Monthly archives: August 2006
OK, Take A Guess
Who is currently leading the 2006 Oakland A's in Win Shares?
Got your guess?
OK, now go check out the answer.
You were wrong, weren't you?
And The Next A's Manager Will Be Dick Williams
Don Nelson is back in Oakland???
I used to be a huge Golden State Warriors fan, but that team has been so bad for so long that every piece of hope I ever had for it has been completely squeezed dry. I'm completely numb to that team now. Or at least I thought I was, until they went and did something wacky like this. I guess there's still a little light flickering inside me for that team, because I find this quite interesting, even if it's only a rubbernecking-to-see-the-latest-car-wreck kind of interest.
Every time I think about the A's losing nine straight ALDS clinching games, or about choking in September the last two seasons, or about anybody named Hatcher, I should just think of the Golden State Warriors, and be grateful. Because things could be sooooooooo much worse.
The Thievin' A's
Sapphire bullets...bullets of pure A's:
No, No, Barry
That's when the idiot contingent had its say.
As the Mariners came to bat in the seventh inning, with a no-hitter in progress and the A's clinging to a taut 3-0 lead over a hated division rival, a cadre of morons in the second deck decided this would be a perfect time to start The Wave. For the record, the ideal circumstances for The Wave include never, not on your life, and during some sporting event that I'm not watching and don't care about. But to do it for an exciting game where the outcome is still in doubt and we're in a hey-did-anyone-happen-to-notice-that-nice-round-number-in-the-hits-column situation seems... I don't know... knuckleheaded.
Is it any surprise that Jon Olerud led off the eighth with a single, ending the no-no? Or that Ruben Sierra followed with another single, bringing the tying run to the plate? The total stranger next to me was beside himself with rage. He pointed at the second-deck section where the instigators were sitting and hissed, "This is all your fault." And soon, everyone in our immediate vicinity was pointing at that section and chanting, "It's all your fault." We hardly even noticed Mike Cameron flying out and Dan Wilson grounding into a double-play to end the Seattle threat. Those two hits recorded during The Wave were the only ones Seattle would have the rest of the night.
I am, by and large, a rational man. I believe there's a perfectly logical explanation for most occurrences. I favor carefully constructed hypotheses that are subject to rigorous peer review. I don't believe in spooks. And yet... I am convinced that I was denied the opportunity to see a no-hitter live and in person because some guy thought it would be neat to do The Wave. And before I leave this earth, I will track down the perpetrator and inflict the crunchy beating that society owes me.
Zito matched his 2002 effort against the Mariners in Friday night's game with the Rangers. This time, I was not in the right-field bleachers or even in the Bay Area. Instead, I followed the progress of the game from my mother-in-law's living room in Northern Virginia via a frequently updated Yahoo box score. I'm told that the A's game wasn't on TV locally, so it seems that my view of the game from across the country was just as good as one from back in the 510. Which would have been small consolation had Zito actually pulled off the feat, though I think I would have gotten over it rather quickly.
(And as noted in the comments below, Zito actually pitched 7 1/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Rangers last year.)
Ask John Gibbons, Leader of Men
Dr. Catfish Stew, Ph.D, World-Famous Man of Science, didn't acquire his vast wealth of knowledge by lurking around Internet chat rooms. So while he expands his awesome mind powers by greedily devouring yet another volume of ancient lore, let us welcome a new guest commentor, Toronto Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons. Now in his second full season as Blue Jays skipper, Mr. Gibbons holds a master's degree in virility and is recognized the world over as a first-rate motivator. He's graciously agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to field your questions on a subject near and dear to his heart -- the relationship between supervisors and their employees.
Dear John Gibbons
Lately, at work, I've been having trouble with one of my younger employees. He's enthusiastic and he shows a lot of promise, but he doesn't take instruction well, and he can come off as a bit of a know-it-all. I worry that his attitude is alienating some of his co-workers. Any advice on how I can bring him in line without dimming any of that enthusiasm?
--B. Housman, Columbus, Ohio
The problem you describe is a common occurrence with many people just entering the work force, and it calls for the most delicate type of situational leadership. I have a particular approach that's worked well in the past; maybe it will pay dividends for you, too. At your next staff meeting, take this promising-yet-off-putting employee and challenge him to a fistfight in front of everyone else. If he backs down from your challenge, then you've effectively shown him who's boss. And if he's foolish enough to scrape knuckles with you, well, then it's high time for you to knock some humility into him. Good luck!
Dear John Gibbons
I oversee a sales group. One of my more dependable direct reports just turned in what I feel is a disappointment performance for the past quarter. What's the best way to convey my disappointment in this turn of events without adversely affecting morale?
--Dan R., Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
I'm already on the record for advocating public confrontations -- very public confrontations. But sometimes, even that isn't enough. So I would suggest the next time this failure of an employee gets up from his desk to take a coffee break or chat up the receptionist, you follow him into the hallway and charge after him like a bull that's spotted a red cape. Sure, noses might get bloodied in the process, but you can't make a managerial omelet without cracking a few skulls.
Er... eggs. I meant to say eggs.
Dear John Gibbons
My company is currently undergoing a massive strategic shift that some employees have been reluctant to embrace. What can I do to make sure that everyone's on the same page? --L. Schmichaels, Stafford, Va.
I have often found that getting away from the constraints of the workplace does wonders for team-building and morale. Take your employees out to a local watering hole. Buy them some drinks. And really take the time to get to know them.
And if they're still not seeing things your way, grab one of the empty beer bottles and shatter it against the table. Then use the shards of glass to carve those Negative Nellies a new smile.
Dear John Gibbons
I was recently passed over for a promotion at work--
Folding chair. Right to the base of the HR guy's spine. Incapacitates a man in seconds. Next question.
Dear John Gibbons
Some of my employees and I just aren't seeing eye-to-eye lately about all sorts of things. I give them responsibilities and to-dos, and they just aren't being carried out. I'm wondering if there are steps I can take to repair our fractured relationship.
-- B.B., Ann Arbor, Mi.
Sure there is. Send out a memo announcing that there's a new change in the company dress code -- from now on, each one of them will be required to wear a pink, frilly dress until they start toeing the line. And if that doesn't boost their performance, just give 'em a good, random punch. Right in the ol' breadbasket.
Dear John Gibbons
Many of your suggestions seem inappropriate, overly violent, and, well, frankly, horrifying. I... don't have a question, really. Just that observation.
--E. Carson, Salem, Ore.
Sounds like maybe you should be wearing that pink, frilly dress.
Dear John Gibbons
I think I'm going to have to fire you if you don't start controlling your temper.
--J.P. Riccardi, Toronto
Of course, like any employee, I serve at the pleasure of management, and if it's time for a change, then so be it. I've enjoyed my time in this organization. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing for my left fist, The Widowmaker, and my right fist, Dr. Thaddeus Bonecrusher, and I'm afraid they'll both have some very pointed things to say in our exit interview.
Over at The Drumbeat, Mark Smoyer writes something strange about Huston Street, who, if you're still averting your eyes after last Friday's game, went on the DL with a groin injury. Well, what he wrote was strange to me, anyhow, and since Ken lets me post stuff here, I can comment on just how strange it was. Smoyer writes, strangely:
Street wasn't automatic early in the season, but he's been getting better and better and was getting even better until things went south fast on Friday. In his previous four starts, he'd allowed four hits, not runs, in four innings.
And the reason that's strange -- again, at least to me -- is that I have a nearly 180-degree opposite view on Street's performance over that same stretch. He's been... all right, but not exactly what you would call automatic, and while three of those four games Smoyer mentions resulted in a save -- the fourth wasn't a save situation -- only one of them was of the three-up-and-three-down variety. One of the appearances in that stretch -- a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on August 11 -- is particularly interestingly. Street came into the game with a three-run lead, thanks to a pair of insurance runs scored by Oakland in the eighth. After a Greg Norton flyout, Travis Lee and his blistering sub-.215 average, smacked a double to center field; Dioner Navarro followed that with a line-drive single to left that moved Lee to third. That brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Jonny Gomes, who has been known to hit a home run or 20. To his credit, Street struck out Gomes and then retired B.J. Upton on a ground ball to end the self-inflicted threat. In other words, it's a save and an A's win, but not without a lot more excitement than there needed to be.
If Smoyer had decided to look at Street's previous five appearances instead of just four, he would have had to account for the reliever's performance in the August 8 game against Texas. Again, Street came in for the ninth to protect a three-run lead after the A's plated two runners in the eighth, and again, things went south fairly quickly, as Michael Young singled, Carlos Lee doubled, and -- following a Mark Teixeira strike out -- Hank Blalock scored both runners with a single of his own. That made the score 7-6, and, if not for an apparently dubious batter's interference call following a strikeout, the Rangers might still be out there racking up hits against Street. Instead, it's another save for a performance that did little to rescue the A's from danger.
Look, I'm not trying to argue that Huston Street is a bad pitcher, or that I'm not thankful it's him getting the call in the ninth inning as opposed to the likes of Octavio Dotel or Arthur Rhodes or even Billy Koch. Huston Street is a fine, dependable closer -- in theory. Trouble is, that dependability has been more theoretical this year than actual, at least to my admittedly limited powers of observation. I don't know whether it's sophomore inconsistency, some sort of lingering World Baseball Classic hang-over, or just the precursor to last Friday's groin injury, but lately, I've found a Huston Street save opportunity to be something less than a sure bet.
With the exception of maybe Jay Witasick and Scott Sauerbeck -- who at this point are limited to mop-up, blow-out, and "take one for the team, boys" duty, I am relatively sanguine about late-inning pitching changes. Kiko Calero comes in to protect a lead in the eighth? It's no sweat off my brow. Justin Duchscherer gets the call? Ho-humsville. Chad Gaudin is coming into the ballgame? Yeah, that's nice. But Street -- the A's supposed closer -- makes the walk from the bullpen, and I'm lunging for the nearest talisman and trying to calculate just which opposing batter might represent the tying run in whatever ninth-inning meltdown is sure to come.
Consider that, Kiko Calero -- outside of a poor performance the other night in Kansas City when no one in green and gold was exactly covering themselves in glory -- has yielded all of two earned runs in the other 16 2/3 innings he's pitched in July and August. Chad Gaudin hasn't given up a run since the All-Star break. Justin Duchscherer has been the shakiest of these three -- a pair of poor outings against the Royals, plus a couple of no-harm-no-foul stinkers against Seattle -- and even he's been a pretty consistent performer.
Maybe you don't want any of these three guys closing for a prolonged period of time. But for two weeks or so while Street recuperates (and hopeful regains some of his rookie-year reliability)? I think I'll take my chances.
Sweeps, Sports Bars, and the Return of Fragile Mark
I do not have fond memories of Mark Redman's one-year tenure with the Athletics. About halfway through the 2004 season, I started calling him Fragile Mark, not because he was prone to injury, but because any turn of events that didn't go his way always seemed to precipitate some on-field meltdown. Case in point: this game against the White Sox, which found the A's trailing 3-2 in the seventh with one out and a White Sox on first. The next batter hit a grounder to Bobby Crosby, a probable inning-ending double play. But Crosby couldn't get a handle on the ball and wound up just stepping on second for the out, rather than risk uncorking a wild throw to first. This displeased Fragile Mark who threw up his hands in the air in the universal symbol of frustration. If you guessed that Mark Redman followed that display up by serving up a gopher ball that Aaron Rowand promptly mashed for a two-run homer, then you are either Mark Redman's biographer -- Seasons of Mediocrity, coming soon to a bookseller near you -- or you are familiar with Fragile Mark's delicate sensibilities.
Say what you will about Jason Kendall -- his lack of pop, his propensity toward hitting into double plays, his outrageous Cam Bonifay-inflated contract -- but the fact that his arrival in Oakland allowed the team to unload both Fragile Mark and Enemy of the People Arthur Rhodes might qualify him for a statue outside the A's planned stadium in the South Bay. "The Great Liberator," the statue could read, or "A Tribute to Ill-Advised Personnel Moves..."
Anyhow, while listening to the A's-Royals game Saturday evening, I found myself in the rare position of benefitting from Mark Redman's sensitivity to the world around him. Redman and the Royals had played the A's even for most of the game -- it was tied 2-2 heading into the seventh -- though both Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo noted that Redman and his catcher John Buck seemed to be having trouble getting on the same page, with Fragile Mark shaking off signs and stepping off the rubber to regroup on several occasions. Indeed, in that seventh inning, the wheels finally came off -- Redman gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning, and then, when fielding a Bobby Crosby bunt, heaved the ball into the outfield, allowing Jay Payton to score the go-ahead run. Three more runs would score that inning, and the A's were on their way to a comfortable 7-2 win.
No word on whether Redman threw up his hands in frustration after fielding Crosby's bunt.
The return of Fragile Mark couldn't have come at a better time for the A's, who found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to win on Saturday and Sunday just to salvage a split of a four-game series with lowly Kansas City. Oakland dropped both ends of a doubleheader to the Royals on Friday -- an awful enough result without even considering that the sweep allowed both the Angels and the Rangers to pick up 1.5 games in the standings.
I watched the second, more maddening loss at a local sports bar within staggering distance of my home. I was joined by my friend and co-worker Curt, who is one of the last surviving Royals fans released into the wild. If there is one way to take the sting out of a loss -- or two -- to a team that the one you root for really oughta beat, it's to watch that loss -- or two -- with a long-suffering fan of that terrible team. Whatever disappointment you may feel over your team gacking all over itself is somewhat mitigated by watching a friend of yours who hasn't known pure joy since Reagan's first term in office delight in a stirring come-from-behind win for the franchise he inexplicably continues to root for.
Then again, Curt seems to be getting his fill of stirring Royals successes at my expense this year. He joined me at the Coliseum earlier this season to watch Huston Street blow a save opportunity and the A's lose in 10 innings. And he was over at my house in April when a wrath of God-type rainstorm washed away a Royal trouncing of Oakland at Esteban Loaiza's hands.
I'm starting to think Curt can watch these Royals-A's games by himself from now on.
The pain of watching the A's squander an eighth inning lead to a team they need to dispense with in workmanlike fashion was also stemmed somewhat by being in a sports bar. When the action from Kauffman Stadium proved too unbearable, I at least had half-a-dozen other TVs with which to distract my rapidly darkening mood. At one point in the evening, we had our choice of the A's trying to score in a bases-loaded situation, David Ortiz staring down Ron Villone in the longest nine-inning game ever played, and Carl Crawford driving in two runs with a game-winning hit to end a surprisingly compelling Devil Rays-Indians contest. It's times like this you need to have your head on a swivel -- those years of shortening my attention span to that of a magpie who sees something shiny really pay off in situations like these.
If there was a downside to the evening, it was the kid behind the bar charged with the all-important task of keeping compelling content on all the bar's TVs. He had an exceptionally slow trigger finger -- on one TV, the Mets finished off the Rockies with icy dispatch, and yet, no one bothered to change the channel, even after DirectTV cut off the feed. We finally pointed this out to the young man who fumbled with the remote and wound up accidentally turning off the TV with the A's-Royals game on it. That went over real well. Eventually, the kid just gave up trying to find a new game for that TV, leaving it on The Best Damn Sports Show Period -- a simply unacceptable turn of events and, quite possibly, the most overt act of aggression I have ever experienced in a bar.
Mark Redman would have thrown up his hands and spilled his drink. Fortunately, I am made of sterner stuff.
King Of Pain In The Groin
The Internet is weird sometimes.
Catfish Stew doesn't have "Oakland Athletics" in its blog name or tag line, so you won't find it at the top of many search results related to what is presumably the topic of this blog.
Yet, on the other hand, if you want to know about a "stomach punch", you have come to the right place. A Catfish Stew blog entry is currently the #4 result for that phrase.
So, I got that going for me, at least.
And perhaps, when I add the title of this entry into the searchosphere, I can grow my Internet empire further. I shall become the King of All Pains Abdominal!
* * *
There's a little black spot on the sun today
* * *
Things never go as planned. The other day, I wrote a baseball article that I thought had a fairly good point: the language we use to describe slumps lacks precision. I thought maybe some people would take the idea and expand upon it, and we'd have an interesting little baseball discussion.
Did it happen? Nope. The blog entry didn't get a single measly comment. Not a single baseball blog linked to it. But then, something weirder happened. Two of my favoritest non-baseball blogs in the whole wide world (Language Log) and (God of the Machine) linked to the article. Which triggered a series of other, smaller non-baseball blogs to also link to the article.
Jeers to the unintended failures! Cheers to the unintended victories!
* * *
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
* * *
On Dodger Thoughts the other day, there was this exchange:
Perhaps that's because I'm better at providing stomach punches than hunger pangs. Wouldn't it be great to be able to write something that literally makes someone else's mouth water?
I am failing at the things I want to succeed at, and succeeding at things I have no intention of succeeding at. So who the heck am I? What in tarnation am I doing here, writing on a baseball blog, when Google loves me elsewhere?
On my more optimistic days, I imagine myself as the baseball version of Babette, a stranger in a strange land, trying to fit in, to provide the meals you expect me to provide, barely scraping by for the longest time. But one day, maybe, when things fall just right...
* * *
There's a blue whale beached by a springtide's ebb
* * *
I served on a jury a year ago for a robbery. The victim got kicked, punched, and hit over the head with the butt of a gun, making him bleed profusely. He could barely see for all the blood pouring down over his eyes. When the cops showed up and caught the bad guy a block away, the victim, instead of nursing his injuries, ran over to try to punch the robber in the face.
He ended up punching the cop in the face, instead.
Shortly thereafter, the victim's adrenaline wore off, and he passed out.
* * *
There's a king on a throne with his eyes torn out
* * *
Friday night, I was playing indoor soccer in my old farts' league. A ball was sent into our offensive corner. The opposing goalie and I both chased it, arriving at the ball at the same time.
This league is presumably a non-contact, recreational league. The primary objectives are to have fun, and stay healthy. You're supposed to avoid any sort of moves that may end up hurting someone, even if it means you might give up a goal that costs you the game.
Somebody forgot to give the goalie the message. Instead of easing up when we got close to contact, he came at me like some freakish combination of Ronnie Lott and Scott Stevens. He ran full speed for the ball, jumped as high as he could to knock it away from me, and in the process, sent his knee full force straight into my groin, and slammed the rest of me right into the hockey-style boards.
* * *
There's a red fox torn by a huntsman's pack
* * *
I hurt like hell. As I peeled myself off the boards, I instinctively screamed something profane as loud as my voice can carry. Instantly, I was insanely angry. I mean, like Jason Kendall insane; maybe even worse. The pain was killing me, but if they had measured the amount of adrenaline and testosterone in my bloodstream at that moment, I would have made Floyd Landis look clean. I barely noticed how much I hurt through my rage.
Somehow, through my madness, I kept my head just enough to stomp off the field without turning around to look at the guy. Because I don't know what I would have done if this guy had given me any sort of John-Lackey-ugly-mug look that would have made me even more ticked off. Perhaps the words "stomach punch" would have come to my mind, and then to my fists, and then I might have ended up repeating history, wanting and trying so badly to punch the goalie, but accidentally punching the ref, instead.
So I stomped off the field and kept stomping; stomping straight to the locker room, where I grabbed my bag without showering; stomping straight out to my car, and then driving off, straight for home.
* * *
There's a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall
* * *
Just as I was getting in my car, Huston Street was entering the A's game in the eighth inning against Kansas City. The A's held a slim lead. My anger began to blend with dread. Street has seemed to be losing more and more stuff lately, the result of too much work during the A's current hot streak. "Ken Macha is going to run Huston Street's arm straight into the ground," I thought.
Sure enough, Street proceeded to blow the A's lead. Then Street left the game. He had an injured groin. The A's lost the doubleheader.
Perhaps Street's groin injury is for the best. I think his arm was starting to wear down, and now Ken Macha will be forced to rest Street and his tired arm, and maybe, someday, when the time is right, Street will be able to return to the A's bullpen, and lead his team to a glorious, delicious ending.
* * *
My groin injury, on the other hand...I don't see any silver lining for it. My adrenaline has worn off. I feel like crap. There's nothing for me to do right now except feel like crap.
* * *
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
* * *
My pain--the throbbing, the aching--probably doesn't have the wonderful, juicy ending from which great stories are told. I think my story is meant to just pass out.
Ask Dr. Catfish Stew, World-Famous Man of Science
Dr. Catfish Stew, Ph.D., the world's most brilliant scientist, knows absolutely everything! He can answer any question in the world! Just send your questions in to catfish @ zombia.com, and watch Dr. Stew astound you with his ingenious answers!
Dear Dr. Stew,
Why does sour cream have an expiration date? The cream is sour already.
--Melky C., Bronx, NY
It's not the "sour" part that the expiration date refers to, it's the "cream" part. After a while, mold starts to grow on the cream. At this point, the product technically ceases to be a "cream" and becomes instead a "cheese". Economics makes it cheaper to just toss the product into the dumpster than to comply with truth-in-advertising laws and relabel the product as "Sour Cheese".
Hello, Dr. Stew,
On old records, how does the speed stay at 45 even though the circle gets smaller as you go towards the center? Shouldn't it slow down since the distance is less?
--Pete Burns, Liverpool, England
This is a corollary to Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Just as time slows down as you approach the speed of light, time also slows down as you approach the center of a rotating disc. So even though a point at the center and a point at the middle both travel at 45 revolutions per minute, the "minute" varies depending on where you are relative to the circle's center. This is explained by Einstein's lesser known equation, E = Pi x r².
Dear Dr. Stew,
When does afternoon end and evening begin?
--Sidney Lanier, Macon, GA
Few people seem to realize that the word "evening" actually comes from the verb "to even out". Even fewer know what, exactly, "evening" evens out.
The etymology of the word "afternoon" is obvious, of course: it refers to the time after noon, but before sunset. There was also an old English word, "forenight", which was the opposite of "afternoon"--meaning the period after sunset, but before midnight. Over time, unfortunately, the word been shortened/merged with "night", and the resulting lack of precision causes a lot of confusion.
But back in the day, "afternoon" and "forenight" were both common words, with perfect opposite meanings. And being perfect opposites, the two time periods were required by definition to last the same length of time each day.
Under the simple definition of the terms, this only happened twice a year--at the fall and spring equinoxes, when sunset hit at exactly 6pm. Without some process for "evening" these time periods out, "afternoon" would last longer than "forenight" during the summers, and be shorter in the winters, and they would no longer be perfect opposites.
Evening out the two time periods is quite simple. You figure out the amount of time between sunset and 6pm, and subtract that much time from the other side of 6pm, to form the new period of the day called the "evening".
So for example, if sunset is at 5pm, the "evening" would last from one hour before 6pm until one hour after 6pm, i.e. until 7pm. Subracting two hours from the forenight evens out both the afternoon and the forenight to five hours long each.
Similarly, if sunset is at 7:30pm, the "evening" would last from 4:30pm until 7:30pm, and the "afternoon" and the "forenight" would each be an even four hours and 30 minutes.
So to answer the original question, from the fall equinox until the spring equinox, afternoon ends and evening begins at sunset. From spring until fall, afternoon ends and evening begins at the 6pm mirror of sunset.
Why do the Oakland A's keep beating the Seattle Mariners game after game after game?
--Demilitarized Zone, Seattle, WA
I have no freakin' idea. They just do.
The Oakland Athletics look to beat the Seattle Mariners for the 14th consecutive time this evening -- an impressive streak to be sure, but still shy of the franchise record for doling out consecutive whoopings to a particularly unfortunate foe. That distinction, the San Francisco Chronicle tells us, goes to the New York Yankees, who lost 16 games in a row to the A's from September 9, 1989 to May 1, 1991.
On the surface, that seems like an improbable occurrence -- the mighty Yankees sporting an 0-16 record against the plucky Athletics! -- until you consider the era in which that stretch of games occurred. When the streak began on a September afternoon behind a complete game, four-hit shutout from Mike Moore, the A's were on their way to the second of three consecutive American League pennants. The Yankees, on the other hand, were 67-77 at the time and on their way to a fifth-place finish in the AL East, 14.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Things would only get worse for the Yankees in 1990 -- when they would lose all 12 games to Oakland, scoring a paltry 12 runs to the A's 62 -- as the Bombers found themselves in last place for the first time since 1966. The Yankees would lose two more games to the A's in 1991, before finally downing Oakland 5-3 on May 10, on the strength of a two-run Don Mattingly homer off of Joe Klink in the seventh inning. (Kevin Maas hit a solo shot immediately after Mattingly's at bat to give the Yanks an insurance run.)
And once that streak was broken, it stayed broke. The A's won the next day 10-2, but dropped the two remaining games of the series. New York also took three of four when the Yanks traveled to Oakland that July.
To further illustrate that these are not the Yankees of Buster Olney tomes, here's the starters and rotation for the 1990 team that contributed 12 of the 16 losses to Oakland, according to Baseball-Reference.com. (Players from the '89 and '91 squads are listed in parenthesis.
C- Bob Geren (Slaught-89, Nokes-91)
So for those of you scoring at home, that's Don Mattingly, and a bunch of other guys who were... present. Sure, Steve Sax got his own poster which some people inexplicably hung in their bedroom growing up, and he was on an episode of the Simpsons about that time. That's something. There's future Oakland bench coach Bob Geren doing the catching on that 1990 team. And an appearance by young Bernie Williams on the 1991 squad. But, all in all, not really a team that's going to be immortalized in legend or song, unless those legends and songs are about what a terrible, terrible team the Yankees were in 1990.
Because we can never leave well enough alone, here's the lineup for the 1970 Chicago White Sox, losers of 11 consecutive games to the A's and previously runners-up in the Futility Streak sweepstakes until the 2006 Mariners stumbled onto the stage.
C - Ed Herrmann
I am probably the only person in the world who finds it interesting that Tommy John witnessed two of Oakland's three longest winning streaks against a single franchise from the losing side of the bench. Quick -- someone call up Bill Bavasi and convince him to sign John to a one-day contract. The circle must remain unbroken!
I've already noted that the 1989-1991 Athletics that gave the Yankees such a trashing enjoyed some measure of postseason success. Those 1970 A's finished this close to beating the Twins for the division title -- Note to those who cannot see the author: he is holding his arms apart at a distance to signify nine games... he has also separated a shoulder doing so -- in a prelude to winning the division five years running. (Plus, those three World Series titles the ancients sometimes speak of.)
Is history a good indicator of what awaits the 2006 A's after their mastery of a single franchise? One can only hope. (And yes, by typing this entry I realize I've doomed the A's run of good fortune against the Mariners to come to an untimely end tonight. If it's any consolation, I'll be at the game to witness the fruits of my jinxing first-hand.)
Eskimo Ballplayers Have 108 Words for Slump
The term to describe the state which lies approximately halfway between normal performance and a slump is: a Lull.
Barry Zito is in a lull. The good news is that he thinks he knows why he is in a lull: a mechanical problem. The mechanical problem would explain why he got clobbered by Texas last Wednesday, and why he was throwing 84mph fastballs last night, one of which was crushed for a two-run homer by Ben Broussard.
Fortunately for Mr. Zito, he's is just about the only player on the team who is currently in a lull or slump. The rest of the team is firing on all cylinders, and the A's now have the second-largest division lead in baseball at 5 1/2 games. But never mind that: the A's have a good thing going, and we don't want to jinx it by talking about it too much. Back to slumps.
We definitely could use some more precision when talking about slumps. If Eskimos can have N words for snow, why can't we have some more words to describe slumps? This would be especially useful for fantasy baseball players, because you'd want to drop a player if he's in one kind of slump, but keep him if he's in another. So I'm going to make up some more terms.
So when you want to know why Jorge Posada just went 0-for-25, you could answer, "Oh, I think he's in a...":
I'm sure y'all can come up with more/better terms that these. So fire away...
Is It Real or Is It Photoshop?
Apparently, doctoring photographs for use in news stories is all the rage these days, so I thought I'd dip my hand into the popular culture of the day and test the waters.
Here are some photographs I (presumably) took from Sunday's A's-Devil Rays contest in Oakland. See if you can tell which photos are real, and which ones are Photoshop.
The San Francisco Chronicle raises my hopes the other day...
The tarps are coming off the upper deck at the Coliseum...
...only to dash them by the time I got to the next clause:
...but it's only temporary.
This current homestand concludes the period of the season in which A's fans can look at the field of play and see a lush, verdant grass that conjures up instant memories of care-free summer days. After the Athletics dispense with the Mariners next Wednesday and fly off to Kansas City, the Coliseum staff will go to work, converting the stadium for Oakland Raiders' preseason games. When the A's return to the 510 on August 28, they'll be greeted by a field criss-crossed with hashmarks and endzone lines, plus a giant swath of dead grass out in center field where the football stands were erected.
Oh, and there'll be another homey touch this time around, according to the Chronicle...
While the A's are on their next road trip, the Raiders also will be holding their Raiders Nation celebration on Aug. 27, the day before the A's play Boston at the Coliseum. Because the Raiders need to be able to show the seats to potential season-ticket purchasers that day, the tarps can't be replaced until the morning of the 28th.
So imagine the scene on that Monday -- Oakland and Boston, two teams that are likely to figure into the playoff race until the bitter end, take the field in what is sure to be a tightly-contested three-game series... only to find a brown patch of dirt in the outfield and the inspiring message of "HOME .F THE ..KLA.. AT..L..ICS" displayed proudly in the upper deck.
No, public address announcer Dick Callahan can assure the fans, the A's weren't secretly relegated to the Pacific Coast League overnight. Though, admittedly, it's getting harder and harder to tell.
I was not a fan of the organization's plan to tarp off the third deck when it was announced; I'm even less of a fan after seeing it in practice for two-thirds of a season. I've never really believed ownership's stated reason for the move -- "to create a more intimate fan experience!" -- believing it to be a euphemism for "Let's cut operating expenses to the bone until we can leave this hellhole for some taxpayer-funded pleasure dome!" The once-abundant $2 Wednesday tickets have become so scarce they might as well not exist, obliterating a convenient low-cost way for me to take in a mid-week game above and beyond the ones I attend as part of my season-ticket package. And if the reduced capacity has allowed the A's to better concentrate their staffing resources, it's news to me -- lines at the concessions stands (the ones that are open anyhow) move about as quickly as they did a year ago. If the A's are putting the extra manpower into security, I can assure you it's not being done in the right field bleachers. For the second time in as many games that I attended with my wife, we wound up moving to another part of the stadium when our section was over-run by foul-mouthed drunkards and security was nowhere to be found.
And now add to that list the likelihood that the stadium will look like some sort of decrepit Hooverville during the stretch run of the pennant race.
Now I suppose I could offer a suggestion or two to Lew Wolff on how to remedy this aesthetic nightmare -- some sort of radical notion like "Hey why not just leave the damn tarps off for the remainder of the season instead of yanking them down every time the Raiders need to use the place?" -- but since none of my ideas involve using baseball team ownership as a way to build highly-profitable condos, I doubt he'd listen. Instead, let me suggest that the A's go in the opposite direction, to complete the look-and-feel of a stadium with brown grass and a half-tarped-off upper deck.
• Put a rusted '74 Chevy Impala up on cinder blocks in the left field alley and alter the ground rules so that any ball hitting off it remains live. Eat your heart out, Yankee Stadium monuments!
• Replace the A's green-and-gold home uniforms with bib overalls. Also, the players are prohibited from wearing shoes.
• Erect a still behind plate. Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton will thank you! Reportedly.
• During pitching changes and other breaks in the action, have the scoreboard display a "Gone fishun'" message.
• Build a beer can pyramid on top of the visiting dugout.
Sure, these may seem like small, unambitious changes by themselves. But taken together, they can help complete the Coliseum first envisioned by Lew Wolff when he got the idea to tarp off the upper deck.
A's All-Time Web Gems
Baseball Tonight is running a series, showing each team's top three web gems of all time. No word yet on which day they'll show the A's; they've only listed the schedule through August 19.
But I thought I'd try the exercise to see how many all-time A's web gems I could recall. I'm sure I'm forgetting some good ones, but here's what I came up with:
Missing from my list: those crazy plays by Eric Byrnes. Most of the time Byrnes made a crazy play in the outfield, it was because he took a bad route to the ball to begin with. I'd rather give props to someone like Mark Kotsay, who makes those same plays look much easier.
Pirates Overtake Greens
No, I'm not reporting that Jim Tracy's team has switched divisions, or suddenly became more talented than the Oakland A's.
Instead, I just felt compelled to pass on this news item from upcoming Swedish parliamentary elections:
The Pirate Party claims it is now larger than the Green Party, with nearly 8,000 members.
Yes, the Pirate Party may actually have a chance to win seats in the Swedish parliament. As a point of comparison, the Green Party currently has 17 seats of 349. What's more, since no one party is likely to win a majority of those seats, these Pirates might actually hold the deciding votes in who forms the next Swedish government.
Yes, we will vote for you to be Prime Minister, Mr. Persson, but only if you promise to make Talk Like A Pirate Day a national holiday. Also, we want Roberto Clemente's picture on the 20-crown note.
And why not? If terrorists can win democratic elections, then why not pirates? If wrestlers and bodybuilders can govern states, then why not swashbucklers? If Christians and Muslims can band together in numbers to impose their theology on the state, then why not Pastafarians?
This is where the world is headed. One day, the world will end, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with one, pure expression of absolute absurdity.
Praise Be for Eric Chavez, Deity of Fielding
Bill King's ghost has just returned from Canton, Ohio, where he spent the weekend providing the play-by-play to all of John Madden's Hall of Fame highlight videos. Just in time, because right now, I desperately need a really good Holy Toledo. Can I please have a Holy Toledo?
This incantation was conjured up by Eric Chavez, who is simply having the most astounding season of fielding I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Great fielding seasons don't get the kind of attention that having a bunch of walkoff hits like David Ortiz gets, but after last night's game, it's obvious to me the Chavez is having a season for the history books. This is defense of Ozzie Smith-Brooks Robinson-Bill Mazeroski's ilk, the kind of defense that deserves to be remembered for generations.
Chavez won his fifth straight gold glove last year, but he won it more on reputation than on merit. His throwing shoulder was hurt, and he was unable at times to make the long throw across the diamond, resulting in a lot more errors than he usually makes. He is injured again in 2006, this time in his forearms, but this injury only affects his batting, not his fielding.
He'll win his sixth gold glove this year. This time, it will be fully deserved. Perhaps some of the defensive metrics will disagree with me, but Eric Chavez is having the greatest fielding season in Oakland A's history.
He only has three errors so far this year, his last one coming on Saturday in Seattle when a bad hop skipped off his glove, ending an A's record 65-game errorless streak. I sometimes think errors are judged by the emotion they generate: are you surprised he didn't make that play? If yes, call it an error. Chavez didn't make the great play to snag that high hop. We're surprised. With a lesser third baseman, it might have been called a hit.
Chavez is making every single play he should make, and adding some jaw-droppers in between. As much as Milton Bradley's walkoff homer might have stunned the Blue Jays into a pennant-hopes-killing funk, and turned the A's fortunes in the other direction, it was Eric Chavez's defense that was the key to that series. Toronto hit rocket after rocket at him, and Chavez kept turning doubles into double plays all weekend long.
The latest jaw-dropper took place last night. With one out, runners on second and third, and Texas one run down, Chavez took a chopper near the bag, and quickly tagged out Mark DeRosa trying to return to third base. Now, I can't ever remember seeing a 5-unassisted at third base like that before, but Chavez didn't stop there. After tagging out DeRosa, he jumped over him into foul territory, planted his feet, and fired across the diamond to throw out the batter, Ian Kinsler. Double play, inning over.
What can you say after a play like that? Only two words come to mind.
Huzzah for Nicholas Swisher, Base-ball Enthusiast
Supporters of the Oakland Athletics Base-Ball Club are invited to attend a public speech by Nicholas Swisher, a Base-Ball player of extra-ordinary talent, who will be appearing at a tavern near the Oakland ball grounds following an upcoming contest against the Texas nine. Mr. Swisher will be speaking about his exploits upon the Base-Ball diamond in addition to opining about the recent rule change in which a foul bunt is now considered by the umpire to be a strike. In addition, Mr. Swisher will give a rousing endorsement of President McKinley and his policies as well as a stirring denunciation of the free-silver movement.
Veterans of the recent conflict against the Spaniard will be admitted to the tavern free.
Persons of Irish extraction, anarchists, and other men of low character are discouraged from appearing at the emporium.
Even A's Fans Get the Blues
As Nick Swisher was getting himself tagged out at home in the seventh inning of yesterday's game, my TiVo announced it was changing the channel. This was not the TiVo's editorial comment on Nick Swisher's base-running prowess -- at least I don't think it was -- but part of a standing order the machine has to record anything involving the Chelsea Football Club whenever such programming appears on the television.
Some background on how I came to root for Chelsea is probably in order, especially in light of the fact that the only amount of time I've ever spent in England was the hour it took me to change planes in Heathrow six years ago. But in 2001, someone loaned me a copy of Fever Pitch -- the book, mind you, and not the substandard Jimmy Fallon motion picture -- and that, plus the presence of Fox Sports World on my cable system plus the 2002 World Cup got me interested in soccer in general and the English Premiership in particular. And as I watched more and more matches, I found myself developing an affinity for Chelsea and players like Gianfranco Zola, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Graeme La Saux.
In the subsequent years, all three of those players either retired or moved on to other clubs, and Chelsea got bought by a Russian billionaire who went all Steinbrenner on us, shelling out hundreds of millions of pounds? dollars? krugerrands? for the top talent in Europe. Chelsea has won the last two Premiership titles after winning one title in the previous 100 years of the club's existence -- putting me in the rare position of actually rooting for the overwhelming favorite.
The take-away point here: they were OK-to-good when I started following them, so I take full credit for their remarkable rise over the past few years. I suppose the Russian billionaire deserves some of the credit, too.
Anyhow, the TiVo switched away from the A's-Mariners game to record the MLS All Star Game, featuring the best that Major League Soccer has to offer -- pause for knowing chuckles -- in an exhibition against Chelsea. Just to underscore the Russian billionaire's largesse, 16 players on Chelsea's roster played in the 2006 World Cup -- 11 of those players are traveling with the team on this current exhibition tour of the U.S. The starting lineup in Saturday's game featured such luminaries as Didier Drogba, Andriy Shevchenko, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, John Terry, and Paulo Ferreira. Joe Cole and Arjen Robben were reduced to coming off the bench.
Which makes me wonder: Any chance can we get the Russian billionaire interested in buying an East Bay-based baseball team?
Nothing against Lew Wolff and his quest to build highly-profitable condos and oh-yeah-maybe-a-stadium-too-somewhere for the baseball team he owns. But what I'd like to see is a A's owner with enough capital, ego, and disregard for competitive balance to spend large swaths of his vast fortune on acquiring top baseball players just because he can. It'd be a nice change of pace from the coupon-clipping mentality we've become accustomed to here in the East Bay.
So let's do what we can to get the Russian billionaire interested in buying a chunk of the A's. Let's pass along the word that the A's sudden interest in soccer gives him the opportunity to extend his vast sporting empire. Let's send him anonymous notes suggesting that owning a baseball team is something that all the cool billionaires are doing these days. Let's get him a copy of Fever Pitch -- the substandard Jimmy Fallon movie and not the book -- with a note along the lines of "Surely, you can use your billions to improve upon this."
Then again, considering that Chelsea lost 1-nil to the MLS All-Stars, the crazy Russian billionaire probably has other matters on his mind these days.
In Praise of the Other Henderson
A few months back in this very space, Ken warned that Esteban Loaiza -- he of the bent elbow and lead foot -- had earned himself a place on the list of most least-favorite A's players of all time. That prompted me to ask just who exactly is on that list. And that prompted Ken to produced a list of 25 Least Favorite Oakland Athletics -- a rogues' gallery of Ariel Prietos, Buddy Grooms, and Ruben Sierras that would make even the most taciturn Oakalnd fan quake with rage. And that, in turn, inspired Cliff Corcoran to come up with a list of his least favorite Yankees.*
And all this talk of hated ballplayers because of my question. That's me -- sower of discord, reaper of misery, rekindler of unpleasant memories. Trifle with me at your peril.
But we are not just about inspiring other bloggers to express their long simmering disdain for ballplayers that have wronged them. We are also about the love. And so what better way to dip our toe into the Catfish Stew waters -- please take no notice of the "Trainee" hat -- than by talking about our favorite Oakland Athletic of all time.
I've never been into the marquee names. I suppose it's the snot-nosed contrarian in me. So while I can appreciate the contributions of your Rickey Hendersons, your Mark McGwires, your Eric Chavezes, your Cansecos of the non-Ozzie variety, I figure they get enough support from the home crowd without me doing anything more than applauding politely. It's the under-the-radar guys that I tend to have the most affinity for, the players whose names would appear after the title of the highlight film with an "Also Featuring" credit. You hardly ever find these guys' names on the backs of retro jerseys -- believe me, I've looked -- but they always seem to keep popping up whenever I look back on some of my favorite A's-themed memories.
And that's why my favorite Athletic of all-time is Dave Henderson.
Dave Henderson recorded just under half of his career at-bats in Oakland, tallying a .263/.324/.445 line with 104 home runs and 377 RBIs in six seasons as an Athletic. By my doubtlessly incorrect math, that's something 364 runs created. His 1988 and 1991 seasons were particularly solid, the other years less so. Those numbers are... OK, but not the sort of thing that gets future generations to memorialize your name in legend and song.
But the Hendu love has little to do with the numbers. I admired the way he took the field, how he always seemed happy to be there and how he se seemed to make the most out of both opportunity and ability. I remember a day game from the 1989 season -- probably this one, though exact dates and details fade with the passage of time -- in which a Cleveland batter roped a liner to center that seemed ticketed for a double; Henderson bolted for it, dove, and caught the ball. Later that game -- the very next half-inning, if my Swiss cheese memory is working properly -- he hit a home run.
I enjoy that kind of brio. I love to watch a guy who loves what he's doing. I love the way he reacted to the smattering of cheers he received when introduced at the 1991 All Star Game: "They don't boo Hendu," he said to the guy next to him in line. And that is why I plan to bore people with tales of Dave Henderson until I am a toothless old man incapable of speech.
And your runners-up for the highly coveted Phil's Favorite Athletic crown:
• Miguel Tejada: OK, he defies the No Marquee Guys policy -- winning an MVP award tends to assure you of top billing. But like Hendu, he brought the ever-present enthusiasm to the ballpark every day. I'm as quick to dismiss intangibles as much as the next guy, but it's hard to ignore Tejada's flair for the dramatic, late-inning hit -- it's a quality that, quantifiable or not, seems to be sorely lacking from the A's ever since Miggy left for Baltimore.
• Mark Mulder: I'm including him here, largely because I always enjoyed watching him pitch -- efficient, effective, and, when he really had it going on in 2003 and the first part of 2004, unbeatable. Also, I found out he was traded standing while standing in the middle of the Tropicana Casino in Las Vegas; my blood-curdling scream drew the attention of hotel security. So I guess that means I kinda dug him.
• Marco Scutaro: Since we are all the heroes of our own narrative, I imagine that most of us envision ourselves as a Barry Zito or Eric Chavez type. Reality often has a far more brutal assessment. So why not be happy to be Marco Scutaro? Here's a guy that, two of the three seasons he's been in Oakland, he wasn't even expected to make the team. But circumstances intervened and when they did, he was ready to answer the bell -- and with more than a few game-winning hits to boot. You could do a lot worse than wind up with that kind of life.
• Dave Kingman: An odd choice for this list, because I can't imagine too many other human beings I'd want to meet less. But when you're 13 years old, and you hop on a bus in Danville bound for the Walnut Creek BART station and you have to change trains at MacArthur to get to your bleacher seat at the Coliseum to watch a not-very-good A's team, then dammit, you want to see someone hit a home run, even if he winds up sending rats to reporters who offend his delicate sensibilities. And Kingman could hit home runs, so that was all right by me. I don't pretend this makes me a fabulous human being.
• Steve McCatty: He went to the same church that I did when I was growing up, and he always was nice enough to me. Besides, us Lutherans got to stick together, now more than ever.
* Interestingly enough, five of the 25 Yankees that made Cliff's list also spent time in Oakland (six, if you want to count Jeff Weaver, who was an Athletic long enough for Billy Beane to flip him for Ted Lilly). Of those five, four wound up in Oakland after wearing out their welcome in the Bronx. (The fifth, Greg Cadaret, was used to retrieve Rickey Henderson from exile.) That's not how it's supposed to work, is it? The A's are supposed to snooker big-spenders like the Yanks into taking problem players off their hands, not vice-versa.
Did You Feel A Draft?
Since we've already said our goodbyes to Barry Zito, everything else is just gravy, baby. Our first scoop of gravy last night in Seattle wasn't quite the vintage Zito flavor, but we'll take it. His curveball wasn't really working, and the umpire's strike zone was pretty small, making it hard to put in any sort of dominant performance. But this game was a perfect example why Barry Zito is a much better pitcher in 2006 than 2004. He now has the arsenal to get through a whole game, even if he's missing some of his bullets.
So a solid, but unremarkable performance for Zito: 7IP, 1 run. He was helped by a good performance at the plate by Marco Scutaro, who hit a double and a homer filling in for Bobby Crosby, who hit the DL earlier in the morning. Jay Payton, who fortunately did not break his hand that HBP by Scot Shields on Wednesday, helped with a really nice catch on a drive by Ichiro to end the 7th. It all added up to a 5-2 A's win in Seattle.
Like last Saturday, when A's fans gave Zito a curtain call, probably the most memorable event of the game happened as Zito walked off the field after throwing his last pitch. As he got to the dugout, it was pointed out to Zito that he had pitched his last inning with his fly open.
Considering that Zito set the Mariners down 1-2-3 in that, um, condition, could we have seen the birth of the pitching equivalent of the rally cap?
The shutdown zipperdown? Ewwwww, let's hope not, but if it works...
I really enjoyed the A's-Angels series, the last two games especially. Every game was well-pitched, and each game was decided by a few key plays. Make the play: you win, don't you lose. There were only 14 runs scored in the series, and three of them were scored by runners from second base on balls that didn't ever leave the infield. Isn't baseball fun when the deciding runs are scored by aggressive baserunning and their defensive responses? Homers, shmomers. On Tuesday, there were three close plays at the plate. All three plays went the Angels' way, and they won the game. On Wednesday, the A's made the plays; the Angels made the mistakes, and the A's got the win.
The tone of these games felt different from recent A's games. Instead of games where the A's were bumblin' and stumblin' their way into first place, the games felt sorta pennant-racy. There was an urgency to them, as if the games mattered or something. Good stuff.
* * *
Of course, all that good feelings might be squashed if the test results come back and we find out that Bobby Crosby has a stress fracture in his back, or that Jay Payton has a broken hand, and their seasons are done. That's what happened last year...everything was hunky dory until Crosby and Rich Harden went down, and then pfffffffffffft--all the air left the balloon. To have that happen two years in a row--Fate can be so cruel sometimes.
Philip Michaels Joins Catfish Stew
With the demands on my time growing more and more each day, it has become harder and harder for me to keep this blog going by myself. So I asked my fellow Alamedan Philip Michaels of Idiots Write About Sports to join me here on Catfish Stew, and he graciously accepted.
Expect Philip to start adding his humorous rantings here any time now. He's one of the few writers I know who can regularly make me laugh out loud, and think to myself, "I wish I had written that." Not to put any pressure on the poor fellow, but I'm confident that as he switches teams, Philip won't go all Keith Ginter or Antonio Perez on us, he'll keep putting up the good numbers, and Catfish Stew will be better than ever.
Pointing Bullets At July
Some things on my mind:
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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