Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oliver Perez is why Baseball is Great

Pop Quiz: what do an incompetent Miami cab driver and an ex-stripper in a low-cut Santa dress have in common?

Answer: They are each responsible for getting the one of the two pitchers currently tied for the club lead in wins, onto the New York Mets. If Anna Benson hadn’t showed up for the Met’s Christmas Party in a skimpy Mrs. Claus outfit, the Mets would probably not have dealt her husband for Jorge Julio, in which deal the previously unknown and unimpressive John Maine was included as an after thought. And if Duaner Sanchez, the Met’s top set-up man, hadn’t injured his shoulder in a Miami taxi cab there would have been no reason to trade Xavier Nady for veteran reliever Roberto Hernandez and a once promising starter that the Pirates had given up on, named Oliver Perez.

In 2004, for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Perez had one of the most tantalizing seasons for any young pitcher, leading the Major Leagues with 10.97 strikeouts per nine innings and putting up 2.98 ERA that was good for a tie for fifth place (with the Rocket, whose recent minor league starts are NOT impressive to Pedro Martinez) in the NL. However, even prior to that season, Perez had had issues with his control and tendencies towards wildness—glaring weaknesses in his game that would never cease to haunt him. In 2005, after a loss to the Cardinals, he broke his big toe kicking a laundry cart in the dugout and spent two and a half months on the DL. He opened 2006 as the Pirates number one starter, but quickly moved from the rotation to the bullpen, to the minors. When the Mets traded Nady to the Pirates for Hernandez, Omar Minaya was probably the only person left in baseball who saw enough in Perez to demand that the Pirates throw him in.

At first for the Mets in 2006, Perez was much like he had been before, very closely resembling the little girl immortalized by the poem: ‘for when she was good/ she was very, very good/ and when she was bad, she was horrid.’ He would be lights out for innings at a stretch, only to develop un-conventional notions about the size and location of the strike zone, and walk and hit batters until the game was out of reach. When he started game 7 of the NLCS, he had compiled the worst statistics of any pitcher to pitch a game seven in the history of baseball.

But Perez was good in that game, only giving up one run in six innings, and since then he has basically been brilliant, with flashes of wildness, instead of the other way around. True, he has thrown some rotten games this year, but they have been the exception, rather than the rule. He has been evolving into something like a ‘big game pitcher,’ having his best games against ‘rivals’ like the Braves or the Yankees. Indeed, while Atlanta’s Chipper Jones has embraced the label of ‘Met Killer’ to the extent that he named his son ‘Shea’ after the stadium where he has had the most success, the Mets should start calling Ollie ‘Firewater’ (or maybe Smallpox), because he always messes up the Braves (knock on wood).

The part of the human brain that evolved from animals that would hide from their predators in trees feels deeply sorry for pitchers. They have nothing to protect them, no wall to put their backs against: man was not meant to be quite so out in the open. Few pitchers, however, manage to draw much attention to their humanity: good ones (Tom Glavine) make it seem as if they aren’t doing anything that impressive; great ones (Pedro Martinez) give the impression of having evolved into Supermen; truly bad ones (Jose Lima) can only be reviled; and we are never tempted to relate to true and deep mediocrity (Steve Trachsel), although maybe we should be.

Perez is none of that: he sits on the cusp between fantastic and abysmal. He has touched greatness, but been unable to grasp it. He is bound by superstition— when he skips over the baseline he sometimes seems delightfully exuberant and sometimes demented. The control that he lacks, that is his great weakness, is not a control over others or over outside forces; rather it is the control of his own product, his own process, and his own stuff.

Oh, Oliver! Oh, humanity!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mets vs. Yankees

In the wake of the Subway Series I feel that I might as well say a few words about the state of the Yankees/Mets rivalry. It is, essentially, the opinion of ‘Sam’s Mets blog’ that there is no such thing-- and the perception of one is a result of the travesty that is inter-league play and shameless marketing. In fairness, the marketability of rivalries such as the Yankees and the Mets was one the major factors behind the establishment of inter-league play; but, regardless, the true rivalries are within the divisions: the Yankees and the Red Sox; and the Mets and the Braves or, perhaps some day, the Phillies. Since they don’t play within the same division, or even in the same league, the Yankees and the Mets, in the normal and just course of things, should have nothing to do with each other. But, like two roosters bred and trained from birth for cock fighting, with blades attached to their feet, riled up, and released into the ring, so the Mets and the Yankees have been drawn into something that is called a rivalry, by the marketing minds behind Major League Baseball.

Thus, it is the duty of any true fan to regard match-ups between the two New York teams, and all other inter-league games, with a certain degree of disinterest: rooting for one’s team and wistfully hoping for the day when interleukin play will go the way of three ball walks and the spit-ball.

I still don’t like the Yankees. For one thing, George Steinbrenner is a criminal who made illegal donations to the Nixon campaign and received a presidential pardon form Reagan: if we weren’t living right now in the asshole of history, those two would top the list of worst ever Americans. Fuck Steinbrenner and everything he lays his pudgy little fingers on, even if he weren’t conspicuously obnoxious, shortsighted, and greedy in his management of the team.

Furthermore, in their current incarnation, the Bronx Bombers have been looking to expensive free-agent signings that are geared towards short-term glamour and results, and failing to develop the beginnings of a pitching staff in the minors. The Yankees’ problem this year has been pitching, and paying Roger Clemens a record-breaking amount of money to work for a few months is grotesquely not the answer; unfortunately for the Bombers, the answer is to go back in time and get better prospects. During the best of the Torre era, they were powered by home grown players: Rivera, Jeter and Posada. Say what you will about the Yankees, but those are guys who play the game extremely well, and, particularly Rivera, have benefited the sport with their excellence. Spending more money than anyone else on the likes of Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano and A-Rod, and acting as if this entitled them to the Pennant seems fairly crass and unappealing.

Beyond all this, the Yankees have more championships than anyone else in the history of professional sports, and represent a legacy of amazing dominance. Historically, many, many of the greatest players in the history of the game have worn the Pin-stripes and to not respect that history would be ridiculous. But my instinct is to root for the under-dog, and I am drawn by the unlikely, as much as the excellent, in sports. Following a bumbling and unlucky team somehow more effectively complements my experience of the world: I’m a Mets fan.

And, sharing a city with the Yankees, and Yankee fans, creates certain tensions. On the most basic level, in the late Torre Era, hearing the same complaints and rants ad naeuseum is just plain tiresome—particularly when one is feeling starved and frenzied for information about one’s own team. It is hard putting up with the tedious drama of tensions between A-Rod and Giambi, A-Rod and Jeter, and Carl Pavano and the rest of the team, particularly from and organization that claims to find its strength in an almost corporate culture, and expertly maintained professionalism. Then again, there also is not much to be said for the belligerent fans who derive self-esteem from the depths of Steinbrenner’s pockets.

Anyway, of course I thought that the series went alright, and even though I wish he hadn’t beaten the Mets, you have to feel happy for the kid that the Yankees brought out of the minors on Sunday—walking right into the fabricated cross-town rivalry for his major league debut and throwing such a good game.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Where Are They Now: Wally Backman

A totally sweet RV, that’s where Wally Backman is. The scrappy former second baseman’s RV is hitched up in a trailer park in Albany, Georgia, where Backman is managing the South Georgia Peanuts. According to an article, “To Hell and Backman,” in Sunday’s New York Post, the World Champion Met is hoping that his managerial activities will pave the way for his return to managing in the big leagues-- where he lasted for four whole days as skipper of the Diamondbacks, before legal and financial issues surfaced, and led the D-backs to reconsider and give the job to someone else.

Apparently the minor league manager of the year award that Backman had won while working for their farm system did not outweigh a bankruptcy claim, monies owed to state and federal tax authorities, a DUI, and allegations of domestic violence stemming from Backman’s divorce.

But Wally’s no quitter, so he hitched up the ol’ RV and drove to Albany, Georgia, where a near-by high school just had its first ever integrated prom.

All in all, it seems that Backman caught a rough break—and I think that we should wish the Peanuts well, and hope that someone gives him a job (Minaya has passed on him for jobs in the Mets minor league system). My investigations sort of point to the conclusion that if the Diamondbacks had been in a different position as an organization things might have gone differently; but their founder, Jerry Colangelo, had just been forced out for egregious financial irresponsibility, and when things started surfacing about Backman, they decided that they just weren’t going to go there.

Furthermore, and disturbingly, the Post’s article includes a cryptic reference to “the 10-inch plate in his left arm from that domestic violence incident when his wife’s friend hit him with a bat.” This is just another indication of the superior reportage that goes into the New York Post’s sports writing: all of my internet research reveals no clues at all into what the hell they are talking about—except that the incident lead to Backman being arrested for harassment, and that his wife’s friend was female. But the injury to Backman is apparently a scoop that was only uncovered by the Post.

But things aren’t all bad for Backman: the aforementioned RV seems, like I said, totally sweet. It’s a got a television and an electric fireplace, and is, according the former World Champion and current occupant, “nicer than any hotel room.” [italics mine]

Monday, May 14, 2007

More on Pelfry and…others

So, certain previous comments made on this blog about the Met’s prospect have turned out to have been wildly optimistic, and Mike Pelfry is now back in the minor leagues, where it had been increasingly, and increasingly painfully, obvious that he belonged. But, with El Duque still injured, there doesn’t seem to be any good options to take his place, leading one terrified bloger to speculate that something like this might be about to happen:

Willy Randolph, Omar Minaya, and some of the special assistants are talking. Their faces are dark and drawn. They walk away with their heads down. Randolph looks like he just saw one of his players miss-play a ground ball while killing a kitten.

A special assistant picks up a phone: he talks softly, in a defeated voice—it is as if he is calling up the bank; he is telling them to take the family farm.

In the Dominican Republic, a short fat man in a cheap suite returns a battered old telephone to its cradle. He is puffing on an odious, cheap cigar, a look of triumph on his face. He thumbs through a rolodex of filthy cards, removes one, and leaves his dingy office.

He walks down the dusty streets, to an increasingly run-down part of town. He walks into a bar that smells of spilled rum and urine and broken dreams. He exchanges a few hushed words with the bartender, who points to the back of the bar. There, a stout woman is standing by a table, in a dirty mini-skirt. She is wearing enough lip-stick and mascara for a county in Long Island. She is yelling at the man sitting at the table, but he is not paying attention to her, staring dolefully into his glass of rum.

The short man in the cheap suite runs his hands through his greasy hair and approaches the man at the table: “senior Lima, por foavor…”

Sunday, May 13, 2007


The following are reasons that I have not been posting lately:

- My job: for the next couple of weeks I'll be working 9-5 (like a normal person); this has completely messed with my routine for working on the blog. Hopefully I will be able to re-establish a routine around my new hours soon.

-The haircuts: when the team that you blog about shaves off all of its hair, it really seems like a challenge to step up with something extra witty and insightful... but I had nothing. I am sorry that I let you down.

-The unreliability of my nieghbor's wireless, and the utter worthlessness of the Apple corporation: actually it is more fair to speak about the utter worthlessness of my roomate's computer, but this computer is deeply terrible. and that's also the reason that this is spelled all wrong.

Monday, May 7, 2007

I won the Kentucky Derby!!

More accurately, I failed to bet on the Kentucky Derby do to laziness, doubt about where to put my money, and a lack of initiative- but none of the horses that I had been remotely considering did anything, so I say I won.

I had big plans for the Kentucky Derby. I was going to put my money on the horse Paul Lo Duca picked, and then use the winnings to buy a Paul Lo Duca jersey. Then, armed with the jersey of a notorious gambler, purchased with Kentucky Derby winnings- which would have to figure to be one of the luckiest shirts of all time- I was going to go and break the bank at Mohegan Sun and get out of the sub-sub-librarian racket.

But Major League Baseball put a damper on things from the start: they don’t even sell a Paul Lo Duca jersey. Except for a ‘80s retro jersey, and I’m not sure that insanely expensive baseball kitsch can ever really be lucky.

Paul Lo Duca’s derby credentials are basically that he picked Giacamo, one of the biggest upsets in Derby history, to win in 2005. That year, a George Steinbrenner owned horse, Bellamy Road, was so heavily favored that experts were wondering why they were even bothering to run the race; but Bellamy Road finished way out of it and was last seen giving rides at one of Mariano Rivera’s kid’s birthday parties. You have to figure that the picks of a guy who catches for the Mets, and won on an upset in a year when Steinbrenner lost, would be pretty damn lucky.

Before the 2005 Derby, Drew and I went to the track at Aqueduct. Drew won big on Bellamy Road, and latter achieved a victory similar to the one that I had this year in the Kentucky Derby.

Anyway, this year Lo Duca picked Tiago, half brother to Giacamo, from the same breeder and trainer, and ridden by Mike Smith, who is apparently a friend of Lo Duca’s. According to the few turf-for-dummies type sources that I checked, Tiago didn’t look any better than his half-brother going into the thing and paid significantly worse. Thus, it seemed that Lo Duca was picking a bad horse for sentimental reasons- and while my trust in Lo Duca was based on a feeling that his pick would be lucky, I was unsure about weather luck would outweigh stupidity. Normally, I chose horses based on long odds and funny names, but this year there was nothing that really appealed to me, and after Lo Duca homered in Friday’s game, I had almost decided to go and put my shirt on Tiago. Fortunately, the line at the OTB on the Upper East Side was ridiculously long, and I realized that I had to get back to work.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Golden State Defeats Dallas

“ ‘Waiting for a miracle. Don’t you know what it is to do that? Don’t you? Poor man, I pity you! There are so few who seem to know….Once my father said to me: “there are two aspects of the Kabala, one magical, one abstract, which do not coincide.” The magical can encompass the abstract or theoretical, but the reverse can never be. The magical side is a gift, while the other may be acquired, though only with the help of a guide. And what I long for is that same strange gift: things that can be acquired I set no store by, and find as worthless as dust.’ ”
The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Perez’s outing was actually fine…

Lesson learned: in the future, only American coinage will be consulted to predict pitching performances.


Everyone loves coming of age stories, perhaps because in actual life there is not really any such thing-- all the rites of passage that we pass leave us no more prepared or less confused than we had been on the other side of them; all our Conformations, Bar Mitzvahs, and Graduations merely so many moldy rabbits feet hanging from our key chains, as we realize that what is called Maturity is merely a greater proximity to death (not the illuminating, consummately desirable virtue that our elders had commanded us to cultivate) and begin to change Wonder for Fear.

Anyway, baseball hangs out somewhere on the fringes of ‘actual life’ and so we were not prevented from seeing a nice coming of age story out of Mike Pelfrey last night. Pelfrey had been terrible in all of his previous starts, and I was frankly for sending him back to the minors and seeing if Humber or Park or Sosa or somebody could do a better job. But, after being terrible again in the first inning, Pelfrey got it together and was good for another five and a third, leading one to believe that, particularly if he is able to use last night’s start as a source of lessons and confidence, Pelfrey might be a good guy to have around. The encouraging thing was that he seemed to be mainly getting outs with groundballs, which is what is supposed to happen when he has his stuff-- previous outings had featured fly balls and strike outs.

On the other hand, Willie Randolph’s line-up tinkering is making me nervous, since it seems to indicate that the skipper is deeply concerned with how things are going—and I’m assuming that Randolph is slightly better informed than I am. As has come up before, I am not a proponent of Wright batting second, partially because I am not convinced that Wright has the best make-up for a number two hitter, but also because I feel that spots other than the two-hole make less than optimal use of Lo Duca’s talents. At this point, of course, things are still up in the air, since Lo Duca and Wright both had decent nights at the plate, and the Mets lost anyway. Well, at least they aren’t as screwed as the Yankees (now that’s not something that Mets fans get to say all that often), whose young pitcher’s first successful outing was cut short with a hamstring injury that could have him out for weeks.

After consulting the Canadian Quarter of Pitching Perdictivity, I am sorry to inform you that Perez is going to have a rough outing to-day.

BASKETBALL NOTE: There was a weird moment in last night’s game between Dallas and Golden State, where both teams realized that they had no chance at all of winning the series: Dallas, because they haven’t been playing terrifically and are facing elimination for the rest of the way, and the Warriors because they are the Golden State Warriors trying to eliminate the Dallas freaking Mavericks.