Mariners Musings

Musings about, um... well, the Seattle Mariners as well as a love affair with this game baseball. By Peter J. White

Friday, January 23, 2004

Round up the usual suspects

"We won't live and die with the same lineup this season," Melvin said. "I'm going to do what I think is the right thing. The law of the land will be mine" (Thiel, P-I).

From all accounts, Bob Melvin is ready to break out of his shell and shake up the lineup. One of Melvin's habits last season that I found most baffling was his rigid adherence to his lineup. And from a certain perspective I can understand this.

I am a creature of habit. I find I thrive in the security of routine. I like to take the 7 am train every morning. I'll eat my lunch at 12:30 everyday. I check my email at the sametime everyday. And when my routine gets derailed, I get grumpy. I panic. For crying out loud, don't interrupt me. Some find the life of ritual and routine boring. As for me, well, it's my solace, and I'm addicted. And maybe I really should seek help or something.

Were I a ballplayer, I imagine I would like my "role" specifically defined for me--that my job is the everyday third-baseman, that I bat second in the lineup everyday, etc. Are ballplayers as ritualistic as I am? I'm convinced so.

But on the subject of batting lineups and Melvin's radical ideas to shake it up a bit for spring training, and specifically moving Ichiro from lead off slot to the "clutch" #3 hole. Here's an excellent argument is support of that move:

None on - .319/.350/.430 (1348 AB)
Runners on - .346/.417/.460 (670 AB)
Scoring position - .389/.483/.497 (360 AB)

Those are substantial enough sample sizes to derive some meaning from them. While Ichiro is a very good leadoff hitter (a leadoff hitter's primary objective being to get on base), he's not a leadoff hitter in the prototypical Rickey Henderson-mold (but then who is?), and he's a much more successful hitter with runners on base ahead of him. He doesn't work the count, but he does make contact enough to justify his role as a table-setter. However, I believe Melvin would do well to slip Ichiro lower in the batting order to give him more opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. After all, he's been hitting behind Jeff Cirillo and Dan Wilson the past few years, and the primary goal of the game being to score more runs than the other team.

Now, some will argue that lineups don't matter. They're probably right. I mean, how many runs difference over the course of 162 games are we talking if you move Edgar into the leadoff slot and Ichiro to sixth and just sheer random madness? But it does affect the dynamic and strategy of the whole team. Clump all of your lefty hitters together, and it offers the opposing manager the opportunity to bring in his lefty-killer late in the game to neutralize an entire inning. Alternate your high on-base hitters with your Jeff-Cirillo-out-machines, and you'll never get a rally going.

If I had the opportunity to devise the Mariners lineup, I would subscribe to the strike-first-strike-hard-no-mercy-sir theory. I want to score in the first inning, so I want my best hitters at the top of the lineup. I want to clump my high on-base hitters together at the top and tuck my out-makers at the bottom. I'll alternate righties and lefties. Here's how the Mariners faired last year in terms of on-base percentage from each lineup slot, along with the character(s) responsible:

#1 - .353 (Ichiro, almost exclusively)
#2 - .344 (Guillen, also Winn, McLemore and Sanchez)
#3 - .379 (Boone, little bit of Edgar)
#4 - .387 (Edgar, little bit of Olerud)
#5 - .367 (Olerud, little bit of Cameron)
#6 - .328 (Cameron, also Winn)
#7 - .327 (Winn, also Cirillo and McLemore)
#8 - .307 (Cirillo, also Sanchez and Wilson)
#9 - .287 (Wilson, also Davis and Bloomquist)

Thus, Melvin put together a pretty efficient lineup: Good hitters clumped at the top, bad hitters clumped at the bottom. The very best hitters were 3-4. But how does one make it better, and how does one capitalize on Ichiro's obvious strength of hitting with men on base ahead of him?

Manager Bob Melvin said yesterday he plans to experiment with Ichiro batting third, with Randy Winn leading off and John Olerud in the second spot (Hickey, P-I).

The biggest question in pulling Ichiro from the top spot is then, who leads off? Melvin wants to experiment with Winn. I'm not sure I like that idea, but we'll run with it. (Winn hit .317/.375/.492 in 300 at bats for the Devil Rays in '02). Maybe it's not such a bad idea.

So using last year's OBPs and their pitchers per plate appearance, here's Melvin's new top-of-the-lineup idea:

#1 - Winn (.346/3.6) (S)
#2 - Olerud (.372/3.9) (L)
#3 - Ichiro (.352/3.5) (L)

I rather like the look of that. Winn isn't that much from Ichiro, in terms of getting on-base, and he might even improve on that next year if he's given a single role in the lineup. Last year, Melvin jerked him up, down and around the lineup. Moving Olerud up would greatly increase the production from the 2-hole. Furthermore, at this point in his career, Olerud's strength is getting on base while his power has greatly diminished. Hitting second would greatly capitalize on that strength while de-emphasizing that weakness. Olerud works the count, sees a lot of pitches, which would allow ample opportunities for Winn to run, and Olerud doesn't strike out often, which gives Melvin the option of hit-and-run. I would guess, then, that the rest of the lineup would look something like this:

#4 - Edgar (.406/4.3) (R)
#5 - Boone (.366/3.9) (R)
#6 - Ibanez (.345/3.9) (L)
#7 - Aurilia (.325/3.5) (R)
#8 - Spiezio (.326/3.5) (S)
#9 - Davis (.284/3.6) (S)

Following Ichiro with Edgar and Boone takes away the intentional walk that managers have been so fond of giving Ichiro in rally opportunities. I might even go as far as swapping Ichiro and Edgar, as crazy as a 5-9, 172-pound cleanup hitter might sound. It breaks up the lefty-lefty-righty-righty comibination and guarantees Edgar, the M's most productive hitter, an at bat in the first inning of every game, as well as another runner on base for Ichiro. That would, however, pair Olerud and Edgar, the two-toed sloths of the team together, and that would make for many double play opportunities.

Looking at this lineup, I'm rather happy. I like it better than Oakland's and Texas's. Maybe even Anaheim's. If Bob Melvin can think out of the box and successfully experiment through spring training and it sticks into the regular season, then there may be hope after all.

And how's that for optimism?

Admiral Dave Cameron of USS Mariner gives a response. He's absolutely right: Dropping Ichiro behind base-clogger(s) Olerud and/or Edgar robs him of his running game. And the M's need to be milking every strength they've got with this lineup.

Admiral Derek Zumsteg weighs in, considering the groundball effect and double plays. He further adds this consideration:
There is an important thing to consider, though, and that's whether players will take to it. Performance-oriented analysts (like Y.T.) generally scoff at notions like "it takes a special skill to pitch the ninth inning" but if Ibanez is going to be pissy about trying to hide his weaknesses, and Ichiro only wants to bat first, no matter what, and so forth, the team has to weigh whether that unhappiness and potential performance hit is worth it to try for the marginal potential advantage.

Also, new blogger Andy Stallings of Sons of Buhner speculates what the lineup might look like with a little bit of Pudge.
|| Peter @ 1/23/2004

Thursday, January 22, 2004

To Pudge, or not to Pudge? That is the question...

What's that sizzle I hear this morning? That thick aroma coaxing me awake and out of bed? Could it be bacon? Sausage, biscuits and gravy with fresh coffee? Nope, it's Seattle's own culinary baseball wonderboy Larry Stone throwing a little Pudge on the Mariner hot stove:
The departure of closer Kazu Sasaki opens a wealth of possibilities for the Mariners, and it seems probable that the first one they will explore seriously is All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez, if he's still on the market. (Times)

He goes on to quote Bill Bavasi saying nothing happens until Sasaki's situation is resolved and an unnamed baseball source saying that could be within a week. All signs point to the Players Union cooperating with both Kaz and the Mariners to bring a swift and trouble-free conclusion to the matter. The biggest obstacle appears to be the strict and exact wording of the proposal to keep this scenario as a one-time event.

So what do the Mariners do about the Ivan Rodriguez sweepstakes? There appears to be mutiny on the horizon upon the USS Mariner on the subject. Pudge, or no Pudge?

Reasons why the Mariners should ignore Pudge:

1. Pudge has managed to play in 120 games only once in the last 4 years--last year--with an injury rap sheet that includes his back and knees. Not good on a cather's resume.

2. Pudge will be 32 entering the 2004 season. Only Johnny Bench had seen more games behind the plate before the age of 29, and his career collapsed at age 34 before ending the next season. Yogi Berra last caught 100 games at the age of 34. Ted Simmons last saw 100 games at 32. Mika Piazza is 35. He didn't catch 100 games last year, and he won't this year either. Time is cruel to catchers, and there's a lot of mileage on those knees--13,076 innings to be exact.

3. Detroit has a four-year, $40 million offer on the table. Ichiro just signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Mariners. He's the Mariners first 8-figure-salary player, and I don't imagine Management being quite that generous anytime soon. Is Pudge really worth just a million dollars a year less than Ichiro? Not unless he brings with him the monetary value of an entire industrialized nation's fan base.

4. Pudge is a client of Evil Agent Scott Boras.

5. His last name is Rodriguez, which means he's probably a cousin or something to that Alex guy. Like the frat boy in the Energizer commercial who swears off dating girls named after states because of a bad experience with a Georgia, Seattle should stay the heck away from any and every Rodriguez.

6. With a good chunk of the "old guard" set to fall off the payroll next year (Wilson, Olerud, Martinez), the Mariners have to be thinking ahead and would do well to invest in a young, marquee player to build the rest of the club around. Pudge is not that player. Vlad would have been ideal. On the horizon, come the trade deadline and next winter, are Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez, Nomar Garciaparra and Eric Chavez, among others, who will be free agents. Signing Pudge now to a multi-year deal is a reactionary move, and there are better investments just months away. With their stream of revenue, recent reputation of a winning ballclub and highly competitive division, there is no reason why the Mariners should not be the movers and shakers of the division. Not the club playing catch up.

Reasons why the Mariners should sign Pudge:

1. Our current stash of catchers suck. All 38 of them. Mariners catchers combined to "hit" .235/.276/.354 last year with 10 home runs, 57 runs scored, 85 RBI, 33 doubles, 2 triples, 34 walks, 115 strikeouts in 565 at bats, as well as going 0 for 0 on the basepaths. No on-base. No power. No speed. No nothin'.

Comparatively, Pudge himself collected 511 at bats and hit .297/.369/.474 last year with 16 home runs, 90 runs scored, 85 RBI, 36 doubles, 3 triples, 55 walks and 92 strikeouts. He also stole 10 bases in 16 tries. He set a career high for walks and posted the second highest on-base percentage of his career. Pro Player Stadium in Florida is also a much more difficult park to hit in than Safeco Field.

Baseball Prospectus has just made their 2004 PECOTA projections available (subscription required). Dan Wilson projects to .249/.290/.364 in 226 at bats; Ben Davis .246/.314/.401 in 245 at bats; Pat Borders .250/.291/.386 in 100 at bats. Still more nothin'. Meanwhile, Ivan Rodriguez projects to .292/.352/.495 in 454 at bats. That's a higher slugging than any other Mariner projection, even Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez.

And the Mariners have nothing on the horizon in the minor league system. There's Wiki Gonzalez and his work ethic reputation. There's Jim Horner; he's 30. There's Scott Maynard; he's 27. There's former #1 pick Ryan Christianson; he only played in 72 games last year between High-A Inland Empire and Double-A San Antonio.

2. According to Will Carroll, Under the Knife author, "Rodriguez took, and reportedly passed, a physical on Thursday in Detroit. I've said it before in this space and I'll say it again: teams are not failing to sign Rodriguez over concern for his back. They're doing it because...well, I don't really have a good reason." Rumors are Pudge is in the best shape of his career.

3. PECOTA, based upon past players of similar age and makeup, further projects the following EqA's for Pudge over the next three years: .285, .284, .280. Last year, the system projected .293 for him, and he hit .292. It doesn't forecast a precipitous drop in Pudge's production until 2007, which would make a three-year contract a reasonable proposition, but a four-year one quite dangerous.

4. With a good chunk of the "old guard" set to fall off the payroll next year (Wilson, Olerud, Martinez), the Mariners have to be thinking ahead and Pudge is a perfect fit. Larry Stone mentions a Puerto Rican connection with Edgar. With Edgar gone next year, Pudge can take on some designated hitter at bats, saving his knees and back.

5. There's more to baseball than length and monetary size of contract. The Mariners won twice as many games as the Tigers last year. They don't need to either match or best Detroit's offer. After 13 years, Pudge finally tasted his first World Series last year. I find it extremely difficult that he is eager, to any degree, to join the worst baseball team in recent history.

6. Larry Stone also mentions that Bill Bavasi and Scott Boras are good buddies--which makes sense when you think of a hunter/prey relationship.

Should the Mariners be contacting Boras about Rodriguez? I say: Absolutely. That's a guarded "absolutely," by the way. We all know my feelings on Carlos Beltran, don't we? That should be priority numero uno.

A one-year deal wouldn't interfere with that. But short of it, a two-year deal worth $18 million or a three-year deal in the $27-29 range I could endorse. But I'll leave the suits to work out the details.
|| Peter @ 1/22/2004

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Oh the humanity

Unfortunately, I must be brief this morning.

His superpower is writing some of the most stilted, awkward metaphors I think I've ever read, but Art Thiel writes an excellent column today focused on Sasaki. In it he attempts to shine the light on the humanity of this enigmatic character in the Mariner story. After all, this is the first legitimate closer in club history. He broke the team record for saves in just three years. And the fans show no remorse, seeing nothing but freed payroll to spend? Just read the whole thing if you haven't already.

There's more than my gut telling me there's more to the story than Kaz is letting on. I believe there's a story of sadness beneath the hyped veneer, one of a tragic hero forced to grapple with his own hubris. I truly hope that when Kaz says he has something more important in life than baseball that it's more than a clever, pretty line for the cameras. Behind all the statistics, salaries and witty banter, ball players are still flawed human beings no different from myself. Reminders such as these are a cold snap back to reality. I indeed wish Kaz and his family the best.

Meanwhile, Larry Stone provides some insightful comments regarding Eddie Guardado undoubtedly filling Sasaki's shoes.
"Guardado's three-year, $13 million contract was structured for him to succeed Sasaki as closer next year, with reported escalations of about $2 million in each of its last two years. He also had the ability to opt out of the contract after the 2004 and '05 seasons if he wasn't projected as the closer. Guardado apparently could profit from a change of roles in the upcoming season, with a clause calling for an extra $1 million if he finishes 60 games.

"But interestingly, Guardado's agent, Kevin Kohler, said yesterday that the subject of Sasaki's potential departure was broached during negotiations" (Times).

All which leads one to believe to Mariners are not as surprised as they're acting to the press. It would appear that the signings of Hasegawa and Guardado were certainly orchestrated for a specific purpose and also with the foreknowledge that all was not well in Sasaki-land. We may never know.

Eddie says, "I'm ready to rock, bro."

Music to my ears on this 23-degree January day.

And might I add that the Royals avoided arbitration with Carlos Beltran with a one-year, $9 million dollar contract. Hold on, isn't that just about what the Mariners are saving on Sasaki? How long until July 31? No, I will not speculate... I will not speculate...
|| Peter @ 1/21/2004

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Sayonara, Sasaki-san

Now why is it that the first image in my head is one of Bill Bavasi scrambling through the Official Mariners' Rolodex for the number of Bobby Ayala's agent? ("I know it's got to be here somewhere!")

Kaz Sasaki will not be pitching again for the Mariners. Not in Spring Training. Not next year. Not ever.

One has to wonder if seeing Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai was a factor.

So that's it then. Sayonara. Sasaki's closing career in Seattle closes not with a bang but with a whimper. And yet again, Management is forced to handle the sticky contractual cobwebs of an unprecedented transaction. Like Junior and Lou before him, Kaz joins a growing list of Mariners evacuating the premises to the mantra of "Family First!" Geez, you'd think Seattle was some remote Pacific island. It's no wonder Pat Gillick had an affinity for the hometown boys.

Thankfully Kaz leaves no gaping wound to the roster in his wake. He did pitch only 33 innings last year. The M's already have a trio of speculative trio of "Closers" ("I hate the word, as I hate hell...")--Hasegawa, Guardado and Soriano. And any chance that a team has to make the payroll of it's highest-paid player just suddenly one morning vanish, it's definitely a good thing. Particularly when that highest-paid player is an aging, injury-riddled, league-average, easiliy replaceable right-hander.

The problem of course comes in how Management chooses to cash in this sudden lotto ticket. With these guys, it's not unlike handing a $100 bill a punk kid hanging outside the CD store and expecting him to invest in his future. I'm that skeptical.

Catcher is the glaring hole in the lineup that Management refuses to address. (Come on guys, the emperor is buck naked.) However, I'll not be hitching myself to the Pudge Rodriguez bandwagon. I blame comments like these:
"The logistics of terminating Sasaki's contract could be problematical and might be drawn out long enough to prevent the team from investing the savings in the dwindling group of unsigned free agents... With the likelihood that the Players Association and commissioner's office will get involved, it figures to get complicated.

"'This could take a while,' said a baseball official" (Stone, Times).

And John Hickey writes:
"'The money attached to his contract is in place,' Bavasi said. 'He is still on our roster. That will remain so until such time as he is a free agent or he is released to sign with another club. At this point, (using the money elsewhere) is not part of the discussion.'

"There is much about the process that is unknown, given that players don't generally walk away from $8 million guaranteed contracts. Because of that, getting Sasaki his divorce from the Mariners is likely to take at least three or four weeks" (P-I).

So it's not exactly like the M's suddenly have that $8 million in cash to bundle up and offer Pudge or Greg Maddux or even Maels Rodriguez anytime this week. I believe Management would be wise to save the money in a rainy-day-July-31 fund. Anyone else want to take a ride on the Carlos Beltran bandwagon? If I've got $8 million falling off trees and more payroll to drop in '05, that's my one and only target.

In the meantime, making a modest, little, maybe one-year offer to Eric Karros shouldn't be out the question. It should be common knowledge that John Olerud at this point in his career can hit lefties, much less Barry Zito and the A's all-lefty bullpen squad, about as well as I can. Okay, maybe a bit better. Despite this obvious fact, none of Management's bench acquisitions thus far have addressed this glaring weakness. Now granted, Karros was quite possibly the most grossly overpaid everyday first baseman in pro ball last year. However, he would make an excellent Olerud-backup for those Zito/Mulder/Washburn starts or those late innings in Oakland. Karros has smacked around left-handed pitching to the tune of .316/.389/.515 in 307 at bats over the last three years. Why he's seen nearly three times as many plate appearances from righties can only to be attributable to the albatross of a contract the Dodgers gave him. He'd make a valuable role player on the Mariners, which is precisely why I can't imagine the M's even considering him. Then again, he is 36.

As for who replaces Sasaki? Hasagawa's an option, as he proved last year. However, as I've mentioned before, Hasagawa pitches for contact and his ridiculous ERA last year was a direct result of the tight defense last year. The tight defense is gone and Shiggy is going to be giving out hits like nobody's business. Mark my words.

Guardado? Going with Everyday Eddie would require that one of the lefty NRI's sticks. But if it means Bobby Madritsch gets a more serious look, I'm all for it. However, I'm of the opinion that the "Two Required Lefties in the Bullpen at All Times" rule is a bit overrated. Certainly, one wants the odds on their side when facing Jason Giambi or Carlos Delgado, but if you've got a righty that dominates lefties, then what's the point?

Soriano? As much as I would love to see Soriano in the rotation, there is concern over his pitch repertoire. Two years ago, when he was given time in the rotation, he would dominate the lineup the first two times through and get ravaged the third time. He was a two-pitch pitcher, and I have yet to hear how the development of his change-up is coming. If it's not, then certainly the bullpen is his future. I only wish Bob Melvin or Bryan Price might have the imagination to use Soriano as a multi-inning Mariano-Rivera-like "Closer". He's far too good to be limited to just the 9th inning, yet maybe just not good enough to last through the 6th if he starts. Give him the closer's role, putting him in the 8th inning and effectively ending the game two innings early. It would be unorthodox, so I'm not getting my hopes up.

And lastly, John Levasque puts a rather bizarre spin on the Sasaki story that grabbed and shook my attention:
"And yet Sasaki... is being hailed across the Internet today as a savior for his desire to separate himself from the team that wanted him in the worst way four years and 129 saves ago. Rarely is there this sort of unanimity among fans.

"'Finally, we get a break this off-season,' one blogger wrote yesterday, clearly ready to bid Sasaki goodbye.

"'I've been ecstatic about the news today,' said another.

"'I see WS on the horizon,' gushed a third, in reference to either the World Series or the ghost of Warren Spahn."

What's this I see? Seattle sports media quoting bloggers? Can this be true? I had to investigate.

'Twas a puzzling investigation as nowhere among the twenty-some-odd Mariner weblogs I've collected could I attribute the above quotations. I couldn't even find the "savior" sentiment that Levasque seems to be overwhelmed by. I mean, Kevin let out a yelp of glee, but that's about the extent of any brazen joy from the announcement. The general consesus (or rare "unanimity among fans" Levasque mentions) among the Mariner weblogs is the usual doom-and-gloom cynicism--How will Bavasi figure a way to blow this chance?

No, these quotes were far too ecstatic to be the same Mariner writing I've grown accustomed to over the last several months. It wasn't until the daunting thought came to me to search through the 120+ comments on Mike Thompson's P-I blog post. And there was the answer. What Levasque calls "hailed across the Internet" is nothing more than a couple of handpicked comments left on the weblog of his own P-I. Thanks for doing your homework, John. Thanks for giving us the pulse of Mariner Nation straight from the educated commentary and analysis.

I guess it's a small step towards something.

A translated transcript of Sasaki's press conference appears on ESPN:
There's a part of me that wants to go back and prove my true worth, but I found something more important.... Knowing that a baseball career doesn't last too long for anyone, I wasn't so sure it was the right thing to do to give up seeing my children grow. I'm a father and I simply want to be able to think what's best for my own kids.... I want to say I'm sorry I couldn't become a world champion in front of [the fans of Seattle]. They've all been warm and friendly, including the old women at the supermarket and the old men who lived in my neighborhood.

Best of luck to you, Kaz.

|| Peter @ 1/20/2004

Monday, January 19, 2004

Ghosts of baseball past

So I was digging around this weekend, looking for quotes to inspire my grad school application essay. This, from G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, leapt out at me:
"It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad."

While it didn't serve my essay at all, it provided the perfect summation of the book I just finished. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a baseball book I had more fun reading than Lawrence Ritter's The Glory of Their Times.

Inspired by the death of Ty Cobb in1961, Ritter set out on a cross-country journey to record the stories of as many of Cobb's contemporary ballplayers as he could find. Each chapter represents an interview, where in nearly every case Ritter found a verbose raconteur eager to reminisce about the glory days of their youth long gone. All Ritter did was start the tape recorder and then transcribe his interviews. The book becomes then a first person oral history of baseball from the turn of the last century to the emergence of Babe Ruth and the long-ball era.

Sure, there are plenty of in-my-day-we-walked-uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways comments, but that's not the point. A co-worker once asked me why I preferred baseball to those other sports. The first thing I tought of was this--the rich history, the timeless tradition, the deep mythology that is baseball. One might deconstruct the details of these stories as warped by 50 years of memory, but Ritter himself admits in his preface that he poured over other primary sources and found the descriptions nearly identical to the accounts told him, and in the rare case of embellishment, he allowed the generosity of creative liscense. The tales are not to be taken with a grain of salt, but rather a wink and a smile.

It's a world, a culture, a sport so familiar, yet so foreign. There's Rube Marquard, Wee Tommy Leach and Wahoo Sam Crawford. There's Fred Snodgrass, Harry Hooper and Smokey Joe Wood. There's Chief Meyers, Lefty O'Doul and Paul Waner. It's a time of colorful nicknames. If you're left handed, then you're Lefty. If you're from a rural hicktown, you're Rube. If you're Native American, you're Chief. (Which makes me wonder how that moniker came to be applied to Freddy Garcia. He's neither Native American, nor is he known exactly for his leadership skills.)

Davy Jones relates the time teammate Germany Schaefer indeed stole first base. Another time Schaefer entered the game as a pinch hitter with his team down by a run. Before entering the batter's box, Schaefer addressed the crowd:
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "you are now looking at Herman Schaefer, better known as Herman the Great, acknowledged by one and all to be the greatest pinch hitter in the world. I am now going to hit the ball into the left field bleachers. Thank you."

The second pitch he smacked over the left field bleachers. He stood at homeplate until the ball cleared the fence. Then he sprinted, sliding into each base: "Schaefer leads at the quarter," into first. "Schaefer leads at the half," into second. Once home, he brushed himself off, took off his cap and again addressed the grandstand: "Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention."

Harry Hooper remembers the rookie Babe Ruth in 1914:
You probably remember him with that big belly he got later on. But that wasn't there in 1914. George was six foot two and weighed 198 pounds, all of it muscle. He had a slim waist, huge biceps, no self-discipline, and not much education--not so very different from a lot of other nineteen-year-old would-be ballplayers. Except for two things: he could eat more than anyone else, and he could hit a baeball further.

Lord, he ate too much. He'd stop along the road when we were traveling and order half a dozen hot dogs and as many bottles of sode pop, stuff them in, one after the other, give a few big belches, and then roar, "OK, boys, let's go." That would hold Babe for a couple of hours, and then he'd be at it again. A nineteen-year-old youngster, mind you!

Nearly each of them boasts of the pleasure of playing with Rube Waddell. Others like Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and John McGraw become larger-than-life caricatures. They all have a comment for the New York Giants' manager McGraw: "What a great man he was! The finest and grandest man I ever met. He loved his players and his players loved him," says Rube Marquard. "He was a great man, really a wonderful fellow, and a great manager to play for," remembers Fred Snodgrass. "It was really McGraw I didn't like. John J. McGraw. I just didn't enjoy playing for, him that's all," says Edd Roush. "Now McGraw, he was a rough manager. Very hard to play for. I played for him from '28 to '32, when he retired, and I didn't like it," recalls Bob O'Farrell.

I believe I'd be willing to take my chances with Mr. McGraw.

I could go on and on with these quotes.

Lefty O'Doul:
So that's it. It's been a lot of fun, beginning to end. As I told you, I played in my first professional ball game with Des Moines in the Western League in 1917. I was twenty years old then. I played in my last game forty years later, Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League, 1956. Was fifty-nine then. I was the manager and put myself in to pinch-hit. Mostly a gag, you know. But I hit a ball between the outfielders and staggered all the way around to third.

A triple. Fifty-nine years old. How about that? Right there--forty years too late--I learned the secret of successful hitting. It consists of two things. The first is clean living, and the second is to bat against a pitcher who's laughing so hard he can hardly throw the ball.

And perhaps Bob O'Farrell says it best:
I certainly enjoyed those years, though. I did get a little discouraged at times, but I guess you do in any job. Of course, when you play every day it gets to be sort of like work. But, somehow, way down deep, it's still play. Just like the umpire says: "Play Ball!" It is. It's play.

Indeed. Baseball is play.

So while we eagerly wait for that next pulse-quickening exclamation--"Play Ball!"--find yourself a copy of The Glory of Their Times.
|| Peter @ 1/19/2004