Friday, May 12, 2006

Baseball For Thought Upgrade This Weekend

We are moving to our new permanent site at www.baseballforthought.com over the weekend. Please note that during that time our archives may not be available.

After that time, we will very shortly be unveiling our newly-designed website. We've been growing considerably over the past few months, and are very excited about this latest development. Stay tuned!

We here at Baseball For Thought thank you for your continued support. It's been awesome. As always, we'd love to hear your comments/suggestions/rants- especially as we leave the strict confines of blogger and design our new site from scratch.

Send us a line at baseballforthought@gmail.com.

Classy Women of Baseball

by Rob Hyman

On the heels of Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate the special women in our lives, I thought we could take some time to look back through years at some of the special women in our baseball lives. Baseball is the classiest sport out there – and here are some of the classiest ladies who make that true:

Anna Benson

When Kris Benson was pitching for Pittsburgh, his wife Anna (whom he met in a strip club in Atlanta) was just another beautiful wife of a baseball player. Anna quickly leveraged Kris' trade to New York in July 2004 to make sure the world knew the kind of gal she is. The move into the spotlight of New York caught the eye of FHM Magazine who quickly named her “Baseball’s hottest wife.”

Shortly after the 2004 season Anna appeared on Howard Stern’s radio program to talk some politics (and her nude modeling career). Somehow the subject of cheating came up and Anna made her famous claim that if Kris cheated on her, she'd sleep with everyone in the Mets organization (including the grounds crew). I wonder if that included the women who work for the Mets. I'm sure Howard asked.

Then there was her ejection from the 2005 World Series of Poker - classy.

And to top things off (pun intended) there was her appearance at the Mets children's Christmas party wearing a revealing dress.

A woman baseball should certainly be proud of.

Marge Schott

You have to respect and admire someone who said that Hitler "was good in the beginning, but went too far." I wonder where she drew the line as being "too far"

And opening day in 1996, what was Schott referring to when she said "First it snows, now this"? No, not a blackout or a problem getting the tarp off the field. She was referring to the delay in the game caused by home plate umpire John McSherry having a massive heart attack. Now there's a role model.

Lest we not forget Ms. Schott's description of Eric Davis and Dave Parker as "million-dollar n@*$ers"

Hey, bottom line, she bought controlling interest in the Reds in 1984 for $11 million and sold it in 1999 (forcibly so) for $67 million.

She deserved every penny.

Morganna Roberts (The kissing bandit)

I don't know about you, but every time I get up to bat in Sunday softball - I look to see if she's around. I mean she kissed the likes of George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Ryne Sandberg. Why not me?

While at least she retains some entertainment value, not exactly the most classy of women.

So on this Mother's Day, don't just remember your mother and grandmothers, but remember those classy ladies that have helped to keep off-the-field aspects of baseball interesting and exciting throughout the years.

Rob Hyman's column appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Proposal for MLB Realignment

by Scott Silversten

No sport is slower to embrace change than baseball, mostly because the “purists” that surround the game shout loudly from rooftops whenever a new idea is even mentioned for discussion. The designated hitter, artificial turf, three divisions, the wild card...all were labeled as a step towards the end of civilization.

However, with the exception of artificial turf, most of the changes throughout baseball’s history have only made the game more interesting.

Thus, over a decade after the three-division format was going to mark the end of the "pennant race," it’s time for another major shakeup that will surely rock the sport’s foundation.

There are two inherent problems it the structure of Major League Baseball in 2006. The first is the large disparity between big- and small-market teams. Honestly, unless something changes, will the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ever have a chance to play in October?

The second problem is the wild card format. In itself, the wild card has been a tremendous addition to baseball. Its one flaw is that the schedules of teams competing for that fourth playoff spot in each league vary immensely. An unbalanced schedule ensures a lot of clashes between big-time rivals, but it also means that at the end of each season, there will always be wild card contenders that had favorable or unfavorable schedules.

So without further adieu, I present a format that MLB should quickly embrace. But unless you are David Blaine, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

In order to make this format work, baseball needs to expand by two teams to reach a total of 32. Yes, we’ve all heard the complaints that there is not enough pitching already. Truthfully, adding 20 pitchers to major league rosters is a negligible change. Even trained eyes won’t be able to notice the difference.

The obviously candidate cities for expansion include San Antonio, Indianapolis, Columbus, San Jose and Charlotte. Let’s eliminate San Jose (it’s too close to Oakland and San Francisco) and also delete Charlotte (there are enough east coast teams already). So let’s award the expansion teams to San Antonio and Indianapolis.

Three factors must be considered under the realignment plan.

1. Keeping rivals together. The Yankees and Red Sox must stay within the same division. The same goes for teams such as the Cardinals and Cubs, and the Dodgers and Giants.

2. Few teams as possible should be forced to switch leagues, although it will be necessary in some cases.

3. Big market vs. small market. Let’s give teams such as the Devil Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals a chance by grouping them with teams whose payroll isn’t $150 million higher than their own.

Below is a breakdown of a new eight-division format …

American League
===============
EAST
-----
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Baltimore Orioles
Toronto Blue Jays

CENTRAL
-------
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Minnesota Twins
Indianapolis (Expansion)

MIDWEST
--------
Detroit Tigers
Milwaukee Brewers
Kansas City Royals
San Antonio (Expansion)

WEST
----
Oakland Athletics
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Arizona Diamondbacks


National League
===============
EAST
-----
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals

CENTRAL
-------
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Florida Marlins
Tampa Bay Devil Rays

MIDWEST
-------
St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
Texas Rangers
Houston Astros

WEST
----
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies

As you will notice, only the Devil Rays, Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks were forced to switch leagues. Texas switches in order to compete in a division with in-state rival Houston, while the choice to move to the American League came down to Arizona over Colorado simply because fans would grow old watching AL games at Coors Field.

This new format does two things. First, it eliminates the need for a wild card. Secondly, it gives many more teams a chance to compete. Take a look … the divisions are quite balanced. In any given season, it’s easy to imagine any team finishing first.

Now it is time for the schedule. Each team would play 14 games against its three division rivals for a total of 42. Each team would play six games against the other 12 teams in its league for a total of 72. And each team would play three games against the 16 teams in the other league for a total of 48.

Total = 162

As for the postseason, matchups and home-field advantage would be determined on a rotating basis. While it is true that a team wrapping up a division early would have little to play for throughout the remainder of the regular season, it’s going to prove quite difficult for teams to run away from their competitors in this format because of the balance of each division.

It’s long been said about baseball that the postseason is a crapshoot and in a short series, any team has a chance. That would be the beauty of this new format. In addition, the postseason would often produce "David vs. Goliath" encounters.

Small markets would always be represented in the postseason, with spots reserved for champions of the NL Central and AL Midwest divisions. Not only would interest be heightened in the respective cities, but the champions of those divisions would likely become the "Cinderella" of the postseason, similar to the way small schools are embraced nationally during basketball’s NCAA Tournament.

There is only one thing better than this plan, and that is listening to baseball traditionalists explain why we cannot mess with the wild card!

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

To Mom. Love, Your Baseball Playing Son

This week on Wild-Card Wednesdays, we pay tribute to the men who paid tribute to the most important women in their lives: no, not the cute blonde in the third row. We're talking about their mothers. As the final WCW before Mother's Day, we proudly salute you, mom.

According to the Associated Press, Major League Baseball gave special permission to players to use baby pink bats on Mother's Day, as part of a weeklong effort to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. As of press time, over 50 players, including Kevin Mench, David Ortiz, Jim Edmonds, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, Hank Blalock and Derek Jeter had been preparing to use the unique bats.

"My mom is the glue of our family, and I just want to do something to thank her for all that she has done," Mench said before Tuesday night's game against Minnesota. "At the same time, we are raising money for a great cause."

In the spirit of mother's day, here are more quotations from our favorite players, about dear old mom:

On maternal creativity:
"My first sport was eighth grade basketball. And my dad didn't want to buy me the supporter johnny, you know, to do the job. So my mother made me one out of a flour sack. And the tough thing about that is, you put that thing on, you whip it out of your bag in the gym. You know all the guys are looking at it. And you start the game. The guy guarding you knows exactly where you're going since little specks of flour keep dropping out. And then right down the front it says 'Pillsbury's Best.'" - Bob Uecker, 2003 Induction Speech for Hall of Fame

On eternal love for mom:
"It would depend how well she was hitting" - Early Winn, when asked whether he'd throw at his mother
"I would if she were crowding the plate" - Winn again, when asked if he'd do that even on Mother's Day
"If I were playing third base and my mother were rounding third with the run that was going to beat us, I'd trip her. Oh, I'd pick her up and brush her off and say, 'Sorry, Mom,' but nobody beats me." - Leo Durocher

On learning the game from mom:
"My mother used to pitch to me and my father would shag balls. If I hit one up the middle close to my mother, I'd have some extra chores to do. My mother was instrumental in making me a pull hitter." - Eddie Mathews

Moms, expressing confidence with their sons:

"Joey [Albert] is extremely smart. He's great with figures and crossword puzzles. He could spell backwards when he was five. Did you know that my Joey was an Eagle Scout? He took French in high school, finished sixth in a class of two-hundred sixty-six. I brought him up to excel in everything. He wants to be perfect."- Carrie Belle (Albert Belle's mother) in Sports Illustrated

"My boy has a chance to do it. He takes care of himself and nothing comes in front of baseball for Henry. Nothing. On days when he is feeling good, it's just too bad for the pitchers." - Estella Aaron (Hank Aaron's Mother), on whether he would break Babe Ruth's HR record

Finally, we end today with an old favorite poem, published anonymously 120 years ago, but still surprisingly relevant:

Untitled, by Anonymous (1886)

Mother, may I slug the umpire
May I slug him right away?
So he cannot be here, Mother
When the clubs begin to play?

Let me clasp his throat, dear mother,
In a dear delightful grip
With one hand and with the other
Bat him several in the lip.

Let me climb his frame, dear mother,
While the happy people shout;
I'll not kill him, dearest mother
I will only knock him out.

Let me mop the ground up, Mother,
With his person, dearest do;
If the ground can stand it, Mother
I don't see why you can't, too.

Mother may I slug the umpire,
Slug him right between the eyes?
If you let me do it, Mother
You shall have the champion prize

Please note: All quotes other than the AP quote courtesy of baseball-almanac.com

Wild-Card Wednesdays appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Losing my innocence in St. Louis

by Jeremy Bird

I finally made it. It only took 23 games.

My flight was late coming in from Portland, Oregon. By the time I landed, Jason Marquis had already given up 5 runs to the Nationals. By the time I got to the park, the game was pretty much over. Washington, of all teams, was in the process of blowing out the Cardinals.

But, I had come to see more than this game. I had come to see the new Busch. I had come to see my childhood, my innocence gone.

Change is a peculiar thing. At first site, I was overwhelmed with two competing emotions.

On the one hand, this new stadium was heinous. It sat there spitting in the face of the old, pure Busch. It sat there with no memories of Stan, of Dizzy, or Ozzie. It sat there looking all young and energetic with no respect for history. I hated it for taking away the place that had given us so many memories. It sat there with its outrageous $8.25 beer (the brewery is less than 6 blocks away!) mocking the baseball of my youth.

On the other hand, it was a beautiful site. The panoramic view of the Arch gave it youth and vitality. The retro brick façade gave it an air of respect. The wide open design made it feel like I was truly outside, no longer trapped in some 1970s-style cement donut. The 40,000 plus fans packed into the new stadium made me realize that baseball might not change in St. Louis despite its home.

I let those competing emotions sit with me while I watched the game. I tried not to let the fact that I had standing room only seats on a rainy night in an 8-3 loss to one of the worst teams in baseball impact which emotion I chose to embrace.

I walked around, enjoying my standing room only “seats.” I spent some time in right, center and left. At the 7th inning stretch, I finally made it behind the plate. I watched King Albert hit his 13th homer of April from the third base line in the 8th.

After the game, I stood behind the plate, looking out at the Arch, the mighty Mississippi and the St. Louis skyline. I took in the smell of hot dogs and peanuts and beer. I listened to the crowd grumble about the inconsistent pitching of Marquis and the unbelievable hitting of Pujols.

And I knew that the future was going to be alright, even if I had lost a little of my youth.

"Bird's Eye View" appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, May 08, 2006

Yankee Diary #5

by Michael Carlucci

Monday, April 24

There is no game today so I can opine on a favorite topic. Bernie, oh Bernie; he was once a phenomenal player but is now chasing his own shadow. He is no longer even an adequate player, especially in the field. Does this dawn on Joe Torre? Or does he think Bernie's performance is acceptable?

Some regular readers of this diary have been disappointed in my anti-Bernie position. The retort is this: Bernie has had a great career but right now he hurts the team. One should not feel sorry for him. He's extremely talented. Look at these accomplishments: he's got more skill than all but one or two of his generation's center fielders. He's won a batting title and four Gold Gloves. And, of course, he's got four rings. If that's not enough, he's a classically trained guitarist, having released his own CD. He speaks two languages fluently. He is rich beyond most of my lottery-winning fantasies (I'm one of those people who daydreams about hitting the pick six but have never actually played). He just hasn't aged well by major league baseball standards and should ease his way into coaching.

Think of it this way: if I botched your diagnosis, would it comfort you to know I used to be a terrific doctor?

Monday, May 1

Tonight was ugly. And preventable. Or at least we would have had a better chance if Torre used the proper players. You have to play games against the Red Sox as playoff-level. Instead, Torre used Aaron Small for two adventurous, yet scoreless, innings. Small allowed four baserunners over two innings, had another batter hit the ball hard, and did not record a strikeout. Torre was apparently pleased with this, and rewarded Small (but punished the team) with another inning. Small walked Alex Cora (he of the .550 OPS), hit Kevin Youkilis, and thus left a mess for the next guy. Unfortunately, Torre chose Tanyon Sturtze to be the next guy, and he promptly gave up a run-scoring single. Then came the move that has been pre-determined since December: he brought in Mike Myers to face David Ortiz. The result was predictable. The steroid-bloated slob hit a three-run homer.

What should Torre have done? He should have used his best pitcher when the game was on the line, that's what. But because this was not a save situation, Mariano Rivera sat and watched from the bullpen. The one stat that Torre actually uses is the most harmful and useless. I might be a bespectacled, science-loving stat geek, but I would make an excellent in-game manager. Actually I'd be even better as the General Manager. Anyway, Torre does not see things my way. He recently said he doesn't look at numbers but rather evaluates players based on "what he sees." The logical response is to ask what he's looking at. The problem with Torre -- and the many like him -- is that he views the newer stats as unrelated to baseball. He's lived his whole life in the game and has been successful without having to think too hard about OPS and VORP, etc. What he doesn't realize is that these statistics are simply a more precise means of evaluating performance.

The first doctors used to talk of humors. They occasionally tasted urine to diagnose diabetes. They would have found an EKG not only incomprehesible but also irrelevant to medical care. Torre is in his urine-drinking phase, and I'm afraid he's not going to advance without a lot of therapy.

But don't get me wrong. Torre has many good qualities as a manager, chiefly his sense of calm. He is also the anti-me in this regard. When I was seven and playing in my first Little League game, I rapped what should have been a single to the hole between short and third. I ran slowly to first because I was afraid of being hit by the shortstop's throw. The umpire, who was ancient to me then but was probably about 12, actually called me safe, anticipating I could easily beat the throw. But then I stopped completely, relieved that I wasn't going to get hit by the ball, which arrived at first before I did. Out. My fear then mixed with embarrassment, and I hurled my helmet across the field toward my dugout. I was removed from the rest of the game for that stunt. I never became a better sport than that. But at least I would make the right decisions about player acquisition and use.

Sunday, May 7

We're 18-11, on pace to score 1,000 runs, and face the Red Sox on Tuesday on a five-game winning streak. What's not to love?

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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