Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wezen-Ball has moved!

As of tonight, has moved to the Bloguin network! It's a very exciting move for me, and I'm thrilled to be making it.

For anyone who regularly accesses the blog through the address, you should not see any problems (and probably will never even see this post). But for those of you who might still have the bookmarked, this is to let you know where to look now for your content. The RSS feed should have automatically propogated for everyone.

I'll be keeping the blogspot blog up over here to preserve the contents and the comments (I was able to import all of the posts into the new blog), but I won't be putting up any new content. If you have any questions, you can still contact me at

I hope to see everyone at the new blog, and thanks for reading! I'm still blogging because of you guys.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Triple Crown, the .400 Club, and the Greatest Year since 1941

There's been a lot of talk recently about Joe Mauer, including talk about his MVP case and his chances of finishing the season with a .400 batting average. In both cases, Pos and his Mauer Pauer series are leading proponents.

What hasn't been mentioned as often, though, is the possibility of Albert Pujols winning the Triple Crown this year. Granted, he's currently close behind Prince Fielder in the RBI category (105 to 107) and (fairly) significantly behind Hanley Ramirez in batting average (.325 to .356). But, with seven weeks left in the season, there's still plenty of time for those leaderboards to change.

Bill, over at The Daily Something, and David, from Baseball Musings, both took a look at the math to see what the real odds are. It's no surprise to learn that it isn't all that likely to happen because, let's face it, it never is. It might surprise you, though, to learn just how likely it really is. These are much better odds than most people ever have in mid-August. Bill and David did great work, and you really should give them a read to see what they determined.

So, with neither Pujols' shot at the Triple Crown nor Mauer's shot at .400 being laughably absurd, the question becomes, how fantastic would it be if both feats were achieved in the same season? When that question was brought up in the comments over at The Daily Something, I just about got chills.

With neither feat having been accomplished in over 40 years (with it being nearly 70 years for the .400 club), this would be one of the greatest seasons ever. In fact, if that were to happen, it'd battle with the 1941 season as the two greatest offensive seasons in baseball history. DiMaggio & Williams could even realistically be replaced with Mauer & Pujols. It would be remarkable. And then, when you consider that it'd be two Midwest teams making that kind of history, it'd be taken to a whole other level.

Now, clearly this is a pipe dream and it's nothing that we should realistically be entertaining until September 30. But the fact that we can even conceive of the chance in mid-August without laughing it away immediately is something to get excited about. I know what I'm rooting for the rest of the season.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Working Behind the Scenes

I know I've said this a few too many times recently, but it's looking like the next few days might be a little slow. This time, though, it's for some internal reasons. I have some exciting new blog stuff that I'm in the middle of working on, and I hope to have it done by the end of the week.

Knowing me, I'll probably end up writing a nice long piece anyway, but don't count on it. Hopefully, as things get closer to being finished, I'll be comfortable sharing the big news. Until then, I'll keep plugging away.

You can certainly follow me on Twitter, if you're looking for some random comments from me throughout the day, or maybe take a look at the new Facebook fan page I created. I like it better than the older, Networked Blogs one. I hope to see you there, and I'll be sure to let you know what's going on as things get closer to being done.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Best Team Names of the Minor Leagues

Earlier this week, my terrific girlfriend introduced me to what has to be the best team name in professional baseball. Playing in the Stedler Division of the New York-Penn League and located in Burlington, Vermont, the Short-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals are known as the Vermont Lake Monsters. Originally the Vermont Expos, the team had to change its name after the big league club's move to DC. After a contest, they settled on the Lake Monsters, named after their longtime mascot Champ, the Lake Champlain lake monster, itself named after a local Loch Ness-style superstition. Whatever the etymology, it's a fantastic name. I love the idea of going to a Lake Monsters game three nights a week.

It's the type of thing that you can only get away with in the minors and independent leagues. With only thirty big league franchises that have to serve millions of fans, the names are far from daring. Plus, with generations of fans having grown up with the one ballclub, there isn't really any room for name changes. In the minors, though, that's just not the case. Teams are sold, affiliates are changed, and owners are constantly looking for ways to excite their fan base. It's the perfect storm for creative team names and mascots.

With that in mind, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at the various minor leagues (and only the minor leagues - there are just too many independent leagues to try to weed through) and see what the most creative club names were. Clubs like the Pawtucket Red Sox or Helena Brewers, then, won't be included here, and even names like the Columbus Clippers and Portland Beavers are a little too pedestrian to make the list. I'm looking for the really unique names because, after all, that's just one of the charms of the minor leagues.

Using the list of minor leagues over at Wikipedia, I went through each of the leagues and chose the ones that seemed most interesting. Here, then, are the most creative club names in each of the affiliated minor leagues:

Pacific Coast League: Round Rock Express [nice homage to owner Nolan Ryan] & Reno Aces [one of the better dual-meaning names I came across]; special "crappy name honor" to the Albuquerque Isotopes & Las Vegas 51's

Eastern League: Connecticut Defenders [not a lot to choose from here, but it's still a pretty good name]
Southern League: [quite a few good names here] Montgomery Biscuits, Tennessee Smokies, and Chattanooga Lookouts; special note to the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and their stadium, Pringles Park
Texas League: Northwest Arkansas Naturals [named after noth the "Natural State" and the Robert Redford film] & San Antonio Missions

California League: Lancaster JetHawks [the city is home to Edwards Air Force base] & the Visalia Rawhide; special "crappy name honor" to the Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernadino [I guess it's a Southern California thing]

Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts & Fort Wayne TinCaps [apparently named after Johnny Appleseed, who's buried in town]


Advanced Rookie
Pioneer League: Casper Ghosts & Ogden Raptors [not too original, but I love that their mascot is a freakin' dinosaur]

There are three more minor leagues, but every team in them is named after their affiliate, like the Bristol White Sox or Bluefield Orioles: the Appalachian League (Advanced Rookie), the Gulf Coast League (Rookie), and the Arizona League (Rookie).

Besides the Lake Monsters, my favorite of these teams are probably the Lansing Lugnuts, Montgomery Biscuits, and the Jupiter Hammerheads, each fantastically unique team names (check out that cap!). The Volcanoes, Ghosts, and Sand Gnats are all pretty great names too. It's no surprise, really, that they are all in the lower-level leagues, as that's where the financial needs of a team are most apparent. They're like independent leagues in that respect.

Whatever the reasons, though, it's easy to agree that there are some fantastically creative and fun team names and mascots in the minor leagues. It makes me wish that I had more opportunities to travel around the minors and go see the different teams and their stadiums. A summer of that, seeing games from triple-A to low-A, would be a blast (imagine the collection of hats and t-shirts you could get!). Until then, though, it's nice to know that there are so many fun and unique teams around the leagues.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

There Are Still Positive Stories in the MLB, I Promise

For fans of the Brewers like me, yesterday was a pretty shocking day. In the span of about ten minutes, the front office announced the firing of rookie pitching coach Bill Castro, the demotion of All-Star shortstop and fan favorite J.J. Hardy, and the release of senior Brewer Bill Hall. David Pinto called it the "Massacre in Milwaukee". Needless to say, everyone was buzzing (you should've seen all the tweets flying over on Twitter).

Reading through the news stories, a few things popped out: Bill Hall's reluctant acceptance, J.J. Hardy's seeming excitement to get "three day's off", and the sad tale of Bill Castro. From Brewers Beat:
"The GM did address Castro's dismissal in a statement.

"We appreciate and admire the dedication and tireless work ethic put forth by Bill Castro over the last 18 seasons," Melvin said. "A move like this is never easy to make, especially given Bill's longevity with the organization and considering how hard he worked to reach this position."

Castro pitched in the Brewers organization from 1970-80, then returned to the club as a Minor League coach from 1988-91 before taking a job on the big league staff. He was the bullpen coach for six different managers from 1992-2008 before realizing a long-time goal and being named pitching coach on Nov. 7, 2008. "
It's just another reminder that these business transactions - and the game we watch seven days a week with joy - involve a lot more of the human element than we tend to remember. Castro worked as a coach/instructor for the club for over twenty years before finally getting a chance at his dream job and now that same organization has summarily dismissed him after less than a year on the job. To make it worse, there's a good case to be made that, with the injuries the staff received and the lack of depth it had in the first place, Castro wasn't really at fault here. He did take it well, though, saying all the right things:
"This is a business, and I was the face of the pitching staff so I was the one to go. That's how it works in baseball."
"I always wanted to be a big league pitching coach, and it was especially special that it happened for me in Milwaukee," he said. "This is the only organization that I've known, basically. Everything I have done in baseball is thanks to the Brewers. But they had a make a change, and I was the guy."
No matter what he says, though, it's hard not to think about how he and his family must feel after yesterday's news. It's a shame it takes these kinds of stories to remind us of that. Craig, over at ShysterBall, was thinking about the same thing the other day, only his was sparked by the trade that sent David Weathers from Cincinnati to Milwaukee. I guess we all need reminding of it every now and then.

With that in mind, then, here are a couple of quick positive stories that I think about everytime I see these guys play. I promise to stay away from the schmaltz. I hope I do them justice. (And, yes, they are about Brewers players... that's who I watch every night, though. What do you expect from me?)

Mark Difelice
I'm not the only one to be writing about Difelice this year, and the recent performance of the Brewers bullpen as a whole keeps him from being as great of a story as he was a couple of months ago, but he's still worth mentioning. Difelice made his major league debut on May 18, 2008. It was his eleventh year as a pro and he had already pitched in over 250 games in the minor/independent leagues before it happened. The 31-year-old could have easily given up on his dream five years earlier than that, but he kept going and now he is a valuable member of the Brewers bullpen. According to this story, he was actually on the verge of retiring from the sport when the Brewers gave him a call. Instead, he gets to put that uniform on everyday, he gets to cash those checks, he gets medical insurance for the rest of his life, and he gets to live his dream everyday. You can't ask for a better story than that and, every time I see him sprint in from the bullpen, I root for him to do well enough to stay on the roster for as long as he wants. It's working so far.

Casey McGehee
This is another story of a cast-off, but it might be even more remarkable. In 2008, McGehee was wallowing in the Cubs' farm system. Late in the year, the Cubs finally called him up and started giving him at-bats. In September, he played in nine games, starting four of them. His numbers were not good (he batted .167 with a .160 OBP in 25 plate appearances) and the Cubs put him on waivers after the season. Picked up by the Brewers, he still didn't know what would happen to him once the season started. But he played well enough to make the roster and has been playing as a regular ever since. So far in his rookie year, Casey is batting .305/.359/.507 (126 OPS+) with 9 homers and 35 RBIs in 70 games. If it wasn't for the media market he's in or the recent Brewers' ineptitude, he might have a good case for Rookie of the Year (not that I'd say yet that he was deserving of the award).

The best story about Casey McGehee happened a few weeks ago. With his two-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) throwing out the first pitch at Miller Park, it was already an exciting day for Casey. He didn't start the game, but was called on in the sixth inning with two outs in a one-run game. Fighting the pitcher to a 3-2 count, McGehee finally got ahold of one and launched a two-run bomb, putting the Brewers ahead for good. "Good hit, daddy!" his son said.
"That was about as good a 'congratulations' as I could get," Casey said. "You can't help but smile when you see him. He makes the bad days a little easier and the good days that much better. You just can't help smiling when you see how he reacts. As young as he is, he gets it a little bit."
It's a great story.

I know there are hundreds of stories like these in the majors every year and that the local newspapers do a pretty decent of doling out the sappiness, but I still think we don't give them enough attention. It's so much easier to read and complain about the negative stories that we see everyday, but that doesn't mean that they're the only ones out there. We should do a better job of finding and promoting them. It's a much more positive vibe than the incessant complaints. Let me know of any other great stories that I may have missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Through the Years: Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux

It seems like I've spent an inordinate amount of time this year writing about Atlanta's "Big Three" - Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. When Maddux announced his retirement over the winter, I did one of my first "Through the Years" pieces on his career, chronicling his rise from a young Cub to the "best pitcher in baseball" after winning four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Then, when the Braves unceremoniously dropped Tom Glavine from their plans by not tendering him a major league contract back in June, I spent some time reminding everyone that "sometimes the end is unexpected" by looking at the final games of some of the greatest Hall of Famers of the last 25 years (Morgan, Seaver, Reggie, Rickey...). I even went back to Glavine's (and Smoltz's) first career start a few weeks later when discussing great (and not-so-great) pitching debuts.

And now that John Smoltz has been even more unceremoniously dropped by the Red Sox, I'm doing it all again. It's not like I'm out of line here, though. When the best trio of pitchers of the last 30 years all end their careers in the same season (potentially, at least), it should definitely be celebrated. After all, in eight straight years (six of which were together on the same staff), these three earned seven Cy Young Awards. It was a remarkable run and, fifteen years later, we should remember them for it.

With that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to bring back the "Through the Years" feature, but with a little tweak. In this case, because we're interested in the group as a whole, I thought it'd be best to focus on the state of Atlanta's rotation as Glavine and Smoltz and finally Maddux joined the club, and beyond. In 1989, for example, when Smoltz and Glavine were both officially part of the rotation, what was everyone saying about the Braves' pitching staff? Was there a lot of hope for these young studs? And what about in 1993, when Maddux finally joined? Were we able to immediately recognize just how historically great that staff would be? How long, then, did it take for the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz combination to become what it did?

The story begins on June 4, 1984, when the Chicago Cubs drafted Greg Maddux with the third pick of the 2nd round. Sixteen picks later, the Atlanta Braves drafted Tom Glavine. It was the first - and far from last - time these two would be linked together. One year later, on June 3, 1985, the Detroit Tigers drafted John Smoltz in the 22nd round.

In August of 1987, the Tigers traded Smoltz in a one-for-one, prospect-for-impending-free-agent deal for Doyle Alexander. That same night, the Braves called up young Tom Glavine from the AAA Richmond Braves. From the Richmond Times the next day:
"Atlanta General Manager Bobby Cox made it quite clear this was no token call-up.
Atlanta decided to call up Glavine before last night's trade in which the A-Braves dealt veteran right-hander Doyle Alexander to Detroit for minor league pitcher John Smoltz, a 20-year-old right-hander who had a 4-10 record with a 5.68 ERA with the Tigers' Class AA Glens Falls, N.Y., farm.

Smoltz had a 7-6 record with a 3.56 ERA at Lakeland, the Tigers' farm in the Class A Florida State League, last year. According to Baseball America, he was the fifth best major league prospect in the league."
Again, the paths of these pitchers crossed each other much earlier than most realize. Glavine made his first career start five days later. The start did not go so well.

Smoltz would not make his debut until July 1988. By that time, it was evident that, while Glavine was a solid young arm, the Braves were going to need lots of pitching. From the 1988 Sporting News Preview Guide:
"Not since 1977 have a National League team allowed more runs than the Atlanta Braves did in 1987. And in 1988, the Braves are desperate for pitching.

No words could be more discouraging, but they are the essence of a team planning for 1990 and beyond but apparently destined for a fifth straight losing season.
Lefthander Tom Glavine, 22, showed enough promise in nine late-season starts to earn a spot in the rotation, but he needs to keep more runners off base - he averaged 15.7 per nine innings."
Smoltz's debut was much stronger than Glavine's, but the rest of his rookie season did not go that great (he won only one more game the rest of the season while losing eleven). It was par for the course for the Braves that year, though, as they went on to a 54-106 record while playing in front of only 848,089 fans. Meanwhile, a 22-year-old Greg Maddux was busy making his first All-Star team for the Chicago Cubs.

As the 1989 season began, TSN was projecting both Glavine and Smoltz to be part of the rotation. It would be the first of fifteen consecutive years as rotation mates. Not everyone was sold, though. From the 1989 Street & Smith's Yearbook:
"Glavine, only 23, is a skinny (6-0, 175 pounds) left-hander with some pop on his fastball. The Braves will give him every opportunity in the world to become a steady, starting pitcher. The Braves would give Venus de Milo every opportunity in the world to become a steady, starting pitcher."
That's not exactly a striking endorsement. Smoltz and Glavine both had strong years in 1989, with Smoltzie earning an All-Star selection. Maddux also had a great season for the Cubs, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. If he had been able to earn a few more victories (he had a 19-12 record), he might have been able to break through to the top, instead losing to ace closer Mark Davis.

The strong seasons did little to convince the world that Atlanta had turned a corner. Instead, it just opened up a debate about the Braves' future between the optimists and the pessimists. The 1990 Street & Smith's was squarely on the glass half-empty side of the argument:
"Ted Turner was invited to the 50th anniversary celebration of the making of Gone With the Wind in Atlanta. That will just have to do as his World Series for another decade or so. The Braves are a bad baseball team and unlikely to get much better despite rumors, most of them coming from Georgia, that some young arms on the Atlanta staff are ready for greatness. Why now?
Tom Glavine (14-8, 2.68) is the new Rick Mahler. He will take 30 pitching turns, win a couple more than he loses, keep his team in the game and never have a really big year. Pete Smith (5-14, 4.75), John Smoltz (12-11, 2.94), and rookie Gary Eave (13-3, 2.80 at Richmond) will give the Braves some competitive starters."
TSN, though, saw things a little more positively:
"Other than the 33-year-old Leibrandt, all of the likely Atlanta starters have yet to celebrate their 25th birthday. And the best of the bunch is the youngest, 22-year-old righthander John Smoltz.

Smoltz is considered the backbone of the Braves' pitching-rich organization. He won 12 games in 1989, his first full season in the major leagues, and is expected to surpass that this summer. His 2.94 earned-run average was the best by an Atlanta starter since 1978.

Next in line is Tom Glavine, who will turn 24 in March. Glavine developed into one of the league's finest lefthanders with a staff-high 14 wins and a respectable 3.68 ERA last year."
Neither Smoltz nor Glavine performed all that well in the 1990 season, as the Braves went on to lose 97 games. By the time the '91 season rolled around, the hope and optimism had returned. With a few years of big league experience under the belts of both Smoltz and Glavine, people seemed to truly believe that "this should be the year" for the Braves to "escape last place in the National League West." There was no way for anyone to know just how good the season would be, though. Besides the near-Series victory, the Braves would also be able to celebrate Tom Glavine's first Cy Young award (and Terry Pendleton's MVP). Needless to say, the 1992 preview guides were a little more positive. From the 1992 TSN Preview Guide:
"The Braves have the league's best starting rotation, a solid bullpen and a potent offense...
[The Rotation:] it's young and it's good. A Huck Finn look-alike won 20 games and the Cy Young Award, a quielty confident 21-year-old dazzled his way to 18 victories, a soft-tossing veteran won 15 games and pitcher with shaky confidence re-discovered his game after visiting psychologist.
Glavine returns as the No. 1 starter after a season in which he started the All-Star Game, won a World Series game and became the first Brave to win the Cy Young Award since Warren Spahn in 1957. Glavine owed his success to the development of a devastating changeup, which allowed him to throw his average fastball by unsuspecting hitters. The result was 192 strikeouts and a 2.55 earned-run average, both figures third-best in the National League."
Glavine was now a certified ace. It would be hard to ignore him or trivialize him anymore. Smoltz, though, still had some to prove after starting off the season 2-11, and Maddux was in his last season on the Cubs. And it was a great season. With a 20-11 won-loss record, a 2.18 ERA (166 ERA+), and 268 innings pitched in Wrigley Field, Maddux was the run-away Cy Young Award winner. It was the first of his four consecutive awards, and the only one in a Cubs uniform. Glavine finished second in the voting.

After the season, Maddux tested free agency and found himself reeled in by the Braves, even turning down extra money from the Yankees to pitch in Atlanta. With the last two NL Cy Young Award winners suddenly on the same staff (a staff which had already led the team to the World Series two years in a row), there was little room to doubt the Braves. From the notoriously pessimistic Street & Smith's:
"This year, with the addition of Greg Maddux, Atlanta should be even more dominating. This year, with a pitching staff that is as strong as any in recent baseball history, the Braves should be able to make it through the World Series as a winner.

Maddux (20-11, 2.18 with the Cubs) was romanced by the Yankees before turning south and signing with Atlanta. He said he wanted to win. The Braves have won two pennants in a row and should win a title this year as baseball's best on the strentgh of an exceptional staff. Maddux, Tommy Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery are all capable of 20 victories and 200 strikeouts. Maddux and Glavine have each won a Cy Young Award, and the other two cannot be far behind."
TSN went a little more detailed in their praise:
"If the Braves play their cards right, they could have the league's most dominant rotation for many years to come. The average age of their five starters (incluindg No. 5 starter Pete Smith) is 25, and last season they combined for a record of 73-42.
In Maddux, the Braves acquired a pitcher who has averaged 251 innings per year for the last five seasons and won a league-high 87 games over that stretch. He has been described as a righthanded Glavine, a pitcher who doesn't have an overpowering fastball but uses impeccable control and an outstanding changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

Glavine, the 1991 NL Cy Young Award winner, might have added a second Cy Young to his trophy case last season had not a cracked rib (suffered in August) sidelined him for several starts. He still won 20 games for the second consecutive year.

Smoltz won a career-high 15 games but continued his cycle of pitching well for a half a season, then disappearing. He won only five games after the All-Star break, none after September 7. It was the reverse of the previous year, when Smoltz started poorly and finished strong."
The Braves did not make it to their third consecutive World Series in 1993, but Greg Maddux did win a second Cy Young Award. Glavine finished third in the voting that year. Over the next five years, Maddux would win two more Cy Young Awards and Glavine and Smoltz would each win one. The Braves would also make it to two more World Series, beating the Indians in 1995. With Smoltz's Cy Young Award in 1996, he finally got the praise that he deserved (it's tough being the third HOFer in the shadows of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine). From the 1997 Street & Smith's:
"The current rotation accounts for the last six Cy Young Awards, although Greg Maddux won his first Cy, in 1992, with the Chicago Cubs. That's no big deal. He won his next three for Atlanta, before fellow righthander John Smoltz ended his reign last year. Either pitcher could well claim it this season, or lefthander Tom Glavine, a candidate every season, could snatch it.

Smoltz was 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts, tops in the majors. He says he had his best season because at last he had a surgically repared, healthy elbo. Surely, there is no reason to think Maddux (15-11, 2.72) and Glavine (15-10, 2.98) won't pitch at least as well."
Atlanta's success did not end there, as they wouldn't miss the playoffs again until 2006. And it could not have happened without these three Hall of Famers anchoring the top of the rotation.

As with most every future Hall of Famer, they started off simply and understated. It was not immediately evident that any of the three - let alone all of them - would amount to anything special. But, as their careers progressed and their performances improved, people began to take notice. Before long, their natural talents, some quality coaching, and the foresight of a crafty GM (John Schuerholz) converged to create one of the most dynamic set of pitching arms ever.

It's a shame, fifteen years later, to see it all end. These things happen, though. It's most important, instead, to remember what they were like and the feats that they accomplished while in their prime. With hindsight, that's easy. It's much harder, as we find here, to notice all of it as it's going on. The Glavine-Smoltz-Maddux combo was just so good, though, that it didn't take too long for everyone to realize what they were seeing. That, as much as anything else, is a testament to their immortality.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not quite there

With the John Smoltz news this weekend, I came up with this great plan for a post for this morning. I even started the post on Saturday. But with a day-trip to visit some out-of-town friends yesterday and some other stuff around the house keeping me busy, I just wasn't able to get the post done. I should have time to do it tonight, though, so hopefully you'll see it tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I suggest you amuse yourself with these quizzes: the Baseball Cards Brands Quiz and the Hall of Fame Hats Quiz. My scores were 13 of 15 on the first and 12 of 14 on the second... enjoy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Baseball and the Weekly World News

It's the end of the week, so I thought we'd celebrate by having a little fun here.

I just found out that the Google Books archives include full version copies of the illustrious Weekly World News. For those of you who don't remember, the WWN was one of the most outrageous and uncompromising of the supermarket tabloids, printing steady updates on the goings-on of Bat Boy and many other unbelievable stories. What made the WWN so fun, though, was how it consistently told those ridiculous stories without a hint of irony or self-awareness. It was a weekly joke told with the straightest of faces. How could you not at least appreciate something like that?

Anyhow, once I found the WWN archives over at Google Books, I started playing around with it, looking for interesting articles - including ones on baseball. The first story I found was this piece written by "Ed Anger" called "Yerrrrrrrrrrr Out!: Let's get rid of baseball as our national sport". It was published on June 11, 1996 (as well as March 7, 1995, and April 6, 1999).
"Let's face it. Even the NFL's Stupid Bowl is more exciting than watching a bunch of potbellied prima donnas prance around out there picking up trillion dollars a year for pinch-hitting a couple of times a week.

I say it's about time we got a new national pastime anyway. Roller Derby would be better than baseball, for crying out loud. Hell, even bowling's more exciting for that matter.

Baseball is basically an idiot game, 'cause nothing ever happens out there. Sometimes the 7th-inning stretch is the highlight of the afternoon."
The best part of the piece, though, is this section about the next scandal that's going to run across Commissioner Joe Garagiola's desk:
"And the latest scandal to rock baseball hasn't even hit the papers yet.

A secret memo to Baseball Commissioner Joe Garagiola is about to cause the biggest uproar since the Chicago Black Sox threw the World Series back in 1919.

Since 1978 - that's 18 years for all you gals out there - baseballs have been 'hopped up' by pumping a small amount of helium into them under super-high pressure."
They obviously liked the piece, seeing how they published it at least three different years (and, yes, they did update the "that's 18 years for all you gals out there" line each year). But Joe Garagiola was actually a favorite target of the WWN. Back in 1981, for example, they ran a couple of pieces complaining about baseball on TV and about Garagiola specifically. In April of '81, they ran "It is one, two, three strikes you are asleep at the old bore game":
"Let's face the music, sports fans. Baseball is dull. TV killed baseball and Joe Garagiola is the unmasked executioner. This yokel could make the seventh game of the World Seris a sleepwalk, and does.
Joshin' Joe is back with the NBC Game of the Week this year, I'm sad to report. That means all his lousy, stinking cornball attempts at jokes will be back, too. Baseball's gasping for breath and Joe's the final nail in the coffin."
That was followed in September by another long complaint, this time on the newly lengthened playoff rounds, "TV networks have sold out baseball for the big money of prime-time ads":
"That means each division will hold a five-game playoff just to see who gets to play in the regular playoffs. At this rate, the World Series will start in December and Santa Claus will throw out the first pitch.
Baseball fans at home will tune into an endless stream of macho beer and razor blade commercials. And when we're not getting tons of hard-sell, we'll get tons of Joe Garagiola's crummy jokes."
Interestingly enough, I think those two pieces by TV critic Rex Winston were actually meant to be taken seriously. This next one was certainly not, though, "Anti-gun nuts trying to ban baseball bats!":
"[Spokeswoman Jane Fairuza of Citizens United Against Lethal Weapons] said her organization decided to concentrate on baseball bats after the anit-gun movement was blamed for costing Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore the election.
So the anti-gun group switched gears and is going after baseball bats, which Ms. Fairuza says are used in hundreds of savage assaults and murders ever year.

'Baseball is a violent game and should be replaced as the national pastime with a more civilized sport such as synchronized swimming or ice skating,' she declared."
Apparently ballplayers were awfully concerned about this movement:
"'What's a batter supposed to do - swat at a 92 mph fastball with his fist?' a retired major leaguer asked in a fan newsletter, Swat King.

'Even the looniest player would have to be seriously coked out to do something like that. And if he ever connected, it would cost him his career.' "
This is another good example of the less serious side of things, "He hits homers, pitches shutouts... and he's BLIND as a BAT!":
"SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Baseball player Robert Rice has a .276 batting average and pitches with the best of 'em - even though he was born blind!

'I don't see the ball but I hear it and feel it in my bones,' said Rice, 35. 'I've been playing since I was a kind and it's the most natural thing in the world to me.'
'We call him [The Bat] because he's blind as a bat,' said Carlos Rodriguez, who also pitches for the team.

'Sometimes I get goose bumps just watching him on the mound. You may not believe it, but the guy has thrown two no-hitters and hit five home runs. A designated player runs the bases for him. Other than that, he's on his own.' "
No, I do not believe it.

Surprisingly, though, I did find some substance in some of these articles. For example, there's thie story about a man receiving a Hank Aaron autographed baseball as the dying wish of a child he befriended ("A dying wish fulfilled: Cancer boy's prized baseball goes to grown-up pal"). The best example that I saw in my brief excursion through the archives, though, is this story on 19th-century baseball. Now, you'll have to forgive me since I don't know much about old-time baseball, but this seems to be a pretty accurate and straight-forward piece, "It's two, three, four strikes you're out at the old ball game!":
"And today the thousands of fanatics who play vintage baseball are as meticulous about authenticity as their counterparts who reenact Civil War battles.

They're historians as well as players, reports Smithsonian Magazine. 'They re-create the uniforms, equipment (or lack thereof), the homemade balls, even the language of more than 100 years ago.'

Batters were called 'strikers', pitchers were 'hurlers'. Fans were 'cranks' - and the umpires would sometimes consult with a crank before making a call. Those were the days when the game was played for fun - not blood or money."
The piece goes on to give more details on the differences between old-time baseball and the present-day version, including old-time vernacular and some background on Abner Doubleday and the his claim to "inventing" the sport.

Overall, the Weekly World News is what I always thought it was, a fun little romp through the absurd, and I think it's fantastic that they're all available for free over at Google Books. It's an added bonus to discover that some of their content is actually worth reading. It should be a fun way to waste time on a long Friday afternoon. I hope you enjoy!