Monthly Archive for April, 2009

Deep Thought

By slashing the prices of its most expensive tickets, is the Yankee front office practicing a baseball version of Reaganomics?

Perhaps the savings will trickle up to the top deck.

Poem Of The Week: Anthony Claggett

Short little poem this week by Hart Seely and a link to a website from which it came: Bardball, whose mission is  “reviving the art of baseball doggerel.”

Anthony Claggett,
Your fastball, they flag it.
It floats like a maggot,
They wait there and tag it.
Throw harder, or bag it.
Anthony Claggett.

Anthony Claggett,
We’ll rip you in agate,
Your body, we’ll drag it.
Meet quim, you best shag it.
Or, otherwise, bag it.
Anthony Claggett.

Take the time to explore Bardball, it’s worth more than just a passing look. Seely is worth more than just a passing look too –he’s responsible for the fantastic Poetry of Sarah Palin piece from Slate last election season.

Baseball Mixtape: Cooperstown by the Felice Brothers

Great tune from  a band of fiddle and accordion playing/soulish/bobby d and the band-esque rockers who actually grew up near Cooperstown.  No cheesy John Fogerty stuff or annoying overdone sound effects of a roaring crowd; just a nice acoustic ballad about baseball. The verses, taken by themselves, are almost like little haikus. Here’s a smattering:

Oh Ty Cobb, you’re dead and gone.
You had a game like a war machine.
And through the great Hall of Fame, you wandered.

Tigers Field. A girl in heels.
She had a face like a magazine.
And through the long metal stands she wandered.

The ball soars. And the crowd roars.
And the scoreboard sweetly hums.
And tomorrow you’ll surely know who’s won.

I’m on first and you’re on third.
And the wolves are all between.
And everyone’s sure that the game is over.

The catcher’s hard, He’s mean and hard.
And he nips at the batter’s heels.
And everyone’s sure that the game is over.

The Felice Brothers- Cooperstown

If you dig it, the Felice Brothers’ new album, Yonder Is The Clock, is worth a spin. Especially for the more upbeat tracks.

 

The Decline And Fall Of The Complete Game

There’s something beautiful and perfect and symmetrical about a shutout. The line of zeroes on the scoreboard that feels like it could go on forever. The inevitable victory that comes when the zeroes do stop. It’s perfection embodied in the most practical sense – guaranteed victory. No hitters and perfect games are shiny, but underneath the veneer of individual glory, the end result is no different from that of the shutout. Unadulterated Triumph.

But this post is not about the perfect and symmetrical. It’s about the substantially flawed and the barely sensible; baseball and life and where they converge and everything wonderful and fucked up about that place. Not just shutouts with their big-T Triumph, but regular, boring, adulterated triumph. There is a more human glory, a blemished glory to be found in the complete games that aren’t shutouts. But why, if less electric, are these performances more dynamic? And where have they gone?

Last season, CC Sabathia threw ten complete games, becoming the first pitcher to reach double digits since 2002. Five of those were shutouts. In 1976, Randy Jones led all big league pitchers with 25 complete games. It was a mule-like, Cy Young Winning, 300-inning monstrosity of a season. In it, Jones threw 5 shutouts.

The decline of the complete game is not a new story. It has arrived in tandem with the much ballyhooed rise of the bullpen. There were barely closers when Randy Jones was pitching, and there sure as hell weren’t assigned setup men and lefty specialists. Baseball Reference makes this all very easy to track. In 1976, 27% of all starts resulted in complete games and 26% of those complete games were also shutouts. In 2008, just 2.5% of starts resulted in complete games, and 40% of those were also shutouts.

From a more nuanced perspective, this information is practically irrelevant. Statisticians rightfully don’t value a 9-inning, 3 earned run performance as highly as a 7-inning, 0 earned run performance. But one can’t help but wonder why complete games have fallen so drastically, and shutouts (as a percentage of those complete games) have increased. Consider the following chart, comparing the years 1973-82 to the years 1999-2008. I chose to start in 1973 because it was the first year of the Designated Hitter.

cg-chart

And those numbers don’t even take expansion into account.

My suspicion is that managers are much less likely to yank pitchers working on shutouts than pitchers who aren’t. This might seem obvious; any fool would know not to pull a guy who isn’t giving up runs . But what of the pitcher who has thrown 7 innings and allowed just 1 or 2, with a lowish pitch count. He is obviously effective. But I think the runs on the board trigger something subconscious in the manager. I think, with no hard data to prove this (correlation does not equal causation), that pitchers throwing shutouts are often left in a bit too long, and pitchers who aren’t are often pulled a bit early.

Wait a sec. Don’t the strict pitch counts we have in modern baseball completely unwind this argument? Maybe a little bit. But in the same sense that to yank a pitcher working on a no-hitter is unheard of, I’d bet that a shutout gives managers pause before taking that walk to the mound. Or at the very least, on a subconscious level, it shifts the way they view a performance.

The reason I said all that, was to give this context: I miss the flawed complete game. I miss it even though I was never really alive to watch it in its prime. I miss it even though I grew up with fond memories of Todd Worrell and came of age with Eric Gagne. Maybe I’ve read one too many stories about tough 1950s pitchers battling their way through trouble. But I love to watch a pitcher load the bases with nobody out, take a long walk around the mound, tug at his cap, breathe deep, stare up at the stars, then promptly strike out the side. I love 9 IP, 3 ER, 6 Ks, 7 Hs, 4 BBs. That, to me, is a real quality start.

That start has an essence of America that the shutout doesn’t. Start the job and you damn well finish it no matter how bad things get. Imperfections be damned. It’s a rough road, but you either conquer it or go down in the fight. Tom Joad in California. Ahab spotting Moby Dick. Harvey Haddix taking a perfect game into the 13th and in a flash, losing on an error, an intentional walk, and a Joe Adcock double.

Baseball is nothing like life. But these flawed complete games are a lot like life. Things may not end well, but we get to the end. Our innings may not last as long as we’d like, but we play all 9. No clock, no pitch count, barely anything seems to be under our control at all. Sometimes we walk the bases loaded and sneak out of it; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we throw 0-2 fastballs head-high and our personal Vladmir Guerreros hit them 450 feet. Sometimes we can put our Vladmir Guerreros to rest on a half-hearted hanging curve. Nobody lives a 27 up and 27 down life. Not even the guys on the real field.

If shutouts are the Beatles than complete games are the Stones: dirty and rough around the edges; less expert, but so much more substantive. The kind of game where pitching mounds are to be climbed, where the pouring sweat isn’t just from exhaustion, where fathers are proud of their sons not just for their ability, but for their resilience and work ethic. I mean the kind of game that ends not merely in glory, but in something more personal: Satisfaction.

(Thanks to Scott for data help. There’s a bunch more interesting stuff about complete games that I might get into these next few days.)

Poem Of The Week: Ninth Inning

Donald Hall was inevitable for this blog; he’s the most famous living baseball poet. Maggie suggested a poem called Baseball, but I couldn’t find it online for semi-legal reproduction on my blog. So here’s one called Ninth Inning that I really like. It’s long and literary on the dense side, but finish it. The oofh factor is high. and it prominently features a dog.  If you doubt his baseball cred, Hall also wrote a biography called Dock Ellis In The Country Of Baseball that I’d really like to read some day.

1.  My dog and I drive five miles every
morning to get the newspaper. How
else do I find out, when the Sox trade
Smoky Joe Wood for Elizabeth Bishop?
He needs persistent demonstration
of love and approval. He cocks his
head making earnest pathetic sounds.
Although I praise his nobility
of soul, he is inconsolable

2.  when I lift my hand from his ear to
shift: Even so, after the reading,
the stranger nods, simpers, and offers
to share his poems with me. Dean Gratt
confided, at the annual Death
and Retirement Gala: “Professor
McCormick has not changed: A Volvo
is just a Subaru with tenure.”
Catchers grow old catching, which is strange

3.  because they squat so much. “The barn is
burning, O, the barn is burning on
the hill; the cattle low and blunder
in their stalls; the horses scream and hurl
their burning manes.” Jennifer remains
melancholic. Do you start to feel,
Kurt, as if you’re getting it? I mean
baseball, as in the generations
of old players hanging on, the young

4.  coming up from Triple A the first
of September, sitting on the bench
or pinch-running, ready for winter’s
snow-plowing and cement-mixing, while
older fellows work out in their gyms
or cellars, like George “Shotgun’’ Shuba
who swung a bat against a tethered
ball one thousand times a day, line-drives
underneath his suburban ranchhouse.

5.  By 2028, when K. C.
turned one-hundred, eighty-three percent
of American undergraduates
majored in creative writing, more
folks had MFA’s than VCR’s,
and poetry had passed acrylic
in the GNP. The NEA
offered fellowships for destroying
manuscripts and agreeing: “Never

6.  to publish anything jagged on
the right side of the page, or ever
described as ‘prose poems.’” Guerillas
armed with Word Perfect holed in abstract
redoubts. Chief-of-Staff Vendler mustered
security forces (say: Death Squads)
while she issued comforting reports
nightly on lyric television.
Hideous shepherds sing to their flocks

7.  under howling houses of the dog.
At the Temple Medical Center
in New Haven I wait. My mother
at eighty-six goes through the Upper
and Lower GI again. My mind
jangles, thinking of my sick son in
New York and his sick one-year-old girl.
This afternoon, if the X-rays go
all right, I drive back to New Hampshire.

8.  In New Hampshire, late August, the leaves
turn slowly, like someone working to
order—protesting, outraged—and fall
as they must do. The pond water stays
warm but the campers have departed.
By the railroad goldenrod stiffens;
asters begin a late pennant drive
in front of the barn; pink hollyhocks
wilt and sag like teams out of the race.

9.  No Red Sox tonight, but on Friday
a double-header with the Detroit
Tigers, my terrible old team, worse
than the Red Sox who beat the Yankees
last night while my mother and I watched
—the way we listened, fifty years back—
sprightly ghosts playing in heavy snow
on VHS 30 from Hartford,
and the pitcher stared at the batter.

Bernie Smooth

Fact:  The no. 30 Smooth Jazz album on amazon.com is ‘The Journey Within’ by Bernie Williams. (Released in 2003)

Question: Is this because A.) Bernie Williams is famous, B.) Bernie Williams is actually a much better musician than you ever noticed, or C.) The only other artist in America willing to self-identify as  a Smooth Jazz perform is Kenny G and he has only put out 29 albums?

Much more startling fact: Bernie’s new collection, ‘Moving Forward,’ dropped April 14. It features (no shit) a duet with Bruce Springsteen. As I type this, it’s the no. 99 album on all of Amazon, and no. 1 in Latin Jazz. I wonder what, artistically, prompted Bernie to shift from smooth to Latin jazz. But I guess we can’t really try and categorize or quantify artistic growth.

All 3  (completely non-partisan and in no way Yankee fan) reviewers on Amazon have given ‘Moving Forward’ 5 stars. Dig the praise from user Brooklyn’s Air Force:

If you like guitar music, it’s a base hit. It you like latin music, it’s a double. If you like jazz, it’s a triple. If you like listening to music that let’s you sit back and relax or move your neck and feet it is an inside the park homerun. I purchased this one then went back and brought his first album. Springsteen was hard on my ears, but he is the boss. Williams is a very talented musician!

Gee, I hope to hell he’s overstating it! If we are really living in a world where The Boss is ‘hard on the ears’ compared to Bernie Williams, I have a great deal of painful soul-searching to do.

Public Service Announcement: Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf

When this blog was first conceived in my imagination, it was as a sort of resource for baseball/literary info. I was thinking I’d review all the current baseball books and movies and so on and so forth.  I thought it’d be part library, part commentary. Turns out, other than the greatly ignored Mixtape and Poems of the Week, P&P is all commentary.  And thanks to Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf, that’s fine.

It’s fine, because the Bookshelf is really everything this blog wants to be but can’t. Ron Kaplan — according to his bio a NJ based writer and editor — covers baseball journalism,  literature, film, and even videogames so extensively that my doing it would be futile anyway. So go check out his blog, it’s a veritable baseball cornucopia.

(Make sure you come back  though.)

Chaucer, Shakesepare, Yeats, Scully

The way Vin Scully talks makes me wonder why I bother to write. Here he is on how Bruce Bochy must have felt watching his Giants get pounded in Monday’s Dodger home opener:

 

I was thinking about Bruce Bochy on Monday, Opening Day, and I was thinking of a line that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:  ‘In the real dark night of the soul it’s always 3 o’clock in the morning.’ And I was thinking about Bochy in the sunshine on Monday. It was sunshine and daytime to everybody here, but not to the Giants’ skipper. It was 3 o’clock in the morning.

What will this world be without baseball broadcasters who quote F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Self-Congradulatory Programming Note

This has nothing to do with baseball, but a short story I wrote called Moroccan Passageways was published today (well internet published) in a literary journal (well internet literary journal) called elimae.

Check it out here.

And make sure you read some of the other stuff in elimae. It’s actually a pretty cool lit journal — it’s been online since 1996, which in my culture makes it a man.

(Congratulatory cases of scotch, beer, and champagne can be sent to my home address. Please contact for details.)

PS: If you have 17 hours to spare, it’s never too late to read my contribution to The Baseball Chronicle, which may or may not be longer than Leviticus.

Tuesdays With Nobody

Last week, the Indians and Rangers opened a series on a Monday, took Tuesday off, and resumed Wednesday.

This week, the Dodgers and Giants are doing the same thing. So are the Mets and Padres.

Can somebody please explain this? Am I way late in noticing the pattern/complaining about it? Seriously. Existentially threatening questions like this are why I blog.

Update:

Scott explains in comments:

It has to do with the sanctity of Opening Day as an event. Having a day off after a home opener gives the opportunity to push things back a day for weather reasons, and that is a big deal with all of the special events and ticket holders. Why they would bother doing that in LA or other non cold weather cities, though, is quite odd.

That makes sense –Opening Day ticketholders don’t want to miss out on the festivities in case of bad weather in badweather locations. But it doesn’t tell me why the Padres would have a game scheduled the day after their home opener, but not the Dodgers. Then again, it’s pretty clear that I’m no expert on the schedule making process.  There are a lot of numbers to align and it’s obviously an imperfect process by nature; maybe this is just a little blemish they thought they could hide behind the curtain of tradition.

Also goes to show that on matters of rain delays, people who grew up in Southern California are not to be trusted.