I realized that there may actually be a few other people in attendance at the Expos-Dodgers game, due to the presence of Quebec’s very own Eric Gagne in the visitors’ bullpen.

However, the Olympics will also be going on that week, so maybe all the locals will be staying home to cheer for the Canadians. Let’s hope there aren’t a lot of people thinking that this year’s Olympics are taking place at Olympic Stadium, despite the name, because things could get ugly.

Home Sweet Home

I apologize for being late with this–work (along with my upcoming weekend trip to Montreal) has kept me busy this week.

But here you go: some thoughts on Monday afternoon’s Expos/Marlins game, such as they are.

1) Luke and I met at 12:45, because MLB.com said the game was to begin at 1:35. Alas, the game began at 1:05, which meant that many fans were already there ahead of us and we were reduced to sitting on the sixth row, behind the on-deck circle. We were so far away I almost couldn’t count the crows feet around Jeff “The Original Marlin” Conine’s eyes.

2) Our estimates of the crowd size, apparently, were wildly inaccurate. The upper decks were closed completely (In fact, there were some construction–or, I suppose in this case, destruction–guys ripping out a section of seats in the upper deck in left. Not like the Sox have another ten home games or anything.), and the lower deck, though more full than I would have guessed, wasn’t anywhere near capacity. I guessed 900 or so, Luke dithered between 800 and 1200. Attendance wasn’t announced during the game, but it was later listed at 4,003.

3) Luke and I had both expected the fans to be rooting for the Expos, hoping for a Marlins defeat that would push Florida farther behind the Cubs in the Wild Card race. There’s nothing like a little North Side blindness, which we all fall prey to sometimes. Turns out about half the audience was composed of Sox fans rooting for a Marlins rout, a Sosa suspension, and more concrete cave-ins at Wrigley. One funny side effect of the general admission seating was that people chose sections like at a high school game: the Expos fans sat on the Expos dugout side, the Marlins fans did the same with the Marlins dugout.

4) The Marlins brought their hometown PA announcer and graphics package, which included the obligatory scoreboard races, a gratuitous shot of Steve Bartman, and a lot of “your Florida Marlins.” One of the scoreboard races was an exotic Florida-type race: fan boats, being raced by several different Billy the Marlin. Bill was also in attendance, as was Marlins owner (and Expos destroyer) Jeffrey Loria. The only thing missing was local traffic information to help us get home to South Beach after the game.

5) The atmosphere at the game, Luke and I agreed, was one of the most pleasant of any game we’ve been to. No one (except the players) had much invested in the game’s outcome, so the cheering was genial, and people seemed to be really enjoying being part of a weird occurrence on a beautiful late summer day. It felt a lot like attending a minor-league game with major-league players–until the Expos made four errors in the 8th inning, at which point it seemed like, well, maybe a T-Ball game.

6) Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I made the day into a doubleheader, hurrying home after the game to get some dinner, then turning around and heading to Wrigley Field for the Cubs/Pirates game. Greg Maddux, given an early lead, did what he nearly always does, and a fine day of baseball came to a pleasant end.

7) And one unrelated note: let’s take a moment to congratulate the Big Unit, who last night fanned Vinny Castilla to move into third all-time on the strikeout list. He might even eventually catch Clemens for second, since he shows no signs of aging.

Original comments…

Jim: You wanted local traffic information for Miami?

“I-95 north is backed up due to slow-moving Cadillacs with turn signals on in all lanes. The Turnpike south is temporarily closed due to alligators crossing the roadway. A1A is flooded due to this week’s hurricane.”

Luke, hanger-on: One of the Florida papers on Tuesday — sorry, I forget which one — said it was the Marlins who wanted the later start Monday, but MLB nixed it. And it said Loria was annoyed at Bartman’s visage — A regular feature after fan interference at Sox Park? The story made it sound like it was. — and made an enraged call to the scoreboard operator to get it yanked. Apparently he’s a bit defensive vis-a-vis the idea that anyone but the Marlins had anything to do with Florida’s unlikely championship.

In addition to the absence of “You suck!” heckles and “Yo, four beers!” bellowing, there was another pleasantness to the game that I’m surprised that Levi didn’t mention: very few children. It was a weekday, so they must have all been in school or jail, where they belong. There were just enough there — youngsters too young for school or out on parole — so that just about every foul ball seemed to get passed on to a nearby child, an indicator of the genial, generous mood that the crowd was in.

Luke: Found that story. (Login: bugmenot2; pass: whatever .)

Luke: And it wasn’t Loria, but Marlins President David Samson.

Jason: Did they have any south Florida items at the concession stands, like oranges or cocaine?

maura: (we weren’t really sure of what time monday’s game was going to start until about five minutes before it actually did. so much confusion.)

How could I pass it up?

I’ve decided to attend Monday’s Marlins/Expos game at Comiskey Park.

With Hurricane Pudge approaching, MLB has rescheduled the first two games of the Marlins/Expos series for Comiskey on Monday and Tuesday aftenoons. Tickets will be general admission, $15, with $5 going to hurricane relief. I’m going because I can’t pass up the chance to be one of a couple hundred people at one of the weirdest games ever.

Who’s with me?

Original comments…

thatbob: If you root hard enough for the Expos in Comiskey, maybe they’ll move here.

Jason: Maybe BOTH the Expos & Marlins will move to Comiskey, if the Fish don’t get their new stadium.

Levi: I think Alan Keyes already moved there, but he’ll be back in Maryland by the end of the World Series, so no conflict there.

Jon Solomon: How was the game?!

Montreal pictures

Years ago, Standard Oil of New Jersey spent a lot of money coming up with a new name that they’d be able to use everywhere in the world. That name was Exxon. They’re still using the old name in Canada (and a lot of other countries besides)…

The spaceship that is Olympic Stadium…


Expos at bat…

For some reason, the top and bottom line (season stats and lineup) are in English, and the middle line (stats for “ce match”) is in French, e.g. “CC” is French for “HR”…

The final line…

A milestone win…

From Poutine to Les Expos

O, Canada! I am so ready to stand on guard for thee. You’ve won me over, with your rolling hills, your Euro-style, your wide vistas, your old buildings, your two-dollar coins, and, yes–I mean oui–even your French.

Le Stade Olimpique, on the other hand. . . . Well, let’s just say if all baseball were played in such conditions, Jim and I might be on a trip to see 11 team handball games instead. Oh, it’s not as bad as it could be. Some good points: The Metro lets you off right under the stadium. Tickets from un homme out front were 10$, or about $.65 U.S. The seat location printed on those tickets was more a suggestion than a condition. The funny yellow seats that looked like they’d been recycled from Tomorrowland’s “Mission to Mars” were actually pretty comfortable. The poutine—which, because I do find myself on occasion eating meat gravy, at Thanksgiving, say, I decided I couldn’t quite bear to pass up—was as advertised. Youppi was slightly less annoying than your average mascot. When an Expo homered, the scoreboard flashed, “CIRCUIT!”

But there were, without a doubt, bad points. The main–all-encompassing, really–bad point was that we were watching baseball indoors. It’s just wrong and deeply unsatisfying to walk out of a pleasant, 25-degree night into an enclosed concrete bowl with a puffy roof. The turf–though more grasslike than the bright green nightmare that serves as the field at Skydome–is still far closer to carpet on the carpet/grass continuum. The outfield walls, though decorated with the retired numbers of Expo greats (Quick quiz: name three. Okay, time’s up. If you said three of Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, or–and this one isn’t really fair–Jackie Robinson, you win!), is still a tall, stadium-blue vinyl cushion thing. And the foul poles, like at Skydome, aren’t poles at all, just two-foot-wide netting painted yellow and strong from the top of the wall to the upper deck–although Stade Olimpique gets bonus points for continuing the foul poles with dotted lines painted across the appropriate part of the façade to the ceiling.

Jim and I were both pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd. The Dodgers were in town, and quite a few of those in attendance were wearing the blue, but the majority of attendees seemed to be Expos fans. The announced attendance of nearly 8,000 didn’t even seem all that inflated. Jim and I decided just before the first pitch that, being in Montreal, we would allow location to supersede Jim’s regional loyalties, so we cheered for Les Expos. As the team took the field, I learned that Expos third baseman Tony Batista (Who, you may remember from his days in Baltimore, has the silliest batting stance in baseball, sillier even than Craig Counsell. Really. Try it out yourself. Look in the mirror. Imagine the mirror is a pitcher. Take the stance that normal hitter would take, and you’ll see that your outside shoulder is faced towards the pitcher. Now, imagine you’re Tony Batista. Say “Hola, soy Tony Batista.” Take your left foot, the one closest to the pitcher, and step out of the box with it. You’ll notice that you’re now facing the pitcher. Take the bat off your shoulder and hold it with both hands directly in front of you, pointed up, like Ben Kenobi awaiting Darth Vader. Wait for your pitch.) runs out to his position at top speed just like Sammy Sosa. Only, as Batista is an infielder, he has to get moving and get stopped much more quickly. But the crowd loves it nonetheless.

The game itself was a good one for Expos fans–from the third pitch to Brad Wilkerson leading off the bottom of the first, Jose Lima had definitely set his watch to Lima Time. Only, he’d set it to Lima time circa 1999, when his propensity for the “balle de circuit!” forced him out of baseball. He threw “un balle de adios, mon ami” to Wilkerson, and later he served up “un balle de tristesse toujours san fin” to the aforementioned Tony Batista a few innings later. (Remember how silly you looked just now in the mirror? I don’t understand how it works, either.) Miixing it up a bit, Lima tossed the next batter, Juan Rivera, a “balle de Mercy!, merci.” In the sixth, Termel Sledge, who’s only mentioned here because of his great name, singled and scored when Lima threw his last pitch of the ballgame, “un balle de circuit de troix puntos.” The 6-3 lead that gave Les Expos would hold up, making the teams Jim and I are rooting for 5-0 on the trip. That in itself is almost worth our not getting to see Eric Gagne pitch in his homeland.

One last incident from the game deserves mention, and it involves the twice-mentioned Tony Batista. In the 7th, Batista dodged a wild pitch–“un mauvais balle”–that nearly hit his ankles. The next pitch was a fastball that hit him in the helmet. He went down, knocked out. The Dodgers pitcher was instantly ejected, unfairly, in my view, and the trainer and players gathered around Batista. It was scary, but within a minute or so, he was moving around. Then, within seconds of having been out cold, Batista pushed himself to his feet, turned and waved both hands at the cheering crowd, and, shrugging off assistance, sprinted to first. Though I expected him to be replaced in the game for precautionary reasons, he stayed in, and three pitches later, he stole second on the back end of a double steal. Surely he’s a fan favorite in Montreal.

Now we’re rolling up and down the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, on our way to Boston. When I turned the computer on, I misread the wireless network symbol and thought for a second that perhaps all of Vermont was an open wireless network. Sadly, no.

The examination at the border crossing back into the U.S. was a bit more strenuous than the one we endured to enter Canada (Here is the entry one in its entirety, as a one-act play: Customs guy (bored almost to the point of rudeness: You bringing anything in? Me: Nope. Fin.). The lady looked in our trunk, asked how we knew each other–explaining CRC set us behind schedule about two hours—and asked twice if we were bringing anything in. Later, we took a pleasant ferry ride across lovely Lake Champlain, and, minutes after I had expressed to Jim my general distaste for giant Recreational Vehicles like the pink one adjacent to us on the ferry, which was towing an SUV behind it–and seconds after I expressed my fears that it would smash our car attempting to drive off the ferry–said RV, in driving off the ferry, banged its long-ass back end into our right rear panel. Fortunately for us, only the trailer carrying the SUV suffered damage, a smashed taillight. Our Chevy Impala, apparently “increveable,” was unmarked. A ways down the road, as we passed the RV, I was able to shake my fist. I doubt the driver saw me, though, from his perch forty feet above the roadway.

On to Boston. Johnny Damon, we come for thee!

Original comments…

Jim’s mom: Mom says hi. Drive carefully and eat your vegetables.

Toby: Levi, If you didn’t get a picture of Lima’s wife, don’t bother coming back! Are you trying to say the tickets were 65 cents or is there a typo somewhere?

thatbob: That’s just Levi trying to make some of his patented “exchange rate” humor. It probably would have made a little more sense about 4 years ago, you know, before the US dollar went all to hell.

Eric Ritter: Poutine… mmmmm.

stacey: so what exactly is poutine?

Dan: When I went to Olympic Stadium in 1989, I thought it was a tremendous dump. Although I bet it was a terrific place to see the opening ceremonies of the ’76 Games.

sandor: Poutine is something like fries swimming in meat gravy. It’s much grosser than a pretty name like “poutine” would lead you to believe.

I’m curious to know if either Canadian ballpark served donairs. During our recent trip to Canadia, we were confused as all get-out to see them advertised at the same level and intesity as hamburgers and hot dogs, not having ever heard the term before. Turns out a donair is pretty much the exact same thing as a gyros. I guess they hate Greeks in Canadia, and needed to come up with something sufficiently anglo as a replacement.

stacey: It’s now 3:16 here in Chicago. I’ve just turned off WPRB after enjoying the radio show . . . but I’m surprised there’s not a new post yet. Isn’t Maura a wireless zone?

stacey: sorry to keep posting about the future and the past . . . but this reminded me of the bunny at the swing of the quad cities game:


Jason: The big question is: Did Jim eat any poutine?

Eric Ritter: Poutine is the national food of the part of Quebec that doesn’t object to it being the national food.

I loooove Poutine. But I understand the point of view of people who don’t want it to be the national food. It’s extremely yummy (to me, an avowed fan of fatty foods), but doesn’t achieve the culinary brilliance of certain other proletarian fatty foods, such as Southern fried chicken (of which I am the grandmaster, by the way. And which is much less fatty than you think.) A francophone nation can do better.


Schubert, Schumann, and Senators?

According to a Washington-based media news site, assuming the greater D.C. area really is getting the Expos, one radio station group owner is already looking forward to getting the broadcast rights…and putting the broadcasts on their classical station, which would henceforth use the slogan “Bach, Beethoven, and baseball.”

Elsewhere, someone has already suggested Washington Insiders as a team name. If it were up to me, though, I’d follow the Swing of the Quad Cities model and name the team The Fat Cats in Washington.

Original comments…

Jason: I’d name them the D.C. Follies. It fits so well.

Dan: Or do the trendy non-plural team name: The D.C. Cab.

Just in time

According to this story, officials from the Major League Baseball Players’ Union met with Montreal Expos player reps yesterday to inform them that there would be no baseball in Montreal next season. The team’s new home hasn’t been decided, but it appears that it will be either Washington, DC, or northern Virginia.

Since one of the main reasons Jim and I are taking this trip is to see the Montreal Expos, I’m glad we didn’t put the trip off a year.

But before the Expos leave us, one more thing needs to be said: Major League Baseball killed baseball in Montreal. Though baseball in Montreal was never a good bet to be as big as in baseball’s best cities, the Expos were popular in the past, and there’s no reason to think that, with a winning team and smart ownership, they couldn’t be popular in the future.

Take a look at this chart of Expos home attendance through the years. From 1979-1983, when the Expos were winning at a .543 clip (picking up their one division title along the way and finishing second (to the Pirates) twice), the Expos averaged nearly 28,000 fans per game. Attendance fell along with the Expos’ winning percentage throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, but it didn’t utterly collapse until the late 1990s, on the heels of two fire sales and the loss of the 1994 postseason, which cost the best Expos team in 15 years its chance at a World Series.

If this were any other business, some smart young rich guy would look at those figures and decide to take a crack on turning baseball around in Montreal. But in the Seligian fiefdom that is MLB, the 30 owners thought they were better off with wrangling another taxpayer-funded stadium, depressing salaries for a few years, and trying (and failing) an experiment in Puerto Rico. And as for the remaining Expos fans, well, tough merde.

So enjoy your new Senators or Swamp Rats or K Street Killers or Suburban Sluggers or whatever, [insert name of Expos new home city or region here], in the new stadium you built them. But you might want to get started drawing up the paperwork on those bonds for 2035, when Zombie Selig will reveal that the stadium is antiquated and will keep the team from ever succeeding, and if you don’t build a new one, he might just have to authorize a move to . . . . Montreal.

Player A and Player B

One of my favorite of the games played by Rob Neyer in his column is comparing unnamed Player A with unnamed Player B.

Today, we’re going to play that game–but I’ll make it easier for you. Player A is Barry Lamar Bonds.

Barry Bonds so far this season:

10 44 .463 .704 1.111

Player B so far this season:

14 55 .216 .268 .308

Sure, Player B’s counting numbers are impressive–but the discrepancy between the huge number of walks and home runs and the low on-base percentage and slugging percentage surely have tipped you off that I’m being intentionally misleading.

Player B is not a single player. It’s the Montreal Expos. They’ve needed 903 plate appearances to compile those numbers.

Barry Bonds has needed only 98.

Barring injury, he’s going to break his own record of 198 walks. While doing that, he’s going to pass Rickey Henderson for most walks all-time. He’s going to break his own intentional walk record of 64.

And I’ll say it on the record: he’s going to hit .400.

Baggarly, I hope the circus of a .400 season will help compensate for boredom of covering the suprising wreckage of the Giants team in general. We’re watching Babe Ruth here, only far, far more impressive in context. I don’t expect ever to see his like again. We should watch him every chance we get.

Original comments…

Steve: Far more impressive than Babe Ruth?!??! This is a joke right? Let’s start with the obvious… 154 game season and only eight teams (that’s right eight) in the AL. No one will ever convince me that the overall quality of the players was not better in those days. 97mph fastball or no, back in the 30s Farnsworth is running a drill press….

Now for some less tangible but no less important factors that contribute to Bonds’ success. First, if I wear enough body armor to win a walk on part in Lord of the Rings, I’d feel pretty good about standing on the plate too. Oh for a spunky manager to tell his pitcher to back Bonds off the plate. You think the managers and pitchers of yore would give two shits about Bonds superstar status? They’d pitch him inside until he backed up or suffered a season ending hand injury…oh wait. Still, I can’t wait to see Clemens pitch to Bonds this year.

Back to the point– between a juiced baseball and a juiced player that 73 will have an asterisk next to it some day. From 49 to 73 is very Brady Anderson-esque. Sure, Babe Ruth was on the sauce and he had a little more protection in the lineup but his OBP and his slugging % are still better than Bonds. Bonds is one of the best players of all time and he is deserving of accolades but has too many negatives to be worthy of all the hyperbole you like to shower him with.

Levi: Leaving aside the steroids question, since there’s no definite evidence against Bonds, and leaving aside the juiced ball question, since test after test has been done of the ball and found little to no difference between balls of today and balls of previous years (Even in the weird power year of 1987, there was no difference.), here are the important points I think are in Bonds’s favor in an argument against Ruth:

1) Ruth never had to face black players. This is, clearly, a biggie. As a pitcher, he never would have had to face Bonds. As a hitter, he never would have had to face a pitcher like Bob Gibson or a fielder like Ozzie Smith.

2) Ruth never had to face Latin or Asian players. He never had to hit against a Pedro Martinez or Byung-Hung Kim or Hideo Nomo.

3) Ruth had less travel, fewer places. Yes, it was by train, so the trips were longer, but he was only having to travel in the Northeast. That’s got to be easier.

4) The number of ballplayers has grown, certainly, but the growth–even if you add in athletes stolen away by other sports–hasn’t come close to keeping up with the increase in the U.S. population in that period. Add in the worldwide scouting that teams do now, and we have far, far more than four times as many people available from which to cull not quite four times as many ballplayers.

4) Ruth never had to face ace relievers, working fully rested. Instead, because starters threw complete games, he got to face tired starters far more often than does Bonds. Starters were probably less tired in the ninth than they are now, because they’re more used to pitching far into the game and because–as interviews with old-time pitchers will tell you–they, for the most part, didn’t have to work as hard as starters today. They state clearly that they didn’t have to be at full intensity on every pitch. Now, when a garden-variety shortstop is strong enough to tie a game with one swing, pitchers are forced to concentrate more closely on every single pitch, and that wears out a pitcher more. Still, that doesn’t compensate for the difference between even a good starter in the 9th and a rested Billy Wagner or John Smoltz who’s able to throw as hard as possible, knowing he only has to throw twenty pitches or so.

5) Ruth didn’t play many night games. It’s generally acknowledged that hitting at night is a bit more difficult than hitting in full daylight.

6) Ruth played half his games in a ballpark that is very favorable to left-handed hitters. Bonds plays half his games in one of the hardest parks for any hitter in the majors. Ruth, in general, played on the road in bigger parks than Bonds, did, to be fair.

7) Pitchers facing Ruth didn’t have the wealth of information available that pitchers facing Bonds have. Pitchers facing Bonds can, if they want, quickly watch every atbat he’s had this year. The converse is true, of course: Ruth couldn’t scout pitchers in advance the way Bonds can. But, given Ruth’s character and reputation as not the hardest worker, can you see him doing much of that?

8) True, Ruth didn’t have body armor. And the thing Bonds wears on his elbow is absurd and should be stopped by the league–it’s over the top. But at least a few other players employ equally absurd devices (Craig Biggio, for example), yet they don’t seem to get the same results, or even anywhere near the same results.

9) Stephen Jay Gould’s best writing about baseball was about the disappearance of the .400 hitter. I can’t remember now which book it was in, but he argued that baseball, as a fairly consistent system (no insane rules changes), shows the characteristics of any system over time: variation decreases, and things settle around a norm, with far fewer extreme outliers. He buttressed his argument with evidence like the decrease in the number of absurdly good or absurdly bad teams, the decrease in the number of hitters who stood head and shoulders above or below the league, and the same with pitchers. I can’t do his argument justice right here, but it was convincing, and the conclusion was that achievements remarkably greater (or worse–see 2003 Detroit Tigers) than everyone else are far more difficult these days than they used to be.

That’s just off the top of my head, but I think that’s quite a few points directly in Bonds’s favor. The only true advantages that Bonds has that Ruth didn’t are the smaller road parks (an advantage that disappears if you look, as you should, at the relationship of the achievement to the league norms) and the tremendous advances in our understanding of nutrition and physical fitness since Ruth’s time. I’ve read about Bonds’s workout regimen. It’s insane. Other players who’ve tried it for even a few days have dropped out, exhausted. Maybe Ruth would have adhered to a similar regimen if he were to play today; he sure wasn’t known for taking care of himself, but you really never know what such an amazingly talented person would do under different circumstances.

The real question is, is what Bonds is doing, relative to the league, as impressive as what Ruth did, relative to his league? On the face of it, it’s clearly not. The year Ruth hit 54 homers, only two other _teams_ even had that many. But I think all the arugments you’re making, Steve, when really looked at, turn around and support Bonds. Maybe they don’t entirely close the gap–Ruth was an unbelievable player, and I would love to have seen him hit–but I think they clearly make the comparison worth thinking about. And if Bonds finishes the year with numbers even remotely like this–at age 41–I’ll be serious that he’s better than Ruth.

Levi: Oh, and a couple of other things:

1) While advanced nutrition techniques and physical fitness regimes have benefitted hitters much more than pitchers, they have benefitted pitchers (and fielders) some, too. The fielders today are almost certainly better than in the old days, on average, for reasons ranging from the established fact that people in developed countries are faster, quicker, bigger, and stronger than they were 75 years ago to the better and larger gloves fielders use. Even such a great play as Willie Mays’s catch of Vic Wertz’s line drive in the 1954 World Series doesn’t look _that_ impressive these days. I really believe I’ve seen plays just as good, by guys who aren’t even that well known for their fielding.

2) One advantage Bonds has that Ruth didn’t, but would definitely have made use of: thin-handled, scoop-ended bats. The understanding of the physics of bat speed has been crucial to the increase in power in the past decades. Look at the bats on ESPN Classic even in the 1980s. They’re giant and unwieldy.

3) Ruth, too, played most of his hitting career in a high-offense era. He largely created that era with his understanding of how to hit, and he stood head and shoulders above it, but he did benefit from other changes that other hitters benefitted from, too, like the introduction of a truly livelier ball and the more frequent substitution of new balls into play (following the death of Ray Chapman on a pitch where he didn’t seem to see the dirty, beat-up baseball at all).

4) The bit about 49 homers to 73 is, I assume, a steroids reference. Again, I suppose it’s possible. But from what I’ve seen since Bonds began hitting more home runs, it’s been largely because he has become even more selective than he was as a younger player, he’s taking more of an uppercut swing, and his swing has shortened considerably since his younger days. The shortened swing could be argued as a reflection of the benefits of steroids, if it turns out he’s on them, and you could even say his selectivity would benefit from the quicker hands and wrists that steroid-assisted strength might add. But in the absence of evidence, I’ll stay with the argument that Bonds decided, following Sosa/McGwire in 1998, to hit more home runs, and he adjusted his swing and approach accordingly.

Levi: Re-reading my post, I agree that I shouldn’t have said “far, far more impressive.”

I think it’s more impressive, but the emphatic additions were probably too much.

Steve: We’ll continue this tomorrow. You have many good points, some of which I was going to deploy (especially the nutrition angle) As I sign off for the day however I want to start with this. I’m a little troubled by the subtle undertones of this statement….

1) Ruth never had to face black players. This is, clearly, a biggie. As a pitcher, he never would have had to face Bonds…..Ruth never had to face Latin or Asian players. He never had to hit against a Pedro Martinez or Byung-Hung Kim or Hideo Nomo.

I don’t really see what race has to do with it. I think the league was small enough that even though it segregated against many deserving players, this did very little to alter the overall talent pool. If there were players from different races in the league do you really think it would have made a noticable difference spread out over an entire career? Anyway, Bob Gibson would have backed Bonds off the plate, too.

A guy stood at the plate with a heavy-ass bat, hung over and sweating booze in his flannels and made it happen. It’s kind of like you and your little glove from intramurals. I’m surprised you ever caught anything with that. That you could do it 99% of the time made me respect your skills as a fielder. You didn’t need fancy equipment and to this subjective observer I would say that glove was even a handicap. You weren’t basket catching anything. You understood the fundamentals of how to catch a ball, rarely practiced but were ,daresay, a natural. That’s what I’m getting at stats or no (stats which I think still support my arguments) Bonds is a robot but Ruth was a giant. It’s like preferring Kraftwerk to Hank Williams or Woody Guthrie. Digital v analog. Cats v dogs. Two different things and we’ll get to the steroids tomorrow but I think you are being a little Scalia-esque with the level of proof you seem to require.

Levi: I agree with your assertion (and I am pleased by the compliment to my fielding. Go small gloves!): Ruth really did tower over the field. It’s indisputable.

The reason that the absence of black, Latino, or Asian players is important is not that they are black, Latino, or Asian: it’s that their absence means that the league was manifestly _not_ composed of the best available players, let alone the best available athletes. Maybe it was composed of most of the best available. Maybe even 80% or 90%. But there is no argument that can convince me that excluding 10-15% of the US population (let alone the world population) from consideration on grounds that have nothing to do with talent will result in a league with an overall talent level as high as the one we have now, where teams–for all the biases they’re still working with–are looking for the best baseball players, worldwide, with no other considerations.

It’s not about race, per se. It’s about cutting off a source of talent. What galls about it is that the exclusion was based on race, certainly, but for this argument, that’s not the important part of the point.

Steve: Well Levi, you may be on to something with your Bonds-fawning but more on that in a moment. Back to the steroid scandal, I am less willing to offer a benefit of the doubt than you. In a court of law one is innocent until proven guilty but in the court of public opinion I think there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to implicate Bonds through his close association with already indicted people.

I contend Bonds was juiced up and hit 73 primarily as a result of this. His previous career high HR was 49 the year before. You contend he dedicated himself to changing his game and powering the ball out of the stadium. The next year he only hit 46HR– why the drop off? First he played in 10 less games. One remarkable fact I have learned thanks to this discussion is that Bonds has never played 162 games in a season. He played in 143 the years before and after the 73HR. The year after Bonds hit 73 HR his IBB almost doubled, and he walked 21 more times (in 10 less games) Clearly I can’t make my case that Bonds was juiced based on statistical evidence. He is a remarkable player. Let’s run down some of your other points.

Regarding the segregation of baseball. Bonds does have the advantage of playing against the best players in the entire world. In a functional sense, one might argue that the integration of baseball MUST have led to league expansion because it could absorb better players. Still, baseball was integrated in 1947 and didn’t expand until 1962 (15 years) I still contend this is, at best, a wash. However, one argument that would support your point in a twisted sense is the way in which Latin players are essentially farmed. Back in Ruth’s day there weren’t baseball colonies gathering in countless youngsters and signing them to contracts when they are in there early teens. In that sense, the players may be of better quality because they’ve made an industry out of it.

As talk turns to league contraction it’s clear that many players in today’s game don’t belong on major league rosters. I would argue the nature of specialization is really there to protect the superstars. Middle relievers are the baseball equivalent of cannon fodder. They go out there and they soak up innings. They aren’t good enough to start and they aren’t good enough to close. If it weren’t for the fact that there are so many teams you might well have a league full of Curt Schillings ready to go the distance against the Bonds’ of the world. In terms of closers, there are certainly a few world-beaters, Gagne, Smoltz, Eck, Rivera. But for every one of those guys there’s a head case with a big heater. Maybe it’s just me but I think baseball has become much more of a psychological sport. Why is it that 32 teams don’t have 32 awesome closers? It’s because pitching in that context is much more mental than physical. I think 90% of hitters have a clear advantage when they are going up against a “closer” in the 90s

On your point about travel, you’ve certainly got me there but regarding day v night games the Giants play the second most amount of day games in baseball (or at least they used to). And, if you listen to the Cubs, playing baseball in the day is harder because you have less time to “adjust” ie. sleep off the hangover. The players of Ruth’s era worked hard, played harder and then went back to work.

The parks of the old days all had their quirks but in general were much bigger than the parks of today. Sure if you can hit the porch in Tiger Stadium you are not necessarily bad-ass but if you hit a ball to dead center in the Polo Grounds you better hope you and your 4-lb bat got every bit of it.

In context, Bonds stands head and shoulders above most of league but I think A-Rod or Manny Ramirez are probably as good as he is. Of course, the trick is to put together a career of these mind-boggling numbers. It is remarkable that Bonds seems to be improving with age. 73HR is a gaudy number but I honestly think it will be broken again. It won’t linger there for 30+ years like Maris. Again, compared to the rest of league, Ruth definitely stands out more than Bonds. It’s too bad Gould passed or we might beg him to turn his analysis to this question. Do you know anyone at Stats? Gould may have a point but I still say, more pitchers, smaller ballparks, better nutrition and better equipment make hitting less of an art than it was in the old days. Bonds has clearly reduced it to a science. He is the MJ of baseball. I would say Ruth is more like Wilt Chamberlain. And I still think he sets the standards by which other players must be judged.

I’ve enjoyed this lively debate and in the spirit of our baseball wagers of years past I have one for you (but it doesn’t involve fellatio) If Bonds hits .400 this year (based on the minimum number of plate appearances to qualify for the batting title) I will 1) concede your point that he is better than Ruth and 2) treat you and your wife to a baseball game at a minor league stadium of your choosing within a 90 mile radius of your home. I think that covers Schaumburg (big whoop), Kane County, Gary, Joliet, Beloit and maybe another one that is slipping my mind. If Bonds fails to hit .400, I want 12 bottles of any (1) of these beers: PBR, Special Export or Old Style. Good luck.

Steve: Where’d the rest of my post go?

I can’t recreate it again but basically it said that I am right and you are wrong and in our tradition of talking ball, we need to put a wager on it (no fellatio involved)

If Bonds hits .400 based on enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title I will…
1) Admit that Bonds is better than Ruth and, indeed, the best player of all time.
2) Host you and Stacey to a minor league ballgame within a 90-mile radius of your house. You can pick from such whistle stops as Schamburg, Cook County, Joliet, Kane County, Gary or Beloit.

If Bonds fails to hit .400 I want a 12pack bottles of either PBR or Special Export.

Today Bonds says he won’t hit .400 because he buys Levi’s argument that pitchers are just too good.