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.


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.


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 -- 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...


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.