Saturday, April 26, 2008

How to Write a Baseball Play

I recently decided to write a one-man show about baseball. I've been running dry recently, creatively speaking, so I decided to combine two of my creative passions, baseball and theatre, to direct my energies toward a specific end.
I wanted to do something that would tell the history of baseball, but from several different perspectives. I didn't just want players; I wanted managers, owners, GMs, scouts, reporters, and even fans. I also wanted to pick stories that were about more than just baseball. Retelling the final innings of the 1924 World Series would be exciting to a baseball fan, but maybe not to an average play-goer. So I decided that if I was to include pure "baseball" moments, they would still have to be relevant to people who weren't baseball fans. The great thing about baseball is that so many famous players, moments, and myths are connected to a specific moment in history, or are at least part of a larger story that makes them compelling no matter who you are. It was these stories I wanted to tell, but through the lens of the national pastime (that was even my first idea for a title: simply, "Pastime").

Thursday, April 17, 2008

News bits and Required Reading

I'm watching the Cubs and Reds right now on WGN, and commentator Len Kasper mentioned a breaking baseball story that caught my attention immediately. So I went online to check it out, and there it was: Tejada admits to being two years older than he had said. Miguel Tejada, whose birthday has always been listed as May 25, 1976, admitted that he was actually born May 25, 1974. Tejada's admission came just as ESPN was about to air a special with evidence exposing Tejada's real birthday.
First of all, what does this mean? It's bad news, any way you slice it. Astros GM Ed Wade said, ""Fact of the matter is that he plays like he's 25, so I don't think it really matters a whole lot." Well, Ed Wade might actually be dumb enough to believe that, but in reality, there's a huge difference in baseball between age 32 and age 34. The Astros owe Tejada $13 million dollars over the next two seasons, plus $4 million in deferred payments on his signing bonus. Tejada doesn't turn 34 until May, but that still means that the Astros are committing big money to a mid-30s player who can no longer play a key defensive position. And for a team whose best case scenario is 4th place, that's absolutely unacceptable. I wasn't such a fan of the Tejada trade when it happened, and now I think it's a terrible idea.
But could the Astros have known about the lie? Yes. In fact, they could have found out so easily, that it's a joke that no one figured this out sooner. Tejada's real birth date was on his green card and his driver's license! I guess the real culprits here are the Orioles, who signed Tejada to the contract in the first place. Before investing so much money in a player, I would run some background to make sure he was really as young as he claimed. And it seems like the most cursory of background checks would have revealed Tejada's real age.
I'm sure there will be more people, like Ed Wade, who just say, "Hey, he's a good player, and that's all that matters." That's a load of crap. With a baseball player -- any baseball player -- you can't predict the future. The only thing you can do is come up with a rough forecast based on a player's basica ttributes, with age being #1 among them. Many people think of baseball players as absolutely unique; like snowflakes. But in reality, it's very easy to make broad estimates of a player's future performance based on a few select criteria. And age is at the top of the list. A player's skills get worse as he gets older, and the closer you get to 40, the faster the decline occurs. You may not want to take such a dim view of Tejada's future, but I'm afraid that everything we know about baseball leads us to a fairly simple conclusion: players get worse as they get older, and every year -- especially every two years -- makes a difference.

  • The blog Florida Marlins Finances takes a close look at the financial records of the team and comes to a pretty strong conclusion: the team isn't nearly as bad off as they would like you to believe.
  • Former major leaguer Doug Glanville wrote this piece for the New York Times. You don't find many ballplayers who are this articulate.
  • These pictures of Hideki Okajima's delivery are fascinating -- unless human contortionists make you sick.
  • I love this t-shirt for many, many reasons.
Back soon, with words for the eternally grumpy Murray Chass.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rules is Rules

We're about two weeks into the season and have seen some interesting, if not earth-shattering, developments. The one that's struck me the most is the dispute over the third base coach's box. It seems that the umpires are going to be cracking down on more of the little things this year, or so it seemed when Yankees third base coach Larry Bowa was ejected from a game for standing outside the coach's box on the third base line. The umpire said that he warned him not to stand there, but Bowa (being Bowa) told him to shove off. The ump tossed Bowa and got a lot of people miffed.
The thing is that no one ever -- ever -- enforces the rule about the third base coach standing in the box. Very few coaches actually stand there; they move out to get away from errant line drives and to stand where the oncoming base runner can better see them. They've been doing this for years, and Bowa's ejection over this rule has to be the first in I don't know how long. The umpire claimed that he was just doing what the chief umpires were saying: enforce the rules, especially this one. And yet no other umpire has made a stink over the issue.
Stuff like this happens a lot, and it usually isn't a very big deal, but over time, it gets on my nerves.