Friday, May 16, 2003
Til Death Do Us Part
In their 46th year of marriage, Los Angeles Dodger fans are like the guy slouched in the living room La-Z-Boy, waiting for the Dodgers to bring them a beer.
Do they love their team? Sure. You don't come this far on physical attraction alone. And when the team puts on something seductive, like tonight's T-shirt night at Dodger Stadium against those bellwether Florida Marlins, well ... Dodger fans won't need Rafael Palmeiro's Viagra to get out of their chairs for that one. For the baseball-attending community, giveaways are pure sex. (First use of that word on the site - let's see how many readers I draw from Google searches.)
But some of the old charms don't work the way they used to. A matchup between two of the greatest pitchers of this generation, Greg Maddux and Kevin Brown - both pitching for contending teams, on an off-night for the Lakers - only drew a half-full Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.
Love has as many nuances as there are colors; it's a complicated thing. Love for a baseball team is no different. A new book released this year,
The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together by Michael Shapiro, explains this most effectively.
Shapiro articulates that while no one in Brooklyn was actively kicking the Dodgers out of the house, few were out buying roses to romance them into staying. On Opening Day 1956, mere months after the Dodgers' long-awaited World Series title - the kiss at the end of the rainbow - Brooklyn fans slid back in their a rut:
In his box overlooking his stadium, the team's owner, Walter O'Malley, saw a sight far more disturbing (than a loss to the Phillies). All through the winter and on into the spring, the team had been pushing tickets for Opening Day. The ticket people worked the phones, calling likely buyers. But only twenty-four thousand people had come to Ebbets Field to see the championship banner raised. And while losing to the Phillies was the stuff of sighs and rolled eyes - Philadelphia had finished fourth in 1955, 21 1/2 games out - the empty seats were, for O'Malley, further evidence that he had not been hasty when he had announced nine months earlier, in August of 1955, that the team would play only two more seasons at Ebbets Field.
The strength in the approach of Shapiro, who was born in Brooklyn in 1952, is that he does not attempt to demonize O'Malley or the fans for their role in the breakup of the Brooklyn Dodger marriage. Instead, Shapiro focuses carefully on the human frailties in the story, convincing us that a team and its city may love each other without ever completely understanding each other.
A marriage can break apart without husband and wife really knowing why it did. Honestly, the Dodgers and their city needed marriage counseling, but no one was there to provide it.
As you read the book, you are struck by the total absence of alarm in Brooklyn as O'Malley pursued a new stadium to replace Ebbets Field. Shapiro laces several vignettes of the lives of individual Dodger fans throughout the book, and while the evidence is anecdotal, the people cross the cultural and generational spectrum of the city. The constant: these people had bigger worries in their lives than the fate of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's clear that the life of the 1950s, that may seem so simple to us now (particularly to those of us who weren't born until the 1960s or later) was in fact plenty complicated.
Certainly, many will accuse O'Malley of greed, of putting his own concerns ahead of the people of Brooklyn, and of lying to the people to service those concerns. Shapiro writes:
But mendacity is a character flaw, not a crime. Walter O'Malley, however, was also a limited man. And it is in that limitation, not in his avarice or deceit, that his sin resides. O'Malley should have never owned a baseball team because he could not see what he had. He could not see that a baseball team is more than a business, that it is a topic of conversation. People pay to go to baseball games, and if they do not go in sufficient numbers the person who owns that team will not make money. But people also talk about the games and about the team. They think about the team and wonder about the team and share these thoughts with each other. Walter O'Malley, who sat apart from the "little people" in his private box, did not understand this. This did not make him unique among team owners. He was just the first to be so obvious about it.
What's obvious to me now from Shapiro's book is that O'Malley was just as insecure about his life and work as "the little people." In his mind, he was fighting for survival as much as the average working Joe in Brooklyn. And you can understand it. I'm a hell of a lot better off than millions of people in the world financially, but worse off than a lot of others, and there isn't a day that goes by right now that I don't question my financial well-being.
As the leader of an industry and a cultural treasure, perhaps O'Malley had more responsibility to think beyond his own concerns. But he was human. It may not be a consolation in Brooklyn today, but it is an explanation.
Robert Moses was human too. Moses had many titles in the New York political world - all of them appointed, none that he was elected to - but the best characterization of his position is that to him, New York City was his own SimCity game. The metropolis was his to redesign as he saw fit. And in this story, Shapiro tells us, Robert Moses is the force acting on the Brooklyn Dodger marriage beyond anyone's control.
Significant portions of Shapiro's book tend to the poker game between O'Malley and Moses over where in New York a new Dodger stadium could be built. The final revelation is that Moses had kept a card up his sleeve for nearly 20 years - a site in Flushing Meadows for an all-purpose stadium and sports center. Moses wanted to build there, and held such power that O'Malley's Dodgers and their fans would almost have needed a love that transcended all others to overcome his will.
Looking back, the people of New York would have probably have rather had the Dodgers in Flushing Meadows than in Los Angeles. But Moses was not inclined to help find a solution for O'Malley - again for reasons that may be nothing more than human, albeit the dark side of human. Shapiro saves his harshest writing in the book for his conclusions on Moses:
Robert Moses is the bad guy in this story. He was arrogant, imperious and cruel.
It was more than O'Malley could bear. As 1957 turned into 1958, O'Malley and the Dodgers left their fans in the living room, and moved on to their second marriage.
Shapiro makes no attempt to adapt his tale to the fan-team relationships of today, but I feel that there is a relevant connection. There are so many seen and unseen factors in any bond, whether it's the slightly over-comfortable love of the Dodgers and Los Angeles or the tattered remains of the passion that was once the Montreal Expos. Dodger fans have had plenty to complain about in recent years, but lest we forget, even without a World Series in 15 years, plenty to celebrate as well. Expo fans, well, cops should be hauling their spouse to the police station for domestic abuse - which is a shame, because the Expos are a great team to watch.
Like I said, some good marriage counseling would have done wonders in Brooklyn, and it could do wonders just about anywhere. Consider me a big believer in preventative or maintentance therapy for baseball teams and their fans.
Unfortunately, there's no one around today to provide it.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Once Around the Park ...
--Picking up where he left off in his last Dodger Stadium appearance, Brown fielded a comebacker with his bare hand in the third inning, when he could have easily used his glove. (He made four barehanded plays May 4.) He finally got around to trying out the leather in the seventh.
--The last two games I've attended have been Brown games. Total game time has been 4:12.
--Brown has also helped me inch my attendance record above .500 and above my non-attendance record for the first time this season, at 4-3.
--Maddux had trouble in the first inning, which isn't that unusual - check out his ERA and OPS stats and you'll see it's always been his worst inning. But Maddux never really got it together. In the second inning, he threw a first pitch to Adrian Beltre in the one place we know that Beltre can hit - in the up-and-in quadrant of home plate.
--Dodger Stadium concession stands will sell you beer in a plastic bottle, but if you buy a bottle of water, they will not let you keep the plastic cap. They do this because security is afraid you'll throw the cap at someone. They're adamant about this. Kind of ridiculous, don't you think? Well, that ain't all. If you buy a bottle of water from a vendor roaming the aisles, they do let you keep the cap. We live in quite an intelligent age.
--Speaking of which ... a woman three rows behind us at the game heckled Gary Sheffield at every at bat by yelling, "Get a job!" Very strange. Was she a member of Sha Na Na? Unless she intended her heckle to make Sheffield step out of the box and wonder, "What the hell is she talking about?" I have no idea what her train of thought was. I felt like turning around and yelling at her, "Attend a sporting event!"
--Robert Fick's throwing error in the seventh inning produced the fifth Dodger run, but Paul Lo Duca produced the throwing error. With runners on first and second and one out, Shawn Green grounded to second baseman Marcus Giles. Lo Duca stopped in his tracks, causing Giles to throw to first to get Green and keep the double play alive. Lo Duca then hung out between first and second, hoping to produce a rundown that would allow Cora to score. It was pretty hopeless, but it worked - Fick threw the ball in the dirt 10 feet from second base. Never give up - never surrender.
--My brother Greg didn't understand why, when the Dodgers put on the scoreboard the statistics of a pitcher who has pitched, say, 6 1/3 innings, they print it as 6.1 innings. If it's 6 2/3 innings, they print it as 6.2. This disturbed him. But when I pointed out that this was a clever combination of Base-10 and Base-3 mathematical systems, he seemed much more accepting. (You may have to be in your thirties to appreciate this.)
Still holding your breath?
With Kevin Brown's strikeout of Greg Maddux to end the top of the fifth inning Wednesday night, the Dodgers completed exactly 25 percent of their season.
Brown is still standing. The walls and furniture of visiting locker rooms across North America may not still be standing, but Brown is.
In 2003, Brown is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA. Next week, Brown will probably match his totals for all of 2002 in games started and innings pitched. Coming off a 3-4, 4.81 season, Brown has emerged as a leading candidate for the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.
His biggest competition? Darren Dreifort.
Dreifort is still standing, too. At 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA, Dreifort's 2003 stats are not as impressive as Brown's. But Dreifort, of course, had an infinite ERA in 2002 - so to reach 3.95 is actually quite a reduction.
Dreifort is allowing an OPS of .674. Brown is allowing an OPS of .561.
Dreifort is giving the Dodgers a steady 6.16 innings per start. Brown is giving the Dodgers 6.34 innings per start worthy of an ace.
The big question, of course, remains how the remaining 74.7 percent of the season will unfold for Brown and Dreifort. Brown really looks comfortable right now; he hit 95 mph on the Dodger Stadium radar gun in the seventh inning Wednesday night, just as he did in the eighth inning May 4. There is no semblance of a pitcher with ailments. Dreifort appears the more fragile pitcher - more because of his knee than his arm right now, but handle-with-caresque just the same.
But what do you think about the smaller question? If their seasons played out the way they have so far, who would be named Comeback Player of the Year? The guy who went from injury-plagued to great, or the guy who went from shelved to good?
Survey says ... Brown. His final numbers would shine, and the difference between Brown's statistics from 2002-2003 is a plenty substantial indication of how major his ailments were. I think Brown would get points for even attempting to pitch in 2002.
In contrast, a Dreifort that finishes with 10 wins and an ERA in the neighborhood of 4.00 would get a tip of the cap for his efforts, but not much more. Brown's stats would make Dreifort's look mediocre, and I don't think anyone wants to give the reward to a mediocre pitcher - especially one that gets paid like he's an ace. A sharper contrast will be drawn between the 2003 performances of Brown and Dreifort than their 2002 injuries.
What could hurt Brown's candidacy?
If the next thing he slams with a bat in a locker room isn't a shelf, but a reporter.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Scroll down to read Robert's May 13 entry on Priorities & Frivolities, Little Ball Strikes Back. Robert has joined the crusade against the tyranny of little ball, and I'm glad to have him as an ally.
There is a time and place for the bunt, to be sure, but the Dodgers can't afford to have their best hitters giving up sure outs, trading potential big innings for small ones. With your fastest runner on base, with your best contact hitter at the plate, with no outs, in the first inning, you do not bunt.
Plunging Back to Reality ... It's Not That Bad
The Dodger bullpen has completed its run to normal from superhuman. First, it was the four-run sleestaks it allowed in back-to-back seventh innings in Montreal. Then, the seven-run puffnstuff that came across in the ninth inning Monday against Atlanta.
Tuesday against the Braves, the bullpen arrived safely in reality when it allowed runs in an eighth inning for the first time since April 7 - a streak of 31 games.
Before Tuesday's game, I updated this chart - this will be the last time you see it:
Dodger pitching in the eighth inning, 2003
Here, including Tuesday's game, is the Dodgers updated score-by-innings:
Opponents ...17 13 16...17 16 13...17 04 11...02 01 03...00 - 130
Dodgers .......11 09 10...11 11 23...34 23 13...01 00 00...01 - 147
The team still dominates the latter innings, but not as magnificently. And the deficit early on remains bulbous.
With Tuesday's loss, the Dodgers fell to 20-20. This marks a good point to introduce a letter I recieved from Rishi Nigam, a self-described "Dodger fan in exile in, of all places, New Jersey." Here's an excerpt (it arrived before Tuesday's game):
I'm fond of tracking seasons as they move along by breaking them into segments. I feel as though the National League Wild Card team is likely to need 96 wins (which, as it turns out is effectively what the Giants had last year, since they didn't ever play the rained out game with Atlanta). To accomplish that over a 6-month season, a team needs to be 30 games over .500, which translates to 5 wins over .500 per month. Clearly, the Dodgers didn't do that in April.
However, starting May at exactly .500, that means they would have to be 30 games over in 5 months, or 6 games over per month, which is not really materially different from the 5 games over pace needed over a full season. So, given that they are now only 1 game over for May, that means that they need to be 5 over in the final 16 games of the month, or a record of 11-5 (which is actually a little better than they need, but we'll err on the side of caution). If they were to end the month by treading water instead of making a run, they'd need to be 7 or 8 games over per month from there on out, which seems like a tall order.
All of that said, I feel like the Dodgers are now entering a critical stretch in which they have to find a way of playing .667 ball for the rest of the month. The pitching staff is doing everything it can to make this team a contender. And I agree with you that more home runs would go a long way to bringing things around, but Green and Beltre often look totally feckless at the plate, getting behind and swinging at balls they have no business trying to hit. Green has his moments and will turn things around. Someone needs to work with Beltre on pitch recognition. He should be fined each time he swings at breaking ball outside and in the dirt for strike 3. He makes too many opposing pitchers look like Cy Young. And while we're fining people, let's start fining anyone on the team who makes a first pitch out. Okay, maybe that's too reactionary, but the offense needs to step up against the likes of Florida, Colorado and Milwaukee.
Sorry if I sound too down on the team. I think they're still finding their feet. Green will be fine as the season starts to go along. McGriff and LoDuca are coming around. I'd like to see more aggressiveness like last night when Izturis went to second on a ball that could easily have just been a single. I'd like to see Roberts try stealing third with fewer than 2 outs on occasion.
This team is half a run of offense per game away from being a force. They just need to find their feet before its too late. All of this said, I'm not silly enough to think that if they finish the month 4 games over, say, that they'll be out of the race. But games now count every bit as much as games in August and September, and the Dodgers have certainly found it more difficult to win late in the season in recent years.
Okay, I'll stop now, but I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have on the points I've raised.
Here's a portion of my reply:
Your logic about games over .500 per month makes sense to me. Without having thought about it in those terms, it's been clear to me that any team can afford to have one lousy month and still make the playoffs - but really, only one lousy month. More than that, and you have to play about .750 ball in the other months, which is asking quite a bit.
However, a .500 record in a month is not lousy.
The Dodgers actually went 32-23 (.582) in the final two months last season, which is good - they lost out because the Giants played out of their minds (36-18, .667). You probably looked this up already, but just for my reference:
Dodgers 2002 - Games Over .500
... and they missed the playoffs by 3 1/2 games.
So there's no doubt that even if they emerge slightly below your May 31 target, they'll still be in at least the wild-card race - just as they were able to fall out of the playoffs after leading the division around the All-Star Break.
As far as this month goes, I am very interested in how they do in their six games against Colorado. I had no expectations for the Rockies this year, but they certainly don't appear to be doormats. If nothing else, I'd like to see the Dodgers leave May firmly in second place in the NL West.
I don't have specific comments about the Dodger offense to add in response to yours beyond what I've written on the website. Just to reiterate my current thinking ... as exciting as it was to see Izturis stretch into that double, the Dodgers can make the playoffs even if he generally holds at first on that play. Whereas, I don't think they can make the playoffs if they don't average close to a home run per game. The Dodgers' current speed and power production may both be below the team's capabilities, but improvement in the power area will go a lot further. I think their problems are less about turning singles into doubles than about turning outs into home runs.
All the best,
To add to one of my above points, while it's true that a team can have a lousy month and still content, it's also true that a team usually compensates for that with an exceptional month. In other words, Rishi's barometer is useful to tell you whether you're on pace, but I don't think that even good teams really adhere to it. I invite someone to follow up on this, but I'm fairly confident that a playoff team usually has at least one .667 month, which I would call exceptional.
The Giants, of course, have already done this. The Dodgers, I believe, are capable.
This is a chart of the Dodgers' 2003 record in games decided by x number of runs:
Games decided by ...
You might take from this that the Dodgers need to improve their record in one-run and two-run games in order to make a run, but more than one analyst has determined that isn't really the case.
Here's an excerpt from Rob Neyer's ESPN.com column before Tuesday's game:
So what explains the Braves' apparent over-achievement, as suggested by their run differential? Simple: they're 10-1 in games decided by one or two runs. And now, that's not going to continue. As I've written (and "proved") many times, "winning the close ones" is not the hallmark of a great team. The hallmark of a great team is winning the blowouts.
I searched but did not immediately find one of Neyer's many proofs. But I did find an article by Eddie Epstein that helps. I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but here are the key points.
1) "Very good teams had a worse record in one-run games than their overall record."
2) "When you look at the data, relatively speaking, it's really the bad teams that win the close games."
3) "When a game is close, the final outcome becomes more dependant on luck than it does when the game is not close. Luck, by definition, doesn't really favor anyone."
Thus, the fact that the Giants are 7-2 in one-run games and the Dodgers are 7-8 would not make the Giants better, it would make the Giants luckier. That the Giants are 12-4 in games decided by two runs or less, while the Dodgers are 8-12, indicates something similar.
If you've listened to Ross Porter at all this season, you've had it ingrained in your head that the Dodgers are leading the majors in one-run games for the third straight year. If you buy the above logic, the Dodgers are therefore dependent on luck more than any other team.
Discussion of luck has entered into my columns more than once; I simply think it's unavoidable. With so many close games, the victor is not always going to be the better team. You do make some of your own breaks, but you don't make all of them. That's why a coin doesn't land on heads 81 times out of 162 flips.
To date, the Dodgers' strength of schedule is .500; the Giants' is .503.
The Dodgers are 12-8 (.600) in games decided by three runs or more. The Giants are 13-8 (.619) in games decided by three runs or more.
To me, this is a potential indicator of how close these teams are. With a little luck - and yes, some more Dodger home runs - this will be a race.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Reason to Take Colorado Seriously?
On May 10, Thoughts From Diamond Mind speculated about whether Colorado is a contender or pretender. Here is an excerpt:
Colorado has already played 20 games against teams that were projected by most people to finish first or second in their division, plus three more against the Cubs, owners of the top spot in the Central. A near-.500 record and a run margin of +2 indicates that they're holding their own against the league's best, and that augurs well for the rest of the season. Things won't get easier right away ... but if the Rockies are still in the vicinity of .500 on June 2nd, they could be a team to watch.
The Dodgers play Colorado six times in a 10-day stretch starting May 20.
Things I thought would never happen, or at least counted on never happening:
Monday night, Eric Gagne faces five batters and allows four runs.
This morning, I scrape the side of my car against a post while parking.
Maybe I can get Gagne to pay for the damage.
This was the first car mishap that I've caused since 1985, and there was no reason for it other than there was a tight space in a parking lot that was one-third full that I thought I could squeeze into. But I didn't squeeze enough.
You should see the scrape. It's bigger than home plate and just as white on my dark blue car.
I'm sitting here now thinking, how can I make this relevant to my readers? Lots of superficial comparisons pop into my head, like silly mistakes on the basepaths or walking the pitcher leading off an inning. But those don't take the immediate toll on your wallet the way a car accident does.
One way that this relates to baseball is that I'm trying to make myself feel better after a bitter experience. That's nothing new when it comes to rooting for the Dodgers - Monday night was no different. The entire baseball season is a quest for perspective.
So here goes.
Everyone blows it sometimes. Me. Gagne. Everyone.
Sometimes you're just gonna blow it for no good reason, but sometimes you've gotten by for no good reason.
There will come a time when the cost of this calamity will be a faint memory, with no emotional charge at all.
Okay, that's helping, but not enough.
I think I've stumbled onto the problem - and I think it actually does relate to the Dodgers. When something like this happens, you can have all the confidence in the world that it was an aberration, as Gagne surely has about himself and I basically do about myself. And yet, you're still staring into uncertainty. You don't really know whether your mishap is merely the sign that you're human, or the sign that you're Adrian Beltre. You don't know whether your run of misfortune is over, or whether it has just begun - and whether it will get a lot worse.
So what do you do? You refocus. You become more careful. You can't relax quite as much as perhaps you were, but you try to benefit from this new attention to the fundamentals.
And then you realize that, although Gagne and Beltre look better financially today than I do, their tightrope is a lot smaller to tiptoe across. Their passion and livelihood are at stake with every bad moment that can become a bad streak.
For me, it's just my livelihood, to the extent that dollars paid out for car repairs affect it. I will say that my passions have taken their own beatings from time to time, but it serves as a reminder that when things go wrong for ballplayers, no matter how good they are, they probably care and question themselves a hell of a lot more than we realize.
For me, overall, life is good. Today, in fact, is my wife's birthday, and though this car accident could have spoiled my celebration of it, I'm reminded that I'm damn lucky to be married to her and to be able to celebrate with her.
And I'm damn glad that my lapse of driving concentration came with a pillar, not a person.
You know, I think I actually feel a tiny bit better. The rest of you may be worse for wear for this therapeutic fooforall, but for me, I will face the unknown and get over this.
Monday, May 12, 2003
Rejects and Projects
PA....BA...OBP SLG OPS EQA VORP RF ZR...Name
129 .284 .354 .353 .707 .261 +3.7 5.12 .800 Alex Cora
144 .281 .326 .356 .682 .242 +1.2 4.88 .870 Mark Grudzielanek
137 .264 .304 .302 .607 .225 - 0.6 4.69 .857 Cesar Izturis
058 .367 .466 .510 .976 .336 +7.1 8.15 .750 Eric Karros
033 .200 .394 .360 .754 .274 +1.0 7.44 1.00 Todd Hundley
146 .276 .336 .448 .783 .276 +5.9 9.86 .878 Fred McGriff
Baseball Prospectus stats:
--EQA: A measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. The EqA adjusted for all-time also has a correction for league difficulty. The scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. Average is .260.
--VORP: Value Over Replacement Player, calculated in such a fashion that I'm not sure how it's done myself.
--RF: Range Factor, calculated as [(putouts plus assists) divided by innings].
--ZR: Zone rating. The percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.
1) These stats catch players in the middle of some hot streaks (Cora, Karros, Izturis, McGriff) and one big cold streak (Grudzielanek).
2) That said, for the season to date, the Dodgers have better offense at second base than the Cubs do. On defense, statistically, it's harder to distinguish between the two. My sense is that Grudzielanek has gotten harsher criticism defensively than he's deserved. All in all, though, Cora appears to be the better of this almost gruesome twosome.
3) It's good that his batting average is rising, but Izturis is still going to have to hit more than singles and the occasional double to become even an average offensive player. Defensively, these stats also don't appear to reflect what we all think is his true value.
4) Had the Dodgers kept Grudzielanek and started him at second base with Cora at shortstop, the team's numbers would have been slightly but not significantly better.
5) Playing mostly against left-handed pitching, Karros is doing well for Chicago, and is 8 for 15 with two walks in May. Playing every day, McGriff has raised his numbers with a fairly hot May of his own. At this point, the exchange of McGriff for Karros simply seems to have helped both teams. Their alternates at their position with their respective teams, Hee Seop Choi and Mike Kinkade, bat from the opposite sides, creating the opportunity to maximize output. Dusty Baker has taken better advantage of this than Jim Tracy so far.
I think that the trade of Karros and Grudzielanek for Hundley (with McGriff signing as a free agent) has been as positive as either team could have expected. It was a mutual salary dump, but so far, there has been no harmful fallout. None of the additions or subtractions is dragging his team down. There is an onus on both teams, however, to react promptly if and when the stats of any of the involved personnel decline - and in the case of Grudzielanek, that moment may have already arrived. Tracy and Baker must carefully massage their weaknesses.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Imagine founding a town.
For example, picture Los Angeles 100 years ago. A small but growing populace surrounds the core near Spring and 2nd. A smattering of people build homes near the beaches of Santa Monica and in scattered areas in between. But throughout a region that within two or three generations will be jammed, there are acres and acres of beautiful, undeveloped territory, just waiting for a few people to set up a livable, hospitable environment for everyone to enjoy.
In many respects, that is what Baseball Prospectus has done.
It may seem now that the Internet has been around forever, but only 10 years ago, most of you had probably yet to send your first e-mail. The Internet is still the frontier. There are some, as Homer Simpson would say, metropolisises - for us, the most important is probably ESPN.com - and smaller cities and international cities and, to be sure, exotic cities filled with temptation for the intrepid traveler. But as more and more people migrate to the Internet, the demand is growing for a town that really feels like home.
Baseball Prospectus is the commune that is rapidly growing into something much, much more. And it's impressive.
A small group of people set up a website and just start writing about baseball. Members of the group come and go, but the site expands in different areas and ambitions, all the while trying to examine their subject in a new and intelligent way that is unprecedented as a group effort. They start charging for some of their product - to the consternation of some - but the point is, they're doing this without a model and without a net. It's risky work.
They're actual pioneers.
I guess by this extended analogy, Dodger Thoughts is like the people who went west but settled in Blaine, Missouri, but that's another story.
I write about this today because Saturday, I attended what has become essentially the Baseball Prospectus town meeting - one of their pizza feeds that they occasionally schedule in various places in the U.S. and Canada. Ours was at Vitello's in Studio City, and was so classy, that a) there were nametags and b) as far as I know, no one mentioned Robert Blake once.
Baseball Prospectus authors Joe Sheehan, Jonah Keri and Doug Pappas co-hosted - and were good at it, mingling with us misfits and making us feel welcome. For a considerable time, for example, Keri took a seat at a table occupied by myself and two other Dodger fans. Keri is from Montreal and has even gone in on a season-ticket package for the Expos despite living out here, several thousand miles away. He came of age as a baseball fan around the time Rick Monday homered, so his love of the Dodgers is somewhat akin to my love of tequilla. But Keri wrote the chapter about the Dodgers in the 2003 Baseball Prospectus yearbook and at a minimum is invested in how they perform. He seemed appalled that the Dodgers could do no better than Fred McGriff in the offseason - Keri suspected that Joe Thurston had little to offer and thinks Ray Durham should have been signed - but was at least partly persuaded by my point that the Dodgers are detoxifying from the overspending of the Kevin Malone era.
(Keri is also very high on David Ross and was most gratified by Ross' home run in his season debut Friday. He additionally likes another Dodger minor league catcher, Koyie Hill, and praises the Dodger depth at that position. As for the depth at other positions ... not so much.)
A brief Q and A followed that touched on Pappas' research on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, speculation on changes to the playoff format and why Rickey Henderson could help 15 teams but has been offered contracts by none. Shortly after, the staff at Vitello's said our time was up and replaced us with fresh customers faster than a line change in Mighty Duck land. (Wrong sport, I know - but congrats to them.)
In other words, the gathering was aimable and informative but not earthshattering. What's noteworthy to me, though, is the moment we're currently living in as baseball fans. If radio and then television first revolutionized our ability to enjoy the game, the Internet is Revolution No. 3, with its ability to get other voices out there. We're still living right in the thick of it.
As inevitable as the movement may be, its ultimate value depends on the human variable. Sites like Baseball Primer and Baseball Prospectus are operating in virgin territory, not only writing about baseball but adding to the actual history of how baseball is covered and distilled. It takes much effort just to exist in this frontier, and much more skill to do so with merit and attract others to it.
There's no guarantee that Baseball Prospectus won't someday become a ghost town - Sheehan told me that the braintrust (my word, not his) will meet in July to evaluate their progress and determine their future course of action - but my sense is that there's little reason not to be optimistic.
On one level, it's truly interesting to me just to be able to watch how the West will be lost or won. But like I said, I'm guessing that they'll win. And I'm enjoying following ever-so-modestly in their footsteps.