Possible spin-off?

One of the guys who oversees the network of sites my blog belongs to emailed me today, wanting to get my thoughts on creating a San Francisco Giants blog.

He wrote, in part:

I know its your favorite team and you would have no problem writing about them…  I also think you would get more traffic as well since I think its easier to get a fan of a team to come back once he has read your blog.  Since baseball past and present can be so general it can be hard getting people to come back.  Also, it is much easier to get links from sites that index team blogs as well.

I replied that I was definitely interested, but that I would want to write in tandem with other writers, to maintain my primary focus here.  Creating a good blog is actually a lot of work, I’m finding.  I generally need to write for an hour or two every day, minimum, to allow enough time to craft content that will attract and keep the niche of readers that find my site, the older, educated, affluent crowd hungry to devour baseball history.  If I could afford it, I would reserve three to four hours for writing here. In fact, if I were so situated, I would do little else but write.

I’m also starting to realize that I really should take 30 minutes or an hour a day, in addition, to comment on other blogs, syndicate my content and try to build links to my site.  I’ve taken a minimalist approach with SEO and advertising since I started writing here, with hopes of building a grassroots following simply by writing well, though I’m starting to view my promotional inertia as missed opportunity.  Baseball, past and present, can be a harsh mistress.  I’d hate to be lagging on two blogs instead of just one.  But that’s where others can help.

Thus, I told my friend here that I would contact a few fellow sports journalists I knew at Cal Poly.  I am waiting to hear back from two of them and got a polite no from my former editor Jacob Jackson, who is busy with family life.  I also sent queries to a guy I clerked with a few year ago on the sports desk of the Sacramento Bee and one of my best friends’ wives, who likes baseball, is a great writer and served as sports editor of her college paper.  My friend’s wife also has a co-worker, Brian Milne, who is one of the best writers I personally have known and someone I definitely want to talk to about this.  I would welcome any other solid writers to contact me as well.

Because of my education and writing experience, I actually know a number of good writers, people I’d look to if I ever had my own publication.  I’ve spent much of today excited about the possibilities that may exist with this new venture.

10 baseball players who didn't do steroids

1. Ken Griffey Jr: The best clean player of the Steroid Era, Griffey’s only performance enhancer was playing in the Kingdome.

2. Derek Jeter: Jose Canseco, of all people, said he was sure Jeter never used steroids.  That’s good enough in my book. In an era of gaudy numbers, Jeter was, like Griffey, a throwback.

3-4. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine: If it ever emerges these guys took steroids, I think I’m done with baseball.  That means, basically, everybody used, even groundskeepers.  Then again, that seems unlikely, especially with Maddux and Glavine, two finesse pitchers with excellent longevity.

5. Albert Belle: A Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter recently asked Belle if he’d ever used steroids, as ‘roid rage could have explained his frequent emotional outbursts during his career.  Belle replied, “I was just an angry black man.”  Milton Bradley is going to get the chance to say the same thing in about ten years.

6. Ichiro Suzuki: Suzuki seems like another guy who belongs to another era, say 1910 (imagine how many more triples Suzuki would have got in the Deadball Era, when massive ballparks were standard.)  At it stands, he’s perhaps the best hitter of this era, steroids or not.  If I could have anyone from the last twenty years in my lineup, I might take Suzuki.

7. Omar Vizquel: I did a Google search on “Omar Vizquel steroids” to see if anything would come up.  There were of course a few blogs speculating he had used, including one in Cleveland that said Vizquel “needs to go back on his 2002 steroid regimen,” a possible explanation for why he hit a career-high 14 home runs that year.  That kind of sounds like sour grapes to me regarding Vizquel, an ex-Indian.  But the top search result, a 2006 Yahoo! Sports article said Vizquel “quietly embodies everything the Steroid Era does not.”  That sounds more apt.

8. Ben Grieve: I wish there were more stories out there like what follows about Grieve.  A book I recently read, Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed, finds the former American League Rookie of the Year retired and angry at all the players who used and prospered, while he stayed clean, struggled with injuries and retired early.  “I compare it to stealing money,” Grieve said via email in the book. “You are breaking the rules of baseball (as well as the law) in order to make money for yourself… I’m happy every time a player is accused because it demeans their accomplishments.”

9. Fred McGriff: There are a lot of recent baseball players who put up artificially inflated home run totals.  McGriff is one of the few who probably did it naturally. He is tied with Lou Gehrig with 493 career home runs and never had the surreptitious spike in power numbers that typically accompanied steroid use, I.E. he didn’t bust out with 56 home runs in 1999.  McGriff was a model of consistency in his 19-year career, and I’m a little surprised he hasn’t done better in the Hall of Fame vote (consider him a Veterans Committee pick waiting to happen, if nothing else.)

10. Rico Brogna: I racked my brain trying to come up with a tenth player, and got Brogna, who once told ESPN the Magazine that he considered using steroids late in his career when he was struggling with injuries but chose not to and quit playing shortly thereafter.  In this era, that’s more believable than, “I only took it once.”

A lot of guys didn’t make the list, including Tony Gwynn.  That might sound insane, but Gwynn put up some of his best slugging numbers late in his career, including in 1997 when he hit .372 with 17 home runs and 119 RBI at age 37.  Granted, at 38, Ted Williams had the second-highest slugging percentage, of his career, .731, nearly 100 points above his lifetime rate, and I would bet he didn’t use steroids.  Still, Williams had the luxury of not accomplishing his feat of ageless wonder at the zenith of the Steroid Era.  These days, everyone’s a suspect.

Related posts:

Got $1,000? Jose Canseco will spend a day with you

Seeing McGwire through Rose-colored glasses

Alternate history: If Barry Bonds hadn’t used steroids

Let's get a credential

A couple months ago, I decided one of my goals for 2010 would be to get a press pass for a San Francisco Giants or Oakland Athletics game.  I used to get media access all the time as a journalist and have had passes to Arco Arena for a Sacramento Kings game, AT&T Park for a college football All-Star contest and Raley Field in Sacramento for maybe two dozen Triple-A baseball games.  There’s a certain feeling that having a press pass around one’s neck grants, that special knowledge of getting to hold up the plastic shield and go somewhere others aren’t allowed.  It’s been a couple years since I last had a press pass.  Call it ego, but I miss that feeling.

So I decided in December to try for a pass this year, for this Web site.  My thought was that I would get a credential for an A’s game, when they play the Yankees so that I could interview Nick Johnson, who went to my high school in Sacramento, McClatchy and is married to the sister of a woman I grew up with.  Then I got to thinking I may as well request a pass from the Giants too, as they also have a former McClatchy player in their organization, Steve Holm.  I figured I would see about a Cubs-Giants series, when a great baseball player from Sacramento, Derek Lee, would be in town.

Thing is, my search engine ranking wasn’t great at the time I had this idea.  There is a Web site, Alexa, which ranks every site on the Internet according to total number of visitors and page views.  Google is ranked #1, Facebook #2 and Yahoo #3 and so on.  I have an acquaintance that founded a popular guitar Web site that’s ranked 20,000th roughly and that’s awesome– he’s able to make a living with that sort of ranking.  Personally, I’ve been ranked as high as 1.3-millionth (which probably wasn’t accurate, since it came early in the life of this site) but in December, my ranking was maybe 3-millionth.  Now, it’s 7-millionth.

I don’t know what’s going on, because I’ve tripled my number of monthly unique visitors since I quit my job in November and am starting to approach a thousand, but my fear has been that any Giants or A’s employee looking to grant me access would see my ranking and think, “Okay, who the hell is this guy?  Next!”  And I don’t know if I have an especially compelling reason for needing a pass.

Nevertheless, I impulsively picked up the phone a couple of weeks ago and touched base with members of both teams’ credential departments.  Each representative gave me instructions on what to do next.  The Giants employee emailed me some paperwork to fax in and said he hoped to see me at the ballpark.  The A’s rep told me a specific person to contact with the Yankees and gave me his email address, saying the decision would be up to them and that it might be hard to get a pass for the first game of the series.  I haven’t taken any action since then and don’t know where this will lead, but for some reason, I’m feeling slightly hopeful at the moment.

On recent hot stove developments

I could have titled this post, A Winn win for New York or The Yankees are getting Randy!, but it struck me that nobody wants to read about an aging castoff from the San Francisco Giants who signed a bargain basement free agent deal to, essentially, sit on a bench in New York.  How Randy Winn is considered an upgrade over Johnny Damon is beyond me, though at $2 million, he couldn’t have come much cheaper if his agent had offered prospective teams coupons.  Then again, Winn isn’t overly terrible and it’s a minimal risk for the Yankees; therein lies the rub.

As I said, I can’t justify a full-length post on the Winn signing, though there have been enough interesting developments in the free agent world of late to allow me to cobble something together.  The Oakland A’s signed Ben Sheets to a one-year $10 million contract yesterday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Billy Beane lands Damon.  Both of those moves could go a long way toward propelling the Athletics back into the playoffs, or at least above .500.  Additionally, the Minnesota Twins landed 39-year-old designated hitter Jim Thome, who has 564 career home runs, for $1.5 million.

If Thome is healthy in 2010, this could wind up being the deal of the off-season– think Frank Thomas in 2006.  Even Thome’s numbers for 2009 weren’t too terrible, with 23 home runs split between the White Sox and the Dodgers, who essentially benched him for the last month of the season after acquiring him at the end of August.  I would definitely sooner sign a guy like Thome than Rick Ankiel, who got twice as much from the Kansas City Royals.  I also think Thome is a safer bet among aging sluggers than fellow 39-year-old Jason Giambi, who just resigned with the Colorado Rockies for $1.75 million.

I continue to be amazed at the number of veterans going for $2 million or less per season this winter.  There are the occasional larger deals, like the $6 million the Baltimore Orioles probably didn’t need to give Miguel Tejada to secure his services.  For the most part, though, this recession is the gift that keeps on giving for baseball front offices.

Port-mortem on McGwire: Five more questions with Dale Tafoya

Faithful readers of this site will know that in December I reviewed a book about Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed. The book’s author, Dale Tafoya subsequently contacted me, and I interviewed him.  A few weeks after that, McGwire finally admitted to using steroids during his career.  Thereafter, his former trainer, Curt Wenzlaff made his own disclosures about the slugger.

Tafoya had interviewed Wenzlaff for his book, and I was curious about his take on everything that’s happened this month.  Thus, I followed up with Tafoya.

Baseball Past and Present: In writing Bash Brothers, did you foresee these last few weeks?  Was this what you were expecting?

Dale Tafoya: I wasn’t sure if McGwire was ever going to talk about the past and admit his steroid use, so I didn’t think his confession was inevitable. But I did know he wanted to return to the game and that his younger brother, Jay, is releasing a book, Mark AND Me, next month. Like Canseco, Jay is also supposedly going to describe how he injected steroids into Mark. So McGwire had many reasons to confess when he did. Personally, I was disappointed.  He may have been sincere, but it was a watered down confession that insulted our intelligence.

Firstly, he wants us to believe he turned to steroids to be healthy enough to play and that he could’ve hit 70 bomb in 1998 without them. Secondly, he wants us to believe that when players talked about steroids around the batting cage, he innocently walked away. So even though he confessed his steroids use, he never admitted they helped him perform better on the field.  He would have come across much better if he would have just exposed himself and stated the obvious: That they not only helped him recover from injury, but also helped him hit the ball further and break records. We, as fans, would’ve had more closure. Instead, his lukewarm confession left many of us disgusted.

BP&P: Will you be writing a postscript to your book?

DT: My publisher is talking about releasing a paperback version of Bash Brothers, and that’s when I’ll write a postscript. Stay tuned.

BP&P: One of your interview sources, Mark McGwire’s former trainer Curt Wenzlaff detailed the slugger’s steroid use for Outside the Lines.  In your book, he stopped short of saying he supplied McGwire with steroids.  What were the circumstances surrounding your interview with Wenzlaff a few years ago?  Do you regret not getting full disclosure at that time?

DT: I had two or three hour-long sessions with Wenzlaff. From the start, he always made it clear he wasn’t going confirm that he provided steroids to Canseco and McGwire unless they came clean.  So when Canseco described his own steroid use in his first book, Juiced, Wenzlaff went on record to confirm it. But when I contacted him in 2007, McGwire still hadn’t admitted it, so all he could tell me was he trained with him at a Southern California gym. But I respected his stance and was grateful he agreed to participate in my book. 

Interestingly, it was Reggie Jackson, when he played for the A’s in 1987, who introduced Wenzlaff to the Bash Brothers.  So I probed him about Jackson, but Wenzlaff  insisted Jackson never knew about his connection with steroids, claiming he only trained him at a gym in Walnut Creek, Calif.

I spent a lot of time trying to locate Wenzlaff, who was no stranger to media exposure. He had already been featured on ESPN and in the New York Times about his associations with Canseco and McGwire, so I realized he wasn’t going to give me any new, earth-shattering revelations into the Bash Brothers. But he did provide some interesting stuff on McGwire.  He described how much McGwire changed and how steroids could affect someone’s behavior and personality.  Based on my time with him, Wenzlaff was by no means an attention whore seeking to capitalize on this ongoing saga. In fact, I found him very private, humble and intelligent. If he were infatuated with the limelight, he would have wrote a tell-all book about the Bash Brothers years ago. He stuck to his guns and didn’t come out until each of them admitted it.

BP&P: Do you think McGwire told the whole truth?

DT: Well, I give him credit for disclosing his use, but I also believe Canseco injected him with the stuff; a claim he denies.  If there’s one thing clear about McGwire’s confession, it’s that he still refuses to dignify Canseco’s claims or make him look credible at all. He’s definitely not going to paint Canseco as a savior in this mess. But my question for McGwire is, “If Jose didn’t inject you with steroids, how did he know you used them?”

BP&P: Does McGwire have a better or worse case for the Hall of Fame now?

DT: I don’t think his admission swayed voters one way or the other. Personally, I don’t think he’ll garner of enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame and I don’t think he cares. The Veterans Committee, however, could end up getting him in.

What to do: When your interviewer says they like the Yankees

I had a phone interview this morning for a possible position with a business consulting office in Pleasanton.  I have a link to this site on my resume, and as a result, baseball comes up fairly often in interviews, which is great.  Baseball is more fun to talk about with potential employers than, say, speed skating, and I never have to feign interest.  In fact, I think half the time, I have to force myself to stop talking.

The man I spoke with this morning, a fellow named Ed, mentioned that he was originally from northern New Jersey and grew up a Yankees fan.  Ed said he came of age at an interesting time, in that nexus after the Giants and Dodgers left for California, the dreadful Mets arrived and the Yankees still ruled.  Halfway through his childhood, though, things changed.

The Yankees are one of those sports franchises that people either love or hate, like the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Red Wings or the Los Angeles Lakers.  Traditionally, they spend the most money, have the most obnoxious fans and beat only the most sympathetic, lovable teams.  But I don’t reserve the same animosity in my heart for the Yankees that I do for the Lakers.  Partly, this could have something to do with me being from Sacramento and a longtime Kings fan (and to say that is to know heartache.)  But the Yankees also have an interesting history.

Essentially, the Yankees have traditionally been one of two teams throughout their history:

  1. Perennial World Series contenders
  2. Second division clubs with some awful luck

Granted, they’ve probably fallen into the first category a solid 85 percent of the time.  But the remaining 15 percent is heart wrenching.  It is comprised of times like the deaths of Thurman Munson and Billy Martin, and the injury-filled declines of Don Mattingly and Mickey Mantle (the retirements of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were sad too, but that didn’t stop the Yankees from the World Series in those days.)

Ed hit high school right around the time Mantle retired and, as he said, the Yankees couldn’t beat a Triple-A club.  The highlight I remember about them from the early ’70s is that two of their pitchers swapped wives.

That’s never good.

(Postscript: They had me in for a four-hour interview at their offices the following day.  I sat in on a webinar, interviewed with three separate employees and had lunch at the office.  It was the most intense interview I’ve been on in a long time, though they definitely have a cool company.)

News on the book front

I got called yesterday to do some freelance corporate writing for a business in Antioch. On my way out to the company’s headquarters to meet with their upper management and get an idea of their needs, I realized I was only about an hour outside of Sacramento, where my parents live. Thus, after I finished up with my client, I called my folks and went to have dinner and stay the night. It proved fortuitous because my mom had just received two library books I requested regarding a baseball book I’m working on.

Faithful readers of this site will know that I have been kicking around the idea of doing a book on Joe Marty, a baseball player from Sacramento. Marty came up in the same outfield with Joe DiMaggio on the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s and later played for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. Injuries and World War II shortened his career, though he was initially considered a better prospect than DiMaggio. I’m not sure if there’s enough for a book, and I’ve never written one, but it seems it has potential.

Thus, I conducted my first interview for the project a couple of weeks ago with Cuno Barragan, another Sacramento native and a former big league player himself.  Barragan caught for the Cubs in the early Sixties and grew up watching Marty play for the Sacramento Solons. Barragan said he didn’t have much interaction with Marty until years after his career, though he suggested a few people I could talk with. He also recommended two books about the Solons, Gold on the Diamond by Alan O’Connor and Sacramento Senators and Solons by John Spalding.

I once had an autographed copy of Spalding’s book that I got while working on my high school senior project on the Solons almost ten years ago, but I let the book go a few years ago when I needed money. I might have gotten a few dollars for it at the used bookstore; I kicked myself recently when I saw copies of it going for around $100 on Amazon. Seems it’s out of print and hard to find. Thankfully, it was available at the library, and I’ve got it and O’Connor’s book until February 12.

I read a little of each book last night and found plenty of good material about Marty. Barragan had told me about being on-hand at the Solons’ ballpark, Edmonds Field when fans presented Marty with a 1950 Buick; O’Connor reported that Marty drove the car for the next 34 years, even appearing with it in a local ad in 1974 attesting to the car’s longevity.

All in all, I’m excited and feel I’m on my way to good things.

On a down note, one of Marty’s four remaining teammates, Bobby Bragan, died Thursday.  I had been excited to see listed numbers for Bragan and two of the other men, though I didn’t have much luck getting through.  Both of Bragan’s numbers in Fort Worth, Texas were out of service, and I went so far as to call several of the listed Bragans in the state, though it led nowhere. It’s too late now for any further effort.

Bragan was the youngest of the four players, having turned 92 in October.  I’m nervous I won’t ultimately get to interview any of them, though I suppose if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

A priest couldn't help the A's right now

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to enjoy making movies, ones that probably wouldn’t have gotten us into any film schools if we’d applied. Our best effort was a 10-minute film with a simple premise: I cannot find a woman to save my life.  The film basically revolved around my character getting rejected and beat up a lot, and my friends, who conceived the idea all thought it was very funny and realistic, despite my objections.

Anyhow, when my character finally locates a willing woman, the house we are about to enter blows up. Just prior to the explosion, I remark on the front steps, “When all this is over, I’m gonna become a priest.”

Seems like the Oakland A’s had this happen to them in real life.

Grant Desme, a 23-year-old outfield prospect and second-round draft pick in 2007 announced he’s retiring to enter the priesthood. Rob Neyer wrote a blog for ESPN on the story, noting, “Well, this wins the prize for the odd baseball news of the week.” I couldn’t agree more, and the best part of this, at least for me, is that Desme and I went to the same college, Cal Poly.  He was a few years after me, which is why I don’t have much to offer here besides my opinion, though it’s worth noting that Desme is a past Big West Player of the Year.

This is all a bummer for the A’s, as Desme put up some decent hitting numbers in the low minors and they need bats.  Still, more power to Desme, I suppose.

A good baseball writer you've probably never heard of

I first wrote about baseball as a child, submitted a number of term papers on the sport, beginning in eighth grade, and did my high school senior project on a Pacific Coast League team from my hometown, the Sacramento Solons.  I served as sports editor of my high school newspaper and did well enough that my journalism teacher wrote in my senior yearbook that I was the most talented sportswriter she’d taught and that she expected to see my name in print.

I got to college, however and got sidetracked, as a lot of freshmen do.  At the beginning of my sophomore year, I finally contacted the sports editor of the campus newspaper, the Mustang Daily. I approached this editor, Jacob Jackson with a few clips from high school and my Solons paper.  Jacob complimented me on the Solons paper, assigned me a feature on a women’s volleyball player and my college writing career began.  I wrote something like 125 stories for the Daily all told, over the next three years.  Jacob even gave me a column in the sports section that he named Golden Graham.

Jacob was perhaps the best writer I knew at Cal Poly.  One of my professors used a feature Jacob wrote as an example for students.  The story depicted journeyman baseball player Casey Candaele, a local resident, back in the minor leagues at 37 and at-bat in a crucial game.  Jacob’s narrative weaved between the at-bat and Candaele’s life story, culminating with him helping spur his team, the New Orleans Zephyrs to the 1998 Triple-A World Series.

Jacob could have landed a job on a sports desk somewhere after completing his journalism degree.  He went a different direction, though, entering a credential program at Cal Poly and saying he wanted to become a high school teacher.  It seemed unfortunate he wouldn’t be writing regularly, but I had to concede he seemed like a great potential teacher.  He was so compassionate.

I always wondered what became of him and did a Google search on his name today and found this:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/authors/jjackson/2007/

It seems Jacob’s still writing and writing well.  I only read a few of the articles, but I liked what he had to say on Jack Cust and Paul DePodesta; his writing seems, to use a dated term, sabermetric, though I mean that in the best sense of the word.  It means he’s intelligent and willing to put in time to research a topic, not just toss up a post haphazardly like much of the blogosphere.  Jacob doesn’t have anything on that site newer than late 2007, though I saw him on some recent message boards about the A’s.

I’m glad he still writes.  I’m glad he still cares.

Great injustices: Babe Ruth was not MVP in 1927

I have been telling people that I think Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all-time.  Others may choose Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb or someone else.  For me, it’s Ruth, who hit 714 home runs, won 94 games as a pitcher, and even stole 123 bases. More than 60 years after his death, there’s a reason Ruth’s name remains hallowed, like Michael Jordan in basketball or Joe Montana in football.

Mark Shapiro, a producer on the ESPN Sports Century project a decade ago that measured the top athletes of the 20th Century told Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke he considered Ruth the best of the century.

“Had he not moved to the outfield, he would have been the best pitcher ever,” Shapiro told Plaschke, for a December 31, 1999 column.  “If he had played football, he would have been one of the best football players ever.”

“Everything he did, he did bigger and better than anyone else.”

Imagine Ruth’s numbers if he had been a hitter his entire career– at least 800 home runs, no tainted record for Barry Bonds.  Imagine if Ruth had maintained solid conditioning throughout.  Imagine Babe Ruth on steroids.

Anyhow, I was on Baseball Reference a little while ago, as I am most days and noted with surprise that Ruth did not win Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1927, when he hit 60 home runs.  That award went to his teammate, Lou Gehrig.  It can be argued that Gehrig had a better all-around season, just as it could be said Sammy Sosa did better than Mark McGwire in 1998. But let’s look further at that.

Gehrig hit .373 in 1927, with 47 home runs and 175 runs batted in, along with 218 hits, 52 doubles and 18 triples.  Meanwhile, Ruth coupled his 60 long bombs with a .356 batting average, 192 hits, 158 runs and 164 runs batted in.  Both had on-base percentages approaching .500 and were the two best members of a Yankee team that won 109 games and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. (Those Yankees may be the best team ever, but that’s cause for another debate)

What it comes down to for me is that if I had to choose between Ruth or Gehrig that year for my team, I’d take Ruth.  No question.  I could sleep knowing I’d passed on Gehrig, as there are a select number of players in baseball history on par with him.  I think a number of players could have put up gargantuan numbers hitting next to the Sultan of Swat (Mel Ott, Bill Terry and Al Simmons come to mind.) But there was only one Babe Ruth.

Surprisingly, Ruth won a single MVP award during his career, in 1923 when he led the league in home runs and runs batted in but missed out on the Triple Crown, despite hitting .393.  The MVP award debuted in 1922, a year after the best season that Ruth– or any player– ever had, his 1921 campaign where he hit .378 with 59 home runs and 171 runs batted in.  Ruth had more home runs that year than eight entire teams, half the clubs in the majors that year.

They just don’t make them like Ruth anymore.