4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.
I'm not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don't tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact -- plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear -- but it's mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that's what we think now.
Except -- baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.
I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost some of my success. The American dream didn't tell me that an experience only matters if I acknowledge it, that losing yourself in the game is a good way to lose what makes life meaningful. When you're standing at the plate and you hit a sharp foul ball to the backstop, the spot on the bat that made contact gets hot; the American dream forgot to tell me to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood.
Baseball has changed significantly since the mid-eighties base stealing heyday of Vince Coleman, Ricky Henderson, Tim Raines, and Willie "Mays" Hayes. Beginning in the mid-90s, steroids and sluggers shifted the game away from speed and defense towards home runs, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of stolen bases. Since 2003, however, stolen bases have been making a comeback and while the numbers aren't approaching the base stealing glory of the mid-eighties, we're getting closer to the base stealing diminished glory of the mid-nineties. Jonah Keri uses hard g gifs in his baseball writing as well as anyone, and here's a gif driven conversation with Coco Crisp about the art of base stealing.
With that in mind, I set out to find one of those master thieves and have him walk us through every step of the base-stealing process. Oakland's Coco Crisp was happy to oblige. Poring over a series of videos one early morning in Phoenix, Crisp described the cues he picks up from individual pitchers and the weaknesses he can exploit. Moreover, he explained how a player entering his 12th major league season can be a better base stealer now than when he was younger and much faster. Crisp's career high in single-season steals came in his age-31 season in 2011, when he swiped 49. Despite nagging injury troubles, Crisp has been ludicrously efficient on the base paths over the past three years, stealing 120 bases and getting caught just 16 times (88.2 percent success rate).
Angels pitcher Robert Coello's unique pitch has knuckleball movement but is thrown with a fastball grip & pitching motion and has a bit more speed on it than a typical knuckleball. His catchers and opposing hitters call it the WTF pitch.
Physicist Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois who studies baseball and has a particular interest in the knuckleball, hadn't ever seen a pitch like Coello's. His preliminary theory on the pitch: His thumb on the underside of the ball exerts backspin, counteracting the tumbling effect his top fingers put on the ball and balancing the torque so perfectly that the pitch has a knuckleball effect with superior speed (around 80 mph).
Be sure to wait for the slow motion at the end of the video.
Earlier this spring, Drew Sheppard created a layered animated GIF of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish's pitching delivery. This type of GIF has become something of a meme on baseball sites. The latest to get the layered GIF treatment is Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown last year (led the league in batting average, RBIs, and home runs) and is trying to do it again this year. Sheppard put together this GIF to show "Cabrera's impressive all fields hitting and ability to cover the full strike zone with power":
As the image plainly shows, Cabrera can launch home runs from anywhere...even a pitch that's almost a foot off the plate. Are they showing this stuff on SportsCenter yet? Can only be a matter of time. (thx, david)
One of the most formidable tools in a pro baseball pitcher's arsenal is the consistency of pitching motion when throwing different kinds of pitches. If your delivery looks the same to an opposing batter when throwing a 95-mph fastball, a 80-mph curve, and a 85-mph change-up, well, you've really got something there. Texas pitcher Yu Darvish is ripping up the AL this year with a 4-1 record, 1.65 ERA, and 49 strikeouts, which prompted Drew Sheppard to layer five of Darvish's pitches on top of one another in an animated GIF:
All the Darvishes use the same delivery but the five balls end up crossing the plate at very different times and locations. A perfect use of time merge media to illustrate just how difficult it must be stand in there against the controlled athleticism of a pitcher at the top of his game. "The Mona Lisa of GIFs" indeed. (via @djacobs)
Update: Here's a video demonstrating similar consistency in Roger Federer's serve:
I remember NBC using this technique at various points during the last couple of Olympics as well. (via @agonde)
This story by Kevin Guilfoile about his aging father (who worked for the Pirates and the Baseball Hall of Fame) and the mystery of what happened to the bat that Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit with is one of my favorite things that I've read over the past few months.
[My father's] personality is present, if his memories are a jumble. He is still funny, and surprisingly quick with one-liners to crack up the staff at the facility where he lives. He is exceedingly polite, same as he ever was. He is good at faking a casual conversation, especially on the phone. But if you sit and talk with him for a long time, he gets very anxious. He starts tapping his forehead with his fingers. "Shouldn't we be going?" he'll say. You tell him there's no place we need to be, but 30 seconds later he'll ask again, "Shouldn't we be going?"
What happens to memories when they're collapsed inside time like this? They don't exactly disappear, they just become impossible to unpack. And so my father, who loved stories so much -- who loved to tell them, who loved to hear them -- can no longer comprehend them. The structure of any story, after all, is that this happened and then that happened, and he can't make sense of any sequence.
That is the real hell of this disease. His own identity has become a puzzle he can't solve.
Objects have stories, too. Puzzles that need to be solved. Like a pair of baseball bats, for instance, that each passed through Roberto Clemente's hands before they passed through my father's. One hung on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. The other is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
These objects never forget, but they never tell their stories, either.
Without a little bit of luck, we'd never hear them.
Or more than a little luck:
My father has lots of old baseball bats given to him by players he worked with over the years. He has Mickey Mantle bats from his years with the Yankees, and Willie Stargell and Dave Parker bats from his days with the Pirates. The one I always loved best was an Adirondack model with R CLEMENTE embossed in modest block letters, instead of the usual signature burned into the barrel. On the bottom of the knob, Roberto had written a tiny "37" in ballpoint pen, presumably to indicate its weight: 37 ounces. It also had a series of scrapes around the middle where someone had scratched off the trademark stripe that encircled all Adirondack bats. Former Pirates GM Joe Brown gave my dad this bat several years after Roberto died. For much of my childhood it hung on the wall of my bedroom, on a long rack with about a dozen other game-used bats.
My dad had been working at the Hall of Fame for more than a decade when, in 1993, his old friend Tony Bartirome, a one-time Pirates infielder who had become their longtime trainer, came to Cooperstown for a visit. Tony and his wife went to dinner with my folks and then came back to our house to chat. The only way to go to the first-floor washroom in that house was through my old bedroom, and on a trip there, Tony noticed that Adirondack of Clemente's hanging on the wall.
Tony carried it into the living room. He said to Dad, "Where did you get this bat?" My dad told him that Joe Brown had given him the bat as a gift, sometime in the late '70s. "Bill," Tony said. "This is the bat Roberto used to get his 3,000th hit."
My father was confused by this. "That's impossible," he told Tony. "The day he hit 3,000 I went down to the clubhouse, and Roberto himself handed me the bat he used. I sent it to the Hall of Fame. I walk by it every day."
"Well," Tony said. "I have a story to tell you."
It's a wonderful story, read the whole thing. Or get the book: the story is excerpted from Guilfoile's A Drive into the Gap, available here or for the Kindle.
The stories of long time minor leaguers overcoming obstacles to make it to the big leagues are always heartwarming and Tigers pitcher Phil Coke's story is no different. Minor league players are payed poorly, spend days on buses, and most players never make it. Coke, who pitched fantastically in the 2012 postseason until giving up the winning run in the last game of the World Series, had an interesting road to the majors, as well. He's got an interesting take on why MLB teams, most of which are swimming in money, make it so hard for minor leaguers.
"It's part of the psychological effort to find out how mentally tough you really are," Coke said. "Can you still perform when the rent's due and you're out of money? It's a crazy schedule too, one you've never played before. You're playing every day. You go from not knowing what a weekend is to not knowing what day it is at all. You're in a town for two to four days, then off on these very, very long bus trips. Your choices are read a book, sleep your face off, or banter and talk with teammates. You figure out who the sleepers are and who are the ones who pull all-nighters. I was drawn to those people. But being away from family, friends, having a life, it's really tough."
The Clowns were baseball's answer to the Harlem Globetrotters. Players entertained the crowd with various comedic antics, including "shadowball", where they would go through a warm-up routine with no baseball. When the team joined the Negro American League, they dropped the "Ethiopian" moniker and played straight baseball.
I missed this when it was announced in August, but there will be a third series of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary films, and one scheduled to air in December will feature Bo Jackson.
A close look at the man and marketing campaign that shaped his legacy. Even without winning a Super Bowl or World Series, Bo redefined the role of the athlete in the pop cultural conversation. More than 20 years later, myths and legends still surround Bo Jackson, and his impossible feats still capture our collective imagination.
San Francisco Giant Melky Cabrera recently tested positive for a banned substance and received a 50 game penalty per MLB's rules. Prior to receiving the suspension, Cabrera made an attempt, new at least in the world of sports, to get off without punishment.
The New York Daily News has discovered that in an effort to beat the rap on his 50-game suspension, Melky and his "associates" devised a scheme that included purchasing a website for $10,000, making this website appear to sell a fake product and pretending Melky purchased and used the product, unaware that it contained a banned substance. Ohh, this close.
Cabrera offered the website as evidence during his appeal and the scheme devolved into comedy in short order.
The ideas of aerodynamics don't apply here. Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it. But the air molecules in front of this ball don't have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball's surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles.
These gamma rays and debris expand outward in a bubble centered on the pitcher's mound. They start to tear apart the molecules in the air, ripping the electrons from the nuclei and turning the air in the stadium into an expanding bubble of incandescent plasma. The wall of this bubble approaches the batter at about the speed of light-only slightly ahead of the ball itself.
All science writing should (and probably could!) be this entertaining. (via @delfuego)
Rick Paulas has a deep look in the Awl at baseball players who, regardless of how long their professional careers were, only played in one Major League Baseball game. They're in an interesting spot, possessing great enough talent to get them to the pinnacle of their profession but not enough to keep them there (though military service, luck, and injuries also play a role in some cases).
Some players performed poorly in their one game, others did...better.
On the final day of the 1963 regular season, John Paciorek had a hell of a career. The 18-year-old started in right field for the Houston Colt .45s -- two years away from trading in the handgun for the Space Race-influenced "Astros" moniker -- and had a perfect day at the plate: three-for-three, two walks, three RBIs and four runs. Nagging back injuries meant he'd never have a chance to blemish that perfection.
By the math in the article, 5.5% of all major leaguers ever have only played in one game. I can't decide if that's more or less than I would expect.
In one of the most eloquent photographs ever made of a great athlete in decline, Yankee star Mickey Mantle flings his batting helmet away in disgust after another terrible at-bat near the end of his storied, injury-plagued career.
Mantle was only 33 when that photo was taken but he'd already had 13 extremely productive seasons under his belt and his last four seasons from '65 to '68 were not nearly as good.
For all the hubbub of constant sound it is amazing how clearly the crack of a bat, the whoosh of a pitch (at least from the powerhouse Sabathia), and the leathery thud of the ball smothered in the catcher's mitt cut through the textures. And if the hum of chattering provides the unbroken timeline and undulant ripple of this baseball symphony, the voices that break through from all around are like striking, if fleeting, solo instruments.
The most assertive soloists are the vendors. My favorite was a wiry man with nasal snarl of a voice who practically sang the words "Cracker Jack" as a three-note riff: two eighth notes on "Cracker," followed by a quarter note on "Jack," always on a falling minor third. (Using solf`ege syllables, think "sol, sol, mi.") After a while I heard his voice drifting over from another section, and he had transposed his riff down exactly one step.
But by the fourth game I started to pick up tendencies in all the batters. Jason Bartlett swung at first-pitch changeups. Will Venable couldn't hit the palm ball. In fact, most of these free-swinging Padres couldn't hit Dock's funky palm ball. I threw it often. But by then, also, the first acid distractions entered: the TV flickered; the cracks in the wall started to move; the hand soap started to breathe -- those sorts of things. Plus I was drawn to the outdoor garden between innings. Rain was near, I sensed.
I've been meaning to post these since the beginning of the week. Here's Ezequiel Calvente's penalty kick for Spain from a U19 game against Italy. He runs up to kick with his right foot, but just before making the kick, Calvente pushes the ball into the other side of the goal with his left foot. Fantastic.
And a bonus amazing sports play. Spiderman in center field.
False: Fidel Castro was recruited to play professional baseball in the United States. True: after taking over Cuba in 1959, Castro played in a few exhibition games with his fellow revolutionaries.
Cubans know that Fidel Castro was no ballplayer, though he dressed himself in the uniform of a spurious, tongue-in-cheek team called Barbudos (Bearded Ones) after he came to power in 1959 and played a few exhibition games. There was no doubt then about his making any team in Cuba. Given a whole country to toy with, Fidel Castro realized the dream of most middle-aged Cuban men by pulling on a uniform and "playing" a few innings.
Bill Simmons has finally accepted the gospel of sabermetrics as scripture and in a recent column, preaches the benefits of all these newfangled statistics to his followers. The list explaining his seven favorite statistics in down-to-earth language is really helpful to the stats newbie.
Measure BABIP to determine whether a pitcher or hitter had good luck or bad luck. In 2009, the major league BABIP average was .299. If a pitcher's BABIP dipped well below that number, he might have had good luck. If it rose well above that number, he likely had terrible luck. The reverse goes for hitters.
But, wait... Two-thousand was -- the last time the Yankees managed to win a championship. And it was awfully close to the last time that that Microsoft managed to produce a version of Windows that anybody cared about. And, hey, both the Yankees and Microsoft have long histories of dominating their professions, and of using that dominance to run up huge payrolls with -- let's be honest here -- a near-decade of lackluster results.
If a breaking ball crosses the plate at a point between a batter's knees and the midpoint between his shoulders and pants, it's a strike, no matter what the anachronism behind the plate thinks he sees. In eighteendicketysix, a human being was state-of-the-art technology for making these decisions. Now, you can get better information -- we do get better information -- by using better technology. Championships should be decided by the players and by what actually happened, not by what somebody thinks happened.
The ball used contains a beeping device that is loud enough to aid in sightless location. The six players on the field are helped by a sighted pitcher, who announces "pitch" or "ball" as they toss to a sighted catcher. Batters are allowed four strikes and one pass, but the fourth swing must be a clear, defined miss. The game has six innings, the standard three outs per inning, and two bases, not three. Baseball's traditional tile-like bases are replaced with padded cylinders that stand four feet tall and give off a distinct buzz once activated. The batter doesn't know which base will be activated, but must run to whichever sounds, tackling the base before defense has a chance to field the ball. If the runner makes it in time, a run is scored. Two sighted "spotters" also play the field and call out which direction the ball has headed using a system based on numbers assigned to each outfielder. Spotters can only announce one number, and the outfielders must communicate with each other to locate the ball. Cheering is discouraged because it interferes with play.
Update: A recent article from the Wall Street Journal documented the West Coast Dogs and their quest to win the World Series of beep baseball.
Really very good and has a shot at being among the best of all time. Post-1901, he's #1 on the list of most HRs in the first 9 seasons of a player's career and is in the top 20 all-time in batting average amongst all players with 4000+ plate appearances. Longevity will tell the tale, particularly if (birthers, take note!) Pujols is older than he claims. (thx, david)
As one friend pointed out, the best explanation for the increase in recent decades appears to be the advent of the modern reliever, especially the flame-throwing, one inning closer (more immaculate innings have been thrown in the 9th inning* (eight) than in any other inning), though starters -- such as Burnett -- have also been throwing them with impressive frequency.
Well, of course, the big-market teams figured it out. They hired their own Ivy League consultants. They bought even better computers. Walks is only one tiny aspect in it ... but who leads the American League in walks this year? The New York Yankees. Last year? The Boston Red Sox. The year before that? The Boston Red Sox. And so it goes. Now, six years later, it seems to me that the small-market teams are really grasping and trying to find some loophole, some opening that will allow them to win in this tough financial environment.
Baseball historian Bill James makes a compelling argument that steroids will eventually become an accepted aspect of sports (and society as a whole) and that baseball players who are now more or less banned from entering the Hall of Fame (though not officially) will eventually be elected to Cooperstown.
If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.
How, then, are those people of the future -- who are taking steroids every day -- going to look back on baseball players who used steroids? They're going to look back on them as pioneers. They're going to look back at it and say "So what?"
If I ever write a book, it might have something to do with the two minds that govern creative expertise: the instinctual unconscious mind (the realm of relaxed concentration) and the thinking mind (the realm of deliberate practice). The tension between these two minds is both the key to and fatal flaw of human creativity. From the world of sports1, here's Rockies pitcher and college physics major Jeff Francis describing the interplay of the minds on the mound:
Even though I do understand the forces and everything, there's a separation when I'm pitching. If I throw a good pitch, I know what I did to do it, but there has to be a separation between knowing what I did and knowing why what I did helped the ball do what it did, if that makes any sense at all. If I thought about it on the mound, I'd be really mechanical and trying to be too perfect instead of doing what comes naturally.
But you don't need to be a physics major to wrestle with the consequences of the conflict between the two minds. After an injury and subsequent surgery, Francis' instinctual mind works to protect his body from further injury:
Francis repeatedly pulled the ball back in preparation to throw. But as he flashed his arm forward, his hand would, mind unaware, bring the ball back toward his ear rather than at full extension. It was his body essentially shortening the axis of his arm to decrease the force on his shoulder, protecting him from pain. And Francis could not stop it.
After his 10th pitch and first muffled groan of pain, he stopped.
"It's hurting you?" Murayama said.
"Yeah," Francis said.
"I can tell. You're getting out ahead of your arm. Slow down, stay back a little more."
"Does it look like I'm scared to throw a little?"
"Are you scared?"
To fully recover and regain his former effective pitching motion, Francis will utilize his thinking mind to retrain his unconscious mind through deliberate practice to ignore the injury potential. (thx, adriana)
 Most of the examples I've cited over the years deal with sports, mostly because professional athletes are among the most trained, scrutinized, studied, and optimized creative workers in the world. For a lot of other professions and endeavors, the data and scrutiny just isn't as evident. ↩
[Kerouac's game charted] the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).
He collected their stats, analyzed their performances and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit, complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.
The Baseball Card Movie is a nice nine-minute film that introduces the viewer to a world where adults pay up to $500 for a pack of cards (aka cardboard crack) and act very superstitiously about opening them.
He once made it a practice to buy his own autographed baseball cards on eBay; when asked why he bought them at auction for high prices rather than acquiring unsigned cards and signing them himself, Zito replied, "Because they're authenticated."
Possibly apocryphal but Zito would likely have a difficult time selling self-signed cards because they're not authenticated.
Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just the tickets, $5,000.
Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.
Woody Rich, Pop Rising. Harry Sage. Several Savages. Mac Scarce. Bill Sharp. Bill, Chris, Dave, and Rick Short. Many Smalls. One Smart guy (JD). Three Starks. Adam Stern. Of course, there's Doug Strange (and Alan and Pat, too). Jamal and Joe Strong. Even a guy named Sturdy, literally: Guy Sturdy. DIck Such. Bill Swift, x2.
Lionel goes 5'8", 240, and he's got the same shirt and lei as the players, so he looks like a player, which is maybe why he's suddenly in the middle of every hug. And that's about when Chase Utley says to Jimmy Rollins: "Let's go celebrate!" And Lionel says exactly what you'd think he'd say, which is, "I'm with you guys!"
The number of pinstripes on a Yankees jersey varies with the size of the player...the bigger the man, the more pinstripes on the jersey. With the Yankees' recent signing of CC Sabathia, a rather large gentleman, ESPN's Paul Lukas wonders: will Sabathia have the most Yankee pinstripes in history?
You're embarking on a new field of study here, so we have to make up our own rules and standards as we go," he said. "For example, depending on how a jersey is tailored, the number of pinstripes at the top and at the bottom aren't necessarily the same. Also, the space between the pinstripes has changed a bit over the years, and the pinstripes themselves are thinner today than in the old days.
Now I had to write something on the bat. At Memorial Stadium, the bat room was not too close to the clubhouse, so I wanted to write something that I could find immediately if I looked up and it was 4:44 and I had to get out there on the field a minute later and not be late. There were five big grocery carts full of bats in there and if I wrote my number 3, it could be too confusing. So I wrote 'F--k' Face on it.
At the time, it was assumed by many that Ripken had intentionally sabotaged his card with the obscenity. I still have one of these somewhere... (via unlikely words)
Fun evening activity: type whatever crazy shit is happening on TV into Twitter Search and watch the wittisicms and not-so-witticisms roll by. Example: in game one of the World Series tonight, someone stole a base and every single person in the United States won a free taco from Taco Bell. Instant tweetalanche.
Conventional wisdom and prevailing opinion among hardcore Boston Red Sox fans is that LA Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez finally sulked his way out of a Boston Red Sox uniform by basically phoning it in and causing trouble for his team for a couple of months earlier in the season, which phoning and trouble resulted in a trade of Ramirez to LA for very little in return. Two rebuttals have surfaced recently that seem more plausible to me. The first is Facts About Manny Ramirez by Joe Sheehan. Sheehan uses some of those pesky facts to illustrate that on the field, Manny played as well or better during the supposed phoning-it-in period than he has in the past.
When he played, Ramirez killed the league. He hit .347/.473/.587 in July. His OBP led the team, and his SLG led all Red Sox with at least 25 AB. The Sox, somewhat famously, went 11-13 in July. Lots of people want you to believe that was because Manny Ramirez is a bad guy. I'll throw out the wildly implausible idea that the Sox went 11-13 because Ortiz played in six games and because veterans Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek has sub-600 OPSs for the month.
Four days before he was traded, Manny Ramirez just about single-handedly saved the Red Sox from getting swept by the Yankees, with doubles in the first and third innings that helped the Sox get out to a 5-0 lead in a game they had to win to stay ahead of the Yankees in the wild-card race.
In Manny Being Manipulated, Bill Simmons attempts to answer the question, Ok, so why did Manny suddenly want to be traded and, more importantly, why did the Red Sox actually oblige? Simmons' answer: Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent and "one of the worst human beings in America who hasn't actually committed a crime". According to Simmons, it all boiled down to mismatched incentives and following the money.
Manny's contract was set to expire after the 2008 season, with Boston holding $20 million options for 2009 and 2010. Boras couldn't earn a commission on the option years because those fees belonged to Manny's previous agents. He could only get paid when he negotiated Manny's next contract. And Scott Boras always gets paid.
Boras could only get paid for representing Ramirez if Manny signed a new contract. Which he will next year because as part of the trade, the Dodgers agreed to waive his 2009 option and allow him to become a free agent. And the Red Sox went along because they decided they'd rather have a good relationship with Scott Boras going forward instead of a weird relationship with Ramirez. As for Manny, he gets paid either way, rarely appreciated the weird pressure/adulation put on him and every other Red Sox player by Boston fans, and, I get the feeling, likes swinging a bat, no matter what team he plays for.
The crazy finish to the 1908 baseball season, which was decided by an obscure rule, Christy Mathewson's dead arm, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown's pitching, and Fred Merkle's decision not to run all the way to second base. Things got ugly.
"From the stands there was a steady roar of abuse," Brown said later. "I never heard anybody or any set of men called as many foul names as the Giant fans called us that day." Foul names might have been the least of their worries. The New York Journal reported that Cubs catcher Johnny Kling, chasing a pop foul, had to dodge "two beer bottles, a drinking glass and a derby hat."
Censurable stupidity on the part of player Merkle in yesterday's game at the Polo Grounds between the Giants and Chicago placed the New York team's chances of winning the pennant in jeopardy. His unusual conduct in the final inning of great game perhaps deprived New York of a victory that would have been unquestionable had he not comitted a breach in baseball play that resulted in Umpire O'Day declaring the game a tie.
It's also interesting to look at the statistics for that season. Merkle is listed as the league's youngest player, and Honus Wagner won nearly every single batting category, the Brooklyn Superbas (no, really!) topped the league with only 28 homers (for the entire team), and Mathewson won a whopping 37 games. Here's that NY Times article again:
Up to the climatic ninth it was the toss of a coin who would win. For here is our best-beloved Mathewson pitching as only champions pitch, striking out the power and the glory of the Cubs, numbering among his slain Schulte in the first, Pfeister in the third, Steinfeldt in the fourth, Pfeister in the fifth, Haydon in the eighth, and Evers and Schulte in the ninth -- these last in one-two order. Proper pitching, and for this and other things we embrace him.
So is the broken bat mystery merely a question of maple vs. ash? As a woodworker, I doubt it. I will concede that the safety question is best answered with the choice of ash over maple because I'd bet the ash will be far less likely to break in two and send a hurtling projectile. More likely, ash will just crack or splinter.
For the past few years, Mark Bottrell has been tracking how many players who have appeared in RBI Baseball (from 1988) and Tecmo Super Bowl (from 1991) are still active in MLB and the NFL. Sad news this year...only one player is still active.
Tim Lincecum is a 5' 10" 172-pound Major League pitcher with a 98-mph fastball. Such velocity out of such a small frame is attributed to his unique (but mechanically sound) pitching technique.
One key to Lincecum's delivery is to keep his left side, especially his left shoulder, aimed toward his target for as long as possible. "Don't open up too soon because then you lose leverage," Tim says. "If you twist a rubber band against itself, the recoil is bigger. The more torque I can come up with, the better."
Where Lincecum truly separates himself from most pitchers is the length of his stride. It is ridiculously long as it relates to his height. And just as his left foot, the landing foot, appears to be nearing the ground at the end of his stride, he lifts it as if stepping over a banana peel -- extending his stride even more. The normal stride length for a pitcher is 77% to 87% of his height. Lincecum's stride is 129%, or roughly 7 1/2 feet.
Every year or so, the same question is asked: how is the Moneyball strategy working out for the Oakland A's. This year's answer is: pretty damn good.
Additions like [Frank] Thomas, motivated by this incremental approach, help explain why the A's have won so many games in recent years even though they've consistently traded away or declined to re-sign their top players (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, etc.), who demand top dollar--and largely on the basis of past performance. In short, Beane has bought low and sold high repeatedly and systematically, and as a result the A's have won more games this decade than every team in the league except the Yankees (whose team payroll is routinely two-to-four times larger than Oakland's).
The Griffey card was the perfect piece of memorabilia at the perfect time. The number the card was given only furthered the prospect of his cardboard IPO. Junior was chosen to be card No. 1 by an Upper Deck employee named Tom Geideman, a college student known for his keen eye for talent. Geideman earned his rep by consistently clueing in the founders of The Upper Deck, the card shop where the business was hatched, on which players would be future stars. Geideman took the task of naming the player for the first card very seriously. Using an issue of Baseball America as his guide, Geideman knew that card No. 1 would belong to Gregg Jefferies, Sandy Alomar Jr., Gary Sheffield, or a long-shot candidate, the phenom they called "The Kid." It's probably the most thinking Geideman ever did compiling a checklist, save for the 1992 Upper Deck set when he assigned numbers that ended in 69 to players with porn-star-sounding names. (Dick Schofield at No. 269, Heathcliff Slocumb at No. 569, and Dickie Thon at No. 769.)
I still remember when I got my one and only "Griffey card" (as everyone called it then). My friend Derek and I ventured out in a downpour in response to a call from Al, the owner of our small town's only card shop. Al ran his shop out of his mother's garage; he was maybe 30 years old at the time, still lived with his mom, and was one of the nicest, most generous people I've ever met. He had half a box of Upper Deck packs that he'd procured from who knows where. Derek and I bought the lot at a slight markup over retail and opened them right there in the cold garage. We both got a Griffey that night; I've still got mine sheathed in a hard plastic case.
When I think back on how precious those cards were to me then and consider my current purchasing power relative to my 16-year-old self, I feel a giddy power in the realization that if I wanted to, I could go out right now and buy 10 or 20 Griffey cards. Gah, where's that eBay login info?
Ben Fry has updated his salary vs. performance chart for the 2008 MLB season that compares team payrolls with winning percentage. The entire payroll of the Florida Marlins appears to be less than what Jason Giambi and A-Rod *each* made last year.
This season, baseball managers are being a bit more experimental in how they construct their batting and pitching lineups. For instance, the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers started relief pitchers in games that they suspected might be shortened by rain in order to save the scheduled starter for the next game. The Braves shifted their pitcher to the outfield for one at-bat then brought him back to the mound for the next one.
The article is also notable for this quote from an Angels spokesperson, who said that Angels star Vladimir Guerrero is "somebody who's not affected by things". !!
MLB tracks every pitch thrown in a game using a system called PITCHf/x. You may have seen this system in action during televised games; it's used to show the viewer where the pitch was located when it crossed the plate relative to the strike zone. On his baseball statistics blog, Josh Kalk takes these stats and lets you slice and dice them however you want.
One of the most interesting statistics measured is the break of a pitch...how much up-and-down and side-to-side motion a pitched ball goes through after leaving the pitcher's hand. The break demonstrates why the knuckleball is such a difficult pitch to hit, particularly when used in conjunction with other pitch types. Here's a graph showing the break on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's pitches so far this season:
The ball is all over the place...the hitter doesn't know where it's going. Compare that to the break on the three different pitches thrown by fellow Red Sox player Daisuke Matsuzaka:
Now take a look at the graphs on the player cards for Wakefield and Matsuzaka. Wakefield's pitches also have a wider range of velocities...Matsuzaka's pitches range in speed from about 77 to 95 mph while Wakefield's pitches range from 65 to 95 mph. And the graphs don't even account for the multiple breaks that a knuckleball can make during a single pitch. The uncertainties of speed and break of a knuckleballer's pitches combine to create a lot of trouble for batters...they neither know where the ball's going nor when it's going to arrive. (thx, fred)
P.S. So why is Wakefield not as effective as many other major league pitchers (his career stats aren't that impressive), none of whom throw the knuckleball? One guess is that sometimes the knuckleball doesn't break and essentially becomes a 60-65 mph meatball right down the middle of the plate, a pitch any decent hitter can put anywhere he wants.
Update: I thought that Wakefield's upper velocity range was a little high. I'm getting a lot of feedback saying that Wakefield's fastball is in the low 80s, not the mid-90s. Looks like we've got some screwy data here.
Also, another reason why knuckleballers are of limited effectiveness: it's difficult to throw a strike on command, which can be a problem when you're behind in the count and you have to throw your 80 mph fastball for a strike. (thx, jonathan & steve)
Few pitchers are able to throw the knuckler, giving those who can a cult-like status. It generally requires very large fingers. As Hall of Famer Willie Stargell explained it, "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox".
Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs once used the knuckleball to retire the side in an inning during a rare appearance on the mound. When he's got his stuff working, I love watching knuckleballer Tim Wakefield pitch.
First: the rules of the game are in equilibrium: that is, from the start, the diamond was made just the right size, the pitcher's mound just the right distance from home plate, etc., and this makes possible the marvelous plays, such as the double play. The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise. Whereas, basketball, e.g., is constantly (or was then) adjusting its rules to get them in balance.
Second: the game does not give unusual preference or advantage to special physical types, e.g., to tall men as in basketball. All sorts of abilities can find a place somewhere, the tall and the short etc. can enjoy the game together in different positions.
The comments are entertaining as well; the level of erudition is higher than most blog comment threads, but the insults and arguments are still there.
Dykstra last played in the majors in 1996, at age thirty-three. Improbably, he has since become a successful day trader, and he let me know that he owns both a Maybach ("the best car") and a Gulfstream ("the best jet").
But maybe not so improbably...Dykstra has a canny sense for business:
Dykstra chose car washes, he says, because of the automobile-centric culture in California, and because "it was a business that couldn't be replaced by a computer chip." He brought his own frustrated consumer experiences to bear in creating the business model, and eliminated many of the usual array of motor-oil choices-startup, high-mileage, various blends-from his inventory. "You get the shit out of the ground," he said, referring to standard Castrol GTX, "or the shit made in the laboratory that's the perfect lubricant" (Syntec). "Meaning, it's either A or B. It's not about the oil. It's about the people. They got confused." He stocked the places with baseball memorabilia and flat-screen TVs, and served free coffee ("the good kind"), so that customers would associate the experience with luxury rather than with cumbersome chores.
One of the characteristics of Dykstra the businessman is his constant use of baseball metaphors and comparisons. Here's a listing from the article:
The Players Club, in contrast to the television installation, would be "major league," he explained, and to that end he was assembling an editorial staff of ".300 hitters," and lining up sponsors to match.
Dykstra's business card gives an address for the "headquarters" of The Players Club, at 245 Park Avenue, which he describes as "big league-like, top five addresses in the world."
Next, he took a call from a designer he wanted to hire for the magazine. "You worked for Esquire and In Style," he said, delivering a pep talk. "That's called the big leagues. It's like in baseball. You can't go above the major leagues. There's not another league. We're teeing it up high, dude."
He quoted from Confucius, Dickens, and Billy Joel, and balanced straight stock picks ("Intel is the N.Y. Yankees of the chipmakers") with musings about fatherhood and current events, like the war in Iraq, seldom passing up the opportunity to draw extended sports analogies.
"My approach in investing is much the same as my approach to hitting," he wrote. "I would rather take a walk or single and reach first than shoot for a home run and strike out swinging."
Dykstra hopes the magazine will help players recognize the importance of marriage and family. He drew three stick figures and named them Tom, Dick, and Harry. Above Tom, he drew a man and a woman-two parents. Dick got a father but no mother, and Harry the reverse. "Do you know the studies and what they've proven?" he asked. "You should look that up, dude. Like, bad things. It's like the one-one count." The one-one count is another of Dykstra's baseball metaphors for life, meant to illustrate that some moments, and the choices they bring, are more fateful than others (i.e., the next pitch makes all the difference), or, in this case, that circumstances set in motion during the early stages of development are difficult to overcome later on. If a batter falls behind, one ball and two strikes, he's in a hole from which, the statistics augur, he will not recover, even if he is Barry Bonds; and if he gets ahead, to two balls and one strike, he wrests control from the pitcher and takes charge of his own destiny. Having two parents puts you in control of life's count, and enables you to become a .300 hitter.
The 46-year-old has no more than $50,000 of assets and between $10 million and $50 million of liabilities, according to a petition filed Tuesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Central District of California.
Dykstra's filing comes in the wake of more than 20 lawsuits he faces tied to his activities as a financial entrepreneur, including The Players Club, a glossy magazine for athletes he had helped launch in 2008.
Sounds like he was a little over-leveraged. (thx, todd)
Speaking of the Yankees, Derek Jeter always seems to get a lot of credit for those four World Series victories in five years but a quick look at the OBP stats for those years shows that Bernie Williams was the engine driving that offense. Jeter's a little overrated maybe?
More than half the time, or in 5,295 baseball universes, the record for the longest hitting streak exceeded 53 games. Two-thirds of the time, the best streak was between 50 and 64 games.
In other words, streaks of 56 games or longer are not at all an unusual occurrence. Forty-two percent of the simulated baseball histories have a streak of DiMaggio's length or longer. You shouldn't be too surprised that someone, at some time in the history of the game, accomplished what DiMaggio did.
I think there are probably some cumulative effects that are being ignored here though, like increasing media pressure/distraction, opponents trying particularly hard for an out as the streak continues, pitchers more likely to pitch around them, or even the streaking player getting super-confident. The first game in a streak and the 50th game in a streak are, as they say, completely different ball games.
Thus, I can watch Roger Clemens striking out 15 Mariners in a brilliant one-hitter and place his frame right on top of Don Larsen pitching his perfect game (27 Bums up, 27 Bums down) in 1956. And I can admire the grace of Bernie Williams in center field, while my teenage memories see Mantle's intensity, and my first impressions of childhood recall DiMaggio's elegance, in exactly the same spot. I can then place all three images upon the foundation of my father's stories of DiMaggio as a rookie in the 1936 Series, and my grandfather Papa Joe's tales of Babe Ruth in the first three New York Series of 1921-1923.
In the "60 Minutes" interview, for example, the analysts noticed that Clemens swallowed hard, looked down, and licked and pursed his lips when answering questions - all signs, they said, that he might not have been telling the truth. "That's indicative of deception, that's indicative of stress," said Joe Navarro, a retired F.B.I. agent who trains intelligence officers and employees for banks and insurance companies.
The article also notes that these experts are only right about half the time and that the technique is used as a tool to evaluate if further investigation is warranted and not to determine truth.
In light of the Mitchell Report, Yanksfan vs Soxfan has proposed a record book annotation system so that sports fans can tell which records were set under the influence of which substances. The asterisk is for straight-up steroids and some of the other marks are as follows:
! = Amphetamines $ = Gambling || = Cocaine ~ = Alcohol . = Dead ball era ∞ = Wore glasses † = Crazy religious freak X = General douchebag
Look out, 1897. There's a new George Carlin in town, with a comprehensive no-no list of the things Major League Baseball players can't say during gameplay (especially in the presence of a lady).
The Yanksfan vs. Soxfan blog has hilarious scans of the original parchment used for an official league document intended to eradicate swearing in baseball, drafted by the owner of the National League's Cincinnati franchise. Highlights from the list:
You prick-eating bastard!
A dog must have fucked your mother when she made you!
I'll make you suck my ass!
If the mood for obscenity strikes while on the field, players, concentrate on something else, like rewaxing the curl in your moustache or sipping on a nice, cool sasparilla ginger ale (I mixed up my old-timey beverages).
"Babe" Ruth, a youngster, opposed the Giants, who made nine hits off him. Four double plays, all started by Claude Derrick, who handled twelve outs of the thirteen chances, kept the Giants from scoring more runs.
YvS and Soccer Dad also found a series that the Times did on another youngster, Manny Ramirez, back when Manny being Manny meant hitting .650 in his senior year in high school.
My short post on Nina Planck's reaction to the recent "death by veganism", as she calls it, of a baby boy is a good reminder that I don't always agree with the things I link to. My only criteria for posting a link is that it's interesting, whether I think it's right or wrong or am still trying to form an opinion about it. Anyway, I got lots of mail about this one, much of it that said that the parents' veganism was beside the point -- which the prosecutors and jury in the subsequent criminal case agreed with (thx, matt) -- and that a headline like "Death By Stupidity" was probably more appropriate. After all, you don't see "Death by Omnivorism" headlines every time a baby with a more traditional diet dies of starvation.
jkottke: Do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? ELLEgirlBuddy: do you do anything to celebrate or recognize the changing of seasons? that's a tough choice. jkottke: yes, to celebrate or merely recognize. that is a toughie. ELLEgirlBuddy: yes to celebrate or merely recognize that is a toughie? i dunno. jkottke: you seem like an actual 13 year old girl. ELLEgirlBuddy: i haven't really made a decision 'bout that. jkottke: growing up is tough, isn't it? ELLEgirlBuddy: i dunno.
Are you a good liar? Most people think that they are, but in reality there are big differences in how well we can pull the wool over the eyes of others. There is a very simple test that can help determine your ability to lie. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, draw a capital letter Q on your forehead.
Some people draw the letter Q in such a way that they themselves can read it. That is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of their forehead. Other people draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the Q on the left side of their forehead. This quick test provides a rough measure of a concept known as "self-monitoring". High self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be seen by someone facing them. Low self-monitors tend to draw the letter Q in a way in which it could be read by themselves.
High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the "same person" in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.
But the real gold here is Reisner's research on baseball...a must-see for baseball and infographics nerds alike. Regarding the home run discussion on the post about Ken Griffey Jr. a few weeks ago, Reisner offers this graph of career home runs by age for a number of big-time sluggers. You can see the trajectory that Griffey was on before he turned 32/33 and how A-Rod, if he stays healthy, is poised to break any record set by Bonds. His article on Baseball Geography and Transportation details how low-cost cross-country travel made it possible for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to move to California. The same article also riffs on how stadiums have changed from those that fit into urban environments (like Fenway Park) to more symmetric ballfields built in suburbs and other open areas accessible by car.
The goal here is not to duplicate excellent resources like Total Baseball or The Baseball Encyclopedia, but to take the same data and present it in a way that shows different relationships, yields new insights, and raises new questions. The focus is on putting single season stats in a historical context and identifying the truly outstanding player seasons, not just those with big raw numbers.
Reisner's primary method of comparing players over different eras is the z-score, a measure of how a player compares to their contemporaries, (e.g. the fantastic seasons of Babe Ruth in 1920 and Barry Bonds in 2001):
In short, z-score is a measure of a player's dominance in a given league and season. It allows us to compare players in different eras by quantifying how good they were compared to their competition. It it a useful measure but a relative one, and does not allow us to draw any absolute conclusions like "Babe Ruth was a better home run hitter than Barry Bonds." All we can say is that Ruth was more dominant in his time.
I'm more of a basketball fan than of baseball, so I immediately thought of applying the same technique to NBA players, to shed some light on the perennial Jordan vs. Chamberlain vs. Oscar Robertson vs. whoever arguments. Until recently, the NBA hasn't collected statistics as tenaciously as MLB has so the z-score technique is not as useful, but some work has been done in that area.
Anyway, great stuff all the way around.
Update: Reisner's site seems to have gone offline since I wrote this. I hope the two aren't related and that it appears again soon.
Ben Fry has updated his salary vs. performance graph for the 2007 MLB season...it plots team payrolls vs. winning percentage. The Mets and Red Sox should be winning and are...the Yankees, not so much. Cleveland and the Brewers are making good use of their relatively low payrolls.
Last night, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 564th home run of his career to move into 10th place on the all-time list. Reading about his accomplishment, I was surprised he was so far up on the list, given the number of injuries he's had since coming into the league in 1989. That got me wondering about what might have been had Griffey stayed healthy throughout his career...if he would have lived up to the promise of his youth when he was predicted to become one of the game's all-time greats.
Looking at his stats, I assumed a full season to be 155 games and extrapolated what his home run total would have been for each season after his rookie year in which he played under 155 games. Given that methodology, Griffey would have hit about 687 home runs up to this point. In two of those seasons, 1995 and 2002, his adjusted home run numbers were far below the usual because of injuries limiting his at-bats and effectiveness at the plate. Further adjusting those numbers brings the total up to 717 home runs, good for 3rd place on the all-time list and a race to the top with Barry Bonds.
Of course, if you're going to play what-if, Babe Ruth had a couple of seasons in which he missed a lot of games and also played in the era of the 154-game season. Willie Mays played a big chunk of his career in the 154-game season era as well. Ted Williams, while known more for hitting for average, missed a lot of games for WWII & the Korean War (almost 5 full seasons) and played in the 154-game season era...and still hit 521 home runs.
The only known copy of the Honus Wagner T206 baseball card in near mint condition was sold recently for $2.35 million. "The T206 Honus Wagner card has long been recognized as the most iconic, highly coveted and valuable object in the field of sports memorabilia."
Do Japanese pitchers, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, a new member of the Boston Red Sox, have an extra pitch called the gyroball? "The pitch started on the same course as a changeup, but it barely dipped. It looked like a slider, but it did not break. The gyroball, despite its zany name, is supposed to stay perfectly straight." Nice accompanying infographics as well.
Long audio interview with Michael Lewis by economist Russ Roberts on "the hidden economics of baseball and football". "Michael Lewis talks about the economics of sports -- the financial and decision-making side of baseball and football -- using the insights from his bestselling books on baseball and football: Moneyball and The Blind Side. Along the way he discusses the implications of Moneyball for the movie business and other industries, the peculiar ways that Moneyball influenced the strategies of baseball teams, the corruption of college football, and the challenge and tragedy of kids who live on the streets with little education or prospects for success."
As part of a World Series promotion, Taco Bell will give away a free taco to everyone in the United States if someone hits a home run over the left field wall in tonight's game 3. This is a big offer for a big company so of course their lawyers want to make darn sure that we know precisely what "Taco Bell" means when they say "home run", "left field", and "free taco" with an extensive list of terms and conditions. Surely the first legal document containing the phrase "a completely outside the bun idea", the T&C is a fun read, but my favorite is the first condition that you agree to if you take advantage of the offer:
...to release, Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., Major League Baseball Enterprises, Inc., MLB Advanced Media, L.P., MLB Media Holdings, Inc., MLB Media Holdings, L.P., MLB Online Services, Inc., the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, and the Major League Baseball Clubs, and each of their respective shareholders, employees, parents, directors, officers, affiliates, representatives, agents, successors, and assigns (hereinafter, "MLB Entities") and Sponsor and their affiliates, subsidiaries, retailers, sales representatives, distributors and franchisees, and each of their officers, directors, employees and agents ("Promotional Parties"), from any and all liability, loss or damage incurred with respect to participation in this contest and/or the awarding, receipt, possession, and/or use or misuse of any Free Taco
Man, I really hope someone hits a left field home run tonight. I'm dying to see some creative misuse of free tacos.
Rethinking Moneyball. Jeff Passan looks at how the Oakland A's 2002 draft class, immortalized in Michael Lewis' Moneyball, has done since then. "It is not so much scouts vs. stats anymore as it is finding the right balance between information gleaned by scouts and statistical analyses. That the Moneyball draft has produced three successful big-league players, a pair of busts and two on the fence only adds to its polarizing nature." Richard Van Zandt did a more extensive analysis back in April.
Dave Jamieson used to collect baseball cards and recently uncovered his stash when he cleaned out the closet of his childhood home. In attempting to recoup some of the time and money spent in his youth on this cardboard, Jamieson found that baseball cards aren't as popular or as lucrative as they used to be:
Baseball cards peaked in popularity in the early 1990s. They've taken a long slide into irrelevance ever since, last year logging less than a quarter of the sales they did in 1991. Baseball card shops, once roughly 10,000 strong in the United States, have dwindled to about 1,700. A lot of dealers who didn't get out of the game took a beating. "They all put product in their basement and thought it was gonna turn into gold," Alan Rosen, the dealer with the self-bestowed moniker "Mr. Mint," told me. Rosen says one dealer he knows recently struggled to unload a cache of 7,000 Mike Mussina rookie cards. He asked for 25 cents apiece.
Close readers of kottke.org know that I collected sports cards too. I got involved in this prepubescent hobby later than most; I was 14 or 15 when a friend and his older brother -- who was around 24 and collecting for investment -- introduced me to it. And I loved it:
I still have them all somewhere, in boxes, collecting dust faster than value. The Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie, the 130 different Nolan Ryan cards, the complete 1989 Hoops set (with the David Robinson rookie), and several others I really can't remember right now.
I used to spend untold hours sifting through them, looking up the values in Beckett's Price Guide, visiting card shops, flipping through commons to complete sets, looking for patterns in Topps' rack packs (I scored many a Jim Abbott rookie with this technique), chewing that ancient bubble gum (I bought a pack of 1983 cards once and chewed the gum...it was horrible), and keeping track of the total value of my collection with a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet on my dad's 286. It was a lot of fun at the time (as the Web is fun for me now); I guess that's about all one can ask for from a hobby.
Recently I stumbled across The Baseball Card Blog and was hit by a giant wave of nostalgia for my old obsession. One thing led to another -- you know how that goes -- and before I knew it, a package was speeding its way to me from a card shop in Pennsylvania containing several 1989 Fleer & Donruss wax packs, a 1989 Topps rack pack, and a couple of 1987 Topps wax packs.1
I've been opening a pack every few days since they arrived. Smell is the sense most powerfully associated with memory, so getting a whiff of that cardboard is really sending me back. Like a wine connoisseur, I can even smell the difference between each brand of card; the smell of Topps cards holds the strongest memories for me...the 1989 Topps set was my favorite. I opened the '87 Topps packs with a fellow ex-collector, but when we tried to chew the gum, it tasted like the cards and turned to a muddy dust in our mouths. But that was mostly what happened even when the gum was new, so we were unsurprised.
Because of the aforementioned slump in the baseball card collecting economy, the card packs I ordered were the same price I paid for them as a kid (factoring for inflation), even though they're almost 20 years old and way more scarce. Back then, I used most of my $5/week allowance on cards, and it took weeks and months of patience to buy enough packs to complete a set, procure that Griffey rookie card, or amass enough Mark McGwires to trade to a friend for a desired Nolan Ryan.
As an adult, I have the cashflow to buy any card I want whenever I want (within reason). Or several boxes of cards, so as to compile complete sets instantly. Or I can just purchase the complete sets and skip the intermediate step. I could buy an entire box of 1989 Upper Deck packs -- at $1.25 per pack and nearly impossible to find in rural Wisconsin, an unimaginable extravagance for me as a kid -- right now on eBay. When I think about the financial advantages I now have over my 16-yo self in collecting the same exact cards, I feel like the NY Yankees (and their monster payroll) competing in a Single A league. It's unfair and even thinking about collecting cards in that manner takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. If I do start collecting cards again, I'm going to approach it like I did back then: by hand, a little at a time, and treating even the essentially worthless commons with care. Unless Nolan Ryan is involved...in that case, the sky's the limit, although I might have to sell my bicycle to get it. In the meantime, I'm waiting for the next household footwear purchase so I can put my newly purchased cards in the shoe box for safe keeping.
 A quick note on terminology. A "wax pack" is a basic pack of around 15 cards (plus gum, when cards still had gum packaged with them), so-called because the packages used to be sealed with wax. (Now they're all probably packaged in plastic and whatnot...I don't know, I haven't kept up.) The bottom card in such a pack is called a "wax back" because the card got a thin layer of wax on it from the sealing process. A "rack pack" is a hanging triple pack made of see-thru plastic. A "common" is an ordinary card not worth very much, as opposed to cards or rookies, hot prospects, all-stars, and the like. A "box" contains several wax packs, typically 20-40 packs/box. A "complete set" is a collection of every card sold by a company in a particular year. The '89 Topps set had 792 cards. Sets were sold in factory-sealed boxes or were compiled by hand from cards acquired in packs. ↩
My new favorite weblog: The Baseball Card Blog. I'm having acid flashbacks to my teenaged years, but without the acid. The 1989 Upper Deck set was one of the first I built from scratch, a tall order for someone whose weekly allowance was $5. I remember lusting after the Jerome Walton card in the High Numbers Series...he didn't do so well after that rookie year of his.
You know that "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" song? They should add another verse, something like:
Take your glove to the ballgame
and if you don't, you're an idiot
We went to the Yankees/Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium with David and Adriana last night and in the bottom of the third inning, Yankees second baseman Miguel Cairo hit a line drive just wide of the foul pole in left field. As I watched the ball coming towards us, I thought a million things -- it's foul, it's gonna drop into the seats way in front of us, never gonna get here, what's the count now, is it time for cheese fries yet...almost everything except for "holy shit, it's coming right at me" -- and then stuck my bare hand straight up in the air, leaned slightly to my left, and dropped the ball.
Dropped isn't the right word, really. Deflected the ball off my bare hand is more accurate. It bounced into the seats behind me and then rolled down under Adriana's seat. After a brief scramble, some meatheads who were ambling by on their way to beer, pretzels, or the can stuck their paws in and made off with the ball. A Yankees fan who observed the whole thing got up in Meg's face, framed by her faded Red Sox hat, and yelled, "ha ha, Boston fans can't catch!" His truth stung almost as much as my rapidly swelling hand. David scored the play as an error, Box 324, Seat 3.
But the most entertaining play of the night by a fan who was not me award goes to the fellow in the yellow shirt who, emboldened by too much Miller Lite, dashed out onto the field, arms raised triumphantly, soaking in the cheers of the adoring crowd. Out came security from all corners of the field and the crowd redirected its enthusiasm from the hunted to the hunters, cheering for blood. "Hit em!" the guy behind me was screaming, "HIT EM!!"
Security eventually converged on the would-be outfielder and he adopted the surrendering posture of a man who knows he's had his fun, palms in the air, head down, not running anymore, almost sinking to his knees. And -- BAMMM! -- this security guard, a former linebacker by the looks of him, comes flying in from the blind side and wallops the guy, knocking him to the ground in a full-on lay-out tackle. The crowd roared at the guard's tackle and cheered lustily as the gladiator was removed from the coliseum.
Update: The kid who caught the home run ball doesn't care for Bonds much: "When asked if he would consider giving [the ball] to Bonds, Snyder declined with a mild expletive." Bonds was also booed at stadiums around the league when the homer was announced.
The Baseball Visualization Tool was designed to help managers answer the question: should the pitcher be pulled from the game? Handy charts and pie graphs give managers an at-a-glance view of how much trouble the current pitcher is in. I wonder what TBVT would have told Grady Little about Pedro at the end of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS?
Watching the World Series last week, Meg wondered, "why White/Red Sox and not Socks?" I knew that if we waited long enough, the Internet would come up with the answer. Bonus: the NY Yankees were once known as the Porchclimbers. Those rascals!
New York City, redemption, and the 2005 New York Yankees. "Jason [Giambi] was redeemed, and his legend is assured now as the star who wanted more, who lost everything to greed and arrogance, and who recovered his glory, which is now vastly more appealing for the fact that it's tarnished. It's a real New York kind of story."
Dressed to the Nines is an interactive look at the design of baseball uniforms. "Whether we are looking at someone in a uniform or we are trying it on ourselves, it is the feeling of the fabric, the design on the cap and jersey, the colors, cut, and history of the outfit, that all lend meaning to our relationship with the game."