Fully Baked Zito

barry-zito-giantsBarry Zito has hit on a clever tactic to be left alone. In a GQ interview, he acknowledged that he was a Christian who enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis. His interviewer, Nathaniel Penn, gives what I think is an accurate recap of the public perception [certainly was mine] of Zito prior to the interview:

During his prime years with the Oakland Athletics, Barry Zito won the Cy Young, dated Alyssa Milano, surfed, played guitar, meditated, and generally personified that beloved baseball archetype: the flaky lefty. In 2006 he signed a massive, history-making deal with the Giants, only to lose control, inexplicably, of his celebrated 12-to-6 curveball. Since then he has been great only in short bursts: a month here, six games there. Now he personified something else in baseball: the mega-contract bust. But last fall, with the Giants facing elimination in the playoffs, he saved their season and led them to their second World Series title in three years.

No more half-baked image or ideas for this guy. The 34 year-old MLB pitcher didn’t just shake off the flaky label in the interview, he beaned it on the first pitch and then rushed home plate and clubbed it as Flaky oozed its last vial of quirkiness across home plate. I mean jeez, Barry. Being married, owning and enjoying firearms would have been plenty. No, you had to go C.S. Lewis on them. Here are some of the gruesome details:

To what degree are you a different person than the person you were in Oakland?

I think I’m a little bit less of a seeker these days. I’ve found something that I just really love, which is the Christian faith, and it’s new to me. I grew up being a seeker and being completely out of the box and testing and reading and trying all different religious things and kind of philosophical approaches and such, and it’s kind of a backwards route. Most people are raised very rigidly in an organized religion and then they try to fight their way out of that. I needed structure [laughs]. A lot of these kind of spiritual things are all based on the self and that was just too—I couldn’t handle that anymore. I don’t know. I think it led to a form of—it can lead to narcissism, I think.

Even now I can hear the rumbling from secular humanists grabbing their broken-cross-I-mean-peace-sign pitchforks, ‘Narcissist? Whoa, is he saying…’ Perhaps I exaggerate Zito’s expected fall from celebrity grace [actual Grace being what he appears to have embraced]. One of my favorite MLB bloggers, Craig Calcaterra from Hardball Talk, a proud non-reactionary type, weighs in:

The bigger takeaway, I think, is that while it’s often tempting and easy to pigeonhole hippie/playboy/zen/surfer types on the one hand, and it’s tempting and easy to pigeonhole Christian gun owner types on the other, there are a lot of people — probably most people — who fit neither of those easy caricatures. Zito is his own dude, comes off as a pretty thoughtful dude, and there’s something cool about that.

By the way, in the specific Lewis book Zito cited, The Problem of Pain, he might have come across something like the following–Lewis on the issue which I’ll characterize as why bad things happen to good people:

Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.

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MLB in Little Havana: Walking through the Houses of the Holy

This Sunday I took a 4 mile walk in preparation for what I hope will be frequent nighttime walks during many MLB seasons to come.  Since the possibility that a baseball stadium would rise up on the Orange Bowl grounds [The Battle for Evermore], I have looked forward to taking my walks around the new stadium even as I listened to radio or internet broadcasts of the game.

Those walks to come are already vivid in my head.  I know that I will unhook my earphones as I pass homes who are watching the game or people outside their apartments listening like me.  At first there will a series of imperceptible acknowledgements.  But by June, my MLB fandom established,  there will be waves, quick head-shakes inspired by Stanton and actual conversations.

Who knows, there might also be fellow bloggers along the path.  Like Lourdes girls who know of Sandy Denny, they are rare but do exist, so sayeth the book of Daniela.  I already have a few suggestions.

The Led Zeppelin song Houses of the Holy [see below] — through an admittedly parochial prism — written nearly 40 years ago, nicely captured my mood on the walk to the opening of a MLB park in my neighborhood.

Let me take you to the [Tower Theater] movies. Can I take you to the [Domino Park] show

Let me be yours ever truly. Can I make your garden [Brigade 2506 Memorial Park] grow

From the houses of the holy, we can watch the white doves [Giancarlo Stanton dingers] go

From the door comes Satan’s daughter [New York Yankees], and it only goes to show. You know.

There’s an angel on my shoulder [Miami-Dade County Hotel and Restaurant Taxes], In my hand a sword of gold [SEC investigation]

 
The song rambles on after that …

See what my Little Havana GPS reads like for the 2 mile [one way] walk:

  1. Start out going north on SW 26th Rd.
  2. Turn left at Sts Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
  3. Turn right onto SW 13th Ave at the Anaut’s house.
  4. Go past the 2506 Brigade Memorial.
  5. Go past Calle Ocho / Olga Guillot Way.
  6. Go past Flagler St.
  7. Turn left at St John Bosco Catholic Church.
  8. Take right onto NW 14th Ave.
  9. The OB2 / Marlins Park is 3 blocks ahead.

(more…)

Mike González – In the Game

Mike González died about when I was graduating from the great Miami Senior High. His name was familiar to me growing up because my father would mention his accomplishments as a Cuban in MLB with pride, along with his namesake, Adolfo Luque. One of the best pieces of advise I have heard and learned in life is about the need to ‘get in the game.’ Meaning, whatever it is you want to do, get involved in any capacity and then work your way up [or out, not all our initial ideas are good ones]. So while I have no idea how much González earned from baseball along the way, I am sure he was a success.

On September 24, 1890, Miguel Angel González (Cordero) was born in Havana, Cuba. He would die there 87 years later. Here are some of the things he accomplished in baseball along the way:

  • 1910 – Began playing winter baseball in the Cuban League
  • 1911 – Played “Negro baseball” with integrated teams from Cuba
  • 1912 – MLB debut for Boston Braves
  • 1929 – World Series appearance with the Chicago Cubs
  • 1932 – Appeared in last MLB game
  • 1934 – Joined the St. Louis Cardinals coaching staff under manager Frankie Frisch
  • 1938 – Became the first Cuban-born (and Latino) manager in Major League Baseball history
  • 1946 – Was the 3rd base coach when Enos “Country” Slaughter made his “Mad Dash” to win the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals
  • 1950’s – Barnstormed through Cuba with fellow Cardinal, Stan Musial.
  • 1950’s – González is credited with contributing a lasting piece of baseball terminology. Asked by the Cardinals to scout a winter league player, González judged that the player was outstanding defensively but a liability as a batter. He wired back a four-word scouting report: “Good field, no hit.” That phrase is still in use today.
  • 1955 – Elected to Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame

Please also see the Encyclopedia of Baseball entry for Gonzalez.

Marlins Comeback, Irrational Fears and Rick Camp

Try and understand my irrational habit involving MLB specifically, and local team affiliations in general. I enjoy following, listening, but not always watching, MLB’s Florida Marlins. I also enjoy the emphasis in the field of economics which assumes that human behavior is rational and based on incentives and trying to find that logic in everyday activities. Fandom and efficient use of my time has long represented one of those RAM-memory eating concerns which David Allen tells me to write down and figure out the next action step to resolve.

But the now vicious habit — whose inculcation began through an old Zenith radio [it’s not the one pictured, but close] which I now equate to the method of attacking civilization in Stephen King’s novel, ‘Cell’ — had idyllic origins [don’t they all?] in the early 1970’s, as I sat by myself and carefully calibrated the radio dial to pick up WKAT-AM which carried the Atlanta Braves games. My favorite scenario was when they were on the road to play the LA Dodgers, as I had the kitchen to myself with no pesky human witnesses to impede my assault on the fridge [the roaches were unamused]. That’s two more bad habits if you’re keeping count, so let me confine this post to just one and not digress.

The habit which began next to that radio was cemented on cable television in the early morning hours of July 5th 1985. The glorious baseball game which began with and endured two hours of rain delays, lasted an actual six hours, ended at 4 am, had a player hit for the cycle and saw the Atlanta Braves hit two two-out game-tying home runs in extra innings. Afterwards, the Braves stadium people, clearly in a sleep-deprived decision-making mode, went ahead and emptied out their fireworks, which resulted in numerous 911 calls in the Atlanta area.

The second of those two-out home runs was hit by a middle relief pitcher who had the worst career batting average of any active MLB player when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 18th inning, his name was Rick Camp. Camp hit the home run on an 0-2 count. Often, when I hear one of those jokes about people wasting their Genie-granted wishes on less than miraculous things, I think of that home run.

I was watching and I knew I had just seen one of the most amazing sports-related things ever. But it must have been around 3:30 am, there was no one who I could turn to or call. I walked outside my Little Havana house on the possibility that there was someone else watching who needed to have another human being confirm what they had just seen. There was no one and besides that, I was quickly reminded that I didn’t live in the safest of neighborhoods.

What I saw when I walked back inside made this the greatest game ever. The Mets scored 5 runs in the top of the 19th inning. Now I know the Camp 18th inning home run is the main thing here, so if the game had ended with the Braves going 3-up and 3-down, it’s still gotta be one of the top 5 games ever, no doubt. But what happened next makes it #1 and if you disagree you’re probably the type of person who thinks public employee unions are a good thing for democracy.

The Braves had two outs with a runner on second. Then, walk, walk, single and the tying run comes up to the plate in the person of Rick Camp. Again an 0-2 count. This time he strikes out. I was standing up and not breathing during his at-bat. Greatest game ever, case closed.

The unproductive activity I alluded to earlier is watching or listening to the end of sporting events involving teams I root for which will almost certainly [98% probability] result in defeat, i.e. I’m not even counting close or interesting games. The irrational fear is the fear of missing any comeback. Missing any comeback is annoying, missing a great comeback is anathema. Fortunately, I have only one other irrational [plenty of rational ones] fear in life, that is being outside of Miami the day Fidel Castro suffers a violent and agonizing [OK, … any kind of] death.

Recently the Marlins had one of those comebacks against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a comeback on steroids with 14 unanswered runs, culminated with a 10-run eight inning. It was the 3rd time in MLB history that a team had come from 7 runs down and won by at least 7 runs. I missed the comeback. I didn’t just miss it, I missed it in the most egregious of manners. I gave up on the game based on the time and score [down 7 in the 5th]. I turned my back on what may be the highlight of the season for what? A little extra sleep?

The shame.

Philly Talk After Lindstrom Walk

It’s 9:54 pm and Matt Lindstrom has just walked Shane Victorino to open the 9th inning. It’s officially time for me to pace around the house. As is my habit, I had just logged back into MLB.com and the other team’s radio broadcast [I had been checking in off and on during the game]. One of the neat things about MLB.com’s Gameday Audio is the ability to listen to the other teams broadcasters. I have no idea what makes a good or bad broadcast, when I listen I’m trying to get a sense of what others are saying about the Marlins [and naturally, any anti-embargo comments-J].

The Philadelphia broadcasters are fine–Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen on WPHT-easy going and fair about the Marlins, i.e. raving about what a good young prospect Voldstad is. They had just the right amount of homer-ism too. For example, they were still whining many innings later about a pitch they felt which should have struck out Helms before he homered–music to my ears given that it came at the expense of uber-annoying Jaime Moyer.

To put the revenge factor in perspective, it did not rise anywhere close to the 3rd strike call against Fred McGriff and the Atlanta Braves in the 1997 NLCS. That glorious pitch, delivered by Livan Hernandez, was so far outside it would have gone behind a right-handed batter and came at the expense of a team which lived off it’s great pitchers getting the benefit of an expanded strike zone for over a decade, in the playoff game clinching at-bat no less. It is simply the gold standard for revenge.

If Eric Gregg was forced to spend any time in purgatory before arriving in heaven, some of my prayers may have [or will] put him over the top. An actual wikipedia quote about the 1997 NLCS Game 5:

Hernández pitched a complete game, three-hit, 15 strikeout masterpiece to reclaim a series lead for the Marlins

This particular game is remembered for the controversy surrounding an unusually wide strike zone by umpire Eric Gregg.

Beautiful, just beautiful.

But I digress. It’s 9:55 pm and the crowd is buzzing, smelling a comeback against the struggling Marlins and Lindstrom. It’s now 9:56 pm and just like that, it’s over. Paulino threw out Victorino trying to steal 2nd base. The air went out of the crowd and the broadcast. Stairs and Ruiz were quickly dispatched and by 10:00 pm, Lindstrom had another save. It’s 10:01 and I’m trying to convince myself that I never really doubted him.

I am a big fan of the Marlins TV broadcasters, Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton. Waltz makes you realize how valuable a sense of humor is to an enjoyable broadcast, especially over an entire season–think of him as the anti-Joe Morgan. I think Hutton does a good job of walking that fine line of being honest about questioning managerial moves–a key part of an analyst’s job I would imagine–without trying to throw the manager under the bus.

Case in point, last night Hutton speculated about whether Dan Meyer could have been left in the game to pitch to Howard in the next inning. A tough call given that Meyer’s batting slot came up in the top of the 8th. Working together, Waltz laid out the scenario for not over using the bullpen and Meyer. Last night was the 1st time all year [ever?] that Meyer was used in 3 consecutive days. Case closed, he should have come out, but it’s a fun baseball debate.

Hey we got Andrew Miller going tomorrow, he’s looked good in his two outings since his return….

The MLB Roller Coaster

Paying close attention to a major league baseball team would cure any casual fan of any preconceived notions of how things should be. In 2009 alone, the Marlins have had 7-game winning and losing streaks. Sandwiched between two Lindstrom blown saves, their bullpen had a streak of over 24 scoreless innings.

Take Emilio Bonifacio. He has gone from one of the hottest players in baseball to having Marlins fans wondering if he will ever make contact again. Check out Bonifacio’s splits as a switch-hitter, they are dramatic. As a left handed batter, he has struck out in 20 of 62 at-bats [as opposed to 2 of 22 at-bats as a right-handed batter] and has less power than from the right side. Those numbers scream out for a platoon role as right-handed batter. But not so fast [pun intended], he’s a lead-off man and has yet to draw a walk from the right side of the plate this year. Yesterday, he gets his first start at 2nd base and turns in a great defensive play to save a run and the lead and also goes 2 for 5 at the plate, the last hit a double off K-Rod from the left side of the plate.

Go figure.

Take Matt Lindstrom. After his blown save last Friday, which took his ERA from 1.5 to 10.8, he proceeded to save 2 games within 24 hours in New York. But his ninth inning yesterday was a good example of the unpredictability of MLB.

Yesterday, the Marlins beat the Mets by scoring two runs off of J. J. Putz, the Mets designated 8th inning relief pitcher. If Putz were with the Marlins, he would be their highest paid player–since counting is what I do, 11 Mets would fit that description. Then the Marlins bring in their closer and the line score indicates no runs, no hits, no errors, Lindstrom gets the save, end of story. Not exactly. In my last post, I had a defense of manager Freddi Gonzalez’s use of Lindstrom, so no Lindstrom-hater here. But check out his ninth inning:

Score FLA 4 / NYM 3

M Lindstrom relieved L Nunez.

G Sheffield hit for F Rodriguez.

G Sheffield walked.

C Beltran walked, G Sheffield to second.

D Wright struck out looking.

R Church grounded out to first, G Sheffield to third, C Beltran to second.

F Tatis hit by pitch.

O Santos hit for R Castro.

O Santos popped out to shortstop.

0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors

So I’m listening to the game at ‘work’ on MLB.com Gameday audio [getting the Mets broadcast for perspective], and I’m dying with every ball. Veteran radio listeners are always tipped off by the crowd reactions, so I suffer each ball twice since I’m hoping I misinterpreted the crowd reaction. After watching Putz get burned by walking the first 2 batters, Lindstrom proceeds to do the very same thing! It’s too late to erase my blog post defense, so like Freddi Gonzalez, I have to [spiritually in my case] hang with Lindstrom–speaking of spiritually, you might root for Lindstrom a little harder if you knew that he did missionary work as a teenager–since I figure another blown save might ruin his career, so I’m really pulling for the dude. He then hits Tatis!

Now I’m worried about manager Freddi Gonzalez’s job. Another Lindstrom blown save and it will get ugly. Momentarily, I slip into a tribal warfare mentality. We can’t have a Cuban-American manager sacrificed for this wild Swede, we just can’t have it! I regain my composure. Karma now all moving in the ‘save’ direction. Mets broadcasters are not too happy that Manuel’s pinch hitter was fetched from the bullpen. I visually imagine them sharpening long knives like an old style barber on a leather strap in case it does not work out. Santos pops out. No runs, no hits, no errors, many frayed nerves. On to Wrigley. Man, it’s still April!

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See article about Lindstrom’s missionary work below.

Life experiences help Lindstrom

Sunday, February 22, 2009  – Buster Olney

When Florida Marlins relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom was young, maybe 12 or 13 years old, he decided he wanted to go on a mission for his church. He made that decision before he developed into a major baseball prospect and before there was a real lure for him to continue to pursue baseball. When he was 17 years old, he could throw 90-94 mph.

But Lindstrom stuck to his plan and went on his two-year mission to Sweden, the homeland of his great-grandfather.

“It was an incredible experience,” Lindstrom said in a phone interview. “I came away with stuff I’ll always have my whole life.”

Lindstrom lived in seven cities and saw the whole country, and he stayed in Stockholm for eight months. He did service work, doing things such as cleaning up yards in homes owned by elderly women. They’d get up early in the morning and work until night in Sweden’s rapidly changing climate. When Lindstrom was in the southern part of the country in the summer, daylight would just be fading at midnight.

“It was just crazy, having that much daylight,” Lindstrom recalled.

And he remembered the winter day when he stopped work for lunch at 1 p.m. and when he stepped outside again, it was pitch-black.

Lindstrom grew an inch and put on 10 pounds when he was in Sweden, but his development went beyond his height and weight. Had he chosen a different path, he could have been in college or perhaps could’ve played minor league baseball during that crucial time in his life. Instead, he did something else besides baseball. Lindstrom believes it helped him physically, because he wasn’t throwing a baseball every day, as well as emotionally.

“At that age, you are still maturing, still growing into your body,” he said. “Pitching too much at that age could be detrimental to your health. I think it helped me to take that time off and mature into my body, I thought.

“But beyond that, I can’t imagine being a major leaguer at such a young age,” Lindstrom said. “There are temptations that baseball brings with it, and in the two years, I matured spiritually as well.”

Lindstrom told his father that if he had signed at 18 years old, he’s not sure he would’ve been as equipped to make the same decisions he made after his two-year mission.

When he returned to the U.S., the velocity of his pitches was down to 86-87 mph, but within five years, his fastball reached 100 mph. Late last season, he emerged as the Marlins’ closer. He is well-armed as he prepares for the 2009 season, in velocity and in perspective.

Baseball on the Radio

I had one of those busy nights last Tuesday. I was shuttling my kids, my Mom & Tia around from nightfall on. The next to next to last stop was to pick up a friend on our way to a funeral home for the father of a mutual friend. We arrived at the funeral home around 9:30, paid our respects and engaged in the type of conversations which make you question why we allow petty concerns to dictate so much of our ‘regular’ lives. The conversations can be predictable and yet still cathartic. The seriousness of the moment permits us to outwardly show appreciation towards friends and inwardly entertain big and serious thoughts.

In one of those traditions which ‘we should begin if it didn’t exist,’ the funeral home visit was followed by a stop at a restaurant with friends. By law, the restaurant must serve Cuban coffee, in this case, La Carreta. I skipped the coffee–I said the restaurant had to ‘serve’ the coffee, not that you had to have it–and waddled straight to the flan–staying above 30% body fat is not a hobby for the feint of heart. However, that is not what I meant to write about.

Tuesday night was the night of the exciting Team USA win over Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. After the game, a moving story unfolded as a handicapped U.S. Army veteran–Felix Perez–was brought into the U.S. clubhouse by the usher of the century, Brian Finnegan. Perez was treated, very appropriately, like a hero. However, even that is not what I meant to write.

I listened to the WBC game intermittently on the car radio, catching the entire 9th inning rally on the way home. A local station picked up the ESPN televised broadcast. The play by play guy on the broadcast is very familiar to Miami sports fans. Jon “Boog” Sciambi was part of the Marlins radio network from 1997 to 2004 and for a while hosted a mid-day radio show here. He was a bright guy who knew his stats and could never bring himself to do the typical sports radio thing, i.e. yelling at callers. When someone would try and bait him, he would offer to fight them on their home lawns. I was a fan. Currently, aside from ESPN, Sciambi is part of the Atlanta Braves broadcast team.

Sciambi made my favorite sports ‘call’ ever. The odd part is that I did not even hear his call live, if that makes any sense. He was part of the radio broadcast and I only heard his call on the DVD of the Marlins 2003 playoff run. The thing is that the DVD served as a reliable lullaby for my kids, so I heard it often. The call described Mike Mordecai’s second at bat in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs. It would be hard to describe the absolutely unbelievable turn of events represented by an inning which started with a dominant Mark Prior [as a former Dodger fan, I was having Miamian Steve Carlton [1983] flashbacks during the game] retiring Mike Mordecai to start the inning. That seven runs later Mordecai would be standing on second base still amazes me. Sciambi’s call captured the incredulity of it all.

Sciambi’s call of the WBC game mixed in easily with discussing the home run controversy the previous night and other topics. When Rollins got on base, he lead Buck Martinez into a discussion about the strategy in those situations and highlighted just how good Rollins is in that department. Good stuff for us baseball fans. As I listened to Sciambi, I was reminded of what approaches. The baseball season. Following baseball in Miami in the early 1970’s meant listening to the Braves on WKAT. A lifelong (hopefully) habit was born. So goodbye audiobooks burned to CD’s, MLB is back. Soon, seemingly every time I get in the car at night, there will be baseball, and in the case of the Mets, hopefully their blood.

Magglio Ordonez: Fellow Traveler

Fellow Traveler defined:

Refers to a person who sympathizes with the beliefs of a particular organization, but does not belong to that organization. The phrase must be understood as referring to people who “walk part of the way” with an organization, without committing themselves to it.

Some people see the hostility [booing] towards Maglio Ordonez during the World Baseball Classic and find it unfortunate. We call these people metrosexuals. Ordonez richly deserves the mild abuse he has received, since he is a classic fellow traveler.

A professional athlete being booed is mild abuse. Real abuse is what a national government can do to dissidents. Abuse is what the man who Ordonez endorses from a safe distance does to those whom he deems to threaten his power. Until I see proof that Ordonez keeps a healthy chunk–he signed a five-year $75 million dollar contract in 2005–of the monies he has earned in Venezuelan banks, under the control of Venezuelan authorities and subject to the ‘Organic Tax Code’ and wealth and property confiscation laws, then he is a hypocrite. The type that advocates coercive governmental policies which they will never have to adhere to.

I have no idea whether Ordonez is a well-educated man who believes deeply in a more socialized form of government, excusing potential abuses as a necessary evil to correct historical injustices, or just some yahoo whose athlete status and indigenous appearance [4th degree–out of 5–PC Teflon protection, results may vary] has immunized him from a harsher scrutiny up until now. The bottom line is that he has chosen to use his wealth and influence to aid and abet a dictator who many of us believe has done great damage. And for that Mr Ordonez will have to answer for long after his window of usefulness to MLB and the Chavez regime–in that order, unsurprisingly–has passed.

But the powers that be have no doubt noticed what has happened here these past few nights. You can just smell their horror that someone–someone who supports a leftist regime dammit!–is being held accountable for those beliefs. If you close your eyes, you can just see the Ordonez defense team gathering steam. First it will come from someone in the baseball community, likely Peter Gammons.

Host: Now for a report from the great Peter Gammons
PG: MLB officials were privately horrified at the treatment Magglio Ordonez received in Miami. It is fair to say that this area will not be hosting the Classic again, and frankly, you can understand [read: I do] why they feel that way.
Host: [Note: A real ESPN host would never actually ask confrontational and challenging questions, it is presented here as our version of fantasy baseball talk] Peter given that the boos came from his own countrymen, why would MLB seek to punish the Miami baseball community. Wasn’t the Classic in Miami exactly because they knew the fans from Latin countries would be passionate about their teams?
PG: Passion for the game is one thing, but to have a player singled out for his actions off the field is just unacceptable. Especially when those actions are not inconsistent with the type of changes which we ourselves have voted for recently. I mean it’s bad enough Cuba had to shipped across the country to play.
Host: Wasn’t the Cuban sent out west partly due to the Cuban governments boderline paranoid concern about defections?
PG: The Cuban players I talked to were happy to play for the National team and would never think of defecting. Frankly, that’s just the spin from Miami’s Cuban exile community and a lot of people [read: me] think it’s time American foreign policy moved on from their parochial concerns.
Host: Peter, we are in your debt as always.

From there it will spread to the reliable purveyors of leftist truth; MSNBC, network news and late night comics. However, that crowd’s only other contact with people who look like Magglio is their catering crews. So we know that the manufactured-outrage crowd’s attention shall too pass(ball).

What will be left one day is Ordonez likely settled in the U.S. and trying to figure out where he fits in. Forget living in Venezuela, his kids are being raised here. If Thomas Wolfe’s neighbors were immigrants, the book would have been named, ‘We’ll Never Go Home Again.’

First the bad news. Where he settles depends on a choice which awaits him in retirement. He will either issue a sincere and contrite apology for his actions and be embraced by the Venezuelan community in South Florida. Or he can move into Obama’s Hyde Park neighborhood–is that Billy Ayers knocking on the door with an organic fruit basket? The good news is that at least he’s got a choice. Unlike the people whose freedom he helped to further erode.

Classic baseball upset ?

The Netherlands win over the Dominican Republic on Tuesday in the World Baseball Classic was the biggest upset since …. the Netherlands beat the Dominicans last Saturday. The latest win was obviously more dramatic since it was an elimination game, but still, it made me think about what we consider upsets, especially in baseball.

Expectations obviously have a lot to do with it. The Dominican team could be confused for a MLB all-star lineup, whereas the Netherlands only active MLB player was the Marlins own, Henricus [Rick] VandenHurk. I would think baseball would be more susceptible to upsets, given that great pitching can dominate a game. See that’s my prejudice going into the topic and it was reinforced in the case of the Netherlands against the Dominicans.

They ended up playing 20 innings in two games. The Netherlands only scored in 2 of them, the first inning of the first game [3 runs] and the last inning of the last game [2 runs]. So their hitting, while timely, was not the difference. Their pitching was. They allowed only 3 earned runs in those 20 innings, despite 15 base on balls–VandenHurk did not pitch against the Dominicans, but had 3 shutout innings against Puerto Rico. Based on that, could we make the case that pitching is the key to teams which are considered upset winners?

Let’s see if even a superficial review of recent World Series winners yields any evidence about the effect of pitching in upset scenarios. We’ll define upsets as those cases which the winning team had 10 [or less] wins than the team they beat during the regular season–I include the team pitching ERA for the season and keep in mind that American League ERA’s are probably about half-a-run higher due to the DH:

  • St Louis in 2006 [4.54 – 9th of NL 16 teams] beat Detroit [3.84 – 1st of 14 AL teams]
  • Florida in 2003 [4.04 – 7th in NL] beat New York [4.02 – 3rd in AL]
  • Atlanta in 1995 [3.44 – 1st in NL] beat Cleveland [3.83 – 1st in AL]
  • Cincinnati in 1990 [3.39 – 2nd in NL] beat Oakland [3.18 – 1st in AL]

Well, other than establishing that NL teams are more likely to pull the upset, it’s back to the drawing board in terms of understanding why upsets occur. Pitching is the easy and intuitive answer, but I need to find another way to look at the numbers. In three out of the four cases above, the team with the best pitching during the season [DH adjusted] was the victim of the upset.

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The Dutch Are Stunning the World at the Classic

March 12, 2009 – By JACK CURRY

SAN JUAN, P.R. — The surprising baseball heroes from the Netherlands trickled out of the third-base dugout on Wednesday, more successful than ever and as unidentifiable as ever. They have no names on their jerseys, which only partly explains why just one player was initially asked for an autograph.

When pitcher Leon Boyd signed his name, some of his teammates watched, happily and hopefully. Maybe a fan would ask them to sign, too. It was a cool scene surrounding a cool team, a team that has already overachieved by shocking the Dominicans twice in the World Baseball Classic.

The Dutch team’s second victory over the Dominican Republic, in 11 innings on Tuesday, enabled it to scoot into the second round of the W.B.C. Alexander Smit, another pitcher for the Netherlands, was acting relaxed about the stunning results while lounging at the hotel with some teammates. Eventually, he stopped being calm and acted as giddy as a Little Leaguer eating ice cream.

“Imagine when I’m 60, I’ll still be talking about this,” Smit said. “If I ever have kids, I’ll be telling them what we did.”

What the Netherlands did was press the fast-forward button on its humble status in international baseball. The Dutch pitched smartly and aggressively, made play after snazzy play, and generated just enough offense to stay alive. “For us, we shocked the world,” outfielder Gene Kingsale said.

Since the Netherlands and Puerto Rico had already qualified for the next round, Wednesday’s game mattered only for seeding. It also mattered to 19,501 Puerto Rican fans who watched the home team win, 5-0. That result, and Venezuela’s 5-3 win over the United States, set up these second-round matchups Saturday in Miami Gardens, Fla.: the Dutch play Venezuela, and Puerto Rico plays the United States.

The progress of the honkballers, which is the Dutch word for baseball players, is the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament’s equivalent of a 16th-seeded team beating a No. 1. Twice. Half of the players on the Netherlands’s 28-man roster were born there, 11 are from Curaçao and 2 are from Aruba. Boyd, who had a win and a save against the Dominicans, is from Canada.

Knowing that Boyd’s mother was from the Netherlands, Robert Eenhoorn, the team’s general manager, journeyed to Belgium to scout him. After watching Boyd, Eenhoorn asked him how soon he could apply for a Dutch passport. Boyd said that he already owned one.

“Then you just made the Dutch team,” Eenhoorn said.

Even Eenhoorn admitted that he thought his team was at least four years away from something this special. Rick VandenHurk has pitched in 22 games for the Florida Marlins, while 10 other players on the Dutch team are minor leaguers. If those players blossomed, Eenhoorn believed that 2013 could be memorable.

But the Netherlands succeeded in making 2009 memorable. The team with players from Corendon Kinheim, DOOR Neptunus and Veracruz Red Eagles, clubs in the Dutch Major Leagues, outlasted a Dominican team with David Ortiz, Hanley Ramírez and José Reyes. Only five Dutch players have major league experience.

The Netherlands used five pitchers in the first win over the Dominicans, and six in the second matchup. Manager Rod Delmonico tried to never let the Dominican hitters face the same reliever in two straight at-bats. That strategy confused some strong hitters, who were already flustered against pitchers they had never seen.

Bert Blyleven, who was born in the Netherlands and won 287 games in the majors, is the team’s pitching coach. He has implored his pitchers to be aggressive, to pitch to their strengths and to not worry about which All-Star was batting. Before Wednesday’s game with Puerto Rico, the Dutch had held opponents scoreless in 26 of 29 innings.

“I think sometimes when you’re David Ortiz or you put that Dominican club together or Puerto Rico, they think that maybe these guys over here are in awe,” Blyleven said. “Like I told them, David Ortiz puts his pants on the same as you do.”

In the tensest situations, the Dominicans, not the Dutch, were the players who seemed anxious. That was an interesting contrast, especially since Delmonico compared the talent in the Dutch league with that of Class A rookie ball. But, he proudly added that the Netherlands had proved it could compete at the major league level for the last few days, too.

As Eenhoorn watched batting practice on Wednesday, he was a satisfied architect. Eenhoorn, who played briefly with the Yankees in the mid-1990s, retired from the majors before the 1998 season. He could have stayed in the States, but he returned home to build the sport he loved. Construction is ahead of schedule.

“I’m a little in awe, too,” he said. “This is unbelievable what we’re doing.”
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Injecting reason into the steroids debate

I contend that science, sports nutrition and statistics offer us sane MLB fans a way out [see the last paragraph] of the boring steroids monologue and phony outrage which sports commentators threaten to drown us with this coming season. The latest trigger were the recent disclosures about MLB players failed drug tests in 2003.

To recap, Alex Rodriguez is currently being vilified for admitting to taking performance enhancing drugs [PED] at a time when their use was widespread in MLB and not illegal. Further, the reason we know this is because a United States Attorneys Office subpoenad drug tests which players voluntarily submitted to under the explicit condition that the results be destroyed. J.C. Bradbury summarizes:

This is an absolute embarrassment to the US government. Here we have a private organization implementing a program to fix a problem that government officials wanted fixed. Players did not have to agree to random testing, and without the 2003 anonymous testing we might have a very different MLB drug policy today. The samples ultimately got used for something other than their intended purpose, and people wonder why players are were to reluctant to agree to testing in the first place? President Obama is right to shut down Gitmo for violating civil rights. He should shut down the BALCO case as well. The proper role of government isn’t to satisfy our curiosity about doping in sports. This has what this case is about.

Last night I was driving home from work and tuned into The Inside Pitch with Josh Friedman [O’Brien interview available], an interesting new radio show geared towards MLB fans. I heard someone, not Friedman, commenting on A-Rod and thought they made an interesting, but not well thought out point. His point was that he would support Barry Bonds for the Hall of Fame [HOF], but not A-Rod. The reason he gave was that Bonds career was HOF-worthy prior to his steroid use–he could tell when that began based on his obvious physical transformation–whereas he could not make a similar assessment of A-Rod.

The problem with that analysis is that not all PED’s result in the bulking up associated with body builders and Bonds in particular, for example Rafael Palmeiro. What I heard next was a little depressing. The guy talking was Dave O’Brien [not the Marlins former radio guy], the current president–based on a rotating system–of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America BBWAA.

I have no idea what kind of writer O’Brien is, I happily assume he is a good one. But based on his views with respect to the HOF and PED’s, he is clearly not very analytical when it comes to this issue. But PED’s are the hot issue in his profession at the moment, so the idea that he would be more analytical in other areas is unlikely. Sure enough, when you start reading about it, there is a bit of a turf war going on between newspaper writers and the web-based writers, let alone with the hard-core statistical guys. Given the revolution in the use of statistics to analyze MLB, which began with the great Bill James, it is a shame that those in the forefront of quantifying performances in a sport which lends itself more than most to quantifying performances, don’t have a more prominent role with mainstream fans.

Time to pick sides. I hope the statistical turks start their own HOF. The battle which Michael Lewis documented in the area of scouting with Moneyball, should be also come to the mainstream analysis of MLB and the HOF. From the average fans point of view, the main issue with steroids is how to properly weight the statistically inflated results associated with the era. It’s not hard to foresee various studies done which discount power numbers by 25% and improves ERA’s by 13%, etc. While they are at it, they can adjust for the size of ballparks throughout MLB’s history. Goodbye asterisks, hello promotional flash drives which contain revised leaders in various statistical categories. Pete Rose and I will bet on it.

My dream for MLB this year is that one of those brilliant people at The Hardball Times or Sabernomics come up with an analysis which shows how many home runs Babe Ruth would have hit if he was happily married, allergic to hot dogs, and spent the off-season working out with Red Grange. My own estimate is 822. Or how about estimating how many homers discrimination cost Hank Aaron’s. How about filling out Ted Williams career with full MLB seasons instead of being interrupted twice–TWICE–with stints in the armed services of his country.

There you have it, a new and improved career leaders in the MLB statistical clubhouse, end of outrage, but the beginning of incredibly fun statistical modeling. My current HR leader at 822 is not very scientific I grant you, but it is as reasoned as the criteria used by the current head of the BBWAA for determining his HOF vote in approximately 12 years.

Hannibal Lecter’s lesson

The next time you read or hear about “A-Fraud,” remember The Silence of the Lambs. FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling is trying to profile a serial killer called Buffalo Bill with the help of famed psychologist and serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, who teaches Starling the following:

He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? … We begin by coveting what we see every day.

So take a closer look at those by-lines or program hosts, maybe they just covet.

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