he has tended to get tired early. But yesterday, he threw a complete-game shutout. The Chronicle reported that he added a hard slurve to his repertoire for this game. Is that why he struck out more batters and could throw more pitches than usual? Or was it just that the Mariners are bad? Does this new/altered pitch help him get batters out, and if so, how?

I don’t have access to pitch-by-pitch data, so I can’t run an SQL query to get answers. I’m just going to have to keep watching ballgames. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Pirates Are Nigh

I try to avoid religious debates, but I feel it is imperative to correct a few common misconceptions about Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.

I won’t talk about the string theory/spaghetti analogies. That’s been done to death. The first misconception I want to discuss is about the creation itself:

I have included an artistic drawing of Him creating a mountain, trees, and a midget.

This misconception is probably the result of a bad translation of the ancient texts. Of course, the Flying Spaghetti Monster created midgets along with everything else, but the word “midget” was never in the original text. A more accurate translation would be that The Flying Spaghetti Monster created “mountains and trees, and little fields where children could play.”

It’s likely that “little fields” became mixed up with “little children”, which was then translated incorrectly as “midgets.”

Most people would agree that it makes a lot more sense to base a philosophy of life on children dressing up as pirates, than on midgets.

 
The second misconception is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster gets angry if people don’t wear full pirate regalia:

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s….As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

While there is no denying this statistical fact, the reduction of pirates and the consequential global warming are not evidence that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is angry. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is indeed all-powerful, but each person has their own Fork within to tap into that power. The Fork can be used for good, or for evil.

Consider the severe drop in pirates since 1980 on Mr. Henderson’s graph. Where are all the people in their magnificent full pirate regalia? They are ashamed, and have lost their faith.

Is it a coincidence that the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates won a World Series was 1979? Is it a coincidence that the Pirates have not even had a winning season in over a decade?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a shiny new stadium, probably the most beautiful park in all the land, and people are staying away in droves, because the team stinks.

Then consider this: is it a coincidence that the General Manager in charge of this awful team is named “Dave Littlefield”? It’s the most transparent name in any religion since “Darth Sidious”.

The global catastrophes that have resulted from the shrinking population of pirates is not caused by the anger of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s the result of an evil conspiracy.

Littlefield is out to destroy every single true Pirate fan, until all but one, his secret apprentice, remains. We will keep thinking the Pirates are doomed, that their collapse is imminent, when all along, this is exactly what they wanted. When we finally realize what has happened, it will be too late. The last of the Pirate fans will be gone, and together, Littlefield and his apprentice will hold complete control of the Fork. Nothing will be able to stop them and their Evil Dynasty. The Two Evil Pirates will rule the galaxy with an iron fist, winning every battle, without mercy, for years on end.

For those of us who believe in competitive balance, dark times are ahead. May the Fork be with you.

Stomach Punch

Last night was the worst loss of the year. It hurt, bad.

The A’s had two outs in the ninth and a two-run lead when Michael Morse singled in two to tie the game. Somebody get a scouting report on this guy; he hit .253 in AAA; he’s hitting .397 in the majors. He can’t be this good. He must have plenty of holes in his swing somewhere.

Then with a one-run lead in the twelfth, Bobby Crosby dropped a throw from Ryan Glynn that would have been a game-ending double play. Next batter singles, and Eric Byrnes has a chance to throw the runner out at home, but he boots it, too.

Just when I had a little bit of hope, when I thought the A’s had a chance to make a really good run, this happens. I like the pitching matchups against San Francisco this weekend. With Harden back, I thought they had a good chance to get on a winning streak, and pull close to .500 before the All-Star Break.

Suddenly, hope is the furthest thing from my mind. I can’t get my mind around this loss. It just knocked all the air out of me; I can’t think of anything except the stunning fact that I just got punched in the stomach, and I can’t breathe.

The Further Adventures of Danny The Rabbit

Brown is not my color, but I’m sure I’ll find some excuse to wear the Barry Zito necktie I got at the A’s-Phils game on Father’s Day. For a brown tie, it looks pretty good.

* * *

To get the tie, I had to arrive pretty early, so I got a chance to watch the Phillies take batting practice. It kinda threw me to look out on the field and see the Phillies wearing blue uniforms. Thankfully, they changed to gray for the game.

If I had judged by batting practice, I would have thought that Jason Michaels was the Phillies best hitter. (Although I arrived too late to see Abreu and Thome.) Michaels was hitting line drives all over the yard. That continued into the game, as Michaels hit a bases loaded, 3-2 get-me-over fastball for a line drive 2-RBI double in the first inning. After that, the A’s pitchers started feeding Michaels off-speed slop instead of batting-practice fastballs, and they held him in check.

The game played out like a vintage 2000-04 A’s victory: the A’s pitcher (Joe Blanton) kept the game close; the A’s made the opposing starter (Jon Lieber) tire early (a sixth-inning rally) by making him throw a lot of pitches, got a big hit (by Adam Melhuse) against the middle relief (Ryan Madson), and then finished it off with a solid bullpen performance (Justin Duchscherer, filling in for the injured Huston Street).

* * *

After the game, the A’s let dads run the bases with their kids, so I took a home run trot around the bases, just to see what it was like. For some reason, the Coliseum looks an awful a lot smaller from second base than it does from the second deck.

* * *

In Swedish, the word “haren” means “the rabbit”. With a name like that, Dan Haren should be a speedy leadoff type instead of a pitcher. But I like the sound of “Danny The Rabbit”. Makes him sound like a gangster.

* * *

Haren avoided the big inning blues again last night, and won his fourth straight start.

Haren pitched aggressively all game, and didn’t start to nibble when he got into jams. I was most impressed with his ability to jam Richie Sexson with inside fastballs. He got Sexson to pop out three times with the same pitch. Heck, if the plan works, stick with it.

* * *

Haren had a little help from Nick Swisher, who robbed Jeremy Reed of a home run with a leaping catch above the yellow line. Swisher also had a couple of big hits, thanks to some stubbornness by Aaron Sele.

Swisher hasn’t shown yet that he can hit major league breaking pitches. Sele’s game plan against Swisher was apparently to get ahead in the count with off-speed stuff, and get him out with a well-placed fastball. Sele had three opportunities to strike out Swisher with his curveball, but gave him something straight each time, and Swisher took advantage twice.

In Swisher’s first AB, Sele had Swisher looking foolish with two consecutive curveballs, but Sele inexplicably followed that up with something straight and out over the plate, which Swisher hit for an RBI double to left-center. Then in his next AB, Sele tried to sneak a fastball past Swisher on a 3-2 pitch, and Swisher took him deep.

Heck, if the plan doesn’t work, stick with it anyway.

In Swisher’s third AB, with two outs and two runners on base, Sele again got two strikes on Swisher with curveballs, and again followed it up with a fastball. This time, Sele got his way, though, and Swisher grounded out to second.

* * *

Mark Kotsay hit a three-run homer in the eighth to ice the game. Not quite sure why Mike Hargrove left Jeff Nelson in to face Kotsay with lefty Matt Thornton ready in the bullpen, but I’ll take it, thank you very much.

Kotsay has been battling some back troubles recently, putting him into an 0-for-16 slump, dropping his average and OBP about 30 points. So the homer was a nice way to bust out.

I was a bit surprised by the reaction by some Yankee fans to the Peter Gammons Kotsay-to-the-Yanks trade rumor. The commenters who looked at his current numbers and decided they didn’t want him are quite mistaken. Kotsay is exactly what the Yankees need right now, and if they got him without breaking up their current roster, I think they’d win the division. His defense would fill their biggest hole, and his approach at the plate is very much in the style of the 1996-2000 champions. He’s a perfect fit. But if I’m Billy Beane, I’m doing everything I can to keep him from exercising his right to become a free agent at the end of the year, and to keep him around as long as possible. I love the guy. I’m only giving up Kotsay if it kills me.

* * *

Rich Harden returns to the mound tonight, meaning Ryan Glynn probably goes back to Sacramento. It also means the A’s are finally starting to look like the team we were hoping for at the beginning of the year. The A’s are 13-7 since Bobby Crosby came off the DL.

Now, get Harden and Street back on the mound, and let’s have some fun!

As The Heavyweights Box

Today was a crucial day in the MLB Heavyweight Championship, as the Washington Nationals defeated the Texas Rangers, 8-1.

Because of a quirk in the scheduling, this game may have been the last interleague championship bout of the year. There is one more weekend of interleague play remaining. However, since the NL has two more teams than the AL, two NL teams won’t play interleague games next weekend: the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The current champs, the Washington Nationals, play the Pirates Monday through Wednesday. If the Pirates beat the Nationals on Wednesday, then the heavyweight crown will remain in the National League for the rest of the season.

American League teams need the Pirates’ Josh Fogg to beat the Nationals’ John Patterson to have a chance at any more title bouts this season.

If that happens, and the Nationals win on Wednesday, then the AL will have one more chance on Sunday to keep the crown in the AL, when the Nationals host the Toronto Blue Jays.

Shaking It Up

Earthquakes! Get yer earthquakes here!

The ground in California has been a-shakin’ lately, with four pretty big quakes in the last week. Then yesterday I got my annual earthquake insurance bill from the Mariner Domers, the price of which is pretty ground-shaking on its own.

Around here, we weren’t close enough to feel Mother Nature’s shimmying, so Billy Beane took it on himself to shake up the East Bay. So Juan Cruz goes to Sacramento, where he’ll be a starter until he can fix what has been ailing him. Tim Harikkala, whom I have never been impressed with, gets designated for assignment.

I had no idea that Cruz had any options left. I had assumed he didn’t, since this is the fifth different season he’s spent time in the majors. Since I was obviously wrong, my question now is this:

What the #&(@*$&$ took so long?

Jeez, this guy has been completely and utterly ineffective since day one. All this time, I had assumed he was still on the major league roster because they didn’t want to have to pass him through waivers to send him to the minors. But they could have sent him to Sacramento two months ago if they wanted to!?!

OK, whatever.

Up to replace those guys are Jairo Garcia and Ron Flores. They each pitched an inning last night and allowed one hit and no runs. When I saw Garcia last night, for some reason he reminded me of Felix Rodriguez. Hard thrower, body flying all over the place. Flores is a soft-tossing lefty, and he’s probably here so the A’s can see if he can handle the LOOGY job if the A’s trade Ricardo Rincon.

Barry Zito pitched a great game last night until the sixth inning, when everything fell apart, but it wasn’t really his fault. He got Jim Thome to hit an easy double-play ball, but Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby played “you got it, no you got it”, and instead of two outs and nobody on, there were no outs and two on. A couple of batters later, Kiko Calero came in and opened the floodgates, but all the runs were charged to Zito. Zito deserves better.

Calero has been back from the DL for a while now, but he still doesn’t look right to me. His slider has no bite; it’s just kinda looping up there, and the only reason he’s not getting killed is that Calero is smart enough to keep the ball down below the knees.

Tomorrow, I’ll be spending Father’s Day at the Coliseum. Let’s hope Joe Blanton keeps up his recent streak of good pitching; he’ll have a tough opponent in Jon Lieber. And hopefully, I’ll get there early enough to get me one of them Barry Zito neckties.

I Have A Bad Feeling About This

Don’t just stand there, blog something!

I didn’t see any of the A’s game last night.

I don’t know you anymore! Arneson, you’re breaking my heart! You’re going down a path I can’t follow!

I went to see the new Star Wars movie.

Arneson, my allegiance is to the Athletics, to baseball!

I’m taking the A’s struggles as an opportunity to diversify my entertainment choices.

The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.

On the whole, I enjoyed the film, despite some clear flaws.

Twisted by the Dark Side, young Arneson has become.

It’s amazing how George Lucas can take good actors and make them look like amateurs.

The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.

Here’s how I’d rank the acting of the major characters, from best to worst:

1. Yoda
2. Palpatine
3. Obi-Wan
4. Padme
5. Mace Windu
6. Organa
7. Anakin

Nooooooooooo!

I think the most disappointing thing is that this film (the whole series, really) could have been a truly great work of art where, as Salieri says about Mozart in Amadeus: “Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” An artist blessed with the power of greatness could have accomplished so much more.

Is it possible to learn this power?

Not from George Lucas.

Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720-1!

Never tell me the odds.

You want the impossible.

A great work of art is not impossible. A championship team is not impossible. If you say “I don’t believe it”, that is why you fail.

There he is! He’s still alive. Get me a medical capsule immediately!

Some of the players on the A’s roster right now, like Ryan Glynn, who is pitching as I write this, are like those lines of wooden dialogue in Star Wars. They’re displaceable notes. They don’t contribute to the structure of a great work of art. When they find those right notes, when they have the right structure, then I’ll be satisfied.

Another happy landing.

Mailbag: Europeans in Baseball

From the mailbag:

I wonder one thing about baseball. The teams get talent from Cuba, Canada and Japan. When is the first European gonna play in the Major Leagues, you think?
–Ken’s cousin in Sweden

 

There have been around 150 European-born players (full list here) who have played in the majors. Nearly all of them grew up in the US. Four were born in Sweden, all of whom came over during the same immigration wave that brought our grandparents, Gottfrid and Helga Arneson, over to the US in the early 20th century.

The most famous home run in baseball history (“The Giants Win The Pennant!”) was hit by a Scottish-born player named Bobby Thomson.

The best European-born player is probably Bert Blyleven, who many people think belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The list of players who actually grew up in Europe is very short. Here’s a story about one of them I know of, Rikkert Faneyte from the Netherlands.

Getting a player who grew up in Europe to reach the Majors is kinda like getting a player who grew up in California to reach the NHL. The culture, resources, competition, and number of players just aren’t good enough to produce very many good players.

There are some decent baseball leagues in Holland and Italy, but they’re more likely to supply baseball players to US colleges at this point than to MLB. The quality of play in European baseball compared to the US is probably about where basketball was in the 1960s or early 1970s. You probably need a generation or two of Europeans coming to the US, playing at lower levels, returning with their knowledge and passing it on, before we’ll see Europe as a legitimate source of MLB talent.

The nature of the game also makes it hard for someone from Europe to come over here and succeed. In basketball and American football, if you’re big and strong and fast, there’s probably a job for you. Baseball is a little more like soccer in that those traits are useless if you don’t also have the talent and skills to play the game. It would be hard for a European athlete who spent his childhood playing soccer to come to the US as a young adult and succeed in baseball.

Hitting–deciding in a fraction of a second whether to swing or not, and then when and where to aim your swing–usually requires years and years of practice. You rarely see anybody switch sports to baseball at a late age and become a successful hitter.

It’s more common to see someone switch over to pitching at a late age and have success. Being big and strong as a pitcher can help you throw hard, which is a big first step in succeeding as a pitcher. There have been some tall NBA players, for example, who went on to pitch in MLB.

I’d probably say it’s much more likely that we’d see a European pitcher than a hitter, except for one thing: Europeans don’t throw. Throwing is just not a part of European culture. The only reasonably popular sport played throughout Europe with any kind of throwing at all is team handball, and even then you rarely see European kids running around playing team handball on the playground. Every time I’ve seen a European try to throw a ball, it looks nearly as awkward as an American trying to throw with his opposite hand. I’d think that you need to do at least some reasonable amount of throwing as a kid, so that it’s a somewhat natural motion for you, to have a chance to succeed as a pitcher as an adult.

When I lived in Sweden in 1988, I worked with a Canadian guy who helped coach a baseball team in Stockholm. When he heard I was a baseball fan, the first words out of his mouth were “Can you pitch?” He was obviously desperate. Looking back on it, I wish I had replied “depends on what you mean by ‘can'”, but I had never really pitched, nor had I ever heard of Bill Clinton.

There has been talk about MLB teams trying to get some cricket players to convert to baseball, particularly in Australia where both cricket and baseball are played, but it hasn’t happened yet. Usually, those cricket players are making enough money playing cricket that it isn’t worth the risk. But maybe there’s some British kid out there playing cricket every day who will make his way over to the US and be the first person who grew up in Europe to become a baseball star.

Jets Today, Mets Tomorrow

Today was a great day for some old Encinal High Jets.

Jimmy Rollins became $40 million richer, signing a five-year deal with the Phillies. The internal consensus here at the Toaster was that the deal wasn’t out of line with the market for shortstops, even if we think the market for shortstops might be out of line.

Dontrelle Willis became MLB’s first 11-game winner, beating the Cubs, 9-1. Willis allowed seven hits and one run in seven innings, walking none and striking out five. Plus, he went 2-for-3 with an RBI at the plate.

Finally, Ken Arneson wasted a whole freaking morning failing to compile and install a potential new templating engine for evaluation, and a whole dadgummed afternoon dealing with a hardware failure at his ISP, instead of writing a little ditty about the A’s victory over the Braves yesterday, and finally getting started on the coding of the new templating system.

Oh wait, maybe that last one isn’t such a very good example of a great day. Oh, well, two-out-of-three ain’t bad.

* * *

I’m considering heading out to the ballpark Tuesday night to watch the A’s face Tom Glavine and the Mets. I always like to see the non-Giant NL teams in person when they come to Oakland. I don’t think I could explain why I enjoy the interleague games; it’s not like I couldn’t just hop a ferry over to SBC Park if I really wanted to see these teams. But that’s how I feel, so I just deal with it.

Waterfront Ballpark

I missed Saturday’s A’s game, as I took my kids down to the beach yesterday to see Alameda Sand Castle and Sculpture Contest. But even there, I couldn’t escape the A’s.

The leading candidate for a new ballpark site for the A’s is now apparently the estuary waterfront site. And one of the contestants decided to try their hand at designing such a ballpark:

I dig the waterfront location. Nice view of the bay and San Francisco skyline. But I think the ballpark itself is a little too 1960’s for my taste:

The round design just isn’t cool anymore (if it ever was). We need some creativity in our ballpark design:

Now we’re getting somewhere. You gotta think different. How about this:

I can see it now: each ballpark entrance would be sculptures of the heads of people from A’s history, and you’d walk through their mouths into the ballpark. Bonus points for cool mustaches: Rollie Fingers and Bill King would be musts.

You have to get eaten by the past in order to view the present; heavy symbolism, man.

Billy Beane Translator

Billy Beane is denying that he will trade Barry Zito. That, in and of itself, means nothing, as Beane always denies trade rumors. So for those of you who haven’t learned to comprehend the Beanean language, here is a quick translation guide to Billy Beane trade rumor denials:

  • The emotional denial
    If Beane gets angry or laughs at a trade rumor, the rumor has no teeth at all.

    Example: the recent Chavez-to-the-White-Sox rumor. Beane was annoyed by the very idea, and called the rumor “b&!!s^%#”.
     

  • The calm, rational denial

    If Beane calmly and rationally denies a specific rumor, it means he isn’t opposed to the idea of trading the guy, but no one will offer anything close to what he wants.

    Example: the Zito denial. From the Sporting News:

    “Barry’s pitched well, he really has,” Beane told The Sporting News on Thursday. “I need him. I’m not thinking about trading him.”

     

  • The evasive denial

    If Beane answers the question by not answering the question, then there is some shopping going on.

    Example: the Byrnes rumors in the off-season. Asked at Fan Fest about trading Byrnes, Beane’s response was that Byrnes is currently on the A’s roster.
     

  • The denial denial

    If Beane denies that he even comments on trade rumors at all (which obviously isn’t true), or simply refuses to answer the question in any form, then something is really close to happening.
     

I’m glad that Billy Beane is holding out on trading Zito for now. With every strong outing Zito makes, he increases his value. I think he’s as good as he’s ever been, if not better. His slider and sinker give him more ways to get a batter out than he had before.

One disastrous outing in Tampa early in the year inflated his ERA, and combined with his bad year last year, has given people the perception that Zito has lost it. Zito has had to pitch very well ever since to bring that ERA down to respectable (4.41). Take that game out, though, and his ERA is 3.68.

Beane doesn’t need to trade into that perception. That perception will only return a handful of average players. The A’s don’t really need any more average players. After drafting Cliff Pennington, presumably to be the A’s second baseman of the future, they have young guys in the organization who can be average players at nearly every position. That’s what the Moneyball college-only risk-minimizing strategy has yielded. And if Beane wants some more cheap, average players, he can trade Byrnes or Durazo.

What the A’s really need now is a young superstar. I think Beane recognizes that, and that’s why the A’s drafted many high-school players this year. They need a home run or two, not just a basketful of singles, even if it means striking out more often.

Zito is the only trading chip they have who can possibly land a player like that. There’s no point in trading Zito unless you get a great, young player in return. Apparently, nobody is willing to give up that kind of player in June, but as the July trading deadline approaches, the contending teams might be a little more desperate.

The Craving

I watch an awful lot of baseball, and often I wonder (especially when the A’s are sucking like they do now), why am I doing this? There are so many other things I could be doing.

Time Magazine recently came out with its list of 100 All-Time Best Films. I’ve only seen thirteen of them. I watched more baseball games last month than I’ve seen great movies in my whole lifetime.

This has been bubbling up more and more towards the surface in my thoughts. Then a blog entry by Terry Teachout nailed the issue for me. A reader wrote him:

There seems to be such a glut of everything artistic these days. In jazz alone, I could go on listening to new and already-heard stuff from the same 1940s and 1950s period until I dropped dead at 100 without running out, and that’s jazz alone. Meaning, I really don’t need any more jazz to be produced. It’s all on disc. I don’t need any more cabaret singers singing Cole Porter, or young guys in suits playing Fats Navarro, etc.

To which Teachout responds:

Remember that no one, not even the wealthiest of connoisseurs, has an unlimited amount of time to spend on art. However wisely or unwisely we allocate them, there are only twenty-four hours in a day. Sooner or later, we have to choose.

I’ve rationalized to myself that I have chosen to immerse myself in baseball instead of film or jazz or painting or video games or reality TV. But why don’t I balance it out a bit more evenly?

I keep thinking that I should take this opportunity to diversify my leisure activities, to spend more my entertainment time and money on other things. Go out to a movie. I hear that new Star Wars film isn’t too bad. Take $20/month of the money I spend on the A’s and spend it on Netflix or a museum or something. After all, baseball players won’t have to wait tables if I buy a little less of their product for awhile.

I’ve said that before, though. I’ll say that I should go see X or listen to Y, but usually, I just end up watching the ballgame instead. Why do I keep doing that?

Again, Teachout to the rescue:

…there’s no substitute for the galvanizing experience of being present at the creation of a new work of art that might possibly end up being great. Nothing is so thrilling as making up your own mind instead of waiting for posterity to do it for you.

[snip]

We can’t all make art, but we can at least place a bet from time to time on those who dare to do so.

For me, that’s exactly it. I need and crave excellence; it’s built into the very fabric of my personality. I once took a personality test that said that this was my most dominant personality trait:

Strengths, whether yours or someone else’s, fascinate you. Like a diver after pearls, you search them out, watching for the telltale signs of a strength. A glimpse of untutored excellence, rapid learning, a skill mastered without recourse to steps-all these are clues that a strength may be in play. And having found a strength, you feel compelled to nurture it, refine it, and stretch it toward excellence. You polish the pearl until it shines.

The last five seasons, the A’s have been this close, falling just one game short of that next step to greatness. You can sense its proximity, and you desperately want to be there when it happens, so you stay tuned.

The A’s aren’t that close anymore. There is potential greatness, I sense, in Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, and Huston Street. As of yet, it isn’t actual greatness. I keep watching because really want to be there if and when it happens. And I appreciate Billy Beane’s efforts to create a great team.

But I’m not getting my excellence fix very often these days. I need to invest my time more wisely, to maximize my excellence income, to bring the greatest possible profit to my soul.

So I’m going to test out some new rules:

  • If given an immediate choice between watching baseball and something else that might be fun, choose the something else.
  • Only sit and watch the game as my primary activity if my team’s starting pitcher clearly has the potential to be great. (e.g., Zito, Harden, or Haren)
  • Even then, make every effort to multi-task, and get something else accomplished simultaneously.
  • For a mediocre starting pitcher, make every effort to find something to do that is completely unrelated to baseball.
  • If doing something around the house, the game may be on, but only as background noise.
  • If the game is a blowout, turn it off.

We’ll see how it goes.

Collision

When you play, sometimes–
sometimes–the moon turns her back.
You can’t see her face.

        Estrada’s gotta hinder Erstad.
        Erstad’s gotta touch the plate.

You’re binary stars.
Orbit. Tempt. Brush off a kiss.
Slow. Reverse afresh.

        Erstad’s gotta beat Estrada.
        Estrada got the ball too late.

        Estrada got no time to balance.
        Erstad got a full-speed stride.

You’re not free. You dance
to gravity’s melody.
Two bodies, one space.

        Erstad got a quick decision:
        Estrada? Nada. They collide.

You fall in concert,
absorbed into the moment.
The game owns your flesh.