Archive for June, 2004
Check this out! One of my readers is from Italy, his name is Giampolo Tassinari, and he loves baseball and writes about it. Here is his first guest column on OBM. Cool.
VOICES FROM THE DUGOUT
As the 2004 season has nearly played its first half of the scheduled games, the hunger of the Italian baseball fan is growing and growing. Twice a week on pay TV, Italians watch what happened the previous day in the majors. Monday and Wednesday night baseball provided by ESPN brings to our homes the celebrated American national pastime. And a lot of people are becoming deeply interested, and even some are beginning their love affair with baseball, perhaps a sport they did not know at all until they watched it on TV. These new fans are sometimes attracted by the name of a famous player, like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. Otherwise it’s a club to which they stick, the Yankees and the Giants are notable. That helps them to dig into the MLB scene.
I have to admit that in my youth I went mad for hockey and later for basketball and football (before later discovering I didn’t like them at all, but in recent years, although I have known baseball since I was a child, I have begun to appreciate more fully the philosophy, history and mystique of this game.
In Italy baseball is considered a non-sport. Every sport that is not soccer in fact does not count, and turns out to be meaningless to the great public. Anyway Italian baseball is dominant in Europe in an eternal fight with the Dutch. It’s always Italy and the Netherlands: I would also like to mention “The Never Ending Story,” in which, during the past month, in the little Republic of San Marino, (an enclave inside Italy), there has been the 41st edition of the European Clubs Cup where the best eight 2003 national champions met.
Italy was represented by Fortitudo (in Latin language it means “Fortress”) of Bologna, a club that twenty years ago had a pitcher who came from the MLB whose name was Jackson Todd. The Dutchmen, who came into this year the four-time defending champions, did not miss their chances. The defending champions of Neptunus Rotterdam, together with Bussum, were the two representatives from teh Netherlands; and the former reached the final to be challenged by Bologna. Neptunus won easily (8-1) and confirmed their European crown for the fifth time in a row (sixth overall) in front of hundreds of bitter Bologna fans. However bitter, Bolgna’s fans had to accept the loss, knowing it was completely deserved as they were unable to stop Neptunus’ outfielder Comenencia who hit, hit and hit.
Next August we shall have baseball at the Olympic Games in Athens, where USA will not be able to defend their gold medal won four years ago in Sydney. We all remember their embarrassing defeat suffered against Mexico last year in the Pan American Games at Santo Domingo, where the stars and stripes hopes to go through to Athens were denied. It will be interesting to see the Greek team fielding almost the entire double-passport squad exclusively made of North American players, who seem to have the edge on the powerful and glorious Cubans; who with some difficulty will miss their chance to win the rubber.
Before ending; some words on the majors that we see from Italy:
First of all here the whole baseball family is happy that a pitcher who played in our League is playing well in the majors. His name is Jason Simontacchi and Tony Larussa is using him, although not regularly, in St.Louis.
In the American League as usual the Bronx Bombers are dominating: after the hitting failure during last year’s World Series, this season the hitters have improved a lot, courtesy also of the arrivals of Gary Sheffield, A-Rod and Kenny Lofton (although you cannot discount the addition of new hitting instructor Don Mattingly) On the other hand the pitching staff must recover after The Rocket and Pettitte for Houston and David Wells went to San Diego. I think the White Sox can fight until the beginning of October, and will come from behind to beat out Minnesota; despite some of their recent losses. Particularly galling was the series loss to the resurgent Cleveland Indians; but the 2-1 series win over the Cubs appears to bode well for the future.
In the National League the club to beat at the moment would seem to be the Cardinals; with a strong rotation and a very effective bullpen, to which we can add some wonderful bats like those of Rolen, Renteria, Edmonds, Sanders, Womack and Pujols. The Cincinnati Reds are finally playing well, although they are having some troubles with their starting pitchers. However, Dave Miley has done a very good job to renew the club’s spirit and hopes, and the Reds might come back soon where they deserve to stay.
The same should be written for the Giants: on the strength of ten consecutive victories, they finally recaptured first place in the West; and it’ll be a three way fight with the Dodgers and the Padres until the end of the regular season. After the 4-game sweep against the Dodgers, Alou’s men came back to the top of the division and to beat the Giants, pitchers will have to remember that if they walk Barry, there will be a hungry squad of men like Cruz, Durham, Grissom, Pierzynski and Alfonzo at bat.
Good luck Giants. See you soon….
I edited him just a little; my wife lived in Italy for 14 years, so I have some sense of the style differences in the two languages. Still, he has a terrific grasp of many of the important aspects, and I look forward to publishing more of his correspondence.
OBM friend and comedian, Travis Nelson, (who has hilariously referred to yours truly as John Jacob Jingleheimer Perricone), wrote a long and well-researched article comparing the newly minted 500 home run man, Ken Griffey Jr. to Superman. Suffice to say, Junior would have to essentially match Bonds late-career surge to be close to Barry. It’s worth your time, so go, now!
Barry Bonds’ late career explosion has catapulted him into the center of the “greatest hitter of all time” debate. I was recently exchanging emails with Hank Waddles, who runs Broken Cowboy, and he suggested that a forgotten man in the great debate is Hank Aaron. Now, it’s hard to think of the all-time career home run hitter as a forgotten man, but really, Hank’s right. Aaron is rarely mentioned a the greatest hitter ever, and I have some opinions as to why; but first, let’s hear what Hank has to say:
Occasionally we come across a great player who accomplishes something which so dominates our perception of the athlete that we are blinded to the overall greatness of his career. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s consecutive games played record obscures the fact that he was one of the best all-around shortstops ever to play the game. Perhaps not coincidentally, the player whose record Ripken surpassed suffers similarly. We associate Lou Gehrig with longevity, forgetting that he was one of the most feared hitters of his era.
And so it is with Hank Aaron. We all know that he hit 755 home runs, but that stratospheric number, seemingly unreachable until only recently, overshadows an otherwise amazing career. Because the number 755 is so inextricably linked with Aaron, there is a tendency to think that all he did was hit home runs. This isn’t the case. Hank Aaron was one of the greatest hitters of all-time.
The knock on Aaron is that he didn’t have too many spectacular seasons, and this is true. He won only one MVP award (1957), but he finished third in the voting six times, and in the top ten six other times. He won two batting titles, led the league in slugging four times, and finished in the top three in OPS an impressive ten times. He even led the league in hits twice. On his way to 755 home runs, Aaron paced the National League four times and won four RBI titles.
Aaron’s strength was his consistency and longevity, two qualities that are often discounted when discussing athletic greatness. During his twenty-three seasons, Aaron amassed some amazing statistics. He is third on the all-time list for runs scored, third in hits, and of course first in home runs and RBIs.
Where Aaron gains statistical separation from the rest of the pack is in total bases. He led the league in this category eight times, and he tops the all-time list by quite a margin. The gap between his total (6,856) and second place (Musial, 6,134) is larger than the distance between Musial and the seventh spot on the list. This is one record that even Barry Bonds might have trouble reaching.
When Bonds completes his Hall of Fame career, he will likely be universally viewed as one of the greatest hitter of all-time, along with Ted Williams and Babe Ruth, but Hank Aaron deserves to be part of the conversation. He’s one of the greatest hitters who ever swung a bat.
Good stuff there, Hank. Nothing too hyperbolic, and a good argument. Having accumulated the most total bases all-time might be an even greater accomplishment than the 755 home runs, for all I know. But Aaron’s ascension to the very top level of greatest hitter of all time is held back by the simple fact that his accomplishments were amplified by a twist of fate, outside of his abilities and his control. But before we get to that, let’s look at the big three.
Babe Ruth did his hitting during a time when he was going against the grain, against convention. He essentially broke new ground for most of the first ten years of his career as a hitter, establishing himself as the standard as the best hitter of all time. At the time, baseball was not in its infancy, but had a solid track record of some forty-plus years of knwoledge about “how the game was played.” Ruth laughed at all that, and did what he wanted to. To be so outrageously different than everyone else made Ruth the target of a tremendous amount of baseball insider envy and probably anger. Yes, the fans loved him, but baseball’s inner circle of mangers, owners; and even some of the baseball writers had little positive feelings for someone who so cavalierly broke all the rules and yet succeeded so spectacularly. In his own way, Ruth was a pioneer (not unlike Jackie Robinson, though I tread upon this comparison lightly), changing everything we knew about the game of baseball in everything he did.
Ted Williams, whose boyhood dream was to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes the greatest hitter of all time,” has many accomplishments to suggest that his dream came true. But we must go beyond the numbers with Williams, because it can never be forgotten that Williams lost almost five seasons of the prime of his career to the war. In 1942, as a 23 year old, Williams threw out a .352/.499/.648, with 36 home runs, 141 runs, 137 RBI, and 145 BB’s. He then missed the next three full seasons. He returned at 27 years old, and proceeded to put together a .342/.497/.667 with 38 home runs, 142 runs, 123 RBI and 156 BB’s. If you allowed 35 home runs 125 RBI and 125 runs scored per season that he missed, he’d have had 696 home runs, 2464 RBI, 2423 runs scored, and he would have pushed Ruth aside to assume the title of the greatest hitter ever. As it is, he has been held, to a fairly universal consensus, as the second best hitter of all-time to Babe Ruth.
And now there’s Barry Bonds. It is now obvious that he has been the best hitter in baseball for almost his entire career. Bill James’ Win Shares shows that beginning in 1990, Bonds was first or second in the NL for the next 9 seasons in a row, dropped to third 1998, was out of the top five in 1999 (missed almost fifty games due to his elbow injury), and has been back on top ever since. Again, starting in 1990, he has been in the top three in OPS, top 5 in OBP, top 6 in SLG, top 10 in Total bases, top 8 in runs scored, every year but the injury plagued 1999. Right now, he holds the single season records for home runs, BB’s, OBP, SLG, and OPS. He is a 6-time MVP, and really, only Ruth could have matched that, had the award been given during his career. If he finishes his career as the number one guy in career home runs, walks, and runs scored, top ten in career OPS, SLG, total bases, RBI and extra base hits…. well, I don’t see how he hasn’t supplanted Ruth as the greatest hitter ever. It is my assertion that baseball, as it is played today, is more competitive, difficult and grueling than it has ever been before. Between the addition of night games, specialization of relief pitchers, advances in physical fitness, strength and durability, the breaking down of racial barriers; there is no doubt in mind that the game that Barry is dominating is as challenging as any game any player has ever faced.
On to Hank Aaron. When Hank Aaron’s team, the Milwaukee Braves, moved to Atlanta in 1966, Hank was 32 years old, just at the stage when most players began to see a deterioration in their skills. As Hank began what Bill James’ has called his decline phase, his team moved to “The Launching Pad,” as Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium was known. Aaron hit 233 home runs during his time in Atlanta; and I believe that he would have never gotten to 700 had he finished career almost anywhere else. Without 755, Aaron would have no claim to fame as a possible member of the greatest hitter ever debate, and consequently, historians have given him a place in the second tier of great hitters, among the likes of Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial. Great, great hitters, great players; but clearly a notch below what until recently has been the Big Two Ruth and Williams, but is now just as clearly the Big Three.
Because if you do, he’s gonna sue! Yep, that’s the latest from Barry. He’s done dealing with innuendo and slander. He’s gonna have his lawyers start going after anybody who makes the kind of BS statements that Tim Montgomery did this week.
After the in which Montgomery said that he had heard from Victor Conte that Bonds had been supplied with steroids, Bonds had this to say:
It bothers me when people I don’t even know are saying stuff about me. Next time, if I know for sure so-and-so, they’re going to talk to my lawyer from now on, I guarantee that. If any of them statements are true, they’re going to talk to my attorney, I guarantee that — in a lawsuit. … See you in court, brother.
He’s dead on. In that same article, Victor Conte’s lawyer, Robert Holley, reiterated that Victor Conte has, from the beginning of the scandal, stated unequivocally that Barry Bonds has never received any illegal substances. So there.
Update: In this NY Daily News piece, Holley is even more specific in his client’s position on Bonds:
As far as BALCO founder Victor Conte knows, Barry Bonds never received or used steroids, according to Conte’s lawyer. And if sprinter Tim Montgomery claims that Conte told him otherwise, then Montgomery is lying, according to attorney Robert Holley. “Our position has been from the beginning that Victor Conte has never given him steroids and never saw him take steroids, period,” Holley said. “That is an absolute fabrication.”
Holley goes on to say that the relationship between Montgomery and Conte was so strained that there would be no way Conte would have shared such intimate information with the sprinter. He also wants to know how Grand Jury testimony is finding its way into the papers. It’s perhaps the only legitimate news story in this whole sordid mess: Who keeps leaking steroids rumors defaming Barry Bonds? And, of course, that’s the one question no one seems to interested in writing about.
The Giants finished off the Dodgers today, winning 9-3 on the strength of another team effort. Improbably, San Francisco has surged forward into first place (2.5 game lead) during what I wrote would be the first real test of the season, back on June 10th:
As Brian Sabean watches the waiver wire for more castoffs and has beens, the Giants season is on the line. Baltimore, Toronto, Oakland and Los Angeles are on the schedule for the next 21 games, at which point we’ll be in July, and, barring a miracle, the Giants will be back in last place.
Well, they’ve now played the first 12 games of that stretch, and their record so far is an astounding 11-1. And the one they lost, they led 7-2 at the end of the sixth. Now, I’m not saying they’ve totally convinced me, but at some point, you have to consider that this might be an OK offense. In the National League, right now, they’ve scored the second most runs, they have the second most RBI, they are second in total bases, I mean, come on, they lead the entire league in OBP, Believe it or not, as it stands, right now, you have two choices. Either they’re; (a), not as bad as we (I) thought, or (b); they’re on some kind of big-time fluke streak.
Yes, they lead the league in GDP’s. They also lead the league in baserunners. Those two stats go hand in hand, no? Seems to me they do. If it’s a fluke, it’s already gone on for quite a while.
Oh, did I mention….. reading that quote, I seem to be wrong again.
According to the SF Chronicle, Tim Montgomery, the holder of the world record in the 100 meters, stated that Barry Bonds received “the clear” from Victor Conte. The article goes on to suggest that these recent developments are in line with what Victor Conte is alleged to have said during an interview with an IRS agent last year.
My two cents? Why would Montgomery throw Bonds’ name out there? I don’t know. For Bonds, the more details come out, the worse it looks for him, especially in the court of public opinion. I don’t know what to think anymore, I’ve been defending him all along, but I’m starting to feel a bit uncertain.
The Giants continued their surge, beating the Dodgers again last night, this time by a tight 3-2 score. All the runs came on a bases loaded triple by Ray Durham in the second inning. Jerome Williams got his seventh win, man, this team looks completely different than the one that was sleepwalking through the first six weeks of the season.
The Giants beat the hated Dodgers again, winning 11-5. The game featured a gutty performance by Dustin Hermanson, who pitched very well until he dove trying to tag out the speedy Dave Roberts. Hermanson shook himself up a bit, landing hard on a play that the inexperienced Pedro Feliz will learn to prevent. Hermanson shouldl be OK, which should turn out to be a good thing for the Giants, because last night was almost certainly his best performance of the season.
Other highlights include a 5 for 5 night, with three doubles for Devi Cruz, six more RBI for Edgardo Alfonzo (who has had an absolutely Kent-esque homestand), and a continued surge in offense across the board. Since May 17th, the Giants have played 33 games. They’ve scored 202 runs in that time, an average of over 6.1 runs per game, while the pitching staff has allowed 4.3 per game. Oh, and they’ve gone 25-8, a .757 stretch that has pushed them into first place.
As for the offense, the Giants now have eight players with batting averages above .270, Devi Cruz is making a real push for significant playing time, last night’s performance pushed his average up to .326. All in all, the team is playing well.
Back in the beginning of the season, when the Giants were falt-out horrible, I ripped Brian Sabean for putting together this collection of players, especially when Sabean was quoted saying that these guys have a track record, that they’ll come around, blah blah blah. Well, it appears that he was right, and I was wrong. Good for him, good for all of us. If I’m gonna be wrong, at least it means the team is winning.
The Giants beat the Dodgers last night, 3-2, behind the second strong performance in a row for Kirk Rueter. At 38-32, the Giants are a half game behind the Dodgers, and actually have the third most wins in the NL right now. They have run off a string of 24 wins in 33 games, surging into contention.
I’m starting to believe there may be reason to hope. And hope, of course, is a good thing.
The Giants continued their improbable run back to respectability, riding Jason Schmidt’s second one-hitter of the season to a series win over the Boston Red Sox. Beating the Red Sox is one thing, shutting them out to win 4-0 is another, considering they were the only team in baseball who hadn’t been shut out yet,were second in runs scored in the entire league, and that they had punished the Giants and PacBell to the tune of five home runs and 14 runs in the first game of the series.
Indeed, it’s not impertinent to suggest that the Giants outplayed the Red Sox the entire series, and were it not for that fateful inning in game one, might have swept them out of town in this historic, once a century matchup. Now a season-high 5 games over .500, the Giants (37-32) have re-established themselves as a team that just might be a real contender, even to this perpetual cynic. Their offense has come alive, and if you take away some of the real bad games, (like the first game here against the Sox), their pitching has begun to shown signs of stability as well.
Not all is well in Giant-land. Robb Nen’s season and career are likely over, Jason Schmidt can pitch only every fifth day, and Neifi Perez still gets at-bats; so I, (and Glenn Dickey) will continue to monitor Brian Sabean’s efforts to bolster the rotation as the season rolls into the dog days of summer. Nonetheless, the Giants have made it interesting. Good for them. Good for us.