This is the very first installment of You Could Look It Up. The title, with its
old-time, pulp feel, is meant to evoke a portal to anywhen in the history of baseball, to flannel times and polyester times, lilywhite Washington Senators uniforms, rainbow-striped Houston Astros uniforms, all coming together, a great overlap of Ruths and Ryans and A-Rods. You Could Look It Up is a gateway to varied, hectic, multihued yesterday, a vantage point from which we might discern truths that have been lost to common knowledge, human stories that still evoke laughter or tears, and unrestful ghosts in black and white photographs who still haunt our own forcibly uncomplicated, Manichean times.
Hey–don’t turn away just yet. We ain’t talking any of that mushy “Field of Dreams” poetastry. Ray Liotta’s right-hand-hitting, city-slick Joe Jackson is not to be found in these pages. But it’s here that on any given day you might find Shoeless Joe, hand extended for a dollar or a fly ball, as Leo Durocher steals grounders and his teammates’ watches, all the while trying to do his best imitation of Rabbit Maranville, whose beltline basket catch was necessary because the sheer whiskey content of his exhalations could divert the flight of the ball above chest level. There’s Joe McCarthy, a manager who never ripped a player in public…until the day he did; Casey Stengel, who always ripped his players in public and ripped them in private too, but was given to numerous, unpublicized sentimental gestures; and his protégé, Billy Martin, who said that a winning manager knew that some ballplayers were mules and some racehorses, and you could beat the mules all you wanted and they would never be racehorses–yet beat both the mules and the racehorses. All of these people have something to say to us, because of what they did, and, as importantly, who they were.
The Orioles have too many lefties making too much money. The Expos give BP’s favorite first baseman of Italian descent since Roberto Petagine a shot at a steady job. The Mets inexplicably sign James Baldwin. The Devil Rays inexplicably sign Fred McGriff. These and other news, notes, and Kahrlisms as Transaction Analysis resumes its regular schedule.
The health of the “Big Three” starters is still the key to the success of the team. Hudson, Zito, and Mulder have put up big innings as relatively young pitchers, and should be moving into their best seasons. But only healthy pitchers win championships. For Hudson and Zito, they are as healthy and strong as ever. Their teammate, Mark Mulder, is the question mark, but please note that none of the questions are about his arm. Mulder returns from a fractured hip (femur, near the ball of the hip to be technical) suffered due to a faulty mound. Call it random or call it the fault of the Phillies’ grounds crew, but there has never been a pitcher that has returned from this type of injury. While the A’s and Mulder have insisted that he could have returned for last season’s ALCS, there is no evidence to back this up. I don’t want to say that Billy Beane, Larry Davis, or Mark Mulder were lying, because I simply have no reason to believe that, but I also know the A’s often seek any competitive advantage they can. In the absence of objective knowledge that Mulder can pitch–either last October or this February–I’ll continue to be cautious. It’s only when Mulder takes the mound in spring training that we will know for sure. His yellow light is based on the lack of any comparable returns only. His arm should be well-rested if possibly slightly rusty for the 2004 season.