Kendall Homers!

Jason Kendall just hit his first home run as an Oakland Athletic!

Holy Toledo!

If the A’s come back and win the division, this may be the moment where things turn around. If Kendall can homer…all the bad luck may be reversing itself, right here, right now.

I can hope, anyway.

Update: It’s his first home run since July 27, 2004, off Paul Byrd of the Atlanta Braves.

Intersections

The A’s are way too depressing to even think about, let alone write about. Let’s just forget them for awhile.

Instead, I want to share my favorite OMG! moment on today’s Internets, this blog entry from David Byrne:

Here is a photo from a NY Times article on a Northern California company that specializes in games and content for mobile phones. The CEO and founder of the company, Trip Hawkins (is that a movie name or what?), stands center. Looks like he spends time at the gym — and at personal grooming.

The guys slouched around him — overweight, balding slobs — are the guys who, I presume, do the grunt work in the company. If ever there was an image of animal social hierarchy this is it.

That, my friends, is Silicon Valley in a perfect nutshell. There’s a set of Alpha Males, driving around in shiny new BMWs, wearing expensive designer “casual” clothes, discussing all their latest and greatest deals, bragging about their latest round of golf, perfecting their preening to impress anyone who will listen. Then you have a set of out-of-shape dudes in t-shirts and flip-flops who don’t have time to play golf, and wouldn’t care to if they did, because they’re too busy, you know, makin’ stuff. The Venn diagrams of these two sets barely touch.

I shoulda learned to play the guitar. I shoulda learned to play them drums. Money for nothing and the chicks for free.

I remember one time I was wearing a 49ers t-shirt with a picture of Ronnie Lott on it. I walked into the CEO’s office (in one of those rare moments of Venn diagram intersections), and I think the words that came out of his mouth were, “Oh, Ronnie Lott! I played 18 holes with him yesterday,” but the words I heard him say in my brain were, “I am an alpha male. I hang out with alpha males. You, however, can only manage to wear the image of an alpha male. Therefore, you are not an alpha male.”

When I get frustrated about the A’s, and I don’t feel like blogging about them, I think about that moment. Athletes are the alpha males of our popular culture; their status-to-actual-societal-value ratio is way out of proportion. So why the hell do I keep feeding their egos by doing exactly what they want me to do, and obsess about their success?

I really ought to have more dignity than this. I should be an alpha male! I should be the obsessee, not the obsesser! But it’ll probably never happen. I’m such a beta male, it’s pathetic. And probably, if you’re reading this, so are you.

Despair

The A’s just got their butts handed to them by Seth Etherton and the Kansas City Royals.

*sigh*

And *sigh* again.

I have griped about Frank Thomas and Jason Kendall round these parts this year, but of late, they haven’t been problems. When Thomas returned to the familiar confines of US Cellular Field last week, he rediscovered his batting eye; he’s not swinging at balls any more, he’s swinging at good pitches to hit, and hitting them hard. He looks much more like the Frank Thomas of years past than the Frank Thomas of April. As for Jason Kendall, he has stopped grounding out to third so much, and as a result, is performing about as well as you’d expect.

The problem is this: yes, Jason Kendall is performing to expectations, but Jason Kendall was expected to be the worst hitter in the A’s lineup. Instead, Jason Kendall’s .675 OPS was the median OPS in tonight’s A’s lineup. And with the exception of Jay Payton replacing the injured Milton Bradley, it was pretty much the lineup Billy Beane expected to be fielding.

The A’s lineup tonight breaks into three distinct groups:

Performing well above expectations

Nick Swisher: 1.037 OPS. PECOTA 90% percentile projection: .912 OPS.
Eric Chavez: .917 OPS. PECOTA 90%: .929 OPS.

Performing around expectations

Frank Thomas: .821 OPS. PECOTA 50%: .800 OPS.
Mark Kotsay: .748 OPS. PECOTA 50%: .745 OPS.
Jason Kendall: .675 OPS. PECOTA 50%: .671 OPS.

Performing way, way, way below expectations

Bobby Crosby: .642 OPS. PECOTA 10%: .671 OPS.
Mark Ellis: .629 OPS. PECOTA 10%: .655 OPS.
Jay Payton: .606 OPS. PECOTA 10%: .594 OPS.
Dan Johnson: .545 OPS. PECOTA 10%: .686 OPS.

The pitching struggles have been well documented, but if Crosby, Ellis, Payton, and Johnson had been performing anywhere even near shouting distance of their expectations, the pitching injuries would have only been a small blip on the season.

I’ll give Ken Macha some credit here: he actually had the A’s five best performing batters clustered 1-5 in the A’s lineup tonight. But it’s hard to win when nearly half your lineup is clunking along at their 10% PECOTA projections.

The season is almost two months old now. The time for excuses is over. These four players need to step up and step up now. Because if the A’s get swept by the Royals, the A’s 2006 season might die right here and now, of embarrassment.

The Long Nightmare Is Over

I usually don’t remember dreams, but I’ve been recalling more in recent days, for some reason. Last night, I dreamed I was talking with Billy Beane, and he asked me how well I could pitch. Well, I guess that’s just a sign of how horrible the A’s bullpen has been with those five pitchers on the DL. If I’m even subconsiously contemplating the idea that I could do a better job than them, well, then things are really, really bad.

Before this dream, fortunately, the A’s managed to get through a game without using any of those replaceable middle relievers. Barry Zito pitched into the eighth, and Huston Street took it from there. The A’s seven-game losing streak was mercifully over.

A victory tonight would sure make this roadtrip less painful. Kirk Saarloos rarely pitches beyond the sixth inning, even on a good day, but maybe tonight he can make an exception. Better to dream for a miracle like that, than to dream that I can suddenly learn how to pitch.

A Good Haymaker

I shared an A’s game a couple of years ago with Markos Moulitsas, and he asked me if I ever participated in the Daily Kos discussions, and I said no, and he asked me why, and I don’t quite remember what I said, I think I made up some lame excuse about focusing on baseball blogging. The truth was that I didn’t really feel like my political views had a solid philosophy behind them that I really believed in, so arguing about political details felt like a pointless waste of time to me, like arguing about wallpaper patterns before you have any sort of blueprint to your house, but I was afraid that if I tried to explain this to Markos that it would come out wrong (your blog is a pointless waste of time!) so I left the truth unsaid.

Lately, though, I find more and more that I am starting to have a general philosophy of things, and that I am getting closer and closer to being able to articulate my beliefs. I feel like I am circling around the same themes, firing bullets at some central target which I keep getting closer and closer to hitting.

And as I get closer to having my own philosophical legs to stand on, I feel like I am now more ready and willing to argue the wallpaper patterns, so to speak.

Here’s another bullet fired around that target. Yesterday, Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus made a very political argument in discussing Michael Barrett’s suckerpunch of A.J. Pierzynski. An excerpt from Goldman, with a quote at the end from Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

It’s not that Americans lack the skills for a good rhetorical bout, but that the art of negotiation is something that the culture doesn’t prize as highly as the sudden stroke, the force majeure. We like to hit people, or at the very least fantasize that hitting someone cuts a problem to the quick in a way that talking can’t do. Americans rejected the League of Nations and to this day many of them hate the United Nations. Membership in diplomatic organizations restricts our ability to unload a good haymaker when that irresistible urge arises. There is a streak of primitivism in American culture, “a persistent preference for the ‘wisdom’ of intuition, which is deemed to be natural or God-given, over rationality, which is cultivated and artificial.”

This paragraph is, if I may read between the lines a bit, criticizing three groups of people:

1. Michael Barrett
2. Iraq war supporters
3. Anti-statheads

It implies, by carefully selecting words such as “fantasize” and “primitivism” and by placing quotation marks around the word ‘wisdom’, that intuition is inferior, and that rationality should be the preferred, superior choice whenever possible.

And that’s where I’d choose a different wallpaper.

Let me start by choosing a few selected words of my own. First, I’d like to kill the word “intuition”. It has a negative connotation that puts it at a disadvantage in any argument against rationality. A decision made by intuition runs through a pattern recognition algorithm in our brains. So let’s replace “intuition” with the phrase “pattern recognition”.

By choosing the words “pattern recognition”, we can also get rid of the word “primitivism”. Because the pattern recognition algorithms in our brains are anything but primitive; they are extremely complex. We can easily program a computer to follow a rational algorithm, but nobody has even remotely figured out how get a computer to match a human brain’s pattern recognition ability. Rationality is far, far simpler (dare I say, primitive?) than pattern recognition.

Goldman then goes on to quote the BP book Mind Game, where they conclude via statistical analysis of teams pre- and post-fights, that baseball fights do not benefit the fighters. To which I say, of course they don’t.

Fights begin out of anger, and anger is an emotion that has evolved over millions of years. What evolutionary purpose does anger serve? To make a creature willing to overcome his self-preservation instincts, and risk physical harm to itself in order to communicate to another creature that it is behaving inappropriately. Anger is supposed to be costly.

Ever had a bird attack you when you get too close to its nest? You’re 20 times bigger than the bird, and you could probably kill it with one blow. But it doesn’t care; it’s angry at you. And it works, too. You’re not hanging around that nest to get pecked at; you’re gonna skedaddle away. Anger is a complex, effective interspecies communications tool, evolved over hundreds of thousands of generations of animals.

Rationality, on the other hand, is a brand new tool in the evolutionary chain. Only humans have it. It hasn’t been tested by hundreds of thousands of species over hundreds of millions of years. It’s been tested by one species over maybe a hundred thousand years.

Being skeptical of rational choices is the rational thing to do. I believe that our pattern recognition algorithms are often so much more sophisticated than our rational algorithms, that when they disagree, the rational argument is wrong more often than not. The rational argument is always missing something: some assumption, some variable, some pattern that the sophisticated pattern recognition algorithms don’t miss. Over time, after further analysis, and years and years of study, when all the variables are finally in, the rational analysis often ends up at or near the same place the pattern recognition algorithm started out with in the first place.

Now, don’t mistake me. I’m not saying pattern recognition is always better than rationality. Humans have both, and there’s a reason we have evolved both. Rationality has given us a huge advantage over other animals. There’s probably a time and a place where communicating with A.J. Pierzynski with a fist would be more effective than using a more rational communications tool, but Michael Barrett probably didn’t pick the right one. Given the context, Barrett’s anger didn’t seem appropriate or justified. What I am arguing is that we should not simply dismiss our intuition and emotions as primitive and inferior out of hand.

If you ask me, this is the reason the Afghanistan war has been (viewed as) more successful than the Iraq war. Americans were angry at the Afghan government after 9/11. Anger makes you willing to risk personal suffering. Iraq, on the other hand, was invaded based more on rational arguments than anger. WMDs, therefore blah blah blah. Americans weren’t really all that angry at Iraq. Which had two effects: (1) the decision was more likely to be flawed, because the rational mechanisms for making the decision to invade Iraq were less sophisticated than the complex, emotional mechanisms used to decide to invade Afghanistan, and (2) the lack of anger made Americans less willing to endure the physical suffering that the war would entail, making success even that much less likely.

To make a long point short: to maximize your odds of success, make sure your logic and your intuitions/emotions are in full agreement before making a decision.

* * *

All of which brings me around to the reason I started writing this blog entry in the first place, which was that I was angry with Ken Macha about today’s loss to the Rangers. The grand slam to Rod Barajas when the A’s had a 7-0 lead was infuriating. I can’t communicate my anger with Macha by throwing a good haymaker at him, so instead, at the risk of being ridiculed in public with my arguments, I am issuing this longwinded complaint instead. My anger must out!

The A’s are infamous, thanks to Moneyball, for being rational about their decision-making. Take the emotions out of it, Billy Beane likes to say. To which I say, that’s just wrong.

Sometimes Ken Macha drives me nuts, and sometimes it’s because I think he’s making an irrational decision, but I think the ones that drive me the most nuts are the ones that seem too rational. It’s like Macha won’t trust his pattern recognition tools at all, and requires rational, empirical proof that X is Y before he’ll act on it.

This manifests itself in the worst way when Macha is trying to decide whether to yank a pitcher or not. He seems unable to trust his eyes that a pitcher has run out of gas. He has some logical algorithm: if the pitcher:

(1) hasn’t maxed out his pitch count, and

(2) hasn’t yielded over five runs yet, and

(3a) hasn’t gone five innings yet, or
(3b) has gone five innings and still hasn’t given up a run this inning,

then

(4) leave him in the game.

Meanwhile, anybody with eyes can see that Brad Halsey has completely run out of gas. He loads the bases, but since no one has scored yet, there is logically, I suppose, insufficient evidence that Halsey is done. Whatever. Halsey serves up the grand slam to Barajas. Suddenly, a game the A’s should win by a blowout becomes a huge Texas comeback. Thank you, Ken “One Batter Too Late” Macha!

The human brain is constructed with the emotional center in charge of decisions, not the rational system. That is exactly as it should be. Let the rational inform your decisions, of course, but in the end, trust your pattern recognition system.

Nature has evolved over millions of years a persistent preference for the wisdom of intuition. This wisdom needs no quotation marks.

The Target Audience

Ah, now I see why Lew Wolff was nice and gave me his front row seats a couple weeks ago. I am pretty much their ideal customer. They should be nice to me.

Now that the A’s have secured an option to buy a Major League Soccer expansion team, is there anyone else they should be targeting more than me, a baseball-bloggin’, soccer-playin’, technogeeky sports nut?

I’ve even covered the right cities. I live in Alameda (borders Oakland), I grew up in Newark (borders Fremont, presumably where the A’s will be moving), and I went to San Jose State for a couple of years, so I got me some Downtown San Jose in me, too.

My only scar? I haven’t been to an Earthquakes game since…hmm…well I remember when Paul Child was the big Quakes star in the old NASL, and that I once got to see Pele score a goal at Spartan Stadium against the Earthquakes. That must have been about 1975. I remember seeing an indoor Earthquakes game at the Coliseum Arena with Steve Zungul scoring a bunch of goals. That was probably back in 1984. So, I guess that makes it 22 years since I went to an Earthquakes game. I haven’t been to a soccer game at all since the 1994 World Cup, unless you count the ones I play in every week.

But that just means there’s room for sales growth, right? So go ahead, Mr. Wolff, send me your best marketing pitches. Package up a couple Earthquakes games with my A’s season tickets. I’m listening…

The Perilous Bed

Last night’s loss to the Chicago White Sox reminds me of an old Arthurian legend called the “Perilous Bed.” This is one of the trials of Sir Gawain. It’s a silly story: Gawain tries to go to sleep on this bed, and it bucks him around like a wild stallion, generally making it impossible for him to sleep. Gawain “defeats” the bed, by simply staying put. The lesson: some monsters can’t be slain, they have to be endured.

Most people expected the A’s to be one of the better teams in the AL this year, and at this point, with five pitchers on the DL, they clearly are not. There’s a long list of other A’s players I’d rather see on the mound with a lead in the eighth inning against the World Champions than Steve Karsay and Randy Keisler, both of whom should be mopping up innings in blowouts, if they’re even in the majors at all. And if your first option in the tenth in a tie ballgame is Ron Flores, you are truly hurting.

It doesn’t get any easier in the next couple of days, with Javier Vazquez and Mark Buehrle lined up to face Oakland. If the A’s get out of Chicago with one victory out of three, they should count themselves as fortunate.

That’s why last night’s loss hurts. If you’re going to endure having five pitchers on the DL, you desperately need to win games like that. Every win is precious, another step closer to defeating the endurance test monster. But if you let those slip out of your grasp, you get perilously close to falling off, into a losing streak that will be the death of you.

2-4-6-8! Who Do We Appreciate?

Barry Bonds! Barry Bonds! Baaaaaaaaarry Bonds!

I got to watch Bonds hit his 714th homer on TV just before we had to leave the house for my daughter’s 2:30pm softball game.

I thought it was a extraordinary thing. Not so much the home run, but the fans’ reaction to it in the Oakland Coliseum. Bonds has been booed pretty consistently at the Coliseum over the years. Every time he steps to the plate, or his name is announced, the boos rain down from the stands. Even moreso recently.

And yet, when Bonds hit #714, it seemed like everyone in the house, A’s and Giants fans alike, gave him a standing ovation so long he had to take three curtain calls. It was as if the A’s fans were saying, OK, we don’t much care for you, Barry, but we respect your accomplishment. We respect the number.

How remarkably civilized. It was as if 35,000 people suddenly remembered their manners, the lessons they were taught as children.

Who do we appreciate?

Play hard, play to win, but always respect, appreciate, and thank your opponents. The world is a better place when you do.

The Kind Of Game I Love To Watch

And I missed most of it. I had a soccer game at 8:30pm last night, so I only saw innings 1, 2 and 9 of last night’s ballgame. Dan Haren again outdueled his BFF, Noah Lowry, 1-0. The A’s won their fifth straight game while Texas lost, so the A’s moved into first place all by their lonesomes.

I love well-pitched ball games, so I’m a little bummed I missed most of this one. My wife and kids went to the game and sat in the left-center bleachers. The game was so good that everyone came home raving about it, even though they didn’t win the $1,000,000 prize.

I’ll be missing most of today’s game as well, as my daughter has another softball game up in the Oakland Hills. This time, I’ll bring a charged battery for my camera.

First Place is First Place

The A’s climbed back to a first place tie in the AL West with last night’s 7-2 win over Seattle. Considering that the A’s currently have five players on the disabled list, plus another on the bereavement list, you can’t really complain much about the status quo. Things could be far, far worse at this point (see 2005).

I’m guessing Randy Keisler gets back from his grandmother’s funeral today, and the A’s open up his roster spot by placing Joe Kennedy on the DL. Kennedy hasn’t played in nine days, and it looks like he’ll miss a few more, so it seems the logical thing to do. That would make two starters, three relievers, and an outfielder on the shelf.

Thank goodness for Billy Beane and his commitment to pitching depth. The A’s pitching is stretched pretty thin right now, but with the depth, it’s stretched to the point of nervousness, not helplessness.

I usually feel pretty calm and comfortable with Justin Duchscherer out there in the eighth, and without him, the last couple of eighth innings against Seattle have made me bite my nails a bit. And I’ll probably bite a few more with Saarloos out on the mound today. I don’t particularly like it, but I can live with it.

Back to .500

I’ve been working late a lot these days, trying to meet a deadline, so I didn’t have full attention on last night’s A’s-Mariners game. Which was fine, because it was the perfect kind of game to only kinda pay attention to. The A’s took a big lead early on a grand slam by DH Adam Melhuse, and then cruised to a 12-6 victory. That, coupled with the Rangers’ crazy loss last night to the Yankees, brought the A’s to within a game of first place in the AL West.

There was something about this game, though, that just felt right. As if in this game, for the first time all year, the A’s felt like the A’s team I had been expecting all year. Perhaps it was because this lineup consisted only of players who were on the team last year, during the A’s hot streak. It also lacked anybody who was in the midst of a profound slump.

That not-slumping group even includes Jason Kendall, who had two hits, a couple of line drive outs, and yet again, no grounders to third. Kendall’s OBP is now .381, which means he isn’t killing the offense with his mere existence anymore. Still, I’d still like to see Melhuse play more. Melhuse was finally been given a chance to play regularly this week, and he’s responded with three home runs. How can you keep that kind of production on the bench?

Finally, it was really weird seeing Steve Karsay back in an A’s uniform. I remember Karsay as a skinny little kid wearing his A’s gear, and now–well, if Barry Bonds wants to use the “people fill out when they get older” excuse, he can run some side-by-side pictures of Karsay as evidence. But once I got over that little shock, it was quite fun to see him again. He looked like he had good stuff–hit 95mph on the gun–and had an easy 1-2-3 inning in the ninth. If he’s back to the old Steve Karsay again (plus those few extra pounds), this could be a really nice pickup for Billy Beane.

Pytt i Panna

…is the name of a Swedish dish, which essentially consists of chopping all your assorted leftovers into bite-size pieces, and frying them up in a frying pan.

Sizzle this:

  • Steve Karsay‘s first name is actually “Stefan”. When I lived in Sweden around 1980, it seems like every other kid was named Stefan. Stefan was to Sweden what Bruce is to Australia. The name, however, has since gone almost completely out of style. Only 326 newborn Swedish boys have been given the name Stefan in the last eight years combined. As a point of comparison, in 2005 alone, 416 boys were given the name “Hampus”.

    And since Stefan is now out of fashion, I shall henceforth call everyone in the rest of this blog entry “Bruce”. Bruce will always be cool.

    Bruce Karsay was involved in one of the best and one of the worst trades in A’s history. The good trade came in 1993, when the A’s traded free-agent-to-be Bruce Henderson to the Blue Jays in return for Karsay and Bruce Herrera. Henderson led the Jays to the World Series title, and then re-signed with the A’s in the offseason. So the A’s (led by then-GM Bruce Alderson) essentially got Karsay for free.

    But then Bruce Beane took over as GM in 1997, and made the first, and possibly worst big trade of his GM career, sending Karsay to Cleveland for “proven closer” Bruce Fetters. Fetters flopped, and Karsay went on to have a nice career, until he got hurt.

    Beane has long regretted that trade, and now, perhaps, he has tried to make up for it by reacquiring Karsay from Cleveland. Karsay has been in the minors, working on a comeback. His numbers have been pretty good, and considering all the injuries the A’s have had so far this year, the additional pitching depth is welcome.

  • The A’s had a 40-man roster spot available, because Bruce Watson is being released so he can go play for Bruce Valentine and the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. Watson never really got a fair shake to show what he can do in Oakland. The guy is 27 now, and he needs to cash in on his peak value while he can. It’s too bad he won’t make that cash in MLB, but at least he’ll be making that cash.

    Bully for you, Bruce.

  • Bruce Olney at ESPN.com suggests that Bruce Bonds should go play for the A’s next year, and take over Bruce Thomas’ DH role. I have a couple problems with that suggestion.

    One: what makes anyone think that Bonds is (or will be) any less done than Thomas? And Two: what makes anyone think that Bonds or Thomas in 2007 will be any better as a DH than Bruce Johnson or Bruce Barton? Or Bruce Watson, for that matter? Or Bruce Durazo?

  • Nicely pitched game by Bruce Haren yesterday. It was just what the doctor ordered: a complete game that gave the A’s battered bullpen an extra day off. He gave up a home run for the ninth straight game (or so I heard), but this time, at least, it was only a solo shot, to Bruce Posada.

    A sweep would have hurt badly, but the victory keeps the A’s from falling too far back while they struggle through all these injuries.

  • Over on Bronx Banter, Bruce Corcoran suggested making a t-shirt set of all the last players to wear retired Yankee jersey numbers besides the player himself. Which made me think of Bruce Gallego, who was the last Yankee to wear #2 before Bruce Jeter. He also wore #9 with the A’s, which was recently retired in honor of Bruce Jackson, whose #44 is retired in New York.

    Anyway, I looked it up, and here are the last players to wear the A’s retired jerseys, other than the honored player:

    • #9 (Bruce Jackson): Bruce Saenz.
    • #27 (Bruce Hunter): Bruce Hassey.
    • #34 (Bruce Fingers): Bruce Stewart.
    • #43 (Bruce Eckersley): Bruce Warren.

Buddy, Can You Spare A Player?

Last Friday, my indoor soccer team had half our roster either injured or out of town. We started the game with just two substitutes. (You sub in and out somewhat like hockey.) Then one of our players got thrown out of the game for arguing with the ref, and then another pulled a leg muscle. We only trailed 3-2 at halftime, but we played the entire second half with no substitutes at all. Of course, we got tired, the other team pulled away, and we lost 11-6.

I played that entire game on not one, but two sprained ankles, injured in the previous week’s game. In that game, I twisted my left ankle early in the first half, and then about five minutes later, I went back in the game, and promptly rolled over on my right one. The right ankle was hurt worse than the left one, but I consoled myself with the fact that at least I had scored a goal in the process of hurting myself. I took one for the team, and we won that game.

The week before that, in the first half, one of our players fell, landed on his shoulder, and broke his collarbone. They had to call in the paramedics to get him fixed up and moved out. We postponed the game.

My ankles still feel sore, but I’ll be out there again tonight, provided, of course, that we have enough players to field a team without forfeiting. We have two more players hurt, including our goalie, whom we’ll be replacing with a friend of one of our players who played goalie as a kid, and happens to be in town visiting from Indianapolis on a business trip.

The point of which is to say, I know exactly how the A’s must feel right now. Players are dropping like flies, and if you can somehow manage to stand on two feet at all, you’re in the lineup. Kendall is tossed out, Eric Chavez has a bacterial infection, Frank Thomas pulled a quad, Justin Duchscherer has a bad elbow, Joe Kennedy has an muscle strain in his arm, and none of those guys are among the three four A’s players currently on the DL. It’s getting so bad that I half expect the A’s to call in Will Carroll on a business trip from Indianapolis to pitch tonight, and maybe they’ll ask him to bring Scott Long with him to play third base, since there’s a pretty good chance he’d be a better hitting replacement for Chavez than Antonio “0-for-2006” Perez has been.

Of course, the Yankees aren’t doing a heck of a lot better. Gary Sheffield is on the DL, Randy Johnson is pitching in pain, and Hideki Matsui broke his wrist last night. With all that hobblin’ going on, it’s hard to have any idea what’s going to happen this weekend. I’ll be happy if the A’s can manage to take even one game off the Bronx Bombers, and head back home after all this misery only a game under .500, and still within striking distance of the division lead.

Busy Days

I’m insanely busy this week. Went to the game Sunday (sat with Philip Michaels), but didn’t have time to write anything about it. So while I have a few minutes, here’s a few notes from recent days:

  • Doesn’t it always seem that when a team is coming out of a hitting slump, that first they can’t hit at all; then they can hit, but not in the clutch; and then finally the clutch hits finally start falling in.

    In April, the A’s weren’t hitting at all. This weekend, it seemed like the A’s were starting to hit better, but they couldn’t get the key hits. Tons of men left on base.

    Last night, a few extra key hits, and all was well.

  • Most of the guys who were slumping are starting to swing the bats a lot better. I like now what I’m seeing from Mark Ellis, Jay Payton, Dan Johnson, and Bobby Crosby.
     
  • On the other hand, Frank Thomas. He just looks all messed up. He doesn’t know whether to take or swing. Yeah, he’s big and powerful, but Thomas’ best asset has always been his eyes. If his eyes aren’t working, all you have is Rob Deer.

    So it’s a catch-22. Thomas needs more ABs to get his eye back, but those ABs are hurting the A’s. It’s time to stop putting him in the middle of the order. Bat him at the bottom of the order until he proves he can do it again.

  • And then there’s Jason Kendall. Mike’s rant about him hits the nail on the head. Kendall can’t hit, and he’s a raving lunatic. If you say something he doesn’t like, he thinks it’s perfectly OK to go beat somebody up for it.

    Adam Melhuse is the interim starting catcher, and it seems like he’s already provided more value in his one start than Kendall has in his entire Oakland career. When’s the last time Kendall had five total bases in a game?

    Melhuse deserves to be the starting catcher, even when Kendall gets back. Make Kendall get one start every five days, and see if he can earn his job, instead of intimidating everyone around him into giving it to him with his temper.

  • Which brings me to this: my On Notice and Dead To Me lists. Bob did one, so I thought I’d do my own. Here goes:

On Notice

  • Jason Kendall
  • The guy who keeps putting Frank Thomas in the middle of the lineup, and keeps putting Jason Kendall in the lineup at all
  • Ants
  • Poems that are really just a more famous poem with a few words changed here and there
  • Vinegar
  • The idiots and morons who confuse Sweden with Switzerland
  • People who use the words “idiot” and “moron” without a second thought
  • Raccoons

Dead To Me

  • Spammers
  • Trolls
  • People who complain I’m not doing enough about spammers and trolls
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Ken’s Adventures In Weirderland

Today was a doubleheader day for the Arneson family, a day that started off oddly and kept getting curiouser and curiouser as it went along. By the time I finish writing this blog entry, I half expect to be chased by a deck of playing cards and a mad monarch insisting on my execution.

 
Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole

The first of today’s two heads was my daughter’s softball game. She’s in an Under-7 league with teams from Alameda and Oakland. Her first four games were all in Alameda, but today was her first road game of the season. We had to find our way to Montclair Park up in the Oakland hills.

The park is nestled between a freeway on one side and cute little shopping district on the other, but you’d never know it from standing in the park itself. It feels like you’re miles away from any city, surrounded only by a duck pond and hills and tall trees that reach to the sky. This is the place that put the “Oak” into Oakland.

I thought I’d get some nice pictures of the kids playing softball in this lovely setting, but as soon as I turned on my camera, I realized I had forgotten to charge my camera battery. The juice was gone; I couldn’t even snap one picture. “What is the use of a blog entry,” thought Ken, “without pictures?”

Then it turned out that I was not the only one who had forgotten something; the home team manager had forgotten the tee. In this league, the coach throws four pitches to the kids, if they don’t hit it, they hit off the tee. So they decided to just let each kid bat until they hit the ball. Which led to quite a few very long at-bats. Eye-hand coordination is not very mature at this age; plus these kids are short, which makes it darn hard to throw strikes to them.

Instead of moving along snappily, it seemed to drag on and on. Each fielder probably took to considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and dull), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of going over and picking some flowers in the grass, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

Oh, wait, that was just a ground ball that went by. Never mind. Pick it up, throw it to first base.

Swing, swing, swing. Bat, bat, bat. Would the game never come to an end? There was nothing else to do, so each girl began talking to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, “Do cats eat bats?”, and sometimes, “Do bats eat cats?”, for, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t much matter which way she put it, when suddenly, wham! bam! the last ball was hit, the last bat dropped to the ground, and the last baserunner ran all the way around the bases (for each inning always ends with she hit a grand slam), and the game was over.

Then, snack time (always the favorite part of game day), and then pile in the minivan and head to the Coliseum.

 
Chapter 2: A Bobblehead and a Long Line

I have a suspicion that when the A’s did their calculations on whether they should close the third deck or not, they may have neglected to figure in one piece of information: the bobblehead effect.

Today was the second time I’ve gone to a bobblehead game this year, and it was the second time I actually got a bobblehead, without making any sort of effort to arrive early. This never used to happen before. I think the bobblehead collectors used to buy a gazillion third deck seats, go through the gates a gazillion times, get a gazillion bobbleheads, and then head home.

Before, if you wanted a bobblehead, you had to show up at the Coliseum three hours before game time and stand in an insanely long line to even have a chance to get one. Now all of a sudden, you can show up twenty minutes before game time, and still get one.

I wonder how many tickets the A’s are losing to bobblehead collectors because of the third deck closure? I think it might be about 5,000 tickets/bobblehead game, if not more.

Today’s bobblehead was Nick Swisher. My five-year-old declared just last week that Nick Swisher was her new favorite player, replacing Eric Chavez, who had replaced Jason Kendall. I had prepared her for the fact that there might not be any bobbleheads left when we got to the game, but when we went through the gates, and she got her bobblehead, the look on her face was priceless. She was so excited.

 
Chapter 3: The Rabbit Sends in a Little Ticket

My wife hates to buy food at the ballpark, because (a) we spend so much on our season ticket package already, (b) the food is expensive compared to anywhere else, and (c) it’s not particularly nutritious food, either. But today I talked her into it, because of our hectic schedule today, the convenience was worth it, just this once.

So after we settled into our seats, I got up to go stand in line to buy food. While I was away, an A’s employee came to our seats, and talked to my wife.

A’s Employee: Are you with Ken Arneson?

Wife: Um, yes…(wondering what the heck this is about)

A’s Employee: Is Ken here today?

Wife: Yes, he’s buying some food.

A’s Employee: Oh, good. Ken has been randomly selected as a loyal season ticket holder to receive a free ticket upgrade. These are Lew Wolff’s personally-owned seats in the front row behind the visiting dugout.

So suddenly, we’ve become the Bizarro Bob Uecker. The usher comes and says, “You’re in the wrong seat, buddy.” And we go, “We must be in the front row!” And yup, they actually sent us to the front row!

Maybe it’s because the last row of the upper deck is covered with a tarp now. The odometer rolls over, and now the Uecker seat moves back to the beginning of the list. Best seat in the house!

And now, I’m really, really kicking myself for not charging the battery in my camera. Front row seats, and not a single photo to show for it! So I decided to just sit back, soak it all in, and enjoy myself like a king.

 
Chapter 4: Who Stole The Tarts?

The King and Queen were seated on their thrones, their children and Queen’s Mother beside them, when the players arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them. What followed appeared at first glance to resemble the normal routine, but as the proceedings moved forth, it became quite clear that this was nothing but the nonsense of dreams. Afterwards, Ken Korach would call on an old Bill King description to sum up the day: “Never in your wildest alcoholic nightmares could you imagine such a thing!”

“Call the first witness,” said the King; and the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet. Only Dan Johnson thought that the White Rabbit had blown four blasts on the trumpet, and proceeded to take his base. Jay Payton, who was on first base, thought at first that there were three blasts, but since Johnson trotted down to first base, Payton started jogging toward second base. The pitcher, Seth McClung was the only person on the field who seemed to know that there were three blasts, not four, and turned immediately toward second base as soon as he got the ball. But McClung’s infielders had also been fooled, and had failed to cover the base. And so McClung could only run helplessly trying to race Payton to second base, but he was too late. Payton jogged into second base with the stupidest stolen base ever witnessed.

Stolen!” the King exclaimed, turning to the jury, who instantly made a memorandum of the fact.
 
Chapter 5: The Mock Lugo Story

In the bottom of the fifth inning, just after Russell Branyon had tied the game 1-1 with a solo homer off Barry Zito, Josh Paul came to the plate. He hit a little squibber foul, and it died on the grass just in front of the Devil Rays dugout. Julio Lugo, who was in the hole, stepped out of the hole and picked up the ball.

Lugo walked over to the section next to ours and began waving the ball over his head, as if he were looking for someone to throw it to. He faked a couple of throws into the stands, then thought better of it, and stopped. He shook his head no. He shoved the ball in his back pocket. He then turned his back to stands, and stood there, motionless, watching the next pitch go by, making it clear he was ignoring the people he was just teasing.

“Whoa. That is cold,” I thought. At first I thought Lugo was just being a jerk for no reason. But then I realized that Lugo might be mocking a mocker, teasing a guy in that section who was heckling the Rays, making him think that he might throw him a bone ball, and then yanking that bone right from under that dog’s nose. But still, I wasn’t sure.

Another pitch goes by. Then Lugo turns around, walks right over to my five-year-old daughter, and tosses the ball to her. And suddenly, there’s that face again, the same one as with the bobblehead.

The verdict on Lugo: Not Guilty.

Then, there was a Royal Decree: There shalt not be given to One Sibling that which is not given to the Other Sibling, for this is Not Fair. Two innings later, Travis Lee is coming off the field, and he tosses a ball right to the Older Daughter. So now, within a span of about half an hour, each of my two kids has managed to do something at a major league game that I, in all my 33 years of attending games have never done: get a baseball used in an actual Big League Ballgame.

 
Chapter 6: Pig and Pickle

In the top of the ninth inning, tied 2-2, Nick Swisher dove for a line drive and missed, turning a leadoff single into a leadoff double. Oh no, I thought, the Curse of the Bobblehead strikes again! But fortunately, the A’s managed to wiggle their way out of that jam, although Justin Duchscherer injured his elbow in the process, and had to be replaced by Joe Kennedy. If the A’s bullpen blows some leads later this week without the Duke, blame the bobblehead. Off with his bobblehead!

In the bottom of the ninth, Jay Payton led off with a single, and Dan Johnson walked. On four trumpet blasts this time. This time, Payton did not budge until he heard the definitive word from the umpire. Payton smiled. Johnson smiled.

I was just beginning to think to myself, “I think we might win this baby! What am I to write about this creature, when I get home?” when the creature grunted, so violently, that there could be no mistake about it: it had transmogrified: it was now neither more nor less than a pig, and I felt it would be quite absurd to carry my optimism any further.

The transformation happened as Marco Scutaro hit a soft little liner to our friend Julio Lugo. It was too low to be an infield fly, but high enough to be trouble for the A’s. This thing had double, or even a triple play written all over it. Payton scrambled back to second base, thinking that Lugo would catch it. Lugo did not. Payton took off for third. Lugo tagged second to force out Johnson. Payton got caught in a pickle between second and third base. Scutaro ran to second base. Payton, somehow, eluded the pickle, and made it safely back to second base. Unfortunately, Scutaro was there, too. Two men on the same base. They tagged both. Fortunately, Payton had learned earlier in the game to listen for the umpire’s call, and remained on the bag as the umpire called Scutaro out. Otherwise, we could have had a triple play to end regulation.

So the big happy rally vanished almost, but not quite, completely. Like a Cheshire Cat, it vanished in slow motion, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with a grin, which remained as the rest of it had gone. The only thing visible from all that fur flying around was Jay Payton standing on second base, with two outs.

Jason Kendall came to the plate. Since I began and ended my “Grounder to Third” Kendall Fast, in which I refused to watch Jason Kendall until he stopped grounding out to third so much, I do not think he had grounded to third even once. My fast worked.

But as weird and bizarre as this day had been, I took to considering in my mind the odds that the success of my fasting would change, like a baby turning into a pig, or a cat vanishing into thin air, and that Jason Kendall would suddenly begin grounding to third again, right here and now.

And the Devil Rays’ third baseman, Aubrey Huff, seemed to be considering in his own mind (as well as he could, for the hot day made him feel very sleepy and dull), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of going over and picking some flowers in the grass, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by him.

Oh, wait, that was just a ground ball that went right through his legs. Never mind.

At this, the whole pack of fans rose up into the air, and their noise came flying down upon us. I gave a scream, half of surprise and half of relief, as Jay Payton crossed home plate, the game was over, and I found myself lying in my bed, with my head on the shoulder of my wife.

“Wake up, Ken dear!” said my wife. “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” I said.

Kendall Suspended Four Games

Jason Kendall was suspended four games for charging John Lackey in Anaheim. Lackey was fined for mouthing off and provoking Kendall, but was not suspended.

The punishments seem fair to me. Kendall will probably appeal, just because that’s what you do, unless you’re injured and were going to miss time anyway.

* * *

I don’t have much to say about the series against the Indians. Each team won a blowout. Blowouts are boring. The bats seem to be waking up a bit, but the starting pitching is still in hibernation. Dan Haren is still coughing up too many big gopherballs, while Kirk Saarloos gave up a lot of baserunners, but luckily escaped without giving up many runs.

I’ll be going to one, possibly two, games this weekend. Here’s hoping for some well-pitched ballgames.

Kendall Goes Nuts

Who is this catcher the A’s have now, and what have they done with Jason Kendall?

I noticed yesterday that something was different about Jason Kendall. He’s changed his hitting approach, and his throwing arm suddenly has life.

Perhaps he has been possessed by demons. Today, he charged the mound against John Lackey, after an exchange of unpleasantries. I’m guessing Lackey mocked him for trying to get hit by a pitch, and Kendall took umbrage and decided to fight.

On the one hand, it’s a stupid thing to do. The A’s had the bases loaded, one out, and all the momentum. There’s no reason to wake the Angel beast. Let them sleep.

And of course, the A’s only get one run out of that rally, and the very next inning, the Angels come back and put up a crooked number. A potentially lazy victory has now become a highly emotional battle.

On the other, it’s good that Jason Kendall isn’t just going to let his career die with a whimper. He’s showing he has some spunk left in him. I don’t think this is the best way to show that spunk. Try hitting some line drives, instead.

Catching Bullets

I have a new theory about where Esteban Loaiza’s velocity went.

Jason Kendall stole it.

Last year, Kendall only threw out 17.9% of base stealers, allowing 101 stolen bases, the most in baseball.

This year, Kendall has thrown out 9 of 15 attempted burglars, a whopping 60% rate. Monday night, Kendall managed to throw out Chone Figgins trying to steal second on a changeup that was just barely off the dirt. It was the first time Figgins had been thrown out all year.

It was really a stunning throw. I mean, I’ve seen Ivan Rodriguez throw fast runners out on pitches like that before, but this was Jason “Two Hops To Second” Kendall. I really found it hard to believe my eyes.

He also hasn’t grounded to third since I started my Kendall fast. He’s now hitting a ton of fly balls, which isn’t exactly the line drives Kendall used to hit with the Pirates, but things are changing. Today, he even swung at a first pitch. He wore batting gloves, which he never did before. It’s a good sign that he’s now finally trying something different, making some adjustments to try and find the old Jason Kendall-type results he has lost.

I hope Kendall can suddenly get his old swing back like he suddenly got his old throwing arm back, but if it happens I will truly be stunned. I will believe it when I see it.

Or maybe not. I’m still not quite comprehending that Kendall’s throw actually happened in real life. When I think about it, my head automatically shakes itself in disbelief.

* * *

Kendall’s throw was significant, too, in that the A’s won a close 1-0 ballgame. The A’s escaped with a victory that with any luck at all, the Angels would have won.

Ken Macha almost mismanaged this game away. Barry Zito had a great changeup all night, and took the team into the eighth inning with a shutout. Chone Figgins got a single with one out, on a ball that Eric Chavez couldn’t reach because he was guarding the line against doubles. Which I have to question, because with Figgins, a single is almost as good as a double, since you know if Figgins gets on, he is going to steal anyway–Kendall’s throw notwithstanding. Against anybody else, yeah, maybe you guard against the double, but against Figgins, you want to minimize the odds of him getting on base, because he can get himself into scoring position either way.

With Zito getting over 100 pitches, Macha had Kiko Calero up for Vladimir Guerrero a few batters down the line. This is where I think Macha almost blew it, because I think he should have had Joe Kennedy getting ready for Garret Anderson. Anderson hits Zito well to begin with, and Zito was getting close to his wall. When Zito walked Orlando Cabrera and wasn’t really close with any of his pitches, I shouted out loud to the TV, “Oh, Macha, Zito is done!” But of course, you don’t want to bring in Calero there, because lefties hit Calero pretty well. Calero is pretty much a specialist you bring in to face RHBs. At that point, it was too late, and Macha left Zito in to face Anderson, even though it was clear that Zito was out of gas.

And, of course, first pitch, Zito floats the worst kind of flat, hanging curveball you can imagine, and Anderson crushes it. Fortunately for the A’s, Anderson hit it with just a bit too much arc, and Jay Payton caught it right against the right-field fence.

Two outs, and Calero comes in to face Vlad. On a 1-0 count, Calero throws a perfect nasty slider down and away, off the plate, and Vlad swings over it for strike one. “Throw three more of those, please,” I said. I figured if you walk Vlad, it’s not the worst thing in the world. I’d rather make Tim Salmon beat me. The next pitch is another slider, all right, but it’s not down and away, it’s right down the heart of the plate. I instantly shout, “Noooooooooooooo!” Vlad smokes a line drive, but it goes right at Nick Swisher in left field, who catches it for the final out of the eighth.

Justin Duchscherer comes into the ninth. It’s still 1-0. Huston Street is apparently still not ready. I figure this is OK; I’d rather see Street come back from his injury in a somewhat less tense situation. Duchscherer throws Tim Salmon a cutter that moves in the wrong direction: right over the heart of the plate. Salmon smashes it to deep right-center, where Mark Kotsay snags it as he crashes into the fence.

So the A’s threw three horrible pitches by three different pitchers to probably the three greatest hitters in Angels history. Each of those hitters did what they should have done with those horrible pitches: they hit bullets. But those three bullets were each caught, each by a different A’s outfielder. And by catching those bullets, the A’s dodged those bullets. The A’s are back over .500 now, and they have good fortune to thank for it.