Baseball postsSaturday February 21, 2009
Two Hoots for Junior
So while I was gabbing about the Oscars this week, the Seattle Mariners, a team that has no shot at any kind of post-season, and barely a shot at a season, went and signed favorite son Ken Griffey, Jr. Good. There are sound arguments against the signing, that it's a move made with the heart and not the head, but baseball's always been a game of the heart. You lose that, you lose something fundamental about the game. Sure, I probably wouldn't say this if the M's had a chance in hell this year but they don't. They're not even in a quote-unquote “rebuiliding year” since they don't have much to rebuild with. This is the year, if anything, to test whether Jeff Clement can be a major league catcher, and if he can't whether he can be a major league first baseman, and if he can't whether he can be a major league left fielder, and the Griffey signing, if everyone understands their role, doesn't get in the way of this. My favorite argument in favor of the signing comes from ESPN's Jim Caple, who writes:
I don't understand the criticism that signing Griffey is primarily a move to boost attendance. Yeah, gee, we sure wouldn't want to give loyal fans who have sat through so many miserable seasons something actually worth watching in exchange for their $40 tickets and $8 beers.
Right on. Here's another trip down memory lane. The following was published on the Op-Ed page of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in May 1995 after Ken Griffey, Jr. fractured his wrist catching a fly ball at the Kingdome. We never got to that magical 700 number I hoped for, but 600+ ain't bad.
Two Hoots for Junior
Feel free to tell me to get a life.
I returned to baseball four years ago with what I thought was an adult attitude about the game. No matter if my team won or lost I kept things in perspective. Randy Johnson strikes out fifteen guys, I'm still working the same job. Edgar Martinez injures his ankle, I've still got the same problems, the same goals, the same friends, the same enemies. Nothing about my life has changed except this or that vicarious victory or defeat.
It's an attitude I later found summed up in the film, “A Bronx Tale.” A boy is depressed because Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees lost the 1960 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A local mob boss — who has befriended the kid — tells him, Hey, you think Mickey Mantle gives two hoots about you? He doesn't care about you. He doesn't even know you exist!
That's the way I felt. I wanted the Mariners to win, but I knew Lou Pinella didn't give two hoots about me. I knew he didn't know I existed. I was properly, emotionally distant
Until this Griffey thing happened.
I was at the game. My friend Mike and I were sitting in the box seats in right field, past the visitors' bullpen. We had a perfect view. I saw him go for the ball. I saw him crash into the wall. And, contrary to Steve Kelley's subsequent reporting, the stadium did not hush; there was no “sickened silence” from the Kingdome crowd. The people around me were cheering like maniacs. I know because a sickened silence came upon me. I thought, “Nobody — not even Junior — slams into a wall with such speed, at such an awkward angle, without doing damage to himself.”
Still, the people around me were going nuts. Of course these were the same kind of people who make the “whup! whooo!” noise when the opposition relievers warm up — the kind of people, in other words, who don't even pay attention to the game — so I didn't pay any attention to them.
Then right fielder Alex Diaz started making a circular motion with his hand as if some big deal was going on. At first I thought he was encouraging the fans in their cheering, and, reluctantly, I went along. Then I realized, no, he was calling for the trainer.
Earlier in the game, Griffey hit a homer off the right field foul pole above our heads. It was his 998th career hit. Since I already had tickets for the next night's game — and since Junior was in a groove — I felt assured of seeing him hit no. 1,000.
In the eighth inning we got the news. Fractured wrist. Out for three months. It was like a blow to the solar plexus. A pall was cast over the game. I didn't even want to go to the Kingdome the next evening. It would be like returning to the scene of a crime.
I tried to keep my emotional distance. I repeated my mantra. My life is the same. Same job, same troubles, same goals. Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't give two hoots about me. He doesn't know I exist. He is a multi-millionaire seven years my junior. We have nothing in common.
Still I cared.
And I think I cared for three reasons.
The first is the way he injured himself. If he had fractured his wrist, say, playing basketball, or slipping in the shower, I would've rolled my eyes. But no. He injured it trying to fly. He injured it for the team. He injured it right in front of me.
The second reason is the effect it will have not so much on the Mariners but on the perception of the Mariners. I know we still have a good line-up. I know we'll still win. But Junior gave us something else. He actually made the Mariners scary. He was the constant roadblock in our lineup. You have to get by this guy in order to beat us.
More, he made us glamorous. Last year, when Mike was at Wrigley Field, two kids in Cubs hats found out he was from Seattle. “You mean you get to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play?” they asked enviously. Mike said it was the first time anyone actually envied him for going to the Kingdome.
Finally, the third reason. A couple of seasons ago I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred. Randy Johnson strikes out fifteen Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this — I can now admit — was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen (14, so far). And the reason this statistic was important was, well, these were historic homeruns. Because he was going to hit a lot of them. 500. 600. 700? The sky seemed the limit.
Now the sky has fallen. Tiles one year and the sky the next.
Now there's a metal plate and six screws holding together his valuable left wrist.
Now I find myself caring a little too much about a guy who hit homeruns too much and caught fly balls too well.
And now if you'll excuse me I'll go get a life.
Hall of Fame Links
A batch of fun articles on ESPN.com yesterday about Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by (lest we forget) the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). How great that the most prestigious awards in our national pastime — Hall of Fame, MVP, Cy Young — are doled out by observers rather than participants? Image, for example, the most prestigious film award being that scroll from the National Society of Film Critics.
How good was Rickey? He was, according to Tim Kurkjian’s article, “too good.” Kurkjian gives us the stats but this is the one I like: The career stolen-base gap between Henderson in first place (1,406) and Lou Brock in second (938) is 468 — which is more than the entire total for the active leader, Juan Pierre (429).
Great quotes from pitchers, too. Here’s Mike Flanagan:
“He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen. If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great.”Tom Candiotti is less diplomatic:
“I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can.”Rob Neyer returns to that career stolen-base record and argues why no one will ever break it. He keeps drilling down. Active leader Juan Pierre is 31 percent of the way to Rickey’s record but he’s also 31 years old. Next on the list is Omar Vizquel, who’s 41. Among young speedsters, Jose Reyes, is 25 with 290 steals. During the last four years he’s averaged 65 steals per season, and to catch Henderson, Neyer writes, “all Reyes has to do is continue stealing 65 bases per season … for another 17 seasons.” Last season Reyes stole 56 bases so he’s already off the mark. So Neyer creates a fictional speedster and tells us what he’ll have to do. He’ll have to arrive in the majors early, steal a lot early, last 20 seasons, and average 70 steals per season for those 20 seasons. The catch? “In the first nine seasons of this new century, only two players — Reyes and Scott Podsednik — have managed to steal 70 bases in even one season.”
Finally, it’s worthwhile to check out Neyer’s arguments against Jim Rice and for Tim Raines, not because I necessarily agree — I haven’t crunched the numbers — but as a reminder of how difficult it is to measure quality. Few industries are as meritocratic as baseball. Entire professions — scouts and coaches — have been created to judge and aid excellence in baseball. Then there are the numbers players leave behind. We know their quality by their quantity: 1,406; 755; 511; .366. And yet we still have these arguments. Most industries don’t nurture talent so systematically, and there are no numbers. We’re forced to rely on other means. These means. Imagine baseball with no scouts and no stats and you have some idea how the rest of the world is working.
All Hail King Albert!
So Albert Pujols of the fourth-place St. Louis Cardinals was voted the National League MVP today by the BBWAA. I'm a fan of not limiting the MVP to players whose teams made, or nearly made, the post-season, so I was a fan of the decision in that regard. Pujols' main competition, Ryan Howard of the eventual World Series-champion Phillies, came in second with 308 points. Pujols had 369. Close but not that close.
Rob Neyer has a piece suggesting other worthy candidates, including Lance Berkman, and I went to the stats to see what I could see.
First. The main argument for Howard is the gross numbers. He led the majors in HRs (48) and RBIs (146) but struck out a lot (199 times). The main argument for Pujols is the percentage numbers: .357 BA, .462 OBP, .653 SLG for a 1.114 OPS. Best in the majors. He also hit 37 HRs and drove in 116. Howard's percentages aren't lousy (.251, .339, .543 for a .881 OBP) but not MVP-calibre. Put it this way: Pujols' BA was higher than Howards' OBP. By nearly 20 points.
That's one thing I saw. Here's another thing, and this wowed me. I sorted by HRs, with Howard on top, and I was glancing to see what other homerun hitters struck out a lot: Howard (199), then Adam Dunn (164), then Carlos Delgado (124)... The next number stopped me cold: 54. Only 54 strikeouts for a homerun hitter? I looked over. Pujols. I looked down. None of the top 15 NL homerun hitters struck out fewer than 100 times. None. And Pujols struck out only 54. Plus he walked 104 times.
Pujols is 2nd in the NL in walks and tied for 116th in strikeouts.
Howard is tied for 13th in walks but 2nd in strikeouts.
Berkman? Fourth in walks (99) and 38th in strikeouts (108).
I know. Walks/strikeouts. Who cares? But it is indicative of who's the dangerous hitter, and Pujols' ratios are like Ted Williams' ratios. It's rare to find anyone in the majors these days, let alone a slugger, who strikes out fewer times than they walk. And a ratio of almost 2-to-1? For a slugger? Wow.
This isn't the argument why Pujols deserved the MVP. Just interesting.
An Open Letter to Bud Selig
My friend Jim came over to watch Game 5 of the World Series last night. We were both hoping for a Rays’ win. We were both hoping for at least six games. We haven’t seen that in a while.
The game started at 5:30 p.m. for us, 8:30 p.m. on the east coast, standard fare under your watch. Bad enough the 162-game schedule and three tiers of post-season play have pushed the most important games of the year into late October, when cold weather becomes more and more of a factor; but, for the sake of TV revenue, which is to say MLB revenue, you make them play at night, when there’s no hope an autumn sun will warm things up a bit. Hell, because of Saturday night’s rain delay, you made them play into the darkest part of the morning. The nine-inning game ended at 1:47 a.m. No wonder you got your lowest ratings ever. You warp the game to get it into prime time and then Mother Nature pushes you into a timeslot reserved for infomercials for the lonely and pathetic. Nice irony.
Jim and I talked about this last night. We talked about the weather — even before the rains came. Gametime temps were in the low 40s, and there was a fierce wind blowing in from left field, and I said, for the thousandth time: “This isn’t baseball. This isn’t fun. It’s not fun to watch guys freezing their asses off in the most important games of the year.”
Then the heavens opened up. In the regular season the game would’ve been called, or postponed, by the 5th inning if not sooner. But these guys, playing the most important game of the year, were forced to keep playing. You could see them wondering about it. Looking up, shaking their heads, getting drenched. It was a joke.
The Fox broadcasters seemed oblivious, or muzzled, for a time. While Jim and I were yelling at the TV set, they blathered on about everything but the need to suspend the game.
When they did talk about it, they, or at least Joe Buck, implied that the power to call or suspend a game belonged to the umps during the regular season but to someone else during the World Series. Is that right? Does it belong to you, Bud? If so, what took you so long? Why did you wait for the infield to become a swamp? Did B.J. Upton really need to tie the game, as many have implied, before you acted? And if he hadn’t, would you have kept playing? In that cold swamp? It seems unimaginable.
You want to know what else Jim and I were talking about before the rains came? How long it’s been since we’ve seen a decent World Series. Sweeps in three of the last four years, no sixth game since ’03, no seventh game since ’02.
If this Series doesn’t go to Game 7, that’ll be a record. Since the Series became a best-of-seven affair in 1922, the longest Game 7-drought has been five years, 1935 through 1939, and we’ve already tied that.
We’ve already had four years without a Game 6. That’s a record. The previous record was three years, set several times.
In a way, we’re spoiled. In the 21 years from 1955 through 1975, the World Series went to seven games 14 times. Glory years: Amoros’ catch, Mazeroski’s homer, Gibson and Brock, Fisk waving the ball fair, “Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher!”
In the last 20 years? We’ve watched a Game 7 only four times: ’91, ’97, ’01 and ’02.
In the last 10 years, we’ve watched five sweeps.
I know. This is beyond your control, beyond anyone’s control. But it seems indicative that something is wrong with the game.
Baseball is a sport where, during the regular season, the worst team wins and the best team loses a third of their games. For the World Series that would mean, in general, a Game 6. October happenstance occasionally takes you to Game 7. So where is it? Why aren’t we getting it? At all?
Is it the extra tier of playoffs? Are teams getting too many off-days? Is the problem playing until late October, and often past midnight, in weather conditions meant for football?
Is this fun?
In the past I always thought it out-of-the-question to ask you guys to give up short-term revenue to think of the long-term interests (and revenue) of the game, but that’s what I’m doing now.
Start off, yes, by taking us back to a 154-game schedule. Then end the season sooner. The last week of September should be the first week of the post-season. The Series should be over by October 20, not beginning on October 22. Late October turns nasty. By scheduling the most important (and potentially, the most-watched) games of the year during this stretch, you’re just inviting the disasters of Monday night.
Then, at some point, whenever you work out your next contract with the next network to cover the post-season, schedule some World Series games during the day. Let’s see the boys of summer play in the sun. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe a day game will be postponed right into prime time on the east coast. Maybe some kids will be able to watch it. Maybe they’ll become fans. Nothing’s impossible.
Do this soon. Please.
Next season, I see, you have Game 7 (if we ever make it there again) scheduled for late night on Nov. 5. November!
This isn’t baseball. This isn’t fun.
Jamie Moyer: Class Act
Game 3 was an exciting one but, because of the late start required by Fox, plus those longer half-inning breaks required by Fox so they can squeeze in an extra commercial or three, not to mention the hour-and-a-half rain delay, the game didn’t end in Philly until 1:47 a.m. Brutal. That’s not baseball. At least it wasn’t too cold there. In the ALCS, a friend of mine, who didn’t care between BoSox and Rays, rooted for stadiums, and thus chose classic Fenway over the Tampa Dome. But the Dome, in Florida, is merely an extra reason (as if I needed it) to root for the Rays. I’m tired of watching the best players in baseball play the most important games of the season past midnight in 40-degree weather. I mean, seriously. Get your head out of your ass, Bud. Fix this.
I know: Lotsa luck. It’ll be even worse next year. Game 7 is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2009, which means “The Simpsons” Halloween special will probably air on Nov. 8. Another tradition effed up because of the demands of the marketplace.
Moyer, by the way, as he always does, tipped his cap to the ump after he left the mound in the 7th, saying, “Nice job.” Class act. Someone to emulate.