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kottke.org posts about baseball

Melky Cabrera’s fake website

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 19, 2012

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.

The relativistic baseball

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2012

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)

2012 map of baseball player hometowns

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jun 21, 2012

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)

Unusual photos of 19th century baseball players

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2012

From the NYPL’s digital collection, a selection of odd photos of baseball players from the 19th century.

19th Century Baseball

Baseball gloves used to be a lot smaller:

19th Century Baseball 02

BTW, the site I got this from is fascinating…on the front page right now are posts about patent drawings of mazes and puzzles, slave bells, and a shoe-leather map of a cow’s hide.

The cup of coffee club

posted by Aaron Cohen   May 31, 2012

Rick Paulas has a deep look in the Awl at baseball players who, regardless of how long their professional careers were, only played in one Major League Baseball game. They’re in an interesting spot, possessing great enough talent to get them to the pinnacle of their profession but not enough to keep them there (though military service, luck, and injuries also play a role in some cases).

Some players performed poorly in their one game, others did…better.

On the final day of the 1963 regular season, John Paciorek had a hell of a career. The 18-year-old started in right field for the Houston Colt .45s — two years away from trading in the handgun for the Space Race-influenced “Astros” moniker — and had a perfect day at the plate: three-for-three, two walks, three RBIs and four runs. Nagging back injuries meant he’d never have a chance to blemish that perfection.

By the math in the article, 5.5% of all major leaguers ever have only played in one game. I can’t decide if that’s more or less than I would expect.

Life magazine’s best pictures

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2012

Taken by some of the world’s most iconic photographers, a selection of the best photographs ever published in Life magazine from 1936 to 1972. Here’s a photo of Mickey Mantle from 1965:

Mantle

The caption reads:

In one of the most eloquent photographs ever made of a great athlete in decline, Yankee star Mickey Mantle flings his batting helmet away in disgust after another terrible at-bat near the end of his storied, injury-plagued career.

Mantle was only 33 when that photo was taken but he’d already had 13 extremely productive seasons under his belt and his last four seasons from ‘65 to ‘68 were not nearly as good.

Do attractive athletes make more money?

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 19, 2011

In discussing whether Jeff Francoeur was worth the 2 year contract extension granted by the Royals, Jonah Keri wondered if Francoeur scored a more lucrative contract because he was handsome. Turns out, he probably did. As longtime Kottke acolytes, you already knew this phenomenon applied to regular people.

To put this result in perspective, we found that a “good-looking” quarterback like Kerry Collins or Charlie Frye earned approximately $300,000 more per year than his stats and other pay factors would predict. Meanwhile, quarterbacks like Jeff George and Neil O’Donnell, who, sadly, were not found to have very symmetrical faces, suffered an equivalent penalty.

Poor, poor, Neil O’Donnell. Did you ever wonder if good looking people get paid more because they’re better at what they do? Eli Cash’s follow up to Wild Cat and Old Custer tackles this question. “Well, everyone knows attractive people get paid more. What this book presupposes is… maybe they deserve it.”

Baseball symphony

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2011

Music critic Anthony Tommasini goes to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium and treats the game as a musical piece.

For all the hubbub of constant sound it is amazing how clearly the crack of a bat, the whoosh of a pitch (at least from the powerhouse Sabathia), and the leathery thud of the ball smothered in the catcher’s mitt cut through the textures. And if the hum of chattering provides the unbroken timeline and undulant ripple of this baseball symphony, the voices that break through from all around are like striking, if fleeting, solo instruments.

The most assertive soloists are the vendors. My favorite was a wiry man with nasal snarl of a voice who practically sang the words “Cracker Jack” as a three-note riff: two eighth notes on “Cracker,” followed by a quarter note on “Jack,” always on a falling minor third. (Using solf`ege syllables, think “sol, sol, mi.”) After a while I heard his voice drifting over from another section, and he had transposed his riff down exactly one step.

The Xbox version of Dock Ellis’ LSD-fueled no-hitter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2011

In 1970, professional baseballer Dock Ellis, who was good at pitching baseballs, threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. In 2011, professional blogger A.J. Daulerio, who isn’t so good at video game baseball, attempted to throw a no-hitter while on LSD…playing a customized Dock Ellis in MLB 2K11 on Xbox.

But by the fourth game I started to pick up tendencies in all the batters. Jason Bartlett swung at first-pitch changeups. Will Venable couldn’t hit the palm ball. In fact, most of these free-swinging Padres couldn’t hit Dock’s funky palm ball. I threw it often. But by then, also, the first acid distractions entered: the TV flickered; the cracks in the wall started to move; the hand soap started to breathe — those sorts of things. Plus I was drawn to the outdoor garden between innings. Rain was near, I sensed.

Best penalty kick ever

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 07, 2010

I’ve been meaning to post these since the beginning of the week. Here’s Ezequiel Calvente’s penalty kick for Spain from a U19 game against Italy. He runs up to kick with his right foot, but just before making the kick, Calvente pushes the ball into the other side of the goal with his left foot. Fantastic.

And a bonus amazing sports play. Spiderman in center field.

(Thanks, Dave and Jonah)

Fidel Castro playing baseball

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2010

False: Fidel Castro was recruited to play professional baseball in the United States. True: after taking over Cuba in 1959, Castro played in a few exhibition games with his fellow revolutionaries.

Cubans know that Fidel Castro was no ballplayer, though he dressed himself in the uniform of a spurious, tongue-in-cheek team called Barbudos (Bearded Ones) after he came to power in 1959 and played a few exhibition games. There was no doubt then about his making any team in Cuba. Given a whole country to toy with, Fidel Castro realized the dream of most middle-aged Cuban men by pulling on a uniform and “playing” a few innings.

Here’s Fidel pitching in one of those games:

Fidel Castro pitching

Here’s more information about Fidel’s baseball career. (via slate)

Bill Simmons on sabermetrics

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2010

Bill Simmons has finally accepted the gospel of sabermetrics as scripture and in a recent column, preaches the benefits of all these newfangled statistics to his followers. The list explaining his seven favorite statistics in down-to-earth language is really helpful to the stats newbie.

Measure BABIP to determine whether a pitcher or hitter had good luck or bad luck. In 2009, the major league BABIP average was .299. If a pitcher’s BABIP dipped well below that number, he might have had good luck. If it rose well above that number, he likely had terrible luck. The reverse goes for hitters.

(via djacobs, who has an extremely high VORF)

Baseball play of the year

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2010

We’re only a game or two into a long baseball season, but you might not see a better play all year than this one. Here’s a YouTube embed, although I don’t know how long it will last.

From the Babe to Matsui

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2009

Larry Granillo explores how the Yankees’ World Series victories have been covered by the New York Times through the years.

The New York Yankees, the Microsoft of baseball

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2009

Greg Knauss on how the New York Yankees are like Microsoft.

But, wait… Two-thousand was — the last time the Yankees managed to win a championship. And it was awfully close to the last time that that Microsoft managed to produce a version of Windows that anybody cared about. And, hey, both the Yankees and Microsoft have long histories of dominating their professions, and of using that dominance to run up huge payrolls with — let’s be honest here — a near-decade of lackluster results.

It’s an uncanny resemblance.

Dump the ump

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2009

Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus: use pitch tracking technology to call strikes in pro baseball games.

If a breaking ball crosses the plate at a point between a batter’s knees and the midpoint between his shoulders and pants, it’s a strike, no matter what the anachronism behind the plate thinks he sees. In eighteendicketysix, a human being was state-of-the-art technology for making these decisions. Now, you can get better information — we do get better information — by using better technology. Championships should be decided by the players and by what actually happened, not by what somebody thinks happened.

Heh. Dickety. (via david)

Beep baseball

posted by Ainsley Drew   Oct 02, 2009

Beep baseball is the classic American pastime adapted for the blind and visually impaired. In order to appreciate the athleticism of the game, and the fun that most sighted folks are missing, here’s a video of beep baseball in action.

The ball used contains a beeping device that is loud enough to aid in sightless location. The six players on the field are helped by a sighted pitcher, who announces “pitch” or “ball” as they toss to a sighted catcher. Batters are allowed four strikes and one pass, but the fourth swing must be a clear, defined miss. The game has six innings, the standard three outs per inning, and two bases, not three. Baseball’s traditional tile-like bases are replaced with padded cylinders that stand four feet tall and give off a distinct buzz once activated. The batter doesn’t know which base will be activated, but must run to whichever sounds, tackling the base before defense has a chance to field the ball. If the runner makes it in time, a run is scored. Two sighted “spotters” also play the field and call out which direction the ball has headed using a system based on numbers assigned to each outfielder. Spotters can only announce one number, and the outfielders must communicate with each other to locate the ball. Cheering is discouraged because it interferes with play.

Update: A recent article from the Wall Street Journal documented the West Coast Dogs and their quest to win the World Series of beep baseball.

(thx jesse)

What’s in (or out) of a name

posted by Ainsley Drew   Sep 28, 2009

In case you ever wondered why you’re cheering for a group of young bears, Northern statesmen, or tiny birds, here’s a Venn diagram of baseball team names and their etymology.

How good is Albert Pujols?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2009

Really very good and has a shot at being among the best of all time. Post-1901, he’s #1 on the list of most HRs in the first 9 seasons of a player’s career and is in the top 20 all-time in batting average amongst all players with 4000+ plate appearances. Longevity will tell the tale, particularly if (birthers, take note!) Pujols is older than he claims. (thx, david)

Immaculate innings

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2009

Immaculate innings are those innings in baseball games where the pitcher strikes out all three batters with nine pitches. It’s only happened 42 times in the history of the game. David Archer is tracking the frequency of such innings; they are getting more common.

As one friend pointed out, the best explanation for the increase in recent decades appears to be the advent of the modern reliever, especially the flame-throwing, one inning closer (more immaculate innings have been thrown in the 9th inning* (eight) than in any other inning), though starters — such as Burnett — have also been throwing them with impressive frequency.

Update: See also three-pitch innings. (via noah brier)

Moneyball inefficiencies erased

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2009

Unsurprisingly, the MLB teams currently drawing the most benefit from the lessons of Moneyball are those with lots of money operating in big markets.

Well, of course, the big-market teams figured it out. They hired their own Ivy League consultants. They bought even better computers. Walks is only one tiny aspect in it … but who leads the American League in walks this year? The New York Yankees. Last year? The Boston Red Sox. The year before that? The Boston Red Sox. And so it goes. Now, six years later, it seems to me that the small-market teams are really grasping and trying to find some loophole, some opening that will allow them to win in this tough financial environment.

Steroid users as sports pioneers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2009

Baseball historian Bill James makes a compelling argument that steroids will eventually become an accepted aspect of sports (and society as a whole) and that baseball players who are now more or less banned from entering the Hall of Fame (though not officially) will eventually be elected to Cooperstown.

If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.

How, then, are those people of the future — who are taking steroids every day — going to look back on baseball players who used steroids? They’re going to look back on them as pioneers. They’re going to look back at it and say “So what?”

(via hello typepad)

Of two minds on the pitcher’s mound

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2009

If I ever write a book, it might have something to do with the two minds that govern creative expertise: the instinctual unconscious mind (the realm of relaxed concentration) and the thinking mind (the realm of deliberate practice). The tension between these two minds is both the key to and fatal flaw of human creativity. From the world of sports1, here’s Rockies pitcher and college physics major Jeff Francis describing the interplay of the minds on the mound:

Even though I do understand the forces and everything, there’s a separation when I’m pitching. If I throw a good pitch, I know what I did to do it, but there has to be a separation between knowing what I did and knowing why what I did helped the ball do what it did, if that makes any sense at all. If I thought about it on the mound, I’d be really mechanical and trying to be too perfect instead of doing what comes naturally.

But you don’t need to be a physics major to wrestle with the consequences of the conflict between the two minds. After an injury and subsequent surgery, Francis’ instinctual mind works to protect his body from further injury:

Francis repeatedly pulled the ball back in preparation to throw. But as he flashed his arm forward, his hand would, mind unaware, bring the ball back toward his ear rather than at full extension. It was his body essentially shortening the axis of his arm to decrease the force on his shoulder, protecting him from pain. And Francis could not stop it.

After his 10th pitch and first muffled groan of pain, he stopped.

“It’s hurting you?” Murayama said.

“Yeah,” Francis said.

“I can tell. You’re getting out ahead of your arm. Slow down, stay back a little more.”

“Does it look like I’m scared to throw a little?”

“Are you scared?”

“Not consciously.”

To fully recover and regain his former effective pitching motion, Francis will utilize his thinking mind to retrain his unconscious mind through deliberate practice to ignore the injury potential. (thx, adriana)

[1] Most of the examples I’ve cited over the years deal with sports, mostly because professional athletes are among the most trained, scrutinized, studied, and optimized creative workers in the world. For a lot of other professions and endeavors, the data and scrutiny just isn’t as evident.

Salary vs performance in baseball

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2009

Ben Fry just updated his interactive salary vs performance graph that compares the payrolls of major league teams to their records. Look at those overachieving Rays and Marlins! And those underachieving Indians, Mets, and Cubs!

Jack Kerouac’s fantasy baseball league

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2009

Unbeknownst to his close friends, Jack Kerouac invented a fantasy baseball game and played it for most of his life.

[Kerouac’s game charted] the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

He collected their stats, analyzed their performances and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit, complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

Don’t miss the slideshow of some of Kerouac’s notebooks and publications related to his imaginary sports.

Baseball cards: not for kids anymore

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2009

The Baseball Card Movie is a nice nine-minute film that introduces the viewer to a world where adults pay up to $500 for a pack of cards (aka cardboard crack) and act very superstitiously about opening them.

Thw whole sports memorabilia thing is an odd world. There’s a story about major league pitcher Barry Zito buying his own autographed cards on eBay:

He once made it a practice to buy his own autographed baseball cards on eBay; when asked why he bought them at auction for high prices rather than acquiring unsigned cards and signing them himself, Zito replied, “Because they’re authenticated.”

Possibly apocryphal but Zito would likely have a difficult time selling self-signed cards because they’re not authenticated.

The economics of the new Yankee Stadium

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2009

Ticket prices at the new Yankee Stadium are so high that if a New Yorker wants to watch a Mariners/Yankees game from the best seats, it would be a lot cheaper to fly to Seattle, stay in a nice hotel, eat fancy dinners, and see two games.

Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just the tickets, $5,000.

Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.

(thx, david)

Dixie Upright and his friends

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2009

The pace of baseball is such that one wonders about all the baseball players whose last names are adjectives.

Woody Rich, Pop Rising. Harry Sage. Several Savages. Mac Scarce. Bill Sharp. Bill, Chris, Dave, and Rick Short. Many Smalls. One Smart guy (JD). Three Starks. Adam Stern. Of course, there’s Doug Strange (and Alan and Pat, too). Jamal and Joe Strong. Even a guy named Sturdy, literally: Guy Sturdy. DIck Such. Bill Swift, x2.

Update: See also musicians whose names are sentences. (thx, colter)

The luckiest fan in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2009

A Philadelphia sports fan with a knack for getting into good seats at the ballgame for free ended up partying with the Phillies in their clubhouse after winning the World Series.

Lionel goes 5’8”, 240, and he’s got the same shirt and lei as the players, so he looks like a player, which is maybe why he’s suddenly in the middle of every hug. And that’s about when Chase Utley says to Jimmy Rollins: “Let’s go celebrate!” And Lionel says exactly what you’d think he’d say, which is, “I’m with you guys!”

(via memeticians)

An unlikely baseball record

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2008

The number of pinstripes on a Yankees jersey varies with the size of the player…the bigger the man, the more pinstripes on the jersey. With the Yankees’ recent signing of CC Sabathia, a rather large gentleman, ESPN’s Paul Lukas wonders: will Sabathia have the most Yankee pinstripes in history?

You’re embarking on a new field of study here, so we have to make up our own rules and standards as we go,” he said. “For example, depending on how a jersey is tailored, the number of pinstripes at the top and at the bottom aren’t necessarily the same. Also, the space between the pinstripes has changed a bit over the years, and the pinstripes themselves are thinner today than in the old days.

(thx, djacobs)