Friday, April 24, 2009

The Seamheads Near-Miss League

By the time you read this, I should be driving on out to Cleveland for a weekend at the SABR Seymour Medal Conference. It should be a fun time. It's my first SABR get-together, so I don't know exactly what to expect. I will be seeing Joe Posnanski give the keynote on Saturday and going to the Indians-Twins game with all the other SABR guys on Sunday, so, no matter what, it'll be a good weekend...

The news was announced over at Seamheads earlier this week, so I guess I can comment on it now: somehow I'm lucky enough to be competing in the Near Miss League that's about to begin (Opening Day: TBD, but soon). How cool is that?!

For those of you who haven't been following Joe Posnanski's or Jonah Keri's or Ducksnorts' accounts of the previous league, Seamheads Historical League (as it was called) was a baseball simulation league powered by Out of the Park Baseball where bloggers/writers/other fans got to act as GMs of their choice franchise. Each GM then got to choose their All-Time franchise roster. From there, the games were played until a champion was declared, with Joe Posnanski's Indians defeating Bill James' Red Sox. While it may not have been "real" baseball, it was certainly fun to read about, and the list of GMs was rather impressive.

And now I get to participate! Here's what Mike Lynch, from, has to say about the Near Miss League:
"The Near Miss League will be slightly different, though the cast of owners is just as strong, featuring ESPN columnist Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons, his buddy and ESPN colleague Dave Dameshek, ESPN senior writer and “Baseball Today” co-host Eric Karabell, columnist King Kaufman, former major league second baseman Jack Perconte, author and Hall of Fame researcher Gabriel Schechter, and author/writer/editor/esteemed historian Gary Gillette. Keri and Goold are also back for another go-around, with Keri leading his Expos again, while Goold takes the reins of the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he writes about for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The rest of the group is made up of intelligent baseball men who blog about, write about, talk about, eat, sleep, and drink baseball, including many colleagues from SABR. Needless to say, the competition should be fierce.

The teams featured in the Near Miss League are teams that were either very good or great but failed to win their division, a pennant, or a World Series for one reason or another."
That's some pretty heady competition. How did I get there again?

For my part, I'll be managing the 2002 Oakland A's, probably the pinnacle of Billy Beane's Moneyball squads. That year, Barry "When do I get the $126 million?" Zito very deservedly won the AL Cy Young award while Miguel "The steroids made me older than I claimed" Tejada won the MVP. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, and Billy Koch all had strong seasons for the A's as well. They won 103 games that year, but lost in the ALDS to the Twins.

So why did I choose that team? And how do I feel about representing the Moneyball era against the likes of the 1982 Brewers, the 1969 Orioles, or the 1951 Giants? Well, first off, I didn't have much choice among the franchises, but the long and colorful history of the A's was intriguing. Once I chose the A's, I had to think pretty seriously about what team to use. They definitely had some fantastic teams, from the Collins-Baker and Foxx-Simmons-Grove teams of the early-20th century to the Reggie-Fingers-Hunter and McGwire-Canseco-Henderson teams of the '70s and '80s.

The problem I had with choosing a team was that the A's have rarely been merely "almost good" in their history. Of all the seasons that they were a "near miss", they were all either right before or right after a long string of extended success. The 1928 A's, for example, who showed up on my list of Greatest Teammates of All-Time, finished in 2nd place. However, they then went on to appear in 4 out of the next 5 World Series (winning 3). So, while the '28 squad was technically a "near miss", it's really hard to say that the collection of players playing that year were actually "near misses". After all, they were good enough to win 3 World Series together. The same can be said for the 1971 or 1975 teams, who both lost in the ALCS. Yes, those particular squads were "near misses", but that group did win three consecutive World Series. As someone pointed out to me, if I were to choose one of those teams, I'd be going against the spirit of the league, if not the letter.

That left us with the Bash Bros. years and the Moneyball years. The most attractive aspect of the Bash Bros. teams, besides their overwhelming talent, was the friendly banter that managing guys like Canseco and McGwire would create. But the Moneyball teams had the same thing going for them, with Giambi, Tejada, and Zito all playing for them. What put the Moneyball-era team over the top, though, was its true "near miss" nature. With so many chances in the late-90s and early-2000s, the franchise was just never able to do anything about it. And that's what this league seems to be all about.

As for how I feel about "representing" Moneyball, I don't know. I actually feel a little underqualified. There's no doubt that I believe in Billy Beane and his philosophy, but I don't recite it as a mantra or anything. I haven't even read the book yet. I do think that it's ludicrous to dismiss the Moneyball-movement as a failure, though, just because they couldn't pull it through in the playoffs. And that's what I've set out to prove, that a Moneyball-style team can win it all.

I'll let you all know how things are going as the season moves on. I'm very excited about all of this.

(Oh, and sorry for saying "Moneyball" so much. It just happened to be the easiest shorthand I could think of. Besides, that's how most people see this era of teams anyway, so might as well go with it.)


Bill said...

Wow! That's some fun company. Congrats and good luck!

The A's should be interesting, and 2002 is a good choice. I know Hatteberg was like Moneyball exhibit A and everything, but can you imagine what that squad would've done if they'd kept Giambi?

Paul said...

That is an awesome league. I'm really looking forward to following the season. Are you going to be blogging about it here, too?

lar said...

Bill: yeah, that would've been some team in 2002 if they had Giambi at first. but there's no way they could've afforded that contract. Which, of course, is too bad. I really went back and forth between the 2000 season (Giambi's MVP, Hudson's near-Cy) and the 2002 season (Tejada's MVP and Zito's Cy). Giambi's season was much better than Tejada's, but, considering how much better Zito's season was than Hudson's and the fact that the team won 100+ games, the 2002 seasons seemed better.

Paul, I don't know yet. I suspect I'll have some updates here and there, but I'm not sure right now how well the league will lend itself to frequent updates. I wouldn't want to bore too many people. We'll see how it goes.