Last weekend I attended a SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) event at the Borders Bookstore across from AT+T Park in San Francisco. It was Tim Lincecum Bobblehead Night at the stadium and at 4:15 the line to get the bobblehead was strung out almost back to downtown SF. But my friend Sandy and I were not there to snag a replica of “The Freak,” but to hear three authors talk about their recently-published baseball books. Let me introduce them to you.
Jeff Gillenkirk has written a baseball novel, entitled Home, Away. Jason Thibideaux is a pitcher who has a bright future in professional baseball. After a divorce which brings out the worst in both parties, he fails to secure joint custody of his two-year-old son whom he raised full time for the previous year while his wife finished law school. Jason is devastated at being separated from his son for long periods of time as he embarks on his baseball career.
Over the next few years, through many ups and downs in his career and in his relationship with his son, Jason arrives at the crossroads and must make a gut-wrenching choice between family and career.
“Home, Away has it all — realistic family drama, the action of professional sports, witty dialogue … I was captivated from beginning to end. Gillenkirk’s book is a home run.” –Holly Goldberg Sloan, screenwriter, “Angels in the Outfield.”
I am about halfway through Home, Away, and am enjoying it thoroughly.
Mark Armour is the author of Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball. Joe Cronin was a player for 20 years for the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox, and was a 7-time allstar. He became a player-manager at the age of 26, a General Manager at age 40, President of the American League in 1950, and in the Mid-60’s was kicked upstairs to the Chairman of the League, a largely ceremonial position. He had almost 45 years at the level of manager or above, and spent over a half-century in baseball.
“For so many decades, Joe Cronin has defied the ambitions of biographers…until now, as Mark Armour finally brings us a revealing portrait of this towering figure in the game’s history,” says Rob Neyer of ESPN. “His treatment is both thorough and (equally important) very readable,” according to Bill Nowlin, author of more than 20 books on the Red Sox.
Steve L. Steinberg, a baseball historian, is the co-author (with Lyle Spats) of the book “1921: The Yankees, The Giants and the Fight for Baseball Supremacy in New York.” 1921 was the year that the Yankees won their first pennant. John McGraw of the Giants had always been the personification of New York baseball. As owner, general manager, and field manager (all at the same time), he called every pitch and managed in the old style of baseball.
By and large, the Yankees were a mediocre team before 1921. But that year, the Bronx Bombers, led by Babe Ruth, emerged as the new face of baseball. The clash between these two baseball styles and franchises is the focus of this remarkable book.
“1921 is an incredibly comprehensive look at a pivotal baseball season–for the sport, for New York, for an America finally distancing itself from war. … Iluminating and entertaining” — Frank Deford, senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated and author.
I hope you will check these books out. They are all available on Amazon.com. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
The Freak Re-Ups with the Giants. A couple of days ago, I started to write a screed on how dumb the Giants are for not giving Tim Lincecum the additional $3M he wanted for a 3-year contract and casting their fate before an arbitrator. In the middle of writing, I decided to check the Giant’s website and found out that The Freak and the Giants’ Franchise had avoided arbitration with a 2-year deal. But who won? Or was it a draw? A little analysis might shed some light on these questions.
Tim Lincecum’s agent asked for $40M for 3 years.
The Giants offered $37M for the same period. Lincecum’s demand averages out to $13.33M per year, while the Giants’ offer was for $12.33M per year.
I don’t know about you, but I would have given Lincecum the additional $1M/year just to tie him up for 3 years. But no, the 2 parties appeared headed to arbitration over a lousy $1M/year for arguably one of the best–if not the best–pitchers in baseball.
Lets put this in perspective. Across the Bay, the A’s signed free-agent Ben Sheets to a 1-year deal worth $10M plus incentives. Sheets didn’t pitch at all in 2009 because of elbow surgery a year ago, which makes him a risk, though if it was Tommy John surgery he’ll probably be just fine. Sheets has 8 years in the majors, a career ERA of 3.72, 4 All Star appearances, and won the NL Cy Young in 2004.
Lincecum has 3 years in the Show, a career 2.90 ERA, 2 All Star appearances and won the NL Cy Young award the last 2 seasons. He’s only 25 years old, and if he continues to pitch like he has the last two years, he’ll command a lot more in 2012 than he would have gotten under the $40M 3-year contract. Maybe the Giants know something they aren’t telling. If so, maybe they made a good deaI. If not, they may have shot themselves in the foot. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Marty Lurie Moves Across the Bay. In what seems a bizarre turn of events, the A’s radio home KTRB has decided that they can no longer make time in their broadcast schedule for “Right off the Bat,” Marty Lurie‘s pregame show on the various A’s radio stations for the last 12 years.
Apparently, KTRB would rather have Mike Savage, a conservative talk-show host, from 3-6 pm, eliminating Lurie’s time slot. Thus Marty’s wonderful insights into baseball, both current and historic, are no longer going to entertain A’s fans before Ken Korach and Vince Contronio’s regular 45-minute pregame show.
To make matters worse, the Giants gladly picked him up to do the pre- and post-game shows on the weekends on their radio home KNBR 680. The one-hour shows will have many of the same features that the A’s fans have been treated to, plus the show will take more calls on air from the fans. “I am excited to add Marty to the line-up of talk show hosts at KNBR,” said Lee Hammer, Director of Operations for Cumulus San Francisco (IKNBR 680).
Apparently, the A’s have signed a new deal with KTRB through 2019, so it doesn’t look like we will be hearing Marty Lurie and Right Off the Bat again. I think It’s a huge loss for us A’s fans. His extensive knowledge of the history of the game, his insightful interviews with players, coaches, Hall of Famers, baseball writers, club executives and scouts, brought listeners a valuable perspective on the essence of the game of baseball. We will miss you Marty!
Tidbits: A’s Release outfielder Willy Taveras, who came over on Feb. 1st with Adam Rosales, in exchange for Aaron Miles of Antioch and a player to be named later. Taveras was immediately designated for assigment and the A’s released him 8 days later. He didn’t really figure in their plans as the player they really wanted was Rosales who is an infielder. The A’s outfield is already set and has depth, so no room for Taveras..
Another radio deal was inked recently. Ken Korach signed a 2-year deal as the lead play-by-play man for the A’s, which will keep him behind the mike in Oakland through 2011. A good thing.
Spring training is upon us. The pitchers and catchers have reported to Phoenix! I’ll be there from March 17-23. Can’t wait!
That’s all from here. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about anything that’s on your mind, whether or not it pertains to this article. Go A’s!!!
With the World Series approaching this week, and at the suggestion of my friend, Eric Edward, I thought I’d take a look at whether we can predict which teams make it to the World Series, and why others do not. A huge topic, I know, but I have found some statistics that might shed some light on the subject.
We now know that the New York Yankees
will play the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series
, which will begin Wednesday night in New York. The Phillies are looking to 2-peat, having won the Series last year. The Yankees, who have won more World Series than any other franchise (26), are really pumped, if last night’s game against the Angels is any indication. It should be a very good series.
So were these two teams the likely candidates to play in the World Series? Let’s look at some numbers in various categories: salaries, market size, attendance, team value, and prior World Series appearances, to see if we could have predicted this year’s Series contenders.
Salaries/Payroll: It is no surprise that the Yankees have the highest team payroll in the Majors at $201,449,289 for 2009, as of opening day. The teams ranked 2 through 10 have payrolls between $135,773,988 (Mets) down to $98,904,167 (Mariners). Of the top 10, only 5 made it into the post season at all, and 4 of the 5 made it to the Championship Series. If only half of the top ten teams in payroll get into the post season, the correlation between Payroll and getting into the world series is pretty significant, but not over whelming, especially since the 13th, 16th and 24th teams in this category also made it. So maybe it’s not only about paying players more money.
Market Size: 4 of the top 5 teams in market size–Yanks(1), Dodgers (3), Angels (4) and Phillies (5) made it to the 2009 postseason and the same 4 won their respective divisions. The Mets (#2) didn’t make it to the postseason, but their #2 position is due largely to the fact that they are in a very densely populated metropolitan area and they moved into a very nice new stadium this season. The other 4 teams in the playoffs were #6 (Red Sox-Wild Card), #21 (Twins), #23 (Cards) and #24 (Rockies-Wild Card). Thus it appears that market size helps your chances because there is a larger pool of fans to draw from, but it is not determinative in making it to the postseason.
Attendance: 6 of the 8 top teams in attendance made it to the playoffs in 2009, as well as nos. 11 and 14, all in the top 50% of teams. The top 5 teams in this category won their respective divisions. So it looks like Attendance seems to track closely with appearance in the postseason. But what does this mean? Are the teams doing well because they have more people coming to the games, or do more people come because the team is doing well? My guess is it is the latter, which means that attendance alone is a good indicator but not a deciding factor.
Team Value: By far the most valuable MLB franchise is the New York Yankees ($1.5 billion). The Mets ($912M, 2nd), the Red Sox ($833M, 3rd), the Dodgers ($722M, 4th), and the Cubs ($700M, 5th) make up the rest of the top 5. 23 of the other teams are worth between $509 million (Angels, ranked 6th) down to $314 million (Royals, ranked 28th). The Pirates ($288M, 29th) and the Marlins ($277M, 30th) and are “in the bottom two,” a la Dancing With The Stars.
But let’s look at the most valuable teams and how they have fared in the World Series. #1 and #7 will compete in the Fall Classic; both are division and, obviously, the pennant winners. The 2 other teams that played in the Championship Series are the Dodgers (# 4) and the Angels (#6). When we go back to the Division Series, the results are mixed. The Red Sox (3rd) and the Cardinals (8th) are in the top 10, but the Rockies (20th) and Twins (22nd) are way back in the value pack, and show that much less valuable teams can at least make it to the Division Series, though not very likely. Since 7 of the top 10 in this category made it to the postseason, the team value category seems to have the highest correlation with getting beyond the end of the season.
World Series Experience: The Yankees by far have played in most World Series (39). Of the rest of the top 10 — Dodgers (18), Cardinals and Giants (17 each), Athletics (14), Red Sox (11), Tigers and Cubs (10 each), and the Reds and Braves (9 each)–only the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Red Sox made it to the post season in 2009. So World Series experience certainly helps, but it didn’t help the Yankees in 2001-2007 when they got eliminated in the ALDS 5 times, and in the ALCS once and lost the World series twice. The Bronx Bombers haven’t made an appearance in the Series since 2003 and haven’t won it since 2000. They also didn’t play in the post season at all in 2008, the first time in 14 years. Because a lot of ancient baseball history skews these results, I didn’t include World Series experience in my statistical analysis.
So what do we make of all this? I determined the rank of each team in each category and then averaged the 4 ranks for each team. The top teams, from 1 to 10, are, : Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Giants, Astros, Tigers, and Cards. 6 of them made it to the post season, and #1 and #5 are playing in the World Series. The 1st 6 teams are bunched together in averaged ranks; teams 7-10 (including the Cards) are ranked considerably lower. So I guess this ranking system is pretty good in predicting who will make it to the post season, but beyond that it’s anybody’s guess and involves a lot of luck.
The aberrations in the top 10 are interesting: the Mets, Giants, Astro’s and Tigers. None of them made it to the post season but all have circumstances leading to unusually high ranks: a new stadium, attendance and large market size (Mets), a reasonably new stadium, attendance and long history (Giants), high payroll and market size (Tigers), and then there’s the Houston Astros (T#5 in Payroll, #7 in Market Size, and #12 in attendance account for their high rank), go figure.
That’s a lot to digest, but if you are a numbers geek like me and want to see my Excel spreadsheet, email me at email@example.com and I’ll email it to you. It has some very interesting and surprising statistics.
So sit back and enjoy the World Series. If my ranking system is correct, the Yankees should win it easily. But this is the Fall Classic and anything can happen. As is often said, the team that wants it most will find a way to win it. We should have a great series to watch.
Payroll Data: www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries
Market Size Data: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/baseball_markets.shtml N.B. For New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore/Washington and the SF Bay Area, all metropolitan areas with 2 teams, the Census data was allocated according to attendance info.
Attendance Data: www.baseball-reference.com
World Series Experience: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Series
Yankee Series: After 3 games in Toronto, the A’s played a rain-shortened series in the new Yankee Stadium, losing both games to the Bronx Bombers. I won’t regurgitate the details of the games as they were painful enough the first time around. I will comment on Dan Giese, whom the A’s picked up on waivers a couple of weeks ago from those dreaded Yankees. He has the dubious distinction of giving up 2 walk-off homers to end extra-inning games in his first 2
appearances. He must be shell-shocked about pitching in extras by now. The sad thing about both outings was that he pitched 2 good innings before each walk-off, and the bullpen was depleted and Manager Bob Geren probably didn’t have a choice and had to leave him out there. Maybe he’s a 2-inning guy. We’ll see in the next month or so whether it was a good move to bring him over from the Yanks. The A’s will make up the rained-out game on July 23rd in New York.
10 MLB Teams Decline in Value: Forbes Magazine recently published an analysis of the value of the Major League Baseball Teams, and the results are interesting. The teams whose values declined the most are: the Nationals (down 12%), Braves (10%), and the Tigers and Mariners (9% each). You’ll be pleased to note that the A’s declined only 1%, while the Giants’ value is down 5%. In terms of dollars, the A’s are worth $319M and rank 27th in the majors. Only the Marlins, the Pirates and the Royals are worth less than the A’s.
At the top in terms of dollars is the Yankees ($1.5Billion! ), followed by the Mets ($912M), Red Sox ($833M), Dodgers ($722M) and the Cubs ($700M). The Yankees and Mets values were up significantly due to their new ballparks which opened this season. Interestingly, the average value of an MLB team rose 1% to $482M.
What’s really itelling is that the Yankees are currently in 3rd place in the AL East, and the Mets are in 4th place in the NL East, so value doesn’t necessarily translate into standing, at least not this early in the season. Also, the least-expensive Marlins ($277M) are leading the NL East.
Gallagher to Triple A: The A’s optioned Sean Gallagher to the River Cats to get him more pitching time. He has been the long man in the A’s bullpen and hasn’t pitched much this year.
I think the move was a good one for Sean, as he’ll join the rotation that includes Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro and James Simmons, all of who are doing well right now. Sean has talent and needs to use it regularly to hone his craft. Now he’ll get a chance to do that.
Coming Up: The A’s come home for a 3-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow night and then go on the road again (does anyone else hear a C+W song right now?) to Texas and Seattle. Oh, the vagaries of the MLB schedule and the short shrift that the West Coast teams seem to get. 3 days at home? Give me a break.
Bay Area Teams Swept: The A’s and their counterparts across the Bay were unceremoniously swept over the weekend. I had hoped for a win yesterday for A’s 21-year-old rookieTrevor Cahill against Eric Bedard, especially after the very expensive Seattle hurler had such a mediocre season last year, but it was not to be. Cahill pitched a terrific game through 6+ innings, only giving up a run, but it was one run too many. Bedard was lights out, living up to his pre-Seattle reputation.
Red Sox in Town: Tonight the A’s begin a series at home with the Red Sox and as usual the Coliseum will look more red than green and gold. Red Sox fans–at least those who come to A’s games–are some of the most rude and obnoxious fans I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately, A’s fans get sucked in and give as good as they get. It doesn’t make for a pleasant evening at the ballpark and I avoid these games like the plague.
A Leftover Post from Spring Training: I wrote this on the plane coming home from Spring Training at the end of March. It got sidelined once the season started and in all the sadness over the death of Nick Adenhart. Since there is nothing much to celebrate after a weekend of losses, I have decided to put it in here–a positive note for a change.
On March 29th before the Colorado Rockies game (the subject of my “Speed Guns, Testosterone and a Snafu” post below) I drove out to the Minor League Camp at Phoenix’ Papago Park. I parked the car under a Smoke tree, and walked in towards the playing fields. Here the players in the A’s organization who are invited to Spring Training–from Single A through Triple A–work out in the mornings and play intra-squad games after lunch. It was a slightly overcast morning in the seventies with a light breeze to keep things very comfortable.
I was astounded that there were exactly 5 people in the whole complex who were not players, coaches or groundskeepers. A guy sat in a beach chair munching on chips and watching the Triple A field from about 30 feet away. Across the way, an older couple and a woman on a cell phone sat on the metal bleachers at the Double A field. The fifth was yours truly.
I had come on a mission: to talk to “my guys,” three A’s minor league pitchers whom I had interviewed in October of 2007, when they were playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. At that time I was doing research on the life of a professional ballplayer for my novel, “Contract Year”, which is now “finished”–is anything ever finished? I wanted to say hello and catch up with them.
The first one I found was James Simmons, a lanky right-handed pitcher with a dazzling smile, who was drafted 26th overall by the A’s in the 2007 MLB June draft, and who commanded a seven-figure signing bonus from the A’s. For the last two seasons, he’s pitched for the Double A Midland Rockhounds in the Texas League, completely bypassing all rookie and A ball levels. He’s playing at Sacramento with the Triple A River Cats this season.
I asked James how he felt about Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson (both drafted the year after Simmons) getting an opportunity to play for the A’s this year. He said, “I’m not ready yet. There are still some things I need to work on. I’m fine with it and they deserve it.” Now there’s class!
While I was talking to James, Jeff Gray, another RHP who pitched for the River Cats last season strode up with a big smile on his face and extended his hand. He’s the oldest of the three at 28, and I had hoped he might break camp with the A’s this spring. Joe Stiglich, the A’s beat writer for the Contra Costa Times and other Bay Area News Group papers, told me that the A’s are “high on him,” but he’s going back in Sacramento to start this season.
I had to go looking for the last guy, Brad Kilby, a LHP who has pitched for Sacramento the last two seasons. I found him sitting on the bench next to the water cooler, staring at the paper cup in his hand . A man of few words, he’s also back in Sacramento for another season.
I have been following the careers of these three ballplayers from Double A to Triple A, and in Jeff’s case to the A’s. Last September Jeff got a “cup of coffee” in the majors, when the A’s called him up after rosters expanded on September 1st. He threw 5 innings in relief with the A’s and I got to see him pitch two of them in person. These guys have been invaluable to me in terms of my understanding of what minor league ballplayers have to deal with: playing for peanuts, climbing up the minors, hoping to get called up, and dealing with the fact that so much of their fate is out of their hands.
I brought a copy of my book with me and gave it to James to read. The other two will read it after James is finished. James, bless his heart, agreed to write a blurb for the dust jacket when the book is published.
I must confess that my heart was aflutter standing around talking to these good-looking very fit young men who are living the dream I would have aspired to in my youth if I’d had a Y-chromosome. They are all extremely nice and enthusiastic, and I am honored to call them my friends.