Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Miscellaneous, All Having To Do With Baseball

-Kudos to Dave, Mets Guy In Michigan, for being prompt is sending the pictured DVD set of the "essential" games in Shea stadium history. As I was away housesitting the week of the delivery (and even after) I wasn't able to get to them as quickly. They were, however, worth the wait.

For the uninitiated, those are:

Tom Seaver's Ten-inning victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles gave the Miracle Mets a 3-1 advantage they wouldn't let slip as the brought New York it's first non-Yankee Series since the Bums finally won it all in '55.

Game 3 of the '86 NLCS, where Dykstra's walk-off gave a Mets a come from behind victory. Considering the collection of circumstances that postseason, with Mike Scott sandpaper split-finger awaiting for Game 7, the Mets may well have a dodged a bullet by winning the series in game six, a 16 inning marathon that, unfortunately, was in the Astrodome and not available for this set.

Game 6. I don't think any further commentary is needed. I forced my sis-in-law to watch the last half-inning as a means of demonstrating what we mean when we say it isn't over until it's over.

Game 5 of the NLCS vs. Atlanta. Though famous for the "grand slam single" that ended the game, it shouldn't be forgotten that this was a hell of a pitchers' duel, going fifteen innings and using as many arms in the process. This game was an important point in my history as a baseball fan as it was around this time I stopped blaming Mookie Wilson (and all things Met) for ruining my childhood. Really, the Braves and the Yankees in the Series? The only thing to root for was injuries. Lots of them.

September 21st, 2001. First game in New York after the 9/11 attacks.

May 19th, 2006: Push and pull interleague game against the other team from New York. David Wright's walk-off single against Rivera gives the game to the team from Queens, unknotting the 6-6 tie.

Some Mets, and baseball, fans may rightfully complain about the lack of games from the '73 "You Gotta Believe!" Mets or from Doc Goodin's truly amazing '85 season. But, that's what second volumes are all about. This collection does offer some terrific games from Flushing's finest. If that's what you want, you'll get it. Guaranteed.

-Let's give the devil his due.

Curt Schilling's career may be kaput, and while I'm not too worried about the Sox rotation with Lester coming along nicely and Materson showing himself to be a more than capable spot starter, it is for sad and fitting that his last game was in a World Series. Let's look at his postseason numbers:

133.1 IP 120 K 25 BB 2.23 ERA 0.978 WHIP 11 W 2 L

The phrase is money, and that's what he was during the postseason.

He called into Gambo & Ashe, the Valley's afternoon sports guys, on Monday and, when asked if he was a Hall of Famer, replied "No." Insisting that he played with Hall of Famers, like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Jeff Bagwell in Houston, and that he wasn't one of them.

All due respect to Schilling, Jayson Stark, the aforementioned devil, whose book I was none too pleased with (see previous post) offered a wonderfully succient assesment of Schilling's career, hitting both the cons (only 216 wins) and pros.

Here's a link:

Were his whole book like this, I'd endorse it almost as much as I do the Shea DVDs.

-Entertainment Weekly released a list of the 100 "Classic" movies from the last twenty-five years or so. The entire list isn't worth picking over, but there were two omissions I was shocked by. The first is Richard Linklater's Slacker, which pretty much jumpstarted the DIY indie film movement of the early/mid 90s. The second is truly shocking: Bull Durham. The best baseball, maybe even sports, movie ever isn't on the list? I can understand not including Major League or maybe Field Of Dreams, but no Bull Durham? That's like listing 100 classic albums and leaving off Raising Hell or Back In Black because some people don't like rap or heavy metal.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jayson Stark - 'The Stark Truth'

Stark's writing is solid and smooth throughout, and his love of baseball is evident on every page. In a few of the examples, he does an excellent job of showing why certain players are overrated (Dave Winfield, Phil Rizzuto) while others receive less than the praise they deserve (Frank Robinson, Barry Larkin).

For Dave Winfield, he manages to tastefully break down his career numbers to show that despite the stats he accumulated throughout his career, he never had a monster season in which he dominated the league in major offensive categories the way players like Jim Rice or Joe Medwick, despite having lesser career numbers, were able to do.

Unfortunately, taking the title into consideration, he is too often given to stating his opinion rather than offering objective analysis. If you're going to use numbers, for crying out loud, use all the numbers available, not just the ones you deem important (read: prove his case). Less an examination of the factors that over and under rate the players, he cherry picks numbers and offers them as proof positive of their status for far too many of the other players, and in some glorious instances, assigns the overrated and underrated labels to players who are overpaid, had disappointing careers, or who had intangibles that helped their teams win, or not.If you want his opinion, and much of these ratings are that, you'll be happy with this book. For those looking for a more consistent, statistical breakdown of players, you'll have to look elsewhere.

I'll use two examples that, I think, illustrate what's wrong with his analysis.

Stark's logic when talking about every purple prosemen's favorite object of affection, Derek Jeter, is simple: he doesn't use any.Jeter is listed as the second most underrated shortstop in history, behind only Barry Larkin. An insult when you consider how truly underrated Larkin is. But let's get to Stark's arguments:His basic declaration is that "There are elements of greatness that numbers can't quantify." (138) While the rest of the book contains Stark using those "numbers" to do just that, Jeter, it seems, is a special case. He dismisses the Doe-Eyed Short Stop’s critics for pointing out things like zone rating and OPS to explain why Jeter isn't say, worth 20 million a year or deserving of his own cologne, gold gloves, and his own personal announcer on Fox to fawn over his intangibles. Those aren't important, declares Stark, because he lives for the Big Moment, and he has proof: Jeter has hit over .400 in eight postseason series!

Hmmm, does Derek show a sense of clutchness by hitting .455 in the 1999 ALDS, where the Yankees swept a Rangers team that scored exactly one run over the course of three games? OK, then what to make of the 2001 World Series, in which Cap'n Intangibles went 4 for 27 (that's a .148 average, which, if my math is right, is not over .400). Though in Mr. Stark's defense, I'm sure he will argue those were all clutch outs, because they forced his team to try all the harder.

But it gets even odder when one reads Stark's dismantling of the career of Steve Garvey. Garvey certainly was an overrated player in his day, but now? Who is calling for his admission into Cooperstown?

What has this to do with Derek Jeter? Well, after insisting that only Red Sox fans and computers don't appreciate Derek Jeter, he then, computer-like, breaks down Garvey's career to show he wasn't as great as people thought he was. Why, well, aside from not having a great OPS (like Jeter) in relation to the praise heaped on him, Garvey won gold gloves he didn't deserve (like, say, Derek Jeter?) and is overrated for his postseason accomplishments. Of course, Garvey, in a time before the Wild Card, played on five pennant winners, won two LCS MVPs, and has a better OPS in the postseason than Jeter (0.911 to 0.846).

While Garvey and Jeter have a lot in common, both as players and are well known for their tawdry personal lives, it should be noted Garvey’s teams never blew a three game lead in the postseason. Sad to say, Jeter cannot make the same claim.

Stark also claims that Craig Nettles is overrated. Why? Well, there appears to be group of Yankee fans that think he belongs in Cooperstown. Some Yankee fans will insist that Ron Guidry, Jim Lerytz, and even Don Larsen belong in the Hall, though they aren't on the list. Why is Nettles overrated? Well, he wasn't as good a fielder as Brooks Robinson, which we know because Brooksie had a better zone rating, though I remember Stark previously mentioning how sometimes "numbers" like zone rating can't quantify greatness. But that's not important. No, Nettles wasn't as good a fielder as Robinson, but he does lead the position in HRs by an American Leaguer (390). But, that number loses luster with examination.

His BA is a rather mediocre .248, and during his tenure with the Yankees, his BA/SLG/OPS were 30/90/100 points higher at home than on the road. So, Yankee Stadium inflated his numbers and made him appear to be a better hitter than he was. Fair enough.But then, in the underrated section on 3B, he proclaims Ron Santo as the most underrated third sacker of all time. Now, let's ignore the fact that I can't think of a major baseball writer who hasn't written an article on how much a travesty it is that "underrated" Ron Santo is still paying his way into Cooperstown and look at the numbers. Ron didn't play in Yankee Stadium, with its short, inviting right field porch. He did play in the cozy confines of Wrigley, and let's see how his home/away numbers stack up.

Believe it or not, they're actually worse than Nettle's. At Wrigley, Santo's BA/SLG/OPS was 39/116/157 points higher, respectively, than when he was on the road. Stark gives four reasons why he thinks Santo isn't in the Hall of Fame. Those huge splits and relative brevity of his career are not among them. In fact, he never even mentions the Santo's short career (just 12 full seasons) nor the HUGE gaps in numbers when he wasn't playing in the North End of the Windy City.For the record, I think Santo belongs in Cooperstown, though I think him a borderline-at-best case. Still, this selective application of stats brings the read down as Stark presents a view that completely ignores genuine arguments for the way they’re currently rated.

Stark, in his defense, does comment on the difficultly of defining the titular terms, but there has to be some consistency or the books becomes just a collection of player data, strung together haphazardly wi

Why are J.D. Drew and Barry Zito overrated because of their salaries if Jason Giambi or Chan Ho Park don’t warrant a similar spot? Why does Darryl Strawberry’s disappointing career make him the third most overrated right fielder in history, but Raul Mondesi or Jim Lefebvre (who won the ROY over Joe Morgan) don’t appear anywhere in the book? And since the title infers history, why are so many of the players from the last fifty years?

Stark’s book hinges on an undeniably intriguing idea, but it reads as if he didn’t put the effort into making the content live up to the title’s billing.

Caveat empor.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New York, I Love You But You're Freaking Me Out

Note: My thought processes sometime scatters like buckshot, and I left my disposable camera on the 6 train. D'oh! Thus, all visual memories of Shea remain irretrievably stored in my mind. As for Yankee Stadium, who cares? Rent Pride Of The Yankees if you want to see what it looks like.

Since 1964, the New York Metropolitans have called home one William A. Shea Municipal Stadium, a locale I've heard described as an "inaccessible, doleful mule trough." Really? I didn't think it was bad at all. The park, while clearly built in the style of the time, reminds me a bit of Chavez Ravine, a semi-traditional stadium that has a charm of its own, a degree of history you can't fashion with concrete and steel, with ghosts that haunt and harass. You think I'll ever forget what happened down the first base line? Granted, I didn't care for the ride out of Manhattan on the subway, next to some kid with purple hair, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids...

Actually, being from Los Angeles, where public transportation is as alien a concept as bad weather, I enjoyed riding on the subways around New York. If I may quote Chesterton, "Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Baghdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria." Indeed. I stepped on the 6 train and lo and behold found myself in Queens.

But back to the ballpark. William A. Shea Municipal Stadium opened in 1964, with the Mets a two-year-old consolation prize for New Yorkers who lost their Giants and Dodgers to California. A slave to the tradition (or that's what I've been told), home plate was planted to face north-east, leaving the large centerfield opening to face into Queens rather than towards a more majestic view of the Manhattan skyline. The Mets do have a giant "Home Run" apple in the outfield that pops out after a Met hits one out. I have to admit, that is pretty cool. And lot less noisy than the fireworks at Comiskey* The apple will not be moving across the street as they're getting a new one. Thus tradition is formed.

Because this would most likely be our only trip to Shea, my brother and I wanted to do something special, so we got tickets to see the Mets play the Yankees. According to the ticket, the seats were worth about $32. According to Stubhub, they were worth $88. And those were the cheap ones! I'm reminded of St. Augustine's tale of the pirate confronting Alexander the Great, "You have a navy, and are an admiral. I have a boat and am a pirate." You stand in front of the stadium and sell tickets, you're a scalper. You sell them over the Internet, you're just a good capitalist.

But there is no price on memories, especially good ones, so I paid, unrepentantly, and went to the game. The Yankees scored in the top of the first, but Reyes, long before his sad September collapse, singled to start the bottom of the inning, promptly stole second, and moved to third on an infield single that hit Yankees' pitcher Darrell Rasner in the hand, knocking him out of the game. He then scored on a sac fly by Carlos Beltran. I'd seen Reyes on TV but it wasn't until I was in the stands that I saw how fast he is. Next up was David Wright, who hit what would be his first homer of the day. The Mets were ahead and never looked back, eventually winning 10 - 7. In the 3rd, Wright hit another home run, this one to deep center, completely leaving the stadium and bouncing into the construction site of the new field. I later found out that Mets announcer Howie Rose jokingly referred to it as the "first home run" hit in Citi Field. The Mets had an 8-3 lead at the top of the eighth, but the Yankees made a game of it, scoring four in the last two frames and having the tying run strike out to end the game.

Shea, as I mentioned, lacks the quirky qualities of a Fenway or Wrigley, but doesn't have the traditional feel of a Camden Yards. It sits, for now, alone with Dodger Stadium as a big, professional ballpark. It's the crowd that gives the Stadium its flavor. Though I have to admit, it could stand to add a few more restrooms.

But what surprised me most of all was the banter in the crowds. Though mainly Mets fans, Yankee fans had made the trip from around the Apple to see the game, and though some ribbing and name-calling was heard, it was surprisingly subdued, with none of the malice I was expecting from New Yorkers. At the time, the Mets were (so it seemed) safely in first place while the Yankees were 10 games behind the surging Red Sox, whom my brother and I had seen two nights prior beat the Tigers in what is called "the Hinske game." The moniker derives from Eric Hinske, a backup outfielder that making a spectacular, run-saving catch before hitting a two out, two run homer to give the Sox the lead. Our seats in the bleachers were such that we didn't actually see him make the play, but saw the replay on the screen behind us. We cheered though, when word spread through the stands that he'd caught the ball. Same with his home run.

The Mets game was on Saturday. Sunday was spent around the city. Monday, we had tickets to the Yankees/Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, which is accurately described as a "drab concrete box." First, though, we'd had to move from our Manhattan hotel to one in Queens, as we were leaving from La Guardia the next morning. We subwayed back to the city and spent the afternoon at a diner (I had an egg cream) and the Museum of Natural History (the dinosaurs, wow!) before going to the Stadium. I opted for neutral observer attire, wearing a brown coat and a Dr. Seuss tee that had "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" written on it. I was hoping for colorful eccentric, hoping to blend with the crowd. My brother wore a white tee with a Pabst Blue Ribbon hoodie and a Red Sox cap. This was, it turns out, a big mistake.

There were three thousand ejections from the Stadium that night, a fact we later heard from our parents, who were watching the game on ESPN. My brother and I saw too many fights to remember, as the beer and fists were flying throughout our section the further we got into the game. I was keeping score in my notebook, and was reminded by the large gentleman sitting two rows down and one row over every time the Yankees scored that I should "put that in your !@#$% book." He also seemed to think my name was "cough sufferer," or some variation thereof.

It was during the top of the sixth that I found my right sleeve (our seats were on the end of the row) spattered with beer while the woman directly behind me was absolutely soaked. It was then, while the Red Sox were up, that a huge brawl began further up the tier, and the two teens began to cheer on the slugfest. A woman, late 40s/early 50s, told them to sit down so that she could watch the game.

"Suck on this lady." Was the reply, with the appropriate body language. When said lady began to chastise them, I could only think to myself of what our mother would do to us today if my brother and I offered a similar retort to such a reasonable request.

Before I could consider the ramifications, a woman stood up next to the youths and said, "Don't you talk to my sons that way!"

It was around this time that they stopped selling alcohol.

I've been to rivalry games before. Cards/Cubs in Wrigley, which is polite, passive-aggressive Midwestern frustration. Red Sox/Yankees at Fenway, with completely justifiable loathing of the visiting team. Dodgers/Angels at Dodger Stadium, with the mild commitment of Southern Californians, who know no matter the outcome, they're going to the beach when the game ends.

This, I was genuinely afraid of what the crowd would do when denied their one obvious pleasure with Yankees looking at first place ten games away before school was out. My brother and I decided that during the seventh inning stretch, we'd casually make our way to the exits, not only to escape the further potential for an "incident," but also spare us having to hear "Cotton-Eyed Joe." Of all the parks I've visited in my travels, we'd never left a game early no matter the score.

Start spreading the news, though, because we were getting the hell out of there.

*My sis-in-law's family is from the South Side. They all call U.S. Cellular Field "New Comisky." Thus, so shall I.