Here on the final weekend of 2013, with Hanukkah and Christmas now behind us, we have one last moment for peaceful reflection. This is mine:
I had an epiphany recently. I am watching pro football and the game is close at the end, the team a few points behind is just a few yards outside the end zone with about 1 minute left to play and in need of a touchdown. On two of the four scoring attempts there were clear defensive pass interference violations that were not called. The broadcast analyst even makes the comment that, "in the first quarter that is pass interference, but you don’t make that call at this point in the game."
And then it hit me, a fundamental beauty within the architecture of the game of baseball is that the same rules are applied, with the same intent towards accuracy, at all moments of each contest. Baseball is the one major sport in America wherein the officials don’t "swallow their whistle", and not because baseball umpires don’t use whistles in the first place. This means that, even in the most critical of moments and in the critical of games, the officiating provides an equal opportunity for heroic performances out of ALL of the participants on the field of play. And there is, in my opinion, a reason for this. It is because the rules themselves, despite all their complexity (or perhaps because of that) have removed much of the sloppiness that arises out of human competition. In baseball the action is well framed, well defined, and still provides unlimited opportunity for athletic excellence and growth. Baseball, at the end of the day, is our most perfect sport. Perhaps not the most perfect for all methods of presentation, but most perfect in, and of, itself
Even if you are a lover of other sports, you come here in fellowship to embrace baseball. As such, you share with your brothers and sisters a relationship with something far different than what is found in the existence of our real world. For this moment, however extraordinary that reality may be, I choose to let that world sail on through the heavens and reflect on the beauty of our creation.
Thank you one and all for your time and attention this past year. I have enjoyed entertaining those hardy few of you who have braved the weekend hours in order to gather with me and celebrate...baseball! I wish nothing but peace and prosperity upon you and your loved ones for 2014. And may this be the year that the flags fly again!
- Can'a'hava Tanaka?: Yup, he's posted. Rakuten didn't like it, but the other 12 teams certainly couldn't wait to bounce Tanaka out of NPB, like, frikkin' yesterday, so they outvoted Rakuten and accepted the new posting system of MLB (a move that some team will regret in the future, I predict). So now what? Well, Tanaka has immediately gone out and gotten himself a domestic agent: the very guy who took Zack Greinke over to the Dodgers. So, yeah, that could have started out a little better. But where it gets downright silly is where you have media outlets feeding the Dodger frenzy by placing the team - one that already has Greinke AND Clayton Kershaw AND Hyun-Jin Ryu AND Dan Haren AND Josh Beckett, on any short list titled "Who needs Masahiro Tanaka the most?" Don't be fooled. We are at the top of that writer's list only because "A" comes first in the alphabet.
Trout Porn: Philadelphia is getting religion. Philly.com fills up some web space by gushing over the fact that Mike Trout fairly destroyed any notion of a sophomore slump.
A hybrid of Mickey Mantle and Bo Jackson, the kid from Millville, N.J., crashed onto the baseball world like a meteorite two springs ago. But Trout, who approaches a baseball game like a linebacker sizing up a tiny halfback, hasn't slowed since his dynamic rookie year.
Questions, Questions: Alden Gonzalez racks up a Top 10 List of Questions for the 2014 LA Angels. Pitching comes in at #10. And #6. And #4. Reasonable, I suppose. My focus is on his #3: "How many prime Pujols years remain?"
If ever the Angels were going to get an MVP-caliber season out of Pujols, this is the one. In 2012, he was adjusting to new surroundings and the expectations of a $240 million contract, going homerless in his first 27 games before rebounding profoundly. In 2013, he dealt with plantar fasciitis and batted .258/.330/.437 before his season ended after 99 games. At full health, the Angels expect Pujols to be among the game's best hitters once again in 2014. They'll deal with the seven other years -- and the $189 million he'll be paid throughout -- one at a time.
Chris Volstad: Easy come, easy go. My theory is that Jerry Dipoto's off-season plan is to sign as many arms as he can get away with, however crappy they have been in recent memory, in the hope that enough of them show sufficient respectability at this time in their lives to build an acceptable pitching corps. Chris Volstad fit that theory, coming from Colorado and a filler candidate for at least long relief. Well, he fit that theory all too well, becoming one of those signings to crap out. Volstad has chosen to head to Korea instead.
Buy Stuff - Crazy-ass Baseball Finds On the Internet:
Dead ahead: New Year's Eve.Do you need a family/friends oddity that does not involve alcohol?? How's about Griddly Headz Baseball Game? It's a baseball themed combat-style board game that is supposed to be pretty fun.
This Date In Baseball History: 1874 - The first documented baseball game is played in Cuba, but is called due to darkness with the score sitting at 51-9..........1941 - Two weeks ago I gave you the background as to how the franchise of Atlanta became the Braves. Today marks the date in 1941 when Chief Nokahoma is born..........2001 - The Yankees move their broadcasts to WCBS-AM (which just concluded after the 2013 season) initiating the YES Network, causing a great ripple upon the waters of sports media revenue..........2001 - The Mets take Mo Vaughan off our hands, sending back to the Halos Kevin Appier. Appier will play a decent role on the Halos' WS Champ team with a season of 113 ERA+, just months after Vaughan will blast Troy Percival and the Angels with "Ain't none of them done a damn thing in this damn game, bottom line. They ain't got no flags hanging at friggin' Edison Field, so the hell with them." As you know, as soon as Vaughan was gone, we started flyin' flags!
Great Moments in Baseball Statistical History
(My primary source for this series is the excellent book The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics, Alan Schwarz author, Thomas Dunne Books Publisher)
Ernie Lanigan comes onto the scene in the late 1800's as a consumer of the daily and weekly baseball stats, growing up a stat nerd while staving off pneumonia and other pulmonary issues. He had a lot of time on his youthful hands, and dedicated that time to not only consuming stats, but calculating his own out of what was published. Ernie would later confess that he really did not like baseball, and did not like attending games. It was purely the stats that interested him.
Being well-connected, Lanigan was able to take full advantage of his uncle's new weekly publication The Sporting News, and by the time he was 15 he was one of their copy boys, focused on baseball stats. This granted him access and experience and paved the way to join The New York Press as baseball editor at the age of 34 (besting Grantland Rice for that spot, by the way).
His first major impact concerns RBI's. By the time Lanigan gains influence, RBI's had fallen out of favor. he whole notion of RBI's did not surface until 1879/1880, and were picked up and championed by Henry Chadwick as even more important than player hits and runs scored. For a while RBI's were huge. By 1991 the National League mandated that scorekeepers record RBI's. But the obvious hole in their value was know immediately: not all batters have equal chances to drive in runs, and the mandate was quickly rescinded when the MSM interjected against the silliness of RBI counting. Yes, you read that correctly: at one time the Mainstream Sports Media realized that RBI's were folly, and advocated passionately against them!
Lanigan also dug deeper into players' contributions on offense. It was Lanigan that came up with the idea to keep track of baserunners were Caught Stealing, and the correlating defensive gem of catching runners stealing ("Thrown Out By Catcher" back then). Remember, we are still in the first decade of the 1900's here!
R.I.P. Paul Blair: Paul Blair passed away last night at the age of 69. Some day we are going to have really, really good methods to objectively determine defensive prowess in baseball. That advancement comes far too late to lift Blair up high enough in the firmament of outfield stars. From 1967 through 1975 Paul Blair was a Top 10 dWAR contributor in all of MLB for five of those 10 years. Of course, spending less than 1/10 of his days in pinstripes doesn't prevent the NY Daily News from bemoaning Blair's passing as the loss of a "Former Yankee". It's all about them. Sigh.
Oakland: The Oakland A's still have much better computers than we do. Or anybody else in baseball, as it turns out. Baseball Prospectus dives into the engine behind Oakland's recent curiosity of success, and has a working theory. If you are not a BP subscriber, Deadspin serves as your escort. The Secret Sauce? Fly-ball-to-ground-ball ratios.
Let's contextualize Oakland's outlier ways: 60 percent of their plate appearances were taken by fly-ball hitters, who by definition compose 16 percent of the league. No other team in the past nine years has touched 45 percent. Beane's roster was so ground-allergic that only 0.8 percent of their plate appearances were taken by "ground-ball hitters." That's not just a concentrated effort to target fly balls. That's a mission statement.
From my seat, the most interesting aspect of this is the fact that Beane loaded up on fly ball hitters in reaction to the glorification of ground ball pitchers everywhere. A certain cache has come with dismissing pitchers' long-term effectiveness because they are "fly ball pitchers" (pitchers who get their outs via the fly ball instead of the ground ball). As it turns out, the very thing that any staff needs to counter the current Secret Sauce of Oakland are...fly ball pitchers. The article specifically notes the dominance of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer (although they miss our own Jered Weaver, another notable "fly ball pithcer", has hs allowed on 2 runs in 6 games ove rthe past two seasons to Oakland).
Baseball Biz: By now we know that Major league Baseball is awash with huge revenues. More than $8 billion in revenues for 2013 alone. That money comes directly from you and me, so we really should be crying too much about that data point. No, it's THE OTHER data points that we should be crying about, because those come from you and me, too. This past week Bloomberg went into gory details about how these same owners come knocking on our doors pleading for our money to build their money-making machines.
"It’s an albatross that hangs around our necks," said Portune, who has dealt with the cost for almost 13 years in office. "Every year it forces us to either come up with more revenue or take away from spending for other things the county needs."
This sordid practice goes back quite a long time, it turns out. Here is a deep dive into the funding of the now-defunct Candlestick Park. But you know what? Our pockets are not just getting picked to build MLB stadia. Oh hell no! This goes on with hundreds and hundreds of Minor League parks as well.
"If taxpayers are supporting a stadium because they believe it'll help their city socially and culturally, then fine," Zimbalist said. "If they're doing it because they've been sold a bill of goods that it'll be a boost to the economy, then no, it's not a good expenditure of funds."
Video Of The Week
(From SBNATION: Best Sports GIFs of 2013...)
(Having troubling viewing the video? Click here.)
Hey, anybody out there want a job in baseball? No, not THOSE kinds of jobs. I'm talking about getting PAID to be an outsider!..........Drew Silva, writer for NBC Sports, resident of St. Louis, jumping on board the Peter Bourjos bandwagon..........Do you want to uncontrollably lose the next 30 minutes of your life to the Internet, merrily clicking away while the breakfast gets cold? Check out this unbelievably cool interactive MLB payroll tracker..........I'm gonna say it: Murray Chass becomes a bigger asshole each time he passes wind............I hope you did not miss it, because Deadspin's Pirate HoF voting fun has now closed for 2013. I cannot WAIT for the consequences to kick in!.........What is a World Series MVP trophy worth to you? Now you can find out..........Jose Canseco and his goats are in the news again!
And now, being the full service weekend linkage institution that we are, here is the obligatory moment we take out of each Friday...for beer...
(In this most festive time of year, Beer Holidays are few and far between. Come on, face it! It's New Years friggin' EVE!!! You don't need anything additional here, folks...Enjoy the bonuses!)
BEER PUZZLE OF THE WEEK: True or False? Sam Adams Triple Bock has an incredibly high alcohol content of 17.5% [The answer to last week's puzzle question is: Head augmentation and retention.]
Stay safe, everyone!