Monthly Archive for May, 2010

Modern Day Milton

A few days ago, a reader named Greg left an epic comment on one of our most popular posts: The Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline. We liked the comment so much that we decided (with his gracious permission) to republish it here:

As you say, the timeline requires periodic updating.  Here’s my suggestion for the moment you left off in 2009 to date:

2009 C:  December 18, more than a few days later, the Cubs trade Bradley to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Silva and cash.

2010:   May 4, 2010:  With the team on a losing streak, and Bradley  one of the only bats recently making any noise, he is moved into the cleanup spot, where he starts off by going 0-3.  After being pulled from the game in the 7th inning after consecutive strikeouts looking, the latter with the bases loaded, and the team trailing 3-1, he reportedly complains that manager Don Wakamatsu isn’t defending him sufficiently with the umpire and says, “I’m packing my stuff. I’m out of here.”  The team loses 5-2, its fourth in what would become an eight game losing streak.

May 5, 2010:  Bradley makes a scheduled appearance at a local elementary school, gives an impassioned talk about what motivated him growing up to become a ball player, then meets with his manager and the GM and says he needs help for ongoing personal problems.  Art Thiel’s Seattle PI column describes the prior night’s loss as the “worst game of the season” and notes that Carlos Silva will continue to be the “gift that keeps on giving, right into his start for the National League in the All-Star Game.”  Art’s “worst game of the season”would be topped (bottomed?) by others before the month of May is over.

May 6, 2010:  The Mariners announce that they have placed Bradley on the restricted list.  Thus begin his 15 days  off to seek counseling.

May 19, 2010:   Bradley is reactivated, the Mariners having gone 3-10 in his absence.  Other candidates for “worst game of the season” in the  intervening stretch include back to back 8-0 losses to the Rays and the Angels May 6 and 7, and a 6-5 loss to the Orioles in which Felix Hernandez pitches 7 innings, and exits with a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the 8th.

May 24, 2010:   Bradley gives interviews about why he asked for help.  He says he thought about getting help in 2009, while still with the Chicago Cubs:  “I wanted to take some time out, get my thoughts together, and just speak to someone and get an understanding from somebody unbiased,” he says. “But you can’t really do that in Chicago. There’s just too much going on.”  Meanwhile, in Arlington, Texas, the Cubs spot Carlos Silva a 4 run lead in top of the first, and he scatters 6 hits and 3 runs over 5 1/3 innings to improve his record to 6-0.

May 25, 2010:   Bradley, hitting cleanup for the first time since his May 4 meltdown, goes 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and three RBI as the M’s defeat the Tigers 5-3.  After his RBI single in the 8th scores Chone Figgins for the go-ahead run, he leaves first base as a pitching change is made and celebrates with teammates in the dugout.  He comments later, “I was full of joy,” he said. “The whole day, I just felt right. I had the right attitude and the right approach. My mind was clear, and I didn’t have a worry at all up there. I was able to come through.”

…and they all lived happily ever after.

Portrait of a Man Out of His Depth

If you’re into awkward conversations, people discussing issues they have no professional knowledge of, and winter hats in the summer, watch Manny Delcarmen play Dan Savage (many NSFW words) for ten minutes over at boston.com.

Link

Podcast 12: Lovitz is Not Bigger Than Baseball

  In the latest episode of the podcast, we play the name game, we play for the Lovitz of the game and talk about lots of other things like Roy Oswalt and Geoff Blum and baseball cards and Mark Buehrle and more.

Right-click here to download.

Radio Motion Meditation

Via Flickr User Nite_Owel

A version of this essay appears at Everyday Ichiro

In a previous post, I talked about sports talk radio. Now, it’s onto the good side of baseball on the radio: the game broadcasts.

I listened to a good part of Sunday’s  Mariners game against the Padres on the radio while driving home from a camping trip with my wife and a group of friends. That I listened on the radio is notable because it was the first time that I have done so all season. Until then, in an attempt to observe and report as much as I could of the Mariners, in the kind of detail that is only possible through TV, I had ridden my DVR like a jockey.  The radio, well I left it in the figurative closet, like an antique attache case, made of the kind of old leather that smells like the recliner in your grandparents’ living room that you used to fall asleep in.

Like that leather attache case, baseball on the radio these days requires some back story to be truly appreciated.

My history with the Mariners is only a month or so deep. As such, I’ve got very little back story. At the beginning of the season, I had nothing to go on but some spring training games. I turned to TV broadcasts to cull Mariners knowledge through my eyeballs. Ichiro’s batting stance, King Felix’s mechanics and pitch movement, Guti’s glovework near the wall, and so on. I’m all for using my imagination, but I would have been out of my comfort zone listening to games about players I hadn’t watched play.

Also, I wanted to see how each player carried himself, and what their general presentation was.* Radio, for all of its charms and enchantments, can’t feed my eyeballs with that information. Instead it consists of the limited storytelling scope of one or two observers. They’re hard-working observers, without a doubt, but they’re constrained by the limitations of their medium. Not to say that TV doesn’t also face myriad constraints, but I think it’s safe to say that many more of the senses are stimulated when you watch TV. There’s basically a radio broadcast laid over the constant stream of images, so everything TV-wise is an add-on from the foundations of the radio broadcast. Humankind and its social interactions and judgments leaped forward on the shoulders of speech and storytelling, but we’re still rooted in faces and bodies, postures and poses, and that’s what TV offers.

*It’s also true that Mariners fans also had to learn about their own players, like newcomers Casey Kotchman and Cliff Lee, for example, who they might not have watched play for more than a few games previously.

Via Flickr user abardwell

Granted, I’m discounting the great possibilities of the human imagination, replacing wonder with concrete data. It’s the book vs. movie problem, in essence, ie. that I can’t read a Harry Potter book anymore without envisioning the actors who played them in the movie series. I saw the movies before I read the books, so now I will never know what my brain would have come up with if I had read them first. I will also never know what it’s like to imagine the Mariners via the descriptions of Dave Niehaus. But really baseball isn’t about imagination as much as it is about the wonder of actual things. Every day you’ll see something new, yes, but you’ll see something new that is real. The play of the imagination isn’t in the tension of real vs. fantastic, but of the magic of every day life, of Every Day Ichiro.

That being said, radio does have its mystical properties. It was with some nostalgic pleasure that I found the game on the radio while driving home from a weekend away. Not only was this the first broadcast I heard on the year, but there isn’t a better way to end a camping trip or to spend an hour on the road than with live baseball on the radio. It’s the middle ground between the country and the city, a bridge from our pastoral roots to the urban present.

So I turned up Dave Niehaus piping through on 710 AM, I draped an arm out the window, and I tuned out.

I didn’t literally tune out, like out of life. I kept an eye on the road and all, and at the very least I wasn’t texting and driving. But instead of zeroing in on the details of the Mariners game, on every pitch, I let my mind wander in between the phrasings, and the pure sounds of a man telling a story of a game happening somewhere distant. The radio game was the backdrop, the hazy middle distance seen from the path that my thoughts wandered, rarely settling anywhere but walking, step after step, in the directionless direction of a figurative destination, the highway emerging a few car lengths ahead and crumbling away behind me. Driving the pace of my ranging thoughts: the game itself, pitch after pitch ringing in the subconscious like a heartbeat.

The radio, humming along like time and the storyteller before the fire, sets a beat to life rather than recreating the world the way that TV does. So maybe I was wrong. I didn’t need to know anything about the Mariners that the radio couldn’t provide, because the voice in the radio doesn’t offer information as much as it does forward motion. A sense of progress, through time, through life, down the highway, on the way home.

Jose Lima (1972-2010)

He had his greatest successes with the Astros and Dodgers — our favorite teams. But in any and every uniform, Jose Lima was a joy to behold. People like him, careers like his, triumphs and failures like those he embodied are why we we continue to love baseball. (Pic via Andy Hutchins)

Unverified Wikipedia Quote of the Day!

Just before the fifth, and final, pitch to Joe Carter, CBS Sports announcer Tim McCarver commented that Carter (relatively unproductive in the Series to date) looked awkward and uncomfortable at the plate.

– from Wikipedia page about the 1993 World Series, and Game 6

Pity

One thing Ken will always get is the respect and dignity he deserves in this game,” Zduriencik said. “And he’ll always get that from this organization and this community, and he deserves that.

You should read Dave Cameron’s recent rant at USS Mariner, simply titled Respect. In the growing genre of the anti-front office polemic, the post stands out for both its eloquence and the firm ground on which Cameron’s argument is planted. It’s the kind of essay you can only write when you are absolutely sure that you’re right. In other words, Christopher Hitchens would be proud.

But as somebody decidedly less invested in the ongoing saga of Ken Griffey’s role with the Seattle Mariners, there are a few things I’d like to add about the above quote, even after its able shredding at Cameron’s hands. There is a difference between respect and pity. From what I have seen this season in Seattle, Griffey has crossed the threshold from the former to the latter. In the eyes of Mariners fans, his presence on the team and in the starting lineup is more about guilt than deference.

Recently, I was forced to fire a person from a job for the first time in my life. I had no particular fondness for this person, and I was confident that the firing was entirely merited. And yet I spent an entire day thinking up ways to get around it. I rationalized, and I hemmed and hawed. Maybe I could offer one more chance. Maybe it’s too soon.

The unsettling issue, the one that racked my conscience, was not how to do it. I got some good advice on that front from my dad: eye contact, few words, whiskey for afterwards. And my nerves weren’t stirred by the fact that I was taking away this person’s income or career. I was not shattering dreams – this was a part-time, short-term job.

The hard thing about it was coming up with a way to tell somebody that they were simply not good enough. Because what it comes down to in the end is that some people can do the job and some people can’t. And to hear that you can’t, to hear that you are incompetent, is a hard and painful thing. We all have our weaknesses. Coming to terms with them is another story. Especially when the job at which you are incompetent, in Griffey’s case, is a job that made you rich and famous – a job that you once performed better than anybody on earth.

Griffey’s former magnificence is not the only exacerbating circumstance. There is a great deal of emotion at play here. He is a man with feelings, on a team of men with feelings, surrounded by fans with their own feelings. There is a financial bottom line. There is still the issue of respect to deal with, and more than just respect–love. It’s not hyperbole. Griffey–at least historically–is beloved in Seattle. So maybe it’s not a firing, since you don’t fire the ones you love. Maybe it’s something more personal.

Telling Ken Griffey Jr. that he can’t play baseball is like telling a senior citizen that they can’t drive a car. Even broaching the subject is an insult and no geriatric just hands over the keys to his or her Buick. But as arduous as the task is, you know it is necessary. You know it is in the best interest of the driver (Junior), the family (the Mariners), and those with whom he shares the road (pained baseball fans). You only hope he bails out before the inevitable crash.

Podcast 11: Vote for Bronson

In podcast 11, we talk all kinds of Bronson Arroyo, converse aimlessly about Hanley and Fredi, get all up in Jared Saltalamacchia’s messy brain, and contemplate the baseball road trip — nay, the baseball pilgrimage.

 

Or right-click here to download.

Life in The Show, Volume 2

Eric has his Little League baseball team, and me? I’ve got the Playstation 3. So in the spirit of one downsmanship, I will be tracking my year on the virtual field, playing MLB 10: The Show, a masterpiece of a baseball video game and the pinnacle of the form.

One of the characteristics of a great baseball video game is its use of attributes. Power and contact for hitters, velocity, control, and movement for pitchers, these are the tweaks that let the gamer replicate a given player’s real-life style. If you want to be a slap hitter the way Juan Pierre is on the field, or an all-or-nothing slugger like Adam Dunn, the game should let you.

Well, MLB 2010: The Show goes a long way towards doing that, and here are a bunch of examples of players and plays in which real-life style translates to in-game replication, as I’ve experienced them in online play:

  • Alfonso Soriano hits nothing but pop-ups to the left side, and occasionally one will leave the yard.
  • A 78 m.p.h fastball from Tim Wakefield feels like 98 after a banquet of knuckleballs.
  • Trevor Hoffman’s change-up is nigh unhittable (okay, maybe this is more circa 2009 Hoffman’s style).
  • Felix Hernandez’s pitches are hard to hit even when they aren’t perfectly placed.
  • Albert Pujols hits everything hard, all the time.

Results aside for a moment, for the real baseball video game nerd, everything comes down to style. Real baseball is a symmetrical ballet of movement and stillness, and the perfect video game should be too. From the game to the individual, the idea is to inhabit the bodies of these players and perform in the context of the game the way that they might on the field.

When baseball video games switched from generic players to granting individual players attributes according to their actual skill, the games began to sparkle. Suddenly, Glenn Davis was a power hitter, and Kenny Lofton a speedy slap hitter. From those first days, the desire for verisimilitude sucked in its first real breath, and each incremental step forward has been to satisfy the desire to control not just any team but the real team. Maybe there were some of us who were happy to hit with robots and children on the original NES, but for the most part the baseball gamer craves exactitude.

(The question I love is this one: will we ever reach the point when a video game will be literally indistinguishable from a video broadcast? I dream about that day.)

Well, at this point I am ready to re-annoint, for the millionth time, The Show as the best, most realistic baseball video game in the history of the world.

Why do I feel so strongly about this replication of real life? Because of Ichiro.

The Mariners can’t hit for beans, in real life or in the game, so the most important hitter on my team is the best one: number 51. And seeing as how I’m following the team pretty closely this year, I’ve had a chance to watch him hit, spraying grounders and glancers, whiplash hits and squigglers, from the opposite field to the pull field, with every variation in between. The real pleasure of MLB 10: The Show? Ichiro hits with the same variety in the game.

In one game against the Yanks, controlled by an online opponent, I experienced just such a variety:

1st at bat: Ichiro hit a low hard line drive past A-Rod at third base, who didn’t have time to react. Went for a single.

2nd at bat: Ichiro blooped a double that fell just barely out of reach of Thames in left field on a high inside fastball.

3rd at bat: I decided to guess fastball and yank one as far as I could. It worked, and Ichiro pulled a home run, just like the home run he hit against the O’s on May 13.

That rundown could have been The Day in Ichiro sections from Every Day Ichiro. I love The Show.

Read Volume 1 of Life in The Show

Podcast 10: Be At Your Smartest, with Carson Cistulli

In #10 are joined by internet baseball writing maverick Carson Cistulli, and get all Socratic about baseball’s hot topics: Does the A-Rod hype overshadow the Braden perfect game? What does Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan’s batting stance say about her judiciary performance? And what the hell are the Mariners going to do about Ken Griffey Jr?

 

Or right-click here to download.