Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quick update

I'm just stopping by here to mention that the list of Hall of Famers and their first Major League home runs has been updated to reflect the additions of the three managerial greats who were just elected. Tony LaRussa never hit a Major League homer, but Bobby Cox and Joe Torre both did, and their first victims are both newcomers to the list (Gary Peters and Joey Jay, respectively).

This offseason has been pretty crazy so far, but to be frank, I just can't get excited about the 2014 season. After three straight years of crap, and the emergence of The Oligopoly, I feel like there's nothing to look forward to anymore. I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be a lot like 2013 was: A year where regular-season achievements are the only thing I'll have to root for. The possibility of a team I like winning the World Series is pretty slim.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why Are So Many 1990's Cub Pitchers Dying Young?

As someone who tries to keep up-to-date on the latest passings, particularly in the baseball world, I was saddened to hear about the death of Frank Castillo earlier this year. He was a solid pitcher for the Cubs right around the time I began following baseball regularly, and his near no-hitter against the Cardinals in 1995 was perhaps my fondest memory of him.

Most unfortunately, Castillo's death made him the sixth Cub pitcher from the 1990's to die. He's been preceded in death by the following five:

Rod Beck (June 23, 2007, age 38, suspected cocaine overdose)
Geremi Gonzalez (May 25, 2008, age 33, struck by lightning)
Kevin Foster (October 11, 2008, age 39, renal cancer)
Dave Smith (December 17, 2008, age 53, heart attack)
Jessie Hollins (July 9, 2009, age 39, drowning)

Eerie that those first five were within a 25-month span. And now we can add:

Frank Castillo (July 28, 2013, age 44, drowning)

I don't believe any other team has lost this many players at the same position from the decade of the 1990's. This is mostly just bad luck, of course, but for those of us who remember these guys, it hits home. Their participation on the field is still fresh in our memories, and it's too soon for us to say goodbye to them. Hopefully, this outlier will revert to the mean and the rest of the Cubbie mound crew will stick around for a while.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Top Ten Baseball-Reference Sponsorships: 2013 Edition

Another year, another exhaustive scouring of Baseball-Reference! Like last year, the pickings were a bit slim, but there were still some good ones to highlight. Let's not waste time with chatter, let's get to the list! After all, that's why you're here, isn't it?

10. Dae-Sung Koo
Mr. Koo's Wild Ride sponsor(s) this page.

Mr. Koo was awesome because of one thing: his ringing double off of Randy Johnson and the ensuing trip around the bases. It's the most improbable baseball thing you may ever see and our lives are all better for it having happened.

As a fan of Korean baseball and a lover of the underdog, I had to find out what this was all about. Fortunately, there's a video of it on YouTube, so why don't I just embed it?

The 35-year-old who'd spent his career in DH leagues and had a platoon disadvantage against a future Hall of Famer indeed registered a double and later took home on a heads-up play. You always love it when these guys get their moments.

One annoying thing about that video though...Joe Buck. His name in Korean is 구대성. It'd be pronounced "Day-Sung Koo," not "Die-Sung Koo." Doesn't anyone know how to read?

9. 1886 Washington Nationals
A Fan of the Site sponsor(s) this page.

Only in Washington can a team feature 2 future Hall-of-Famers and finish with this poor of a record! Congrats to Hank O'Day, HOF 2013!

Washington is indeed known for its misuse of resources. But in fairness, O'Day got in as an umpire, and the other Hall of Famer (Connie Mack) got in as a manager, so they probably couldn't have been expected to have contributed that much to a winning cause. Still, a .233 winning percentage is pretty bad. Much worse than the 1966 Cubs'.

8. Bill Lee
Spaceman League sponsor(s) this page.

You're supposed to sit on your ass / And nod at stupid things / Man, that's hard to do. / And if you don't, they'll screw you. / And if you do they'll screw you too.

The late Warren Zevon's brief tribute to one of baseball's biggest flakes is always worthy of a quote. Heck, since I'm embedding YouTube videos here, why not do another one?

7. Brad Wilkerson

Justin Glessner --- The worst at fantasy advice sponsor(s) this page.

Brad Wilkerson is my Napoleon's Russia for fantasy baseball. He's the epitome of my fantasy failures. He's the forbidden fruit I sought, only to be doomed to an eternity of inept managerial skills.

I've never been able to get into fantasy sports. I just care too much about who wins and loses to worry about some individual guy's numbers. At least Mr. Glessner here elevates discussion of fantasy sports to a semi-literate tone, an area in which we can surely agree fantasy sports discussion is lacking.

6. 2004 Milwaukee Brewers

The Brew Crew Project sponsor(s) this page.

Ben Sheets had a career year and Milwaukee was introduced to Russell Branyan. As long as you ignore the second half, 2004 was a pretty good season.
I'm not sure whether this was intended to be humorous, but it strikes me as such. In the same vein, as long as you ignore my lack of frequent updates and the fact that most of my content is frivolous, I think I have a pretty good blog here.

5. Dick Tidrow

Friends of the Message Board at Bleacher Nation sponsor(s) this page.

Dick Tidrow's beer is made from the fermented tears of everyone he comes in contact with. When Dick Tidrow squints, people cry. Come join the Message Board at Bleacher Nation for more discussions of beer, tears, Dick Tidrow, and, most of all, Chicago Cubs baseball!

Dick Tidrow is becoming the latest Chuck Norris, I see. Couldn't happen to a more worthy guy.

4. Ronald Belisario

A Fan of the Site sponsor(s) this page.

Noriega's face. 80's Robin William's nose. Kevin Brown's sinker.
I had to give this one points for creativity. "A Fan of the Site" must be one of those scientists who breaks compounds down into individual elements.

3. Clay Zavada

Michelle and Shane / Southern Comfort Blues Band sponsor(s) this page.

I have an overwhelming desire to draw mustaches on the current pictures of Clay Zavada!

You remember Clay Zavada, right? That guy who had a pretty good year for the Diamondbacks in 2009?

Nice facial hair, huh? So just what does Clay Zavada look like now?

Jonathan Silverman's baseball dreams finally come true!

2. Otis Nixon

Steve Treder sponsor(s) this page.

On behalf of Robert in Manhattan Beach, who says that Otis Nixon fulfilled two of his teenage fantasies, making "the catch" and nailing Pebbles. With those lines on his resume, other stuff can be overlooked.

Robert in Manhattan Beach sure has some odd fantasies. But yes, crack cocaine usage is mitigated by such achievements.

1. Jeff Reboulet

Chris Mueller, 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh sponsor(s) this page.

"I was capable of playing every damn position on the field, and my mustache was rugged, yet classy. Let's see an advanced statistic track those intangibles." ---Jeff "JReb" Reboulet

I had to make this one #1, because when I read it, it put a smile on my face. I never knew much about Jeff Reboulet when he played, but he seems like a chap with a good sense of humor and a sharp wit. Hats off to you, Mr. Reboulet, for giving us a quote that deserves to be preserved.

And there you have it for 2013. I hope that 2014 will bring us a fresh crop of entries that are worth highlighting here. Sponsor some pages, everyone!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Award Pages Updated

Another season, another round of awards. All the interesting ones are in the books, so the following reference pages have been updated:

Which Team Had the Most Cy Young Winners?
Rookie of the Year Facts
The Second-Place Award Winners


Monday, October 21, 2013

The Oligopoly Continues

It would be funny if it weren't so predictable. I've been predicting a Cardinals-Red Sox World Series for a while now, and whaddaya know? I was absolutely correct. The 2005 Chicago White Sox will remain the last non-media favorite to win the World Series for yet another year.

My streak of the team I root for in the World Series losing is going to continue as well, since I'm rooting for both teams to lose. Technically, if I could decide who wins, I'd pick the Red Sox because they've won it less recently, but I still loathe them, so that wouldn't really count as a victory. Rooting against someone less is not the same as rooting for someone.

I quit following the NBA and the NFL because I felt that they were essentially media-favorite oligopolies. I tend to hate media favorite teams, since they get shoved down your throat more than others, and I don't like feeling as though someone's telling me who I'm supposed to support. Even a lot of casual fans buy into it, and decide that certain teams aren't interesting because "they have no history," or they just aren't glamorous enough for them.

I mean, look at the NBA. Which teams ever win championships? Heat (a city with famous beaches that's attractive to stars), Lakers (the NBA's glamor team), Celtics (the team with the hallowed history), Bulls (big city Chicago), Spurs (the perfect team to counter the league's "bad boy" reputation), Pistons (big market for blacks, the same demographic that dominates the league). Maybe once in a while some big-market oddballs like the Rockets and Mavericks overcome the odds, but it's pretty predictable otherwise. I'd venture to say that the 76ers and Knicks would also be members of the NBA's oligopoly circle, and the league wouldn't have a problem with either of those teams winning a title. Maybe the Clippers and Nets too, if they had the right players. Bottom line is, after I realized that new and interesting teams pretty much never won, I decided to stop following the NBA, and I've never regretted it.

What about the NFL? Once again, it's very oligopolistic. I once decided there were five teams I hated: the Patriots (the model franchise that does everything right), Steelers (the standard-bearers of old-school football), Giants (New York, baby!), Cowboys (America's Team!) and Packers (the team with the hallowed history). There were also some teams I had a second-tier hatred for, namely the 49ers (the team that used to be the NFL's model of perfection) and the Jets (I still hate New York, although the Jets are more like the NFL's biggest pity party). Basically, they were the teams the media were most likely to love, and with that love usually came previous success that they didn't need more of. Somehow, like magic, one of those teams won the Super Bowl nearly every year.

OK, OK, I know you're going to dispute that, and rightly so. What about the Ravens last year? Or the Saints in 2009? Or the Colts in 2006? Or the Buccaneers, Rams, Broncos...yes, yes. I get it. Really, I feel like the oligopoly is a recent development. After the Patriots won their second, that's when it really began. I was happy for the Colts when they won it, but because I was rooting for the Bears, it was hard to enjoy it too much. The Saints and Ravens won it after I stopped following the NFL (due to loss of interest rather than conscious choice), and in between, some of the teams I loathe won it. Maybe we could say that every three years or so the NFL ends up with a decent champion, but I don't like the game enough to endure those two years in between.

But there was always baseball. Baseball wasn't like those other sports. The big dogs could spend a ton of money and get all the hype, but in the postseason it was anybody's game. If you liked underdogs, baseball gave you a chance!

At least, that's how it used to be. As I outlined here, there's now a media-favorite oligopoly in baseball too, perhaps as a punishment for me getting to see the White Sox win it (hey, it coincides with it, who knows?). Which teams are members of the oligopoly? Allow me to list them:

Yankees (baseball's "hallowed history" team)
Red Sox (another obvious one)
Cardinals (the media looooooooves to talk about what a model organization they are)
Phillies (the City of Brotherly Love is right in the shadow of New York)
Giants (they have a history in New York, and a rivalry with another member of the oligopoly...)
Dodgers (the glamor team)
Braves (I'm not totally sure of this one, but I'm pretty sure they're a member)
Mets (New York gives instant marketability)

The Cubs are also a media favorite, but I'm starting to wonder if for narrative purposes, they'll ever be able to win the World Series. The story of the Cubs' inability to win the World Series has become such a big part of baseball lore that it's almost hard to imagine baseball without it.

So am I saying that any team outside of this select group will never win the World Series? Well...I like to be optimistic and hope that this whole oligopoly thing is just a period baseball is going through, and that it will end soon. Like next year soon. Until it does though, I'm going to be skeptical of any team outside this group's chances. It's just my way of cushioning the blow of disappointment. Eight years of this crap has taken its toll on me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I Hate to Say I Told You So...

...but I told you so.

The Cardinals advance to the NLCS again, but not before dangling some false hope in front of every non-Cardinal fan. I'll admit, there were a few times when I was tempted to think that maybe the Pirates could somehow pull off the miracle, but I had to remind myself to snap out of it and remember the rule: The Cardinals exist to make sure that no team with an interesting story ever wins a championship.

My greatest fear is that baseball will become like every other sport: an oligopoly where the underdog never gets a real shot at a title. Ever since 2005, that possibility has seemed more and more real. Will baseball become just another tragic love I had to break away from for the sake of my health? Perhaps. Thanks Cardinals, and thank you, Bud Selig, for doing everything you can to ruin the greatest game ever invented.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Pittsburgh Pirates Are Doomed

Blunt title? Sure it is. But I figured I might as well get straight to the point.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a great story all season. Indeed, they're almost certainly the team I've most enjoyed following this year. I attended my first ballgame in 1993 and became a true baseball fan in 1995, and only now am I finally seeing a Pirate team that has a winning record and is participating in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has had one of those special seasons that fans cherish for a lifetime. As cool as it would be to see this team go all the way to the World Series and even (dare I suggest?) win it, it has absolutely no chance of happening.

The reason is because the roadblock standing in their way is that notorious crusher of dreams, the St. Louis Cardinals. So what? While the Cardinals are certainly favored on paper, we all know that in a short series, anything can happen, right? Theoretically, yes. When the Cardinals are involved though, the normal rules don't apply.

At the risk of sounding solipsistic, I ought to explain the grand unifying theory that underpins my thinking.

I'm from the Chicago area, and I like both Chicago teams. Before 2005, both Chicago teams held their leagues' respective longest World Series title droughts, as you probably know if you're reading this. When the White Sox had their great season in 2005, it was natural for Chicago fans to expect the worst. After all, our teams had a history of blowing it. As I watched the Sox' playoff run, I said to myself, "Boy, if only I could see the Sox win this one, I'd accept 15 years of baseball disappointment." I'm not sure how sincere I was. It's not like the baseball spirits and I signed any sort of contract. Still, it's hard to argue with subsequent developments.

The 2005 White Sox indeed won the World Series, and since then, not a single team I've rooted for in the World Series has won it. No joke. Not one. Admittedly, I was happy for the 2008 Phillies and the 2010 Giants, but I was rooting for their opponents both years.

Not only that, but every team that's won it since then has been a media favorite. We've seen the Cardinals, standard-bearer of all that's good and classy about the game, whose fans are just so doggone loyal and nice (according to the media, who, as usual, have it completely wrong); the Red Sox, the longsuffering characters whose fans are more passionate and knowledgeable than any other (again, sez the media); the Phillies, who snapped a (OMG!) 25-year major sports championship drought for their city in 2008 (Cleveland fans must have been weeping for them); the Yankees, baseball's most hallowed franchise, and one that needs to win the World Series periodically to save the sport from going down the toilet (according to the media and ignorant fans); and the Giants, from the beautiful left-wing utopia of San Francisco, whose history dates back to New York, and who form half of a historic rivalry with the Dodgers, another grand old franchise.

During this time, the Cardinals in particular have demonstrated a knack for stomping on any non-media favorite that looks like a potential champion.

In 2006, an injury-riddled 83-win Cardinal team squeaked into the playoffs by virtue of a weak division, and the first team they beat was the title-less Padres. No one was really expecting anything from that Padre team, but it would've been cool if they'd won it, of course. After beating the Mets (who were a media favorite and not that great of a story), they met the Tigers in the World Series. Now the Tigers, they were a great story. They had just come through the worst period of perennial losing in their history, which reached its lowest point with 119 losses in 2003. Three years later, here they were in the World Series! What a great addition to the pantheon of champs they would've been! Unfortunately, the Cardinals beat them in five error-filled games, a pathetic end to a great season.

In 2009 the Cards faced the Dodgers, but the Dodgers swept them. My theory is intact though, because not only were the Dodgers a media favorite, they had also had no compelling story. They had the loathsome Manny Ramirez too, which made it impossible for me to root for them. So the Cardinals can lose if they face an unlikable media favorite.

2011 was the worst of them all. The Cards upset the powerhouse Phillies in the first round, then faced the title-less Brewers. The Brewers were a small-market club that had gone all in that year, since Prince Fielder was an impending free agent, and they knew they wouldn't have the resources to bring him back. They also had a fun collection of personalities, and an engaging esprit de corps, which would've made a beautiful chapter in MLB championship history. But of course, they were facing the Cardinals, so you know what happened.

Their World Series opponent was a title-starved Ranger team that had a terrific blend of vets and franchise icons. They would've been the perfect team to hoist Texas' first World Series trophy, and they almost did, except for the fact that the Cardinals made two incredible late-game comebacks against them in Game 6, and then won Game 7. At that point, I knew there was something very real about this evil force backing the Cardinals.

In 2012 this new second Wild Card playoff format that nobody wanted was added. Under the old system, the Cardinals would've missed the playoffs, but instead, a slot was theirs, and they took full advantage of their illegitimate participation by beating the Braves in the one-game "play-in."

Next up were the Washington Nationals, making the city's first postseason appearance in 79 years, and the franchise's first since 1981, when they were the Expos. Once a doormat, they were now the top seed. What a potentially great story! In the deciding Game 5 of the Division Series, the Nats jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. However, never for a minute did I think they could coast the rest of the way, because these were the Cardinals they were facing. I stopped following the game in the late innings when the score was 6-4 Nationals, because at that point I knew the result was inevitable. I checked MLB's website later and when I saw it previewing the Cardinals-Giants NLCS my reaction was a frustrated "how is it possible that I knew that was going to happen?" As I found out later, a four-run ninth killed Washington's season. With the Cardinals, that's how it always goes.

Those Cardinals did eventually lose to the Giants, but since the Giants were just a rerun from two years earlier, there was nothing interesting about them. Therefore, it was possible for them to beat the Cardinals.

So you can see what the Pirates are up against. Their scrappy underdog status assures that they'll become another notch on the belt of the St. Louis Dream Squashers, and there's nothing they can do about it. For what it's worth, Pirate fans, I truly feel bad that your incredible season is going to have to end like this.

In my previous post I guaranteed that the Cardinals would win it all, but I suppose there are other possibilities. As previously mentioned, as long as a media favorite is facing them, the Cardinals are beatable. Among playoff participants, I would consider the Red Sox, Braves and Dodgers to be media favorites as well, so there are four potential champions. Since the Dodgers are the only one of those teams I haven't seen win the World Series, I guess they're my only hope of seeing a new team win it. The Rays, Athletics, Tigers and Pirates don't have the media blessing.

Some of you probably think my theory is a bunch of baseless hokum. I know it looks that way, but to me, it sure feels real. I would love, love, to see it proven wrong, believe me. Until it is though, I'm going to stand by my belief that the media's ring of favorites has a monopoly on World Series titles.

Ah...the sadness of lost hope.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Playoff predictions 2013

Since tonight is (technically) the first day of the Playoffs, I thought I'd rank the ten teams participating in what is officially recognized as "the postseason" by how great a story they'd make if they won the World Series:

1. Cleveland Indians

A team that hasn't won the World Series since 1948, a city that hasn't seen a major sports championship since 1964, a franchise that had been losing for several years before striking gold with some free agent signings and bounceback seasons this year...just imagine how much it would mean to the fans in Cleveland if this was the year for them. 

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

What a ride! Ever since Francisco Cabrera's pinch-hit single in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS it had all been downhill. A record 20 consecutive losing seasons was finally snapped this year with 94 wins, and Pittsburgh is excited about baseball again. This team has had a great season thanks to several shrewd moves that paid off, and the organization has made its way back to respectability. If the Pirates could win their first World Series since 1979, that'd really be something. 

3. Detroit Tigers

The Jim Leyland era has been one of restoration for the Tigers. Detroit has seen several great and very good players pass through since 2006, but it hasn't been able to win that elusive World Series title. After getting swept by a rerun Giants team last year, a championship this year could give this core of players redemption, and also solidify Leyland's Hall of Fame credentials. 

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

Remember back in June when there was talk of Don Mattingly getting fired? Who would've thought back then that the Dodgers would end up running away with the division? With several veterans seeking out their first rings, and exciting youngsters like Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw, plus the fact that L.A. hasn't won it since 1988, this could be a cool team to see win it. 

5. Oakland Athletics

Billy Beane's boys continue to defy the odds. Oakland hasn't won the World Series since 1989, and while the current A's don't have many household names, they've got a nice little perpetually-overlooked team. I wouldn't mind seeing them get it. 

6. Tampa Bay Rays

I love the Rays. The team with no financial resources to speak of manages to be competitive year after year while sharing a division with baseball's richest teams. While they haven't been able to assemble any outright powerhouses, they're always in the mix. I'd love to see these guys get a championship. The only reason I can't rank them higher is because they're the second Wild Card team, and it would feel wrong if such an illegitimate entry to the postseason was how they got their trophy. 

7. Cincinnati Reds

Like the Rays, the Reds have to be ranked low due to entering the postseason in a playoff spot that shouldn't exist. Other that that though, Cincy has a cool core of players who I could back under normal circumstances. 

8. Atlanta Braves

They aren't the consistently-great Bobby Cox teams of the 1990's, but they've built a solid nucleus of young players that have something to prove. The Braves won the first World Series I ever saw, back in 1995 when I became a fan, so I can't pull very hard for them, because I want to see someone new win it. Still, they're far, far preferable to either of the remaining two teams on this list. 

9. Boston Red Sox

I guess it is a new era in Boston to some degree, since most of the 2007 team is gone. Still, I loathed few World Series winners as much as those 2007 Red Sox, and I still hate the city of Boston's sports teams with a passion. The last thing we need is another October-long Boston droolfest. Someone ought to do us a favor and eliminate these guys. 

10. St. Louis Cardinals

There is nothing remotely likable about the St. Louis Cardinals. After the 2011 World Series, a small piece of me died, and I will never forgive them. This team deserves every bit of scorn you can muster.

Being the pessimist I am, in any matchup, I'll presume that the team with the higher number on this ranking is going to win. That means that the last team standing should be St. Louis, and they'll be avenging 2004 in the World Series. I would consider anything else a miracle.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Oldest Ringless Players: 2013

It's time for the annual list of Oldest Ringless Players! Which combat-tested veteran will finally get his championship ring this year? I know the Playoffs technically haven't started yet, but since tonight's tiebreaker is taking place after Game #162, we can just throw in both participants for fun.

Even though I have a hard time considering this "Wild Card game" a true postseason game, I technically have to count it. The first time I did this list there were only eight teams, and now there are eleven. Come on, MLB. You're killing me.

As usual, I'm only counting players who were on their teams' 40-man rosters at season's end, though there might have been older players who played earlier in the season that are in line for a ring.

Atlanta Braves: Tim Hudson (July 14, 1975)
Boston Red Sox: John McDonald (September 24, 1974)
Cincinnati Reds: Corky Miller (March 18, 1976)
Cleveland Indians: Jason Giambi (January 8, 1971)
Detroit Tigers: Torii Hunter (July 18, 1975) 
Los Angeles Dodgers: Michael Young (October 19, 1976)
Oakland Athletics: Bartolo Colon (May 24, 1973)
Pittsburgh Pirates: Kyle Farnsworth (April 14, 1976)
St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran (April 24, 1977)
Tampa Bay Rays: Jamey Wright (December 24, 1974)
Texas Rangers: Joe Nathan (November 22, 1974)

As you can see, the Cardinals have the youngest player on this list, and are also the most recent champions, so if the story of the 2013 season is going to have a happy ending, the Cardinals provide very little to advance that interest.

The Pirates have been exciting to follow all year, so if they end up one-and-done against the Reds, I will condemn the Wild Card game to my death.

After we have the results of the tiebreaker tonight, I'll probably chime in with my playoff predictions. As usual, I'll expect the worst and hope to be wrong. It's the only way I can deal with this game.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Characterizing the Fanbases #9: San Francisco Giants

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’ve found Giant fans interesting for some time. I remember coming across the website EEEEEE! years ago, and the writing there really struck a chord with me, because the level of good-natured devotion the guys there had to their team always made for a fascinating read. They had all kinds of random memories about games they saw and players most people had long since forgotten, and it was one of the first things that made me ponder life through the eyes of another team’s fans. Who knows? Perhaps without Gregg Pearlman and his cohorts I wouldn’t be writing this blog post now.

So what are Giant fans like? For starters, I haven’t seen much in the way of negative traits, so forgive me if I seem to be inflating their reputation. They’ve always come across as fiercely loyal, yet friendly and intelligent. After waiting 52 years for a title they might be a bit pessimistic sometimes, but perhaps “cautiously optimistic” would be a better description. Before they won it I saw neither defeatist talk of curses nor an overflowing sense of destiny. They were always hopeful without going overboard.

The internet reactions to the 2010 World Series title reminded me of what was good about baseball. Unlike the entitled bully Cardinal fans from 2011, the Giant fans genuinely seemed to be grateful for what they were witnessing, and enjoyed every minute of the ride. If ever there were a group you could feel happy for in the end, it was them. It’s a shame such fanbases aren’t more frequently rewarded.

The only real hate they have is for the Dodgers. They still take games against L.A. more seriously than other games, but they don’t lower themselves to childish bashing as frequently as other teams’ fans do with their rivals. In fact, they seem to have a begrudging respect for the Dodgers, as the Giants have clearly been on the poorer side of the rivalry since both teams set up in California. For a long time the Dodgers seemed to have it all: a beautiful stadium, bigger stars, more national exposure, an iconic announcer, World Series titles, you name it. Now that the Giants have ditched windy, gelid Candlestick Park for charming, comfortable AT&T Park and have two World Series titles to their name, they have fewer reasons to be envious.

Their sense of humor is worth noting as well, as Giant fans strike me as a witty bunch. Whenever I read the comment section of a McCovey Chronicles post, I usually find myself laughing out loud at some point. They also come up with some gems for their sponsorship messages on Baseball-Reference, which make my statistical browsing a richer experience.

Based on what I’ve seen, I think the Giants have the type of fanbase I most wish I could be a part of. Their demeanor and camaraderie seem like a lot of fun. I’ve heard some talk in recent years about Giant fans becoming more obnoxious and self-important (a la Red Sox fans), but perhaps I’ve just been fortunate in that I haven’t seen it myself. Knowing what I do about human nature and the tendency to lose perspective, it’s possible that further titles will eventually destroy the archetypal Giant fan I found myself with an affinity for. However, the lover of humanity in me hopes that it’ll never change.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Characterizing the Fanbases #8: New York Yankees

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!

Are they the most famous (or infamous) fans in sports? Ask any baseball fan what Yankee fans are like and they’ll tell you: arrogant, loud-mouthed, entitled bullies. And really, why wouldn’t they be? After all, their team is the richest in the game, and they have the resources to buy any elite player they want. They have more than twice as many World Series titles as the next team on the list, and they haven’t been out of contention in the last 20 years. If you’re a bigger-is-better bandwagoner type who wants to follow the rings or a cocky New Yorker, the Yankees are the perfect team for you. 

To say these fans lack perspective is an understatement. They literally believe the World Series should be theirs to lose every year, and they don’t seem to understand what a luxury it is for such expectations to be within the realm of possibility. When they don’t win the Series they feel cheated, as though a rightful victory were stolen from them. 

“Yankee fan behavior” has become a widely-understood description of boorish, classless antics coupled with a sense of superiority. They can throw bottles, harass opposing fans, talk smack and boo as much as they want, but that doesn’t stop them from believing they belong on a higher plane than the rest of baseball fandom. They feel justified in criticizing all-time greats who join their team for not being “true Yankees” if they fail to live up to expectations, all the while elevating lesser players merely for being Yankee lifers. They’ll openly declare that it’s in the best interests of baseball for the Yankees always to be good, because the media enjoys covering their team and constantly perpetuates that idea. Hey, if the writers say it and it validates their wishes, who are they to argue? There’s no doubt in their minds that the Yankees represent everything good and right about baseball, and screw you if you don’t like it, you jealous hater.

While I’ve witnessed enough Yankee fan arrogance in my lifetime to make my blood boil, there’s a part of me that wonders if the Yankee fan isn’t somehow a pitiable creature. Sure, the average Yankee fan has witnessed more World Series titles than some franchises have in their century-plus history, but they still manage to find reasons to be unhappy. The fact is, human nature is never satisfied. If we didn’t constantly have the desire for more, the human race would stagnate. This trait can be the key to a man’s success, or it can be his downfall. Other fanbases realize they’ll never catch up to the Yankees and can therefore be appreciative of what they have, but Yankee fans have experienced higher heights than those other fans, so anything less seems a letdown. Undoubtedly it indicates that they’re spoiled, but once you’ve lived the life of a rich man you never want to walk in the shoes of a pauper.

While the Yankee trophy case is the envy of every other ballclub, it also carries with it the pressure to maintain a stratospheric standard. Because winning the World Series every year would be impossible, the Yankees and their fans are doomed to feel like underachievers in spite of their unmatched success. If the price of having an annually-contending team is the ability to enjoy the ride, perhaps those of us who aren’t Yankee fans should be thankful.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Characterizing the Fanbases #7: New York Mets

Welcome to the latest installment of Characterizing the Fanbases! Perhaps some of my long-time readers remember this series from last summer that kind of fell by the wayside! I was attempting to do each team in alphabetical order, but right now I'm a bit stumped on what to say about the Reds, which should've been the next team. Since there were a few teams for whom I already had my writeups done in advance, I figured I'd go ahead and post them now. Forget alphabetical order!

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 think to understand Met fans you have to examine their connection to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodger Narrative (TM) has become part of baseball lore, despite some disputable elements. While entire books have been written on the subject, here's the simplified version:

Brooklyn was once an independent city before it was annexed by New York City in the late 19th Century. In opposition to the regal, wealthy, self-important image we associate with NYC, Brooklyn was quirky, working-class and diverse. For many years the Dodgers were a laughingstock, but they exemplified the grit and character of this now-borough connected to a larger metropolis it didn't necessarily feel a part of. Yes, Brooklyn was a true underdog, and when the Dodgers finally started winning in the late 1930's, it was nothing less than the Brooklynites deserved. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the Dodgers in 1947, it only confirmed the moral superiority of this franchise, essentially making them America's Team.

Of course, the Dodgers had a problem: they always came up short in the World Series. The big, bad, rich Yankees were usually the team to deny them, which was especially gut-wrenching, as it only underscored the cosmic unfairness of life that no good liberal should stand for. Unfortunately, such things were the cross every underdog must bear.

All that changed in 1955. Once again, the Dodgers met the Yankees in the Fall Classic and finally, after seven games and seven previous World Series losses, the Brooklyn Dodgers were at long last World Champions! How grand! How fitting! What a great moment not only for baseball, but all humanity! Since that oppressive unfairness inherent in life still existed though, it couldn't allow those loyal fans who lived and died with the team to enjoy it for long. Led by Walter O'Malley, the team's avaricious villain of an owner, the Dodgers moved west for the greener pastures of Los Angeles after the 1957 season, devastating a community and taking America's innocence with it.

Now, this narrative has some holes in it (too many to discuss, really), but it's more or less the story you get fed. Understandably, Dodger fans were heartbroken when their team moved, and even felt a sense of betrayal. After more than half a century they've never really let it go, despite getting a new team. Why? I can't say for sure. It's possibly due to their own obstinacy, but more likely it's because there's a big market for Brooklyn Dodger nostalgia. The Brooklyn Dodger Narrative (TM) is a poignant story that'll sell well, and due to the New York connection, it'll never hurt for media interest. Perhaps the fans have never let it go because writers, journalists and filmmakers constantly play up the importance of their team's place in baseball history, thereby leaving them with the impression that they were grievously wronged and owe it to the Dodgers' memory to hold a lifelong grudge.

All that said, how does it relate to the Mets? Well, after the Dodgers moved west with the Giants in '57, the National League had no team in New York for the next four seasons. It wasn't until the Mets were added as an expansion team in 1962 that the Senior Circuit returned to the Big Apple. The Mets attempted to create a fanbase from the old Giant and Dodger fans who didn't want to switch their allegiances to the Yankees, and for the most part, it seems that's what they did.

Since we can see that old Dodger fans are given to self-pity, and that many of them and their children (who probably grew up listening to their parents’ stories) make up the Mets' fanbase, what you have is a group that constantly feels unparalleled in its suffering. The Yankees are still the Yankees, and the Mets are stuck playing in their shadow, which only reinforces feelings that their team is underachieving.

If one looks at the evidence objectively, the Mets are probably MLB's most successful expansion franchise. They haven't won the World Series since 1986, but in baseball time, 27 years isn't very long. I mean, consider the fact that there are 30 MLB teams, and only half of them have won titles in the period since the Mets last won it, and you realize their championship drought is really nothing remarkable. Listening to them though, you'd think their plight was on par with the Cubs'.

Most teams go through lean periods, which aren’t fun once you’ve tasted the honey of success, as Met fans have at various times in the past. Having Brooklyn Dodger fans as their forebears, however, has instilled in them the mentality of an oppressed underdog, and they always feel as though their team is somehow screwing them over.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

23 Pitching Coaches, and She Named Them All Dave

Today I came across a fun fact: The last four World Series champions have had a pitching coach named Dave. It was Righetti for the Giants in 2010 and 2012, Duncan for the loathsome Cardinals in 2011 and Eiland for the hated Yankees in 2009. The name has generally fared well in the last decade, with Duncan also winning it in 2006, and Dave Wallace serving as pitching coach for the 2004 Red Sox.

Clearly the power of the name Dave on your pitching coach has been increasing to the point where it is now invincible. Any team that hopes to win the World Series now needs one at this point. It just so happens that Daves Eiland and Righetti are the only two active pitching coaches in baseball with that name, and they coach for the Royals and Giants, respectively.

So fear not, Giant fans! You still have a shot, regardless of your recent struggles! Ditto to the Royal fans! Don't be surprised if that playoff drought ends this year, and even leads to a championship! Besides that, you've got George Brett back in the dugout, the missing link to the great teams of the '70s and '80s! 2013 is destined to be another year that goes to a team that got its act together after the All Star Break.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ultimate Number Players: #11-15

Welcome to the latest installment of Ultimate Number Players! You know the rules by now, so here we go with the newest batch!

Ultimate #11: Luis Aparicio

The consistency of Luis Aparicio's career has always astounded me. In 18 seasons, he never took the field at any position besides shortstop, always played at least two-thirds of his team's games at the position, and always wore #11. With the White Sox (twice), the Orioles and the Red Sox, he's the perfect guy to represent this number.

Ultimate #12: Dusty Baker

According to Baseball-Reference, Roberto Alomar wore #12 at every stop except Arizona, where Steve Finley already had it, forcing him to wear #2. However, according to Baseball Almanac, Alomar wore both #2 and #12 for Arizona. The 2004 Diamondbacks traded away both Finley and Alomar during the season, and the Finley trade was five days before the Alomar trade. Is it possible that Alomar wore #12 in the two games he played for Arizona after the Finley trade? Without any documentation, I can't be sure. If Alomar in fact did, he would definitely be the Ultimate #12.

In the meantime, the Ultimate #12 has to be Dusty Baker, who not only wore the number at each of his four major league stops (Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Athletics), but has worn it at each managerial stop as well (Giants, Cubs, Reds). Unfortunately, I can't find pictures of Baker with a visible #12 for each of those teams, nor can I find one for any other player who potentially qualifies for the Ultimate Number Player designation, so I won't be able to include a photo collage with this one. Sorry!

Ultimate #13: Billy Wagner
Perhaps one of the most underrated players of our era (career 187 ERA+!), Wagner wore the unlucky #13 with five teams: The Astros, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Braves.

Ultimate #14: Pete Rose

The rare "gritty gamer" type who was actually a Hall of Fame-level player, Rose wore #14 with his hometown Reds, the Phillies (before it was retired for Jim Bunning), the Expos in a brief stint, and the Reds again, where he broke the all-time hit record.

Ultimate #15: Davey Lopes
A legitimate Hall of Very Good second baseman, Lopes wore the number with the Dodgers, Athletics, Cubs and Astros, though there were periods with the latter two teams when he wore different numbers.

Since I can't find pictures of Lopes with a visible number 15 for each of those teams, there's going to be another substitute photo collage. The player? Kevin Millar, who also wore it with four teams: The Marlins, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays. He was nowhere near the player Lopes was, but he stuck around long enough to make his mark on baseball.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ultimate Number Players: #6-10

Last time we looked at the Ultimate Player for numbers 1 through 5; this installment will include the next sequential quintet. If you need a refresher on how a player qualifies for this list, check that link.

Ultimate #6: Willie Wilson

The speedster wore #6 with the Royals, Athletics and Cubs, and was easily the best of the few players who made it to three teams.

Ultimate #7: J.D. Drew

He may have been perceived as dispassionate and businesslike, but he got the number with the Cardinals, Braves, Dodgers and Red Sox.

Ultimate #8: Gary Carter

It's always nice when Hall of Famers show up. Gary Carter was a no-doubter here. He was the only player to get the number with as many as four different franchises and he topped that by adding a second stint with one of those teams. In order, he had it with the Expos, Mets, Giants, Dodgers and Expos again.

Ultimate #9: Lee Stevens

This one was surprising, but the journeyman first baseman managed to get the number with the Angels, Rangers, Expos and Indians.

Ultimate #10: Lefty Grove

No player who played for more than two teams managed to wear #10 at every stop. One who did though, was possibly the greatest left-handed pitcher ever, and earned the "Ultimate Player" title for sporting it with the Athletics and Red Sox.

However, given that it's nearly impossible to find a single photo where Grove's #10 is visible, for the photo collage I went with another Hall of Famer who qualifies, Ron Santo, who wore it with both the Cubs and White Sox.

Next time we'll be looking at 11 through 15. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ultimate Number Players: #1-5

If you read this blog regularly, you might get the sense that I love lists and trivia to the point of obsessiveness. And you'd probably be right. What better to do with this post than share another one of my obsessions?

I have an interest in uniform numbers, and I love it when a player manages to wear the same number his entire career. Of course, it's not all that impressive if he spends his entire career with one team, but when he goes through several teams and maintains the same number, that's when it becomes downright cool.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference's Uniform Number Search, we can easily find out which players wore the same number with multiple teams. However, a more interesting question (to me, at least) is which players managed to wear the same number at every stop in their careers?

I thought it'd be good to celebrate these players, and also to pick the "Ultimate Player" for each number. To be the "Ultimate Player," he must meet the following criteria:

1) The player must have worn the same number at some point for each team he played for.

2) If he had multiple stints with a team, he must have worn the number during both stints. A "stint" refers to a continuous duration of time in the organization.

3) If he left the organization at some point and returned wearing a different number, he doesn't count. (Joey Hamilton is an example of a player who was disqualified under this rule. Hamilton wore #50 with each of the three teams he played for during his career. After spending the 2002 season with the Reds, he signed as a free agent with the Cardinals and didn't make it out of Spring Training. He then went back to the Reds, but wore #54 in this second stint. As much as I wish I could include him, it doesn't seem right to me.)

4) He must have worn the number for the most teams (or stints) of any player who meets the above criteria.

5) He must no longer be active, since an active player still has the chance to lose the number with a new team.

6) In case of a tie, I'll pick the player I think was better (which usually isn't too tough a choice).

For these "Ultimate Players," I want to include a collage of their number being worn for each team. However, there's a bit of a problem there. There are a few cases where I can't find a good photo of their number being displayed while a member of that team. In those cases, my only option is to give you a collage of the best player of whom I can find good photos.

For this installment, let's look at numbers 1-5!

Ultimate #1: Richie Ashburn

Not a tough choice here, as the Hall of Fame center fielder wore it with three teams: the Phillies, Cubs and Mets. However, since Ashburn played in an era when most teams didn't have numbers on the front, it's hard to find photos where his number #1 is visible.

Therefore, for the photo collage, I give you another player who managed to wear #1 for three teams: Luis Castillo. He's nothing close to a Hall of Famer, but he was a fine player for several years.

Ultimate #2: Jack Wilson

Wilson and Fred Patek are the only qualifying players I can find who made it to three teams, and it was essentially a tossup between them. I went with Wilson, since I could find good photos for him. The underrated shortstop wore it with the Pirates, Mariners and Braves during his career.

Kelly Johnson is currently at four teams, but since he's active, we can't include him yet.

Ultimate #3: Dale Murphy

Another easy choice. The Braves retired Murphy's #3, and he also wore it with the Phillies and Rockies.

Ultimate #4: Lenny Dykstra

#4 doesn't have many good choices, since it's often worn by great players, and it's notoriously hard to keep throughout one's career. Therefore, the best I can give you is Lenny Dykstra of the Mets and Phillies.

Hall of Famer Joe Cronin sort of qualifies, but because he played for the Pirates during the pre-uniform number era, it didn't seem quite right. Journeyman infielder Pete Orr is currently sitting on three teams, and if he never plays another game in the majors, he'll become the Ultimate #4. What a strange circumstance that'd be. I'm sure that Bobby Orr, whom he wears the number in tribute to, would be proud.

Ultimate #5: Nomar Garciaparra

A guy who had six Hall of Fame-level seasons and little else, Garciaparra wore the number with the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Athletics.