The Angels, Twins, A’s and Devil Rays all earned top marks for their work last week. Which team showed up on the other end of the curve? Hint: they’re in the wild-card chase. Steven Goldman explains all this and much more about the week that was in the AL.
Vaughn should have been solid for 1911, but a number of things were working against him. Hal Chase, the gambler, was the player-manager and is presumed to have subverted many games. Vaughn missed a month with an “illness,” and didn’t pitch well when healthy. He opened 1912 the same way, and manager Harry Wolverton–the New York Americans were going through a manager a year in those days–decided to send him to Providence of the International League. Vaughn balked, saying he would refuse to report unless given a small cash bonus and part of the sale price.
This simply wasn’t done in those days. Players were expected to accept their place as chattel. The Yankees waived Vaughn and probably expected him to drift back to the minor league fringes, but Clark Griffith, now managing the Washington Senators, put in a claim and added Vaughn to his staff. Griffith still liked Vaughn’s stuff and thought that Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders, might have worked against the pitcher. Whether that was the case or not we will never know, but Vaughn found himself in Washington and was never lost again, though it took the scouts a while to figure it out.
Winless on the week, including a three-game series against the Rockies in which they scored a grand total of six runs. The only two players who actually reported to work were the two most likely to be exiled, Randy Johnson (15 IP, 13 H, 2 R, 1 BB 20 K), and Steve Finley (.934 OPS). The rest of them played as if they were Charlie Bucket’s dad, screwing the caps onto toothpaste tubes for a living… One thing that many observers miss about the Yankees is that they are not the only team that can afford to take on salary at the deadline, but may be the only team willing. The difference is that the Yankees’ owner, answerable only to himself, may decide in a given year to take home less money by cutting into his own profit margin (and that of the junior partners, who may take home relatively little as a result). Other teams, particularly those that are components of larger corporations, may fix a profit goal for the year and stick to it at the expense of winning. Most execs of public companies are uncomfortable telling the shareholders that they lost money on the sports operation this year because they decided to gamble on winning a World Series. Thus, if the DBs chose to dump salary and other objects of refuse in New York’s general direction, there’s nothing unfair about it at all. GRADE: F
Not far over .500, if at all by the time you read this, but suddenly looking like contenders in a division that’s aimlessly drifting down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico–any day now the Detroit Tigers will be the New Orleans Beignets. Travis Hafner (.423/.467/1.077) and Victor Martinez (.379/.419/.517) make a heck of a one-two punch, and they are now joined by young Grady Sizemore, who will be the best Grady since Grady Little (not hard) and Whitman Mayo, the Grady from “Sanford & Son” (tall order). If he takes some plate appearances away from Coco Crisp and Jody Gerut, neither of whom have been the life of the party, so much the better… The bullpen is still the stuff of nightmares, with an ERA that can flirt with 6.00 if you put a couple of drinks in it. You hate to say that a team is one reliever away, because Lord knows we watched Steve Phillips and the Mets chase that chimera for enough years, but the Indians might legitimately claim that to be the case. GRADE: A
From now until shortly after the non-waiver trading deadline, “You Could Look It Up” will examine the key mid-season trades for each franchise (with “mid-season” being generously defined as “June 15 to the end of the regular season”) and evaluate each trade to see what a mid-season addition is really worth, and if possible to discern patterns and discover which deals really help and which are of little or even negative value. After we break down each trade, we’ll come to a “snap judgment,” a hasty conclusion. At the end of the series, we’ll see if those judgments add up to any helpful conclusions…
”You Could Look It Up” is a weekly look at the game’s present through the funhouse mirror of the past. Today we begin an experiment in unguided writing, an experiment in blue sky time travel without a thesis. From now until shortly after the non-waiver trading deadline, YCLIU will examine the key mid-season trades for each franchise (mid-season being generously described as June 15 to the end of the regular season) and evaluate each deal to see what a mid-season addition is really worth–and if possible, to discern patterns and discover which deals really help and which are of little or even negative value.
After we break down each trade, we’ll come to a “snap judgment,” a hasty conclusion. At the end of the series, we’ll see if those judgments add up to any helpful conclusions. In each installment we’ll highlight a team or two, alternating American and National League clubs. The first two installments will highlight the opponents of the 1992 World Series, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
We got some middling pitching and a pretty good offense, albeit one that’s going to last as long as you’re impression that Jose Uribe is really a good hitter after all. We’ve also got Minnesota’s underwear, not that they’ve noticed, because if you’ve got Doug Mientkiewicz, who needs a G-string? Friends, no matter what Mr. Ryan says, second place chafes, as Mr. Kenny Williams can attest after two straight years of raw inner thighs. Gird your loins with Frank Thomas and his .334 EQA and you need never say, “Not tonight, Josephine, I left my epidermis at the office because I was afraid to let a DH be a DH, a first baseman be a first baseman, I keep trying to get blood from a stone, and no matter how many elephants I interview, none of them can do calculus.” Even Sharon and Arafat agree that Garcia wasn’t quite worth the freight, but credit the Sox with having a pulse. Late note: Thomas is gone, Carl Everett is here, which is kind of like replacing a dinosaur with a guy who doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. Ironically, it’s neither of them that faces extinction, but Joe Borchard. GRADE: A-
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The Giants page at ESPN.com currently features the headline, “Alou Still Believes in Tomko.” Alou also believes in the lone gunman theory, that the Beatles reunited to record “My Sharona,” and that “Joe Sheehan” is just another one of Joyce Carol Oates’ pen names. He may even be right about one or two of these things but not about Tomko, who has pitched in 212 career games and has seen more balls get whacked than the kid who got held back twice at the boys’ school. At this point, waiting for a turnaround is an act of blind faith equivalent to eating McSushi. Despite (or perhaps because of) the name on the label, you know that things can’t turn out well. Tomko is symbolic of the problems with the Alou/Giants approach this year: on both sides of the ball they’ve wasted precious resources on automatic non-contributors. Perhaps at times they didn’t have any other options, but that’s the whole point of team-building: what you don’t have, you try to find, as opposed to pretending that your Tomkos will somehow learn to be Marichals. GRADE: C+
The Rockies are going nowhere fast, but it’s hard to get very upset about it because my town is finally getting a Papa John’s. Consuming a Domino’s pizza is akin to chewing a very salty tire, so we’ve stuck with the local product for years, most of it of variable quality. “Variable quality” also describes the CRockies, who in the first half have gotten Matt Holiday and Aaron Milesoff to major league careers–for what that’s worth given the former’s lack of real production and the latter’s age and lack of plate discipline–as well as salvaged Joe Kennedy, probably the most impressive stroke of all. As for the second half, perhaps Ian Stewart will get a shot at Visalia, or–dare we hope!–double-A. For the mnemonically impaired: Ian Stewart is the Rockies’ third base prospect. Ian Anderson was the singer-flautist in Jethro Tull, while Dave Stewart was the male half of the Eurythmics. Golly, why didn’t those two guys ever record together? GRADE: D
On Thursday night, the Yankees and Red Sox played an epochal extra-inning game, possibly the most compelling contest of the season to date. This was the game in which Derek Jeter flew like a deranged Superman into the third row of seats in short left field. A consequence of If Jeter Had Wings was that Jeter had to leave the game and the Yankees were out of infielders. Alex Rodriguez slid over to shortstop and Gary Sheffield, who had last played third base in 1993, was called upon to take A-Rod’s place at the hot corner.
Sheffield’s first chance came on a Kevin Millar grounder. The outfielder looped the throw over first base for an error; it was clear that he had forgotten both the range and the mechanics of playing the position. The Red Sox, already up by a run, had Dave McCarty and Cesar Crespo due to bat. An obvious strategic question presented itself: could the Red Sox run up the score by bunting the ball at Sheffield?
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Currently sporting a run differential of just +5, using Lenny Harris as DH in interleague games, and that isn’t helping. 9-13 in June, and if you survey pennant races, it’s just one bad month that sinks many a strong team. Ate Billy Koch’s contract, which was just charity, tied for the league lead in caught stealing, pinch hitters batting .177, one of the worst benches in baseball… These scattershot muttering add up to a strong club being undone by inattention to detail. Reminiscent of some Braves teams of the past which had the pitching and select offensive parts but couldn’t buy a hit off the bench in about 800 post-season series. GRADE: D+
NEW YORK YANKEES
Andruw Jones and his $12.5 million to Yankees in the right deal? It sounds crazy, but the Braves are going nowhere, even in a division in which all the teams forgot to show up (echoes of “What if we gave a war and nobody came?”). If offered a choice between Carlos Beltran and Jones, who would you rather have? Beltran and Jones, both center fielders, are precisely the same age, having been born two days apart.
G AB HR AVG OBP SLG
Jones 1203 4361 233 .267 .341 .494
Beltran 792 3121 121 .287 .352 .482
Beltran has seemed to blossom while Jones has stood still, but keep in mind that Beltran has been hitting in a park very friendly to hitters, while The Ted has been tougher on Jones. Defensively, Jones is by far the better fielder. Finally, one will become a free agent at the end of the season, while the other is locked in for all eternity… We should probably alter the baseball vocabulary when it comes to pitching and injuries. We normally say, “Kevin Brown will be on the disabled list indefinitely.” A better way of putting it might be to say that “Kevin Brown has been activated from the disabled list indefinitely.” Actually, you can apply that to everything: relationships, mortality…boy, that’s depressing. Better have another donut.
Every once in a while you have a day or a week that flashes back to other, older days and weeks.
Last week, the United States and Great Britain signed a treaty pledging to protect the wreck of the Titanic, which sank beneath the waves in 1912; Roger Clemens and Mark Prior faced off in a pitching match-up that was a descendant of one in 1912; and a boob from Texas mistreated a four-year-old fan in a way that made one wish it was 1912. John McCain even had an opportunity to bolt the Republican Party last week, but apparently no one told him that Theodore Roosevelt had done so with honor back in 1912, because the Senator refused to go along with the 1912ness of things. Baseball, though, was unabashedly singing
Homo sapiens emerged from Neanderthal man about 38,000 BCE. It took another 31,500 years or so for the Sumerians to invent the wheel. There were 315 centuries of watching stones rolling downhill, fallen trees being pushed aside, dates falling off the table, before experience and observation could be transformed into principles (Hey! Round stuff rolls! Round stuff that rolls might be useful to have!) and those principles then put into practice (We should try to make round stuff that rolls!). Of course, as with all good ideas, some people never bought in. The Western Hemisphere did without the wheel until the Europeans showed up. Either the locals were too busy eating the corn to roll the cobs or they just didn’t think much of wheels.
As with the wheel, so too with the amateur draft, which kicked off in 1965 as a way to finally bring down those annoyingly persistent Yankees. Many of the lessons that have been taken away the draft–high school pitchers are riskier bets as college pitchers, don’t draft high school catchers, etc.–were there to be found after the first few drafts, but it took several more years before experience hardened into a set of principles.
With luck, Raul Mondesi is a temporary condition, like a heat rash. Jeff DaVanon has mashed righties, with a .451 OBP/.533 SLG against mundane-handers, so you really don’t want to see him sit until he proves he can’t keep it up. Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen have made like Wonder Twins whose super power is the ability to channel Al Simmons from beyond the grave. Tim Salmon is rehabbing. Garret Anderson will be back soon. That makes five players for four spots, the outfield and DH, all of whom have a better claim to playing time than the deserter Mondesi. That’s not even counting Chone Figgins, who has apparently settled in at third, or the return of Darin Erstad. Make that “revival” instead of “return.” To return you had to have been here in the first place. Now, if only they could get one of those outfielders to slide over to first. Casey Kotchman may be the future, but he’s not getting it done now. GRADE: B-
In this week’s Pinstriped Bible (one of the other columns in the Steve Goldman media empire, the entirety of which can be yours for a song), a reader takes your host to task for suggesting that an incident that took place last week involving Gabe White should be a hint to managers to pay attention to the rule book for bonus competitive advantages. Around here we take any excuse to delve further into a worthy thesis, in this case, that gamesmanship is, or should be, a major component of the manager’s job.
The White situation was very simple. The Yankees lefty entered the team’s May 26 game at Baltimore in the sixth inning with the Yankees leading 7-6. The game was momentarily delayed when the umpire asked White to remove a gold chain. With the chain removed, White gave up consecutive hits, allowing another run to score and setting up a blown save for future Hall of Famer Tanyon Sturtze. After the game, White claimed that he had pitched badly because he’d been unnerved by the umpire’s request.
One of the values of knowing history is that you can recognize repeat situations when they arise. We humans are pretty creative, but somehow every generation has to work itself into some scrape that a previous class already tried out. Sometimes it’s a historical blunder on the scale of invading Russia from the west with winter coming on; other times, it’s just hiring Raul Mondesi.
The benefit to recognizing a repeat situation as it manifests is that you can call it off before, say, you trade this year’s Jay Buhner for this year’s Ken Phelps, or your Iraq becomes your Vietnam, and consequently someone else’s problem. In some cases, it’s just fun to know that even if you missed something the first time around, chances are it will come up again so you can see it for yourself. For example, it’s safe to say that none of our readers were in attendance at Game Six of the 1917 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants, and so they didn’t see the controversial play that iced the championship for the American League. Fortunately, Monday’s Angels-Blue Jays game was just as good as a time machine–and not just any time machine, but the deluxe model with the cruise control, the heated mirrors, and the side mirrors that fold down when passing through a dangerously narrow aperture, handy for automotive proctological exams and navigating the capillaries of longtime smokers.
The score was tied 5-5 with two out in the bottom of the 10th at Toronto and two runners on. Chris Gomez was standing on second. He had reached on a fielder’s choice, then was pushed into scoring position by Eric Hinske’s walk. Simon Pond came to the plate. Pond grounded to first baseman Casey Kotchman, who dove for the ball and knocked it down. Pitcher Ben Weber stood at first, waiting to receive the ball for the 3-1 put out. Gomez rounded third, trying to score. Second baseman Adam Kennedy picked up the ball and fired it to catcher Ben Molina. Gomez was now in a rundown. Molina chased him up the line, then threw the ball to third baseman Alfredo Amezaga. Gomez reversed field and headed back towards home. Amezaga threw the ball to…he didn’t throw it to anyone, because there was no one to throw it to. Gomez scored. Game over.