Siberian Baseball

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cheating in moderation

Ted Williams' batting eye has become the stuff of legend - even coverage by his contemporaries in the media tended to border on Bill Brasky level storytelling.

Williams had some of the best vision of all pilots in WWII. Williams could see the seams on a baseball as it approached the plate. Williams could read the record label on a '45 as it played.

According to Leigh Montville's biography, Williams used to do a slow burn whenever he'd hear these stories. He'd prefer that people give him credit for hour upon hour spent honing his swing, not to mention all of the mental prep work he'd do to try and figure out what the pitcher would try to throw next.

The way Williams saw it, it wasn't superhuman vision, reaction time or strength that made him a great player, it was the work he put in. When people only focused on his vision, he felt it took away from everything he'd worked so hard for.

It made his efforts cheap.

I've been thinking of this story a lot as two storylines swirl this week. The ongoing Barry Bonds circus is a source of mild irritation, while the Jason Giambi drug test rumors serve only to highlight the remaining vestiges of the Steroid Era.

So where do the differences come in? What made Williams recoil from any hint that he had an unnatural advantage over the other players and Frank Robinson chastise Giambi for speaking for all of baseball?

Is it a matter of socially-acceptable cheating where you scuff a ball here or there to try and control the breaks in the game versus an intensive, premeditated cheating regimen? Stories of catchers scuffing balls with sharpened buckles on their gear or helping to wet down balls for their pitchers are now looked at with a wistful smile, while old-timers like the late Buck O'Neil never believed in the existence of a split-finger fastball - contending that it was the same old spitter with a new name.

That's still cheating, right?

I know that baseball, more than the other sports, holds dear its past and is subject to more nostalgia than the average, but when did the game cross the line from players who took personal offense to any type of shadow cast on their stats to where we are today?

If it's true that Bonds began to bulk up following the hype generated during the chase for Roger Maris' home run record, where was that issue of pride in modern baseball?

I've had a couple of days to mull this over and I suppose that's my best guess about why I think Bonds' act has gotten so old. It's a case of trying so hard to do something that there's no stopping to think if you really should. It's not gaining an extra edge as needed for a pitch or two, it's seen as trying to kill a housefly with a handgun.

past a hitter - he was doing it to be better all the time, without discretion.In short, Bonds wasn't allegedly cheating to beat the Dodgers in the 9th or to slip a 3-2 fastball It's pretty American logic - it's fine to cheat, but only for as long as I need to win.

If nothing else, it opens a new can of worms to the argument that the only reason no one took steroids in baseball before was because there weren't any.

Granted, in the heydays of Williams and Robinson there's a case to be made that just showing up sober most days meant you held an advantage. At the end of the day, is an illegal spitball any better or worse than a post-workout injection? You tell me.

(Photo from


Fun with our pal AJ

I'm driving around this afternoon while I have the lazy drone of sports talk radio on as white noise - on a small tangent here, apparently the suits at the local sports talk stronghold have told the talent to go easy on the sports and try to give the listeners a little wider world perspective. This is the second dumbest idea, ever - when they start telling a story of White Sox catcher AJ Pierzynski.

It was the usual song and dance of how he's a great guy (or not) to have in your clubhouse, but he loves to agitate when he's on the other team.

I'm not sure if it's revisionist history or not, but there were claims that Twins management demanded they dump him because with Joe Mauer in the wings, they couldn't risk him pissing off any more umpires.

Keep in mind that this is the same media market that trash mouths Mark prior and make it sound like it was an easy Mauer over Prior decision in that year's draft.

Anyways, one of the talking heads starts telling the story of Pierzynski Bull Durham-ing an opposing batter who had struck out in the second inning as the guy is trying to bat in the fifth.

"Now what was strike two last time? Was that a curve or a slider?" says AJ as he's taking stock mentally in the middle of the at-bat. "Whap" for strike one.

The story goes that Pierzynski just kept jabbering until the guy struck out and as he's heading to the dugout, AJ chirps, "That's baaaaase-baaaaall..."

It's really a wonder more people don't lash out violently against the guy.

The reason I bring this up - aside from being a really funny story - was that today Mark Buehrle started to chirp to the media about how Pierzynski needed to pipe down with regards to the Mike North/Ozzie Guillen mess.

To quote the Tribune story:
"I think it is disrespecting Toby," Buehrle said before Sunday's game. "It's kind of saying: 'You can't do your job.' I don't see where he has to be in there just because it's a big rivalry. That doesn't matter. He needs a day off. Whether it's against the Cubs or anyone else, he needs a day off."

While this is just someone firing a shot over Pierzynski's bow to get him to settle down in the clubhouse, it is a pretty valid point. This doesn't mean that he's on the outs in the Sox clubhouse, just a little housecleaning, and I can respect Buehrle for that.

However, for a veteran catcher, this should be a non-issue for the most part. The on-field general should know enough to watch his mouth in the media, especially regarding his backup.

Well, that, and no one should listen to North. That's just my personal opinion, though.

(Photo from


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Interleague Edition - Does Chipper have a point?

So, Chipper Jones was thinking out loud at the end of the week, where he complained pretty openly about having to face the Red Sox as the Braves' official interleague "rival."

While other teams gets to face perpetual patsies, the Braves are forced to play Boston, as neither team has a local AL team to square off against. Granted, the Mets draw the Yankees, but I think his point rested more with the Marlins/Devil Rays and Nationals/Orioles games this weekend.

For as much fun as Cubs/White Sox, Giants/A's and Mets/Yankees are, you also have Rockies/Royals, Padres/Mariners and Phillies/Blue Jays which don't have much inherent venom.

Whether it's the scope of the rivalry - or lack thereof - or the talent levels involved, I think Jones has at least a respectable point.

No matter how awful the Cubs are, the Sox aren't guaranteed a victory when the teams meet up, where there can be problems involved even when the Northsiders are in a tailspin. Compare that with a team like the Twins who see the Brewers or other match ups that can be pretty useless on paper.

I think on the whole, most of these matchups meet somewhere in the middle, with the averages working themselves out over the course of five or more seasons, but in the hot years when teams like the Yanks or Red Sox are steamrolling ahead, I can see where the frustration can set in.

Honestly, it seems like most of the perpetual cellar dwellers have more regional rivalries, where the impact isn't as great. Still, it makes things a little trickier for MLB to defend with this set of games, where the competition is unequal and division teams aren't facing the same opponents.

Overal, though, I think interleague is good for baseball as it hangs some real numbers on these games and helps to stoke casual fan interest. Well, unless you're in Colorado or Kansas City.

* The Twins were on pace to sweep the Brewers this afternoon - Milwaukee has since tied the game through the sixth inning - which should help slow the bleeding for Minnesota's fans. It's been strange to hear the talk radio callers demanding trades, asking for rash AAA call-ups and dusting off the "Get Joe Mauer out from behind the plate" bandwagon.

I've been impressed by the front office response on the whole, with GM Terry Ryan owning up to the team's poor performance, allowing that they've had hitting and pitching, just not enough and not when they needed it, but also criticizing bad fielding and poor baserunning decisions.

Through all of it, I seem to be one of the only people who questions why returning Rondell White, Lew Ford and other secondary players is being seen as the cure for the team's ills.

They lack a solid rotation - as they have since the off-season - and have streaky batters, with career years in 2006 from players like Nick Punto being seen as breakthrough seasons and not statistical flukes.

While Twins fans only have to look back as far as last year to see a shaky start that eventually grew into a postseason visit, I doubt such a turn-around is possible two years in a row. Eventually, the Twins might have to pay to field a competitive team.

In the meantime, we'll wait out the calls to trade Johan Santana to try and shore up the team with younger ballplayers.

* Worth watching as the Yankees prepare to shake things up is a rumor that they might try to void Jason Giambi's deal if he comes out and admits he took performance-enhancing substances before he signed with New York.

Despite the drama, Giambi being cut loose would have to earn him some serious attention in the AL.

* ESPN is also reporting that Kerry Wood will test out his arm Monday. Expect news of a season-ending trip to the DL on Wednesday or early Thursday.

The strange thing is that for as much ink as Wood and Mark Prior have picked up, Fox ran stats during the game Saturday that compared the numbers for that duo and for their replacements - Jason marquis and Ted Lily - that showed the new arms aren't that different from the Wonder Twins' 2003 numbers to this point.


(Image from

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Chicago Cubs: Rubber sheet edition

I am back on the fence with Bill Simmons - there was a time kids, where reading Sports Guy meant you were on some inside track, a modern guy or gal and were a true fan (kinda like Deadspin is right now).

No, really.

But, in true American fashion, once something is popular, it's no longer cool - like Yogi Berra once said of Toots Schorr's, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

Anyways, Simmons has a lesser known theory of gaming that there are certain contests or teams that the computer decides you simply should not win. I scored 11 runs in the 8th inning the other night and still lost, so I can feel his pain.

So, despite my recent recoiling from the Sports Guy, I have to cite him here when I say the Cubs are having one of those "No fucking way" seasons.

Case in point is the wrap of the Cubs Mets tilt today:
Ryan Dempster and Scott Eyre couldn't hold a four-run lead with two outs to go in the ninth as the Cubs fell to the Mets in the series finale. Angel Pagan and Aramis Ramirez each hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning.

Son of a bitch.

If only someone could have seen a problem with pitching before the season started... No, wait, everyone did.

(Image from:


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Can we define "fan?"

I know I'm coming to the party late on the ESPN poll that broke the Barry Bonds home run chase along racial lines, but it's too big a deal not to at least mention.

Wednesday evening I heard an extended rant on sports talk about how not everyone rooting against Bonds is a racist and I just got more and more annoyed as the story was pretty much read verbatim on the air.

Bonds is being singled out because he's black. Black fans love Bonds, while white fans are no better than Dixie Walker was. If white people had their way, they'd reanimate Babe Ruth and let his clone run the score up to keep Bonds out of the record books forever.

It's all pretty insulting as a baseball fan and as a pretty progressive member of society. Personally, I think being an educated, well-rounded member of modern America means that you can call black people jerks for the same reason you can call whites, Latinos or Asians jerks - namely because on a case-by-case basis, they are - but that rubs some people the wrong way.

Forget that most people with even a cursory knowledge of the Bonds story think that he's guilty of juicing - just look at how many intelligent design proponents there are, and that's becoming a lost cause arguement - what worries me in the poll is how they are defining fan.

If I remember correctly, they listed black fans and white fans, but I highly doubt they did exit polls at every major league park. This isn't a black/white issue for baseball's ticket-buying public and it's a shame that ESPN couldn't set out to prove that.

I'd imagine the numbers between the average person who doesn't have a vested interest in baseball is more likely to vote along the lines that ESPN "discovered" but for the paying fans, many are tired of Bonds and his chase - it's worth noting that the current baseball game for the Xbox 360 has Mark McGwire listed as the single-season champ... hmm...

Here's the thing - for such a racist movement, most people who weren't Cubs or Cards fans cheered both Sammy Sosa and McGwire in their single-season pursuit. There was no caucasian backlash when Ichiro broke George Sisler's hit record and I see no real problems with Latino players rising in the all-time ranks.

So, where is the friction coming from? You have an unsympathetic player in a small market who is chasing one of baseball's biggest records and even the man he's chasing - worth noting here that Hank Aaron is black, right? - can't be bothered to be there when the record is broken? These should all be red flags that something is amiss with the ESPN poll.

One of the final points I heard the other day was that with MLB being very protective of its records, that fans didn't want to see a black player stand alone atop the standings and definitely didn't want him to pass Ruth, the figurehead for power hitters.

This all confuses and angers me, but I think would be a great place to start to shed a little light on the data - what do the fans think?

Not the people who are vaguely aware of baseball, not those who can correctly identify Bonds as a ballplayer, but actual fans. What do they think?

I'm guessing those are the people protective of baseball's legacy - regardless of race.

(Photo from


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Do you even like baseball, guys?

Last names are tricky.

I had an editor who used to go line by line through every name on the agate we'd crank out on a nightly basis looking for mistakes and jokingly calling himself "The Hawk" when he'd catch one.

"McDougal or MacDuggle?" he'd ask. "There was a MacDuggle a few years ago who played for Southern Door - is this a brother or a sister?" If we really dug in our heels, he'd toss us a phone book and tell us to prove it.

We were wrong more often than not.

We thought he was trying to be a dick. He was really teaching us how to do a better job, make better connections and learn that a solid quarterback from 5 years ago might have an equally talented younger brother or sister in the wings.

I always silently suspected that as a prep athlete, his off-kilter last name (Harty not Hardy) might have played a role in this as well. Nothing sucks like doing a great job, clipping the box score and seeing your name spelled wrong.

Even on the high school level, it became our responsibility to get the names right, and while I will never claim to be perfect here, I do make an effort and will check and re-check names I don't know very well.

I guess that's why I'm frustrated when PA announcers and radio and TV personalities get things wrong so often. The Red Sox broadcast team just referenced Andre "Ether" and not Ethier and catching the post-mortem on the Twins/Tigers series had a walk-off homer from Brandon Inge, which was masacred beyond belief (Inguh? Ingey?).

I'm not asking for much, and the media guides even have phoenetic spellings of the names, but anyone who has in interest in baseball knows those two names of hundreds in the majors. Would it kill guys to watch a few games in their downtime?

* Jonathon Papelbon has blown the save and is struggling to get out of the ninth in Boston tonight. Wow, that's weird.

He's just not locating his pitches well and hung a fastball for a two-run homer to tie the game. I can't imagine the speculation on the Sons of Sam Horn board... no wait, I can.

* Elsewhere in the East, Phil Hughes is no-hitting the Rangers (see a pattern here, anyone?) and will have a huge rush on the fantasy boards starting now and continuing through tomorrow afternoon.

There are worse guys to pick up than Yankee rookies, but I always get frustrated at premature runs made on guys in their first games.

* As much as Frankie likes to joke that the baseball season hasn't really begun until Kerry Wood or Mark Prior have hit the DL or are gone for the year, I argue the season really doesn't warm up until Roger Clemens begins his annual auction.

He's begun his annual auction.

* Watching the Brewers this weekend made me realize that last year it was the Brewers and Tigers off to hot starts and I stupidly called them both out as pretenders. There's something to be said for being half right.

Currently, the Brewers are 16-9 and 7-3 in the past 10 games in the upside-down Central Division (Brewers, Pirates, Reds, Cubs, Astros, Cardinals in order).

They are holding strong in the top third in average, OBP, ERA and earned runs. Not running away with anything, but seeing more pitching than they had before. With the young bats and the emergence of a viable pitching staff, it's been surprising, but justifies the preseason hype the team attracted.

(Photo from

Labels: , , , , ,