The Editor in Chief of Baseball Prospectus, Steven Goldman has been with BP since 2003, writing the "You Could Look It Up" column which ties baseball history into current events, and now "The BP Broadside," a current events column. As an editor, Steven has supervised the creation of the BP books "Mind Game" and "It Ain't Over," as well as the last six editions of the New York Times bestselling Baseball Prospectus annual. As a solo author, he wrote Forging Genius about the professional education of Casey Stengel. He also writes the Pinstriped Bible for the YES Network and releases original songs at Casual Observer Music. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and a pair of cats named after famous Republicans.
Baseball Prospectus welcomes aboard fresh talent to the regular staff for the new year.
I want to show you something personal I think about a lot. It’s a picture that suggests to me how random existence can be, how good things can come from unexpected events. This is a picture of the Free French Battleship Richelieutaken about February 1943:
Dan Duquette is going to be good for the Orioles if he can remember some old bad (but potentially good) habits.
Dan Duquette is going to be good for the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, we all laughed when everyone who has been in baseball this century turned down the opportunity to serve as the most visible private in Peter Angelos’s imbecile army, leaving the owner with no choice but to hire Duquette, a man who had been out of baseball practically since the last century. The former general manager of the Expos and Red Sox had not commanded a front office since ending an eight-year stay in Boston in 2001. His version of the Sox had reached the playoffs three times but had won only one division title and, of course, failed to snap "The Curse". This guy was going to be the innovative, creative executive that would free the Orioles from years of ignominy?
I can’t tell you the answer to that question. What I can tell you is that the qualities that made Duquette a poor fit for Boston will make him helpful to the Orioles.
When we began work on the Boston Red Sox book that eventually became Mind Game, we internally referred to our work as “The Rudy Pemberton Project.” “How is Rudy going?” people would ask me each day. “Rudy Pemberton” was a reference to one of Duquette’s many projects. Perhaps because the Yawkey Trust was a very different kind of boss, with far shallower pockets, than John Henry was for Theo Epstein, or maybe because he just loved bargain-shopping, Duquette was seemingly obsessed with turning over rocks to find secret stars. Rather than compete with the Yankees for the big names, he’d try to fill out his roster by attempting Hail Mary passes on players like Pemberton, Morgan Burkhart, IzzyAlcantara, Tuffy Rhodes, Dwayne Hosey, Calvin Pickering, and, on the pitching side, Robinson Checo.
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Steven Goldman is cynical about everything, including Yu Darvish. And if he had a lawn, you would be invited to get off of it.
We could all feel very silly in a few short months. As I write these words, the world, or at least the fraction of the world that lives its life on Twitter, is eagerly awaiting the news of which team submitted the winning bid on Yu Darvish. No doubt by the time you read this, the news will be known. I’m not sure that it will change very much, because the risk of post-Christmas letdown and buyer’s remorse is still the same regardless of which uniform the pitcher ultimately wears.
Indeed, as I wrote the preceding paragraph, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote that the Texas Rangers have won the rights to Darvish. This is perfect, because the Rangers were the team of David Clyde, one of those examples of post-Christmas letdown I referred to above. Now, before the comments section fills up with responses saying, “That is a poor analogy! Darvish is a seasoned pro! Clyde was only 18 and skipped right from high school to the bigs! Of course he was disappointing!” allow me to preempt at least some of you:
Some plans have a greater chance than others of working out. Very few are predestined to fail. If the Rangers had correctly scouted Clyde, there was no reason why an aggressive promotion couldn’t have worked out. Sure, the only 18-year-old that has pitched with real success in the big leagues since the 19th century is Bob Feller, but that doesn’t mean Clyde couldn’t have been the second. The list of 19-year-olds to do well in the majors is long and distinguished and includes relatively recent pitchers such as Dwight Gooden and Felix Hernandez. Perhaps that one-year difference is crucial, but so few teams have risked it that we can’t know for sure—the complete list of 18-year-olds to pitch in the big leagues from 1970 to present is all of four hurlers long, and none have come since 1978, perhaps because of the chilling effect of two of those failed high-school-to-the-majors experiments, Clyde and Mike Morgan. Schrödinger-like, the possibility existed that they could have come out of the box as live aces instead of DOA doormats (Morgan did eventually become a fine pitcher).
Albert Pujols is very different from anything the Halos have had before.
I caught myself about to write this sentence: “Albert Pujols will be the best first baseman in Angels history.” This is a tautological statement, completely unnecessary: with rare exceptions, Pujols is the best first baseman in anybody’s history. In terms of career warp, he is already 31st on the all-time list, with only a couple of first-sackers leading him:
As you walk down the halls here at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, you hear a continuous stream of “BuehrleBuehrleBuehrle” as people pass. It sounds like a dentist just said, “rinse” to 10,000 people. The story of this winter meetings, if there is indeed a story at all, is the Marlins going ape, trying to redo the whole 1997 carpetbagger-palooza. The smart money says that the Marlins don't have the smart money to carry on with this act very long. It will be fascinating if either (a) attendance in Miami isn't what the Fish hope it will be, or (b) they don't go on a sustained postseason run. Miami is filled with unrented condos. The Marlins could, at least metaphorically, join them on the pile. One assumes they know what they're doing—I'm generous like that in I don't assume a guy committed suicide until I hear his friends say, “He seemed depressed”--but between old and new commitments they are on the hook for a great deal of money.
This morning at the winter meetings, the chatter was Pujols-Marlins, Pujols-Marlins, with occasional interruptions for Marlins-Pujols. This points out an aspect of the winter meetings that is a drag: this event used to be about trades, but now it's about negotiations. I am as curious as anyone to learn where one of the all-time great ballplayers will end up, but the process of his getting here is not too different, at least from an outsider perspective, than attending a real estate closing.
General managers would be wise to to avoid making a commitment to a player whose only real commitment is to himself.
As a foolish youth, envisioning life as a swashbuckling adventure akin to an Errol Flynn film rather than days of drudgery punctuated by bouts of physical and emotional constipation only occasionally relieved by moments of elation and release, I imagined that love was caring about someone more than you cared about yourself. My lady, I will do anything for you: take that bullet, throw my body in front of that train, and go to the store to buy you tampons at 3 AM.
This attitude tended to bring me into relationships with the wrong kind of women, specifically the ones who would let me do all of those things. They were beautiful, intelligent, witty—all wonderful things that draw me like a moth to a supernova to this very day—but they were also entirely willing to accept my extraordinary exertions on their behalf, radiating small doses of noncommittal affection and praise in return. There was always one more superhuman feat for me to perform—“Fetch me the singular lotus blossom that grows on the frozen top of Mons Olympus"—before I could receive the ultimate reward, which in this case was not sex (though that could be part of it), but the full expression and permanent possession of their love.
I never did get there. The insurmountable obstacle, I eventually realized, was that I was always competing with a rival I could never defeat, someone she would always love more than she loved me: herself. Thus, to go along with one of my cardinal rules of existence:
I am someone who feels most comfortable in small settings—alone, one on one, or with a small group of intimates. I would not say that I am a recluse, but I certainly have tendencies in that direction, inclinations that the internet has made all too easy to indulge while still allowing me to keep tabs on the larger world. As a writer (as distinct from a journalist) I also have an interest in living in my head—it's the laboratory where I get my work done. What happens at the keyboard is just the outputting of a much longer cognitive process. That's true even when I'm writing about, say, A.J. Burnett, although in that case the cognitive process is about as brief as his typical start.
I just don’t think it matters much. The Red Sox apparently have their manager in Bobby Valentine, and it’s good to see one of the most active and flamboyant and active managers in recent memory get a fresh start with a good organization. Valentine was once one of the youngest managers in the game—he became the manager of the Rangers at 35—but other things got in the way, and after a ten-year hiatus that included stops in Japan and ESPN, he’ll be picking up his career at 62. He was once a young manager for a young team—Valentine’s Rangers broke in Oddibe McDowell, Pete Incaviglia, Ruben Sierra, Edwin Correa, Jose Guzman, Mitch Williams, and Bobby Witt, among others, all at once. Now he’ll be an old manager for a veteran team.
Just as Casey Stengel said that you had to have a catcher or you’d have a lot of passed balls, a team has to have a manager because... well, it’s not exactly clear at this point, given win expectancy studies showing that most managers regularly botch games with bunt, steal, and intentional walk signals. I suppose it’s because without a manager, Albert Pujols might call his own inexplicable hit and run plays or your starting pitchers with 6.41 ERAs will sit in the clubhouse and clog their arteries with chicken-fried chicken fat with a side of batter-coated human fingers. The inmates can’t run the asylum, that is clear. One of Valentine’s good points is that he’s a restless, creative character who likes to draw attention to himself. He’s both the inmate and the asylum, and Boston has not seen that flavor of manager since Stengel himself grew sullen and morose managing a bankrupt Boston Braves team that he had to loan money to so it could make payroll.
That’s all good—better than an unwanted sequel like “Don Zimmer II: The Gerbil Reborn”—but there might not be much more than entertainment value in the move for the time being. As much as Valentine can be a progressive manager who loves to move players in and out of the game, he has never shown a consistent ability to get a team to overcome a conspicuous lack of talent. His sole World Series team, the 2000 Mets, far outplayed its Pythagorean record on the merits of some excellent relief work, a starting rotation that was that fronted by three lefties having strong seasons, and Mike Piazza. It was also blessed by having its worst player, shortstop Rey Ordonez, break his arm early in the season. Ordonez was a mirage Valentine could never see through (or if he did, couldn’t bring himself to quit), and his injury allowed the team to turn the position over to Kurt Abbot, Melvin Mora, and Mike Bordick. That wasn’t great either, but it probably gave the Mets a couple of wins over what Ordonez would have provided. Fate is not always so kind to a manager as to save him from his worst inclinations.