Friday, September 28, 2007

Uncanny Mets

With things going this bad, you start looking over you past for moral failings, superstitiously asking what you could ever have done to deserve this. Magical thinking sets in: a week ago, the author of this blog put on a Mets hat, and, when they won, kept it on until they lost on Monday. This initial reaction is a rebellion against the realities of the situation: that the fan is completely powerless and there is no correlation between the fan’s desire and the team’s success, perhaps even no correlation between a team’s desire and their success, that, finally, the outcome rests on chance and convergences and levels of complexity, that, perhaps, no individual can fully control or imagine.

Of course, it is hard to argue that if the Mets were simply a better ball club they wouldn’t be in this position. If the bullpen was simply better pitchers, who recorded a few more strikeouts, the four games that they need to clinch the division might have been won long ago. Perhaps, sadly more to the point, if Jose Reyes were simply a better ball player, if he had spent more of the last month on the base baths, things could very easily have never reached this stage. The MVP chants that greet Wright have a sinister subtext: they hint that Reyes has been playing poorly.

The fact that the team’s folding has coincided with a Reyes-funk cannot be overlooked. When the team is playing at its full potential, Reyes is unquestionably their MVP. When the team has succeeded lately, it has come from the RBI abilities of Wright and Alou-- both are great hitters and valuable players. However, when he is playing well, Reyes single-handedly opens up a dimension of the Mets that no other team in baseball has, and gives them an enormous advantage against almost any opponent. In their optimal state, Reyes is the engine that drives the Mets; in the month of September, Reyes has stolen five bases, and been caught four times.

Indeed, in the long run, Reyes is the reason that, no matter what happens in next three days, it still won’t be insane to think that the Mets might win a World Series in the not too distant future: the running game can be a huge asset in the post season, when pitching is superior and runs are at a premium. Reyes’ ability to conjure runs out of very little could be decisive in the playoffs…if the Mets get near the playoffs, and if Reyes ever fucking gets on base again.

The Mets had been in first place for the better part of two years, yet to suddenly share it with the Phillies, to replace nervous optimism with a sense of impending doom, feels weirdly familiar, like a return to native state. Indeed, Freud associates an unpleasant feeling that he refers to as ‘the uncanny’ with a sudden regression to an earlier state of psychological development; one of the frequent features of these earlier states is magical thinking, the belief that wearing a hat might influence a ballgame.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

“Like the opposite of icing on the cake."- Billy Wagner

Screw the post-season, the Mets are making history. Think about it: teams make the playoffs all the godamn time; someone does it nearly every year. No team in the history of Western civilization, has ever, even once, failed to make the playoffs, while holding a seven game lead in mid-September; the Mets have a really good chance at being the first. They are not satisfied with routine, or traditional achievements, they are striking out for new, never-before-accomplished goals, opening new frontiers of failure.

You knew that they were kind of screwed when Minaya sighted Philip Humber’s work in the college world series as a reason to feel confident giving him the ball for his first career start in a critical game in a Pennant race. That’s sort of like if the good guys were in a Martial Arts competition and they decided that the guy that they would send to fight the Black Ninja would be the guy who was really good at “Mortal Combat.”

Actually, Minaya’s college world series line about Humber isn’t as dim as all that, and gets at one of the arguments against clutch performers: major leaguers are the elite, and represent a miniscule fraction of aspiring athletes-- to even be considered to appear near a major league baseball team, you need to have proven yourself on all other level’s of the sport, you have to have already faced pressure and shown that you can handle it. It is not as if, at the time that it happens, pitching in a high school championship is more intense, for its participants than pitching in the major leagues, or a pennant race. In fact, the highschooler (or collegian, or little leaguer) is in some ways under more pressure, because they know they need a good performance in order to ever be considered for a gig in the majors. It seems sort of ridiculous that there could be ball players who advanced through the minors, oblivious to their surroundings, coasting completely on natural talent, and feeling no sense of urgency until they end up in a critical situation in the majors. Once you’ve made it to the major leagues things are kind of all-right, even if the Post calls you a choke artist. First off, you get to call yourself a major leaguer and then even Joe Smith makes a couple hundred grand a year. He is a year younger than I am, the losing pitcher in last night’s game, and he could still afford, if he was so inclined, to hire me as his personal sub-sub-librarian.

Unfortunately, I suspect that the decision to go with Humber had less to do with the an understanding of the flaws in the concept of clutch and more to do with a desire to ape the successes of the Yankees that has been with the Mets ever since they hired Casey Stengal (also, see Matsui). Someone in the front office was looking over at the Bronx and happened to notice the success that they were having with unproven, young arms; they formed a committee, looked over some scouting reports, and, by the last week of the season, decided to give it a shot. In fact, I can imagine the conversation pretty clearly:

Omar Minaya: Willie, it’s ok, we’ll let you use Humber on Wednesday, but you have to follow the Philip Rules.
Willie Randolph: um…ok…Philip Rules?
Omar: Yeah, the Philip Rules.
Willie: Right… um…what are the Philip Rules?
Omar: uh…well… how about putting him on a pitch count?
Willie: Rick Peterson’s the pitching coach, fucking everyone is on a pitch count.
Omar: and…hmm… how about he gets, like, eight days between starts or something?
Willie: Well, the seasons only lasts another five days…
Omar: Right. So don’t use him again for another eight days.
Willie: Yeah, you got it, shouldn’t be a problem.
Omar: So I have your word that you’ll stick to the Philip Rules? Even if it causes tension in the clubhouse?
Willie: uh…yeah.
Omar: and do you…do you think you could do something for me? You think, when you talk to the media, you could maybe mention the Philip Rules to them? Sort of explain what it’s all about?
Willie: um…no. I’m not gonna do that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fire Joe Morgan

These guys are just hopping mad that sabermetric analysis isn’t taken seriously by mainstream baseball analysts and have recently become one of my favorite internet sports commentators—to the extent that they have the downside, along with Get Your War On, of being the only thing that makes me laugh out loud at work. Actually, there is something basically similar about Fire Joe Morgan and Get Your War On, in that they are both fueled by being ferociously bitter about a state of things that is deeply inevitable—refusing to tone down their level of anger despite the fact that they are clearly pissing in the wind-- although Sabermetrics seem to be doing a little better than the idea of a sane American foreign policy

Recent games

On one hand, the Mets have managed to survive any number of weird catastrophes and hang on to a two and a half game lead above the Phillies; on the other hand they seem to have chosen pretty much the worst time imaginable to slowly unlearn the game of baseball and expose the glaring, pitching-related weaknesses of the team. It’s funny, the team that we have been watching for the last week is pretty much exactly the team that we should have expected out of spring training—a rotation of question marks and old guys, neither of whom go that deep into games; a relatively -to- atrociously weak bullpen, that features Aaron Heilman as the strongest set-up man for Billy Wagner; and a potent enough offense to club their way past either of these shortcomings.

All of which becomes a lot less reassuring when you consider that the Mets have found their recent vindication against the Florida godamn Marlins who sort of seem like they are giving a presentation to their kindergarten class called “How I spent my summer on the bottom of the NL East.” People talk a lot about an obscure concept called fundamentally sound baseball, and that you need to play it, and the Marlins are a perfect example of why: whatever fundamentally sound is, the Marlins aren’t it. I’m mainly thinking of the eight unearned runs that the Mets were able to score behind Pedro. If the race stays close with Phillie, you really couldn’t ask for anything more than to close the season out against these guys, yet the Mets (chiefly the ‘pen) were still able to find ways to keep the Marlins in the games.

In the middle of all of this, Lastings Milledge went out and made himself tradable for a lot less pitching, by leaving the dugout to yell at the umps an unusually high (twice) number of times, following an ejection. You can almost say this is a good thing, since it might make them less likely to trade him in the first place, and then he might develop into a really good player, and then it will be good that they didn’t trade him. But, it is starting to get really obvious that someone needs to be traded for pitching, in fact, it seems more and more that they should have traded someone for pitching a while ago. Given that, Milledge is probably the guy to go, since they have Beltran signed to a long-term deal, Endy Chavez, perhaps Moises Alou, as well as the prospects Carlos Gomez and Francisco Martinez. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Milledge-- I want the club to keep him around, and next year he could be very important for them, since neither of the outfield prospects seem especially ready; but I am pro-pitching, and favor doing anything reasonable in the off-season to get some sort of reliable middle-inning relief.

But no one gets traded for pitching until the off-season, and the Mets have to handle the next week, and whatever might come after it, with the relievers that they have. And, we have the rest of the season (the part that wasn’t especailly important) to prove that those guys are, on occasion, capable of being effective.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Steroids, part IV

I can practically guarantee that at some point, some twenty-second century Foucault-type historian will write a thesis about how the debate and policies about steroids in MLB quaintly prefigured the radical changes that would follow in professional sports. For, whatever one thinks of steroids and steroid users, they are just the very beginning and the future will offer ways to alter and enhance athletes and human beings that are, at this point, completely unimaginable.

It might, for example, become possible to graft the muscle memory from a Sandy Cofax directly into the brain of an aspiring athlete, thus teaching them pitches in hours that otherwise would have been learned over an entire career. Perhaps, vast advancements will be made in the field of prosthetics, and the next three hundred game winner will do it in record time with an untiring robot arm (purists will suggest that he get an asterisk). Modern scouting, vastly more involved than anything that has existed before, will seem antiquated and vague when players have earpieces, or even screens projected onto their sunglasses, not merely giving them information on the history of the opposition, but also calculating the trajectories of balls, as they are hit in real time, adjusting for the wind. Robotic eyes (think Terminator) might lead to the re-birth of the .400 hitter.

The very nature of the ball player could change: the future might offer (hopefully) the opportunity to see an entire squad of cloned Ty Cobbs facing off against an entire squad of Bob Gibsons. At some point someone will isolate (or think that they isolated) the “clutch hitter” gene, and the next A-Rod will be guaranteed by the lab to hit with runners in scoring position, or you get your money back. Parents, frustrated in their own careers, will spend evenings trying to decide weather their unborn outfielder will hit for power or average, and weather they should spring for the speed gene, or put all their money in hand-eye coordination—it would be nice to get the leadership trait, but that one costs extra.

Exactly what will happen, and how it will be integrated into baseball, is of course ridiculous to attempt to predict. There will always be a minor culture of cutting edge modifications being illicitly introduced in sport; a crisis of a different order will occur if and when some form of modification (such as gene therapies, or prosthetics or something else entirely) becomes pervasive in the general population. Once people in general have become modified, the debate about what sort of modifications will be acceptable in athletes will take on a new dimension and will probably be followed very shortly by a new home-run record (and stolen base record, and life time batting average, etc.).

Of course, putting on the Twilight Zone-goggles, it is not hard to imagine a future where hormone and gene therapies, prosthetics, and mechanical implants have endowed the general population with supper-human physical abilities, and athletes are the only segment of the population that is left in their ‘natural’ state. Kept as some reminder of the ‘original’ humanity for the general population, these beings will compete at twentieth century games in twentieth century bodies: over time, their relationship to the evolving species will more closely resemble that of horses to breeders, trainers and jockeys.

Call Me Marlowe...

…not because I secretly wrote the works of William Shakespeare, and not because I’m a hard boiled detective who has coffee and cigarettes for breakfast and whisky for lunch--while there might be some truth to both those characterizations, I am, at this moment, the Marlowe that has gone to, and come back from, the heart of darkness.

Sam, of ‘Sam’s Mets Blog’ fame, attended The Lawrenceville School for the last two years of his secondary education. At some point during the summer, an alumni e-mail list yielded an offer to attend a Yankees game with other alumni for what seemed to be a minimal cost—being generally interested in New York sports, particularly of the baseball variety, passing up this offer seemed foolish. After some consideration, I actually decided that watching a team that I despise while listening to a bunch of ageing preppies discuss their golf games and trying not to get Bud Light all over their polo shirts was an experience that I could take a pass on, and never mailed them a check. But they sent me a ticket anyway, and I decided that I might as well go.

Indeed, from the outset of this adventure, a basic similarity struck me between the Yankees and The Lawrenceville School. Both of them seem like some aging gambler who has spent the last thirty years stacking the deck, and yet somehow manages to believe that their continued winning is a result, not of the actions that they took to alter the odds in their favor, but of their skill at the game. The Lawrenceville School attracts rich kids, and provides them with an exceptional education and a resume that colleges drool over; if they somehow manage to succeed in life it is because of the strength of character that was instilled in them by the school. The Yankees get the best/most expensive free agents that they can, and win due to the discipline and pride that comes with the pinstripes.

Shea seems like a quaint and antiquated appendage of the military industrial complex, and I am not exactly prepared to offer any excuses for it, but it is, at the very least, quaint and antiquated, and, quite frankly, a little bit crummy: the neon baseball-playing stick figures on the outside belong very clearly to a graphic style not entirely current, the banners of great Mets that hang in the concourse around the stadium seem musty and dated. The whole thing seems like it belongs more in the province of whimsy and World Fairs: junior is merely in the boy scouts, at this point, and if that will eventually take him to Vietnam, well, that is on the horizon, and not specifically the spectacle that we are presented with.

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, Yankee Stadium is what the whole hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. The stadium is indeed a truly impressive, beautiful building, but the architecture of the place also serves to make the individual seem small and irrelevant. Met fans have, through decades of disappointment, had some sort of realism drummed into their skulls and their relationship to the team is equal parts adoration and anxiety (not dissimilar to the emotion referred to as love); Yankee fans, however, are sustained by some kind of raw fanaticism and belief. The most telling illustration of this is that, in Yankee stadium, whenever a Yankee bat makes contact with a ball the fans cheer fanatically until the second that it is caught, or lands in foul ground—Met fans have generally learned to withhold judgment until the completion of the play. In someway more diverse and proletarian than their Met counterparts, Yankee fans are more universally in team colors, and more uniform and dogmatic in their relationship to their team.

The social aspect of the evening was actually significantly better than I had expected. Due to an atrocious lack of planning, the Lawrentians were supposed to meet in Stan’s Sports Bar, which was more packed than the rush-hour train that had brought me there, and thoroughly un-navigatable. The primary beer that they serve is the Bostonian Sam Adams, and I assume that three or four times a season someone is struck by the irony of this-- tonight was my turn; eventually, however, I noticed a sign, hung among the bad paintings of Thurmon Munson and Derrick Jeter, proclaiming that Sam Adams was the only good thing to come out of Boston (I think I disagree with both aspects of that statement). I failed at finding my fellow alumni, and went into the Stadium on my own. When I eventually found my seat, the other alumni actually turned out to be more or less reasonable and inoffensive people—although I hedged my bets by not paying too much attention to them.

The worst aspect of the evening occurred when I was trying to get into the stadium: they would not let me in with my messenger bag and directed me back to Stan’s where I had to pay seven dollars to check it. Why they could not have paid a little more to have someone search my bag (I can’t fucking believe that this country has reached a point where I fucking want people to search my bag) is entirely mystifying and infuriating, but if I were to find out that Steinbrenner was a silent partner in the bag-check business, I wouldn’t be surprised. This was actually responsible for both of my reasons for leaving the game quite early: firstly I didn’t want to try to retrieve my bag anywhere near the time of the mass exodus from the stadium, and also I left my niccorette in it—you can’t smoke at all in Yankee Stadium, whereas in Shea they’ll let you light up in the weird walkways that run along the outside, overlooking the dismal bay.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Waiting for El Duque:

Reporter: Does this make...
Hernandez: I don't know.
Reporter: I didn't even ask you the question.
Hernandez: It's the same. Every day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Steroids, part III

Perhaps one person in fifty or a hundred is endowed with the abilities, both physical and mental, necessary to play baseball or any other sport on a professional level. For the vast majority of people, to watch any professional sport is to watch (and evaluate, criticize, demean, condemn or approve) people doing things, throwing a ball at ninety miles an hour for a strike, throwing an ephus pitch, hitting a ninety-mile an hour ball out of the park, beating the catcher’s throw to second, leaping in the air or flinging one’s self precisely at the ground to catch a fly ball, that they are almost existentially incapable of doing. An enormous part of the appeal of professional sports in a capitalist society is the affirmation that they provide, for the fan, of a hierarchy that is perceived to exist amongst human beings. The fan is on the outside, looking in, watching the few, the privileged and the gifted compete at their games. By enjoying a baseball game, a fan makes a statement that they are ok with both the existence of the hierarchy and also with their place at the bottom of it. By deriving pleasure from the experience of being a ‘have-not’ when it comes to pitching, speed on the base paths, or slugging ability, they are tutoring themselves in how to enjoy being a have-not in regards to other things: money, land, and political power.

A seemingly erroneous perception about steroids is that they threaten the existence of this hierarchy and that ‘just anyone’ who takes steroids will become able to play professional sports. This is quite provably false: firstly, steroids have little effect at all unless they are combined with a rigorous work-out regimen. Furthermore, a close follower of the game will have observed that a player’s innate ability still seems to account for more of their successes or failures than their chemical intake: Guillermo Mota was on steroids at the time, but he still made a crappy pitch in game two that cost the Mets the 2006 NLCS; lots of players have taken steroids, but only Barry Bonds has hit more home runs than anyone else.

Still, the perception exists that steroids have the potential to serve as an equalizer and confer the coveted athletic abilities on ‘just anyone’ and the idea that they have the power to threaten or destroy the hierarchy of natural gifts must be responsible for much of the negative reaction against them, since the affirmation of this hierarchy is much of what draws fans to the game in the first place. The tragedy, of course, is when aspiring players buy into the fallacy-- when ‘just anyone’ actually goes and takes steroids in the vain hope that they will make it will make them a ball player, and finds themselves, at the end of the day, still not a ball player, but beset, nonetheless, with the medical problems that come from using steroids; indeed, it is mainly on behalf of this ‘just anyone’ that MLB is obliged to take drastic action to eliminate steroid use.

It is interesting, in the context of the above observations, to point out that some of the earliest and most widespread use of steroids occurred, with the blessing of the State, on Soviet Olympic teams.

Mets vs. Phillies

I had these thoughts the first time this happened, but then they swept Atlanta and things seemed to be looking up. Now however, that they have twice, twice goddammit, faced the Phillies, the team which, all year, they have had the most emotional incentive to beat, with a chance to pretty much eliminate them from post-season contention, and they haven’t even beaten them one time out of seven. It is things like this, that lead you to severely question weather or not the team has the ‘will to win,’ the ‘mental toughness,’ ‘bullpen,’ or whatever else it takes to make a serious post season run. Looking at this morning and seeing Brian Lawrence listed as the starter, leads you to wonder if they’ll even make the playoffs.

I actually attended the fiasco that was the end of the season series with Philly. Looking over the box score, there is an impressive symmetry of numbers: for every strikeout that Perez got, he gave up a walk; for every run that the Mets scored, they committed an error. Their level of play was basically miserable, but they still had the game weirdly within reach, thanks to a three run Beltran homer, until the bullpen, specifically Guillermo Mota, imploded and eliminated any chances the Mets might have had of a comeback. The bullpen is the definite, glaring weakness of the team, and one questions Randolph’s sanity for returning to Mota miserable outing after miserable outing, but, really, who else has he got? Mota has been terrible, but its not like there is some really good reliever hanging out, forgotten, in the Mets pen, that Willie Randolph is refusing to go to out of stubbornness…well, there is Joe Smith…

The problem, though, is that the Mets are not quite this terrible against teams other than the Phillies, and one can’t help but think that this goes back to Jimmie Rollins’ much publicized statement that the Phillies, and not the reigning champion Mets, were the team to beat in the NL East. This afforded everyone on both teams a nice opportunity to talk tough in spring training, and gave the beat reporters a couple free inches of minor news; it also created an extra incentive for both teams to play well against each other. In these games, the games where there was something intangible at stake, in addition to the games in the standings, the Mets played pathetically. These games, against the upstart Phillies, seem to be the closest that the Mets have faced in the regular season to a playoff atmosphere, where they will be forced to come through with the season on the line.

The notion of the ‘clutch performers’ is not taken very seriously by Sabermatricians; apparently, if you do the math, it all boils down to chance. Indeed, if this were a different sort of blog, I would probably turn to the strange kabala of statistics and match-ups to try and account for the Phillies dominance of the Mets. As it is, I can only hope that the Sabermatricians are right, and that my feeling that this is an erratic, gutless, and nervous team, unable to perform under pressure, is grossly uninformed. The Mets have enough of a lead, and an easy enough schedule the rest of the way, that they will, almost certainly, end up in the playoffs; but in the NLDS, a short series played under pressure, I am not particularly fond of the Mets’ odds.

Of course, the Phillies still have a more than decent shot at the post-season, via the wild card, in which case I would have to revise my prediction of a first round exit for the Mets. If the Phillies do, in fact make the playoffs, I think that the only thing to expect would be the NL East teams contending for the NLCS. If this does come to pass, I actually like the Mets odds: the Mets are a historically unlucky team, but Philadelphia is one of the more cursed cities when it comes to professional sports, and the Phillies regular season dominance of the Mets seems like it could be only setting the Phillies up for an extra excruciating post-season defeat--in much the same way that Smarty Jones, the last championship caliber thing to come out of Philadelphia, won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, leading the citizenry of Philadelphia to wager on him heavily for the Belmont, in which he was fairly unimpressive.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Steroids, part II

Steroid use distinguishes itself from other forms of cheating in baseball, in that it has attracted significantly more attention from both the public and the baseball establishment; as far as I know there has never been a senate committee to investigate ball tampering. It can be argued, of course, that steroid use is more widespread and has had a more significant effect than other forms of cheating—this is clearly supported by the surge in power numbers that began in the late ‘90s and tapered off in the wake of testing. However, part of the reason that steroid use is so widely condemned and has attracted so much interest has to be because people consider tampering with a baseball and tampering with a human body to be infringements of a different order.

The human body was created in god’s image, and to modify it or alter it, to attempt to improve on the divine design, is a significant act of hubris. This same line of thinking is responsible for much of the historical prejudice against medicine, and while few people formulate their thoughts in exactly that way, it is a recognizable component in the reaction against steroids. It is interesting to point out that different alterations on player’s ‘god given’ bodies have almost certainly had a more pervasive effect on the sport than performance enhancing drugs. If the ‘pure’ game of baseball is played by players whose bodies have been completely unmodified, than Tommy John did far more to contaminate the integrity of the sport than Barry Bonds ever could. It is good that Pedro has already put together a Hall of Fame career, because if the medical science were even five years behind what it is now, his career would probably be over; Babe Ruth might have been half a dozen cortisone shots away from eight hundred home runs.

Of course, medical advancements theoretically only restore what had previously existed, at best returning a player to a previous condition, whereas steroids are supposed to improve upon what was already there. Still, if one accepts the premise that players were only meant to be so strong, it is hard to argue that certain players weren’t meant to succumb to career ending injuries.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Steroids, part I

This is the first part of an extended meditation on the use of performance enhancing drugs:

The “opinions and controversy” section of Bob Feller’s wikipedia article reveals two interesting facts about its subject: firstly, that Feller, like Billy Wagner, admits that cheating has been present through out baseball’s history, and himself admits to throwing spiters and scuffing the ball in certain critical situations, and secondly, that Feller is a vocal critic of Barry Bonds and has adamantly stated that he thinks that no steroid cheats should be allowed into the Hall of Fame(of which Feller is the second senior living member), particularly Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa.

This is, exactly, the problem with people who condemn steroid users for tampering with the integrity of the game: those in the best position to judge, frequently suggest that there was little integrity in the first place. In fact, scuffing a ball was in some ways a more deliberate and dishonest form of cheating, since it was deliberately breaking the clearly stated rules of the game (rules which came into effect after a tampered pitch killed the only person to die playing a professional game of baseball), and MLB’s anti-steroid policies are relatively new, nebulous and evolving. Yet to demand the exclusion of Whity Ford or Bob Feller from the Hall of Fame seems completely unreasonable, and to accept that the mass of ball players experience the fan’s reverence for the game, and are unwilling to look for any edge they can find to advance their careers and earn their livelihood, seems like unreasonable optimism.

Before this goes any further, I would like to state that ‘Sam’s Mets Blog’ is against steroid use, and feels that MLB should take whatever measures are necessary to eliminate, or failing that severely limit, its impact on the game of baseball. The reasons for this are that steroid use is insanely bad for you and if it is present it creates a compulsion for certain players to use, in order to compete against other users. Players should not be in a situation where they stand to gain a significant immediate advantage by sacrificing their long term health, or where doing so seems like the only way to obtain or extend a career playing against other players who had already made that choice. Furthermore, watching steroid users is not more rewarding or enjoyable for a serious fan, and the ‘power game’ that steroid use seems to enable is not the most interesting form of baseball—if steroid use is largely present, it creates a situation where players are poisoning themselves to provide an un enjoyable game, which doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s interests.

However, it is important to understand that the basis for objecting to steroid use more than other forms of cheating is medical and not moral, and that the idea that steroids have contaminated a previously existing integrity is somewhat specious. The integrity was probably not there in the first place; and then again, the idea of a profound honesty, in a game, that in the real politic of people's lives decides and means nothing, is a little bit of an odd one, particularly when people seem more interested in this integrity, of a thing that barely exists, than they are in certain other institutions with a seemingly more immediate effect on their lives.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Unreasonable Speculation:

So, if the Mets make the post-season, and if everyone is healthy, the Mets will face a minor dilemma: they will have five starting pitchers when they will only use a four man rotation. So, of the five, Martinez, Glavine, El Duque Maine and Perez, one of them needs to be moved to the bullpen—any Met-ologist will point out that this was done to Sid Fernandez on the 1986 Championship Team. It is unthinkable, for reasons of ego and star power, that Glavine or Martinez would pitch in relief. In the most recent Mets Mailbag, someone asks if El Duque’s nearly legendary relief outing for the White Sox in the 2005 ALDS would make him a leading candidate for the bullpen assignment; the mailbag’s emphatic answer was no, which was kind of too bad since the first draft of this post was mainly about how the Mets should not let the 2005 ALDS tempt them into using El Duque in relief.(the White Sox put him in the ‘pen because he had an awful end of the season and they thought they had better options for starters, which is not the case of 2007 Mets) This narrows the field down to Maine and Perez.

For a lay person the question of weather Maine or Perez should work in relief is fascinating, since there is no real information of any sort to go on. In terms of success rate, they are very evenly matched: Maine’s performances tend to stick closer to some sort of mean, whereas Perez’ vary more sharply and he is more prone to both excellence and miserable failure. They have similar, brief, histories in the post season: both were very adequate in the games that they pitched for the Mets last year.

Eeven less concrete than their numbers, is the fan’s perception of a difference between the two in temperament, particularly in what is perceived as their mental/emotional state when they end up in trouble. Maine, apparently, is prone to lapses of concentration; he occasionally misplaces his pitches and gets ‘hurt by the longball.’ Perez, on the other hand, is liable to ‘get rattled’ when things don’t go his way: when balls get misplayed in the outfield or when he disagrees with the umpire about balls and strikes. Once one of these minor setbacks occurs, Perez is prone to losing his composure, and his command, and issuing walks until his composure returns or he gets taken out of the game. The generalization is that Maine hurts himself by not reacting enough to the game, the opposite of Perez, who makes trouble for himself by being too emotionally involved.

Of course, the Mets Mailbag precedes its response with the customary hedge, saying that it is far too early too discuss these things and that no one knows who will be healthy and what the situation will be if and when the time comes to make these decisions, but then says this: “I wouldn't use Perez in relief. He's too erratic for the role,” and goes on to speculate that Maine might be a serviceable short reliever, based largely on his dominance early in games—this is in fact a very good point, and Maine’s first trips through the lineup have been extremely dominant all season, and there is some kind of logic to thinking that he could repeat this dominance in relief outings.

In my expert opinion, though, the South Paw from South of the Border might have a little bit of a better psychological make-up for a relief pitcher. It is frequently said of Perez that he “wants the ball” in big games, that he wants to be out on the mound when the season is on the line. He is an adrenaline pitcher, and a component of his wildness is a taste for danger; there is something about him that reminds one of Billy Wagner, who is capable of protecting a lead of exactly 1.5 runs. The theory about Perez, that his emotional involvement in the game leads him to fall apart, works both ways: it has been known to lead him to excellence as well. The Met’s best bet might very well be to run him out in relief and hope for the best.

UPDATE: Mets fans are dopes.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

David Wright Martini

In a Virginia Tech mason jar filled with ice, combine equal parts Vitaminwater (of a flavor/color of your choice) and Gray Goose Vodka. Stir. Garnish with Big League Chew; drink while watching SportsCenter.

David Wright or Wrong

Narrowly edging out competition like,, and, is now officially the coolest site on the World Wide Web. The site is a promotion put out by Vitaminwater that asks fairly whimsical trivia questions about David (would he rather be a) a member of the goonies, b) a passenger on the Millennium Falcon, or c) an intern for Indiana Jones), and then provides commentary on the answers in the form of up-beat video clips of the star. Disappointment does set in eventually when the supply of questions runs out after four or five, and returning to the site does not yield a fresh supply of questions but only the ones that you have already answered. Compensating for this deficiency is a store locator that will direct you to the nearest Duane Read based on your zip-code.

David Wright has been drinking Vitaminwater since the minors and endorsing it for almost as long as he has been in the majors; when he was given a large contract by the Mets last year, he invested a significant portion of his new wealth in the company. I always found this odd, since the only other celebrity endorser of Vitaminwater that I could think of was 50 Cent; I used to wonder if they ever ran into each other at corporate events, and if it was awkward if they did. At first, I thought that this was just another manifestation of the generally superior marketing strategy employed by Vitaminwater—by having such disparate endorsers, they manage to effectively double the appeal of their brand.

After a little contemplation, it dawned on me that there is basically nothing odd or anachronistic about a potential social interaction between David Wright and 50 Cent. The former is an ultra-clean cut, patriotic and upstanding young baseball player and the latter is a rapper whose reputation is based almost entirely on the fact that he got shot a whole bunch of times while selling crack; you could say that they represent the two poles of the American pop-cultural soul. My impression, however, is that both of them represent their pole, not out of ideological convictions, but out of something closer to accident. Their affiliations, David as the poster boy of the establishment, Fifty as the angry voice of the criminal ghetto, are at the end of the day aesthetic, not political, choices; as aesthetic choices there would be little animosity in either of them for someone who chose differently. If either of them embraces any politics at all, it is not any politics in the traditional sense, a politics based on race, or class, or ideology, but rather an almost completely un-ideological politics of success.

Fifty is from New York, so the chances are about even that he is a Mets fan—approximately the same as the chances that multiple Fifty Cent songs are among the most commonly listened to tracks on David’s iPod (or were until Fifty started to become unpopular recently); if they ever do meet, at Vitaminwater’s Christmas party, I’m sure that they have lots of things to talk about: expensive things to do with your car, the best ways to dodge the tax-bite on a two million dollar bonus, and how the refreshing properties of Vitaminwater allows them to handle the demands of their respective, vigorous, careers.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Pedro Returns

Somehow, I managed not to be distracted by the team’s sweep of the Braves, and kept myself focused on the one event of true importance looming in the Met-a-verse: the imminent return of the Pedro. Monday will mark the end of instability in the Mets rotation; it will be the end of overusing the bull-pen; also, it will be the end of any shortcomings of younger players due to a lack of proven, veteran leadership-- for on Monday, Pedro Martinez will re-join the Mets. More than the incidental sweep of the once rival Braves, the second coming of Pedro should silence any doubts about the team raised by the disastrous series in Philadelphia. When examining the Mets chances in the NL East, relative to the Philies, there is only one truly important question: which team has Pedro Martinez?... sorry Philly.

Times like this allow you to appreciate what a truly valuable player El Duque is: a more durable pitcher would have probably been available to make his start, causing a minor logjam in the rotation; fortunately, El Duque was ready to save the already overtaxed decision-making-ability of the management, and helpfully developed a minor injury.

As for how the actual second coming of Pedro goes, if the results of this first start are somewhat inconclusive, well, you heard it here first. Look to see ‘flashes of the old Pedro’ mixed in with periods of being completely hittable. In fact, I would not be surprised if this flashes/hittable dichotomy remains a feature of all of Martinez’ future starts—leaving Met fans anxious come the post-season, should the team make it, but with the tantalizing possibility represented in these flashes still dangled in front of them. As for today, I think that Willie Randolph’s best bet is to go with his defensive outfield, and count on Met’s pitchers ability to induce batters to fly out to a diving Endy Chavez.