The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

My Long, Rambling Review of the Montreal Trip

Last week, when I first mentioned that I’d be visiting Montreal over the weekend to see the Expos play in Olympic Stadium, many of you wrote to me expressing your concern. I’m assuming though that many of you cannot even begin to comprehend the reasons why some folks would be concerned about me visiting Montreal.

Those of you who weren’t concerned probably aren’t aware that Montreal is in Quebec, Canada, and that I have had numerous issues with the Quebecois. Quite honestly, it’s difficult for me to say the word Quebecois out-loud without muttering f-----g in front of it (as in the “f-----g Quebecois” for those of you who read a little more slowly). So yes, it’s true that a trip to Montreal, even for a weekend, could be a dangerous one. And no, it’s not true that when I visit Canada at Disney’s Epcot that I’m tailed by security in case I have another outburst at the expense of some Quebecois exchange student. At least I don’t think that’s true… but you’ll never really know until it’s too late I suppose.

Anyways, back to the trip…

The start of the trip was rough. Upon boarding the plane I was handed a form by the flight attendant which was written in French. After spending a few minutes with it, I discovered that by flipping it over, you could read everything in English. For a couple minutes I debated mentioning to the flight attendant that there were probably very few of us onboard in Miami who actually read French, so it might be nice to hand them out English side up, but I eventually dismissed the idea. Once I did, I quickly discovered that I would only be allowed to bring 200 tobacco sticks into Canada. This was seriously disappointing. Granted, I didn’t know what tobacco sticks were, but I was sure that if I did know what they were, I would want far more than two hundred of them. It took awhile to collect myself, but eventually I did and then the flight got under way (I’m still not sure if they were waiting for me to compose myself or not). At this point I got pretty nervous because the flight attendant kept speaking in tongues over the loud speaker. She would start saying something in English, but then very quickly it would turn into something incomprehensible. It was like she was speaking another language.

Once we were in flight, one of the flight attendants began selling headphones to us ($2 a pair, and they look like they’re throwback models – you know, the big chunky 80s kind with the foam cushions). Two young women in the row in front of me wanted to buy them, and they attempted to pay with US Gold Dollars (yes – think about it for a second. You’ve probably seen them. They used to give them as change at Wal-Mart and you can still get them at a Post Office vending machine). This befuddled the flight attendant who insisted upon being paid in American money. The girls, through broken English (apparently they spoke French), informed him that they were American dollars – they were just coins. This episode quickly ended, but it was my first experience with the Canadians and their coin based money. Further frustration was soon to come for me from these coins, although I did not know it at the time.

Eventually the plane landed and after the walk we were forced to take to customs and the baggage area, you would think that we had walked from Miami to Montreal. Apparently we didn’t though – we were really in Canada the whole time – just walking through a glass enclosed, elevated tube that must have made us look like animals at a zoo to those walking by on the outside.

Clearing immigration in Canada didn’t seem to be much of a problem, at least not until the officer asked me the purpose of my visit. I said something like “pleasure” or “vacation” and he asked for something more specific. I said that I was just in town for the weekend to see the Expos. This earned me more than a curious look from the officer and I think he was seriously considering taking me into a back room for some serious questioning and a full investigation of my bag. Luckily, for me, he thought better of it and let me go.

After finding my bags and a cab ride into town, I reached my hotel. For whatever reason, I’d been upgraded to a “suite” at the Sheraton Four Points. This is not something that normally you would “write home about” but it was so bad that it is worth mentioning. The first thing that overwhelmed you when you entered the “suite” was the smell. It took awhile to figure out what was causing the smell, and to be honest, my first reaction was that this was simply how Canada smelled. Eventually, after walking around the room a little more – sloshing around the room, more accurately – I realized that there was something wrong. I called housekeeping and they sent someone up to fix the problem. The person that they sent was very nice, but the only thing he was able to do at that point was spray something that smelled like oranges. This was great, but it only masked the problem for about five minutes.

This left the only option as turning off the air conditioner (the source of the leak) and opening the windows. One would think that by being on the 19th floor of a hotel that you’d be far enough away from the traffic to not hear much of the noise. However, this was not the case. It was loud all night. I would have covered my head with the sheets and pillows, but the sheets were stained with blood, so I was trying to stay on top of them to limit my exposure. Yes, I did call housekeeping and the front desk about this, but by about three am, I was too tired to wait anymore so I just went to sleep.

So far, other than Tim Horton’s, Canada wasn’t impressing me. Tim Horton’s by the way, is one of the greatest fast food chains in the whole world. Not only do they offer food and donuts, but they also serve donuts with their combo meals, in place of french fries. This is probably only done to avoid the ire of French speaking Canadians who would likely be insulted by the notion of french fries, but nonetheless, it’s a nice touch.

On Saturday morning the smell was still there, so I for sure wasn’t going to be. After complaining at the front desk, again, and visiting Tim Horton’s to fortify myself with Timbits (donut holes) for the morning I walked around town a bit. During my walk I found a grocery store where I was able to stock up on Canadian beer, soda, water, candy and newspapers. I also stumbled upon President Kennedy Street. At first I wasn’t sure if this was named after some famous Canadian or the former American President. Eventually I learned that it is named after none other than JFK. This only served to confirm my suspicions that the USA used to control Canada, and should really think about taking things over again.

After a short break, I grabbed some lunch and headed out for the Metro station, where I could find my way to Olympic Park.

Olympic Park, or something else in French, as you’re more likely to find it in Montreal, is located a short train ride (ten minutes maybe) outside of downtown. The complex houses Olympic Stadium, the Biodome, the Athlete’s village, and pretty much everything else that was used to house athletes or allow them to complete during the 1976 summer Olympics. Since the people of Quebec spent so much money on the Olympic complex – more than $1.2 billion on Olympic Stadium alone, they try to do as much as possible with the area.

As the name implies, it is a park, and there are large grassy areas everywhere. The pool area, which was used for all the swimming, diving, etc during the games, has been converted into a public pool and portions of the seating have been removed to create an area for indoor basketball, volleyball and other games, as well as a gym. On the Saturday I was there, this seemed to be a very popular area for people of all ages.

The former Velodrome (used for bicycle racing) has also been converted into what they call the Biodome, which is really a zoo with fewer animals and more vegetation. If you’ve been to a zoo in the last twenty years, this is probably an experience that you can skip. Unless of course you prefer a zoo experience where you can’t always be comfortable that the wild animals are kept at a safe distance from you. For instance, I stayed in an area where monkeys climbed around on trees where there were no fences around for quite a bit of time. In fact, I stood there thinking about what would happen if the monkey decided to climb to the end of the limb and then drop himself onto the sidewalk that I, and lots of other people, was standing on. It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that this wasn’t exactly the place to think about this sort of a thing, because for all I knew, the monkey could have been moving in for a sneak attack on me while I thought. Luckily, when I reached the lynx cage (think cheetah or lion), he was nowhere to be seen. It was only after I left that exhibit that I thought that I might not have seen the lynx because he too was out checking out the exhibits. If you’re like the Crocodile Hunter though, this is probably an experience you will like. You might not see any animals anywhere, but when you do, they probably will be really close to you.

One experience not to miss is the ride in the elevator to the top of Olympic Stadium’s tower. While in some respects this is like an amusement park ride (it’s an elevator that scales nearly nine hundred feet at a 20 – 45 degree angle, where you have a 360 degree view at all times – although sometimes into the tower itself – of the world disappearing beneath you), it’s also very interesting from a building perspective. Olympic Stadium’s tower is both the greatest failure of the 76 Olympics, and also the greatest triumph.

The tower was supposed to be completed in time for the games, but do to a workers strike, budget issues, and time constraints, it was nowhere near completed in time for the games. While not known at the time, this was really a blessing in disguise as the original plan called for building the whole tower out of concrete (concrete seems to be the theme for this Olympics – the tour guide told us that enough concrete was used in building Olympic Stadium to build a sidewalk from Miami to Montreal; having flown that distance – or at least walked most of it at the airport – I can attest that this is a great distance). Had the tower been built out of concrete, it would have eventually collapsed, crushing the stadium below. As our tour guide regularly told us, this would have been spectacular to watch, but very unfortunate for the building.

Eventually someone calculated the inevitable doom that would come one day if the tower was completely made out of concrete, so the top half of the tower was built of steel. This allowed the tower to be completed, including the placement of the observation deck at the top (pictures coming soon). If you haven’t been there, think Seattle’s Space Needle, Toronto’s CN Tower, or Chicago’s Sears tower, but on an incline.

From there it was time for the game – well almost. It was actually about time to head into the stadium. I figured I should line up early since I was going to bring a bag into the stadium. The Expos have a special line for folks who want to bring a bag into the game (unlike some other places where bags are pretty much restricted). They don’t explicitly list what you can and can’t bring either, but they do say that your bag must comply with MLB’s standards, which is 16x16x8. The line moved quickly though. And honestly, the guards didn’t even look in it. I think they took a quick look for weapons, but they weren’t looking to take food or drinks away from you, as long as they were in plastic containers. That was a really nice touch, but it also seems like the sort of thing the Expos should do, as they trail all of the major leagues and some of the minor leagues in attendance.

(Before I entered the stadium though I found the Encore Montreal Baseball booth set up outside. This is the group I wrote about yesterday and if you think baseball should remain in Montreal, you should check them out.)

Once inside I was treated to even more concrete. But since it was time for batting practice, I left the exploring for later. Batting practice was interesting. Really it was just your run of the mill batting practice, but the way Olympic Stadium is constructed makes it a little disorienting. There are no beams anywhere to be seen in the stadium. On the concourses you see some, but the structure is really just a mass of concrete. Somehow, this creates the illusion that the playing field is small, but that the large, open areas above the field are quite vast.

After batting practice I headed out to the food court area to see what was available. There was a lot and it was generally pretty cheap. Standard stuff was of course available – like hot dogs, kosher and regular, soda, beer, pizza, and ice cream (or crème glace if you prefer). There were also a lot of unique things – most notably smoked meat (something similar to a reuben or a corned beef sandwich) and beaver tails (sugary fried dough covered in chocolate sauce or fruit). Really the only thing that you should try if you visit Olympic Stadium is a beaver tail. Skip the fruit flavored variety and go for the chocolate. The other offerings are pretty average, but at least they’re cheap. One nice touch is that there are combos available at many of the stands – and many of these combos include a beer. This isn’t something I’m used to seeing in the states. All around the beer consumption rules were interesting – there didn’t seem to be a cutoff at all during the game. Folks were buying beer from vendors right into the 9th inning.

The game itself was covered elsewhere, so I’ll skip over it. This story has been long enough as it is.

Getting home from the stadium was a breeze – although that was probably helped by the fact that there were only 15,000-some people at the game. It’s just a short walk from the stadium to the metro station.

Sunday was another action packed day where I visited the Notre Dame Basilica and the Montreal Museum of Modern Art. Both were fun and exciting, but I’m tired of writing for now, so I’ll leave it at that.

To recap, the trip was great. Montreal was a very interesting place with a lot to do culturally. There was so much to see and do – and in two languages – that it’s easy to see how folks in Montreal can find their attention (and dollars) spent in places other than on the Expos. Whether the Expos should stay in Montreal long term, I don’t know. They probably shouldn’t. But they do have a very loyal core of supporters and I’m sure those folks will be sad to see the team go when they move on to DC or Northern Virginia or wherever they might end up.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Save the Expos!

The Book of Mike has just returned from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and oh the stories we have to tell. However, the flight back from Montreal was late last night, and delayed by rain too, so there will not be much content here today.

However, I will encourage you to visit the folks at Encore Baseball Montreal who are doing what they can to keep the Expos in Montreal. During my visit I signed up and became an official member (you can look me up – I’m member #1101).

Sure, Encore isn't likely to be successful in accomplishing their goal of keeping the Expos in Montreal, but at the very least it's nice to know that some people care enough to try to do something about it. And if you don't buy that, you can at least acknowledge that it might be in everyone's best interest to keep the team in Montreal anyway. If we don't, it will just be a matter of time until some group starts to lobby for an expansion team, or to relocate an existing team, into what would be - by far - the largest metropolitan area in North America without a Major League Baseball team.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Visiting Montreal this Weekend

The Book of Mike will be on the road again this weekend. This time we’ll be in Montreal to check out the Expos at Olympic Stadium before they’re moved. Major League Baseball is saying now that the Expos will definitely have a new home by the end of September. They’ve been saying the announcement date is imminent now for years though, so I’m not getting my hopes up. Just in case they do decide where to move them though, I’ll be in Montreal just so I can always say that I saw them there before they left town.

In case you’re dying to see them and you haven’t yet, drop me a line and come by our pre-game tailgate in W4.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Playoff Races as I see Them

There are five and a half weeks left in baseball’s regular season. As recently as a month ago, it seemed that nearly every playoff race was up for grabs – well, except for the National League Central, which the Cardinals were running away with and the American League East, which the Yankees seemingly own. As we near September though, the races are much more clearly defined. Still, it’s difficult to forecast how it will turn out. I’ll try to anyway.

American League East
Coming into today’s action the Yankees lead over the Red Sox has dwindled to a mere 5 and a half games. Over their last ten games, the Red Sox have picked up give games worth of ground on the Yankees, which has nearly cut the Yanks lead in half. Another run like that – hot for the Red Sox and cold for the Yankees – could put the Red Sox in control of the division, but that seems to be highly unlikely if not impossible. In their history, the Yankees have never blown a lead this large this late in the year. It’s pretty safe to say that the Yankees will win the division (again) and that the Red Sox will challenge for the wild card (more on that later though).

American League Central
First the White Sox made a run, but then they faded. Then the Indians made a run, a very surprising run at that – one that brought them within one game of first place. The Twins are currently leading the division by 8 games though, and their clinching of another division title is only a matter of time. The only remaining question in the AL Central is how high the Tigers will finish. A solid finish could allow the Tigers to end the campaign at .500.

American League West
This is arguably both the best division in baseball and the best race. Oakland continues to lead the West by the slimmest of margins and the Angels are right behind, nipping at their heels. The Rangers, who led the division for much of the early portion of the year, are also still in the mix, although they trail by two games. While there’s still a little time for one of these teams to make a move before the names of potential candidates for post-season rosters are set, it’s likely that everyone is going to have to go with whoever they have from this point forward. In that sense, that gives an edge to the Angels, as they’re likely to get Troy Glaus back from the dsabled list shortly, which for the Angels is about as exciting as acquiring a big time bat in exchange for a fringe minor league prospect.

My best guess here is that the A’s will win the division and that the Angels will fight it out with the Red Sox for the wild card, after the Rangers finally fade into Bolivia.

American League Wild Card
At the moment, Boston and Anaheim are locked in a tie for the Wild Card lead. Oakland, the Western division leader is one bad series away from trading places with the Angels, so they could just as easily enter the fray. Technically Texas is still in this race, but it’s hard to imagine them sticking around for long – but I suppose we’ve all been saying that since April now. Everyone else in the American League has already been exposed as a pretender.

One exciting possibility here involves, of course, the Yankees and the Red Sox. It’s possible that a late season fade by the Yankees, which coincides with a solid finish by the Red Sox, Angels, and A’s could mean that the Yankees could find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoffs. That is highly, highly unlikely, but I would love to see it happen.

More likely than not the Angels and Red Sox will fight this out until the end. As much as I’d like to see the Angels in the playoffs, if only to get a few extra weeks of watching Vladimir Guerrero hack away, I think the Red Sox will pull out the Wild Card. They’ve been hot of late, and over the course of the year, their actual wins and losses have under-performed what you would normally expect for a team that’s scored as many runs as they have and allowed as few. Looking at Baseball Prospectus’s adjusted standings you can see that the Red Sox record is probably two to seven games worse than it should be right now and that the Angels record is three to five games better. These things tend to even out over time and if they do over the remainder of the season the Angels are going to be aways out of the playoff hunt.

National League East
I’m officially never picking the Braves to finish lower in their division than first until they actually do that. This is preposterous. Each year that division titles have been decided, since 1991, the Braves have won their division. That dates back to when I was in grade school. That dates back to before any of us were on the Internet (unless you’re Al Gore or someone very technical). Did you even have airbags in your car in 1991? You probably at least have to think about it. Either way, you were probably listening to MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice on cassette tapes while you were in your car.

Possibly even more noteworthy have been the collapses, if you can even call it that, of the Phillies, Marlins, and Mets (well the Mets if you work in their front office – the rest of us really knew all along that they weren’t in it). The Marlins and Phillies never really got going this year. Sure, they were both in first place for good chunks of the season, but everyone’s been waiting for them to turn it on and make a good run (like the Braves have) since April. Even if it were to happen now, it’s probably too little, too late.

Coming into the year expectations were higher for the Phillies than for the Marlins, even though the Marlins were the defending World Series champions. This was because the Marlins lost some key parts over the offseason (remember that Ivan Rodriguez guy who’s helped to turn things around in Detroit?) while the Phillies added stars and payroll (hello, Billy Wagner). The offseason should prove to be interesting for these two clubs though as the Phillies will almost certainly have to rid themselves of Larry Bowa (if he even makes it through the year) and the Marlins’ Larry Beinfest will likely have his reputation as a shrewd dealer sullied when folks start to realize that the Fish didn’t make the playoffs in 2004 and they’re going to be forced to pay big time salaries to Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and most abhorrently of all, Juan Encarnacion in 2005.

National League Central
Despite the Cardinals massive lead over everyone else in the National League, there are a few questions that face this team. Some of the simple ones are things like, how much will they win the division by? Others are more difficult to answer, like can their pitching really come through in the post-season? Another issue, which is seldom raised, is similar to the situation that the Giants faced in last year’s post-season: The Cardinals are going to cruise into the playoffs, but by that time they won’t have played in much of a race in four months or so. Sure, they’ll have won a lot of games in that stretch, but the pressure of winning a five game series is a lot different from protecting a dozen-plus some game lead. If anyone can prepare the Cards for that though it’s Tony La Russa. We’ll just have to wait and see I suppose.

National League West
While it’s not a runaway, the Dodgers seem to have salted away the division title. Paul De Podesta has taken quite a bit of flack for his deadline trade of Paul Lo Duca (and others) to the Marlins for Hee Seop Choi and Brad Penny. It now looks like we’ll all get a chance to see how that trade, and the others that De Podesta made, will position the Dodgers for the playoffs. Brad Penny’s health is a major question though

National League Wild Card
In Miami right now the talk (well, when folks aren’t hyperventilating about Ricky Williams) is about how the Marlins are merely four games back of the Padres and five games back of the Giants. That’s all well and good, but neither of those teams are leading the Wild Card chase right now, so it’s largely irrelevant. Catching those teams will only put you a spot or two in the standings closer to almost, but not quite making the playoffs. They don’t pass out rings for those kinds of finishes though (although there are small playoff shares for all second place finishers).

The race here really comes down to the Cubs and the Giants. The Cubs are led by a plethora of stars and almost stars. Sammy Sosa, Nomar Garciaparra, Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior headline the first group, and Derek Lee, Carlos Zambrano, and Aramis Ramirez lead the latter. For the Giants, it’s a much different story. They are carried offensively by Barry Bonds and on the mound by Jason Schmidt. Ray Durham leads a cast of role players and filler parts.

Like the Red Sox, the Cubs have underperformed their runs scored and runs allowed Pythagorean win expectations. Given that, and holding all other things equal, to me that means the Cubs are likely to make a run here towards the end of the year (the Giants and Cubs both have relatively easy schedules coming up), which would allow them to overtake the Giants and slide into the Wild Card.

However, these are the Cubs that we’re talking about. Despite what the statistics and the star power might tell you, they’re just as likely to have another 1984-Leon Durham-esque collapse or a vintage 2003 Steve Bartman inspired choke. Only time will tell.

It should be fun to watch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

McKeon invites Bonds for some walks in Miami

Barry Bonds is in town this week, with the rest of the Giants, to face the Marlins in a three game series. Coming into the series, Marlins’ Manager Jack McKeon said, again – like he has before every series with the Giants since he became the Marlins manager, that he would not allow Bonds to beat the Marlins, and that if the situation called for it, he would walk Bonds just about every time.

As early as the first inning of last night’s game, the first game of the series, McKeon held true to his word. Bonds approached the plate with a man on first and two outs. While the Marlins television broadcasters tried to make it sound like A.J. Burnett came after Bonds, Barry effectively received an unintentional intentional walk; four successive high and wide pitches were delivered and none of them was close to the strike zone. So Bonds was walked. It won’t go down in the scorebook as having been intentional, but it toed the line pretty closely.

McKeon’s take on the matter surprises me. Yes, McKeon is a mixture of both old school baseball and pure unpredictability, but for something like this, I’d think McKeon would be more of the “go after him approach.” Now this isn’t exactly empirical evidence, but back in the day, teams went after hitters (right, Joe Morgan?) and the intentional walk was rarely deployed. When it was, it was a sign of ultimate respect, or you were just trying to get to the pitcher’s slot in the lineup for a sure out. Don’t believe me? Check this out. Coming into the 2004 season, it was tough to find anyone other than the game’s current top sluggers at the top of the all-time single season intentional walks list. In recent years the number of intentional walks issued has bordered on absurd. Actually, it’s not that the total number of intentional walks is increasing, it’s that they are now much more narrowly distributed.

The intentional walks Bonds is receiving are more than unprecedented. He surpassed the all-time record for intentional walks in a single season (a mark he already held) by the All-Star break (the old mark was 68 and he had 71 by mid-July). How does that compare to some of the game’s other all time great sluggers? Well, using the list shown above, you can see that the career highs for the likes of Ted Williams (33), Henry Aaron (23) and Willie Mays (20) barely total (76) what Bonds alone had received by the All-Star break. You can even add-in Mark McGwire’s most prolific intentional walk total (of 28) and still get a total (104) that Bonds will pass this year. That’s completely absurd. As great of a hitter as Barry Bonds is, he does not deserved to be walked intentionally as much as four of the game’s greatest power hitters of all-time were during their primes.

In the Giants games against the Expos recently it seemed that this was Frank Robinson’s take on the whole thing. Now maybe that’s because the Expos are completely out of the playoff race, but Bonds is still distancing himself further and further from Robinson in the record books with nearly every swing he takes. That’s not really the issue with Robinson though. I suspect that the reason that Robinson has his pitchers pitch to Bonds is simply that it’s the best thing to do and more often than not it will improve his team’s chances of winning the game.

As hot as Bonds has been this season (well, the entire millennium really), he’s “only” hitting about .370. That means that 63% of the time when Bonds is allowed to swing the bat, he makes an out. For those of you who need to see it in front of you, when Barry is walked, he reaches base 100% of the time and makes an out 0% of the time. The name of the game in baseball is scoring runs, and one of the best ways to score runs (other than hitting home runs) is to put people on base.

Let me illustrate this a little better with a specific example from the first inning of last night’s game. Here’s the situation again: Bonds at the plate, two out and a man on first. There are a number of scenarios here, but two major ones: one, that Bonds makes an out (ending the inning); or that Bonds reaches base. If Bonds reaches base, he could hit a single, double, triple, home run, be walked, be hit by a pitch, or reach on an error. Since Bonds is a .370 hitter so far this season, let’s assume that his chances of getting a hit are 37% if you pitch to him (that’s rough and overly simple; it doesn’t account for park factors, recent trends, the opposing pitcher, etc, etc). Of the scenarios where Bonds gets a hit, only the double, triple, or home run would score a run (or two). Given the distribution of Bonds’ hits this year (55% of all of his hits are singles – what, you thought he only hit home runs?), the likelihood of him driving in a run in this situation is .370 (his batting average) multiplied by his frequency of extra base hits (45% of his hits), or .167. So in this situation in the first, the Marlins had a 1-in-6 chance of giving up a run (or two). If he’s allowed to put the ball in play, 5 times out of six, a run won’t score. Sometimes the inning will be extended (and there will be two runners on), but more often than not, the inning will just be over.

They chose to walk him though. Was this the right decision? Well, by walking Bonds, Tangotiger’s run expectancy matrix tells us that the Marlins increased the number of runs they were expected to allow in this situation from 0.251 to 0.466 (a 46% increase). That’s overall though.

In this specific situation you had a surging A.J. Pierzynski coming to the plate. Granted, Pierzynski is no Bonds (but who is), but he’s still a quality major league hitter. He’s hitting .297 for the season and .301 for his career, so for our purposes today let’s call him a .300 hitter. That means if you pitch to him, he has a 30% chance of getting a hit. Even a mere single here will score a run, since there are two outs and a man on second, so the Giants now have at least a 30% chance of scoring a run.

Actually, it’s even a little better than that. A.J. could be walked (by the other A.J.) which would load the bases (increasing the Giants chances per the matrix to 0.815) and bringing the mighty Pedro Feliz to the plate (who’s hitting .265 on the campaign). At that point, the opportunities to score are nearly infinite (wild pitch, hit batsmen, etc).

Now this all turned out to be meaningless, because the Marlins came out to score seven runs in the bottom half of the first inning, but at the time, the best thing to do would have been to pitch to Bonds. Hopefully they will tonight. Maybe they will with lefthanded Dontrelle Willis on the mound. As great as Bonds is, pitching to him gives your team the best possible chance to win the game and it’s also what the fans are paying to come and see.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Minute Maid Park Review

Well, there won’t be pictures today, but I’ll still give you my review of Minute Maid Park in (on) Planet Houston today.

From the outside, Minute Maid Park is not very impressive looking. About the only appealing thing is the entrance through the former Union Station train terminal. This is about in the left field corner, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were just entering an old government building of some sort. If you’re there and you walk past the train station a bit (away from the Inn at the Ballpark) you’ll find yourself in a little courtyard area where there’s a half infield with an homage to Astros greats Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, as well as a list of donors to the team and the stadium effort.

Most notable of these companies is Halliburton. And while my political views are much more middle of the road and undecided than most folks, it was still odd to be surrounded by so much pro-Bush and favorable Halliburton sentiment when in normal everyday life you tend to be surrounded by the opposite. Halliburton apparently has been significantly involved with the Astros and their presence is nearly impossible to miss around the stadium (but they were too cheap to pay for licensed advertisements, as Jeff Bagwell is featured in their print advertising, but without any Astros logos or name recognition).

Another interesting featured company that I found inside is Waste Management. They’re listed on a wall inside of the former Union Station as one of the initial key contributors to the stadium project. I found this interesting as Waste Management is owned by Wayne Huizenga, the former owner of the Marlins and Panthers (and current owner of the Dolphins), who was unwilling to foot any of the bill for stadiums for his own clubs.

Enough business though, let’s get inside the stadium, and I’ll walk you through it like our tour guide did.

We started out on the upper level, down the left field line. The view from here is good, for an upper deck, and not as steep as what I’ve seen at some of the other newer stadiums. One of the advantages of being in the upper deck down the left field line is that you have a very nice view of all of the score and video boards which are above the right field seats. However, you’ll probably have a hard time seeing the manually operated (by three folks) scoreboard in left field.

From there we headed down to the suite level, where we visited Owner Drayton McClane’s two suites. As you would expect, they are right behind home plate. While the suites were nice, they were nothing out of the ordinary. The finish was not very elaborate and the décor was pretty much the same as what you found in the surrounding hallways. The suites themselves may have seemed to be a little bit drab because the walls between the suites seemed to be designed to be modular, so that two or three suites could be combined into one, depending on the group that you had for that game. Whatever – not that I really care anyway, that’s not my favorite way to see a game.

From the suites, we headed down to the Diamond Level, which probably would be my favorite place to see a game from. These are the seats immediately behind home plate, and yes, they’re the ones where you occasionally see former President George Bush and former first-lady Barbara Bush taking in a game or the home run derby. Before we found our way out to these seats though, we were shown the special parking lot that’s provided for fans in these seats – a lot that’s probably closer to the field than the player’s lots. We were also walked through a nice little restaurant and bar area that’s reserved for Diamond box ticket holders. Unlike in Cincinatti though, it’s not all included down here. You would think that it would be, particularly after the twenty-thousand dollar per ticket initiation fee plus the fact that you’re paying at least that much more annually for your season ticket in that area.

The Diamond Club seats are nice though, particularly the first few rows (I think that our tour guide informed us that the first four rows of seats are actually closer to the batter than the pitcher – this seems to be one of the hot new phrases to get you to spend more money at a baseball game, any team that can use it does). All of the seats are wider than the other seats in the stadium, and padded – which only the club level seats are otherwise. Some of the seats have nice faux marble dividers between them, but this seems to be more of a necessity of design (i.e. an extra seat wouldn’t fit) than an intentionally nice touch.

We also learned that the seats that the former first family often occupies are actually Mr. McClane’s seats. Apparently Mr. Bush is not an official member of the Diamond Club, but he does take advantage of the owner’s seats when they’re not in use (I don’t think Mr. Bush hops around from seat to seat – it seems like Drayton lends George the dad his tickets for the game).

In terms of value, these seats are pretty good, once you take into account what similar seats go for in other venues. The $200 per person ticket price is steep, but I don’t know of a ball park where something similar goes for less than $150. Once you get behind the first two or three rows though, I’m not quite sure that it’s worth it. Then you’ve got people in front of you, and you’ve shelled out a lot of money for pretty much the same experience (sans the fancy restaurant) that you could get for less than half the price just a few more rows back.

Since we were right there, from the Diamond Level we were taken onto the field. It’s pretty much like being on the field everywhere else (except they don’t let you walk around as much as at other stadiums). We were able to spend a little time in the dugout though. It’s a pretty standard dugout, without any unusual quirks and still too new to have any significant history.

While we were in the dugout they began to close the roof. This was pretty cool, especially because it took us awhile to notice that anything was happening. Our tour took place on early Saturday afternoon, so there was no music in the stadium or anything, but still – we couldn’t hear the roof closing. It wasn’t until someone who was looking up at the train pointed it out to the rest of us that we realized the roof was being closed. This also gave us our first chance to see the train move along the tracks that extend from center field to left field. There’s even a special door in the glass partitions of the roof that would allow the train to move from the outside part of the stadium to the inside part when the roof is closed (it doesn’t seem to do this though – when the roof is closed, the train stays inside.

Overall Minute Maid Park is a really nice place to watch a ballgame. It’s new, it’s clean, it has good site lines. The tickets are reasonably priced, by major league standards, but it seems to be fairly tough to get a ticket (the Astros are selling about 38,000 of their 41,000 seats on average this year). Getting to and from the stadium is pretty easy too and there seemed to be parking everywhere (welcome to Texas!). Minute Maid Park though doesn’t rate as one of the great stadiums in baseball. It’s nice enough and does the job well, but nothing – other than the train possibly makes it stand apart.

The retractable roof has been done, and arguably equally or better in other stadiums. The video and scoreboards are also nice – and large compared to most other parks (but not the largest as the tour guide claimed; they were the largest when the stadium opened, but since then they’ve been surpassed by at least Cincinnati and Philadelphia), but not quite of the quality of some other parks, like Great American in Cincinnati or US Cellular in Chicago, where the LCD ribbon displays have upgraded what many of us have come to expect in terms of video at a stadium. The concourses are nice, but nothing spectacular. They’re not as wide as some and don’t provide as nice of views as others. Now that’s not a knock – if you never visited any park other than Minute Maid, you’d think it was great and world class. It probably is, I guess it just depends on how wide of a definition you have for world class. Minute Maid Park provides for a pleasant experience, but it’s probably not something you’re going to remember as definitively better than anything else you’ve ever seen before.

Hopefully I’ll get the pictures straightened out this week. Once I do I’ll post a link for you to come back and check them out.

This weekend The Book of Mike will travel to Montreal for our first ever visit to Olympic Stadium. Sadly, it will probably also be our last visit. I scheduled this trip thinking that the team would be moving sometime soon and that I’d like to see them play in Montreal before they leave. Maybe I’ll get lucky too and they’ll have a game used Vladimir Guerrero jersey on sale in the gift shop. I can only hope…

Monday, August 23, 2004

Hall Wins 10th Career Medal

In case you missed it over the weekend (I did – well, I haven’t seen the race, but I read all about it), Gary Hall won the men’s 50-meter freestyle on Friday. In doing so, Hall successfully defended the title he won in 2000, and also the one he nearly won in 1996 (only to be edged by another all-time great, Alexander Popov). With his gold medal performance, Hall extended his career long Olympic medal streak to ten medal winning performances in ten Olympic events.

It’s a shame that Hall was left off of one relay team completely in Athens, and that he was removed from the Finals in another, otherwise he, and the US, would likely have two more gold medals in tow this year.

Hopefully we’ll see Gary in Beijing in 2008. That would be a heck of a story.

In other Olympic news, and as you probably already know by now, the men's 100-meter dash was very close. Check out this picture to see exactly how close it was. The man in last, ok 8th, place finished in less than 10.1 seconds. American Justin Gatlin won the race by .01 seconds.

No baseball today. Tomorrow we should have a complete recap of the Houston trip, including pictures (and possibly video) of the tour of Minute Maid Park and Sunday’s Cubs – Astros game.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Off to Planet Houston

The Book of Mike is on the road again (again!). This weekend we’ll be in Houston, where hopefully we’ll catch a game between the Astros and that other team from Chicago. Much to everyone’s surprise (mine included), the Astros are kind of back in this Wild Card race.

It was just three weeks ago that anyone who knew anything was saying that the Astros should give up on 2004 and start rebuilding for the future. Things are different now. Well, they are if the ‘Stros can take a few games from the hated Cubs over the weekend. The Astros go into the weekend 5.5 games behind the Wild Card leading Giants, and 5 games behind the Cubs, who are currently second in the Wild Card standings. A sweep here would be huge. Winning two of three in the series would be nice, but would only gain the Astros one game on the Cubs in the standings.

Assuming that nothing drastic happens, Minute Maid Park (formerly known as Enron Field) will be the fifthteenth Major League Stadium I’ve attended (four of which no longer exist or aren’t used for baseball, and two of which I only visited for football games – both of those, Veterans in Philadelphia and Jack Murphy in San Diego, are no longer with us). One day I hope to have visited the ballparks of twenty-nine of the major league teams (Wrigley Field – or wherever the Cubs play – will never be a place that I go – not even if it’s the only place of shelter after a horrific nuclear fallout; and speaking of which, there’s a chance that Wrigley Field will be closed by the time I post again here – keep your fingers crossed). Right now the plan is to take a stadium tour at some point on Saturday and catch the game on Sunday.

Maybe I’ll run into those people from Superman’s planet too.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

What's that thing at the Top?

Many of you have asked what’s up with that “Nav Bar” thing at the top of the page. Quite honestly, I don’t know. It seems to be a new thing from Blogger that is mandatory on everyone’s site. I can’t complain really, because they let me post all of these things for free and it works all of the time.

At first I found the Nav Bar to be a little annoying. It doesn’t exactly work with my color scheme, etc and I didn’t put it there, so I didn’t like it. Then I started to play with the “Next Blog” button on the right. If you have some extra time, check it out. For one, it’s pretty interesting. You can find your way to some non-baseball related fare. Actually, you can find things of all sorts of varieties. You’ll even find blogs in all kind of languages (and if you can’t read them, you can just keep clicking next until you find something you like).

I’ll warn you though, you’re likely to find all sorts of things you don’t like. It’s kind of like walking into someone else’s living room unannounced. Sure, these people are posting things on the Internet (did you know that The Book of Mike is now an International phenomenon? Yes – it’s true, we’re worldwide), but most of them aren’t expecting anyone to find their way to their personal little corner in cyber space.

I also found it interesting where some of the folks who were finding their way to me were coming from. Some of the sites were scary. Quite honestly, if I had more time I’d feel pretty badly for some of these people. This person needs to eat a cheeseburger and to quit worrying about things so much (and I was tempted to leave that in the comments). This poor person is tempted by Satan all the time. I suppose she would say that I am too, but I just don’t even acknowledge it.

I found some sites on my own, and some of them were quite funny, or at least entertaining. This one in particular struck my fancy – especially since it pointed me to the official site where you can become a member of the infamous, and previously secretive, Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. This site has a bold title (Jesus Saves) but only shows a picture of women’s soccer star Mia Hamm (not related to the men’s gymnastics gold medalist – at least I don’t think so) preparing for a shot. Maybe the implication here is that Jesus is keeping Mia Hamm from scoring. I don’t think Nomar Garciaparra is going to be very happy about that.

Other sites that I found were interesting, like this one – which pointed me to some pictures taken by American Olympians at the Olympics. It’s quite an interesting perspective.

Well, that’s all for today. No baseball again, I know, but I thought you might enjoy spending some time in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Olympic Observations

No baseball today - just the Olympics. I'm not even going to talk about baseball in the Olympics, because I'm still too stunned that the Americans are not even a part of the event. But there is a lot else going on that's interesting:
  • Around this time every four years ago I find myself watching gymnastics. At any other time, I can’t be bothered by the sport. Even if it’s a lazy Saturday afternoon and the only thing on television is gymnastics, I won’t watch it. During the Olympics though, I really enjoy it. This week’s men’s team competition was particularly interesting. Granted, the possibility of the US Men’s team winning a medal (which they ultimately did – the silver) helped to hold my interest, but overall I was overwhelmed by the sport itself.

    When I watch something like swimming or track and field, I think to myself “I could do that.” Sure, I couldn’t make it across the pool as fast as Gary Hall, or run as fast as Lauryn Williams, but with a little practice I could do it well enough to beat most of the people in my neighborhood.

    Gymnastics is a different story though (10-meter diving too). I can’t quite imagine myself swinging around on the high bar, let alone propelling myself into a release or a dismount. Just thinking about it makes me nervous. Actually doing it would surely require a lengthy hospital stay. I guess that’s part of the appeal of the Olympics – watching some of the world’s best athletes do things that you couldn’t possibly imagine.

  • Replacing Gary Hall with Michael Phelps in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay over the weekend was wrong. Up front I’ll admit that I went to high school with Gary, and that I’m a much bigger fan of his than Phelps. But even to an unbiased observer, it should seem clear that how the whole situation was handled was wrong. The American delegation – be it the swimming faction, USOC, sponsors, or a combination – determined long before these games began who the heroes would be. Gary Hall was apparently not amongst the select few, while Michael Phelps clearly was.

    Granted, Phelps is obviously a talented swimmer and will likely go down in history as one of the all time greats. Visa and any number of other corporate sponsors have a whole lot riding on his success. Still, he hasn’t accomplished – at least not at the Olympic level – what some of his teammates have, most notably Gary Hall.

    It says a lot about what we value in this country when qualifiers for certain events are passed over in favor of other athletes who may have an outside shot at setting a mythical record, especially when the athlete who is passed over has quite a story of his own to tell. Sure, Gary Hall didn’t come into these Olympics with the opportunity to win eight gold medals like Phelps did (although Phelps only had the opportunity to win eight by displacing a swimmer from the relay team who had qualified to race in the event, when Phelps had not).

    Gary did come into these games with Olympic (having competed in Atlanta and Sydney), eight medals (four gold, three silver, and one bronze), and a lineage of Olympic success (both his father and grandfather swam in the Olympics). In addition to all of that, Gary’s story could be an inspiration to millions of people if anyone was able to hear about it. In 1999 Gary was diagnosed with Type-I diabetes. At the time, it was widely believed that his career as a competitive swimmer was over. Obviously it wasn’t. Gary, with the help of some progressive treatment, came back and with a vengeance. Since his diagnosis Gary has won five Olympic medals and has an opportunity to win a sixth later this week.

    But apparently because he speaks his mind and isn’t backed by corporate sponsors, Gary’s story will go largely untold during these games.

  • For further evidence of misdeeds like this in swimming, check out Jenny Thompson on the US Women’s team. Jenny was inserted into a relay so that she could set a women’s record for gold medals won. The only problem was that Jenny blew a lead in her leg of the race, costing the US team a medal. Next time let’s go with the four best swimmers – the folks who earned their shot – and not take for granted that the US is entitled to things like medals in swimming. That does a dis-service to the athletes who earn their slots in races and is decidedly un-Olympic-like. The Olympics are supposed to be about the best competing against the best, without things like politics getting in the way. Letting swimmers like Michael Phelps and Jenny Thompson into races they didn’t qualify for is the exact opposite of that.

  • Don’t confuse the 2004 US Men’s Basketball team with a Dream team. Sure, the story of the men’s basketball team is very disappointing. But confusing them with a Dream Team is a completely different issue. While the twelve athletes competing for the United States are excellent basketball players, they are not the top twelve Americans who play in the NBA. Actually, they’re far from it. Most notably missing from this year’s team are super-stars such as Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Kevin Garnett, and many others. Sharpshooters such as Allan Houston and Brent Barry were also not made a part of the team. The US team is filled with great athletes, but great athletes can’t always overcome solid defense, aggressive zone defenses, and strong outside shooting.

    In my opinion, having a different roster in Athens could make the results very different for the United States team. Even then, comparing any US Men’s Basketball team to the original Dream Team is an unfair comparison.
The original dream team, which in case you didn’t know it took the court in the 1992 games in Barcelona and won by an average of more than 40 points per game,
featured the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Malone,
Charles Barkley, David Robinson, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing,
Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, and one college kid from Duke.

Unlike future versions of the team, the original Dream Team featured a line-up
that was nearly exclusively made up of future Hall of Famers (Chris Mullin and
Christian Laettner are likely the only exceptions). Everyone knew this
team was made up of Hall of Famers at the time. Fans and even players (one
opponent was reported to have asked a teammate on the bench to snap a photo of
him guarding Magic Johnson during play) were in awe of the collection of talent
the US team had assembled. It wasn’t only that the team was absurdly
talented, it was that the club was made up of established stars in their
primes. Most of the players were in their late 20s, prime age for a
basketball player (notables in this group included Jordan, Barkley, Malone,
Robinson, and Pippen). Other stars, who were in their 30s, were old by
standard basketball ages, but in terms of savvy and knowledge of the game, they
could still hold their own against anyone in the world (this group included
Johnson, Bird, Stockton, and Drexler).

The best measure of the 1992 Dream Team is how they would match up to any other team at any other time. Arguably, the 1992 Dream Team could hold their own against any team assembled from any (or all) other era. The 1992 team could start Magic Johnson at point guard, Michael Jordan at off guard, Charles Barkley at small
forward, Karl Malone at power forward, and David Robinson at center. Other than Robinson, where there’s more of an argument, you’re likely looking at the best player at each position in the history of the NBA. Some would argue that John Stockton was a better true point guard than Magic, but Stockton’s already on your bench. Some would also prefer the all around game of Pippen to Barkley, but you’ve already got him too.

At center you could start Ewing over Robinson, but others would argue for Kareem, Shaq, Bill Russell, George Mikan, Hakeem Olajuwan (although he was probably still Akeem back then), or a number of others. Still, I’d take my chances with the 1992 team against any other team that you could assemble. They’d have to face off on some sort of a computer or video game simulation, but I still think the 1992 team is the ultimate Dream Team.

Who from the 2004 “Dream Team” would you pick to even sit on the 1992 team’s bench? Maybe Tim Duncan, but that’s about it.

Other stuff:

  • The live, plausibly live, and obviously taped coverage makes the programming confusing and sometimes un-enjoyable. Rarely do I like to watch something when I already know the outcome, but I’m also suspect about watching something on tape that’s made to look live. Are the announcers really announcing as it happens, or do they have the benefit of going back after the fact and making their comments after they know how everything turns out?

  • If you haven’t heard about her already, keep an eye out for Lauryn Williams during the track events. She’ll be running in the 100-meter dash, having earned her spot by beating out Marion Jones and all the others – before drug and doping allegations had to be brought into the mix. So she’ll be racing for the title of World’s Fastest Woman.

    There are lots of reasons to cheer for Williams: most everyone can relate to her – she’s a typical American girl from a small town. She’s also overcome some adversity in her young life; her father suffers from leukemia and regularly receives chemotherapy treatment. She’s also supposed to be very pleasant and very much enjoying the whole Olympics experience, which is something you can never get enough of.

    I’ll be cheering for her when she’s on the blocks later this week.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bartman Sightings in Miami

It’s been a weird couple of weeks for me. Last week, there was the whole Hurricane Charley thing, where for a few days, we in Miami were nervous that the storm would come our way (luckily it didn’t). While I was trying to decide what to do (i.e. gather supplies like food and water, or flee the area, etc), I came home one night to see this image

Now, I’m not the most religious person you’ll ever meet, but even I took this as a sign. When a potentially devastating natural disaster is headed your way and you find out that even Jesus is leaving town, you really have to think about it.

It didn’t stop there, mind you. Nowhere close. The same day I saw Jesus packing up his things I also saw this

Never before have I seen a dog driving a car. At least not until last week. The insanity of late didn’t end there, but at least now we can dispell some of the rumors about Mr. Bartman - including one here and another here. I’ll let a guest columnist take it from here:

October 14, 2003... Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The Marlins trailed the Chicago Cubs 3-0. During the top of the eighth inning, Luis Castillo hits a foul ball high up towards the left field seats. Moises Alou has the ball in his sights as he runs towards the seats. Leaping high into the air and practically scaling the wall, the ball is mere inches from landing in his glove. Then, much to his surprise, an over-excited Cubs fan named Steve Bartman reaches out and snatches the ball out of the air, thwarting Alou's catch, and starting the rally that propelled the Marlins to an 8-3 victory. Ever since that eventful night, the whereabouts of Mr. Bartman remained a mystery to many.


It began a couple of months ago. While sitting in our usual seats in the Marlins "Fish Tank", we spotted a man a few rows away from us who looked strangely familiar. Suddenly, this mystery man catches a homerun hit by a player from, coincidentally enough, the opposing team. Despite the chants from the surrounding Marlins fans, the man refused to "throw it back" and then flipped off the other fans. Our suspicions began to bubble up.

Several weeks later, we spotted our mystery man again sitting in more or less the same seats. After intense scrutiny, we became convinced that we had found him. Steve Bartman, now in exile, and very likely a part of the Witness Protection Program, had resurfaced in Miami.

Then, just last week at the August 6 game against the Brewers, we find "Mr. Bartman" yet again. The shocking part was that, this time, we were sitting just above the left field bullpen... all the way across the stadium. While this led us to believe that "Mr. Bartman" may have been stalking our beloved editor of "The Book of Mike", that was the least of our concerns. "Mr. Bartman" was closer than ever... just two seats away.

Bravely, I reached for my camera, and while pretending to take a picture of Mike (the dorky looking guy in the foreground), I managed to zoom in and snap a picture of "Mr. Bartman's" profile (the dorky looking guy in the background). Have we found him? You decide.

Recognizing the fact that I may have compromised the efforts of the Witness Protection Program, as well as suspecting that Moises Alou has hired henchmen combing the web for Mr. Bartman's whereabouts, I feel it prudent to maintain my
anonymity. As such, I submit this guest column under the code name "Scratchy Throat".

Never before in the history of this blog (yeah, yeah, I know – that's not say much) has anyone other than me written here. Sure, I thought about enlisting a guest writer or two when I was on vacation, but that never really quite seemed right. Well, not until now.

"Scratchy Throat" (he's the one in the middle of that picture) and I (along with a group of others who probably wish to remain anonymous – including this guy, who I just can’t let off the hook) have been troubled by this Steve Bartman thing all year. Sure, last October everyone laughed about what a hero he was (from the Marlins perspective) and how he had allowed the Fish to advance to and ultimately win the World Series.

Seriously though, Steve Bartman is my hero. There is no team that I like to root against more than the Cubs. I've been that way my entire life. During Fox's broadcast of Game 6 of last year's NLCS I nearly became ill when I heard Thom Brenneman repeatedly drone on during the 8th inning about how the Cubs were only six outs away from advancing to their first World Series since 1945. When the Bartman incident occurred, and was nearly immediately followed by Alex Gonzalez's (then of the Cubs variety) misplay of a sure double play ball, I was ecstatic. The Cubs weren't going to win this game and they weren't a lock to advance to the World Series. Ultimately they didn't advance, of course, and we have Steve Bartman to thank.

But who really thought that Bartman would be made a part of the witness protection program? It sure seems like that's what happened. They could come up with a better disguise though. He's still got the hat, glove, headphones and glasses.In some ways I'm sure that a lot of you feel sorry for Bartman. I sure don't. Had he committed his mis-deed against a team like the Red Sox or the Phillies, he wouldn't be welcomed with open arms like he is in Miami. It's lucky for him that he interfered with Alou against the Marlins, where the fans are apathetic enough not to bother him, but the powers that be are corrupt enough to reinvent for a life for him in sunny South Florida. What a lucky guy!

I must admit though that it's fortunate for the Marlins that they are falling out of the race this year. I'm more than a little nervous that Bartman has become a double agent on the Fish… earlier in the year, as noted above, Bartman sat in the rightfield seats. He was in fair territory and a few rows up from the fence, so he was of no real risk to affect the outcome of the game. Lately, Bartman seems to have found his way to the terrace box seats, which are located along the leftfield line (that's where he is in the picture above). At Pro Player Stadium there's some room between the terrace seats and the field (separated either by the visitor's bullpen or some field level seats), so it's unlikely Bartman could do any serious damage. Still, it's nerve-wracking to see him moving closer and closer to the field.

Maybe it's part of his therapy though. It's entirely possible that part of his state-funded witness protection program includes therapy to help him work through the fallout from his lapse in judgment last October. If that's the case, then good for him. I hope that Bartman is able to get past his demons. Just don't let it cost the Marlins a game, OK?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Vactican Denies existence of this Blog

Apparently the Vatican has found the time to deny the existence of this little blog of mine. You can read all about it here. I have to say that I'm quite surprised. This is just a little blog about baseball - nothing to get all worked up about. Maybe they're trying to supress the truth I'm about to spread about Steve Bartman. Maybe the Pope loves the Cubs and despises my White Sox and Marlins-centric writing. Who knows?

I'll also admit that this caught me quite off guard. And while I'm sure that sharing this picture will doom me to an eternity in hell (click here), I was under the impression that the pope was a lot less busy than this pronouncement would seem to indicate. Apparently, in between time spent nose-picking, His Holiness has found the time to personally indict my work.

Last week I thought that Matt Welch had made it big time when someone started up a blog to mock both him personally and his blog. However, I think that having a religious organization condemn you (or supress your work) is a much bigger acknowledgement that you're actually reaching people. I'll take whatever recognition I can get. So, thank you, your Holiness. I think you have somewhat legitimized the work that I'm doing. One day, I'm sure, this will look great on my resume.

Bartman Delayed

I hate to do this, but the post updating everyone about Steve Bartman is delayed one more day. In the interim, be thankful that you still have whatever you have today. After Hurricane Charley swept through most of Florida this weekend (missing me, thankfully, in Miami), not everyone can say that. If you'd like to do something nice for the folks who were affected by the storm, one easy thing you can do is donate to the Red Cross. They have an emergency fund set up and you can donate online, via mail, or via phone. Click here for more info.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Steve Bartman Update Coming on Monday

Today’s post will be limited, but it’s a Friday, so there are probably very few of you out there anyway. But for those of you who found this site for the first time yesterday (and it looked like there were a lot of you), please make sure to check back on Monday as we will have a very special feature (including a contribution by a guest columnist) updating everyone on Steve Bartman.

As many of you know (actually, probably all of you), Steve Bartman was the Cubs “fan” who interfered with a flyball that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was trying to catch in last year’s National League Championship series. Bartman’s actions prevented Alou from catching the ball, and the Marlins went on to stage a late rally which allowed them to win the game and eventually the series. Bartman was reviled throughout Chicago, and Cubs fans went so far as to buy and explode the ball that was involved in the affair in an attempt to end the curse of Steve Bartman, the Billy Goat, and all else afflicting the Cubs.

In Monday’s update, we will provide concrete evidence that Steve Bartman is now a Marlins fan and that he regularly attends games at Pro Player Stadium. If you’re a fan of the Fish and you see Steve at the stadium, thank him and buy him a beer (he’ll be easy to recognize, with the hat, headphones, and glove – trust me!).

Until Monday…

In the meantime, if you’d like to do some other baseball things this weekend, check out MLB Center. You can even look for me on the message boards. There’s also always Batgirl for baseball hilarity.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

August 12th: In Memory of the Franchise Formerly Known as the Montreal Expos

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the 1994 strike. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the Expos. Few people remember it now, particularly since the most recent few years have been so horrific for the Expos, but back in 1994, the Expos were one of – if not the – best teams in baseball.

Back in 1994 the Expos had a chance to end the Braves post-season run at three consecutive years. An impressive streak no doubt, but nothing compared to the streak that they’ve managed to perpetuate to this day since 1991 (of reaching the post-season every year that there’s been one). But there was no post-season in 1991 and the Expos technically didn’t finish the year with the best record in the (then newly reconfigured) National League East. Their 74-40 record was the best in the league and would have led any division by three and a half games (they led the NL East by a full six).

Things weren’t all around great for the Expos, at least not off the field. Their attendance was 11th out of 14 teams in the National league (looking at that now though, three up from the bottom is surely a place the Expos would like to be). Finances weren’t great, but there was hope that a post-season run would generate some excitement and interest in the team. Had that happened, maybe the team would have been kept together.

Who was on that team, you ask? A better question might be who wasn’t.

The starting rotation included staff ace Ken Hill, twenty-two year old Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fassero, twenty-three year old Kirk Rueter, and Butch Henry. The bullpen was equally full of standouts, including many names you’ve come to know like John Wetteland (oh, yeah – the Yankees closer before Rivera!), Mel Rojas (whose great days are now likely long forgotten), Jeff Shaw (of Dodgers and Reds fame), Tim Scott, and Gil Heredia.

The Expos staff was young and talented. Four of their starters were twenty-eight or younger, and three were under twenty-five. Yet, the team still led the league in ERA, saves, and walks allowed, and was second in hits and runs, and third in strikeouts. Those are impressive totals from a young staff that was poised to make a serious run at the World Series.

They were no slouches at the plate either. The regular starting lineup included names such as Cliff Floyd (then twenty-one), Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Larry Walker, and Wil Cordero. The oldest of that group was 27 at the time. Actually, the Expos were a pretty young club that year, with Randy Milligan, at thirty-two, the only player over thirty.

In addition to that, the Expos had prospects like Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Grudzielanek, Henry Rodriguez, Orlando Cabrera, Omar Daal, Ugueth Urbina, and Jose Vidro developing in the minor leagues in 1994. The talent was young and developed for the Expos back then, and there was depth. Oh, was there depth.

“Was” is the key word there. In 1994 there was depth; soon thereafter it was all gone. By 1995 Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Ken Hill, John Wetteland, and Jeff Shaw were all with new teams. That’s five All-Stars removed from the Expos by the conclusion of the 1995 season. No wonder the downward slide started then – the Expos finished the year at 66 – 78 and in fifth in the division. While their place in the standings improved in 1996 (to second) as did their record (to 88 and 74), the Expos also said goodbye to Cliff Floyd, Wil Codero, and Kirk Rueter. While those players haven’t amassed the careers that the players lost in the previous year did, they are all solid major leaguers, and at the time they Expos had to get rid of them, they were still relatively cheap as ballplayers come. Much more of the same came in 1997, when the Expos started their stretch of four consecutive fourth place finishes in the National League East. For various reasons they also lost Moises Alou, Mel Rojas, and Butch Henry – all to bigger market, or at least bigger spending teams like the Marlins, Cubs, and Red Sox (respectively). In 1998 the final nail in the coffin came, as the Expos jettisoned reigning Cy Young Award Winner Pedro Martinez to the Boston Red Sox. After that (well, at least until Vladimir Guerrero left after the 2003 season), there wasn’t much else to strip away from the Expos. Other than Jose Vidro, the only Expo of note to survive it all has been Youppi.

A wholesale dismantling of one franchise was one of the most significant side effects of the 1994 strike. Sure, certain players were affected – like Matt Williams, who would have challenged Maris’s record of 61 home runs (which could have changed the course of things for McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds who would later chase that record). Tony Gwynn had an outside shot at hitting .400. Greg Maddux was in the midst of putting together what may have been the greatest season ever by a pitcher. All of those things were cut short. The fans, too, were robbed of a pennant race and a post-season. But most importantly of all, the Montreal Expos were ruined. In the years since their franchise has been raided, gutted, and abandoned. Now we don’t even know where they’ll play next year. No wonder they need to move though. Who would have kept going to games up there. In the late 90s the All-Star game could have featured former Expos versus the best of the rest of the league, and the former Expos would have stood a fair chance in a seven game series.

Just make sure you add the utter destruction of a franchise (arguably his second if you include his own) to Bud Selig’s resume.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Shocker of the Week: Lo Duca's Not a Summer Rental for Fish

Many of you likely received an email version of this press release from the Marlins yesterday. I did, and when I did, I laughed out loud. No, it wasn’t because of my recent spat with the Marlins. I laughed because it seemed like a silly press release to write and submit.

Did anyone really think that the Marlins were acquiring Paul Lo Duca as a two-month rental? I really doubt it. In fact, one of the reasons that many people panned the trade was that the Marlins traded for a thirty-two year old catcher who is due a large raise next year (likely to somewhere in the neighborhood of eight million dollars per year). In case you’re not paying really close attention, that’s about what they were unwilling to pay for one particular other catcher during the offseason. Sure, that catcher has had a more significant history of injuries, but he’s also flat-out a better player. Pudge Rodriguez is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and he was a key catalyst in the Marlins World Championship last season.

The Fish weren’t willing to pay him though, so he’s in Detroit now. Granted, Pudge barely got more (if he really got more money at all) money from the Tigers than the Marlins were willing to give him, bue regardless, he’s gone. Now the Marlins are going as far as to compare Lo Duca to Rodriguez (see McKeon's comments in the above linked article). That's a dangerous, at best, comparison to make.

And now the Marlins have traded one of their top pitchers, a young first baseman, and a top minor league prospect to the Dodgers for an aging catcher (Lo Duca), an aging set-up man also due for a payday (Mota), and an all-field, no hit outfielder who’s already been given too big of a contract (Encarnacion). So, in a way, the Marlins do owe their fans some reassurances that come next season they’ll have something to show for giving up Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi, and that other guy (Bill Murphy) who’s now in the Diamondbacks organization.

The response to that is to send out a statement that Paul Lo Duca will be back – next year, at least… possibly. All told, it’s a nice pretty looking statement that says nothing. Will Lo Duca be back next year? Probably. Why? It’s simply because the Marlins have no other real options at catcher. Ramon Castro, if he’s not in jail, hasn’t developed into the player that everyone thought that he would be. Matt Treanor has a nice story, but there are lots of reasons he’s been in the minor leagues for such a long time. Mike Redmond, well, he makes a nice backup.

The moral of the story, boys and girls, is, don’t believe the hype. Sure, Lo Duca’s likely to be back next year, but he pretty much has to be. Yes, he’s lit the world on fire over the past two weeks since the Marlins acquired him, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to continue to keep that up.

You'll Have to Wait for the Marlins Details

For those of you who have been breathlessly waiting, I won’t be posting the complete details of my issues with the Marlins here anytime soon. I will be in contact with the Marlins and other sources and will do my best to get the word out and to get the product the Marlins deliver to the fans improved. The short version of the story is that I have just grown tired of the Marlins poor customer service, and a number of issues brought that to a head this weekend. Therefore, I’m not attending any more Marlins games.

Sure, I'll probably still watch the team on television occassionally, and I'll definitely read about them in the newspaper and online. But I'm not spending anymore money to support the team - whether it's on tickets, t-shirts, food at the stadium, or anything else.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Is Edgar Martinez a Hall of Famer?

Edgar Martinez announced yesterday that he is retiring from Major League Baseball at the conclusion of this season. Fortunately for Martinez, Mariners executives have been respectful enough of him and his career accomplishments to not use this announcement as an excuse to give him his outright release, as they’ve found numerous reasons (many of them valid) to release many of their opening day starters already this year. Seriously though, Martinez is a great player and a career long Mariner. That is a statement that can rarely be made about anyone today, and Edgar earned the right to remain a Mariner over the duration of his career because of his steady hitting and steady demeanor.

One lasting memory that I will have about Edgar Martinez (no, it’s not like he’s dying or anything, just retiring) is how he regularly took batting practice with a bat with donuts on it. For those of you who haven’t played the game, donuts are weights – usually about a pound each – that hitters typically place on their bats when they are waiting to hit. This allows the hitter to feel like they’re swinging a lighter bat – and to swing it faster – when they remove the donut and go up to the plate. Other than Martinez, I’ve never even heard of anyone who took as much as batting practice with a donut on their bat (although I suppose since he started doing it others have tried it too). For one, it makes your bat heavy (which could be dealt with in batting practice), and it also would introduce odd angles to your bat, which could make it possible to foul a ball into your face (or somewhere else inopportune), causing a serious injury. Edgar never really had an issue with it though – at least not as far as I ever saw. I do remember seeing him hit with a donut once or twice in person and it was quite a feat.

Edgar’s lasting impression on the field though is another matter. With his announcement yesterday, much of the talk about his retirement has centered on whether or not he will become a Hall of Famer. Personally, I do not feel that he will be, and here’s why: Edgar’s career is marked by sustained solid play, but not excellence. Edgar would always give you a solid campaign, but was rarely amongst the game’s elite of the elite (two top 10 MVP finishes). Sure, Edgar is a 7-time All-Star, but the Hall of Fame is not made up of mere All-Stars. The Hall of Fame is made up of the All-Stars of All-Stars.

One of my favorite sources for determining whether or not a player is a likely Hall of Famer or not is Baseball Reference. At the bottom of every player’s page on Baseball Reference is a list of ten players who the player’s career is most similar too. Similarity scores are a measure established by Bill James that effectively determines the differences between players by subtracting points (starting from 1000) by comparing the differences in statistical totals (using various benchmarks) between players. You can look at this overall, through the player’s current age, and for each age the player was in the major leagues versus a peer of the same age. When you look at the lists for Edgar Martinez, you see a list full of names of solid players. Players you remember and players who most definitely contributed to making their teams win. However, you don’t find a lot of Hall of Famers. Of the most similar batters to Edgar Martinez, Chuck Klein (at number two) is the lone Hall of Famer (Chuck Klein? Well, he is one of the Phillies all-time greats; a player who established many club records that were later broken by a certain Michael Jack Schmidt; you probably don’t remember Klein though because his career ran from 1928 to 1944). Other similar players to Martinez include Will Clark, John Olerud, Larry Walker, Luis Gonzalez, Ellis Burks, Paul O’Neill, and Fred Lynn. Each of these men was a fine major leaguer; almost definitely someone you would want on any ball club. But are any of them Hall of Famers? It’s doubtful.

If you doubt how effective these similar player lists can be, check out a few other guys. Barry Bonds – a mortal lock to become a Hall of Famer five years after he retires – is listed as most similar to Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Rafael Palmeiro, Reggie Jackson, and Lou Gehrig. Yes, all of them are Hall of Famers except for Rafael Palmeiro, who more than likely will also become one when he retires.

Another player with similar chances of reaching the Hall of Fame as Martinez is one of his contemporaries, and a fellow DH, Harold Baines. Looking at similarity scores alone, Baines’s top four are Tony Perez, Al Kaline, Dave Parker, and Billy Williams. All but Parker are Hall of Famers. Baines’s chances might be better than Martinez’s based solely on this list, but Baines bounced around from team to team quite a bit during his career, and he was less talkative with the media than Martinez, so he’s less likely to get overwhelming support from any particular block of writers than most players. He was though, like Martinez, a solid and dependable player over a long period of time (six All-star games and two top 10 finishes in MVP voting).

On other measures that James developed, Martinez rates a little more favorably than Baines in terms of his chance for making the Hall of Fame. James developed Black ink and Gray ink tests, which measure how frequently a player led his league or was in the league’s top ten (respectively), during his career. James found that players who usually make the Hall of Fame tend to rate highly in these accounts, apparently because these results stick somewhere prominent in the minds of writers. Still though, both Martinez and Baines rate below where the typical Hall of Famer does in terms of both Black and Gray ink. Given that both would have to overcome the stigma of being (primarily) a designated hitter, that’s probably enough to doom their chances for earning enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

But if that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you, that’s pretty good. Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez were both exemplary players with distinguished careers. We should all take the opportunity to enjoy the remainder of Martinez’s while we still can.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Today's Sign of the Apocalypse: I agreed with Ken Harrelson on Something

During Saturday’s broadcast of the White Sox – Indians game, Sox announcer Ken Harrelson commented, after Carlos Lee fouled a ball off of his left knee, about how ballplayers today are fouling balls off of unusual parts of their bodies. While at first I thought this was just a typical comment from an ex-ballplayer about how the game has changed (for the worse) today, after thinking about it for a moment, I started to agree with Harrelson. Ten or fifteen years ago, hardly anyone wore shin guards; today lots of players do – and it’s good that they do, otherwise we’d see lots of players with leg injuries (or so it seems). I’m not quite sure what the cause of this might be though.

The only things I can think of is that players are using lighter bats with thinner handles (generally) than were used in the past. Maybe this allows them to get the bats around slightly quicker – and thus make it more likely to pull the ball into your own body. And maybe the angles produced by the thinner bat handles also increase the chances for fouling a ball off of yourself.

I’m really not sure though. Does anyone have any thoughts?

More Evidence that Barry Bonds is Not Human

During last night’s ESPN broadcast of the Giants – Cubs game, ESPN showed a graphic that said that Barry Bonds has reached base (via a hit, walk, or hit by pitch) in more than 96% of his games this year. From 2001 through today, he has reached base in 94% of the games he’s played in. That’s simply amazing.

Done with the Marlins

As some of you may have already heard by now, Mike, the proprietor of The Book of Mike, is no longer supporting the Florida Marlins. I attended my last game on Friday night. Although I had a great time at the game, a number of issues – which I will detail at a later date – have caused me to decide to cease attending Marlins games until there is a change in the Marlins ownership or a significant change in the way that the stadium experience is delivered and in the way that Marlins staff treat their fans.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Why Lo Duca is Due for a Second Half Surge

Well, maybe not a surge, but he's definitely capable - this year, for the first time - of sustaining his first half production over the course of an entire season...

One of the reasons that has been widely cited for why the Dodgers gave up Paul Lo Duca is that, historically, his numbers fade after the All-Star break. The numbers bare this out: over the past three seasons, Lo Duca had a .323 batting average in the first half, .380 onbase percentage, and an OPS of .869. Those are excellent marks, especially for a catcher. The second half, however, has been a completely different story. From 2001 – 2003, Lo Duca managed only a .252 batting average, an Encarnacion-esque .306 onbase percentage and an anemic .680 OPS. Those are the sorts of numbers you only hope to see out of your backup catcher.

Lo Duca recognized the problem though, and did something about it. This past offseason Lo Duca cut caffeine out of his diet and went on an intensive strength and conditioning program. Paul has said that he has simply worn down late in the season in the past. For those of you who use caffeine in moderation, this might seem to be counter-intuitive, but it makes sense to me (as someone with something of a Coke habit – Coca-Cola that is). You can read more about that all over the place though. I’m no expert on that.

So far it seems that the lifestyle changes that Lo Duca made are working (granted, he’s only had 60 at bats since the All-Star break). Before this year’s All-Star break, Lo Duca was hitting .313, with an onbase percentage of .355 and an OPS of .816. Overall, that looks pretty good and pretty typical of Lo Duca. Since the break, Lo Duca’s hit .305, with a .406 onbase percentage and an OPS of .931.

We will see how it holds up over the course of the year. Examples like this are the exceptions to the mantra that everything in the game can be quantified. I'm not a believer in that; there are too many outside, unknown variables that exist to allow everything that affects a ballplayer's performance to be quantified (and an arbitrary break point like the mid-point of the season or the All-Star break isn't really all that telling). In hindsight, surely Paul’s second half performance can be quantified, but will we ever really know if Paul Lo Duca’s second half numbers this year are because of the changes in his diet, or if it’s because he likes walking on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean more than the Pacific Ocean, or because he’s so happy that his wife is pregnant and about to deliver their first baby? I doubt it. Some things can be quantified and measured, and others can’t (or are at least very difficult to quantify). Sure, we know about some of the things that Lo Duca’s doing differently, but we don’t know everything. The same holds true for every player.

I just hope that Paul keeps playing like he has since the Marlins acquired him.

Enough Already: De Podesta got the best of Beinfest

Last week’s big trade between the Marlins and the Dodgers was, and is, the subject of much debate. There seem to be two schools of thought. One is that the Marlins made some good moves to fortify themselves for a run at the 2004 post-season by filling in gaping holes at catcher and in the bullpen. The other school of thought is that Dodgers’ general manager Paul De Podesta is a genius and he is re-building his team mid-season.

Normally I have two rules of thumb for evaluating trades. The first to determine which team got the best player. This normally determines who got the better of the trades. Sometimes that will be difficult to figure out at the time the trade is made (for example, take a trade like Doyle Alexander to the Tigers in exchange for John Smoltz, then a prospect, who went to the Braves – in the short term that was, arguably, a win for the Tigers, but in the long run, a definite win for the Braves). My second rule of thumb is to consider who is making the trades. You can generally assume, in a trade not made purely for financial or other uncontrollable reasons, that Athletics’ GM Billy Beane and Braves’ GM John Scheurholz almost always get the better end of their deals. With other GMs it’s more difficult to say.

My rules of thumb fail me here. Who got the best player in the Marlins – Dodgers trade is highly subjective. Many would say that the Dodgers did by acquiring Hee Seop Choi. While Choi might not be the best player of the six involved here today, he most likely will be two years from now and almost certainly will be five years from now. He’s young, talented, hits for power, and shows good discipline at the plate.

Others would say that Brad Penny, also acquired by the Dodgers, is the best player involved in this deal. Like Choi, Penny is young and comes with ample major league (and even post-season) experience. He’s a power pitcher, and you can never have enough of those. There are probably even a few folks out there who would argue that Bill Murphy, the pitching prospect the Marlins included in the deal, will one day be the best player. That’s a stretch, but the Dodgers were able to use Murphy in their deal with the Diamondbacks, which landed them Steve Finley.

From the Marlins perspective, you could argue that Mota or Lo Duca were the best players in this deal. Mota fills a role that few other relievers in baseball are capable of filling, and he’s proved capable of that over a number of years (the flip side of that is that he’s older and inevitably will break down – plus he’s relatively expensive). Nearly the same can be said of Lo Duca. He fills a role that’s difficult to fill (catcher), but his best years may be behind him and he’s relatively expensive (because of his service time, etc). Still though, Lo Duca could be the best player involved in this trade when it’s all said and done.

The biggest negative for the Marlins in this deal is that they’re now saddled with Juan Encarnacion for not only this season, but next season as well. Juan seems to be a nice enough guy and an above average defender, but he simply can’t hit. There’s really not any arguing with that. His onbase percentage is less than .300. That’s about the same as Barry Bonds’s onbase percentage if you only count the plate appearances in which Bonds is intentionally walked.

So to me, it’s not clear who got the best player in the deal. My hunch is that we’ll look back at this deal two years from now and say that the Dodgers did. We’ll probably say that they got the two best players – in Penny and Choi. Maybe the Marlins will turn it around and win the 2004 World Series. This week, it doesn’t look like it, but it could happen.

In the short term though, there’s only one measure that can clearly help us decide who won this trade. It’s not runs created above average, runs saved above average, win shares, or any other metric like that. It’s simply wins and losses. The Marlins are 1 – 3 since the trade last Friday (not counting last Friday, as none of the players involved played that day). The Dodgers, on the other hand, are 4 – 1. While the sample size is small, it’s clear so far that the Dodgers won this deal. They look like near locks right now to reach the post-season, and if they do, they’re a threat to win the whole thing. Plus, they’re better positioned for 2005 and beyond. The more and more you go through this, the clearer it is that the Dodgers won this deal. Sure, the Marlins could get lucky and catch lightning in a bottle again this year, but it sure doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.

Oh well. It’s still fun to see them make a move in late July and to be quasi-in playoff contention in August. That’s never happened two years in a row in for the Marlins before.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Marlins Marital Woes Threaten Franchise Stability

Hank Goldberg, who is a Miami sports radio personality and ESPN personality, was suspended from his radio show this week. On Monday, Goldberg apparently reported that Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Marlins, is having marital problems and that if things are not reconciled (read to the bottom), the future of the Marlins could be at stake, because Mrs. Loria really has or controls the money. It's not clear if this is because of some sort of a pre-nuptial arrangement, if Mrs. Loria came into the marriage with the money, or what the case may be.

Apparently the Marlins were not happy about this dirty laundry being aired publicly, and they raised this concern to Goldberg’s radio station, which is also the Marlins flagship radio network. Goldberg has not been heard from since.

The most enlightening tidbit that came out of this whole debacle is that Mrs. Loria is David Samson’s mother. At least we all now know how Davey got his primo-job.

Olympic Basketball
The US Men’s Basketball team, a supposed Dream Team roster, lost earlier this week to Italy in an exhibition game. The Italian team contained zero NBA players or prospects. Granted, this is nowhere near the equivalent of the 1992 Dream Team – in fact there’s hardly a first-team All-NBA player on the roster, but at some point the NBA is going to want to stop sending its players over there, otherwise we in the ticket buying public will realize that the best players in the world (of actual basketball, not the NBA game) aren’t in the NBA.

Dodgers’ manager Jim Tracy changed his uniform number from 12 to 16 this week. There are two ways to take the story: one, he switched numbers out of respect to traded catcher Paul Lo Duca, who formerly wore 16 for the Dodgers. The other option is that newly acquired Steve Finley, who has worn 12 throughout his career, wanted the number 12, so Tracy had to acquiesce to keep his new star happy.

Olympic Conspiracy Theory
Have the folks who are running the Athens Olympics been so slick that they’ve set us all up to expect a disastrous games when all along they’ve been ready to pull off something quite reasonable or even great? For a long time now the talk has been about what a mess Athens will be, how the events aren’t ready, etc. In recent weeks there have been power problems and telephone outages. Couple that with the security fears, and generally expectations are low – to put it mildly – for this summer’s games. I’m not sure if these folks in Athens have been slyly manipulating our expectations, but that’s one of the theories that’s floating out there.