Friday, April 28, 2006

Here's to the Locals

by Rob Hyman
When I say Bob Uecker what do you think of?

- His role as the radio broadcaster for the Cleveland Indians in Major League
- The Miller Lite ads with him in the cheap seats
- His role as the dad on Mr. Belvedere (may Mr. Belvedere rest in peace)

The one thing you probably don’t think of is that he is the play-by-play radio announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers


What about Harry Kalas?

You'd know the voice if you heard it, but how many Phillies radio broadcasts have you ever listened to?


And Vin Scully?

Ahh – Vin Scully. The man who called the most memorable moment of my childhood:

"So the winning run is at second base with two out. Three-and-two to Mookie Wilson. . . . A little roller up along first . . . behind the bag . . . it gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight! And the Mets win it!"


Scully stopped doing national broadcasts in 1997, but he is still the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Why do I point all this out? Because unlike in the days of Mel Allen, Jack Buck and Harry Carry, or Ernie Harwell these current classic voices are available to you on a daily basis through MLB.com’s Gameday Audio.

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial – even the most casual of baseball fans should plunk down the $15 it costs to have access to ANY radio broadcast for the ENTIRE season. It is unbelievably worth it.

Since the season started I've listened to broadcasts from all over the country - and I'll tell you this - John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman get criticized for being biased but you should listen to Tom Hamilton on WTAM in Cleveland. Now there is a home town announcer with some spirit! But he's great to listen to - and you can't help but root for the Indians when he's on.

Who can blame local announcers for being biased? Their name says it all - local. The announcers are supposed to make you feel like it's your best friend describing the game to you, telling you what's happening with your team. Listen to Uecker - you'll feel like you're in your house in Milwaukee before you know it.

What I'm getting at is in this time of flying graphics and an overload of sponsors on television, take a moment to appreciate baseball on the radio.

I'm sure our father's generation have killed to get a listen to the classic voices. Well, here's your chance - so next time you're looking for something to do, log onto MLB Gameday Audio and check out that Brewers / Reds game for a few innings. Let Bob Uecker entertain you as he has entertained the Brewer fan base since 1970.


Rob Hyman's column appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Baseball Wishes...

by Scott Silversten

If there is a higher power looking down on the sports world, these are the things we will see on a baseball field this season …

-- Albert Pujols’ 74th home run. This is by no means a knock on Barry Bonds, a person whose crimes against the game pale in comparison to his crimes against human decency. Rather, a season for the ages by Pujols will forever put to rest the notion that records set 50 years ago can be debated and discussed against records of the present. Sports medicine has evolved to the point that even players who haven’t broken any rules or used illegal substances are much better conditioned than their peers of the past. Smaller ballparks, expansion, juiced players and juiced baseballs have all contributed to the homer explosion in the last 20 years.

-- Barry Bonds’ 715th home run. This moment appears to be a train wreck waiting to happen, but Bonds is hands down one of the top five players in baseball history. He has clearly been the best of his era, even if the era is one defined by steroids. More than any great of the past, including Babe Ruth, no one changed the game’s strategy the way Bonds did. Since it looks more and more like he will not be able to surpass Henry Aaron, Bonds deserves the No. 2 spot on baseball’s all-time homer list.

-- Managers pitching to Barry Bonds. There is an argument that Bonds was pitched around way to often during his greatest years. At the very least everyone in the National League needs to find out if he is still a dangerous force, or instead just a decent hitter who will capitalize mostly on mistakes this year.

-- A pitching matchup between Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. The Mets and Cubs meet six times in a 13-day span in mid-July and a campaign should start now that will influence managers Willie Randolph and Dusty Baker to align this clash of former Atlanta Brave aces. Maddux is off to a truly remarkable start with a 4-0 record and Major League leading 0.99 ERA. Glavine has slotted in behind Pedro Martinez in the New York rotation to help propel the Mets to an early lead in the National League East.

-- The Tigers playing meaningful games into August. Detroit has been one of the pleasant surprises of the early season and currently stands second in the American League Central behind world champion Chicago. Any top-10 list of the season’s best moments thus far must include Jim Leyland’s tirade following the Tigers’ 10-2 loss to Cleveland on April 17. Oh, and Chris Shelton? Despite winning Tigers Player of the Month honors last July (a dubious distinction to say the least), his name was probably unfamiliar to most fans until his offensive explosion to begin 2006.

-- A microphone on the mound at Safeco Field. Exactly how does Seattle Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima communicate with his pitching staff?

-- Metallica! For those outside the New York city area, there was a big controversy in early April when Mets’ closer Billy Wagner took the mound to the tunes of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” That is also the song that Mariano Rivera of the Yankees has made famous in the Bronx. For all the publicity the group received in the New York tabloids, the least they could do is perform a benefit concert at Yankee or Shea Stadiums this summer.

-- Dontrelle Willis in a different uniform. It’s unfair to say the ace of the Florida Marlins is having his talent wasted pitching with such a young squad, because sports really would not work properly if everyone could only play for winning teams. However, not only is Willis fun to watch on the mound, but as one of the best hitting pitchers in the game, he’s just fun to watch, period.

-- The Royals and the Pirates series. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t mind viewing the June 20-22 series between the teams that appear to be the worst in their respective leagues. Why? To remind myself that an awful baseball game is still quite an enjoyable experience.

-- Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the mound in back-to-back days for the Cubs. It would just be good for baseball.

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wild Card Wednesdays: Quiz By Numbers

In this edition of Wild-Card Wednesdays, we test the limits of numbers in defining the history of the great sport.

Baseball- a team game if there ever has been one- places a microscopic focus on individual statistics. Theoretically, every important achievement or skill within its bounds is quantifiable- including, until recently, the very qualifiable but subjective matters as defensive abilities and "value".

The language of baseball is spoken in numbers. Numbers. They are what separate hall-of-famers from regular players, and what separate baseball from every other major sport.
Quickly basketball fans- Kareem Abdul Jabbar scored more points than any other player in history- how many? How many goals did Gretzky score in his storied career? Now tell me the next two highest.

I thought so.

With that in mind, it's time for a BFT-proctored quiz. We're going to delve into some pretty specific numbers here. The questions differ markedly in their difficulty, but in the end, we hope that these digits, like any good baseball numbers, add to your appreciation of the greatest game.

Take out a #2 pencil, a blank sheet of paper, and let's begin:

The infield-fly rule
1. In what decade was the infield-fly rule put into effect?
a) 1890's
b) 1910's
c) 1930's
d) 1950's
*Extra credit:
True/False- With one out, a man on first, and a pop up to the second baseman, the batter isn't automatically out

The Ground Rule Double
2. In what decade was the Ground Rule Double put into effect?
a) 1910's
b) 1920's
c) 1930's
d) 1940's
*Extra credit
Before the instatement of ground rule doubles, what was done with balls that made it over the fence on a hop?

Designated Hitter
3. On April 6 of what year did Ron Blomberg of the Yankees become history's first DH?
* Extra credit:
What is one non-interleague situation involving a DH where an AL team must use its pitcher (or a pinch hitter) to bat? Assume there are adequate men left on the bench.

We're #2!
Sure, fans all well-versed in the career leaders in many offensive statistical categories- but let's see how well you know the runner-ups. Name the #2 career leader in the following categories:
4. AVG
5. RBI
6. Extra-Base Hits
7. Intentional BB
8. At Bats/HR

The Longest Bomb
9. How far was the longest estimated HR in MLB history?
a) 600-625 feet
b) 626-650 feet
c) 651-675 feet
d) 676-700 feet

In Stitches
10. How many stitches are on a regulation baseball?



The answers:
1. a. The rule was put into effect in 1895, as players complained of defensive errors made on purpose in order to turn easy double or triple plays. *The statement, in fact, is true. In order for the infield fly rule to take effect, there must be less than two outs, and either: bases loaded, or runners on first and second. Dropping a ball on purpose with a man on first base in order to get him out at second only exchanges the man on first with the batter (source).
2. c. The AL adopted the ground rule double in 1930 and the NL in 1931. *Prior to those dates, a ball that landed in the stands on a hop was a home run (source).
3. 1973. *If a DH during the game takes a position, he forfeits his role as DH and the pitcher now must hit for himself (source).
4. AVG: Cobb .366 Hornsby .359
5. RBI: Aaron 2297 Ruth 2217
6. XBH: Aaron 1477 Musial 1377 (Ed. note: interestingly, Rafael Palmiero is #6 on the all-time list with 1192, behind only Aaron, Musial, Ruth, Bonds and Mays)
7. IBB: Bonds 607 (through 2005) Aaron 293
8. AB/HR: McGwire 10.61 Ruth 11.76 (Bonds is 3rd) (source for 4-8)
9. b. On Sept. 10, 1960, Mickey Mantle hit a shot estimated at 634 feet (source).
10. There are 108 double-stitches, or 216 stitches, on a regulation baseball.

Wild Card Wednesdays appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Kansas City Royals: Baseball, Wal-Mart Style

by Jeremy Bird

In 2005, the Kansas City Royals posted an abysmal 56-106 (.346) record, a full 43 games out of first place. It was the worst record in baseball. It was the worst record ever posted in the history of the franchise, yet just two games worse than their awful 58-104 2004 season.

This year the Royals are set for a third straight 100-plus losing season. Off to another embarrassing start at 4-13, a streak that has already included an 11-game losing streak, the 2006 team is currently 27th in the majors in hitting (.247) and dead last in pitching with a 6.19 ERA.

The Royals’ recent woes can best be explained by this baseball truth: you can’t win baseball games with Wal-Mart-style management.

Wal-Mart and the Royals
The Royals’ current owner, David Glass, was Wal-Mart’s CEO in his former life (1988-2000). Unfortunately for Royals fans, Glass is running the Royals like he did Wal-Mart. As Wal-Mart’s CEO, Glass was responsible for expanding the company’s business model, including forcing taxpayers to subsidize his profitable company, paying workers substandard wages, and destroying small businesses (to name just a few).

Under Glass' "leadership," the Royals are 401-571 (.413). Glass’ teams have lost 100 games in three of his six years as owner (they lost 97 another year).

Ultimately, Glass’ business model with the Royals does what it did while he ran Wal-Mart: screws over the players, other businesses, fans and taxpayers. It also loses baseball games, by the hundreds.

Welcome to baseball Wal-Mart style.

Baseball on the cheap
Granted, there is no comparison to the wages of a Wal-Mart worker versus a Kansas City Royal. However, there are similarities if you examine the Royals in comparison to other major league teams.

In every year of Glass’ reign, Kansas City has ranked in the bottom 10 of MLB payroll. Last season, the Royals had the lowest payroll in baseball ($29.7 million). This season, Glass opened up the pocket book a little; the team is now fifth lowest in the majors (total payroll of $47.3 million). The MLB average for 2006 is $77.6 million, ironically leaving the Royals about 60 percent below the industry average in pay (similar to Glass’ Wal-Mart).

The biggest problem is that the team is not going on the cheap with young, farm-built talent. Instead, Glass’s offseason spending increases included signing these free agents: Reggie Sanders, Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, Mark Redman and Paul Bako. Hardly the impact players that will turn around a 100-game losing team. Not nearly enough to justify the raise in sales taxes and ticket prices.

The average age of the team on the field last Saturday night for the Royals was 31. The Royals current squad is what you get when you spend less money than other teams, when the only free agents you can sign are the ones other teams won’t bid a lot of money for.

In case the last three Royal seasons have not convinced you, you can’t win baseball games on the cheap unless you actually invest in your young players and develop them. Mientkiewicz and Sanders just aren't going to bring the playoffs back to K.C.

Taxpayer Subsidies
This April, the Kansas City Royals (and Chiefs) received $425 million in sales-tax subsidies with the raising of sales taxes to pay for ballpark renovations. Glass claimed that the subsidies would help the Royals add 2,500 seats in their signature fountain area in centerfield, among other park amenities. Does anybody think a team coming off two 100-plus losing season and a recent 11-game losing streak needs additional seating?

Here is the sad truth: According to federal data, raising sales taxes by 0.375% to pay for the renovations will take $25 a year out of the pocket of the average Jackson County, Missouri resident. Taxpayers are subsidizing Glass, the millionaire owner, just like we did Glass, the millionaire CEO.

Poor residents are seeing increased sales taxes to help keep a team that recently lost 11 games in a row? Makes about as much sense a taxpayers subsidizing a new Wal-Mart in their town while the company rakes in billions in profits. Glass ought to be paying taxpayers and ticket holders rather than the other way around.

The Real Losers
At the end of the day, both Wal-Mart and the Royals screw the customer (fan). Once upon a time the Kansas City Royals were described by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as a “model franchise” in major league baseball. From 1975-1989 the Royals were perennial contenders. Playoff baseball was expected.

The Royals used to have one of the most rabid fan bases in the country, with supporters reaching several surrounding Midwestern states. The constantly losing has slowly killed off the fan base.

What would happen to a baseball team and its city if it were managed like Wal-Mart?

Welcome to Kansas City.

Full Journalistic DISCLOSURE: This columnist works for a watchdog group devoted to improving the working conditions for Wal-Mart workers. He hates the Royals and still believes the runner was out at first base in game 6 of the 1985 World Series, a call that robbed the St. Louis Cardinals of another World Series title. The columnist also believes the umpire who screwed up that call, should be banned from baseball for life. He thinks Glass is an immoral corporate schmuck and hopes the Royals lose 120 games this season.

Bird's Eye View appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, April 24, 2006

Yankee Diary #4

by Michael Carlucci

Tuesday, April 11

It's very good that we pulled this one out. It's embarrassing to lose to the Royals, as we did three times last year. Bernie Williams had two hits, including an RBI single. But let's not get too excited about this. Yes, he was productive today, but Bernie -- who has had a borderline Hall of Fame career -- is no longer even an average player. For the good of the team, he should be shown the door. You don't win games with sentiment and memories. You'll see. Bernie will cost us a lot this year, both offensively and defensively.

By the way, I hate these day games. We will have two more this week. It's terrible not knowing what's going on.

Saturday, April 15

Today is a dark day, and not only because your taxes are due. Mariano blew it. We had miraculously ripped the game away from the Twins and Mo gave up two runs to give it back. It is always particularly painful when this happens. Yes, the hits were cheap and Hideki made a stupid play in the outfield, but still.

I am too sad to go on writing now.

Tuesday, April 18

We had a four-run lead before the Blue Jays came to bat. We trotted out one of the two or three best pitchers in his generation, an intimidating menace who could easily protect this cushion.

But then he started pitching, and he morphed into a 42 year-old slop thrower. The hits just kept coming. Boom. Another homer. Uh oh, Giambi's throwing. At least Johnny Damon made some great catches in center.

What can you say about a game like this? Randy Johnson isn't what he used to be. Maybe Mike Mussina can find the fountain of youth.

Even if RJ limits these outings to once per month, that's enough to lose the division unless we get good pitching from elsewhere. Where's that coming from? We have Phil Hughes, who might be ready by August. It won't be Aaron Small, who lucked his way into ten wins last year. And Carl Pavano, what with his sore ass, is on the shelf for a while. Can you imagine that? Pavano is on the DL with a "bruise in his buttocks." I can't believe we gave this guy $10 million a year.

Wednesday, April 19

We got a great effort from Mike Mussina today, and we needed it, since we only scored 3 runs. We should have had one more, but umpire Bruce Froemming missed an obvious call. The bases were loaded with two outs when Derek Jeter hit a ground ball up the middle. Shortstop Russ Adams flipped to second baseman Aaron Hill for the force, but Hill never caught the ball. E4, run scores, everybody's happy. Except Froemming, who was out of position, ruled that Hill had indeed corralled the ball and only dropped it while transferring from his glove to his throwing hand. Froemming was wrong on both counts, and his ineptitude cost the Yankees a run. Since this was the third out of the inning, Hill had no reason to make a throw, but this thought apparently never dawned on the beefy umpire.

Bruce Froemming is a bad umpire and a bit of a jerk to boot. In 2003, he was suspended for 10 games for calling a Major League Baseball executive a "stupid Jew bitch." According to a USA Today article, Froemming was leaving a voice message with umpiring administrator Cathy Davis when he incorrectly assumed the recording stopped. He then offered his opinion on Davis' intelligence, religious affiliation, and species. When forced to be contrite, he issued the following statement: "I made a stupid remark and I accept my punishment. I've apologized to Ms. Davis. There was no anti-Semitism whatsoever on my part." This is like taking a forkful of pasta, stuffing it into your mouth, chewing, savoring, swallowing, and then saying you never wanted to eat it.

Froemming was punished once before, in 1996, for attempting to have Mike Piazza sign some baseballs for him. And yet this guy continues to umpire and, worse still, cost the Yankees runs.

Friday, April 21

Another blown call, and another loss. This one came courtesy of home-plate ump Phil Cuzzi, who called a pitch that was clearly outside a strike. Game over, even though it should have been a game-tying walk.

Sunday, April 23

It's 11 am, and we stand at 8-8. The Yankee Offense has produced well, and is on pace to score 1002 runs. And still we're only a .500 team. You could point to poor pitching, and indeed we have had some of that. Our defense isn't great either. But we've been throwing away outs with Bernie, Miguel Cairo, and Kelly Stinnett receiving far too many plate appearances. Yes, the offense is good, but every loss this year occurred because we didn't score as many runs as the other team.

One way to score more runs is to use better hitters. That's where Bernie comes in. Or that's where Bernie should go out. How has he done? 48 plate appearances, 11 hits (10 singles and a double), 3 walks, and 34 outs made. The Yankees have played 16 games, meaning that they have had 432 outs to work with. Bernie has made 34 of them, or 7.9%.

Johnny Damon, Bernie's replacement, has made 76 plate appearances, with 19 hits (7 doubles, a home run, and eleven singles), eight walks and 49 outs made. So Damon has made 11.3% of the Yankees' outs so far this year, or 3.4 percentage points higher than Bernie. But Damon has made 1.58 times greater plate appearances, meaning that if he hit as poorly as Bernie, he would have made 12.5% of the Yankees' outs, or 54. So Bernie would have made 5 more outs than Damon. Those 5 outs in 16 games translate to 51 outs over a full season. Those are 51 outs we'll never get back.

Of note is that Damon is, at least at the moment, the lowest-hitting Yankee regular except Bernie. And still he easily outproduces Bernie, and possesses a much higher sluggling percentage (.426 to .267). It would be easier to accept Bernie's out-making tendencies if he compensated by hitting for power, but those days are long gone.

As if that weren't enough, Bernie's defense is, and has been the last few years, among the worst in the league. Yet Torre insists that he play in the outfield as well.

The solution? Use a platoon of Andy Phillips and Carlos Pena as DH. Pena, currently at AAA Columbus, could be useful as a backup to Giambi at first as well. Call up Kevin Reese, also at Columbus, to play the backup outfielder spot. Get rid of Bernie, the ex-Yankee Great and Bubba Crosby, the never was.

Forgive me, Bernie. You were once great but now are not even a shadow of your former self.


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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