Ain’t Nothing Like A Baseball

baseballaLook around the house. You’ll find a baseball. You’ll pick it up, it’s irresistible. You then should go play catch, an act of connection so simple and so lasting that if Congress had Yogi Berra’s wisdom it would enact a law declaring: “On sunny days in February when pitchers and catchers have reported, you will go outdoors with a loved one and play catch until the ol’ soup bone goes limp.”

The Yale University professor of physics Robert K. Adair further defined a baseball’s ingredients: “The cork nucleus, enclosed in rubber, is wound with 121 yards of blue-gray wool yam, 45 yards of white wool yarn, and 150 yards of the cotton yam. Core and winding are enclosed by rubber cement and a two-piece cowhide cover hand-stitched together with just 216 raised red cotton stitches.”

The stitchings are done with two threads, each 44 inches long.

About a baseball. The Atlanta baseball writer Patty Rasmussen: “When I was first falling in love with baseball, in 1988 in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, I went to the wall that held all the no-hitter balls. All these baseballs, none of them yielding a hit. I was struck by the number of them-and then I thought about how many other baseballs had …

Players Adapt Or Go Home

satellitesIt is amazing how quickly big-league hitters and pitchers adjust. Once the league figures out a weakness, players go right to it, and you get exposed. If you can’t make that first adjustment, you’re dead.

The first adjustment, I would say, is the toughest one to get over. With advanced scouting, the use of scouting services such as Inside Edge and the use of satellites, the time that the league doesn’t know you has shrunk.

That is why you see guys who are flashes in the pan, so to speak. They don’t realize what the opponent is doing to them.

After you get a few years in the league, you get different challenges and struggles. Let’s say you have been a bench player or a setup man, and all of a sudden you are put into a spot you are not used to. That change can bring your weaknesses to light. I’ve seen it a lot–guys whose holes are exposed, their body breaks down or they don’t have the ability to be there mentally every pitch. Sometimes, the breakdown can be caused by lack of sleep. By snoring excessively. That causes problems with the brain and the body, and pretty much only snoring mouthpieces can cure it. A well rested player is simply a better player. Read the rest of this entry »

Guess Hitters: Aren’t They All Guessing?

guesshittersFor whatever sophistication guess hitting may require, it’s also a touchy subject. Batters hate being called guess hitters, mostly because they think the term implies that they don’t know what they’re doing.

“Pitchers eat up guys who guess on every pitch,” the Red Sox’s Carl Everett says.

Almost all batters claim they never do it, but most then go on to describe a personal approach that requires some degree of “anticipation.” Other popular euphemisms include “having an idea,” “getting my pitch” and “thinking along with the pitcher.”

Giambi takes a particularly analytical approach, using a technique he learned from ex-teammate Mark McGwire to break down each at-bat. The goal is to hit only strikes and to work your way into a hitter’s count. To do it, the hitter must assess the type of pitches a pitcher favors, the part of the plate he likes to work, whether he throws up or down, the score and the count.

“I usually do zones, and most of the time I’ll sit fastball,” says Giambi, reflecting the compound factors he takes into account. “But if there’s a guy I think will throw me a 2-1 changeup, I’ll sit for that. Or maybe (with) a lefthander who throws sliders, I’ll sit slider. I’ll sit those …

Pitchers Hitting Is Fantastic For The Game

pictchershittingI think having pitchers hit should be part of the game; it adds so much more to the strategy. During interleague play, I think our whole bench got used most days, which makes for more of a cat-and-mouse game.

Standing up there with a bat and facing big league pitchers looks fun and actually is quite fun … until you face a guy who can kill you, and you have to bunt. All the ideas of calling your shot by pointing to the outfield bleachers like Babe Ruth go out the window.

Most pitchers are not like Mike Hampton. Hamp is probably the most athletic pitcher I’ve played with. He is the only pitcher I’ve seen who can do a standing back flip.

Heck, he was recruited by Florida State to be a defensive back–that sealed it for me. For Hamp, it is no big deal to go up to the plate and not only not look like an idiot but actually be a threat in the box.

He has a chance to break the single-season home run record for pitchers. (Hampton has six; the major league record is nine.) If anyone chalks that one up to Coors Field, I’ll puke.

I imagine it is a lot more serious at …

Labor Strife Is A Hallmark Of Selig’s Reign

laborOnly a Pollyanna would say baseball isn’t lurching toward another impasse. These foolish, stubborn men are more interested in battling each other than preserving the grand old game, which explains why it’s now the national past-its-time. “I can’t say that I’m optimistic.” says Fay Vincent, the last independent commissioner, ousted back when the sport was much better. And if a tense off-season follows previous form–a lockout that leads to a work stoppage next season, the ninth in three decades–you know what that spells.


Simply, baseball’s role in America would slow to a crawl. Any remaining smidgen of consumer trust would vanish. There’s an adage that the game’s recovery powers are almighty, that the scab always heals no matter the wound.

Not this time, not after so much bleeding and heartache. The public has come to view the owners, players and negotiators with zero tolerance and considerable disdain. Either the parties figure out how to divide a caviar pie, or we’ll start finding something better to do between April and October. It took three long years for folks to rediscover the game after the last labor ruckus–and only after a precious home run race that overlooked Mark McGwire’s use of androstenedione and a suspiciously lively ball. To expect another …

Ah, Those Owners. Those Crazy Owners!

legalbaseballFor two decades, the 17th century French theologian and scholar Claude-Francois Fraguier prosecuted a legal case that he could not, as friends told him, possibly win. When defeat arrived, those friends reminded Fraguier that had he listened to their advice, he could have saved himself years of suffering for nothing.

To which he answered, “Every night before falling asleep I’ve managed to win this case. Do you call that nothing?”

For almost 30 years, owners of Major League Baseball teams have consoled themselves in the Fraguier fashion.

They have fluffed up their pillows each night and dreamed they had devised a way to win the debate with the players union. But with each morning has come the awakening to defeat.

And now, alas, they’re at it again.

This time, they want to kill off two teams.

Bad enough, that. Never have more customers bought tickets, never has baseball been richer, perhaps never has the game’s heart beat more in rhythm with the nation’s.

Worse, the owners believe they can kill off two major league organizations–thousands of lives involved without so much as inquiring of the union, “Any ideas?”

It might not be legally necessary for owners to negotiate with the union on killing teams; the owners’ lawyers say it isn’t, …

A Strange Cooperstown Proposal

baseballhallIn 1936, five players were elected as the inaugural class for the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

The Immortal Five. Legends all.

High standards, indeed, for induction, and that’s the way it should be. The Hall of Fame should be reserved only for the greatest of the greats.

With membership going up to 189 players after Ozzie Smith was voted in last week, the Hall has descended too far from its Promethean heights.

Ruth and Cobb should not be surrounded by Phil Rizzuto, George Kelly, Ray Schalk, Rick Ferrell, Jimmy Collins, Lloyd Waner and Tommy McCarthy.

Phil Rizzuto? An immortal? Not in a pantheon created by baseball scholars. Simon and Garfunkel didn’t sing, “Where have you gone, Phil Rizzuto/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you/Woo, woo, woo.”

Rogers Hornsby, the Rajah, said it best for the immortals: “The big trouble is not really who isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but who is. It was established for a select few.”

Eppa Rixey, 266-251 in his career as a pitcher, said it best for the mortals: “They selected me to the Hall? They’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t they?”

Here’s an idea that may be extreme but …

Solving Baseball’s Money Issues

baseballmoneySelig has proposed that teams put 50 percent of locally generated revenues in a pool to be redistributed equally to all teams.

Makes sense in theory, but winning teams often parlay their success into additional revenue. Selig’s plan discourages such effort: The more revenue a team produces, the higher its contribution will be.

The solution is to base each team’s contribution on projected, rather than actual, revenue. Say the Yankees’ projected revenue is $220 million, but their actual revenue in a championship season turns out to be $280 million. They would keep the extra money.

The deeper problem is the inequity of franchise values. The Red Sox’s new owners paid a $660 million premium for the lucrative Boston market, but the value of their investment could decrease if their revenue-sharing contribution increases.

It might be necessary to compensate such franchises, counterproductive as that seems. On the other hand, NFL franchise values keep rising, in part because extensive revenue sharing has made the league so strong.

* Minimum payroll. An absolute necessity if MLB is going to increase subsidies to low-revenue clubs. To achieve greater competitive balance, the high-revenue clubs must spend less and the low-revenue clubs more.

The Twins received more than $19 million in revenue sharing in 2001, but …

The Diamond Is The Best

diamondFor better or worse–better if you’re a Yankees fan, worse if you root for the Nationals, Pirates, Royals, et. al. — baseball season is here.

And nowadays, virtually everyone in the U.S. and adjoining territories is within an hour’s drive of a professional ballgame (and having seen some of those indy league games, “professional” is a little bit of a stretch), so there’s no excuse for not getting to the ballyard.

But if you don’t want to battle (a) squadrons of mosquitoes, (b) murderous heat and humidity, or (c) the umpire-baiter in the next row, there’s always the corner video store.

That’s because there have been more good movies made about baseball than any other sport, by far. Name a great hockey movie besides Slap Shot. Try to come up with a top-10 list of football movies. Try to name five movies, good or bad, about golf.

And as with anything related to baseball, there are dozens of Web sites out there to discuss the topic of baseball on film.

What’s surprising is that there isn’t that much debate on the top picks, with a few notable exceptions. Everybody’s list includes, in no particular order, Pride of the Yankees, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, The Natural, and …

Steroid-Gate Still Scars The Sport

steroidgateRemember “the Steroid era”? Any player with a neck size larger than Rosie O’Donnell’s is suspected of being a pincushion. The witch-hunts have begun, with burly Barry Bonds habitually being forced to deny he’s a habitual steroid user. And Mike Piazza? He’s denying everything.

Enter the Senate. Considering the glacial pace of federal legislative activity, perhaps politicians view anything that enhances performance with alarm and distrust. Still, the Senate hearing was a classic exercise in overkill, even if the nation wasn’t in the midst of a war on terror, a lingering economic slowdown and serious accounting scandals rotting our 401(k)s. Arranged by Byron Dorgan (Democrat, North Dakota), chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism, the hearing resulted in predictable displays of finger wagging, head shaking and big juicy red herrings. Our tax dollars at work.

Although mandatory drug testing of players was the central issue, Robert Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for labor relations, said that what Congress really needs to do is regulate legal supplements such as androstenedione before they land in the hands of young people. This is called changing the subject. Hopefully, Manfred’s attempt to divert attention from illegal anabolic steroids to perfectly safe over-the-counter supplements won’t gain traction.

If the …