Monday, June 25, 2007

A Different Kind of an Identity Crisis

So I was digging around the waiver wire in my fantasy league, looking for strikeout middle relievers to shore up my pitching staff when I came across Oakland's Santiago Casilla, who's struck out 14 in 12.1 innings of work this year. My first thought was, "Why the hell haven't I heard of this guy before?" But then I found out I have.

This isn't unusual in Baseball. Sometimes a guy like David Arias decides that after being traded to a new team, he wants to be henceforth known as David Ortiz. And for some reason, a guy like Ian Oquendo goes by his babymomma's last name until he reverts back to Ian Snell. And sometimes a guy like Rafael Furcal comes along and steals 40 bases in his rookie year and everyone thinks he beat Ty Cobb's record for most by a teenaged player...until they learn that Furcal was born in 1977 instead of 1980.

But it's rare that a player has both a drastic name change and a drastic birthdate change. The former Jairo Garcia stepped forward last year and revealed that he signed using false documents with a fake name and a fake birthdate, rechristening him as Santiago Casilla and adding 2 years and 10 months to his birthdate.

This cleared up a lot for me, seeing how as I have heard of Jairo Garcia and wondered whatever became of him. Of course, I promptly picked him up and he blows a save situation against the Mets Saturday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

1987 Topps #512

I've always wondered just how much a good hitting coach can contribute to a winning team. On one hand of the spectrum, you have Charlie Lau, who wrote The Art of Hitting .300 and is often credited for turning George Brett and Harold Baines into the hitters they eventually became. On the other hand, you have guys like Jim Rice who, according to Scott Hatteberg in Moneyball, couldn't understand why no one could hit the way he did. The best hitting coaches (according to Scott again), are the ones who used to suck because they don't try to make you hit the way they did.

Will calls it "intense nerdery" and while I don't disagree, I'm finding all the before and after split screens and YouTube videos of Coco Crisp's new hitting stance on the Sons of Sam Horn message boards fascinating to no end. The changes are a bit subtle but still obvious to the naked eye; he's standing taller and his stance is less open than it was. Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan tells us that:
He's standing a little taller. A little less stride. And getting the feeling like he's above the ball instead of like landing with that front leg bent. Just trying to get him taller, both ways. If he's not going to load, at least keep him where he holds his position instead of leaning toward the baseball. You don't want to swing around your body. If you get all spread out, with your legs and the weight of your upper body, you swing around it, which slows up your bat and you hit a lot of balls weakly. It gets him in a better position where he can generate some bat speed.
Since June 15th (when the adjustment was reported in, Coco has been on a tear, going 11-20 with 3 home runs as of blog time, adding more than 80 points to his OPS. Combined with his fantastic defense in center field and cheap contract, I can't decide if all this makes Coco less expendable or more tradeable. Or maybe all of this means nothing and it's just a mirage from smacking around National League pitching for a few days.

Though Dave Magadan's lack of power prevented him from being the star the Topps oh-so-boldly predicted 20 years ago, his high on-base percentage and batting average made him one of the better bench players in the league. That may only seem like damning with faint praise but it wasn't too long ago that Kevin Youkilis was not only being compared to Magadan, but it was meant as a compliment.

Oh, hey, did you know that Dave is also Sweet Lou Pinella's cousin? I didn't.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Golden Sombrero?

So I'm watching the Mets-Yankees game and after Carlos Delgado struck out for the 4th time in the game, they announce the event as a "golden sombrero." At first, I actually thought it was some sort of vaguely racist slam that I wasn't quite getting. But it turns out that I had just never heard of it before. Wiki tells us that:
The term derives from "hat trick" and since four is bigger than three, the rationale was that a four-strikeout performance should be referred to by a bigger hat, such as a sombrero. The "Olympic Rings" or platinum sombrero applies to a player striking out five times in a game, while a horn or titanium sombrero is bestowed upon a player who strikes out six times in a single game.
Huh. I guess you learn something new every day but this just sounds like some shit that somebody made up or something. A golden sombrero? Really? God, what a stupid game. No wonder everyone hates Baseball.

1982 Topps #783

It isn't often that I've actually heard of a guy who gets selected in the 45th round of Baseball's Amateur Draft but I've been excited by Pat Venditte for quite awhile, ever since Alan Schwartz profiled the kid in The New York Times in April. Though the jaw-dropping video within the article that shows the Creighton switch-pitcher slipping his ambidextrous glove to his opposite hand has since been removed, I shat my pants when I first saw it (you, however, can check him out on YouTube). After putting on fresh underwear, I tried to dig around and find some independent scouting reports on him (other than his profile on the Creighton website) but gave up after like a page of Google searches. So then I had to go all the way the hell over to Baseball Prospectus and hang out in their chat room while I waited for prospect maven Kevin Goldstein to answer my question about him. He said:
He's going to go for sure. His numbers are good, his stuff isn't. He's in the mid-80s righthanded and drops to sidearm when he pitches lefty, and only in the upper 70s. Nobody is thrilled with him, but somebody in the teens is going to take a shot and see what happens.
Kev was way off base, but only because Venditte scared everyone off by announcing that he will return for his senior year at Creighton and develop his left side for another season. Of course, it should go without saying that he should expect to be drafted much higher next year and even if it doesn't have much of a career, he'll still be a trailblazer just for letting the rest of us know it can be done. It may take a generation or two, but your favorite team will be employing a switch-pitcher in their bullpen soon enough.

However, this isn't unprecedented. Greg A. Harris (not to be confused with Greg W. Harris), who long wanted to switch-pitch in a game, was finally allowed to do so in the next-to-last game of his career on September 28, 1995. He came in to pitch a shutout 9th against Cincinnati, grounding out Reggie Sanders with his left hand, walking Hal Morris and grounding out Eddie Taubensee with his right and finally switching back to his left to ground out Brett Boone to end the inning. If you're the sort that finds poetry in box scores, then check out the play-by-play from that night's game because you likely won't see it again for years.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

1991 Topps Traded #45

Of all the things this author has forgotten from a constitutional law class he once took at a community college years ago, ex post facto is the only thing that his memory retained, despite finding no use to apply such a term to anything (much less Baseball) until now. But it was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the latest rumor that Jason Giambi may face suspension from Commissioner Bud Selig if he doesn't tattle on his fellow union members in Senator George Mitchell's ongoing investigation of steroids in Baseball.

It should be rather telling that all you really need is a community college education to know that there isn't a legal leg for Selig to stand on if he decides to suspend Giambi. Simply put (for those without a community college education), ex post facto means you cannot punish a person retroactively for breaking a rule that wasn't a rule before it became a rule, so I don't think Jason has anything to worry about.
It is in the best interests of baseball for everyone, including players, to cooperate with Senator Mitchell in his investigation.
So said Selig. First, why isn't Mitchell referred to as a former Senator? I wrote out this long-ass sentence about how it would be in the best interests of Mitchell's constituents to not waste taxpayer money trying to find out which grown men put what in their grown bodies back when you were actually allowed to do so and then I find out that he hasn't held a public office in over 12 years. Is this some sort of scare tactic on Buddy's part? As if he's trying to say, "Confess more than you've already have, Jason, or I will sic a former Senator on you and then you'll be sorry!"

Second, I would like to believe that former Senator Mitchell, a graduate of Georgetown Law, already knows about that whole ex post facto thing and appreciates that nothing can really happen to Giambi if he doesn't rat. But with the way our government has stuck their tentacles in Baseball since Jose Canseco's book came out, I get the feeling that Washington would much rather be playing Baseball than senatoring anyway and (mis)governing it much like they (mis)govern their own states is the closest they'll ever get, when they obviously should be investigating a million other issues a million times more pressing than What's Wrong with Baseball.

B-b-b-but what about our innocence?

Fair enough, then. Let's talk about our innocence. Remember 17 years ago, back when it was all bubble gum and lollipops and sunshine and playing catch with Jeremy in the backyard and weighing 40 pounds lighter and not getting injured all the time by intestinal parasites and Topps sponsorships? Me too.

O sun-kiss'd youth! How I yearn for thee!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

1989 Topps #343

This is the most punk rock Baseball card ever, and a bit of a reminder of why people hate Gary Sheffield to begin with. Here, the then-19 year old shortstop's arrogance is already apparent; he shows up for his first Topps card portrait with bling around his neck and enough of a smile to show off the "G" and the "S" inscribed in his two front teeth. A Future Star, indeed. Of course, dressing like an extra from an N.W.A. video probably doesn't endear yourself to the white Baseball-watching public, especially if you've already gained enough notoriety just by existing as Dwight Gooden's nephew. It would be sufficient to say that Gary Antonian Sheffield has not had the best relationship with media and the fans, and the latest thing that he has to say certainly hasn't helped.

It's really too bad that everyone is a little too busy responding by calling Gary Sheffield a "raving racist" or recounting the ways they hate him instead of acknowledging that his opinion about an issue that should be taken seriously should be taken seriously. There was nothing racist about what Sheffield said. He was asked his opinion on an issue and gave it. Instead of thinking about the reasons behind his response and contribute our own thoughts to the discussion like a good little roundtable should, we all decide to just yell HAY U RAAVING RACIST STOP SPEAKING OUT OF TURN THAT'S WHY YOU GOT TRADED TO SEVEN DIFFERENT TEAMS BC NO ONE LIKES U U RAVVING RASICT.

So I guess I'll just be alone in all this and add my own three cents.

Why American Black Kids Don't Play Baseball by Phenomenal Smith

There are precious few spaces in urban areas where kids can play a respectable game of Baseball. If there are, there's very little chance that there's even any kind of consistent groundskeeping, like cutting the grass once a summer or something, because many cities can't (or won't) put (much) money into them. In addition to the community's lack of funds, many individual urban black kids (and their friends) don't have money for the gloves, bats and balls, leaving very little Baseball in the streets and alleys of urban areas. Furthermore, they usually don't have the money to play organized Baseball if their neighborhood Little League requires a registration fee, which brings us to:

Many middle-class white kids growing up in the suburbs have been playing some kind of organized Baseball from a very young age, from t-ball to that one league where everybody bats .689 because the only thing the pitching machine spits out is 65 mph fastballs to Little League. If they never gain any athletic maturity and learn nothing else, middle-class white kids at least know the fundamentals of the game because every spring, there's a new coach to scream at them until they learn. By the time they reach high school, they've already have up to 10 more years of polished experience than most black kids who decide to try out for Baseball for the first time. If they decide to try out, which brings us to:

In what could very well be the most successful advertisement campaign in media history, Nike spent untold millions of dollars telling untold millions of kids to Be Like Mike. And untold thousands of kids earned college scholarships doing their best imitation of Mike. American black kids in urban areas were drawn to the instant gratification of Basketball and many young black urban males (perhaps in part without elder male figures in their lives to romanticize it for them) didn't really play all that much Baseball. Tying back to money, Basketball is also inexpensive; all you need is a basketball. It's also a lot more accessible in urban areas; hoops and pick-up games can be found everywhere. It isn't hard to imagine that perhaps a generation ago, Allen Iverson would've turned out to be a shortstop instead, or Dwayne Wade a centerfielder, but they're not and neither are their contemporaries. As evidenced by the 8.4% of Black Americans playing Baseball today, black kids just aren't growing up playing Baseball. While it's certainly a shame and there are things that can be done about it, it is what it is. The individuals that make up the system may not exactly all be racists but many of the factors that created the system has resulted in a certain socio-economical demographic's exclusion from Baseball. It isn't anybody's fault, really. It's just what happened.

But what the hell do I know, right? I'm just talking out of my ass like Sheffield did and writing it out on an anonymous blog, as if Jon Heyman is going to write in and be all, HAY PEHNOMENAL U SHOULD SHUTUP U RAVING RACISST THATS WHY NO ONE READS JOOR BLOG BC NO ONE LIKES TO TALK TO U BC UR NOT WHATS PURE ABOUT BASEBALL.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Fanasty Player's Best Trade.

For the 3rd time this season, after spending most of a weekend with my girlfriend and away from my 6 fantasy teams, I arrive home to discover that I had benched Johan Santana again out of neglect. Each time, my first reaction is to literally slap myself in the forehead. My second reaction, however, is to remind myself that as a manager of 6 fantasy teams, I should consider myself very lucky to even be getting laid on a consistent basis to begin with. So then my forehead-slap turns into a shoulder-shrug and I go about the rest of my day and never think of it again.