Monday, May 25, 2009

BP Idol Entry: I Miss Skip & Pete

Author's Note: Recently, the Baseball Prospectus website asked for submissions for a new contest, Baseball Prospectus Idol. The editors would pick the ten best submissions, and the BP readers would vote off one writer each week. Unfortunately, I did not make the cut. Still, I was very proud of my submission. Since it won't be shown at BP, I'd like to introduce it here.

"Eleven to four
That's the score
And now the Braves
Will try for more."
-- Skip Caray

I can only think of four times over the past five years that I have been "giddy." Please understand that I am not a naturally giddy person; my level of emotion ranks somewhere between "shy and reserved" and "Vulcan." But I remember vividly what it was that made me, Sam the Eagle, giddy with joy like a little kid. It's no surprise that it was usually something to do with baseball: 

1. Yankee Stadium.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Baseball Book Review: Forever Blue by Michael D'Antonio

If any baseball figure represents pure evil in the hearts of longtime fans, it isn't Barry Bonds. Nor Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, or even the Chicago Black Sox. No, for many people, especially traditionalists, the most evil figure in baseball history is Walter O'Malley, who owned and operated the Dodgers for more than thirty years. What possible transgression could the owner of a baseball team commit that would surpass the damage done by the players listed above?
Simple. He moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
It is this one act that has defined him -- and damned him -- for many, many years. But O'Malley's true impact on the game of baseball was quite vast and covered many different aspects of the game. In Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Michael D'Antonio gets to the bottom of this familiar myth and tries to reveal the truth behind it. Yes, O'Malley did, as owner of the Dodgers, make the decision to move the team to Los Angeles. However, the characterization of him as an evil manipulator who broke the hearts of a neighborhood and ripped a civic institution away from a passionate community is the utter fiction. That the myth has survived so long proves the persistence of true hatred, especially when it comes to baseball.
For the most part, Michael D'Antonio does a fine job with his biography of O'Malley. He offers a concise view of the years leading up to his involvement with the Dodgers, astutely noting the most relevant stories and putting them together to create a realistic image of this now-mythical man. Granted, the end leaves much to be desired, but I'll get to that later.

Walter O'Malley came to own the Dodgers in a very roundabout way. As part of his job with the Brooklyn Trust Company, O'Malley was assigned to keep close tabs on one of the bank's biggest debtors: the Brooklyn Dodgers. The "Daffiness Boys" of the 1930's were rarely winners, but they always entertained the fans and soon became a part of the Brooklyn cultural identity. Unfortunately, the Dodger "daffiness" also applied to the team's business dealings off the field. The team's financial affairs were a mess. Not only that, but decision-making at the executive levels was thwarted by squabbling among the heirs of the team's previous owners. It's hard to imagine a more hopeless situation for a young, inexperienced lawyer such as Walter O'Malley.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The 15 Greatest Baseball Books

I recently had a reader ask for my list of the best baseball books ever written. Keeping in mind that there are many important books that I haven't read, I was still excited to be able to share some of my favorites. Summer reading season is approaching, and what better way is there to show your commitment to baseball than to haul a 600-page statistical tome to the beach. Sure, the people around you reading 150-page light romance novels may think you're a big geek. But as someone who likes to write lists of his favorite baseball books, I've come to terms with my geekiness.

The reason that this is a Top 15 list is that I started with a Top 10 list but couldn't bear to exclude any more books. Even so, I'm going to include a small list of "recommended reading" for some books that still didn't make the cut.
Before I get into specific books, I want to talk about a few staples of the baseball library that don't really belong on the list, for various reasons:
  • Baseball Encyclopedias. Baseball encyclopedias used to be an essential part of any fan's library. But with the emergence of the internet -- especially and the online baseball eden known as -- fans can get most of the stats in the encyclopedias for free online. There's also a Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia developed by Lee Sinins and sold as a computer program. I bought my last real baseball encyclopedia in 2003 (picking up the last edition of the Total Baseball series), but recently bought Sinins' program, which offers more options than your average website.
  • Annuals, or Season Previews: These are often fantastic and invaluable sources of information. But if I included them on the Top 15 list, they'd take up 5 spots. And an annual's value obviously isn't as timeless as that of any other book. Some exceptions would be the Bill James Baseball Abstracts published in the late 70's and early 80's. Now, the premier baseball annuals are those published by Baseball Prospectus every February. You can also get a great deal of info and analysis from The Hardball Times, which published two books this off-season: a recap of the 2008 season and a preview of the 2009 season.
  • Magazines/Journals/Periodicals: I'll admit that my experience with baseball as a scholarly enterprise is new, so I have very little experience with journals. I do keep some old periodicals, not just for nostalgia but also if there's a particularly interesting article in it. And I do have a few newspapers from notable days in baseball history, as well.
And with that said, on to the books!

15. Eight Men Out
by Eliot Asinof

This book has earned its status as one of the most celebrated sports books of all time. Asinof does an admirable job of playing the detective and bringing a fascinating group of people from different places into one coherent timeline.

When a Six-Run Inning Isn't the Pitcher's Fault

In Saturday's game versus the Rays, Jon Lester got off to a pretty good start. After giving up a two-run homer to Evan Longoria in the 1st, Lester regained his form and threw three scoreless innings. Until the 5th inning, that is, when everything fell apart. When the bleeding stopped, the Rays had scored six runs and had taken an 8-1 lead. The funny thing is, those six runs weren't really Lester's fault.
How can a pitcher give up six runs and not take most or all of the blame? You have to fault the defense, right? Nope, not their fault either. The Sox didn't commit an error in the inning, and they only made one little mistake that could be called a defensive "miscue". If not the defense, then, who was responsible for those six runs?

Manny Ramirez Suspended 50 Games by MLB

Manny Ramirez, the popular but mercurial slugger for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been suspended 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
The suspension was announced Thursday afternoon. A statement from Manny Ramirez claims that he received the substance in question from a physician in Florida. He claims that his use was not recreational, and that he was unaware that the drug was banned.
Early reports indicated that Manny would appeal the suspension, and there were even arrangements made for a hearing to be scheduled in Los Angeles. According to ESPN's Peter Gammons, though, Manny backed off at the last minute and declined to appeal. Ramirez has taken public responsibility for using the substance,
saying: "LA is a special place to me and I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I'm sorry about this whole situation. "
There has been no official word on what the substance was that triggered the suspension. But ESPN writers T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada -- famous for writing the Barry Bonds/BALCO expose Game of Shadows -- are reporting that it was hCG, a women's fertility drug. According to the American Pregnancy Association's
website, hCG is produced during pregnancy by cells that form the placenta. WebMD states that hCG levels can be tested to determine pergnancy but may also be affected by tumors.
That sounds innocent enough, but it fails to explain what an otherwise healthy adult male such as Ramirez would need them for. T.J. Quinn, speaking on an ESPNews
broadcast, states that despite its uses as a female fertility drug, hCG is used almost exclusively by steroid users. hCG helps renew the body's ability to make testosterone. This is made necessary when steroid users have been doping for a certain period of time, inhibiting their body's ability to produce testosterone naturally. Not only does hCG seem to indicate steroid abuse in the vast majority of cases, but the substance itself is banned under baseball's drug policy, since it does enhance the body's testosterone levels.
Despite an official statement both from
Ramirez and the MLB, there is some confusion as to how the substance was detected. It may or may not have come as part of baseball's random drug testing. Quinn reports that the hCG wasn't actually detected at first; his sources report that the only abnormality that registered was elevated levels of testosterone. This led investigators to determine what was responsible for the high levels of testosterone, and the use of hCG was indicated, reportedly, through documents uncovered during the process. It was this lack of a smoking gun, so to speak, that fueled speculation that Ramirez would lodge an appeal. His last-minute decision not to has raised some questions, with some speculating that Ramirez feared further incrimination during the appeals process. By declining an appeal, the matter is settled as far as the MLB is concerned.
This revelation has produced an instant outcry from the sports media. Peter Gammons
tells us Ramirez's side of the story (in a manner that makes him sound more like Ramirez's agent than a journalist), whereas Fox Sports contributor Ken Rosenthal has nothing but contempt for Manny, not only for using but for getting caught at a time when a player's bodily fluids are under incredible supervision.
Ramirez's suspension casts a harsh shadow over a Dodgers team whose 21-8 record is the best in baseball. Not only that, but the Dodgers recently set a new record by notching 13 straight wins at home to begin a season. They've won seven straight and sit a comfortable 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants. Ramirez was the engine behind the Los Angeles offense, hitting .348 with 6 homers, 20 RBI and an incredible .492 on-base percentage. The bulk of the playing time in left field will likely go to Juan Pierre, a prospect that should send a cold chill up the back of Dodger fans.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding this story. We'll have to keep looking to learn more and get some confirmation of the early reports coming from ESPN and T.J. Quinn. Either way, though, it looks like "Mannywood" will be out of action for nearly two months.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shut the f*** up about HGH

"There is no evidence that steroid use has altered home run hitting and those who argue otherwise are profoundly ignorant of the statistics of home runs, the physics of baseball, and of the physiological effects of steroids." -- Professor Arthur DeVany, "Steroids, Home Runs and the Law of Genius"
Quoted on
"A review of clinical studies among healthy, normally aging individuals found that hGH supplementation does not significantly increase muscle strength or aerobic exercise capacity." -- ( American Medical Association )
(, Stanford Medical School
The Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia(
The Mayo Clinic:
J.C. Bradbury:
Bradbury's follow-up:
Annals of Internal Medicine:
First-hand comments:
Reaction to Newsday article no longer online:
Where's the on-field proof that they actually work ... :
... for pitchers?:
And the New England Freakin' Journal of Medicine (
Pretty much every website that says HGH works is trying to sell it to you.
You better be damn sure about something before you stick a needle in someone's arm.
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. --Max Planck
Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof. --John Kenneth Galbraith
Major h/t to Eric Walker

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Know When to Move 'Em

This past Saturday, I got a chance to watch my Braves maul the Reds to the tune of a 10-2 loss. I managed to get good seats to the ballgame, right down the left field line. As I sat there baking in the afternoon sun, I got a close look at the Cincinnati ballclub. Unfortunately, getting a close look at Reds baseball is a mixed blessing.
Case in point: third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion is a 26-year-old, good-hitting fellow whose biggest problem is a tendency to throw the ball not quite close enough to the big fellow with a glove standing at first base. Currently in his fifth major league season, Encarnacion has none the less committed 77 errors in his big league career. He’s the only player in the league who gets his defense recorded on a spray chart.
His erratic arm is a serious problem, but I didn’t realize how serious it was until I got a new statistical take on it. John Dewan, with the help of Baseball Info Solutions, has developed a new method of rating defense: the plus-minus ratings. It’s much more accurate than simple fielding percentage, but is still simple enough for even a casual fan to understand. A player’s plus-minus rating is the number of plays the player makes that an average player at that position would not normally make (a positive number is good, zero is average, negative numbers are bad). The newest set of plus-minus ratings were published in The Fielding Bible: Volume II, the sequel to Dewan’s groundbreaking 2006 book The Fielding Bible. Simply put, Encarnacion doesn’t look good.
According to Dewan’s system, Encarnacion was the worst full-time defensive third baseman in baseball in 2008, with a plus-minus rating of -21. The next-worst was Melvin Mora, at -13. Encarnacion is also the worst in the MLB over the last three seasons; his rating of -51 is worse than Garrett Atkins (-42) and ex-third baseman Miguel Cabrera (-40). Dewan’s listings only go back to 2003, and it should be said that Encarnacion isn’t considered the worst defensive third baseman over that period (2003-2008); he’s the second-worst (Ty Wigginton’s -75 is far worse than Encarnacion’s -46).