Monthly archives: October 2006
Another Long, Rambling Post That Starts Out Nowhere Near Where It Finally Ends Up (The A's Dugout)
This article is about who the A's should hire as their next manager, but it starts out several light-years away in the world of politics. Now don't run away just because of that; I won't be telling you whom to vote for. I'll trust you to make up your own mind on that, if you'll trust me to get to the baseball in the end.
* * *
A couple of years ago, the American left-wingers were all excited about the theories of George Lakoff. Lakoff is a linguistics professor at UC Berkeley, who specializes in metaphor. His thing is that all language, and possibly all human thought, consists of metaphors built on other metaphors built on other metaphors...built on the basic functions of the human body.
Ken Ponders Kens
Kenny Rogers, Ken Macha, blah blah blah. All we ever hear about these days is Kenny, Ken, Ken. Somebody should hold a Ken fast. I'd do it myself, but I'm afraid I'd end up like that kid in that Gary Larson Far Side strip who accidentally sucks himself into a bottle.
So let's take a breath, and contemplate some non-Ken news. Guillaume Latendresse of the Montreal Canadiens just became the first person in the history of the NHL to wear uniform #84. It was the last unused number in NHL history. This got me curious about A's uniform numbers. There's a list of uniform numbers over at Baseball Almanac. Which leads us to:
Ken's Non-Ken Fact of the Day:
The lowest number that has never been worn by an Oakland A's player during the regular season is 62.
Ken's Non-Ken Addendum of the Day to Ken's Non-Ken Fact of the Day:
Only four numbers above 62 have been worn by Oakland Athletics players: 64 (Joe Blanton), 73 (Ricardo Rincon), 75 (Barry Zito) and 99 (Willie Crawford).
And now, back to your regularly scheduled Ken programming.
OK, so Kenny Rogers used pine tar. I don't care. I don't like Rogers, but I'm not going to jump on the "Get Kenny Rogers" bandwagon just so I can feel a little schadenfreude.
I don't think the pine tar explains why he beat the A's in the ALCS or the Yankees in the ALDS. On the levels of cheating scale, this ranks just beyond stealing signs. Stealing signs is fully preventable. If you lose because someone cheated you that way, blame yourself. Stopping pine tar abuse is a little harder than that, but once you know someone's done it, you don't let him do it again. You check every time. Rogers won't have that advantage anymore. If he beats you again because of it, blame yourself. Move on.
As for Ken Macha, I don't feel a bit sorry for him. He knew exactly what he was getting into when he signed that contract. He probably didn't want to stay in Oakland and work for Billy Beane, but it turned out to be his best option, so he took it. Now he can sit at home in Pittsburgh for two years, and collect $2 million for services already rendered. Good for him.
The person to blame here is Billy Beane. He obviously micromanages his managers. But anyone in business knows, if you have to micromanage an employee, you have hired the wrong employee. Any business thrives best when you hire people you can trust to leave alone to do their jobs. Which leaves one of three possibilities:
One way or another, Beane is accountable for the error. Let's hope it's error #2, and Beane can learn from it and do better next time.
If it's error #3, then Beane is guilty of not preparing someone for the job. Somebody within the organization should be groomed for the job under the current management philosophy, and be ready to go if called upon.
If it's error #1--yikes. If Beane is a hopeless micromanager, this scene will just repeat itself over and over. As a part-owner, Beane is now essentially GM for life, or at least, until the team is sold. Ugly things happen when you can't get rid of an evil or incompetent dictator. Checks and balances are a good thing.
Catfish Stew Exclusive: A's Managerial Shortlist
We can sit here and spitball about the who the next A's manager is going to be. But you and I both know that it's almost certainly going to be Bob Geren, Oakland's current bench coach. The reasons for his forthcoming ascendancy to the throne can best be summed up thusly:
And so, congratulations to Bob Geren, who should be named manager any day now. Unless the gig goes to Ron Washington, which wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility. But it's most likely Geren, and if it turns out to be anyone other than the two men I just mentioned, I will eat my hat.
Note to Oakland A's executives reading this blog and contemplating hiring Bud Black for the sole purpose of making me look silly: "My hat" is a popular colloquialism amongst Lutherans for "a nice steak dinner with a bottle of a very dry Zinfandel." So no funny stuff.
Still, I believe the Official Charter of Baseball Weblogs requires us to speculate endlessly and ridiculously on all personnel changes, no matter how much of a foregone conclusion they may be. And so, in order for us to keep our license, I'm willing to float a few potential candidates out there. I can't promise they'll be nearly as hilarious as the thought of Dusty Baker skippering the A's, but I can guarantee they are just as unlikely to come to pass.
What on account of Bob Geren getting the job. Unless, of course, it's Ron Washington.
Anyhow, my carefully-thought-out list of candidates follows after the jump.
The Funniest A's Manager Suggestion Ever
I just wish Beane would broaden his scope a little, because Dusty Baker is the man for this job.
I literally laughed out loud when I read this.
Sometimes the Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins can make some interesting and astute observations, but sometimes...wow. In my wildest dreams I can't imagine anyone thinking that Dusty Baker should be the first person on earth the A's should hire to be their manager instead of the last. That anyone who has read Moneyball would not understand that if anyone in organized baseball personifies everything the A's think is wrong with traditional baseball management practices, it's Dusty Baker. And more amazingly, Jenkins is not alone. Dave Newhouse at the Oakland Tribune suggests the very same thing.
Dusty Baker will not and should not be the next A's manager, guys. It has nothing to do with Billy Beane's ego. It's about belief systems. Their personalities might not clash, and yes, Baker is good in the clubhouse, but besides that, no two management philosophies are more at odds than Billy Beane and Dusty Baker. Beane is all about the rational approach to management; Baker is all about instincts and tradition. It could never, ever work. It doesn't take a wild dream to see that hiring someone who believes the total opposite of what you believe is a bad idea.
I don't mean to step on Zachary Manprin's turf and bash local writers. But I am truly astonished here. How can anybody follow this team and this sport and not understand this obvious fact?
My six-year-old daughter is a better fit to be the next manager of the Oakland A's than Dusty Baker. That's no joke.
The Macha Details Trickle Out
Just to formally answer the question I posed earlier today: Yes, Macha out. And the more I read about the details behind the sacking, the more convinced I am that the A's made the right call, even if it has people far removed from the situation scratching their heads. Consider this quote from the Chronicle story from Barry Zito:
"The fact is, when you have someone leading people, you want them to be a visionary, to forge ahead and be on the front lines,'' Zito said. "We felt like we were on the front lines, and he might have been with us but he didn't have the same conviction or faith. I think it was a fear of failure. He was a little more focused on the pessimistic stuff than on success."
Or, if criticism carries more weight for you if it comes from a player who will still be wearing an A's uniform next year, here's a comment from Jason Kendall:
"I know that the one thing any player wants from his manager is to be protected,'' catcher Jason Kendall said. "If there's a bang-bang play at first, even if you're out, if you're arguing you want someone there behind you. If you argue a pitch, even if you're wrong, you want someone joining in. And I'm not sure Macha did that.''
Oh, we'll excerpt one more quote, this one from Mark Kotsay:
"I heard Steve Phillips on ESPN saying, 'I don't understand this move because those guys were playing (well) for Macha,' '' Kotsay said. "Well, we didn't play for him. This collective group wanted to win together, we felt we have a chance to win together, and we provided the leadership. The core guys who went out and played every day were the leaders of the team and carried us through the uncertainty. If there were problems, they were dealt with among the 25 guys.''
That's some pretty damning stuff, particularly in an era in which athletes talking on the record tend to murmur bland pronouncements about the recently departed. Ken Macha may have had many strengths as a manager, but motivating his players and convincing them that he was in their corner apparently weren't among them.
And really, what else is a manager supposed to do? With a few possible brainteasers, the strategic decisions that come up in the course of a baseball game are so cut-and-dried that you or I could sit there with a copy of Weaver on Strategy and probably do a passable job, summoning pinch hitters and calling for the hit-and-run. Filling out a lineup card has little appreciable impact on a team's performance over the long haul -- for heaven's sake, the Detroit Tigers are about to win a World Series title with Jim Leyland regularly submitting a lineup that seems designed to make sure that the team's best hitter is burried as deep in the order as possible. At the end of the day, all a manager can do is keep his players from killing one or another or falling prey to the many pitfalls that crop up over the grind of 162 games.
Ken Macha didn't do that. In fact, if the A's players quoted above are to be believed, his attitude was one of the pitfalls. If that's the case, then we're best rid of him, even if it means he'll still be cashing paychecks signed by Lew Wolf well into 2008.
Ken Macha -- you've just managed the Oakland A's to an appearance in the American League Championship Series. What are you going to do next?
"I'm stepping down, either by choice or by request!"
Or, at least, that's what Ken Macha will be doing in the next day or so if this San Francisco Chronicle report is to be believed.
One team insider said Sunday that it is unclear if any firm decision has been made about Macha's status, but there is no doubt that Macha is on shaky ground, despite taking the team to the American League Championship Series and despite having two years remaining on his contract.
Man, I hate reruns.
To sum up, the signs and portents suggesting a Macha departure this time around are these:
I'm surprised by this rumored turn of events, largely because I had no idea the attitude toward Macha had turned so negative. (Mark Kotsay doesn't get along with Ken Macha? But they seem so chummy in those Fitzpatrick Hummer ads!) My own feelings about Ken Macha as a manager are slightly more nuanced than I've let on in public. I find him to be of questionable value as an in-game strategist, particularly when it comes to summoning relievers from the bullpen. On the other hand, I'm fully aware that on the spectrum of Major League managers, Macha probably falls somewhere in the middle -- there are a few managers who are better than him, there are others who are a whole lot worse. Of course, that assessment was based largely on the belief that, whatever Macha's failings with allocating the resources given to him, he was at least able to keep 25 guys on an even keel for a six-month grind. That doesn't appear to be the case if the Chronicle story has it straight.
We've a ways to go before published reports become certified facts. Firing Macha would mean eating the last two years of his contract, which is something the A's aren't particularly fond of doing. So after whatever hubbub this story causes, chances are that Ken Macha will still be the A's manager when the team re-assembles in Phoenix next spring.
But then there's one paragraph of the story that makes me think Susan Slusser might be on to something here:
Toward the end of the season, one member of the starting lineup was openly critical of Macha in the clubhouse. By the final weekend of the regular season, another prominent member of the team had joined in the criticism. Several players went so far as to take their complaints to Beane, telling him they did not want to return to the club if Macha remained as manager, according to sources.
It's one thing if you have Terrence Long or Adam Piatt or even Adam Melhuse sniping about your communication skills. If those last names of the people described above look anything like "Kotsay," "Thomas," "Kendall," or "Chavez," Bob Geren better start planning on how he wants to decorate the manager's office right now.
Maybe Ken's prediction of a Dick Williams revival isn't so fanciful after all.
Congrats to the Tigers
They deserved to be American League champions. They were the best team.
The Tigers fell apart at the end of the regular season, but they were without Placido Polanco for most of it, so we'll forgive them for that. The dropoff from Polanco to Neifi Perez--it's about as big as the dropoff from Mark Ellis to D'Angelo Jimenez.
I wish the A's could have put up a better fight. The Tigers might have won anyway, but I would have loved to have seen this series with both teams at full strength. The A's style is to play solid defense, keep the game close, and then win it late with a deep bullpen. But without Ellis and his MLB-record 2B fielding percentage, and without Justin Duchscherer, who can throw two shutdown innings in the middle of a ballgame, the A's M.O. was gone. Those two guys were the keys, the very heart and soul of the A's success in 2006.
Defensive miscues cost the A's game two, and the short bullpen cost them in game four. If the A's had won one of those games, we'd get to see Barry Zito give one last effort in an Oakland uniform. Instead, his last appearance was a stinker. That's a sad way to go out.
Phffffffffffffffffffffffffttttttt ;P !
Who's insane now, suckers?
Tigers-Athletics, ALCS Game 4 Chat
Resigned to My Fate
Ken's a lot more optimistic than me heading into what figures to be the last game of the 2006 season. I wouldn't describe the feeling I have right now as "giving up" -- I think it would be more accurate to say that I've reached the Acceptance stage of the grieving process. It's easy to do when your team has led for all of two innings in the past three games.
I spent the most time in the Bargaining phase -- "Just win two games in Detroit, and I won't have to give my ALCS tickets the viking funeral I usually do at this time of year!" -- and relatively little time in Denial and Anger, save for maybe a few uncharitable thoughts about Eric Chavez. (Seriously, Chav -- if you want to play Hamlet, join summer stock.) Again, it's easy not to get too caught up in things when this series has been largely about what Detroit has done right, instead of what the A's have done wrong. Unlike some of our more wrenching losses, there's no one moment I can point to with an air of "If only this had worked out differently." The Tigers pitched, hit, and caught the ball with precision -- the A's less so.
The outcome is disappointing to me, of course, and I'm bugged by the fact that I'm rapidly reacing the point where I can paper my walls with unused A's ALCS tickets, but really, only two things really bother me about this series and how it seems destined to end. The first is that I worry the lingering impression of the 2006 Athletics is going to be the egg they laid against Detroit, rather than all the stuff they did prior to last Tuesday -- Frank Thomas' big comeback year, the redemption of Milton Bradley, staving off a worthy foe for a divisional title, getting that first-round playoff off our back. The unfair thing about the postseason is not necessarily that any team is just as capable of winning a short series as any other but that we can let the outcome of four games affect our perception of the preceding 162-plus. The fact that the A's have been beaten solidly by Detroit during the past week doesn't negate what the team accomplished this year -- it's up to us as fans not to lose sight of that.
And the second thing bugging me today is a fact of life that affects all fans, save for maybe those in the five borroughs or in New England -- that the sound you hear may be the window of opportunity closing for who knows how long.
The A's certainly seem well-stocked headed into next year, particularly if Rich Harden returns to form and wards off the injury bug. Unfortunately, the A's are in a division in which one rival appears to be stocked with promising young players and an owner who's not afraid to write out large checks. Meanwhile, another rival has added a bright executive while removing one of the biggest impediments to winning baseball. Winning that division figures to be a tall order for the A's -- both next year and beyond.
Looks like I just fast-forwarded to Despair.
Not Giving Up
There was a stretch of games in September where the A's pitching seemed to be falling apart. In consecutive games, they gave up 8, 5, 6, 6, 9, 7, 9 and 7 runs. And then Dan Haren went into the Metrodome, threw a three-hitter, and the A's won the game 1-0. The A's seemed to settle down after that, and went on a 8-1 hot streak that won them the division title.
If Haren can come through again, and get the A's a Game 5, I have a feeling Barry Zito will bounce back from his bad Game 1 start. Everyone keeps saying how brilliant the Tigers game plan was against Zito, but how brilliant is it to score runs against a guy who can't throw his fastball or his curve for a strike? You sit changeup and hit it. Duh. Zito won't have that kind of bad control again. He'll be better. Win those two, and suddenly, you're back in Oakland again, and things get interesting.
Of course, that would mean using Esteban Loaiza again, but we'll deal with that if it comes to that.
Athletics-Tigers, ALCS Game 3 Chat
The Scott Brosius trade comes full circle as Mark Kotsay and Kenny Rogers square off at last.
Bonus: there's Rich Harden and some other guys, too. Lineups:
Game Time Change for ALCS Game 3
Game Three will now start at 1PM Pacific, 4PM Eastern, on Friday. This is partly to accomodate the NLCS rainout last night, and partly because the weather is supposed to be quite cold in Detroit.
One good thing for the A's: if you're going to play a game where there's a chance of snow, having a Canadian start the game for you is an advantage. Rich Harden loves to pitch in cold, damp weather. Back in April, he said this about pitching on a cold, wet day:
"Basically, this is identical to the weather up there in Victoria (British Columbia, where Harden grew up). It's always wet, like my home," he said. "Light rain, cold, that stuff. I'm comfortable. It doesn't bother me at all."
Hooray for optimism!
I got a phone call at 4:30am Wednesday morning from the Alameda Police Department. They told me that my stolen car had been found in Oakland, slightly damaged, but not stripped. The words that came out of my mouth were, "Thank you." The words that wanted to come out of my mouth, but didn't quite make it, were, "Why the #$&*#&(@#$&! are you calling me at 4:30 am?!?!?!?"
I tried to get back to sleep. Maybe I did, but whatever sleep I got did not satisfy.
Next time my car is stolen, I'd prefer it stay stolen. Getting your car back sucks up a whole day of your life. First, I trudged off to the Alameda Police Department to get a "vehicle release form" from the agency that filed the missing car report. Then, over to the Oakland Police Department to stand in a stereotypical long, utterly bureaucratic and inefficient line for over an hour to get yet another "vehicle release form", from the agency which found the car. And then finally to the auto yard to which the car had been towed, to retrieve the car at last.
If there was anything efficient about my day, it's that the auto yard was about three blocks from the Coliseum. And since I was headed there anyway that afternoon...well, that was convenient.
Somewhere in there, I heard the awful news about Cory Lidle. By the time I showed up at the ballpark, I was already spent.
On a normal day, I suppose I would have been ready to promote Esteban Loaiza to #1 on my least favorite A's list for immediately blowing two leads he had been handed. I would have been ripping my hair out wondering why Ken Macha left Loaiza out there in a playoff game in the sixth inning when he was having a bad day, especially after Magglio Ordonez almost took him deep. I would have been cursing our fate every time D'Angelo Jimenez messed up a play that Mark Ellis would have made look easy.
But I was just kinda numb to all that negativity. It should have been a most agonizing loss, but oddly, I actually kinda enjoyed myself.
Perhaps I felt a sense of redemption, that even though the A's were losing, they were going down fighting. Things have not gone the A's way so far this series; the hits aren't quite timely enough, the defense always seems just half an inch from making a play, and the starting pitchers have let them down. The A's could have easily rolled over and let the Tigers just walk away with this game, but they slogged their way back into the game, with the help of some home runs by Eric Chavez and Milton Bradley.
When Frank Thomas came up, down by three, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, I thought maybe, just maybe, that this long day would climax with a memorable, magical moment.
But, sadly, this was a day we were merely meant to endure, not to celebrate. Magic did not befit the day.
Thomas popped up, and that was that. I got into in my dirty old car, and we trudged back home together once again.
Time it was and what a time it was, it was
Athletics-Tigers, ALCS Game 2 Chat
I was just about to head out to the Coliseum for tonight's game, when I heard the horrible news about the Cory Lidle plane crash.
This is terribly, terribly sad news.
The game doesn't seem to matter much right now, does it?
Phil, here... subbing in for Ken, who's at the park. Here are the starting lineups for tonight's game.
Condolences to the Lidle family.
Curtis Granderson -- CF
Jason Kendall -- C
And your pitching match-up: Justin Verlander versus Esteban Loaiza -- a replay of a game I attended back in April. It was the best of Loaiza's pre-DL starts, though he didn't factor into the decision. Nick Swisher won the game with two home runs, both hit off of Verlander.
I would tell you that I anticipated that game would be a dry-run for Game 2 of the ALCS, but my mother raised me not to lie.
Athletics-Tigers, ALCS Game 1 Chat
I have a ticket for Game 2 and Game 7, but I'll be watching this one on TV.
ALCS Bullet Points
Remember how that Scott Brosius baseball card mysteriously appeared in my kitchen last month? And how that convoy of cars with Michigan plates kept driving past my office?
Now a convoy of Michigan baseball players is headed to Oakland. And if that wasn't coincidence enough, check this out:
When we look back at the ALDS series between the Yankees and Tigers, what are we going to remember? Kenny Rogers' shutdown performance, right?
When we look back at the ALDS series between the A's and Twins, what are we going to remember? Mark Kotsay's inside-the-park home run, right?
Spooky, eh? I'm beginning to feel like the Japanese guy from the new TV show Heroes who finds a comic book with details of his own life on the news stand. This is getting really freaky.
What's next? What's going to happen when Kenny Rogers faces Mark Kotsay? Stay tuned...
One of my best friends grew up in Michigan. If you ask him his favorite baseball team, he'll say the Detroit Tigers. But the truth is, he pays about as much attention to baseball as my mother, who lives in Sweden; that is to say, he pretty much ignores the topic entirely.
This morning, however, he sent me this email:
"Uh-oh," I thought. "This is not good."
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Those who do not follow sports often cannot fathom why those of us who do devote so much time and energy to it. My mother always thought my passion for sports would be something I'd grow out of. It hasn't happened yet.
Paul Ford has a fabulous blog entry called Men standing around broken machines. It's about the mysterious way that men communicate their feelings for each other through the act of fixing things:
For much of my life I was able to bring myself to an emotional boil by reading or writing. I used this as a kind of fuel and assured myself that in my agonies I was more intense than the person sitting next to me on the subway. But I have come to sympathize with those men who stood around saying little, who gathered around the open hoods of brown cars or around malfunctioning typewriters.
* * *
It all sounds so noble, this cooperative effort to fix things. But we men aren't quite such simple creatures. There's a certain amount of competition within this cooperation, too. There's a wonderful Darwinian balance between altruistic behavior that helps the group survive, and selfish behavior that increases the social status of the individual within the group.
You want your group to fix the car, but preferably when you find the solution. Men cooperate and compete with their friends at the same time.
* * *
When the A's beat the Twins, I felt a huge burden lift. The A's failures in the postseason was no longer a machine that needed to be fixed. I felt like I could simply sit back, and appreciate the beauty of playoff baseball. Whatever else happened would be gravy.
But now, the stakes have been raised. My buddy from Michigan has been given a potentially devastating weapon in our relationship. Should the Tigers happen to defeat the A's in the ALCS, he will have permanent ammunition over me in any discussion we may have from this point forward.
We could be discussing foreign politics or operating systems or Battlestar Galactica, and I could rebut every point he makes with a brilliant counteranalysis, and all he'd have to do to win the argument is to play the "Yeah, but Detroit won the 2006 ALCS" card and I will be helpless to do anything but crawl back under my rock in meek submission.
And since he doesn't really give a hoot about baseball, I can't pull out the "1972 ALCS" card in response. Nor will I gain any advantage if the A's win. If the Tigers lose, it won't bother him in the slightest.
What was the subtitle of Moneyball? The art of winning an unfair game? This is an unfair game. I care about this ALCS, and he doesn't. He can't lose; I can't win. My best case scenario in this particular game is a tie.
My feelings of pure altruism toward playoff baseball lasted about a day and a half. My competitive drive has returned. I need the A's to beat the Tigers. How do we fix it so that happens?
Pictures Worth More Than a Thousand Words
Let's see... Need a clever headline here.... 10th Time's the Charm? Nah. Too negative.
How's about The Monkey's Off Our Backs? Nope -- conjures up images of an entirely different team not involved in this playoff series.
Or maybe I could go with my actual words as Marco Scutaro's seventh-inning blast fell near the right field line to plate three runners and put Game Three -- and the ALDS -- in the refrigerator: Woooooooooooooooh! Woooooooooooooooo! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Woooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Well, it's no less coherent than I am normally.
Ah, who am I kidding? Y'all don't wanna hear me -- you just wanna dance. And look at pictures -- none of which were taken by me, by the way. No these shots after the jump come courtesy of my pal Jason and a camera with a lens so big it needed its own ticket.
Athletics-Twins, ALDS Game 3 Chat
We've been here before, haven't we? The A's need just one more win to advance to the ALCS.
It's an overcast October day in the East Bay. But perhaps a hole in the sky will appear over the Coliseum once again, and make fairy tales come true.
If there was any doubt the A's got a big win on Tuesday -- as if seeing the words L: J. Santana in the box score weren't proof enough -- the magnitude of Oakland's victory became crystal clear the second after the last out was recorded and my phone started ringing. My father was on the other end of the line, and he was referring to the Oakland Athletics as "we."
Understand, my father never uses the first person plural when talking about the A's. He's strictly a third-person kind of guy -- they, them, and their. In fact, after particularly devastating losses, I'm pretty sure he would use the fourth person, if such a thing existed, just to further distance himself from the team. But Tuesday's game? "Big win for us," the old man says.
But just to establish that it was my father and not some impostor trying to gain my trust, my dad quickly changed the subject to what I've come to call the "Huston Street: God's Cruelest Joke" portion of our conversations in which my father spends 10 minutes outlining the many ways the A's reliever has personally wronged him. So it was Tuesday: a stirring denunciation from my father of Huston Street's closing ability, followed by a rebuke of Ken Macha for repeatedly summoning him from the bullpen, concluded with a plea for common sense to prevail and Justin Duchscherer to assume his rightful place at the top of the pyramid. It was quite the stemwinder from my father, but it seemed a bit out of place, given the circumstances.
"To listen to you," I said, "a person would never guess that the A's had just won a playoff game."
Indeed, that's kind of been the theme of the first two playoff games for me: muted contentment. I've avoided most news reports and A's fan sites, lest I get too caught up in the moment. People calling me up to congratulate after Game 2 -- honestly, folks, I had very little to do with the victory -- were treated to a subdued string of cliches that would have made Nuke LaLoosh blush. I will celebrate, I keep telling people that I will celebrate when the last out of the last inning of the clinching game is in the books.
Part of this is because of the way the first two games have shaken out. Yes, the A's have had their moments -- Barry Zito's great start in Game One, the Frank Thomas Show, Marco Scutaro justifying my gushing words, the non-Street contingent of the bullpen that pitched Wednesday. But the story of the series thus far has really been the Twins' poor play. Think the Minnesota lineup swinging at pitches out of the strike zone in the first game and Torii Hunter doing his best Eric Byrnes impersonation in the second, along with Nick Punto finishing up the research phase of his PhD dissertation on The Merits of Sliding Into First. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Twins are handing Oakland this series, but they're certainly leaving out there in plain sight and within arm's reach, and the Athletics, conscientious fellows that they are, are snapping it up. You have to wonder how long that will continue, or, at the very least, whether Oakland can make this series less about Minnesota's failings and more about its own accomplishments.
Finally, there is that 800-pound elephant in the room that everyone seems to want to talk about -- the fact that the A's have been in this situation before, up two games to none, and yet, each time, I've wound up burning my ALCS tickets. Noted baseball historian Torii Hunter seemed unaware of recent A's playoff history, but he may be just about the only person. (And if you can't cite the A's record in clinching games, just tune into the ESPN telecast today, and you'll be reminded roughly 746 times by the third inning.) That kind of recent history would take the strut out of all but the most foolhardy A's fan.
Yet, in the effort to maintain an even keel, there's the risk of not enjoying the moment for what is. All season long, I've had to remind myself that at the end of the day, I like watching baseball -- true, I like it a hell of a lot more when the A's win -- and that taking pleasure should be more important than the outcome of any one game. It's been especially critical to remind myself of that this year, thanks to the A's Jekyll-and-Hyde act for most of the year: Don't get hung up in wins and losses. Enjoy the moment for what it is.
Hopefully, I've mastered that particular life's lesson enough so that I won't have to get a bitter reminder this afternoon when I'm at the game. I'll be in section 202 -- feel free to stop on by. I'll be the fellow in the A's cap with the look of hope darkened ever so slightly by the pain of experience.
Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud
We A's fans just can't ever get to enjoy anything, can we? The A's take two in the Metrodome, but then find out that Mark Ellis has a broken index finger.
There's a big defensive dropoff from having Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis up the middle to having Marco Scutaro and D'Angelo Jimenez. Huge, huge bummer.
Athletics-Twins, ALDS Game 2 Chat
I was planning not to watch yesterday's game at all, but as game time approached, a strange zen-like calm descended upon me. The nervousness I usually suffer during A's playoff games left me, and I was able to watch the fabulous pitching duel between Johan Santana and Barry Zito with great pleasure. For about two hours, anyway.
The best thing about yesterday's playoff games is that all the games were decided by great players making great plays: Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Cris Carpenter, Johan Santana, Frank Thomas, Barry Zito. Any sport is at its best when its best players rise to the occasion when it counts the most.
How much money do you think free-agent-to-be Barry Zito earned with yesterday's performance? $10 million? He's already the most durable pitcher in baseball (he's never missed a start), with a Cy Young award under his belt. And now he can add "can outduel the best pitcher in baseball in a playoff game on the road" to his resume. Scott Boras went to bed last night a happy man.
This game was a great example of why Zito is a much better pitcher in 2006 than he was back in, say, 2003. Back then, he was strictly a three-pitch pitcher, and if one of his pitches was off, he had no way to adjust. Since then, Zito has added a slider and a cutter. When his command of a pitch is off, he has plenty of other options for attacking a batter. Yesterday, his fastball wasn't particularly sharp, but he still got batters out, by throwing his fastball out of the zone, and mixing in some changeups, sliders and curveball with masterful effect.
Santana was similarly masterful. The dude is awesome. He will, however, give up the occasional long ball. Which leads us to Frank Thomas. What else can you say about Frank Thomas? He is THE MAN.
So it was a beautiful day for baseball, with one exception. Which was exactly the sort of thing I had feared about facing the Twins: that great baseball would be ruined by bad architecture. In the ninth inning, the Metrodome decided to insert itself into the proceedings and score a run for the Twins, as Milton Bradley lost a fly ball in the roof.
I flipped out. I ranted. I shouted. I screamed in horror. I think I punched a wall for good measure. Thankfully, my wife stepped in and restored calm in the Arneson household, by ejecting me from the ballgame. I spent the rest of the game exiled in the kitchen.
Huston Street closed out the victory without me, and the A's have a 1-0 lead in the series. We A's fans know not to get too excited about that, though.
So here comes Game 2: Esteban Loaiza vs. Boof Bonser. Do I dare test the Metrodome fates, and watch the game again?
Zito Blogs His Victory
Athletics-Twins, ALDS Game 1 Chat
Check out all the division series previews over at Baseball Analysts. The last section is written by yours truly.
Then feel free to chat away, all you toast eaters.
Whether I'll join you, I'm not sure. Will I have the courage to follow the action, or the discipline not to?
Inside the Steel-Trap Mind of Torii Hunter
Torii Hunter remembers the last time the last time the A's and the Twins met in the postseason. Oh yes, how he remembers:
"Nobody expected us to win, we were supposed to be contracted (after the season), and there was no way we were supposed to beat (Jason) Giambi, Chavez, and the best three-man rotation in baseball,'' Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said Monday. "I remember everything about it. It was like David taking down Goliath."
Giambi wasn't on the team anymore there, champ. Also, the labor agreement signed in August of that year took contraction off the table until 2007 at the earliest. But other than that -- good eye for the details. Really sharp work there.
I, of course, have my own memories of that 2002 playoff. The A's were, of course, heavily favored to win the series until the Twins got clutch performances from A.J. Pierzynski, Harmon Killebrew, Zoilo Versalles, and Ossie Bluege. The tide really turned in the best-of-nine series during game seven at Griffith Stadium when Gus Zernial's blast off of a Firpo Marberry palm ball hit a low-flying zeppelin and fell harmlessly into Bombo Rivera's glove -- the ball, not the zeppelin. (Sadly, the zeppelin crashed into the right field bleachers wounding scores of fans and prompting the bankruptcy of Pan-American Airlines.) Major League Baseball subsequently changed to rules about zeppelins and other airships being in play, but it was too late to help the Athletics who lost 24-21 on a late Jan Stenerud field goal.
Ah, the memories. Almost as crystal clear as Torii Hunter's.
I am having more fun with a couple harmless misstatements of fact than I probably should.
Scott Brosius Messes With My Prediction Formula
The Scott Brosius weirdness continues...
Last year, I invented a formula for predicting the playoffs. The formula correctly picked the White Sox to win it all. Of course, since it worked so well, I decided to use the formula again in 2006.
My formula is based on one little-known fact: the team that committed fewer errors in the regular season wins the division series 2/3 of the time. I've looked at a whole bunch of stats, but I haven't found another stat with a better success rates (fielding percentage comes closest).
This correlation only holds for the division series, not for the whole playoffs. So I set up my formula to work like this: in the Division and World Series, pick the team with the fewest errors. In the LCS, reverse the trend, and pick the team with the most errors.
Quite simple, eh? You'd think, but this year, the formula completely falls apart. Watch:
Division Series (fewest errors wins)
Oh, no! We can't predict who is going to win the A's-Twins series!
No matter, we can continue anyway:
League Championship Series (most errors wins)
Which leads us to this:
World Series (fewest errors wins)
Yikes! We have no World Series winner, either! The formula fails!
Scott Brosius, what hast thou wrought?
The Return of Scott Brosius and Other Unsolved Mysteries
The other day, Philip wrote, regarding the 2006 A's, that "this has easily been, for me, the most maddening team to follow. Hardly are those words out than I find myself moving from lacking all conviction one minute to a quiet confidence the next, and then right back again.
My unstable emotional state is probably a sign that I don't really understand this team very well. I cannot forecast to you the action of Oakland. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
I don't mind having an unsolved mystery or two, like the tagline of this very blog, Stop Casting Porosity, lurking in my life. But when too many unsolved mysteries begin to accumulate, the riddles start turning and turning in my mind, as my mind tries to bind the disparate enigmas together into one impossible story, like a shape with lion body and the head of a man. I become vexed; there is too much data to control; the circles turn wider and wider; the center cannot hold. Questions become obsessions becomes paranoia. Anarchy is loosed upon my mind.
There's something's happening here. What is, ain't exactly clear. You've got to be a very wary bear. Stop, listen, what's that clown, everybody look what's going down:
The Missing First Draft
I wrote this blog entry once before. But just before I was about to save it, my editing window vanished, and everything I had written disappeared. I gazed blankly at my screen. When something dies, you expect a shadow: some sign of the departed, desert birds circling indignantly for their meal. But nothing. No other computer problems; my other windows stayed intact. Just the one window with my first draft disappeared. How perfectly...inconvenient.
Was there something I wrote in my first draft that somebody didn't want publicized?
Let's say there's a product you think you'd like to buy. The product comes in a set. You might want the whole set, but more likely, you'd only want a few pieces of the set. A piece costs about $50-$200, depending on the quality of the individual piece. The set costs about $1,200. Here are the terms that the manufacturer offers you:
Would you purchase the product, or try to renegotiate the terms?
I feel compelled to reject the deal, just on principle. However, it turns out the manufacturer can sell out the product anyway, despite the ridiculous terms.
There are two mysteries: 1. Why do so many people accept these terms? Do people lack all conviction? Are they so full of passionate intensity, they will pay anything, on any terms, to join the ceremony? 2. Given this troubling deal, is there any way to beat this racket?
I have no answer for either question.
For a whole week earlier this month, two or three times a day, a convoy of eight or so SUVs and minivans, all with Michigan license plates, kept driving past my office. About one or two minutes later, the entire convoy would turn around and drive away in the other direction.
Where were they going? There isn't really much at the end of my road except a dumpster, a turnabout, a tennis court, and a boat dock. Why did they come all the way from Michigan to California? Why wasn't one car enough? Why did all of these cars need to travel together? There wasn't really enough time for them to load or unload much cargo and turn right around. What in the name of Bo Schembechler is going on here?
Dude, Who Stole My Car?
As darkness dropped on Wednesday evening, I lay in a stony sleep, nursing an injured neck, when my wife awakened me to a nightmare: some pitiless thief had just stolen my car from in front of my house.
This is the second time this car has been stolen. Were they looking for something in my car? Did the Michiganders have anything to do with it? Was Scott Brosius involved?
The Return of Scott Brosius
Some weeks earlier, I arrived home one night, went into my kitchen, and flipped on the light. Right in the middle of the floor, I found a 1997 Topps Scott Brosius baseball card.
I had never seen the card before. I asked my wife. She had never seen the card before, either.
Where did the card come from? Who put it there? Is it a warning? An omen?
Why a baseball card, and why Scott Brosius? What does Scott Brosius mean, anyway?
This image from the past troubles my sight. In my eyes, if Scott Brosius is a symbol for anything, it's the lost sheep, the prodigal son. Brosius left the A's after a miserable 1997 season, and went to the Yankees, where he became a postseason hero. In fact, Brosius' departure began an incredible run where nearly every World Series featured someone who had done practically nothing in Oakland, but seeming out of nowhere became a postseason hero in their new homes:
1998-2001: Scott Brosius
FWIW, here is a list of players who match the above criteria, who are eligible for the postseason:
Octavio Dotel, Cory Lidle, Sal Fasano, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman (minors), Andre Ethier (minors), Olmedo Saenz, Chad Bradford, Tyler Johnson (rule 5 sendback), and two former champions, Mark Bellhorn and Scott Spiezio.
Will it happen again? Is one of those players on this list the next ex-Athletic to earn postseason glory?
Or does the second coming of Scott Brosius mean something else? Is some new revelation is at hand? Is there some great Spirit of Baseball loosing a strange new tide upon the world? What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Oakland to be born?
And The Last Puzzle Piece...
There's a v
Stupid, Stupid Tigers
How the heck do you get swept against the worst team in baseball when you need just one win to capture the division title? The Tigers should be automatically disqualified from the playoffs for that simple fact alone. Let the White Sox in the playoffs instead. At least they'd put up a fight. I wouldn't usually root for the Yankees in any playoff series, but the pathetic display by the Tigers this weekend has disgusted me so much that I am now rooting for the Tigers to suffer the most humiliating, lopsided playoff defeat in major league history. If they're gonna choke like that, why couldn't they have saved their major choke job for one more day (i.e. in the playoffs against the A's)? Argh.
I guess I spent whatever good karma I had on winning the division, because everything else in my life has pretty much sucked since then. The day after the A's clinched the division, I injured my neck so badly that I could barely move, and every time I tried to do anything, I ended up with a pounding headache. And then, the same evening I hurt my neck, someone stole my car. And now, the coup de grâce, the stupid Tigers have gone ruined the whole playoffs for me by getting swept by the Royals, of all teams.
The playoffs are ruined because now the A's have to face Johan Santana and the Twins. Facing Santana is the toughest possible playoff assignment, but that's not what's ruining the playoffs for me; I actually enjoy watching Santana pitch. Santana is probably the only Twins player I've ever liked outside of Kirby Puckett.
No the problem is simply that I hate the Twins. I really, really hate the Twins. And the Metrodome. I hate the Metrodome, and that stupid turf, and the way its ugly shade of green reminds you that you are playing on fake grass instead of beautiful green grass, and the way the game resembles pinball more than baseball because of that stupid turf, and that stupid roof, and the stupid way all the noise gets trapped in there like a greenhouse traps heat because of that stupid roof, and the way the ball is hard to see through that stupid roof when you play a day game, and the fact that playing a day game is completely wasted when you play it under a stupid roof instead of the open sky, and the way the stupid architecture makes you play an inferior sport with inferior rules and inferior tactics, and how you have to change your approach to take precautions not to lose a game because of a stupid fake grass bounce or a misjudged stupid white roof fly ball, and how you can lose a game that you normally wouldn't lose under open sky and on real grass because the ball takes a stupid fake grass bounce or a fielder misjudges a stupid white roof fly ball, and the way I can list a whole bunch of stupid things I hate about the Metrodome without even mentioning how stupid I think that stupid plastic bag fence is, and that stupid plastic bag fence.
There's no way I could possibly enjoy this playoff series now, even if the A's swept all three games by 16-0 scores. I think that listening to Roseanne Barr sing the national anthem for three hours straight would be a more pleasing aesthetic experience than watch the A's play the Twins in the Metrodome.
Well, good thing then that the first three games are weekday day games. I can't watch, I have to work. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.
Not OK, Computer
Something weird happened at the Oakland Coliseum last week, and I'm still trying to sort out just exactly what happened and why...
First some background: My wife wasn't exactly sandbagged by this baseball thing -- during our courtship I took her to a Dodgers-Braves game and when I broke out my scorebook to keep score of the game and she didn't run from Dodger Stadium screaming, I figured she was hooked -- but sometimes, I wonder if she realized just what she was getting herself into. The six-month season, the many games -- in person and on the TV -- the mood swings by me that stem entirely from the actions of 25 people who are not similarly affected by the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives -- it's a lot for her to endure. And she does a remarkable job of it, too. But going to as many games as we do, that's a lot to ask of someone who was dragged into the life, not born into it. And so she'll bring things to some games to divert herself -- books mostly, but occasionally something else.
So it was during the final Friday home game against the Angels. My wife had a freelance writing assignment deadline looming, so she figured -- not unreasonably -- that she would bring her laptop into the stadium and get some writing done from our right-field seats whenever the game began to lag too much for her tastes.
And she was making some pretty good headway before the game had even started, typing away on the laptop while the stadium p.a. system exhorted us to sign up for an A's credit card and to use John Deere goods, the official lawn care products of the Oakland A's. That is until a security guard walked up to her.
"You'll have to put that away once the game starts," he said, politely yet firmly.
"Increased security," he said, declining to elaborate.
Now I suppose we could have pressed the issue, had we felt like it. The reasoning was dubious at best, and the request -- while not exactly unreasonable -- wasn't exactly what you would call logical. You can't use a laptop during games because... why again? Because Al Qaeda is now recruiting thirty-ish women to disrupt Major League games with iBooks? Because the almost imperceptible whirl of the hard drive is distracting, and therefore, angering to Milton Bradley out in right field? Because the Coliseum has a free Wi-Fi network -- it does, you know -- and they don't want freeloaders like my wife using it and possibly slowing down network traffic for the giant mainframe computer that Joe Morgan thinks controls the A's organization?
I'm having a hard time following along here.
Clearly, you're still permitted to bring computers into the Coliseum. Apple has made some wonderful strides in reducing the form factor of its laptops, but the iBook is still not so small that my wife can shove it down her pants to avoid detection. The security guards at the entrance gate tasked with searching our bags for canned sodas, weaponry, and other Bozo no-nos saw the laptop in my wife's bag and made no effort to stop her entrance into the Coliseum.
The fools! Now begins our plan to bring Bud Selig to his knees one stadium at a time! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
The A's declarations of proper fan behavior on the team Web site are similarly unhelpful in trying to ravel this mystery. Neither the Stadium A to Z guide nor the Stadium Security Policies & Regulations say word one about the use of laptop computers in the bleachers when the ball is in play.
It is even more puzzling because the week before, I went to a Giants-Rockies Game at Telecom Monolith Ballpark with my pal Jason, who, several times during the game, whipped out a MacBook and began type-type-typing away with elan -- and in full view of the ushers, who stood by, helpless to stop him. Because he's a rebel. And a lousy stinking nerd. So obviously, if there's some sort of admonition about in-game computer use, it's an Oakland-only rule. That's my main point here. That, and Jason is a nerd. I can't stress that enough.
I've had a week to process this whole thing, and here are the best possible explanations I've come up with:
Personally, I lean toward that last one. Earlier this year when the Giants came to Oakland, I had a much more unpleasant interaction with a security guard who refused to let me walk to my bleacher seat at the start of the game "because Barry Bonds is about to bat" and they didn't want people moving from stand to stand to catch his 714th home run ball. A reasonable enough position, I guess, if not for the fact that 1) Barry Bonds was slated to bat fourth in the inning, which meant he was not about to bat at all and 2) Joe Blanton was still making his warm-up tosses meaning there were several minutes until the game actually started. To make a long story short, a sternly worded letter to the A's was dashed off, producing an admission from the franchise that yes, their security guard clearly misunderstood the instructions in this particular case and hey, these things happen.
But I'm willing to bet that there's some other explanation that's just not coming to me right now, and I'm willing to also bet that someone out there can provide it for me.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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