The trots

To start the new season, the indispensable Wezen-Ball has offered up yet another in their long series of pointless, yet wonderful investigations of odd dimensions of baseball: the duration of home run trots.

I’ll won’t share all the details so you’ll click over–you really should be reading Wezen-Ball every day already–but it won’t surprise you to learn that Molinas take two of the top five slots for slowest home run trots. That’s not to say that they’re showboats–I suspect Mrs. Molina wouldn’t have any truck with that nonsense–it’s just that they move like showboats. Nineteenth-century paddlewheel showboats. Takes ’em a long time to get going, and their top speed is best registered in hours per mile.

Scott Rolen, meanwhile, that hardworking Hoosier with a Show-Me State attitude, makes the other list, his head-down churn near–but not at–the top. Who’s the fastest? Well, leaving aside Stephen Drew’s inside-the-parker from a few days back, it’s an AL player who has been described by a teammate as playing “as if he hasn’t slept for four days.” Take a gander at how close his time is to Drew’s, and remember that Drew was trying to avoid being tagged out while he was running the bases. I picture a dugout full of laughing teammates.

Mike Shannon, the Moon Man

There’ll be one final pre-trip post later today, if all goes well, but here’s a quick one for y’all of some Mike Shannon saying I’ve come across lately.

It all started with Shannon’s reaction to Scott Rolen being hit by a pitch with two on the other night. Instantly, Shannon said, “Oh, that’s all right, that’s all right,” glad to have another Cardinals baserunner, regardless of Rolen’s bruises.

Then, online the past two days, I’ve read a couple of perfect Mike Shannon statements. The key to a Shannonism is that, while what he actually says might not make sense directly, its meaning is somehow very clear, despite.

#1: “Scott Rolen’s got hands like sewer lids down there at third.”
#2: “Scott Rolen’s got a 3-0 count. He just needs to make sure not to step on the dog on the porch now.”

Game of the Week!

Warning: Those of you tired of reading about the Cardinals might want to skip this post. It’s long. I can’t imagine anyone could be tired of reading about the team with baseball’s best record, but then again, I can’t imagine anyone not finding Dick Cheney repulsive, and he’s married. And Vice President.

Last night’s Cards-Giants game was everything a nationally televised game should be: Two good pitchers with differing styles (Jason Schmidt and Woody Williams), two of the game’s best sluggers (Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols), and two of the game’s best teams in one of baseball’s prettiest ballparks. And it lived up to it, with the Cardinals winning 6-1, their margin of victory fattened in the late innings on a Giants bullpen that’s been as reliable lately as the Bridge of San Luis Rey. Most of the game was spent with the score 2-1 Cardinals, making every pitch–especially those to a certain lefty–fraught with peril.

The great moments in the game were primarily one-on-one moments, batter versus pitcher. There were no particularly great defensive plays or baserunning heroics; the fun was in watching the power of Jason Schmidt and the guile of Woody Williams matched up against the batting eyes and hitting smarts of the likes of Bonds and Pujols.

Some highlights from that:

1) In the first inning, with Edgar Renteria on base, Pujols faced Schmidt. What followed was as pure a power vs. power battle as you’ll ever see. Schmidt brought the 95-mph heat just above the belt, Pujols swung as hard as humanly possible, and he swung right through it. Stacey and I actually gasped. The next pitch was a little higher, around the shoulders, and Pujols couldn’t lay off. But you can’t hit that pitch, even if you’re Albert Pujols*. Then, in a textbook demonstration of how to pitch, Schmidt struck Pujols out on an off-speed pitch that started thigh-high, then dropped to the dirt. It was Pujols’s 29th strikeout of the year, to keep pace with his 29 home runs.
The next pitch Schmidt threw, to Rolen, was deposited far beyond the wall in dead center. That’s the second time in a couple of weeks that Rolen has followed a Pujols strikeout with a long first-pitch homer. Maybe catchers need to make going to the mound a regular step following a Pujols strikeout., if only to remind the pitcher not to throw a first-pitch fastball.

2) For a couple of years, statheads online have been arguing whether teams might be walking Barry Bonds too often, in a way that’s counterproductive. After all, the argument goes, if you walk him every time, he makes no outs. If you pitch to him, he makes four or five outs out of ten atbats. Maybe it’s worth the home runs that he hits to get those outs. The Cardinals seem to be the only people testing this theory. This post at Redbird Nation covers the last two years of the strategy. His take: Cards come out ahead, but just barely.
I don’t mind the intentional walk, but last night’s four Bonds at-bats did remind me of what automatically walking Barry takes away from the game. Four times Bonds batted, and four times, the Cardinals came right at him:
a) In the first, Bonds–knowing the Cardinals were going to challenge him, just barely got under the first pitch, an outside fastball, and drove it to the warning track, and John Mabry’s glove.
b) In his second at-bat, Bonds swung at the first pitch again, a fastball that made his eyes light up–then cut in a bit at the last second to jam him, a beatiful pitch that became an infield popup.
c) In his third trip, Bonds fouled off two, took two, then fouled off four straight, a variety of pitches, from a couple of inside fastballs to an outside slider to a hanging curveball that he just missed crushing. Finally, on the eleventh pitch of the at-bat, he flied out to the weird angle 420 feet away in right where home runs go to die.
d) In his last at-bat, the only time in the night when Bonds didn’t represent the tying or go-ahead run, round, effective lefty (and Chicago native) Ray King faced him. Bonds took a strike on a tough slider, fouled one off, took a ball low, then drove a pitch into McCovey Cove that, like a slalom skier missing a gate, went for naught because it was on the wrong side of the foul pole. Then King jammed him inside and got a grounder to Pujols.
They were four of the most fun at-bats I’ve seen all year. Bonds didn’t swing and miss even once, and he took very few pitches, for him. It really was baseball at its best, and the Cardinals came out on top–this time.

3) And speaking of good at-bats: I love good-hitting pitchers. Woody Williams, hitting better than .260 on the year, last night had a single in the second inning, but that wasn’t his best at-bat of the night. In the 7th, he worked Schmidt for ten pitches, including four fouls with two strikes, before finally being blown away by a fastball. Those ten pitches, pushing Schmidt to 118 for the night, were instrumental in getting Schmidt out of the game before the 8th inning and bringing on the Giants bullpen.

All in all, a great game. And we’re less than three weeks away from our trip now!

*I’m often surprised that hitters swing at the high fastball. It must just look too good to resist, even though you know it’s not good for you, like a deep-fried Twinkie. In little league, I was so short that my coach, Eugene Lindsey, instructed me to take pitches until I got a strike. I dutifully did so, and occasionally I would draw a walk. Most of the time, though, the first strike would be called and I, freed from all shackles, would blindly hack at whatever came my way. So I don’t have a lot of experience trying to lay off shoulder-high fastballs. Maybe some of the more accomplished ballplayers in the audience can weigh in on the seductiveness of the high heat.

Original comments…

Timmy: You’re blog is great…it’s good to see dedicated baseball fans, willing to travel the country…I recently flew out to Chicago to visit Wrigley (Pujols had 3 HRs) and Boston to visit Fenway (3rd visit to Wrigley, 1st to Fenway), and it’s an experience I’ll never forget…good luck on your trip (too bad you can’t see a Ranger’s game…the Ballpark is one of the nicer ones)

Jim: Thanks, Timmy! If we do another trip in 2005 (or beyond), I definitely want to try to get to the parks in Texas. The Ballpark does look nice in the pictures I’ve seen of it, and since I’m a railfan, I know I’ll enjoy the orange-powered steam locomotive in Houston.

Jason: I’ve learned you can deep-fry a Twinkie, but you can’t deep-fry a Hostess cupcake.

Levi: Thanks for the kind words, Timmy.

One thing I forgot to mention: last night was only the fourth time this season that Bonds hasn’t reached base in a game he played.

stacey: levi pointed out the row of rubber chickens that fans have strung up at the giants’ ballpark to represent the number of times barry has been walked (intentionally, i think) this season. wow, that is a lot of chickens.

stacey: here we go:

Jason: You can deep-fry a chicken. But I dunno about deep-frying a rubber chicken.

Cards/Cubs notes

I’m only here at the office half a day today, so all I’ve got today is a few quick notes from last night’s game:

1) Wendell Kim has failed to master any of the three elements of a third-base coach’s job. As I see it, those elements are knowing the speed of the runners on your team, knowing the quality of the throwing arm of the opposing outfielders, and knowing, at the very least, how many outs have been made already in an inning. Breaking down last night’s Wavin’ Wendell moment, we see that Kim sent a slightly hobbled runner, Aramis Ramirez (Element 1), against the great arm of Reggie Sanders (Element 2) when there were no outs in the inning (Element 3). Hilarity ensued.

Kim was apologetic after the game.

2) In the 4th inning, after Jim Edmonds deposited a ball onto Sheffield, he admired his shot too long for Carlos Zambrano’s taste. Now, my seatmate, Michelle, and I didn’t notice anything, and even as we watched the slow-motion replay on the TV hanging above our heads, we didn’t think Edmonds had been out of line. Zambrano thought differently, so he yelled at him, almost precipitated a brawl, and then in the 8th, after giving up another home run, this one to Rolen, he hit Edmonds. I agree with Phil Rogers today (Wow. That’s the first time that’s happened that I know of. And I thought it was weird when I found myself agreeing with something Pat Buchanan said recently. These are strange days indeed.) in the Tribune: if you’re pitching for a team whose superstar does a wiggly little hop every time he homers, you should probably keep quiet about demonstrations by your opponents.

3) Zambrano was ejected immediately after hitting Edmonds–who, to his credit took his base in manly, “I’m above this shit–and we’re about to have a 9-game lead” fashion, singlehandedly preventing a brawl–which led Michelle and me to consider the rules. Zambrano knew he would be ejected for hitting Edmonds, as both benches had been warned earlier. Because there was no one getting ready in the bullpen, Mike Remlinger, when called upon, was given all the time he needed to get warmed up.

Michelle and I agreed that that’s an understandable policy. After all, it’s not in anyone’s interest to have pitchers getting injured because they only got eight warm-up tosses. But we also agreed that such a policy could lead to abuse by managers: in this case, Zambrano had just given up the lead. He wasn’t going to be lifted from the game, but it’s easy to imagine a circumstance in which the manager, his pitcher suddenly falling apart on the mound, has him get ejected from the game in order to avoid having to keep him out there for another batter or two while the reliever gets ready.

But I came up with a solution to this problem. The reliever who enters following an ejection gets all the time he needs to warm up . . . but the opposing manager gets to pick who that reliever is. Jeff Fassero, are you hiding down there behind the tarp? Come on down! Mel Rojas, are you in the clubhouse wrapped in a towel? Tony LaRussa would like to see you!

Next time I harangue the Commish in a dream, I’ll suggest that change in the rules.

4) And a quick note on selectivity and patience at the plate. I was tracking pitches while keeping score last night. Cubs leadoff man Mark Grudzielanek saw only eight pitches while making four outs. Meanwhile, Cardinals leadoff man Tony Womack, in the course of going 0-3 with two walks, used up 21 pitches. That lack of patience has dogged nearly all the Cubs all year long, and it goes a long way towards explaining how Chris Carpenter was able to get through eight innings last night on only 97 pitches and four earned runs despite giving up 12 hits. Well, that and point #1 above.

Halfway there

Well, we’re more than halfway there. When I was a kid, the pedant in me (which was, like 75% of me) was regularly annoyed by the demarcation of the All-Star break as the halfway point. Now that I know what it’s like to be an adult and once in a while need some days off, I understand better why three days off in the midst of a long season should be viewed as the halfway point, regardless of its mathematical accuracy.

So at the halfway point, it’s time for a quick list of the best things about the first half for me:

1) The Cardinals, and their position in the standings relative to the Cubs, the Astros, and the rest of the Senior Circuit.

2) Johnny Damon’s first at-bat of the season. Even more than the rest of his season, the spit-out-your-beer surprise of seeing him stand in that first night has made me smile for three months.

3) Scott Rolen

4) The Unit’s perfect game.

5) The Tigers‘ win total, one less than at the end of last season. Do you think they’ll just take the rest of the year off?

I’m sure I’ve missed some. For example, there’s no way that the Tigers’ season has been one of the five best things about baseball this year, even for Tigers fans. But I am impressed with their season, and I’m working, and listing Johnny Damon twice would be wrong.

So you should add your own top five in the comments. ‘Cause yours will probably be better than mine.

Original comments…

Steve: 1) The Cubs are being the Cubs
2) The White Sox are making baseball fun (at least for me)
3) Baseball Related Program Activities
4) The NL East Race
5) Ivan Rodriguez (his stats are crazy when you consider he’s a catcher. He hit .500 for the month of June)

Levi: .500?

That’s insane.

Oh, and if I expanded my list, I might include:
6) The AL looking like it might, just might have a different order of finish for the first time since the birth of the Devil Rays. The teams have all finished in the same spots every season since then.

Dan: 1) Mets finally giving me a reason to enjoy the day-to-day pennant races again.
2) Traditionally shitty teams doing really well, in nearly every division: Tigers, Rays, Brewers, Padres, (erm, Mets), Rangers
3) Jason Marquis establishing himself as the best Jewish pitcher since Steve Stone
4) Mets sweeping the Yankees and winning the season series, both for the first time ever
5) The Astros imploding.
**6) Johnny Damon — indeed, that first game was magic, and I was sitting here watching alone

2nd half wish list:
1) Mets sneak into the playoffs, I don’t care if it’s with an 82-80 record like it was in ’73
2) Someone hits Clemens in the head (or hand)
3) Someone hits Jeter in the groin
4) Rickey Henderson returns
5) Andy Baggarly breaks open the BALCO case

Toby: 1. A Hoosier from Levi’s sister’s town leads the All-Star voting
2. Blue Jays’ new logo/uniforms
3. Astros virtually out of the race
4. The Braves NOT in first place at the break
5. D-Rays’ and PIrates’ long winning streaks

Jason: 1. Finally getting to a Visalia Oaks game.
2. Finding a A&W Restaurant before the Oaks game.
3. Visiting PETCO park for a Padres-Cubs game.
4. Taking a pleasant weekday drive through the San Gabriel mountains before a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game.
5. Watching Cal State Fullerton win the College World Series, giving me incentive to try to attend a game there next season.

Levi: How could I have forgotten the Braves’ struggles? That really is a top-five event. Go, Mets!

"That strike zone [stunk]"

The Cardinals and Cubs played a wild game in St. Louis last night, a game which the Cardinals won 10-9, scoring the winning run on a passed ball by catcher Paul Bako, who entered the game in the 9th after starting catcher Michael Barrett and relief pitcher Kent Mercker were thrown out for arguing about the poorly-called strike zone. Midway through that inning, when Mercker didn’t get the call on what should clearly have been an inning-ending third strike to Reggie Sanders, I had thought to myself, “Mercker’s going to get thrown out at the end of this inning.” Lo and behold, Mercker got thumbed after he shouted “Fuck you!” while striding off the mound, followed immediately by Barrett’s shouting, “That’s bullshit!” as he threw down his mask, then repeating it for emphasis as he threw down his glove. The second thumb flew.

They were right. Umpire Sam Holbrook’s strike zone was bullshit. More than any game I can remember since the days of Eric Gregg, the umpire made this game what it was. His strike zone managed to be both tiny and inconsistent. Fortunately, the Cardinals got the best of it.

But there was much, much more to the game than that:

1) The Cubs made three errors. I like to think that is karmic payback for Chip Carey’s constant harping on the Cubs low error totals, which leads him to say “The Cubs’ defense is far and away the best in the league.” And a fantastic play by Scott Rolen to open the ninth was further payback for Chip’s statement Monday that “Sure, Rolen may be slightly outhitting Aramis Ramirez, but Ramirez is having the better year defensively, with X errors to Rolen’s Y errors.” Ramirez has played surprisingly strong defense this year, but the difference between him and Rolen is still like the difference between a speech by Bush and a speech by Clinton.

2) The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a story today about something I didn’t catch, though apparently it was shown on the broadcast. Steve Kline warmed up in the 6th, but when he wasn’t summoned to pitch, he flipped the bird at Tony LaRussa. According to the story, when informed of this post-game, LaRussa got steamed and broke off the press conference, saying “Give me two minutes and I’ll be standing on top of his chest kicking the (bleep) out of him.”

We all have a pretty good idea what LaRussa said that is being bleeped. But what about what Kline said later: “If he doesn’t want me to get mad, then don’t (lead me on).”

I don’t know (Toby, Scott, Baggarly, Dan: care to weigh in?) exactly what the policies at most papers are on when and how to elide or replace swear words in quotes, but I’ve always enjoyed reading the results. The one rule I’ve always wished would be followed in those situations, though, is this: the person reading, if a mentally competent adult, ought to be able to read the sentence and,without missing a beat, replace the replacement with the original swear word. Kline’s statement doesn’t allow for that. “(lead me on)”? What, I wondered, could everyone’s favorite nasty-hatted nutcase have said?

Fortunately for readers of BRPA2004, the folks at Redbird Nation–though they don’t give a source for their information–have the answer. And it’s a good one. According to them, Steve Kline said: “If he doesn’t want me to get mad, then don’t dry hump me.”

But who cares about a little clubhouse strife after a win like that?

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of newspapers printing swear words, you all might enjoy this article from the Guardian. Not only is it full of swear words, abuse (personal and general), and absurdity, it also includes accusations of Nazism!

Original comments…

Luke: Everything I know about this game I learned from the ESPN running game update, so I didn’t catch all the machinations, but I hope dusty sits Barrett and Bako down and reminds them how important it is for them to stay in the game when there are only two catchers on the roster. In this case, maybe Barrett catches that pass ball, and maybe Hollandsworth is available to bring his .600 pinch-hitting average to the catcher’s spot with two out in the ninth.

2. Similar words — “If you don’t want me to get mad, then don’t dry hump me.” — came up in my last performance review, too.

Sports departments I think do the most — and the most creative — ellisions, because of the foul-mouthed nature of their sources and because sports enjoys the least oversight from the style and policy czars at a given paper. You’ll often see things like “He (upset me)” instead of “He pissed me off,” “that (jerk)” instead of “that asshole” or “(Selig)” instead of “lying motherfucker.”

Levi: I’m sorry, Luke. I should have included you in my list of journalists who might answer my question. I am astonished at how many journalists we have as readers. What are we, Romanesko?

Jim: Why can’t the St. Louis Post-Dispatch be more like the Guardian? “Mr Kline’s mention of dry humping last night is not the first time he has shown an interest in simulated sexual activity.”

But I bet the Guardian doesn’t have Weatherbird!

Steve: Where to start deconstructing these outbursts…. Sounds like someone is wearing his stirrups a little too tight. The implication of Kline’s remarks is that if Tony LaRussa had indeed humped him, he wouldn’t have been angry. Apparently, getting into the game involves a full on “wet” hump. And who has the blue-balls Kline or LaRussa? These men are bringing new resonance to the term “fantasy baseball.” Apologies to those would rather see something along the lines of [sexual-frustration] instead of the more colorful term. This also reminds me of an incident last year over in the NFL where Lions GM Matt Millen called former Lion receiver Johnnie Morton a “faggot.” The only difference is that I saw the derogatory remark printed in more than a few places.

Levi: The last bit of the Post-Dispatch article is also great. Kline, asked about the confrontation–which, remember, took place in the shower, so you have to picture LaRussa in uniform, Kline nude save for his nasty hat–said, “He yelled at me like he usually does. Hopefully, he’ll get over it in about three weeks and we can move on.”

Levi: Last thought on this topic. I think.

Is this not easily the best naked man/not naked man confrontation we’ve heard about since Dale “The Demon” Torborg chased Antonio “El Pulpo” Alfonseca down a hallway and into a broom closet?

Toby: Levi, Sorry, I’ve been out of the loop for a couple of days.

I was watching the Midwest Sports Report live after that game Thursday night and heard LaRussa’s comments live on the air. Fox Sports Midwest suddenly cut back to the anchors after he said “shit” and the anchorwoman–with a giant grin on her face–apologized to the viewers.

As far as our little town paper, I don’t know if we have a policy for disguising curse words – I would say it would probably be right along the line of what the Post-Dispatch did, though,

That article from the Guardian reminded me of a recent column on that got Hunter S. Thompson in some trouble. He wrote something to the effect that the prison abuse by American captors in Iraq was worse than anything the Nazis did. As you might expect, that didn’t go over very well with many people.

The reason I bring that story up is that I have been desperately searching for a DVD copy of “Where the Buffalo Roam,” the movie where Bill Murray portrays HST. I have been watching it on my 20-year-old VHS copy, but would like to get it on DVD. The problem is it is out of print and goes for around $40 or $50 on ebay. I don’t remember you ever mentioning it, but I would peg you as being a Hunter S. Thompson fan, Levi, so I thought you might have some insight on where I can get a DVD copy without having to pay $40 or $50.

Levi: Toby– I don’t know where you can get that DVD, but I’ll do some looking around and see if I can figure out. I do remember once seeing part of Where the Buffalo Roam on TV, not knowing it as about HST, and being really confused until I figured it out. Bill Murray really was born to play that role.

Oh, and one last note on dry humping: as some of you know, someone some of us know (That part of the sentence was a lot of fun to write!) introduced us to a term her set in high school used to use for dry humping. They called it “Doing simulation.” After a date, a girl would ask another, “Did you do simulation?”

The Post-Dispatch could have gone with, “If he doesn’t want me to get mad, then don’t [do simulation].”

Luke: Puts Kerry Wood’s [simulated] games in a whole new light.