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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

ALBERT'S ELBOW Will Carroll passes along this tidbit:

While the Cardinals were very on-message in saying they thought Albert Pujols would be a Gold Glove first baseman at the Winter Meetings, circumstance might not have him there to start the 2004 season. Desperately short of outfielders and pursuing Travis Lee, the Cardinals are likely to put Pujols back in left field and use Lee or Steve Cox at first. Pujols is reportedly angry with the move, having been told he'd move to first in order to protect his damaged throwing elbow.

Not exactly the best way to stroke your team MVP as you negotiate a long-term deal...

QUEERS OF THE YEAR A baseblog called Ball Talk has come out with its list of "some of the people both inside and outside of the game of baseball who have touched the gay community." Here's the Top Ten.

RBN plans a letter-writing campaign to help Brass Balls Award winners Jim Edmonds and Jason Izzyhausen crack the list. If that doesn't work, we'll breakdance for the Pope and see if he can pull a few strings.

THE OTHER DAY I offhandedly expressed some doubts about the Astros lineup. Now this new blog questions the clout of their starting rotation.

THE NEXT FRONTIER One of the reasons statheads flock to baseball is that the game is easy to dissect -- compare the logic and order of a baseball lineup to, say, the miasma of your typical basketball or football game. But while the pitcher-batter matchup may be statistically "pure," things go a little haywire once the ball is put into play.

For example, if you ask "how good a hitter is Jim Edmonds?", you'll get general agreement from almost all corners. But if you ask, "how good a fielder is Jim Edmonds?", then things get muddier. You'll find opinions all over the map, depending on the metric you choose (Ultimate Zone Rating, Defensive Win Shares, Regression Analysis, etc., etc.).

MLB now has its own answer to these competing methodologies -- no, it's not a new way of arranging the numbers; it's a new way of gathering information altogether. Alan Schwarz has the goods:

This spring, Major League Baseball's Internet portal,, will install in select parks a three-camera set-up to measure pitch speeds, locations and breaks to automate the collection of pitch data that until now has been generally eyeballed. This is only the first step, though, in's three-year plan to have up to six cameras in every major league stadium capturing everything from line-drive trajectories to outfielder running speeds.

We'll finally be able to know whether Derek Jeter -- who is aesthetically wonderful -- actually has the range statistics say he doesn't. We'll measure Vladimir Guerrero's throwing speed and accuracy from right field. And we'll get a lot closer to identifying the best center fielder in the game.

YANKS 3B Isn't Sheffield supposed to be a moody, me-first superstar? Isn't Derek Jeter supposed to be an altruistic good guy? Guess which one has volunteered to play third base for the Yankees this year?

A BARGAIN AT $2,500 Act now and get Ozzie for an additional $49.99.

Monday, January 26, 2004

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE As some of you know, I work as a professional writer outside of my contributions to Redbird Nation. For the most part my job has helped the website -- I usually have pretty flexible hours, leaving me plenty of time to keep up with baseball and write blog entries.

However, I took a writing assignment today that requires me to be away from my office for long stretches, meaning I won't have nearly the time to write for RBN. The job runs until June, i.e., several weeks into the baseball season. I'll continue to file my thoughts here and there, but the posts will likely be shorter, and fewer and farther between. I apologize to anyone looking for their daily Redbird fix, and hopefully within a few months I'll be back in the swing of things, wasting time, obsessing about the Cardinals, and spewing my usual bullshit.

ROB NEYER has a tidy little breakdown of the NL Central race. He declares the Astros the class of the division and the Cardinals a decided 2nd or 3rd place team. But alone among commentators (at least the ones I've read), Neyer doesn't think the Cubs have much of an edge over the Birds, if any:

Here's a salient fact: in 2003 the Cardinals scored 876 runs, which was 71 more than the Astros scored and 151 more than the Cubs scored. Yes, the Cubs had better pitching than the Cardinals ... but it wasn't that much better. It wasn't better enough to offset the difference in their runs scored.

Neyer makes a lot of sense (even if he doesn't mention the Cubs improvements at second base). Although to be honest, I'm not as bowled over by the Astros hitters as everyone else is. Berkman is a monster, but it wouldn't shock me if Bagwell, Biggio, Kent, and Hidalgo each had worse years in 2004 than they did last year. If the Cardinals rotation could manage to somehow hold together this year, we may well have another three-team race in the Central.

GREAT SCOTT Scotty Rolen has gotta be one of the more hard luck superstars in the game. Now that Chipper Jones has moved to the outfield, Rolen is, in my mind, the best year-in-year-out thirdbaseman in the game. He's tough, he's committed, he's humble. And whatever he lacks in charisma he makes up in honor.

Which is why it's so mystifying that he's treated like a public enema in the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Daily News recently wrote a piece about the good fortune of the latest Phillies club and couldn't help but take a few jabs at our thirdbaseman --

Lo and behold, Rolen's new team in "heaven," St. Louis, is cutting payroll as it prepares to finance its own new stadium.

And then there's the exact same sentiment from Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who asks snidely, "Wonder what Scott Rolen is thinking these days?", then goes on to chronicle how great things are in Philly and how lousy thing are over by the Mississippi.

Fine. If they can afford to overpay for their new relievers this year (over $12 million for the four of them), then I guess they can afford the big head that goes with it.

JOSH SCHULZ has some kind words about our piece on Albert Pujols and his right to sign a contract for market value. But he goes on to make some bigger points about the hypocrisies rampant among sports fans:

All this whining about selfish ball players is coming from a society that shops at wal mart to save 10 cents and destroys small businesses in the process. A society that ruined american automotive manufacturing because they'd like to save a little money on labor. A society that in the face of scarce petrochemical resources buys the most gigantic land behemoths they can because it's convienent and safe for them (but they endanger everybody else on the road due to the hieght and weight of the vehicles). This same culture of excess and greed can all gather around sanctamoniously because some baseball player has the nerve to try to be paid what the market will allow.

It bothers me.

Read the whole post. It's a good one. (Although, for the record, SUVs are about as dangerous to their drivers as they are to those who encounter them on the road.)

I HATE MYSELF Just for kicks I grew a beard starting around New Year's, and a couple days ago I shaved it off in sections -- you know, first a Ulysses Grant beard, then Chester Arthur muttonchops, and then I got down to a plain mustache, looked in the mirror, and realized I looked like another famous face: ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jeff Kent.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

BIRDS OF YOUTH Avkash Patel has an interesting post over at his blog The Raindrops. He takes all the teams from last year and charts their plate appearances by age. As you can see, the Cardinals' lineup isn't too terribly old -- more than half our plate appearances last year came from guys under 30 (in contrast to the Astros, who are carrying some aging stars, and the Cubbies, who had a lot of gray hairs in their 2003 lineup).

One thing that's been generally ignored this offseason is how much younger Jocketty has made the Cardinals. Mind you, it's not an all-out youth movement, but Jocketty has made several moves to chop some years off our roster. Look at these swaps, with ages for each player in 2004:

Jeff Fassero (41) ----> Julian Tavarez (30)
Fernando Vina (34) ----> Marlon Anderson (30)
Eduardo Perez (34) ----> Steve Cox (29)
Mike DeJean (33) ----> Ray King (30)
Garrett Stephenson (32) ----> Jason Marquis (25)
Brett Tomko (31) ----> Jeff Suppan (29)
Miguel Cairo (30) ----> Brent Butler (25)
Esteban Yan (29) ----> Mike Lincoln (28)

You digging those Commodore 64 graphics? As I said, it's not like we restocked the pond with tadpoles, but those 8 roster spots are, collectively, 38 years younger (almost 5 years per person). This doesn't include the Tino-for-Rust trade, or the import of Adam Wainwright (22 yrs old in 2004), both lopping off even more years from our team.

And of course, the above chart also doesn't include the one position where we got older this year -- much older, in fact, as we exchanged J.D. Drew (28) for Reggie Sanders (36). You can quip all you want about Drew playing like an old man these last few years, but there's one disturbing commonality between Drew and Sanders: neither has ever played more than 140 games in a season.

ALEX BELTH reprints a really cool first-hand account of what it's like play head games in the batter's box. He follows that up with something even cooler, and it has nothing to do with baseball -- a discussion about the use of pop songs in movies. Pauline Kael once said that all directors want to die and go to heaven as photographers. A friend of mine joked that Martin Scorsese wants to die and go to heaven as a DJ. As Alex point out, though, not all director-DJs are created equal.

CZAR BUD Doug Pappas on the ever-lengthening tenure of our commissioner:

The reason why Selig is such a cancer on the game has nothing to do with his accomplishments. Rather, it involves the way he has fundamentally corrupted MLB's governing process and destroyed the credibility of its public statements. Selig is a Machiavellian behind-the-scenes manipulator who has surrounded himself with yes-men. Anything he says that can't be independently verified, or which relates to his own or MLB's future intentions, can be trusted about as far as I can throw Miller Park. When he pledges to surrender power, even his own closest associates know he's lying. If Dick Cheney died, Bud would be the perfect replacement...

THE THRILL ISN'T GONE Here's a great little article on one of my all-time favorite players, Will Clark. Clark, who called his time with the Cardinals in 2000 "as much fun as I've ever had playing baseball," will return to the team as a special instructor in spring training.

My favorite players are frequently guys who surprise me, guys of whom I expect little. Take Woody Williams -- I assumed we had traded Lankford for a Juggs machine back in '01, but the guy's been a hoss ever since. Or Andy Benes -- no Cardinal ever surprised me like he did in the second half of '02. And Thrill Clark? Well, I hated him before he came to the Cards. Too much bug-eyed bluster, I thought. But about 24 hours after he unpacked his bags, I was sold. The guy left his heart on the field every game, and was a pure joy to watch. Good to have him back.

HOW MUCH ARE STARS WORTH? Tough to assign a dollar value, but the recent signings of Clemens in Houston and Vlad in Anaheim have been boons for season-ticket sales in those towns. The Angels have sold about 2,800 new season tickets, and things are even wilder in Houston:

The Astros' entire 72-line phone system was so jammed the first two days after the Clemens' announcement that the ticket offices added several new phone lines and hired sales agents and accountants to keep up with the flurry.

"We haven't had much sleep in the ticket office lately," says John Sorrentino, vice president of ticket sales and services. "I've been here 18 years, and it's safe to say we've sold more new season tickets this week than any time in history. It was a nice bump when Andy Pettitte signed here in December, but it's unprecedented what kind of excitement Roger has created."

I'm glad the Cardinals aren't shelling out huge money for Maddux, but I do wonder how much he'd add to the Cardinals coffers.

HANDICAPPING Seth over at SethSpeaks has a nice fantasy preview of the NL Central. Among the questions he asks:

What will Pujols do next year? Can Renteria stay at his recent level? How will the 2B and 1B situations work themselves out? Can Edmonds and Sanders stay healthy?

A MATCH MADE IN MASHANTUCKET Look where Pete Rose is going for his latest book-signing. It's almost as if the guy is playing a game of chicken with himself. (Thanks to Dave Pinto for the link.)

MVP* (* = Reds division only) The Cincinnati chapter of the BBWAA recently named Jose Guillen as the Reds' 2003 MVP. Guillen played only 91 games for the team last year.

THE BASEBALL CRANK has a nice tribute to the newly retired Jesse Orosco. Orosco was the last of the 1986 Mets to leave the majors, so I guess we shouldn't mourn his departure all that much. But here's an interesting tidbit from the Crank's site: Orosco's career began before the birth of both fantasy baseball and ESPN.

BERNIE MIKLASZ weighs in with his thoughts about the Pujols negotiations. Miklasz is usually as level-headed as they come, but frankly this column -- by turns confusing, pat, and timid -- reads like he started writing it ten minutes before deadline.

Is Pujols right to ask for so much money? Well, yes, says Miklasz, he deserves to be greedy. Then again, says Miklasz, if he is greedy, it's the owners' fault, for setting a bad example. And what about the owners? Should they sign Pujols to a longterm mega-deal? Yes -- they need him when we open the new park in 2006 or risk a mutiny from the fans. Then again, no -- better not make the same mistake the Rangers made with A-Rod. (Pet peeve alert: Miklasz says the Rangers have "have discovered the folly of paying $25 million a year to Alex Rodriguez." If they have, then they're learning the wrong lessons. Last year the Rangers spent more on Carl Everett and Chan Ho Park combined than they did on A-Rod.) Miklasz ends his column by predicting that Pujols will land a huge contract from the Cardinals. Or from someone else.

And while we're on pet peeves, let me direct you to a poll on It asks, "Has your opinion of Albert Pujols changed since he turned down the Cards' $72 million offer and made his 'this is a business' speech?" The leading response so far, at 42%, is, "ABSOLUTELY: Sounds like he's going to be just another superstar playing for as much money as he can get."

The gall of Albert Pujols, actually trying to earn as much money as he can. I've already made my feelings clear about athletes and money -- I basically think they should grab all the dough they can, while they can -- but let me offer you a thought experiment:

Suppose you never chose the company you work for now. Instead, you were simply drafted by them. Suppose also that you're not allowed to change employers for the first six years of your service. In the meantime you work below your market value and the company makes exponentially more money off your services than you make in salary. If you get injured within your first five years on the job and are unable to perform your duties, you will be terminated without pension.

Now suppose your six-year service time is up, and you have options about where you want to work next. You can stay where you are, and become incredibly well-compensated. Or you can move to a new town, work for a different company, and make 20% more than you could by staying put. You enjoy your roots, but you might also enjoy a bigger raise. After all, with 20% extra in salary, you could ensure that neither you nor your descendents have to worry about money ever again. You could endow a college scholarship in your name in your impoverished hometown. You could do lots of things.

Now, lastly, suppose that the citizens of your hometown -- the ones who have a lot invested in the company -- consider you greedy for trying to make as much money as you can. 42% of them tsk-tsk you, say you're acting like "just another superstar" for seeking your market value. Of course, they'd do the exact same thing if they were in your shoes, but they're not, so their smugness comes free of charge.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

FORKS IN THE ROAD Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball thrives on "what ifs." What if Ruth had never been traded to the Yankees? What if Merkle had touched second base? What if the St. Louis Browns moved to Los Angeles in 1941 (which was bound to happen had WWII not derailed the proposition)? What if Mantle had succumbed to the polio he contracted as a child? What if the Dodgers walked Bobby Thompson -- to face Willie Mays with the bases loaded -- in that playoff game back in '51? What if Bill Veeck carried out his plan to buy the Phillies in 1943 and sign several Negro Leaguers to the team?

But the "what if" questions I chew on the most are the ones that have to do with shortened or diminished careers. I find these questions almost inexorably sad -- they get me every time:

What if Dizzy Dean hadn't broken his foot in the 1937 All-Star Game?
What if J.R. Richard hadn't suffered that stroke?
What if Warren Spahn had been allowed to pitch regularly before his 26th birthday?
What if Pete Reiser hadn't run into all those walls?
What if Jimmy Wynn had played in a ballpark that didn't destroy his career numbers?
What if DiMaggio had played in Fenway?
What if Bonds played anywhere other than Candlestick or Pacbell?
What if Shoeless Joe Jackson had steered clear of the Black Sox scandal?
What if Josh Gibson or Oscar Charleston or Buck Leonard had been able to play in the major leagues?
What if Mark Fidrych hadn't ripped the cartilage in his knee?
What if Herb Score weren't hit by that batted ball?
What if Tony Conigliaro, or Dickie Thon, or Ray Chapman, weren't taken out by beanballs?
And of course, there are the ones that damn near kill me: What if Darryl Kile were alive? What if Rick Ankiel were able to pitch with poise and ease? What if the Cardinals had Ankiel and Kile in the 2002 postseason?

But perhaps the most popular of all "what if" questions is "what if Ted Williams hadn't lost all those years to the military?" Maybe it's beside the point -- after all, Williams is widely regarded as among the 2 or 3 greatest hitters of all time, and a hundred or so extra homers isn't likely to change that. But that's precisely why it's such a tantalizing question. "If he's that good already," goes the thinking, "how much better would he be if he didn't miss five years serving in the armed forces?"

Aaron Gleeman provides us with an answer. A speculative answer, of course, but it's backed up by some pretty clear-eyed research. I won't tell you exactly what he found -- for that you should read the whole article -- but I will tell you that, in Gleeman's estimation, Williams would be the all-time leader in both runs scored and runs batted in had he been able to enjoy a full major-league career.

(For further number-crunchings with the Splended Splinter, head over to the Win Shares blog. It makes some interesting parallels between the career homers and career Win Shares lists.)

Thursday, January 22, 2004

SUGAR RAY Josh Schulz is stoked about Ray Lankford donning the birds-on-the-bat once again. I'm not quite as thrilled as he is, but I agree that Lankford is a worthwhile risk, especially when you consider our alternatives in the outfield.

Lankford had only a .682 OPS in 2002, his last year in the bigs. This was 13% below the league average. But look how that stacks up against our outfield bench from 2003:

Taguchi +15% OPS vs. the league average
Lankford -13%
Palmeiro -18%
Cairo -25%
Marrero -36%
Robinson -40%

That's brutal. Lankford's most recent season would actually rank second among our reserve outfielders from last year. And three of those guys are gone, leaving only So-Tag (decent numbers, but with very minimal playing time) and K-Rob (awful numbers with lots of playing time). Does La Russa still plan on playing Pujols at first? And if so, why?

THE NEW BREED Mike Carminati over at Mike's Baseball Rants concludes his exhaustive study of the history of Hall of Fame voting standards. He concludes that standards have become stricter over the last 10-15 years, that fewer qualified candidates are making it in than they have in generations past.

Some may attribute this to more reasonable standards, but Mike has a different theory -- he thinks perhaps aging voters aren't adapting to modern game:

It seems that the expansion-era players have been singled out as well as us, the fans of expansion-era baseball, to be roundly ignored by the Hall... Doesn't this seem evident in what the writers and veteran players have been saying lately: they don't like the wimpy DH. They don't like wimpy starters who can't finish games. They don't like watered down staffs. They don't like closers picking up cheap saves with a three-run lead in the ninth. They don't like inflated power numbers. They don't like Astroturf, steroids, domes, multi-purpose stadiums, divisions, extra rounds of playoffs. They don't like Mondays: they want to shoot the whole thing down. They basically don't like the game that's been played over the last 40 years, and they devalue the stars from this era. Well, maybe not the Barry Bondses and Roger Clemenses. But certainly the Lou Whitakers and Darrell Evanses.

PUJOLS REDUX Yesterday I linked to Aaron Gleeman's piece on Albert Pujols' age. Gleeman fussed about the hazards of expressing your mind in public -- how if he says Pujols is lying about his age, half his audience thinks he's racist; and if he says Pujols is telling the truth about his age, the other half accuses him of being naive. I can certainly understand his frustration.

And yet I don't understand his logic about the subject at hand. As Gleeman put it back in the Spring of 2003:

"[Pujols] doesn't look like he's 23, he doesn't act like he's 23 and he doesn't play like he's 23... I still don't buy any of it, not for a minute."

And then again just the other day:

"I am still of the belief that there is a relatively good chance Albert Pujols' listed age is not accurate. I say this because a) his performance is absolutely incredible for such a young player... and b) he doesn't look like a 24-year-old now and he didn't look like a 21-year-old when he first burst onto the scene."

And I agree, Pujols doesn't hit or look like your typical 24-year-old. But isn't that the point? That Pujols is not typical? I mean, consider Frank Thomas. The guy burst onto the scene as a 22-year-old in 1990. His first full year in the bigs he hit .318 with 138 walks and 32 jacks. He finished 3rd in the AL MVP race. On top of that he was 6'5", 250 pounds, hugely muscled -- hell, look at his baseball cards from back then: he doesn't look too much different than he does today.

So here you had a guy (a) whose performance was absolutely incredible for such a young player... and (b) didn't look like a 23-year-old. Does that mean he was lying about his age? Does that mean Ted Williams was lying about his age? Does that mean that all those gargantuan, balding college football players are lying about their age?

Look, I'm not saying I'm 100% certain Pujols is as young as he says he is. I'm not. I've even gone on record to express my doubts. I'm just saying that the argument "he doesn't look or play like a 23-year-old therefore he's probably not 23" is no argument at all.

WHEAT AND CHAFF Alan Schwarz has an interesting article about what statistics matter the most. Bill James tried to do the same thing a number of years back, in his 1987 Baseball Abstract, when he ranked some common baseball stats according to importance, reliability, and intelligibility.

James found ERA to be the best stat in all of baseball. "Earned Run Average," wrote James, "is the only basic statistic in baseball that does a reasonably accurate job of summing up the total effectiveness of a player." True enough, although it struck me how much even a sturdy statistic like ERA can lie. We now know that ERAs are clouded by ballparks, by the defense behind the pitcher, by scorer judgments, and by the pitcher's role on his team (reliever ERAs, for example, are much more skewed than starter ERAs). Small wonder that a whole generation of wonkish seamheads have been searching for ever more rigorous tools to measure performance.

SO LONG, BIG O Jesse Orosco is finally calling it quits after a 24-year career and more appearances than any pitcher in major league history. For comparison's sake, the Cardinals' staff leader in career games played is Steve Kline, with 522. Orosco played in 1,252.

Orosco's first game was back on April 5, 1979, when he closed out a 10-6 Mets victory at Wrigley Field. Craig Swan got the win. Richie Hebner and Dave Kingman hit home runs. Albert Pujols wouldn't be born for another 8 months.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

HOW GOOD IS ALBERT PUJOLS? In one sense that's a rhetorical question. He's damn good. We know that. But how damn good? Next month an arbiter will decide if he's worth more or less than $8.75 million this year. And, to take a more telescopic view, the Cardinals will decide if he's worth an ultra-long-term deal and a nine-digit salary.

Before we try to answer these questions, I'm going to bring up a pet peeve. Jeff Borris, one of Pujols' reps, sizes up his client like so:

Albert is a special talent who has done things in the first three years of a career that haven't been accomplished in 75 years. To some extent, Albert's career has already been a historic one since no one else has ever hit 30 home runs, batted .300, driven in 100 runs and scored 100 runs in each of his first three seasons.

Now, I have no problem with Pujols' agents, and for the most part Borris is right -- Albert's achievements are up there with the best of all time. But the numbers nag me. It's that same quadrafecta you hear all the time about Pujols: .300/30/100/100. It's a set of statistics that people trot out when they want to say, "Pujols is without peer. He's the best, most productive, most consistent young player of all time."

I guess. That is, if you get to choose your own parameters and rig it so that Pujols is in a club with only one member. But it takes some finangling to get there. For example, Chuck Klein played only part of one season in 1928, his first year in the bigs. But in his first four full years, he hit over .335, with more than 30 homers, 120 runs, and 120 RBIs. Same deal with Vlad Guerrero. Came up for part of one season in '97. But in his next five full seasons hit .300 with 100 runs, 100 RBIs, and over 30 home runs.

And what's so magical about those .300/30/100/100 numbers? Joe DiMaggio hit .300/30/100/100 for his first four years in the bigs, except for one of those years where he fell one short in homers, with 29. Or what about Ted Williams, who hit .300/30/100/100 his first six seasons in the majors, except for one 23-homer blemish. Frank Thomas did it for his first seven seasons, except for the 24 HRs he hit as a sophomore. I don't see how these accomplishments differ from Pujols' in any meaningful way.

Besides, there are better ways to judge a player's worth than nice round milestones like runs and RBIs (which are team-dependent stats, anyway). Take, for example, Runs Created Above Average (a Lee Sinins stat equal to the difference between a player's RC total and the total for an average player who used the same amount of his team's outs). Albert Pujols' worst RCAA total so far was 49, in 2002. Well, Ty Cobb bettered that total his first thirteen years in the major leagues. Pujols is great, no doubt; but in terms of taking the baseball world by storm, he's not unique.

So okay, he's not unique -- but still, the company Albert keeps is still pretty astounding. I mean, look at those names we cited above: DiMaggio, Williams, Frank Thomas. Each of them shoo-in Hall of Famers. And, despite my various digressions and pet peeves, that's really the key question here: How good is Albert Pujols? Is he the next DiMaggio? Is he on track for a Hall of Fame career?

We can answer that question by lumping Pujols into various bins, or categories:

RCAA through age 23: Pujols is #10 on the all-time list, in a cluster with DiMaggio, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, and Ken Griffey Jr.

OPS, younger than age 25 (min. 1500 PA): Pujols is #6, sandwiched between DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig.

Players with 3 or more seasons of 300+ total bases by age 24: Pujols is one of 8 players in history, along with guys like Mel Ott and Frank Robinson.

Offensive Winning Percentage, ages 20-25 (min. 1500 PA): Pujols is #13, surrounded by Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, and Eddie Collins.

Runs Created Above Position at age 23: Pujols is #2 all-time, after Arky Vaughn and ahead of Ted Williams.

In other words, you can size up Albert Pujols any way you want, using a variety of statistical tools. All of these methods put him up among the very best of all time considering his age and experience.

But we can go even farther than that: it is nearly impossible to find players who resemble Albert Pujols who did not go on to have great careers. Put another way: virtually no one in major league history has had a start like Pujols and then flamed out.

Well, you might say, surely there must be some counter-examples. What about Freddy Lynn? Lynn had one good season under his belt by age 23; Pujols has had three. Vada Pinson? A stellar young player, that's for sure -- but through age 23, Pujols' on-base percentage is over fifty points higher than Pinson's was, and his sluggering percentage is 125 points higher than Pinson's at the same age. Bob Horner? A fine player in his youth, but really not the dominant player that Pujols is.

There's only one comparable player to Pujols who didn't go on to have a long, legendary career: Hal Trosky, a first baseman with the Indians in the 1930s. Like Pujols, he put up massive numbers in his early 20s, but he hit a wall in his late 20s. But the reason for his decline is easy to pinpoint: he suffered from migraines so severe that he had to retire from the game at age 28 and return to his farm in Iowa. (He rejoined baseball a couple years later, but he wasn't the same player, and lasted only two disappointing seasons.)

But besides Trosky, you won't really find any players with the credentials of Albert Pujols who didn't go on to have Hall of Fame-caliber careers.

Practically speaking, what does this mean? It means the Cardinals should essentially take it for granted that they have the next Frank Robinson or Jimmie Foxx or Orlando Cepeda on their hands. Now, understand, this doesn't mean that Pujols' career is tantamount to Jimmie Foxx's. He's got a ways to go to catch up, and anything could happen along the way. He could suffer some terrible back injury, or get in a car accident, or get beaned in the face like Tony Conigliaro. But these nightmare scenarios are so rare that they shouldn't really factor into the Cardinals decision to reward him with a very lucrative, long-term contract.

Hall of Famers are hard to come by. And losing them sometimes does something to the soul of a franchise. The Mariners seem to have done just fine without A-Rod, but more often than not, the loss of a legendary player will haunt a team forever. Think of the Pirates losing Bonds, or the Cubs losing Maddux -- these departures were not only terrible mistakes on the won/loss ledger. They also, I think, sent a message that those franchises either weren't able to or weren't interested in doing great things. And nothing kills off fans more than that.

Pujols won't be a free agent for three more years, so the Cardinals have some time to re-sign him. But they'd be wise to lock him up now, sign him for 8-10 more years, give him more money than Rolen, make him the highest-paid player in Cardinals history, and then sit back and enjoy what he does from here on out. He may not be the greatest young player in history, but he's in the neighborhood.

(By the way, Aaron Gleeman wrote a post recently that covered some of the same ground as I did here. You might want to check it out. His follow-up, which discusses Pujols' age, is also interesting.)

AND NOW THE ANTI-PUJOLS I got a kick out of this note from yesterday's Post-Dispatch, about what was paid for Cardinals souvenirs and memorabilia at a recent team expo:

Fans paid a top price of $85 for a Scott Rolen autograph, and bargains included the signatures of Cal Eldred and Reggie Sanders ($5), and newly acquired pitcher Jeff Suppan (free).

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

NEW BLOOD Mike Gullo is a fanatic about minor-league baseball who runs a website called The Minors First. He recently released his list of the Top 100 prospects in baseball and -- surprise! -- there are actually a couple Cardinals on the list. Adam Wainwright checks in at #22 (and the #7 pitcher overall) and Blake Hawksworth, who made rapid strides over the past year or so, is at #34. Most teams don't have more than one guy in the top 40 (although the Dodgers have four and the Angels have five), so this is progress.

Now the not so good: after Wainwright and Hawksworth, the Cards' talent is as shallow as this guy's swimming pool. We have no hitters that are worth spending any calories over, and few arms past our two hotshots. And given the nature of pitching prospects, you can count on either Wainwright or Hawksworth falling short of expectations. (Wainwright and Hawksworth -- doesn't that sound like an apothecary in Victorian England?)

Here's how divisional rivals fare in terms of top 100 prospects:

Chicago: Angel Guzman (#37), Felix Pie (#54), Justin Jones (#66), Chad Blasko (#81), Andy Sisco (#91), Brendan Harris (#96). GM Jim Hendry's strategy of stockpiling young arms is paying off. The Cubs are loaded at the position for years to come.

Cincinnati: Ryan Wagner (#45), Brandon Claussen (#58), Edwin Encarnacion (#69), Dustin Moseley (#99). Claussen -- a nice pick-up in the Aaron Boone deal -- should maybe be higher on the list.

Houston: Taylor Buchholtz (#56), Jason Lane (#62), Chris Burke (#94). As usual, the Stros have one of the deepest, most well-run systems in baseball.

Milwaukee: Rickie Weeks (#19), J.J. Hardy (#25), Prince Fielder (#27), Corey Hart (#46), Jorge De La Rosa (#74), Manny Parra (#80), Brad Nelson (#83). The Brewers' talent net isn't very wide, but they should have quite a few guys on the 2008 All-Star team.

Pittsburgh: Jason Bay (#21), John Van Benschoten (#61), Sean Burnett (#68), Freddy Sanchez (#79). A couple of these guys came via midseason trades this past year. I personally think the Pirates could have done better, but it's a step in the right direction.

As you can see, the Cardinals have fewer top-tier prospects than any team in our division, at least according to this source (although nearly any publication would agree). The Cardinals should try to lock up Pujols now to a multi-year deal, as he doesn't seem to be the type to stick around an organization in decline. Now and again I get visions of the Cardinals in their new ballpark: Pujols, Rolen, Renteria, Morris, and then lots and lots of tumbleweeds.

POT, MEET KETTLE Does Bud Selig have the moral high ground to lecture Pete Rose on ethics? Art Thiel takes a look at Czar Bud's various crimes and misdemeanors.

CUBS FIRSTBASEMEN Christian Ruzich says that Derrek Lee may be the first Cub firstbaseman to ever hit 30 homers before age 30. I read that and thought, that can't be right -- the Cubs have never had a big slugging firstbaseman?

Sure enough, Ruz is right (as usual). The all-time Cubs leader in homers by a first baseman before age 30 is Leon Durham. He hit 27 bombs in 1987, his "age 29 year," but a good half of those came after he turned 30. That makes Durham's 23 homers in 1984 the most in franchise history for a young first baseman. (That's the kind of stuff you look up in the dead of winter, where it's still 25 days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.)

This doesn't mean the Cubs have done a bad job of developing first basemen. Over the years they've come up with some good ones, but either they didn't hit for power (Mark Grace, Phil Cavarretta, Charlie Grimm) or they were traded away before they had a chance to (Andre Thornton, Rafael Palmeiro).

### In Houston, Roger Clemens will forego wearing his usual number 21, oddly enough, because teammate Andy Pettitte already chose the number in honor of Clemens. In this piece for, Paul Lukas takes a look at other numerical homages.

FAB FIVE Who has the best rotation in baseball? Jason Moyer tries to answer the question. When it comes to starting pitching these days, it seems there are eight teams that can throw good guys out there almost every day (A's, Astros, Cubs, Dodgers, Marlins, Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees), and then there's a whole mass of teams, including the Cardinals, held together with Scotch tape and baling wire.

CUBS FAN David Stinton was struck by our juxtaposition the other day between the Brewers new tagline ("It's the Way We Play") and Lee Elia's profanity-laced tirade aimed at Chicago's bleacher bums. Says David,

"A fucking playground for the cocksuckers." I think we have a new Wrigley Field promotional tagline.

Monday, January 19, 2004

IZZY OR ISN'T HE? The Cardinals' brass held a town hall meeting with fans the other day to discuss, among other things, the team's outlook for 2004. Owner Bill DeWitt remains optimistic, partly because closer Jason Isringhausen figures to be healthy the entire year. According to DeWitt, Izzy's absence for the first two months of 2003 could have cost the Cardinals ten victories.


That's a hefty number. It suggests that the Cardinals, who finished the year 85-77, would have been 95-67 had their ace reliever been available to pitch. It suggests that the Cardinals are essentially the same team as they were in 2002 (when they won 97 games), as long as Izzy's arm doesn't break down.

So I decided to go hunting and see if I could find those 10 wins. As of June 11, the Cardinals were 34-29 (a .540 winning percentage). On June 12th, Izzy rejoined the team, and the Cardinals went 51-48 (a .515 winning percentage) the rest of the way. Hmmm... If, as DeWitt claims, Isringhausen is worth one win per week, it's strange that the team played worse with him than without him.

So I looked at all the games that Izzy missed. The Cardinals played 18 games in which Isringhausen would typically appear -- ahead by one or two runs in the 8th inning and beyond. Their record in those games was 13-5. That's not too good, actually, but even if Isringhausen had saved every single one of them, he'd account for, at most, five extra victories.

Isringhausen on the year saved 22 of 25 games. At the same rate, he figures to save 16 of every 18 games, which suggests that Izzy's absence cost the Cards roughly three games in the standings. That's a far cry from ten wins, but it's not a far cry from first place. The Cardinals ended the season exactly three games behind the Cubs.

Nevertheless, I don't believe Isringhausen's injury cost the Cards first place. At best, DeWitt's comment is an ignorant byproduct of the closer fetish that has swept major-league baseball (the same fetish that causes the team to dole out over $7 million to Izzy this year alone). At worst, DeWitt is conning us into thinking the only difference between the Cardinals today and the NL Central Champs of 2001 is a sore right shoulder.

MADDUX IN RED? Not likely, according to Walt Jocketty. Rob Neyer says Maddux probably isn't worth his asking price anyway.

J.D. ARMEY over at Redsfaithful's Baseball Blog has a write-up on the Cardinals' outlook for 2004. He's actually more generous about our prospects than most commentators. Check it out.

RUMOR MILL I've heard from one front office guy that the A-Rod-for-Manny deal will go through before the season starts, and that A-Rod will forfeit a portion of his salary to make it happen.

TINKERINGS has a list of suggested rules changes to improve MLB. Actually the list is pretty reasonable. I'm not one of these guys that feels like baseball's rules are sacred and that the game should remain frozen in the 19th century. After all, football and basketball tinker with the rules all the time to keep their sports dynamic and responsive to changing times.

If I could change one rule, it would be that hitters must remain in the batter's box for the entire at-bat; i.e., umpires shouldn't grant them time out except in egregious circumstances. The constant in-and-out-in-and-out (call it the Garciaparring of baseball) has turned baseball into one s-l-o-o-o-o-w game. There are other changes baseball could adopt -- such as limiting throws to first, reducing time between innings, and outlawing mid-inning pitching changes -- to keep baseball as lively and watchable as possible.

Of course, our commissioner is more interested in other rules changes, like adding an extra round of playoffs, that will surely make baseball the longest, most bloated, time-consuming sport on the planet.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

ALBERT PUJOL$$$$$$ How much money will Bert fetch in arbitration? Tough to say, but consider these statistics for the following players through age 23:


Pleasant company, no?

THE CAT WAS ALL THAT Cardinals pitcher Harry "the Cat" Brecheen died on Saturday at the age of 89.

Brecheen is rarely included among the pantheon of Cardinal greats, but he was sort of the John Tudor of the 1940s. Both were thinly built, both southpaws, both breaking-pitch specialists with smarts and guile, and both found success with the Cards in their 30s, after years of scuffling by in their 20s (Tudor's best year was at age 31, when he went 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA; Brecheen's best was at age 33, when he went 20-7 with a 2.24 ERA and finished fifth in the 1948 MVP race).

The one difference between the two men was the Brecheen amped it up a notch in the postseason. He finished his career with an 0.83 ERA in three World Series, including three wins in the 1946 Fall Classic.

TOMKO DISSES DUNCAN We named the feud between Brett Tomko and pitching coach Dave Duncan as the #10 Conflict of the Year. But maybe we should have moved it up. It seems that by the end of last season, pitcher and coach "never talked and Duncan didn't even oversee [Tomko's] between-start bullpen sessions."

For a guy with a vaunted rep as a fixer-upper of broken arms, Duncan faces a serious test with the newest crop of headcases in the Cards rotation. That means you, Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis...

BRYAN SMITH has a thorough breakdown of Roger Clemens' prospects in the Lone Star State.

DON MALCOLM skewers some sacred cows in his rollicking wrap-up of the 2003 season.

PUDGE IN THE POCKETS Is Scott Boras flirting with the Tigers because he genuinely wants Pudge Rodriguez to play in Detroit, or is he just jacking up the price for I-Rod's eventual contract with the Chicago Cubs? Columnist Drew Sharp speculates that it's the latter.

A REPORT FROM THE WINTER LEAGUES John Gall, potential Cardinals 1Bman in a time-share arrangement with Al Pujols, didn't do so hot in the Mexican Leagues. But non-roster Spring Training invitee Emil Brown, who's trying to make it as a 5th outfielder for the Cards, went a little nuts down there. He had a .484 OBP and a .643 SLG for Hermosillo.

I like Brown. His minor-league numbers suggest he'd do just fine as a backup OF in Busch. But given TLR's spotty track record with minor-league journeyman (Jon Nunnally, Mike Coolbaugh), I doubt he'll see much time up with the big club.

DEADBIRDS? Funny, this article doesn't once mention the Cardinals as contenders in the NL Central. Can we console ourselves by remembering that the World Series winner the past two years entered the season as decided underdogs?

SAY WHAT YOU WILL about the Cardinals' front office, but they may well be the best team in the league at maintaining community relations. (That's part of the reason we got McGwire, Edmonds, and Rolen to stay here at reduced prices.) So it's nice to see that several Cardinals came out in the winter rain to sign autographs and celebrate the groundbreaking for our new park. In attendance were all-stars Edmonds, Renteria, Rolen, and Pujols, as well as newcomers Jason Marquis, Ray King, Reggie Sanders, and Jeff Suppan. Quite an achievement to get those new Redbirds out to the park at this time of year.

By the way, the seats in the new stadium will be red, not green. They won an online poll by a margin of 6 to 1.

1,000 CLOWNS Enough of 'em to fit into a VW bug -- that's how many entertainers we missed from our column last week. Our readers were kind enough to point out the omissions:

Mark Richter thinks we should have included a general manager, and nominates Bill Veeck for duty. Veeck, as you recall, once sent midget Eddie Gaedel to the plate in order to draw a four-pitch walk, among other stunts.

Brian Cook mentions two pitchers for the team: righthander Oil Can Boyd (who once checked into a mental hospital after being left off the 1986 All-Star Squad) and lefthander Nuke LaLoosh (who slept with Susan Sarandon). Maybe there's room for Sidd Finch in there too.

David Whitehead suggests we include Rabbit Maranville in our list of entertaining shortstops. Great choice. Maranville was a fan favorite for many years in the 'teens and '20s, both because of his goofy antics and his glittering play (he was a tremendous gloveman, and also hit 22 lifetime inside-the-park homers). And then there's this anecdote from the Biographical Encyclopedia of Baseball:

One time, during a beanball brawl with the Cubs, the diminutive Maranville tried several times to get into the action but kept getting pushed away. Frustrated, he went to the first base coach's box and began to shadowbox. As he described it, "I got so excited that I gave myself an uppercut and knocked myself out." Turning their attention to Maranville's antics, the fans ignored the fight on the field. The next morning Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis called Maranville to his office to complement him for preventing a riot.

Dan Keating asks, "How about Doc Ellis? No-hitter on LSD aside, the story of him beaning most of the Reds lineup always kills me." Here's the story:

Ellis sensed the Pirates had lost the aggressiveness that drove them to three straight division titles from 1970 to 1972. Furthermore, the team now seemed intimidated by Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." "Cincinnati will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us," Ellis said. "They're the only team that talk about us like a dog." Ellis single-handedly decided to break the Pirates out of their emotional slump, announcing that "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these motherfuckers." True to his word, in the first inning of the first regular season game he pitched against the Reds, Ellis hit leadoff batter Pete Rose in the ribs, then plunked Joe Morgan in the kidney, and loaded the bases by hitting Dan Driessen in the back. Tony Perez, batting cleanup, dodged a succession of Ellis' pitches to walk and force in a run. The next hitter was Johnny Bench. "I tried to deck him twice," Ellis recalled. "I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved." At this point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh removed Ellis from the game. But the strategy worked: the Pirates snapped out of their lethargy to win a division title in 1974, while the Reds failed to win their division for the first time in three years.

Reader Matt Rollo says he was glad to see Rube Waddell in our honorable mentions, and thinks he probably deserves to be the ace of the all-entertaining staff. Some people think Waddell, a turn-of-the-century hurler with serious heat, was literally insane (he was chronically attracted to chasing fire engines), while others, notably Bill James, thought Waddell may have been mentally retarded. Sam Crawford, in the classic book The Glory of Their Times, says that Waddell's manager, Hugie Jennings, "used to go to the dime store and buy little toys, like rubber snakes... He'd go to the first-base coaches box and set them down on the grass and yell, 'Hey, Rube, look!'"

Rollo has a few other great suggestions for the team: Pascual Perez (who, says Rollo, had "pharmaceutically aided" conversations with the mound, the ball, and the rosin bag), Jim Abbott and Pete Gray (each tough enough to play with one arm), and Pepper Martin. Says Rollo, "I hear that Pepper's deterrent against the bunt was not his ability to defend it well, but hard throws that often found their way to the batter's head rather than the first baseman's glove. Intentionally, of course."

Howard Rosenberg, author of a very well-received two-volume biography of Cap Anson, writes in with a few 19th-century nominees for the all-entrtaining squad: Cap Anson, of course (arrogant and cocky as all get-out); Arlie Latham (a popular ham back in the day); and Hall of Famer Mike "King" Kelly. According to Rosenberg, "Kelly made his reputation in the 1880s by a few times cutting across from first base to third when the then-lone umpire was not looking."

Rosenberg also provides this priceless insight into the tenor of the pre-modern game:

Fans in the 19th century sat much closer to the field than they do today. And the players often spoke to them, so that may point to 19th-century players as providing the most personable entertainment in the game's history. Before 1900, there were no paid coaches, so players stood on the first and third base lines shouting ad-hoc instructions. The 19th-century ballpark can be more easily compared to theater than can later ones because of the far greater chance for interplay between the audience and those on the field. Also, the typical size of a crowd was in the few thousands.

And then there's this fusillade of suggestions from RBN's own Flynn:

Pascual Perez (or most of his brothers)

Lonnie Smith - how could you omit Skates?

Jeffrey Leonard - the perfect villian

Tony "That's not a crouch" Pena

Benito "From the knees" Santiago

Joe Magrane - "I'm currently reading a book called 'JFK: the Man, the Myth, the Airport.'"

Pete Vuckovich - dirt, just dirt

Craig Lefferts - if only because he came in from the bullpen at a full sprint, every time.

Henry Rodriguez - not the most colorful but you gotta love the fans' home run celebrations for him.

Deion Sanders - to hear people talk, he was, like, three times faster than anyone else playing the game.

Umpire - Dutch Rennert

Lastly, I have a few of my own emendations to the all-entertaining team: Bo Belinsky (a playboy pitcher who dated Ginger from Gilligan's Island, among many other starlets), Pete Browning (he was Skates before Skates Smith), Cool Papa Bell (so fast it was said he could turn off the lights and be in bed before the room got dark), Joe Pepitone (amiable New Yorker who liked to mix it up with Mafia goombas), Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich (Yankee teammates who literally traded wives in 1973), Moe Berg (spoke a dozen languages, worked as a spy while catching in the bigs, and was once prepared to assassinate German physicist Werner Heisenberg), and Steve Dalkowski, my most egregious omission of all. Supposedly he was the inspiration for Nuke LaLoosh, but if you can believe it, his real-life story seemed even more fictional than Ron Shelton's movie character.

Friday, January 16, 2004

THE MIND OF THE MAN IN CHARGE The Post-Dispatch has an article about Tony La Russa and his plans for the upcoming season. Here are a few of his insights, with commentary of course:

La Russa on his lineup: "You could have power (hitting) No. 1 and 2, 3, 4 and 5, then second base hits eighth with (catcher Mike) Matheny seventh."

Okay, so far so good. It makes sense to frontload all that lumber in the heart of the Cards order rather than wade past Bo Hart or Marlon Anderson or some other scrappy dude TLR is tempted to put up top.

La Russa on his #2 hitter: "Say the second baseman hits eighth instead of first or second. Then put a power guy up there. I've done that for years. I'm not hesitant to do that."

Again, I like the thinking. The No. 2 hole isn't strictly the province of banjo hitters, as it was in the old days (Marcus Giles of Atlanta hit 20+ bombs out of the two-spot last year, and Hank Blalock of Texas hit many more), but most managers still put their lighter hitters up front. In the Cardinals' case, the best on-base guys are also the best power threats, so I'm glad La Russa is planning on sliding everything up in the order.

La Russa mentioned nonroster invitees Ray Lankford and Greg Vaughn as candidates to bat second.

Hey, I'm all in favor of encouraging your talent to rise to the occasion, but Vaughn is not the answer. He's hit like Rey Ordonez for two years straight, and he turns 38 this summer. Lankford? I've got more hope for him. I think his bat speed is shot, but he's only a year removed from respectable numbers. He could be a useful guy off the bench.

For now, second baseman Marlon Anderson represents the likely candidate to hit leadoff opening day.

Why? Because he looks like the leadoff hitters you grew up with? (And didn't La Russa just say Anderson would be hitting 8th?) I still say Renteria is a tailor-made leadoff hitter, although there's no chance TLR will hit him there (and, truth be told, his track record out of the one-hole is weak, albeit in small sample sizes). Edmonds, Rolen, Pujols, and Sanders have too much power to bat first. I say go out and get a leftfielder who can reach base and bat him leadoff.

La Russa on the free swingers in the Cards lineup: "There are going to be a lot of drills where they play the game. If they can't do that, then they lose some points... You do things to get the ball in play when you can. If you can't hit-and-run because guys swing through things, that's a bad baseball play. I'm sure Reggie (Sanders) has practiced the hit-and-run before. Your ability to be a complete player is going to count for a lot of at-bats you get."

This seems backwards to me. Sure, complete players are nice, but the key is to emphasize your team's strengths, not dwell on their weaknesses. So Reggie Sanders isn't a great contact hitter -- does that mean you sit him down in favor of a slap hitter like Kerry Robinson? Are you going to discard his 31 home runs just because he's not so hot on the hit and run? Read on. Evidently so...

La Russa: "A guy like Kerry Robinson could be more valuable to a team than a guy who hits 20 home runs. It's to their advantage to be as complete as possible."

This is where I thought TLR had gone off the deep end. K-Rob as valuable as a 20-homer guy? Who's he kidding? I estimate that Kerry Robinson, who's on-base percentage last year was a measly .281, would have to raise his OBP at least 100 points to be as valuable as a guy with 20 HR power. But evidently the plan is that he'll platoon in left (even though he was an equal-opportunity disaster from both sides of the plate in 2003). Someone's got to put an end this madness, right?

THE BIGGEST LOSER IN AMERICA Check out this story. Maybe we should let Rose back into baseball just so we can keep him around as, like, a court jester or something.

THE HALL OF RECORDS Alan Schwarz has a nice article about the milestones to look out for in 2004.

MORE NUMBERS Jayson Stark has a lot of fun data in his latest Useless Information column. My favorite:

In the 17 seasons Paul Molitor was a Brewer, they had only four losing seasons -- and in one of them (1984), Molitor was out virtually all year. In the 20 seasons the franchise has had to play without Molitor (including their year as the 1969 Seattle Pilots), they've had no winning seasons.

AGEGATE REVISITED The other day we mentioned Albert Pujols' disputed age -- officially he's 24 years old, but people have been dubious about his real age from the moment he entered the league. Well, now the stakes are higher that ever before. At the quarterly owners' meeting that concluded yesterday, players who falsify their age "or other material facts on their contracts" will face a one-year suspension.

So if it turns out that Pujols is really older than he says, he'd lose not only a couple years off his reported age, he'd lose a year playing in the major leagues. If I was an NL Central rival, I'd do some poking around in the Dominican Republic.

ROGER CLEMENS, HUMAN SHIELD Here's an interesting post that seriously discusses the matter of Clemens getting beaned as he puts on the batting helmet of the Houston Astros. (Thanks to Will Carroll for the link.)

VEGAS ODDS of the Cardinals winning the 2004 World Series: 10 to 1. Not as bad as I'd have thought. About the same odds as drawing three of a kind in 5 Card Draw with two wild cards.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

THE ENTERTAINERS recently issued its list of the most entertaining players in all of baseball. I can draw only one conclusion from their selections: today's ballplayers are drips. The nominees includes corporate statues like Alex Rodriguez (great hitter, otherwise charmless), anonymous jocks like Troy Glaus, and nobodies like J.T. Snow.

Better to look to baseball's past for the most memorable characters of all time. Here, then, is Redbird Nation's all-star team of the most entertaining -- i.e., the most amusing, thrilling, watchable, quotable, personable -- players in baseball history:

Catcher: Yogi Berra

At least half the malaprops attributed to him are fabricated by other people (or as he said, "I never said most of the things I said"), but who cares? The other half really are Yogi's, and they're still, despite being quoted ad infinitum, fairly hilarious. The man just looked like a catcher: short, hammy legs; gnarled knuckles; and a face like it needed a good sandpaper. But you can't argue with his success: he has a World Series ring for each of his fingers.

Signature Quote: "So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face."

Honorable Mention: Pudge Rodriguez, Bob Uecker, Rick Dempsey, Manny Sanquillen

First Base: John Kruk

He looked like your auto mechanic or your softball teammate, and he knew it. He was unshaven, scraggly-haired, fat-bellied (although deceptively quick), and his shirt tended to get untucked during baseball games (which is elegant compared to the outfit he wore on Letterman -- a black Steely Dan t-shirt and a Sawyer Brown baseball cap). Kruk was the perfect embodiment of the lovable '93 Phillies, and a beacon to all those misshapen weekend warriors who think, "yeah, I could play this game." (Scroll down here for a clip of his memorable AB vs. Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star Game.)

Signature Quote: (when admonished by a woman for smoking as a professional athlete) "I ain't an athlete, lady, I'm a baseball player."

Honorable Mention: Mark Grace, Will Clark, Mark McGwire

Second Base: Pete Rose

Except for Cobb maybe, there was never a bigger lightning rod on the ballfield -- he seemed to attract all the energy around him, both good and bad, and revel in it. The images are still crystal clear in my mind: Rose pounding the batting helmet with his fist, crouching at the plate, flinging his bat aside, sprinting to first on a walk, cap flying off while running, belly-flopping into third, hair flying up like he was plugged into an electrical socket. Love him or hate him (and if you're a good Cardinals fan, I'm sure you hated him too), he was always entertaining as hell.

Signature Quote: "Fuck you, Shakespeare!" (yelled repeatedly at Jim Bouton from the steps of the Cincinnati dugout, after Bouton had published his tell-all memoir, Ball Four)

Honorable Mention: Jackie Robinson, Frankie Frisch, Harold Reynolds, Jose Oquendo

Third Base: George Brett

Were there more colorful players? Yes. Were there funnier guys out there? Sure. But no one seemed to have a flair for the dramatic more than Brett. From his mighty postseason homers, to his furious quest for .400, to the infamous pine tar incident, Brett was always the man at the center of it all. He was also a dyed-in-the-wool competitor -- I once saw him, in the '85 Series, fling his body into the dugout chasing a foul pop in a game the Royals were winning by 5 runs. One other exciting thing about him: he hit the 2nd-most triples of any player over the last 40 years.

Signature Quote: "If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out."

Honorable Mention: Ken Caminiti, John McGraw, Graig Nettles, Lenny Randle

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith

You know why: it was those plays. Every night, it seemed, he'd do something eye-popping: dive to his right and spring back up like a scissors, dive to his left and leap over the runner barreling into second, catch balls on the short hop, over his shoulder, even bare-handed. He was also a blur on the basepaths and a handy twirler with the bat. The backflips gave a nice little curlicue to the whole performance.

Signature Quote: (on his "Go crazy, folks!" game-winning homer) "I was just trying to hit a line drive. I guess I made a mistake."

Honorable Mention: Ernie Banks, Nomar Garciaparra, Phil Rizzuto, Ozzie Guillen

Left Field: Rickey Henderson

His lack of education has given him a reputation as a jerk, but his teammates always loved him, and no one felt more passion for the game itself. He's a walking circus -- he steals bases, he scores runs, he makes whiplash catches in the outfield, and he can even muscle up and go yard (then swagger around the bases at 2 m.p.h.). Baseball needs more guys like him -- whether he's at his best or at his worst he's always 100%, USDA-approved, all-beef Rickey.

Signature Quote: (on breaking Brock's all-time SB record): "Lou Brock was a great base stealer but today I am the greatest."

Honorable Mention: Bo Jackson, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez

Center Field: Pete Reiser

Ty Cobb may deserve this spot -- he was as magnetic as they come. (He once pistol-whipped a would-be mugger to death in an alley in Detroit. Later he said, "I used that gunsight to rip and slash and tear him for about ten minutes until he had no face left. Left him there, not breathing, in his own rotten blood." He was going to catch a train to a ballgame.) But we can't have Cobb and Rose on the same team -- too much psychosis. Instead let's take Pistol Pete Reiser, who may have had more raw talent than Mays. Too bad he spent most of his time running into outfield walls, getting beaned in the head, stealing home on twisted ankles, throwing on dislocated shoulders, and generally tearing apart his body. But he always played to win. Once in 1946 he ran into the wall at Ebbets Field chasing a fly ball. The runner circled the bases and Reiser was carted off, unconscious, on a stretcher. It was only then that the team trainer discovered he was still holding onto the ball.

Signature Quote: "God gave me those legs and the speed, and when they took me into the walls that's the way it had to be. I couldn't play any other way."

Honorable Mention: Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Kirby Puckett, Mickey Rivers, Lenny Dykstra, Willie McGee, Doug Glanville

Right Field: Babe Ruth

Up there with Muhammed Ali as the most entertaining figures in all of sports history. He probably out-hit, out-laughed, out-ate, out-drank, out-partied, and out-fornicated any player before or since. Babe Ruth didn't play the game of baseball so much as he did remake it in his own image.

Signature Quote: "If it wasn't for baseball, I'd be in either the penitentiary or the cemetery."

Honorable Mention: Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco, Kirk Gibson, Sammy Sosa, Ichiro, Vlad Guerrero

Starting Pitcher: Mark "the Bird" Fidrych

The definitive l'enfant joyeux, his demeanor on the mound -- all arms and legs and goofy ticks -- was totally infectious. Attendance at Tiger Stadium almost doubled on days he pitched, and for good reason: customers got to see Fidrych groom the mound, talk to the ball, throw out baseballs that had hits in them, and run around shaking hands with his teammates when they made good plays. Bill Lee said on ESPN's SportsCentury (whose profile of Fidrych is almost unbearably funny and moving), "He's like the little boy that's thrown into a pile of horse manure, and he's bobbin' up and down and they say, 'how can you be so happy,' and he says 'there has to be a pony in here somewhere.'"

Signature Quote: "King Tut? What's that, a new rock group?"

Honorable Mention: Luis Tiant, Satchel Paige, Dontrelle Willis, Bill Lee, Joaquin Andujar, Rube Waddell, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Jim Bouton, Bob Forsch (just kidding), Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, Fernando Valenzuela

Relief Pitcher: Al Hrabosky

He was all bluster -- the Mad Hungarian in a fu manchu mustache, walking out behind the mound, rolling his shoulders, psyching himself up, slamming the ball into his mitt, then charging back to the mound ready to throw heat. But deep down he was an old softie. When he wasn't selected to the All-Star team in 1974, St. Louis fans rallied behind him, honoring him with a "We Hlove Hrabosky Hbanner Hday."

Signature Quote: "When I'm on the road, my greatest ambition is to get a standing boo."

Honorable Mention: Dan Quisenberry, Tug McGraw, Mitch Williams, Dennis Eckersley, Kent Tekulve, Hoyt Wilhelm, Charlie Kerfeld, Rob Dibble

Manager: Casey Stengel

The greatest showman-manager of all time, Casey was a genius at appearing foolish. One afternoon as a player, Stengel was having a rough day against his old team in Brooklyn; so, during his last at bat, he stood at home plate, tipped his cap to the jeering crowd, and out flew a bird he had placed on top of his head. As a manager he relished playing the clown while surprising the nay-sayers with seven world titles. In 1950, Phil Rizzuto received a death threat in Boston, and was told he'd be shot if he showed up in uniform. So Stengel did what any right-thinking man would do -- he gave Rizzuto's uniform to Billy Martin to wear.

Signature quote: "If anyone wants me, tell them I'm being embalmed."

Honorable Mention: John McGraw, Leo Durocher, Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson


What players did we miss? Email us and let us know...

THE DOPE ON MARLON The other day I gave out an outdated scouting report on Marlon Anderson, the Cards' new secondbaseman. Here's the up-to-date version, courtesy of so_cal_cards_fan. One stat that struck me: Anderson hit .140 as a leadoff hitter last season (8 for 57 with only 3 walks and one extra-base hit).

STEPPING IN THE BUCKET While researching the piece about baseball personalities, I stumbled across this on the web -- David Letterman's Top Ten Baseball Euphemisms For Sex:

10. Working the rosin bag
9. Comebacker
8. Charging the mound
7. Riding the pine
6. Jerking one into the seats
5. Coming from behind
4. Doubleheader
3. Going deep in the hole
2. The big unit
1. Visiting Busch Stadium

THE BREWERS have a new promotional tagline: "It's the Way We Play." As in, it's not whether you win or lose... (Thanks to Dave Pinto for the link.)

ARE YOU AGE 18 OR OLDER? Alex Belth reminds us of the wonderful postgame press conference Cubs manager Lee Elia gave about the Wrigley Field bleacher bums back in 1983. Enjoy:

Eighty-five percent of the people in this country work. The other fifteen percent come here and boo my players. They oughta go out and get a fucking job and find out what it's like to go and a earn a fucking living. Eighty-five percent of the fucking world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here. A fucking playground for the cocksuckers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

HEY, LOOK WHAT I FOUND! As Cardinal ownership takes a deep breath and jumps into construction of a giant, new, privately funded nest, the Cubs managed to "constructively" expand Wrigley Field by throwing some heat that Kerry Wood would be proud of.

I realize this is a Cardinal site but as a Redbird Nationalist living in enemy territory I feel it is important to note how an NL Central rival is financing its team. Plus, the report of the negotiations (see below) is quite entertaining. The Cubs took it to the rooftop owners in a legal battle that wound up being shockingly one-sided. Just think of the rooftop owners as Pedro Borbon, Jr.

Some background on the situation: a few years back, the Cubs decided that the rooftop owners -- no longer guys who went up there with a cooler, a grill, and a bunch of lawn chairs -- were stealing their product. The Cubs threatened to expand the bleachers or erect screens that block the view of the rooftops. The rooftop owners then banded together and campaigned on a "good for the neighborhood" platform against the "barbaric" threats by the Cubs. It ended up with a suit by the Cubs against the owners for copyright infringement. Think about it, they have a case...

Here is some reaction to the current situation by a Wrigleyville resident. Please note, this person is a homeowner, not a just-out-of-college renter, which is the prevailing demographic in that part of town:

"As a homeowner in the area, I can't stand the rooftop owners, or at least those that speak for them. When they started fighting with the Cubs and moved to block expansion of Wrigley as part of their tit for tat, the rooftop owners became very vocal about "neighborhood" concerns -- traffic, drunks puking on the lawns, etc. -- and came to neighborhood meetings to stump against expansion. Of course, the rooftop owners are mostly the owners of bars around the field, so they really don't give a rat's ass about any of this stuff (and in fact are the ones providing liquor before and after the games), except to the extent expansion could affect the sightlines of their rooftop decks.

"At the same time, they tried to portray themselves as simple homeowners that just happened to be across from Wrigley trying to make a buck. BS. These are cash cows -- owned, licensed by the city, and operated like bars. Bars with a very, very steep cover ($100-$150 per person per game) and very expensive food (provided by the bar that owns the roof deck, albeit listed as a catering company) and drinks. I have no problem with someone trying to make a buck. I do have a problem with a group of business owners making huge bank lying to their neighbors in order to use them in their little pissing match. They paid huge dough to build these things to steal the Cubs' product and then want to block expansion on the basis of a purported 'right' to have a view. I don't blame the Cubs in this one.

"As far as the law goes, I think the argument is somewhat akin to music or film royalties. I can have my friends over to watch a movie or listen to a CD, but if I sell tickets to my friends and have a concert the artist would theoretically be owed a royalty."

So last Friday a "mediation session" between the Cubs and the rooftop owners took place. The rooftop owners proposed paying the Cubs $300,000 (about 3 percent of annual gross revenue) for 50 years. The Cubs wanted 20 percent of the gross revenue for 10 years. Witnesses say the following negotiations were "astonishing." Said one owner, "There was such a wide gap in the proposals, I figured we’d talk for a few hours and then go home and start again on Monday."

Instead, by Friday night, a deal was reached whereby the Cubs would get 17% of the rooftops gross revenue for the next 20 years. This estimates out to between $1.7 and $2 million a year. For twenty years! Think the Cards could use that?

Another owner said, "At the start of the session a lawyer for the team addressed the rooftop owners and said the Cubs would crush them. He said the Cubs would shut them down. He said if the Cubs didn’t win in court the first time they would sue the owners again. He promised the rooftop owners that the Cubs would make their life miserable." Wow. Think they’re ready to negotiate with Scott Boras for Greg Maddux?

So, couple this with the victory they had last November in the ticket scalping lawsuit (the Cubs created their own "select ticket service" which they use to sell tickets for above face value) and the Northsiders have just lawyered their way into a good $3-4 million a year without any sort of TV deal or stadium expansion. And with the new attitude toward spending on players seemingly here to stay, don’t expect the Cubs to use that cash to replace the ivy. Ugh.

But hey, we got Tavarez, right?

Go here to vote on the color of the seats in the new stadium. My platform = red is good. Vote red.

WILL THE CUBS LAND MADDUX? My guess is yes. It seems they've made the most serious offer, and as I said a couple weeks ago, the Cubs don't plan on settling for second place anymore -- they want someone to counterbalance the Clemens signing.

The Cubbies will probably overpay for Maddux -- he's losing steam as he gets older, averaging only 80 pitches per start over the last couple years (not the type of thing that Dusty "the Shredder" Baker likes). But he's still an upgrade over Juan Cruz (and/or safety should Zambrano finally blow out his arm), and he guarantees that the Cubs can throw out a quality starting pitcher every single day. Oh, jealousy...

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS breaks down the transactions in the NL Central this winter. There's a lot of rich stuff there, so I encourage you to read the whole thing, but if you're looking for something that fits your fast-paced consumable lifestyle, here's the article in bite-sized pieces:

On Jason Marquis: "Marquis has never meshed with the genius of Leo Mazzone despite doing a remarkable impression of Greg Maddux while on the mound up until the ball leaves his hand... His failure to have any significant scars, screws, or plates in his pitching arm makes him something of an oddity and maybe even the number-four starter."

On Adam Wainwright: "At 22, he's precisely the type of pitcher that the Cardinals have had no success with in the recent past."

On some of the players we re-signed: "In Carpenter and Eldred, Dave Duncan gets to continue to work on scrap heap projects, competing with Don Gullett of the Reds in the baseball equivalent to Junkyard Wars."

On Jeff Suppan: "In signing Suppan at a Crazy Eddie price, the Cardinals avoid overpaying for mediocrity... Unfortunately, the very need for a pitcher like Suppan is an indictment of a minor league system more barren than the Little Rann of Kutch."

On the Cubs 2B combo of Walker and Grudzielanek: "Both are the type of dirty-kneed, crag-faced five o'clock shadow type of throwbacks that Dusty prefers, and they work as an excellent platoon... The only task now is deciding whether to call them Walkilanek or Grudzker."

On the Brewers' offseason: "What if a club gave its lineup a complete makeover, and nobody came? They traded away one of the best first basemen in the league and didn't get back anything of note, effectively getting back a raft of Billy Ray Cyrii for their only Guy Clark."

On the Cardinals chances this year: "...if Edmonds isn't ready when the cherry blossoms start blooming, the Cards may start pointing across the street to the work on their new stadium, hoping no one notices that they're closer in the standings to the Brewers and Reds than the Cubs and Astros."

TOM VERDUCCI of Sports Illustrated has a good piece about the J.D. Drew deal, which discusses the Braves' track record when it comes to dealing away young pitchers.

By the way, did you know that J.D. and his brother Tim are now (Dizzy-and-Paul-like) playing on the same team?

ULTIMATE UZR A guy named Mitchel Lichtman has this obsession -- analyzing baseball fielders with the most sophisticated tools you can imagine. You may be familiar with his approach if you've read Moneyball, but basically what he does is carve up the field into various zones, and adjusts fielding stats according to the degree of difficulty within these areas. (Super-simplistic, I know -- read his methodology here for more goods.)

Anyway, he's been producing his Ultimate Zone Ratings for a few years now, and he recently came out with his list for 2003. If you buy into Lichtman's stuff, you can make a few general observations:

It's hard to replace Tino in the field.
Marlon Anderson is a colander.
Rolen rules.
Renteria: overrated, but not bad.
Edmonds: overrated, and not very good.
Reggie Sanders: J.D. Drew, but more handsome.

BUSCH STADIUM: THE SEQUEL Here are some details on the building project across the street from Busch. The ballpark plans include a lot more female restrooms: "as team leaders explain it, there were fewer female fans when Busch was built."

BUD SELIG: THE SEQUEL Bad news. At an awards banquet Monday night, Czar Bud suggested that he won't retire in three years like he said he would:

"I said before when someone asked me that when my contract ends I'm going to be 72. I've done this a lot longer than I thought I would do it. As far as I'm concerned, that would be it. Since then, I've had a lot of people say to me, 'please don't make anymore definitive statements like that'. So you know what? I'll do them all a favor and I won't make anymore."

Scary. Very scary.

AND LASTLY, from our friend Brendan up in Boston:

The best part about Clemens going to the NL? No more DH to hide behind.

Aim for the head, boys.