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One Hundred Sixteen
Featuring Mariners-related rants, raves, and analysis.
Thursday, October 23, 2003
 
It's been awfully slow in the M's blogosphere the last week, with no improvement in sight until after the World Series. If you're really desperate for news, the Giants declined their option on former Mariner Jose Cruz Jr., sending him to the free agent market. At least one team thinks his stellar defense (game three of the division series excluded) plus .779 OPS is worth less than $3.7 million.

A few reading suggestions while we wait for the GM news to pop:

* A Baseball Prospectus triple play with interesting takes on the Red Sox game-seven collapse, and the likelihood (low) of their offense repeating an off-the-chart performance. Their PECOTA mechanism for forecasting performance is fascinating and will likely prompt me to subscribe sometime soon. Also note their take on the Reds' GM opening, which may affect us since Omar Minaya is apparently a candidate for both slots.
* Even better is a New Yorker article on Bill James. Here's an excerpt:

"...it is true that in every baseball season you can identify forty pitchers who were pitching ineffectively, changed teams, and started pitching effectively. James hopes to identify the conditions that may forecast such improvement in the future...

Good stuff, that.

Two poignant moments during last night's game:
1)The Rocket's ovation as his career came to an end and
2) Jeff Weaver taking the loss on a pretty good pitch to a not-very-good hitter. I'm certainly not a fan of the Yankees or Weaver, but he hadn't thrown a pitch for the whole post-season and this was the classic opportunity for redemption. I'm glad the Fish pulled it out, but I wish they beat Mo Rivera instead. The Yankees owe Weaver $15.5 million over the next two years, which is kinda cool.
Friday, October 17, 2003
 
There's a bar in Boston, and sometime in 2007 or 2008 a man will walk in, take a spot at the counter and order a beer. He'll take a look at what's on TV, it might be the Bruins or the Celtics or it might be the Red Sox struggling to stay above .500. He and the other patrons will sit in silence as the bartender wipes out a dirty glass. Then he'll say in a plaintive voice, to nobody in particular, "He should've taken Pedro out," and everyone will feel a small shred of the disapointment they felt last night, a feeling that will always be with them, and they'll nod slowly.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
 
After watching Nomar stink up the place for most of the playoffs, I thought it would be interesting to track the Red Sox' much-vaunted offense through the season.





Well, it was interesting, at least to me, even if their season might be over before most of you read this. A few observations:

--They had a helluva year. Team OPS was .851, 97 points higher than the M's.
--Ramirez has been the most reliable, but their main producers have been all over the place.
--The team's OPS has declined every month since June.
--Nixon and Ramirez are doing fine in the playoffs (although Ramirez is still below his season average), but that's not enough to offset Mueller, Ortiz, and Garciaparra. Remember Mueller was the AL batting champ.
--Creating a graph in Excel, converting it to a jpg, and getting it to show up in blogger is a journey of a thousand steps.

Given how how the M's slumped their way out of playoff contention, I'm intrigued by this idea of consistency. More to come, it's a long time until spring training.
 
After a relatively quiet couple of weeks, it looks like things are heating up on the GM search. The Tacoma Tribune seems to have the best local coverage, and is probably worth a daily look for news.

Paul Podesta is apparently very available, with this article making it sound like the hero of Moneyball has his bags packed. Here a quote from Beane:

"I think Paul's probably ready to step out and explore other opportunities," Beane said. "There's no sense of anxiety or rush to try and get him another job, but he's been doing this for going on six years. He's certainly ready for a new challenge if the right one presents itself."

Sure sounds like they've talked about it. And with others apparently bailing out, maybe Beane would be more available? Some have speculated that since Beane turned down Boston, there's no way he would consider Seattle. If you've lived on both coats, you know that the cultural difference between Seattle and Boston is much greater than a mere 2500 miles would indicate, while that between Seattle and San Fran is much closer. He would be more at home here. Also, his ill-advised "give me $50 million" comment after they tanked the division series reveals a long-simmering frustration with small budgets. Still, it's probably pointless to speculate since hiring Beane would a complete repudiation of everything the M's have stood for. Despite Lincoln's new-found flexibility, hiring Beane would probably give Gillick a heart attack.

Poor Cubs. You could sense the "something amazing is definitely going to happen and boy are we going to party" attitude late in the game, and to lose that, particularly at the hands of one of their own, sent 40,000 people on an emotional roller-coaster deserving of an anthropology thesis. If you think you're having a bad day, you could be that fan in Seat 11, Row 9. If somebody asks him, "How was the game?" what does he say? "Pretty good, except for when I..." One fan said, "It's a good thing they got him out of there. They were going to beat the hell out of the guy. He was going to die.''

I believe a Yanks/Marlins matchup holds little interest. Fox will back me up on this.

One of the reasons I haven't posted in a week is because I've been reading Peter White's extremely thorough MVP analysis over at Musings. Nice job, Peter.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
 
Anybody remember this? (apologies for the formatting):

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 R H E
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
New York Yankees 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 5 6 0
Seattle Mariners 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 2 6 15 0

PITCHERS: NYY - Cone, Rivera (8), McDowell (9)
SEA - Benes, Charlton (7), Johnson (9)

WP - Johnson
LP - McDowell
SAVE - none

HOME RUNS: NYY - O'Neill
SEA - Cora, Griffey

ATTENDANCE: 57,411


That was rhetorical, folks. Tonight is the eighth anniversary of the double that saved baseball in Seattle, on the night when baseball non-fans became converts, casual fans became serious, and serious fans smiled or wept. Most people in Seattle remember where they were that night, especially if they were lucky enough to be there; I was in a bar at a conference hotel in New Orleans, which was blessed with a big-screen TV and an appropriately even mix of Yankee and Mariner fans. (Actually, there were only a few Mariner fans, most of the others were just anti-Yankee, even in 1995.)

The tension in that room was nearly unbearable, with one side or the other erupting in cheers at achieving the slightest advantage for their team. I remember my joy and wonder when Randy came in in the ninth, and the Yankee fan closest to me said something like "No f-----g way." When the Yankees scored in the top of the 11th, the taunts from the other side got louder and more mean-spirited, but they were soon quieted when we had runners at the corners a few minutes later. When Edgar roped his double, the entire crowd was lifted to its feet as if some supernatural force had gripped us all, and when Griffey dove across the plate my memories are of pure joy filling the entire universe and hugging a complete stranger, also from Seattle, whose name I didn't know but who, like me, had staked his emotional well-being on the actions of 25 men playing a boy's game in an odd concrete cave several thousand miles away.

October 8th should be some kind of holiday.

I recommend google-ing "1995 Mariners Yankees division series" to relive this moment. No surprise that this division series is still regarded by many as the greatest ever played. Here's a sample, published just a few days ago (Bob Ryan, Boston Globe):

It turned out to be one of the great baseball series I have ever seen. The Yankees won Games 1 and 2 at home. But the format then was 2-3 and the Mariners were very good in the Kingdome. ... As long as I live, I never will forget the sight of Junior running those bases with the speed of Maurice Greene and the power of Secretariat, cutting the corners at second and third like the blueblood child of baseball that he is, being buried in a pile of teammates after sliding across the plate with the winning run and popping up with a million-kilowatt smile. It is such moments that make this a very pleasurable way to make a living.


Tuesday, October 07, 2003
 
The A's-Red Sox series was exciting and fun, a fine salve for the wounds M's fans will be tending this off-season. How sad for the A's to have your season end with the bats on your shoulders. Lowe had some nasty stuff at the end last night, but the A's lost this one in game three. As good as the series was, I'm glad that someone else is as disappointed in the A's as I am. SI's Tom Verdicci finds plenty of blame to go around in analyzing the Athletics 0-9 performance in clinching games. He tees off on Beane, and Macha, and of course the players. A good read.

I expect the long-suffering Bosox fans not to care, but it has to be a little less satisfying to win a series that is gifted to you.

It's also interesting to survey the hometown papers for their take. From Boston, Eric Wilbur writes:
"Jeez, if it really is all about luck in the postseason, as Billy Beane protests, he'd better not make his way to Vegas anytime after Oct. 1. He would do very well there in July and August, I imagine."

From the Bay Area, right next to a little poll that shows 74% of the respondents believe this is the worst sports week in Bay Area history, Ray Ratto, in response to Beane blaming the loss on his lack of payroll, writes in rebuttal, "Nobody wants to hear about the labor pains. They want to see the baby."

A few bets I'd make:
--The next time these teams play each other, Manny gets beaned in retaliation for his little stroll to first.
--Lowe and Kim take it easy in the off-season, despite numerous employment offers to teach sign language.
--Over the next week, "Cowboy Up" and "Red Sox Nation" will annoy more people than Schwarzenegger (win or lose).
--Despite all of the above, nearly every M's fan in existence, including me, will be rooting for these guys.
Monday, October 06, 2003
 
Derek over at USS Mariner is having a bad day. Go read his article on Edgar's possible last day, and drop him a line and tell him if you liked it. I read a lot of baseball books with artistic aspirations and this is one of the only pieces I can remember that nearly brought a tear to my eye.

Sunday, October 05, 2003
 
If anyone deserved a break in the playoffs, it's the Boston Red Sox, but they did not deserve to win Saturday night. In a performance designed to make you wonder if they were betting against themselves, the A's committed three errors in the second, but most egregiously blew their chance to win the game with two boneheaded baserunning errors in the top of the sixth.

First Veritek blocks Byrnes from home plate as the errant throw goes sailing to the backstop. It looked like Byrnes twisted his ankle a bit, and when he got up he was clearly in pain. But it's not like a bone was sticking out, and he had enough energy left to shove Veritek, who unlike Byrnes was still playing baseball and on his way to retrieve the ball. This shove in itself should have been grounds for interference and an automatic out, but Byrnes, who appeared to be wandering around looking for the peanut guy, was tagged out a few seconds later and the play is over. I love baseball and am all in favor of series going longer and having games decided in a final head-to-head. But this is supposed to be a game of concentration, and Byrnes later said "I definitely didn't realize what had happened.'' His lack of awareness of his surroundings cost the A's a run AND an out with RISP, and we'll see what happens tomorrow but this may have cost them the series as well.

A few plays later Tejada pulled up on the way from third to home, assuming that he had been awarded the plate after an obstruction call. He hadn't though, and Varitek tagged his second immobile, stunned, looking-for-the-peanut-guy Athletic of the inning. Yes, that's two huge baserunning errors, two runs foregone, and two needless outs with RISP, in the clinching game of a division series.

I actually don't care much who wins the series; on one hand I'd like to see Beaneball vindicated, on the other hand Bosox/Yanks would be a fun matchup. But I do want to see good baseball and though this series has produced two gems, Saturday night was embarrassing for the A's and for baseball. It's enough to make you want to throw out OBP and OPS and start actually asking scouts if a guy can run bases, play defense, or has the mental stability to avoid freezing up during crucial moments.

Congratulations to the Cubs for clinching tonight, and to Atlanta manager Bobby Cox for his moral victory in benching Robert Fick for his cheap shot forearm on Eric Karros in game 4. Class move, even if Fick playing like crap made it easier.
Friday, October 03, 2003
 
I'm doing a little background research on the possibility of Griffey returning to the M's. First, we need to acknowledge the emotions around this.

Stage One: Facing Rejection. Most of us were a little hurt when he left, creating more fodder for our metropolis-wide inferiority complex: first The Big Unit bolted. Then Shawn Kemp (This was back when I cared about the NBA, and I remember being mad about that. Seems so silly now.) Then Griffey. Why didn't they love our city the way we do? Do they know something we don't? And nobody held a gun to Griffey's head to make him build a house in Orlando. If he wanted to be close to his family, why didn't he build one here?

Stage Two: Anger. We got screwed, receiving "two unspectacular major leaguers and two prospects" in exchange for a huge chunk of our baseball identity. Remember how you felt when he agreed to a below-market contract? And then appeared at their press conference? Ouch. The national press had a heyday.

Stage Three: Hope. Cameron did much better than we expected the first year, was a blast to watch, and had a great smile.

Stage Four: Spiteful glee. Junior got hurt. Few tears were shed in Western Washington. Cammie in 2000: .267/.365/.438/.803.

Stage Five: Indifference. We won 116 games in 2001, and didn't give Griffey much thought, except that fans started thinking we had actually got the better end of the deal in that trade. I have a vague recollection that Junior kept getting hurt.

Stage Six: Forgiveness. Around the time of the 2001 All-Star game, when he was named to the all-century team, I forgave Griffey, and actually started to feel kind of bad for him.

Stage Seven: Wonder and amazement: the prodigal centerfielder. Could he really come back? Would we want him? Would he want us?

From Cincinnati's perspective, the trade has been a disaster. They won 96 games and barely missed the playoffs in 1999. It's been downhill from there, with Griffey playing in 145 games in 2000, then 111, 70, and 53 games this past season. Far from putting them over the top, they now view Griffey as a liability. His GM called the trade a "flop" and the Reds have repeatedly tried to trade him. (Is anyone else shocked that he lacks a no-trade clause? Even Cirillo has some protection.)

In late July, Jim Caple wrote that returning to Safeco would be a great thing for Griffey because in addition to a homecoming, he could DH part-time. Bob Finnegan weighed in on Wednesday, and Griffey called him up to chat about it. (I suppose when Junior calls you, your column-writing duties for the day just got a lot easier. In case you're reading this, Mr. Griffey, sir, just email me and I'll call you, 'kay?) Although Junior was non-committal, the friendly tone of their conversation tells me Junior might actually be excited about this.

So where are we now? I agree with Caple that an AL team makes the most sense for Junior. With his history of injuries, being able to DH could truly extend his career. Seattle is a logical choice. But of course there are many barriers, like Edgar, who needs to retire to free up the DH spot, and Griffey's contract, a portion of which would have to be eaten by the Reds or effectively absorbed by taking on one of our problem contracts. But half of Junior's $12 million is deferred which may allow some flexibility. Perhaps the biggest factor in its favor is that both of the original GMs are gone, which takes management egos mostly out of the picture.

With the Reds tapped to visit Safeco next summer, Griffey will most likely be playing in Seattle one way or another, and the prospect of this occurring as a Mariner isn't as remote as it might seem at first blush. Maybe we'd even move the right field fence in a little for him.
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
 
I was going to try to go all day without commenting on Gillick stepping down, and was happy enough reading the USS Mariner's ticker-tape of commentary--then I came across John McGrath's column in the Tacoma Tribune that seriously proposes Gillick should be in the hall of fame. More on that in a sec.

The column starts with a recognition that this wasn't a great year for Gillick--the newly acquired free agents were Mabry (who, predictably, sucked), Colbrunn (who shouldn't have sucked, but was underutilized by Melvin and then got hurt), and Carrara (who for some reason is misspelled 'Cabrera' throughout the column, but more to the point sucked at Safeco but spent most of his time sucking in Tacoma). This was a far cry from the bold moves his first year, when he brough in Ichiro, Boone, McLemore, Sasaki and Rhodes.

Most of the rest of the article is a tribute to Gillick's successes at Toronto and Baltimore, and it's hard to argue that a GM who has a job for nineteen seasons and has a winning record for fifteen of them isn't exceptionally talented. Where I take issue with McGrath's outlook is when he starts to blame Gillick's recently tarnished reputation on today's MTV, fast-food, gotta-have-it-yesterday culture.

McGrath credits Gillick with a wizened old-school patience that eschews whiz-kid deadline trades, focusing instead on the "admirable philosophy" of "the team that stays together, plays together." This compliment unintentionally undermines Gillick's own credibility: how could we believe that Gillick was working hard to improve the team at the deadline, as he and Howard and others have claimed, when we know that deep in his heart he was sickened by the whole process?

I believe it is wrong to praise Gillick as an rational buoy in a Moneyball-crazed sea of "insta-poll" roster building. The reality is that baseball is not a set it and forget it operation; to use Gillick's own phrase, you can't "kick the cat" in March and expect it to land where you want in October. Cats squirm: players get injured and have slumps (sometimes profound and career-ending) and opponents make their own changes. To think you can predict the result of a dynamic system six months ahead of time and still end up at the top of the pile is not only irrational, it is hubris. Maybe Gillick belongs in the hall of fame, but if so, it will be despite this philosphy, not because of it.

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