Friday, January 02, 2004
Bly Bly Love
Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has been campaigning for a good cause - promoting Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. How does this relate to the Dodgers? Well, try this: as good as Steve Garvey was, voting him to the Hall of Fame would be wrong. Not voting for Blyleven would be wrong.
Anyway, Lederer went as far as to send his very strong case for Blyleven to two voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The results of his e-mails make for interesting reading - score one (just one) for Rich!
... For the MemoriesThere was, and maybe still is, a newsstand just off the northwest corner of Ventura Boulevard and (I think) Newcastle Avenue in Tarzana. Back around 1975-85, at least, it was next to a place with a big clock above its doorway, and across the street from what was alternatively a Wherehouse or Big Ben's record store. The Pizza Cookery was across on the diagonal, on the southeast corner.
My family would go get pizza for dinner sometimes (fooling me into getting mushrooms on the pizza by saying they weren't mushrooms, but rather a much better topping called "scallotini"), and then head over to the newsstand, where my brother, sister and I would get comic books or something along those lines. But one time, when I was about eight years old or so, I made my first sports magazine purchase. It was Baseball Digest. Soon after, I began subscribing.
Maybe a year or two later, my Dad got me a subscription to The Sporting News, which was serious stuff back then - a rarity in the universe with weekly reports on all the major league teams, comprhensive weekly statistics and, perhaps most prized, publication of every major league box score. For those of you who were born with computers in your household and ESPN on the tube, try to imagine a world without them. The Sporting News was like your war correspondent from the front lines.
But I also treasured my monthly Baseball Digest in my single-digit years. I was learning the game, and the magazine helped fill my tabula rasa on both baseball history and current events. I remember riding in the luggage compartment of our family's '76 Plymouth Sportsman van (uh, yeah, no ESPN and no seat belt laws either) and asking my Dad if he knew who held the career strikeout record. "Walter Johnson, 3,509" was his reply. I was absolutely astonished someone could have that information memorized. The moment truly energized me as a fan - and student - of the game, and Baseball Digest became one of my textbooks.
I saved every issue, stacking them standing up in a shelf in my bedroom closet. Not as narrowly focused as I am now, I also began subscribing to and saving Football Digest and Basketball Digest as well. I basically was done with comic books - this was it.
In sixth grade, we had what we called "bank accounts" in school. It was a primitive economics lesson - I don't remember exactly how it went, but we earned credits for certain projects - maybe it was even points for high marks - and logged them in a workbook. I was a good student, but there were other good students too, so there was a race for wealth.
But it wasn't all about academics. One week, Mrs. Marsden announced a class auction. You could bring anything of yours from home and sell it, garage-sale style, for these credits. To make this part of a long story short, I sold my entire Digest collections for Monopoly money.
I had seller's remorse almost immediately thereafter, though it was also around that point that I started to outgrow Baseball Digest a little bit. I had my baseball foundation by this point, I had The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and others, and Digest, as time went by, was telling me fewer and fewer things that I didn't know. The change was gradual but steady.
Today, the magazine is something of a timewarp. Though it has made some half-hearted attempts to modernize, both its overall approach to the game and its look are fairly dated. In the current issue, for example, there is an article by George Vass, who may have been writing for Digest when I first began reading it, on whether Josh Beckett's World Series performance may change conventional wisdom about pitching on three days rest. It's a good story idea, but nowhere in the nine pages of the article is there a sophisiticated look at the problem.
The article's premise is basically this: Pitchers did in the past, and Beckett did it in October, so there's little reason to baby these arms today. Vass selects anecdotes dating back to 1890s pitcher Jack Taylor to justify the premise, but offers no systematic analysis to fairly address the issue. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Primer writers and readers would have heart attacks. There is an argument to be made for not piching everyone on three days rest, but this article doesn't come close to making it.
Nevertheless, nearly 30 years later, I still subscribe to Baseball Digest.
There are two reasons for this. One, the subscriptions department of the publisher of Baseball Digest, Century Publishing Company, has had its crafty moments in the past, fooling me into thinking my subscription was running out - only to leave me looking at the expiration date on the mailing label of the next issue and realizing I've got a longer commitment to Baseball Digest than the Dodgers had with Kevin Brown.
Of course, as we've seen, those kinds of commitments can be ended. But the main reason I can't let go of Baseball Digest is the letters section, "The Fans Speak Out." It is consistently the best letters section of any magazine I've ever read. Baseball Digest devotes roughly 10 pages to letters in each issue. There are some dumb or pointless questions, to be sure, but there are also priceless gems.
Here's one from the current issue, for example:
Regarding home runs hit over the center field wall to the right of the flag pole in Fenway Park (November Baseball Digest):
You can get great memories, I suppose, on Baseball Primer Clutch Hits, but I don't know the pristine quality of the stories gets any better than this. I love this letter, and I love that it came in response to a discussion of "home runs hit over the center field wall to the right of the flag pole in Fenway Park."
I saw Johnny Lindell of the Yankees hit a ball over the center field wall to the right of the flag in the early or mid-1940s.
Bill Skowron, as you mentioned, also hit one there on April 4, 1957.
I once met Bill at an old-timers game, and told him I saw the longest home run he ever hit. He started guessing: "Boston? Cleveland?"
I shook my head. "No," I said. "It was in 1950 at Iowa City."
Skowron's eyes got huge as saucers.
"You saw that one?" he said.
Skowron then was playing for Purdue University against the Iowa Hawkeyes. He hit the ball into the March wind, and it may still be going around up there.
--John Holway, Springfield, Va.
In addition, just about every month, you can count on someone writing Baseball Digest with the story of the first baseball game he or she ever attended and asking the editors to print the box score. The letter-writer's story will have wonderful detail about the experience and about the game. The editors will then, without criticism of any kind, correct some of this detail based on the factual record. It's part of the charm of the whole experience - how much these games mean to us, and simultaneously, how we can alter the finer points of such meaningful events over time.
Without these letters, my subscription to Baseball Digest would long ago have gone the way of, well, my subscription to The Sporting News. But the letters keep me reading.
However, on page 4 of the current issue, there is this message:
This made me sad, and I wonder if it marks not a road bump but the beginning of the end of Baseball Digest. Clearly, some people still like it (click and scroll down to "All Customer Reviews"), but not everyone is as quirky as I am to buy a magazine based principally on the letters of its readers.
Due to adverse economic conditions in the magazine industry, Baseball Digest regretfully announces that it will reduce its 12-month-a-year frequency of publication which has remained the same since 1969.
The reduction begins with the elimination of only the March 2004 issue. The magazine will then continue on a montly basis until 2005 when ten issues, instead of the usual 12, will be published ...
Perhaps Baseball Digest has self-petard-hoisted. After all, would there be quite as many alternative outlets for baseball coverage were it not for the interest Baseball Digest has kindled in its 61 years of publication?
Dodger Thoughts wouldn't exist without Baseball Digest, I believe I can say with some authority.
Baseball Digest is like Bob Hope in the golden years. The whole package is from some other time, and the material isn't always what it used to be. But it's a treasure, and I hope it hangs on as long as it can.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Just Get VladHey look over there - All-Star free agent available, almost no takers.
Vladimir Guerrero, Montreal (free agent), OF
Age: 28 in February 2004
Salary: Free agent. Reportedly offered $65 million over five years by Baltimore, counter-offer pending?
Mainstream stats in 2003: .330 BA, 25 HR, 63 BB, 53 K
OPS in 2003: 1.012 in 112 games (1.295 vs. LHP, .936 vs. RHP)
EQA in 2003 (park-adjusted): .328 (6th in the National League)
Win Shares in 2003 (park-adjusted): 18 (54th in NL, 18th among NL outfielders)
Trend: Because of injuries, missed 50 games - had played at least 154 games each season since 1997. OPS and EQA were second-highest of career.
Worth acquiring in exchange for Odalis Perez or Guillermo Mota? Not applicable.
Worth acquiring in exchange for Odalis Perez and Guillermo Mota? Not applicable.
The Dodgers show no apparent interest in signing Guerrero, who is great.
The Dodgers clearly have the need. And, with Kevin Brown traded, they clearly have the salary room: more than $30 million if their projected 2004 payroll limit is as high as it was in 2003.
Dodger 2004 Salary Commitments
*$6.25 million minus Yankee contribution of $1.5 million
|Shawn Green||$16.0 million|
|Darren Dreifort||$11.0 million|
|Hideo Nomo||$8.0 million|
|Todd Hundley||$6.5 million|
|Jeff Weaver||*$4.75 million|
|Paul Lo Duca||$3.9 million|
|Paul Shuey||$3.8 million|
|Juan Encarnacion||$3.5 million|
|Kazuhisa Ishii||$2.6 million|
|Brian Jordan||**$2.5 million|
|Tom Martin||$1.65 million|
|Wilson Alvarez||$1.5 million|
|Alex Cora||$1.3 million|
|Robin Ventura||$1.2 million|
**Buyout of 2004 option
Additional Dodger 2004 Salary Estimates
|Eric Gagne||$6.0 million|
|Adrian Beltre||$4.5 million|
|Odalis Perez||$4.0 million|
|Guillermo Mota||$1.0 million|
|Jolbert Cabrera||$0.5 million|
|Dave Roberts||$0.5 million|
|Cesar Izturis||$0.5 million|
|Dave Ross||$0.4 million|
That's 21 players at a cost of $85.6 million, leaving the Dodgers more than $30 million to spend on four players.
That they haven't pursued Guerrero led me to join in the speculation that ostensible new owner Frank McCourt is going to slash the budget limit starting in 2005. However, given how much the Dodgers have reduced their payroll already, plus the fact that they'll gain about $9 million for 2005 just by taking Hundley and Jordan off the books, McCourt could knock the payroll well under $100 million and the Dodgers could still afford Guerrero (not that I'm sanctioning McCourt or these speculative payroll cuts to begin with).
Starting in 2006, the expiration of Dreifort's contract gives them eight figures more free money.
Realizing now that Guerrero is really only being pursued seriously by one team, the Orioles, and that the danger of a bidding war is greatly reduced, I find myself almost completely at a loss as to why the Dodgers are letting slip this opportunity to sign such a great player.
Is it concern over his 2003 back injury?
Or could it possibly be the rumor that says that Guerrero himself will never sign with the Dodgers, because of their lack of faith in him as a teenage ballplayer in the Domincan Republic?
I asked Jonah Keri (an expert on both the Expos and the Dodgers) of Baseball Prospectus if he could provide any explanation for the Dodgers' inaction. Here's his reply:
I'm not big on rumor-mongering, Jon, but Vlad's agents did come out this off-season and say that the story's false ... that while it may have bugged Vlad back in the day, he's open to signing anywhere now. Obviously, that could very well be a leverage play, but you see why trying to speculate on such things becomes pointless.
The Dodgers (and any other team) would be nuts not to pursue Vlad. Will Carroll says his back condition is identical to Pudge's, and you saw what Pudge did last year. Vlad looked great once he was a couple weeks removed from the injury, down the stretch last year, to boot. Playing off the Big O turf will help too.
Given the golden opportunity for the Dodgers to sign him, they're crazy for not trying. I think you can blame a combination of Evans' inability to be aggressive or creative and the specter of McCourt. But yes, you're 100 percent right that they could make room, on top of which we both know the revenue to be had when a team...you know...WINS.
Unless they're super good at keeping super secrets, the Dodgers need to get it into gear now. A de facto offseason trade of Kevin Brown for Vladimir Guerrero would be a dream come true. And it's a dream they can do.
Monday, December 29, 2003
Letting Others Do My Work for Me ...Julien's Baseball Blog does a capital deconstruction of the recent Baseball America online chat regarding the Dodger farm system.
... And RecyclingThanks to those of you who have continued to flock to the site during the holidays. While it looks like I've lost about 45,000 visitors, thanks to outsider-inflicted counter troubles at GoStats.com, I've actually been impressed by how many have stuck with me during the holiday slowdown. Anyway, I've been playing catchup at work since returning from vacation, but hope to be back on my regular schedule following the New Year.
In the meantime, please take this opportunity to peruse the archives. While many of you have seen little change on the main page in the past week, few were around during the heady days of this site in early 2003. Eleven months ago, I had about five readers a day. So, do relive, with the advantage of hindsight, my 2003 preview articles, or consider one of my history pieces, like "Traumatized in '67."