Friday, April 14, 2006

The Four Questions of Baseball

by Rob Hyman
As I sit here eating my matzoh – which always seems exciting to eat for the first day or two, but by the end I’d rather eat cardboard - I’m getting myself into the spirit of Passover. That being said I’d like to pose to the world Rob Hyman’s four questions of baseball. These are aspects of the game that have always baffled me, and just like religion leaves us with no clear answers, these questions have no answers as well.

1) Why do batters insist on sliding into first base?

It’s pretty clear to me that they don’t teach physics in the minor leagues. When I buy the Mets some day, my first order of business will be to explain the simple momentum formula: p = m * v (My vodka drinking Physics professor Mr. DeCordova (Deeker) would be so proud). Unlike second and third, the runner is allowed to over-run first base. Therfore, one should want to build up as much momentum as possible. When sliding, the runners mass stays the same, but his velocity decreases since the dirt becomes a force pushing against him, thus decreasing your momentum. Additionally, picture it – a runner has to propel himself with the leg that he just stepped forward with. So instead of moving the other leg forward, the runner is wasting time by bending his front knee and pushing down in order to propel himself forward. The time it takes to propel one’s self into the head first slide would be better served by take that next step with the other leg.

2) Why do managers take out their best hitters in close games?

I understand the idea of a defensive replacement in a close game. It’s my opinion based on my own anecdotal information, that more times than not, it’s not worth making the replacement. Art Howe used to do this with Mike Piazza all the time when the Mets were up a run or two in the eighth or ninth. The problem (which we will discuss further in Question #3) is that when you have a closer like Braden Looper who was blowing saves left and right, very often, Piazza would have had another chance at the plate with the game tied. I get it – Piazza can’t throw out Cecil Fielder with an anchor attached to his leg, but how often does a team down a run or two in the late innings try to steal? The better throwing arm is not worth giving up the chance for Piazza to potentially come up in a vital situation. This year, I’ve noticed the Nationals doing the same thing with Alfonso Soriano (editors note: Soriano is on my fantasy team, so it irks me that much more). Two times already, Soriano has been replaced in the late innings, only to have the game go to extras, denying the Nationals of their best bat. While Soriano is new to the outfield, he seems quite able to hold his own and I think Frank Robinson is making a mistake by having this as part of the team’s strategy

3) Why does the closer position exist?

Somehow middle relief has become the purgatory of baseball. I guess the seventh and eight innings just aren’t that important to winning a game. Okay here’s the scenario – you’re up 4-3 in the 7th inning and your starting pitcher is tiring. There’s two outs and runners on the corners. Do you really want some guy coming in that wasn’t good enough to start or close? If the closer is the best short-work man you’ve got, this is where you need him most. Not in the ninth when nobody is on base. I think the initiation of the save has hurt baseball because it keeps the best pitchers on the bench when they are often needed most, just because they would not be there at the end to get an arbitrary statistic.

4) Why does interleague play exist?

I agree there is some intrigue to the Yankees / Mets; Cubs / White Sox or A’s / Giants. But that’s where the intrigue ends and the boredom begins – and to me, frankly, there’s not much intrigue there to begin with. I would much rather see another series against each division opponent than the 15 games played against the other league. Usually the example is that one can't get riled up for the Twins / Marlins or the Pirates / Devil Rays game. True, but do we really get that excited for the Twins / Devil Rays or Marlins / Pirates either? No - but my problem is that even though I get excited every day for the next Mets game, come interleague time, the traditionalist in me actually makes me dread watching the games. I can't stand the idea of the Mets in Toronto or even Fenway. I know people say its good for the game because it gives fans a chance to see teams they otherwise wouldn't see, but that just doesn't do it for me.

So, now that the questions have been posed, let's eat!

Rob Hyman's column appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Play Ball! The Season Starts in the Bronx

by Scott Silversten

For most of the last century, baseball’s traditional season opener was played in Cincinnati. In recent years, the marketing geniuses at Major League Baseball (talk about an oxymoron) have gone to a Sunday night opener televised by ESPN, an event spoiled by rain earlier this month in Chicago.

However, with apologies to the Queen and Windy cities, the baseball year does not truly begin until the New York Yankees play their first game in the Bronx. Even Yankee haters must admit that there is something special about Opening Day at 161st Street and River Avenue.

In typical fashion, the Yankees produced a little magic in their first home game of the season on Tuesday. The following is a minute-by-minute account of the day’s highlights:

12:43 p.m. – The Opening Day ceremonies begin with Bill Hall’s introductions of the two teams. Hall is a last-minute fill-in for famed Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who missed his first opener in 55 years after suffering a hip injury. While Hall sounds a lot like Sheppard, there is still a small piece of history missing from the afternoon.

12:50 – Joe Torre is introduced for the 11th time as manager on Opening Day in the Bronx. Is there anyone who could have envisioned through the snow of Opening Day 1996 that Torre would have lasted over decade at the helm of the Yankees?

12:51 – Alex Rodriguez, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, strides onto the field to a mixed reception of cheers and boos. It’s hard to imagine a scene like this taking place in most other baseball cities, but while Yankees fans like to think they are the most "knowledgeable" in the nation, it has become more and more obviously that they are just spoiled.

1:06 – Hall-of-Fame catcher Yogi Berra throws out the first pitch, a moment inexplicably missed by the YES Network, which is in commercial at the time.

1:09 – Chien-Ming Wang throws the first pitch of the game under perfect sunshine.

1:17 – Johnny Damon begins his career in Yankee pinstripes with a double to left field.

1:25 – Jason Giambi blasts a three-run homer into the right-center field bleachers, giving the Yankees an early 3-0 lead. Giambi receives a curtain call, proving that his bizarre press conference of last spring, when he apologized without saying what he was apologizing for, is long forgotten by the New York faithful.

2:24 – The euphoria of the early part of the game is quickly erased as the Royals force a 4-4 tie on John Buck’s RBI double in the top of the fourth inning. An uneasy buzz engulfs the House that Ruth Built. There is no truth to the rumors that at this point, George Steinbrenner began writing a statement apologizing for his team.

2:38 – With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fourth, Gary Sheffield continues the theme of the early part of New York’s season by failing to come through in the clutch, popping out to shortstop. Bernie Williams gets caught off second base to end the inning. The fans boo.

3:02 – A double play ground out gives the Royals a 5-4 lead.

3:13 – On his first pitch of the afternoon, Tanyon Sturtze gives up a homer to Shane Costa. Seven minutes and another run later, Sturtze gets booed off the mound with the Royals leading, 7-4.

3:49 – Giambi draws a walk to open the home half of the seventh, his 10th free pass of the season. A "Let’s go Yankees" chant rises from the stands as Hideki Matsui follows with a single to left.

3:58 – Williams, who received the biggest cheers of the day, delivers a run-scoring single to bring the Yankees within 7-6. In their last home contest, Game Four of the 2005 AL Division Series against Anaheim, Williams also received cheers as Yankees fans incorrectly anticipated his departure after a 15-year career in the Bronx.

4:02 – Damon strikes out, and is booed.

4:03 – Derek Jeter launches a three-run homer into the left-field stands on the first pitch he sees from Kansas City closer Ambiorix Burgos to provide a 9-7 lead. The Yankees captain receives a curtain call and the fans break into a "Der-ek Je-ter" chant. The baseball season is officially underway.

4:12 – Mike Sweeney gets hit by a Mariano Rivera pitch, putting the tying runs on base for the Royals with just one out in the top of the ninth.

4:19 – Rivera catches Doug Mientkiewicz’s soft liner to end the game and give the Yankees’ their ninth straight home-opener victory, a new American League record.

Now for the rest of the season...

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Top 5 Baseball Sites on the Web

This week on Wild-Card Wednesdays, columnist Doug Silversten examines his top 5 favorite baseball sites on the web.

So many to choose from, so little time. Let's get right to the list. Here are my five favorite baseball websites, in reverse order of importance:

5. Baseball Prospectus
The only reason this site is not higher in this list is that much of the content is subscription based. For the most part, we agree with what Paul Graham had to say in his excellent article about Web 2.0:
On the web, articles you have to pay for might as well not exist. Even if you were willing to pay to read them yourself, you can't link to them. They're not part of the conversation.
However, for a reasonable $35 a year, Baseball Prospectus offers perhaps the best commentary and analysis on the Web. Considering that many GMs now make it daily reading, it should be high on any serious baseball fan's list as well.

4. Major League Baseball: The Official Site
Yes, putting up baseball's official site may be a bit tacky. However, it is impressive how much offers. First off, the free fantasy games. "Beat the Streak" and "MLB Survivor" are so addictive, even if you realize the odds of winning are only slightly better than winning the lottery. And then, for a reasonable annual fee, you can watch or listen to almost ANY GAME. If you are a fantasy addict, like many of Baseball For Thought's columnists, this a feature that can pretty much guarantee you will never leave a computer from April through early October.

3. Fire Joe Morgan
Next to a Yankees win, there is nothing I can't stand more than ridiculous comments from TV announcers and reporters. This site is dedicated to pointing them out and tearing apart ridiculous comments and arguments to shreds. Often, it is outright hilarious. A daily must-read during the season.

2. Aaron's Baseball Blog
This site is sort of a sentimental choice for me, as it was one of the very first blogs I read regularly. At the time, I don't even think I knew what a blog was. But here was this random Twins fan on the Net that was writing smarter baseball commentary than most mainstream writers. Aaron and his blog was recently featured in Sports Illustrated and his career seems to have taken off, but I can proudly say I was one of his first loyal readers. And also, thanks to this site, I know far more about the Twins than any Mets/A's fan living in New York should.

1. Baseball-Reference
While choosing which of the above sites made the short list was a tough task, there was never a question what site would be ranked number one. Baseball-Referece IS the best baseball site on the web. Hell, forget the "baseball" qualifier. B-Ref is THE BEST SITE ON THE WEB. If you don't have this site bookmarked, you're not a true baseball fan. This site has EVERYTHING, and it has a brilliantly simple layout. What IMDB is for movie fans, B-Ref is for baseball fans and more. Once in, you mindlessly start clicking around. Any loyal B-Refer knows what I am talking go to check David Wright's 2005 HR total, and an hour later you find yourself on the 1919 World Series page, admiring Dickie Kerr's dominating performance and 2-0 record in a thrown series. Who is Dickie Kerr? Well, that's the point. best thing to happen since sliced bread.

Wild-Card Wednesdays appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why fantasy baseball is ruining my spring

by Jeremy Bird

As a kid I named my pet cats “Ozzie” and “Herzog” after the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop and manager at the time. I saw 10 of McGwire’s 70 from the bleachers at Busch stadium. I used to skip high school, sneak down to the good seats (while paying for the cheap ones) to watch Ozzie Smith in his final games.

One of my first memories is of Willie McGee climbing the center field wall to rob a would-be Brewer homer in one of the most amazing catches in World Series history. I celebrated Bruce Sutter’s saves and Vince Coleman’s steals.

Yes, I am obsessed with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Last year, I spent the winter cursing Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens. The winter before I spent wishing the Red Sox were still under the curse.

As a Cardinals fan, I am also obligated to despise the Chicago Cubs. Feeling sorry for them is not an option. I want them to lose and lose badly. I was socialized this way I suppose.

So, I found myself in a weird spot this past Sunday. The Cardinals were playing the Cubs in the final game of a rough three game series. Jason Isringhausen was on the mound in the eighth inning of a 4-4 game. The Cubs loaded the bases (i.e. Izzy walked three in row with his best Rick Ankiel impression). Michael Barrett, the Cubs catcher, walked to the plate…

Barrett ended up belting a grand slam that led to a Cubs sweep. Instead of feeling defeated and miserable, I found myself sort of ambivalent … Ambivalent? Yes, maybe even a little happy. You see, Barrett is the catcher on my fantasy baseball team. Four RBIs for my catcher – now, that is a good day at the plate in fantasy land.

What the hell is wrong with me?

A day earlier I found myself rooting for Roy Oswalt in a game against the Nationals (my new home team who I cheer for for as long as it is not the Cardinals in the other dugout). The Nationals staged an impressive comeback rally after falling behind Oswalt 5-0. Instead of elation, I was angry. Oswalt is my fantasy ace. There went my fantasy ERA with my ace giving up 5 runs.

Something is definitely wrong with me.

I have never done this whole fantasy sports thing before. When Pete, my co-worker, told me about the league he has been running for 13 years, I decided to give it a try. I sacrificed a beautiful Saturday to sit in a room with 18 other baseball fanatics picking my team.

Don’t get me wrong, I love baseball statistics. There is something beautiful about calculating a player's OBP or SLG%. Something spellbinding about the sub-2 ERA. Something mesmerizing about the quest for .400.

But, the game of baseball is about more than stats. I love the way David Eckstein runs onto the field with the passion and enthusiasm of a little leauger. I loved watching Rex Hudler come off the bench to pinch hit, head-first slides into first and all. I loved sitting in the stands hoping LaRussa would put Joe McEwing in the game when he played in St. Louis. I love seeing real heart among all of the ego-driven megastars who have forgotten how to run out a pop-up.

I find my newfound entrance into fantasy land getting in the way of real baseball. Even though I try to avoid it, I find myself averting my eyes from the Sportscenter highlights to check the bottom line stats. Did my closer Turnbow get a save for the Brewers? Did Adam Dunn hit a homer for the Reds? They play for my division rivals- I should be rooting against them!

Most importantly, I am supposed to be watching the highlights and enjoying the game of baseball.

But, I can’t help myself. I skip the articles and head straight for the box scores. I check the score of my real-life team only after the stats of my fantasy players.

This fantasy baseball thing is starting to ruin my spring. That is unless I win the fantasy league. Then, it might all be worth it.

"Bird's Eye View" appears alternate Tuesday

Monday, April 10, 2006

Yankee Diary #3

by Michael Carlucci

Tuesday April 4, 2006

The season is only two games old and Joe Torre has already cost us the American League East. This is not hyperbole. Last year we tied the Red Sox but took the division, NFL-style, on a tie-breaker. This year we won't be as fortunate. In tonight's game Torre spit the bit in a particularly galling way because a) it's not smart and b) he does it all the time. He uses inferior pitchers simply because the game is tied, applying the grade-school logic that it's best to save the best for last. There is nothing inherently wrong with saving the best for last or, for that matter, grade-school logic. I employ both whenever possible. But what Torre never learns is that there is no game left to save when you rely on your worst pitcher in the game's most crucial moment.

Specifically, Torre chose Scott Proctor (career ERA 5.91) to pitch the bottom of the ninth. Predictably, sadly, and without even offering hope that he would be effective, Proctor walked the first batter on four pitches. One out later, the game was over on a run-scoring single. Torre had options. He could have stuck with Kyle Farnsworth, who had thrown only 10 pitches in collecting the final two outs of the eighth. Tanyon Sturtze and Ron Villone were ready. Even Jaret Wright would have been preferable.

Of course, Torre also had the best reliever in baseball at his disposal, but you must believe in miracles to think he'd use Mo in a non-save situation. Actually, the writers of the save rule decide for Torre when to use Mo. So there it was, the game on the line, bottom of the ninth, out comes Proctor, and there goes the game. This is like choosing an inarticulate, shallow, war-happy, alcoholic, drug addict to run the country when superior options were all over the place. Well, it's not exactly like that because Mariano Rivera is not an American citizen and is thus ineligible to be President. Anyway, now we have to hope the Red Sox suffer similar blunders. As it stands, we've lost a game we could've won simply by not using our best players.

While Torre's in-game managing is sub-par, his command of the language is usually pretty good. One time, though, he gaffed most amusingly. Describing a blow-out loss, he evidently toyed with using two different cliches, "they cleaned our clocks" and "they kicked our rear ends." He got the two confused, and ended up saying "we got our rear ends cleaned." This is a funny image. I picture the victors triumphantly lining up behind the defeated Yankees, smugly readying their sponges.

Friday April 7, 2006

Another loss. We can't seem to beat the Angels. They've eliminated us from the playoffs in two of the last four years. The twerp Orlando Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the first, and before they made an out, the Angels had all the runs they needed. The Yankee Offense, the machine that was going to propel us into the playoffs, came up small again.

I believe they still use the Rally Monkey, but I am not sure about the Thunderstix. Remember them? I do -- they were the inflatable plastic bats that caught on during their World Series run in 2002. One Angels fan used his pair to whack Reggie Sanders as he was reaching for the ball in a crucial moment in that series. If a Yankee fan had done that, the incident would have been cited as an example of the coarse behavior of New Yorkers. To that I say, "bite me."

Saturday April 8, 2006

We're 1-4. The last time we started the season with that record, we finished with a 113-44 run and won the World Series. The latest loss was tough because it wasted an excellent outing by the Big Unit. I know he's surly and everything, but I'd like to be friends with him. You know, have him call me and say, "Hey, it's the Big Unit. You want to go get a couple of beers?" I'd say, "Sure Unit, just let me finish formatting my hard disc." Ha ha ha!

Sorry about that. Four straight losses and I get a little loopy.

Sunday April 9, 2006

I am hanging out at the hospital, having just finished rounding on patients. I have time to pursue other activities. Obviously you know I love the Yankees. But I have a complex personality, being driven not only by baseball. I decided to add a few other things when I realized, to paraphrase Shakespeare, that I loved the Yankees not wisely but too well. Now you should see me: I am nearly a doctor, so I've picked up a working knowledge of all manner of health issues such as how to stop diarrhea or what not to insert into your anus.

Another passion is my family of three girls. One human (my wife Debora), two canines (my dogs Ellie and Mae), and yours truly, we are a hairy, lovable bunch. Have you ever met Ellie? I walk her around the Upper West Side all the time. She wouldn't have any trouble shagging fly balls in spacious Yankee Stadium. She runs way faster than I can. She definitely would've caught the ball Matsui couldn't get the other day. But then she wouldn't have given it back. She has trouble learning that for some reason.

But indulge me with one more Yankee thought. Mariano Rivera still has not pitched this year. Not a single pitch. Mike Myers has pitched two innings over three games. Ron Villone has gone two and two-thirds so far. Proctor pitched the disatrous bottom of the ninth against the A's. Farnesworth has pitched an inning. Sturtze has pitched two. That means everyone in the bullpen except Mo has pitched. That makes sense, right? Now we are 1-4 and the Red Sox are 4-1. Bravo, Joe.

Michael Carlucci's column appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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