Category Archives: baseball

True love and baseball

Happy World Series Day, my favorite secular yontif!  In the spirit of the season I have a piece in Slate about CJ’s love for baseball, and mine.  I was extremely pleased that Rob Neyer liked it.

Here’s the finish:

I tried to make my son into an Orioles fan, like me. But the day at Miller Park he saw Carlos Gomez steal second, then third, then break for home, scoring on a wild pitch, like he was playing Atari baseball against a team of hapless 8-bit defenders, he became a Brewers fan for life. (To be precise, he describes himself as 70 percent Brewers, 30 percent Orioles.) We get along fine, in our mixed household. The inconsistency of our rooting interests doesn’t bother him. If there is a lesson baseball can offer us, it’s one about our deepest commitments; that they’re arbitrary, and contingent, but we’re no less committed to them for that. If I’d been born in New York, I might have been a Yankees fan, but luckily for me, I was born in Maryland, so I’m not. Jerry Seinfeld once remarked that baseball fandom, in the age of free agency, amounted to rooting for laundry. That’s not an insult to the game, as Seinfeld, a giant Mets fan, surely understood; it’s a testament to its deepest strength. My son’s love for the Brewers, like mine for the Orioles, is a love with no reason and no justification. True love, in other words.

Seriously, non-Wisconsin people, if you haven’t been paying attention to Carlos Gomez you are missing out on some joyous baseball.

The other Cal

Calvin Pickering was a big strong guy who came up with the Orioles and hit the ball really, really hard whenever he hit it, which unfortunately was not often enough for him to hold down a steady job in the major leagues.  CJ and I saw him a few years ago in Tucson, where he was playing for the visiting Calgary team from an unaffiliated league I think no longer exists.  Here’s an e-mail interview with Pickering, featuring this great reminiscence:

Who was the toughest pitcher that you ever faced?: PEDRO MARTINEZ MOST DEFINITELY. I remember when we was playing them in Boston and they told me that I was in the lineup and Pedro was pitching. I was like cool so the first AB I think I walk then the second AB I hit a home run off him but the funny part about that AB is that he threw all fastball and I hit a home run so the 3 AB he threw me all CHANGEUPS and I flew out so when I was heading back to the dugout he told he pick you showed me that you can hit my fastball so I wanted to see if you could of hit my change up… I just started laughing on the way back in … ever since that day we been cool.

Pickering is the kind of player who’d probably get a longer look in 2013 than he did when he played.  Terrible batting average, but walked so much that his OBP was a hundred points higher, and he had the power.


Novel World Series matchups

Next to the Yankees, the Cardinals, Dodgers, A’s, Tigers, and Red Sox are the teams with the most pennants, and all are still in the playoffs.  So you might think we’re very likely to see a World Series matchup we’ve seen before.  If the Cardinals win the pennant, that’s true:  they went up against the A’s in 1930 and 1931, the Tigers in 1934, 1968, and 2006, and the Red Sox in 1946, 1967, 2004.

But the Dodgers have never faced the Tigers or the Red Sox in the World Series.  Basically, they won lots of pennants but just played the Yankees again and again.

I’m still holding out hope for the Pirates to take the National League pennant.  If they do, they’ve got a chance to get revenge for their loss in the very first World Series, in 1903, 5 games to 3 to the team then known as the Boston Americans, now called the Red Sox.


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Is the Wild Card game a playoff game?

This is an important philosophical question and I need your help.  Is the game Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are playing tonight a playoff game?  Or is it a game that determine who gets into the playoffs?

Clearly it’s a postseason game; that’s not at issue.  The question is whether it’s like the ALDS, or more like the Game 163 the Rangers and Rays played last night, which in my mind is clearly a postseason game but not a playoff game.

Related question:  is the play-in game for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament a game in the tournament, or a game determining who gets into the tournament?  (I think this is actually the same question but I’m open to persuasion on this point.)




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Baseball players and Brooklyn hipsters

My mom got me the excellent Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by John Thorn, whose book The Hidden Game of Baseball I studied obsessively in the pre-sabermetric days of my youth.  The new book aims to clear out some of the mythic fog surrounding the history of the game — which means taking a clear-eyed look at urban America in the 1840s and 50s, something we learn almost nothing about in school.

Here’s a small insight I drew from the book.  You know how we make fun of young hipster dudes in Brooklyn who form leagues to play kickball, because it seems such a dopey affectation for adults to play a kids’ game and drink beer while they do it?  Well, the early history of organized baseball is more or less exactly the same.  Thorn shows persuasively that baseball (and its relatives, like “round ball” and “old cat”) were popular children’s games, which no more had an inventor than do Capture the Flag or Kick the Can.  The innovation was for adults to play the game in organized leagues, to drink beer, to bet on the outcome, and to charge admission.

Also, I was surprised to learn that the use of the word “plugging” to describe hitting a runner with a thrown ball was already prevalent in the 19th century.  My idiolect somewhat favors “pegging” over “plugging” for this, but both make sense to me.


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RIP Drungo Larue Hazewood

The bearer of the greatest name in sports history is dead of cancer at 53.  He played in the Orioles’ minor league system in the early 80s alongside Cal Ripken, John Shelby, and Floyd Rayford, and made it to the bigs at the age of 20; but his major league career lasted just six games, during which he never got a hit (though he did score a run, pinch-running for Ken Singleton.)

The linked obit, from the Sacramento Bee, is truly moving:

“He wasn’t bitter about baseball. He wasn’t angry that it didn’t work out. He had a dream to play major-league baseball, and he got his chance. He did his best. He was disappointed, yes, but he was very happy becoming a husband, a father and then a grandfather.”

Lagette paused to compose herself and continued, “Family was his life, and there were grandkids crawling all over him the evening before he died, holding his hand, saying, ‘Papa, look at this.’ He was a man of very simple wants and needs, and he died with a smile, and at peace with who he is.”

It also answers the question of how Hazewood got his name:

After giving birth to the second-youngest of 10 children, Catherine Hazewood left it up to the baby’s siblings to name him. The winner of a foot race to the hospital would get to name the baby.  Aubrey won, naming his baby brother after a friend’s last name.



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It made all the sense in the world

“It wasn’t a trade for the mild-mannered,” says Dodger general manager Fred Claire. “Dan and I talked about how we were going to get killed [in the public forum] on this deal. It was safer not to make the trade. But it made all the sense in the world.”

He’s talking about trading 21-year-old Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields.

7 Apr 2013: Twins 4, Orioles 3

I took CJ to this game, his first at OPACY.  Great day out, perfect weather, but a terrible game, which both teams seemed to be trying their best to lose.  Joe Mauer dropped a foul popup.  Alexi Casilla made the last out for the Orioles on a weak grounder — but the pitcher bobbled it, and Casilla probably would have made first on the play if he hadn’t jogged half-heartedly out of the batter’s box.  And of course there was Adam Jones, who pulled up on a fly that was his to catch and let it drop three feet in front of him for a two-run double — yes, it was ruled a double, in an act of generosity so extravagant that the official scorer could have legally taken it off his taxes.  A week later, Jones would drop a fly ball against the Yankees to allow three runs to score in a 5-2 New York victory.  Jones looks like a really good center fielder, but the defensive metrics hate him, and I have to say the defensive metrics have the better of it at the moment.

Jason Hammel, in theory our ace, looked a lot worse than his line suggests; behind in the count all day, never seeming to find much of a rhythm.

So the Orioles, on the strength of this game, didn’t look like a good ballclub — but for the season as a whole, they’re holding their own against the powers of the AL East, and one can’t ask for much more than that.

After the game, CJ and I walked around the Inner Harbor, which has not changed at all since I was a kid, and seems to be just as crowded as popular and kid-pleasing as it ever has been.  OK, one change:  the Power Plant, which used to be a metal-oriented rock club, is now a Barnes and Noble.  Sort of strange, since metal is more popular and than it was when I was a kid, and books less so.  But Baltimore marches to its own beat.

Final note to self:  remember that, even in Baltimore, a crabcake is not the kind of food that’s likely to be good at the ballpark.

Orioles pre-mortem 2013

And here we go!  The 2013 Orioles — now thickly coated with playoff experience — enter the 2013 season, as usual, picked by everyone to finish last.  What’s not usual is that they’re not predicted to be terrible; there are no bad teams in the AL East, and it’s not out of the question that all five teams could finish with winning records.

The most popular Monte Carlo season simulators (CAIRO, Marcel, ZiPS, etc.) tend to have Baltimore winning around 79 games, and everybody else over .500.  They give the Orioles an 8-10% chance of winning the division.

Is that right?  The Orioles, of course, won 93 games last year and finished just two games behind New York, eventually winning the AL wildcard after a play-in game against the Rangers.  Much has been made of the Orioles’s insanely (and unsustainably) good record of 29-9 in one-run games.  The Orioles only scored a few more runs than they allowed last year; on the merits, they looked more like a .500 team than a contender.

On the other hand, the second-half team was very different from the team that opened the 2012 season.  That team, with Manny Machado, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman playing key roles, outscored its opponents 361-318.  And that team, more or less, is the one that’s taking the field Tuesday against the Rays.

I think it’s fair to say that the 2013 Orioles have at least as much talent as the winning team that played the second half of 2012.

But here are some reasons for pessimism.

  • Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez all pitched better than they were supposed to last season.  If all three regress, the starting pitching gets notably worse.
  • Hammel and Markakis both missed some time with injury, but the Orioles’ other main contributors (Jones, Wieters, Davis, Chen, Hardy if you believe in b-refs defensive WAR) played just about full seasons.  There’s no reason to expect the front-of-the-line players to be this healthy again, and the Orioles bench (especially without Betemit) is catastrophically weak.  Anything goes wrong, anything, and Ryan Flaherty is going to get serious at-bats.  I like Ryan Flaherty and his big narrow Nomar face but if you’re counting on his bat in a big spot you know things have gone floppy.
  • Biggest reason:  the Red Sox and the Blue Jays got better.  A lot better.  The projection systems have each team improving 10-15 games, i.e. winning 10-20% more games than last year.  The Orioles play 36 games against those two teams — so if they win 10-20% more of the games they play against us, that gives Baltimore 5 or so fewer wins, even if the team’s talent level is exactly the same.  This is the biggest reason I think the Orioles will struggle to make it to .500 this year.

But let’s finish with optimism.  The main contributors for Baltimore are all entering what ought to be their prime, and there’s every reason to think that most of them will get better.  The Orioles may still be in the playoff chase in September when Bundy and/or Gausman show up, and they may not, but I take it to be almost certain that the 2013 Orioles will be a highly enjoyable team to watch and root for.  Especially if Adam Jones keeps hitting people in the face with pies.  I never get tired of the pies.

(Previously:  Orioles pre-mortem 2012.  Orioles pre-mortem 2011.  Orioles pre-mortem 2010.  I had forgotten that the projection systems kept picking the Orioles to be sort of OK and win 77 games, until finally in 2012 they gave up and decided the Orioles really were a terrible 68-win team, at which point they won like crazy.)




There are no new gags

Free idea for my philosopher friends:  put out a call for papers for a volume about baseball and philosophy, called “What Is It Like To Be At Bat?”

Amazon tells me that somebody has already produced a book of articles on baseball and philosophy, but hasn’t used this gag.

But Google tells me that the gag has already appeared several times:  in a blog post, in an article by John Haugelund, and, somewhat memorably, in the last stanza of a poem by Michael Robbins that appeared in the Awl:

I never promised you a unicorn.
But still. What is it like to be at bat?
Just having T.M.I. tattooed on my balls.
The heavy lice that hang from them
run in blood down palace walls.

There are no new gags.  I think Robbins’s poems are interested in the contemporary fact of there being no new gags.

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