Results tagged ‘ CC Sabathia ’

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

Bryce Harper: “I Want To Kick The Crap Out Of You”

IMG_3042.jpg“Gonna remember that first RBI for a long time?,” a reporter asked Bryce Harper.

“‘Scuse me?” Harper deadpanned up from his seat in front of a locker in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The reporter tried again: “Are you going to remember that first RBI?”

“Did I get an RBI?” Harper’s act had reached its end and he smiled broadly. “Just kidding! Yeah.”

It had come in the 8th inning of a sloppy 10-8 Washington victory over the Yankees, off the prototypical AAA pitcher, Romulo Sanchez. But the single to right made the loudest sound of any ball connecting with any bat all day, and it was probably not coincidental that rightfielder Colin Curtis then bobbled it.

It’s not as if they’re going to put a plaque up to indicate it happened, although it was noteworthy that when Harper went into the game in the bottom of the 5th, as he jogged out to right, the other team’s crowd applauded loudly, as they did for his two plate appearances, as they did when he first emerged on the on-deck circle.

The first ribby also inspired remarkable perspective on comparative quickness. We will each have our own perspective on October 16, 1992. It was the day of the book party for Madonna’s $50 book of naked pictures of herself. The next day, Tom Glavine would four-hit Toronto to open the World Series. It was three weeks until Bill Clinton’s first presidential election. I had already been working at ESPN for ten months, Derek Jeter had already played 58 games in the minor leagues, and one of Harper’s current Washington teammates, Matt Stairs, had already played 13 games in the major leagues.

IMG_3038.jpgHarper said, with full sincerity: “It takes awhile.”

He was referring, of course, to the “30 to 40 at bats to get yourself ready,” during spring training – and not the seemingly lightning route that has put him in a major league camp at the age of 18 years and not even five months.

That route seems to challenge the expectation that Harper will have seen three Spring Trainings before he appears in a big league game that counts. It is noted that at this time in 2013 he will still be a young 20 year-old and that’s quick enough. Except the ball explodes off his bat and his adjustment to the outfield has already been such that he was as proud of starting a relay that nailed the Yankees’ Austin Romine at third base as he was of the RBI hit (shown to the left in what you’d say is a crappy photo, until you realize it was taken from the distant press box with an unaided iPhone).

Many newly-official men have looked like star big leaguers at 18. To go back to placing Harper’s birth in perspective, the ill-fated Yankee phenom Brien Taylor had already struck out 187 guys in his first 161 innings of pro pitching the day Harper was born. But it is hard to believe the Nats would arbitrarily slow down his pace through the minors to stick to an artificial deadline of 2013, because it isn’t just Harper’s physical game that’s so impressive.

His attitude is also already pretty well developed. Harper was asked by the small crowd of reporters around his cubicle what he thought of playing in a packed stadium festooned with Yankee self-promotion, and he admitted it was “awesome” to have shared a field with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and all the rest. He said “awesome” twice and added Nick Swisher to the pantheon of impressiveness, which should make Swisher say funny things later on.

But then Harper was asked if he’d said hello to any of these Yankees (even Swisher, who was almost 12 when Harper was born). “No. I don’t really care to say hi to anybody over there. I stick over here.” I wondered if that was humility or competitiveness. “You try to beat ‘em. That’s what I am. If we’re off the field? Hey, I’ll go and say hello. You can be my best friend off the field and I’ll hate you on the baseball field. That’s how I am…on the field, I want to kick the crap out of you.” (By the way, here’s Dave Sheinin’s version of this in The Washington Post, including the very relevant detail that Harper grew up around Las Vegas as a Yankee fan).

One game, one portentous spring training, one killer instinct, and one exhibition game RBI do not mean you should step directly into the majors at 18. But they do tend to support the idea that suggesting it is theoretically possible at 19 is not at all crazy.

A LITTLE PHOTO TOUR OF (MY) SPRING TRAINING OPENER:
Take a nice deep breath:

IMG_3005.jpg 
An almost-forgotten pre-game ritual: The visiting team taking infield (and outfield) practice. The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. “But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!'” It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team taking infield on the road, which may have gone out with Earl Weaver:
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Just follow the big white line to spring:
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And best of all, the scorebook comes out of hibernation:
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Ask Not For Whom The BP Tolls, It Tolls For Thee (Revised)

The good BP that is – Baseball Prospectus - the annual forecasting bible aptly blurbed on the back page: “If you’re a baseball fan and you don’t know what BP is, you’re working in a mine without one of those helmets with the light on it” (yes, I’m egotistically quoting my egotistical self).

sc0009881d.jpgIt’s basically 573 pages of the sports almanac Biff Tannen finds in “Back To The Future II” so the material to mine is practically endless, and you will find it as useful on September 30th as you will today. But the aficionado often goes first to find the collapses that time, tide, and the theories of statistical reduction insist will afflict players you are counting on for your team, real-life or fantasy.

In short: BP does not like Josh Hamilton’s chances this year. In the list of the biggest falloffs in WARP (“Wins Above Replacement Player” – basically a measurement of how much
better or worse a player is than the absolute average Schmoe you could
stick out there at his position), it sees Hamilton dropping from 6.9 last year to 2.7 this. Mind you, this does not envision Hamilton winding up as a player-coach at Round Rock; 2.7 still makes him the fifth most all-around useful leftfielder in the majors. The computers still suggest he’ll drop from 32-100-.359/.410/.633 to 22-77-.294/.356/.509.

While similar plummets are predicted for Aubrey Huff, Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford, and Jose Bautista (try 25 homers, because “if teams are smart, it could be May before he sees an inside fastball”), the most intriguing of them belongs to Austin Jackson of Detroit. As BP’s write-up notes, Jackson led all of baseball with a .393 BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play – in other words, what you hit when you actually hit it). Jackson struck out 170 times last year and had a mediocre on-base percentage of .344, and unless those numbers alter positively and profoundly, if his “BABIP” just drops back from Ted Williamsy to kinda great, they see his WARP collapsing from 3.6 to 0.2.

The BP formulae always tend to under-promise for pitchers. Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, and CC Sabathia are the only guys forecast to win as many as 15 games this year, and that’s obviously an absurdly conservative prediction. Nevertheless it is chilling to see the computer spit out the following seasons for some of the game’s “name” twirlers:

Chris Carpenter: 9-5, 94 SO, 3.21 ERA
Phil Hughes: 8-6, 109 SO, 3.74 ERA
Zack Greinke: 11-7, 166 SO, 3.52 ERA
David Price: 12-8, 147 SO, 3.46 ERA
Tim Lincecum: 12-6, 190 SO, 2.74 ERA

It also doesn’t look so hot for some of the game’s closers, listed by predicted saves: Jose Valverde, 20; Carlos Marmol, 17; David Aardsma, 17; Brandon Lyon, 15; Brad Lidge, 15.

Last year’s biggest predicted collapse was Derek Jeter, and in fact the BP boys and girls turned out to have been optimistic. This year, the accompanying biography makes me look like Jeter’s most hopeful fan:

“Jeter pushed for a contract of four years and up, which suggests at least one of the following: (A) while Jeter may be the closest thing the modern Yankees have to Joe DiMaggio, he lacks DiMaggio’s sense of dignity; (B) never mind winning, it’s money that matters; (C) the emperor has no clothes but doesn’t know; (D) the emperor has no clothes but doesn’t care.”

Ouch.

Still, the PECOTA equations don’t see Jeter getting appreciably worse than last year (9-66-.281-.348-.377 compared to 2010’s 10-67-.270/.340/,370) but does see the once mighty warrior’s WARP sinking to 1.0. For contrast, Jeter’s great 2009 season had a WARP of 4.2, the top two shortstop numbers for 2011 belong to Hanley Ramirez at 4.8 and Tulowitzki at 4.7, and J.J. Hardy is a 1.9.

Having pilfered so much of their hard work, I feel it’s imperative to throw out some teasers to get you to buy this essential tome. Granted, at the BP website, the computers refine and refine these numbers even as the season progresses, but right now they somehow see Ryan Rohlinger absolutely tearing up the pea patch for the Giants this year, adore Javy Vazquez in Florida and Lance Berkman in St. Louis, and see potential breakout years for Sam LeCure, Brad Emaus, and Robinson Chirinos that even those players probably don’t.

And I’ll confess right now I had no idea who Robinson Chirinos was. Another reason to secure Baseball Prospectus 2011. However much you think you know about baseball, they know more than you do.

Albert Pujols: Sign The Contract (Updated)

UPDATE:
Ken Rosenthal of MLB Net/Fox Sports now tweets that the Cardinals’ offer referenced below may average closer to $21 million, not $25 million a year, but hints the offer could be for ten years rather than eight. This makes that mountain of Do-What-Makes-You-Happy a little steeper of a climb. On the other hand, Albert Pujols is in pretty good shape.
I must confess to being amazed to have just heard a panel discussion among three of my favorite people in baseball – Jerry Manuel, Dan Plesac, and Harold Reynolds – in which they insisted Pujols was absolutely right and the Cardinals were absolutely wrong, and Pujols just could not keep his head up were he to have only the tenth highest salary in baseball. Jerry Manuel actually said other players might taunt Pujols by saying “you only got how much, Albert?”
If you cannot turn around and say “I got 21 million dollars, how much did you get?” you’d have to have the thin skin of a grape.

Seriously? Who’s going to taunt him? Joe Mauer? A-Rod?

ORIGINAL POST:
The first time the Major League Baseball Players Association went out on strike during the regular season, I was a gung-ho Yankees fan of 13, whose father had just stunned him with the announcement that there would be no vacation that year because he had spent the money on season tickets at Yankee Stadium.
The strike postponed the kind of triumph only a 13-year old can fully savor with breath-shortening joy: Walking in to The Stadium not as just a fan, but as one of the regulars. And I still supported that players’ strike, on the easy-to-digest premise that if my father had the right to change jobs when his contract was up, why shouldn’t Mel Stottlemyre? 
With rare exceptions, like its stance on testing for performance-enhancing drugs (in particular the 2002 strike-averting agreement), I have had few major disagreements with the union’s positions, even as I literally paid for my support with increased ticket prices. There are two simple truths at play here: a) this is America, and provided you do not break the law you are entitled to earn as much money as you conceivably can; and b) the idea that “player salaries alone caused ticket prices to go up” is nonsensical: it assumes that if salaries were still what they had been in 1972, the owners would never have raised prices, even though it has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that fans at every level have willingly paid those prices, and have in fact bought more and more tickets, the more the prices have gone out. Average salaries were stagnant for half a century, and ticket prices still went up.
This long preamble is presented because I’m going to do something I have rarely done. I am going to suggest that a superstar player of extraordinary ability and consistency is completely in the wrong in his contract negotiations, and needs to make a decision based on common sense, and not one based on pressure to feed his agents, and not one designed to keep feeding a salary growth curve that is acceptable to the Players Association, and especially not one based on 21st Century America’s assumption that getting more money out of it is an acceptable explanation for any human conduct.
That player is, of course, Albert Pujols.
We do not have exact numbers here. We know that with today’s artificial deadline imposed, Pujols insists he will not negotiate with the Cardinals until the off-season and that he has set himself on a path towards free agency next winter. It is widely reported Pujols is seeking a ten-year deal worth an average of $30 million a year, and it is now reported he has been offered an eight-year deal worth an average of more than $25 million a year.
He should take it.
Period.
There is, in fact, a point past which you and your family and your descendants, and your agents and, if you wish, everybody in your neighborhood and your home town, can be rich forever unless they screw it up. There is, in fact, actually a point past which your employer can no longer make even $1.98 in profit by paying you $200,000,000, and will have to let you go elsewhere. And there is, in fact, actually a point in which going somewhere else jeopardizes everything you’ve done in your career, and indefensibly hurts the employers and fans who have helped you achieve this salary range, and – most importantly – risks your happiness and satisfaction in the career you feel privileged to have.
I don’t know where you think that point is, where the numbers blur and the low end of the deal and the high end of the deal are at such exalted levels that the difference they make becomes merely theoretical. I once changed jobs and saw my income jump to $42,000. Trust me: in context, it was all the money in the world. For others the figure might be $100,000. Or a million. Or ten. 
It is one thing to be paid at that figure and find your employers embittered at you, or somehow abusing you, or somehow undermining you, or somehow denying you whatever achievement you desire (in baseball, read “another World Series”). Then, one departs, whether the salary offer is $30,000,000 a year or $30,000. That’s a case of looking for friendlier pastures rather than merely financially greener ones.
But if $25,000,000 a year from people with whom you are happy seems like some kind of failure or risk or insult to you – if you are willing to trade away a place you like, and a team you like, and fans you like, and their loyalty and love that will only increase if you stay – you have divorced yourself from reality.
I am sure some people who have left good environments for more money have made the right choice. I would’ve thought CC Sabathia would have said so, and then suddenly he’s talking about taking the opportunity to opt-out of the rest of the deal he hesitatingly signed with the Yankees two winters ago. Sometimes the money is so much more that you have to go even if you are not going to be as happy. But anecdotally, every time I’ve changed jobs and money was even just the second most significant factor, it has led to unhappiness. 
If I asked you tomorrow to take a 20% pay cut but guaranteed that you would continue to be as happy with your job as you are now, and the money would cover you and your family practically forever, and that your action would make you more popular at work than you are now, you might very well say yes. You might very well say yes even if your pay is $30,000 and you only like the job a little bit. Logic would suggest that as the actual salary figure increases towards the $25,000,000-to-$30,000,000 range, it would be easier to bite the bullet on the 20% and invest it in happiness and satisfaction.
Reality suggests it’s quite the opposite. And we can debate for days how much of that is the result of the madness of modern society, or the inherent insecurity of mankind, or just greed. But it’s true nonetheless. And it will take an exceptional human being to rise above the pattern and stake a course for himself and say “You think I’m going to leave this? For 20 percent? Are you nuts? Just because you can make more money elsewhere doesn’t mean you should, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean you have to.”
I always had the impression Albert Pujols was an exceptional human being.
We’ll see.
AS A POSTSCRIPT:
Are the Cardinals a major market team?
MLB has never issued any guidance as to what it considers big or small.
Here is one I cobbled together for myself, based on the early information from the 2010 Census and other sources. The numbers represent “Metropolitan Areas” and that’s open to wild manipulation, but these are pretty conservative (Boston’s number had to be inflated to include Providence, 1.6 million, and Hartford, 1.2 million)
01 New York               19,171,091
02 New York               19,171,091
03 Los Angeles           12,981,199
04 Los Angeles           12,981,199
05 Chicago                   9,645,498
06 Chicago                   9,645,498
07 Boston                    7,432,655
08 Texas (D/FtW)         6,594,145
09 Houston                  6,008,273
10 Philadelphia             5,996,008
11 Florida (Miami)         5,592,350
12 Washington             5,574,546
13 Toronto                   5,623,450
14 Atlanta                    5,564,840
15 Arizona (Phx)          4,480,865
16 Detroit                    4,383,093
17 SF-Oakland            4,375,470
18 SF-Oakland            4,375,470
19 Seattle                   3,459,059
20 Minnesota              3,302,016
21 San Diego              3,088,312
22 St.Louis                  2,839,292
23 Tampa Bay             2,764,537
24 Baltimore                2,704,060
25 Colorado                 2,604,006
26 Pittsburgh               2,354,523
27 Cincinnati               2,185,149
28 Cleveland               2,091,286
29 Kansas City            2,067,585
30 Milwaukee              1,559,667
By almost any measure here – top 50% versus bottom 50%, sheer numbers, St. Louis is a small market. You will notice Houston is clearly not, even though for years it has pretended to be. Data involving cities not on this list is by itself fascinating. The two Texas markets have grown by more than a quarter since 2000, and neither of them includes the 2,000,000 people in and around San Antonio, and another 1.7 million around Austin and Round Rock. The San Antonio, Sacramento, and Orlando “markets” are now all just about the size of Cleveland. Portland would fit right between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. 
And if you could perfectly place a franchise somewhere in Virginia where people in Richmond and people in Newport News could all think of it as theirs, it would have a market to draw from of 2,912,685 – big enough that in theory the Cardinals could think about moving there.

   

The Josh Hamilton-Bengie Molina Series

They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.

Simply put, for whatever degree of offensive incompetence the Phillies didn’t create themselves, Lopez did it for them. He pitched in all six games and faced Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each time. And they were 1-for-12 off him, completely mesmerized by his left-handed sidearming.
Josh Hamilton faced him this year, went 0-for-1. He faced him three times in 2008, went 1-for-3 with a double.
Past performance, as they say, is not a guarantee of future results, but even if Lopez continues his hot streak (and remember his ERA for the Red Sox in ’09 was 9.46), Hamilton just isn’t as easily dominated by lefthanders. If his ALCS home run details don’t tell you that (Game One: Sabathia; Game Three: Pettitte; Game Four: Logan — all LHP, plus a fourth game off Sergio Mitre in garbage time), just check out his 2010 splits:
                                    AB    HR     RBI     AVG    SLG
At Home Vs LHP           82       5       13     .305     .524
On Road Vs LHP           84       3       10     .238     .393
Overall Vs RHP           352      24      77      .401     .716
That last one is thrown in there for the edification of Brian Wilson. Josh Hamilton hit .401 against right-handed pitching this year.
This underscores the Giants’ obvious problem: Hamilton is the only essential lefthanded bat in the Texas line-up. These are not the Phillies. The bats who surround him, particularly Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero, are all righties. The other lefties in the Texas lineup are fungible.
In short, unlike the Phillies, the Rangers are not going to whiff themselves out of big innings by virtue of their power being suffocated by a same-side sidearmer. 
The other salient issue of this Series is Bengie Molina. We are in new territory here. Never before did the catcher for one of the World Series teams open the season catching for the other World Series team. Pressed about this in interviews, Molina has been taciturn, almost blank, insisting he doesn’t think it’s much of an advantage. I think Benjie wants us to believe that, but if for no other reason than the Giants have to completely rejigger the pitch signals and any lingering dugout-to-coach or coach-to-hitter signals, he will inconvenience San Francisco mightily.
For my money, the kind of scouting Molina can offer on San Francisco pitching is the kind of information for which teams scramble at this time of year. The Yankees’ National League scouting under the supervision of Stick Michael was so startlingly good that during the ’99 Classic it seemed as if few Yankee fielders had to step more than a foot or two to field or grab a ball, so well did the Yankees know what and where the Braves would hit it. My guess is Molina can provide that – only in real time, on the field – for all of the Giants’ pitchers (and imagine during his own at bats, his familiarity with their pitch qualities, selections and patterns).
The most recent vague comparison to this unique situation would probably be Ted Simmons, who moved from the 1980 Cardinals to the 1981 Brewers, then wound up facing his old team in the ’82 Series. Simmons caught Game One and the Brewers pounded his old St. Louis battery-mate Bob Forsch 10-0 (with Simba hitting a homer). They faced Forsch again in Game Five and beat him up for six runs in five-and-two-thirds. In the other starts they lost to John Stuper (a 1982 rookie Simmons had never caught) and Joaquin Andujar (who joined St. Louis half a year after Simmons was traded). In the other Milwaukee victory, the Brewers were largely stymied by Dave LaPoint (one earned run). He had gone from Milwaukee to St. Louis in the Simmons trade.
For these two reasons alone (we haven’t even mentioned Cliff Lee) I like the Rangers and fast: five or six games.
Just for the record, Molina will join very, very select company when he appears against the Giants in Game One. Only Lonnie Smith, who started 1985 with the Cardinals and then played against them for the Royals in the Classic, has previously pulled off the both-teams stunt. The year before, reliever Sid Monge went from the Padres to the Tigers but did not pitch in the post-season for Detroit. Of all the MLB-issued media guides to all the World Series I’ve covered, the one I cannot find is 1984, so I can’t check my memory that Monge was indeed eligible but just wasn’t used.
If not, he falls into a slightly larger club: playing for both Series teams in one year, but not being eligible for the Classic. Jack Kramer (1951 Giants and Yankees), Johnny Schmitz (1952 Dodgers and Yankees), Jim Bruske (1998 Padres and Yankees), and Chris Ray (2010 Rangers and Giants) are on that list, and if you want to stretch it, so is catcher Eddie Tucker of the 1995 Indians, who wound up the property of the Braves the same year but never playing for them.
So there.

By The Beard Of Hercules; New 113-Year Old Baseball Cards

The most telling observations off Twitter yesterday: The colored-in beard sticking out from Brian Wilson of the Giants makes him look either like Bluto from Popeye or Bill Murray playing Hercules (“That boulder is too large. I could lift a smaller one”) on Saturday Night Live.


Absolutely fitting news from college football. Brian Jordan did color on a telecast of the Memphis-Southern Mississippi game yesterday. He spent the baseball season doing color on the telecasts of the AAA Gwinnett Braves, and a handful of broadcasts for the big league club. The former two-sport player is now a two-sport announcer.

My review of Jane Leavy‘s marvelous Mickey Mantle biography is now online at the Sunday New York Times Book Review. However, if you go to the editors’ notes in the front you will read a story about me, but apparently featuring an illustration meant to look like British Foreign Secretary William Hague if he had glasses and a little hair.
Impressive, no, that in three games of League Championship play we have already seen CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, and Roy Halladay, and none of them have been sharp enough to write home to Mother about. Doesn’t exactly set the bar high for Cliff Lee tomorrow night in New York.
Finally, if you want to try to understand some of the joy of antique baseball cards, consider late breaking news from the first comprehensive set ever issued, the 1887-1890 sets put out by Old Judge Cigarettes. 512 players were shown, in well over 2000 different poses (New York Giants outfielder Mike Dorgan had 17 different), with an almost incalculable number of caption and team variations, in transcendent photographs in which baseballs were often hung by string from the ceiling of the photographer’s studio.
And two new variations were discovered yesterday. 

OldJudgeOrrA.jpg

One of the most-collected parts of the series is a subset of 16 players from the original New York Mets of the then-major league American Association. The cards were put out early in 1887, when the Mets played on Staten Island, more or less exactly where the current ballpark for the Yankees’ affiliate now stands. The fellow who owned the then-private Staten Island Ferry bought the club and put up a ballpark next to his Wild West show and outdoor theater in hopes of drumming up business to Staten Island. It didn’t work and the Mets wound up moving to Kansas City in 1888.
The players are all inexplicably shown wearing the same kind (maybe even just the same one) spotted cravat tie and are thus known as “Spotted Ties.” The card shown here is of Mets’ first baseman Dave Orr, one of the few sluggers of the time and a genuine Hall of Fame candidate despite a career cut short by a stroke after just eight seasons. 
At left is the Orr card depicted in the masterful The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company compiled by Joe Gonsowski, Richard Masson, and my friend Jay Miller, which shows every known pose of every known player (a vendor is referenced here at Rob Lifson’s blog). For all everybody knew, this was the  
OldJudgeOrrB.jpg
way all Dave Orr Spotted Ties looked. 
Then Jay emailed me yesterday to say that a minor variation had been noticed in the card of Mets’ catcher Charlie Reipschlager (identified on the card and in the box scores of the day as “Ripslager”). It was simply how the name “Ripslager” was lettered across his uniform. It was clear that it had been re-done for some reason, possibly owing to the mechanical process by which the original photographs of the players were re-photographed using the big box cameras of the day, to creete one large photograph from which the sheets of cards were printed.
in any event, Jay suggested I should check the Ripslager card in my collection (and the other “Spotted Ties”) for the variation. I didn’t have the two different versions of the catcher, but lo and behold, there are at least two different versions of Orr. This second card on the left shows a larger, bolder identification, the letters nearly touching the tie, and far more spread out. 
The change may be difficult to see, so a picture of the two cards side-by-side is shown below. Intuition suggests there may be similar lettering variations on all of the Spotted Ties. It’s impossible to say if one kind is more valuable than the others (the most expensive Spotted Tie depicts Steve Behel, an early Jewish player). But the variations should not have come as a surprise. An entirel
y new pose of Jim Tyng (inventor of the catcher’s mask) was discovered just last year, not long after we had all realized that the “only” card of Baltimore manager Billy Barnie was actually two different photos, taken within seconds of each other, and showed only a slight change in where his gaze was directed, and a previously unknown player, Whitey Gibson, was only unearthed in 1980. And thus the charm of collecting: we’re still getting new cards, 113 years after Goodwin & Co. first made them.
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Victims Help Vampires Prevail

After that exhibition of lunkheaded managing by Ron Washington in the top of the 8th of Game One of the ALCS, I believe anyone who predicted a Rangers’ triumph over the Yankees should be given a mulligan.

I say this selfishly, of course.
But, seriously:
1. You used four relievers in the eighth inning and none of them are your flame-throwing closer Neftali Feliz?
2. Having already used two of the four lefties in your bullpen, the 5-0 and 5-1 leads now just memories, southpaw Clay Rapada on the mound with lefty-killer Marcus Thames coming to the plate, you pull Rapada and replace him with another lefty in Derek Holland? Apart from everything else you are now down to one lefthander left in your pen, rookie Michael Kirkman. And of course, oopsie, lefty-killer Thames kills lefty Holland with the game-winning hit.
3. Harold Reynolds made a great point on MLB Network. Up 5-1, with Gardner on and C.J. Wilson tiring, you have Michael Young playing in close at third against Derek Jeter? Fearing he’s going to bunt? When all he still does well is pull lefties? Don’t you want Jeter to bunt? You need six outs and you can give three runs. Idiocy.
4. This is the weakest point but it still needs to be raised. Why did Washington let Wilson start the 8th? I know the set-up men are not lights out, but once again, as with Ron Gardenhire in Game One of the ALDS, you have Sabathia beaten. If you don’t think Darren O’Day (tied for 7th in the AL in Holds) and Oliver and all the rest are good enough to get you three outs, revert back to Question #1.

The Yankees are, as noted here during the Twins series, Vampires. It is not necessary for the opposing manager to walk his virgins across the field and offer up their necks to them on a platter.

Vampires Eliminate Twins

It is 6-1 Yankees, one out in the top of the eighth, the bases are loaded and Kerry Wood has just left the mound to deafening silence. 

The Twins are 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position to this point, and Delmon Young with the eighth most RBI in the game this year on deck. 
Lefty specialist Boone Logan is in, and he’s tough, but then again he has yet to spend a full season in the major leagues.
And you are Jason Kubel.
What is the one thing you do not want to do in this last-chance situation for your Minnesota Twins? Swing on the first pitch.

Kubel popped up the only pitch Boone would need to throw all night. Young would follow him with just slightly more patience against David Robertson and pop up the third pitch and the Twins would be swept in a series in which, in seemingly just a blink of the eye ago, they were beating CC Sabathia in the opener.
There is nothing to suggest that more patience would have necessarily resulted in the five runs the Twins needed to tie, and Ron Gardenhire insisted afterward that both Kubel and Young got the pitches they wanted and just screwed them up. But that final gurgle of an eighth inning was emblematic of a team that just does not rise to the occasion and despite repeated exposure, does not understand the equation: the Yankees are the Vampires of baseball. If you have them down, and you do not succeed in putting the stake through their hearts, you will wind up with nothing left but a choice of your fave: Jacob or Edward.
In Game One in Minnesota on Wednesday, Ron Gardenhire managed as if it was Opening Day of the regular season. He is, incredibly, up 3-0 on Sabathia, but instead of managing as if he had Vampires to kill and pulling his starter Francisco Liriano at the moment he began to go south in the 6th, he waits and waits and waits. If he’d waited any longer to go get Liriano, an usher would have asked to see his ticket (inexplicably, before the game, ownership described a contract extension for the lovable Gardy “a no-brainer” – sometimes that means something different than the speaker thinks it does).
Note to Mr. Gardenhire, note to Mr. Washington or Mr. Maddon, note (perhaps) to National League managers (and note to morons like me who picked against them): The Yankees are not the most talented team in the American League, not even the most talented team in their own division. But they are the most Undead.
Sticking with your bleeding starters, and swinging at their first pitches, is not going to cut it against Vampires.
Now some snapshots of a less serious nature:
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To the left, the Twins’ immortal and should-be-Hall of Famer Tony Oliva, in uniform before the game. It struck me that almost nobody on the field would have known that Oliva was one of the reasons for the institution of the DH in 1973. Apart from the guesses at how it would affect A.L. offense, the main argument was that it could extend the careers of stars who could no longer acquit themselves in the field; people like Oliva, Cepeda, Killebrew, Kaline. To the right, one of the game’s class acts and a survivor of Olbermann interviews since 1995 or so – and another should-be-Hall of Famer, the current Twins’ DH, the great Jim Thome.
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Tonight’s seating line-up with me: my friends Ken Burns, whose work you know, and at the right, Jon Klein, formerly president of CNN and prior to that CBS News.
I tweeted this photo and was advised by a respondent that I was an elitist. Two points: the Yankees are 14-and-1 when I used the seats this year. More importantly: nearly all of the other 67 games so far, the tickets have gone to Make-A-Wish.
And to close, there are jokes to be made here but I’m not exactly sure what they are. But… cobwebs? Spiderwebs? In the screen behind the plate at Yankee Stadium? Should they save them until Halloween?
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Surprise: Twins, Rays To Advance

It’s the kind of story line that can overshadow the reality of a playoff series in any sport: A superstar with an amazing season and an amazing story of overcoming the nightmare of drug addiction, facing the team that originally drafted him, with the prospect of eventually getting to a World Series against the team that gave him a second chance (and then traded him away anyway). 

It’s almost as if it’s just Josh Hamilton versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
Actually, it is almost as if it’s just Josh Hamilton versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Ian Kinsler and Michael Young had ordinary seasons, the bottom third of the line-up is a mixture of Mitch Moreland, Julio Borbon, Jeff Francoeur, David Murphy, Bengie Molina, and Matt Treanor, and the starters – Cliff Lee included – had long dead spots, and despite Nolan Ryan’s pronouncements about longer outings from them, the Rangers actually got the shortest efforts from their starters of any A.L. team. 
But, you say, what about those two hitters behind Hamilton? Boomstick Cruz is the real thing, but human history divides evenly into those times when he’s out with a hamstring pull, and those times when he’s about to sustain a hamstring pull. And Vladimir Guerrero found the fountain of youth, but only in the first half. His second half was a very pedestrian .278/.322/.426 and he has deteriorated on the basepaths to such a degree that a foot race between him and Molina would probably continue into November.
By contrast the Rays have largely been underachieving all year long. One of Joe Maddon’s lineups against Texas might feature three sub-.200 hitters. But Tampa is a disciplined, designed ballclub at the plate and in the field, their pitching is deep and even writing off Jeff Niemann, startling, and the irony of ironies is that the key to the series might not be Tampa castoff Hamilton but Texas throwaway and Rays set-up man Joaquin Benoit.
I like the Rays, and quickly, unless Texas somehow batters David Price tomorrow – and Price is 9-and-2 at home this year (and a tidy 17-and-5 there lifetime).
Meantime, trust me, I have front row seats at Yankee Stadium, there’s nothing I’d like more than to watch World Series games from them. I’m not even sure I’m going to get to see two playoff games there this weekend. I haven’t liked the chances of this Yankee team since spring training and while I commend and am heartened by their accomplishments despite glaring holes and what has become one of the most parochial and even jingoistic eras in New York media history, I think they’re not going to reach the ALCS.
The key here is the fact that the Yankees should face lefthanded starters in three of the five games (possibly, if Ron Gardenhire wants to gamble, in three of the first four). Lefthanders turn Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to their weaker sides (and in Yankee Stadium force them to aim at the tougher fences in left), hurt Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and, unexpectedly, Alex Rodriguez: 6-35-.217-.441 and make Brett Gardner into a .252 hitter. The trade-off is that they enable Marcus Thames at DH and actually make Derek Jeter look like his old self (6-24-.321-.481 – correct: Jeter hit .246 against righties this year, with a slugging percentage of .317 and an on-base of .315).
You’re not overwhelmed by Minnesota southpaws Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing? How about the prospect of Brian Fuentes coming out of the bullpen, right before or right after Jon Rauch, with Matt Capps warming up for the 9th.
We have not even discussed Yankee pitching. There is a reason CC Sabathia should be the Cy Young winner. Without Felix Hernandez, the Mariners wouldn’t have been much worse. The Rays without David Price might not be post-season favorites, but Jeremy Hellickson could have stepped in. Right now, Sabathia is the only Yankee starter who is not attached to a question mark the size of, well, Sabathia. On the other hand, I wouldn’t worry too much about Mariano Rivera’s September slump, although the Yankee set-up men are hardly what they were a year ago and I’ll believe Boone Logan in the clutch when I see him whiff Jim Thome twice.
The Twins did not prosper down the stretch (none of the AL playoff teams did) and would have loved just the thought of Justin Morneau returning later on. But since the Yankees saw them last in the playoffs, the rest of the infield has been upgraded, Jim Thome has been added at DH, and Delmon Young has gone from a dubious platoon guy to a 112 RBI man. Young struggled over the last two months, then seemed to come alive in the last ten (3-7-.293). The Twins’ lineup is also staggered to minimize repeating same-side bats, which could completely befuddle the pitching-change challenged duo of Joe Girardi and coach Dave Eiland.
Frankly, if Minnesota somehow beats Sabathia in the opener, with an ailing and/or rusty Pettitte and an erratic Hughes behind him, the Twins could sweep. I doubt that. I like them in four or five.

And The Meek Shall Inherit The All-Star Game

I’m speechless.

I know – given that it’s me – but I’m speechless. I probably uttered my first complaints about All-Star Game selections in 1968 and gave up hope of an equitable solution no later than 1990, but I did think I long ago had become immune to surprises.
And then Evan Meek and Omar Infante were named to the 2010 National League All-Star teams. I literally thought MLB Network had made some kind of mega-typo. There are no constructions in which either player is an All-Star. None. Not “it’s close,” not “there are arguments pro and con.” They’re not All-Stars.

Meek is a great story, a Rule V draftee who is finally harnessing his talent and is showing signs of developing into a useful major league relief pitcher. His ERA of 0.96, WHIP of 0.85, and his strikeout to walk ratio of 42:11, are fantastic. But he has been doing this in baseball’s equivalent of a vacuum: in low-leverage, middle relief situations. Not as a closer, not as the key set-up man. Not even as the penultimate set-up man. The Pirates may be a last place team, but they do have 20 Saves and 32 Holds this year, and Meek has one of the former and just five of the latter.
Because “Blown Saves” don’t appear in very many stat lines, the fact that Meek has been used in six save situations and coughed up the lead in five games, is easily smoothed over. It shouldn’t be. It suggests that Meek is a great guy to bring in when you’re down by four or up by five but he isn’t ready to handle games that, you know, might still be in doubt.
Meanwhile, the “Hold” is an imperfect statistic to say the least, but in the category, Meek is only third on his own team. Joel Hanrahan of the Bucs has 13 of them. When play began Sunday, 44 National League pitchers had more Holds than Meek did. Mike Adams has 21 in San Diego and Luke Gregerson 19 (and Gregerson’s K:W ratio is even better than Meek’s) and neither of them are going. They essentially have four times as many Holds as Meek. They are not going to Anaheim, Meek is. 
It’s as if somebody said “we need to honor the top non-important reliever in the NL Central.”
We both know why Meek is on the team: the Club Representative rule. Each team gets an All-Star whether they have one or not. This rule exists for only one reason – television. There is still some sort of assumption that the game’s ratings in a given market will be shattered if one of the market’s players is not present. As a 29-year veteran of national and local television, I’m afraid you’re going to have to show me a lot of research to prove a) that this is still the case, or b) that more than 100 people in Pittsburgh are going to watch the All-Star Game just to see Evan Meek. Because it would be my contention that the Each Team rule is one of the reasons the All-Star Game is not what it used to be, television-wise. 

Still, in some senses Meek’s selection makes more sense than the anointing of Omar Infante. Don’t you have to be at least a platoon starter, with several impressive statistics, to merit the All-Star Team? One homer, 22 RBI, three steals, a .311 average, and an OPS of .721 is impressive in what way? He can play four positions? That’s great – we’re in the day of four-man benches. Each team has at least one guy who can play four positions. Take a number. And the number better not be 47% – which is where Infante stands in At Bats relative to the leader on his own team, genuine All-Star Martin Prado. You will notice that the official All-Star depth charts list Infante in the back-up Third Base slot (rendered ludicrous by comparisons to Ryan Zimmerman or Casey McGehee). If for some reason, a National League “ninth guy” who has played multiple positions, suddenly needs to be named to the All-Star Team, I think the argument could be made that Prado’s own teammate Eric Hinske is more deserving (5-31-.284, .836) but of course…
Holy Crap we’re discussing the relative merits of Eric Hinske and Omar Infante as All-Stars while Joey Votto isn’t one.

This is baseball’s ultimate nightmare: an All-Star Game populated by utility infielders or mop-up relievers or Team Tokens. To revise what I wrote earlier: there are American League examples of non-star All-Stars, they’re just not as egregious. Matt Thornton comes to mind (he is having half the season Daniel Bard is and who is arguably less valuable to his team than is Scott Downs or even Will Ohman) and so does Ty Wigginton (he is hitting .251; Tigers rookie Brennan Boesch is at .342 and has more RBI and nearly as many homers as Wigginton). The first step to preventing this triumph of mediocrity from subsuming the Game is to eliminate the Team Rule, although obviously that wouldn’t have kept Infante home. 
But I’m afraid we are heading towards the ultimate step, which is to discontinue the Game outright. It previously rewarded and brought together the season’s top stars, to pit them against opponents they would otherwise never face, for the benefit of fans who would never see them live or on tv. Today, the players understandably would prefer the time off, the selection rules guarantee “stars” who aren’t, inter-league play destroyed the distinctive nature of the two leagues, every game is televised somewhere, and nobody outside his family is going to watch the All-Star Game hoping to see Evan Meek keep the American League lead at six runs in the 7th Inning!

PERSONNEL NOTE:
If your jaw dropped, as nearly all of them did inside the press box at broiling Yankee Stadium this afternoon, when CC Sabathia and not Andy Pettitte made the A.L. roster, fear not. Sabathia should take his regular Yankee turn next Sunday, and therefore be ineligible to pitch in Anaheim. Pettitte, the Yankees expect, will be his replacement.
Hope Andy can sleep the night before knowing he might have to face Infante.
DYNASTIES ILLUSTRATED:
Yankees commemorated George Steinbrenner’s birthday by displaying the seven World Series Trophies won under his regime. Despite game time temperatures of 93 degrees (felt more like 126 in the labyrinth behind the team’s museum – and yes, the line up and then down the ramp is for the chance to take a quick photo of the trophies) none of the hardware melted:
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