Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus as well as Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel, now available for order from Potomac Books.
Steven Goldman: Good afternoon, fellow seekers of wisdom. Steve here, proud to be an author of Baseball Prospectus, the writer of the long-running Pinstriped Bible and now Pinstriped Blog, apprentice Yankees columnist for the New York Sun, editor and contributor to BP's Mind Game, and, last but not least, the author of Forging Genius, my book on the early career of Casey Stengel. Yes, it has been a good year, and I'm most grateful to all who spend part of their day with me.
This will be a strictly timed chat, I'm afraid, because I'm off to a retinal specialist in a couple of hours. As many of you know from reading the Pinstriped Bible, while writing Forging Genius I was found to be suffering from ocular cancer. Treatment was successful, and I'm quite grateful for that, because it beats the opposite, but the consequence is a gradual loss of vision in the afflicted eye due to radiation damage. In the last few days that process has been accelerating in a big way, so I need to get that checked out before I require a seeing-eye beat writer on my visits to Yankee Stadium. Onward!
denny187 (WI): I'll give you a chance for a shameless plug. When does Mind Game come out? I looked on Amazon and it's not on there yet, even for pre-orders.
Steven Goldman: Mind Game is coming out an an accelerated schedule, so you should see it listed soon. You'll see it towards the end of the summer. We're just getting to the point where we're finalizing the copy, so it's a little early to be soliciting orders.
The ironic thing about Mind Game is that it was supposed to be a "quick" look at last season through the lens of BP - that is, quickly conceived, quickly written, quickly published - but we simply had too much to say on our favorite subject, the ins and outs of team-building. The book has become bigger, more complex, and, I think, better. The latest add, of which I am very proud, is a nearly-complete list of every brawl in major league history. Not only has this information never been compiled, but we have utilized research by our late friend and colleague Doug Pappas. I am so pleased to be able to list Doug as a contributor to this book.
Cris E (St Paul, MN): What's your favorite Stengel quote or story?
Steven Goldman: That's a very difficult question to answer, because there are SO many quotes and stories. Some thoughts of Casey's that occur to me regularly include, "They say you can't do it, but sometimes it doesn't always work," "Tomorrow is just another day and that's myself," and something he said to Sparky Anderson about how if you had two good relief pitchers you'd better get a third because next year one of the two is definitely going to go bad - something that proves to be true about 90% of the time.
While signing copies of the book at the Yogi Berra Museum yesterday, I heard Casey saying, "I'll sign anything but veal cutlets. My pen slips on veal cutlets."
Casey could be a hard guy, but some of my favorite stories are the ones where he showed his tender side. One of my favorite stories was one told to me by Ryne Duren, the team's closer in the late 50s. In his first year with the team, he had pitched a bunch of games in a row, and Stengel told him he'd have the next game, in Washington, off. However, midway through the game, Stengel told Duren to take off his jacket and walk down to the pen. "I thought I wasn't pitching," Duren said. "You're not," Casey replied, "but you're a big star in this league now and I want these fans in Washington to know who you are. I want you to take off your jacket so they can see your number." He just wanted Duren to get a little ego boost.
Banger (New York): Where's the massive article excoriating Billy Beane as the most overrated executive in baseball? He's clogged the corner spots with personal favorites that supposedly play defense, committed a bunch of money to an injury prone 30 year old catcher with a demonstrated trend towards the bottom third of the league, while players that he gave up, like Bonderman, are shining. He's not a Moneyball GM, despite Michael Lewis' book. He's a guy who got lucky with a couple of pitchers and the hire of DePodesta, and now he's twisting in the wind with no clear plan, little talent on the farm, and no one in the front office for whose work he can take credit. Baseball Prospectus has given him a pass for years. Id love to read an honest and in-depth analysis of Beane's last 24 months, and I think BP owes its readership such a piece. When can I expect to see it?
Steven Goldman: The story of Billy Beane and Moneyball is in its middle act, and I'm not rushing to judgment until I see the end of the play. One of the things I've learned about the art of team maintenance is that you have to decide when to rebuild or God will decide for you. Very few GMs understand this point, which is why they suddenly wake up one day and they have the Seattle Mariners on their hands. Beane made an affirmative decision to rebuild. It hasn't worked out so far, but I'd like to see just what groundwork he's laying for the future before I condemn him. I would say that the time to reevaluate Beane isn't now, it's a year from the All-Star break.
And let's say, hypothetically, that Beane does fail here. It wouldn't change a thing about what he accomplished before, just as, say, Branch Rickey's failure to guide the Pirates to a championship does nothing to invalidate the Dodgers and the Cardinals.
Cris E (St Paul, MN): That's a great story. Do you have any on Mantle?
Steven Goldman: Only that Casey has always been excoriated for being too hard on Mantle. When Casey listed his all-time great players for this autobiography, he left Mickey off of the list, an obvious slight. Given that the public knew less at the time about Mantle's drinking and occasional lack of focus, I have always wondered whether Stengel's disappointment related to HIS knowledge of those things. No one I talked to could really answer that question, and I guess without Casey here to ask we'll never know.
Steve (NYC): Total number of HR's for Tino Martinez at season's end will be _____.
Steven Goldman: Boy, I'm not good at this guessing numbers thing. I'm not good at numbers. I'm not good at telephone numbers - remembering my own, scoring them off of women - it just doesn't work out too well when I try anything with digits. Still, he's not going to keep hitting a homer a day. He's slugging well over .900 in May. His career high for a season is .577 (from imperfect memory - you can correct me, but I'm close). Clearly, at his advanced age, his Babe Ruth-ness is going to be momentary.
Anthony (Long Island): Womack. Left field. Discuss, please.
Steven Goldman: I smell a trap here, as I keep getting reader mail suggesting that there's something personal about my dislike of Womack. The truth is, with the exception of the rare player like Jeff Weaver, who as a Yankee really looked like he didn't give a damn, I never have an issue with a player as a person. I wish Womack all happiness. However, a .300 average of all singles is not worth all that much, and all his stolen bases aren't worth a set of out-of-date encyclopedias - someone wrote me today saying they're worth 20 runs over runner with average speed. No. This is particularly true in left field, where there is going to be more competition from players who can hit than there is at second base.
It's a stopgap thing, and it's worked well enough in that it hasn't hurt. Ultimately if they're going to sustain their progress, this will have to change.
Banger (New York): Middle act, my ass. Part of the lesson of Moneyball, and of Beane's public statements, is that rebuilding isn't part of the approach. The central skill he's always sold is the ability to evaluate talent, and the market for talent better than everyone else, so the A's can profit on every transaction. When DePodesta left, Beane was exposed as just another average thinker with a pretty face.
Just as BP's now been exposed as a bunch of insider cowards, particularly since the death of Doug Pappas. Grow a spine, and hire an outside writer to actually evaluate the performance of Beane with the alleged analytical skill and supposed humor that you so fearlessly unleash on lesser GMs. The reason BP is becoming less relevant is because you're being co-opted by your insider status. Act like you've got a pair. Break free. It's okay not to be on Billy's speed dial.
Steven Goldman: BP is a collective of independent thinkers, and there isn't a party line. Each author has his/her opinions, often subject to a good deal of internal debate. And while there are a few among us who know Beane, I ain't never even gotten a hello from him, so my feelings on the matter are unaffected by personal interaction.
I maintain it is too soon to evaluate Beane's latest deals. Some of the new pitchers will develop, some will not. Prospects may come forward, or not. The A's have also been beset by some fairly inexplcable slumps. These things will shake themselves out in the long run.
As for rebuilding not being part of the plan, all teams rebuild. Even Rickey's Cardinals, which had the advantage of having 981 farm teams when others averaged three, couldn't win it every year. Only the 1949-1964 Yankees managed the not-rebuilding trick, and that feat required a special set of circumstances - including the presence of one very ruthless manager named Casey Stengel.
And who said BP is becoming less relevant? Seems to me that our web site is booming, we're reaching more people than ever with our annual book, we have Mind Game coming out shortly and another project (not yet unannounced - I will leave that pleasure to the project's master) to follow that. We're more relevant than ever.
Anthony (Long Island): Hae you seen The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie yet, and, if so, what did you think?
Steven Goldman: I have. I'll be talking about that in tomorrow's Pinstriped Blog entry.
Yay! A short answer!
shamah (DC): Have the Yankees turned it around? Or are the Mariners and A's this bad?
Steven Goldman: That's the big question, isn't it? I'll be writing about this tomorrow in the Pinstriped Bible. Short answer - I'm skeptical. A win is a win is a win, so what the Yankees have done is literally real. I think some players have turned their seasons around - to a degree. I think the opposition was weak too. We won't know beneficial, how deep the changes really cut until the quality of the opposition starts to improve a few days from now.
Cris E (St Paul, MN): Who actually won the post-game fight between Durocher and Stengel? Can Torre take Francona? Who will challenge the Red Sox now that Don "The Plate" Zimmer has moved on?
Steven Goldman: By all accounts the Durocher-Stengel fight was a draw, with both getting in pretty good shots. Casey as a brawler doesn't really fit in with our image of him, but he was actually quick to his fists, especially as a younger man. Even as a 65, 70 year old manager, when there was a bench-clearing brawl, he'd be out there on the field defending his players. Most-22-year old players of the 50s didn't know how they should react when a senior citizen rushed them on the ball field. They did NOT grab him by the head and throw him to the ground, as Pedro Martinez did to Don Zimmer.
...That was probably a good deay for Bill Lee.
Gary (NJ): If the Yankees miss the playoffs this year (still a decent chance despite thr recent winning) is Banger going to write a book on how a team with a $207m payroll MISSED the post-season? To me, that's much more interesting (and tougher to do) than making the post-season (4 times) on $45m.
Steven Goldman: What would we call that book? Cashball? That would sound like a shot at Brian Cashman, who doesn't necessarily deserve it. Credit CardBall? Debitball? Deferred Paymentball? Freaking Incomptentball?
It's important to note that Beane's options are constrained and so are the Yankees - Beane's because he has to rebuild on the cheap - and it WILL be harder for him to get that right twice, even with his Moneyball-sense - the Yankees because they spent so poorly.
I'm afraid I have time for but one more before I head off to the optic commandos. Have you ever taken a needle in the eye? It's a singular sensation. I'm sure to experience that in just a few minutes.
beanpj (Wash DC): Steven - what's your take on why so many people want Paul Depodesta to fail? I mean, forget scouts and all the "culprits" in Moneyball - I'm talking about the general public. Why do you think people are so eager to see him fall flat on his face?
Steven Goldman: The historian Richard Hofstadter wrote a fine book on Anti-Intellectualism in America, the answr is in there. We hate people who are smart. We hate people who say they have a better plan. We REALLY hate people who claim they are smart and then trade an obvious gamer asset like Paul the Ducka. It just confirms all our prejudices. It's not you, DePo, it's America.
Paul DePo could never be elected president.
Steven Goldman: I regret all the questions I didn't get to answer. I'll be back again soon with more time, and, I hope, more eyesight. Until then, I hope you enjoy Forging Genius, now available at finer retailers near you!