The Gray Pages

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My first game

Oakland 12, Boston 5

Good news, bad news

Headline: Nats Trade Stanton ... to the Red Sox. The good news: the Red Sox need bodies in their bullpen. Bad news: concrete evidence about how dumb Frank Robinson is during games is arriving shortly.

Now, I want everyone to see why I hate the Nationals and love the Red Sox right now: his splits.
Mike Stanton should never, ever ever ever pitch to a right-handed batter. Lefties are batting .232 against him. Righties are batting .358. Yet Frank Robinson pitched Stanton JUST AS OFTEN against lefties as righties: 82 AB vs. left, 81 vs. right. Is this really that complicated?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dear Mr. Leavitt

Re: this

Your definition of "fan" requires the kind of thoughtless devotion that leads toward bumber stickers like "America: Love It Or Leave It." And if one is willing to watch one's team play terribly -- as was the case for that basketball game -- it means that one can't call himself a basketball fan at all. It wasn't basketball, it was a bunch of guys wearing red and calling themselves Badgers that you were rooting for. That's not a fan, that's a jingoist.

There are good games, and there are bad games. That one was an eyesore.

To: The Ham

My condolences on the AL West title. Red Sox Nation welcomes your support in the days ahead.

Stuff on TV

I'm watching the West Wing on Sundays, not the Simpsons. I'll catch it in reruns, thanks.

Everybody Hates Chris is even better than I hoped.

Arrested Development is the cruelest funniest thing on broadcast television.

Desperate Housewives, I like.

I almost literally can't believe Everybody Loves Raymond won the Emmy for Best Comedy. This is an award that has zero credibility. It's almost as absurd as the fact that the Simpsons got shafted year after year for even a NOMINATION for Best Comedy. And then, as if to double the insult, they created an animation category, as if an animated show couldn't POSSIBLY be the best comedy.

How I Met Your Mother (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS) is better than the typical laugh-track CBS Monday crap-o-rama. Passing grade.

It will be a cold, cold day in Hell when I watch "Commander in Chief." Can you imagine? A woman as President? Next, we'll elect a manatee! Yes, I can imagine a woman as President; I just don't know which one. Setting up a show in which the entire premise is that it's a proposterous fantasy that a woman wouldn't resign the office because a mean old Speaker of the House growls at her ... this is drama?! Next on ABC: a 4-year old becomes editor-in-chief of a big-city daily!

Fever Pitch

I rented it, for 99 cents plus tax, from the Box in Adams Morgan last weekend. I'm no fan of Jimmy Fallon, but it's not a terrible movie. And I'd say that they got most of the baseball stuff correct. And, for a mass-market, they sort of understood Red Sox fans. I'm happy to report that I didn't see myself in Jimmy's character because I've never, ever, ever had Red Sox bed sheets. I mean, come on.

On the other hand, the dramatic conclusion (SPOILER ALERT!!!) where Drew runs across the field and holds up game four of the ALCS while Sox fans look on happily was pretty ridiculous. I mean, we (er, they) were losing at the time, and Rivera was on the mound. I don't care if it's the most romantic moment in world history, no one's going to wait through that to see if they kiss.

Spoiler over.

I was pleased that they were good enough to edit Fenway to look like it would have in 1980, when Fallon's character went to his first game -- no Coke bottles, no seats, just a net over the Wall. Nice touch, but they would have lost me RIGHT THERE if they screwed that up.

In the credits, someone named "Lucciano" (or however you spell team President Larry's last name) was listed as an extra. Hmmmm.

It's funny -- there was a moment in the movie when Fallon is trying to explain to Barrymore why he cares so much about the Sox. Fallon dares her to explain if there's anything that she's cared about for 22 years, since she was a little kid. (Barrymore retorts: If I still wanted to marry Scott Baio, I think I'd want to kill myself.) That doesn't apply to me because I wasn't THAT big a fan at a young age. When I was in elementary and middle school, the Celtics were my world, not the Red Sox. Now, I did go to more Sox games than Celtics games but there were A LOT of factors in there distroring that fact's usefulness, most of all that Celtics tickets were essentially impossible to obtain.

I rooted for the Red Sox, and rooted hard. Dave Henderson's homerun in the 1986 ALCS (Game 5) was probably my happiest moment as a sports fan before last October. And I was so broken up over the 1986 World Series that I was actually a Cubs fan in the late 1980s. I think I really liked Mark Grace and Raphael Palmeiro, but I'm not sure why I was bouncing around teams so causally. Needless to say, it didn't stick.

I'm a bigger baseball fan with each passing year, so my current love of the sport isn't the same as Fallon's character's. For most people, I think, as they get older, they slowly shed the secondary sports in their lives and focus on one sport per season. The others are space-fillers until the lead sport returns. I shifted from the Celtics to the Red Sox about the time Larry Bird retired (I was touring Union College when I found out) (some people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot), and I haven't looked back ever since.

Go Sox.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Oh, how I love baseball

Nationals 1, Giants 0 with a couple of walks and a sacrifice fly. This pitcher's got nothing. Look at all those walks. We'll get to him.

Nationals 1, Giants 1 on a Barry Bonds* homerun to the upper deck of right field. And even as I hold my asterisk higher, I can't help but think: I just saw the 706th homerun in Barry Bonds's career.

Nationals 2, Giants 1 when Brad Wilkerson singles home Brian Schneider. Seems like this pitcher settled down quite a bit, seeing how it's now the fifth inning and two isn't a lot of runs. But a lead is a lead.

Ninth Inning: Bonds* due up 4th, meaning that the Nationals need to get one of the first three batters out to avoid facing him. Livian Hernandez, my wife's first Favorite Player(tm) on the mound, completely spent. The Giants try anything to get a runner on -- Randy Wynn and Omar Vizquel both bunt foul on the first pitches of their at bats. Vizquel eventually walks on some highly questionable calls. When did the strike zone get so small?

Two outs, Darth Vader walks up to the plate, manager Frank "Grady" Robinson strides to the mound where a conference agrees that Livian, who has thrown 121 pitches, should pitch to the most dangerous batter in baseball history. Sort of. Four balls, all of them probably outside but maybe not. Either way, There are now runners on first and second with the relatively dangerous Moises (or Moses, as the RFK announcer likes to call him) Alou at the plate and facing the corpse of an exhausted Hernandez.

Giants 4, Nationals 2 as the ball lands in the Nationals' bullpen in left field. Maybe the reliever who should have been in the game catches it, but it's hard to see.

Giants 4, Nationals 3 ... runners on first and second, two outs, bottom of the ninth inning. Brad Wilkerson at the plate, who gave the team a lead earlier in the evening. The third National run had scored on a sacrifice fly from highly touted young 'un Ryan Zimmerman, a ball that might have been a homerun in another park Then again, a lot of hits have died on the warning track tonight.

A long fly ball to deep left field ... and as the ball hangs in the air and 25,000 remaining fans hold their collective breath and the pitcher turns to watch and I hug my scorecard wondering, counting, watching ... I realize that I love baseball so much that it just doesn't matter to me whether the ball lands, and Wilkerson is the hero, or if it is caught, and Alou is the hero. And as if to mock my lusty neutrality of the outcome but heartfelt love of the game itself, the left fielder -- a defensive replacement of Bonds who has just entered the game and has certainly never seen a game at RFK before much less played here and is he fully stretched or is he even a good fielder, because I've never heard of this guy and even Bonds misplayed a fly ball a little in the first inning so maybe the ball carries a little funny here -- dives. And catches it. Three outs.

Take that, football.

Monday, September 19, 2005


If you're like me (and who isn't?), you've seen ads on television for a giant vinyl posters from a company called Fathead. They never, ever say what the cost of the product is in the ads, and the fact that the product is unavailable in stores made me believe that it was even more expensive than I might have guessed.

Simpsons moment:
Lisa: Dad, remember how you said going to Itchy and Scratchy Land would be too damned expensive?
Homer: Oh, everything's too damned expensive these days. Look at this bible I just got -- fifteen bucks! And talk about a preachy book...everybody's a sinner! [points to a verse] Except for this guy.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I've become cheap in my second quartile of life. Basically, I think everything should cost $3. If it's more than $3, I'm surprised. This does not bode well for me as an old man, since even at thirty, I marvel at how damned expensive everything is (except gas, which everyone else complains about). For example, when I was a kid, a pack of baseball cards -- 17 of 'em -- cost 35 cents. Today, a back of ten or nine or something costs $2. Now that's inflation. Too damned expensive.

But I gotta tell ya: $95 for a giant helmet strikes me as a lot of money.

Baseball books I've read recently

- Jim Bouton's Ball Four
- Buster Olney's Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty
- Alan Schwartz's The Numbers Game

This is probably the fifth time I've read Ball Four, and it's undoubtedly the best baseball book ever written. Olney's book is just fine, though Jason was wrong when he suggested I'd like Paul O'Neill better after reading the book than before. He's still a jerk (O'Neill), and if he were black instead of white, his so-called fiery tirades would have been seen as the sign of mental imbalance and possibly roid rage that they were instead of evidence of how much he cares. Think Milton Bradley or Jose Guillen. Jason, regardless of his race, would still be seen as a witty and urbane. And clever.

I recommend the Numbers Game to all reading this blog, including the divine Miss M, who remains steadfastly pro-bunt. It's really a book about people, not numbers. But I do have a good number to share: 715.

Baseball fans are familiar with 714 -- Babe Ruth's career homerun total. Here's the thing: he hit one more. It turns out that way back in ye olden days, game-ending homeruns were treated totally different than most sane people would treat them. Imagine tie game, heading in the bottom of the ninth inning. The lead off batter hits a double. The next batter hits the ball over the wall to win the game for the home team. Normal people would say that the second batter hit a home run. In ye olden days, said batter hit a double. Babe Ruth did this once, meaning that a correct career total would be 715 homeruns, not 714. On the other hand, them's was the rules, so it's not so terrible that baseball has protected Ruth's 714 as a sacred number. Heck, I don't know. But it's a good book, and you should read it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


There exists no consensus on what defines "most valuable" in the awarding of the Most Valuable Player award. At one extreme, Andre Dawson won the 1987 National League MVP while playing for a last-place team. On the other, in 1947, Joe DiMaggio defeated Ted Williams, despite the fact that Williams undoubtedly had the better offensive season: not only did he win the triple crown, but led DiMaggio in every offensive category except stolen bases (the Yankee Clipper had three). DiMaggio, on the other hand, was the better defender (and played a more important position), hit in 56 consecutive games, and played for a better team. The Yankees won the American League by 12 games over Detroit; Boston was 14 games behind.

Stat geeks will argue that the most valuable player is simply the best player in his respective league. Newer statistics like Win Shares or Value Over Replacement total up a player's contributions and allow fans to see who is most outstanding. A baseball player cannot improve the skills of the players around him. Why should that player be disqualified from the MVP award? It's not Derek Lee's fault that the Cubs pitchers have been injured -- he's had an amazing year regardless. The Cubs have disappointed their fans this year, but not because of Derek Lee.

I don't know what to think. The aforementioned Stat Geeks have concluded that clutch hitters do not exist. Great hitters are often clutch, but in the decades of professional baseball, there has yet to be a player who is always better in important situations than in all others. While this debate ranges, it is inarguable that whether or not clutch hitters exist, clutch hits do.

I just finished Alan Schwartz's outstanding book, The Numbers Game, which details the history of baseball's relationship to its statistics. Among the many revelations in the book are the many attempts to quantify clutch hitting. One fan divided each players' batting average with runners in scoring position by his overall batting average to see whose hits mattered. Another fan used a very complex formula (not revealed in the book) and zillions of computer simulations to determine how player's actions improved or damaged his team's chance of winning a particular game.

For example -- and I'm making up the numbers here -- at the start of the ninth inning of a tie game, both teams have a 50 percent chance of winning. If the first hitter for the visiting team hits a homerun, then there's an 80 percent chance his team will win. Using this idea, this player would earn 60 points because he's improved his team's odds of winning by 60 percent ((.80)-(.50))/.50=.60). A player who hits a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing by 3 runs earns a bazillion points because he's completely turned the game around -- a small chance at winning has become 100 percent. I love this idea, even though it's preposterously complex.

I also love this idea because it gets around what I've always called the Palmeiro Index -- certain players only seem to succeed when the game is, for all intents and purposes decided. A 9th-inning homerun in an 8-1 game doesn't really change the likelihood of whose team is going to win, and most statistics -- however simple or complex -- treat each event the same regardless of the score or the situation.

Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the American League. He's a great fielder at a tough position. He's leading his team in batting average, home runs, RBI, runs scored, and OPS. But David Ortiz has been more valuable.

Friday, September 09, 2005

About my predictions

April 1
May 20
May 31 (my list hopeless teams)
July 6
August 17

Teams I was very wrong about in April: Minnesota, Chicago White Sox, Oakland
Teams I was somewhat wrong about in April: Texas, Arizona, New York Yankees, Houston
Players I was very wrong about in April: Randy Johnson

Teams I was very wrong about in May: Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Oakland
Teams I was somewhat wrong about in May: New York Yankees, Milwaukee

Teams I was terribly, painfully shockingly wrong about on May 31: Houston, Oakland

Teams I was very wrong about in July: Atlanta
Teams I was somewhat wrong about in July: Washington, Philadelphia, Houston

Teams I was somewhat wrong about in August: None yet.

I'm particularly pleased by my preseason prediction of Cleveland as the AL Central winner. I don't think I went out on many a limb with my predictions with that one exception, and it worked out pretty well. No one had the White Sox as a great team this year, mostly because Jon Garland and Mark Buerle weren't supposed to be this good -- in other words, I'm not ashamed. I'm also proud of giving up on the Orioles after briefly overrating them. Good call the second time. Lastly, I've always thoguht highly of the Marlins, though sometimes I've had them out of the playoffs.

I am embarassed by my premature burial of the Yankees, the Astros, and the Athletics. And I overrated the Brewers, but if Ben Sheets has stayed healthy, I would have been right there, too.

Final predictions:

NLE: ATL, FLA, PHI, NYM, WAS (bottom three could finish in any order. Last place: 80 wins)
NLW: SD, SF, LA, ARI, COL (three-way tie for second place)

Wild Cards

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

Wild Cards: Cleveland, Florida

ALCS: Boston over Cleveland
NLCS: Atlanta over St. Louis
World Series: Braves defeat Red Sox

MVPs: David Ortiz, Andruw Jones
Cys: Bartolo Colon, Chris Carpenter

Interest to me, and me only

As of September 5, according to Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report, the Cardinals can't miss the playoffs. They run computer simulations for the remaining games of the season one million times and not once did the Cardinals miss out. Their magic number, nevertheless, is 10 today.

Smallest number on today's report: The Cinncinati Reds won the wild card in TWO of the million simulations. Keep hope alive, Junior.