Friday, April 11, 2008

Follow me to Newsvine...

With regret, I must announce that I will no longer be posting to this blog.  Over the brief time I've started this it's been fun, but it's also become quite clear that I cannot put in the necessary time to develop and maintain a blog of the quality level I want.  There are a lot of (to put it mildly) half-ass blogs out there, with writers who post only when they feel the desire, who don't do their research, and who fail to take the time to write well.  I don't want to be one of them.

Luckily, I'm not leaving the net.  I'm hoping that you'll follow me to Newsvine, where I've maintained a page for several months.  Newsvine is a general interest news discussion site that combines the best of social networking with some excellent writing - including sportswriting.  I'll be writing a column there bi-weekly on a wide range of topics, including baseball.  The link to my column is:

The link for a general introduction to Newsvine is here.  There's even a group for Battlestar Galactica fans.

It's been been fun to run two pages, but I simply don't have the time.  Thanks to those of you who have let me know you enjoyed the pieces -- especially those of you from the Sultan of Swat Classic and the Royals fans who checked out my page during my one "wide world" exposure.  Hope to see you at Newsvine!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Primer on Pine Tar

So a few days ago, a number of writers, officials, and so forth got their knickers in a twist over whether or not Jake Peavy's 4-1 victory over the Dodgers was aided by any foreign substance, such as pine tar. At least one writer from the blogosphere jumped on the pile, but was quickly shouted down by his readers who used some less than polite phrases in their disagreement. Your faithful writer takes no particular position on this issue, except to further inflame the conversation by providing information on what, exactly, pine tar is.

Pine tar, as a starting point, is a product that is produced by rapidly heating pine wood until it decomposes. The resulting product has been used for centuries for such things as soap making, preserving wood, and, yes, in baseball. Pretty much all batters use pine tar on their bat handles to make them sticky and improve their grip. Of course, it's quite illegal to use it on the ball. Such use automatically earns the offending pitcher a 10-game suspension.

By the way, the National League makes its pitchers bat, so he's picked up a baseball bat before.

For those with further interest in pine tar, Wikipedia has an article on this topic. If that doesn't cover it for you, Theodore P. Kaye has written an academic paper, complete with footnotes, describing the traditional production of pine tar for the maritime restoration industry. It's educated me. If pine tar seems like a pretty cool thing and you'd like to acquire some for yourself, I recommend Auson AB of Gottesburg, Sweden.

(Photo credit: George Brett's bat and equipment, courtesy Dave Hogg,

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

D is for Doormat: Kicking the Tigers when they're down

D is for doormat, which Detroit currently is.
E is for error: Today Placido Polanco earned his first since July 1, 2006.
T is for terrifying team batting.  The only team that's scored fewer runs than the Tigers (15) is Colorado (12).
R is for retching. Read some of the discussion on and you'll understand.  Their fans are getting a bit frustrated, and even their host doesn't have anything good to say.
O is for 0-7, their current record.  
I is for impatience. They're pushing at the plate, and not scoring runs.
T is for Tiger, as in Eye of the Tiger.  They'll dig themselves out of this mess before long.  I still would pick them to win the AL Central, but they need to get it together soon.  To paraphrase Crash Davis, the Tigers need a rainout in a big way.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Who are those guys?

In case you've so far been focusing on either your local team or your fantasy team, you might have missed something interesting: the Kansas City Royals are off to their best start since 2004, going 4-2, including a sweep of the Tigers.  Now, even though the internet is international, it's pretty clear so far that most of our readers are from the east coast (though we've had hits from Tennessee, Texas, and even England).  So I'm guessing that most of us are not that familiar with the boys in blue.  Consequently, here are five things everyone should know about this year's Royals.
  1. Starting 3B Alex Gordon finished his first MLB season in 2007 with a .725 OPS, but failed to get a single vote for Rookie of the Year.  He's hitting 7th in the lineup, and is so far hitting .269 with 2 HR and 6 RBI.

  2. The Royals will be returning to the powder blue uniforms beginning this Saturday 4/12.  ESPN's "Uni Watch" covered this one some time ago, calling it a half-hearted attempt at retro.

  3. Closer Joakim Soria has three saves, 7 SO, and has given up only two hits and walked no one.  The only closer with a better record based on WHIP and saves is Mariano Rivera.  Nevertheless, he's still only owned by 82% of the owners in CBS Sportsline Fantasy baseball.  Buster Olney covered this interesting comparison on ESPN Sunday (subscription required).

  4. New manager Trey Hillman led the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League to back-to-back pennants in 2006 and 2007.  Rob Dibble and Kevin Kennedy described him on XM Radio's "The Show" as someone who would "bring the best of Japanese Baseball" to America.

  5. The top blog covering the Royals, Royals Review, is written by Will MacDonald, a PhD candidate in English at the University of Iowa specializing in 18th and 19th century literature.
Their hot start may not continue -- but I'm willing to bet they finish this season with a better record than 63-93.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

All you can eat?

For those of us who aren't used to actually purchasing our food at the park, it may come as a surprise to find out some parks are creating "all you can eat" sections.  Choose this section at your peril... check out the video at Awful Announcing. They might as well put a scarlet "F" on your ticket when they send you to this section.

Rickrolling your fantasy team

We have a new fantasy expert here. Click this link to see what he has to say.  Click it now! Don't question it. Just do it!

Okay. Thanks to Mark, the GM of “Stalin’s Sluggers” for Rickrolling me, along with the rest of my league this morning, suggesting that Rick had some excellent advice for winning your fantasy baseball league.

Rick’s got a point. The first week of the season generally isn’t the time to give up on a player. Taking all the players who have recorded at least 20 plate appearances so far, I present to you the ten worst players in Major League Baseball so far in 2008, based on their on-base percentage and slugging:
Rodriguez, Ivan C DET 0.2 .300
Cantu, Jorge 1B FLA 0.2 0.2
LaRoche, Adam A. 1B PIT 0.1667 0.1364
Polanco, Placido 2B DET 0.087 0.087
Lowell, Mike 3B BOS .2692 0.2083
Peralta, Jhonny SS CLE 0.1429 0.1905
Tulowitzki, Troy SS COL 0.2174 0.1905
Pence, Hunter CF HOU 0.1852 0.2222
Soriano, Alfonso LF CHC 0.087 0.0455
Ortiz, David DH BOS .2593 0.2273

Honestly, is there anyone on this list you would drop now? With the exception of Cantu, every one of these players is owned in my league. No one’s moving. Go ahead and pull the trigger if you’re even considering downgrading Big Papi because at .0909 he’s a bit off his 3 year slugging percentage of .6169. Call me first, and I’ll make you an offer.

Playing with pitchers, you get a similar idea. As of the close of games yesterday, there were only 18 pitchers with two starts, and their IP ranged from a high of 16 (Jake Peavy) to a low of 9 (Odalis Perez). Using their ERA as a ham-fisted way of judging their performance so far (please, no flames about the relative merits of ERA vs. other metrics – finish reading first), you see that C.C. Sabathia had a miserable start to his season. Livan Hernandez has two wins and a 3.86 ERA. He also hasn’t walked anyone in his 14 innings.

Sabathia had a lousy start, no doubt. But if you take a look at their three-year averages, you see:

Sabathia, C.C. 1.19 0.2525 7.76 3.47
Hernandez, Livan 1.499 .293 4.94 4.54

Sabathia, despite his performance, still had a k/9 ratio in the top half of all pitchers with 2 starts (7.59), which is quite close to his 3 year average of 7.76. Hernandez, on the other hand, had the lowest Kd9 ratio of all pitchers with 2 starts – 1.93. I’m intrigued by his performance and I’m going to pay a bit more attention to him next week, but I’m not putting him in yet.

Granted, neither of these two guys is Jake Peavy. But it does demonstrate that the first week of the season doesn’t show you too much about what the season’s going to be like. As for Peavy himself, his k/9 ratio so far of 6.75 is well off his usual average of 9.58. Call me if you want to let him go.

P.S.  By the way, for you Mets fans (or enemies) out there... there are several campaigns going to get the Mets to play his song every 7th inning stretch this season.  Have fun.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Playing through the pain

The start of every baseball season brings new hope, nostalgia, and a plethora of injury reports. This season's no different; we're not even through the first week and we've already seen several key players go down for various injuries. Pedro Martinez (no surprise there) has a problem with his hamstring. Gary Sheffield has a torn tendon in his right ring finger; though he will remain off the DL, he'll be in a splint for about six weeks. Braves' pitcher Mike Hampton managed to mess up his left pectoral muscle while warming up.  And, before he even reported to spring training, perennial disabled-list resident A.J. Burnett somehow managed to catch his right index finger in a car door and tear his nail.  In his defense, this particular can be a real problem for a pitcher, as it cases problems gripping the ball.  He started throwing his curve in March, but we'll have to wait and see whether or not this will cause problems.  

It's tempting to use the way players deal with injuries as a quick way of judging their commitment to the team. The willingness of players to “play through the pain" is easily seen as a signifier of an athlete’s moral fiber, commitment to the concept of team before self, and, for male athletes, a symbol of “manliness.” In the 1990s movie The Program James Caan as a college football coach, puts it bluntly to a young player who has just been tackled and is now lying on the ground:

Coach: (standing over player) Are you hurt or injured?
Player: (gasping)What’s the difference?
Coach: Well, if you’re hurt, you can play. If you’re injured, you can’t.
Player: I guess I’m hurt.
Coach: Okay. Then get up.

Certainly The Program is filled with every possible sports cliché that could be crammed into 112 minutes of film. But last year we heard almost the exact same thing from Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi, who said of A.J. Burnett in a radio interview that at some point Burnett would have to “just maybe pitch through some pain or realize the difference between being hurt and really being hurt.” Granted at the time Riccardi was annoyed and frustrated at yet another DL-stint for Burnett. But the language is telling. Suck it up and deal with the pain.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, was well known for refusing to tolerate complaining or even treatment of his players’ “little hurts.” Lombardi himself, however, didn’t follow his own advice. In his book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss pointed out that Lombardi would always see his trainers for things like hangnails, upset stomach, or headaches – precisely what he would not tolerate in his players. Maraniss argues that a “characteristic of leaders” is an effort to “confront their own weaknesses indirectly, by working to eliminate them in others” (221). Lombardi’s Packers, of course, would go on to win three straight NFL championships as well as the first two Super Bowls, so perhaps he had something there.

Maraniss’ point about “confronting…weaknesses indirectly” clearly applies to fans as well. As sports fans, we project onto athletes what we want to see in ourselves. We know that we’re expected to stay in shape and deal with both the mental and physical “little hurts” of life. This might help to explain how fans can dial a talk-radio show and savage a player who shows up to spring training a few pounds overweight, and then dial the pizza joint for a double-sausage and pepperoni pie. We can simultaneously be addicted as a nation to caffeine and over-the-counter painkillers, and get angry at the athlete who sets a "bad example" through his or her use of higher-powered medications.  Athletes provide a convenient outlet for expressing our frustration at our own failure to measure up to standards that are, for most of us, impossible to achieve.

Athletes themselves have trouble meeting our unrealistic expectations.  When Brett Favre gets his bust in Canton, I'm pretty sure they'll mention something about his starting every game for sixteen years.  I'm not sure they'll remind us that in 1996 he spent 46 days in rehab to beat an addiction to Vicodin that developed at least in part out of his desire to keep playing. Regardless of how the steroid controversy plays out, I doubt we'll be reminded that Roger Clemens admitted to “eating Vioxx like it was Skittles.” "Playing through the pain," for some athletes, requires a level of pharmaceutical assistance that muddies the godlike image baseball projects and we expect.

I certainly can't countenance abuse of either prescription drugs or performance-enhancing drugs, whatever those may be.  But I also can't ignore my own complicity in the culture of expectations surrounding professional athletes.  Part of my brain, the part I don't like to listen to very often, expects that hurting player to suck it up, take the pills, and get their butt on the field.  Plus, I'm up to my neck in those very habits of managing "little hurts" that plague America.  If I have a headache, I take aspirin. In my world coffee is a "performance-enhancing drug."  And I've been known, after work, to put my feet up and have a beer or two.  None of these things on their own constitute a huge issue, but added up they tell me I have to temper my criticism of the professional athlete who steps out on the field in order, essentially, to entertain me.

So I try neither to be too impressed by Sheffield’s willingness to play through the pain of his finger, nor too mad at yet another suspect injury in A.J. Burnett’s relatively short career. The Boys of Summer get injured both through their athletic endeavors and through idiotic accidents like slamming their finger in a car door. So do we. Here's hoping they can make it through the season without too much pain and through their eventual retirements without too many problems.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008