11th and Washington

11th and Washington: May 2004

Monday, May 24, 2004

On fantasy trades and no-hitters

The Late Show's Top Ten Cool Things About Pitching A Perfect Game

As read by Randy Johnson on May 19, 2004:

10. "After this, I can go 0-15 for the year and honestly not give a crap."
9. "My pre-game dinner at Denny's tonight? On the house!"
8. "Shows everyone that even though I'm 40, I can still ... I'm sorry, I lost my train of thought."
7. "Cool to get congratulatory call from the President, even though he kept calling me "Larry."
6. "Can walk up to guys who've thrown no-hitters and whisper, 'Loser.'"
5. "All the pine tar I can eat!"
4. "Your catcher hugs you and it feels kinda ... nice"
3. "Maybe people will finally forget about the time I killed that bird."
2. "It's just one more thing about me that's perfect, am I right, ladies?"
1. "George Steinbrenner just offered me a billion dollars to sign with the Yankees."

Maybe two weeks before Randy Johnson's perfect game last week, a Red Sox fan in my fantasy league e-mailed to see if I'd trade him Curt Schilling for Johnson. He was wary of making the "homer" trade, thinking Johnson could be slightly better than Schilling this year. I thought otherwise, and turned it down.

Then Johnson went out and lost 1-0 to the Mets, pitching a great game. He followed that up with perfection.

My thinking was this: Schilling and Johnson can have very similar numbers on the same team, but now Schilling is on a better team. I figured his numbers had the potential to be better. Besides, Schilling's injury last year wasn't a common pitching injury -- he broke some bones in his hand on a hard hit up the middle. It wasn't a shoulder or elbow injury, no rotator cuff or ligament damage. If anything, it allowed him to rest his arm and throw less innings last year. Johnson's injury was different: It was his knee, and some reports say it's still suspect, that as long as the pain remains minor, or as long as he can pitch through it, he'll go on. But when that pain threshold gets too high, he's in trouble. Our league also doesn't have DL slots, a decision I abhor and a fight I've not been able to win with the majority of our 10 members voting against it. Without any DL slots and with our lineup settings, any injured players have to become part of our five-man bench. So if you have four injured hitters and two of your bench spots are taken up by pitchers, then you've got to cut somebody just to get another hitter to put into your lineup. So I couldn't take the chance that I'd be trading my No. 1 pitcher (and one of my three keepers from last year) for a very similar pitcher on a weaker team who, if he went down, would leave me without a No. 1 starter. Yes, if Schilling goes down, I have the same problem, but at least that's one that didn't have the warning signs of a potential Johnson injury.

* * *

As some writers and announcers are fond of saying, for the 6,706th time since the team's inception in 1962, a Mets pitcher failed to throw a no-hitter. Tom Glavine came close yesterday, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning and giving up the only hit in his 4-0 complete-game win with two outs in the eighth.

Four outs away. Again.

And, for the record, I was offered Glavine in a trade in the same fantasy league about a month ago. Turned that one down too. Decided to keep Juan Pierre.

I've watched so many Mets games get past the fifth with a 0 in the hits column for the opposing team. I once remained in the same horizontal position on the couch one night as David Cone mowed down the Phillies or the Braves or whoever it was in the late 80s that he nearly no-hit. I didn't move until he gave up that first hit, and by then I really had to go to the bathroom. I've seen two minor-league no-hitters in person, but I've yet to watch one in the majors even on TV -- most likely owing to the fact that the Mets are usually the only games I watch from the beginning and, well, you know. I was at the ballpark on September 2, 1990, when Dave Steib threw one for the Blue Jays, but that was in Cleveland and I was at Shea.

Maybe I'll see one tomorrow night. I'll be at Shea when Steve Trachsel, who threw one of the Mets' two one-hitters in three games last year, faces the Phillies. It's my fourth Mets game this season ... and my fourth Steve Trachsel start this season. He's quickly become the pitcher I've seen throw the most innings in person in my lifetime. Last offseason, I discovered Retrosheet and began the process of cataloging ever major league game I've attended. I remembered many of them offhand, not by date, but by pitcher, home run, event, etc. I remembered Lenny Dykstra's inside-the-park home run for the Phillies against the Mets, and found the date of July 24, 1990, in a Phillies media guide I have. I recalled Joe McEwing and Mike Piazza homering off Randy Johnson on a Sunday afternoon at Shea in 2000, so I browsed for that box score. I consulted friends and family who attended certain games for their recollections, and I dug out old scrapbooks for ticket stubs. I'm certain I got every one, which is now up to 85 games since my first one in August 1983, and I would also count the 1989 Mets-Yankees exhibition game at Shea at the end of spring training, since it was two major league teams in a major-league park close enough to the regular season, but I can't find a box score. Because I can't remember exactly when I got to the park, or if we left early, or when I was in the bathroom and missed an at bat or four, I used artistic license to just count all stats from every game for which I had a ticket. If I was in the ballpark for an inning, I was in the ballpark for five innings, and the stats count.

So Trachsel leads in individual innings pitched, and Mike Piazza has both games played (24) and at bats (91). I've yet to scour the data for leaders in all the other categories, but I do know this:

• I've been to 16 ballparks, including the now-retired (and, in some cases, razed) Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, County Stadium in Milwaukee and Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

• The Mets are 21-22 in the 43 games I've seen them play. The Yankees are second with 22 (14-8), the Phillies third with 11 (4-7). The Braves and Pirates, with nine each, lead the teams more than a two-hour drive from the Jersey Shore.

• I've seen all 30 teams play at least once.

• At 3-0, the Royals are the only team undefeated in more than one game I've attended.

• The Dodgers are the opposite at 0-3.

• The Brewers are 2-0 as a National League team (a win each at County Stadium and Wrigley Field), 0-1 as an American League team (at Yankee Stadium).

• After attending one game in 1983 (Yankees 2, Angels 1, August 21) and two in 1985 (the Mets split at Shea, losing to Cincinnati and beating Chicago), I've seen at least one game every year since 1988.

• The 12 games I attended in 2000 are the most in one season, followed by 1990's 10.

• July's 21 games is tops by month, followed by June's 16 and September's 15.

• I've seen four October games, two of them postseason (the Mets' Game 1 NLCS loss in Atlanta in 1999 and their Game 5 NLCS clinching victory over St. Louis to send them to the 2000 Subway Series).

Tomorrow we'll see if the Mets can break .500 for 2004 and reach .500 for my career, and if

Trachsel can improve upon his 2.48 ERA, his 1.20 WHIP and his 2-2 record in 40 innings over six starts.

And just maybe a no-hitter.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 14, 2004

On whining Yankees and intentional walks

Why does everything have to be a conspiracy for the Yankees? Derek Jeter has his shoulder separated in an accident in Toronto last year, and players -- even their upstanding manager Joe Torre -- question whether the Blue Jays catcher may have intentionally driven his shoulder into Jeter's.


Then Jorge Posada accidentally has his nose broken while sliding into second. The Angels' shortstop's relay throw to first in a double-play attempt is low, it ricochets off Posada's hand and hits him in the face, requiring surgery. And Torre questions why "he had to go so low" with the throw.


Joe was a catcher, maybe he doesn't realize that it's a bang-bang, split-second decision -- nay, a reaction -- in taking the toss from the second baseman, making the pivot, and firing to first in hopes of getting two outs on one pitch. Like there's any way the Angels middle infielders were thinking, "If we get a double-play ball, I'm going to try to sidearm the throw to first in hopes of embedding the ball in some guy's face."
I doubt that.

* * * * *

What to do about Barry Bonds? For some reason, this guy has become the most feared hitter since ... I don't know. Is it the Babe? Is it Ted Williams? Not even Ted Williams was walked this much in his career. There's talk here and there of whether or not the rules should be -- or could be -- changed to at least discourage intentional walks, if not outlaw them.

I think there's a simple solution, along the lines of those who say ban them outright. What MLB can do is make a rule prohibiting catchers from standing up before a pitch has crossed the plate (or at least before it has left the pitcher's hand). Sort of like making the the catcher's box (see the June 27, 2000 note) extend upward, rather than just horizontally on the ground. A catcher cannot stand up to call for four balls outside the strike zone. That way, an intentional walk has to start with the pitcher in his crouch. Managers won't order pitchers to throw three feet outside, because the catcher won't be able to get to it as easily and it increases the risk of a wild pitch. Because so many intentional walks happen with runners already on base -- often on second and/or third -- a wild pitch would be very dangerous.

Changing the rule to prevent catchers from standing could essentially do away with the standard intentional walk as we know it and force pitchers to pitch around a batter if they wish to walk him. In doing so, this would increase the chances of a potential mistake -- a change up hanging over the heart of the plate that could be crushed into the bleachers. Sure, many of the best control pitchers can fire one six inches outside that Bonds or any other hitter wouldn't think of touching, but there will still be enough who come close enough to induce swings or throw wild pitches outside or in the dirt. It'll make the game more exciting and intentional walks less obvious.

At least that's the way I see it.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Green Fields of the Mind

I've always loved this piece, so here it is now on my site.

The Green Fields of the Mind

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn't this summer, but all the summers that, in this my fortieth summer, slipped by so fast. There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that I was investing more and more in baseball, making the game do more of the work that keeps time fat and slow and lazy. I was counting on the game's deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight. I wrote a few things this last summer, this summer that did not last, nothing grand but some things, and yet that work was just camouflage. The real activity was done with the radio--not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television--and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind. There, in that warm, bright place, what the old poet called Mutability does not so quickly come.

But out here, on Sunday, October 2, where it rains all day, Dame Mutability never loses. She was in the crowd at Fenway yesterday, a gray day full of bluster and contradiction, when the Red Sox came up in the last of the ninth trailing Baltimore 8-5, while the Yankees, rain-delayed against Detroit, only needing to win one or have Boston lose one to win it all, sat in New York washing down cold cuts with beer and watching the Boston game. Boston had won two, the Yankees had lost two, and suddenly it seemed as if the whole season might go to the last day, or beyond, except here was Boston losing 8-5, while New York sat in its family room and put its feet up. Lynn, both ankles hurting now as they had in July, hits a single down the right-field line. The crowd stirs. It is on its feet. Hobson, third baseman, former Bear Bryant quarterback, strong, quiet, over 100 RBIs, goes for three breaking balls and is out. The goddess smiles and encourages her agent, a canny journeyman named Nelson Briles.

Now comes a pinch hitter, Bernie Carbo, onetime Rookie of the Year, erratic, quick, a shade too handsome, so laid-back he is always, in his soul, stretched out in the tall grass, one arm under his head, watching the clouds and laughing; now he looks over some low stuff unworthy of him and then, uncoiling, sends one out, straight on a rising line, over the center-field wall, no cheap Fenway shot, but all of it, the physics as elegant as the arc the ball describes.

New England is on its feet, roaring. The summer will not pass. Roaring, they recall the evening, late and cold, in 1975, the sixth game of the World Series, perhaps the greatest baseball game played in the last fifty years, when Carbo, loose and easy, had uncoiled to tie the game that Fisk would win. It is 8-7, one out, and school will never start, rain will never come, sun will warm the back of your neck forever. Now Bailey, picked up from the National League recently, big arms, heavy gut, experienced, new to the league and the club; he fouls off two and then, checking, tentative, a big man off balance, he pops a soft liner to the first baseman. It is suddenly darker and later, and the announcer doing the game coast to coast, a New Yorker who works for a New York television station, sounds relieved. His little world, well-lit, hot-combed, split-second-timed, had no capacity to absorb this much gritty, grainy, contrary reality.

Cox swings a bat, stretches his long arms, bends his back, the rookie from Pawtucket who broke in two weeks earlier with a record six straight hits, the kid drafted ahead of Fred Lynn, rangy, smooth, cool. The count runs two and two, Briles is cagey, nothing too good, and Cox swings, the ball beginning toward the mound and then, in a jaunty, wayward dance, skipping past Briles, feinting to the right, skimming the last of the grass, finding the dirt, moving now like some small, purposeful marine creature negotiating the green deep, easily avoiding the jagged rock of second base, traveling steady and straight now out into the dark, silent recesses of center field.

The aisles are jammed, the place is on its feet, the wrappers, the programs, the Coke cups and peanut shells, the doctrines of an afternoon; the anxieties, the things that have to be done tomorrow, the regrets about yesterday, the accumulation of a summer: all forgotten, while hope, the anchor, bites and takes hold where a moment before it seemed we would be swept out with the tide. Rice is up. Rice whom Aaron had said was the only one he'd seen with the ability to break his records. Rice the best clutch hitter on the club, with the best slugging percentage in the league. Rice, so quick and strong he once checked his swing halfway through and snapped the bat in two. Rice the Hammer of God sent to scourge the Yankees, the sound was overwhelming, fathers pounded their sons on the back, cars pulled off the road, households froze, New England exulted in its blessedness, and roared its thanks for all good things, for Rice and for a summer stretching halfway through October. Briles threw, Rice swung, and it was over. One pitch, a fly to center, and it stopped. Summer died in New England and like rain sliding off a roof, the crowd slipped out of Fenway, quickly, with only a steady murmur of concern for the drive ahead remaining of the roar. Mutability had turned the seasons and translated hope to memory once again. And, once again, she had used baseball, our best invention to stay change, to bring change on.

That is why it breaks my heart, that game--not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

From A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti, © 1998 by A. Bartlett Giamatti.

Labels: , ,