Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Star of Wonder

As you may have noticed, we're hip-deep in the holiday season here. As such, Jim and I will probably not be doin' a lot of bloggin' over the next week or so. Fair warning.

And because it's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, I won't even make fun of Pete Rose and/or Mark McGwire for the former's endorsement of the latter for the Hall of Fame. Even though it's sprocking hi-larious in so many ways...

So to all our readers, have a wondrous end-of-the-year celebration of the winter solstice, however it is you choose to celebrate. And if you need even more of a reason to celebrate -- training camp opens in 55 days. Break out the sunscreen!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Lineaments of Gratified Desire

With the big money being thrown around this winter (well, big money has been thrown around for a lot longer, but that’s another story…), the punditocracy has spent a lot of time debating whether this signing or that signing is “good” or “bad.” Most of the time, the only data affecting this decision is whether or not that pundit believes the player in question is worth the amount of money his new employer is throwing at him.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but this “analysis” struck me as slightly simplistic. There’s gotta be a better way to look at this stuff. After chatting with Jim last night, I think I’ve got an idea that may at least be considered half-baked.

If I were smart like Bill James or the guys at Baseball Prospectus, I could find a way to write a formula to get this boiled down into some easy-to-understand number. But I’m not, so bear with me.

Start with the assumption that every contract has two sides: a baseball side and an economic side. Then, ask a few simple questions about both sides of the deal.

Baseball Side:
1. Is this player an improvement over the guy he’s replacing?
2. Does this team have a need for this player?
3. What other alternatives does the team have to fill this need?

Economic Side:
4. Is this player worth the money?
5. Is this player worth the time?

Highly subjective, I admit. But I think if you ask these questions, you avoid the knee-jerk “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh! Alex Rodriguez signed a contract worth a quarter of a billion dollars!” reaction that passes as analysis nowadays.

Let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite big-money signing – Alfonso Soriano – and put these questions to his new deal. From the baseball side:

1. Yeah, I guess so. Soriano takes Pierre’s spot in the lineup. Their on-base averages are comparable, but Soriano showed a lot more power last year. If that’s a true representation of his production, the improved slugging makes it a plus for the Cubs. However, Soriano will get OJT in center field, which is not a position where you want guys getting OJT. Scouts said he handled left field OK…but center field is a different beast. Call it a fairish improvement offensively, and a definite downgrade defensively.

2. What the Cubs needed was a guy who could get on base and play center field. Soriano has yet to prove he can do either.

3. The free agent options are retreads: Kenny Lofton, Gary Matthews Jr., J.D. Drew. Cheaper, but not necessarily better. The best in-house option is Felix Pie. He might be ready this summer. Or maybe next summer. He’s looking like a Soriano-type player, too.

Economically, the answers to both questions are “Hell, no!” I don’t like contracts longer than two years, and I don’t like shelling out that much money on one guy.

Combine this mess, and you get an answer of: not really good. Maybe Soriano will do everything expected of him and lead us to a new gilded age. Right now, from where I’m looking, he’ll be OK. But he doesn’t bring to the table what we really need, and he’s pretty damned expensive, too.

Now let’s peek at Gil Meche:

1. Come on, it’s Gil Meche we’re talking about. The only what that’s an improvement over someone on your staff is if you’re the Royals. Oh…wait…

2. The Royals need good, young pitchers. Meche is neither.

3. Even the Royals should be able to scrape up somebody to give them 175 innings with a 5.00-ish ERA. That’s what the non-tendered free agent listing is for, right?

Economically, the answers are another set of “Hell, no!” Five years of Gil Meche? Oy…

This is a first draft, so I admit there’s some room for improvement. But I think answering these five questions gives you the information you need to make a proper assessment of a signing (or trade, for that matter). Strip out the emotional baggage of Proven Veterans™ and big-buck contracts and we might be able to have a rational discussion about the merits of these player moves, without worrying about whether we’re singling out certain teams.

You gotta start somewhere, right?

Why Can’t Sully Ask?

As I described above, there are a few basic questions that should be asked to determine if a particular player acquisition can be considered “good” or “bad.” As I also noted, these are simple, simple questions that any sentient life form would think to ask as a matter of course. So why do so few members of our press corps bother to ask these questions?

Perhaps it’s because our press corps aren’t sentient life forms.

The latest example comes courtesy of our friend Sully in today’s Chicago Tribune. Sully has a question about Soriano. I must admit it was a question I would never have thought to ask:

[Daryle] Ward was asked if Soriano carried a boom box, as did another former Cubs outfielder from the small town of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

"I don't know," Ward said, laughing. "I'm pretty sure he likes to play his music loud."

Sammy Sosa's boom box allegedly was destroyed by a teammate after the 2004 season.

Cub Fans I know have several pressing questions about our Mr. Soriano – Can he play center? Can he hit leadoff? Are his 2006 power numbers for real?

Sully, the guy with the press pass and Hall of Fame ballot, the guy who goes on the TV as an “expert,” has a different question – does he have a boom box?

Oh, how the Chicago media loves the boom box script! His Samminess was last seen at Wrigley Field more than two years ago – but the diligent typists in your press corps can’t seem to rehash this favorite script often enough.

Gentle Readers, not even Mark Twain could create characters as obtuse as Sully (although Lord knows he’s tried). Why can’t Sully ask useful questions – questions so simple even a dope like me knows to ask them? Can it be because he’s an even bigger dope?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Simple Answers to Foolish Questions

Dr. Phil offers this foolish query today:

Unless someone bowls him over, [Kenny] Williams should hang on to what he has. [Mark] Buehrle, the only starter eligible for free agency after 2007, needs to re-establish his value after an alarming end to 2006 (3-7, 6.44 ERA after the All-Star break). The time to worry about [Jon]Garland and [Javier] Vazquez is next winter, when they will be a year away from free agency.

If Garland stays strong or Buehrle bounces back, the White Sox should re-examine their internal guideline on a three-year maximum for pitching contracts. Yes, pitchers get hurt. But these guys have been unusually sturdy. They also are the guys who helped win the World Series for the first time since 1917.

Shouldn't that count for a little extra?

The answer, of course, is "No."

Limiting pitchers' contracts to three years is smart on many levels. But if they bend their unwritten rule just because of the warm fuzzies they feel for Buerhle and Garland because of 2005...well, let's just say that no one will feel too warm or fuzzy if either of those guys is pulling down big bucks in 2010 while posting an ERA north of 5.00.

Everything has its time. And everything has an end. Dr. Phil should know this. If Williams thinks it is in the team's interest to let these guys walk as free agents, then that's the end. Basing personnel decisions on sentiment leads to heartache.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

AP Reports Matsuzaka Agreement Finalized

Over $103 million total (including the money the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka's rights), plus another $8 mil in incentives, for six years. That makes him worth about two Gil Meche's, I guess...

Dawson's Creak

The Tribune's Mike Downey comes out with the bold stance that he won't vote for Mark McGwire on this year's HoF ballot. But not for the reason many of you are thinking.

No, it's not the alleged steroid use. Downey is down on McGwire because...McGwire's career numbers aren't as good as Andre Dawson's:

Andre Dawson's hit total is more than 1,100 higher than McGwire's. He had twice as many doubles. His average is 16 points higher. He has 177 more RBIs.

Dawson also won eight Gold Glove awards at his position. McGwire won one.

What Downey leaves out is that Dawson also had career marks of a .323 OBP (not all that terrific) and a .482 slugging average -- which not only isn't in the top 100 of all time, but also ranks behind Geoff Jenkins, Bob Horner, Ryan Klesko, and David Justice.

If you think it's unfair of me to point out who ranks ahead of Dawson, here's another clip from Downey as he justifies his case against McGwire:

Seventh on the all-time homer charts. More than Reggie Jackson. More than Mickey Mantle. More than Ted Williams. More than Ernie Banks. More than Lou Gehrig. Wow.

How could he not be in the Hall of Fame?

Then I came to McGwire's other batting stats.Lifetime hits: 1,626.That's it? Are you serious? Vinny Castilla has more. Jeff Conine has more. Juan Gonzalez has more. Ruben Sierra has more. B.J. Surhoff has 700 more.

No Hall of Famers in that bunch.

The brawny McGwire's career batting average is a scrawny .263. His RBI total of 1,414 is not all that hot for a slugger. It pales next to Palmeiro's. It is more than a couple of hundred shy than that of Harold Baines.

I give Downey credit for actually looking at McGwire's record, rather than present some knee-jerk homily about cheating and the children.

Unfortunately, the corollary to his argument doesn't hold water. The Hall of Fame isn't some logic puzzle (if McGwire = Hall of Famer, therefore Dawson and Baines and Surhoff = Hall of Famer as well). Saying McGwire shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame because Hal and the Hawk had better numbers doesn't really establish what kind of numbers merit election.

Dawson and Baines were fine players (favorites of mine, as a matter of fact). But they're not Hall of Famers. They just don't have the numbers to justify it. No matter how many more hits they had than McGwire.

An Open Letter to the Chicago Tribune

To: Chicago Tribune's Public Editor

From: Bob

I let it pass the first time I saw this error, but it made it into print again today. On time may be forgiven; twice indicates that someone isn’t bothering to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, Rick Morrissey wrote a column about Mark McGwire and mentioned that he did not want to tear down McGwire’s bust in Cooperstown like the Army tore down the statue of Hussein in Iraq.

Today, Mike Downey’s column asserts that if another 73 people had voted for Andre Dawson his bust would be in Cooperstown today.

Please inform these two scribes that the Baseball Hall of Fame does not honor its inductees with busts. I believe the NFL Hall does. But the hallowed hall of Cooperstown has always mounted plaques in its members’ honor.

Some may consider this a minor quibble. Am I asking too much to expect your newspaper’s writers and editors get such basic facts correct?

Media Culpa

I should have posted this with the McGwire bit I re-posted last week. Yes, it's another re-run.

But it's a re-run I think is important. With McGwire on the HoF ballot, the media's pontificating about steroid use in MLB is reaching levels not heard since the Congressional dog-and-pony show a few years back.

How did the media view these cheaters in real time? A few big-time media types explain how, including ESPN stalwart Jayson Stark:

[originally posted 3 March 2005]
So it’s come to this – we’ve been so inundated with stories about steroids (who’s using, who’s not, and how they’re destroying the very fabric of society) that the media is running out of things to say. And that means it’s time to stop reporting on the story and start reporting on how the story is reported.

The 25 February Chicago Tribune carried a story by Teddy Greenstein that is best summed up by its sub-head: “Writers realize they were too passive in examining steroid abuse back in the ‘90s.” If you’ll pardon the pun, there’s a news flash for you.

Greenstein offers two anecdotes which help explain why the media was “too passive” in their coverage.

One of the reporters Greenstein discusses in the piece is AP reporter Steve Wilstein. You may recall Wilstein as the guy who first reported that Mark McGwire doped up on andro during the 1998 season. For his trouble, Wilstein would flamed by McGwire and the Super Genius (who unsuccessfully tried to have the AP banned from the Cardinals’ clubhouse).

Wilstein even took heat from fellow members of the Fourth Estate. The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaghnessy crafted this nugget of joy:

No wonder ballplayers loathe the media. Mark McGwire is stalking one of baseball’s most cherished records…and suddenly he’s engaged in a tabloid-driven controversy that’s painting him as a cheater and a bad role model. It’s unfair.

Hmmm…I wonder what would happen in this enlightened era of 2005 if a player “stalking” a cherished home-run record were to be “engaged in a tabloid-driven controversy” that painted him as “a cheater and a bad role model?”

Nah. It could never happen.

Anyway, Greenstein’s response to Wilstein’s experience is, “Given that reaction, it’s easy to understand why reporters didn’t pursue steroids rumors as if they were trade rumors.”

Oh, my, yes. Pursuing those steroids rumors might get people upset – and reporters don’t want to get anyone upset, lest they lose a chance at grabbing a sound-bite in the post-game clubhouse. It’s best to stick with a safe topic, like trade rumors.

No matter. If there’s one thing the media is good at, it’s rationalizing why they do (or don’t do) things. Wilstein said, “We’re in an awkward position where we have suspicions but don’t have the freedom to put our statements we can’t verify…In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have turned our eyes. But it’s a hard situation, and I don’t want to criticize the media.”

ESPN’s Jayson Stark faced his own “hard situation” back in 1993. While covering Phillies’ training camp, he noticed that Lenny Dykstra spent the winter metamorphing into a muscle man. Stark said that Dykstra told him, “I took some real good vitamins.” And then the pair shared a manly laugh at the delightful quip.

I’ll let Greenstein take it from there:

Looking back, Stark said, Dykstra’s comments and baseball’s home-run outbreak in the’90s “should have set the investigative forces on stampede. We should have been more aggressive. But I still don’t know how we would have proved it. And if you can’t prove it, how would you write it?”

To state the obvious, since when has the media not run with some juicy allegation that couldn’t be proved, or was just outright false? Facts are a malleable commodity nowadays. Anyone who’s lived through the last two presidential elections should understand that.

Perhaps a more aggressive investigation would have provided the proof. We’ll never know, because the media spent the last decade staring off into space rather than risk upsetting anyone.

What’s changed over the last year that it’s now OK to start calling players out on steroids? Has the proof that Stark and Wilstein and their brethren are looking for surfaced?

Well, there’s the ongoing BALCO investigation, which seems to be more “he said-he said” than dripping syringe. And then there’s the illegally leaked grand jury testimony. Last and probably least, there’s the hearsay that is Jose Canseco’s book. This is proof?

As near as I can tell, two things have happened to change the climate. First, MLB and the Players’ Association agreed on the new testing program. The program has put steroids on the proverbial front burner, making it a legitimate topic for reporters to discuss with the players.

But that alone isn’t enough to account for the finger pointing. The other change is that the fans are more willing to accept that any and all players are juicing now than they were back in the 1990s. Especially players who don’t have the warm-and-fuzzy media seal of approval.

Ten years ago, people laughed off the suggestion that the delightful Lenny Dykstra was juicing. They bristled at the thought that some reporter would drag the reputation of All-American hero Mark McGwire through the tabloid slime.

Now, it’s different. Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi called in to testify before a grand jury? Ivan Rodriguez drops twenty pounds over the winter? Most of the talk-show callers accept that as “proof” that they’ve been doping.

Maybe fans are just more cynical nowadays. Maybe we were all (fans, media, MLB, players) more naïve back in the ‘90s, and really wanted to believe that chicks dug the longball.

But it’s just as cynical for the media to try to weasel their way out their responsibility in this situation. I’ve noted elsewhere that there’s enough blame for all of us (players, MLB, media, and fans) in letting steroid use get to this point. But maybe more aggressive reporting would have shown fans that MLB wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops during the Great Home Run Chase. Maybe a real examination of the issue would have embarrassed MLB and the players into agreeing on a steroids testing program a few years ago. Maybe nothing would have happened, but at least they would have made an effort.

Come See the Bias Inherent in the System!

The impending end of 2006 can only mean one thing: banal "best of's" and "look back's" on the year nearly passed.

And the beloved institution of the Chicago Tribune is no exception, as they wasted perfectly good newsprint allowing our old friend Sully to blather on. But Sully, the Cubs' beat writer, provides a perfect example as to that famous Trib bias. Look in amazement as he spins 2006 to make his faves look good:

The most uplifting story I reported on was the day Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, along with his wife, Ibis, and son, Oney. "Winning the World Series was not my dream, it was my goal," Guillen said afterwards. "This is my dream. Do you know how many people die every week trying to be an American? It's not an easy thing to do."

Road tip I won't forget:
May 19-24, South Side, then Miami. The Michael Barrett-A.J. Pierzynski and Ozzie Guillen's blunt criticism of Rich Hill made the Cubs-Sox series an instant classic. But the fallout from the brawl was just as fun. After blowing a save in Miami, Ryan Dempster gave an Oscar-caliber performance when asked to comment on a WSCR-AM report he had accused Joey Cora of biting a Cubs player. "A good, wonderful, beautiful guy, Mike North, on the morning show, misquoted me three times," Dempster said. "And they wonder why people don't do interviews." Dempster and North eventually made up, and the road tip ended with Greg Maddux attacking a water cooler as the Cubs were swept by the Marlins.

Good times, good times. You know, if I were putting together a "best of" the Cubs' 2006 season, I'd probably get around to mentioning the four-game butt kicking we laid on the Saint Louis Cardinals this summer. I mean, in a season notable for its utter lack of highlights, it rather sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb.

But Sully finds other highlights to fill out his column. I guess those other events were more to the liking of his eds' leanings...

Winter Games

Nope, it's not the luge or figure skating nor even curling which is all the rage at my house this winter. It's Simnasium Historical Fantasy Baseball, which is an entertaining a timewaster as anything I've found lately.

Here's how it works, in a nutshell. You get $100,000,000 to draft a team, using pretty much everyone who ever played the game for any amount of time, including Negro Leaguers. Once your team is drafted, you set lineups and pitching rotations, assign roles to your bench players, and play a 162-game schedule against 11 other baseball nuts who all think that they are a better GM and manager than you, Jack. The games are played using some version of Diamond Mind Baseball, which is frankly the most realistic baseball simulation out there.

I'm running three teams, and so far, so good for two, with the third off to a slow start. Wait, let me bore you with some details.

The Mud City Manglers are my entry in the Gary Peters League. I think that Simnasium just picks random players and names leagues after them; it makes as much sense as the Conn Smythe Division. The Manglers started kicking ass and taking names early, and are in first place in their division with an 18-12 record. My strategy was to play in a big ballpark (Forbes Field), build a strong pitching staff, and back it with a good defense. Offensively, the idea was to get guys on base at the top of the order. I decided to spend big bucks on two starters, Robin Roberts and John Donaldson, and then found two guys I consider bargains in Dizzy Dizmukes and George Earnshaw. I also decided that this team would play a lot of low scoring, close games, so a top closer was critical, so I spent about $8M on Goose Gossage. What, you thought I'd mess around with someone like Matt Mantei here?

Topsy Hartsel and Dick McAuliffe are at the top of my batting order, two lefthanded bats I can count on to reach base. Dick Lundy and Eddie Murray are there to drive them in, but I'm not getting much out of my #5 guy, Jim Northrup. I'm trying to find a way to sign Stan Musial, but I'm about $14m shy of that right now. The rest of the lineup is Doug Rader at third, Mike Kreevich in center, and a catching platoon of Chad Krueter and Bill Haselman. Hey, don't laugh at my catchers; running a team on a $100m budget is harder than it looks.

So far this team has scored 124 runs in 30 games, fifth best in the league. Not bad considering that my #3 and #4 hitters have been a bit disappointing, and my #5 guy has been terrible (.192 with no home runs). Pitching and defense has carried me, as planned, with only 91 runs allowed, best in the league. I expect the pitching to stay at this level all year; if I can patch up the offensive weak spots I think I'll blitz this league.

I just realized; I can serialize this and get three days worth of posts out of these three teams. I'll learn to be a lazy professional columnist yet! See you tomorrow when we discuss...the Owls!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Free Willy

What a relief. This could have been the White Sox, but Kenny Williams came to his senses just in time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means

"We think Gil Meche is the right guy for us."
--Royals GM Drayton Moore

I suppose that's true. Meche is a crummy pitcher, and the Royals are a crummy ballclub. So it's a perfect match.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


If the Cubs really wanted some rag-arm with a 6.00 ERA in the rotation next year, they could have stuck with Les Walrond instead of dropping $20 mil on the guy the Goat Riders lovingly refer to as the Marquis du Suck.

But Will It Play in Peoria?

It’s not often that a managerial change in the Class A Midwest League makes the front page. But it’s not often that a Hall of Famer chooses to manage in the Class A Midwest League.

Ryne Sandberg will start his managerial career in the bushes. He’s said that his goal is to manage in the Major Leagues.

Best of luck to him. I hope he makes it, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve always admired Sandberg. He’s probably my favorite Cub of all time. But I just don’t know if he has the personality to manage twenty-five guys over the course of a season.

I would be the happiest guy in the world if he proved me wrong. I’m just glad the Cubs are giving him his start in Peoria. Because if I’m right, it’s better we find out there, rather than Chicago.

Pictures of Lilly

I guess we know what $40 million gets you nowadays – four years of a decidedly league-average pitcher.

Granted, pickings were awful slim for starting pitchers in the free agent market. So one could expect that the laws of supply and demand would result in league-average pitchers getting big bucks.

But money is one thing, time is another. Four years of Ted Lilly? Oy.

No Exception to this Rule (V)

Gotta hand to it Dr. Phil -- he’s one of the more consistent writers out there.

Both the Cubs and the White Sox lost players in this year’s Rule V draft. Dr. Phil doesn’t seem too interested in the guy the Sox lost, but has enough space to give a capsule scouting report on the former Cub, and even mentions the players the Cubs chose to protect instead of this guy.

Just setting up one of Dr. Phil’s favorite scripts: the one about the great minor league pitchers the Cubs were too dumb to hang on to.

Somehow, I’m reminded of last year’s Rule V draft. Dr. Phil went on about what a great prospect the Cardinals plucked out of the Cub’s minor league system.

The Cardinals wound up returning that great prospect to the Cubs before the end of training camp. Dr. Phil, of course, couldn’t be bothered to mention this until the young man was called up to Chicago late in the season. Then, of course, Dr. Phil was only too happy to talk about the rumors that the Cardinals sent him back because they weren’t happy with the former prospect’s work ethic.

It was a whirlwind summer for young Juan Mateo -- from non-entity to top prospect to shiftless bum in the course of eight months. But that’s how you roll in Dr. Phil's world...

Trouble in Paradise

I’ve said it before, and I see no reason to retract my statement – the only thing the media enjoys more than building up heroes is tearing them down again.

The latest example of this truism comes courtesy of the scribes at the Chicago Tribune. After two years of effusive praise of the Chicago White Sox and GM Kenny Williams (well-earned praise, I must add), two of the Trib’s best and brightest columnists have seen fit to go way off script and voice their displeasure with the South Siders.

What could the Sox have done that was so bad, so shameful, so ignominious as to lose two of their top cheerleaders? They traded Freddy Garcia to the Phillies.

First, Dr. Phil’s offering from Thursday’s paper:

Win fast, White Sox.

And White Sox Fans, go ahead and make plans to be busy with something other than watching baseball games in late-summer 2009, if not also ‘08. Just to be clear, this is not so much a reaction to the Freddy Garcia trade as it is to the mind-set behind it.

From this point of view, the dynasty of a Sox Fan’s dreams seems to be in serious danger of crumbling, thanks to a stunning bit of arrogance from club chairman Jerry
Reinsdorf and general manager Kenny Williams.

Oh, snap! The good Doctor goes on to say:

Having inhaled their cigars and digested the developments, Williams declared his club has no plans to extend the contracts of Mark Buerhle beyond 2007 or Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, and Javier Vazquez beyond 2008.

In other words between now and Opening Day 2009, the Sox either will trade or lose to free agency every member of the starting rotation, including the four guys who won a World Series barely 13 months ago. Are these guys nuts?


Executives with rival clubs were at least somewhat incredulous about the brazen nature of this plan. One called it “counter to everything they’ve been doing.”

I’m no mind-reader, so I can’t be sure what brought about this sudden change in Dr. Phil’s perspective. My best guess is he’s angry that the team blew his shot at another book deal this winter, and apparently for the next few years.

As petulant as Dr. Phil was, that was nothing compared to Rick Morrissey’s ire:

This is what happens when you run when you should have been standing pat. And this is what happened when an organization insists its payroll is tied into fan attendance and then turns around and reneges on the deal.

If the Freddy Garcia trade isn’t part of some bigger plan that involves bigger, better moves down the line, consider it a betrayal.


Mostly -- and you will be shocked at this one -- they were looking at money. They won’t have to pay Garcia’s $10 million for 2007 nor will they have to pay him in the future, when he could command a bigger salary as a free agent. Never mind that he won 17 games last season. The number with the commas and all the zeroes is the one the Sox care about most.

In terms of championships, this is what Williams is saying to Sox Fans: One and done. You have your 2005 World Series. Shut up and be happy.

Yeeeowch! Tough talk from Rick Morrissey, Defender of the Faith...

I suppose, in a way, this sudden change in course shouldn’t be surprising. But only a handful of weeks have passed since both writers tried hard to spin their team’s third-place finish. One would think that if they were going to turn on their own, they’d at least wait until the 2007 season started.

Maybe they’re just trying to avoid the Christmas rush...

You Gotta Have Heart

In what was generally a rather ho-hum winter meeting, one event stood out and just might be the stuff of legend.

Jim Hendry, lying in hospital, hours before undergoing an angioplasty, on his cell phone and making deals. You wouldn’t Walt Jocketty doing that. Talk about sucking it up and getting the job done!

Of course, it’s also damned near insane of Hendry. It brought to mind thoughts of Ted Simmons and Bob Watson, two other former GMs who suffered from health problems brought about by the stress of the job.

Hendry said he’ll be back in the office Monday. The Cubs have suggested that perhaps it would be OK if he took a few days off.

Here’s hoping Hendry takes that advice. As much as I love the Cubs and baseball, I also realize that it’s not worth dying over.

No word whether or not Sully had his smirky game face on when he heard about Hendry’s procedure...

Doesn’t Kenny Williams Read This Blog?

Three years, $6.45 million for Mike MacDougal?

Why, that’s star money! What’s wrong with Kenny Williams?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Literary Debate

Actually, this is the greatest American novel. This is second. Gatsby is probably third, although I'd have to put this in the same group. Maybe this, too, if you take the three novels as a whole. And I know it's just some wierdo science fiction book, but I kinda think that this one is pretty good, too.

I imagine that Bob will be on the phone any minute now, asking how I can rank Twain over Fitzgerald.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Cardinal Sin

Since the Hall of Fame ballot came out last week, there has been plenty of wailing and gashing of teeth about Mark McGwire. And plenty of hand-wringing from the BBRAA voters as they pontificate about why they just can’t bring themselves to vote for the big cheater.

The Tribune’s Rick Morrissey has managed to neatly summarize all the arguments against McGwire into one self-serving column. Highlights follow:

I think Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, who might be 5 feet 7 inches, 165 pounds after a week-long Pizza Hut jag, is more deserving of a Cooperstown bust than McGwire is.

Here’s the first clue that Morrissey has no idea what he’s talking about: there are no busts in Cooperstown. Sheesh.

I know: we don’t have proof positive McGwire used steroids. We do, however, have two pieces of information that make it very, very difficult to put him alongside the greatest ballplayers of all time.

The first is his admission that he used androstenedione, a steroid precursor that converts to testosterone when metabolized, during his 70-home run season of 1998.


The second is McGwire’s refusal to discuss before the House committee whether he had used steroids. It’s like wanting to become U.S. president but refusing to answer background-check questions about ties to a secret world government. Life doesn’t work that way.
To sum up: McGwire ‘fessed up to taking andro. And he didn’t answer questions from grandstanding House members in 2005. That makes it “very, very difficult” to check his name on the HoF ballot? Morrissey can rationalize anyway he pleases, but I don’t know if logic works that way...

But wait – there’s more!

Rather than dirtying up the place, why don’t we wait until there’s hard evidence showing he didn’t use steroids? Rather than having to knock down his bust like the Iraqis did to Saddam Hussein’s statue, why not give this more time and investigation?

Great googaly moogaly! Take that passage in again, Gentle Reader – in Rick Morrissey’s world, the accused are guilty until proven innocent! I shudder to think what would happen if that kind of thinking was the norm…especially since we’ve seen what will happen when it does become the norm…

One thing Morrissey conveniently forgets is that MLB did not test for steroids back when McGwire was playing. So there is no evidence (hard or otherwise) to prove McGwire’s guilt. Or his innocence. Despite this, the burden of proof is on McGwire. And they all laughed at Dusty Baker when he referred to “steroid McCarthyism.”

Oh, and I have to point out once again that the Baseball Hall of Fame does not display busts of its members! If Morrissey can’t be bothered to get this simple fact straight, why should we believe anything else he has to say?

And let’s not even talk about who really toppled that statue of Hussein…

Yes, I know that cracking on Morrissey for not checking his facts is a mere distraction from the actual subject of debate. Just as Morrissey’s cracks about Saddam and a “secret world government” were…

I’ve heard some baseball writers ask how they could keep McGwire out of the Hall when steroids were not banned by the sport during his career. It’s an argument so thin it could be made into gruel. Steroids might not have been banned by baseball, but unprescribed steroids were illegal in society.

Finally, an argument that isn’t based on histrionics. I’ve wrestled with this issue myself while trying to decide if McGwire has my vote (for what it’s worth). Steroids may not have technically been “cheating” in MLB, but they were certainly against the law. But if we’re going open that can of worms, what do we do about all the fellows in the Hall who have violated other laws of the land? You don’t have to look too closely at MLB history to realize that some of the finest players in history were less than exemplary citizens.

But that’s OK – Morrissey has an answer for that, too:

I don’t care that pitcher Gaylord Perry made the Hall even though he slathered the ball with Vaseline. I care about now. I care about the effect steroids use has on impressionable kids.

Now, there’s an argument that’s gruel-worthy! Who will think of the children?

I have two reactions to this line of thought:

1. As the PSA says: Parents – the anti-drug.

2. A better cautionary tale for the kids would be Ken Caminiti. An admitted juicer, he died young and unhappy.

Perhaps a better rebuttal to Morrissey’s blather is from ESPN’s Jim Caple, as he describes The Hypocrite’s Guide to Voting on Mark McGwire:

You knew McGwire was taking andro in 1998's home run chase and suspected he was taking something much stronger but nonetheless repeatedly wrote stories glorifying his deeds and crediting him with "saving baseball." You now have no additional evidence other than those same old suspicions, but you are nonetheless repeatedly writing stories condemning his actions and blaming him for ruining baseball. Therefore you clearly must not vote for McGwire, because that was then and this is now.

You constantly ridicule grandstanding politicians and bureaucratic government committees in your columns but when you saw grandstanding politicians drag McGwire before a bureaucratic government committee, you were appalled that he did not show the proper respect by fully answering their questions. You feel that he greatly damaged his reputation, effectively admitted his guilt and gave the sport a black eye by saying, "I am not here to talk about the past." You also write stories claiming that the government has no right to force reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams to testify before a grand jury, and that it will cripple the First
Amendment if they so much as state their names. Therefore you must not vote for McGwire because everyone knows he should have testified when he was subpoenaed while reporters should never have to do so under the well-established legal principle of "that was him, and this is us."


You have known since reading Ball Four that a vast number of players since at least the 1960s have been taking amphetamines. You also look at the players of the '60s, '70s and '80s as representative of when the game was clean and level. Therefore you must not vote for McGwire, because steroids gave him a grossly unfair advantage while amphetamines are nothing more than a harmless pick-me-up.


You disregard McGwire's home run totals, because he reached them with the help of steroids in an era in which offensive stats were greatly inflated. You also hold as sacred the offensive statistics compiled by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and others during an era when black and Latino competitors were banned from the game. You therefore must not vote for McGwire, because his numbers are suspect unlike those of the players from the clean golden age.

You feel that letting steroid users into the Hall of Fame will cheapen the institution and insult the legacy of the players already enshrined. You therefore must not vote for McGwire because you must preserve the integrity of Cooperstown for such Hall of Famers/ cheapskates/bigots as Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Charles Comiskey and Tom Yawkey.

You constantly write that baseball must strengthen its steroid testing but you yourself are able to tell whether a player was on steroids just by looking at him in the clubhouse. Therefore you must not vote for McGwire because he obviously took steroids, and you must give Cal Ripken Jr. a pass – and everyone else for whom you will eventually vote – because, duh, obviously they did not.


But seriously, folks …Before you write in – no, I am not saying Ripken took steroids. I don't believe either he or Tony Gwynn took any performance enhancers and I will vote for them without hesitation and eagerly await their acceptance speeches for the honor both so richly deserve. But I never suspected Ryan Franklin or Alex Sanchez took steroids, either. The point is, we just don't know who did and who did not take performance enhancers, other than the players who have tested positive. To withhold votes on some players we suspect because they fit a certain profile is no more valid than arresting and convicting someone of a crime because they fit a profile. Fitting a profile is not proof of guilt, just as NOT fitting a profile is not proof of innocence.

They Didn’t Care Back When “Then” Was “Now,” Either

As noted in the previous post, the Tribune’s Rick Morrissey got on his soapbox to proudly proclaim that he’s not voting for Mark McGwire on his Hall of Fame ballot because he cares “about now.”

That’s a laugh, given how Morrissey’s cohort in the press gaggle behaved back in 1998, when the first whispers of juicing started to follow McGwire while he was busy “saving” baseball by hitting 70 home runs.

Long-time readers may remember this piece. I originally posted it at our old web site as part of our Way Back Machine feature. Apologies for those who don’t like reruns. But now that we’re in for pious sermons from the punditocracy about how MLB buried its head in the sand while players shot up steroids willy-nilly, I think it’s important to remember that many of those same pundits had their heads buried in the sand right next to MLB.

And so did a lot of us fans. If we’re ever to have an honest assessment of the “Steroid Era,” we can’t let any of this fall into the memory hole...

[Originally posted 24 March 2005]

After the dog-and-pony show…errrr…Congressional hearings on steroids in Major League Baseball last week, I was struck by one thing: how the entire world seemed to have turned against Mark McGwire.

Granted, his testimony was rather clumsy and ham-fisted. But my mind boggled at how quickly public opinion soured. Former supporters, like Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, deserted him. Other media pundits pondered whether or not he was worthy of the Hall of Fame. Previously-adoring fans were calling him a cheater.

All of a sudden, these people all “knew” that McGwire was juicing.

And that didn’t gibe with my recollection of that magical 1998 season. Sure, there was the androstenedione flap, but that was but a brief rain shower in the Summer of Love. I mean, if we “know” six years after the fact that Big Mac was doping, wouldn’t we have “known” as events were unfolding? Wouldn’t someone, somewhere, have published the opinion that they “knew” back then?

So I cracked open the Palatial Baseball Archives to see what was being written in real time. Granted, we don’t have the Library of Congress at our fingertips. But I do have an extensive collection of clippings from the Chicago Tribune, and a complete run of Baseball Weekly. If any allegations of steroid use were leveled at McGwire, there should be some record of it in the Archive.

Guess what? There weren’t any. Well, nothing of substance, that is.

Most of what I came across was, simply put, fawning, like this piece by Baseball Weekly’s Deron Snyder (1 July 1998):

McGwire isn’t anxious to share all the secrets of his success. But he says it’s not just size and strength that allow him to hit homers at the fastest rate ever.

“There are probably a dozen guys stronger and bigger than I am in the major leagues,” he says, not quite convincingly, sitting on a trunk outside the clubhouse. “It’s just God-given ability, that’s what I believe. Everyone is given the ability to do something on this earth, and the ones who take it to the fullest owe it to the good Lord. Whatever you’re given, you have to refine it, make it work.”

[Tony] LaRussa has been McGwire’s manager for 11 of the redheaded slugger’s 12 major league seasons. He says McGwire is simply maxing out his talent, work ethic, and experience.

The andro story broke in August. But the debate always centered on andro. Andro had been banned by the NFL and the Olympics, but not Major League Baseball. McGwire did his best to keep the argument centered on andro, as Bob Nightengale writes in the 26 August 1998 Baseball Weekly:

Major League Baseball prohibits the use of “all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription.” But while many in the sports community are split about whether androstenedione is a steroid, one thing is clear: McGwire has not violated baseball’s drug policy because the substance is sold legally in the United States.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” says McGwire, who is closing in on Roger Maris’ single-season home run record with 53 home runs, as of Aug. 24. “It’s legal stuff, sold over the counter. Everybody that I know in the game of baseball uses the same stuff I use...

“I just think this is really unfair, for me to have to defend using something that is perfectly legal and allowed by Major League Baseball.”

McGwire’s team quickly defended him.

“Androstenedione is a natural substance which is a natural precursor product of testosterone,” Saint Louis Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg said in a statement. “It has no proven anabolic steroids effects nor significant side effects. It contains no testosterone, it stimulates a slight increase in one’s natural testosterone levels for a short period of time (one hour).”...

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, infuriated by suggestions that this could taint McGwire’s accomplishment if he breaks that home run record, told the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch he is considering banning all AP reporters from their clubhouse. Baseball would never allow a ban to occur, but it was meant to serve as a warning to other reporters who dare imply that McGwire’s strength is not natural...

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the Super Genius is so vehement in his support for McGwire. He’s been doing it for years, and he would look rather silly if he gave up now. In for a penny, in for a pound…

Our friend Paul Sullivan chimed in with this from the 28 August 1998 Chicago Tribune:

“It’s sad, it’s really sad,” McGwire said. “The media is making something out of nothing and is trying to critique something that is perfectly legal, that anybody can go to the counter and buy.”

McGwire said 10 to 12 other players on the Cardinals use the substance. Several other players, such as Jose Canseco, Dave Hollins, Jason Giambi, and Dante Bichette, also said they have used it. Bichette wrote a column for the Rocky Mountain News on Thursday saying users of “andro” are “trying to provide a safer alternative to steroids.”...

Well, if Dante Bichette is down with it, it must be OK!

Sully holds true to form in that column, showing his concern about how his livelihood will be affected by the andro debate:

The real losers in the controversy may ultimately be the media, because some media outlets are going overboard on the story. The New York Post allegedly tried to hire a St. Louis photographer to snap pictures of McGwire’s locker when he wasn’t around. The Cardinals’ front office found out about the plan and quickly banned photographers and TV cameras from Busch Stadium clubhouses.

A few columnists offered mild questioning of McGwire’s use of andro (and, in an indirect way, his alleged use of steroids). Most took the “Who will think of the children?” approach, like Skip Bayless (Chicago Tribune, 1 September 1998):

McGwire would have you believe [andro] is no more dangerous than bee pollen. But like it or not, McGwire must accept that he has a responsibility to kids who want to “be like Mark.” At the very least, he should repeatedly warn kids during interviews against rushing out and buying andro as if it’s muscle-building nitro.

And Paul White (Baseball Weekly, 2 September 1998):

As for McGwire, nobody can say for certain andro has affected his home run total. It certainly didn’t help him make contact. Oh, maybe a couple cleared the wall because he was a bit stronger.

But as you savor history and watch the game thrive, think about a more important issue – the need to be informed about what goes into our bodies and into our kids’ bodies.

Baseball Weekly’s Tim Wendel comes down the harshest (26 August 1998):

Rest assured that this news [i.e., andro] is going to undeservedly taint McGwire’s march. His could be the ultimate asterisk. What’s ironic about this news is remember when fans derided Jose Canseco, McGwire’s former Bash Brother? Does anybody dare begin such a chant when Mac hits 60?

As it turned out…no. No one dared. No one wanted to ruin the warm fuzzies the home run chase brought to Major League Baseball.

The media watchdogs became lapdogs, as Bob Nightengale describes (9 September 1998 Baseball Weekly):

[T]he Cardinals perhaps were angry with an Associated Press report a few weeks ago about McGwire’s use of androstenedione, a controversial dietary supplement. They feared that the flap would taint McGwire’s record since androstenedione is banned in the NFL and the Olympics.

Sure, McGwire was annoyed, but it was as if he almost mocked the issue. He often wore a cap from a particular store that sells androstenedione, during press conferences, and was sure to wear sleeveless T-shirts, permitting the whole world to see his massive 20-inch biceps. He even joked privately with reporters saying that they should give it a try.

Back then, no one was worried about andro tainting the home run record. They were worried about Roger Maris’ record being broken by more than one person (Nightengale, Baseball Weekly, 12 August 1998):

[B]ut before baseball gets completely giddy, there is a possible glitch to all of this madness.

What happens if two players, such as McGwire and Griffey, break Maris’ record? What if there’s a third, such as Sosa? How about a fourth or fifth, if Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla get hot?

Just what happens then?

“I don’t care who breaks it,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully says, “as long as only one person breaks it.

“It would taint the record if more than one person breaks it.”

Says [Tony] Gwynn: “I think Vin Scully is right. I’d love to see one guy do it, and if not this year, another year. But I’m not sure if it’s good for the game to see a bunch of guys do it.

“It just wouldn’t look good, you know what I mean?”...

Says Merv Rettenmund, hitting coach of the San Diego Padres: “Hey, as long as they’re legitimate [i.e., legitimate home rune hitters], who cares? If they’re legitimate, I’d like to see five or six guys do it.

“Now, if you’re talking about Chris Gomez hitting three or four a game, you’ve got problems.”

Yes, as long as “legitimate” sluggers broke the record, who cares? And that attitude hung around through the end of the season, as illustrated in this paragraph from Tim Wendel (Baseball Weekly, 16 September 1998):

Since the spring, McGwire has been playing out the three-stage theme that has dominated stories, legends, and history since civilization began. If we want to get really cosmic, the Jungians among us would claim that the Saint Louis slugger strikes all kinds of emotional chords. It’s not only a feel-good story in these roller-coaster times of presidential revelations and monetary upheaval; it also applies to our sense of what makes a great tale. In the film room of our collective subconscious, the McGwire saga gets two thumbs up.

That may be the first and last reference to Carl Jung that you’ll see here at Jim and Bob’s Palatial Baseball Web Site.

So how did McGwire go from a feel-good story to a fallen hero? I think we can get a sense of how things spiraled out of control to the point we are today with these sadly prescient comments (Bob Nightengale, Baseball Weekly, 26 August 1998):

“We have testing for unlawful substances when there is cause,” says union chief Don Fehr. “That’s when it is done. There is no reason for cause right now. I disagree that there is a (steroid) problem. If there was a problem, I’d know about it. And I don’t know about it.

“This latest thing (with McGwire) is not a serious issue. No one has suggested that this is damaging to your health. It is perfectly lawful.”

Added Fehr: “Look, Mark has had 50 home runs the last two years and no one suggested anything then. The only difference this time is that he has avoided injury. This is a one-day or two-day wonder story.”...

“I think the general managers all know,” Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach Hal McRae says, “but they don’t want to know. The trainers have got to tell them. They know who’s on it and who isn’t.

“I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong, but for baseball’s sake, I hope the issue dies for the time being.

“Look at McGwire, he’s great for the game. He’s making money for everybody. So let it go. Don’t taint his record. Don’t hurt the game.

“If people want to talk about it two years from now, go ahead, but not right now.”

No worries, Hal – it’s six years on, and we’re still talking about it.

One Explanation for the Mega-Deals

ESPN’s Mark Kreidler offers this pithy assessment of the current free agent market:

Generations of fans have come and some have gone, but the one constant of the modern game, besides the final score and an immediate OPS update, is the just-can’t help-it spending sprees of owners who suddenly find themselves – almost in spite of their own Gatsby-esque [the greatest American novel of all, by the way – Bob] baseball existences – up to their monocles in cash.


We are back to watching Part I of baseball’s recurring two-part baseball miniseries, the one where the owners start throwing idiot money out into the great winds of trade and blaming each other in turn for “setting the market,” as though such a concept exists in pro sports anymore. (Then again, maybe it does: it only cost Seattle $13 million to gain the rights to talk turkey with Ichiro back in 2000. Today, $13 million barely gets you Ted Lilly for a year, and only halfway to saying howdy to Kei Igawa.)

Like all great benders, too, this one will end in sour pain. Part II is always where the dark plots kick in, after all. It’s the part where the owners begin asking – no, leading – for baseball’s players to protect the owners from themselves. There’s never an intervention around when you need it.

That’s What I Get for Taking a Weekend Off

Damn, I hate it when Sully and I agree on something. And I hate it even more when Sully gets his bit into print before I post mine:

If anyone can sympathize with Jim Hendry these days, it’s White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

Just as some baseball executives are criticizing the Cubs’ general manager for giving Alfonso Soriano an eight-year, $136 million contract, so too was Reinsdorf pounded by his peers 10 years ago for signing Albert Belle to a five-year, $55 million deal.

Reinsdorf set the market shortly after being a leading hawk during the players’ strike of 1994, incurring the wrath of his fellow owners.
Not that I’m singling out the White Sox, of course. And neither is Sully, who also touches on Andy Hawkins, Ryne Sandberg, Nolan Ryan, and Manny Ramirez.

What I am singling out is that every couple of years some team gives some free agent a huge contract. And that sets off a chorus of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the other teams.

In years past, the Yankees have been the team most railed against. Ten years ago, it was the White Sox.

This year, the Cubs are in the unusual position (for them, at least) of spending money like it’s going out of style. And, as I noted in an earlier post, the vast majority of commentary on this deal has consisted of pundits hyperventilating over the contract, and not whether or not the addition of Soriano improves the team on the field. I’m not surprised. In the thirty-odd years since free agency became a reality, economic concerns usually trump baseball concerns during the Hot Stove season.

Meanwhile, Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez, Greg Zaun, Juan Pierre, Gary Matthews Jr., Carlos Lee, Nomar Garciaparra, Ray Durham, and Adam Eaton have signed contracts that some might consider questionable in their own right. I guess the reason no one talks about that lot is that no one wants to single out any particular team...