November 2010

Lollygagging Through Late November

It’s the end of November, the house is all put back together from the Thanksgiving holiday, the trade/acquisition speculation on the Angels sites has reached the silly stage – in many cases, intentionally so – and I could not bring myself to feign interest in USC vs. Notre Dame. So, what’s a baseball fan to do? It was definitely time for Bull Durham…especially because I hadn’t seen it in months!

Bull Durham is my favorite baseball movie by far and one of my favorite movies period. Shocking given the title of my blog, right? There are a number of excellent movies that depict baseball players, coaching staff and other baseball insiders and their crazy passion for the game. Bull Durham is certainly among them. It’s well written, perfectly paced, filled with memorable characters and it does an excellent job of balancing all of the hope and promise of talent with the hard reality that a real career in baseball is unlikely for all but a very few and ephemeral for the majority of those few. What pushes Bull Durham over the top for me is how well it also shows the crazy passion of baseball fans. Besides, it’s infinitely quotable. What’s not to like?

A few months ago I found an older interview with Ron Shelton, the writer and director and a former second baseman in the Orioles farm system. Apparently, he has toyed with the idea of making a sequel several times but didn’t know where to take it. If Crash goes back to the minors or gets the managing job in Visalia, he either leaves Annie behind or takes her with him away from the life she’s created in Durham which is such a part of her character. Either way, the character dynamics are ruined on top of having lost Nuke and the cast of engaging background characters. Shelton said he just couldn’t do that to his creation, a measure of restraint I applaud and wish more artists had the option to employ (because, like baseball, creating art is also a job and I realize there are many practical factors aside from the artist’s wishes that go into such a decision).

Watching the Angels this year, however, in particular the dynamic of veteran pitchers interacting with a rookie catcher, I wonder if there isn’t a different way to approach a Bull Durham sequel. Watching Hank Conger make his major league debut was a bright spot for me this season, even though he was shaky at times. I remember the pregame show before his first start, catching for Jered Weaver no less. Victor and Gubie showed video from an exchange with Weaver earlier in the warm-ups. So, I understand Hank’s had a lot of questions for you. Gubie said with a knowing smile. Do you think he’s going to be okay? Weaver laughed and said, I think we have Hank breathing normally now. He’s going to be just fine. Weaver pitched a great game that night so Conger didn’t have many reasons to visit the mound or work to calm him down. However, I also remember a later start for Conger where Weaver did run into some difficulties. He started to get flustered and pace around the mound before he finally gestured toward Conger seeming to indicate, hey kid, this is the part where you walk out here and talk me through this.

Until I saw that interaction, I had only thought about veteran catchers training rookie pitchers, never the other way around. But think about it, a wiser and somewhat bitter Nuke at the end of his major league career, trying to rehab his aging arm in the minors for one more shot at a major league season, works with a rookie catcher. But because he’s Nuke, older and wiser is still far from wise. Make the rookie catcher inexperienced but talented and significantly more intelligent than Nuke, like Crash might conceivably have been at the beginning of his career, and suddenly you have what I think would be a very interesting dynamic where the catcher clearly does have a thing or two to learn from the pitcher’s experience but can’t imagine learning anything from someone who plays the buffoon so often. You would also have an easier time setting this story line back with the Durham Bulls where it wouldn’t be unlikely that the Larry character – easily my favorite supporting character – could have worked his way up to the manager’s position. Leave Crash and Annie out of it all together or have the characters make a cameo appearance attending the games, Annie still teaching at the community college and Crash probably a hitting coach for kids in the community and you would have…well…the closest I will probably ever come to writing fan fiction at any rate, LOL.

I don’t know what resolution the Angels have planned in 2011 for the increasingly crowded catching situation. But if Hank Conger can keep improving on his batting average and on base percentage – he looked a lot better by the end of the regular season but then didn’t do so well in winter league, so who knows – I would prefer seeing him as the back-up catcher with Mike Napoli in the lead catching role over a lot of our other options.

The Hot Stove Telephone Hour

Ho hum, no big Thanksgiving announcements. Not that I was really expecting anything this soon, but hey, a girl can dream. Between the few bits of real news we have seen, the tantalizing but vague hints of information we get from unnamed sources, the endless fan speculation and the dissonant chorus and counter melody of all of us bloggers shouting sign him, he’ll take us back to the playoffs and no, don’t sign him, he’s an overpaid two season wonder, this all starts to sound like some sort of bizarre Hot Stove Bye, Bye Birdie…with Tony Reagins as Harvey Johnson to me:

What’s the story? Has anyone signed?
I heard the contract got inked?
Did he really sign?

Hello Mr. Crawford, this is Tony Reagins. Is Carl home?

The contract’s not inked?
What do you mean, are they crazy?
I was hoping he would!

Hello Mrs. Beltre, this is Tony Reagins. May I speak to Andre please?

They’ll be Angels forever!
I hope it won’t last.
Hey have you heard any news?

And I am right in there with every other Angels fan, reading every scrap of information I can get, speculating, hoping, worrying, whining, contributing my own little voice to the noise. Oh well, apparently we aren’t going to get another huge late November Torii Hunter level announcement this year…or are we? *crosses fingers*

Well, for the rest of today I have a decidedly less metaphorical hot stove in mind: Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, roasted butternut squash, cranberry relish and a corn bread dressing with sausage, apples and cranberries for 10, oh my! Not that I am complaining. I love the cooking and the entertaining and so does my husband. No, like the Time Warp’s pelvic thrust, it’s the dishes that really drive you insane.

I wish everyone in the blogosphere a Happy Thanksgiving!
Have fun, enjoy families and friends and try not to operate any heavy machinery in a tryptophan haze ;)

Finally! Some Angles news! Well, sort of…

The Angels declined to offer Hideki Matsui arbitration. Based on hints and rumors from the end of the season, this is hardly surprising. Looking at Matsui’s final 2010 season numbers, he finished pretty close to his 2009 stats. He definitely performed. But the way things worked out, his hot streaks came at the beginning of the season, when things were still hopeful and at the end of the season when it was too late to matter. It’s not his fault that he slumped in the middle of the season right alongside everyone else on the team. But when the DH position is batting near the Mendoza line for the month of May, and the primary DH is a recent acquisition purchased largely for his clutch bat, he’s going to draw a lot of fan ire. Matsui is a heck of a ballplayer, a classy guy and seems like a great teammate. He could go on to have another great, difference making, MVP year next year but after a year where he performed but his performances didn’t really make a difference, it’s probably time for a clean break for all concerned. Again, Matsui is not the only guy on the team who failed to make a difference – the whole team pretty much earned that “distinction” this year. He’s just the new guy the front office brought in specifically to make a difference, who failed to do so. Bad timing all around. Clean cup, move down…

Except, declining to offer Matsui arbitration doesn’t actually mean anything other than that the Angels don’t want to pay that salary to have Matsui on the team next season. I don’t think they’re going to, but the Angels could always try to sign him back for less money as a free agent. My point is simply that at this odd time of year even the news is neither new information nor particularly informative, and the rumors and gossip become real news.

Case in point, suddenly an unnamed major league source saying that Tony Reagins may be in serious talks with Carl Crawford is huge news. In my previous existence in the mortgage industry, there was a time I could have looked at a similarly vague reference to mortgage banking and told you with a reasonable degree of certainty who the unnamed source worked for, if the leak was strategic or unplanned, what the intent of the message was and the degree to which it was or was not BS. I truly envy those of you who have the background and inside track to be able to discern that here.

Oh well, back to the hints, speculations and random gossip. Sometimes there is big solid Angels news in November or early December, so here’s hoping!

Views from the Knothole – Baseball History and Family Memories

My husband and I spent this evening with his parents – we provided tech support services and then joined them for a nice dinner and the usual lively conversations that I have come to enjoy as a part of his family. Somehow we got on the subject of Angels games, which is odd because my in-laws are not really baseball people, a fact my father-in-law had just laughingly reminded me of when a nostalgic, childlike grin broke over his face. He’s not a big baseball guy now, but when he was a kid living in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles in the 1940s apparently he and his friends used to go watch the Hollywood Stars play. Have you ever heard of the Hollywood Stars, he asked me. But of course. I love baseball history and the history of the Los Angeles minor league teams, the Hollywood Stars and their arch-rivals the Los Angeles Angels, is a lot of fun.

My father-in-law then told us how he and the local kids would go to see the Stars play, sometimes in the stands from the beginning, other times hanging out at the back fence, jostling one another for glimpses of the game though the chain link until the team would throw the gates wide open in the 7th inning and let everyone come in to watch. Apparently the latter was known as being part of the Knothole Club. I think we all get what I call my giddy little kid feeling when we talk about our baseball memories and my father-in-law was no exception. He beamed as he told us about getting to hang out on the field and chat with the Stars while they warmed up before games. It was a completely different era, a minor league environment in a city that had never known a major league baseball team and it sounds the Stars were pretty laid back. You could be on the field before games as long as you stayed outside the foul lines and didn’t make a nuisance of yourself with the players until the umpires took the field. Once the umpires made an appearance, it was find your seats kids, it’s almost time for first pitch. It had been so long that my father-in-law didn’t really remember specific players’ names but it was clear the he remembered the feeling of being there and, although I only wish I had so many memories of being that close to the game, I can totally relate.

Oddly enough, this took me right back to my own childhood and my grandfather’s parallel stories with the rival team. In the 1920′s (or early 1930′s, my own memory gets a little fuzzy here) he and his friends hung around the old Wrigley Field watching the minor league Los Angeles Angels. The Angels would let the local kids shag balls during their batting practices and, occasionally, give them tickets to come and watch a game. I also got the impression that my grandfather and his friends snuck into a fair number of games or that any security that may have been around looked the other way, not that he would have specifically told a granddaughter such things. Regardless, the Angels paid enough attention to their youthful fans that it made quite an impression on my grandfather and he became a life-long fan, first of the minor league Angels, then of the major league expansion which included a few players from the minor league team. I remember that during baseball season the radio next to his armchair was always tuned to the Angels games. While my grandfather was alive, I was primarily a Dodgers fan along with the rest of the immediate family. But watching his passion and hearing his stories, gave me an affection for the Angels, my immediate family’s “American League Team,” that I believe helped plant the seeds for my eventual conversion as an adult.

I love history. I love hearing people’s stories. And I love baseball. I treasured my grandfather’s stories and the hand me down connection they gave me to our part of California’s early baseball history. It made me smile to discover that my husband has that connection as well.

A little Pacific Coast League history, for those who are interested, that provides background for the stories above as well as the amusing, rivaled, often intertwined and occasionally downright incestuous relationship between the Dodgers and the Angels:

The Hollywood Stars my father-in-law grew up watching were actually the second incarnation of this minor league baseball team. Several Hollywood actors owned stock in the team including one Mr. Gene Autry. The Stars had a few major league affiliations, including at one point the Brooklyn Dodgers. Their rivalry with the Minor League Los Angeles Angels came about largely because, in their first incarnation, the Stars had been tenants of the Angels and alternated playing time with them as the “B” team at California’s Wrigley Field. This is truly humorous when you consider that from 1962 until 1966, the newly created major league Los Angeles Angels had much the same relationship with the Los Angeles Dodgers and were considered the “B” team at the new Dodger Stadium. It was the Dodgers move to Los Angeles that brought about the immediate demise of the Hollywood Stars and the minor league Los Angeles Angels (whom O’Malley now also owned) move and transformation into the Spokane Indians the following year.

That famous interlocked L and A? It was originally the minor league Angels logo. When Gene Autry founded the major league Los Angeles Angels expansion team, he had to buy the rights to the Los Angeles Angels name from Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley. Stories like this are part of why I love baseball history! Seriously, how could you not love stuff like this?

So, about those American League Cy Young results…

Were you at all surprised? I’m actually quite surprised. I was mostly leaning towards Felix Hernandez myself because he was at the top of more categories than CC Sabathia but, as I said a while back (prior to this blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it ;) ), I wasn’t going to be disappointed if it turned out the other way.

However, I absolutely did not expect Felix to win so by so many votes. I expected the decision to be more along the lines of Thursday, Thursday, Thursday! It’s AL Cy Young 2010, a bare knuckled, no holds barred brawl for ultimate supremacy. Sabermetrics vs. traditional stats! Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating just a tiny bit for effect, but I certainly did not expect CC to come in 3rd. And, somehow I completed discounted David Price in the middle of all of this, and so did most of the analysis I’ve read the last few weeks. Looking at his stats now, he’s certainly up there, although a little behind CC in strikeouts, innings pitched, wins and wins above replacement, so still I still find the results an interesting puzzle there.

While I am glad to see that win record was not the most important stat in this year’s voting, I am surprised it wasn’t a little more important. The traditional view is that win total is pretty much the be all to end all stat for pitchers. The sabermetric view is that wins say virtually nothing about a pitcher’s ability and are more of a measure of the rest of the team’s offensive and fielding success. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Otherwise you’re saying that if you stuck almost any pitcher in the game in CC Sabbathia’s place, the win total would have been roughly the same (new school of stats), or that if you paired Felix Hernandez with any other team, his win total would have stayed more of less the same (traditional school of stats). Viewed this way, both extremes of the spectrum sound just that, pretty extreme. Clearly, pitchers do not have total control over the game’s eventual outcome, but suggesting they have no control over it is equally ridiculous.

It will be interesting for me over the next few years to see how Major League Baseball eventually views the wins stat. Clearly it is the most important stat in the game – you play to win – but can it really tell us anything more specific about a team or player’s performance? I think it’s too broad and all encompassing a stat to be the top measure of any individual player’s performance, but it’s too important a stat to completely ignore. It doesn’t tell the whole story, but there is no whole story without it. In 2010, Felix’s low win record certainly did not reflect the year he actually had on the mound, but I would argue that CC’s high win total did a better job of reflecting the year he actually had on the mound than some of his other stats.

I definitely think the right guy won this year, but the rest of the results were more than a little odd for me. But hey, hey, let’s hear it for Jered Weaver, another pitcher whose win record seriously did not reflect the year he had on the mound, cracking the top five!

The 12th Day of Hot Stove…or so

In honor of this season of rumors, waiting and hoping – and of Christmas music played so early and often in the stores that it’s already stuck in my head – I subject you all to the following:

On the 12th day of Hot Stove, my GM gave to me:

12 Wild Rumors

11 Hours of Water Cooler Gossip

10 Non Committal Interviews

9 Calls to Carl Crawford

8 Bloggers Blogging

7 Arbitrations Settled

6 Hot Bats

5 Future Rings!

4 Calls to Cliff Lee

3 Relief Pitchers

2 Golden Gloves

And A Closer That Can Get the Job Done!

My apologies to Old English minstrels, or something like that.

This is meant to be more baseball (or perhaps more American League?) generic than Angels specific…and was intended to drive the refrain from my head, where it has been stuck since I made up the first and last lines several days ago…but, if I can give a few of you a chuckle or two, then I am happy. :)

I Do Not Covet Cliff Lee for the Angels

The coveting of Cliff Lee has been an understandable thing on many blogs so I just thought I’d put that out there. I’m not saying that he’s not an amazing pitcher. Though I will not praise him to the positively silly degree that the post season announcers did, he is definitely one of the best pitchers currently in baseball. He is one of these pitchers, and seemingly one of those teammates, who would be an asset to any team’s starting rotation.

But asset though he may be, unless we all somehow walk through the backstop into a magical baseball wonderland where players are always treated fairly even without a contract, umpires have the perfect angle to make the call on every play and Cliff Lee is willing to come to the Angels and *poof* just take over Scott Kazmir’s contract while Kaz begins an epic Tolkein-esque quest in search of his lost slider, I don’t want him for the Angels. Our starting rotation was one of our strengths this season – once you ignore the aberration that was April and, unfortunately Kaz’ difficulties. If everyone stays healthy in 2011 -and the Angels don’t make any abysmally stupid decisions regarding Weaver’s arbitration – we will have two aces in Weaver and Haren and two additional excellent starters in Pineiro and Santana (Be the good Santana please! You are not a Star Trek movie. We don’t need even and odd number rules about you.). If Kaz is able to work things out in the offseason – and I really hope he is but I’m not holding my breath – then we’ll have a great 5th starter too. If not we do have a few options that keep this from being a catastrophic need.

What the Angels need is Kendry back healthy and ready to play at the level to which we have all become accustomed – and to all reports so far, he’s looking like his old self, yay! We need another outfielder and a third baseman, and we need them both to have big or, barring that, consistent bats. The minor league call ups in the Angels’ bullpen were really something special this year and helped shore up our reliever woes at lot towards the end of the season, but an additional, reliable reliever with some veteran status wouldn’t hurt and then there is the closing situation. Myself, I like Walden for the position. I think he showed some promise there in September. But if those who know far more than I disagree and Rodney isn’t performing any better, then this will need to be addressed as well.

This is the Angels real needs list and it’s long and expensive, so I am glad Tony Reagins hasn’t been making any trips to Arkansas this fall and doesn’t appear to have any planned for the future. Angels fans often joke that Tony is some sort of trade and player acquisition ninja, that you’ll rarely, if ever, see one of his deals coming until it’s negotiated, signed and everyone involved is ready for the press conference. Torii Hunter. Del Taco. Need I say more? So I suppose anything is possible. But I certainly hope this one is as far off the radar as it appears to be. Lee is wonderful, but leave him to the Yankees and Rangers to duke it out over. They have a lot less holes to shore up in the off season than the Angels do.

Homecoming, Leggz and Baseball Memories

It’s Thursday night, a special Veteran’s Day game night. Excitement in the stands is high. Kickoff is moments away. The referees mill about on the field. The cheerleaders stand on each other’s shoulders displaying a sign the size of a king sized sheet, exhorting their team to pound their crosstown rivals. The home team bursts though the paper sign and runs onto the field at…Burroughs High School? Whoa, whoa, wait. Why am I here? I don’t go back to high school. It was fun and all, but it’s been over for a long time and I am not one of the people Bruce Springsteen had in mind when he wrote Glory Days.

Oh yeah, my friend Leggz is in town. Leggz joined the Air Force right out of high school and has led an amazing life all over the world. Once every other year or so when she comes for a visit, I find myself happily doing a lot of things I would not normally do, like going back to Burbank to hang out, going to reunions and, yes, even attending our alma mater’s homecoming game. It was great to see Leggz, nice to see some other folks I have not seen in a while, and the team gave us an entertaining game. But this was a surreal experience.

So, what does this have to do with baseball? While I was waiting in the long line to buy a soda from the booster club moms and dads (none of them my classmates yet, whooo hooo!) I heard a distinctive voice behind me booming “Hey, Stat Girl!” It was our old baseball coach, now retired and looking like a man enjoying life. I was an enthusiastic softball player as a young person, but never good enough to play outside of the middle rung ponytail leagues. So in high school I kept stats for the baseball team and had a blast doing it…and being the only girl on a bus full of teenage boys was only a small part of the allure, thank you very much ;)

Our league didn’t have special tables for the statisticians so I sat in the dugout with the team, on the far end of the bench with a great view of the whole field – very convenient for coach. “Hey, Stat Girl, remind me what this guy did to us last time.” “Double into left center, Coach.” *grunted thanks followed by gestures rearranging the outfield* This was also convenient for the players. Having a bad game? The guys kept the razzing to a minimum towards my end of the dugout, so the other side of the stat girl was the safety zone, apparently. Also, I’m a good listener, especially when I’m that close to the game.

Initially, I kept the more astute baseball talk to a minimum. Boys look at you funny otherwise, right? Except for baseball players, I found out to my delight – and men, as I found out later and even more to my delight. But one game, a player in the middle of a rough stretch at the plate was grousing about not being able to figure it out and I couldn’t keep it light anymore. “You’ve started to rest the bat on your shoulder. You don’t have your swing when you rest the bat on your shoulder.” The player at first looked at me really funny, then digested what I said and asked a few more questions. Soon, word spread and more baseball talk followed, first with that player and then the others and, halfway through the season, the stat corner ceased to be a razzing free zone because razzing, after all, is acceptance. Keeping stats for those three seasons in high school made me feel more connected to the game of baseball than ever and it was nice to take a few minutes, at a game I barely wanted to attend, to reminisce with Coach and catch up.

You can’t go home again, not really. And for the most part this is a good thing. We grow up, move on, and retain the parts of our past that are meaningful and important. However, every now and then, and most often when Leggz is in town, making the attempt to go home again yields some unexpectedly fun results.

We now leave this little trip down memory lane and return you to your regularly scheduled MLB programming.

Tuesday American League Gold

The American League Golden Glove winners were announced today – Congratulations to the winners! I think that the coaches and managers who voted this year really got it right. Longoria? Teixeira? Ichiro? Mauer? These, and the others, are players who took my breath away with seemingly impossible plays time and time again this season.

Yes, I am disappointed for Torii Hunter. I would have liked to see him win his tenth Golden Glove in a row, but I also would have liked to see a performance worthy of that honor this year. Sadly, his performance was not, especially with Crawford, Ichiro and Gutierrez in the running. But, I don’t think this is the beginning of the end for Torii at all. I think the issues this year were less age related than trying to be everything for everyone at once. Until the outfield changes he was trying to cover more ground than ever before to make up for weaknesses in the corners and expending more energy than any other player on the team to try and prop up morale and light up a spark in the clubhouse. Torii’s move to right field was as generous and team spirited as anyone could ask for, but it was not without its challenges, namely a shorter distance to the warning track and that tricky corner between the right field pavilion and the beginning of the visitor’s side field seats to learn.

Fortunately these are all issues that can be remedied in the 2011 season by starting with the new outfield structure and with practice, practice, practice…and if Carl Crawford just happens to show up in the Angels Christmas stocking, so much the better ;). I think Torii still has that 10th Golden Glove season in him, and maybe more. Who knows, maybe next year there will be two AL right fielders winning Golden Glove honors (because I don’t think for a second that Ichiro is going to deliver anything less than a Golden Glove winning performance next year)? And we have our up and comer Peter Bourjos as well. With the 2nd most assists (10) and the highest Total Zone Runs (17) in center field this year…as a rookie…playing only 51 games…I am certain there is gold somewhere in his future, if not in 2011, then soon. So, one way or the other, I have reason to hope there will be an Angel worthy of this list next year.

In the mean time, damn, that is one impressive list!

Trivial Memories of My First Baseball Book

I’m relatively new to MLBlogs so I’m still discovering new shiny things every time I visit. This weekend it was the Baseball Books blog. A little infrequently updated – which I understand – but a great concept. I really liked the what is your most precious baseball book post from April, but it was so old I hesitated to comment. Still, that post got the question spinning around in my brain and I figured I would answer it here. My most precious baseball book is kind of an odd choice. It isn’t valuable. It isn’t even necessarily good, but it was my first: Remembrance of Swings Past by Ron Luciano. It’s a part memoir, part historical baseball trivia book written by a former major league umpire.

Allow me to explain, my father has a head for trivia, one that I’ve inherited. We like to joke that no factoid is too trivial, no random piece of data so inconsequential that our brains will not latch onto it forever at the expense of a lot of, quite frankly, much more important information. We come by it honestly. My grandfather was a similar repository of useless but intriguing information and I can only assume that in each generation going all the way back to Ireland there was at least one gleeful collector of random facts. Hey, as family heritages go, it’s less painful than low arches and a lot less responsibility than a decaying manor house in a far away land – I’ll take it.

For this reason my sister and I gave our sports loving dad this book, a Joe Madden football trivia book and, if memory serves, one of the Far Side Gallery collections (How’s that for a trip in the way back machine boys and girls?) for Father’s Day one year. I was a kid who always had to have something to read to the point where, when new books were lacking, I would start rereading old books, peruse the encyclopedias (no joke!), or pick up pretty much anything my parents left lying around the house (Side Note: Parents, don’t worry if your kids do this. Your 10 year old isn’t going to learn anything from Danielle Steele, etc. other than that “adult situations” are really kind of boring until you’re old enough to figure out that boys don’t actually have cooties.).

A lot of the stuff my parents left lying around the house was boring – see side note – but Remembrance of Swings Past was not. It played to my love of baseball and growing interests in history and trivia. Besides, it gave me all kinds of questions for my father and grandfather (the original Angels fan in the family) and I will treasure those conversations forever. I will also always remember the books often hilarious stories about the Mad Hungarian, The Bird, the “auspicious” debut of the Kansas City Athletics green and gold uniforms and much more. Remembrance of Swings Past is neither the best baseball nor the best trivia book I have read, but it gave me a lifelong love of both.

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