Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The thing that made him magical, though, was that he succeeded subtly. Mysteriously, even. There was no OBVIOUS or BLATANT reason that he dominated hitters. He did not throw his fastball in the mid-to-high 90s like other dominant closers. Often, he did not even throw his fastball in the low 90s. He did not have a Mariano Rivera cutter or a Trevor Hoffman change-up or a Bruce Sutter split-fingered fastball. He did not have a wild-man act, did not stomp around the mound or glare batters down or intimidate in the slightest. He mainly looked like he had just woken up from a particularly refreshing nap.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
And yet ... I think Watson's career is singular because unlike any of the other great golfers, Watson's life is really divided in two. There was the young and wild Watson who hit the ball all over the place and won with one of the great short games in golf history. And there is the older Watson, whose ball-striking is so magnificent that men half his age salivate but who has been held back by 5-foot putts that stubbornly go their own way.
If the game of the old and young Watson had ever met, they would not recognize each other.
If the old Watson and the young Watson had ever shared a season, they might have won the Grand Slam.
Friday, May 27, 2011
There was little question in anyone's mind that Michael Jordan was the player any real or pretend general manager on planet earth would take.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
LOL! See, the joke is that baseball stat-heads measure obscure and pointless things. The Simpsons pulled off this little joke in their recent baseball show, but the truth is that the joke has become ubiquitous. You can hear it on radio, on television, in newspapers, on Broadway, in ballparks across America. Everyone who wants to poke fun at baseball stats people come up some version of the joke.
"I'm not interested in the guys batting average against lefties on national holidays when the person eliminated on American Idol has a name that starts with B."
"Oh, what is he hitting in domes during day games when the NASDAQ is down?"
"Yeah, they're in their mother's basement figuring the pitchers wDIDDY on turf when he batter scored better than a 1000 on his SAT."
And so on. The jokes can be blandly funny, I suppose, though I think they miss the point. There ARE some annoying numbers geeks out there who chase after utterly meaningless statistics. Those geeks, though, might not be the ones we generally point at.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Paul Splittorff, more than anybody I have ever known, refused to live in the past. He had a wonderful past to live in. He won 166 games as a pitcher in the big leagues -- he still holds the Royals record for most pitching victories and will own it for years to come. He twice beat the Yankees in the playoffs, enough to be called a "Yankee Killer" for a time (though, as he would say, he had a losing record against the Yankees). He pitched in the World Series. He struck out Reggie Jackson 23 times in his life. Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, Henry Aaron, Billy Williams and Frank Robinson hit a combined .146 against him. He never said much about any of that. He did mention, now and again, that Dick Allen owned him. But only if you asked.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Here are a few posts that may be coming. Then again ...
-- A breakdown, 1-to-30, of the best hitting parks in baseball (or 30-1 of the best pitching parks in baseball).
-- The iPad Review (really*).
-- More thoughts about rooting against LeBron
-- The 32 most fun people to watch in sports
-- Watching a single tennis match from Paris
-- My off-again love affair with the movies
-- Why I'm going to start playing golf
-- Thoughts on the Negro Leagues Museum
*I'm going to make a deal with you, the reader. Sports Illustrated has just made the extremely exciting announcement that the SI iPad app is now free for subscribers. Absolutely free. All you have to do is sign up for SI Everywhere. You don't even need an iPad to sign up -- you can read the magazine on your computer or on other devices. So, sign up. I have a number in mind. If that number of people sign up for the iPad app, I actually will write the iPad review.
I'm not saying that this will make the deal any more appealing, but I can tell you that plans are in the works for a new version of the SI app, one where this blog will be featuring prominently.
Also, I may have mentioned this: It's free.
The Poscast this week is the third one with Parks and Recreation Executive Producer Michael Schur (aliases Ken Tremendous, Mose, Agent Falcon). We discuss the awesomeness of Adrian Gonzalez, the sudden relevance of the Royals, the Pujols contract situation, the seeming and crushing inevitability of the Miami Heat victory over the Bulls along with various other things.
Mostly though, we have our second draft. Our last draft, you almost certainly do not remember, was over our five favorite baseball books. This draft is of the five athletes we would like to invite over for dinner. Well, I understood it to be five athletes. He understood it to be five baseball players. This led to much confusion and the bewildered broadcasting by the host, which has become a hallmark of the Poscast.
I will tell you that Michael goes off the board with his fourth pick and takes us into dangerous political territory. But with my deft skills as a broadcaster, I managed to make matters worse. So, tune in!
And why after I've already heard the voice of the person I'm calling tell me to leave a message do I actually get a SECOND WOMAN saying "After the tone, please record your message. When you are finished recording, you may hang up ..."
Do we need this sort of repetitiveness in our lives?
Friday, May 20, 2011
Then, it wasn’t just about golf. How could it be? Ebersol is one of those men who has tilted television. He was hired by NBC in 1974 to create a bit of late night television to replace the Johnny Carson reruns shown on Saturday nights. He hired a genius named Lorne Michaels. And they created a show called Saturday Night Live. Later he was a driving force in changing the way we watch the Olympics, not to mention the NFL, pro basketball and hockey. He was also the guy behind the XFL and Friday Night Videos. It was like that for Ebersol for 40 years — a huge career, enormous highs, titanic lows. I would say that only Roone Arledge has shaped sports television more.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
And we know that the New York Yankees have about $150 million in payroll obligations to eight players ... all of those players on the wrong side of 30, and at an average age of 34.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Thus entered Mazzaro.
And so, in those days, if a team signed a player for too much money it had to carry the player on the big league team for two years. This of course, was to discourage owners from paying players too much money -- it would be like corporations deciding, as a cost-cutting measure, that if spent too much money on a college graduate, they would be forced by law to make him or her a vice president.
Harmon Killebrew had been recommended to the Washington Senators by an actual senator, Idaho Republican Herman Welker, who would mainly be known to history for two unrelated things:
1. Being so closely allied with the reckless demagogue Joe McCarthy that he became known as "Little Joe from Idaho."
2. Recommending Harmon Killebrew.
Friday, May 13, 2011
The guest on the latest Poscast is the great Bob Costas, and we talk about a bunch of things such as our mutual distaste for adding baseball playoff games, the best way for the NFL to handle preseason games, the future of sports television and, of course, Strat-o-matic baseball.
But having Bob Costas on the Poscast leads to two inevitable questions:
1. How silly is it for me to be hosting any show that has BOB COSTAS already on it?
2. Am I really going to tell my long-winded Bob Costas story again?
Unfortunately, I'm not in New York right now, but I still went to the Internet version of the tabloids Friday morning because I was DYING to see the "He's Back!" headline on the front for Carlos Beltran.
This is not EXACTLY about follow-up games to no-hitters ... but there will be a lot in here about those. You, you will get your fill of follow-up games, if that's the sort of thing that interests you like it interests me. Who was the last person to follow up a no-hitter with a complete game? A shutout? Do pitchers throw better after perfect games than after no-hitters? How did Nolan Ryan do after each of his seven no-nos? All those answers and more follow.
But the main point here is this: I found all those answers. It didn't take too long. My editor called Wednesday evening and wondered if I would have any interest in doing something on no-hitter follow-up games, and upon first blush I managed to count only 59,485 things I would rather do. But, of course, my editor is smarter than I am, and he certainly knew that just throwing out an open-ended question like, "How do pitchers throw after no-hitters?" would gnaw on my mind until, just out of curiosity, I fired up the computer and went to the incomparable Baseball Reference and began to look back at a few pitchers who threw no-hitters and then looked at a few more and then ...
... suddenly I had a spreadsheet with every follow-up game to no-hitters since 1970, and every follow-up to a regular season perfect game the last 75 years.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
It will be this: Tiger Woods was well on his way to becoming the greatest golfer who ever lived when his personal life spiraled out control and he never recovered from that.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
"What do you think?" he asked roughly three minutes after I had landed. It was a question he would ask me at least 100 more times during the interview. I didn't think anything. I was 29 years old, single, unattached, living with a poor credit score and a beige couch that someone had given me years before and that sort of represented my life. Every day I would look at that couch and think, "I've got to get rid of that thing." On one side, springs were popping out. I sat on the other side.
Monday, May 9, 2011
That said: Is anyone else wondering why the heck the sports world isn't a bit more outraged by the freak show that happened in Dallas on Sunday? The Lakers -- the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers -- lost by 36 to get swept by Dallas. They exhibited no pride whatsoever. They quit.
Have a few thoughts about the Lakers disgraceful finish -- will post those later today -- but first I want to say something about my Poscast guest this week, TNT's Kevin Harlan. We talk a whole lot of NBA, the fall of the Lakers, the excitement of this Hawks-Bulls Series, the magic of Boston-Miami ... Kevin will be broadcasting tonight's Celtics-Heat game.
I love enthusiasm for life and I despise fake enthusiasm, and I'm dumb enough to believe I can tell the difference. I can't tell the difference, of course. As Sollozzo says in The Godfather: I'm not that clever. There are good actors and bad ones, people who feel enthusiasm but don't publicly express it and the other way around.
But that doesn't really matter. What I love about being around enthusiasm is not how real it is but what that enthusiasm does for me. How can you not love being around someone who loves what they are doing? How can you not feel good being around someone who is happy, unabashedly happy? I feel sure that this, as much as anything, gets at what I love about Bruce Springsteen. Sure, the music's great. Sure, the performances are great. Sure the lyrics are interesting, and the band is awesome, and the sound is energy. But as much as than anything, what I hear when I listen to Springsteen is the sound of a man who is doing EXACTLY what he wants to be doing, what he has dreamed about doing. To be around that makes me love life just a bit more.
Kevin Harlan loves what he is doing. I know this on a personal level because I have known Kevin for a good while now. But, I know it anyway, just from listening to him broadcast games. He loves the stories. He is thrilled by the action. He is in awe of the players. And all of that ... well, you can hear these things in every game he calls.
Sports announcers bring out powerful emotions in people. We like 'em. We can't stand 'em. We are thrilled by 'em. We are annoyed by 'em. There are announcers out there who make me want to throw things at the television. And there are others who make the games twice as enjoyable as they would be with another voice. Some of these things are logical -- most aren't. Most of these things are deep-seated, involuntary, I couldn't explain it, and I couldn't convince you I'm right. I tell a friend that I love the Al Michaels-Cris Collinsworth team, I think it's by far the best in football, and he says: "I can't stand Collinsworth's voice" ... well, the conversation doesn't really have any place to go. There are objective points to be made about announcers and how informed they are, how hard they work, how open they are to the game and how married they are to their own biases.
But I think much of our connection to announcers is gray area. Kevin Harlan, objectively, is an excellent announcer, I think. But more, much more for me, he sounds like he is the happiest guy in the room. He sounds like, if they turned off all his equipment and told him that nobody was listening, he would keep on announcing the game because he cannot imagine anything else would be more fun. I love that in people. When I listen to Kevin Harlan call games, I feel happier.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
* * *
Thirteen players in baseball history -- including Justin Verlander -- have thrown multiple no-hitters before they turned 29 years old. We'll deal with 11 of those here. This is not to discount the other two -- Christy Mathewson and Dutch Leonard. Mathewson is obviously one of the best pitchers ever, and Dutch Leonard in 1914 had an 0.96 ERA, the lowest for a qualifier in baseball history. But they both pitched their best during Deadball, and that doesn't really relate to what we're talking about here.
So we have eleven pitchers left. Justin Verlander is one of the 11, and he's our focal point, so let's leave him to the end. That leaves us with 10 pitchers to focus on.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
There's a moment at the 1997 Ryder Cup that I think of now. That Ryder Cup was at the Valderrama Golf Club, in Sotogrande, along the Alboran Sea, almost in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar. The captain of the European team was Seve Ballesteros, and even with all the beautiful scenes there in and around Sotogrande, it was Seve who was the overpowering presence. He was everywhere.
He had a golf cart, of course, and it seemed to be souped up, and he drove fast from hole to hole, from group to group, and he was cheered on his team, coaxed them, pushed them, challenged them. This was Ballesteros in full. There has never been a more dashing presence in golf. The young Seve, like the young Arnold Palmer or the emerging Tiger Woods, well, these guys seemed more action hero than golfer. Severiano Ballesteros even had the action hero name to go with it.*
*Of course, they called him "El Matador." What other image even came close?
He certainly had the action hero game. Ballesteros would drive the ball into the trees, into the rough, into the gallery, behind buildings, into villains lairs. Then he would invent some crazy shot -- some hooking, slicing, rolling, skipping, dancing shot -- that avoided that tree and and bounced over that trap and turned left at Albuquerque and right at Cucamonga and shot out the lights and avoided tripping the alarm and skidded to stop somewhere near the green. He would then hit some ridiculously soft chip shot that would roll right up to the hole. And if the ball didn't go in, Seve would grimace because the way he saw it, he deserved the birdie. The birdie was his birthright.
In those early years, the ball seemed to go in all the time for Seve. He made so many birdies. He told us that he had learned the game in the sand -- hitting three-irons on Spanish beaches when he was supposed to be at school. Maybe that was true, maybe it was an exaggeration, but he was a prodigy. He won the Dutch Open when he was 19, and he led the British Open after three rounds that same year. He led the European Order of merit at 19 and again at 20 and once more at 21. He won the British Open at 22, and won the Masters days four days after his 23rd birthday. The Masters victory was a golfing crescendo. He was, at the time, the youngest golfer to win the Masters -- he was also the first European.
On top of that, he was the most exciting player to come along since Palmer had inspired armies. His victories inspired people throughout Europe, but especially in Spain -- where his future Ryder Cup partner Jose Maria Olazabal was learning the game. You could not watch Seve Ballesteros play golf then and not think: I would love to do that.
Augusta was the perfect stage for Seve. There was no rough anywhere on the course, which meant golfers with imagination could hit the ball just about anywhere and find their way back to the green. And the greens were microwave fast, which meant that winning took the putting touch of an engraver. Those were two things Seve had in bulk -- imagination and touch. He won the Masters again in 1983, and almost won in 1985 and 1987. It is telling that in the years between, he missed the Masters cut twice. Well, he was an all-or-nothing golfer. He either sawed the woman in half or, yes, it was kind of messy. That was part of what made him so mesmerizing.
He won the British Open three times -- there too, on those bumpy and unpredictable links courses and in the wind, his beautiful creativity and ingenuity was rewarded and celebrated. He was never much of a factor at the U.S. Open. He did finish in the Top 5 three times because he was too talented not too, but the tight fairways and punishing rough generally did not suit his free nature. The U.S. Open was too much like real life. With Ballesteros, golf was about escape and about making art. He wanted to create something unforgettable. He did not like pars. I remember once talking to him about those solid pars -- drive to the middle of the fairway, hit it on the green, knock the first putt close, knock the second putt in -- that we were told again and again led to winning golf. "Boring," he said.
The magic left Seve Ballesteros when he was in his early 30s. That was inevitable, I suppose. His game was high-stakes poker, it was baccarat with an exotic dealer. His game was not long-term investing. Those wild drives grew wilder. That deft touch around the greens dulled. His back throbbed. He four-putted at the Masters one time, and when he was asked how that happened, how one of the greatest putters in golf history could four-putt, he offered one of the classic quotes in golf history: "Miss ... miss ... miss ... make."
He was 34 when he last contended at a major championship. He made his last cut at the British Open when he was 37. He made his last cut at the Masters when he was 38. In those later years, he would show up in Augusta with the clear understanding that he would not be around for the weekend. Everyone understood.
The talk about Ballesteros in those later years would usually start with sadness -- it was sad to watch him hit the ball out of bounds and sad to see him unable to come up with the brilliant recovery shots that had marked him as a young man. It was a bit like watching James Bond getting shot in the leg. But with Seve, you could never be too sad, and he would find some way to hook a shot onto the green from some absurd place and everyone would remember some impossible shot he had hit as a young man and everyone was happy again. Seve's game, Seve's presence, just inspired happiness.
Back to the Ryder Cup. In many ways, this was when Ballesteros was at his best. He loved the competition. He loved to prove that European players could play at the level of the best Americans. As a single player he won 20 of the 37 matches he played, halving five more, an excellent record. But it was as a team player -- where he and Olazabal just lost twice in their 15 matches together -- that he was all but unbeatable.
So, yes, he would say that 1997 Ryder Cup was the most important golf tournament of his life, an interesting thing since he did not play. No one knew how Ballesteros as captain could transfer his golfing brilliance to his players -- it was Updike who wrote that immortality is non transferrable. But Seve sure tried. He seemed to be everywhere that weekend, a BBC announcer said: "There must be two of him." He would read a putt for this player, run back a hole and tell that player how to hit his approach, ride two holes forward to hug another player for hitting a great shot. He also drove his players mad, making them play holes twice during practice if he didn't like the way they played it the first time, neglecting to mention to them who would and would not be playing until the morning of the competition, driving wildly around the golf course in that cart of his and so on.
"Seve knows what he's doing," Colin Montgomerie said. "He's the only one who knows what he's doing."
It was baffling. And it was also amazing. Nobody had ever run a golf team like this. The United States was heavily favored -- after all, that was the year Tiger Woods emerged on the scene. But Seve brought did manage, somehow, to get his team to play wonderful golf. The Europeans built up a big lead and held on to win by a point. Ballesteros, after what he called the most emotional week of his life, broke down and cried.
The moment that comes to mind today, though, happened during a practice round that week. Ballesteros was driving all over the course when he saw Ian Woosnam looking at his ball in the woods. He was in trouble. And if there was anything that Seve Ballesteros understood, perhaps more than any golfer who ever lived, it was how to get out of trouble. He drove over and looked at Woosnam's situation. And then he saw the way out.
"Do you see that crack up there on top of the tree?" Seve asked.
Woosnam squinted and looked hard for the crack. He did not see it.
"No," Woosnam said.
"Up there," Seve said more insistently. "Between the branches? See?"
Woosnam looked harder.
"No," he said again.
Seve Ballesteros died early Saturday from a malignant brain tumor. He was just 54 years old. He spent his too-short life getting in trouble and, even more, getting out. He could see the openings others could not see. He always found a way out.
Friday, May 6, 2011
The concert was wonderful because of the joy. The joy was everywhere. The songs themselves were not built to be joyful -- Midnight Oil was a pointedly political band, and the songs were performed to right wrongs -- but the songs WERE joyful despite themselves, and Peter Garrett danced like a madman, and we in the crowd came close to crawling INSIDE the music. The weather was perfect, our seats were great, the band was on, Garrett was wound up, the music was in the perfect pitch to sing along, strangers kept wandering over to dance with us, and it just felt like everybody was happy, thoroughly and unambiguously happy, and for a few minutes there was nothing in the world but that happiness.
Willie Mays turns 80 years old today.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
1B: Carlos Pena (49 OPS+)
2B: Mark Ellis (35 OPS+)
SS: Hanley Ramirez (59 OPS+)
3B: Miguel Tejada (43 OPS+)
LF: Carl Crawford (41 OPS+)
CF: Alex Rios (52 OPS+)
RF: Vernon Wells (52 OPS+)
C: A.J. Pierzynski (59 OPS+)
For the American League, we'll even throw in Adam Dunn as a DH even though his OPS+ is actually 63, one point higher than Jeter. Designated hitters are graded on a curve.
That is about $100 million worth of ballplayers right -- $96,500,000 if you want to be exact -- and if you had been given that team at the beginning of the year, you would probably feel at least decent about your chances. Maybe by year's end, it will all work out.
One final thought: We all know Albert Pujols is struggling at the plate in a way that he has not throughout his career. He has one double all season. He has hit into 10 double plays -- TEN DOUBLE PLAYS -- and his batting average is almost 100 points lower than his career average. He's clearly starting to get a bit concerned ... he's talking about not watching video for a few days, just to freshen up, and as I wrote about Jeter it's not too good a sign when hitters start changing their swings or start talking about odd stunts to kickstart their season, stunts like not watching video.
That said, if you want to know how much offense is down in 2011: Albert Pujols is hitting .233/.309/.417, which is stunningly bad for him. His OPS+? It is exactly 100 -- league average.
Monday, May 2, 2011
The Poscast with Ian O'Connor.
We also talked at some length about Tiger Woods ... really the topic of age and sports was pretty prominent in our discussion. Which led to this little essay on getting old.