A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

From the basement April 24 07

Baseball, baseball, baseball and more goddamn baseball. I'm watching a lot of freakin baseball. I resolved yesterday to stop trying to watch evening West Coast games until the last out. ( It was easy not to watch last nite, we had no electricity ) I always fall asleep before the finish. I intentionally don't lay down because if I do I know I'll fall asleep instantly. Instead I fall asleep sitting up, wake up at 2, fall over, back to sleep, wake up again at 5 and go to bed. And the boxscores....oy the boxscores, always with the boxscores. I have to read them all, literally, and in the proper chronology at that. The digital boxscores are the best. With a few double clicks you can access all the geek minutiae that you want. If you have to know who Chase Wright, Jamie Vermilyea & Zach McClellan are and where Wes Obermueller pitched last year, you are a geek.

I'm glad I didn't subscribe to the MLB / EI out of market package ( I had considered it ), I can't watch all the baseball I get as it is. Who are the subscribers to this package? If you believe all the chatter on the web about this ( and there was an overabundance this winter / spring because of the DirecTV deal ) the subscribers are hardcore fans of " out of market " teams, i.e. New Englanders who moved to other parts of the US but remain part of "The Nation." My theory is that a lot of these subscribers are Fantasy / Roto geeks. The Fantasy guys don't follow a "team" per se, they follow "their" team(s) ( lots of these guys play in multiple leagues ). These guys don't want to wait for the boxscores ( and in this era of the web, they are available pretty damn quick ), they want to see their players AB's / starts / relief appearances as they happen. How else do you explain the presence of these packages where you can view multiple games simultaneously? ( MLBTV has the same product ) You cannot watch 6 baseball games simultaneously but you can cherry pick the parts of those 6 games you want to see, i.e. when "your" players are hittin or throwin or stealin. When marketers talk about "avidity" levels I think this is the sort of behavior they're referencing.


I'm very happy that our Triple A team has completed their first homestand of the season. My baseball viewing isn't limited to TV anymore. So nice to watch the game live. I notice so much more when I'm there, positioning, baserunning, pitch sequences. I also pay closer attention to the count and the situation, watching on TV can make you lazy. It's just plain nice to be outside, it's a long winter here in Canada's capital.

I saw most of 3 different games of the Lynx 6 game homestand and they appear as advertised. The pitching looks deep ( they had to release veteran Justin Miller because they had too many arms ) and they will play outstanding defense. The outfield defense in particular is a pleasure to watch, in 2 of the 3 games I saw they started 3 outfielders (Rushford, Roberson & Calloway) who can all play CF. The defence up the middle is exceptional as well with Sandoval at SS & Thurston at 2B. Thurston is probably the Lynx best everyday player, an IL All Star last season, he made at least a handful of outstanding plays in the games I saw. Jason Jaramillo looks very athletic behind the plate. The Lynx currently lack a HR hitter and as evidenced in the games I've seen there will be a lot of " little ball " played by the home side. As I've said before the most important factor in winning at Triple A is the health of the parent team. At this juncture the Phillies are healthy, a handful of injuries though and the roster gets thin in a hurry here.

I'm curious to see what the Phillies plans are for J.D. Durbin, starter or reliever? I suspect he'll pitch in relief, at least initially to get "stretched out", as he hasn't been pitching while waiting to clear waivers, everywhere it seems, since being "designated" by the Twins. The Phillies made a dramatic and unexpected move recently when they put Myers in the pen to set up Gordon. I think Durbin's power arm, like Myers', is what they need in middle relief, particularly in their bandbox ballpark.

I enjoy the IL as much to see the visiting teams as the home team. Charlotte and Scranton were in town this homestand.

Notable amongst the Charlotte squad: RH Charlie Haeger ( who I saw in Game 2 of the homestand ), a knuckleballer who had a great 06 with Charlotte, 3.07 ERA in 170 IP, pitched 18 innings with the parent White Sox. The first 3 players on the Baseball America / White Sox Top 10 prospects list are in Charlotte. In descending order, OF Ryan Sweeney, 3B Josh Fields & RH Lance Broadway. See more on Sweeney & Fields below. Broadway is a starter who probably profiles as a middle reliever in the bigs. I sat near the radar guns during his start and as BA notes his fastball is average, it was high 80's during the start I saw. I think velocity matters, particulary at the big league level. Is RH Gavin Floyd still a prospect? Floyd is with Charlotte at present, he was acquired from the Phillies along with LH John Danks in the Freddy Garcia deal. I didn't see Floyd's start here but I did see him pitch last year with Scranton and he does have a power arm. I say he remains a prospect, power arms are the most valuable commodity in baseball, Floyd has one and at 24 he is too young to give up on. OF Luis Terrero is in Charlotte. Terrero was my favorite Lynx last year, he is an exceptional outfielder, good baserunner and pounded IL pitching last season posting a .927 OPS. Terrero has had chances in the bigs, 434 AB's, but didn't hit. He'll be 27 in May, too old to be a prospect but still has a legitimate shot at being a 4th outfielder in the bigs. Amongst the notable veterans that played were C Wiki Gonzalez, who started Game 3, Gonzalez has played parts of the last 7 seasons in the bigs primarlily with the Padres as a backup C. 37 year old Ernie Young also played, he is listed as an OF but certainly will see the bulk of his playing time at the DH position. Young has played parts of 8 seasons in the bigs amassing 796 AB's and hitting 27 HR. His best season was in 96 with the A's when he hit 19 HR in 462 AB. Young has played everywhere, including Japan.

The most notable player on the Scranton team is elite RH pitching prospect Philip Hughes, see more below. The Scranton staff also includes a few decent prospects. RH Tyler Clippard struck out 175 in 166 IP in Double A last season, he is in Triple A at the age of 22. Clippard is ranked #7 on the BA list of Yankees Top 10 prospects. RH Russ Ohlendorf was acquired from the D Backs in the offseason as part of the Randy Johnson deal. Ohlendorf put up decent numbers in Double A last year albeit as a 24 year old. As for position players, OF Bronson Sardinha got the attention of the chattering classes this spring and 3B Eric Duncan is starting the year in Triple A. Duncan was considered an elite power hitting 3B prospect as recently as a few years ago but has floundered. Still, Duncan won't be 23 until December and power often develops late. As for the vets, LH Ron Villone pitched in relief Sunday. Villone is 37 and has racked up 1027 IP in the bigs over the last 12 seasons. I remember seeing him pitch here years ago with Louisville. I'll be surprised if Villone isn't in the bigs at some point this year for the 13th consecutive season. Former Lynx C Raul Chavez, great arm when he caught here, is in Scranton. Chavez was signed by the Astros 17 years ago and has bounced around pro ball since, totalling 405 big league AB's over parts of 9 seasons.


Baseball geeks like lists, Baseball America produces endless amounts of lists. So a first for this blog, some lists.

Top 10 prospects currently on IL rosters

1. Homer Bailey - Louisville. RH starter.

Elite prospect, power pitcher. He will turn 21 in May. Dominant at High A and AA last season. If you believe the hype he won't be in the IL for long, although he didn't get the raves this spring that he did last season.

2. Philip Hughes - Scranton. RH starter.

Pretty much a carbon copy of the above except he won't be 21 until June. Like Bailey he didn't impress this spring like he was expected to. Still the Yankees have sky high hopes for this kid. Very early #'s, 17 K / 4 BB / 16 IP. Just found out, Hughes will make his big league debut Thursday vs. the Jays, we'll see how long he stays in the Bronx once the Yankees rotation gets healthier. ( Will American Idle Carl Pavano ever be healthy? )

3. Adam Miller - Buffalo. RH starter.

Probably a notch below Bailey and Hughes but still is a front of the rotation prospect. A year older than Bailey and Hughes, 05 was somewhat of a wasted season due to arm trouble. Rebounded big in 06 putting up big numbers at AA. Since compiling this list sometime during the winter Miller's status has elevated. He was more impressive this spring than either of the 2 starters on this list above.

4. Matt Garza - Rochester. RH starter.

When I first compiled this list I didn't include Garza because I assumed he would start the year in Minnesota. Well he didn't, instead the Twins are going with veterans Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson in their rotation. The Twins have been questioned over this decision but the longer they can keep Garza in Triple A the longer they delay having to pay him the big bucks. Garza started 06 in High A and finished in the bigs. He dominated at each level except the big leagues but still his season was extremely impressive.

5. Josh Fields - Charlotte - 3rd base.

Nothing left to prove in the IL, he posted an .894 OPB last season as a 23 year old. However with Joe Crede at 3rd in Chicago there is no spot for Fields unless he moves to LF. Reports on Fields play in LF in Winter Ball were not encouraging and he played 3rd during Charlotte's recent 4 game series in Ottawa.

6. Joey Votto - Louisville - 1st base.

The next everyday Canadian player in the big leagues. Votto was MVP in his AA league last season racking up 46 doubles + 22 homers. Votto will play in the IL this season at 23, remember Cdn hitters usually mature late.

7. Jeff Niemann - Durham - RH starter.

First round pick in 04, received a 5 million plus deal, unfortunately he has had injury problems since. Got healthy enough to pitch 77 innings in AA last season and put up good numbers. At 6'9" / 280 lbs you have to think he has a high ceiling.

8. Ryan Sweeney - Charlotte - OF

Sweeney was impressive last season with Charlotte as a 21 yr old with an .802 OPS. He needs to develop power to play everyday in the bigs as a corner outfielder which given his young age could still happen. BA questions if he has the skills to play CF in the bigs.

9. Hayden Penn - Norfolk - RH starter

It's a mystery to me why he is not on the BA list of O's Top 10 prospects, perhaps he isn't eligible. Sure he's been rocked in 2 limited stints with the Orioles, totalling 58 IP, but he's still only 22 and struck out 85 in 87 2/3 IP last season with Ottawa. Young power arms are tough to find, as with a lot of pitchers Penn's biggest battle seems to be staying healthy.

10. Joel Guzman - Durham - OF? 1B? 3B?

Considered one of the best prospects in the game a few years ago, he has disappointed the past few seasons. Tampa Bay acquired him from the Dodgers in a deadline deal for Julio Lugo. He is still only 22, way too early to give up on a power hitter.

The following 3 players were part of my Top 10 IL prospects when I wrote it but they are all starting the season in Double A ( or they were in Double A a handful of days ago ), they should all be in the IL very soon.

1. Evan Longoria - Durham - 3rd base.

Third player taken in the 06 June draft. Played at 3 levels in his first season, finishing in Double A. Expected to be an everyday 3rd baseman in the bigs for many, many years.

2. Jacob Ellsbury - Pawtucket - CF.

The Red Sox drafted him in the 1st round in 05 and he has not disappointed. Played at High A and Double AA last season. The Red Sox hope Ellsbury can replace Johnny Damon both in CF and at the top of the order for years to come.

3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - Richmond - C. A catcher who can hit. Not the hot prospect he was coming into the 06 season, but finished last season well.

Another 3 players not yet in the IL, but who could well be late in the season.

1. Andrew McCutchen - Indianapolis - CF. Elite prospect

2. Cameron Maybin - Toledo - CF. Ditto McCutchen

3. Andrew Miller - Toledo - LH starter.

Drafted in June, signed in August, pitching in Yankee Stadium same month. Power LH, could be really special.

If you're a Canadian Nationalist, a list of hosers in the IL.

Steve Green - Norfolk - RH reliever.

Has carved out a very fine Triple A career. Was on the mound for the final out when Canada beat the USA in the WBC.

Adam Stern - Norfolk - CF.

Took a step back last year but still a fine Triple A player. Also a hero in the WBC win over the US. Stern was with the O's very briefly this season when Corey Patterson was injured.

George Kottaras - Pawtucket - C.

Acquired from the Padres in a deadline deal for David Wells, played at AA & AAA last season. He will turn 23 in May, he is on the Red Sox 40 man.

John Axford - Scranton - RH.

I had never heard of this guy until a few days ago when Naete Sager brought him to my attention. Check out Naete's profile of John Axford here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

From the basement - Jackie Robinson Day - April 16 07

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson day in MLB.

The culmination of MLB's media campaign this spring promoting Civil Rights was last evening's Dodgers game which was broadcast on ESPN. I intermittently watched a handful or perhaps several innings of the broadcast. It was an evening of African American civil rights nostalgia. A parade of great African American ballplayers, Hank Aaron, Don Newcombe, Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield & Joe Morgan, reminiscing and paying tribute to their hero # 42. Rachel Robinson, Mr. Robinson's widow was also featured prominently. As circumspect as I have been about MLB's motives behind this media campaign, I don't doubt for one moment the sincerity of the words and tributes of the aforementioned ballplayers and Mrs. Robinson as they relate to the importance to them of the American Civil Rights movement and the importance of Mr. Robinson in that movement.

African American NY Times reporter William Rhoden writes in his book Forty Million Dollar Slaves, " For many of us over fifty who were born in the United States, the idea of a player - any player - not knowing the story of Jackie Robinson is blasphemous. It's like not knowing about Rosa Parks, the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, or the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycotts. For people of my generation, the wide spectrum of black resistance and conflict are carved into our hearts. Those events remain so vivid, and represent such powerful emotional benchmarks in the ongoing struggle, that it is inconceivable to us that anyone could forget."

So, that's the easy part, the nice part, MLB at the forefront of the American Civil Rights movement, Branch Rickey, Mr. Robinson, Pee Wee Reese etc.

Now for the uneasy parts.

Why did MLB racially integrate the game when they did? Joe Morgan was grateful for having the opportunity to befriend former MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler. Mr. Morgan told us that Mr. Chandler integrated the game because it was the right thing to do, that he wouldn't have been able to live with himself had the opportunity been passed up ( I'm paraphrasing ). I'm a cynic and I'm more inclined to believe that the motive behind the racial integration of MLB was, as always, money. Again, from Forty Million Dollar Slaves, " By the late 1940's, Major League Baseball was hungry for new blood, fresh blood. Black blood. Negro League owners had failed to grasp the implications of Major League Baseball's manpower shortage, it's slumping attendance, and its desparate need for new talent, which the black leagues held in abundance." The racial integration of the game was great for business. White fans were presented with a better product, the black players raised the talent level and changed the nature of the game. The all white game had been a plodding "station to station" game, while the injection of black players introduced more speed, base stealing, daring baserunning etc. As well, the integration of MLB killed the Negro Leagues and their fans started clicking through the turnstiles at MLB games.

William Rhoden's opinions on Branch Rickey's motives for signing Jackie Robinson are hardly new or unique but they certainly are in the minority. What was promoted last evening in LA and on ESPN and in ballparks around North America ( we have to include Toronto ) was a vision of America and baseball's place in it, that probably never existed. I don't know for certain, I'm a 44 year old Canadian but as I've written before, this entire campaign is not meant to appeal to African Americans of any age. This feel good civil rights nostalgia appeals to the mainstream MLB fan, guys like me, white, middle aged and middle class. White guys who will feel enlightened and just and principled because they buy a # 42 official MLB jersey. White guys who want to feel hip and progressive because they like Spike Lee ( whom MLB has provided a very prominent role this entire campaign, including last evenings broadcast ). None of us old enough to remember when the game was integrated but eager to feel good that it was and chauvinistic enough about our game to think that it happened in our sport first because of heros, because baseball is good.

The parallel story to the MLB & Civil Rights campaign has been the story of the vanishing African American in MLB, on the field and in the stands. It was difficult to watch the crowd shots last evening and not look for black faces, I saw very few as usual. MLB and ESPN did not skirt the issue but nor did they get to the real roots of it. There was a lot of talk about MLB needing to reconnect with African American youth, going into their communities, about the importance of telling the Jackie Robinson story to these kids. MLB has been spinning this all spring, the Compton Academy, the RBI ( Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities ) program, the 2 day MLB & Civil Rights confab in Memphis, the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award....Again, it's me, I think money is responsible for the change.

The numbers have been well documented in many articles this spring. In 1975 the percentage of African American players peaked at 27%, by 1995 it had declined to 19% and by last season or 05 ( I see conflicting reports ) it had sunk to 8.4%. It has been widely noted that 2 teams this season, Atlanta & Houston, have at present no African American players. ( According to the 05 US census 12.25 % of the US population is African American ). The popular arguments explaining the decline have been that baseball is expensive relative to other sports. I.E. Blacks can't afford to play. In order to play baseball you need the infrastructure of leagues, which have largely disappeared in "inner cities" due to "social" problems. In the "inner cities", basketball and football are more popular with kids. While I agree these are contributing factors, I think there are more fundamental, industry related explanations.

For starters, MLB faced less competition for African American athletes for many years because the other major sports in the US, basketball and football, integrated more slowly. For instance in the 1970's ( the peak period for African American players in MLB ) the percentage of black players in the NFL was in the 30% range, it is now 66%. In a nutshell, if you as an African American had the raw ability to play professional sports in the US, for many years MLB was the league you aspired to play in.

In 1965 MLB instituted an amateur draft of North American high school and college players. In 1965 there were few non American players in MLB. Since 1965 the industry, i.e. the teams, have learned that labor, i.e. players, are cheaper outside the US. Drafted North American players have leverage in negotiations, high school players can opt to go to college and re enter the draft later if they don't get the big cheque. High school players are more expensive to develop, i.e. train, they require years of tutelage and apprenticeship before they are major league ready. In Latin America, primarily the Dominican Republic, the muscle ( to borrow from William Rhoden ) is cheaper. Practically all teams have baseball "academies" in the Dominican Republic and many are / were ( there is the Chavez issue now ) making similar investments in Venezuela. It is estimated that teams spend $50 - $60 million annually on scouting and player development in Latin America. Even accounting for these investments, the labor is cheaper than in the domestic market. "Clubs do leverage their dollars much better if they develop a kid in a country not subject to the draft," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive vice president for baseball operations, who is black. "Those decisions are purely business decisions, very pragmatic business decisions." From Chris Isidore CNNMoney.com "In addition, the relative poverty of some of the countries, such as the Dominican Republic, made it relatively cheap to sign many of the players, although those signing bonuses are rising in recent years. So the percentage of foreign born players has seen a steady climb, to 29 percent this year, nearly double their percentage in 1995." See Chris's article here. From an ESPN article by John Helyar, here, ( thanks Jeff Blair ) "William Forrester Jr., whose minority-oriented Richmond, Va., youth league has received all of $8,000 from RBI, and who has failed in efforts to get MLB to aid struggling HBCU baseball programs, believes it's pretty simple. Baseball's economics trump baseball's pieties. Bottom line: It's much cheaper to develop talent offshore, independent of the amateur draft." Says Mr. Forrester "They're just taking the big-business approach of getting the most bang for their buck and making more money," says Forrester, who finds it ironic that black players and fans deserted the Negro Leagues for MLB -- only to have MLB eventually desert them. "If I were in Jackie's shoes, I would wonder if I had been bamboozled." If you don't already know, HBCU means Historically Black Colleges & Universities.

The industry has undergone a change in draft strategy. High school players have proven to be a risky investment in comparison to college players. ( Although the player development geeks at Baseball America might tell you that a disproportinate percentage of star players come from the high school ranks, but I digress ) Again from chris Isidore "In 2005, the most recent year for which figures were available, only 35 percent of players drafted were high school players, down from 56 percent when the draft started. And only about a quarter of drafted high school players now sign with a team, compared to about 70 percent of college players who are drafted. In 1965, about half of drafted high school players signed, compared to 55 percent of college players who were drafted." So the Industry is looking more and more for domestic labor from the college ranks, but there are few African Americans playing college baseball. We all know that as a group, African Americans are more economically disadvantaged than non African Americans. So how do black athletes end up in college football and basketball factories ( sorry, programs ) ? Scholarships is the answer. Because college baseball is not a " revenue sport ", there are fewer scholarships available and as a result fewer African American players. More quotes from Jimmie Lee Solomon. " It takes a certain amount of economic resources for a baseball player to go to college and whites, on average, have higher incomes than blacks in the U.S. So for a black athlete that needs financial assistance to attend college, it makes more sense to try for a football or basketball scholarship. This is a big reason why college baseball teams have even a lower percentage of black players than does the major league, said Solomon." "A Division 1 football program can give out 85 scholarships, and baseball teams only 11.7," said Solomon. "If you're an African American kid and you need help to go to school, do the math."

With an increasing amount of their labor coming from outside the US, MLB has required, and obtained, the assistance of the US government. This article by African American Diane M Grassi delves into that aspect and is notable as well for it's scathing criticism of MLB and Congress. I blogged about this article in February, you can read the whole piece here. Some excerpts.

"....MLB speaks only in platitudes about diversity, bypassing the inner city and working class neighborhoods, seemingly looking for talent everywhere but there." ".....MLB has gotten an even bigger break from the federal government in a recent change in the Immigration & Nationality Act....Amended by the U.S. Congress in 2006 and signed into law on December 22, 2006 by President George W. Bush, it is known as the “Compete Act of 2006”..." "The legislation changes the visa status of foreign-born minor league players to be able to use P-1 visas, formerly reserved only for major league players, and an upgrade from the H-2B visas, generally used by temporary foreign-born workers in numerous industries. Each team previously was limited to 26 H-2B visas per season for its minor leagues. Major leagues have no numerical limitations with the P-1 visa, valid for a period of 10 years."....."Given that over 40% of minor leaguers are foreign-born and that most of them are from the Dominican Republic, this will enable a continuous pipeline of Latin American players." ".....very few of these youngsters statistically make it to the major leagues and even prior to their new visa status, hundreds of minor leaguers were brought to the U.S. each year only to be relieved of their services. Hundreds of Dominican players also never return to their homeland and remain in the U.S. as illegal immigrants, primarily surviving in the underground economy of New York City." "...It has been said that Latin players in the Dominican Republic sign for contracts between 5 and 10 cents on the dollar compared to their U.S. counterparts." "...But it remains a lose-lose for communities across the U.S. which finance sky box stadiums, unable to afford tickets for their families, for games played on the backs of many exploited athletes who never make it to the big leagues and at the expense of our own children, who of little means, are never even encouraged to play baseball by its biggest profiteers." "...Department of Homeland Security, granted MLB its visa program, contingent upon foreign-born players only occupying positions on a team that could not be filled by U.S. citizens. Obviously, the U.S. government and MLB have come to the conclusion that playing baseball should be included among those “jobs Americans won’t do.”

Last evening on ESPN, Dave Winfield was asked about a comment in his new book that perhaps his son will be the last African American player in professional baseball ( or words to that effect ), the issue of the vanishing African American taken to its extreme conclusion. With that in mind, following is an excerpt from my blog March 07 on William Rhoden's writing in Forty Million Dollar Slaves on the evolution of the Negro Leagues, the racial integration of MLB and the demise of The Negro Leagues.

Mr. Rhoden tells the story of African American Arthur "Rube" Foster, who he describes as a "pioneer". Mr. Foster was a baseball player but is most important for founding the Negro National League in 1920. Mr. Foster is described as a "man of of clear, resolute, and uncompromising vision: He wanted a professional league of black baseball that was owned, organized, managed and played by African Americans." "Foster's Negro National League created a universe in which the black presence was accepted, nurtured, and celebrated. The league became a base of power for African Americans in the rapidly growing industry of baseball."

According to Mr. Rhoden, Mr. Foster realized that the integration of baseball was inevitable, however Mr. Foster's vision for integrating the game was a positive one for African Americans. "When integration came, Foster wanted the Negro League he envisioned to have a monopoly on the commodity that Major League Baseball would desperately need: black ballplayers." "He wanted......that when the national pastime was integrated, the NNL would be in a position to dictate rather than be dictated to. His theory was that the league's strongest teams would be absorbed intact, not picked apart like a carcass by so many buzzards." In 1926 Mr. Foster met with AL president Ban Johnson and Yankees manager John McGraw to discuss the possibility of his Chicago based American Giants playing "big-league teams that visited Chicago on their off days. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis apparently killed the idea...." Mr. Foster died in 1930 and his worst fears for the integration of baseball, that "white ball would take what it needed, then crush black ball to pieces and watch it die." were realized decades later.

Jackie Robinson desegregated Major League Baseball in 1947, a mythologized event not only in Amercian sports but in American popular culture. It was the beginning of the end of black baseball in America. "Black baseball owners could not agree on a strategy. The owners were torn between wanting integration and wanting to remain a viable business. These latter-day owners of Negro League baseball mistakenly felt that they would be involved - in a profitable way - with the "integration" process. Some felt that their teams might be purchased and incorporated into the Major League Baseball minor-league system. This was not part of the plan, however. The treatment of the Negro Leagues was brutal and disrespectful." "Baseball was unofficially integrated in 1945 when Robinson signed a contract with Montreal." "In 1947, Robinson's contract was purchased by the Dodgers. Just one year later, in 1948, the black leagues were in shambles." "The final blow for the Negro Leagues came in 1951 when the Southern-based network of minor-league baseball teams was desegregated. Now the major leagues had no use for the Negro Leagues, and they slowly died." "By the 1960's, black baseball was effectively dead: Major League Baseball had prevailed." "A black institution was dead, while a white institution grew richer and stronger. This was the end result of integration."

"..Rube Foster has become a mere footnote in the epic story of sports integration in which Jackie Robinson is a central character. In some ways, however, Foster is an even more significant figure than Robinson. Foster used black resources to build a baseball league that nurtured talents like Robinson while establishing an economically viable alternative to Major League Baseball. Robinson became a symbol of the process of integration, a process that ultimately enriched white institutions while weakening and in many cases destroying black institutions. White America determined the pattern of integration; the white power structure chose blacks who made whites feel comfortable, who more or less accepted the vagaries of racism. This was the Jackie Robinson model of how an integration-worthy African-American behaved: taking abuse, turning the other cheek, tying oneself in knots, holding one's tongue, never showing anger, waiting for racist sensibilities to smolder and die out - if your spirit didn't die first. This model was hardly progress for black athletes. It was, in fact, a reversal of the paradigm for black involvement in sports that Foster and others had created out of a hard necessity."

So, does it matter? Baseball's chattering classes have been on about this all spring ( me included ). But as I've said before, our community of geeks, bloggers and baseball writers is overwhelmingly white. Does it matter to African Americans? How would the hell would I know? I barely know any African Canadians for christ sake. Does it matter that they don't watch baseball or play it? Does it matter that they prefer basketball & football? Does it matter that there are no African Americans on the Astros or Braves?

In the end I feel sorry for Mr's Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron and Don Newcombe et al. Men who were victims of racism, men who overcame racism, men who remember and revere Jackie Robinson and the Civil Rights movement, men who are proud of their accomplishments, men who love baseball, men who are saddened that the younger generations of African Americans don't share in their memories of "the cause" ( as Frank Robinson put it last evening ) or love the game that they love. Ultimately I feel sad for them because I think they honestly believe that MLB is making a serious effort to reconnect with their community and I think they've been duped. Rightly or wrongly it's about the money, always has been and always will be, it ain't a game.

Friday, April 13, 2007

From the basement April 13 07

Ottawa Lynx

4 days until Triple A Opening Day. Unfortunately the Lynx have to compete with the Sens for attention that evening and the weather forecast looks bleak. If the weather was good and the Sens were off I thought it might act as a barometer on the level of Lynx nostalgia in the region this season. I am predicting that there will be a noticable bump in attendance this year as fans who abandoned the product many years ago return for one or two last games.

From SBJ March 19 -25 edition - "The Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Coca-Cola of the Lehigh Valley reached an agreement for the naming rights of the IronPigs baseball stadium.........The IronPigs, set to begin play next year, will be the Class AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies." Business is good for Minor League ball south of the border. The IronPigs are an example. How's Coke for a Corporate partner? They ain't minor league. As I discussed at Media Day with John Russell and Rod Nichols, this is a glory era for minor league ball in the US ( well all pro ball, MLB & Indy as well), great new facilities across all levels and record attendance. What a contrast to our country where Professional baseball has collapsed. Expos, enough said. Triple A has left Vancouver, Edmonton & Calgary. Medicine Hat had a low minors team, London was the Double A affilitate of the Tigers for some time. Now Vancouver has Short Season and Edmonton & Calgary are Indy / Northern League cities. The only city that bucks the trend is Winnipeg where Mayor Sam Katz's Goldeyes are one of the strongest franchises in the League. ( I've been to Winnipeg - albeit in November - and the only city in this country that I think worse is Sudbury.) I am at a loss to explain it, and not in some baseball chauvinist manner. Baseball fans in Canada as well as south of the border are predominantly ( the increasing Hispanic US population like baseball also ) like me, white, middle aged, middle class, middle of the road yada yada. I don't understand why my peers lost interest, the game hasn't changed fundamentally. The reason I'm always given by former baseball fans is that the 94 strike ruined it for them. Yet I look at the popularity of the NHL in our country and it is obvious that none of the hockey fans ( many who are former casual baseball fans ) give a shit about the lost NHL season of 04 - 05 ( do I have the right season?). I digress.

I saw a headline on the Lynx website that they are going trans fat free this season. I'm more in tune with the Dodgers new promotion this season, the all you can eat, all friggin game, all inclusive, all gross out, all in, alright, all, all, all section.

The 05 Lynx had a player test positive for something...we'll probably never know what. One of the Lynx best players in 05, 2nd baseman Bernie Castro, "is serving a 15-game suspension for violating the minor league drug policy in 2005"....He played at Triple-A Ottawa in the Orioles' organization in 2005 and also spent time with Baltimore that year." ( April 06 AP ) It's due to a technicality that he is only now serving his suspension. Castro was recently removed from the Nationals 40 man and to quote Jim Bowden "Once we outrighted him off the major league contract, he was now back under the minor league policy, which means the 15-game suspension he was supposed to serve a couple years ago he serves now," I very much enjoyed watching Castro play here, slick in the field, fast on the basepaths and a .315 hitter ( not a fluke, 502 AB's )and the IL All Star 2nd baseman that season. Did he test positive for PED's? Maybe, I think it's naive to think that only the power hitters are juiced. There is weight training at all positions now ( I think, I am in my basement, but I can see ) and where you find serious weight training you'll find "supplements". Anyway, I am in the minority, I don't care that some / many high performance athletes ( I include "amateurs") take PED's. I like bigger, stronger, faster ( anybody like watching the NFL?). Bernie Castro is not the most notable Lynx to have his name dragged through the mud for this sort of thing. That honor goes to OF Armando Rios who was a Lynx very, very briefly in July 04. Rios has been widely "implicated" in the BALCO scandal and is a former San Franciso Giant. It is also rumored that he tested positive for steroids in the PCL in 03. I distinctly remember seeing him in the on deck circle here, I knew that his name was linked to BALCO, and I was curious. He looked pretty thick. Rios serves as an example for those who say that taking the juice does not instantly transform you into a great home run hitter ( well a big league home run hitter ). You can check out Rios here. The BALCO related player I most remember seeing here was C Bobby Estalella, as a visiting Red Baron ( and later a Clipper ). Huge, jacked. He was a Blue Jay very briefly and a former Giant. Most of the BALCO customers were Bay Area athletes, notable exceptions being Giambi(s)? & Sheffield. Estalella was enormous long before he got to the Bay Area.


Disney / ESPN screwed up big time. The ESPN Fantasy Baseball site crashed and burned, not commercially, but technologically. I regulary visit the "Player News" content in their Fantasy section because it is extremely thorough ( if a player has a questionable stool the fantasy geeks need to know ) and very, very current. Earlier this week I couldn't access the Fantasy Section, instead there was a message that it would be available the next AM and there was a Corporate apology...I didn't care. Subsequently I read on bizofbaseball.com that the problem is REALLY BIG, "ESPN spokesman Paul Melvin would not confirm how many subscribers will receive refunds of approximately $30 per team due to the glitch, which caused daily player and team data to be processed incorrectly and at incorrect times." Yahoo is swooping in to pick at the carcass, "The company has announced that fantasy enthusiasts can sign on to Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball ’07 through Apr. 28 and still play a full season, despite the fact that the real world baseball season is more than a week old. Yahoo is doing so hoping to appeal to angry fantasy players who have been burned by ESPN.com, which has experienced massive technical difficulties with its own fantasy product over the past few weeks, leading the site’s execs to issue a public apology on Apr. 11." Fantasy fans are the most avid, to the point of obsessive ( yes, worse than me ), they must be PISSED. These guys devote a lot of time to picking their teams and making trades and to have ESPN f--- it all up will alienate them as customers I predict FOREVER. The competition is vicious in the digital sports media "space" to attract Fantasy players, Disney has lost bad, Fantasy is big, big business.

Barry Bonds

I have written that I believed the motivation behind the Bonds Grand Jury Investigations was nothing more than a prosecutor - Kevin Ryan - with a personal mandate / vendetta. I had predicted that with the firing of Ryan in December that the Investigation would stop. Well, I think I was wrong. A former Giants trainer Mark Letendre testified before the GJ February 14. I had gone all Oliver Stone on this, Bush on his soap box during a State of the Union about steroids, the dog and pony show before Congress, BALCO...why all this money, time and energy suddenly devoted to a problem that everyone knows has existed for decades? And then I decided to shelve the bong for a bit....but I'm wondering again...

In 04 Bonds withdrew from the PA's group licensing agreement - the first ( and only? ) player to do so. ( Ever wonder why you never see Fehr or Orza defending Bonds? ) This season, in theory, should provide the big payoff for that move. Barry screwed this up too. According to SBJ a few years ago Bonds had "nearly two dozen licensees " and now it appears there are only a handful.

Irony of ironies. MLBAM not only produces MLB.com & MLB.TV and all that goes with that, but they also contract out their services to the likes of NYC - ecommerce, US Figure Skating Assn - online video and CBS - assisted with CBS March Madness on Demand ( how cool is that? a league morphing into a media company ). Well, one of their customers is also Barry Bonds. Yep, Bonds pays MLBAM to produce BarryBonds.com and handle all the e-commerce on the site.

MLB might try to limit media access to Bonds' home run chase. ESPN & FOX operate under rules governing "exclusive" & "non exclusive" windows for airing MLB highlights & clips. MLB might stringently enforce these rules to prevent ESPN / FOX from doing live "cut-ins" on Giants broadcasts to limit coverage of Bonds "assault" on the record. How petty.


I see complaining about Bud Selig's recently published earnings from MLB of $14.5 million for the fiscal year ending October 31 2005. Who cares? I don't. I wouldn't care if the 30 super wealthy individuals / corporations that own the teams wanted to hand him $40 million a year of their money. Re. SBJ "During Selig's 14-year tenure running the league, MLB revenue has soared from $1.2 billion to an expected $5.5 billion this year." He's probably worth every penny of it.

Ray Warren of Carat Media Group Americas thinks MLB will continue to grow in the near future. "What MLB is doing better than anybody is building an international game here in the US. By 2012, consumers will be multicultural, and baseball is best positioned to take advantage of that." Does that mean in large part the aforementioned burgeoning Hispanic population in the US?

Looks like the Twins are over the last hurdle in the struggle to get construction started on their new park. Eminent domain proceedings will commence to settle the dispute over the value of the real estate that the stadium will be built on. I always disliked watching baseball in the Metrodome ( well on my TV or PC in the Metrodome ). Visiting players losing fly balls against the baseball colored ceiling / roof, the stupidly lively turf, the hideous green garbage bags on the outfield walls, the plexiglass on the outfield wall, the absurd noise level during playoff games. Good riddance.

I thought the key to the Jays 06 season was Dustin McGowan and I think he's the key to this season as well. He always had big, big potential but has had arm surgery, has battled diabetes and got jerked between starting & relieving last season. ( The Jays plan at the beginning of last season was that he be groomed to replace Speier and Schoeneweis who they knew would leave as FA's ). It's early, but I'm hopeful. The Syracuse stats: 10 IP, 0.90 ERA, 17 K, 3 BB. Thank you Jeff Blair.

Canuck update

One of Bonds' licensees is McFarlane Toys, whose founder is Calgary native Todd McFarlane. McFarlane is the comic book guy who collects home run balls. He's got some of Sammy's, Big Mac's and Bonds' 73rd ( for which he paid $450.000 ).

Local C Pierre Luc Laforest was called up by the Padres this week to replace the injured C Josh Bard.

I guess Geddy Lee will be disppointed by the ESPN Fantasy Baseball nuclear meltdown. From SBJ March 26 - April 1 " ESPN created a fictitious band, Iron Diamond, to promote how its fantasy baseball "rocks," with the crew led by Geddy Lee...The multiplatform marketing of Iron Diamond enven includes a MySpace page." I should like RUSH, I was raised in Madoc, white trash to the core, but I still don't like it.

Carl Kiffner is a good Canuck, thank you Carl, it worked. Check out Carl's Ottawa Lynx blog here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

From the basement April 10 07

First off, welcome to the blogosphere Mr. Page Fence, remember we are going to "The Stadium" next season.


How cold is it? As always weather trumps everything.

A Rod - 5 jacks in 6 games. Will he be A Rod again or is he the next Jimmy Piersoll ( is that too cheap?)

The Phillies - 1-6. I got home in time yesterday to see the Phillies implode in the bottom of the eighth against the Mets. I'm sure their bullpen is getting ripped again by the fans and the press but it wasn't entirely their fault. There was bad luck, Geary left Green with a toothpick in his hands but he still got a bloop hit to left. As well, it's not Geary's fault that Jimmy Rollins muffed a groundball with the bases loaded and 1 out. I've already seen speculation that the Phillies season is going into the toilet. Relax, it's April 10 and they play in the NL where if you can hang around .500 until August you're in the thick of the wild card at a minimum. Isn't parity exciting? Having said that, I agree with Jeff Blair that the Phillies are overrated. I think because they finished strong last season they were trendy amongst the chattering classes this offseason. But other than very strong starting pitching ( which is the most important part of any team ), Howard, Rollins & Utley, they're mediocre. But hey, it's the NL and everybody is in the hunt ( ok, not the Nationals ).

Really, the only notable occurrences this early in the season are injuries ( the long term or potentially long term ) and that always involves pitchers. Out for a long time - Kenny Rogers and Mike Hampton ( I think Hampton's season is done ). Out for a short time or longer? - Chris Carpenter & Ricky Nolasco. Do we even count Kerry Wood or is it only notable when he does pitch?


I watched the first 6.5 innings of the Jays home opener last nite.

In the bottom of the first with Wells on first, Campbell and Tabler were telling us that Wells has the green light to run this season. They think this is good, they want him to be "aggressive." Vernon Wells should NOT be running with Thomas & Glaus hitting behind him. Sometime during the 80's I was sober long enough to read an essay by Bill James which argued that stealing bases has an adverse impact on the hitter & resultingly on team offense. It's Bill James so you know he's got the empirical evidence. It makes sense to me, hitters taking strikes to allow runners to steal, the distractions to the hitter of the runner in motion & pick off attempts. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan disagrees entirely with this opinion, and well he is in the HOF and I am in my basement. The Jays have the type of offense that is easy to criticize when they don't score. They will hit doubles and homers, they won't steal, hit & run or sacrifice a lot. They will strike out liberally and hit into a lot of double plays. When they don't hit they will look lazy and Gibbons will be knocked for being unimaginative. But this is the era of Arena Baseball, particularly in the AL you need to score a LOT of runs and you don't accomplish that playing small ball. In this era speed is of much more benefit in the field than for offense.

Later in the bottom of the 1st Wells was easily thrown out at home by Emil Brown. I think Brown is getting screwed by the Royals. He's been a very strong player for them the past few years on some awful teams. This spring he was told that his playing time would be reduced, the Royals have a surplus of outfielders. I do understand that they needed to move Teahan to accomodate Gordon ( will Teahan return to 3rd if the uber prospect flounders?), but to reduce Brown's playing time to open up AB's for Gload is a mistake. Anyway, Brown was told he won't be playing as much because his defense is lacking, so I was happy for him when he threw out Wells.


http://mlnsportszone.squarespace.com/editorsraves/2007/4/2/mlb-civil-rights-game-latest-in-the-season-opener-gimmicks-misfires-in-memphis.html A rant about MLB's Civil Rights game that is right in line with what I've been writing. Thanks to Carl @ www.ottawalynx.blogspot.com for sending me the link.

Wonder why it's so hard to trade for pitching and why Ted Lilly, Jeff Suppan & Jason Marquis raked in the big dough this offseason? It's April 10 and look at some of the scheduled starters today: Rick Vanden Hurk, Chris Sampson & Randy Keisler.

I wrote last week that I was surprised to see Joey Thurston on the Reading roster and that we'd be seeing him here in Triple A. Well, it's happened, the Phillies dealt ( sold? ) Abernathy to the Nationals which opened up a spot for Thurston here. Thurston failed to make the Nats as an NRI this spring, we'll see if Abernathy fares better.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

From Central Ontario April 08 07

Packed up the family and headed west on the 401 to visit Grandma this weekend. There is no basement here so I am posting from above ground for the first time.

"....it is important to revel in the mundane rather than the spectacular." This quote is from John Henry and he is referencing Thomas Boswell. Thomas Boswell is the type of baseball writer that I don't read. Too romantic about the game. If I get my bong out I can watch Field of Dreams ( which I've read is really about male menopause but I digress ) but I've never watched The Natural or read Boys of Summer and such. Having said that, I do identify completely with this quote from Mr. Henry ( I assume he is paraphrasing Mr. Boswell ). Casual baseball fans ( not unlike in other sports ) are most interested in the sport come playoff time, particularly the World Series. I am most interested in the regular season, the seemingly mundane. The real pleasure in being a baseball fan is the day to day grind of it. Watching how rosters, batting orders, rotations and bullpens are managed, tweaked, rebuilt over the course of the season. I also like that it unfolds very, very slowly. This isn't the NFL ( which I enjoy ) where we wait a week and it's an EVENT, baseball is for the laconic.

In more practical, real terms, the regular season is the measuring stick of who the best teams are, particulary in this era of the Wild Card. The postseason doesn't reveal who the best team is. For starters, the 5 game format of the Division Championship series is a joke. 162 games accurately measures how good the teams are. How deep is your pitching? In the NL, how deep is your bench? How deep is your system when the inevitable injuries occur? None of this matters in the postseason, it's not the same game. The Cardinals are World Series champs, good for them, but you cannot convince me that a team that wins 83 games during the regular season is the best that season. The luckiest, but not the best.

How Noooo Yawk is this? The Gambino crime family is getting a piece of the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. "Mayor Bloomberg says his office called to complain to the Yankee organization about the team's decision to use a construction firm accused of having ties to the mafia. Bloomberg said the construction firm, Interstate Industrial, "clearly is not a firm the city would contract with." Interstate Industrial has been hired by the Yankees, and its main construction firm Turner Construction Corp., to lay the foundation for the new Yankee Stadium. But Interstate's owners, Frank and Peter DiTommaso, were indicted on perjury charges back in July. Officials accuse the brothers of lying to a Bronx grand jury about $165,000 in illegal payments given to Rudy Giuliani's former police and correction commissioner Bernard Kerik. Court and city documents show the City's Department of Investigation, New Jersey state investigators and the FBI have also linked the DiTommasos, and their firm, to members of the Gambino crime family. Part of that evidence is from mafia turncoats who testified in open court during cases like the trial of Peter Gotti." You can find the entire report on bizofbaseball.com. Episdoe 1 of the last season of The Sopranos airs tonight. As big a geek as I am, I'll pass up baseball to watch The Sopranos.

Rob Neyer of ESPN has been arguing for some time that Derek Jeter is overrated in the field. As I've said before, Neyer and the rest of the SABR community have stats and metrics and regression analyses up ( or is it out? ) the ying yang supporting their argument. Criticisms of Jeter's play in the field are gathering momentum. Neyer points out that SI's Jon Heyman and the NY Post's Joel Sherman are also criticizing Jeter's defense. Neyer also tells us that Jeter has been vaguely criticized on Yankee's TV broadcasts in two different games already this young season. The first time by color guy Joe Girardi for his limited range to his left ( the stat geek's argument ). The second time, according to Neyer, Jeter screwed up 2 different plays in one game. In both instances, according to Neyer, the Yankees broadcast team of Michael Kay and Ken Singleton twisted themselves into knots trying NOT to point out Jeter's miscues ( both involved not covering 2nd base, one on a bunt play, the other on a SB ). Evidently Singleton did make the point, without naming Jeter, that he did screw up both plays.

Neyer then goes on to muse about the role of the broadcaster, booster or analyst? He is critical of the Yankees broadcasters for their lack of candor. I find him surprisingly naive. He knows what the Yankees expect from YES ( they friggin own it ) and if they don't get it heads will roll. Of course the broadcasters are cheerleaders. There are recent examples of TV broadcasters being disciplined or dismissed because they pissed off the teams they work for. The most high profile spat involved Steve Stone and the Cubs. Stone was fired for being too critical of Dusty Baker. I watch some Cubs on WGN and they get exactly what they want from Stone's successor Bob Brenly, unrelenting optimism for the Cubbies. Remember when the BravesTV guys got kicked off the team flights a few years ago for pointing out how the Braves catchers were bending the rules in order to expand the strike zone for their pitchers?

A little while back I wrote about an article @ www.hardballtimes.com concerning the growth in the number of teams in MLB with "ties" to an RSN. Now Sports Business Journal is reporting that MLB is "proving to be a windfall for RSN's this season, with many of the larger markets reporting ad sales increases in the high single digits." Evidently there are a couple of factors driving this, fewer games on ESPN and more parity in MLB. I think RSN revenue will be an increasingly volatile issue in MLB between large & small market teams. How is this revenue being treated? There have already been accusations that teams are selling their programming to their RSN's at below market value to avoid additional revenue sharing burdens. See this recent comment from John Henry, "MLB is determined to limit our baseball revenues. They are determined to take more and more. Incredibly they now seem determined to invade local media markets." When he references "local media markets" I think he means NESN, the Red Sox owned RSN. How the owners share revenue, more specifically quantify revenue, is the new battleground in MLB. The battle in the Industry is no longer between the owners and players. When the current CBA expires in 2011 MLB will have had 16 years of labor peace. ( That's what more than quadrupling your revenues since 92 will do). The new battle is between the owners, how the pie is divied up.

The Lynx clubhouse is going to be overflowing with veteran pitching very soon, a good problem to have. The Lynx opened the season with an already veteran laden staff and more vets are on the way. The Phillies are scrambling for bullpen help and as a result have picked up Rosario from the Jays & just signed veteran RH ( and former Lynx ) Rick Bauer. Also, ESPN is reporting that the Phillies are interested in signing RH Dustin Hermanson to a minor league deal. As well, Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber are both expected to rejoin the Phillies rotation soon which will result in a few demotions.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

From the basement April 07

After all the chatter on boards and in columns and all the political sabre rattling, MLB's out of market EI package will remain available on Cable. Ultimately this was all about MLB forcing Cable into carrying their upcoming MLB channel on their basic tiers, and it worked. The new channel will debut in 09. From AP "At 40 million homes, it would be one of the largest launches in cable history." This is the same dispute that the NFL is having with Cable over carriage of the NFL Network. I think MLB played this very skillfully, they got ripped everywhere in the baseball press, got ripped by Kerry and Specter on Capitol Hill and in the end got precisely what they wanted.

Jesus ( it is Easter ), another MLB event trumpeting the racial integtration of their game. I've been on about this for awhile. I don't understand why Jimmie Lee Solomon and his team at MLB have been assigned this task. The opening of the baseball academy in Compton, the 2 day Civil Rights & Baseball media event in Memphis last month and now "Frank Robinson will receive the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award next week as part of a George Washington University..." April 15 Robinson's # 42 will be unretired...and on it goes. Is MLB really serious about growing the game in the African American community or is this to appeal to the caucasian, middle class, middle aged, baseball chattering classes ( which practically all the baseball media are, ok the high profile baseball media are more prosperous than middle class ) who want to feel good about themselves and be nostalgic for an era that they are too young to remember? I suspect the latter, baseball revenues have grown exponentially the past 10 years with no end in sight, while the game has never been less popular with African Americans.

Could the Cubs ( including Wrigley Field ) fetch a billion dollars? This will be revealing. Always the most important indicator of the health of a franchise or sports league is the value of the franchises. Balance sheet profits / losses are worthless figures.

Lot's of chatter on the Net about K Rod cheating. I won't read it. Is he cheating? Probably, a lot of us are cheaters. Practically anyone I've ever played golf with cheats, I've played cards with cheaters. I prefer "gamesmanship' to "cheating".

The Phillies picked up Francisco Rosario from the Jays. As has been widely reported, he is a power arm, I think the Jays will regret this. Pitchers often mature late and he has missed some significant development time to injury. The Phillies bullpen is taking too much of blame for the season opening sweep at the hands of the Braves. The Phillies scored 3 runs in losing in 10 opening day and scored 2 runs in 11 innings in the following days loss. In this era, especially in a great hitters park ( Citizens Bank ) you won't win many with that sort of run production.

If Phillies Mgr Charlie Manuel gets canned ( watch attendance, always the key to firings ) will Lynx Mgr John Russell get the job?

Friday, April 6, 2007

From the basement - Lynx Media Day - April 05 07

Ottawa Lynx Media Day

April 04 I left the basement ( well, my basement ) and went to Ottawa Lynx Media Day. I pretended for a few hours that I am part of the media. Yep, first time in 14 plus years of watching ball at Jetform Park / Lynx Stadium that I've been in their basement ( so I didn't leave the basement in a larger sense ). Yep, deep in the underground bowels, in the locker room, Manager's & Pitching Coach offices. Had the pleasure of speaking with a guy who caught Nolan Ryan ( including one of his no hitters ) and another guy who pitched 12 years of pro ball. Really glad that I went and a big thank you to Riley Denver with The Lynx and all of his colleagues present that day.

The interview portion started and I was too nervous to speak to any player for the first 10 - 15 minutes ( and in fact I never did ). I started toward Ron Calloway but was intimidated. Fortunately, Riley made some conversation with me and then I bumped into André Cormier from Baseball Canada & we had a chat which included some talk about local RH Philippe Aumont who, as I've been blogging, is believed to have a shot at going in the 1st Round of the upcoming June draft. André told me that Aumont is going back to FLA soon to pitch in some extended spring training games with the Cdn Junior National Team.

So I found myself standing outside Mgr. Russell's office ( I think because I had left the locker room out of nervousness ) and thought "well I'm here now" and I walked in and started floundering. I fumbled with my recorder, mike and notes, I nervously told him that I was a virgin and hadn't done this before. I think he said "never?". I was ready to sit and chat for awhile but I realized after several minutes that I wasn't quite following the script. Obviously the team allots this time for the real local media to get some quotes / soundbites, photos / video for the local sports pages / reports, it's not really meant to be a time for me to sit down and indulge myself. I had my back kinda turned but I could sense some impatience from a few real reporters ( one I recognize from TV ) with the amount of Mr. Russell's time that I was allowing myself. ( Yep, my first baseball Q & A ever and I blunder into the office of the guy who everybody needs a quote from ) I understand the impatience, they're working, they have stuff to do, I'm an indulgent hobbyist. I also noted that Mr. Russell snuck a few peeks and was surprised at the number of questions I had typed out. I've no doubt that he was thinking " get this fucking geek out of my fucking office ", but he was a true pro and was very patient, cooperative and polite.

So I left Mgr. Russell's office with no idea of who I wanted to speak to next. If I turned left I went to the elevators to exit, so I turned right, walked several steps and on my right was pitching coach Rod Nichols' office and it was vacant, save for him. So again, I blundered in, same nervous MO. I was initially surprised by how big Rod Nichols is. I've seen enough pitchers charting in the stands over the years to recognize the pitcher body type, it ain't Rod Nichols'. He's a BIG guy, not super tall, but THICK, way thicker than most pitchers I've seen. We made a bit of chat, before I started recording, about Phillies fans ( he was online reading some Phillies stuff when I entered his office ) and then we had a 10 minute Q & A. This I thought went better, I started to relax a bit, to the point where I deviated from my notes a few times, more conversational. Mr. Nichols was thoroughly engaging.

And that was it, as I exited Mr. Nichols office, the last of the real press was leaving and the team was about to meet. I learned that I wasted way too much time researching. I wanted to be PREPARED, and I looked up every player on the roster on the web and wrote a question or two for a lot of them. I spoke to not one of them in the end. It's unlikely I'll ever go to another media day, I think it's a fait d'accompli that the IL is leaving Ottawa. But if I ever do, I'll know to prepare to speak with 2 or 3 people only. I also have to calm myself a bit and stop talking so much, maybe I should have a few beforehand, there's a history of that in sportswriting isn't there?

In the end I spent $200.00 on recording equipment, imposed on my wife to make me some DIY quality business cards ( of which I distributed 1, ok 2 if you count the one I gave to a mother of one of my kid's classmates later that day, after I scribbled out the references to my blog ), wrote WAY too many questions, researched WAY too much and shaved that morning ( most days I don't shave ). I regret none of it, I had fun.


Rod Nichols pitched in pro ball for 12 years, several in the majors. He was a player on some notable Indians teams in 91 & 92. The 91 team was notable for futility, 105 losses, although Nichols told me that "anytime in the big leagues is fun". There was drastic improvement the next season when the Indians improved to 76-86. Nichols told me that they really turned it around in the 2nd half that year. There was a core of young players there that went on to form the nucleus of some powerful Indians teams in the mid 90's. Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Charles Nagy, Greg Swindell & Bud Black amongst them. Nichols and I discussed how the Indians GM at the time, John Hart, was the first to sign his young players to long term deals before they became arbitration eligible. This has long become accepted practice throughout the industry, saving the rancour of salary arbitration hearings. I found it very interesting how Nichols describes his former teammate Albert Belle. Nichols noted that Belle was "reviled" by the press ( and I'll add fans outside of Cleveland ) but that he was an "awesome teammate", "great guy". Nichols portrays Belle as a player who was frustrated by the press's demands on his time, that Belle "just wanted to work", was a "perfectionist", "worked harder than anybody, took more notes". I see this as an example of something I've always thought about sports reporting. Too many of the reporters get too personal about it. Just because the press dislikes you doesn't mean your teammates do, and only teammates count.

I asked both Russell & Nichols about the 12 man staffs that are the norm now in the big leagues. I've always thought that the growth in size of pitching staffs resulted from increased emphasis on "match ups" over the years, as well as reduced pitch counts due to injury concerns (particularly when there can be millions of dollars invested). Analysis of pitch counts has become a sport unto itself in the baseball geek internet world. I have also subscribed to the theory that pitch counts & IP have declined because kids don't develop arm strength because they throw less due to the widespread use of pitching machines. Russell & Nichols see the growth in staffs as resulting from the improvements in hitting over the years, pitching is more demanding in this era. Nichols tells me that not only are the hitters bigger ( better nutrition, weight training, I can remember when traditionalists eschewed weight training for baseball players ), they're more skilled at their craft due to video training, the bats and balls are harder. The comment about the balls I find revealing. Every season I read conjecture about the balls, wound tighter? different cores? livelier? etc. MLB always doles out some press release replete with quotes from some science geek that the balls are tested every year to comply with strict MLB specifications yada yada. But over the years I have consistently read speculation that the balls have changed. I value Nichols opinion, pitcher / pitching coach for the last 22 years, he knows.

Nichols and I discussed Canuck Scott Mathieson's recovery from TJ surgery in September. I keep reading in Baseball America that he is way ahead of schedule in his recovery and they expect him to pitch soon, which I find astoundingly optimistic. Nichols confirms that yes his recovery is "way ahead of schedule" and that he thinks there is a real chance Mathieson could pitch for the Lynx later this season. That led to a bit of talk about Baseball America, I am an avid reader. I asked Nichols if "they know what they're talking about". Nichols thinks the BA coverage is good, he fields some calls from BA reporters and thinks them credible.

I've long thought ( with many others ) that radar gun readings on TV broadcasts are exaggerated. I think Nichols is in agreement. I.E. in Nichols' opinion it was "a little silly"..."Kenny Rogers throwing in the low 90's" during the postseason. Again, he knows, he's not in his basement.

Russell and Nichols talked to me about the drastic improvements in playing conditions in the Minors since they entered pro ball in the early 80's. Russell commented about some fields with no clubhouses, port a potties, light stands inside the fences. Nichols described the improvements as "unbelievable", he reminisced about dressing sometimes in gyms, school buildings and how bad some of the fields in the low minors were. Were the "good ol days" really that much better?

Russell told me a good story about managing Johan Santana in Edmonton in the early 90's and how in New Orleans he gave up a 3 run homer in the first, struck out 17 and lost 3 - 1. He told me that Santana still talks about the learning experience, that you can "lose a game as easily in the 1st as in the 9th."

With both Russell and Nichols we talked about Eude Brito. I was surprised to learn that Brito is slated to work out of the pen this season. In hindsight I shouldn't be surprised, the Phillies bullpen appears to be thin. ( And that has nothing to do with them being swept by the Braves to begin the season).

The conversation I wanted to have with Ron Calloway concerns the 03 Expos. Calloway had 340 AB's with that team, they finished 83-79 and on August 28 were in a 5 way tie for the Wild Card. MLB, which owned the team, refused to foot the bill for September call ups. I wanted to ask Calloway about that season and in particular, is he still bitter that MLB bailed on the team come September?

In retrospect I wrote some really dumb questions. The dumbest was a question to the Venezuelan players about the impact Chavez will have on baseball there. Pete, put away your bong. Do you know what I think their real concerns were on April 04? Finding a place to live, buying a toque, finding an Ottawa chick ( if they don't already have one here, there are a lot of IL vets on the squad ), the fit of their uni, where their locker is situated in the clubhouse and the really shitty weather.

The Lynx PR folks provided us with the Reading roster. I was surprised to see Joey Thurston is beginning the year there. Thurston was a key member of the Scranton team last year, .785 OPS in 479 AB's. I have to assume he'll be a Lynx very soon, encouraging news.

Fun to see Naete Sager & Carl Kiffner at Media Day. Naete publishes Ottawa's best 1 man sports section, Out of Left Field http://neatesager.blogspot.com/ Carl Kiffner blogs passionately about the Ottawa Lynx here http://ottawalynx.blogspot.com/

April 16 or April 17 I will post my Top 10 IL prospects that could be visiting Lynx Stadium this season. ( It's been written for a few months, what's a geek to do in the middle of winter? ) Please email me your list to toms1243@rogers.com and I'll post it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Leaving the basement April 03 07

Be careful what you wish for....

Tomorrow I will leave the basement and attend Lynx Media Day. I am officially a "Journalist". If a geek types in his basement and nobody reads.....? I find it very amusing, that I am pretending to be part of the media, boys will be boys. This weekend I purchased new toys, a digital recorder and a microphone. If nothing else my kids ( 6 & 4 ) had a lot of fun playing with them and if I can surmount the technological challenges perhaps their voices will be digitally archived for future nostalgia. There is a strong possibility my new toys will be used only tomorrow and never again, although I do hope to soon starting posting up some baseball talk on the Web....so, it feels very strange to leave the basement and talk baseball with some guys in the industry. That's another odd thing about my geekdom, I very rarely talk about baseball because honestly I know practically nobody who is interested in it.

Anyway thanks to Riley Denver @ The Lynx for allowing me to attend, I'm thoroughly looking forward to it.

It's ironic that I will be "covering" Lynx Media Day. Ironic because this is the type of reporting that I'm not interested in. I rarely read player comments, unless someone has said something controversial / inflammatory, but the "give it 110%", "one game at a time clichés" bore the hell out of me. I'm not interested in what the players and coaches say to the press. It's not that I don't think some of these guys couldn't be insightful but they are hamstrung by their position. You can't bite the hand that feeds you.

So what am I gonna ask?

Before he was released a handful of days ago I was going to ask ( if I had the balls ) Randall Simon if it's true that he was the "fat monkey" that former Braves teammate John Rocker referred to in the infamous SI interview. This has been widely reported. But I was thinking even before his release, is that an insulting question? If it is true, is it any of my goddman business? ( No ) If he confirmed it for me what would I have uncovered, more evidence that there is racism in MLB? That's not insightful, there's racism everywhere.

I'd like to ask their opinions on what percentage of pro ball players are taking PED's, but they can't comment publicly on that. I'd like to ask why more minor leaguers are testing positive ( I know there are more minor league players in the aggregate but percentage wise I think the minor leaguers are caught with greater frequency ).

I'd like to ask if the balls are livelier in the bigs than in the minors ( there has been speculation over the years ), but again they probably wouldn't comment.

I'd like an honest answer on how bad the umpiring was in Ottawa last season during the strike. The Lynx and the IL tried to keep a lid on it but there was speculation that the quality was sub standard across the league but particulary bad in Ottawa. Just before the strike was settled there were rumors that the IL was going to step in and provide umpires for the Lynx home games. But who wants to comment openly about that, do you need to be called on the carpet by Management because the League complained about your comments? And anyway, it's last season, it's over.

So why am I going? I'm excited about going and to be honest it's because I'm a geek and I'll get a charge out of pretending that I'm part of it for an hour or two. The real reporters will be bored, the players and coaches will be bored, the Lynx staff will be working and I'll be riveted, because I'm a geek.

Maybe a guy in his basement has an advantage? Maybe somebody will be more candid with me than the real reporters because I am a guy in his basement and ergo, who gives a shit? Or maybe ( and more likely ) I'll be ignored because I am a geek in his basement.

Cancuk update

I mentioned that local guy Philippe Aumont made Keith Law's blog on ESPN. Now I see the same comments in Baseball America, he certainly impressed some people in Florida with the Cdn Junior Team last month in FLA. The June draft isn't far away, looks like this kid is gonna be rich.