Recommended Prospects, Recommended Reading (Updated)

Funny that with all the big names moving before the deadline, the number of primo prospects was actually pretty low. I was particularly unimpressed with what the Indians got for Cliff Lee (and Ben Francisco) although I am only about ten percent insufficiently skeptical to address the Lee deal as I did the McLouth one – that the trading team was selling a guy, if not at peak value, then at the last moment he would be seriously overvalued, and were doing well to get anything hopeful back.

Having said that, if you still consider Justin Masterson a prospect and not a full-fledged major leaguer, he was clearly the most gifted of all the players given up for “the names.” A year from now, when Brad Penny and John Smoltz and who knows who else are Red Sox memories, Boston would not have parted with him, and not just because of his pitching gifts. The Sox are astounded by his quiet leadership, an almost unheard-of quality for a pitcher. He doesn’t rant, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t slap his glove against his thigh, and nothing bleeds from his sock. He just inspires his teammates to feel more secure about their talents and accomplishments, and their prospects for winning the game. Terry Francona will miss him, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of his life.
And ironically, given how they are howling in Pittsburgh over the exiling of McLouth, then Jack Wilson, then Freddie Sanchez, the head-and-shoulders pick for the top pure-prospect traded against the deadline was the guy the Bucs got for Sanchez, pitcher Tim Alderson. Harkening back to the Johan Santana/Yankees post here, the rule of thumb is that half of all pitching prospects fail. That would ordinarily discourage the ever-discouraged Pirate faithful. However, Alderson and Charlie Morton are both front-of-rotation, ace-of-staff prospects. If one makes it and the other turns merely into a righty Jarrod Washburn, they’ve done awfully well – and this assumes that very little else from the McLouth or Wilson trades bears great fruit, which is not necessarily a correct assumption.
One more deadline note. The amazement at the Adam LaRoche/Casey Kotchman trade itself amazes me. The Red Sox made a similar acquisition in 2004, a glove-first, low-power starting first baseman, about whom everyone said “where they gonna play him?” His name was Doug Mientkiewicz and the point was, his window as a starting player was pretty much over, as is Kotchman’s. He will never hit enough. So you keep the defensive whiz as your back-up and pay for it by spending the middling slugger with the middling glove. The only complication this time is that the Boston backup on those days when Victor Martinez is playing first, is a fellow named Youkilis, and he’s no slouch.

The Rangers sent Frank Francisco out on rehab to AAA. To Frisco of the Texas League. Making him Frank Francisco of Frisco.
Nearly as good as Johnny Podres of the Padres, Jim York of New York, or Ted Cox of the Red Sox.

Three books to endorse with high praise and the caveat that I’m mentioned in one, and two of them are written by friends. I write as a guy who was once the country’s only nationally-published reviewer of baseball books (who once gave the second edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia a panning for some awful typos) so finding three I like at one time is quite a feat.
First there’s Marty Appel’s Munson: The Life And Death Of A Yankee Captain. When a book reveals details of a man’s life to his own family, it’s a pretty good book. I am duly impressed both with the research effort and the clarity of Marty’s work, and the attempt to recreate that sad day 30 years ago tomorrow when Munson’s death shocked baseball. It is not happy reading, but it is worthwhile reading.
I think Ron Darling may have written (let’s broaden it out to all of them who didn’t go to Yale; even co-written) the best book by a pitcher since Kirby Higbe’s HIgh And Inside. Ron’s is called The Complete Game and it takes a novel approach: a pitch-by-pitch, thought-by-thought recitation of key innings of key games, nearly all of them his own, throughout his long span in college and major league ball. Apart from taking you inside an entire team’s thinking as the pitches succeed each other, Ronnie also underscores what is to me the most underrated skill among elite athletes: Memory. Nearly all of the microscopic detail (what he was thinking between the third and fourth pitches, to the third hitter, in the fifth inning, of his thirteenth start, etc) was pulled from his recall and simply verified in the record books. He rolls the details out the way Gordie Howe once rolled out each shot he took in a Detroit Red Wings-New York Rangers game, 27 years after he played it. A great read, and very well written.
Almost not at all written is the third suggestion: Chris Epting’s The Early Polo Grounds. This is 181 pre-1925 photos taken at the legendary home of The New York Giants and it borders on time travel, even if the captions aren’t always complete (a date of an October, 1910, photo is disputed by the author because the Giants didn’t play in that year’s World Series; he seems not to have known that in those days the Giants and Yankees regularly played post-season series for the “Championship of New York”). Having just spent hours in the photo vaults of Cooperstown looking at all the photos of the fabled ballpark, I can say that this collection rivals that part of the Hall’s from the 20th Century – plus, they won’t arrest you if you try to take it home.


  1. historymike

    I hope that Appel’s book also serves the purpose of detailing the “real” Munson: a proud man, a great player, a devoted family man, but also a troglodyte in some ways. I’ve noticed a tendency to make him a nicer guy than he actually was. Ideally, it’s a warts-and-all portrait.

    But, Keith, you open yourself up to an argument. Granting Kirby Higbe’s wonderful book–Higbe was a great pitcher and probably a greater character–some would point to Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as a more important book and possibly a greater book. Any thoughts?


    And it’s too late to make lame jokes about watching Blake DeWitt play the Cards on the shores of Lake DeWitt in St. Louis.


    The Pirates fans who actually understand what the front office is doing–in that they are only trading players who wouldn’t have been more than bit players on the next contending team anyway–applaud the trades, especially the Sanchez-for-Alderson one. (What was Sabean thinking?) Of course, most of us probably also subscribe to Baseball Prospectus or similar publication, so we’re bound to have a bit of a different take on things than the average “Can’t we just break the losing streak?” fan. And we remember the Tony Pena for Lavalliere, Van Slyke, and Dunne trade and know that sometimes you have to trade your best player to get the next division champ in return.

    Of course, we also understand that we may have gotten a lot of nothing out of those trades, too. Basically all of the players have question marks surrounding them, reasons that the other team was willing to give them up. Are Clement’s knees so bad that he won’t be able to play the field anymore? Can Milledge finally leave his attitude behind and play some ball?

  4. bmfc1

    You should read “Faith & Fear In Flushing.” It’s by one of the writers at the great Mets blog of the same name and it captures the heart of being a true fan.


    Indeed, it’s Francisco of Frisco, but that’s the Rangers AA affiliate. AAA is in Oklahoma City.

  6. tribegal

    … but it’s never too late to go on a tangent and make lame jokes about former MLB players (& brothers) Herb and Chan Perry, who both work in the family bovine concern in northern Florida … the Perry Dairy. (I can only hold out hope that someday Braves pitcher John Halama will start a llama ranch.)

    The high praise for Justin Masterson is comforting; it wasn’t a good couple of days for Indians fans. Saturday night was (naturally) Victor Martinez bobblehead night at Progressive Field, and then to read Keith’s assessment of the Cliff Lee/Ben Francisco deal … oy, while you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?

    Ideally, I hope that Masterson’s capacity for inspiring hope in others will also work on a civic level. In almost every way — not just sports — Cleveland is a city in desperate need of hope and confidence.


    Oh, great. I’ve spent the past two weeks away from the computer, clearing through a fraction of my book collection, culling, cataloging, making decisions to get rid of quite a few baseball titles, and now three recommendations! I’ve got to have the Polo Grounds title for my Giants collection. *shakes fist at Keith*

    My goodness, I missed the Munson anniversary. My dad & I were on a summer road trip; I was twelve, and we were in a little burg in Eastern Oregon when the news came on TV. I’d cheered like hell for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the ’77 Series and had gotten to “know” Munson then. It was devastating news to me, and years later when the newspaper clipping of his death showed up in the final shot of Bull Durham, I wept. The power of baseball…

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