Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We'll miss you, Mr. Updike

John Updike died today and aside from his numerous contributions to the educational canons of most major colleges and universities - he was a personal favorite of mine during my first attempt at college - he is fairly well known for his account of Ted Williams' last day at Fenway.

While I'd be hard pressed to quote anything he wrote word for word (and I doubt I could even do justice with a loose paraphrasing at this point) I always liked Updike's work because it seemed honest and never reached too far for my tastes.

I dug that about him.

The full text of Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu is available here. A nice slice of the work is at the end of this post as well.

I'll miss you, Mr. Updike. Anyone who can compare Williams' tenure with the Red Sox as a marriage, subject to the ups, downs, scuffles and tender moments is someone that understands a lot about life and baseball and if that's what ends up on my tombstone, I'll consider it a victory.

First, there was the by now legendary epoch when the young bridegroom came out of the West, announced "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'" The dowagers of local journalism attempted to give elementary deportment lessons to this child who spake as a god, and to their horror were themselves rebuked.

Thus began the long exchange of backbiting, bat-flipping, booing, and spitting that has distinguished Williams' public relations. The spitting incidents of 1957 and 1958 and the similar dockside courtesies that Williams has now and then extended to the grandstand should be judged against this background: the left-field stands at Fenway for twenty years have held a large number of customers who have bought their way in primarily for the privilege of showering abuse on Williams. Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Williams' case the hostility has been systematic and unappeasable. His basic offense against the fans has been to wish that they weren't there.

Seeking a perfectionist's vacuum, he has quixotically desired to sever the game from the ground of paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it. Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek to newsmen. It has been a costly theory—it has probably cost him, among other evidences of good will, two Most Valuable Player awards, which are voted by reporters—but he has held to it from his rookie year on.

While his critics, oral and literary, remained beyond the reach of his discipline, the opposing pitchers were accessible, and he spanked them to the tune of .406 in 1941. He slumped to .356 in 1942 and went off to war.


Friday, January 23, 2009

See you later, Under Armour

Money seems to be the topic of the day at Clark and Addison, so who am I to fight the trend?

Under Armour (and for the record, I blame the superfluous "u" for all of this) came up a bit short when it came to yearly revenue and essentially told the Cubs that they can stop waiting for payment from them because it's not coming.

You'll remember that the Under Armour ads on the walls were the source of debate when they went up on the outfield doors last year. After bricks and ivy for years, the Cubs sold the rights to paint the metal doors and the howls about the tradition of the game being in peril began.

Well, it shouldn't be an issue any more. From the Sun-Times:

Under Armour, in exchange for marketing benefits, agreed to give the Cubs $10.8 million to be the “Official Performance Brand” of the team from the 2009-13 seasons, according to the suit.

However, Under Armour's year-end earnings were “lower than expected and did not meet industry expectations,” the suit said. The company’s stock fell 15 percent and according to the suit, Under Armour expects its 2008 income to be $10 million less than 2007's.

When executives realized their financial situation in December, the Cubs claim they breached the contract and told the team the $10.8 million would not be coming.

Ummm... Can they do that? Because I can't do that.

More surprising is the line, "The suit asks a federal court to prohibit Under Armour from disregarding its agreement with the Cubs." I'm no lawyer, but it sounds like Under Armour has opted for the, "Uh, yeah, dude. I'm not paying you back for that," defense.

Under Armour! The deadbeat college roommate of the sports apparel world!

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Wrigley faithful, meet your new daddy

Assuming all the paperwork goes along smoothly, Cubs fans can expect an end to their seasons of nightmare where their team played without a big boss in charge.

After years under corporate control in the Tribune media machine, the team is lined up to be the property of the Ricketts family in the next few days. After an early release where they were essentially tabbed "bidding group A" - which terrifies any fans who also follow Illinois politics and assume any lettered entity to be a high-profile witness in a corruption trial - the Tribune released word that the Ricketts were the answer to the big question for the ballclub.

The Tribune reports:

The family, which has Chicago connections but made its fortune building a discount stock brokerage in Omaha, confirmed Thursday night that it has been selected by Tribune Co. to begin exclusive negotiations to buy the team, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet, a regional cable network.

Sources put the value of the bid at about $900 million. That works out to $9 million for each season since the team's last World Series title in 1908.

Thanks for clearing that up, guys. I need to know every piece of Cubs-related trivia in relation to years of futility. It really helps define me as a person.

The article goes on to explain what the process is (especially in the context of the current credit crater).

The family will have to hammer out a final agreement with Tribune Co. and secure financing amid the worst credit markets since the Depression. Once a contract is inked, the deal must be approved by 23 of Major League Baseball's 30 owners. Cubs officials have said they hope to have the new owners in place by the start of the season in April.

So, welcome to Chicago, Ricketts family! It's a wonderful town to own a team - just ask the McCaskey's or the Wirtz's.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hall of the Future

After the Hall of Fame results were announced Monday, I got an e-mail from Frank the Tank that had a very brief message and links to the respective career numbers of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.

It also came with intentions of a full blog post on his site to dig deeper into the issue of this specific vote.

When a White Sox fan writes to alert me to the injustice done to Dawson, it tends to perk my ears up a bit. From a personal standpoint, it was win-win for me - I like Rice and have a feeling that Dawson's time will come soon, so it was a minor sigh of relief and a feeling that the Hawk's time will come.

Frank rightly calls into question why any voter would pick one over the other and why Rice would be that one in any case. At the risk of stealing his thunder, I'll quote directly from his e-mail, because he uses pretty words:

Their offensive stats are pretty much the same over time (with Dawson having higher career totals due to a longer career). They both made 7 All-Star Games and won 1 MVP Award.

The key difference for me, though, is that Dawson also won 8 Gold Gloves (while Rice didn’t win any). Dawson, at his peak, had the best arm I had ever seen – the way he could nail guys at third base with cannon shots from right field without even a hop was unbelievable.

It seems as though Dawson was every bit the offensive player that Rice was (at the very least) while Dawson also was the best fielding right fielder of his generation (with Rice not making much of a difference as a fielder).

Am I missing something here (other than the preponderance of pro-Red Sox writers out there)?

With all due respect to the preponderance of pro-Red Sox writers, it's worth noting that Dawson eventually ended up in Boston as well, but I wonder how much his time in Montreal hurt him in this case.

Completely setting aside the fact that the man can barely stand at this point because his knees are shot from playing on the painted concrete that the Expos called a field, what else did playing in Montreal do to hinder Dawson's chances?

My immediate reaction to the e-mail was that years spent hidden north of the border couldn't have helped Dawson in this case. More to the point, this year's crop had two pitchers - Bert Blylevel and Jack Morris - who are constantly on the lists of guys the Hall missed compiled by bitter fans and heartbroken writers.

It's easy to lock in on the stars of the league, regardless of where they played - Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor and George Brett come to mind here - but it's worth considering that if Morris had pitched for the Yankees or Blyleven for the Dodgers, they'd be in the Hall already.

Compounding these possible problems and the meat of what I've been kicking around since Monday is what impact the modern media coverage will have on future Hall votes.

There was a time in my memory where instant access to sports scores - much less video highlights or even entire games - was impossible. Unless you had a buddy who worked overnights at the local TV station, chances were that you didn't have up to the minute scoring.

Today, I can get all of this and more on the bus with my phone.

Granted, it wasn't a total media blackout in those dark days of the early 80's, but aside from a listing of scores and a video of someone falling into the dugout on a pop fly, most of the attention in the specific markets was focused on the home team and division rivals and teams with playoff aspirations if there was time.

Not so much these days.

No longer are good players lost in the shuffle by playing in small markets. If someone is playing well, ESPN will have the highlights for you to catch with your morning coffee. If a rookie starts knocking the cover off the ball, you can go back and pick things apart pitch by pitch on the league's main site and see why.

While Frank is right to question the Red Sox Nation push to put Rice in the Hall on his final ballot, keep in mind that regardless of the WGN flagship games for Dawson, it was much more likely to see Rice highlights on the east coast when the two were playing. That has to have some sort of impact.

I can see this going one of two ways with the change in how and when we get our information.

1.) Flashy players will be overvalued to a point that it will produce a lot of borderline inductees - I'll call this the Juan Pierre prototype - whose numbers won't look so hot when compared to other players. Just because a guy was always on Web Gems or always killed in your roto league doesn't mean he should be in the Hall.

2.) More attention being paid to players who would have traditionally toiled away and done really well without exposure to a national audience - I'll call this the Johan Santana in Minnesota prototype. On top of that, there are always players who do very well, but never really have a breakout season. In extreme cases, these can be great Hall candidates, but without a little flash to draw the eye, they tend to get skipped over pretty quickly.

In addition, better, more accessible stats will also help break up old logjams as voters go back to the drawing board to decide if someone is a late-ballot inductee.

Regardless, I can't see the jump in coverage failing to have some sort of effect on the way Hall ballots are cast for better or for worse. I just hope it doesn't open the floodgates for every jackass who ever ran through a wall or drilled the peanut guy, just because it got a million hits on YouTube.

As long as technology doesn't rapidly reach the voters, who are mainly old print guys, we shouldn't see much deviation for the next 15 to 20 years at least.

I think we'll be safe.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rickey just wanted to play ball

So, let's be honest. The only real suspense regarding Rickey Henderson's quest for the Hall of Fame will be whether or not he'll break Tom Seaver's record for overall vote percentage - Seaver got 98.84 percent of the vote - and whether or not he'll refer to himself in the third person when he is inducted.

I'm betting he does.

The San Francisco Chronicle does a great job of wrapping Henderson's career up in a neat little bow and separating the myth of Rickey from the actual numbers that will put him in the Hall. It's gotten pretty easy to view him as a human cartoon, given the urban legends that surround him and the Chronicle helps put those numbers back on the front page.

First all time in stolen bases (by a wide, wide margin). First in runs scored. Second in walks.

It makes Bill James' commentary seem pretty spot on and less a work of hyperbole.

According to Baseball Reference, James is on record in his 2008 Handbook as saying, "Some people have asked me whether or not Rickey Henderson belonged in the Hall of Fame. I've replied, 'If you could somehow split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers.'"

One of the fun things about Henderson is that stories that circulate about him have started to resemble the cottage industry of Chuck Norris sites - Rickey Henderson has counted to infinity... twice... - and, to be honest, you really never know.

At the end of his career, Henderson had been shorthand for the stupid, self-obsessed ballplayer. He was viewed as hanging on to a dead career for far too long and being a self-promoting fool. Don't feel bad for thinking this, it's probably a pretty fair assessment of how the last years of Rickey played out.

(For the record, I lump Henderson in the same category as Yogi Berra, Ozzie Guillen and others who are known for being a little nuts or stupid, but are always entertaining. I think Henderson is clever enough to know that the myth of Rickey is better served by never correcting any of the funny, but somewhat inaccurate stories. Good for him.)

Regardless, consider this story (which is totally unverified):

He called San Diego GM Kevin Towers and left the following message: “This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

When viewed through that prism, Rickey is pretty much all you could ask for in a ballplayer.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

That's a good point, Bill

While I swing wildly on the pro- and anti-Bill Simmons bandwagons, he was dead on in a recent mailbag discussing the Yankees' off-season spending spree.

From Simmons:

Although I cannot condone this sour-grapes quote from Sox owner John Henry after the fact.

"From the moment we arrived in Boston in late 2001, we saw it as a monumental challenge," Henry said. "We sought to reduce the financial gap, and succeeded to a degree. Now with a new stadium filled with revenue opportunities, they have leaped away from us again. So we have to be even more careful in deploying our resources."

(Note to John: They already hate us enough. Just stop. You sound like a rich prep-school kid lamenting the fact his Lamborghini isn't the most expensive car in the parking lot anymore. And while we're here, Fenway is a cash cow -- you can't play the "new stadium with revenue opportunities card" when you've done everything but stick hanging box seats on the Citgo sign.

Boston's payroll has been somewhere between $120-145 million each year for the past five. Every middle-class fan you have has been priced out unless they want to sit in the bleachers or wooden grandstand seats down the outfield lines that face second base. Just stop. Please, stop. Thank you.)


I don't think people instinctively hate teams with high payrolls, only when they're successful and whine when they don't win with mini All-Star teams.

(If you think this post was just a weak excuse to test the new hosting capabilities as the site creeps back online, you're totally right. I should have done a redesign or something while I was at it...)