Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So, this is how it begins

After warming up last year, the Major League Baseball Writers' Association is being forced further into the deep end of the Steroid Era as suspected and admitted PED users are becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Among those on the list this year, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro are eligible this year and kicking up a new cloud of dust as the old guard continues to hold firm against those caught up in the steroid era. This is not really a major shake up in the baseball world (Mark McGwire received a tepid 23.7% of the vote last year) but it does lead us deeper into the grey areas.

Gonzalez was implicated in Jose Canseco's tell-all book, but so far no hard evidence has been produced. Palmeiro famously tested positive after he testified before Congress (remember him pointing his finger and getting agitated at the very whisper of PED use?) and was suspended by MLB at the end of the summer. There was talk even then of how this would impact his Hall credentials, despite his career hit count and now it's playing out in real time.

On the other side of the spectrum are Bert "The Bridesmaid" Blyleven and Robby Alomar, who are moderately famous now for getting as close to induction to the Hall as possible, without actually being inducted into the Hall.

Needing 75% of the vote to get in (and 15% yearly just to stay on the ballot) Blyleven received 74.2% of the votes last year and Alomar racked up the best total of any first-year player who wasn't actually inducted on the first try with 73.7%.

I'm betting that both make it in this year, if for no other reason than to finally put the Blyleven thing to rest. I have to admit, though. It's still pretty strange that the guy with the best shot at making the Hall this year appears to be the one who has an entire section of his Wikipedia page to "The Spitting Incident." While Alomar had an impressive career on the whole, unfortunately he's best known for that one outburst.

Regarding that, Alomar reportedly said, "But I think people who know me, people who have had the chance to be with me on the same team, know what kind of person I am. Anything I ever did wrong, I would confront it and now it is OK."

Admit your mistakes when assaulting an ump? No worries. Admit them regarding PED's? Wait til next year.

(Image from:


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Year 102, but what's 101 between friends?

Spend some time in Chicago this week and you'll undoubtedly see a cab speed by with the new slogan for the Chicago Cubs. Apparently, truth in advertising doesn't penetrate baseball's antitrust exemption ("Give us all your cash, quickly and quietly." or "Wrigley Field; Two drink minimum.") as they've decided to launch with "Year One."


No. No. No.

I can't explain exactly how infuriating this slogan is to the fan base. It's not year one, it's year one hundred-plus. Just because the Ricketts family chooses to start the calendar anew, doesn't make it the case.

Know what would have been a better slogan to rally the fan base and get folks excited for the regime change at Clark and Addison? "It won't be another 100 years, we promise."

For years now, the Cubs have had laps run around them by their brothers on the South Side. With the exception of the "signs" campaign, the radio ads for the Sox have been far and above the most entertaining ad campaign in years. (Let's all try to ignore the Baby Bulls rebuilding plans and the puzzling "One Goal" commercials run by the suddenly resurrected Blackhawks.) If I had a phone capable of more than basic solitaire and text messaging, I'd have Ozzie Guillen cursing out a child over lima beans as my ringtone. It's just that good.

So, rather than jump into the pool with the Sox (or the A's, Twins or Mariners), the Cubs continue to play on their tradition and their ballpark and this new foray into "Year One." While I understand that the ad is supposed to indicate that the reins have been handed over to a new ownership group and it's set to mark the break between the Tribune company, this just seems misguided to me.

You can't keep a foot in both worlds, expecting fans to flock to Wrigley (now with acceptable women's restrooms!) as a cathedral of baseball, while signifying a clean break with the past. As a fan, I was looking for something more substantial than this and think it's dismissive and off target. I would have been happier with some sort of joking admission of past mistakes as the kickoff campaign, but this just rubs me the wrong way.

With the bar set high following the takeover in Boston that's yielded two championships and counting, Cub fans are understandably anxious to see if the change in ownership will mean the same thing in Chicago. While it's certainly apples to oranges on a handful of factors, Cub fans see themselves as the last holdouts of star-crossed franchises.

They've seen the Red Sox elevated from comrades in futility to fair weather fan bait on par with the Yankees, Duke University and the Dallas Cowboys. They've seen their truest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals win it all and watched as the Sox paraded through Chicago in 2005 with the World Series trophy. Suddenly, the waiting room is a lot less crowded, and the Pittsburgh Pirates keep staring creepily at them from the corner.

So, from where I stand, Year One doesn't offer me much comfort. While I can sympathize that promising a championship in under a decade would be suicide in this town, I do expect more than a blind eye turned to a century of failure. Making things worse were the radio ads that ran leading into the season, where a breathless announcer reminds you of the great players and chilling moments in Chicago Cubs history. Everything is fine until the copy lets it slip that whoever wrote it wasn't really "sporty" when they remind us of the coaches (not managers) who have led the team in the past. While I'm sure there have been many fine coaches in the past, I'm not thinking of them when I remember confusing my third grade teacher when I spelled it "Freyday" on a spelling test after months spent in the summer with baseball cards as my reading material. Jim Frey cost me one point on that exam and he's never formally apologized.

The Ricketts family didn't need to fall at the feet of the fanbase, nor did they need to Joe Namath the hell out of the airwaves and guarantee multiple championships, but a nod to the past would have helped.

As I've written here before, the biggest plus I've seen in this situation was the change from a corporate ownership base to an actual owner to look to when the team breaks the bank and still pulls up miles short of the post season. It always felt like the Tribune company had other priorities in mind instead of putting an end to the title drought. While individual owners can be worse (looking at you, Peter Angelos), I'd personally rather take my chances with one person or family, instead of a group that can pull the team in different directions.

It's nothing short of heartbreaking to feel that not only was your team going to continue to lose, but the owners didn't seem to care as long as people kept making the pilgrimage to the ballpark, putting butts in the seats and keeping the profits healthy. I guess I hope that having actual people who will hear it from the fans will produce different results.

All winter long we're heard stories about how the Ricketts family is ready to lead this organization, how the matriarch was out with coffee in the cold when tickets went on sale for the season, how the new guys were out at the XRT Home Opener on Monday. I desperately want them to pursue a championship as passionately as anyone who has followed the team for decades.

I want them to get it. This ad campaign seems to indicate otherwise.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Blackouts - Driving us all crazy

With the start of the new season, I'm learning the ropes of the new setup as our cable provider doesn't offer the Extra Innings Package. I suspect it's because they're communists, but there is a very short list of things I'd rather do versus giving Comcast another cent, so here we are.

Among the downsides of streaming games to my laptop is the stuff you'd think of off the top of your head - worrying about video quality, occasional hiccups in the stream and waiting a few moments between games as it verifies my account and has to load.

So far, this hasn't been too bad - and certainly much better than it was a few seasons ago when MLB froze out cable providers, fans were forced to sign up for the online options and the whole system crackled briefly before small fires started in the basement of from overuse.

I like the idea that I can also watch games at work, you know on designated breaks and such, as I'd never watch several innings while on the clock. Well, I would like that idea if I wasn't being blacked out for having a credit card that is billed in the greater Chicagoland area. Given that the Cubs play a lot of day games, I won't be seeing any of those.

Given a token amount of research, I am even more entrenched in my beliefs that MLB is only hurting itself by enforcing its current set of blackout rules. Yes, I remember what happened last time. (I'd also like to send people over here for a really good outline of how this relates to the iPad and several links to stories about the repeal of these rules from 2006 and 2008).

While I stand behind the basics of what I've said before (mainly that online is a last-ditch option for most of us and should be available, especially during day games) I'm adding a few new wrinkles. Foremost among those points is that the people who care the most about MLB and specific teams are the ones hurt the most in this situation.

Even with the limited movement outlined this recent post, MLB is sticking to its guns on this point, which I still think is outdated and just as wrongheaded as Bill Wirtz's ruling to not show home games for the Chicago Blackhawks (but more on that later).

The highlights in MLB's rules say that on Saturdays, Fox decides what game you see, no matter what. Even if you had or Extra Innings, you got the Fox affiliate (usually a local team) but that remains frustrating and counterproductive. I know I'm not alone in wanting to channel surf between several games to keep an eye on guys on my fantasy team and generally enjoy watching different players in different parks. However, I can't do this on the best day for it - Saturday.

(I see this as the big issue here. If I'm a casual fan of the hometown team, I can't see those games on a weekday. If I'm a diehard fan of an out of market team, I can't see those games on Saturdays. It's losing ground on two fronts.)

The same goes for local games over the Internet when I'm at work. For those, you can't even listen to the local radio stations streamed online, as that would cut into MLB's bottom line as they offer that service for the low-low price of $100 to $120 per season.


I fully realize I'm the weird one here. And so are you, for finding this little blog. We watch more baseball than most people. We don't complain that there aren't enough homers. If you're really like me, you've corrupted your spouse to the point that she asks if Dodger games are in LA that night so we can listen to Vin Scully. We are the ones that have and will pay extra to watch games in Seattle or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, despite never having set foot in any of those cities.

And we are the ones who are constantly being screwed by the blackouts.

As Frank pointed out in the comments the last time I raised this subject, "WGN and other local broadcasters can have a separate Internet feed where they would be able to sell an additional advertising package for games that are streamed online. Indeed, this is how most broadcast radio stations operate their Internet streams. This way, the local TV broadcasters are able to monetize the games that are streamed online in their local markets (as opposed to simply risking losing "credit" for those viewers and the associated advertising dollars in the event that a person chooses to watch online instead of TV)."

Considering the name of the game is being paid for the eyeballs on any given show or sporting evening, this makes that job even easier as you can see exactly how many people are tuned in and charge accordingly. I know for a fact that providers can pinpoint the region you log in from as I am bombarded with banner ads for Chicago drivers on some sites, so we'll need a new excuse for holding this back.

I can't even imagine the number of viewers the Cubs would draw by releasing their video feed on the WGN page (same for the Yankees, Red Sox or Cardinals) and I'm honestly shocked that no one has made a push to allow this. At the very least, test run it with day games during the week, when people can't see games on TV. I bet it beats most other regular season games.

Back to the Wirtz case, the Blackhawks never showed home games when Bill Wirtz ran the team. He swore that by giving away the games, home attendance would suffer. Within what seemed like hours of his death, his son lifts the ban and as of today, Blackhawk hockey has literally never been more popular in Chicago in my lifetime. It helps that the team is really good, but there has been talk this season of Hawks games being the new, winter Wrigley.

The point is that the numbers didn't drop, people are crazy about the team and the brand has been given new life in a town that largely has left the sport for dead. I'm still in the majority of people in Chicago who couldn't care less, but the fans they do have are more engaged and excited as they prepare for their playoff run. It's no accident that this coincides with greater access to the team.

Apply this to baseball. Offer more games and for less money and see what happens to the MLB brand as owners swear their teams are losing money on a yearly basis. Short of that, offer games for the local teams for a reasonable price and see what happens. It's a long season, where I doubt very few people actually watch every inning of every game. Add in an extra 100-plus innings each year, streamed from the team site when most people are in an office and what could that possibly hurt? In either case, I bet that the brand expands beyond the demographic of hard core nuts like me that will fork over $100-plus to watch out of market games on a laptop.

At the very least, stop punishing fans for having full time jobs. Without those, we'll buy even less merchandise and tickets.

(Image from:


Sunday, March 07, 2010

This year in baseball titles: Steak vs. not poop like last year

Given the current state of video game production contracts, most of us are locked into one sports game or another. Sure, there's the small handful of lucky bastards who have a shiny new Playstation 3 sitting in the cabinet next to an Xbox 360, but most of us make a decision early on and live with whatever comes our way.

(For the short story on background, 2K Sports has the contract for Major League Baseball, like EA has for the NFL with its Madden series. If the console manufacturer decides to produce a game solely for their console, they're allowed. Hence, the standard bearer for MLB games - MLB The Show - is made by Sony for Sony and is not allowed to be sold for the Xbox or Wii.)

The two releases this year are the above mentioned MLB: The Show (PS3)and MLB 2K10 (All platforms). Last year was a total write off for 2K after they re-assigned the title internally, cut their production cycle short and generally pissed off everyone who bought a copy of the game. Personally, I never touched the thing - I saw the awful, awful reviews and steered clear - but much of this year's marketing centered around members of the development teams telling the various blogs that they had embraced the suck that was last year and that they swore they'd never do it again.

Also, that they'd be giving away a million bucks for the first verified perfect game pitched in 2K10.

Here are the reviews for the games (both from Kotaku):
The Show

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the respective arcs of the two games. The Show continues to set the pace, while 2K10 (which owns the multi-platform license, for crying out loud) has just managed to pull itself up out of sewer.

The two reviews stand in stark contrast, with 2K10 getting marks for fixing last year's fiasco of a game and some basic gameplay tweaks. The Show's review reads like a love letter to Sony, and damn if I don't want to rush out and buy a PS3 just to see this:

At the end of a play, players don't go into mannequin mode. They greet each other at first base, shake their spikes out and adjust their caps. Fans lean over the railing at foul balls. Boston's Victor Martinez flexes his bicep at each base on a home-run trot. I saw an umpire get blasted by a foul tip and drop to his knees in agony. This isn't core gameplay. But just like doubles off the wall and diving catches, this also is what happens in baseball.

That sounds like so much fun that I wouldn't even care if it took me a few days to finally win a game.

(Image from


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This is my "prove it to me" face

There's an interesting article on Kotaku about the spring release of MLB 2K10, which amounts to your only option for a simulation-based baseball game on the Xbox 360 this year. Obviously, you can always go out and buy "The Bigs" but if you want a game that most closely resembles what you see on TV (especially in the post-Roid era) this is it.

For the record, last year was the first time in a decade that I opted for none of the above when springtime rolled around and I needed my baseball fix. If you need any explanation as to why, look no further than the review's first few sentences:

2K Sports' baseball franchise, maybe more than any other sports title, will have this year's title judged against and compared to last year's offering, and not for its good qualities.

It's hard to tell whether last year's MLB 2K9 - one of the worst-reviewed (and deservedly so) games ever for this class of sports simulation - raises or lowers consumer expectations for MLB 2K10. 2K9 suffered from glitches, clipping, bizarre baserunning and fielding AI, and, frankly, unacceptable graphics, especially in the player modeling.

Setting that aside, I was unimpressed with the buggy nature of the previous offering and decided that I wasn't going to waste any more money until I saw some signs of improvement.

It's become industry standard for sports titles to update rosters, add new stadiums and introduce a new control gimmick, regardless of the sport. Jump around to reviews of the Madden franchise and you'll likely see complaints that echo those thoughts.

At the core, however, I require the games to play and play well. Unfortunately, after signing the exclusive license, 2K went off the rails with its baseball offerings. Those shortcoming are well-documented here. And here. And here (which is my favorite, as I got to title a post, "Thanks for the bobblehead, a-holes).

By this early report, it looks like the franchise might be on the mend - but I still find it appalling that the reason they claim last year was such a failure was a nine-month production timeline. While I can appreciate that the team is apparently taking responsibility for such a failure, that doesn't do much to restore their credibility until they start to produce a worthwhile product again.

More than that, where's the pressure from MLB to get this right or to step aside for someone who can produce? They have essentially handed their exclusive license over to a company that not only shoots themselves in the foot, but also edges baseball out of a market that is already dominated by the Maddens and FIFAs of the world.

By my count, it's been 2 or 3 years since I've seen a respectable game for the 360 and I'm out of patience. I can only imagine how upset the league must be at this point.

(Image from:


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Hawk landed... we get it

Anyone surfing through today learned two things.

First, Andre Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame with 77.9 percent of the votes and second,'s writers and editors are really married to that "Hawk has landed" headline. So much so, they went back to the well for the embedded video.

I can only imagine how the Chicago media will handle it tonight at 10 p.m. I'm sure it will be reserved and pun-free.

Two things stick out in my mind regarding Dawson and his career with the Cubs. I now know the back story of the blank contract gamble - one of the ballsiest moves he could have made that offseason and a story that lives on as example of how players of yesterday were somehow playing for the game. Honestly, I think the truth lies somewhere between "players are just looking for the cash grab" and "players before 1990 would have played for free, they just loved baseball that much."

It's a bit strange to look back now and see this as one of the last times that I was totally unaware of the politics and economics of professional sports. I knew that Keith Moreland was no longer the starting right fielder, knew that Dawson was really, really good, but still had no real idea of what had just happened.

While that's pretty insignificant in the bigger picture of Dawson's career and election to the hall, it's a major piece of this puzzle for me. This is where I oversimplify in the name of nostalgia and sepia-hued memories of summers past.

It was only a few years after the Dawson deal that I started getting an expanded world view, saw Greg Maddux leave for contractual reasons (a landmark, "Wait, what???" moment in my young life) and started to quietly resent any front office of my chosen teams unless they had delivered a championship in the past 365 days.

I love picking apart deals, debating how much of a role Mark Teixeiras' wife had in landing him in the Bronx and playfully picking fights with Frank over what role a Kenny Williams man-crush has in his judgement from year to year.

On the other hand, there's quite a bit to be said for being ignorant to the process and just watching new players appear in the field on Opening Day. I imagine this is much like enjoying sausage because you never have to see it made.

Finally, I can't shake the image of Dawson at Ryne Sandberg's induction a few years ago, moving so gingerly because his knees have really given out on him. It was a little hard to watch, but incredibly powerful to see Sandberg recognize Dawson from the podium. Because of this, of course there is no video available to link here. I'll keep looking.

Instead, here's a transcript from the day:

Andre Dawson, the Hawk. No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He's the best I've ever seen. Stand up Hawk. The Hawk. I watched him win MVP for a last place team in 1987 and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday. We didn't get to a World Series together but we almost got there, Hawk. That's my regret, that we didn't get to a World Series for Cub fans. I was in the post season twice and I'm thankful for that. Twice we came close.

I'll be looking foward to the statues of both players popping up outside of Wrigley in the next year or two.

Under the fold on this story are the players who didn't make the cut this year. Bert Blyleven missed yet again, but by only five votes this time around. Keeping in mind that players need 75 percent of the vote or better, here were the players who gained a majority of the votes this time around:

Bert Blyleven - 74.2%
Roberto Alomar - 73.7%
Jack Morris - 52.3%
Barry Larkin - 51.6%

Bringing up the rear with 0% of the votes were Todd Zeile, Shane Reynolds, Ray Lankford and Mike Jackson (the former pitcher for the Phillies, Mariners, Giants, Reds, Indians, Astros, Twins and White Sox, not the deceased King of Pop. That would be weird.)

(Image from:


Friday, May 08, 2009

Where's the credit for Dom DiMaggio?

Dom DiMaggio just had a nice little eulogy spoken about him by Vin Scully in tonight's Dodger game, where I first heard that he had passed away today at the age of 92. However, even a broadcaster as masterful as Scully couldn't work around the big shadow in DiMaggio's life - his brother, Joe.

In a quirk of genetics, three of the nine DiMaggio's made the majors - Vince, Joe and Dom - and even today as obituaries start to populate across the web, most mention Joe straight away. To do so is to sell Dom short as has been happening for decades now. Some of the wrtie-ups I've read tonight raise the question of whether Dom would have made the Hall of Fame by now if he'd been allowed to play instead of joining the Navy during World War II, while others hint at the role that constant comparisons to Joe played in the voting process.

Dom was seemingly always underestimated for one reason or another. His 5-9 frame and glasses - gasp, glasses! - led to his nickname, "The Professor" and it was those glasses that led to his transition to the outfield. Anecdotally, he was moved out there from his spot at shortstop by a manager so he wouldn't break his glasses . DiMaggio took that move and made the most of it, developing a hybrid style as a hard-charging center fielder who would close in quickly and agressively on balls hit his way.

In doing so, he became one of the greatest defensive center fielders of the time.

Additionally, he maintained a solid batting average and gave Joe a run for his money with a hitting streak of his own. As Scully pointed out, it was Joe who ended his brother's hitting streak at 30-plus games. See, there's that whole "Joe" thing again.

I imagine it's on par with being Michael Jordan's brother - both an athletic and cultural icon - where no matter what you did as a player, you'd always seem to be lacking by comparison. Don't be mistaken, this is not an Ozzie and Jose Canseco situation, Dom held his own in the majors and was a key piece of the strong Red Sox teams of the 40s and 50s.

DiMaggio was central to one of the biggest losses in Red Sox history - though not in typical Sox fashion - when an injury in the 1946 World Series led to the deciding play in the series. From the Boston Globe's excellent write up:

Mr. DiMaggio’s skill as a hitter inadvertently helped create one of the darkest moments in Red Sox history, their defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh and deciding game of the 1946 World Series. In the top of the eight inning, he doubled home two runs to tie the game at 3-3 — but pulled a hamstring on the way to second base.

Leon Culberson replaced him in center field. In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs, the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter tried to score from first on a single. Culberson was slow to field the ball, then made a mediocre throw to shortstop Johnny Pesky, whose throw home was too little, too late. Slaughter was safe, giving the Cardinals the lead and, half an inning later, the championship.

“If they hadn’t taken DiMaggio out of the game,” Slaughter later said of his daring sprint, “I wouldn’t have tried it.”

His time with Boston is covered nicely in David Halberstam's The Teammates, a solid, short read about the relationship between DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams. His life after baseball is covered well in the obituaries today, which describe his business sense and suggest that he'd have been a success in whatever he chose to do.

I think I like DiMaggio so much because he's an interesting man for many reasons outside of his control. Some of my favorite players of all time - Mickey Mantle, Williams, Joe DiMaggio - have major personal flaws or quirks that made them ill-suited for any sort of life outside of baseball. I am drawn to their stories that are tinged with elements of sadness and personal defeat, but which helped them to excell with a highly specialized skill set. Dom doesn't really fit that mold.

The fact that he was squarely in shadows of two of the game's giants in Williams and his brother, yet still found a way to maintain his own identity, accept and embrace his talents and move along is nothing short of extraordinary. To be comfortable enough being Dom DiMaggio to be successful and not dragged down as some may have is really a tribute to DiMaggio the man.

He was able to walk away on his own terms, start a series of successful business ventures and live to 92 (seeing two Red Sox World Series victories in the process). I think I'm with Scully here, where there's no real need to wail and feel sorrow for DiMaggio's passing, as he'd led a full life on many levels.

So here's to you, Dom DiMaggio, so much more than Joe's brother and Ted's center fielder. You'll be missed.

(Image from:

Labels: ,

Oh, you think so, Doctor?

In updating my fantasy team tonight, I stumbled across this tidbit when trying to figure out what happened to Hing-Chih Kuo of the Dodgers:

Kuo finally admitted there was something wrong with his elbow after he threw two pitches over the bullpen gate and onto the field while trying to warm up to enter Friday night's game against San Diego.

Yeah, I'd say that might be cause for concern. I'd also love to see a tape of that game.