Monthly archives: September 2007
The Greatest Final Weekend Ever?
There will be an epic battle this weekend, quite possibly the greatest finish ever. Three games, winner takes all. It is so compelling that it clearly needs an Muhammed Ali-like name, so we can remember it forever with just the phrase. So get ready for: The Battle in Seattle!
Yes, this weekend's Mariners-Rangers series is one for the ages! It's the one you'll be telling your grandkids about! For the winner of this series will crowned the 2007 MLB Heavyweight of the Year.
For those of you unfamiliar with this crown, it works like boxing: if you beat the champion, you become the champion. We start out each season with the previous year's World Series winner. Every game the champion plays is a title bout. If the champion loses, a new champion is crowned. The team that finishes the regular season with the most title bout victories is declared the Heavyweight of the Year. (In case of ties, the team with the fewest losses wins.)
The Mariners are the current champions. See the Catfish Stew sidebar for the full MLB Heavyweight standings.
Going into this final weekend, the Chicago White Sox are in first place, with 13 wins. But oddly, the White Sox have actually clinched a second-place finish, despite their current lead in the standings. That's because the teams tied for second with 11 wins, Seattle and Texas, play each other this weekend. By Sunday, one of them will at least match Chicago's 13 victories. And since the Chicago will have more title bout losses than either the Mariners or the Rangers, the White Sox can't finish in first place.
And so, we are left with possibly the greatest Heavyweight finish in the history of major-league baseball: a three-game, winner-take-all series for all the marbles.
Seattle Mariners. Texas Rangers. The Battle In Seattle! It'll be great. I just can't wait.
One Team, Two Views
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Gary Huckabay returns from the funeral for baseball analysis -- in lieu of flowers, please donate generously to the relief fund we've set up for PECOTA and WARP-3 -- to interview two nameless, faceless baseball executives, one from each league, about the travails of front office life and how it's hard out there for an assistant director of player development. But before all of that, Huckabay asks his two John Does to name the front office that's done the best job in the season that was.
Your Hometown Heroes, the anonymous National League executive answers brightly: "They've been destroyed by injuries, and they're within breathing distance of .500... That's good work, no matter what the results end up being."
The scoffing of the masked American League executive can practically be heard through your LCD.
AL Exec: I see it another way. Two ways, really. They were in trouble because of some really bad contracts. Kendall was a total disaster, and if they'd done their homework there, they wouldn't have gotten him. I know the perception's different, but Beane's hurt himself with some pretty bad contracts. Remember Terrence Long?
To answer that question about whether it's surprising to see the aforementioned A's out with injuries -- no, as an alarmingly handsome and debonair man of action wrote back in May, it most definitely is not.
And yet, I fear that when the A's brain trust gathers to assess the 2007 season, they will whole-heartedly endorse the unnamed National League executive's review of their performance -- that the past 162 games have not been a case of the debilitating chickens coming home to roost but just plain ol' bad luck that they soldiered through as best they could. Who ever would have thunk that the guy who's been battling injuries since 2005 would suddenly not play very well? Or that someone with chronic back problems would, out of nowhere mind you, be felled with a bad back? Or that when you trade for a guy whose injury history inspires adjectives like "horrific" and "career-threatening", he suddenly, mysteriously injures himself after just six games? Oh Lady Luck, how ever hath we offended thee?
Here's another theory. It's not as comforting as that "Darn the luck!" hypothesis that's sweeping the nation or as popular as the notion that Larry Davis, after 10 season as the A's head trainer and 23 on the team's medical staff, has suddenly become Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber and has determined that Rich Harden treat his assorted maladies with leeches and bloodlettings. But I'm just going throw this out there, just for the sake of argument:
The A's relied too heavily on players either with foreseeable injury risks. And when those risks panned out, Plan B apparently involved adding more, equally brittle players.
I think Billy Beane is a swell guy with a dazzling smile who probably doesn't litter or go into the express lane with more than 15 items. He's better at his job than two-thirds of his counterparts. And in 2007... he did a really awful job putting a team together.
So please, A's brain trust -- ignore the kind words of your secret National League colleague. Instead, heed the stinging rebuke of the American League Executive Who Must Not Be Named -- carve his words in three-foot letters stone and begin each morning between now and the Winter Meetings by reading them aloud until you can recite them from memory. Then go, and sin no more.
Gary Huckabay insists at the beginning of his article that he won't reveal the identities of his two clandestine baseball executives. I suppose it's two much to ask that the A.L. executive picks up his paycheck at 7000 Coliseum Way. With my luck, he probably works for the Angels.
Questions Without Answers
Am I bad person for laughing out loud at the video where Milton Bradley got tackled by his own manager and ended up injured?
Where is Ken Macha when you need him?
How is Jorge Velandia still playing in the major leagues?
Suppose, for a moment, that the A's sign Barry Bonds next year...and you wanted both Bonds and Jack Cust in the lineup on the same day...which one would you put in the field? Would you play a real centerfielder (Kotsay/Denorfia) beside your choice and sit one of (Swisher/Buck/Barton)? Or would you put Buck or Swisher in CF?
When Bob decided to rename the divisions after the best player from the winning team who played his entire career with that team (Tim Salmon, for instance), it got me wondering. Which retired A's players actually qualify? The A's don't keep players like Tim Salmon for their whole careers; they all leave one way or another. Which one of the following possibilities (those with over 100 career games) would Bob have picked if the A's had won the AL West instead of the Angels?
Or would Bob have weaseled out of this tough decision and just went with an active player like Eric Chavez or Mark Ellis instead?
How did Rusty Greer become a prototype? Seems like every other OF prospect is compared to him these days. Seems pretty random to me. Can I start using Toaster writers as my prototypes, instead?
It's driving me nuts, and I can't put my finger on it: whose swing does Daric Barton remind me of? I want to say it's kinda like a cross between Ted Williams and Jon Weisman, but that's not quite it.
Doesn't Jerry Blevins remind you of Bob Timmermann with a better fastball?
Isn't disallowing Dallas Braden from using his screwball like not allowing Mark Donohue to write long paragraphs? You're taking away his genius.
When is Philip going to fork over my hard-won Cesar Izturis bobblehead to me?
Is anybody out there interested in sharing some partial season tickets for next year? One of the people in my group is dropping out. Email me at catfish AT zombia.com if you have any interest.
The Not Swingin' A's
Your 2007 A's in a half-inning-sized nutshell, courtesy of ESPN's play-by-play summary:
Bottom of the eighth: Mariners 7, A's 4
To summarize, for those of you scoring at home: 1 run on zero hits, four walks, far too many interminable pitching changes, and three men left. After loading the bases with nobody out.
Nobody stands there with the bat on their collective shoulder waiting for the other team to gift them runs quite like your 2007 Oakland Athletics. Nobody.
When You're An A, You're An A All the Way
The Oakland Athletics Light Opera Company concluded a creatively uneven season Sunday when it joined forces with the Texas Rangers Repertory Players Sunday to stage a joint production of West Side Story.
While Nick Swisher made a bold impression early on as Tony, one half of the star-crossed lovers in the Arthur Laurents-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical, his stage presence waned notably as the show wore on. Indeed, after the pivotal knife fight with the villainous Bernardo (Vincente Padilla), it was as if Swisher had been ordered off the stage, so little of an impact did he have in the latter stages of the second act.
The staging was not without its highlights, however. The footwork of the ensemble cast as the Sharks was impeccable during a particularly energetic rendition of "America". And Kurt Suzuki was a revelation in the part of Riff, despite the complaints of noted theatre critical Raymond Fosse who groused that Jason Kendall was more believable in the role. Nevertheless, Suzuki, teaming up with Swisher put a fresh spin on the classic song "Cool" that had audiences tapping their toes long after the curtain fell.
Not every casting decision was as inspired, particularly the odd choice for the part of Maria. Art Howe's wooden line readings ground many of the scenes to a near-halt, while his sonorous baritone seemed out of place, particularly on "I Feel Pretty." In fairness, however, his mannered reading of Sondheim's lyrics did drive home the point that, whatever else his failing as Maria, Howe did, in fact, feel pretty and witty and wise.
Ultimately, the performance was undone during the final number when a stirring reprise of "Somewhere" was interrupted by a Michael Young grand slam.
West Side Story concludes the A's Light Opera Company's 2007 summer season, which featured performances of Chicago, a dramatic retelling of the A's three-game sweep of the White Sox in August set to the music of Kander and Ebb; A Chorus Line (Of Quadruple-A Players), the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical in which borderline major leaguers compete for jobs in the A's starting line-up (Jack Cust's performance of "What I Did For Love" brought down the house); and Jesus Christ Superstar, a one-man show in which Billy Beane talks about his favorite roster maneuvers.
Barton and the Crab-Man
If you look at the Athletics franchise career leaders in OPS and OPS+, you'll find a bunch of Hall-of-Famers (Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson), a few Hall-of-Juicers (Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi), a couple of classic baseball names (Matt Stairs, Gene Tenace), and...Bob Johnson.
Bob Johnson is largely forgotten in Athletics lore. His name appears in the top ten of nearly every batting category in franchise history, so being forgotten hardly seems a fair fate. He played 10 years with the A's, averaging 25 homers and 104 RBI. His career rate stats were .296/.393/.506. So why is he forgotten?
Part of it is that he started late; he was 27 years old in his rookie season, and he never accumulated the kind of career totals that would make him a Hall-of-Fame candidate.
But I think a lot of the reason is because his name was "Bob Johnson". Johnson had a nickname, "Indian Bob", from his 1/4 Native American lineage. But that's not the kind of nickname we repeat in these days of political correctness. So he remains "Bob Johnson", a name that could not be better chosen to blend into the background and fade from attention.
* * *
Daric Barton made his major league debut this week, and has impressed mightily. So far, he's hitting .353/.450/.471. Those numbers are positively Bob Johnsonesque! Barton's debut is probably the second-most exciting thing to happen to the team all year. The kid can hit. Dan Johnson's days as Oakland's first baseman are numbered.
And yet, Dan Johnson is the source of the most exciting thing I've heard all year: he got a nickname. Dan Johnson has one of the few names that could possibly surpass Bob Johnson in forgettability. In ten, fifteen years, will anyone remember Dan Johnson and his brief tenure in Oakland? Certainly not, especially if we keep calling him "Dan Johnson".
But now there's this: apparently, Marco Scutaro was recently making fun of Johnson for the way he was chasing down a popup in Oakland's large foul territory, saying he ran after it like a crab. A nickname was born: Dan "Crab-Man" Johnson.
I hereby declare a new law: Dan Johnson shall be henceforth be called "Crab-Man Johnson" in all forms of conversation. Anyone who fails to use the nickname shall receive a $100 fine. All in favor, say aye!
Dan Johnson was just passing through, a forgettable face in the crowd, in a forgettable year for the franchise. But Crab-Man Johnson is a classic baseball name that will likely live forever. It leaves a smile on my face. This season shall not have been in vain.
How I Learned to Stop Analyzing and Love the Game
"Baseball analysis is dead."
"Well, he was an ugly guy. With an ugly face.
I went to the A's-Tigers game on Sunday, the one where the A's came back from a 7-0 deficit to win, 8-7. I got home and couldn't think of a single intelligent thing to write about it. It was only when I read the obituary after the weekend that I realized why.
"The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry, and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases.
So I turned off my analytical mind, stopped thinking about why the game turned out the way it did, and just let whatever seemed interesting lead me wherever it would go. I ended up with this, a montage of a bunch of batted balls that fielders failed to catch:
Don't try to understand what this means, you unsophisticated ape-descendant. Just relax and enjoy your Catfish Stew.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Ken: catfish AT zombia d.o.t. com
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