Results tagged ‘ Family ’
My father-in-law discovered Michael Lewis this Christmas. One relative gave him The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Lewis’ new book on the mortgage meltdown and my husband and I loaned him Liar’s Poker, Lewis’ first book about his early career as a Wall Street bond trader in the 1980′s. He’s really enjoying The Big Short and we got into a huge discussion about both books and all things Michael Lewis over the weekend. And, of course, you can’t talk about Michael Lewis without talking about Moneyball, or at least I can’t.
My father-in-law is as much of a numbers geek as I am. I hooked him on the idea of reading Moneyball with my descriptions of the newer sabermetric stats and Lewis’ comparison of the analysis of certain key pieces of a baseball player’s skill set to the derivatives trade market. However, while I also appreciated these aspects of Moneyball when I read the book, they are not the reason it is one of my favorite baseball books. No, what grabbed my attention were the strong but unintentional arguments Michael Lewis made on the way to arguing his main points: namely that personalities, clubhouse/teammate chemistry and other intangibles that stats cannot measure are every bit as important as those skills the stats can measure and that being a passionate baseball fan sometimes causes you to defy logic and reason. If this doesn’t sound like the Moneyball you read or have heard about, check my logic here:
In talking about on base percentage, slugging percentage and other at the time undervalued stats Lewis dedicates a entire chapter each to A’s acquisitions Jeremy Brown, Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. Each player exhibited one or more sabermetrically valuable skills while lacking many of the qualities that Major League Baseball placed a high value on. In the course of outlining the different ways this situation made each player a brilliant bargain for Billy Beane’s larger vision for the A’s an entirely different argument emerges. In telling their stories, Lewis’ also describes a crucial unexpected personal element that helps each player achieve success. Brown, for example, is a talented hitter who suffers from the fragile psychology of the chronically picked on kid. In Lewis’ telling, once Brown makes the first jump away from the A’s rookie team, he is on the verge of crumpling from a lack of confidence when his friend, the much more socially adept Nick Swisher, gives him the encouragement he needs, a sympathetic ear and a one-man cheerleading squad in the dugout.
Scott Hatteberg’s story is my favorite. A former catcher with a damaged elbow that destroyed his throwing arm, Hatteberg’s high on base percentage brings him to the attention of the A’s who want to retrain him as a first baseman. What the A’s have no way of knowing is how much Hatteberg’s love for baseball is built around the chats and personal interactions he had with the opposing teams’ batters when he used to catch. What I took from Lewis’s argument is that, more than the desire to excel at baseball again, it was the realization that he could have that same level of personal interaction and possibly even longer conversations with opposing players as a first baseman that gave Hatteberg the drive he needed to learn the challenging new position.
Hatteberg’s personality becomes a real asset when Chad Bradford begins pitching for the A’s. Lewis describes Bradford almost crumpling under the pressure of past manager’s reactions to his quirky submarine pitching style until Hatteberg gives him a timely confidence boost by sharing the hitters shocked and impressed reactions to the pitches when they reach first base. I assume that Lewis’ point in sharing these stories is that they are great stories which bring a compelling personal element to the book. But after reading them, I for one can’t imagine any of the players functioning in the way Beane felt their stats indicated they would perform if the intangible qualities in the player and/or their teammates weren’t there right along with the tangible ones. I know this is not what Lewis intended to argue at all, but the argument is there nevertheless and largely, I think, becuase you can’t escape the importance the human element plays in baseball no matter how you crunch the numbers.
As to the unintentional argument about the passion of baseball fans, one of Moneyball‘s biggest controversies is the perception that Lewis argues in favor of new sabermetric stats hands down over traditional stats. This isn’t Lewis’ original argument at all. He starts out by saying that sabermetrics allows managers to pick and choose undervalued skills, the skills that can give a less wealthy team the most talent for their limited dollars. His central premise is not that a team with relatively unlimited resources should prize these undervalued skills over traditionally valued skills…but it sure doesn’t sound that way by the time you get to the draft scenes in the middle of the book. Lewis begins to praise the skill sets the A’s have chosen to focus on to a greater and greater degree as the book progresses. He brings things back around to his central point by the end but seems unaware of the degree to which he strayed from it in the middle…and, understandably, it is the points where Lewis strays that the book’s detractors fixate on. Why the discrepancy? I think Lewis’ own obviously growing enthusiasm and occasional downright giddiness in describing his subject tells the whole story. By the end of his research, Michael Lewis has evolved from an interested but unbiased researcher into passionate baseball fan. And who among us really sounds logical and reasonable once we start talking about our team and their chances in any given season?
As much I appreciated Lewis’ sabermetrics history and analysis of the new stats, to me the combination of his intentional and unintentional arguments cuts right to the heart of baseball. The stats are important. The stats give you an amazing amount of crucial information. The newer stats give you even more. But the stats can never and will never tell you the whole story. I hope my father-in-law asks to borrow Moneyball soon. I want to discuss this with him and see if he thinks it compares to gut instinct vs. in depth market analysis on the stock market.
Christmas is but two days away. My sister and her fiancé will start their drive in from Las Vegas this evening and my husband and I will be celebrating with my side of the family tomorrow night. This time of year always beings so many great memories bubbling to the surface – holidays past, time spent with family, childhood fun. Between starting this blog, enjoying all of your blogs and pumping or shaking my fist over the various offseason rumors, baseball is very much on my brain right now and playing an even larger role in those memories than usual. And for me childhood baseball memories mean memories of the Dodgers…
In 1988 my sister got to be the Dodger’s honorary bat girl for a day. To be honest, I actually liked this a lot better than if I was the bat girl myself – I got to tag along and meet everyone with her, but I didn’t have to stand near the plate on the field in front of everyone and have my face on the Jumbotron. I would be okay with it now, but at that age I was painfully shy. This was a very special day and the Dodgers organization were wonderful hosts. In those days, they picked a bat boy and bat girl for every game but you wouldn’t have known it from the amount of individual attention they lavished on my sister, of course, but also on the whole family.
Our guide took us to meet then manager Tommy Lasorda who was warm and friendly and cracked jokes about the players. He asked if there was any player we would specifically like to meet and we both really wanted to meet Orel Hershiser. But that was not to be. Lasorda explained that Hershiser was pitching that game and he really didn’t like to be bothered with anything outside of the game once he got to the field. I remember we were disappointed but also understood. Who wants to bother their favorite pitcher if it might keep him from pitching at his best? Our second choice was Mike Scioscia, another family favorite. My sister and I both have a huge soft spot for catchers. She was a softball catcher. For me it’s more of an admiration for players who both play and manage on the field, combining athletic skills with the strategy side of baseball. Scioscia was an absolute sweetheart. He signed baseballs for both of us, chatted with everyone and even had my sister show him her eight year old’s catcher’s crouch when he found out what position she played. He was a really great guy and I remember thinking that he must have daughters because he knew just how to talk to us not down to us.
After that a young assistant, who I think was a ball boy, who had been standing with Lasorda came back up to us and handed my sister a baseball obviously newly signed by Orel Hershiser. Wow! He had gone to the bullpen to get it for her. In my youth, I was appreciative but the enormity of this gesture didn’t occur to me – this kid, who probably wasn’t that much older than me, had to disturb the Bulldog before a game to get the autographed baseball. I truly appreciate it now. I wonder what he said to him? Did he just hand him the baseball and hope he would sign it? Did he make a joke about demanding fans? Or did he tell him there were two little girls who knew all the Dodgers by name, number and stats, who thought he was just fantastic (my sister even wore his number 55 in softball) and would treasure a signed ball? Whatever he said, it worked and meant a lot to us. Players who are inclined to do such things must do them all the time and probably don’t remember each individual good deed, but I will always remember that and think extra fondly of both Hershiser and the ball boy, wherever he is. This weekend I will have to ask my sister if she remembers this…and if she still has the ball.
Later we got to tour the press box. At the time my sister wanted to be a female Vin Scully when she grew up and I wanted to be a news reporter so it was neat to see all the audio equipment and watch some of the reporters prep for the game. Vin Scully himself was there, but he was well into his game prep and, understandably, could not be disturbed. Still he looked up from his work to smile and wave at us as we toured the booth which was awfully nice. Instead, we met another one of the Dodgers broadcasters. I looked up, and up, and up some more and there was Don Drysdale with a friendly smile, extending his huge hand to envelope first my sister’s and then mine in a welcoming handshake. He would have dwarfed me at my adult height, and I am a tall woman. As a little girl, he seemed like a friendly giant…well he was in his civilian attitude. I know from history that batters who faced him probably would not have described him as friendly on the mound. Don Drysdale would consider an intentional walk a waste of three pitches. If he wants to put you on base, he can hit you with one pitch. I adore this quote, usually attributed to Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon. It’s quintessential baseball in the great “bad” old days. Drysdale was also a lot better at answering a bunch of questions from excited little girls than his reputation might have led you to expect. I actually shed a few tears years later when he died, remembering how kind and hospitable he was.
We had excellent seats that night in the field boxes and I remember enjoying the game but cannot for the life of me recollect any additional details about it. Getting to go behind the scenes and meet some of our favorite players and the people who worked with them, however? Those details I will remember forever.
Families certainly bring about the weird and wonderful in life, especially where birthdays are concerned and especially around the holidays. This is how I found myself yesterday afternoon running to UPS to ship a very California, Angels inspired, Red Sox fan item from Los Angeles County to Boston. You can go back and read that again if you want but, trust me, you read it correctly the first time. Allow me to back up and explain.
Our nephew Henry is a very new diehard Red Sox fan. He’s only turning six this week, so the very new part can be forgiven. The Red Sox part really isn’t his fault either. There are undeniable environmental factors involved. Growing up in the Boston area, the cards really were stacked against him turning out any other way…or at least these are the jokes I tell my sister-in-law, his mother. She’s a somewhat casual Yankees fan married to a far less casual Red Sox fan and these comments made her laugh a lot. (Yes, on my side of the family we have Dodgers and Giants fans – and a few rogue Royals fans – occasionally coinciding within the same immediate family group. On my husband’s side of the family we have the same thing with the Yankees and the Red Sox. And my husband and I are the odd folks out wherever we go. When the trash talk starts it can occasionally get epic, but it doesn’t start nearly as often as you might think.).
When Henry and his family came out to California for their summer visit, he came to dinner wearing an obviously well loved Clay Buchholz shirt. My husband and I were the height of cool in his book when we told him we’d seen Buchholz pitch. The Red Sox are the best team ever, he proclaimed. So I asked him to tell me about the Red Sox and why they were his favorite team. Henry got an extremely thoughtful look on his face and seemed to consider my question very carefully. Then he broke out in a huge grin.
Because Big Papi can hit the ball so far, Aunt Kristen. I mean really, really far. And this year we killed the Angels!
At this last comment, my sister-in-law looked mortified. But between her expression and our nephew’s literally bouncing up and down enthusiasm, my husband and I could not help but laugh. Those are very good reasons, Henry, I told him in between giggles.
Hey, he’s five (just shy of six now), he’s starting to love baseball and he’s passionate about his favorite team. What could be cuter? Other than his favorite team having a halo in their logo, I mean. So for his birthday, we sent Henry this Red Sox Mickey (shown here sitting next to his, in my opinion, much better looking cousin Angels Mickey):
Buying Red Sox Mickey for our nephew was really funny. They still have the All Star Game Mickeys (36 different kinds – one painted to represent each team as well as an AL Mickey, an NL Mickey and 4 different All Star Mickeys) for sale at the Big A so we went to buy one after a game. The saleskid looked really surprised at my request after taking in our Angels gear and kind of sputtered, But, but that’s the ugliest Mickey of all of them! As he handed me the box.
I decided to have a little fun with him. Really, you think so? But the red and blue are such great colors don’t you think? And look, he’s got an adorable little Wally the Green Monster right here on his foot!
At this point, Saleskid kind of short circuited. He did that goldfish out of water thing where the mouth just opens and closes without actually making any noise as he tried to think of something nice to say about the Mickey, the customer being always right and all that. So we laughed and let him off the hook by explaining about the Red Sox fan nephew’s birthday.
Saleskid’s response? You guys are awfully accepting. Best Aunt and Uncle ever.
Hopefully Henry agrees.