kottke.org posts about baseball
Another fine example of the Great Span: Vin Scully is retiring after 67 seasons as the play-by-play announcer for the LA Dodgers. Scully started the job in 1950, when the Dodgers still hailed from Brooklyn and Connie Mack still managed the A’s:
It is amazing to contemplate that he joined the Dodgers only three years after Jackie Robinson did, and was in the booth for the first ballgame Mickey Mantle ever played in New York. It is startling to realize the on-air audition he had — and didn’t pass — to become John Madden’s TV partner was 35 years ago this month. It is mind-bending to consider that he has not just been on 22 of the 94 annual radio and television World Series broadcasts ever, but been alive for 87 of them. It is goose-bumpy to recognize that the season he began broadcasting major league games, Connie Mack was still the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics (Mack had become A’s manager in 1901 and we’ve just passed the 130th anniversary of Mack’s debut as a major league catcher).
Mack was born during the Civil War, played his first game in 1886, competed against the likes of Cap Anson and Cy Young, and had been a retired player & full-time manager for four years before an 18-year-old Ty Cobb made his major league debut. (via df)
Ahhhh! Dan Barry of The NY Times went all olde tymey in his recap of game four of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets, sorry, Metropolitans.
The Metropolitans — also known as the “Mets” — sent six safely across the plate before the third inning, mostly as a result of the derring-do of their Bunyanesque first-sacker, Lucas Duda. The mighty Californian smote a home run and a double to tally five of those six runs before the Cubs seemed to comprehend that a game concerning their possible erasure from the 2015 field was well underway.
The ignominious rout of the valiant but overmatched hometown squad turned the deafening cheers of the Chicago multitudes into plaintive keens, for now their agonizing wait for another championship — the last in 1908, during the presidency of the rough-riding Theodore Roosevelt — must continue.
I say! Capital stuff, old chap.
Astronaut Scott Kelly, who is spending a continuous year in space,1 tweeted out a photo by fellow ISS resident Oleg Kononenko of NYC on Saturday night.
Of the many possibilities, I’d like to point out just three interesting things.
1. Times Square! And not just that, but the whole of central Midtown is now lit up like a Christmas tree from 34th Street to Central Park.
2. The bright spot of light in the upper right corner of the image above is Citi Field. The photo must have been taken during Game 1 of the NLCS between the Mets and the Cubs. The Mets won that game 4-2. #LGM!
3. You’ll notice that the streetlights in much of the city are orange. But in the bottom right corner, in Brooklyn, you can see the future. NYC is currently replacing all of the orange-glowing sodium vapor streetlights with blue-glowing LED lights that are longer lasting and more energy efficient. But they are also brighter and some are already complaining about the harsh blue light.
The new LEDs may be environmentally sensitive, but they are also optically harsh.
“The old lights made everybody look bad,” said Christopher Stoddard, an architect, who lives at the corner of Fuller Place. “But these are so cold and blue, it’s like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ out there.”
“We’re all for saving energy,” his wife, Aida Stoddard, also an architect, said, “but the city can do so much better.”
A few blocks away, Rose Gallitelli taped up black garbage bags on her bedroom windows so that she could sleep. “They’re the heavy-duty kind,” she said.
The lighting refit is scheduled to be completed in two years. The city will look different when it’s done, in real life, on Instagram, and in film. (via @ginatrapani)
Update: Photographer Pari Dukovic has a shot of one of the old sodium vapor street lamps in the New Yorker this week.
Bill Murray is a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, a Class A minor league team in the South Atlantic League. His official title is “Director of Fun.” In 2012, Amy Nelson and an SBNation video team went down to interview Murray for his induction into that league’s hall of fame.
(“But wait, Tim, this was three years ago.” Well, I missed it until today, when it was revealed that Murray has actually seen the little video. And now I have seen it, and like all things Bill Murray touches, it is a goddamn delight. Enjoy.)
From Grantland’s 30 for 30 Shorts series, a short film on former major league catcher Mackey Sasser and how he lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
[I took the video out because someone at ESPN/Grantland is idiot enough to think that, by default, videos embedded on 3rd-party sites should autoplay. Really? REALLY!? Go here to watch instead.]
I remember Sasser (I had his rookie card) but had kinda stopped paying attention to baseball by the time his throwing problem started; I had no idea it was so bad. The video of him trying to throw is painful to watch. According to the therapists we see working with Sasser in the video, unresolved mental trauma (say, from childhood) builds up and leaves the person unable to resolve something as seemingly trivial as a small problem throwing a ball back to the pitcher. I’ve read and written a lot about this sort of thing over the years.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux is not really a story about Greg Maddux. Or sports. It’s about Jeremy Collins’ friend Jason Kenney, demons, self-control, determination, friendship, competitiveness, and loss.
Jason kept a picture of Maddux above his desk in our dorm room at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains. A beautiful athlete, the best on campus, Jason played only intramurals and spent serious time at his desk. A physics workhorse and calculus whiz, he kept Maddux’s image at eye-level.
Shuffling and pardoning down the aisle to our seats, Jason stopped and squeezed my shoulder. “Look,” he said.
Maddux strode toward home, hurling the ball through the night.
It’s 2014. I’m thirty-seven. My wife and daughter are both asleep. I’m a thousand miles from the stadium-turned-parking-lot. On YouTube, Kenny Lofton of the American League Champion Cleveland Indians looks at the first pitch for a ball. Inside, low. I don’t remember the call. I remember all of us standing, holding our breath. Then I remember light. Thousands of lights. Waves of tiny diamonds. The whole stadium flashing and Jason, who would die five months later on the side of a south Georgia highway, leaning into my ear and whispering, “Maddux.”
Great, great story. As Tom Junod remarked on Twitter, “Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he’s got into a story. This is one of those stories.”
Erik Malinowski takes a baseball commercial that used to air late nights on ESPN in the ’90s and ’00s, and uses it to trace the effect of technology on sports.
“He was the first guy I ever knew who used video as a training device in baseball,” says Shawn Pender, a former minor-league player who would appear in several of Emanski’s instructional videos. “There just wasn’t anyone else who was doing what he did.”
It’s also something of a detective story, since its subject Tom Emanski has virtually fallen off the face of the earth:
Fred McGriff is surely correct that nearly two decades of video sales — first through TV and radio and now solely through the internet — made Emanski a very wealthy man, but this perception has led to some rather outlandish internet rumors.
According to one, the Internal Revenue Service investigated Emanski in 2003 for unpaid taxes and, in doing so, somehow disclosed his estimated net worth at around $75 million. There’s no public record of such an investigation ever having taken place or been disclosed, and an IRS spokesman for the Florida office would say only that the agency is “not permitted to discuss a particular or specific taxpayer’s tax matter or their taxes based on federal disclosure regulations and federal law.”
For the latest installment of Grantland’s 30 for 30 short documentary series, a story on the genesis of the high five and what happened to one of its inventors. This video is chock full of amazing vintage footage of awkward high fives. [Weird aside: The sound on this video is only coming out of the left channel. Is that a subtle homage to the one-handed gesture or a sound mixing boner?]
Somehow I lived in WI for the first 17 years of my life, was a Brewers fan for many of those years, and never realized the old Brewers logo contained the letters “m” and “b” hidden in the ball and glove.
Wow. If your mind is blowing right now too, there’s a Facebook group we can join together: Best Day of My Life: When I Realized the Brewers Logo Was a Ball and Glove AND the Letters M and B. (via kathryn yu)
ps. If you’ve somehow missed the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, here you go. Best kind of natural high there is.
After Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003 about the Oakland A’s, their general manager Billy Beane, and his then-unorthodox and supposedly superior managerial strategy, a curious thing happened: the A’s didn’t do that well. They went to the playoffs only twice between 2003 and 2011 and finished under .500 four times. Teams like the Red Sox, who adopted Beane’s strategies with the punch of a much larger payroll, did much better during those years.
But Beane hung in there and has figured out how to beat the big boys again, with two first place in 2012 & 2013 and the best record in the majors this year so far. Will Leitch explains how.
First, don’t spend a lot on a little; spend a little on a lot.
The emotional through-line of Moneyball is Beane learning from his experience as a failed prospect and applying it to today’s game. The idea: Scouts were wrong about him, and therefore they’ll be wrong about tons of guys. Only trust the numbers.
That was an oversimplification, but distrusting the ability of human beings to predict the future has been the centerpiece of the A’s current run. This time, though, the A’s aren’t just doubting the scouts; they’re also skeptical that statistical analysis can reliably predict the future (or that their analysis could reliably predict it better than their competitors). Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They’ve brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren’t looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A’s have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible — cheap, interchangeable ones — and pluck out the best.
Former MLB player Tony Gwynn passed away the other day. Cancer. He was only 54. Gwynn was one of my favorite players as a kid…I’ve always liked the players who hit for average and rarely struck out. Rarely got to see him play because I lived in American League country, so I knew him mainly through his statistics and baseball cards. These pieces by Jay Caspian Kang, Buster Olney, and Bob Nightengale are all worth reading to hear about Gwynn’s humanity and cerebral approach to the game, but Keith Olbermann’s heartfelt eulogy was my favorite piece in the wake of Gwynn’s death.
A short profile of writer/editor Roger Angell, still coming in to work most days at The New Yorker at age 93:
Angell saw Babe Ruth in his prime, but he never writes sentimentally about baseball, a sport that has inspired many sports-writers to produce reams of awful, faux-poetic prose. His habit of telling it straight is what makes his nine books hold up and keeps him relevant today. “I don’t go for nostalgia,” he says. “I try not to. It’s so easy to sentimentalize the good old days, but I don’t ever do that. I’m aware that things have changed, but I try not to go there. It’s very easy, and you get sort of a mental diabetes. All that goo. I am a foe of goo, maybe too much so.”
Angell’s extended essay “This Old Man” offers an extended dose of that lucidity.
Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry [Angell’s fox terrier] died, Carol and I couldn’t stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.
Anyone who’s been writing for a long time has tools they like and come to depend on; one of Angell’s is a discontinued Mead three-subject notebook:
The best notebook in the world. David Remnick and I talk about how you can’t get anything to replace the Mead notebook, which is unavailable now. They take ink perfectly. There is a great flow. All the other notebooks are coated with something so your pen slides along.
“In recent years, when he goes on reporting trips,” Angell’s interviewer notes, “he has resorted to making use of old Mead notebooks that still have blank pages.”
From the NY Times’ new site, The Upshot, a bunch of maps showing the borders of baseball team fandom, with close-ups of various dividing lines: the Munson-Nixon Line, The Molitor Line, The Reagan-Nixon Line, and the Morgan-Ripken Line.
The NYC and Bay Area maps are so sad…the Mets and A’s get no love. (via @atotalmonet)
Joe Posnanski thinks about how baseball would change if MLB moved to a 16-game schedule like the the NFL. I love stuff like this.
4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.
I’m not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don’t tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact — plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear — but it’s mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that’s what we think now.
Except — baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.
Adrian Cárdenas, formerly a player for the Chicago Cubs, quit baseball to pursue an education in creative writing and philosophy.
I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost some of my success. The American dream didn’t tell me that an experience only matters if I acknowledge it, that losing yourself in the game is a good way to lose what makes life meaningful. When you’re standing at the plate and you hit a sharp foul ball to the backstop, the spot on the bat that made contact gets hot; the American dream forgot to tell me to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood.
Baseball has changed significantly since the mid-eighties base stealing heyday of Vince Coleman, Ricky Henderson, Tim Raines, and Willie “Mays” Hayes. Beginning in the mid-90s, steroids and sluggers shifted the game away from speed and defense towards home runs, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of stolen bases. Since 2003, however, stolen bases have been making a comeback and while the numbers aren’t approaching the base stealing glory of the mid-eighties, we’re getting closer to the base stealing diminished glory of the mid-nineties. Jonah Keri uses hard g gifs in his baseball writing as well as anyone, and here’s a gif driven conversation with Coco Crisp about the art of base stealing.
With that in mind, I set out to find one of those master thieves and have him walk us through every step of the base-stealing process. Oakland’s Coco Crisp was happy to oblige. Poring over a series of videos one early morning in Phoenix, Crisp described the cues he picks up from individual pitchers and the weaknesses he can exploit. Moreover, he explained how a player entering his 12th major league season can be a better base stealer now than when he was younger and much faster. Crisp’s career high in single-season steals came in his age-31 season in 2011, when he swiped 49. Despite nagging injury troubles, Crisp has been ludicrously efficient on the base paths over the past three years, stealing 120 bases and getting caught just 16 times (88.2 percent success rate).
Ok, it’s no NFL bad lip reading but this fake commentary by a British broadcaster of a baseball game is still pretty hilarious.
He runs in to bowl…Mork and Mindy, that’s going for six! No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.
Angels pitcher Robert Coello’s unique pitch has knuckleball movement but is thrown with a fastball grip & pitching motion and has a bit more speed on it than a typical knuckleball. His catchers and opposing hitters call it the WTF pitch.
Physicist Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois who studies baseball and has a particular interest in the knuckleball, hadn’t ever seen a pitch like Coello’s. His preliminary theory on the pitch: His thumb on the underside of the ball exerts backspin, counteracting the tumbling effect his top fingers put on the ball and balancing the torque so perfectly that the pitch has a knuckleball effect with superior speed (around 80 mph).
Be sure to wait for the slow motion at the end of the video.
Earlier this spring, Drew Sheppard created a layered animated GIF of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish’s pitching delivery. This type of GIF has become something of a meme on baseball sites. The latest to get the layered GIF treatment is Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown last year (led the league in batting average, RBIs, and home runs) and is trying to do it again this year. Sheppard put together this GIF to show “Cabrera’s impressive all fields hitting and ability to cover the full strike zone with power”:
As the image plainly shows, Cabrera can launch home runs from anywhere…even a pitch that’s almost a foot off the plate. Are they showing this stuff on SportsCenter yet? Can only be a matter of time. (thx, david)
One of the most formidable tools in a pro baseball pitcher’s arsenal is the consistency of pitching motion when throwing different kinds of pitches. If your delivery looks the same to an opposing batter when throwing a 95-mph fastball, a 80-mph curve, and a 85-mph change-up, well, you’ve really got something there. Texas pitcher Yu Darvish is ripping up the AL this year with a 4-1 record, 1.65 ERA, and 49 strikeouts, which prompted Drew Sheppard to layer five of Darvish’s pitches on top of one another in an animated GIF:
All the Darvishes use the same delivery but the five balls end up crossing the plate at very different times and locations. A perfect use of time merge media to illustrate just how difficult it must be stand in there against the controlled athleticism of a pitcher at the top of his game. “The Mona Lisa of GIFs” indeed. (via @djacobs)
Update: Here’s a video demonstrating similar consistency in Roger Federer’s serve:
I remember NBC using this technique at various points during the last couple of Olympics as well. (via @agonde)
I remember tearing baseballs apart as a kid and seeing the rubber core, but I guess I had forgotten that a baseball is mostly a leather-covered yarn ball. See also how footballs are made and homemade soccer balls. (via @marklamster)
This story by Kevin Guilfoile about his aging father (who worked for the Pirates and the Baseball Hall of Fame) and the mystery of what happened to the bat that Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit with is one of my favorite things that I’ve read over the past few months.
[My father’s] personality is present, if his memories are a jumble. He is still funny, and surprisingly quick with one-liners to crack up the staff at the facility where he lives. He is exceedingly polite, same as he ever was. He is good at faking a casual conversation, especially on the phone. But if you sit and talk with him for a long time, he gets very anxious. He starts tapping his forehead with his fingers. “Shouldn’t we be going?” he’ll say. You tell him there’s no place we need to be, but 30 seconds later he’ll ask again, “Shouldn’t we be going?”
What happens to memories when they’re collapsed inside time like this? They don’t exactly disappear, they just become impossible to unpack. And so my father, who loved stories so much — who loved to tell them, who loved to hear them — can no longer comprehend them. The structure of any story, after all, is that this happened and then that happened, and he can’t make sense of any sequence.
That is the real hell of this disease. His own identity has become a puzzle he can’t solve.
Objects have stories, too. Puzzles that need to be solved. Like a pair of baseball bats, for instance, that each passed through Roberto Clemente’s hands before they passed through my father’s. One hung on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. The other is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
These objects never forget, but they never tell their stories, either.
Without a little bit of luck, we’d never hear them.
Or more than a little luck:
My father has lots of old baseball bats given to him by players he worked with over the years. He has Mickey Mantle bats from his years with the Yankees, and Willie Stargell and Dave Parker bats from his days with the Pirates. The one I always loved best was an Adirondack model with R CLEMENTE embossed in modest block letters, instead of the usual signature burned into the barrel. On the bottom of the knob, Roberto had written a tiny “37” in ballpoint pen, presumably to indicate its weight: 37 ounces. It also had a series of scrapes around the middle where someone had scratched off the trademark stripe that encircled all Adirondack bats. Former Pirates GM Joe Brown gave my dad this bat several years after Roberto died. For much of my childhood it hung on the wall of my bedroom, on a long rack with about a dozen other game-used bats.
My dad had been working at the Hall of Fame for more than a decade when, in 1993, his old friend Tony Bartirome, a one-time Pirates infielder who had become their longtime trainer, came to Cooperstown for a visit. Tony and his wife went to dinner with my folks and then came back to our house to chat. The only way to go to the first-floor washroom in that house was through my old bedroom, and on a trip there, Tony noticed that Adirondack of Clemente’s hanging on the wall.
Tony carried it into the living room. He said to Dad, “Where did you get this bat?” My dad told him that Joe Brown had given him the bat as a gift, sometime in the late ’70s. “Bill,” Tony said. “This is the bat Roberto used to get his 3,000th hit.”
My father was confused by this. “That’s impossible,” he told Tony. “The day he hit 3,000 I went down to the clubhouse, and Roberto himself handed me the bat he used. I sent it to the Hall of Fame. I walk by it every day.”
“Well,” Tony said. “I have a story to tell you.”
It’s a wonderful story, read the whole thing. Or get the book: the story is excerpted from Guilfoile’s A Drive into the Gap, available here or for the Kindle.
The stories of long time minor leaguers overcoming obstacles to make it to the big leagues are always heartwarming and Tigers pitcher Phil Coke’s story is no different. Minor league players are payed poorly, spend days on buses, and most players never make it. Coke, who pitched fantastically in the 2012 postseason until giving up the winning run in the last game of the World Series, had an interesting road to the majors, as well. He’s got an interesting take on why MLB teams, most of which are swimming in money, make it so hard for minor leaguers.
“It’s part of the psychological effort to find out how mentally tough you really are,” Coke said. “Can you still perform when the rent’s due and you’re out of money? It’s a crazy schedule too, one you’ve never played before. You’re playing every day. You go from not knowing what a weekend is to not knowing what day it is at all. You’re in a town for two to four days, then off on these very, very long bus trips. Your choices are read a book, sleep your face off, or banter and talk with teammates. You figure out who the sleepers are and who are the ones who pull all-nighters. I was drawn to those people. But being away from family, friends, having a life, it’s really tough.”
Ebbets Field Flannels sells historic baseball jerseys made from “real 1950s-era wool blend baseball cloth”.
The Clowns were baseball’s answer to the Harlem Globetrotters. Players entertained the crowd with various comedic antics, including “shadowball”, where they would go through a warm-up routine with no baseball. When the team joined the Negro American League, they dropped the “Ethiopian” moniker and played straight baseball.
I missed this when it was announced in August, but there will be a third series of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary films, and one scheduled to air in December will feature Bo Jackson.
A close look at the man and marketing campaign that shaped his legacy. Even without winning a Super Bowl or World Series, Bo redefined the role of the athlete in the pop cultural conversation. More than 20 years later, myths and legends still surround Bo Jackson, and his impossible feats still capture our collective imagination.
Good excuse to post this (again?):
San Francisco Giant Melky Cabrera recently tested positive for a banned substance and received a 50 game penalty per MLB’s rules. Prior to receiving the suspension, Cabrera made an attempt, new at least in the world of sports, to get off without punishment.
The New York Daily News has discovered that in an effort to beat the rap on his 50-game suspension, Melky and his “associates” devised a scheme that included purchasing a website for $10,000, making this website appear to sell a fake product and pretending Melky purchased and used the product, unaware that it contained a banned substance. Ohh, this close.
Cabrera offered the website as evidence during his appeal and the scheme devolved into comedy in short order.
XKCD is answering “hypothetical questions with physics” once a week and the first installment is just flat-out delightful: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?
The ideas of aerodynamics don’t apply here. Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it. But the air molecules in front of this ball don’t have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles.
These gamma rays and debris expand outward in a bubble centered on the pitcher’s mound. They start to tear apart the molecules in the air, ripping the electrons from the nuclei and turning the air in the stadium into an expanding bubble of incandescent plasma. The wall of this bubble approaches the batter at about the speed of light-only slightly ahead of the ball itself.
All science writing should (and probably could!) be this entertaining. (via @delfuego)
If you’ve ever wondered if any Major League Baseball players come from your favorite city, this is the map for you. See also the 2011-2012 NHL Player map. The maps are by Mike Morton, and I’m fascinated by the fact the NHL had players from both Africa and Brazil, while MLB did not. (via @jonahkeri)