Results tagged ‘ Tony Gwynn ’

The Creepiest Stat I’ve Ever Researched

Even as the Minnesota Twins continued to succumb to their weird allergy here at Yankee Stadium (they’ve now lost 31 of their last 37 here, counting playoffs), Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 and the creepiest stat of all time just got a little worse.

I will state at the outset that those who interpret what’s being done as tribute have my full respect when they so claim. But, personally, I flinch every time I hear the voice of the late Bob Sheppard introduce Jeter, and my reaction is not unlike that of the late comedian Bill Hicks when he first saw a posthumous public service announcement featuring actor Yul Brynner: “What the heck is this guy selling?”

I thought the world of Mr. Sheppard, who extended kindness and support to me from the day I finally screwed up the courage to introduce myself to him. He did not undervalue his place in sports, but he had fun with it. When in 2004 I was researching the then-unknown identity of his predecessor (it was Yankees’ public relations director Arthur “Red” Patterson) I asked him if he had any earthy clue who it might have been, he said without batting an eyelash, “Methuselah!” Merely because I asked him, Bob spent fifteen minutes before the first game of the 1998 World Series with Tony Gwynn. Tony had said that one of the highlights of being in the Series again was the chance to hear Bob introduce him. I got Bob to record that introduction on a disk for me to present to Tony as a gift. Nobody who asked Bob for a favor – or the inevitable voicemail/answering machine message – was denied. I know one of Bob’s sons and have found him to be just as much a gentleman as his father, and I was privileged to get frequent updates on Bob’s health from Chris. I hosted the 2000 Subway World Series on Fox, and the thing became real to me when I wrapped up the pre-game show that it was my greatest honor to introduce him on the PA. When I would get to work the PA at Old Timers’ Day each July I was fully aware at every moment that I was on Bob’s PA.

I get it. I revered Bob Sheppard and I revere his memory daily. But the post-mortem introductions of Jeter have, I think, become disturbing.

And now there’s this to consider: Since Bob Sheppard died last July 11 and the tribute to the absent and beloved Public Address Voice of Yankee Stadium became instead a memorial, Derek Jeter is hitting just .263 here with one homer, 10 RBI, a .338 On Base Percentage and a .349 Slugging Percentage in 43 games. There are various dates and causes to assign to Jeter’s midseason eclipse last year but Mr. Sheppard’s passing is not exactly a random one – which makes the stat all the creepier. As of that sad day, Jeter had had 161 home at bats. Thereafter he had…exactly the same number: 161 home at bats. But in the first half of his home 2010 season Jeter was batting .316, with six homers, an On Base of .380 and a Slugging of .472.

Would it all turn around if Jeter had Sheppard’s successor Paul Olden announce his name, too? No, of course not. It would just be a little less…creepy.

Bob Sheppard and Preparation

I’ve heard the story with several different players, one of them being the delightfully-named Kenny Szotkiewicz, utility infielder of the 1970 Detroit Tigers. When such an idiosyncratic name would appear on Bob Sheppard’s scorecard at Yankee Stadium, he would take no chances. He would go to the visitors’ clubhouse (and especially in the pre-renovation Stadium of the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s, this meant more than just a quick trip into the elevator) and ask someone he knew to introduce him to the player in question. 

“Forgive me for intruding. I am Bob Sheppard, the public address announcer here at Yankee Stadium.” As the years wore on this, the self-introdfuction became less and less necessary, of course. “Could you pronounce your name for me so I make no mistake during your introduction?” Then the ritual would ensue: “It’s Soka-witz.” “Sock…a…witz.” “Right.” “As in punching some wits?” The meticulousness extended to the subtler variables. He asked Rick Burleson of the Red Sox if it was “Burl-son” or “Burl-a-son.” That’s how much it mattered to him. 
The personal trips would end in the ’90s or early ’00s (an emissary would ask) but only because Bob eventually had to have an artificial hip implanted. Even then, he was vigorous and with inspiring endurance. Bob missed a game a few years back and the Yankees announced he had had a minor household injury. In fact, the artificial hip had dislodged. Bob’s son Chris found this out when his father called him from the ground floor of his house, having walked – with a loose artificial hip – downstairs from his bedroom. 
The diligence and the work ethic paid off. As outlined below, players like Tony Gwynn consider hearing Sheppard introducing them at Yankee Stadium to be a thrill something close to winning a batting championship. And, after today’s game at CitiField, Ron Darling of the Mets told me that during the two career starts he made in the Bronx, he actually paused while warming up in the Oakland bullpen. “I had to hear Bob Sheppard say may name. I just had to.”

Bob Sheppard and Tony Gwynn

The photograph in the previous post merits an explanation. 

In 1998, when interleague play was still new, the San Diego Padres made it to the World Series against the vaunted Yankees. After he and his teammates won the NLCS, one of the first things Gwynn mentioned was that he would finally get to play in Yankee Stadium, and moreover, hear his name announced over the PA system by Bob Sheppard. I knew both men and decided to introduce them, and listened in delight as the former St John’s speech and public speaking professor talked the nuances of diction with the batting champion who used to take communications courses at San Diego State. 
Afterwards, as I escorted Bob back upstairs, I asked Bob if I could record him introducing a hypothetical Gwynn at bat, so I could transfer it to one of those “talking birthday card” electronic chips. Bob not only obliged, but asked me to confirm for him Tony’s position and number just to make sure. “We can’t have any mistakes.” Tony still has the recording (“in my trophy case, next to my silver bats”). And I cherish the memory.

Why Am I Whatting The Who Now?

One of the Baseball Prospectus authors was doing one of the group’s astonishingly pervasive and well-coordinated publicity-generating interviews yesterday (they show up as guests everywhere but the Olympics and Entertainment Tonight) and was asked “why is Keith Olbermann killing your book?” 

I just re-read my entry (below) and I don’t see where anybody might get that impression. But just to be clear, to me “BP” is to the sum total of all forecasting knowledge and its statistical and actuarial bases are impeccable. Years ago, preparing a piece on Tony Gwynn for Sports Illustrated, I discovered by accident that there was a plateau – an exact range of at bats (7,500 to 9,000) at which really terrific .340-.375 lifetime hitters started to plummet back towards the .340-.350 range (Cobb was at .373 through 8,762 AB; Gwynn .340 through 8,187; Keeler .355 through 7,475; Jesse Burkett .350 through 7,273 AB, Lajoie .350 through 8,254. Among them, and Rogers Hornsby, Paul Waner, and Honus Wagner at similar peaks, these eight guys lost an average of eight points from their career averages). 
So I believe fervently in this decline-and-full stuff and BP (and the Jeter prediction, too).
Now if somebody thinks I killed “The First Fall Classic” by Mike Vaccaro… yeah, pretty much (see below).
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