Results tagged ‘ David Aardsma ’

Swinging At The Future; Whiffing At The Past

Two books to address today, one brand new, one kinda.

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2010
Edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl
John Wiley, $25.95
Two caveats: the publisher is putting out my next book, and this really isn’t a review, because by now 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 lights on it.
This is more about the headlines from the annual phone-book-sized tub of prophecies these figure filberts put out, than it is any kind of assessment of the publication as a hole, because we don’t really know how good each year’s edition is until after the season is over. But for once, there shouldn’t be much argument about what is the Statistical Reduction crowd’s biggest forecast for the season ahead: The collapse of Derek Jeter.
OK, “collapse” is a little strong. The actuarial tables of the game again prompt the editors to call Jeter’s team “still the class of MLB,” but they pummel the Captain personally. He finished 2009 at 18-66-.334-.406-.465 with 107 runs and 30 steals. BP sees 2010 as 11-58-.286-.359-.401 with 67 runs and 10 steals. 
As I understand the formulas with which the BP numbers are calculated, there is room for a dollop of common sense and/or extenuating circumstances. But mostly the stats-to-come are generated, in Jeter’s case, by comparing him to what happened to every 14-year veteran going into his 15th season, and what happened to every 35-year-old shortstop as he turned 36, and employing every other demographic comparison in baseball history. And the loss of 48 points of batting average and 40 runs and 64 points of slugging percentage, is the evident result.
It actually gets worse. The one BP number that gives you the best overall sense of a player’s total worth to his team is VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In short, it measures in net runs (how many more do you score, how many fewer does the other team score) what were to happen if the player in question was suddenly reduced by the average bench guy. Last year, Derek Jeter’s VORP was 71.2 (Albert Pujols’ was 100.1), meaning if he had quit on Opening Day 2009 to be replaced full-time by Ramiro Pena, the number of fewer runs the Yankees would’ve scored, plus the number of more runs they would have allowed, would’ve been 71.
Jeter’s predicted 2010 VORP is just 20 – a loss of 51.2 when nobody else in the majors is predicted to lose more than 37.2 (and that’s Joe Mauer, by the way. The BP folks readily admit that their formulae tend to punish spectacular seasons). Merging the topics of catching and the Yankees, BP sees Jorge Posada dropping from 22-81-.285-.522 to 12-49-.263-.445 (and losing 21 VORP points in the process).
If BP is right, there are similar harrowing declines ahead for Ryan Howard (to hit .249 this year), and Michael Young (.297), and Kevin Youkilis (22-86-.283), and David Aardsma (15 saves). On the other hand, it sees Nick Johnson emerging to lead the AL in On Base Pecentage, Kelly Johnson to rebound in Arizona, Jeremy Hermida to blossom in Boston, and Geovany Soto to comeback in Chicago. Certainly two of the stranger computer-generated forecasts: Chris Davis with 33 homers, and your 2010 Major League Saves leader: Joakim Soria with 43 in Kansas City.
There’s also something in here about Rickie Weeks blossoming, but I think that may have been accidentally left over from the 2009 edition. Or the 2008. Or the 2007. Or the 2006…
THE FIRST FALL CLASSIC
THE RED SOX, THE GIANTS, AND THE CAST OF PLAYERS, PUGS, AND POLITICOS WHO REINVENTED THE WORLD SERIES IN 1912
By Mike Vaccaro
Doubleday, $26.95

More than 30 years ago I made an enemy for life of a baseball writer named Maury Allen. I panned his biography of Casey Stengel because I felt he had forfeited the credibility of the book’s essence – exclusive, heretofore unpublished anecdotes and quotes – because he had made so many simple historical mistakes. Allen had the Polo Grounds in which Stengel played and managed off-and-on for 50 years overlooking the Hudson River, when it in fact overlooked the Harlem River, a no-brainer mistake that nobody who had lived in New York for more than three weeks would make.
My point was not that it was fatal to make a few dozen such flubs, but that if I as the presumably less-expert reader could spot such obvious mistakes, how many more of them were in there that I wasn’t smart enough to catch? And why would I trust the accuracy of the quotes and the stories as offered by a writer who couldn’t keep his basic geography straight? If you could switch the Hudson for the Harlem, you could – I don’t know – switch Hugh Casey for Casey Stengel.

Sadly, this dynamic is reproduced in Vaccaro’s book about the epic eight-game World Series of 1912 between the Giants and Red Sox. The Series – and the topic – had everything: a dubious tie game, the first year of Fenway Park, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, President John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, and the year Smoky Joe Wood won 37 of the 120 games (regular season and World Series) he would win in his lifetime. 
For an obsessive historian with a gift for composition, like my friend Josh Prager of The Echoing Green fame, the 1912 Series would basically sing itself and he would write down the notes as quickly as he could. I truly hoped this book would be like this (I went out and bought it retail – the ultimate sign of respect by somebody in the same business) and given the volume of startling stories and the in-the-clubhouse quotes from men dead half a century and more, Mike Vaccaro certainly seems to have tried to make it like that.

But I can’t trust him. The book is riddled with historical mistakes, most of them seemingly trivial, some of them hilarious. One of them is particularly embarrassing. Vaccaro writes of the Giants’ second year in their gigantic stadium, the Polo Grounds:

…to left field, the official measurement was 277 feet, but the second deck extended about twenty feet over the lower grandstand, meaning if you could get a little air under the ball you could get yourself a tidy 250-foot home run…

Unfortunately this wasn’t true until 1923. Any photograph of the 1912 World Series showing left field, indeed any photo of the new Polo Grounds in its first twelve years of use, clearly

Vaccaro Wood.jpg

shows that the second deck ends thirty or forty feet to the left of the foul pole, and the seats in fair territory are the bleachers. 
There are, in fact, actually at least two photos showing Joe Wood, with the Red Sox in the Polo Grounds, which show, in the background behind him, either the left field foul line leading directly to the bleachers, not a double deck, or, the left field foul pole standing like a lone tree with no “extended” deck even close to it.
One of him, warming up, is included in Vaccaro’s book, right after page 146.

That’s it, on the right. The white stripe next to
his glove, is the left field foul line.
The other photograph – the background largely washed out but with the undecked left field corner still vaguely visible – shows him shaking hands with the Giants’ Jeff Tesreau, and it was chosen for publication on the cover of Vaccaro’s book, below.

Sigh.
Vaccaro Cover.jpg
The most often-repeated of the mess-ups, and thus both the most annoying and the most damaging, is Vaccaro’s insistence about Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, arch Sox fan and grandfather of the future president, around whom Vaccaro tries to develop a political thread to the book and who gets nearly as much attention from him as Tris Speaker or Mathewson. Four times in the book, Vaccaro notes that Fitzgerald liked to sing, or was singing, or was about to sing, his theme song “Sweet Adelaide.” There may have been such a song, but it wasn’t a favorite of Honey Fitz (or presumably of anybody else). The Mayor, as any political historian, or adult over 65, or anyone who’s ever encountered a Barbershop Quartet, or any Marx Brothers buff, could tell you, sang “Sweet Adeline,” an incredibly popular song published in 1903 that Groucho and company later performed in “Monkey Business.”
Of the remaining twenty or so that I caught, most have clearer connections to the sport itself. Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey becomes Rixley, 1912 Red Sox infielder Steve Yerkes becomes Sam, Redland Field in Cincinnati becomes “brand-new Crosley Field” (it wasn’t renamed Crosley Field until 1934 and the radio baron who did it was still a 20-something developing automobiles in Muncie, Indiana, when Redland Field was brand-new in 1912). 

There is a lot of historical tone-deafness – particularly distressing considering Mr. Vaccaro often covers the Yankees. He recounts a conversation among McGraw and New York sportswriters about the Giants taking in the American League New York Highlanders as tenants at the Polo Grounds for the 1913 season. Vaccaro quotes the famed Damon Runyon telling McGraw that his paper’s headline writers have a new name intended for the team: The Yankees. McGraw is quoted as wondering if it will catch on in 1913. Even if the mistake originates elsewhere, it should’ve rung untrue to Vaccaro: The name “Yankees” had been used on the baseball cards as earlyYankees1912.jpg as 1911, and on a team picture issued by one of the New York papers in 1907. If McGraw and Runyon hadn’t heard the name “Yankees” by the time of the 1912 World Series, they’d both had undiagnosed hearing problems for five years.

Vaccaro also has a lot of trouble with geography. He indicates that Giants’ owner John Brush had a mansion in “upstate Pelham Manor” even though the town is essentially parallel to 241st Street in Northern Manhattan. He mocks the nickname “Swede” for Danish-born Boston outfielder Olaf Henriksen as an indication that baseball didn’t worry about geography in assigning monickers. But until 1905 Denmark was part of a union with Norway, and as late as the early 1800’s, those two countries were trying to reestablish a medieval tripartite union with Sweden. For all we know, Henriksen might have considered himself Swedish.
There are also mistakes so convoluted as to be baffling. Vaccaro writes of the fabulous game-saving catch by the Giants’ Josh Devore in Game Three:

“I took it over my left shoulder and with my bare hand although I clapped my glove on it right away and hung on like a bulldog in a tramp,” Evans would soon tell the mountain of reporters…

Evans? The catch was by Josh Devore. Evans – Billy Evans – was the umpire who confirmed the out. Later, there is the inexplicable observation that during the tense eighth game, so much of Manhattan was at the then-popular newspaper scoreboards that “Schoolrooms were scarce.” While this was doubtless as true in the New York of 1912 as it is in the city of 2010, it wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with baseball. Students in schoolrooms, yes. The rooms themselves?
The mistakes – and there are probably a dozen more – matter only in this context. When I read Vaccaro’s account of a supposed conversation, after the Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in games, between Boston’s owner and manager that clearly implies that the owner ordered the manager to hold back his ace pitcher in hopes Boston might lose the next game and thus gain the income from one more game in Fenway, I’m not inclined to take Vaccaro’s word for it. Because, lastly and most damningly, this may be how he researched the book. Years after retirement, Boston’s Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker went back to the minors as an executive. Vaccaro writes he would:

…become a part owner of the American Association, a top Triple-A-level minor league…”

In fact, Speaker would become a part owner not of the league, but of one of the teams in the league, the Kansas City Blues.
You know where else this mistake turns up?

Post professional career
In 1929 Speaker replaced Walter Johnson as the manager of the Newark Bears of the International League, a post he held for two years. He became a part owner of the American Association. The announcement of Speaker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937

Yep. Tris Speaker’s Wikipedia page.

How sad.

Milton Bradley Makes The Worst Teams In The World

Jack Zduriencik was one move away from completely rebuilding a shaken franchise in a little over thirteen months.

And then he made the move.
How much easier could this be to understand? You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. 
He’s a “good teammate and a nice guy,” said the Mariners’ GM, hours after guaranteeing that all the startlingly good work he and his manager Don Wakamatsu had done in the last year would be washed away by some cataclysm (or “event,” as the nuclear plant engineers pleasantly call them) involving Bradley next season. Since April 1978, when his Dad filled out the name on his birth certificate without his Mom’s consent, there’s always been something. Tearing an ACL while having to be restrained from hitting an umpire. Bumping an umpire. Charging a third umpire. Suspended for the season by the Cubs. Trying to get to the press box during the game to confront the visiting announcer. Fighting with Eric Wedge. Fighting with Lou Piniella. Throwing the baseball bag on the field. Throwing a bottle back into the stands. Throwing the game ball into the stands – after the second out.
And by the way, we are talking about a player whose career highs are 34 doubles, 22 homers,  77 RBI, 17 steals, and a .321 average. This is not Albert Belle. This is not even Carl Everett. Statistically, this is a poor man’s Ben Grieve (my apologies to Ben Grieve).
And after signing Chone Figgins and Russell Branyan (and maybe even re-signing him), and dealing for Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Wilson, Cliff Lee, Ian Snell, and David Aardsma, all the good work by Zduriencik is undone by adding a player who is being described as looking for a “fresh start.” This’d be his seventh. 

FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:

This was my favorite part of the annual SABR Journal – the curious things the late Al Kermisch found, presumably in pursuit of grander truths (an example from his last “From,” published after his passing in 2002: as a professional, Phil Rizzuto never played on a team that finished worst than third, and in 17 years, he was on 14 pennant-winners). I can’t hope to emulate the quality of Mr. Kermisch’s work but I do hope to touch the curiosity factor, both with nuts-and-bolts research and, in the case of my first effort, whimsy.
Meet the greatest name in baseball history: Phifer Fullenwider. 
Don’t go looking him up in the Baseball Encyclopedia; he never actually pitched in the big leagues (though he did make it to Spring Training one year, at a time when less than 30 men per team did so).
Fullenwider graduated with a degree in pharmacy from the University of North Carolina in 1908, but instead of to a drug store, he headed to the Carolina Association, where, as Baseball Reference’s superb minor league database indicates, he opened a fourteen-year minor league career with a 13-4 record for Charlotte. But it would be 1911 before he really broke through with a 26-9 mark for Columbia of the South Atlantic (SALLY) League.
And that impressive season leads us to this rather remarkable public domain image from the Polo Grounds in New York:
Fullenwider1912,jpg.jpg

That is none other than our Mr. Fullenwider, in the uniform of the Columbia Commies (had a different meaning then), standing in New York’s Polo Grounds, most likely late in the season of 1911, or possibly early in 1912. In those days before extensive farm systems, major league teams not only drafted players from minor league teams, but did so wholesale – and usually days after the minor league season ended. Thus it was not unusual for “bushers” to report to the big leagues – and apparently to bring their uniforms with them.

The Giants thought enough of Fullenwider to bring him to spring training in 1912. The camp was in Marlin, Texas, and the team picture indicates just how few prospects were included among the veterans:
1912 Giants.jpg
NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

The bottom row is, left to right, Giants aces Red Ames and Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, an otherwise unidentified “trainer,” Fullenwider, and outfielder Josh Devore. The legendary John McGraw is second from right in the middle row (almost right behind his prized pitching prospect), and in the back are the only two guys not wearing the goofy hats: catcher Chief Meyers (fourth from the right) who is capless, and next to him, wearing his cap backwards, Christy Mathewson. For this team photo is nothing less than a 1912 manifestation of that which we purists fear may some day happen in the future – players wearing advertisements on their uniforms! Those caps are ads for “ANGER’S Ice Cream Cones.” And evidently Mathewson and Meyers are having none of it (and yes, that’s my boy Merkle, back row, far right).
But back to Phifer Fullenwider, and something even stranger than an ad for ice cream cones on his uniform.
Fullenwider1912.jpg
The one-time UNC pitching hero is still wearing his Carolina cold-weather baseball sweater. The thing is four years old at least, he’s the property of the defending National League Champion New York Giants,  they took him to spring training in hopes that he might pitch alongside Christy Mathewson – and nobody gave him his own Giants’ sweater!
As it proved, Fullenwider never would pitch alongside Matty, nor any other big leaguer. The records of 1912 are a lot less precise than today, but while nearly everybody else in that photo went on to win the N.L. crown again in 1912 and 1913, Fullenwider shows up pitching for Buffalo of the International League (where the Giants often sent their extra players, in an informal arrangement), where he would win 20, 19, and 17 games in the next three seasons and yet never get a call to the big time. After a 19-victory season at Atlanta in 1917, he apparently quit. A 1919 entry in the University of North Carolina alumni review notes that Fullenwider (“Phar. ’08”) “is a druggist, with the Rose Drug Co., of Rocky Mount. He will be remembered as a star pitcher on the varsity baseball team. He has a one-year old child.”
The game was not gone from his system, however. Phifer Fullenwider, at the age of 34, reapp
ears in the minor league record in that same city – Rocky Mount, pitching for the Tarheels of the Virginia League for two seasons, then Columbia in 1922 and Greenville in ’23. He’d finish up with a record of 194 and 146, with memories of a trip to Marlin, Texas with McGraw and the boys, and at least one winter of the greatest kind of hope and optimism. One wonders if he got to keep the Ice Cream Cone hat.
There’s one other note before we let Mr. Fullenwider out of the clutches of the researcher. He may not have gotten a big league game under his belt, but he did make it onto a baseball card. From the Contentnea Cigarettes series called T209, dating from the 1909 season — and a dandy it is, I might add.
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Fullenwider.jpg

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