Sunday, December 26, 2010

Playoffs, baby!

I have been a lifelong fan of two sports teams: the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs. As a very very young child, the Royals were great, good enough to win the World Series in 1985. After that, they fell into an oblivion from which they have not yet recovered.

As a slightly older child, the Chiefs were great. I grew up with the likes of Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith and Nick Lowery and Deron Cherry and Tony Richardson and Tony Gonzalez and Christian Okoye and imports like Joe Montana and Marcus Allen. They never made it to the Super Bowl during my lifetime (in fact, never even won a playoff game), but they were a fun team to watch.

For the past several years, the Chiefs have fallen into the same oblivion that swallowed my beloved Royals.

But guess what? The 2011 Kansas City Chiefs are heading to the playoffs!

I couldn't be more thrilled. This is a gutsy, exciting team, and they've fought hard and played good, fundamental football to get there.

As much as I hate to say it, a lot of the credit should go to Todd Haley and Scott Pioli, a pair of gentlemen I was not too happy with last season. They arrogantly shoved their way into Kansas City, burned a lot of bridges and made a lot of enemies, fast.

But humbly, I will tip my hat to these two men and say "Thank you." They have done an amazing job turning this team around.

Who knows how deep the Chiefs will get into the postseason.

But they're there. And Kansas City is right there with them.

Go Chiefs!

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

1960 Game Seven telecast easy on the eyes and ears - maybe the time has arrived to ban batting gloves and color men


I'm going to feel old writing this.

Twice thirty-one.

And, I'd like to think that's not the point. The point is purely aesthetic ... and practical, I might add.

The Major League Baseball television station has been playing this month Bing Crosby's kinescope of game seven of the 1960 World Series between the upstart, underdog, Pittsburgh Pirates and the inevitable New York Yankees. You could write a novel about this game. It has everything you could want -- pathos, redemption, power, excitement, suspense, and ... like all game sevens ... finality.

So, it is wonderful to watch and MLB television staged it in a brilliantly classy manner, showing it to an audience of Pittsburgh natives in a theater distinguished by the presence of some of the players who took part in the game. And, for a kid who grew up with the Kansas City A's, the names of many players were pleasantly familiar because they had either been traded to both league champions by our hapless team or would soon arrive in Kansas City via the same connection.

Ok, the old man is drifting into nostalgia now. Got to catch myself...

What I noticed watching the game, however, is instructive today. You know how that back workroom of yours has gotten so cluttered you can't find anything in it? Notice how you've sort of cleared a path to your chair in the hobby room? Or, have you noticed how you can no longer fit your car in the garage or you need to lose weight to get in and out of it scrunched between your tools and boxes of discarded toasters, microwaves, bread makers and Christmas presents from the last 10 years?

Or, if you are a writer, visualize your writing desk? You're an hour from deadline, you're trying desperately to double-check a quote and you have to riffle through three reporter's notebooks and a couple of scribbled-on napkins to find the place where you wrote it down? Or, is it still on the tape recorder? Now, where is that damned thing? Oops... coffee spill. Wait a minute... I know. I wrote that one on the back of a 2-foot long Lowes receipt. Where's my wallet? I think it's in there.

Oh, I've been in that situation a few times across the last forty years. My chair once collapsed in the middle of such a search and I finished writing the story standing up. I don't think I even realized the chair was gone until I was finished.

Then, if you're like me, you clean up once the story has been filed. You take everything off that desk and sweep it into a box and you get ready for the next assignment. Remember how good it felt to come back to that desk and see nothing on it but a broken handled coffee cup full of pens and pencils and your closed up laptop? Remember how inviting your desk looked then... kind of like a blank canvas waiting for your imagination?

Well, this 1960 NBC baseball broadcast was like your clean desk: A blank canvas for the viewer to paint his or her understanding of the game on.

The only thing on the screen, literally, was the game. The action. Once in a while a player's name appeared at the bottom for a few seconds, but that was all. If you wanted to know the score, you had to either be paying attention or wait until the end of the inning when the camera focused on the actual scoreboard at the stadium. Think about the incredible clutter on the screen during a baseball game today, the way you squint at the tiny window where the action happens, then think about watching a game with only the game on the screen.

Unless you've seen one of these ancient broadcasts recently, you can't imagine the difference.

And, speaking of paying attention, the broadcast featured no slow motion replays. In fact, it featured no replays. How strange it was, too. One spectacular play at first, Mantle diving headfirst under the tag, begged for replay. But, no, the game went on. You had to just fix that play in your mind, and, believe me, you started paying even more attention, knowing you would have to commit whatever you saw to memory.

I guess you would have to pay attention. And you'd need to know something about the players because in 1960 their uniforms sported only numbers. You needed to know it was Kubek at short and Richardson at second, Moose at first, Mantle in center and Maris in right, Smoky Burgess behind the plate -- of course, you had his baseball card so you had a rough idea of his stats -- Bill Virdon in center, Groat at short. But you knew these things, so it didn't matter that the screen didn't include a novella of text.

A brief aside: What message about teamwork vs. fame did we send to players and fans, and to the rest of society through our ongoing cultural conversation, when we began stitching the names of players to the backs of their uni's? Oh well, that water's long under the bridge.

Not only was the screen clear of distraction -- except for the agony of The Crawl which this night reported over and over and over about only one subject... the heartbreaking trade of Zack Greinke to Milwaukee -- the camera angles and the edits were lazy and right. The camera seemed to be looking exactly where you would be looking if you were sitting in the stands at Forbes Field. I haven't counted the typical number of cuts between pitches in a modern broadcast but I would guess the number is between five and 10. The standard for commercials is five scenes per spot so the going rate for a baseball game must be similar. The idea is that you'll somehow be bored if you are forced to watch the pitcher picking up the sign and rocking back into his motion.

Of course, the 1960 game revealed another interesting phenomena, the way clearing away your desk reveals the nice grain you'd forgotten in the wood. In 1960, the hitters did not wear batting gloves. My lord, the time between pitches was short in those days. The game featured 19 runs. 21 hits and a parade of relief pitchers, and it was over in two hours 36 minutes. That's three or four innings of a one-run Yankees / Red Sox's game today, and not in the World Series.

Without the distraction of those incredibly fiddly batting gloves the hitters stayed in the box, their bats at the ready. Today, a hitter steps out between pitches, chats with the umpire about the location of the last pitch, glances down at the third base coach as if wearing Ryne Duren's coke bottle glasses barely making out the signs, adjusts his gloves -- both hands -- adjusts his elbow and shin armor, pats the top of his helmet for a fresh load of pine tar on each hand, discovers in the process his gloves have become untenably loose again so he readjusts each, holds up his top hand like a stop sign to the umpire, tentatively replaces his back foot in the box, stares out at the pitcher patiently waiting, lugs his front foot into the box and sets his bat to twitching over his head.

Contrast to Mickey Mantle taking a pitch in the dirt, not budging from the left hand side of the box as Smoky Burgess fires the ball back to the mound; Mantle, bare hands on the bat quietly at rest on his shoulder, studying Bob Friend on the hill, nothing moving, statue-like, as Friend rocks back and delivers, the bat slicing through the zone of the plate sending a crisp, clutch, RBI line drive into left center.

A ban on batting gloves would speed up the modern game by an hour, at least. This World Series contest took just two-and-a-half hours without batting gloves. Of course, it was Oct. 13, not late November, so batting gloves weren't so necessary in 1960.

The audio on this 1960 telecast was just as spare. Oh, for a world without color men! Mel Allen and Bob Prince had the call and they were steady as a lamp post. One at a time, they just told you who was hitting, who fielded the ball, how many were out when you needed to know, and the barest facts about the players, something like where they called home and whether they were having a good season, whether they featured power or finesse, and what a splendid job Bobby Shantz was doing in relief. They let you know Whitey Ford was warming in the bullpen but you didn't have to hear ad nausea what the statistics are for starting pitchers brought in to relieve in late innings of World Series games.

What you could hear, believe it or not, were the fans. Start us off, Gino. Just a little bingo now, Gino.

Allen and Prince kept you informed about curve balls, screwballs or fastballs after each pitch. But you didn't have to listen to the minutia of the hitter's statistics with runners on first and third after the seventh inning of day games, his hot and cold zones, what kinds of pitches he had been out on late in the season or the complex hitting instructions the color man would be giving him if, indeed, the color man could find a job as a hitting coach. You didn't have to listen to the banter between the color man and the play-by-play man either, which can, occasionally, ignore the fact that a game is going on. And, you didn't have to endure the endless repetition of the notion that a right handed hitter is only in the zone if he is hitting the ball to right field. Whew! What a relief it was to the ears.

Watching the seventh game of the 1980 Series was a revelation. You just don't realize how cluttered and busy, distracted and disorganized your world has become, how much static is filling your ears, how much bullshit you are listening to, how much everything has become about face time, how far, how very far, we have come from the game in the new century until you sit back and enjoy a 50-year-old kinescope Bing Crosby righteously kept in the cellar with his finest wines.

--Lofflin

Monday, December 20, 2010

Father Time is catching up to me

Not to pause the Zack Greinke-related dialogue, but I've been dealing with a bit of a confidence crisis recently.

I was born in 1979, which makes me 31 years old. According to some unscientific Internet research, I'm still four or five years younger than the average American. But over the past few weeks especially, I've been made to feel positively ancient.

I started a new job last month, and I'm in the middle of a seven-week training class. Of the eight people in my class, I am BY FAR the oldest person. I am years older than one of my trainers, and I am roughly the same age as another.

At work the other day, I was describing a jewelry purchase I made for my wife, who is one year younger than I, and one of my young classmates said the style I was describing was very appropriate for "older women."

Also at work, another co-worker and I were discussing Royals player Wilson Betemit. The co-worker described Betemit as "That old guy who played really well off the bench for the Royals last year." Betemit is two years and two months younger than me.

I write for another Web site, and one of the other writers on the site recently said, "I can't believe I've been writing professionally for a whole year now!" I've been writing professionally for nearly a dozen years.

In baseball terms, I haven't been prospect-age for nearly a decade. Fans wouldn't criticize me if I considered retirement.

I still feel young, at least when I'm not around the whippersnappers in my training class. And I'm sure the co-author of this blog would argue that I too fall into the whippersnapper category.

But I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm no spring chicken anymore.

And that's not any fun at all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Greinke to Brewers, time to trade in the idea of the hometown team, too... Royals get... well... some players, fan's get Bob Uecker every five days




The Royals traded Zack Grenke last night to the Milwaukee Brewers for four players. They may, or may not, have traded Yuni Betanort, as well.

For this fan, the Royals traded Zack Greinke for Bob Uecker.

This is the business of baseball. The Indians didn't trade Bob Feller (Matt's story just below this one on the blog list is a gem. Don't miss it.) across a career spanning 20 years, but the Yankees did release Babe Ruth and he took his last at-bat in Boston. Closer to home, the Royals did not trade George Brett, though it's a good bet they thought about it at contract time, but they did trade Dan Quisenberry who supposedly had a lifetime contract. Back up a little: The Kansas City A's traded Roger Maris, Bob Cerv, and Bud Daley to the Yankees, ripping the hearts out of many 12-year-old Kansas City boys.

Looks to me like in the Greinke case, Dayton Moore knew his price and stuck to it. Unfortunately, his price wasn't so much.

Now, here's a new way to think about baseball. The time as arrived for this. Professional baseball is, indeed, about money. It is, indeed, a business. In our case, it happens to be a version of WalMart, but, hey, if you need socks and underwear, tell me a better place to go. The time has come for fans to just let this fantasy of "hometeam" baseball go. The players have let it go. The owners have certainly let it go.


Now is the time for fans to let it go.

For a relatively small investment, you can now have access to virtually any game. You can follow any team, or any player, or any combination of players. Why be held hostage by an inept franchise? That's just fosil thinking.

Now is the time for baseball fans to become free agents.

If you want to go to the park a couple of times a year to soak up the atmosphere, pick an opponent you're interested in seeing. Better yet, if you want to watch a ballgame, find a small college near you and take in their doubleheaders. I've found watching my students play college ball is a great way to spend a warm spring afternoon. Of course, if you really want to experience the game, get on a team and take the field yourself. Your age doesn't matter. I've seen some damned good 75-year-old ball players. Or get a partner and meet up twice a week for batting practice. Or buy a tee and take it out to a deserted field and hit a bag of balls into the outfield.

What I'm saying, then, is enjoy baseball any way you can, but dump this last century hometeam silliness. Every half century or so, a Frank White will come along who actually represents your home town. Otherwise, these guys are from nowhere and everywhere. They aren't here by choice, they won't stay by loyalty, and the don't think of themselves as representing you and I.

Hell, they don't even have to pay the dreaded E-Tax you and I pay. How many millions is the city missing out on there?

They certainly don't represent the character of your city. At least, we have to hope the Royals, and before them, the A's, don't represent the character of Kansas City. We have to hope this is a much more vibrant, competent, intelligent, successful place than either of these messes.

The Greinke trade puts this in high relief. By August last year I was only watching the Royals on television every five days anyway. I can watch the Brewers every five days now. The Cardinals have always been a much more interesting team across the history of the game and they play in the same division as the Brewers. SO, why not just focus on the National League Central? To hell with the designated hitter.

Even better, Bob Uecker calls the Brewers' games. I already tune him in on the computer/radio every few days just to listen to a game called the way it is supposed to be called. In retrospect, this wasn't such a bad trade after all, Dayton Moore. We get ... well... some players. Rephrase that: The Royals get some players. The fans get Bob Uecker, a chance at a division title, and Zack Greinke with a bat in his hands once a week. Thanks, man.

Lofflin -- for a pretty good, unemotional look at the deal, try this N. Y. Times article. The last paragraph says it all.

Image: Baseball Almanac

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rest In Peace

(Please, don't read this article and skip John's post here.)

When I was much younger, perhaps 15 years old, my family was coming home from a vacation. It was our last day on the road and much of Iowa and northern Missouri stretched before us. All of us were bone-tired, road weary and ready for a sleep in a familiar bed.

I asked my parents if they would make a detour. I wanted to drive about 45 miles out of the way to visit the small town of Van Meter, Iowa.

Van Meter is the home of the Bob Feller Museum.

My parents said no.

Even my baseball-crazy older brother didn't seem interested. They were all too tired to think about a long detour.

So I asked again. And again. And again and again and again and again and again and again until they finally agreed, just to shut me up. My father pointed the van west, destination Van Meter.

We arrived at the small museum and we were impressed by the beautiful but diminuitive structure. I was having the time of my life, but my relatives were underwhelmed.

Front and center among the exhibits featuring personal memorabilia of Bob Feller's life was a huge display case with a single wood bat inside. Strange for a museum dedicated to a pitcher.

It was Bob Feller's bat. But it was famous for something else. In 1947, Feller loaned his bat to someone else for a day during the Indians' visit to Yankee Stadium.

Yes. THAT bat.

So we browsed around for a few minutes and made our way to the gift shop. My brother and I purchased some postcards and souvenirs. When we paid, the elderly female cashier said, "Stick around for a little while. Bob'll be here any minute."

Seconds later, Bob Feller himself walked through the door.

Quickly, my brother and I bought more souvenirs and took them to the table where Mr. Feller held court. He promised to sign our items, and strongly encouraged us to make a donation to the museum. We did.

All of a sudden, Matt's crazy side trip wasn't so crazy. I was a hero.

That's my Bob Feller anecdote. I'll miss him, and I'll miss knowing that he's in Van Meter, Iowa, watching over his little museum.

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bullet Bob Feller dead; Fastball lovers mourn


Rapid Robert -- also known as Bullet Bob Feller -- died today. He was 92.

You can read a wonderful article about him in the New York Times tonight.

Bob Feller was a boyhood hero of mine. I fell in love with the fastball because of Bullet Bob and when you fall in love with the fastball something inside you changes. You're no longer satisfied playing the odds in anything. You never take the safe option. You start drawing to inside straights and you shoot the moon so often nobody will play cards with you. You develop an unfortunate attraction to fast cars and, yes!, fast girls.

I had a decent fastball as a kid. I can testify nothing is quite like throwing a fastball past a hitter. It's magic. The ball's in your hand, the hitter swings so hard you can feel the wind, the ball's in the catcher's mitt.

Feller was faster than anybody before him and most after him. Funny thing is this: When I was writing about Zack Greinke two days ago, searching for a nickname to play off Nolan Ryan's great nickname -- The Express -- I thought, 'What about 'The Bullet Train' for Zack Greinke?" A nickname like The Bullet Train would be a nice combination of The Express and Bullet Bob.

But then I realized Mr. Greinke is neither Nolan Ryan nor Bob Feller. When it's all said and done he might be better, who knows?, but he ain't the same.

Well, in one way he compares nicely with those two gents. He seems to take the same pleasure they took in blowing a fastball past a good hitter. You can see it in his eyes. Fastballers are evil that way. They don't want to just get you out. They want to make you look dazzled.

--Lofflin

Image by Charles Colon/TSN/Icon SMI [Ain't that a fastball look?]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lee flees to Philly; say goodbye to Zack... or not


Cliff Lee is going back to Philly. Good news for the American League West.

Bad news for Royals fans.

Expect the Rangers' Express to make a run at The Express II, Zack Greinke. My guess is the Rangers have already made a run at him this morning, if not late last night.

And, they won't be alone. Imagine what Greinke would mean to the Boston rotation. Or the dreaded Yankees. ESPN is speculating right now on a Yanks run at Greinke. If the Dodgers' nasty divorce were settled, you'd think they'd be making a call. San Francisco? St. Louis? LaRussa could bat him eighth and actually be a genius.

This will be Dayton Moore's biggest test. Will he Willie Nelson this deal, know his price and stick to it? Or will he fold for a couple of prospects (Don't the Royals already have plenty of those?) and a tired Atlanta castoff?

We'll see what sort of poker player he is. The best thing that could happen, in my opinion, is nothing. That will mean Moore is more. The second best thing will be to get two major league starting players in return. Anything less and Moore will certainly be less.

--Lofflin -- Last message from Grading Hell. Why? The deadline is midnight...
Express image from ProRumors.com -- no photo credit

Friday, December 10, 2010

Late edition: Frenchy to save clubhouse -- Royals follow two paths at winter meetings -- one makes sense the other makes losers


A quick message from grading hell:

The Royals' position at the winter meetings is lop-sided.

On one side, they are operating from a familiar mindset. One way to make baseball decisions is based on numbers and/or scouting. I don't think those two are mutually exclusive. You can play Billy Beane ball and look for bargains using modern Sabermath techniques. And, you can factor in what your scouts say as a check on the numbers. This makes sense and builds better ballclubs with less money.

This is the logical approach to signing players at the winter meetings.

It is not the Royals' approach. Their approach across time has been to use the science of psychology to make decisions. Pick a player (preferably from Atlanta) who had a lousy year and hope he will come to Kansas City, rebound from his funk, and become the player he once was. Or hope he will turn around the chemistry of the clubhouse, teaching the rookies and misfits you already have the psychology of winning, even if he is, himself, contributing little on the field to the cause.

I'm trying to think of a time when this has worked for the Royals.
Then we have the other side of the Royals' approach to the winter meetings.

On the Zack Greinke trade track, so far the Royals have taken a more objective and more logical approach. They've done what Willie Nelson once said about himself. "I always knew my price and I stuck to it." Bravo. They've listened to offers and they've said no. Once Lee signs somewhere, the offers will sweeten.

If they trade Zack Greinke -- and I'm praying they don't -- they should come away with two players who are already major league starters (position or mound) and a prospect or two. Period. I hope that is their price. If it is, they will be turning over a new leaf.

Of course, if they evaluate the talent they are offered using the psychological model -- God help us, maybe 50 wins will be a challenge.

Let me add a link to don't-kill-the- Mellinger's column in the Star. He observes pretty much the same use of psychology to make baseball decisions in the Royals' front office, but I can't tell if he is being funny or if he is serious. Since he somehow couples this with the word hope, I'm guessing serious. Then again, I never thought I'd read a column in the newspaper that ended with "kind of sucks." Not even on the sports page.

Back to Grading Hell...

--Lofflin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why not trade Greinke? He's just worth two-and-a-half games a season. Do the Sabermath ...


Not to worry about the Royals trading Zack Greinke today. His WAR last year was just 2.4. What difference will two-and-a-half games mean in the final 2011 standings? No place lower than last place, right?

Sixty-two-and-a-half wins in 2011.

Sabermath says trade 'em.

And who cares if Kansas City reverts to the 1950s as a farm team for the beloved Yankees?

--Lofflin, written from grading hell

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images w/ alterations by Lofflin

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Royals wins per season: a shameful picture




My great colleague Scott Hageman drew this up after getting mad at talk radio this morning. What it reveals is shameful.

Click on it to see the detail, though the trend line is quite enough.

Notice how peaks in wins are -- in all but one case -- followed by large decreases in wins. In psychology this might be called interment reinforcement. Also, isolate the period from 1993 to today and notice how many years are below, or way below, the 80-win line. Isolate, especially, the period since 2003. Only once since 2003 have the Royals been above the 80-win line.

--Lofflin

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jeter situation one for the books


Have you heard about this?
Derek Jeter, the current captain of the most successful baseball organization in the history of the game, is a free agent. The New York Yankees apparently want to offer Jeter a contract of $45 million over three years, but that's the only offer we know of; the Bronx Bombers may have offered more.
Jeter and his agent are asking for a six year deal worth $150 million.
And really, it's kind of sad.
Can you imagine Derek Jeter wearing any other uniform than Yankee pinstripes? I can't. And I don't want to see him play anywhere else.
I don't think Derek Jeter wants to play anywhere else, either. But I think Jeter, who is a .314 career hitter, who is a lock for the Hall of Fame and is only 74 hits away from 3,000, wants a little recognition for his years of dedication to the team.
Apparently $15 million per year isn't enough recognition. He wants $25 million per season.
No offense to Derek Jeter, but he's 36 years old, and his numbers have been on a huge backslide for the past few seasons (his surreptitious Gold Glove in 2010 notwithstanding). If Jeter honestly thinks he's worth $25 million per year in a contract that will last until he's 43, he's delusional.
I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of a Yankees fan here. On one hand, I don't want to see Derek Jeter leave. On the other hand, I don't want to see my team spend $150 million of their (vast, but not unlimited) free agent funds on a guy who's not helping that much on the field.
I have a proposal.
Hank Steinbrenner should give Jeter his six years, but he should keep the salary at $15 million annually, which adds up to a $90 million deal.
Here's what's in it for Jeter.
At the conclusion of the 2013 season, when Joe Girardi's current managerial contract runs out, Derek Jeter becomes the New York Yankees' player-manager. (Girardi, if he's still liked in New York, can get a front-office job.)
If Jeter is a productive manager at the end of the contract, he can continue on as the Yankees' skipper - at a much reduced annual contract.
The last player-manager in Major League Baseball was Pete Rose.
Wouldn't Derek Jeter be a great candidate for the next one?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sabermagic on Billy Beane and David DeJesus -- which comes first? winning? Or expecting to win?


Chicken or egg?

Do the Royals make the deals they make because they don't expect to win or do they not expect to win because of the deals they make?


I-70 Baseball's Adam Shupe took the challenge and performed some slick saber-magician work on my question about the David DeJesus trade. I wanted someone to run the numbers on Mr. DeJesus and give me a quantitative reason why Billy Beane thinks he is a bargain for his Oakland A's but the Royals' braintrust thinks he's too expensive to keep. Billy Beane, I maintained, doesn't make off the cuff, gut level (or gut wrenching) trades.
For more on this and other Royals discussion, see Adam's blog bareknucklebaseball.mlblogs.com.

(By the way, if you need a reporter/writer, hire this man. Baseball is not his only dimension -- I've seen him write with grace about everything.
)

Here's Shupe's response.

As for David DeJesus, I can only offer three reasons.

1. For some reason Billy Beane thinks the A's are good enough to make a run at the World Series and DeJesus can be a role player in that process. DeJesus has always been a Billy Beane style player, solid defense and base running with an affinity to get on base.

Bill James' 2011 projections are up and have DeJesus going .289/.360/.427, 11 HR, 86 R, 68 RBI, 6 SB. This matches up similarly to his 2009 output, considering he plays as well defensively as he did in 2009 his WAR would be around 3-3.5, which considering his $5.5 million salary would be a worthwhile investment.

2. Beane thinks he can deal DeJesus at the trade deadline to a contender for more than he gave up to the Royals. This is vintage Billy Beane, think Matt Holliday on a smaller level.

3. Beane believes DeJesus will perform well enough to be a Type B or possibly Type A outfielder. So when he leaves after the season, they will have gotten a good return on a MLB outfielder for a season and possibly a first round draft pick for two guys who may or may not make a major league impact.

SO WHY IS THIS A GOOD DEAL FOR BILLY BEANE AND NOT A GOOD DEAL FOR DAYTON MOORE?

This is where you see the fundamental differences between the mentalities of GMs. This deal makes sense for Billy Beane because he always wants to compete. He constantly has the playoffs as the first priority. You will never see an A's team play 20 games under .500 like the Royals have. They always compete. It's how he fielded a team in 2002 that won 103 games on a payroll of just under $40 million, third lowest in the league. He's known for bring major talent in through trades, but also dealt Andre Either for Milton Bradley (Dodgers), Nelson Cruz for Keith Ginter, and Carlos Gonzalez with Houston Street for Matt Holliday (Rockies).

Can you imagine a staring out field of Andre Either in left, Carlos Gonzalez in center, and Nelson Cruz in right?

But he makes moves like those to roll the dice in the playoffs. Bradley raked down the 2006 playoff stretch.

A few bounces their way and maybe if Jermey Giambi slid, their fate might have been altered.

Dayton Moore, on the other hand, is waiting for one big push. He was bred differently, under a regime like the Braves. He understands a fundamental way to win the game, prospects from within. This is why 2011 is basically already mortgaged in Kansas City. Everyone has accepted the Royals aren't going to win anything this season. It's basically a premier tryout for guys like Kila Ka'aihue, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and a stable of young arms. Who's good enough to play, so we can take them with us when the farm begins to cultivate?

Moore was quoted as saying you need about 20 good pitching prospects to expect 4 or 5 guys who will stick. His philosophies are based firmly upon comments like those. That's the difference.

The deal makes sense for Beane because DeJesus gives any team a better chance to win. There's no question in that. Worst case scenario, come trade deadline he still has value. You keep him then maybe you get a draft pick. Does the difference between 87 and 90 wins matter? Hell yeah.

If he was a Royal he might be the difference between a 64 and 67 loss team, is it worth it? No way. Of course everyone would like to see DeJesus roaming Kauffman again, but the young arms are what's important. He's piling up arms seeing which are the four or five who can make it.

The casual fans see Moore giving up one of their favorite players for two guys they've never heard of. They think Vin Mazzaro will just be another Brian Bannister or Kyle Davies. Fillers. The difference is this: Vin Mazzaro is 23 and had a WAR of -0.1, he got paid $450,000. A young pitcher establishing himself playing just below replacement level for the league minimum. Bannister and Davies combined played at a WAR of -0.7 at a price of $4.1 million. Seems like good business to me.

It's no coincidence this trade came right after they released Bannister, while questioning Davies return, all while trade rumors swirl about Greinke. So Moore goes outs and gets a young arm under team control for near league minimum for the next five years. This guy would have had the second lowest ERA on the team behind Greinke.

The other kid they got looks like a clone of Will Smith, the southpaw they got from the Angels for Callaspo. That makes about ten lefties I could rattle off who will be in the top 25 prospects in the best minors system in the league. He's playing the odds he can find a couple Tom Glavine's out of a group like that.

We have some other great baseball minds working on this and as soon as they get their ideas to us, we'll put them on the screen. These quantitative discussions are interesting because they get us out of the same old rut -- you know -- the rut that begins with "the Royals have been on full suck since..."

--Lofflin
Photo: www.vegansoapbox.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Billy Beane's shit does work in the regular season ... what did he see in DeJesus




One question to ask about Oakland trading for David DeJesus is why the Royals would make such a cockamamie deal. Sam Mellinger's surprisingly weak response in the Star aside, not much in the way of explanation has surfaced.

Perhaps a better way to look at the trade is to ask why Billy Beane would trade for DeJesus. Beane does not make random choices. He doesn't go with his gut. He doesn't waste money. In fact, he's all about using math to find bargains and finding bargain to win. Beane admits his "shit doesn't work in the playoffs" but it sure has worked across many 162 game seasons. And, his shit seems to work in a small market with a limited payroll, like our little River City.

So, why is DeJesus a bargain for Beane and a bust for the Royals' brain trust?

This question, of course, assumes Beane wants DeJesus as a player, not as trade bait. Getting DeJesus as a pawn to trade up later is a chess move Beane might be making but it would be a risky move and Beane is anything but a gambler.

So, here's a challenge for the Sabermagicians. Tell the readers why David DeJesus' numbers are attractive to Billly Beane. Then we'll try to figure out why they are unattractive to the Royals' brain trust.

Plate discipline? Fielding ability? Arm strength? His inability to steal bases would not be a deduction for Beane who places less value on stolen bases than most. What is it -- statistically --about DeJesus that Billy Beane wanted?

I don't want to hear that he works hard and is a great presence in the clubhouse. Beane's shit doesn't work that way.

Help the unenlightened out here. My guess is if you can unravel this mystery Royals fans can reach a better understanding of what goes on in the heads of the Kansas City braintrust. And, with a better understanding, we can better understand where this team is going and what we, as fans, can expect.

Have at it. If you know a Sabermagician, put him on the case. We'll print the responses when they arrive.

Lofflin-- card image from Baseball Alamanac

Friday, November 12, 2010

Joe Morgan and the war between sabermetrics and dirt -- what if they gave a war and you didn't know it was happening?


While we're talking about stupid things, let's talk about sabermetrics.

That was meant as a joke so don't get your shorts in a wad. Too late...right? OK, stand up, straighten things out, and sit back down. To some extent, maybe that's the point. Sabermetrics have become a line in the sand. Young Turks on one side. Old farts on the other. No room in the middle and nobody whose shorts aren't in a bad place.

I think the sabermagicians like it that way. They become the outlaws. The rebels. They're the fresh young faces ready to storm the gate. It's always good to be the underdog.

I've come to understand all this in the year or so we've been writing the Henrywiggen blog. Call me grossly uninformed but I had never heard of this war over sabermetrics. I liked Joe Morgan on Sunday night baseball. I liked Jon Miller better. How can you not like Jon Miller? He actually has a professional voice unlike nearly everyone else who squeaks and screeches when they call a major league baseball game today. Call me old fart, but I prefer a voice smooth as silk to, say, however you want to describe Scott Hamilton's voice.

Anyway, I didn't know a war was being waged. I thought you could evaluate baseball by who won and who lost. I thought good ballplayers usually wound up on good teams and good teams won. Money usually bought good teams who bought good players who won games. Pretty simple.

I liked small ball because it was interesting to watch. And, because it was for underdogs.

But I also liked home runs. Loved home runs. The sight of a baseball launched into the night was as majestic as anything I'd ever seen -- having never seen a space launch first hand.

I thought a very small number of pitchers could control the games they pitched. I thought a very small number of hitters could -- four times a game -- elevate your team's chances of driving in a run. I liked to watch scrappy hitters because ... I like underdogs. And I thought some hitters always let you down, even if their averages were high. Always thought their averages must be some kind of statistical mistake.

I thought lefty/righty matchups were for mediocre players and part of the full employment act for managers.

I was open to numbers and open to the wisdom of those who played in the dirt.

I liked Joe Morgan ... most of the time. When he got on a tangent, I went to the kitchen for a coke. I feel the same way about everyone on television in anything from sportscasting to news to Sons of Anarchy.

So I didn't know I had chosen a side. That is, until some of my students assumed I had. Suddenly I became a curmudgeon. A purist (pronounced with a spitting motion). An old fart.

OK, not an issue. If you're a teacher you get used to being a curmudgeon. In academia you get used to being behind the times -- most academics are terrified of being behind the times. They jump on the next big thing, preferring to surf the next wave in the rocks than be swallowed by a tsunami. You pick yer poison.

Now, I know how deep this sabermath divide really is. I'm amazed. I just finished this wonderful article reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle on Deadspin about Joe Morgan vs sabermetrics and aside from a few gratuitously snippy comments -- transparently aimed at pleasing the aesthetics of the blogosphere -- it was a trove of both information and fascinating ideas.

Which side are you on? Is it still possible to be on both sides?

BTW: I'm still waiting for someone to explain how Tim Lincecum could only be worth four games across a 162 game season to the San Francisco Giants over, say, their triple A hurler Tony Pena Jr. Yes, THAT Tony Pena, Jr. I'm listening...

--Lofflin

Illustration: Michigan State University

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Royals trade DeJesus for... oh never mind...


Why did I expect anything else?

Of curse the brain trust would trade the most reliable player on the team. And, sure, no question they would trade for two questionable pitchers, one they thought of so highly they once traded him away.

Why two pitchers? Well, Sherlock Holmes, who do you think is next?

As Bruce Pearson said in "Bang the Drum..." -- "(we) are doomed."

Watched the scene from the movie with Henry, Dutch, Bradley and Patricia in the hotel room negotiating Henry's contract yesterday before reading about the trade. Can't help thinking the same sort of thinking went on in a corner office at the stadium this week. Only the owner was raking leaves in another state hooked in by Bluetooth, Bradley was now the GM and Dutch, well Dutch just nodded his head.

Bobblehead World.

Jeeeeeze.

Somebody please explain this to me. Using logic, as Henry would say...

--Lofflin

Photo: USA Today

Friday, November 5, 2010

John's wish is my command

Let me just add - If you saw Dan Quisenberry and Renie Martin walking down the street, would you say to yourself, "There go two Major League Baseball players?" Or would you say, "There go two guys who work the loading dock at Wal-Mart?"

Just sayin'.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Baseball withdrawl? Post series blues? I've got something to see you through the night...

Baseball withdrawal is a drag. If you're like me, you're feeling it right about now. Not into basketball yet -- watched about 30 seconds of the Bulls game tonight. After planing and scheming all last week to watch the series, well, now there's nuthin to do.

Went out side and hit a couple of dozen balls off the tee. Didn't help much.

Watched a few innings of Home Run Derby. I'll do a post later on why the original was much harder than the star studded derby we see in living color today.

Well, if you need a little rounders, go over to I-70 baseball. I just finished a piece on Dan Quisenberry that you might enjoy. It'll get you through the night, anyway. The more I looked into it, the more I realized how special the poet/pitcher was and how lucky we were to watch him work night after night.

And, you'll love the wonderful work Matt did with the design, especially the baseball cards. Brilliant. In fact, I'm going to coax him into adding one of those bedazzling cards to this post when he gets a chance.

-- Lofflin

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bedazzle Your Resume Today!

In September I was laid off from a temporary job with the U.S. Census Bureau, a fascinating, nine-month-long position about which I will write more later.

Now I am unemployed and I am searching for a job. During my search efforts, I am collecting unemployment benefits from the State of Kansas. I feel no shame in this; that's exactly what the benefits are there for, to lend a helping hand to the millions of people like me who are looking for work.

A couple weeks ago I received a letter from the Kansas Department of Revenue which stated, essentially, that I'd been "selected" to received re-employment services from the Kansas Workforce Center. I was told to report on Nov. 2 to meet with a re-employment specialist.

What I gleaned from the letter - and today what I found out is absolutely true - is that I'd been randomly selected by the State to make sure I was actually looking for work, and not simply claiming benefits for a living.

I have no problem with this. I understand the State has to make sure people aren't abusing the system. I filled out the form with the names of some of the companies I had queried, although I could have written a whole lot more had the form been longer.

Today during my appointment I met with a re-employment specialist. She was a very nice lady who gave me some helpful suggestions for where to look for a job, such as the internet. At the end of our appointment she asked if I would like her to take a look at my resume, and I obliged.

After glancing at my resume for, at most, one third of a second, the very nice lady said - verbatim - "Your resume needs some work, Matthew. This resume is boring."

What was boring about the resume was not apparently the content, since she did not have time to read it, but the font, the lack of color and, I don't know, perhaps the paper weight. She recommended that I come to a resume writing class at the workforce center and referred me to another very nice person whom she labeled "The Resume Guru."

The Guru said the resume workshop would be very helpful for me, and to prove it he showed me a copy of his own resume. Emblazoned in 18-point script font (yes, script) was the Guru's name. A thick black border surrounded the entire document, and the resume itself was written using, at a minimum, four fonts of varying sizes and styles.

This was the resume of The Resume Guru.

I smiled, handed the lovely document back to the Guru, and said I'd be sure to stop by for the next resume writing workshop.

But I'm afraid I won't be able to make it. After my appointment today, I got a job.

That's right... I'm starting my own business:


Matt Kelsey's Resume Boutique!

Is your resume a plain, boring, readable document? Throw that sucker in the trash! Come to Matt Kelsey's Resume Boutique, and we will bedazzle, bejewel and make a bespectacle out of your resume!

No work experience? NO PROBLEM! Matt Kelsey's Resume Boutique specializes in filling out YOUR resume with the prettiest utter nonsense you've ever seen! Your resume will LITERALLY jump into the hands of future employers! The job offers will LITERALLY roll in!

Act fast to take advantage of our limited time offer - TWO FONTS for the PRICE OF ONE!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sabermath strikes again -- Should Rangers start Borbon in center? Uh, yes, if they're playing for two tenths of a run tomorrow night...

I’m not at war with the Saber mathematicians. Really, I’m not. I have a couple of friends who would like for me to be at war with them. The fact is, I like numbers, too. And I'm not much on motivational speeches, momentum, or the value of heart. Well... the value of heart beyond a point.

So, please, I’m not at war with baseball math. In fact, I’m fascinated by it. One reason is baseball has always seemed to me to be a mathematical game. This is one of its beauties. It is so difficult and it generates so many events in a season or a career that it tends to be a perfect illustration of the natural curve.

In my math, this means a player has a certain set of skills. The game will reveal those skills. The player may play way above or way below them one year, or in one stretch, but he will eventually settle back in at his spot on the curve. When I say baseball reveals that spot, I mean it. It’s why, as a player, you can love the game and hate the game at the same time. The game leaves you no where to hide.

You can certainly get better. You can certainly try harder. But, ultimately, baseball will tell you the limits of the particular body your parents gave you. It will tell you the limits of your intellect. It will tell you the limits of your will. It will reveal you in a way nothing else can.

Baseball needs numbers and the people who generate them. The sport is too often laden with nostalgia, myth, pathos. It is too often about heart and want to. I love heart and want to, but you have to understand both only matter within the range of skills and intellect you have been given by fate. All you have to do is 'want to' hit a home run to guarantee a pop up.

Ok, before I get deeper into this, let me push a few buttons.

I like numbers, but I also distrust numbers. I have some academic experience with numbers. I know they can sometimes only tell you something silly. I love it when academics use numbers to tell you something you already know. I don’t see anything wrong with asking about numbers.

My students argue the numbers are objective. They may be MORE objective, but they are not objective. Baseball numbers are way beyond counting at bats and hits. They’re as complicated as the directions for throwing a back-door slider.

So, I ask, WAR, what is it good for?

I’m still waiting for an answer. If Tim Lincecum is only worth four more games a year to the Giants than, say Tony Pena, Jr., from Triple A Fresno, why pay him to pitch in the majors?

While we wait for those numbers, let’s look at the latest work of Sabermagician Dan Rosenheck in the New York Times this morning. His suggestion for the Rangers is to start Julio Barbon in center, move Hamilton to left and Cruz to right. When he talks about speed and arm strength he begins to make some sense. The truth is, you don’t need John Dewan’s Fielding Bible to see SOME of the logic in such a move, especially if you link it to the different tendencies of the Game 3 starting pitcher.

Then, however, he is forced to account for hitting, and here he admits the scheme has some weaknesses because right now Borbon couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

Here, friends is the money (ball) quote: “…the Rangers would allow about 0.19 fewer runs per nine innings with an outfield of Hamilton in left, Borbon in center and Cruz in right than they would with Cruz in left, Hamilton in center and Francoeur in right.”

0.19 runs is predicated on the Ultimate Zone Rating conclusion that Borbon “saved nine runs with his glove in 1,100 innings this year.” Now that number might be meaningful across the next 1,100 innings. But, pray tell, how the hell could it have any meaning across the nine innings the Rangers will play tomorrow?

And, even if it did, what in the world difference would the tendency to prevent two-tenths of one run mean tomorrow?

I’m listening? And, for the sake of the Texas Rangers, I hope Ron Washington is not.

--Lofflin

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Giants - Rangers -- a battle of managers or a battle of players? Just how important are managers to the outcome of ballgames...

Question: How important are managers to the outcomes of Major League ballgames?

I might divide the question. 1) How important are managers during the game to the outcome? And how important are managers in the long haul to the outcome of a single game?

I say they are not very important during the game. They make decisions; some of those decisions are successful and some backfire. But they never swing a bat or throw a pitch or field a grounder. They aren't very important as cheerleaders in a game that comes down to one hitter and one pitcher locked in personal combat where being relaxed and observant are far more important than being motivated, driven or, especially, being angry.

My guess is their good and their bad decisions tend to even out.

But they do seem to be valuable in establishing a culture and a personality for a team. That begins in spring training. They set expectations in terms of work habits and the good ones know how to make players feel confident enough to silence their inner voices and just play the game as it happens. The good ones know how to get out of the way of the George Bretts and Frank Whites and the Mickey Mantles and Whitey Fords.

And, in my opinion, the good ones get out of the way of the game. The best sort of manager between the lines is a passive one. Why on earth have two managers in the Phillies - Giants series insisted on sending a starting pitcher out in relief in crucial situations? This never works. Starters are different from relievers, especially closers. You might as well bring the centerfielder in to pitch. In the Phillies' case, the cost was a ball game. The same was nearly true last night in the Giants' case.

However, here is a cogent article from the New York Times about their skipper which takes a different position on the value of managers between the lines. And it isn't very complimentary.

--Lofflin ... happy I got the World Series I was hoping for, the East Coast powerhouses are goin' fishin', and the whoever is broadcasting the series is no doubt disappointed...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullitt

I feel terrible admitting that until this week, I had never seen the Steve McQueen classic "Bullitt."

And I was blown away by the car chase scene, one of the best car chases - and probably one of the most exciting scenes - ever caught on film.

Check it out:




--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why I love baseball

My I-70 Baseball colleague Bill Ivie recently told me about a blog called The Baseball Docent. One of the missions of that blog is to ask people a simple question: Why do you love baseball?

What a beautiful question to ask about a perfectly imperfect game.

For me, and perhaps for many others, the answer to the question is not so simple.

I love baseball because my dad and my mom took me to games, back in the days when the Royals played respectable ball and you could take a family of four to a big-league ballpark for less than twenty-five bucks - parking and food included.

I love baseball because after the games, my brother and I would go stand around next to the visiting team bus and the home team parking lot, asking for autographs. More players said no than yes, but the ones who said yes - regardless of how they performed on the field - became our favorites.

I love baseball because of my grandmother. A first-generation American, she was born and raised in the small central Missouri town of Loose Creek, and grew up in the days of Ruth and Gehrig. She became a fan of the Kansas City Royals out of spite, for the exact same reason she voted Republican: her husband, the jovial town barber, told her she ought vote Democrat and root for the St. Louis Cardinals. My grandmother did the opposite. Our family friend Ralph Lynch took my grandmother to a playoff game in 1985, and bought her a Royals jacket. The jacket, and a commemorative Dwight Eisenhower plate, were her prized possessions. She wore that jacket every spring and fall until the day she died.

I love baseball because of that jacket.

I love baseball because of Ralph Lynch. Ralph was the kind of guy who would throw away caps when they became too worn out. Once, when he was over at our house, shucking corn and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon out of the can with my father, he decided his old Royals hat was too worn out and chucked it in a garbage barrel. I dug that sucker out of the trash and wore it the rest of my childhood.

I love baseball because of Bret Saberhagen. He was the kid pitcher on the Royals in 1985, and he went on to win a Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP. He was my favorite player, and still is, even though he sprayed bleach on reporters while playing for the Mets and wore his hair in a ridiculous perm.

I love baseball because of Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. A Cardinals fan tried to tell me recently that the Royals would have lost the series if Don Denkinger, the guy who blew a call in Game 6, hadn't been behind the plate for Game 7. The Royals won Game 7 by a score of 11-0. Cardinals fans are delusional if they think a different umpire would have changed the outcome of Saberhagen's complete-game shutout or the Royals' offensive explosion. But I digress... I love baseball because I was six years old during the 1985 World Series. My family watched the game from our living room, in the house where my parents still live. Ralph Lynch was there, too. My brother and I watched from the living room carpet, laid out on our stomachs, our heads cradled in our hands. When Darryl Motley caught the ball for the final out and Saberhagen leaped into George Brett's arms, we pounded on the carpet and screamed until our fists were sore and our throats were raw.

I love baseball because I love hating the Cardinals, and I love hating the Yankees.

I love baseball because of George Brett, the greatest player I ever saw. Years after he retired I witnessed him at an exhibition game. He was joking around with the crowd, signing a few autographs, and then he took batting practice and his expression became deadly serious. He whacked the ball all over the park, with that wonderfully ridiculous back-to-the-pitcher stance of his. I'll bet money George Brett could still hit .275 in the big leagues.

I love baseball because of birthday money. On my birthday, I would get $15 from my parents to spend anyway I liked, and my brother would get $10. On his birthday, we'd reverse it. One year on my birthday, I blew my entire wad on baseball cards. My brother had always had more cards than me, and it was sort of a sore subject. That night I came home and opened all my cards (probably 30 packs - they were a lot cheaper back then), and shoved all the gum in my mouth. Then, with a mouth full of sugary sweetness, I took my cards and stacked them up in a skyscraper. My brother stacked his cards up too. My stack, for once, was taller.

I love baseball because of the gum. My brother's friend once built a small box out of baseball-card gum and stored his valuables inside, because he swore the gum was fireproof.

I love baseball because of Buck O'Neil.

I love baseball because there's an old family rumor, largely propagated by my brother, that we're distantly related to Mickey Mantle.

I love baseball because my wife lets me teach her about the game, and she's come to love it, too, in a way only a perfect wife can, the kind of wife who doesn't just suffer her husband's obsessions, but shares in them.

I love baseball because it's the only game that matters. It's the only game I'll ever truly love. It's a game that belongs to me in the same way it belongs to all fans, and I belong to it as well.

-- Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Story of career diswasher killed by hit and run driver is moving; a great example of beautiful writing and solid journalism

Back in the saddle, almost, after finally finishing (I think) the process of writing a course for delivery entirely by one and zero -- in other words -- through computer screens and on line.

Imagine someone asks you to write down how to make a left turn in your car. Problem is, the person doesn't know what a steering wheel is, what a brake pedal is, or, what left is. When you write for on-line delivery, at least at our place, you have to create not only instructions for students but instructions -- on the left turn model -- for teachers. Ugh.

I don't usually send you elsewhere, but today I am. And, I'm not sending you to I-70 baseball because I'm sure you've been there.

I'm sending you to the St. Petersburg Fla., Times. The Times is a progressive newspaper in both design and writing, and a student hepped me to an absolutely stunning piece there.

This piece is stunning in its simplicity. It is a perfect example, in my opinion, of the art of journalism. It perfectly illustrates the aesthetic of journalism, what journalists think is beautiful in writing. This is not the same, generally, as what English teachers think is beautiful. Poets may appreciate it -- I'm not sure.

The piece grows out of a controversy broiling in the profession which I have mentioned here as my secret pleasure - the comments section under stories in daily newspapers and Web pages. The controversy centers on the most outlandish, childish, racist and tasteless comments in these threads. The newspaper wants to be a forum. It seeks democracy. It seeks full First Amendment rights. But, the news stories themselves are edited for taste, style, and content in the name of decency and to fit the standards of the community.

The motto of the New York Times before "All the news that's fit to print" was "It doesn't soil the breakfast cloth."

Well, what's appearing in comment sections today does more than soil the breakfast cloth.

And the St. Pete paper recently ran a story about a 48-year-old career dishwasher, Neil Alan Smith, who was killed in a hit and run accident. The driver has not been caught. In the comments section under the story someone (oh, I'd like to add some adjectives here, but will refrain) wrote that a 48-year-old dishwasher is probably better off dead.

This is not unusual for comments sections. I guarantee you can find something of similar worth in the comments under the stories in today's Kansas City Star.

The St. Pete Times, however, decided to do a full obit on the dishwasher and Andrew Meacham's piece is brilliant. It should win an award. It should make the commentator crawl under a rock. It should be read by everyone. You can find it here.

--Lofflin

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I-70 Baseball

For the past three months or so, I have been cheating on you, Henry Wiggen Blog. I'm having an affair with another website.

I've been writing about the Kansas City Royals at the new site I-70 Baseball. And in the short time the site has been "live," I've also become the co-host of a weekly radio show and the content editor for the site. It's taking up a lot of time, but it's been fulfilling, and I think the website has a strong future.

I-70 Baseball, an affiliate site of BaseballDigest.com, covers both the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals, which fills a niche missing in the online world - especially since many people in this part of the country are fans of both teams. However, even if you're just a fan of one or the other, there's something new on the site about each team every single day.

To help fulfill that goal, I've enlisted the help of the other half of the Henry Wiggen Blog, Mr. John Lofflin. John's first article will appear on Saturday. Be sure to check it out. He writes a terrific, in-depth piece about Royals Hall of Famer Frank White.

I am forever grateful to John for giving us a helping hand. I know his presence will make the site more popular and much stronger.

Check out I-70 Baseball when you get a chance. I think you'll like it.

But remember, Henry Wiggen Blog, I still love you.

-- Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Radio Talkers say trade "Negative Nancy" Zack Greinke

The momentum among the radio talkers is building to trade Zack Greinke.

And what could be more absurd than this 'logic': What the Royals don't need next year when the studs from Omaha come up is a "Negative Nancy" walking the halls of the clubhouse.

Exactly what poison will this Cy Young Negative Nancy spew to injure the impressionable young minds? Well, they're a bit unclear about this. Something like, the Royals aren't getting any better. Losing sucks. Et al.

Jeeeeeeeze.

This sounds like the gossip in an elementary school teacher's lounge. Negative Nancy, for god's sake? Negative Nancy?

We're talking about a major league baseball clubhouse not vacation Bible school. These guys obviously don't get the joke, do they? Saturday Night Live, guys. It's a joke. You're supposed to laugh. It's not a life lesson.

Negative Nancy, indeed. Zack Greinke had just watched an infielder juggle a double-play ball for maybe the tenth time this season, costing him 11 more pitches and three runs. What the hell do they expect him to say? "I'll just wait till next year when the studs are here to back me up. The organization always knows best..."

Guess those press passes are secure for watching the young studs next year. Funny how guys who supposedly make a living telling it like it is suddenly revert to management speak when it comes to ballplayers. My guess is they identify with management rather than ballplayers. Just a guess...

And what could possibly be more ironic, more hypocritical, than these radio talkers criticizing a ballplayer for being a "Negative Nancy"? These "Batty Bobs", "Surly Shans" and "Naysaying Nicks" spit more negative natter than a dozen ballplayers in a Red Man contest. Nattering negative is their job description, their ticket to Tompkinsville, their free pass into the ballpark.

That had to be the worst five minutes of talk radio in at least ... well ... uh ... at least the last two days.

--Lofflin

Sunday, September 19, 2010

PHOTO ESSAY: New Orleans

Apologies in advance for what's sure to be a much-too-long post, but I'll promise not to make it sound too much like "What I Did On My Summer Vacation."

Last week, on family business, my wife Jamie and I drove to Lake Charles, Louisiana, a straight shot south from Kansas City almost all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Since Lake Charles is only about three hours west of New Orleans, we decided to take the week and spend some time in the Big Easy.

In the six years, 364 days of our marriage (that's right - our seven-year anniversary is tomorrow, Sept. 20), this is the biggest vacation Jamie and I have taken since our honeymoon.

Since I have been accused of being a serial planner when it comes to travel, our plan for this trip was not to plan, only to make hotel reservations in the French Quarter and go where the wind took us.
From Lake Charles, you can take the quick, easy route to New Orleans via Highway 10, but we decided to detour south, through the bayou, on Route 90. This took us through some backwoods. I'm talking deep backwoods, the kind of places you only see in movies.

Off the highway we saw a sign for the TABASCO factory. The place where they make the sauce. I pulled off, thinking we'd just drive by the place and see what it was all about. Once we left the highway we noticed it was six miles out of the way. I was ready to drive on, but Jamie convinced me to head toward TABASCO-land.
What a smart cookie my wife is.
The six-mile drive took us to Avery Island, Louisiana, and in fact it's the place where all TABASCO Sauce is made. We had to pay a one-dollar toll to drive onto the island.

Our first stop was not the factory, but instead a place called Jungle Gardens, which was built by the McIlhenny family decades ago. It's basically a bayou nature preserve.

The place is absolutely stunning. They have tons of native plants and trees, including many covered with beautiful Spanish moss:




They have lots of alligators:

And they even have a 900-year-old Buddha statue with a fascinating back story:

Then we made our way to the TABASCO factory. It was your standard, run-of-the-mill factory tour, but the TABASCO country store was cool.


They gave lots of free samples, including some unique concoctions. A word of warning: Never, ever, under any circumstances, no matter what anyone else tries to say, NEVER taste TABASCO ice cream. NEVER EVER EVER! It's quite possibly the most vile thing I've ever eaten. On the other hand, a few drops of TABASCO in a Coke makes for a surprisingly refreshing beverage.

I would go back to Louisiana just to visit Avery Island.

Then we made our way to New Orleans.

Our hotel, the Hotel St. Marie, was in the French Quarter, on Toulouse, a half block off Bourbon Street. It's the off-season now, so the room was only about 60 bucks per night. Hell, you can't get a Motel 6 in Blue Springs for sixty bucks. The kicker, though, was the parking fee of $28 per night. It was worth it, though. Everything in the French Quarter was in walking distance.

Our first impression of the French Quarter was that it's pretty much a smelly, disgusting hole. The garbage smell was overpowering at times. That's not surprising; there's really no such thing as a "week night" on Bourbon Street. I can't imagine what it would be like during Mardi Gras.




Most of the bars along Bourbon Street are targeted at frat-boy, bachelor-party types, and the places were much, much sleazier than I imagined they would be. We learned a lot about human anatomy and subtlety in advertising. One establishment advertised to the masses via people holding signs emblazoned with the words "TITS 'n' WHISKEY."

The two famous drinks in New Orleans are the Hurricane and the Hand Grenade. My impression of these drinks and others in the French Quarter are that they're expensive, overly sweet and fruity, and not nearly as strong as people would like to think. I discovered this through rigorous testing over the course of our stay.


Our best drinking experiences were at the bars off Bourbon Street, the places that aren't quite flashy enough for the other tourists. Once or twice Jamie and I found ourselves as the only customers in some of these great local haunts.

We had some terrific food, including, of course, gumbo, jambalaya, poboys and etouffee. Jamie even found a handful of vegetarian options. And for breakfast one morning we ventured to Cafe Du Monde, known for their chicory coffee and beignets:


My favorite experience from New Orleans was buying a book. I purchased a copy of William Faulkner's "Soldier's Pay" at a little bookshop on Pirate's Alley. The shop used to be a house, and William Faulkner lived in that house when he wrote "Soldier's Pay."


That book will always be a cherished keepsake for me.

New Orleans is a dirty, stinky, wonderful place. I don't know if we'll ever go back again. But I'm sure as hell glad we went this time.

-- Matt Kelsey


Friday, September 17, 2010

"Gift of the Game" truly is a gift



Everyone should have a friend who is a librarian.
My great librarian friend is Ann Schultis. Ann Schultis can find anything. No article, book or movie is obscure enough to hide from her.

Ann found the Randy Wayne White DVD called "Gift of the Game", the video about the trip the novelist/catcher White took with Bill "Spaceman" Lee to Cuba a few years ago. I referred to it in the previous post. She found it at Amazon.com. Unfortunately, they only had one and --- And, well... I bought it five minutes ago.
However, check back because more copies are bound to show up at Amazon. For 15 bucks you won't be disappointed. As Ann said, this will surely warm a snowy night in January.

Last night as we were leaving the ball field in disappointment, towing our bats and gloves in bags grown heavy across the summer, we were saying how much we'll miss playing ball come January snow. But, one of the guys -- a shortstop named Terry who still has wheels after 60 -- just looked at our tired faces and grinned.

"I'm playing in a tournament in February," he said.
"Where?"
"Minnesota."
"How the hell is this possible?" we asked.
"In the Metrodome," he crowed. "It will be wonderful."

Man, I wish they needed a catcher or a pitcher, or just a guy to buy beer and pick up bats.

--Lofflin

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bill Lee raises the spirits of a Royal's fan - "Here am I/ sitting in my tin can/ far, far away/ Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do



It's almost too painful to write about the Royals right now. So, I thought I'd post these photographs. They tell a great story.

That's Bill "Spaceman" Lee, pitching for an independent league team recently. At 63, he may be the oldest man to win a professional game.

I've always appreciated the Spaceman. He still plays ball in a highly competitive over-40 league, which you know warms my heart. In fact, he is connected to a writer I admire: Randy Wayne White. White is a travel writer I discovered in Outdoor Magazine. Later I picked up on his string of gripping Doc Ford mysteries, the latest has been number six on the New York Times fiction list. He also plays in a highly competitive over-40 league. He's a catcher -- the only right position for a novelist.

A few years ago White and Bill Lee took White's team to Cuba. They also took some film and made a wonderful movie about the adventure but I can't find record of it anywhere today, even on his Web site. I bought a VHS copy but it malfunctioned. Anyway, they took along a big cache of baseball equipment which they distributed to kids everywhere on the island, kids who were playing with bats whittled from logs and baseballs that were essentially electricians tape.

Here's a Web page where you can see snippets of the movie.

--Lofflin

Downloaded the bottom image from Deadspin but they did not give credit to the photographer. My guess is the photographer worked for the Brockton, Mass., Enterprise. The top photograph was submitted by "john" to the Rox' Facebook gallery. Love it...