In March of last year I thought it would be a good idea to start my own blog, featuring daily coverage of the Minnesota baseball scene. It was called The Bug. But two months and many sleepless nights later, I gave it up. Below I've compiled what might be considered the best articles from the blog that lived about as long as your average insect. I truly hope that all five of you who bother to look at the archives enjoy them. Special thanks to John Batteiger, the man behind the great Don Marquis website, for use of the archy logo above.
Truth be told, I have no idea why I go to events like Jim Bouton's reading last night. As much as I admire both Ball Four and Foul Ball, I can't help but feel a soft melancholy every time I attend something like this. I'm no firebrand--I don't have the time, the inclination, the guts, the nerves, the genes, whatever you want to accuse me of, to fight the good fight like Jim and Tom Goldstein and many of the others who showed up last night. Sometimes it makes me wonder why I don't just let things go, stop caring and just give up. I don't spend a great of time doing much more than complaining, often in print. I belong to a number of organizations, write letters and all that, but the reality of the situation is that we need people who are willing each day to fight for what they believe in, just to make the smallest of changes. And I doubt I'll ever be one of those people.
This was at the front of my mind most of last evening, when I listened to Jim Bouton speak at Ruminator Books. The house was split between people like Jim, Tom Goldstein (publisher of Elysian Fields Quarterly, sponsor of the event), and those who watch from the sidelines, like me. The difference between people who read Don Quixote, and people who live Don Quixote.
That this whole works took place at Ruminator Books in St. Paul made everything that much more poignant. Ruminator, for readers not in the know, used to be on par with the finest independent bookstores in the land, and certainly the best bookstore in the Twin Cities. I remember seeing Kazuo Ishiguro and Paul Theroux speak there in the past, and it was a far different place from last evening. Hungry Mind, as it was then called, was jam packed with shelves, overflowing with books, and you were always turning and twisting to get around a reader poring over her favorite volume. It was cozy, for there was no place in the bookstore where you could actually see across the room, such was the maze of shelves. When a speaker would arrive, the dedicated staff would shove the fiction section around to make room, and both times, though I had arrived early, I found myself standing in the back, with the spines of Waugh, Welty and Wharton peeking over my shoulder.
But Ruminator has fallen on hard times. I don't quite know the reason for its downfall--I've heard that Barnes and Noble and Borders have hit them hard (although a better independent bookstore down the street might also be the culprit)--but the downfall is acute. There's maybe half the shelf space of the old store, and the wide open room makes it look sickly; baseball-wise, its the difference between the Metrodome and Fenway Park. Ruminator looks like it shouldn't be a bookstore but house some other type of store. It's easy to fit an author in there now for all the space they have. Although people stood, it was simply because they'd arrived late and politeness kept them from resting.
Bouton looked good. He arrived just before seven, in a faded black shirt and black jeans, and hungry. "I gotta go get a slice of pizza, OK?", he told Tom Goldstein, who was running the show and nervous as hell. Since there was but ten mintues to go, this news made Tom visibly nervous, and I couldn't blame him. Furthermore, I could have told Jim to forget about it; in spite of the college right next door, there wasn't a good slice of pizza anywhere nearby. But he scooted to the door, grew angry that we hadn't let folks in even though 6:45 was the advertised seating, and headed out in search of some grub.
It looked bad at the start. Maybe five people were waiting outside, including an illustrated man who looked like the great character actor Hank Worden. Dressed like a pirate, he wore a black bandana over his skull, a ring through his nose, and exquisite tattoos over his face and arms, including one witty piece that was a Fu-Manchu man on the back of his left arm, whose nose was this man's elbow.
But over time, a good sized crowd filed in, baseball fans and fanatics, the latter carrying armloads of books, eager to see a celebrity, the former admirers of Ball Four who were curious to hear what their old pal was up to, and to reach back for a moment into simpler times.
Jim gave a fun speech, even if I had heard it, almost in its entirety, before. Having interviewed him for an article in Mudville last spring, before he got around the circuit, I noticed that the information, the quips, even, I imagined, the timing, was almost identical, and even that night. No matter; he's a charming man who truly seems to care about his audience, smiling and laughing along with them. Jim was truly touched at taking the Dave Moore Award for Foul Ball, especially, he said, considering all the trouble he went through to get it published. And this time there was good news: Pittsfield, site of Wahconah Park (the ballpark Jim is trying to save in his book Foul Ball), has a new mayor who asked Jim and his investment group to go forth with their plan to save the place. Bouton looked positively energized by the news. Who wouldn't? Reading Foul Ball is an exhausting experience just because of the frustration Jim and his pal Chip go through to save the place. I found myself wanting to pound the mayor and his minions in city hall a number of times in the book, and I'm not a violent man. Obviously, Jim felt even worse. So the news was wonderful, right? Unfortunately, Bouton paused a couple of times during his speech to allow for applause that never came, and finally he had to wave his hand like a magician over a top hat before the crowd burst into cheers.
The audience asked questions that had nothing to do with the book. The illustrated man stood and, in a pitched voice, shouted, "Listen to this man! Write everything down. Evvvverything! This way you can throw it in the faces of city officials! It's easier to bribe 'em than it is to change anything! Listen to what Jim has to say!" Jim thanked him for the history lesson, and then took mumbled questions on Pete Rose, the state of baseball, and whether or not he needed any help next summer at Wahconah Park. Rose, according to Bouton, ought to be kept from baseball but allowed in the hall; no, he didn't like rock music and amusements at stadiums or trinitrons in the outfield; and he wants to hire people from Pittsfield since there are no jobs, but thank you very much.
Afterwords, while I manned the EFQ table, crowds gathered to get their books and trinkets autographed. I honestly don't care about autographs. I have an evening with Jim Bouton in my memory, and I'm glad to have met him face to face, to have shaken his hand, and to have asked him what it was like to work with Robert Altman. I don't get why you need a signature to make it work for you, but I respect people's desires, since I have my own crazy collections. At the table I met a few old ladies who adored Jim, a kind man who admired EFQ, a guy who was petitioning the city not to finance a stadium, the illustrated man, and a man in the 'entertainment sevice industry', who claimed to be a good friend of Kirby Puckett's. He talked a mile a mintue about Kirby's being framed. "So this bartender I know at the place Kirby got fragged told me she was bi-polar and flashed her tits and next thing you know he's in a courtroom and the press has just lynched him. What do you think about that?"
Well, I think most of us there live a bit helplessly in the past. I think we were there to see Jim Bouton and hope for the best, though we're steeled for the worst. I think the best of us, like Tom Goldstein and Jim, fight to make this present something beautiful, like the accidental wonders of baseball when most of us were young, but that they fight an ultimately losing battle. For today, Jim's got Wahconah Park, Ruminator has squeaked by a pair of deadlines, and EFQ still arrives in my mailbox in its little yellow envelope, and all of that makes me a bit happy, just as it also makes me a bit sad. For I also think that even though there are small victories today, failure lurks around the corner like the next sunrise. And, afterwards, as I waited for my wife, enjoying a beer in the warm night at the cafe next door, I thought that the good guys are getting scarce: who'll be the Jim Bouton for the next generation?
Thu Apr 29, 2004
If this were printed material you would be holding in your grubby hands the very last issue of The Bug. As it stands, you, whoever you are, are gazing at the last entry of this little blog.
Why, you might ask? A wrecked conscience is the simple answer.
No, that's not true. I can't run The Bug anymore I've been so busy working with Andrew Sullivan trying to draft John McCain onto the Kerry ticket and being forced by those who are "sane" to take electroshock therapy because of that stand. Plus, opening up the tenth Curves for Women here in St. Louis Park leaves me with hardly any blogging hours. Being a vegan and still litigating with the Twins to meet my food needs would be a full time job, if I had the hours (and the cash). Some might argue that my standing with the Freemasons is in conflict with The Bug; it's not true, the conflict that is, but it doesn't help, time-wise. Ask me about my freelance coffin sales, and I'll tell you it's no 40 hr a week job, no sir. Not to mention cleaning up this nation's littered highways. That takes an emotional, as well as physical toll, I can tell you.
It is also not true that I am TC Bear, nor have I ever had a position with the Lansing (MI) Lugnuts in a similar capacity.
Time, yes, time, that's the simple answer. Mudville has been suffering, which makes me suffer, as that is more of my pride and joy than this blog ever was. In addition, work on a novel that is almost finished (and whose editor is getting fidgety) was also suffering, and needs my attention. Plus it's summer, there's a garden, books to read, movies to see, and gosh, I almost forgot I was married. To a woman I actually care about, so it might be nice not to have a lot of time because I'm divorced. That's a joke, son, but you get my point.
Truth be told, I also discovered that blogging is not for me, just as it wasn't for Howard Dean. You can see writers wrestling with material they don't like, or running on fumes, eventually burning out in a single-sentence-per-paragraph stutter. Perhaps I could have kept widening the gaps between entries, but then this would just be another Mudville. What's the point, I ask you? On the other hand, starting this little site has given me renewed respect for the guys and gals who slap entries on their blogs each and every day, take photographs of legos and spend as much time crunching numbers as the actuaries and Dungeon and Dragoneers I used to know. But it's not for me, unless I could do it up right and contribute nearly every day. And that will never happen.
But enough about me. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my work on this site, some of which will be placed in the Mudville archves in the near future. Kudos to John Batteiger for kindly allowing me the use of his archy the cockroach logo. And thanks especially to my brother, John Schilling, who had to endure my impatience when setting up The Bug.
Next week, a new Mudville, featuring more manly tales of baseball woe and wisdom. Coming soon, another Two-Fisted Summer Readings Issue, another essay contest, and more of the action, adventure, romance and politics that Donald Rumsfeld never said was "Quite simply, the most awesome display of writing since I dropped 'shrooms and picked up a copy of Sun Tzu."
You'll thank me someday. I know it...
Sat May 15, 2004
THEY CALL ME MAJOR TOM
Every hour, on the hour, I get hundreds of emails for this little blog. Hundreds! Star-crossed fans, baseball fanatics, those with a bone to pick and those whose praise gets a little out of hand (I'm already married, ladies). There are times when I've taken advantage of some of the hospitality offered: weekends at a cottage up in Nova Scotia, long drives in a Mustang convertable by the hot springs of Reyjavik, afternoons dining at catfish huts down Louisiana-way. All the while our conversations turning on baseball... and music.
Fellow asked me the other day why I haven't plied my trade at the Star-Spangled Banner. Or, at the very least, Baseball's National Anthem. The press still gets in my craw over my so-called "feud" with Lee Greenwood (it's over an old softball injury, not "God Bless the U.S.A."). I'm telling readers right now, for once and for all, to forget about it--my life in rock will never mingle with my life in baseball.
Until now--and just briefly. Just to keep the hounds at bay, here's my latest riffs and most up-to-date photos. No American tour is scheduled, especially with the Tigers playing so well.
Mon May 03, 2004
AN AFTERNOON WITH THE DETROIT TIGERS...
...and, of course, the Minnesota Twins.
Sneaking into the finest seats in the Metrodome is turning out to be not quite the pulse-pounding larceny I had thought: in fact, for the second game in a row, I basically just cut into row 113, a tiny little slice of seats in the right field corner (and whose entrance was left unguarded). Then I meandered across the empty seating to section 118, literally ten rows up from first base and sat amongst the suits, the few who were seeing maybe their one game of the year ("Wow, I told you it'd be worth it paying for these seats!"), and a guy who had the misfortune to look almost exactly like the bartender on the "Simpsons".
It was a tight game, but it was the game in which I sat next to Reality, who peppered me with some serious questions.
Is Mike Maroth the new Bird?
It has been stated in quite a few places that Maroth, the unfortunate who lost 21 games last year, was a lousy pitcher that no one should rely upon to do anything decent this year. Made sense. The guy gave up 34 home runs in a park that is known for being difficult on the long-ball hitter. His opponents batted .299 against him.
But I was wondering if, perhaps, that new saw is true that once a ball is put into play the pitcher has virtually nothing to do with it, a concept put forth by that intriguingly named Voros McCracken. A pitcher who strikes out a good deal of players and gives up fewer walks is better, right? Well Maroth walked 50, struck out 87 in '03. Not so good. Then again, Mark Fidrych, in his stellar year (1976, won 19, lost 9, 2.34 ERA, 19 complete games), walked 53, struck out 97. A little bit better, though not by a whole lot. Unlike Maroth, he gave up only 12 homers in a park that was known to be a sweet place for the hitters.
I brought this up because my favorite essay in Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups concerns Fidrych's success:
"In 1976, Mark Fidrych struck out only 97 hitters in 250 innings. It didn't matter, because he allowed only 217 hits, 53 walks, and 12 home runs. But as we've learned over the last few years, the number of hits a pitcher allows is largely a function of how many batters he strikes out.
"[But] if Fidrych was 'hit-lucky' in 1976, then he was hit-lucky in '77 and '78, too. In those fourteen starts (over '77 & '78) he went 8-4 with a 2.80 ERA. We can fool around with those numbers 'til the cows come home, but the fact is we'll never know how good Fidrych could have been, absent the arm injury. And that's the real shame, isn't it?" (Neyer, p. 85)
For me it is. God, I would have loved to have seen Fidrych endure, all the way to the '84 series (or the '83 series, as the Tigers might have won with a commanding Fidrych on the mound).
But to haul this back to its original point, I was hoping Maroth might just have a bit o' that luck this season. Look, the guy's still giving up the hits (31 in just over 25 innings) but he's actually increased his strikeout rate (5.61/9 as opposed to last year's 4.05/9). Opponents BA is almost exactly the same (.299 last year to .301 this year). But if the Tigers are better, might he be better as well? What a great story it would be to see this 21 game loser flower into the staff ace.
For most of yesterday's contest, Maroth kept the Twins bats relatively silent. He ran into his trouble in the fourth, as the Twins knocked in a hit, took a walk, and then Lew Ford, superstar, uncorked on a Maroth softy to send the Twins up 3-2. But then Maroth set the Twins down again, had trouble in the fifth, but gave up but one run. In the sixth, he managed to give up a hit and get out clean on a double-play. He pitched seven innings, gave up seven hits, struck out three. Last year's Tigers would have lost that game 4-0, or given up more runs on errors. You can't even argue that Ivan Rodriguez really helped Maroth yesterday, because Inge, last year's backstop, caught.
So the answer is: I don't know. Well, actually, I know he won't be the "new Bird". He can't be. Nor do I believe he'll see such incredible success--few have. Truth be told, I don't remember seeing if Fidrych threw softies like Maroth, or if his pitch count was as equally balanced as Mike's (at 78 pitches, for instance, he was at 42 for strikes, while Santana, same inning, had 92 pitches, 62 for strikes). But something Fidrych did was right; maybe Maroth will see that this year. Hopefully, it didn't involve selling his soul to the Devil.
Is Trammell a good manager?
I think that this is an extremely important question. Let me preface this two ways: first by pointing out that I was a big Alan Trammell fan in my day. There was no greater thrill than the Trammell-Whitaker duo, carrying on through so many years. I cringed when Tram was denied the 1987 MVP, which he should have won. That having been said, and this is the second part of my preface, I question his ability as a manager.
Trammell was brought in to please the Tigers fans who were sick of the direction the club seemed to be going in. Frankly, I can't think offhand of a precedent for this situation: stocking a team not with the finest baseball minds out there (tested by years on the bench, victories as evidence), but with heroes from teams of old. Trammell, Gibson, Lance Parrish, Kaline, Willie Horton. Little or no managerial, or coaching, experience. In '78, when the Tigers needed a manager to help direct all the youngsters, owner John Fetzer didn't pull the '68 champions out of retirement to run the club; he turned to Sparky Anderson.
I say this because it strikes me that Trammell has got to take more responsibility for that 119 game losing season. I'm sure, if asked, he would. But maybe that was a team that should have lost quite a few less. Supposedly, their Pythagorean won-lost gives them an extra six games. Some have said they were 'snake-bit'.
But yesterday's game left me wondering. Defensively, I noticed nothing wrong, including keeping Maroth in. He faltered in the fourth, had a bit of trouble in the fifth, but it was smooth sailing his last two innings. However, with the score just 4-3, it seemed as if Trammell was unduly stubborn about his line-up. No batting changes until the very last out in the ninth. In fact, in the eighth, Carlos Pena struck out, and no-hit Greg Norton, with his one hit in twenty five at bats steps up to the plate. One hit! An .040 average through 12 games! The Tigers down by but a run, Trammell leaves Norton in to fly out deep to right. The next two batters reached, but by then there were two out and Sanchez struck out swinging to end the inning, the last threat, and really, the game itself.
And that, friends, makes me worried. The season's young, it was but a game, but Trammell's unimaginative response to the Twins pitching, in a close game, seems to me to come close to confirming (I'm not there yet) that the Tigers coaching staff might leave a bit to be desired.
Fri Apr 23, 2004
TRIUMPH OF THE HECKLER
The spirit of Pete Adelis* was present in the Metrodome today. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Adelis, he was affectionately known as the Iron Lung of Shibe Park and thrived as the preeminent heckler in Philadelphia, causing no end of psychological turmoil to the Phillies, the A's, and anyone who happened to come their way.
I've read of Adelis with great interest, especially since I used to think the art of heckling has gone the way of Shibe Park... nothing but a memory. Personally, I miss what I imagine were the ear-wringing noises of Ebbets Field's Hilda Chester, Tiger Stadium's Joe "the Brow" Diroff, and Adelis (when he was nice--see below). However, I am pleased to report that heckling thrives at the Metrodome, at least for one day.
For a change of pace, I decided that I was going to sneak into the sweet seats this afternoon, as opposed to my usual binocular view in upper right. Sneaking in is easier if you're a season ticket holder. With that package your advantage is a little card that states that the party in question is a season ticket holder. This gets you past the old lady guarding the down staircase, on the assumption that you're going to enjoy stale popcorn and slices of greasy prime rib in that barely-finished basement room which serves as a members-only club. It gets me access to the entrances to the lower deck. There, I circled around until I found that weak-kneed college student guarding one entrance, a youth who looks as if he's been bullied a lot as a kid. Serendipitously, today he was guarding the entrance between the first base sections 117-118. Nonchalantly, I joined the vast crowds, walked right on through and camped myself in the top row of 118, right below the suites, with a perfect view of the game.
It was an interesting day for a ballgame. The Twins are looking especially good as of late, and this game would have wrapped up a sweep over a team that is supposed to be one of the division's toughest, perhaps their prime rival. Torii Hunter was given his Gold Glove beforehand, and in a move I thought particularly touching, kindly handed it over to first base coach Terry White for all his coaching of the centerfielder. The sunlight was waxing and waning through the teflon, and young Seth Greisinger was on the mound in front of a modest audience.
All of this was made even better in the sweet seats. Not just the view, which is of course great, but hot dog vendors stop by. You get a choice of beer, the cheap stuff hawked by the usual vendors, or the imported stuff by the guy wearing a cheap tuxedo vest and crisp white shirt, and the ones here are great entertainers, shouting "Celebrate with a beer!" after every Twins run. But best of all, I discovered that heckling is far better in the good seats.
The noise began in the third. You could hear a couple of "C'mon's!" eminating from the suite above, and then came the applause: the guy threw the hand-thunder around like Zeus on a slow day. I don't believe I've ever heard such noise emanate from a pair of human hands, a whip-crack sound of wet leather against skin, more sonic than the hundreds below him. I bet it resonated down to the first base coach.
It was an ump that got him started. With the score tied at 1-1, the Royal's Andres Blanco laid down a bunt and reached first on what, from our angle, looked like a close out. We all groaned to ourselves, but the Heckler Emeritus, otherwise known as Charlie, flew into hysterics.
"How much were you paid for that?" he shouted, leaning out of the window and shaking his fist like an old-fashioned stump politician. This was the first I saw of him: Charlie wore a camoflage vest over a wrinkled yellow shirt, a granite-colored five o'clock shadow, and a look of thespian fury, less like he was truly angry but more like the top ham at a community theatre. "It was right there!" he rang, with a voice as clear as a jet engine. "My eyes are good. Real good. But I'm not paid off! How much were you paid?"
Down below, every head iturned, many in disgust, others chuckling, most stunned that he had breath left in him to continue.
"Number One is scared!" he bellowed. Blanco wore #1. "Number one is scared! Coach is scared! He's not going to make it to second, not going to make it to second. Got five bucks says he doesn't make it to second!" By now, I swear Blanco flinched slightly at every word. I know the cute college couple in front of me did, especially the girl who looked like this guy was really grating on her easily grated nerves.
Blanco successfully stole second on what looked, again, like an out. "Number one gets two outs?! Nice job, they're payin' all the umps!"
And it went on from there. You might say that this is just the kind of guy we want to keep out of baseball, but he was the peaches as far as I'm concerned. First, he wasn't drunk (or even drinking: in fact, he was guzzling Mountain Dew like it was the last in the park), he wasn't swearing, was just, in fact, trying to rile up the players. And everyone around him, including, I'm happy to say, me.
In fact, over the next two innings, people were laughing, standing, and starting to shout right along with him. Including yours truly. I got some blood into the old lung tissue, really laying it into the batters, who seemed to leave the bat on their shoulders a bit much for my taste. Seeing's how I wasn't a hundred feet from the right fielder, why not? I'm a payin' customer, right? I got a right to beef, and Charlie's yelling made me feel like beefing even more than I usually do, which is to say, hardly at all. The guy behind me, whose son admired Mike Sweeney ("You know he has scripture written on his shoe?"), began to goad the Twins for striking out, and his lungs weren't soft and pink, either, much, as he admitted, to his surprise. "I haven't had this much fun in a long time," he said with a chuckle. A greasy-haired old man began to screech in front of me, a couple of nerdy teenagers began their own caterwauling and the guys to my left were taking bets on how long Charlie could last.
Of course, someone had to complain. Sadly, one of the Twins goons came over, arms folded, and asked our man if he was having a good time. "Yeah," Charlie said, "and I ain't drinking, either."
"Good," management said. I was sweating now, worried he'd ask me for my ticket and send me one story up. But he was interested in the heckler, and making sure Charlie knew he wasn't wanted. With a wicked grin he said, "Just want to make sure you're having a good time." With that he walked away, and Charlie retreated into the suite, silent.
That made everyone sour and quiet. I turned back to my scorecard, scribbling away like I was back to secretarying at the St. Paul Companies, duly recording plays in my playbook, lips tight and irritable.
At least the game was close. Greisinger pitched well, keeping the score close, working a decent count most of the time. He gave a homer to Joe Randa in the fourth, then threw the ball away trying to throw out Tony Graffanino, scoring Kelly Stinnett, who'd singled off him earlier. With this gaffe, which put the Royals up 3-2, every head turned to look for Charlie. But he was nowhere to be found. I was about to cry out in dismay at Greisinger, call him a bum, but I didn't have it in me, not without the heckler. Our whole section was dead, simply eating, scoring, waiting for something to happen.
The Twins did nothing in their half of the fourth, and the Royals went down 1-2-3 in the top half of the fifth. Then, shockingly, the hitless wonder Luis Rivas sent a hard single into left, stole a base, and then reached third when an error sent Offerman to first. I swear the guys around me were aching to stand and let out a cry, but we just did the usual clapping. Then Corey Koskie stepped in the quickly struck out. Jacque Jones came up, stepped in, and waited.
He took a strike one. I looked up, sad to think that old Charlie had been made to feel unwelcome, had crawled back into the rear of his suite, probably a gift to the guy (it definitely didn't seem like he was a regular to that box). I stood, shouting the usual dimwitted "Yeah!" and nothing else. Jones belted a foul, for strike two. Guys on first and third, two strikes, two outs. There was some muted applause, but that was all.
The pitcher readied himself, worried about the runners. I wanted to jump out of my skin. Jacque waited, the pitcher checked the runners.
Suddenly, I heard a distant roar and Charlie bounded out from the rear of the box and almost threw himself out the window of the suite, shouting, whistling, and roaring "Yo Pitcher! Charlie's Back!" with such force that I swear the pitcher seemed to falter as he threw.
Jones crushed it into the center field gap for a double, scoring Rivas and Offerman. The whole stadium erupted, but our section came alive, cheering both for the game and the return of our man Charlie. Everyone, from the back row where I sat, on down to the seats right behind the visitors dugout, began to heckle right along with him, full throated and spitting venom.
Charlie got even better. In the next inning, when Juan Gonzalez was hit by a pitch, virtually the only threat the Royals managed the rest of the game, Charlie kept on with one of the greatest tools at a heckler's disposal: incomprehensibility.
"Honey, don't forget to bring the milk home!" he screamed at Juan. "Oh, yeah, Juan, don't forget the milk!" and so on, three more times. He praised the ump for making an easy call, whistled, kept on with a frenzied cry to the Roaysl pitching, urged the Twins to steal, shouted Lew Ford's name, over and over, and probably covered everyone sharing his suite with a thick film of spittle. But we were all in on the fun: The old guy and his Sweeney lovin' son were on the umpire as well, and one little girl even had some barbs for KC's first base coach. As the Twins lead widened, we began to applaud for Charlie and all his colorful remarks. Except for some of the fuddy-duddies who obviously would like it to be as quiet as their softball grounds. But they could go to hell.
As the game wound down, and the Twins were locking it up, the mood slipped into the pleasant boredom that comes when the home team is going to win. "Lotta game left, KC," Charlie shouted down to the kid who loved Sweeney. "Don't let 'em down!" Fine. "I'm not going to sit until the Royals score a run," he said, and that was the seventh. He stood the whole time, and at the end whistled and applauded his hero, who went 0-4.
Charlie vanished before I could get a really good look at him, or say thanks. As I left the park, out into the windy day, whose gusts can't even be heard inside, I thought to myself that baseball needs more guys like Charlie out there, to bring in some their own natural bluster, get the guys like me to start shouting. I come to a ballpark to yell and scream, but frankly, I'm too damned timid to do it without guys like Charlie. That's what good hecklers do. Sure I cheer when something good happens. But by shouting beneath the roar of the heckler, I was complaining at every play, between every play, even between innings. By the ninth, my throat felt like I'd drank a glass of Lava soap, but I was happier then I'd been at the Metrodome in ages.
If I had my druthers the Twins would hire Charlie, have him roam throughout the stands, give him a bullhorn when he's in the nosebleeds. Maybe then, as the Twins corporate logo states, every fan would count, and every voice would be heard. All the way from the upper deck.
* Pete Adelis would have been one of the great colorful characters in baseball, like Hilda Chester of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had he not been hired by the Phillies to really lay it into Jackie Robinson, and any other black ballplayer who came through town, using the worst racial slurs. That aside, he did pen a charming piece for the Sporting News, called "Rules of Scientific Heckling".
Sun Apr 18, 2004
CURBING MY ENTHUSIASM
Here, friends, are two quotes from scribes that I frequent here in the Twin Cities:
"It's not a baseball town." - Twins Geek
"It" refers to our fair city of Minneapolis.
Then there's this:
"...And the Twins still play in the Central, where it won't take much more than a .500 record to sneak back into the playoffs. That's a modest goal for a modest team, and I don't see any reason why Minnesota can't make it three in a row." Brad Zellar, Yard
Boy, have they got it right. Golly and God Damn, it's a regular baseball hootenanny here in the state of Minnesota. As everyone knows, and everyone says, loudly, with emphasis, and great sighing and rolling of the eyes, the Minnesota Twins play in what amounts to the single worst place on the face of the earth, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. They play in what Mr. Zellar rightfully calls "the worst division in professional sports", the American League Central. No one ever wins in this division, not because of the talent, no, but because they are so-called "small market teams" who have suddenly found themselves in need of government subsidies to survive. Unless, of course, we listen to those charming advertisements plugging The Victory Sports Network, which will make so much money showing off the cream of high school basketball that the Twins will suddenly leap into the spending realm of the New York Yankees. Of course, it would help if only that blasted governor and state government pony up a new stadium. If only the Twins had both, they would be the greatest team in all of baseball, because then they'd have money to pay the great players and keep their home grown talent, which would make them even better than the Yankees, a dynasty to end all dynasties.
April is easily the weirdest month in all of professional sport, for it bends like a funhouse mirror the lengthy seasons that teams have to endure. Christ, the Tigers are only eight games in and already there are articles galore on how fantastic they are, and are going to be. They've already broken the all-time record for wins (though eight games) for a team that has lost 100 games the year before. And these eight games proves, beyond a doubt, that management there, and in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, have worked to make a good product on the field. While I'm daffy myself over the succcess of the Tigers, I'm still waiting for the losing streaks, for the stretches of mediocrity they're no doubt capable of. I'll guzzle every drop of 180 proof April joy, but I know there's a hangover on the horizon.
But here, in Minneapolis, its easy to endure a slow April: injuries, slow starts, etc., usually get worked out over the course of a long season. If the Tigers, Pirates, Brewers, etc., start off slow, we don't get to feel good even once over the long season. Teams that should be good, like our Twins, can suffer through April, knowing that they stand a very good chance of being alone in first come October.
That thought bores me to tears. Last year, I hungered for a tight race, and got one through September, but this year even that hasn't got me that thrilled. I'm starting to wonder, even if the Twins manage to climb to the top, knock off their weaker Central Division opponents, and jog lazily into the post-season, if there will be any cure for malaise. Call me a weirdo--and I wouldn't blame you--but I find a baseball team as dull as canned tomato soup when its sole claim to fame is heading to the playoffs three years in a row.
What I don't want to see is a repeat of the last two years. A few stumbles, things work themselves out, the Twins win 90-100 games, beat up on the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox, and get their hats handed to them by the Angels. I don't want to see that because it's teh same story, told all over again, with many of the same players. Personally, I would have loved to have seen the Twins haul in some veteran to anchor their team, like the Royals did with Juan Gonzalez, or, even better, the Tigers did with Ivan Rodriguez. Some big slugger, a former MVP, who could really ignite a team. Perhaps you might argue that it's a waste of dollars, but seeing a ballplayer come through who needs a comeback is exciting. This year it's all Joe Mauer, or will these guys (Jacque, Torii, Corey, well, all of them really) finally break out like we all thought they would last year or the year before. A bunch of rookies no one will trade for some older talent with some history. That, less rhetoric surrounding the Twins status as small-market, and a tight race, and I might be satisfied. They did get rid of the Lee Greenwood...
It would be sad, I think (and this is especially true since I live here), if the Tigers make a half-season run, win 70 games, and end up being ten times more thrilling than the Minnesota Twins, who will probably win 90 games again and come up short in the playoffs. I understand that 75% of the fun of this year's Tigers comes from the ten year drought that fans like myself have suffered through. But I'm starting to feel weary from the stadium and cable-tv rhetoric, and what I perceive as the damned redundancy I'm seeing from this club. New turf and the Mauer story just aren't enough for me. So, unless the Tigers are still in front and in town, the story in the Metrodome will be no more thrilling than a third sequel to a CGI flick that wasn't that great in the first place.
Thu Apr 15, 2004
EVERYTHING RIGHT IS WRONG AGAIN...
Cookie-Cutter revisited? Or, is it just me, or are these brand-new ballparks all beginning to look the same?
Here's the new Tiger Stadium:
Fine, fine, now here's the new Pirates digs:
The new Redlegs Park:
And, finally, the unique new stadium for our pals in San Diego:
Scoreboard on left, bleachers on right, bulbous outfield, similar dimensions. Black rectangle in center. All this for only $450 million plus. I suppose, in Cincy, Pittsburgh and San Diego, it's better than what they had before. But I wonder, will they want something new in another 20 years? And are we going to get the same thing here in Minnesota? Let's see...
At least the scoreboard's in right field. As I say, maybe I'm just seeing things funny...
Mon Apr 12, 2004
I FORGOT WHAT GOOD TIMES FEEL LIKE
When the Tigers are winning, there's numbers and sunlight. You know what the sun is like, so I'll give you the numbers: 4-1. .295 team batting average. First place. 35 runs scored in five games. Four wins in four games for four starting pitchers. Did I mention 4-1? First place? I guess I did, but I'll mention it again. 4-1. First place.
You see, when the Tigers are winning, there's no Mike Ilitch, no ugly BankName ballpark. The downtown skyline isn't just a bunch of abandoned buildings that once spoke nothing of the promise of the future, but only served as an ugly, cynical reminder of the multiple failures of the past. Not anymore. Now they're tough, beautiful, something to be proud of. This is where we play ball, see, you don't like it you know what you can do with yourself.
That's what April will do to a baseball fan from Michigan. This is the time when the hokum turns into something they call magic, a word this cynic is so reluctant to use it makes him grimace. Over the years I've become hardened, quick to notice the corruption, the greed, the business of this sport. How could I avoid it? I watched in muted horror as one of my favorite places on earth--Tiger Stadium--was decried by the men with power, watched as it became nothing more than a ruin waiting for the wrecking ball. I've watched this team turn into something beyond lousy, worse than a joke, holding as little promise as a beanie-baby on a garage sale table. The Detroit Tigers were a corporate amusement, and a poor one at that, as worthless as AutoWorld was to Flint twenty years before.
So I was afraid that I lost touch with the beauty of the game. Of what it means when that team that you hold close to your heart really breaks out. So I'm elbowing through the crowds now, pushing my way to the edge of the cart and buying two bottles of the snake oil and gulping it right there. Walking again. Seeing again. Aches and pains, gone. Maybe it's nothing more than a bunch of cheap liquor and every kid's daydream, but I'll take it. Haven't had a sip so good in a long, long time...
Sat Apr 10, 2004
CONVERSATIONS REAL & IMAGINED...
Outside (before game): "Is Hubert's named after Humphrey, or Bogart? No, I guess that doesn't make any sense..."
"They really ought to take the roof right off."
Shouting: "You cannot tell me that someone can't put a gun inside a bag of kettle corn! I'm telling you, they could, and more! It's unbelievable!"
Section 234: "Since I've been a season ticket holder, I'm four games under .500. In '99, the Twins were 63-97, 34 games under. In 2000, they were 69-93, 24 games under. That's 57. Then they were good. In 2001, they were 85-77, that's 8 up, and in 2002 94-67, 27 up, making 35 up, or only 22 down. Last year they were 90-72, taking 18 off, so now I'm only down by four. So this year they need to go 83-79 to break even."
Section 113: "That's the largest milk jug in the whole world. When filled, it can hold nearly one million gallons of whole milk, over a million of skim. It is true. It is true. It. Is. True!"
Section 212: "You don't know what you're talking about. Look, I've been scoring games since before you were born. I've got Killebrew's 500th. Homer, what else? I got that perfect game by David Wells even if it was on TV. I got Koufax and Mantle and Ford and you name 'em, if you could name 'em, I doubt you're old enough to know who half those guys are. OK, so tell me who's Bob Cerv? Tell me who's Pete Daley? Here's a name for you, Ken Aspromonte! A Tigers fan? You tell me who Steve Boros is and I'll give you this scorecard. I'll give it to you, straight up. Other than he's a former Tiger.
"See, I study these later. Any time I want, there I have it, a game from '62. Or '71. Say, when were you born? I got games from '68. I bet I got a game on your birthday, provided it's in season. I must have over a thousand of these books at home, in the closet, in boxes. Nice boxes. I buy 'em straight from Office Max, file boxes. Might be fireproof, I don't know, they're cardboard. Opening Day, treat myself to the official program, even if they're crap, it looks good, you know? After that, I go back to these cheap pads. Look, here's that last game against the Yankees. What a lousy game. But it was a playoff, so it's got some meaning. Means something.
"The older ones, they gotta be worth some money. Especially in the 60s. My oldest is probably 1958. Or '59. I'll go look it up, tell you if I see you again. Oh, I got some good games. World Series, All-Star. Didn't do the first two playoffs, figured they were a fad, go away. Now I do 'em all.
"See, that big 'L' means live, as in I'm here. I got an 'R' for radio and 'T' for TV. I got some autographs, sure, but not in the scorebooks. That's pure coverage. It's in my will, all of that to the Hall of Fame. Someday they'll have a plaque for me, or a brick, you know, to signify what I've done."
Section 125 (Late): "I'm constantly reforming my world. Ever since college. And after college. Mostly now I'm wrestling with the divorce. Don't know why I'm here, really. Just taking the kid to the game.
"Thought I'd catch a break with the scalpers. No such luck. What is this place, half empty? Still twenty. Each. No, I suppose you don't get a discount for the kids."
Outside (after the eleventh inning, when fatigue defeated my interest in the outcome): "Don't ever take me in there again."
Wed Apr 07, 2004
MOON OVER THE METRODOME...
There's brand-new foulpole to foulpole avacado colored shag carpeting that kicks up, when hit with line drives, either a black or light gray substance that I hope doesn't interfere with the local nine's respiratory systems. There's a new milk jug in right field, looking as if it'd fallen off the shelves, bent as it is. There were new advertisements, a new pitch count board (very nice) and, thank the good Lord above, absolutely no Lee Greenwood in the seventh inning. Above all, there was easily the best opeing day game I've ever seen, and nearly half of the 49,000 paid lingered on to see it.
It's far too early, of course, to make any judgments on the team or its new, supposedly slow as mollasses turf (though it didn't seem that slow). The turf resulted in a bunt single in the eighth, when young Joe Mauer--who was busy between innings designing his wing of the Hall of Fame--watched a bunt roll toward the third base line and die. You wouldn't of had that on the old turf. You also didn't have ghostly remnants of the football field, which is a welcome sight to this football hater.
No, you can't expect that Mauer--who received, thus far, 87% of the first place votes for this year's MVP--will hit .667 all year (or have an .800 OBP) any more than I can expect the Detroit Tigers to shut out a hot-hitting club like the Blue Jays all year. But it was a real thrill, this game, which, for the sake of Twins fans, began in the eighth inning. There, down 4-0, having watched Brad Radke serve up three goofy home runs and sitting on our hands through seven, we saw the Twins get up, dust whatever that black stuff is off their trousers, and tie up the game. Mauer walks, his second of the day (good eye), and then Cristian Guzman of all people, knocks the youth to third with a single to center. Cuddyer singled, scoring the boys, Mientiewicz signles, and Koskie squares off and knocks a ground rule double, to send Cuddyer in and M to third. Yowsa! Now we're awake and laughing heartily at those sods who didn't stick around to the end. Then Torii knocked a single out to left, sending M in and Koskie to third.
Unfortunately, Jones and LeCroy struck out to keep it knotted at four.
This sent us into extra innings, and all you need to know is that it was last year's hero, Shannon Stewart, who sent a fastball right over the left field wall to end the game at 7-4, after a LeCroy walk and short single by the impressive Joe Mauer--who, after the game, also declared himself the Reform Party candidate for President. These things need to be taken with a grain of salt. But there are some reasons for concern.
Brad Radke sits on the top of my list. Three home runs, falling behind the count repeatedly, and looking as if he's doing his best to replace both Rick Reed and Kenny Rogers in one terrifying monster. There's still concerns with second base, where, if you read Aaron Gleeman this morning, as I did, he points out that that guy has a tendency to ground into double-plays with alarming frequency. Get Shannon Stewart on base, as he did to open the game (and did to open a couple of the playoff games, 'member?), only to have Rivas stand there with his l'il plastic bat and blurt an easy one to first. That took the proverbial wind out of their proverbial sails and helped send the Twins into the horse latitudes into the seventh inning.
But the Twins prevailed, in spite of Brad Radke and Luis Rivas, just as the Indians lost in spite of C. C. Sabathia's excellence and Travis Hafner's pair of homers. No, Opening Day as a whole typically isn't a portent for a long, 162 game season, but creaky pitching and weak hitting from characters who have, as late as last year's playoffs (and this year's Spring Training), leave me more sweaty-palmed than I would like.
A NOTE ON THE UNDERDOG
It was refreshing to see the boys from the independent scorecard GameDay hawking their fine product, decked out in their ugly yellow shirts (sorry). One of the best things in this current issue is the article by Tom Genrich, offering fans insight on what to look for to see if Joe Mauer--who just recently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor--is actually playing decent defense, as everyone and his brother says he's perfectly capable of doing.
I urge fans to purchase GameDay's scorecards, not only because of articles like the above, but also because the Twins scorecards are aestletically foul and filled with bland writing, bland photographs, and do nothing whatsoever to further your knowledge of the game.
Then again, to extend an argument that's been bandied around lately, we should buy up every little lame trinket the Twins have to offer because, golly, that's far and away the only possible method of making this tiny-market team comptetive. It's truly the same argument for blindly supporting this silly Victory Sports Network: give the Twins everything they want, give them a new stadium from out of our pockets, and they'll be exactly like the Cleveland Indians, who won all those division titles and went to two World Series.
Only problem is, there's no proof that Mr. Pohlad will use his money wisely, if at all. Maybe he'll pocket the funds; he's a shrewd businessman, it doesn't necessarily stand to reason that if the Twins get their public funds and new cable company that he'll become the Midwestern Steinbrenner. He might just become the new Bud Selig. Or Mike Ilitch. Or... you get the idea.
See, I would love a new stadium. I'd love to be able to look up and see that bright April moon, as opposed to a section of teflon roofing that looks like the inside of an all season golf range. But I can't live in a vacuum. And arguing that the Twins need a stadium, and need the state to build it, ignores the morality of the whole thing. And yes, there is a morality. If the governor refuses to raise taxes and slashes government spending, then how can he justify throwing state money to the Twins? Even if no taxes are raised, couldn't we use that mechanism to pay for the essentials and keep taxes lower?
Jumping back into the vacuum, even if we ignored the above, who's to say that Mr. Pohlad (or more likely his kin) won't try and move the team ten years from now? Or that he'll put any of his newfound revenue back into the team? There are as many examples of small market teams doing just that as those that have seen success...
Hauling this back to the original topic at hand, I do also believe that a new stadium has the potential to crush small guys like the GameDay fellows. The argument goes that the owners need every drop of new revenue; they need it from parking, from concessions, from programs. As has happened in Detroit, many of the small guys who used to own bars and souvenir stands near Tiger Stadium are gone, and not just because of the new location. New Tiger Stadium is a mall unto itself.
Surround the new Twins Stadium with acres of parking, private land, and the GameDay men won't have a place within shouting disance to sell their wares. If there's a hue and cry, I'm sure the Twins will argue, like they always have, that they need the revenue to keep up with the Yankees. Maybe it's worth it to you, but it's not to me.
Tue Apr 06, 2004
We're coming in from across the range, from the cities, from the small burgs on the thawing lakes, from Wisconsin and Ioway and Michigan and New York, those damned expats, coming in cars and on foot and by bike and motorcycle, just to watch baseball again. If we had trains and buses that were running, we'd come that way, too. Even though this is the trademarked "State of Hockey", baseball's elbowed its way into the cubicles of town, filled the stuffy air of our living rooms, and its dimensions narrowed to the width of back yards as we get up a game of catch and replayed last years playoffs amongst the leafless maples and on the dead grass. Around five, we'll head on down to the Dome, at the edge of downtown Minneapolis, park on some plot of land that looks like the pure profit for whoever owns it, and head on in. Past the cops trying to keep order, past the strippers handing out coupons, past the scalpers and the poor sods giving away free Stribs and the hawkers with their programs and pencils. No dinner of any value; for tonight it's the crap they serve inside, which really is decent only because we get to eat it in front of the game we love to see, and really a can of Spam would suffice provided you get to see opening day. We're children, Grown Men, Grown Women, old fools and elderly sages and those folks who come along, bewildered, for the ride. After five long months of cold and snow and football and basketball and hockey--none of which is any good for the soul--we can finally emerge from our shells and step out into the sunlight. Even if the sunlight's figurative because, after all, we're watching baseball in a Dome.
But aren't the festivities of Hope that christen the start of baseball season week-long, as opposed to a single holiday? Like Mardi Gras. I mean, really, Opening Day is a blast, but if Detroit, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee win today, there will be joy in the hearts of fans in those three beleaguered towns for maybe an afternoon. The next day it's back to grumbling. However, ten days from today, if Detroit is 7-1, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh 8-0, doesn't it seem like there's a real season to be had? That maybe, just maybe, dangnabbit, we're the real deal? You know, like Kansas City last year. If it happened there, why not here?
This is what you get when you suffer for a long time. I've suffered for a long time. I want the Tigers to come to town hungry for wins 10, 11, and 12 (against but two losses!). You Twins fans have now had 2 1/2 seasons of decent baseball, and are expecting a third like viewers expect another season of "Law and Order". More of the same, even if you'll get your hats handed to you by the Yanks in October.
So I guess my hope this season is that the Tigers get to have that little jolt of unreality, which is a bunch of early season victories. That hasn't happened in nearly ten years... or is it well over ten years? I'm not the type of prisoner to scratch my days on the cell walls, so it's easy for me to forget how long it's been since the Tigers have given their fans any hope. All I know is, I'd like a Mardi Gras, too...
Mon Apr 05, 2004
MONEYBALL, ONE YEAR LATER...
Last summer, in late May, I sat down with Michael Lewis in an empty bar in the Grand Hotel in downtown Minneapolis to for a Mudville Magazine interview regarding his hit, Moneyball. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity (by his kind publicist at W. W. Norton, Elizabeth Riley) to talk to him again, over the phone.
Mr. Lewis spoke with me yesterday morning, sandwiching me in between more radio interviews.
What was life like for you after Moneyball?
First, to have turned on a game andthis happened a dozen times last summerto hear the announcers talking about Moneyball, damning it, was totally bizarre and thrilling. Then, after a short time, it became normal and I wouldnt even think about it. Oh, God, lets talk about something else was my response after awhile. That was my response because eventually, in any conversation about Moneyball, someone would say something that was rude, or they misunderstood the book, and then Id get pissed off. I got tired of listening to it.
The main emotion I lived with for the first few months was guilt. Because Billy Beane, and to a lesser extent Paul DePodesta was getting raked over the coals by this industry, and no one was really doing anything to me. And that bothered me a bit.
Some of the debates got to be really bizarre, like Joe Morgan continually claiming that Beane wrote the book. Has Beane had any comment about all the controversy?
The funny thing is, the only thing he wished Id done differently was that his mother was upset, because of all the f-bombs in the book. The bad language. She was mad at me! So I actually took his mother to dinner in San Diego last year. She thought Id done a number on him, made him into a monster. And I just explained to her that Billy was a different creature when he was in the heat of battle running his baseball team. He loves little children and dogs and hes charming and sweet and he had all these other dimensions. Like the fact that he was concerned about his mother. But, as far as the controversies are concerned, he could fight all the other battles himself. He just didnt want to fight his mother.
Having said that, I couldnt believe the level of venom and vile nastiness directed at Billy, for something he did not do. And he was always being attributed with having said this or said that. He didnt say all the other GMs are stupid. The book implied that, but thats me and not him.
Theres this feelingwriters get this feeling sometimeof having picked a fight with a bully and then having someone else get beat up. I did this once before as a boy and swore Id never do it again, but I did. I was very frustrated by the whole thing. I kept wondering what I could do to redirect the wrath in my direction, where it was more honestly put.
What do think was the reason behind so much of this anger?
Ill tell you what I think, I think that here it is, a book that lays out what every sensible baseball analyst knows, that there is breathtaking incompetence in the management of baseball teams. Not every single baseball team. In a lot of teams its breathtaking incompetence and in some its mildly amusing. And there is this sound rational approach to running a baseball team, available to everyone to grab off the shelf for the last couple of decades, and no one has seized it in the way the Oakland As seized. So what does that say? It says that all you other people are guilty of malpractice. If you are a baseball scout, who knows in his bones his own track record, even if he doesnt acknowledge it (so he knows that one out of every fifty guys hes scouted makes it to the majors), so he doesnt have a fucking clue as to what hes talking about. Or youre a GM, whose job is always in peril, and who doesnt quite know why his team is losing every single year, even as hes spending zillions of dollars. And you dont know what else youd do with your life if youre not a GM! Youre horribly threatened by my book. Basically, Moneyball is a memo to the owner of your team saying Jesus Christ, wake up and get rid of all these scouts, and get someone else to do it! It is basically a memo saying if you believe in the redemption of souls, you have to get these guys together in a room and say look, weve got to do it differently, and maybe theyll do it differently. But really, the best way to go about it is to bring in fresh blood and reform the whole organization. And thats a brutal message to deliver. People take that very personally.
Going down that same road, do you think thats the reason why some of the press were so aghast at this book? Like Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News?
Picking out Ringolsby is a little like wandering into Munchkinland and finding this evil tribe of Munchkins and arguing with one of them. You really dont want to do it, and I probably shouldnt have done it, because its not just him, theres a tribe of them. And my impressionand Im sure this is a simplification, but its broadly trueis that beat reporters who actually go into locker rooms, who interview GMs, those people were less likely to be hostile. They quite liked my book. In fact, the people who were most hostile were the pundit class of baseball, the TV announcers and the columnists, those who think of themselves as almost kind of a scout, who fantasizes that he might work inside of a baseball organization someday, because he knows so much. Those people who are sure of their knowledge of baseball, and whose identity is I know baseball. When theyre at a dinner party (if they go to dinner parties), their status is Oh, if you want to know baseball? Ask Tracy because Tracy knows baseball. And that person is humiliated, because their mother could have picked up Moneyball and been better informed about how the game works than if she had talked to her son. And so, all of a sudden, his position is in jeopardy.
From my perspective there was a pincer movement, not on me exactly, but on the book. Because on the other side of the spectrum, you had these other guys on the web, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Primer, people who were doing their own studies and were more capable of unraveling statistical analysis than I am, saying that we knew this already. Whats so new about this? And they were right. From their point of view, there was nothing new here. But from the point of view of the numbnut, loudmouth sports columnist, it was all new, alien, and unwelcome.
Some bright reporter will take the trouble to write the great piece to write about these outside sportswriters on the web and the guys who vote for the Hall of Fame and MVPs, Cy Young Awards, etc. They will find an unbelievable, simmering hostility. I know for example, Richard Griffin (of the Toronto Star). He is obsessed about stuff that is written about him on the web. And Ringolsby has engaged as well. They must regard it as a hornets nest that descends upon them when they write something stupid in their newspaper. If you went and bothered to dig out the little battles that have been fought between these two classes of people, youd have a very entertaining story.
Its sad, too, that some columnists have descended into condemning this type of analysis as somehow racist
It seemed pretty clear to me, that having watched this constant flopping around on the part of the old guard, to find some point of attack against the new system, the new way of thinking about baseball, the new way of managing a team, that theyve actually stumbled upon racism. Oh, maybe its smarter to run the Toronto Blue Jays this way, but look! Its racist! But that was transparent. It was so comically absurd, that although it was an attempt at getting ugly, it ended up being more comical because no one was buying it. The actual effect of it was to rally the press in Toronto around the Blue Jays. So it had the reverse of the intended consequences.
Have you kept in touch with the people you wrote about?
Im constantly in touch with the people in the book, still on speaking terms with Beane, Paul DePodesta (GM of the Dodgers), JP Ricciardi (GM of the Blue Jays), Theo Epstein (GM of the Red Sox), etc. I havent heard from Bill James in a long time, but I dont think he had a problem with it. Although its been bumpy with some of my characters, I think now its pretty smooth.
With one exception: I think I put DePodesta in an awkward position with his job at the Dodgers. And I sense a slight bit of resentment from him now.
In what way?
Well, all of a sudden hes the Moneyball guy, hes a computer nerd, its all very clear from the book. Before he wasnt quite so easily described or identified. Now hes got this fancy new job in Los Angeles, and the book enabled baseball to typecast him, unpleasantly.
Can you describe the first couple of months when you were on the road for Moneyball? Was it any different touring for this book as opposed to the others?
It was not that different from any other book tour for a successful book, except that there was a lot more screaming. So instead of getting up at 6:30 in the morning and doing radio and TV and print interview until ten at night, I got up at 6:30 in the morning and got shouted at. Not all of the time, but enough of the time to make me feel that my day consisted mainly of being shouted at.
But the truth is, as much conflict as there was, it was more like pro wrestling conflict, as opposed to actual battle. It felt a bit like a joke, because I didnt feel threatened by. Every now and then, when I didnt get enough sleep and was ambushed by some guy, Id get angry. But I didnt feel like anybody was actually think differently about my book, because they were saying the same thing, and it was all submoronic.
Have your other books inspired the same amount of passionate response? I mean, the things Ive read in print and on the web, reviewers have either loved or hated the book to the point of obsession.
It is true that people care about baseball more than they care about anything else. Now, Ive sold more books before. Twice. The New New Thing and Liars Poker both outsold Moneyball in hardcover. But Ive never had people care so much about a book in quite the same way.
Let me qualify that. The reaction to the other two books was curious to me in that a lot of people wrote to say (about Liars Poker) that youve changed my life, Im going to go work on Wall Street OR youve changed my life, and Ive decided Wall Street is a terrible place to work. With The New New Thing they wrote to say they were starting a software company. So, I had this feeling that I had a personal connection to people with those books, because they were making career decisions based on them. I havent had people call and say Im going into baseball management thanks to Moneyball.
However, I dont think Ive ever experienced the sheer level of noise before. Liars Poker was close; it was controversial, but the thing is, it was in a sphere of life where people dont talk to the press or express their feelings publicly. You know, Wall Street people dont go to the Wall Street Journal to mouth off about my book because they dont want my name in the paper as they work for Goldman Sachs. Theyd get fired! But theres a vast media apparatus around the game of baseball and everybody assumes youre supposed to deal with it. That kind of noise Ive never experienced before
What Ive learned about it is that its kind of an echo chamber. The people in it have to hear the same thing six million times, without the people immediately outside having any idea whats going on. Its a very closed little world. And the noise has little influence on the world outside.
What projects do you have going on right now?
Ill be fiddling around minor leagues this summer, seeing if I can find the story I want to tell there. Except for that, nothing.
Is this specifically a Moneyball sequel?
I dont want to say just yet. Im going to be spending time with Steve Stanley and Jeremy Brown, the people who were drafted by Billy Beane. But a lot of other people, too. And riding the buses in the plains and see if theres enough stuff to justify writing another book about baseball.
Fri Apr 02, 2004
WHERE THE BUG ROAMS
To the north you've got the Mississippi River and a collection of antiquated grain elevators in various states of redemption. To the south there are a number of buildings of an industrial hue, the ratty edge of downtown Minneapolis where fly-by-night telemarketers squat for a few months, the types of businesses and businesspeople that, in A. J. Liebling's New York, used to ply their trade in a telephone booth. To the west is a beautiful view of what is now corporate 80's downtown, including, at night, the golden face of the skyscraper that houses my grandpa's bank, the one with the horse drawn carriage. Finally, to the east is the tangle of freeway that leads to Minneapolis' elder twin, frumpy St. Paul.
You wouldn't know any of that to sit inside the Metrodome, of course, whose view is akin to staring upward from your sleeping bag in an old tent mid-afternoon; a dingy white that undulates as the sun slips in and out of clouds. Inside, of course, it's all astroturf, or whatever that new stuff is they put down this year, grass that needs to be painted on a regular basis. There's the baggy and the big milk jug and the pressurized air that whizzes you out the door.
You won't hear much good about the Dome from the poor citizens who love the noble sport. They will tell you how miserable it is, how it fails in contrast to an open air stadium, any open air stadium, good golly, if only there was an open air stadium! Life would be good again here in the Midwest!
Truth be told, I personally don't know what I want. I'll tell you what I dream about: I dream of a little open air joint, perhaps made of that nifty river rock that's all over town. I dream of wooden seats, painted blue, wooden bleachers, painted blue, and the whole thing a mess of that river rock, concrete, and, best of all, steel beams and girders. You read right. Which probably means (though I'm no architect), limited view seating behind those beams. There is something about the play of light in a girdered stadium, the way the shadows are so much darker in the nooks and crannies above, making the field that much brighter by contrast.
I wouldn't have luxury boxes because I have a blistering class prejudice that hates to see such things as the wealthy separated from the slobs like me. Just seats, box seats for sure, but out in the open with the rest of us.
I dream that old Carl Pohlad would become, in his later years, sort of impish, eager to enjoy himself. He would declare the Twins "The Cubs of the American League", but unlike the Tribune Company, keep prices low. Like the Cubs, most of the games would take place in the afternoon. Ivy would cover the walls. And he wouldn't sell the name of the place to a corporation.
I'm awake now, so I know this is a bunch of romantic claptrap, and the realist in me says wake up and smell the coffee, this is never going to happen. When there's a new stadium, it will, no doubt, have been bought and sold on the backs of the citizenry, by a Governor who claimed he wouldn't raise taxes, but did so for Mr. Carl Pohlad. It will no doubt be a gaudy edifice like most of the new stadiums, have a retractible roof, fountains, big advertisements, a corporate name, and no more two hundred dollar season tickets. Most of that I don't want.
So right now, I'll be forced to enjoy what we have, which is the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in eastern downtown Minneapolis. And really, if you think about it, baseball fans, for a place that gives us so much pleasure, it really can't be all that bad.
I'll be up in the bleachers. True, there are no real bleachers in the Metrodome, but for my two hundred simoleans, I get my pick each game of one of the many so-called nosebleed seats, a large tract of those blue plastic seats in the upper deck surrounding the outfield. We're far enough back so that we can't rain debris down on the opposing team, our shouts can't be heard, and, to the dimay of most of the denizens of the cheapos, can't get those free t-shirts they bazooka into the stands two or three times a game. If I want, I can sit by either foul pole; I can loaf in right field and flip the 'K' signs to indicate a Johan Santana strikeout; I can hide behind the big dusty curtain with the pictures of Jackie Robinson, Killebrew, Carew, and that first baseman whose name, at 8:00 this morning, I can't remember; or I can sit up by the Trinitron or down by the curve at center. And I won't even have to wear sunscreen.
You're not going to hear much complaining from me about this beleaguered Dome. True, the place, by any account, sucks. But this is where we play and watch Major League Baseball in Minnesota, and we won't have a new stadium for years (if at all), so why not enjoy it? Why not try to imagine the mighty Mississippi just a few blocks to the north, or, perhaps better, let your imagination run wild and pretend that the Twins are doing their international thing and you're watching them dispatch the Tigers in Tokyo? At least there's a decent team on the field. Old Bob Casey shouting down the smokers. And the sound of thunderstorms during games, my personal favorite.
It could be worse. Having grown up in Michigan, I'm observing the Twins, but rooting for the Tigers. Their new stadium is ugly, plain and simple. It faces the ruins of a once mighty downtown, twelve blocks of abandoned skyscrapers. Their team is awful, not having had a winning season since I left the state back in '93. (Coincidence? You be the judge!) I'll tell you from personal experience, I'd rather see a winning team in the Metrodome than losing team in the sun and blight.
Thu Apr 01, 2004
WELCOME TO THE BUG
Congratulations to you for discovering the new blog that wasn't recently christened by none other than Mel Gibson, who claimed that if he'd read this first, he would never have had Jesus Christ whipped to shreds onscreen. Or made "What Women Want".
That having been said, there is nothing much to add, except to say that if you send me an email, with either positive or negative comments, I may choose to publish it without permission.
See you soon.
Tue Mar 30, 2004