Thursday, December 27, 2012

First in Majors: World Series Champions

Since I try to put something up here at least once every calendar month, I feel obligated to give you this list. It's not much, but it'll have to do for now. My readers have my deepest apologies for not giving them something better.

You know the "Tidbits" section from Profiling the World Series Winners? That's probably my favorite part, especially the items that measure longevity. I've created master lists of each item, but several of them are incomplete, as Retrosheet doesn't yet have precise data for certain years, and many players from recent teams are still active. Because I can though, I thought I'd publish the only one I currently can put up completely: First in Majors.

Here it is:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Top Ten Baseball-Reference Sponsorship Messages: 2012 Edition

It's that time of year again! Award season? Well yeah, there's that, but there's also Baseball Junk Drawer's annual Top Ten Baseball-Reference Sponsorships post!

Compiling this year's list proved a bit easier than in previous years, because most of those junky keyword link ads on the $2 pages haven't been renewed, so I didn't have to slog through a billion of them this time. In this down economy though, it seems fewer people like throwing around money on funny sponsorship messages, so the pickings were also a bit slimmer than in years past. I'm happy with each of the Top Ten, but there aren't any truly worthy honorable mentions this time.

Before I inadvertently convince you not to read this post, I think we ought to jump into the list and appreciate what we've got.

10. Jersey Bakley
St. Michael's Anglican Church sponsor(s) this page.

Come join us! Traditional 1928 Prayer Book Anglican Worship. Near Uptown Charlotte. Fr. Rich "Jersey" Bakley, Rector
It's hard to say why this one struck my fancy. I guess the suggestion that a North Carolina clergyman just happens to share a nickname and surname with a journeyman pitcher from the 19th Century second-tier major leagues was worthy of a grin.

9. Dock Ellis
Benjamin Armstrong sponsor(s) this page. sponsor(s) this page.

I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate.
Not that this shows especial creativity on the part of the sponsor, but it's a heck of a great quote from Ellis himself about his no-hitter allegedly pitched on LSD. I've never done drugs, but based on conversations with people who have, I have to wonder if Ellis took some creative license with this recounting of events. Either way it's an entertaining thought.

Additionally, the odd repetition caused by the appearance of the phrase "sponsor(s) this page" as part of the sponsor's name adds to the overall drug-addled feel of this message.

8. Byron Browne
Mike Friedman sponsor(s) this page.

One of the answers to the question of how a team with five Hall of Famers can finish last.
Ah, the 1966 Chicago Cubs. They employed Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, and some replacement-level guy in left field. It might seem unfair to pick on Mr. Browne, but as Mr. Friedman acknowledges, he's only one of the factors in that team's failure.

7. Turkey Gross
NotGraphs sponsor(s) this page.

Turkey Gross did not care for Thanksgiving.
Oh, what a groaner...but perfect for the early second half of November!

6. Randy Tomlin
Wicked slider that Aryeh Bak couldn't touch. sponsor(s) this page.

Randy Tomlin: forever my hero after striking out Aryeh Bak 22 times in one game on Sega Genesis 1993 Tony La Russa Baseball. The look of frustration on Aryeh's face still comforts me today.
Ah, video game memories. There ain't nothin' like 'em, and they last a lifetime. They're the closest things we unathletic schlubs ever get to glory on the field. Lots of guys who were obscure in real life have become immortals via the hallowed console. My brother still reveres Greg Hibbard for his amazing control in Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.

On a similar note...

5. Jeff Plympton
Dave Pasquantonio sponsor(s) this page.

I wasn't much of an athlete in high school. But my top athletic moment was hitting a double off of Jeff in Babe Ruth baseball. He could throw heat. I'm really glad he made it to the majors!
Mr. Pasquantonio cheered for another player's success for a purely selfish reason, namely that it gave him bragging rights. Not that I'm faulting him for it. If you could say you once got an extra-base hit against a future major league pitcher, wouldn't you want to be able to?

It's the same reason I've been rooting for Brian Schlitter to become a star. I was at his major league debut, and I want to be able to say I was there when it all began. So far that hasn't been working out too well.

4. Cannonball Titcomb
Salva Veritate sponsor(s) this page.

I have nothing to plug. I just hope you are as happy as I am that this player existed.
Cannonball Titcomb. If you break it down into four individual words it can be understood in several different permutations, each of them appealing to the junior high kid in us all. Salva Veritate indeed.

3. Bris Lord
Jay Wolfe - Rude Island Baseball Congregation sponsor(s) this page.

Bless this man - The King of all Mohels!!!
I'm not Jewish, but thanks to "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Pretty Fly (For a Rabbi)" I'm familiar with the terms "mohel" and "bris." The idea that the old Human Eyeball actually performs circumcisions in a superlative fashion is quite clever.

It looks like this one just expired, so I caught it in the nick of time.

2. Lou Whitaker
Mark Edie sponsor(s) this page.

Roberto Alomar: 2320 g at 2B, 116 OPS+, 63.5 WAR, 7 teams. Famous misdeed: Spat at umpire. Result: 2nd-ballot HOFer. Sweet Lou: 2308 g at 2B, 116 OPS+, 69.7 WAR, 1 team. Famous misdeed: Forgot uniform at 1985 ASG. Result: 2.9% of HOF vote. Go figure...
When I first saw this one, I thought it was brilliant, and I knew it would likely rank high on this list. With the recalculated WAR, Whitaker's lead is now even larger: 71.4 to 62.9. While Alomar is a worthy Hall of Famer in my view, I always thought he was a tad overrated all the same.

1. Dick Fowler
Rob Morton sponsor(s) this page.

Worst 1-on-1 basketball opponent ever.
I glossed over this sponsorship when I happened across it a while back, thinking it was some sort of inside joke or something. The next time around it hit me. Ahhhh-hahahahahahahahaha! Rob Morton, you are one clever cat.

While I'm happy to include each of these sponsorships here, I wish they had had more competition (since Marvin Benard's legendary sponsorship has been ineligible since 2009). Step up to the plate, folks, and sponsor a page! I want wit, I want insight, I want relatability! Let's make the 2013 edition the best one yet!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Annual Update

Now that the three big awards have been handed out (Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP), I've done my usual updates to some of my old pages. Check them them out if you wish:

The Second Place Award Winners
Rookie of the Year Facts

Friday, October 26, 2012

Back-to-back World Series with different franchises

In Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, three players joined a fairly interesting list: those who've played in back-to-back World Series with different franchises. It was the first time since 1926 that three players joined the list in one year, and the first time all three joined the list in the same game.

Many of us know that Don Baylor was the first player to play in three straight World Series with different franchises, because Eric Hinske became the second such player in 2009, prompting a rediscovering of that factoid. The list that includes all the two-year wonders as well is interesting enough in its own right though, and it currently has 39 members as of 2016:

1. Jack Barry, 1914-15
2. Possum Whitted, 1914-15
3. Spencer Adams, 1925-26
4. Dutch Ruether, 1925-26
5. Hank Severeid, 1925-26
6. Earl Smith, 1927-28
7. Burleigh Grimes, 1931-32
8. General Crowder, 1933-34
9. Goose Goslin, 1933-34
10. Tex Carleton, 1934-35
11. Tony Lazzeri, 1937-38
12. Lew Riggs, 1940-41
13. Rudy York, 1945-46
14. Allie Clark, 1947-48
15. Eddie Stanky, 1947-48
16. Mike McCormick, 1948-49
17. Dick Whitman, 1949-50
18. Clem Labine, 1959-60
19. Bill Skowron, 1962-63
20. Don Gullett, 1976-77
21. Lee Lacy, 1978-79
22. Willie Hernandez, 1983-84
23. Don Baylor, 1986-88
24. John Tudor, 1987-88
25. Jack Morris, 1991-92
26. Marquis Grissom, 1996-97
27. Kevin Brown, 1997-98
28. Jim Leyritz, 1998-99
29. Greg Myers, 1998-99
30. Reggie Sanders, 2001-02
31. Jay Witasick, 2001-02
32. Eric Hinske, 2007-09
33. Cliff Lee, 2009-10
34. Octavio Dotel, 2011-12
35. Gerald Laird, 2011-12
36. Ryan Theriot, 2011-12
37. Quintin Berry, 2012-13
38. Jake Peavy, 2013-14
39. Ben Zobrist, 2015-16

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Playoff Predictions

Yes, it's the seventh inning of the NL Wild Card game, but these are the same predictions I would've made before the game:

Wild Cards:

St. Louis over Atlanta
Baltimore over Texas

Division Series:

New York over Baltimore
Oakland over Detroit
St. Louis over Washington
San Francisco over Cincinnati

League Championship Series:

New York over Oakland
St. Louis over San Francisco

World Series:

St. Louis over New York

Take 'em to the bank.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oldest Ringless Players: 2012

Welcome back to another edition of Oldest Ringless Players. No longer do I have to list eight teams here. No, we're up to ten now, thanks to that moronic new second wild card! Regardless, I'm here to report the data, and if ten I must report, ten I shall.

The same rules as always apply: I view anyone who was on the 40-man roster at the end of the year as in line for a ring, so who is the oldest eligible player for each team?

Atlanta Braves: Tim Hudson (July 14, 1975)
Baltimore Orioles: Jim Thome (August 27, 1970)
Cincinnati Reds: Miguel Cairo (May 4, 1974)
Detroit Tigers: Joaquin Benoit (July 26, 1977)
New York Yankees: Raul Ibanez (June 2, 1972)
Oakland Athletics: Bartolo Colon (May 24, 1973)
San Francisco Giants: Marco Scutaro (October 30, 1975)
St. Louis Cardinals: Brian Fuentes (August 9, 1975)
Texas Rangers: Joe Nathan (November 22, 1974)
Washington Nationals: Mike Gonzalez (May 23, 1978)

  • Two of these guys, Colon and Fuentes, are currently on the restricted list, so they might not be participating in the celebration if their teams go on to win the World Series (heaven forbid, in the latter case). If you don't think they should count, the next in line would be Brandon Inge (May 19, 1977) for Oakland and Carlos Beltran (April 24, 1977) for St. Louis.
  • The Orioles have the oldest player here, and the Nationals the youngest. I wouldn't mind seeing Thome get a ring, and despite the youth of the Nats, I want them to represent the National League in the World Series.
  • Despite the Yankees having the second-oldest player, there's no way I'm pulling for them even a little. It's just Raul Ibanez, for crying out loud.
  • The team I want to win it all, the Rangers, has a pretty good ORP in Joe Nathan. He's been around a while and I've never had any reason to dislike him.
I'm always a bit pessimistic about the chances of seeing a team I like win the World Series, but what is baseball without hope? As long as the possibility exists, I'll be pulling for a likable team to take the title. After last year's heartbreaking ending, I sure could use a good one this year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Activity Chart

I wanted to share a concept I've developed, and it can be linked to the tidbits I give in my Profiling the World Series Winners series. For lack of a better name, I call it the "Activity Chart." It shows you the years when the first and last players from a team's roster were active in the majors, as well as with the team.

For instance, here's an activity chart for the 1975 Cincinnati Reds:

I apologize for the grainy quality. I'm not a premium Photobucket user.

Years in red are years the player in the row played for the Reds, and years in gray are years he was active in the majors but with a different franchise. You can see in this case that the first player from the 1975 Reds to play for the franchise was Pete Rose in 1963, and the first one in the majors was Fred Norman in 1962. On the other end you can see that Ken Griffey outlasted them all.

If you're inclined to ask, yes, I'm aware that similar things have been done on Flip Flop Fly Ball. However, I came up with this idea before I saw it on that site (at least, as far as I remember ever browsing on it), and I think my design has the advantage of being simpler to read and not requiring a key. It may not distinguish partial seasons from impartial ones, but that's because I don't think it's important enough to make note of it.

Plotting the data this way allows you to see when the team really started coming together and when it started falling apart. Judging by this chart, it looks as though the Big Red Machine's core years perfectly spanned the 1970's.

I've made activity charts for other teams, and once I've made one for every World Series winner I hope to find some interesting data that won't be available anywhere but Baseball Junk Drawer.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases #6: Chicago White Sox

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

I’m a White Sox fan as well as a Cub fan, so right up front I don’t fit the stereotype. Most diehard Sox fans flat-out loathe the Cubs, and I’m not always completely accepted among them when I reveal my dual fandom. Having an insider’s perspective though, I think I’m qualified to give the assessment that follows.

Frankly speaking, a large number of White Sox fans have an inferiority complex. On a national scale they’ve been overshadowed in their own city by the Cubs, despite the fact that they’ve had more success over the years. They frequently feel like victims of media bias (not altogether unjustifiably), and many of them react with an “us-against-the-world” attitude. While they outwardly resent the lack of respect, they also sort of like it, because it gives them something to rally around. Remember when the Sox had the AL’s best record in 2005 and still got ignored by the national media going into the playoffs? You’d better believe that being doubted made winning the World Series that much sweeter for Sox fans.

The South Side of Chicago is known for being the blue collar section of town, and as such, many Sox fans love players they see as scrappy, gritty, gutsy, and all those other terms that became so popularly maligned during the heyday of Fire Joe Morgan. In the era of pitcher-friendly Old Comiskey the Sox were often built on smallball and defense, so fittingly, Sox fans were used to watching guys who seemed less like supermen and more like everymen.

Even though the Sox have become better known for their home run power since New Comiskey opened, the old mentality maintains some presence among the fanbase. To reference the 2005 team again, the fact that the Sox won it with a balanced roster whose primary strengths were pitching and speed (as opposed to a lineup anchored by superstar sluggers) couldn’t have played into the traditional Sox fan ideal any better.

White Sox fans don’t quite have a national reputation, because the media has never really paid much attention to them. 1918 was a part of baseball lore for many years as a symbol of aching futility in the face of eternal devotion, while 1917 was a year no one had any particular reason to know anything about. When the Sox finally ended their drought, there was no league-wide fanfare like the Red Sox got the year before, just a simple congratulation before everyone moved on with their lives. Unfair? Perhaps a bit, but Sox fans wouldn’t have it any other way. They thrive on their spot in the shadows, and they’d go through an identity crisis if their team were suddenly one of the cool kids.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases #5: Chicago Cubs

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

Fasten your seatbelts, folks. I’ve got a lot to say on this one. I’m a Cub fan myself, and I think it’s time to set the record straight on several things.

First, let’s look at the media image of Cub fans, quite popular with many haters: Cubs fans are one of the most uninformed fanbases in baseball. They know nothing about advanced statistics, the finer points of the game or the business side of MLB. Wrigley Field is consistently sold out, but that’s only because the stadium is a popular hangout for party-animal 20-somethings with lots of money at their disposal. They don’t really care if the Cubs win or lose; they’re just there to eat up whatever entertainment the organization feeds them.

Cub fans are also a superstitious bunch that thinks the reason their team hasn’t won is because a bar owner with a pet billy goat cursed them back in 1945. Really, they’ll blame anyone or anything but the team itself for the Cubs’ failure to win the World Series. 1969? It was that black cat that ran on the field! 2003? It was all Steve Bartman’s fault! And so on. Throw in the fact that they play in a large city, and you essentially have a fanbase full of spoiled rich kids who think they’re better than everyone else, and annoy true fans with their constant whining and lack of perspective. They’re a contemptible bunch, they are.

Whew! It was painful to write that. Now it’s time for some reality.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that most stereotypes have some degree of truth in them, or they wouldn’t exist in the first place. The one about Wrigley Field being a hangout for kids who aren’t particularly passionate about baseball definitely has some legitimacy. The last time I went was 2010, and I remember getting that vibe while sitting in the bleachers. Of course, the bleachers are the cheap seats, which are more likely to attract kids looking for something to do than the ones closer to home plate. It’s unfair to define an entire fanbase by its frontrunners, because every team has them.

The stereotypes that really rankle me are the ones in the third paragraph. While you can surely find some fans somewhere who fit them, I’ve never known a Cub fan who does. The billy goat curse is a total media creation, and no one actually takes it seriously. Truthfully, we’re all pretty sick of hearing about it. I even remember my father yelling at an ESPN broadcast of a Cubs game when they put up a graphic giving stats about the Cubs’ championship drought accompanied by a picture of a goat. The media like to portray the Cubs as some cute, cuddly team that embraces its status as a perennial also-ran, but ask most any fan and you’ll get a different story.

What about Steve Bartman? If I may be permitted to get long-winded here (oh wait, I am, it’s my blog), everything you think you know about Steve Bartman is wrong. Let me say up front that I have never blamed Bartman for the Cubs’ collapse in 2003. Some of you probably think I’m lying, but I’m not. Too many things went wrong to place it all on the shoulders of a fan who interfered with a ball that may or may not have been caught. You know what else? Most Cub fans have moved on as well. With the passage of time, cooler heads have prevailed, and they now realize that Bartman wasn’t the one to blame. The issue is pretty much dead except…there are two groups of people who constantly bring it up: the media and Cub haters (sometimes one entity serving in both capacities).

It’s hard to believe it was less than nine years ago, because the Bartman incident has become the go-to argument anytime someone wants to feel justified in hating Cub fans. “Just look at what they did to Bartman!” The implication, of course, is that the situation proves an evil unique to Cub fandom, and that the accuser’s team’s fans would never have done such a horrific thing.

Yes, the stuff Bartman went through in the aftermath of the incident was pretty bad, but go back and try to put yourself in the shoes of Cub fans at that time. Seriously, imagine it. There you are, a fan of a team that hasn’t won a World Series in your grandparents’ lifetime. You love that team of yours, but that drought constantly hangs over you like a black cloud, and you want nothing more than to see it eradicated. You’re five outs away from seeing the Cubs go to the World Series, something they haven’t done since just after World War II ended. You’re on the doorstep of history. It’s so close you can almost taste it. Emotions are running high. Insert any other appropriate cliché here.

An opposing batter hits a foul ball into the first row stands, the left fielder tries to catch it, and a fan gets in the way. It might’ve been no big deal, but the left fielder, in a fit of frustration, throws his glove down. The TV cameras show the fan’s face up close, making him a marked man. Those listening to the radio broadcast hear the announcers angrily complaining about the interference that cost their team a big out. When the Cubs completely unravel during the inning, the dam bursts and this poor spectator starts getting blamed for destroying the team’s composure. The fans heap abuse on him and he has to be escorted out of the building. Once he gets home, he finds he needs police protection from all the harassment.

It was pretty ugly the way it went down, and it’s heartbreaking that it ever happened. Now, is it fair that Bartman had to go through all that? Of course not. He was just doing what any fan would’ve done, and he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So obviously, the whole situation proves that Cub fans are despicable human beings, right? Ummm, no. Cub fans were only exhibiting an unfortunate element of human nature.

The fact is, when people are in an intense emotional state they’re more prone to engage in less-than-civil behavior. When a large group of people feels the same strong emotions at the same time, they tend to have a mob mentality. It’s not uncommon for mobs to do regrettable things, especially when spurred on by someone in a higher position (like an announcer or player).

Do I think what happened to Steve Bartman was right? No way. The people who harassed him were idiots, and I want it to be clear that I’m not trying to excuse their actions. Do I understand what caused them to act that way though? Yes, I do, and while it was a shameful chapter in the history of Cub fandom, it’s in no way proof that Cub fans are especially malevolent. I’d wager that most, if not all, fanbases can count among them folks who would’ve done the same thing if the team had come so close to ending nearly a century of misery and ultimately failed. If you think your own team’s fans in that precise situation would never in a million years have done that, I can only tell you to get off your high horse.

(On a side note, I find it ironic that Cardinal fans frequently play the Bartman card, yet continue to hold a grudge against Don Denkinger. Cub fans blame their losses on scapegoats and make pariahs out of them? What do you call Denkinger? I mean, sure, the guy had his address and phone number given out on the air by St. Louis disc jockeys, received death threats for the next few years and eventually had to contact the FBI, but yeah, that’s really in no way comparable to what those vile Cub fans did to Bartman, is it? For some reason the Denkinger incident has never dimmed the media’s portrayal of Cardinal fans as the classiest in the game. I guess when they do stuff like that it only shows how passionate they are, or something.)

Right now you might be wondering why I put so much effort into shooting down stereotypes against my own team’s fans when I’ve stereotyped a bunch of other teams’ fans in this very series. All I can say is that I’m attempting to characterize each team’s fanbase as accurately as possible (with the obvious concessions to the millions who don’t fit the mold), and if I’m in a position to bring the truth (like now), I’ll do so.

To sum up, I’ll admit that the Cubs have their share of buffoons for fans, enough perhaps to drown out the ones who really know their baseball, sad to say. It’s an unfortunate side effect of having a team with a nationwide following. On the whole though, they aren’t as superstitious or whiny as you probably think they are. There are millions of them who’ll lovingly suffer with their team till the end, and when the Cubs finally do win the World Series, they’ll experience a genuine, heartfelt joy that few have ever known. In the meantime, trying to be optimistic is all they can do.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases #4: Boston Red Sox

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

Ah, these guys. Their reputation has grown in prominence in the last decade, and I think it’s gone through some transformations as well. It might be good to take this thing step-by-step.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: As a “traditional” baseball market, Boston is home to some extremely loyal, knowledgeable fans. You can see that tons of them know the history of their team and the game inside and out, so never let it be said that I don’t respect that element of the fanbase. Are we good? OK, then. Let’s move on to some less-flattering things that unfortunately must be noted.

I can’t say I witnessed the evolution of the Red Sox fan firsthand, as I’m only in my early 30’s. From what I’ve read though, Boston wasn’t as baseball-crazy as it is now once upon a time. Indeed, a look at their attendance history shows that back in the day they had trouble drawing when they weren’t winning, just like anybody else. It wasn’t until the “Impossible Dream” season of 1967 and the subsequent years of sustained success that baseball became an all-consuming obsession for the average New Englander.

The Red Sox in those days hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, but their fans had many reasons to be optimistic, as their team was usually a contender, and would surely find its way to a title sooner or later. After losing the 1975 World Series, a huge collapse that cost them a division title in 1978, and mid-season fades in the early ‘80s, their disposition became less cheery. It all crystallized during the 1986 season, the year of the World Series meltdown and Bill Buckner’s error. At that point, it seemed like something greater was working against them, and the media happened upon the idea that maybe they were being punished for selling the great Babe Ruth to their hated rivals, the Yankees, back in 1919. Thus, the “Curse of the Bambino” was born.

Like Cub fans, I don’t know that many Red Sox fans literally believed in the curse, but the idea that it was their destiny to lose still weighed on them mentally. The fact that the Yankees were almost always good only served to remind them that they were stuck in Goliath’s shadow. As most people do when they feel helpless against a greater force, Red Sox fans turned to self-pity and desperate lashing out. They might have been saddled with a long drought, but at least they could rejoice in small successes and Yankee failures.

For a long time it seemed as though they defined themselves in opposition to the Yankees. Their rallying cry became “Yankees suck!” which they’d use even when the Yankees weren’t their opponent. They began to believe that despite the Yankees’ greater success, the Red Sox possessed a special moral superiority that the Yankees could never have. After all, unlike Yankee fans, they’d had their loyalty tested with years of struggle. It didn’t hurt either, that the media romanticized them and their sufferings, despite the fact that there was a team in the very same league that had been waiting a year longer for a championship.

When Theo Epstein took over the GM position before the 2003 season, the fan culture began a gradual change. Epstein was a young man who grew up a Red Sox fan, so he attempted to reach out to the people in the stands more than his predecessors did. While the marketing raised the team’s profile significantly, it also led to the rise of what Red Sox diehards derisively call “pink hats,” or more specifically, fans who go to Fenway and root for the Red Sox because it’s trendy and hip. These new fans brought in more money, but many felt they diluted the fanbase’s integrity in the process.

If you’re reading this, you probably know what happened in 2004: The Red Sox met the Yankees in the ALCS and after being down 3-0 in the series, won four straight to take the pennant and eventually their first World Series title in 86 years. It was a storybook season if ever there was one. All talk about the “Curse of the Bambino” was put to rest, and Red Sox fans rejoiced as few fanbases ever had.

Even though the monkey was off their back, cultural values don’t change overnight. They still carried around an underdog complex and whined about the Yankees’ spending despite their own sky-high payroll. They still tried to convince themselves of their own moral superiority and importance despite the fact that they had nothing keeping them down anymore. No longer was it a defense mechanism, but a media-fueled self-hype buying. They began to act as though the entire sport of baseball revolved around not just the Red Sox, but themselves as well. When they lost, everyone was expected to feel their pain, because they were still nursing many previous years of heartbreak.

(Annoying-but-related anecdote: Back in the days when Facebook was a college-only phenomenon, I was part of a group called “I Hate the New York Yankees.” When Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees, some girl started posting a bunch of comments in the discussion section whining about it and asking how he could betray “us,” as though a collection of Yankee-haters were by default a gathering of Red Sox Nation members. I think a lot of “fans” actually believe the entire sport is some big Yankees-Red Sox dichotomy.)

The World Series title of 2007 seemed to put to bed the old way among Red Sox fans. It pretty much forced them to recognize that a championship could now happen to them more than once every several generations, and with their resources, they had every reason to expect a contender every year. Suddenly, there was nothing to distinguish them from Yankee fans except a belief in their own uniqueness. If I recall correctly, the sponsorship message on Baseball-Reference’s page for the 2007 Red Sox used to say something like “2004 was for all the previous generations of Red Sox fans, but 2007 was for us!” Such a statement only suggests that the current generation of the Boston faithful is a special bunch that deserves a title to call its own, and the one they’d witnessed three years earlier didn’t fully count because they had to share it with a bunch of old and dead people. Sigh... I blame ESPN.

While my instinctual feeling about Red Sox fans is a negative one, I’ll admit that I truly do feel some sympathy for the diehard, non-arrogant Red Sox fans that are out there. Their undoubted frustration with the “pink hats” is something I would probably share, as I know what it’s like to root for a team with trendy followers. With declining fortunes the last few years and no more drought to romanticize, the Red Sox seem to be losing some of the hipness they once possessed, and have become just another team in many ways. I hope it continues, because some humility might allow Red Sox fans to become better-known for their good qualities than their bad ones.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases #3: Baltimore Orioles

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

The phrase “East Coast” conjures up images of big cities with sizable media presences. Baltimore, however, is the east coast city with a small-town feel. Back in the day Memorial Stadium was located in the middle of a residential area, with nothing but treetops and houses visible past the top of the upper deck. This setting had the effect of making the Orioles into the fans’ neighbors. Instead of local hired athletes, they were members of the community.

When a new venue was needed, it was inevitable that they’d have to move into the heart of the city, but they couldn’t afford to sacrifice their bond with the people in the seats. Memorial Stadium’s successor, therefore, was beautiful Oriole Park at Camden Yards, built to be a fan’s paradise. It was designed for maximum comfort and aesthetic value, and it served as a living monument to the city’s history and ties to the game. It’s now known as the first “retro” ballpark, and it perfectly suited a team that had such a proud tradition of respectability. The Orioles were too good to play in some dime-a-dozen cookie cutter stadium that reeked of cold corporatism; they deserved something classic, and they got it. It became the standard by which all future ballparks would be measured, and it’s arguable that none of its followers has duplicated its charm.

What makes the Orioles so special? Well, in the days before Peter Angelos they were known for doing things The Oriole Way, a top-to-bottom organizational philosophy that emphasized loyalty, intelligence, fundamentals and class. In the big cities they could crassly throw money around on whatever talent was available, but in Baltimore they cared about maintaining a family atmosphere. They weren’t just out to get good players, coaches and executives, they wanted them to be Orioles at heart.

With the organization running itself like a family, the fans embraced the Orioles as such. Brooks Robinson, for instance, became a Baltimore icon for being a great player on the field and a gentleman off it, and to this day he’s so revered that Oriole fans name their children after him. You’d think he was a relative who made good with the personal connection they feel. The Orioles even allowed Robinson to remain on the active roster for about two years after he was no longer effective simply because he was the kind of guy who’d earned the right to leave on his own terms. The thing is though, Brooks Robinson wasn’t a player who put up huge numbers or gave off a charismatic glow. The only thing that qualifies him as a Hall of Famer is the fact that he was perhaps the greatest fielding third baseman of all time, and he was a good enough hitter that the whole package added up to an elite one. He wasn’t even the greatest player to spend his entire career with the Orioles, but to many he symbolizes everything that the franchise represents. St. Louis has Musial, New York has Gehrig, and Baltimore has Brooksie. He’s clearly not the same caliber of player as those two, but beyond a doubt he’s theirs.

In the 1970’s the team began a tradition (which continues to this day) of playing John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during the Seventh Inning Stretch. Baltimore wouldn’t be considered rural by any means, but the song itself obliquely manages to embody the fans. It’s not lyrically deep (is any John Denver song?), but if there’s a general message that goes beyond the surface, it’s to take pride in what one has. The singer tells us he’s just a humble farmer, but he wouldn’t trade his lot in life if given the choice. He knows how to find joy in the simple things, and as far as he’s concerned, he’s got everything he could ever dream of between his farm, family and fiddle. It’s quite the parallel to Oriole fans’ pride in their city and love for their local heroes. That’s not to say that Oriole fans don’t wish for things to be better, only that their franchise has traditionally aspired to a higher ideal than racking up the trophies at all costs. Even though The Oriole Way is considered a relic from the past nowadays, the fans would still prefer a team that adhered to its principles.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases #2: Atlanta Braves

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

Atlanta isn't known as a great sports city. The Braves got a big attendance boost in the early '90s with their newfound success, then again in 1997 with the opening of Turner Field. After all the winning though, fans became jaded; it got to where they couldn't even sell out playoff games. I recall empty postseason seats even at the Braves’ high-attendance peak in the '90s, so it wasn't just something that happened after they became an annual first-round exit in the early 2000's.

When I was a teenager and hated the Braves with a passion, I used to justify my hatred by pointing to the playoff games that didn't sell out. It proved that these fans didn't deserve the great team they had, I reasoned. Now that I'm older, I'm a little more sympathetic. For one thing, I realize that the Wild Card round has diluted the excitement of the postseason a bit. I've never been a frequent ballpark attendee, since it's expensive and I haven't always had the desire to make the trip, so I can also understand how every postseason game isn't a must-see once it becomes an annual occurrence. Also, as the American South's team of choice, the disappointing attendance likely fails to account for the wide-ranging group of diehards outside the city of Atlanta.

I think most Brave fans are just average people who enjoy the game but don’t obsess over it. Baseball isn’t an integral part of southern culture, so it’s probably not realistic to expect the degree of rabidity that we see in some of the more “traditional” baseball markets. Thanks to the legendary 1991-2005 run though, they probably have more true blue fans than ever. We may have accused 'em of being a bunch of bandwagon jumpers back in the day, but there are now generations that grew up with the Braves being a perennial power, and they see the team as more than just an occasional diversion.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases #1: Arizona Diamondbacks

Welcome to the first installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! In this series I’m attempting to present the psychology of every MLB fanbase. This series, as you would expect, comes with a disclaimer: These characterizations are based on my own perceptions and opinions, and no offense is intended by them. I freely admit that I’m only one man, and my view is therefore limited. I’m fully aware that many fans will not fit the profile I depict, and that’s to be expected, because it’s impossible to make blanket statements about large groups of people. If you want to contest anything I write here, feel free to leave a thoughtful, civil comment. Otherwise, sit back and have fun reading. Perhaps I might even say something insightful!

It’s easy to imagine that Diamondback fans are a bunch of somewhat-spoiled diehards. Their team was the quickest expansion franchise to reach the postseason (two years) and win the World Series (four). That World Series they won was an instant classic, an assessment that’s stood the test of time. They’re in their fifteenth season and they’ve already won five division titles. With such great success early on, Arizonans must have caught the baseball bug quickly and even started taking things for granted, right?

Well actually, no. Chase Field's consistently low attendance figures show that they don’t turn out in large numbers. While their attendance was strong early on, after the disastrous 2004 season where they went 51-111 it’s been among the more meager ranks of the National League.

So we know Phoenix isn’t the most baseball-crazy city, but what about individual traits? Off the top of my head I remember "1908" signs being held up during the 2007 NLDS against the Cubs, as well as some controversy about a Phoenix DJ making tasteless prank phone calls to Darryl Kile's widow during the 2002 NLDS, so perhaps there are a few bullyish elements. To be fair though, some shock jock and a few random bozos in the stands probably aren't the best representatives of the fanbase. If that was the best I could do from my own memory, I figured it was time to search the internet and find out what others said.

The general consensus seems to be that many fans in Arizona are either transplants or relatively new to baseball. The transplants remain loyal to their teams in other cities and the newcomers are still in the development stage, as they don’t have several generations’ worth of loyalty to uphold. The way they’re most often described is peaceful and laid-back, perhaps partially owing to the desert heat.

I get the sense that the D-Backs’ fanbase is solidifying. If they can keep winning division titles with regularity they should become a force to be reckoned with. Now that they’ve been around long enough to have homegrown players, the sense that they’re watching their own guys play gives them more of a connection to the men on the field than they had in the early years, when baseball’s main appeal was as a novelty. I’ll be interested to see how their reputation develops in the next decade or so.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Characterizing the Fanbases

Ladies and gentlemen, I have yet another series to announce!

One of the many great things about the internet is that it gives us an insight into the worlds of others. Thanks to blogs, message boards, comment sections and whatnot, we're now exposed to the viewpoints of many people we otherwise never would've encountered, and the careful observer can gain an understanding of what the world looks like through these alternative eyes.

As a baseball fan, I personally find it interesting to get a glimpse of other fans' perspectives. The memories they have, the values they hold dear and the moments that stand out to them all provide insight. I root for two teams from the same city, for no other reason than geographical proximity. The question enters my mind: what kind of fan would I be had I been born in a different city and/or time? How would my style of rooting, or my attitude toward the game itself be different? Would there be much difference at all?

I thought it'd be a good exercise to put down my thoughts on paper (or more precisely, a sheet of internet space). What characteristics do I associate with other fanbases? Certainly, many fanbases have reputations, both good and bad.

As with any attempt to filter understanding of a larger group through a portion of its members, this exercise could lead to broad stereotypes or gross mischaracterizations. Reducing a multitude of rooters to one person exhibiting distinct traits, however, is a form of mental shorthand that most of us probably employ at some time or another, particularly those of us who have frequent contact with fans of other teams. Since some people could get offended, I'll give this series the obligatory disclaimer: "I know that all fanbases have their share of cool people as well as jerks, and that many, if not most, fans who read this post won't resemble the picture I paint here. These aren’t meant to be definitive treatises on each fanbase, so don't take it too seriously."

Many teams have fans with no distinct personality, so in those cases I'll attempt to construct a profile based on what little I have to go by. I'll also, where applicable, attempt to contrast stereotypes with what I've seen myself.

Once this series begins, I’ll use this post as a home base for each individual post.

#1: Arizona Diamondbacks
#2: Atlanta Braves
#3: Baltimore Orioles
#4: Boston Red Sox
#5: Chicago Cubs
#6: Chicago White Sox
#7: New York Mets
#8: New York Yankees
#9: San Francisco Giants
#10: Cincinnati Reds
#11: Cleveland Indians
#12: Colorado Rockies
#13: Detroit Tigers
#14: Houston Astros
#15: Kansas City Royals
#16: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
#17: Los Angeles Dodgers
#18: Miami Marlins
#19: Milwaukee Brewers
#20: Minnesota Twins
#21: Oakland Athletics
#22: Philadelphia Phillies
#23: Pittsburgh Pirates
#24: St. Louis Cardinals
#25: San Diego Padres
#26: Seattle Mariners
#27: Tampa Bay Rays
#28: Texas Rangers
#29: Toronto Blue Jays
#30: Washington Nationals

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Good Reminder For When You're Down in the Dumps


It Might Be Worse

When the job on which you're toiling gets your goat;
When you curse the grip of poverty and such;
When existence seems to have you by the throat;
As you daily stagger onward in its clutch;
When it seems that Fate has nicked you good and hard
Where you've only known the run of Fortune's frowns;
When you figure with a curse Life could offer nothing worse,
Well, suppose that you'd been drafted by the Browns, Old Dog,
Just suppose that you'd been drafted by the Browns?

When they have you on the run across the trail;
When they copper every bet you try to make;
When you start out in the morning dull and stale,
And the boss begins to brand you as a fake;
When they double cross or slam you on the bean
In the dizzy whirl of Fortune's ups and downs---
Ere you figure with a roar Life has nothing worse in store,
Just suppose that you'd been drafted by the Browns, Old Dog,
Just suppose that you've been drafted by the Browns?

                                             Grantland Rice, 1913

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Baseball in Korea

You may remember a post I did a while back talking about a baseball game I went to in Korea. I went to another one about a week ago, and I wrote about that experience as well. Check it out if you're interested.

This post isn't just a link though. I also thought it would be a good place to share my observations about the Korean game.

For starters, I think one reason baseball is so popular in this country is because the games are usually pretty quick affairs, and that's despite tons of walks (more on that in a minute). Perhaps part of it is that the players don't waste tons of time between pitches fidgeting, the catcher and manager don't make endless trips to the mound, and the commercial breaks between innings are about a minute shorter. Here's an example of a commercial break so you can see for yourself:

In a way I feel like I'm living in the pre-expansion era in MLB, as there are currently only eight teams in the league (though there are plans to expand soon). Unlike the pre-expansion era though, there is a playoff system: The top four finishers are seeded. First #4 plays #3 in a best-of-three series, the winner of that series plays #2 in a best-of-five, and the winner of that plays #1 in a best-of-seven. There's also more fan involvement, where the crowd is hanging on every pitch, unlike modern MLB's more laid-back feel. This video is included in the link above, but I'll put it here to make it easier for you:

I've been trying to learn more about the Korean players this year, and one who's fun to watch is Choe Joon-Seok of the Doosan Bears. He reminds me of Pablo Sandoval. I don't know if the at-bat below would strike the western fan as significantly quicker than an MLB at-bat, but the pitcher is former Indian and Ray Mitch Talbot, an American, so that might be a factor.

I've never been much of an athlete, so I have little experience playing or coaching baseball, but I get the sense that the fundamentals are weaker among Korean players than they are in the U.S.A. It's probably understandable, as our country has a much longer history with the game, so I don't mean that as a knock on Korea. Whenever I watch a game it feels a lot less "smooth" than what I'm used to. The pitchers generally seem to have poorer control, the fielders often seem to get bad jumps on the ball, and errors seem a lot more frequent. In addition to the normal runs (R), hits (H) and errors (E) columns, they have one marked "B," presumably for bases on balls. I think they count hit-by-pitches in that column as well, but those are a distinct minority of the total. If you look at the game account I linked above, you can see that the two teams had 20 walks between them. I think it has more to do with poor pitching than patient batters.

Knowing what I do about Korean culture, I doubt that athletics are a field many parents want their kids going into, since the odds of making it big are slim. I'm hardly qualified to give a course on Korea, as I'm still learning about it myself, but I do know that Korea only recently became a developed country, and most people, particularly the older generation, don't take their security for granted. They want their sons and daughters to go into steady, respectable professions, and I'd imagine that sports don't fall into that category. Koreans love baseball, but it hasn't grown into the behemoth that MLB is in North America, so that would probably explain the relative lack of fundamental development.

I don't know what player salaries are like in Korea, but I'd imagine that these players aren't making the Korean equivalent of tens of millions. Admission to the games here in Gwangju is only 8,000 won (roughly eight U.S. dollars), and people are allowed to bring their own food into the stadium (which presumably cuts down on their revenue). There are concession stands, but I'm usually too focused on the game to visit them, so I can't tell you what the prices are. I'd assume though, that they aren't as astronomical as in America. Overall, I'm sure the players are well off financially, but they probably aren't loaded.

There are foreign-born players in the league, but from what I've read, there's a limit of two per team. It seems that teams prefer to use those roster spots on pitchers, as I don't think I've yet seen a non-Korean position player. Perhaps the reason for that is the low quality of pitching that I've already touched on.

Finally, one last charming thing about the Korean baseball league: the games are all played within a fairly small division of land, so it's about the size of an intrastate circuit. A few days ago there was a rainout...of all four scheduled games. It used to happen in the old-time minor leagues, but take my word for it: It still happens today.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Worst of the Best

Baseball is nothing without its history, and MLB has 16 glorious franchises with over a century of it. Each one has its share of Hall of Famers, icons and fan favorites, none of whom will ever be forgotten. While the 14 expansion franchises that have come into existence since 1961 are all special in their own ways, they just can't compare to the slightly-misnamed "Original 16" in the history department.

It stands to reason then, that each one could boast a solid all-time starting nine. As with any list of things that are somehow quantifiable though, someone has to be the worst among them. I got to thinking: Of the sixteen franchises that existed at the beginning of the Modern Era, which ones would have the weakest players representing them at each position?

In order to find the answer, I needed to choose a "best player" at each position for each franchise. Obviously, choosing such a list requires a bit of subjectivity. To compile it, I used Baseball-Reference's WAR, and weighed various factors such as longevity, peak production and time spent at the position. What I ended up with wasn't perfectly scientific, but for this exercise, it'll do. I decided that no player could qualify for two positions, since that wouldn't feel like a true "lineup." In cases where a guy might qualify as the best at multiple positions, I attempted to put him at the position where he was best-suited. I also excluded pitchers from this study, so there'll only be eight guys listed here.

Who did I end up with? Let's take a look:

Catcher: Victor Martinez, Indians

The Indians have had several serviceable guys behind the plate, but none have been outstanding for a significant length of time. The best of these briefly-shining stars is Victor Martinez, currently on the Tigers' injured list. In 821 games, the three-time All-Star slugged 103 homers and had an OBP of .369 with a 120 OPS+. Not too shabby for a backstop who occasionally played first and DH.

First Base: John Kruk, Phillies

"Oh, come on!" I can hear you saying. "John Kruk? In the nearly 130-year history of the Phillies there was no better first baseman?" I'll tell you right now: nope. Check for yourself if you don't believe me. Honestly, it surprised me too. While many men played more games than the Krukker, I couldn't find anyone whose production justified ranking ahead of him. Ryan Howard has gaudier power numbers, but Kruk still beats him in 4+-WAR seasons (three to two so far, and highly likely to stay that way).

It's actually arguable whether Kruk is indeed the worst best first baseman among the Original 16. Fred Tenney (Braves franchise) had a lower peak value and career WAR/162 rate. The only reason he beats out Kruk is because he held down the position for his team about three times longer than Kruk did for his. Kruk's four seasons as primary first baseman is just long enough to qualify for this list, but not long enough to win many battles with his peers. With similar longevity, Kruk would beat out Tenney easily.

Second Base: Bobby Lowe, Braves

Second base and the Braves have a bit of an odd history. The keystone spot has been manned by Hall of Famers (Johnny Evers, Rogers Hornsby, Rabbit Maranville, Red Schoendienst), guys who put up random big seasons (Jack Burdock, Bill Sweeney, Marcus Giles) and guys with noteworthy accomplishments (Dan Uggla's hitting streak, Mark Lemke's postseason heroics), but none of the aforementioned has been good enough long enough to be the franchise's all-time second-sacker. That distinction goes to a steady, slick-fielding guy from the 1890's, Mr. Lowe.

If Lowe belongs in any of the above categories, it's "guys with noteworthy accomplishments," as he was the first player to it four homers in a game.

Third Base: George Kell, Tigers

When I was a kid I looked at George Kell's numbers in the Baseball Encyclopedia and wondered why he was in the Hall of Fame. It turns out the Hall was looking for more third baseman at the time he was elected, and Kell was not only a .300 hitter, but a popular broadcaster. It all made sense. While modern statistics suggest that Kell's spot in Cooperstown isn't warranted, it would be unfair to his legacy to ignore what a fine player he was in his seven-year tenure with Detroit (in the first and last seasons of which he was traded).

Interestingly, his closest competitor for the third base spot was another guy whose reputation has taken a hit thanks to modern statistics: Pie Traynor. Like Fred Tenney, his longevity was the only thing that saved him.

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies

Color me surprised yet again. While most of us would agree that Rollins is no all-time great, I didn't realize how weak he was compared to the other all-time franchise shortstops. Truthfully, after running the numbers, it wasn't even close. As he's still active, Rollins obviously has time to add to his resume, but considering he's 33 years old, it's probably a safer bet that he'll bring his averages down rather than up.

Left Field: Billy Williams, Cubs

Hoooooooooooo boy. It really hurts me to put a beloved Cub icon here. Any way you slice the WAR though, he seems to be the most appropriate choice. This is a position with some tough competition, and it just so happens that Sweet Swingin' Billy draws the short straw, even against such forgotten players as Sid Gordon and Bobby Veach. While his durability gave him a better career than many other all-time left fielders, his peak production failed to match up to any of them.

Center Field: Max Carey, Pirates

Another borderline-in-retrospect Hall of Famer joins the list. Carey's lofty stolen base totals made him a reasonable selection 50 years ago, but in these days of WAR, he looks more like a darn-good player than a great one.

Right Field: Magglio Ordonez, White Sox

Admit it: You never knew how poor the White Sox' history in right field was. I had a hard time choosing the man for the Chisox' starboard garden, since no one really stood out. Considering Ordonez's closest competitor was Floyd Robinson, it's clear that whoever I picked was going to end up making this lineup.

Ordonez is one of those players who might have been great had he drawn more walks and/or been a better fielder, but as it stands, he was merely a solid player who proved that a .300 batting average, 30 homers and 100 RBI don't make a great hitter.

Just for fun, let's create a batting order for these guys:

Carey, CF
Rollins, SS
Williams, LF
Ordonez, RF
Kruk, 1B
Martinez, C
Kell, 3B
Lowe, 2B

Undoubtedly, this lineup would make one heck of a team. Certainly one can't take inclusion here as a knock on any of them. In some cases, it speaks to the strength of the "Original 16" that these guys are the worst at each position.

Since I'm sure you're curious, here's a table of all the players I selected at each franchise's position.

One might quibble with some of my choices, but trust me, I couldn't find a clearly-better option for any of them.

But wait! There's more! As I was putting this post together, it occurred to me that there are several active players who could realistically find a place on the above chart someday. Theoretically, any young, unproven player could wind up as an all-time great, but more likely than not, he won't. The following guys have flashed enough potential that if you time-traveled ten years into the future, then came back and told me they'd comfortably displaced their predecessors, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Matt Kemp, Dodgers, Center Field

"What?" you ask. "You do realize the Dodgers' all-time center fielder is Hall of Famer Duke Snider, right?" I reply, "What kind of question is that? I put the above list together! Are you insinuating I have short-term memory loss?"

No, I'm being serious here. Matt Kemp was a solid, developing player until last year, when he morphed into a monster. After the hot start he's gotten off to this year, I think it might be time to say he's legit. Even if he doesn't consistently put up 10-WAR seasons, some seasons of 7 or more will keep him safely in superstar territory, and might be enough to overtake the Duke.

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, Center Field

He's not as good as Kemp, but as I discussed above, the Pirates don't have the highest bar set for them in center. I could easily see him becoming the all-time Bucco middle fielder.  

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox, Second Base

He's already about halfway to Bobby Doerr's WAR total, in much fewer than half the plate appearances. Speaking of war, you could also argue that Doerr deserves to lose credit for having perhaps his best year during World War II. The way Pedroia's going, he may only need a few more seasons to surpass him.

Carlos Santana, Indians, Catcher

Obviously it's a bit early to make any predictions, but Santana so far seems to be about the equal of Victor Martinez. He's a switch-hitter, he plays first base and DH occasionally, and heck, he even wears the same uniform number. It's not unreasonable to think he could eventually outperform him.

Joey Votto, Reds, First Base

One thing that surprised me during this study was the realization that many franchises have never had a truly elite player at a position for an appreciable length of time, despite many very good ones. The Reds and first base are one example. The position has been manned by Hall of Famers like Jake Beckley (who offered consistency but not a ton of peak value), Tony Perez, Jim Bottomley (probably neither of whom belongs in the Hall) and Frank Robinson (who didn't play there long enough to be a good choice). There were also high-average/medium-power guys like Frank McCormick, Hal Morris and Sean Casey, none of whom will be discussed as immortals. I went with Ted Kluszewski mainly because of his amazing five-year peak from 1952-56.

However, the Reds' current best player is a first baseman, and what's more, he's under contract for the next eleven years (with an option for a twelfth)! Joey Votto is 28 years old, and his spot on the field is apparently secure until the end of the decade. He has an MVP to his name, and has improved his WAR total every season he's been in the majors. Could he be the truly outstanding initial sacker that the Reds have been waiting for? For what they're paying him, they'd better hope so.  

Matt Wieters, Orioles, Catcher

Wieters' potential used to be something of an internet joke, but now it's finally translating into high-quality production. Chris Hoiles was probably a better player than you remember, but his career was too short and injury-riddled to be a great one. If Wieters can continue to live up to expectations, there'll be a new man on top of the O's all-time catcher list before long.

Friday, March 30, 2012

30 Teams, 30 Monkees Songs

Once again a new baseball season is upon us, so that can only mean one thing: theme song time! Who's the lucky artist this year? For 2010 it was Cheap Trick, for 2011 it was The Ramones, and for 2012 it is...The Monkees! The Monkees? Yes, The Monkees. The made-for-TV band that ended up putting an indelible mark on '60s pop music is a longtime favorite of mine, and I'll give 'em their due any day of the week! I also just want to say, for the record, that I had been planning to use The Monkees this year even before David Jones' untimely death, so this isn't an attempt to jump on any sort of nostalgia bandwagon. Let's begin, shall we?

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: "It's Not Too Late," Justus, 1996.

To buy tickets, that is! Despite winning the division last year, the Diamondbacks had more success on the field than at the gate. Even in the playoffs they had trouble selling out. Will the fans in Arizona be inspired to show up at the ballpark more often now that this team has proven its worth?

Colorado Rockies: "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," More of the Monkees, 1967.

The Rockies aren't among the league's heaviest spenders, but doggone it, when they have stars, they lock them up. Carlos Gonzalez is signed through 2017, and Troy Tulowitzki is signed through 2021. Clearly the Rockies have no desire to be a high-level farm club for the big-money franchises.

Los Angeles Dodgers: "We Were Made For Each Other," The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees, 1968.

Frank McCourt is finally gone, and in his place is none other than...Magic Johnson? Believe it. Yes, Johnson made his name in a different sport, but he spent his entire pro career in L.A., and the beloved athlete's face brings a ton of marketability to the franchise. He's looking to put the Dodgers on equal footing with the Lakers popularity-wise, and if he succeeds, his own popularity might reach levels it hasn't seen in decades. If this goes the way they're hoping, it'll be a win for both sides.

San Diego Padres: "Changes," Missing Links, Volume Two, 1990.

New GM. New young first base prospect. New logo. New uniforms. The Padres tend not to generate much excitement outside of their home city, mostly due to the fact that they often seem like a bland, stale franchise, but they weren't content to twiddle their thumbs this offseason. The next major transition might be the one to a new owner.

San Francisco Giants: "All Alone in the Dark," Changes, 1970.

Brian Sabean seems to be the last GM left whose front office doesn't have any use for Sabermetrics. Not that it's stopped them from putting together a World Series Champion, of course, but I'm sure Giant fans can only wonder what type of team they'd have with a more stat-savvy guy at the top.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: "You Just May Be the One," Headquarters, 1967.

Many front offices have come and gone on the north side of Chicago. For the last several decades they've have had the goal of ending a significant futility streak, and all have failed in their efforts. But what ho! Who is this that now runs the show? Why, it's Theo Epstein, the GM who helped bust the title drought in Boston! This guy knows a thing or two about long-suffering franchises, and he very well could be the man Cub fans have been waiting for to get that pesky monkey off their backs!

Cincinnati Reds: "Don't Call on Me," Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., 1967.

The Reds had a closer. His name was Ryan Madson. Before Spring Training was over, Madson was lost to elbow surgery and a closer-by-committee was looking like the route they were taking. Who are the candidates? Sean Marshall (career 7-for-14 in save situations), Nick Masset (4-for-18), Bill Bray (3-for-11), Aroldis Chapman (1-for-4) and Jose Arredondo (0-for-9). When Dusty Baker dials the bullpen, he'd better hope someone reliable is waiting for him on the other end.

Houston Astros: "Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye," The Monkees Present, 1969.

After half a century of history in the Senior Circuit, the Astros will be playing their final season there this year. As the distinction between the two leagues is watered down before our very eyes, we can only use this season to say farewell to another beautiful tradition.

Milwaukee Brewers: "Good Clean Fun," The Monkees Present, 1969.

Oh, the drama! Ryan Braun has brought a great deal of enjoyment to the Milwaukee faithful with his on-field heroics, and until this offseason it was never questioned whether he had done so by illegal means. His failed PED test last December suddenly put a cloud of doubt over his 2011 MVP season, and it took an unprecedented overturning of a test result to get his name cleared. The Cream City rooters can now kick back and relax, knowing that the great time they're having watching this guy play is unsullied by questionable chemicals.

Pittsburgh Pirates: "Just a Game," Instant Replay, 1969.

In Pittsburgh, there are some sports that are a pretty big deal. Steelers football? Yeah, that's one's practically a religion. Penguins hockey? Yeah, that generates many a turnstile click. Pirates baseball? Well, considering this team is probably looking at its 20th straight losing season, how can we expect the Steel Citiers to take it that seriously?

St. Louis Cardinals: "Hard to Believe," Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., 1967.

It still shocks and horrifies me that the Cardinals are the reigning champions. After losing Adam Wainwright for the season, squeaking into the playoffs on the last day and being one out away from losing the World Series in consecutive innings, they overcame all the odds, and by no means deservedly (hey, this is my blog, and I'm free to throw my editorial comments anytime I want). Baseball, though, is made to break your heart, and it never stops us from coming back for more. After losing Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa and replacing them with Carlos Beltran and a skipper with no previous managerial experience, they probably shouldn't be expected to repeat. Then again, I'm the same guy who said last year that they had no chance of winning it without Wainwright. With this franchise you just never know. They have a certain knack for making you miserable.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: "Run Away From Life," Justus, 1996.

That final day of last season surely leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the Braves. If they'd won, they could've forced a tiebreaker for a chance to go to the playoffs. The fact that they lost at home after 13 innings though? Ooh. That's gotta sting. Indeed, they were only a tally short of preventing their season's death in Game 162. So close, and yet, so far.

Miami Marlins: "Star Collector," Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., 1967.

Jose Reyes. Mark Buehrle. Carlos Zambrano. Heath Bell. All have been All-Stars, all have joined the Marlins for the 2012 season. Aaron Rowand would've technically counted too, if he had made the team. No longer are the Marlins a "develop-'em-and-trade-'em-when-they-get-too-expensive" organization, but one that acquires the established players.

New York Mets: "Tear Drop City," Instant Replay, 1969.

When you think of big cities in America, you think of New York. While the Mets are digging themselves out of the hole they've found themselves in the last few seasons, they still have a long way to go. You never have to ask a Met fan twice to feel sorry for himself (sharing a city with the Yankees tends to make one lose perspective), so the eye water should be flowing all over certain parts of the U.S.'s largest metropolis.

Philadelphia Phillies: "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," More of the Monkees, 1967.

Things are still good in Philadelphia, but with their best players aging, a so-so minor league system and Ryan Howard eating up way too much payroll down the road, Phillie fans had better cling to the present day while it lasts.

Washington Nationals: "Take a Giant Step," The Monkees, 1966.

With a revamped rotation and some exciting young up-and-comers, the perennially-lower-tier Nationals are in a position to make some noise this year. If this franchise could make its first postseason appearance since 1981, it would truly be a sizable stride forward.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: "I'll Spend My Life With You," Headquarters, 1967.

Did you see that contract they gave to Albert Pujols? Ten years as a player, then ten more years offering his services to the team, not to mention perks galore? By the time that thing expires the Cardinal portion of his career will be a distant memory. He'll be forever known as Albert the Angel (of Anaheim).

Oakland Athletics: "I Wanna Be Free," The Monkees, 1966.

Everyone knows the A's need to get out of Oakland Coliseum. Everyone knows a move to San Jose would make perfect sense. Unfortunately, everyone also knows the Giants aren't willing to concede their territorial rights to Silicon Valley. Right now the Athletics are pretty much stuck in their current situation. They see the waves out on the blue sea and can only look in envy.

Seattle Mariners: "All the King's Horses," Missing Links, Volume Two, 1990.

The last two years in King County, Washington have been noteworthy for their good starting pitching. Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010, their staff has been among AL leaders in innings pitched per start, and Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda and Doug Fister have all passed through. The Mariners are hoping their offense does a little more of the heavy lifting this year, but it'd be nice if they could continue getting strong contributions from their rotation.

Texas Rangers: "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World," Pool It!, 1987.

The Rangers' international scouting is highly regarded in the industry. Their prized international signing this year is Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, who could provide the team with the ace they need after losing C.J. Wilson. If there's a potentially useful player out there somewhere, the Rangers will track him down.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: "Goin' Down," b-side, 1967.

The Sox went "All In" last year and failed to achieve results commensurate with the commitment. It led to Ozzie Guillen's firing at the end of the season, followed by the departures of Mark Buehrle and Carlos Quentin in the offseason. The Chisox don't have much in the way of youth, and the most noteworthy major leaguer they added over the winter was Kosuke Fukudome. I think it's safe to say that their place in the 2012 standings will be below that of their 2011 third-place finish.

Cleveland Indians: "I Don't Think You Know Me," Missing Links, 1987.

Fausto Carmona- er...Roberto Hernandez's false identity situation has been the biggest story of the Indians' offseason, and it's resulted in a reduced salary for the pitcher. Throw in the fact that Carmona- er, Hernandez has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, and the Indians really have no idea what to expect from him if indeed he does play this season. Sigh...what are they gonna do with this guy?

Detroit Tigers: "Daddy's Song," Head, 1968.

Say, have you heard this little number before? The Tigers have a heavy-set first baseman named Fielder, and he even has a 50-homer season to his credit! It was true in the early-to-mid-'90s, and it's true once again. Many of us know about Prince Fielder's strained relationship with his father, but he's following in his footsteps regardless.

Kansas City Royals: "Nine Times Blue," Missing Links, 1987.

The Royals haven't had a winning record since 2003. While they play in a weak division and have several promising players, many of those youngsters are still developing, and there are plenty of holes elsewhere on the roster, like the pitching staff and the bottom of the order. While the future looks bright in K.C., the odds are good that this will be the ninth straight year without the Royals' hue of azure bringing over-.500 happiness.

Minnesota Twins: "Unlucky Stars," Justus, 1996.

Between Justin Morneau's career-threatening concussion, Joe Mauer's injuries that might move him out from behind the plate and Francisco Liriano's frequent health issues, the Twins haven't had the best of luck with their marquee players. If these guys can't be physically sound and performing at an optimal level, it looks like another long season is in store for Minnesota.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: "Looking For the Good Times," The Monkees Present, 1969.

I think it's safe to say that the Orioles' fortunes simply haven't been all that good since they abandoned their old cartoon bird logo. Well, good news! That winsome little fellow is back, and the team now bears some resemblance to the O's of brighter days. Hey, it's a start.

Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees: "Pillow Time," The Monkees Present, 1969.

Are we officially Yankees-and-Red Soxed out? These teams are always winners because they can afford to throw money at just about any free agent they want, and it's a given that they're both going to be in the playoff hunt every year. Neither one has anything left to prove, and all the hype their "rivalry" generates is of little interest to anyone who's a fan of neither side. These two teams are supposed to be baseball's meal tickets, but let's face it: There's been nothing compelling about them for years. Throw in the fact that they're MLB's two slowest-paced teams and you've got a recipe for a snoozer anytime one of them is one the field. Are the mainstream media going to get the hint?

Tampa Bay Rays: "Sweet Young Thing," The Monkees, 1966.

Matt Moore is a kid with upside. He's got so much upside, in fact, that the Rays signed him to a deal that could potentially keep him in Tampa Bay for the next eight years. His time at the major league level has been thus far brief, but it's also been thus far brilliant. Truly, Friedman and Co. are high on this young man, and his performance in what should be his official rookie season is something people all over baseball are looking forward to.

Toronto Blue Jays: "Gettin' In," Pool It!, 1987.

The Blue Jays have had a pretty good team for much of the Wild Card era, but they've been unable to reach the playoffs due to the stacked division they play in. With the new second Wild Card, their chances of finding a spot in the postseason might be the best they've been since their 1993 title.

2011 ultimately went down in history as a nightmare, so the time has come for redemption! Teams, let's make 2012 one of the greatest seasons in history!