Monthly archives: May 2008
Confidential to Jack Cust
To: Jack Cust
Please find enclosed a map of the Rangers Stadium seating sections and their corresponding ticket prices. I've taken the liberty of doing some research on your behalf, and I've discovered that a VIP Infield ticket right behind the A's dugout will cost $100. If those seats are unavailable, you could always settle for a $75 Premium Infield seat near the A's dugout where you will still be close enough to the action to shout encouraging words to your teammates and wave at them as they warm up in the on-deck circle.
If you, like me, are a more frugal consumer, Rangers Ballpark has a wide variety of ticket prices to choose from, from the $70 Lexus Club Infield seats to the Grandstand Reserve where you can take in a ballgame for just $6. The Rangers usually draw about 27,000 or so fans, so tickets should be plentiful up to gametime.
And if you need further encouragement, the Rangers are offering a number of promotions for the remaining games of this Oakland series. Today, they'll have a postgame Fireworks Show -- man, I love me some fireworks. And Sunday's game, in addition to being Photo Day, is $1 Ice Cream Sunday. They're practically giving away ice cream, Jack.
I mention all this because if you were planning on repeating last night's performance, where you struck out looking three times on your way to Golden Sombrero, perhaps you and the team would be better served if you just bought yourself a ticket to the game. You'll still be able to stand there motionless, enjoying a fine view of the proceedings, and another Athletic can get into the ballgame and maybe come through with a key hit, even if by accident.
Think about it, OK?
Introducing the Official DL Transportation Company of the Oakland Athletics
Hi, I'm Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. Last year, I sent a record 22 players to the disabled list. After shipping off Frank Thomas to the DL yesterday, we're already halfway toward beating last year's record. And whenever I need to ship off another group of players to the disabled list, I rely on Busted Wheels Trucking Company. Busted Wheels is the Official DL Transportation Company of the Oakland A's. Tell 'em Billy sent you!
Catfish Stew took this exclusive photo yesterday at the Oakland A's secret DL dumping ground. I can't tell you where it is, as my sources prefer to remain anonymous. Perhaps you can figure it out, but our lips are sealed.
Duchscherer 1-Hits Boston
If you don't know anything about Justin Duchscherer, you might think tonight's 1-hit shutout of Boston is just one of those fluky things that happens in baseball: any bum can have a good day. Heck, Mike Warren threw a no-hitter once.
There was nothing fluky about Justin Duchscherer's performance tonight. Justin Duchscherer is flat out a great pitcher. This is exactly the sort of thing he's been doing for years. He should have been a starter years ago, but he got stuck in the setup role (a) because the A's have had a lot of good starting pitchers, and (b) he's been so damn good in the setup role.
This year, he's finally getting his shot at starting. Take a look at what he's done so far this year:
5.0 IP, 1 ER.
Now look at his career ERAs since he came to Oakland:
There's a lot of trade speculation about Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, and those two guys are good pitchers, but if you judge by actual career performance, Justin Duchscherer has been a better pitcher than both of them:
Duchscherer: 3.36 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Duchscherer doesn't get his due, because he doesn't throw 99 MPH like Harden or even 93 like Blanton, and he's been stuck in an unglamorous role for too many years. But mixing those precision mid-80 mph cutters with his 12-to-6 curveball, he keeps getting hitters off balance, and generating out after out after out. If the Angels keep racking up wins, and the A's can't keep up and decide to become sellers in July, the smart teams will be asking about Duchscherer just as much as Harden and Blanton.
I got the flu a few weeks ago, which caused me to fall behind in my work projects, which cause me to fall behind in my home projects, which caused me to fall behind in my blogging. Meanwhile, my 10-month-old daughter, who I used to be able to entertain by simply sitting her down in the middle of a room with a bunch toys, recently figured out how to stand up from that seated position, and is now walking all over house. Which means even less time for blogging, as she must be watched every second of the day, lest she try to eat every little pebble she finds left on the floor.
No time: that's the downside. The upside is getting to watch her personality emerge with every new skill she acquires. Once she learned to reach out and grab things, we soon discovered she is fashion conscious, with an unusual preference for floral patterns. When she learned to say "Hi", and we discovered that she's a very outgoing and friendly kid. Then last week, when she stood up by herself for the first time, she looked me straight in the eye and gave one of those villainous laughs you hear in the movies when the bad guy realizes (mistakenly) that his big plans are indeed going to succeed. Oh, Daddy, watch out! I am now officially mobile! Nothing can stop me! I had to laugh back. "Oh, dear," I thought. "I think this girl is going to be high-maintenance."
This is also one of the joys of baseball for me: watching a team's personality unveil itself over the course of a season. This 2008 A's team, I find, has been particularly difficult to peg. There's no one guy, no star, no Giambi or Tejada or Swisher, who has emerged as the team's dominant personality. The pitching has been consistently good, but the rest of the team seems rather schizophrenic to me. One day they're scoring 9, 11, or 15 runs; and then they go get shut out in three out of the next five games. They steal more bases than I can remember any A's team stealing since Rickey was around, but at the same time, they make some simply godawful baserunning mistakes. The defense seems to be fairly efficient, but then they'll go and drop easy fly balls for no apparent reason. I would rack up their inconsistency to their youth, if not for the fact that a couple of the older players on the team, Jack Cust and Emil Brown, have been just as much a source of that inconsistency as any of the players who are fresh out of Little League.
I seem to be living a Little League existence lately. The last A's game I went to, I experienced the Little League-style cheering of Jeremy Guthrie's kindly aunt. Yesterday, I experienced Little League-style cheering of a very different nature. It was Field Trip Day at the Coliseum, and I chaperoned a bunch of fifth-graders in my oldest daughter's class to the A's-Rays game. The good news is that there was lots of good news: after losing two consecutive games to Tampa Bay in exasperating fashion, Dana Eveland was masterful, the game went along quickly, and the A's scored a bunch of runs, winning 9-1. The bad news is that these 10- and 11-year-olds used any good news as an excuse to scream piercingly at the top of their lungs. I went to the Coliseum expecting a baseball game, and a Beatles concert broke out. My ears are still ringing.
This where I think Pat Jordan's remarks about how celebrity culture is preventing fans from getting to know modern athletes may be a bit beside the point. I will remember these two games as "the kindly aunt game" and "the screaming kids game". The games had distinct personalities, but the actual personalities of the players didn't really have anything to do with it. Our social brains are hardwired to assign personalities to not only people, but things, even things as abstract as a ballgame. So does knowing the personalities of the players lead us to understand the results on the field, or is it more the other way around: we ascribe to the players the personalities we experience when watching them, whether we know the players or not?
I've been attending quite a few actual Little League games lately. My wife's nephew, who was a very good player at age 10 in the 12-year-old Little League division, is now age 12, and completely dominating his league. So far this year, he's batting .500/.630/1.029, and his left-handed pitching arm is doing even better: 64 strikeouts in 45 IP, with a 0.20 ERA. In one game a couple weeks ago, he gave up one hit and struck out 17 in 7 IP (they won 1-0 in extras). Having used up his pitch count for the week, he played first base the next day. He came up with bases loaded and two outs in the 6th and final inning, with his team trailing by a run, and hit a rocket straight over the center-field fence for a game-winning grand slam.
When I watch my nephew play, he seems to have an aura like Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant out there on that Little League diamond: the whole personality of the game revolves around him; he's the dominant player who can pull a magical shot out of his bag anytime his team needs one. And yet I've known this kid since he was born; I've changed his diapers, I've fed him, I've watched him grow from a toddler to a goofy 12-year-old kid who's pretty normal in every way except that he's really, really good at baseball. Nothing I know of his off-the-field personality would lead me to assign that "star player" personality to him on the field. And yet, when I watch him play, I do it, anyway. It seems to me that the on-the-field personality that I perceive in him is more an emergent property of the game, than of the person.
What does the future hold for him? Is that "big star" aura a persistent part of his personality, a trait that predestines him to a career in pro baseball? Or are these last few months of Little League the glory days of his life? Will he one day read Jordan's A False Spring, and think, hey, that was me--I could throw that speedball by you, too, before that flaw of mine was revealed, and it all just fell apart?
I could make some prophecies. I feel their lives, their destinies spilling out before me. The denial of the one true path, played out on a world not their own, will end soon enough. Soon there will be four, glorious in awakening, struggling with the knowledge of their true selves. But the idea of "one true path" is a fiction created by human psychology. In real life, there's a 10-month-old girl, taking her first steps towards her destination, a place unknowable until she gets there.
Blasts from the past
You know what's worse than watching your team wind up on the losing end of a 13-inning game featuring blown leads, missed opportunities, and enough fielding and base-running miscues to make Eric Byrnes point at you and say, "See, maybe I'm not such a bad player after all. Take back all those things you've said about me. Take 'em back!" Watching all of the above with a head cold so severe that I wish Eric Byrnes was standing in front of me, threatening me with a baseball bat. With my luck, he'd swing wildly and miss, and I'd still have to deal with this runny nose and hacking cough.
Sidenote: I actually went to an A's game with a cold once -- mild fever, throat so scratchy I couldn't speak above a whisper, but I was a season ticket-holder then and I didn't want to eat the tickets. Then, as last night, the game went into extras, only on that sickness filled evening back in 2003, the A's had blown what had been a 4-0 lead to find themselves knotted up at five with Detroit. This was the year the Tigers were touted as -- and wound up being -- historically terrible, so you can imagine the grace and equanimity with which I absorbed Keith Foulke coughing up two runs in the ninth. One of the fine bleacherites around me, who had greeted Foulke's arrival in the game by shouting "We're going to Foulke you up, Detroit" every 30 seconds or so, was shouting "Keith foulked us up!" -- I guess when you've just discovered that Keith Foulke's last name vaguely sounds like a swear, that's just knowledge you have to share with the world. Understandably, I think, given the fever and the idiocy-spewing bozo, I got up and left -- the only time in recorded history I've ever left a game with the outcome still in doubt. I pulled up in front of my apartment just as Tejada's homer won it in the 11th.
Back to today. When not reminiscing about thoroughly unentertaining games from 2003, I spent most of the day sacked out on the couch clearing stuff off my cable company-issued DVR -- our TiFaux, my wife calls it. On baseball-related matters, that meant the hour-long special Comcast Sports Net put together to commemorate the Athletics' 40 years in Oakland plus an old A's World Series game I grabbed off ESPN Classic.
First, a review of the former: It was... OK. I mean, it was a decent overview from an accentuate-the-positive point of view, and it was nice to see some of the old footage. (Which is good, because there's only so much footage, so get ready to see that shot of the A's standing on the dugout steps and tipping their hats to the crowd on Opening Night '68 a lot.) But there's not a lot digging beneath the surface. The 1973 World Series passes without a mention of the Mike Andrews incident, the attempt to trade players for cash in '76 is touched on ever so briefly (with no mention at all of the Messersmith decision that brought about the free agency that caused Charles Finely to break up the team), and apparently nothing happened at the Coliseum between the division title in 1981 and the American League pennant in 1988 that is worth your attention or interest. According to the special, the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, won three World Series in the '70s, won another in '89, got really good again once Billy Beane started running the show, and now the future's so bright, we gotta wear shades. And that, as Baron von Raschke was so fond of reminding us, is all the people need to know.
It would have been better had the documentary dove into things like when and why the A's started using "Celebration" to punctuate victories. Or the most heavily attended games at the Coliseum over the years. Or, heck, just mic up Steve Vucinich and have him talk for an hour about his recollections -- he's been here since the get-go, so he might have an insight or two dozen to share with the home viewer.
The bottom line is, you'd probably get more out of Rebels of Oakland, the HBO documentary from a few years back, even if the A's have to split screen time with those gauche Raiders. Or put down the remote, for goodness sake, and read a book -- either Champions by Glenn Dickey, The Mustache Gang by Ron Bergman, or Baseball's Last Dynasty by Bruce Markusen. Those should do you right.
The condensed replay of the World Series game -- Game One of the '74 Series against Los Angeles. (SPOILER ALERT: The A's win.) Game One seems like an odd choice from that Series -- I might have gone with clincher if I were making the programming decisions -- but if someone wants to stick old A's games on ESPN Classic, I'm not going to grouse.
Interesting thing about the telecast of that game -- that was back when NBC's approach was to use a network play-by-play man (usually Curt Gowdy), a color commentator (in this case, Tony Kubek), and the local announcer for the home team. For this game, that would be Vin Scully, though I presume once the Series moved to Oakland, Monte Moore got the honors.
I spent the first nine years of my life in Los Angeles, and I've lived there off and on throughout my post-collegiate life, so I'm well aware of the play-by-play prowess displayed nightly by Vin Scully. But to hear him in the prime of his career calling a World Series game -- man, that guy is awfully good at his chosen profession.
Sidenote II: One of my first bosses out of college may be one of the few people in captivity to not enjoy Vin Scully's work, by which I mean he was not just indifferent or of a "Well, he's OK, I guess," mindset, but that he actively argued that Vin Scully was a bad broadcaster. My boss was a Red Sox fan, so I suppose Vin's crime was to not be suitably mournful about the result of the '86 series, but man... that's crazy talk. And my former boss has had children, meaning his dangerous ideas will spread. I fear for the future.
I mention the play-by-play set-up for the '74 Series -- local guy is brought onto the network telecast to add color -- because I think it illustrates what a wonderful idea that was. In the condensed hour-long version of the Game 1 telecast, Vin dropped several knowledge bombs on me -- that Andy Messersmith was looking sharper than he had in the entire month leading up to the Series, that Jimmy Wynn very rarely hit to the right side, that the Dodgers' runners-left-on-base woes in Game One were a continuation of a trend they had experienced during the playoffs with Pittsburgh. I can safely say that I have next to no working knowledge of the intricacies of the 1974 season -- in my defense, I was two years old at the time -- but because of the contributions from the broadcast booth, I was able to understand the action on the field just a little better. And shouldn't that be the goal?
Near as I can tell, the pattern of incorporating local announcers into the network telecast ended when ABC covered the 1977 World Series and said, "Hey, you know what? Our team of Keith Jackson, Tom Seaver, and Howard Cossell will work just fine." (Yet another reason to curse Roone Arledge and all his progeny.) And thus has it been ever since -- the network with the World Series rights brings in its own crew to speak in vague generalities about the teams vying for the trophy.
I thought about this today, as -- fittingly enough -- Deadspin's Media Approval Ratings series turned its attention to what people think of Tim McCarver's work. (I'll sum it up for you: They don't think very highly of it.) And it hit me -- weren't the networks on to something back in the day when they brought in local broadcasters to contribute to the Series coverage. I mean, wouldn't you rather have the insight of someone who's watched one of the participants for 162 games, as opposed to McCarver who -- if the Sox and the Yanks aren't involved -- is reduced to explaining how a slider works with the help of an animated baseball or indulging in forced plays on words ("You might say Big Papi put a big pop into that ball!") or explaining things that even the most Schlitz-addled viewer comprehended after the first three explanations ("That batter is out, because the fielder caught the ball. If he hadn't caught the ball, that batter would be safe. But he didn't, so the batter's out.")?
I'm racked with fever, and even I know the answer to that question.
More Fun and Games
If Ken wants to go the game show route, I'm happy to play along. It's time for another edition of Spot the Outlier, in which you try and guess which one of these things is not like the other before I finish my song.
Are you ready? Your category is Runs Scored by the A's on the Current Road trip.
So how about it? Can you Spot the Outlier? More importantly, do you think Bob Geren and Billy Beane can?
On a lighter note, in the bottom of the fourth with Clevelanders on first and third, Greg Smith used his excellent pickoff move to retire Andy Marte 1-6-3; Cleveland's backup infielder was the runner on third and didn't advance on the play.
"And Will Carroll remains at third base," radio play-by-play man Vince Cotroneo intoned.
Man, I had no idea he even signed with Cleveland. That Baseball Prospectus gig really does open the door to big things at the Major League level.
Game Show Time!
Hi, everybody! Welcome to the show! Are you ready for another exciting round of "What's Wrong With Him?" Ok, let's play!
Kurt Suzuki. What's wrong with him?
Rich Harden. What's wrong with him?
Barry Zito. What's wrong with him?
Three strikes, you're out!
All These Boys Try Their Best
Had an interesting experience at the ballpark today--it felt more like watching a game in Little League instead of Major League Baseball. Not because the play was bad, but because I happened to sit next to the aunt of Orioles' starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. That's her boy right here:
Guthrie's aunt was one of those kindly old ladies who loves you no matter what, and everything you do is great, because you're trying your best. Her cheering, complete with anachronistic shouts of "Yay!" and "Yahoo!" and "Hooray!", was so charmingly optimistic--"C'mon Jer, you can do it, I know you can!", I began to fall under her spell. After about three or four innings, I had somehow come to believe that the worst possible outcome of this game would not be a loss for either team, but that Jeremy Guthrie might somehow end up with his feelings hurt.
So when Kurt Suzuki blasted this two-run homer, I didn't really have the heart to cheer very much:
Poor Jer. He must have felt so bad. Guthrie was on the hook for the loss until Andrew Brown entered the game in the eighth inning, and proceeded to give up twenty-nine consecutive grounders in the hole between Daric Barton and Mark Ellis. I'm sure Andrew Brown felt bad about turning a two-run lead into a 5-4 deficit, and perhaps even worse when walking off the mound to a round of boos. Aunt Guthrie was appalled. "That's just terrible, booing a player like that. I'm sure he was doing his best."
Brown got off the hook for the loss in the bottom of the eighth, when the A's tied the score, thanks to a brilliant takeout slide by Jack Hannahan. Frank Thomas was pinch-hitting with the bases loaded and one out, and hit a slow grounder to short. Most batters would beat out the relay throw, but Thomas is so slow, there was a high risk of an inning-ending double play. But Hannahan just obliterated Brian Roberts, who had no chance at making a throw to first to double up Thomas. It reminded me of the collision between Randy Johnson's fastball and the dove. Roberts simply disappeared, so much so that I don't even have a photo of it. One of the best slides I've ever seen, and the game-tying run scored.
So the game went into extra innings, which is a happy result, because nobody can feel too bad about losing in extra innings, right? You both tried your best, and played well, and somebody had to get lucky and win. In this case, it was Mark Ellis who got lucky and won, with a home run that just barely glanced off the foul pole.
Yay! And now, the A's are once again tied for the best record in the American League. The fellows on this A's team are really good boys, they really are. Hooray for them! Yippee!
Charming the Contortionists
If you were to ask me why I dwell among green mountains,
I live in the suburbs in a mild climate. The average low in winter is only 13 degrees cooler than in summer. I drive on fully paved roads. I walk on fully paved sidewalks. The water I drink comes from faucets. The food I eat comes from supermarkets, wrapped in plastic and cardboard. Every tree I see has been deliberately planted there. The only wild animals I ever see, aside from ants and birds and squirrels, appear to me only on TV screens and computer monitors. If people around me get sick, they simply disappear into hospitals. I don't have to deal with it.
When I leave my suburban environment to visit my cousins who live in the Swedish countryside, I am also struck how antiseptic my life seems in comparison.
Over there, we drive on dirt roads carved out of dense forests. We drink unprocessed milk, and eat potatoes freshly dug out of the ground. Summer bursts forth in June and vanishes in August, and while it lasts, the greens are more green, the reds are more red, the blues are more blue. We breathe a fresh summer air that is palpably different from the air of California. This air is not a year-round air; it smells of the intensity of life that knows its time is brief. The smell of a Swedish summer--I cannot capture it, or pass it on to anyone else who has not been there and smelled it themselves. It exists only in its own place, in its own moment. All this beauty is fleeting, and its temporary status makes it even more beautiful.
* * *
Astute Analysis As Always, Mr. Michaels
Actual e-mails among actual Toasterites, accompanied by the play-by-play that inspired the messages:
Bottom of the Second
C. Kotchman struck out swinging
From: Bob Timmermann
Subject: And He Used Two Hands
I believe Jack Cust should be kept away from baseball positions that require him to use a glove.
From: Philip Michaels
Subject: Re: And He Used Two Hands
Positions that require him to swing a bat aren't all that ideal for him either, at least until he learns how to hit a breaking ball.
Top of the Fifth J. Cust homered to deep right center
From: Philip Michaels
Subject: Like I Said...
Good ol' Jack Cust.
That's insight you can't get anywhere else, folks...
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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