Archive for November, 2010

Video: Official Theme Song of 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates

Cease your typically ceaseless toil, America, and/or put all those crying babies down: Andy Smith of Bugs and Cranks has excavated from the fossil-rich soil of the internet this YouTube Viewing Event.

What you’re watching when you watch this video is a seven-minute segment from Inside Pirates Baseball, circa 1990 — documenting the invention of the team’s official theme song, “You Gotta Believe” and a music video for the song itself.

Among the many splendors, you can expect to find:

• Men with comically Italian surnames (see: Pontieri, Ernie; Falotico, Frank and Ray).
• Men with comical other things, too (see: hair, facial and otherwise).
• A version of the world in which the Pirates are not terrible.

Furthermore, if you’re the sort of person who’s shaken and/or stirred by coincidences, then this one might appeal to you: just minutes before notice of the video came across my gold-embroidered RSS feed, I read these exact words from Bill James’ Baseball Book 1992:

The Pirates over the next decade can be seen as engaged in a war between the field level management, which is superb, and the ownership, which is out to lunch. The shortcomings of the Pirate ownership group are certain to manifest themselves in the performance of the front office, and will ultimately undermine the ballclub. So it’s kind of an interesting study, to see how long good talent management can stave off the effects of incompetent financial management.

In fact, it wasn’t that long, at all. Looking at the Pirates’ Baseball Reference page, one will notice that 1992 was, in fact, the team’s last season above .500.


Derek Jeter: The Curse of the Captain

One of the many websites I treasure on the Internet is Yahoo! Answers. It’s where you’re left with little to no doubt that there are people out there much, much dumber than you. And who doesn’t need a little self assurance every now and then?

Last week, as contract negotiations between the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter went from bad to worse, Yahoo! user snc413 became rightfully concerned. He asked:

if the red sox sign derek jeter, will the yankees have the curse of the captain? [sic]

Fellow Yahoo! community member Rick was quick and to the point in his response. His answer, voted the best by two souls, settled the matter:

Derek Jeter will never sign with Boston. ever. [sic]

It was user acedelux’s answer, though, that reminded me why I adore Yahoo! Answers:

I do not know about this “curse” on the Red Sox however, the Red Sox organization should not have to pay millions of dollars to someone with no brain. Jeter will want millions and millions of dollars and the Red Sox organization will say “Are you out of your mind!?” [sic]

Here’s what we learned:

Derek Jeter, apparently, has no brain. He’s made it awfully far in life, and with women, without one.

Derek Jeter wants millions and millions of dollars. As much as The Captain may be out of his mind, he’s a five-time Gold Glover, and don’t you dare forget it.

Now, picture this: Derek Jeter in a Boston Red Sox uniform, the captain’s “C” on his jersey, and The Curse of the Captain wreaking havoc in the Bronx. If I’m Theo Epstein, I’ve had my people call Derek Jeter’s people. We’ve had lunch. And I’ve tabled an offer. One year, $25 million. You know, for sh*ts and giggles. What’s a little gamesmanship amongst Evil Empires?

Image courtesy The Los Angeles Times, and a tip of the cap to Yahoo! Answers. Don’t ever change.

Excellence or Good Conduct

The always-excellent Joe Posnanski submitted his vote for Sportsman of the Year this Monday, and his selection couldn’t be more different than the man the voters chose last year. Derek Jeter was the sportsman of 2009, and he was a veteran that had reversed some statistical signs of aging and poor defense to turn in the second-best season of his career (by WAR) at 35. His team won the championship. He was the starting shortstop. He was a matinee idol in the cultural capital of America, he was getting married, and babies were being named after him.

So it’s kind of a long way from there to Armando Galarraga, Posnanski’s vote for 2010. Galarraga didn’t make his substantial major league debut until he was 25, and in his best season hasn’t approached Jeter’s worst season (by WAR). He’s not a great pitcher – a 4.87 FIP is about right for a flyball pitcher with a below-average strikeout rate – and this season he wasn’t even an average pitcher. Obviously, this isn’t about excellence at his sport. Take it away, Joe:

Joyce would handle his mistake with great dignity. But the real hero was Galarraga. He did not argue with Joyce on the field. He just sort of smiled. He retired the next batter, Trevor Crowe, and finished off the game as a one-hitter (making this, in the minds of many, the first 28-out perfect game in baseball history). And then he went into the clubhouse and told reporters that he was very proud of the way he pitched. When asked about Joyce immediately afterward, he said that Joyce should not worry about it, that everybody makes mistakes. He actually planned to go to Joyce to make HIM feel better. Later, when Joyce came to see Galarraga to apologize for missing the call, the pitcher reiterated his stance. It meant a lot to him that Joyce came over to apologize.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Galarraga said.

Of course, Posnanski covers the different definitions of “Sportsman” in the preamble for his vote. And it’s no brain-buster to point out that we admire athletes for their excellence as well as their grace or good conduct – when we can. Former winners of the award seem to have won because of excellence and timing – such as Dwyane Wade the year he won the championship and the Boston Red Sox in 2004. But there are those that have won for other reasons, such as Arthur Ashe in 1992. Look at the whole list of winners and you realize that the definition is malleable and usually depends on the crossover appeal of the story. The “size of the story” was probably behind Posnanski’s 2008 vote for Stephen Curry and the fun he brought back to college basketball, and was probably also be behind his vote for Gallaraga.

But is there some sort of link – intentional or not – between last year’s winner and this year’s vote? Jeter’s big moment this year was very un-“sportsman”-like, in terms of fair conduct, and then there’s the relative excellence and careers of these two baseball men. Perhaps I’m being guilty of cynicism, or maybe I’m just making a connection where there is none. I’m certainly not accusing Posnanski of any untoward behavior. It’s just funny thing that occurred to me while considering a below-average ‘sportsman’ for the Sportsman of the Year. The most likely explanation is the fact that Galarraga and his near-perfect game were the baseball story of the year in the way that it warmed our collective heart.

But it’s also at least worth considering what candidate baseball might have been put forward if the focus were instead on excellence as it has been in years past. Would we be considering Buster Posey more heavily? He made his major league debut at a difficult position and then was instrumental to taking the Giants to their first San Franciscan title. If only he had put forth a more spectacular postseason line, this might be our story. .288/.354/.390 is pretty good, especially for a rookie, but it doesn’t win you postseason hardware or the imagination of the Sportsman of the Year voters – especially on a team full of so many characters and heros. At least this is the right track, judging from Tom Verducci’s vote – the Giants as a whole.

In the end, though, the Sportsman of the Year seems to be the main character in the story that most captured the sporting worlds’ imagination. Is that Armando Galarraga’s “im”perfect game for baseball and for you?

Apropos of Nothing: Disco Demolition Night, 1979

The gentlemen you see here are, as you can probably tell by the intelligent-looking expressions on their faces, citizens of the city of Chicago. Or, if not citizens of Chicago, they were at least in Chicago on the night of July 12, 1979 — a.k.a. Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey.

My friend Daniel has alerted me* — apropos of nothing — to some pretty excellent photos of the event by Diane Alexander White.

*It’s been brought to my attention that the photos were linked to by South Side Sox. So, merci to those guys.

For anyone unfamiliar with the significance of Disco Demolition Night, it was a promotion devised by Mike Veeck (son of then-White Sox owner Bill Veeck) and members of Chicago rock radio station WLUP. Fans could gain admission to the July 12th doubleheader for just 98 cents — provided, that is, that they brought a disco record. Between the two games, local DJ Steve Dahl would blow up a crate of the collected records.

Apparently, things didn’t go exactly as Veeck planned.

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Call to Action: Give Money to These Strangers!

Though he’s generally remembered as a social reformer, Spiritual Giant Ralph Waldo Emerson wasn’t one of these foppish, pasty-faced liberals you’re always seeing everywhere. In fact, he was kinda the opposite of that.

Regard this literary karate chop, from “Self-Reliance”:

[D]o not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Despite this aversion to “miscellaneous popular charities” and “the thousandfold Relief Societies,” I can guarantee you, America — beyond all the shadows of all the doubts — that one cause to which Emerson would’ve given probably his entire fortune is the “Thank You to Carl Crawford” one currently being undertaken by DRaysBay.

Basically, what project leader Steve Slowinski proposes to do is publish a full-page message to free-agent Carl Crawford in the Tampa Bay Times. The content of the message? Well, you can read it at the site, but basically it says “We heart you, Carl. XOXOXO. Have a rad summer!” and stuff like that.

If nothing else, the project represents an instance of fan-player interaction unlike one this particular author has seen. Of course, this particular author is also a bit of a moron — so, that’s something to consider, as well.

Big Idea: Aesthetics v. Politics in Cuban Baseball

It’s borderline old news now, but, in the event that you’re interested, you might consider reading Christoper Rhoads’ WSJ profile of Cuban-baseball enthusiast/apologist Peter Bjarkman.

Bjarkman, a retired Purdue University linguistics professor, is at the center of what you might call — were you so inclined — a controversy. For while he’s become basically the leading English-speaking authority on Cuban baseball, authoring the definitive A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006, he’s simultaneously decried in some circles as a Cuban propagandist.

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True Facts: Forgotten Bloopers (Leslie Nielsen Remix)

In the event that you haven’t heard, forgive me for bearing this bad news: Canadian-born funnyman Leslie Nielsen, known for his roles in Airplane! and The Naked Gun, passed away Sunday at age 84.

As a nod to Nielsen and his legacy, today’s edition’s of True Facts is inspired by the baseball-blooper scene from the aforementioned Naked Gun. In that scene, viewers are treated to some lesser-known baseball bloopers from history. Below are five other, totally real mishaps which, for one reason or another, have failed to take hold of the public imagination.

1876: Chicago White Stocking Ross Barnes accidentally “discovers” the home run on May 2, becoming the first player to hit one in a big-league baseball game. For his feat, Barnes is known forever after as “The Alexander Fleming of Baseball” — a strange truth made stranger when you consider that Fleming was only five years old at the time.

1897: In the midst of a particularly long inning during a 22-1 rout of St. Louis, Baltimore’s Willie Keeler pees his pants. It’s for this reason — and not his diminutive stature — that he became known as “Wee” Willie. True fact!

1981: Frustrated by the unnecessarily formal machinations of the intentional walk, famously ornery Baltimore manager Earl Weaver orders reliever Dave Ford to throw four baseballs all at once, sending crowd into hysterical laughter.

2000: Within a five-day period in December, Colorado GM Dan O’Dowd commits 13 years and $172 million to lefty starters Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Hah! Jokes!

2014: After retiring from baseball, middle infielder and scrapaholic David Eckstein goes on to successful career as newest character in American comedian Jeff Dunham’s ventriloquist act.

How Much is a World Series Patch Worth?

For most, championship runs are seen as time to celebrate the accomplishments of team and individual and to revel in the rarity of being the best on the world. For others – for the greediest among us – it is seen merely as a merchandising opportunity. As teams win their divisions and advance through the various rounds of the playoffs, apparel companies churn out more and more shirts and caps and other miscellaneous items. Not only does this new merchandise tend to cost loads of money, but it also make the items released prior obsolete.

The item pictured above (also available for the Rangers) is the authentic, on-field Giants cap with the World Series patch on the side. This piece of playoff memorabilia doesn’t suffer those typical symptoms. It isn’t garish, but it commemorates the event of the 2010 World Series effectively. Particularly as someone who enjoys the Authentic Collection, this hat would fit right in to my collection.

Most importantly, though, to answer the title question, the patch doesn’t significantly add to the cost of the hat. The standard Authentic Collection hat costs $33.99 against the $35.99 for the World Series version.

Playoff merchandise is probably my favorite subset of sports apparel, as it allows me to both support my team and gloat at the same time. As such, I really appreciate an appealing piece of playoff apparel, and the World Series patch hats certainly fit the bill for me.

Getting in on the Action?

Fay Vincent in his pomp.

Former commissioner Fay Vincent has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that baseball players negotiate for ownership shares in their teams as part of their compensation. (The piece is behind the pay wall, but if you have a login it’s worth a look.)

Why would players prefer stock to cold, hard cash? As Mr. Vincent notes, it’s all about taxes. Capital gains — the kind of income realized when you sell shares that have appreciated in value — are typically taxed at a much lower rate than regular salary income. Since professional athletes earn major dollars and often have their entire lifetimes’ earnings collapsed into relatively short careers, optimal tax planning is extremely important.

Indeed, tax issues have received some attention in the sports media recently. When LeBron James chose to sign the Miami Heat this summer, the media was quick to note that Florida has no personal income tax. More recently, articles about the race for Cliff Lee’s services have recognized the fact that Texas is another state without a personal income tax. New York on the other hand does have an income tax (although it also has the Yankees).

For my part, I’m not sure most baseball players are suited to being significant corporate shareholders. People who own large amounts of shares in individual companies should be very knowledgeable about the businesses in which they are invested. Your typical player might have a good understanding of the on-field team, but I doubt he knows (or wants to know) everything about his team as a business. Also, the player would only get the lower tax rate on any gain in share value, as the initial payment of shares would be taxed at ordinary rates.

Still, for those players with an interest in the business of baseball, it could certainly make sense. It’s somewhat surprising that agents and teams haven’t gotten creative and tried this more than they have.

Extry, Extry: Bob Uecker Interview to Run Friday

Either a little bird or the official site of Major League Baseball — I’m not telling which — has informed this author that Bob Uecker is the feature guest on MLB Network’s “Studio 42 with Bob Costas,” airing this Friday at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT.

Uecker, in the event that you’re unaware, currently holds the title of Best Person Imaginable, an honor bestowed upon him by all the gods of all the different religions. Also, for reasons I’m pretty sure I made clear over over at Larry Granillo’s Wezen-Ball this past July, Uecker has distinguished himself for his capacity to navigate the rough waters of life with apparent ease.

Because of’s video policy, you’ll have to follow this link to watch the teaser for show. In the meantime do please (a) watch that video up there with Norm McDonald and/or (b) revel in the following anecdote, about the guest appearance Costas made in Uecker’s booth this past August.

Costas was in Milwaukee for a ceremony to honor Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, and stopped by the radio booth for what was supposed to be a quick visit. Uecker talked Costas into calling a few innings, including a very tough sixth for Brewers left-hander Manny Parra.

“A ringing single for David Eckstein,” Costas quipped at one point, “who, in my view, is the perfect size for an American male.”

As the Padres knocked Parra around, Costas noted that some in the Miller Park crowd had begun to voice some displeasure.

“Bob, don’t take it personally,” Uecker said. “The booing will stop.”