Monthly Archives: February 2010

Alternate history: If Barry Bonds hadn’t used steroids

Think of all the possibilities for Barry Bonds if he had never chosen to take steroids following the 1998 season.

I assume, of course, Game of Shadows correctly reported that Bonds began juicing following Mark McGwire’s record-setting 70-home-run year.  Bonds was a lock for the Hall of Fame beforehand, his generation’s version of Willie Mays.  Clean, Bonds was perhaps among the ten best offensive players of all-time.  After Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, there aren’t too many hitters I’d take before Bonds circa 1993.

Had Bonds stayed clean, we’d be preparing for his Hall of Fame induction in a not-too-distant summer, instead of wondering if he’ll ever get enough votes from the writers.  Bonds might not have set the home run record, but he likely would have gotten 3,000 hits, instead of stalling out at 2,935 when no one would sign him after 2007 because he was a steroid-addled clubhouse cancer.  Bonds might also have finished with a dozen Gold Gloves, instead of seven, since he stopped winning defensive awards when he started juicing.  Clean, Bonds would have solidified himself as the greatest left fielder ever.  Additionally, he may have been the first player with 600 home runs and 600 stolen bases.  That might have been harder to top than 756 home runs.

In some parallel universe, I like to think Bonds stayed clean.  After all, steroids weren’t his only option for changing himself.  Perhaps the following could have happened:

October 1998: Bonds finishes with 37 home runs, 122 runs batted in and a .303 batting average. It’s one of his best years, though it goes unnoticed as McGwire surpasses Roger Maris with 70 home runs.  Shortly after the season, childhood acquaintance Greg Anderson offers to put Bonds on a steroid regimen.  He unilaterally refuses.  Instead, he tries meditation.

1999: While Bonds in our universe struggles with steroid-related injuries and plays just 102 games, clean Barry plays 157 games, wins his eighth Gold Glove and begins to mend fences with teammates, notably Jeff Kent.  “I’ve been doing some work on myself, and I’m starting to realize I’ve been a selfish asshole most of my life,” Bonds tells Kent.  “What can I do to make things right?”  Kent tells Bonds to kiss his own ass.

2000: People have begun to note the unusual changes in Bonds.  “You don’t meet many players who’ve undergone such a profound spiritual transformation late in their career as Barry Bonds, it just doesn’t happen normally,” Dusty Baker tells Sports Illustrated, after the magazine names Bonds its Sportsman of the Year. “It’s one reason I decided to name my son after him instead of Darren Lewis.  Also, I didn’t want a kid named for a .250 hitter.”

2001: All the spiritual retreats and yoga pay off as calmer, happier Barry hits .340 with 42 home runs, 138 runs batted in and 36 stolen bases, winning his fourth Most Valuable Player award and carrying the Giants to their first World Series title since 1954.  Overjoyed, he appears on Oprah and jumps on her couch, beating Tom Cruise to this by nearly four years.  Interestingly, Bonds has also begun dating Katie Holmes by this time.

2002: Bonds saves little Barry Baker from being run over at home plate during the World Series, which the Giants win again.

2003-2004: Bonds starts to decline, approaching his 40th birthday.  He accepts it as part of aging and has his final full season and All Star appearance in 2004.  He also wins the Roberto Clemente Award, though he’s initially uncertain what this is.  After learning it is for the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team,” Bonds laughs for a full three minutes before conceding that, yes, maybe that kind of accolade is realistic now.

2005-2006: Bonds assumes a bench role with the Giants, sticking around for his 3,000th hit and to serve as elder statesman.  He retires in 2006, and the Giants promptly offer him a coaching job and begin planning a statue of him outside AT&T Park, near the one of Mays.

So, let’s recap.  In my version, Bonds wins the World Series twice, has his own statue and gets to sleep with Katie Holmes.  In real life, he’s under federal indictment and alienated from the baseball world, all alone.  When I stop and think about it, I don’t know which version is crazier.

P.S. Also in my version, Bonds retires with a head of wavy hair and gets to keep the Mr. Belvedere mustache.

A new job and what that means for this site

I signed a two-month Independent Consultant Agreement this morning to work for a start-up in San Carlos, California (for the Pirates fan.)  Thus, four days a week, beginning March 8, I will be writing copy for the Web for this company and assisting in other SEO activities.  The goal is that I become a full-time, salaried employee at the end, if all goes well.  Regardless, I’m thrilled.  In a sense, it makes these last few months worth it, hard as they’ve sometimes been.

I walked away from a well-paying sales job in November because it wasn’t an ideal fit.  End of day, not everyone can cold call, especially in this economy.  I struggled consistently my last few months on the job before quitting at the suggestion of my boss.  I still think I made the right decision, but financially, it’s been tough.  I left with little savings and have been unable to receive unemployment benefits, since I quit voluntarily.  Thus, my folks have had to help me out a lot the last few months, which is humbling at 26.  I learned an important lesson: Never quit a job unless you have another one lined up.

But if it’s been the Dark Ages for my bank account these last few months, it’s been the Renaissance for this site.  After managing just a few posts a month towards the end of my sales job — shit posts at that — I suddenly found myself with time to write every day.  Thus, I went to near-daily updates, and the number of visitors to this site tripled in the process. Google Analytics says I get 945 visitors a month right now; in November, I was getting 300.  Granted, popular baseball blogs exceed in a day what I currently attract per month, but I feel I’m on my way to good things.  I haven’t just been writing more.  I also feel like I have been writing better.

The job search was definitely challenging.  I left my sales position with a stated goal of writing more, but with that said, I wasn’t sure what field I would next work in.  Thus, I considered everything from more sales work to online marketing to pouring coffee (I think I had a 24-hour stretch where I applied at three different Starbucks.)  I have to say this new job seems like a great outcome.  I like start-up culture, the company I’ll be working for seems cool and I’m excited to get to make a living writing.  Writing doesn’t really seem like work to me, and I miss it when it’s not in my life.

The looming question, of course, is what impact my new job will have on this site. When I interviewed for the job, my boss made clear that if he brought me on as a salaried employee, it would be a 50-hour a week commitment.  I figured it might effect the number of posts I write per week, as I’m currently doing about six.  If I do go full-time, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number drops to three, though I will look to maintain the same caliber of writing.  Were I to choose, I’d sooner sacrifice quantity than quality here.  My rationale might be different if I had a different kind of site.

Anyhow, I want to thank everyone who had a hand in getting me this job.  That includes the administrators who oversee me here.  Were it not for this site, I doubt I would have been hired.  I’m telling every journalism student I talk to from now on to start a blog, if they don’t have one already.

Vlad Guerrero: The second coming of Juan Gonzalez (and I mean that in a good way)

I just saw a story on ESPN about Vlad Guerrero looking good in workouts with Texas Rangers.  I remain in the camp of people who think his signing will likely be a success.  The idea of him in a Ranger lineup for an entire year intrigues me, and, in fact, I think it will be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

When I think of the Rangers, I see a free-swinging club, the American League equivalent of the Colorado Rockies.  The Rangers actually slumped in 2009 to a .260 team batting average, however, between Milton Bradley’s departure and the struggles of Josh Hamilton, who had a widely-publicized slip in sobriety prior to the season and battled injuries during it.  One year prior, with Bradley and Hamilton both thriving in the Texas lineup, the team hit .283.

Enter the second coming of Juan Gonzalez.

The thought first flashed in my mind as I glanced at the ESPN story, and I confirmed it by looking at Gonzalez’s Baseball Reference page: For overall career, Guerrero is listed as the second-most similar batter to Gonzalez, after Albert Belle.  In their primes, Guerrero and Gonzalez were each Triple Crown possibilities (as was Belle), good for upwards of 30 home runs, 120 runs batted in and a batting average in the neighborhood of .320.  They were both batters who could anchor a lineup.

If Guerrero stays healthy — and that is still an if, admittedly, after two knee surgeries prior to the 2009 season — I see him hitting somewhere near or above his career batting average of .321.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .330 with 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in. And short of heading to Colorado or Boston, I think Guerrero gets the maximum possibility for success here.  That Ranger lineup is kind of like The Horse Whisperer for troubled hitters (with the exception of Andruw Jones, who needed to be put down.)

Of course, I’ve been wrong on these things before, but I feel more confident saying this than when I predicted the 49ers would win their division in 2004.  They went 2-14 that year, I got made fun of.

By the way, I’m going to step aside from drawing any steroid parallels here.  Granted, if my Twitter friend Jose Canseco is to be believed — and at this point, all signs point to yes, he should be believed — Gonzalez may have been chemically enhanced from the waning days of Bush I (and whatever happened to Gonzalez, by the way?  Did he go in the Witness Protection program?  We never hear from that guy anymore.)  For our purposes, though, until it comes out that Guerrero flunked a test, I am strictly looking at a numerical comparison between the two players.  And for our purposes, those numbers look good.

Some coming attractions

My strategy with this site is to generally try and stay a post or two ahead.  It’s a byproduct of my days as a journalist; a competent writer is always thinking of the next story, particularly if they write freelance, and a good story will sometimes spin out two or three others.  To that end, I’ve got a few logs in the blog fire, so to speak.  Here are a few things I’m interested in writing about:

  • When I first contacted David McCarthy, the executive director of the Ted Williams Museum in Florida, we discussed the possibility of having a conversation at some point since McCarthy had known Williams for nearly 20 years.  I emailed McCarthy yesterday about having the conversation this week and think it would make a dynamite post for this site.
  • A friend of a friend is playing independent league ball in the Midwest.  He’s 26 and had been an outfielder in the A’s organization up to last year.  I’m interested in writing about how we know in life if and when it’s time to move on from something we love and what keeps us from leaving.
  • At some point, three new book reviews should be forthcoming.  I have been reading Chief Bender’s Burden, which is good but taking longer than expected to finish.  After that, I have two other books from its publisher to read: Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball and 1921: The Yankees, the Giants and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York. As I’ve mentioned before, I will review any baseball book that’s sent to me, though if it winds up sucking, I will likely make note of that here, too.

Also, there’s one other thing I can mention now.  A month or so ago, one of the administrators of this site approached me about being part of a group blog on the San Francisco Giants.  I subsequently recruited three friends to be part of the effort, and on Monday evening, I got an email from another of the administrators saying the new site had launched.  I am going to hold off on posting the URL here until we get some content live, but that will hopefully be within a week.  Stay tuned.

I plan to contribute one post a week to the new blog, give or take.  For me, it will be a side project to this site.  To fellow twenty-somethings who like alternative rock, I would say that metaphorically the site you’re on now is like Death Cab for Cutie while the new one will be my Postal Service.  To the older set: If this site is like The Beatles for me, perhaps the new one could be my own personal Wings.  Maybe I’m amazed at the chance to have two baseball blogs instead of one.

Belated post-mortem on my chance to interview Will Clark

I have been remiss in posting the outcome of my opportunity to interview Will Clark at an awards dinner in Florida a couple of weeks ago.  As some may have surmised, I did not attend the event or interview Clark, even by phone.  I have not written about this until today partly due to my disappointment with how things played out, though the experience itself bears mention.

I’ll rewind for anyone who hasn’t heard the earlier iterations of this story.  Back in November, I learned of a Hitters Hall of Fame at the Ted Williams Museum in Tampa, Florida.  I also learned that this Hall of Fame honored players like Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff, but not Honus Wagner or Jackie Robinson.  Curious, I called a listed number for the museum and reached the cell phone of the executive director, David McCarthy.  After I subsequently sent McCarthy a link to my post, he emailed feedback and invited me to the annual awards dinner for the museum, set for February 13.  At the time in November, I had just quit a sales job and had lots of free time but little income.  I told McCarthy I would have to get back to him and figured, since I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, that I wouldn’t be able to afford the trip to Tampa.

The decision to pass became tougher, though, when I learned in January that my all-time favorite baseball player Will Clark would be honored at the dinner, along with Darryl Strawberry, Bert Blyleven and Dave Dravecky.  As one of the stipulations for being honored is that a player attend the dinner, I figured I could interview all four men if I went.  I contemplated asking my parents for the money, but a man I go to for advice stressed the importance of being self-supporting, and I couldn’t argue.  I let McCarthy know in January of my financial uncertainty, and he said I could still come to the dinner, even with last-minute notice.

In the end, it wasn’t meant to be.  The $350 I needed to make the trip remained an elusive pile of money that never materialized, simple as it sometimes seemed it should be.  If I’d had a job last month or even a few weeks ago, I may have been able to justify going, but in this economy, work has been hard to come by.  Granted, I’ve had some income from freelance writing the last month, but it didn’t seem right to commit funds to a trip when I couldn’t guarantee my next rent.

In the eleventh hour, I tried some last-ditch maneuvering to interview Clark by phone but that didn’t come off either.  I spoke with the sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle two days before the event and pitched a freelance idea about it.  He passed.  The following day, I inquired with McCarthy about doing a phone interview with Clark.  McCarthy said Clark’s travel arrangements had been delayed by the bad weather in the South and that a phone interview looked uncertain but that he probably could have set something up in-person.  At that point, I gave up.

There’s been a Catch-22 in all this.  Had I not quit my job, I would have been able to afford making the trip, no question; but I probably wouldn’t have had time in the first place to interview McCarthy and build a relationship.  The silver lining in all this, I suppose, is that McCarthy has essentially given me a standing invitation to the event.  Mark McGwire may be on the bill next year.   I hope I can make it.

Baseball coma

I spent much of yesterday transcribing my interview from Saturday with the 96-year-old former big league teammate of Joe Marty, who I’m interested in writing a book on.  While transcribing yesterday, between being held in some kind of spell — a baseball coma, if you will — I got further affirmation of what had already struck me on Saturday: I got some gold.  The old ballplayer’s memory was wonderfully clear, and he was a better quote than some of the managers I talked to in my time covering baseball.  I probably transcribed for 4-5 hours yesterday and got a couple thousand words of quotes between the man and his son, lots of great anecdotes I didn’t even ask for really.  I think there’s definitely a book here.

Two days on, I’m still amazed to have talked to someone who played in the majors with Marty, who was there from 1937 to 1941.  Like I’ve said before, this man is one of three teammates still living, all in their nineties.  I definitely want to turn my attention now to getting the other two men on record, though I know not to expect anything.  The approach of calling a family member, sending a list of written questions and then waiting for a callback seemed to work well, though.  Generally, I’m not the kind of journalist to provide questions prior to an interview, but I’m happy to make an exception here.

A larger task will be tracking down the men Marty played with on the Sacramento Solons in the Pacific Coast League, between 1946 and 1952.  Some are still in the Sacramento area and meet for old-timer lunches on a monthly basis.  I’ve interviewed a few of these men in years past, for different projects, and my guess is that, all told, there could be a few dozen ex-Solons from these years still living.  It’s harder to verify than with ex-big leaguers, particularly since Sacramento was something of a way-station then; that being said, I may call on the Sacramento chapter of the Society of American Baseball Research and even contact archives associated with the PCL.

I have no idea of the road I’m embarking on, which will probably be a weekend project for the foreseeable future.  All the same, I feel a sense of purpose, that I’m getting a chance to work on something that’s bigger than me.  That feels good.

It’s like Christmas around here today

It’s been an amazing last couple of hours in my life.

I had a visitor scheduled for noon today.  At 11:57, though, I got a call from the son of the 96-year-old former baseball player I have been wanting to interview for a book on one of his teammates on the 1940 Phillies, Joe Marty.  Marty grew up in my hometown of Sacramento and was once thought to be a better prospect than another outfielder of his era, Joe DiMaggio, though that never materialized.  It seems like it would make a good book, and it would be my first book, if I do write it.

I wasn’t sure if and when my visitor would show, but I elected to do the interview anyhow.  I hung up, with my caller’s permission, so I could grab my digital recorder, put fresh batteries in it and call back to reverse the charges (one of the few benefits of having a Metro phone is that I have unlimited minutes, local and long-distance.)  I didn’t know how much time we would have, but we agreed that I could call back later if we got interrupted.  The journalist in me is always willing to drop whatever I’m doing for a good story.

As it turned out, my visitor has thus far no-showed me, and I was able to stay on the phone with the ballplayer and his son for an hour and a half, all told.  The ballplayer didn’t know Marty well, but he was able to offer some insight about him; I’m just thrilled to get to talk to any of Marty’s former teammates, as this man is one of three still living, all in their nineties.  I’m starting to have some faith that this is going to be a good book and that I’m the guy to write it.

For search engine purposes, I am declining to post the name of the player or more details of the interview right now, though I may post a full transcript of the interview here, if and when my book comes out.

That’s not all.  I called my mom just after the interview ended so I could relay the news.  While we were on the phone, I got a knock on the door.  I figured it would be my visitor.  However, it was the mailman with another book for me from University of Nebraska Press.  This time they sent me a new book by a pair of authors, Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg entitled, 1921: The Yankees, the Giants and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York. I will happily review this once I finish reading two other books I have from the publisher.

Days like this come along seldom.  I’m 26, but right now I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

Classic book review: Summer of ’49

Since reviewing The Boys of Summer here in November, I have been meaning to write about more classic baseball books that I have read.  There are a few classics.  Ball Four comes to mind, as does The Glory of Their Times, Ken Burns Baseball and a recent addition, Game of Shadows.  But if The Boys of Summer is the best baseball book ever — and it’s probably either that or The Glory of Their Times — the next runner-up might be Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam.

I read it and Ball Four around the same time during my senior year of college.  I wasn’t required to read either book, though for me, it wasn’t strictly pleasure reading; this was during a period when I figured I was going to be a sportswriter after graduating, and I wanted to read as many great pieces of sports writing as I could.  I’m glad I read both books.

I found Summer of ’49 compelling for a number of reasons.  Halberstam, a Harvard graduate who won a Pulitzer Prize reporting the Vietnam War for The New York Times, deftly recreated the 1949 pennant race between the Boston Red Sox and eventual World Series champion New York Yankees.  A skilled reporter who began writing sports books in his forties, Halberstam interviewed nearly every living member of those Red Sox and Yankee teams, with the exception of Joe DiMaggio, who resisted participating.  Halberstam more than made due with the others, though.  The book ends with a beautiful, vivid recollection from Ted Williams that I won’t spoil here.

But the book is far from just a rehash of box scores with some quotes from a few players.  I could have written that– any half-competent hack could have, really.  Halberstam made his work distinct with anecdotes at once crisply written, original and funny.  Nearly five years on from finishing the book, I didn’t have to look long to find one such example, that comes from page 143.  Halberstam wrote:

Lefty Grove, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the sport, had also come to Boston near the end of his career.  Grove kept a bottle of whiskey in his locker.  He was given to tantrums, though as Ted Williams noted, his tantrums were always beautifully controlled.  If he smashed his locker after a tough loss, he always did it with his right hand.

I remember thinking as I read the book that it didn’t seem perfect.  Structure-wise, it’s really just a chronology of the ’49 season with a lot of interviews interspersed, which is how many baseball books are written, not that there’s anything terribly wrong with that. I would just submit that the greatest art is sometimes innovative, like Citizen Kane, a film decades ahead of its time when it debuted in 1941.  But the fact Summer of ’49 even has me thinking in these terms says something.  I’ll probably read the book again at some point, even if simply in preparation to write a historical baseball book of my own and see how it’s best done.

I was disheartened when Halberstam died in a car accident in 2007 at 73, though I admire how he went: His obituary in The Times noted he was en route to interview former NFL quarterback Y.A. Tittle for a book when the car he was riding in got broadsided.  Great sportswriters always seem to be working right up until the time of their death, from Jim Murray to Shirley Povich to Red Smith.  While I hope it doesn’t sound pretentious to include myself in this equation, I hope I’m still writing decades from now.

Chicken on the Hill with Will

I had an interview on Wednesday for an Internet marketing job in San Carlos, California, which meant another chance to talk baseball.

My interviewer was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, who looked to be about 40, give or take.  He thought I might not be familiar with the teams of his era.  No bother: I named Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen and Danny Murtaugh.  I briefly described Steve Blass Disease, which I wrote about here in August, an affliction named for a Pirates starter of the early 1970s who, for no clear reason, lost his ability to pitch.  My interviewer and I of course discussed how Pittsburgh has struggled since 1992.  And I mentioned “Chicken on the Hill with Will.”

Allow me to explain that last thing.

When I was growing up, one of my friends, Alec, had family from the Pittsburgh area.  Alec’s mom told me that Pirates great and future Hall of Famer Stargell had a restaurant and whenever he would homer, everyone in the restaurant got free chicken.  I never knew for sure if this was legit, though I just did a Google search and saw a reference to it on Stargell’s Wikipedia page.  Talk about happier times in Pittsburgh– a restaurant could stockpile a warehouse with unused chicken if it tried a promotion for the current Pirates.

Anyhow, I discussed Stargell and more with my interviewer.  For all that we talked baseball, though, he seemed most impressed with the fact that I could name all four members of The Beatles.  I have a follow-up interview set for Monday afternoon.

(Postscript: He hired me)

Willy Taveras: What was that all about?

I wanted to offer more belated thoughts on a recent baseball transaction.  The following took place over the last three months:

December 3: The A’s acquire Aaron Miles in a trade with the Colorado Rockies for Jeff Gray and two other players.  Seems alright at the time– Miles only hit .185 in limited action last year, but carries a .282 lifetime average and can play three different infield positions.  And he’s a local guy, who grew up in nearby Antioch, offering nice stories for the A’s.

February 1: Miles is traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Willy Taveras and some guy named Adam Rosales.  Makes less sense than the first trade– Taveras is an outfielder and offers little besides speed on the bases, something the A’s have never placed much emphasis on.  And they already have Rajai Davis, who hit .305 with 41 stolen bases in 2009, while Taveras managed .240 and 25 steals  Still, A’s general manager Billy Beane’s track record is good enough for one to suspend disbelief.

February 1, one hour later: Suspension lifted, so to speak; the A’s designate Taveras for assignment.

February 9: The A’s release Taveras, after he declines a Triple-A assignment.  I guess he didn’t want to see Sacramento, my hometown.

February 15: Taveras signs with the Washington Nationals.  The A’s agree to pay all but $400,000 of his $4 million salary.

Huh?

I have long championed Beane and the A’s in general, down to their marketing department, which I always thought was genius.  Still, it doesn’t sound like there’s any positive way to spin this story.  Let’s look at some possible reasons Taveras was traded for/released:

  • Result of a drinking game by A’s management
  • Taveras’s player bio was faxed over just after the trade, whereupon Beane recognized him from a recent episode of America’s Most Wanted
  • Reds GM Walt Jocketty continued his Svengali-like spell over the A’s in unloading Taveras for Miles. Jocketty is the same man who, as GM of the Cardinals stole Mark McGwire from Oakland and signed Jason Isringhausen, back when that meant something.  The A’s should have Jocketty’s picture up next to the cash register, whatever it takes for them not to do anymore business with him.
  • Miles made some threatening remarks about Beane’s family and had to go.
  • This was really a complicated, brilliant set of maneuvers by Beane to obtain Adam Rosales, in which case, well played sir.

Belated thoughts on the Tim Lincecum signing

I was just reading Only Baseball Matters, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite baseball blogs, when I came across a February 12 post about Tim Lincecum.  I have been meaning to write something here since the San Francisco Giants resigned their two-time Cy Young award-winning pitcher to a two-year, $23 million contract last week.  Something has not sat right with me about that deal since it was announced.  What I read on OBM resonated:

First, this deal is a bargain, easily the best contract on the team. Second, it makes me wonder why the team didn’t pursue a four or five year deal in an effort to lock him up through his prime. At the end of this contract, he’ll be 28 years old, and if he performs anywhere as well as he has to this point, the Giants almost certainly won’t be able to afford him.

I have a hard time seeing how anyone benefits here.  The Giants have basically put off the debate about whether they can afford to sign Lincecum to a long-term deal for exactly one year, maybe less; expect said debate to be incessant for all of the 2011 season as Lincecum approaches free agency, assuming he plays out this new contract.  It seems it definitely would have been to San Francisco’s advantage to negotiate more years, even if it was just three instead of two.  Lincecum’s price even a year from now could jump to $20 million per season, as opposed to less than $12 million now.

While I doubt the Giants won’t be able to afford Lincecum ultimately — whatever the cost — it definitely seems like going the Costco approach and buying in bulk would have saved them money.  Then again, if said money would simply have been used on aging, crappy free agents, then maybe it’s good the Giants are taking this approach.  Perhaps they can do the same with Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey and that Ishikawa guy, if that’s what it takes to prevent the second coming of Dave Roberts.

All this being said, I think Lincecum could also have benefited by opting for a longer deal.   I think he took a smaller, shorter contract than he deserved, a paltry deal that does little to insure him if he gets injured in the next two years.  Given his unconventional, hard-throwing delivery, I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if that were to happen– particularly if San Francisco finds itself in a pennant race and relying on its ace more than ever.

People may act like Lincecum is infallible, but really, much as I admire the guy and look forward to his starts, I just see another young flamethrower when all is said and done.  Baseball’s got a track record for this kind of thing, and it’s not great.  Pitching coaches can put their kids to bed at night with cautionary tales about guys like Gary Nolan, Mark Prior and even Sandy Koufax.

From my vantage point, it seems like both the Giants and Lincecum have a lot riding on this deal.  It will be interesting to see who comes out better.

Why Tiger shouldn’t worry

I just read that a porn star told Inside Edition that Tiger Woods impregnated her twice, both times while his wife was pregnant.  These past few months have been rough for the embattled golf great, as one alleged mistress after another has come forward while he, in turn, has issued a public mea culpa, taken an indefinite leave from the game and entered sex rehab.  At this point, things can’t get much worse for Woods, unless some bodies surface in New Jersey tied to him or it comes out that he ran a dog-fighting operation.

Some may be wondering if Woods will ever regain his mantle, since many of his advertising sponsors have dumped him.  I’ll say the same thing that I’ve been saying since this scandal first broke in late November: Long term, I don’t think Tiger has anything to worry about.

We live in a society that’s astonishingly forgiving to people with supreme levels of talent.  Mike Tyson was allowed to box again after serving a rape sentence, Kobe Bryant reached the pinnacle of his career after beating sex assault charges of his own and two separate accusations of child molestation, plus a drug-related death and some genuinely freaky plastic surgery couldn’t keep Michael Jackson from having a number-one movie this past fall.  If a lost album of Jackson singles is ever found, it’ll go platinum.

If Tiger Woods wasn’t Tiger Woods, I think he’d have more to worry about.  But crazy as it may sound, I think all Woods needs to do, when he inevitably plays again, is smile, nod and win another major.  Since he’s won each of the top four tournaments at least three times and just turned 34 in December, this shouldn’t be impossible.  And when Woods wins big again, Sports Illustrated will do a cover story on him with a somber shot, proclaiming his long journey back to the top.  It’s cliche but mark my words.  It may take time, but Woods will wind up better professionally than he was before.  If anything, this whole experience will make him more focused.

That says nothing of what will happen with Tiger’s marriage.  As opposed to my certainty about his career, it seems like his marriage could go either way, and that’s unfortunate.  I feel for his wife and children.

This sort of thing happens occasionally in baseball, and in the long run, it never seems to be that big of a deal.  Wade Boggs and Steve Garvey weathered mistress-related scandals of their own in the 1980s that have all but been forgotten and have not affected their Hall of Fame bids.  Boggs was inducted into Cooperstown in 2005 and while Garvey exhausted his eligibility with the writers in 2007, following his 15th appearance on the ballot, I suspect the Veterans Committee will eventually honor him.  Garvey seems like he was a good enough first baseman, and unless the player in question is Pete Rose or one of the Black Sox, talent is the greatest determining factor for whether a player gets into Cooperstown.

Granted, Alex Rodriguez looked like a heel a couple years ago when it came out he’d been cheating on his wife, but then, he never really looked like a saint.  Come to think of it, why didn’t he have to go to sex rehab?

Yes, send me all of the baseball books

Had something cool happen yesterday afternoon.

I got a knock on the door from the postman, who had a package for me.  I don’t often get much beyond bills in the mail, so I was intrigued.  It turns out a publisher had sent me a copy of a new baseball book.

I’ll rewind by saying that a few months ago, I requested a copy of a baseball book, Chief Bender’s Burden, so I could review it for this site.  The publisher, University of Nebraska Press, graciously sent me a copy, and yesterday, I received another book from them, Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball. I hadn’t requested this, though the correlation, I think, is that both texts are about deceased Hall of Famers, written by members of the Society of American Baseball Research (Side note: One of my goals for 2010 is to join this society; I think I more than qualify for membership.)

Anyhow, I am still reading Chief Bender’s Burden but have happily added this new book to the mix.  I’ll say this too: Anyone who wants to send me a baseball book, have at it; I will review anything that’s sent to me, though with that said, if it turns out to be not-so-good, I will most likely make note of that here.

Babes Love Juan Pierre?

I recently discovered a blog, via Twitter, Babes Love Baseball. Based out of Minnesota, the blog is similar to this site were it written by a female triumvirate; essentially, it is a paean to all things baseball.  Most of what’s up there these days seems to be re-posted from other sites, but in looking through their older, original content, a lot of it is sharp and funny (i.e. one of the ladies shows a picture of Madonna and asks why Alex Rodriguez would be attracted to women who look like Tom Petty.)  Hence, I’m following them on Twitter and have made a few trips to their site.

I was just re-reading the Comment section on their post that asked people what their walk-up music would be for at-bats.  I left a comment there recently, putting in a plug for the post I wrote on this topic last month, and I wanted to see if anyone had responded to it.  Lamentably, no– it’s not my best post, really.  But I did find something that spurred a thought.

Apparently, one of The Babes (their capitalization, not mine) used a Beastie Boys track in years past because it contained the phrase, And I’ve got mad hits like I was Rod Carew.  Hearing of this made me wonder other times ballplayers have been mentioned in songs, and — don’t ask me why — I thought of that Beyonce-Jay-Z single, “Deja Vu,” where Jay-Z raps, Used to run base like Juan Pierre.

When I first heard this in 2006, it sounded complimentary to Pierre, who had averaged 45 stolen bases a season up to that point, with 1,244 hits and a .303 batting average.  Were I a general manager, I’d have no problem making Pierre the first, second or eighth hitter in my lineup, or my ninth guy for an American League team.  In the three years since being rapped about, though, Pierre has struggled to maintain consistent playing time, even if his numbers haven’t changed all that much, and I find myself wondering if the following lyrics would be more apt:

Used to sit the Dodger bench after signing a $44 million contract like Juan Pierre

Used to get traded to the Chicago White Sox for spare parts in December 2009 like Juan Pierre

Used to have one home run in three years like Juan Pierre

In any event, I don’t think I could use any of this as walk-up music, even if Pierre may be amassing the quietest case ever for Cooperstown.  Crazy as that may sound, Pierre is 32 and somewhere between six and eight full seasons from 3,000 hits, if Chicago lets him start.  He also could finish with something over 750 steals and a .300 lifetime batting average.  And he’s probably one of about seven active players from the Steroid Era who I would bet didn’t do steroids, since he hit a total of seven homers during those years.  All this for a guy who I once read lived on hot dog packages and jugs of fruit punch while in the minor leagues.

That’s pretty solid.  Even Babes ought make note of that.

Questions for the 96-year-old ballplayer

I got some questions mailed off to the daughter of the 96-year-old former baseball player I want to interview.  I’m interested in writing a book on one of his former teammates on the 1940 Philadelphia Phillies, Joe Marty, and this man is one of three people still living, all over 90, who played in the majors with him.  The daughter said she will review my questions with her dad and then call when he’s near the phone.  He sounded lucid when the daughter and I spoke last week and he was in the background.

The questions I wrote primarily centered around what life was like on the last-place Phillies that year, his sole season in the majors and if he had any interactions with Marty.  When his daughter and I spoke, I could hear him in the background, correctly remembering that Marty was an outfielder, and I wonder, in general, how vivid his memories are.  A part of my mind keeps circling back to this thought that he will be like the elderly Rose in Titanic, white hair and wide-eyed, self righteously telling Bill Paxton she can remember what the fresh paint smelled like on the doomed, maiden ship.  I like to think we remember the things that matter to us for a lifetime.

But I also know the realities of Alzheimer’s Disease– something like half of all people over 85 suffer from it.  I recognize there’s a 50-50 chance this man has the disease, though with that said, I’ve heard that people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s actually have more intense long-term memories.  They may not remember what they had for lunch yesterday but they can strongly recall details of life from 1924.  The daughter told me her dad had some kind of issue back in August; I suppose I’ll learn more when we talk.

Regardless, I know that old ballplayers love to talk about the past.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from a retired MLB scout from Sacramento who I’ve quoted here before, Ronnie King.  He told me in essence, when I was doing researching for my high school senior project on the Sacramento Solons, that I needn’t worry about getting the old-timers I would be interviewing to talk.  All they needed was the opportunity.  It’s a lesson that’s stayed with me, even if I sometimes have forgotten it.

Anyhow, I mailed the questions Monday evening and am awaiting a call.  The hope is that I’ll enter some sublime time warp with this old man, getting a broad window into his brief life as a ballplayer.  At this point, though, I’m grateful for any insight whatsoever that he can offer.

It seems I have angered Jose Canseco

I posted an update to my Twitter page last night about my thoughts here on Jose Canseco wanting to fight Herschel Walker in a Mixed Martial Arts bout (pray for Jose.)  I had written my entry here after reading Canseco Tweet yesterday, “I will crush him,” like Drago in Rocky IV with a Twitter account.  My entry poked fun at Canseco’s desire to fight Walker and made note of his frequent other updates to his page, which I actually think is, to a certain extent, commendable (granted, another part of it seems egocentric.)  I personally don’t have the willingness to leave myself that open and mostly just use Twitter to promote this site.

For my Twitter update about Canseco, I wrote:

My latest on this very site: http://baseballpastandpresent.com/2010/02/08/canseco-at-least-winning-the-twitter-battle-with-herschel-walker/

Well, immediately following my Tweet, Canseco posted on his page:

Wow, I can’t even be candid and honest on my twitter page without some genius writer blogging about it. The life I lead I tell ya……

Granted, I’m not completely sure if Canseco was referring to me, as many sources around the Internet, from ESPN to fellow bloggers have been unloading on him since February 1, when he first expressed desires to fight Walker.  I posted a reply an hour ago to Canseco, asking if he was referring to me and have not heard back.  For now, the close relation in time between our Tweets is what I’m mostly going off of.  I will of course update this if Canseco replies.

All this being said, this has been a pretty awesome week for this site.  Last Friday, I covered an estate sale in Sacramento for a former Pacific Coast League baseball team owner, where a warehouse with old memorabilia was liquidated.  I might have the opportunity to interview Will Clark on Saturday.  And now this.

I must find other retired baseball players who make active use of Twitter.

Canseco at least winning the Twitter battle with Herschel Walker

Like 325,288 other people, as of this writing, I follow Jose Canseco on Twitter.  I signed up for the social media service a few weeks ago, partly as a way to promote this site and also to have another skill to market to prospective employers.  Without a doubt, Canseco has provided me with the most Twitter-related entertainment, short perhaps of the angry atheist I follow who shares the same name as a devout Christian friend of mine and makes posts like, “I am getting tired of sitting on the can!”

Canseco posts frequently, apparently grasping the Twitter axiom that in order to have a large following, one must spew viral diarrhea (viarrhea ?) 6-10 times a day, minimum (I don’t do that, which is one reason I have over 325,000 fewer followers.)  Thus, my feed for people I’m following is filled with Canseco’s reports on his much younger girlfriend, meeting her mom and taking his daughter to Disneyland, among other things.  As many sports fans probably know, lately Canseco has also been Tweeting a lot about Herschel Walker.

Former NFL running back Walker won his MMA debut recently and Canseco, a martial arts enthusiast who got pummeled in a fight of his own not too long ago, has been calling, via Twitter, for a match-up.  It sounds ill-advised, since the 47-year-old Walker looked ripped in a recent Sports Illustrated photo of his victory, though Canseco has made several Tweets since February 1 about a possible fight with Walker, including this latest one just three hours ago:

The bottom line is, I will crush him. And he knows it.

This will all be funny until they’re calling for a second ambulance for Canseco the night of the fight.

The question of alcoholism and the ex-player

There is another story from Friday afternoon I have been meaning to tell here.

After covering the Fred David estate sale in downtown Sacramento, I interviewed another old Sacramento Solons player, Sam Kanelos, at his bar across the street from the sale, Old Ironsides.  Kanelos played more than 50 years ago with a Sacramento native I’m interested in writing a book on, Joe Marty.  As I’ve recounted here before, Marty came up on the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s with Joe DiMaggio and was once thought to be a better prospect.  He played with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies from 1937 to 1941, though injuries and World War II shortened his career.  There are rumors he was alcoholic as well.  He ran a couple of bars during his life, and one old-timer told me, when I did my high school senior project on the Solons, that Marty became his own best customer.

I asked Kanelos, while sitting at his bar, if he thought Marty was an alcoholic.  The longtime bartender bristled at this and repeatedly said no.  Kanelos stressed that while Marty liked to go out after games and also would generously sometimes buy $200-300 worth of drinks for friends at social events in later life, he never drank before games during his career.  He said there was a lot of misinformation about Marty floating around.  I tried rephrasing my question, asking Kanelos if he thought Marty was a hard-drinker, and this rankled him too.  He said he couldn’t label another man an alcoholic.

That’s certainly fair.  I knew as much, already, but this question of how to address Marty’s drinking has perturbed me since I first settled on doing research for a book on him a couple months ago.  The journalism school graduate in me wants to tell Marty’s story in all its gritty glory, whatever that may be.  I want to know if his drinking was, indeed, problematic, if he was ashamed of it, if he ever tried to get help. I want to know who he was as a man, for better and for worse.  A mythical, saintly story doesn’t seem like it would do anyone much good.

But — assuming Marty did have a problem — I also know every recovering addict or alcoholic deserves some measure of anonymity, unless they choose to breach it.  Granted, we live in an age where more Americans can probably name what Tiger Woods went to rehab for than the current Secretary of State.  It has been widely reported that Don Newcombe got sober.  Maury Wills and Dennis Eckersley reportedly did too.  And many baseball fans know the story of Paul Waner, an oft-hungover .300 hitter who was escorted back to the bar, after he quit drinking in 1938 and his batting average dropped to .241.  Their stories would seem incomplete without these components.

All this being said, 12-step groups still ask that the full names of their members not be printed in the news.  In addition, a part of me thinks it wouldn’t be fair to level accusations about Marty without him able to defend them, as he died in 1984.  Then again, writing this sort of story now, following someone’s death at least wouldn’t undermine their recovery.

What I’ll probably wind up doing is asking every question I can during the research stage of this process.  Only then can I sort through all the information and determine truth.

One final Fred David post: My interview with him in 2001

I just got an email from a fellow named Matt, regarding my stories on former Sacramento Solons owner Fred David, who died in October at 100 and whose estate was just liquidated.  Matt wanted to know if he could see the interview I did with David in 2001 for my high school senior project.

David gave me a tour of his warehouse, where he stored memorabilia he recovered after the Solons’ ballpark, Edmonds Field, was torn down in 1964.  Prior to the tour, I provided David a list of written questions, which I still have (Editor’s note: It’s not for sale, though I will happily provide photocopies to anyone who sends me a stamped, addressed envelope.)

Thus, here is the interview:

1. For approximately how long were you an owner of the Sacramento Solons?

1944 Stockholder- 1954- President of Sacramento Baseball assn.  1964 Sold Edmonds Field

2. How much did it cost to buy the team?

Started with $1,000.00 to keep baseball in Sacramento.

3. Why did you buy the Solons?

To keep baseball in Sacramento, of course with the help of the directors, associates and fans.

4. You obviously had to sell a lot of players to the major leagues to stay afloat financially.  At the same time, the amount of fans you drew depended on how good your players were (David wrote “Right. Right,” next to both of these lines.)  How did you deal with your financial dilemnas?

Borrow and Sell.  We had good players, good baseball, too much Major League.

5. I understand the Solons have been affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.  Did you maintain any formal “parental” agreement with any team during your tenure?

No.  We had to sell many good players to the Major Leagues to stay afloat.

6. Describe the working relationship you had with your general manager Dave Kelley.

Very good.

7. How well did you pay your players in comparison to other Coast League owners?

Fairly well, considering the attendance.

8. What was your total payroll for 1954?

N/A

9. How did you get along with other Coast League owners?

Very good.

10. Was there any kind of stigma attached to Sacramento as a baseball town, since it was so small?

Oakland and San Francisco was new Major League out west.  Sacto was too small.

11. Were you apart of any effort to help get the PCL recognized as part of the Major League?

Yes, we were Open Classification shooting for the Majors.  When the Majors came west, we dropped to AAA

12. What were the fans like?  Were attendance figures consistently good, consistently bad or sporadic?

Bad.  We let another group call Solons Inc to operate the team for two years, we rented them the stadium for $15,000.00 per year.  They went bankrupt.

13. How big was the level of public interest in the Solons?

At first fair, then, they wanted Major League.

14. What kind of perks did you enjoy as an owner?

A lot of work– no pay.  But, we kept baseball going & some fun, with good times.

15. Were you friends with any players during your tenure?

Yes managers and players.  Some came to work for me.  Besides other athletes.

16. Was Edmonds Field a fitting place for baseball in Sacramento?

Very much so.  Lots of players were developed here.

17. Did you support or root for the Solons before the time that you owned them?

Yes, also at times I worked in the concession in the lobby when I was fifteen years old.

18. What’s your favorite memory from the time you owned the Solons?

We kept baseball going for 20 years.  1944-1964, good times and bad.

19. When you bought the Solons in 1954, did you think that Major League baseball would make it to the West Coast? (David wrote “Yes” next to this)  On the other hand, did you feel that the Pacific Coast League was a major league in its own right?

Yes, the weak ones were Sacramento & Portland.  As you can see all other 6 teams are Major L. now.

20. Did the Korean War affect the Solons at all?

Yes, it took some of our best players.

21. What drove you out of being an owner?  When did you officially sell?

Poor attendance.  The team in 1960-61.  Stadium 1964.

22. How did you feel in the spring of 1961, when the Solons finally departed for Hawaii, after two years of rumors that they’d leave?  Did you personally try to stop the move?

They sold the team to Hawaii, before we knew it.  Left us an empty stadium.

23. Why do you still have so much memorabilia from Edmonds Field?

After we sold the stadium, I salvaged what I could.  It was a great memory.

24. Why do think it took so long for baseball to return to Sacramento?

Major Leagues out west.  Then after 1965– no stadium.  It took 30 years for someone to decide it was time– including the growth of Sacto.

25. How different is the candy industry from the baseball industry?

Business is business– work.  But I loved baseball.  I guess I was a good fan.

26. Are you a Rivercats fan?

Yes.

More Fred David estate sale pictures

I wanted to post some more pictures that I took at the Fred David estate sale on Friday.  For my initial post here early Saturday morning, I only used the picture I took of Gus Stathos, because I figured it was my best shot of the day, as well as the most original content I could offer, and I didn’t want my entry to get bogged down with too many images.  Most of the other shots I took are similar to what The Sacramento Bee has posted on its Web site.  Still, I offer my selection now for anyone who doesn’t read The Bee.

Continue reading “More Fred David estate sale pictures” »