Monthly Archive for September, 2009

Milton Bradley Timeline Update

As history unfolds, so must our recordings of it change. Here is the recently added update to the world famous Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline.

2009 B: Hitting .257 in September, Milton Bradley is suspended from the Cubs for the duration of the season after blaming Cubs fans for the team’s failure to win a World Series (you would suspect a GM would be thankful for that sort of comment). The suspension leaves Bradley and the Cubs in a sort of purgatory, as it is clear the team does not want him back and he does not want to be back in Chicago. How will this glorious soap opera end? Fear not. Evidently a graduate of the Nothing is Fucked school, or completely unaware that the goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain, Hendry reassures Cubs fans: We don’t anticipate any problems. We’ll have it all worked out in the next few days.

CLICK HERE FOR THE  TIMELINE IN ITS ENTIRETY

(also a good excuse to employ theour used the Kooks category).

Celebrity Rogue #3: Ember Nickel of Lipogram! Scorecard! – Keeping Score at Home and The One That Got Away

Rogue's Baseball Index - a dictionary with eye black

Ember Nickel of the often e-less Lipogram! Scorecard! offers up the latest Celebrity Rogue contribution to the swelling cavity of hardball knowledge that is the Rogue’s Baseball Index. On tap, there’s the basic delusion of old school broadcasters, and a melancholy marker of a favorite done moved on.

Keeping Score at Home

Keeping Score at Home consists of, while at home, filling out a scorecard to keep track of a game being watched on TV or, more romantically, listened to on the radio. In the days before pitch-by-pitch updates online or through cell phones, this might have been an eminently worthwhile undertaking. Nowadays, the belief that some people might be Keeping Score at Home propels radio announcers to repeat themselves, sometimes by using numbers to represent fielders in a way that lends a smug sense of superiority to a small group of listeners. This all takes place despite any evidence that anyone is actually Keeping Score at Home.

The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away is the player whose career with one single team spans, if not multiple decades, the early years of your childhood fandom. After he is past his peak and/or your market is too small for his salary, he is traded for several prospects or goes unsigned by a general manager whose shrewd sabermetric knowledge far exceeds yours. When The One That Got Away gets away, it causes you to resent said general manager with a child’s self-righteousness for years, when you could have been doing more productive things.

Stay tuned for more tales of baseball madness and sorrow, as our Celebrity Rogue week continues…

Celebrity Rogue #2: from Paul Catalano – Jobawacky and the Curse of the Giambino

Rogue's Baseball Index - The inside the park home run of words.

Two RBI entries this go round, this time from Paul Catalano of the blog And A Player To Be Named Later. Paul brings us one term to describe a franchise gone over-protective, and another to describe the personal favorite who lets you down.

Jobawacky

Jobawacky is a state of being that surrounds treatment of the pitcher-as-long term investment. All of the worst traits of pitch-counting and arm-swaddling and New Age crystal-reading come to bear in the early career of this Bonus Baby. When a team goes Jobawacky, the pitcher in question has his innings pitched and daily velocity and injury history scrutinized and deconstructed by fans and the media to the point of absurdity. The pitcher will start games upon the harvest moon but never after the hunter’s moon, and he may only throw the number of pitches that equals the square root of his birth date cubed.

The inevitable erratic performance of the pitcher will lead said pitcher to act strangely. When the pitcher throws a strike, for example, or gets lazy can of corn with one out and none on, he may react as if he just struck out Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial and Ted Williams on nine pitches to win the World Series in four games single-handedly. Such behavior, and the overall ineffectiveness of the pitcher, will call into question the future of the franchise. The manager gone Jobawacky will demand a recalibrated horoscopic inquiry, and the pitching coach will angrily snap his diviner’s rod in half.

The term derives from the New York Yankees’ treatment of young pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

The Curse of the Giambino

The Curse of the Giambino occurs when you like a baseball player simply because you and he share a cultural heritage, hometown, high school, tattoo, etc. You tout this player up to all of your friends like crazy. Then he turns out to suck and be a disgrace.

For more of these gems, don’t forget to visit the Rogue’s Baseball Index.

Celebrity Rogue #1: The MSB from SOSG Orel

RBI_rogue marketing post_hairy vocabulary

Kicking off our week of all things Rogue’s Baseball Index, our first celebrity rogue term comes from Orel Hershiser, that famed Son of Steve Garvey, whose contribution touches on the twerpier side of baseball:

The MSB

The MSB is a pejorative term for a tiny, annoying player, often a middle infielder. The Mini Sirloin Burger at Jack in the Box? Tasty. Getting beat by a player who looks small enough to fit in Ryan Howard’s back pocket? Like a mouthful of ashes. Such annoying players can be identified by these media-friendly descriptors: Pesky. Grit. Hustle. (The non-media-friendly version? Pain in the ass.) The MSB rarely puts up impressive numbers, but always seems to be knocking in the game-winning run against your team — on a bloop single, naturally.

Current MSBs include:

* David Eckstein (listed at 5’7″)
* Craig Counsell (amazingly, listed at 6’0″)
* Maicer Izturis (listed at 5’8″)

For more of these gems, don’t forget to visit the Rogue’s Baseball Index.

On Repetition, Consistency, and Ichiro

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There is poetry in repetition, and repetition in poetry, and poetition in repeatery. In their mystical, reptilian brain-type ways, rhyme and verse and meter build and release tension, create and demolish expectation, and generally provide the aesthetic infrastructure that enables poetry and music to variously melt our insides and set fire to our brain stems. There’s no point in offering an example. Just think of the scariest or the most exhilarating aesthetic experience you’ve ever had, and it’s likely that it either a) repeated the best part or a variation over and over or b) established repetition and then sent it spinning. (I’m not scholar of poetry or music enough to go much farther than that, and even in this generalization I’m working on instinct).

All of that to say: I watched Ichiro play the other night, at Safeco Field.

Ichiro’s been much in the news in the last week or so, for cracking 2,000 hits, for doing it quickly, and for breaking Wee Willie Keeler’s record eight consecutive seasons with 200 hits. These are records that bring a word to mind: consistency, ie. doing something very well for a very long time. It’s marvelous, but the word that interests me more for the sake of having watched him play the other day and for this post is: repetition. They’re two words with much different implications, but they’re also co-dependent.

Repetition means doing the same thing over and over. Consistency means successfully pulling something off again and again. Repetition: Ichiro does the same thing before every pitch. Constistency: Ichiro gets a hit 35% of the time, but doesn’t get a hit 65% of the time. More than any other player, Ichiro gives the impression that hitting with such consistency, ie. getting a hit 35% of the time, would be impossible without repeating the the same ritual 100% of the time. Repetition is the platinum setting upon which the jewel of his consistency is mounted.

So yes, there you have it, Ichiro has these rituals that he repeats over and over again. So why is this important, or why, rather, is it satisfying to watch?

ichiro_ritual

For one, I think, it’s the style that Ichiro lends to his rituals. For most other players, you’d call them tics. But Ichiro adds something, a certain theatrical bent, to suggest his awareness of the importance of the ritual itself as a means to the end. He brings attention to the act of preparing for a pitch. A word that pops up in the definition of the word ritual is ceremony. In modern parlance, ritual has a more widely applicable connotation–everyone’s got their ritual, whether it’s a cup of coffee in the morning or the way a Little Leaguer wears his stirrups–while ceremony still carries with it the banner of history, of communal import and procedure. All of this to say that Ichiro’s repetitive acts have the flavor of ceremony, of fulfilling the necessary requirements to move forward, recalling the lessons of his youth and of seasons and weeks and days past. Through all of the games over all those years, the thread that sews them altogether is that ritual:
the pre-pitch motion in which he raises the bat in his right hand to the pitcher, pointing in the same direction with all five fingers of his left hand, before dropping the bat and bringing it around and up to his ear.

Watching all of this go down in person is what I dig. On TV, you might catch a glimpse of his at-bat ritual before the camera cuts to the Bud Light trivia question or the roving reporter in the stands. But in person, it’s unedited Ichiro, in real-time. More than the edited version, one can watch Ichiro in his full state of Being. There is the pre-pitch ritual, but there is also the continuous stretching in funny crouches, the practice swings, and–this one was new to me–the exaggerated, Satchel Paige-like wind-up with high leg kick that he goes into with every warm-up throw in the outfield. While centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez lolligaggs his tosses with an air of boredom, Ichiro makes the boring act into an art form by constricting it, by placing a constraint around it and carrying it through to its extreme.

Plain Throw wiffle ball

My baseball career was defined at all times by inconsistency. Not of performance, necessarily; I was great until about age 15. But I never threw the ball with the same arm angle, my batting stance changed every week, the height of my stirrups fluctuated wildly, etc. My style was to have no single style. This wasn’t by design, necessarily, but rather a matter of character. My handwriting, for example, is messy and it changes with the wind. Perhaps it’s this nature, my flapping, groundless personal story, that urges my fascination with Ichiro’s superhuman capacity to repeat and repeat. I am jealous of and amezed by perfectly uniform, utterly neat handwriting too. For me, that consistency is unattainable.

And then, of course, there is what Ichiro does between rituals, when the pitch is on the way and the ball in play. The rituals mark one side of the coin, and the other side is stamped with his improvisational skills, and his ability to stretch and contract with the demands of the present tense. The career of Turk Wendell taught us that a bunch of great rituals with feeble results doesn’t go nearly as far. But watching the two skills in concert, the repetition and the consistency, is what makes baseball worth watching, even when the teams involved are long out of the race and the season is lost.

P.S. Ken Griffey, Jr., hit a home run in that game, too, but that’s another story.

America and Baseball in Afghanistan

Matt Yglesias recently compared Afghanistan to an ESPN Zone:

A better analogy might be that it’s the ESPN Zone of empires, someplace where from time to time a lot of people feel tempted to go, but when you get there it turns out to be not so great. But it’s surprisingly expensive to stay! Having gone out of your way to get there in the first place, you’re perhaps initially reluctant to just admit that it’s not worthwhile. But you can’t stay forever.

But doesn’t the war effort also remind you of any number of struggling baseball franchises that dump millions and millions into free agents, but are really just piling misguided resources onto a fundamentally flawed foundation that will surely collapse at any moment, leaving the whole venture futile? Kevin Malone? Bill Bavasi? Obama? Biden? Anyone?

One of the very first posts I wrote here prescribed a healthy mid-market approach to managing the economic collapse. Basically I said we can learn a lot from Mark Shapiro and the Cleveland Indians. This was back in March before the season really got going, and before the blog had really found its voice. This time, I don’t have answers.

I don’t have a prescription for our problems in Afghanistan. It sounds trite to even say we can’t just Moneyball our way out of a major foreign policy debacle. So instead of using baseball as a way to make a political point or explain an inexplicable war, I’ll use the war and baseball to do some thinking on American identity and policy. This stuff’s been on my mind lately.

A friend of mine is an Arabic linguist in the Army National Guard. He spent a year in Afghanistan (where the first language is not Arabic but Pashto), and brought up an interesting point about the conflict: the very presence of American troops on the ground there polarizes the country in altogether new ways. Afghans that live near bases tend to Americanize; eight year old kids who were born after the invasion are fluent in English. Afghans that don’t live near bases tend to have grown less and less appreciative of our current foreign policy

Mostly, Afghans want to be left alone. Those who live outside the red white and blue halo of our military outposts know America by its machine gun fire and bomb flashes and the destruction left in the wake of slow-moving, bulky metallic vehicles. Justifiably, these Afghans don’t like this America and they don’t like this America trampling on their culture, trying to instill its own values where they aren’t particularly wanted.

This creates a divide among the people of Afghanistan. An even stronger American presence over there will invariably lead to a rapid Westernization for parts of the country. This is simply what happens when ideas and people rub against each other for long periods of time. As some parts of Afghanistan Westernize and other parts push back against this process, and against American occupation, the country’s fractured sense of national unity will only find itself in even greater peril. The fault lines will be tested and the strains will be exacerbated.

There is a very real possibility that we stay in Afghanistan for ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred more years. As the Obama Administration’s Afghan surge begins to materialize, it’s looking less and less likely that we go the George F. Will route and just cut our losses (Billy Beane! Fire Sale!). America, it seems, will try with all its might to halt the gravitational momentum of history and create a unified and democratic Afghanistan. In this context, I think it’s fair to start talking about baseball over there.

It was inevitable that Afghan children would play baseball. The game is too symbolic, too ripe for media affection, too damn American to not share. In 2002, the Christian Science Monitor wrote what is, to this day, the definitive Afghanistan Baseball Puff Piece:

“Baseball is here to show them the American way, to show them that we’re not here for any other reason than to help out,” says Sgt. Jay Smith, of the US special forces. “We’re not against [Afghans], we’re not against Islam. We can be here together, Afghans and Americans.”

In what is perhaps a historical first, certainly since the fall of the anti-American Taliban regime, children are playing organized baseball in Afghanistan, to the tune of “Take me Out to the Ballgame,” which blares from speakers on a beige psychological-operations Humvee.

In the seven years since that story was published, Afghan Baseball has not quite taken off. But what if we’re talking another seven or fourteen years? Children are products of their surroundings. If their surroundings are US military bases, then Afghan children will grow up comfortable with not just the English language and the presence of heavy artillery, but the best and worst of American culture. This means McDonald’s and Angelina Jolie and it also means baseball.

There is a precedent: Little League has been played by the children of expats in Saudi Arabia since 1954. As more troops and private contractors pour into Afghanistan, the creation of a real official Little League is more than possible. Their parents would not understand, but Afghan kids growing up in the shadows of military bases would know Hanley Ramirez, Joe Mauer, and Tim Lincecum. They would know double plays and the infield fly rule. Afghanistan would face off against Little Rock in Williamsport on ABC. Is it really that far-fetched?

The better question is whether or not this is a good thing. Baseball is not just any other sport in the American identity. Its merits as a game are secondary in importance to its status as cultural touchstone. We as Americans take great pride in the fact that baseball has taken off in East Asia and Latin America. We don’t care who wins the World Baseball Classic, because its very existence is strokes our ego. We tend to think that those who embrace our national pastime are embracing the nation itself – its values, its history, its citizenry.

Baseball in Afghanistan would be more than just a foreign country starting to play a new sport, but how so? It would probably be seen as a victory. Pundits would hail the dawn of baseball as the dawn of a new era in Afghanistan – the proof of a successful foreign policy, the justification of our actions post 9/11. But let’s not be foolish. Even in the confines of this thought exercise, it would be silly to claim that every country who has embraced baseball has embraced American democracy. Japan was baseball-crazed long before it attacked Pearl Harbor. Cuba is still quite baseball crazed.

Baseball in Afghanistan could be looked at as bizarre manifestation of everything that has happened between our two countries since September 11, 2001. It would encapsulate all the rights and all the wrongs of an extended war. It would be the export of something truly American, as American as things get. But it would be the fossil of a failure. It would be completely, entirely inconsequential.

Can’t you hear Glenn Beck now? “Those Afghans couldn’t handle democracy. But at least we gave ‘em baseball didn’t we?”

Poem of the Week: A Poem About Baseballs

The title of this week’s poem by National Book Award winner Denis Johnson is meant to be ironic. It’s not a poem about baseballs, but a poem about hanging on and finding meaning and hell, sometimes the only thing for a guy to grasp is a baseball. Sometimes the only way to make sense of big problems is through the scope of balls, strikes, fly balls, grounders. At least that’s what he seems to be going for in this very dark, affecting poem. (via Poetry Foundation).

for years the scenes bustled
through him as he dreamed he was
alive. then he felt real, and slammed

awake in the wet sheets screaming
too fast, everything moves
too fast, and the edges of things
are gone. four blocks away

a baseball was a dot against
the sky, and he thought, my
glove is too big, i will

drop the ball and it will be
a home run. the snow falls
too fast from the clouds,
and night is dropped and

snatched back like a huge
joke. is that the ball, or is
it just a bird, and the ball is
somewhere else, and i will
miss it? and the edges are gone, my

hands melt into the walls, my
hands do not end where the wall
begins. should i move
forward, or back, or will the ball

come right to me? i know i will
miss, because i always miss when it
takes so long. the wall has no
surface, no edge, the wall

fades into the air and the air is
my hand, and i am the wall. my
arm is the syringe and thus i

become the nurse, i am you,
nurse. if he gets
around the bases before the
ball comes down, is it a home

run, even if i catch it? if we could
slow down, and stop, we
would be one fused mass careening
at too great a speed through
the emptiness. if i catch

the ball, our side will
be up, and i will have to bat,
and i might strike out.

Weekend Reading: Brooklyn, Brooklyn Take Me In

It’s September 11th. Those words mean so much more in New York City today. Here’s an apt new song by the Avett Brothers and some New York baseball reading.

  • Few people, if anybody, can write about baseball like Roger Angell. His easy, lyrical prose captures the joyful meaninglessness of the game so perfectly. Notice how he refers to a certain Yankee shortstop by his first name in this pleasant little New Yorker essay. It’s as if he is writing about his friends — he respects the ballplayers as humans, not as greater beings on a pedestal.
  • Todd Drew’s Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory entry on the Bronx Banter Blog has been selected by Leigh Montville as part of the newest edition of Best American Sports Writing. It’s only the second blog entry to be selected for the series, edited by friend of PnP Glenn Stout. Todd isn’t around to see it, but if you read the piece you’ll understand how deserving he is. As Bronx Banter’s Alex Belth put it  “To be included in this series–one that he adored to no end–would have knocked him on his ass.”
  • Jeff Pearlman has had it with the 2009 edition of the New York Mets. He even makes an unfortunate comparison to the awful Bobby Bonilla Mets of 1992. Pearlman writes:   “Although these 2009 Mets are not nearly as bad, humanity-wise, as the edition from 17 years ago, the season has been an even greater disaster.
  • And because much of north Jersey is practically a borough, I include this great story from the New York Times about the Newark Bears and their litany of veteran major leaguers waiting for — and not getting — that big September call up.  Keith Foulke. Armando Benitez. Jacque Jones. Carl Everett. The list goes on. (via East Windup Chronicle)

Shoeless Joe

When we asked young Phil Bencomo, chronicler of all things baseball if he would like to write a Situational Essay, we were unsure of what to expect. His Baseball Chronicle is in many ways a kindred spirit in this massive, lonely, internet world.  Both sites value the narrative over the calculated, and both tend to tread dangerous water when it comes to nostalgia. The following essay is many things. It is America. It sure as hell ain’t nostalgia:

At 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning in August, I sat in the back of a broken-down van, stopped on the highway shoulder 10 miles outside of Rolla, Missouri. Much too close for my liking, cars and 18-wheelers barreled past on the left, blurs of light and sound. The trucks left the van lurching from side to side.

I felt small and powerless, protected only by a thin-walled metal box just feet from the road. Perhaps that’s why, as I waited for the tow truck, I turned my mind elsewhere, flicking on a reading light and pulling “Shoeless Joe” from my bag.

* * * *

My parents, four siblings and I had left our home in the Chicago suburbs seven hours earlier. It was an unplanned trip, prompted by the news that my grandmother, widowed less than six months before and fading fast, would likely last no more than a month. By 2 p.m. on Saturday we’d resolved to leave. Six hours of frenetic packing and preparations later, our aging, seven-seat conversion van pulled away from the house, and we began our 1,700-mile, cross-country journey to Phoenix.

These trips have become standard fare over my 20 years, though there’s usually more than six hours of preparation to them. We’ve driven through every state west of Illinois, save a few, and a handful more to the east.

On our trips west, we usually leave by noon and drive through the night, ultimately spending over 24 hours in the van before stopping — collapsing, really — for a night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But on this trip, it was not to be.

* * * *

My Mom had been driving for a few hours, with the rest of us sleeping quietly, when the noise started. She’d been awake thanks to coffee and an evening nap, but the loud flapping sound, a puttering perhaps, that came from beneath the hood made both unnecessary. I woke immediately, reached for my glasses and found everyone else wide awake, too.

“Is there a bird?” asked my sister nervously. She’s been terrified of them since one found its way into our house through a vent years before. “It sounds like there’s a bird in there.”

Dad suspected a broken fan belt but, after we’d pulled over, could find nothing wrong. Still, the noise persisted. The call went out to AAA, and I began to read.

* * * *

“Shoeless Joe” is a wonderful book that oozes sentimentality like few other novels. The characters are genuinely good in the deepest sense, and the few villains need only a nudge from the realm beyond to change their ways. Even facing bankruptcy and scorn, Ray Kinsella dances merrily to baseball’s magical tune. It’s nearly impossible to read “Shoeless Joe” and not yearn for the simple pleasures of bat, ball and a lush expanse of the greenest grass.

I realize this now, of course, but at 3:45 a.m., as I read in the back of a Rolla-bound, smoke-filled AAA taxi driven by a lithe, mustachioed man whose slow, drawling words whistled through a missing tooth, Ray’s adventures couldn’t have pained me more. Ray drives from Iowa to Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Boston and even to northern Minnesota, with only a few blank lines representing the hundreds of miles driven from city to city. There are no stops for gas followed five minutes later by a wail for a restroom; no greasy meals from roadside fast food restaurants; no thermoses filled with coffee, to be emptied and filled again; and, most salient to me, no middle-of-the-night breakdowns. The realities of long road trips are unacknowledged in “Shoeless Joe,” but I could think of nothing else.

With every repair shop in town closed on Sunday, we were left stranded in our hotel room, waiting for Monday. We could only hope for a swift repair. “Shoeless Joe” was to be an escape from our troubles, not a mockery of them, but while Ray walked with Moonlight Graham, I ate cold scrambled eggs at a Waffle House and listened to my younger siblings bicker out of boredom. The book’s endless optimism gnawed at me. I didn’t want green grass and sunshine — I wanted someone else to suffer, too. But there is little suffering in “Shoeless Joe,” a book in which all troubles are washed away by time and a little faith.

* * * *

The repair shop, only a mile from the hotel, opened at 8:30 Monday morning. The tow truck driver had the night before told us that the van would make it that far, and he wasn’t wrong. Dad drove to the shop fearing the problem would delay us another day, but, for a change, Lady Luck was with us. The repair took 20 minutes, and we were back on the road by 10 a.m.

Still, I could muster no optimism, even with the aid of “Shoeless Joe,” and I felt old despite my youth. We won’t make many more family trips, not all together. The van’s too old for it, and so are we. I’ll soon finish college, with my sister close behind, and the schedules and lives will grow too complicated. The simple days, with all seven of us under the same roof, will soon pass.

As I read in the van, I wanted more than anything else to love “Shoeless Joe,” to embrace and revel in all the hope and goodwill it represents, to leave all my angst behind with a blown spark plug in Rolla, Missouri. But I thought of my dying grandmother, the reason for the trip, and reality crept in again. I closed the book and watched the trees fly by.

(flickr courtesy of cc:rutlo)