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!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Update on the Seamheads Near-Miss League

Back near the start of the season, I announced the exciting news that I would be participating in the Seamheads Near-Miss League, an all-time baseball simulation league being run by Mike Lynch over at and featuring such big-name GMs as Jonah Keri, Eric Karabell, and Dave Dameshek. I still don't know how I got to be included in that group, but it was (and is) pretty exciting.

The league began play shortly after I wrote the league's AL West preview, but I was sadly remiss in keeping you all up to date with how it was going. I would check in with the league every now and then, but I just never got around to writing a post about it. That might have had something to do with how poorly my team was performing, though.

After going through the long history of the Philadelphia-Kansas City-Oakland Athletics franchise, I finally settled on the 2002 Oakland team as my team, choosing to go with the pinnacle of the Moneyball teams over the more powerful, but also more successful A's teams of the past. With MVP Tejada, Cy Young Zito, and the other stars of the team (Chavez, Hudson, Mulder), I felt pretty confident in my chances, even against the likes of the '82 Brewers and the '69 Orioles.

I was very, very wrong, though. Looking at the standings and my team's stats, it's pretty clear that the 2002 A's (as GMed by me, at least) were just overmatched. The home runs were certainly there - first in the AL - but nothing else came together (the pitching staff was third best in strikeouts, at least). The team on-base percentage, supposedly the hallmark of the team, was only good for 11th in the AL. Whatever it was, it added up to a fifth place, 73-89 finish for the team, securely in the second division.

Now, maybe I should've been a more proactive GM, sending weekly tweaks to Mike to try to get the most out of my roster - I don't know. I suspect it wouldn't have made much of a difference, though. Mike's 1922 Browns did win the division by 17 games, after all (and were 33 games better than my A's). I hardly think an extra 50 at-bats for David Justice or Olmedo Saenz would've made up that kind of difference.

Anyhow, those Browns will be facing Dave Dameshek's 1990 Pirates (a wild card winner) in the World Series later this week. On paper, it looks like the Pirates have no chance, considering the way the Browns have steamrolled through everything, but that doesn't seem to mean anything these days. In the prior league, Joe Posnanski and his Indians played the underdog to the steamrolling Red Sox (manager by Bill James) but he was somehow able to pull out the miracle World Series title. Dameshek has to be hoping for the same thing in the Near-Miss League.

You can find a fantastic article about the Browns and Pirates over at Seamheads. I can't wait to see if Dameshek will pull this thing out or if Mike will continue his juggernaut ways. And when it's time for the next Seamheads simulation league, I hope Mike thinks of me (if you do, Mike, I promise to be a more hand's on GM - it might be the only way for me to win).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The All-Average All-Stars

Early last month, I wrote this post called "The Most Average Player of Any Given Season", where I tried to find the player whose season statistics across all categories were closest to the league-wide average. This is what I said in the original post:
Using the seasonal statistics found in the Lahman Database, I decided to look for the average offensive line put up by all regular players in any given season. By that, I mean, if you were to take every full-time player in a season and find the average number of at-bats, doubles, home runs, strikeouts, walks, etc. that that group put up, what would that statistical line look like? Furthermore, once you have the average statistical line for that season, is it possible to find the one player from that season who is closest to the average across all stats - to find, in effect, the Most Average Player for that season?
The answer to that question turned out to be Tony Pena in 1984, whose only real deviation from the season average line was in walks (52 walks for the average player versus 36 walks for Pena). The biggest complaint about that post - and it's one that I recognized and that I tried to address in the post itself - was that it seemed unfair to call Pena's season "average" since, as a catcher, his stats were decidedly above-average. It wasn't a criticism I could much deny, except to say that the exercise was from a purely offensive standpoint and it wasn't really trying to account for defense. It's a weak argument, I know.

So I decided to do something about it and take everyone's advice. Using the same data as the initial post, I broke every player into their primary position (ie, the position that they played the most that season) and found the average across each position. Ron, in the comments, called it "an average all-star team."

There are a few caveats about the data. As in the initial study, I limited the pool of players to those who qualified for the batting title. This means that for a couple of positions - catcher and DH, mostly - there are years where very few players meet the criteria. When this happened, I just excluded it from the final results. It made little sense to go back and try to find a suitable cut-off point for those years and, besides, it was consistent with the rest of the study. The other thing to note is that, for years prior to 1996, I don't have any position-specific outfield data. Instead, all outfielders are lumped together. In the output, then, I include three generic "outfield" spots for years between 1961 and 1995. I also include a LF, CF, and RF player for the 13 years since then.

With all that said, here is the list of most average players, by position. Or, if you prefer, the "All-Average All-Stars". For an example of how the points were calculated, see the example in the original piece. Otherwise, just remember that the closer to zero, the more average the player's season was. You can find the spreadsheet here.

Catcher: Ray Fosse, 1971 - 23 points

First Base: Tino Martinez, 1999 & Kevin Millar, 2003 - 23 points

Second Base: Tony Bernazard, 1985 - 30 points

Shortstop: Jose Pagan, 1962 - 30 points

Third Base: Ken Caminiti, 1991 - 24 points

Outfield (1961 - 1995): Bob Skinner, 1962 - 28 points; Dave May, 1971 - 31 points; Dave Winfield, 1976 - 33 points

LF/CF/RF (1996 - 2008): Moises Alou, 1997 (LF) - 33 points; Carlos Beltran, 2005 (CF) - 36 points; Moises Alou, 1996 (RF), 26 points

Designated Hitter: Edgar Martinez, 1999 - 23 points

There are a couple of things worth noting here.
  • First, the 1999 season actually gives us two of our All-Average All-Stars, with Tino Martinez and Edgar Martinez both making the list. I don't know what was in the water that year, but it is pretty remarkable.
  • There's also the fact that Moises Alou makes the list for two consecutive years at two different positions. That's quite the feat.
  • Finally, as was the case in the initial study, it's pretty interesting to see the big names on the list: all-star Ray Fosse, Tino Martinez, Kevin Millar, Ken Caminiti, Dave Winfield, Moises Alou, Carlos Beltran, Edgar Martinez... each of these guys carries some kind of clout and might surprise some people to be found on such a list. My guess is that these guys show up on the list when they're young, old, injured, or otherwise not at their best.
There's always going to be problems with a study like this, whether it's the issues detailed above or something else that I've been lucky enough to avoid so far. All we can ask is that the question we were asking is fair and sensible and that the answer makes sense. I think that's all very true for this post, no matter how surprising it is to see the likes of Winfield, Beltran, and Edgar on the list. If you have any other thoughts on how best to break down this data or another way to approach it, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August is a long month

I feel like this is a down week in the baseball world. It's early August and everyone either seems to be gone on vacation - Rob Neyer, The Daily Something - or just dealing with the long, dog days of summer. Even Twitter seems to have slowed down a little this week.

I'm trying not to succomb to the same thing. We had a nice busy, relaxing weekend, but it left no time to put something up yesterday, and then I found myself playing around with some stuff last night. I don't want you to think that I've let the summer - or the Brewers recent crappy play - get me down, though. I am working on something that should go up either later tonight or early tomorrow morning. I'm not promising it's the best thing in the world or anything, but I think it should be pretty interesting.

In the meantime, though, you can always see what I'm saying over on Twitter. Be back soon enough.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Trade Deadline Day!

I originally planned on writing an Historic Hot Stove piece today about the big four-team trade in 2004 that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. It was supposed to focus on just how big the trade was to the Red Sox and to their mentality and then mention how they went on win the World Series that year. But that was before the big news came out yesterday about Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Now, all of sudden, talking about the 2003-2004 Red Sox just doesn't sound all that interesting.

Instead, I figured I'd just put up a quick post here looking at the actual Trade Deadline Day from recent years. After all, every year we spend all of July talking about trades and watching the wire hoping to see a big trade go down, preferably for our favorite team. And never more so than on July 31st, when we spend all day hoping that the big trades we expected to go down all month actually find themselves going through in those last few hours.

But how exciting does July 31st end up actually being? It seems that it always disappoints, but is that true? Using a transactions database I found online, I counted all the trades that went down on July 31 since 1996 (I'd include earlier years, but I'm not sure how accurate the database is going back that far). The numbers are below, but the busiest years were, by far, between 1998 and 2000, when 35 trades were finalized on those three Deadline Days. Since then, Trade Deadline Day has been kind of slow, with the exception 0f 2006 (when 12 transactions were made). Last year, for example, saw only 4 deals get made - though the three-team Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles trade was huge.

Here are the Deadline Day stats for every year since 1996:

Transactions Made on 7/31, Since 1996
YearNumber of TransactionsNo. of Players TradedNotable Trades
  • Randy Johnson (SEA) for minor leaguers (HOU)
  • Ellis Burks (COL) for Felix Heredia (SF)
  • Mark Grudzielanek + 2 (MON) for Wilton Guerrero, Ted Lilly + 2 (LAD)
  • Todd Hollandsworth (LAD) for Tom Goodwin (COL)
  • Steve Trachsel, Mark Guthrie (TB) for Brent Abernathy (TOR)
  • Greg Maddux (CHC) for Cesar Izturis (LAD)
  • Xavier Nady (NYM) for Oliver Perez (PIT)
  • Kevin Appier (KC) for minor leaguers (OAK)
  • Shawon Dunston (StL) for Craig Paquette (NYM)
  • Mark Teixeira (TEX) for Jarrod Saltalamacchia + others (ATL)
  • Eric Gagne (TEX) for David Murphy + 1 (BOS)
  • Milton Bradley (MON) for Zach Day (CLE)
  • Tomo Ohka (BOS) for Ugueth Urbina (MON)
  • Pedro Astacio (COL) for Scott Elarton (HOU)
  • Nomar Garciaparra (BOS) for Doug Mientkiewicz, Orlando Cabrera (3 other teams)
  • Esteban Loaiza (CHW) for Jose Contreras (NYY)
  • Greg Vaughn (MIL) for Ron Villone + 2 (SD)
  • Ruben Sierra (NYY) for Cecil Fielder (DET)
  • Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, Danny Darwin (CHW) for Keith Foulke + 5 (SF)
  • Mark McGwire (OAK) for minor leaguers (StL)
  • Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe (SEA) for Heathcliff Slocumb (BOS)
  • Todd Hollandsworth (COL) for Gabe Kapler (TEX)
  • Kyle Farnsworth (DET) for Roman Colon (ATL)
  • Jody Gerut (CHC) for Matt Lawton (PIT)
  • Sidney Ponson (BAL) for minor leaguers (SF)
  • Robin Ventura (NYY) for Bubba Crosby + 1 (LAD)
  • Jeff Suppan + 2 (PIT) for Freddy Sanchez + 2 (PIT)
  • Aaron Boone (CIN) for minor leaguers (NYY)
  • Manny Ramirez (BOS) for Jason Bay (2 teams)
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CIN) for minor leaguers (CHW)

There you have it. For all the hoopla that we surround the July 31 trade deadline with, it rarely delivers. Certainly there are the occassional Randy Johnson deals or Manny Ramirez deals, but, for the most part, you're actually stuck with the Sidney Ponson deals or the Xavier Nady deals. In less than 24 hours, we'll know how today's deadline turned out. Maybe we'll see the last second Roy Halladay-to-Atlanta-via-Kansas-City-for-Zack-Grienke deal, and maybe we won't. But the hours until we find out will definitely be filled with tension and excitement. And I think that's why we really care about Trade Deadline Day...

Here's hoping for something to spend all weekend talking about. But, even if that doesn't happen, at least we'll have a fun day considering the possibilities.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Curt Schilling

Cliff Lee was traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia yesterday afternoon for an array of pitching prospects. The Phillies, who already enjoy a comfortable lead in the NL East, acquired Lee as an added bit of security for the division race as they attempt to defend their World Series crown. And though the Phillies have been involved with some significant deadline deals in the last few years (Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen), the Lee acquisition is easily the biggest pitching name they've been linked to since Curt Schilling was traded to the Diamondbacks in the summer of 2000.

At the time, Schilling was in his ninth year as a Phillie. After being traded to Philadelphia from Houston in 1992, when he was still a reliever, Schilling played a key role in the Phillies 1993 World Series run. The next couple of years saw him dealing with injuries, and barely eking by with 15 or 20 starts. Finally healthy in 1997, Schilling put up his first 300 strikeout season, and even duplicated the feat the next year. By this time, though, Schilling's prickly personality started taking over, and the annual trade-deadline Schilling-shopping rumors started showing up. Nothing came of it, though, until 2000.

It was then that his demands for a trade became serious, giving Philly GM Ed Wade no choice but to trade the ace.
Schilling had let it be known he wanted to be traded, and if the Phillies hadn't done it by Monday's deadline he'd have made them live with him - and he would have made it an uncomfortable experience - through the end of next season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

And that's not all.
When he demanded a deal, Schilling initially gave the Phillies a list of six teams he would approve - the New York Yankees and Mets, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cleveland and Arizona.
The six teams slowly dwindled to two as each either made other moves or decided that they couldn't or wouldn't meet the Phillies' price. In Cleveland's case, Schilling actually removed them from his list when word came that they were nearing a deal.
That left Arizona and the Mets as the principle players in the Schilling Sweepstakes.

The Mets offer featured phenom outfielder Alex Escobar, pitcher Grant Roberts and two more 21-year-old Class AA pitchers. Wade felt he needed players ready to make an impact on the major-league level rather than prospects to dream on for a few years.

All along, Wade said he wouldn't deal Schilling unless 'overwhelmed.'

Arizona's package met both criteria.
On July 26, 2000, the Phillies agreed to trade Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, and Vicente Padilla. The combination of major league-level batting talent in Lee and major league-level pitching talent in Daal was enough for Wade, and the destination more than suited Schilling.
"I made up 12, 13 games in the standings in one day," Schilling said.
"I'm in a pennant race, it's time for me to pony up," said Schilling (6-6, 3.91 ERA in 16 starts -- 5-2, 2.00 in the last eight outings). "This is what I wanted. I did not have a need to leave. I had a desire to contend right now. This is a win-win situation for both parties."
Of course, the main reason that this trade energized so many people was because it paired two of the best pitchers in baseball on the same staff - Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The comparisons to all-time greats came almost immediately ("'Koufax and Drysdale come to mind,' Arizona General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. 'I'll take these two guys.'" or "Big Unit and Schilling and three days of chillin."). The magnitude of that one-two punch wasn't lost on Schilling either. From Sports Illustrated:
"For years people would say, or managers would tell me, 'Can't wait till you get out there and throw, because we need a win,' " [Schilling] says. "I realized that when I get the ball, [my team] is expected to win. Now when Randy took the mound and we lost, I was crushed. I haven't been able to watch somebody and feel that way in a long time."
The trade did not pay immediate dividends for the Diamondbacks. On the day of the trade, they were sitting alone in first place, one game ahead of the Giants. From that point on, though, they played sub-.500 baseball, and had actually dropped into third place by the end of the season. Schilling's contribution was solid, but not spectacular. He posted a 5-6 record with a 3.69 ERA in 13 starts for Arizona that year.

The next year would be better, though. In his first full season with the club, Schilling went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA (157 ERA+) while striking out 293 batters in 256 innings pitched (he finished second in the Cy Young voting). Combined with Johnson's third consecutive Cy Young year, in which he posted a line of 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 188 ERA+, and 372 strikeouts, the D-Backs won the West with a 92-70 record and then went on to win the World Series over the New York Yankees. Johnson and Schilling again carried them through the postseason, combining to earn the win in all four World Series victories and sharing the World Series MVP honors. It's pretty fair to assume that, without this trade, that would never have happened.

So will the Phillies be on the right end of a similar story in three months when talking about their acquisition of Cliff Lee? It's impossible to know for sure, though you can bet that this Schilling trade was running through everyone's minds as they made their pursuit. I have to say, though, that with Cole Hamels in the rotation alongside Lee and their offensive cast, it's looking pretty good for Philadelphia fans. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Randy Johnson

Last year, the baseball world shook when the Brewers traded one of their top prospects (and change) to the Indians for free-agent-to-be CC Sabathia. CC took the city by storm, carrying the Brewers into the playoffs almost by himself before they finally bowed out in the first round. It was almost the perfect midseason acquisition.

Clubs are hoping to make a similar move this year, by trading for a marquee pitcher like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. Both pitchers are apparently on the market but, at this late date, have not yet been picked up. The asking prices are just too steep and don't seem to be dropping. I guess we might have to wait until the trade deadline before we see if either of them get traded.

Whatever moves that do happen, though, are unlikely to match the impact of the CC Sabathia trade of last year. No matter how good of a pitcher you get, it's just asking too much to expect them to dominate the league like he did. After all, it's a rare pitcher who can meet that challenge. The best example of this in recent years happened in 1998, when the Mariners traded Randy Johnson to the Astros at the literal last minute for three minor league pitchers.

The saga began a year before that, when Johnson and his agent asked the club not to pick up his option for the 1998 season. The Mariners went ahead and picked up the option anyway, irking Johnson to no end.
[In 1997], the Mariners talked to Johnson and his agent about the team's 1998 option for the pitcher - and the Mariners insist Johnson made it clear he didn't want them to exercise it.

The Mariners did, however, and the relationship quickly soured. In November, Armstrong announced Johnson would not be offered a contract extension beyond 1998, and the "Big Unit" began sniping and stopped only when he ceased speaking to the press in June.

"They haven't treated me as well as they should have considering what I've done for the team," he said in one spring training interview. "The only option is for them to trade me."

Five frustrating months later, the Mariners did.
As July wore on, it seemed increasingly clear that the Mariners had to trade Johnson. He wasn't talking to the media and his starts never seemed to match the vintage Johnson that everyone knew was there. Teams lined up to take their crack at winning the lefty, but Seattle's GM kept them all at bay. At different times, "marquee teams" like the Dodgers, Padres, Indians, and Yankees were all supposedly front-runners in the sweepstakes.

Nothing ever materialized, though, and as midnight approached on July 31st, Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker started talking to Woody Woodward, Seattle's GM. From this great piece in the August 10, 1998, issue of Sports Illustrated:
At 11:10 p.m. Hunsicker called Woodward "just to satisfy my curiosity and make a last-ditch effort." Woodward said he would call back. The Mariners had spent eight months putting Johnson on and off the trading block. They had turned down deals that would have brought them Mariano Rivera from the Yankees, Chad Ogea from the Indians and Ismael Valdes from the Dodgers. But at 11:20 p.m. last Friday—40 minutes before the trading deadline—it had come to this: Woodward telephoned Hunsicker and indicated he was willing to talk about the Astros' second-tier prospects. Hunsicker offered him three minor leaguers, none of whom satisfied Seattle's demand for a big league pitcher.

Woodward again said he would call back. "I got nervous," Hunsicker says, "because at 11:45, I was still waiting around for him to call." Between calls to Hunsicker, Woodward was making one last fishing trip to the Yankees' talent pool. But New York refused to give up righthander Hideki Irabu and third base prospect Mike Lowell.

At 11:50 p.m. the phone rang in Hunsicker's house. "We have a deal," Woodward said. The Mariners agreed to take Carlos Guillen, a switch-hitting infielder with power; Freddy Garcia, a righthanded power pitcher; and a minor leaguer to be announced later.
The player to be named later turned out to be southpaw John Halama. It wasn't a bad haul, considering the lack of leverage Woodward had with his disgruntled pitcher, and, when compared to the Hideki Irabu-Ricky Ledee-Homer Bush-Mike Lowell package that was the Yankees final offer, it seems the wise choice. Still, the David Wells & Mariano Rivera offer that the M's turned down earlier in the year (as mentioned in this Seattle PI article) does seem to hang over all of this.

On Houston's end, though, it was all roses. Johnson, who had spent a year feuding with Seattle management (and who, up until the last minute, was told that he would be staying with the club), was more than happy to show his best to his new squad. He may have had an ulterior motive for that, though:
Nine months after telling the Seattle Mariners he wanted to be traded, Randy Johnson got his wish last night, but not to an American League powerhouse.

Not even to an American League team.
Johnson reluctantly will join the National League Central Division-leading Astros, who play in Pittsburgh this weekend.

But he won't be an Astro for long.

"We consider this a 60-day job," said Alan Nero, one of Johnson's agents. "We don't want to be in the National League. We would have rather (the trade) been with an American League team, preferably the Yankees."

Nero said Johnson definitely will file for free agency after the season, and wasn't happy with how the trade was handled.
Whatever his motivation was, Johnson really pulled things together in Houston. In eleven starts as an Astro, Johnson was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in only 84 innings. He also had four complete game shutouts in that span. On the day of the trade, the Astros were in first place in the Central by 3.5 games. From that day forward, they had the best record in the majors and finished the season 12.5 games ahead of the second-place Cubs. Johnson more than earned the $2 million that the Astros paid him that year.

In the postseason, the Astros hosted the Padres in the Division Series. In his two starts, Johnson pitched 14 innings, striking out 17 batters and giving up a total of three earned runs. His offense failed him in each game, though, supporting him with a total of one run in the innings he pitched. The Astros lost both games he pitched in, and went on to lose the series 3-1.

Once the winter came, Johnson became a free agent and went on to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason, agreeing to a 5-year, $65 million contract. And, despite signing with a one-year old franchise, he would only have to wait three years before he got his World Series ring. His two months with the Houston Astros, though, as they marched towards the playoffs, is certainly a stretch to remember.

Will Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee provide that same kind of heart-stopping performance to whatever club they might get traded to? I have no idea. I do know, though, that every GM who is considering giving up his top-tier prospects for these guys, is hoping for a Randy Johnson-level performance from them in return. It probably won't happen, but there's no doubt that the dream is there (and if they can Halladay or Lee for the 2009 equivalent of Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen, all the better!). It should be a fun last couple of days.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Mark McGwire

It's been pretty clear over the last few weeks that this year's hot stove is going to be remembered for its focus on pitching. From the Roy Halladay auction up there in Toronto to Cliff Lee in Cleveland to all the other pitchers supposedly up for grabs - Jarrod Washburn, Eric Bedard, Justin Duchsherer, George Sherrill, Scott Kazmir, among others - teams are definitely looking for pitching above all else. There are some bats on the market, yes, but nothing really that inspires much excitement.

Well, maybe that's premature: Oakland did send slugger Matt Holliday to St. Louis in exchange for a couple of prospects, but that doesn't exactly match the magnitude of the last deadline-deal that the A's and Cardinals paired up on, when Mark McGwire was sent to the Cardinals for three less-than-stellar relief pitchers (of whom T.J. Mathews was the most successful).

Heading into that July in the summer of '97, the A's were sitting dead last in the AL West, 14 games behind the Mariners. As the month continued, they played worse and worse baseball, going 7-19 on the month, and McGwire's impending free agency suddenly became that much more important to Oakalnd's front office. The speculation that it brought on was hardly covert. From the late-July 1997 Sports Illustrated:
Mark McGwire. Only in the 1990s could a player be chasing Roger Maris's home run record and still be on the trading block. But McGwire is scheduled to be a free agent next season, and Oakland can't afford to re-sign him. But trading him won't be easy, despite his major-league-leading 34 home runs at the end of last week. As a veteran with at least 10 years of experience and at least five seasons with one team, McGwire can veto any trade, which could limit Oakland's options. The Cardinals and the Marlins, to cite two examples, have both expressed interest in McGwire, but he is reluctant to switch leagues in midseason. He also wishes to finish his career in Southern California, so that he can be close to his son, Matthew, who lives with his ex-wife in Orange County. That leaves the Angels as the best fit. Oakland rejected Anaheim's recent offer of centerfielder Jim Edmonds for McGwire, asking instead for outfielder Garret Anderson and a pitching prospect. According to A's general manager Sandy Alderson, the chance that McGwire will be dealt is 50-50.
It's almost funny how naive these trade preview pieces sound after the fact, though I guess that's what happens when you're trying to be a responsible journalist and all. Still, it's obvious that Mac was hot commodity.

By July 31st, the A's were down to only two suitors - the Angels and the Cards. Anaheim was fighting the Mariners for the division lead, sitting only a half game back, while St. Louis was struggling to stay in the race, 7.5 games behind the Astros. Logic would seem to say that Anaheim was the frontrunner at the time and, in fact, many thought the Cardinals had played themselves out of the race. Writers in St. Louis were even questioning the wisdom of making the trade.
One could make a case that the Cardinals will play unquestionably their most significant game of the season tonight.

For starters, it will be their last against the first-place Houston Astros, who are six games ahead of them in the National League Central after a 5-4 win at the Astrodome on Tuesday night.

If the Cardinals win tonight, they will cut the deficit to five games and feel good about making a last run at Oakland slugger Mark McGwire.

If they lose, they will be seven games behind with no games left against Houston. And there really would be little reason to go after McGwire. His potential two-month stay probably wouldn't be enough to lift the Cardinals past the Astros. It also might be risky business, considering the prospects and the money (some $2 million) the Cardinals would have to pay McGwire for the remainder of the season before he became a free agent.

General manager Walt Jocketty said the outcome of the game could affect what he did "a little bit. The performance of the team has some bearing, but not all the bearing," he said.
And it didn't. The Cardinals ended up losing their "most significant game of the season" that night but still managed to swing the deal with the A's. The desperation the Cards felt of being on the cusp of the playoff race must have been stronger than any desire the Angels had to improve their already competitive squad.

The trade made for an emotional moment in Oakland when it was announced:
"This is personally a very difficult day for me," Sandy Alderson, the A's president and general manager, said this evening at an Oakland Coliseum news conference. "When I came into baseball, Mark was the first college player I ever scouted. . . . {But} I think this was right for the organization, and I hope it's right for Mark."

McGwire, as a player with at least 10 years in the major leagues and at least five seasons with his current team, had the right to veto the deal but didn't. He seemed to fight back tears at times as he sat alongside Alderson and he said: "I grew up with this organization. It's not an easy decision to make. But you come to a crossroads in life where you think change will be good for you. . . . I think this deal is good for myself and good for the Oakland A's. . . . The last few seasons haven't been the greatest team-wise. How many years I have left, I don't know. I think I can still help a team to a championship."

With the Cardinals, he'll be reunited with former A's manager Tony La Russa. McGwire, 33, had spent all 11 of his major league seasons in Oakland. He led the majors with 52 home runs last year and has 34 homers this season. He called the prospect of a midseason switch to the National League challenging, but said he was happy to have all the trade speculation behind him.
The St. Louis writers were able to be a little more objective about the deal:
IN NEED OF MORE firepower and just more fire, the Cardinals took the risk of giving up part of their future for one of the game's top sluggers when they acquired first baseman Mark McGwire from the Oakland Athletics Thursday night.

In a deal that took the last four days to complete, the Cardinals, who have lapsed to the outer fringes of contention in the National League Central Division, dealt righthanded pitcher T.J. Mathews and minor-league righthanders Eric Ludwck and Blake Stein for the 33-year-old McGwire. McGwire has 34 homers and 81 runs batted in this season for Oakland but can be a free agent at the end of the season, thus involving another risk for the Cardinals.

The deal was completed just a few hours before the midnight trading deadline without waivers. McGwire, as a 10-year veteran - five with the same team - had to approve the trade.
Mac did not help the Cardinals reach the postseason that year, though it's hard to blame the guy: in his first two months in St. Louis, he hit 24 home runs with 42 RBIs while walking 58 times for an OPS+ of 182. In fact, the Cardinals were only 22-33 after McGwire joined the team. That didn't stop him from signing a contract extension in mid-September, though, making him a Cardinal through 2001. Which was, of course, a brilliant signing by St. Louis. Over the next 4 years, McGwire would hit 196 home runs, including the magical 70 he hit in 1998, and walk 427 times for an OPS+ of 182, all in Cardinal red. He was even able to help the team reach the postseason in each of his last two years in the bigs. It was a remarkable stretch, and one that made him one of the most enjoyable stars of the decade. (Of course, the steroids issue has since clouded our perception of this time - as well it should - but it was hard to argue with the results as they were happening.)

In Oakland, on the other hand, none of the three pitchers ever worked out. There were no Rookie of the Year winners or even All-Stars in the bunch. But, with the utter lack of leverage that Sandy Aldersen was working with, you can't really blame him. Plus, that's the risk that you run when dealing with prospects. McGwire would have left the team anyway, so the A's had to get something in return. It's only bad luck that that "something" never panned out.

With hindsight, it's easy to say that Oakland should have figured out some other way to move McGwire before the deadline, but I don't think that was at all possible. The Angels were competing well enough in the division that they didn't feel like they had to make any additional moves and the only other team that wanted to deal for McGwire refused to offer their best prospects. When you're in a position like Alderson was that July - being pressured to get something, anything for your star player before he leaves (and when he's at his peak) - trades like this happen. Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't. The McGwire trade may be not have worked, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have happened. It'll be interesting to see if any GMs back themselves into the same corner this year *cough*Toronto*cough*.

[One other note... I came across this quote from one of the newspapers of the day. I couldn't really fit it into the piece above, but I thought it was too good to leave out:
McGwire, clearly, no longer is threatening Roger Maris' home run record. (It is also clear, by the way, after his cranky performance in New York, that extensive media attention will make him one grumpy guy if he ever does make a run at it.)...
Yeah, McGwire was a real grump as he chased down Maris. Real grump. We all hated the guy...]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Sammy Sosa & Harold Baines

In his years in the White House, President George W. Bush would often joke that the biggest mistake of his adult life was signing off on the trade that sent Sammy Sosa from the Texas Rangers to the Chicago White Sox. It's a good laugh-line, especially for someone whose position affords such little room for humor, but it really makes you wonder: was trading a young and unproven Sammy Sosa really a big mistake?

I know that I'm not the first one to take a look at this question, but it still seems like a great way to kick off Hot Stove week. Plus, I don't think too many people have taken the time to go back and see what people were saying when the trade actually took place.

The trade took place on July 29, 1989, when the Chicago White Sox sent All-Star designated hitter Harold Baines and reserve middle-infielder Fred Manrique to the Texas Rangers for aging but expensive shortstop Scott Fletcher and two top-tier prospects - rightfielder Sammy Sosa and pitcher Wilson Alvarez. At the time, the Rangers were 55-47, sitting in 4th place, 8 games behind the California Angels. The White Sox were in the cellar of the AL West, with a 43-60 record, 20.5 games behind the Angels.

The Rangers were looking to add a power bat while also dropping the unweildy three-year, $3.9 million contract they had given to shortstop Scott Fletcher only the year before.
The Texas Rangers got the big bat they were seeking Saturday when they acquired designated hitter-outfielder Harold Baines from the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Scott Fletcher and two top prospects.

The Rangers also sent outfielder Sammy Sosa and pitcher Wilson Alvarez to the White Sox. Sosa was playing for Texas' Class AAA Oklahoma City farm club, while Alvarez was on the Rangers' Class AA Tulsa roster.
"For the past several years, we've been trying to acquire a designated hitter specialist,'' Rangers General Manager Tom Grieve said. "We feel we now have the best designated hitter in baseball.''
On the White Sox end, the trade wasn't so much about who they were getting as it was who they were giving up. Baines was a ten-year Chicago veteran, and was thought of by many as "Mr. White Sox". When the trade was announced, despite having been discussed in the weeks before (' "You keep hearing, `Baines is going to be traded, Baines is going to be traded,' " said Greg Walker, who will fill Baines' designated-hitter spot...'), it did not go over well.
Carlton Fisk, who always chooses his words carefully, chose these more carefully than ever.

"I don't have much good to say about that," said Fisk, still sweating after a pregame workout with hitting instructor Walt Hriniak. The subject was Saturday's Harold Baines trade. The mood was barely-restrained anger-and this was before the White Sox offense showed little in Saturday night's 2-1 loss to the California Angels.
"The No. 3 man right out of our lineup," Fisk said. "Take the No. 3 hitter out of any lineup throughout the major leagues and see what happens. From Alvin Davis to Don Mattingly . . . "

Fisk turned his head away and spit something into a sandbox near his cubicle. Even the spitting was angry.

"Harold and Freddy (Manrique) for one major-league player," said Fisk. "Two major-leaguers for one. And not just a major leaguer. Harold Baines. Harold Baines. You know what I mean? Harold Baines . . ."

No, spirits in the White Sox clubhouse were not soaring.
Despite Carlton Fisk's complaints, Sosa and Alvarez were definitely considered top notch prospects.
Sosa and Alvarez were two of the shining stars in the Rangers' minor-league system. Both saw brief service with the Rangers in recent weeks, Alvarez for one start and Sosa for five weeks. Both had been returned to the minor leagues.

Depth in their minor-league system allowed the Rangers to deal two of their top prospects for a proven hitter.

"We're not thrilled about dealing two of our best prospects,'' [Rangers manager] Grieve said. "But to get a player of Harold Baines' caliber, you have to trade quality.''

For the White Sox, mired in last place in the American League West, the trade was made with an eye toward the future.
In the end, the trade didn't really work out for anyone. Baines lasted only one year on the Rangers before getting traded to the A's at the end of August. Fletcher played out the rest of his contract with the White Sox, but not very well, barely squeezing out a .240 batting average over that time. Alvarez had a solid seven-year career with the White Sox before being traded to the Giants at the 1997 trade deadline, winning 67 games with a 118 ERA+ over that time. He also pitched a no-hitter in his first start as a member of the White Sox.

Sosa played only two full seasons for the White Sox before they traded him to the Cubs in 1992 for George Bell. In that time, Sosa was only a .227 hitter with 28 home runs and an 84 OPS+. He started putting his act together in '93, when he belted 33 home runs, but it wasn't until '94 that he was able to post an OPS+ better than 120. And then of course there was the completely unpredicatable 1998 season...

The point, though, is that, at the time of the trade, moving Sammy Sosa to the White Sox for Harold Baines was not a ridiculous move. Yes, he was a key prospect for the Rangers, but they were dealing from a position of strength in that regard. They were fighting for a spot in the postseason (8 games out is about when clubs are at their most desperate) and needed a good bat at the DH-spot, and there was no bat better than Baines'. Even on Chicago's side, they didn't see the inclusion of Sosa as a coup. They made certain to acquire a couple of top prospects, but no one saw Sosa as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Sosa certainly ended up blossoming in Chicago, but it wasn't in a White Sox uniform and it wasn't for another five years or so. It's hard to say, then, that trading Sammy Sosa in the summer of 1989 was all that big of a mistake for our former president.