I don’t get along with my team. We’ve disagreed over how the team’s been run, from who’s been put in the lineup to who’s being drafting. Since the ownership group bought the team to save it from possibly moving, they’ve seemed eager to support Bud Selig and MLB in whatever crazy scheme they come up with. I would bet there are many baseball fans with similarly strained relationships with the teams they support.
The Mariners have made it clear in the past that they’re interested in acquiring only character guys who are good in the clubhouse, even at the expense of the on-field product. Someone ran some numbers and said “Lovable sells.” So the clubhouse troublemakers, the lawyers and the quiet smart guys are all purged once the team takes a dislike to them.
The problem is that the M’s are willing to do almost anything to get rid of players that fans perceive as having negative qualities or being a problem, while at the same time they’re willing to pick up good clubhouse guys with baggage if they think they can get away with it. The Mariners will pick up a guy like Al Martin, who got into a nasty tussle with his backup wife in Arizona, resulting in a lot of counseling and a pinch of jail time. Martin, for his potential legal and character issues, was and remains known for having a great work ethic, an easy guy to get along with on a team, and a good clubhouse presence. The Mariners brought in a bigamist who’d bust up a much smaller secondary wife while running their “Refuse to Abuse” campaign against domestic violence…because they wanted a left-handed bat.
I’m tired of everyone focusing on the positive. Who’s going to be elected to the All-Star team. Where the close races are. I’m more interested in the best of the abjectly bad. Who gets in only because there has to be a representative from every team?
I want the teams where not only aren’t there any near-misses, but managers are going to have to stretch to make any selection at all. Who’s the most likely of the least deserving to get recognized this year?
Fox Sports Net lies to you. I’m sure you’re all shocked, since it’s right next to Fox News Channel in the taxonomy of Rupert Murdoch’s vast empire, a collection of businesses renowned for raising the level of intellectual discourse across the country. Not to make too much of this, but this is exactly the kind of easily tolerated lying that drives me insane. Fox Sports Net doesn’t care about me.
While watching baseball this Memorial Day, I started to think about how different each team’s offense is. Watching the Mariners lose this season has been tougher because they’re so goddamned boring. There’s no variety of in the outcomes: Pretty much, they’re going to slap a single, or they’ll make an out. But how many of those outs were Modestly Exciting Outs? And what can Modestly Exciting Outs tell us about a team’s offense?
Many teams have built new stadiums only to see their teams fail and their attendance drop. But look at the Seattle Mariners: Could it be that they’ve struck upon the nightmare of the true fan? Are they turning into a team with a large fan base that thinks of games as good, clean entertainment, who will show up at a state-of-the-art stadium when the team is good or when they’re bad, just as long as it features nice, wholesome young men with winning smiles?
Walking down Occidental to a Mariners game is a great experience. There’s the smell of brats on grills, roasted peanuts and kettle corn, the bad music of persistent street musicians and the chatter of fellow fans walking south to the stadium…
…And guys selling programs. Independent programs. Many teams only have one program, the one the team puts out, but in Seattle, we have a choice.
I bought both this week to compare, and the results…man, I pity people in cities without competition, if their team-issued programs are anything like this.
I saw perfection tonight. I saw Randy Johnson when he came to the Seattle Mariners from the Montreal Expos as a wild flame-thrower, I saw him refine himself into an ace pitcher, a guy who could throw 200 innings, strike out almost 300 guys, walk about 75, and keep his ERA under 3 in one of the AL’s more notorious launching pads. He threw a no-hitter in Seattle in his early days (1990–8 K, 6 BB). I missed him getting through an inning on nine strikes for three strikeouts in 2001, which is a weird but almost as rare historical achievement, and I’m still mad about it.
Today, I was flipping around watching games while writing something else up when I found the Diamondbacks game. The announcers were talking all about the perfect game he had going and I started yelling “Shut up! Shut up!” at the television. I’m a guy who’ll rail at the stars against astrology, I’ll talk until spoons bend about what a bunch of baloney telekinesis is, I’ll bore you to death about my hatred for John Edward, but when it comes to baseball and a chance to see one of the great games in history, I flip back to the superstitious caveman in a second.
Johnson’s performance tonight was one of the most impressive in baseball history. Thirteen strikeouts in a game is the second-most of the 17 perfect games in the modern era–only Sandy Koufax in 1965 topped him, setting down 14. One-hundred and seventeen pitches isn’t the most in a perfect game, either–David Wells threw 120 in his 1998 perfect game (struck out 11), but it’s the second-highest among the games that offered pitch-count totals.
I saw Khalil Greene down on the farm and I didn’t see it. Whatever it was they were talking about, it wasn’t there that game. Pushed through the minors, it’s difficult to get a handle on whether he would hit or not, regain the walks he showed in college or not, if he could play shortstop well enough to hang there defensively. So far, he’s hung in there, hitting .266/.348/.395 in the pitcher-friendly environment of Petco Park while starting at short. The surprising bit’s been the walks, which are back in force. The Padres are investing playing time in the hopes that Greene will develop fast, and this may be the most interesting story to follow, as a contending team tries to break in a new shortstop while contending for a division race.
If you’ve scored games for any length of time–no matter if you were in the press box or the cheap seats–you’ve probably had this happen to you: 1) Someone mocks you for keeping score; 2) Later, the same person asks you for information off your card.
Scoring leaves a personal record of the game. Done well, it’s like a familiar photograph that recalls the memories of a vacation. If I ever need to know what happened in some game, I can look up the results, or even the box score. But if I want to know how it felt to watch it, that’s when I dig up my score cards. The long innings stretch out on the card, my chess-style notes next to great plays and weird manager decisions to revisit later. The guy who mocks the scorer goes home after the best game he’s ever seen, but a week later remembers only what he saw on SportsCenter the next morning. The scorer has a hand-drawn portrait of the game he actually watched; what he experienced.
I was disappointed that baseball backed off its plans to put Spider-Man 2 logos on bases in order to bring more kids into the game. What’s baseball coming to when you can sign an agreement with those guys and they back off it over a little negative publicity? Isn’t a deal a deal?
It’s bad enough that MLB turns out to be so cowardly that it’ll turn its back on the children they were trying to help, but what about the other outreach campaigns to widen baseball’s appeal? Once they’re putting ads in the field of play, it’s open season: We can change the field, the game, whatever we want, in order to reach new audiences by running advertisements that they’ll identify with.
I was at Safeco Field on Tuesday, watching a fast-moving game that was on pace to wrap up 3-2 Mariners in about two and a half hours, and ended up with one of the longest, craziest games I’ve ever attended.
I scored this game. I’ve been working on an article about scoring and finding a good card to match your style, and thought I’d finally settled on one. This game, of course, became the torture-test for a scorecard:
[Ed. Note: The Expos have scored 40 runs in 22 games through Wednesday, and are now 5-17]. That\’s not just league-worst, that\’s in the running for all-time worst. Thirty-six runs is a run-and-a-half a game in a season where normal teams are averaging five runs a game. They\’re hitting for a team line of .201/.283/.254. There are maybe–maybe–10 players qualifying for the batting title who are hitting worse than the Expos as a team. That\’s tough.
They would have to almost double their run-scoring to move up one spot in the standings (Tampa Bay, at 67, is second-worst). Of their five wins, one was 2-0 and the other four were one-run wins. They\’ve been shut out six times. Over a quarter of the time, they score no runs at all.
And that\’s just run-scoring. They\’re dead last in walks. Dead last in home runs. They\’re in the middle of the pack in strikeouts, which I\’m sure is small consolation to Frank Robinson. Their best regular, Jose Vidro, is down on the hitting leaderboard below the century mark, right alongside notable sluggers like Bobby Higginson and Omar Vizquel.
Given a discrepancy between \”Pythagorean Wins\” (what you\’d expect from a team given a specific runs scored/runs allowed set) and actual wins leads to all kinds of investigation, chin-scratching, nose-picking, and navel-gazing. Some people will say a team is \”stronger\” than its actual record because it\’s underperforming the formula, and so forth. Suspects for the gap typically include: Strength of bullpen Managerial use of bullpen Clutch hitting Clutch pitching Chemistry Managerial strategies in tight games Luck This leads to interesting observations and theories (team x is 12-0 in one run games, manager Joe\’s teams consistently outperform their Pythagorean record except when they don\’t) but rarely insight. It\’s not as bad as putting a couple of stats into a blender, pressing the \”pulse\” button a couple of times, and claiming the resulting undrinkable smoothie is some kind of innovation. But it\’s still a waste of time.
You have to be strong offensively up the middle to win championships. I hear this all the time. The theory is that it’s harder to find premium players at catcher, second base, shortstop, and center field, and that once you’ve done so, finding the fill-in guys around the edges is much easier. This seems to make sense at first glance: There are so many guys in the majors (and minors) that could play a decent left field while hitting well that teams have to stack them like cordwood outside their Triple-A parks. And 1B/DH types are so plentiful it’s silly. But has that worked lately?
It’s the bottom of the seventh, and the visiting team has just made its second
pitching change of the inning. The Obey-o-Tron flashes a meager assortment of
information on the new guy, none of it from Michael Wolverton or Keith
Woolner. How can you figure out if the reliever is carrying a bucket of water
or a gas pump? Derek explains.
No one wants to print out a batch of Prospectus statistical reports and take them to the game. So like MacGyver, we take some mental stats and make some ugly improvised devices. My goal is to make every step something I can do while drinking a beer–a quick bit of easy mental division and a comparison, for instance. And as a friend of mine was once advised by a fortune cookie: “If you want to find an easier way to do something, ask a lazy man.”