Tagged: Mickey Mantle

All rain means all A-Rod

arod_250_050409.jpgWriting for YES as I do, I run the risk of being labeled a pro-Rod shill if I defend Alex Rodriguez too vigorously. And yet, I’ve been a Selena Roberts detractor for years, because whenever she picked up her pen to write about baseball as a New York Times columnist I tended to become ill. I go out of my way not to attack fellow writers out of a sense of professional courtesy, but when Roberts wrote passages such as —  

At 42, Beane didn’t invent sabermetrics, a sci-fi word formed from S.A.B.R., the Society of American Baseball Research [sic] (a k a The No-Life Institute). But with its philosophy filtered through his Ivy League predecessor in Oakland, Sandy Alderson, Beane applies the tenets of numeric efficiency found in the stapled baseball abstracts of the 70’s fringe writer Bill James.

 — she sunk so far below professional standards that it removed any obligation I might have felt. Anti-intellectualism and schoolyard, ad hominem attacks aren’t deserving of professional courtesy, and if she thinks Bill James is a fringe writer (those “stapled baseball abstracts” quickly gave way to bestselling mass market paperbacks and hardcovers), well, she is fringe ignorant. Another baseball passage that sent me running for the bathroom was written when Roberts imagined that Tony Clark was in a competition with Jason Giambi for playing time.

She sided with Clark. “At the plate, Giambi is a withering vision of power… with an on-base percentage of .376, which would be impressive in ‘Moneyball’ wisdom but falls flat in Yankees logic considering he is paid to produce runs, not draw walks.” Walks produce runs, period, but never mind. Roberts also argued that Giambi’s weakness with the glove meant that he was, “not the Giambi that anyone expected when the Yankees seduced him with the perfume of cash in 2001.” If Roberts expected Jason Giambi to be Don Mattingly around the bag when the Yankees acquired him, she was the only one. As I wrote at the time, going after Giambi for his defense is a bit like saying that Mark Twain was a bad writer because he looked terrible in a bikini. It wasn’t anything anyone ever expected of him.

Roberts has a weak track record in terms of thinking and knowledge of baseball, and she also led the charge against the Duke lacrosse players in the 2006 rape case, the one that ended with the prosecutor who brought charges being discharged. As Jason Whitlock wrote on Saturday, Roberts has never been called to account for these columns. Among her last words on the subject: “No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges — and that may have occurred on Nifong’s watch — but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive… A dismissal doesn’t mean forget everything. Amnesia would be a poor defense to the next act of athlete privilege.”

Yes, let’s look on the bright side, because jocks having slightly more restrained keg parties makes calling innocent young men rapists worthwhile.

I don’t trust Roberts’ judgment, I don’t trust her understanding of baseball, and I don’t trust her motives in writing a book about Alex Rodriguez that surely would not exist were it not intended to be a hit piece. If Rodriguez was juicing in high school or kindergarten, it goes to character, not performance, and we have had countless reasons to know that he’s not Mother Theresa in the clubhouse or off the field. Neither were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, et al. Cobb’s reward was to die friendless, Ruth and Mantle died young, the causes of their cancer probably not unrelated to their youthful carousing, and Williams’ own son had him decapitated and stuck in a freezer.

On the field, they all won their pennants, and for now that should be our main area of interest in regards to Mr. Rodriguez, because the personality stuff is off the slightest relevance. If Derek Jeter loves or hates Rodriguez matters less than this basic equation: Jeter singles and Rodriguez hits a home run. That’s the only relationship, the only trust that needs to be between them — and needs to be between Rodriguez and us.

If Rodriguez used steroids in high school, that tells us a little more about Rodriguez the man but nothing of substance about Rodriguez the ballplayer. If he used HGH as a Yankees, well, HGH seems to help athletes with recovery time and healing, not performance. So does aspirin. Move on. Xavier Nady is having platelets shot into his elbow. The dividing line between these two therapies is entirely arbitrary.

As for Roberts’ allegations of Rodriguez tipping pitches as a Ranger, they had best be better sourced than her work on the Duke case. According to SI.com, “Roberts said that over the course of a couple years, some people with the Rangers began to detect a pattern whereby Rodriguez would appear to be giving away pitch type and location to hitters, always middle infielders who would then be able to repay him in kind when he was at the plate, with his body movement.”

It is extraordinary to think that “some people” would notice this and not alert management as to the practice. Unless there is videotape evidence, or Roberts’ sources are willing to come forward and explain why they sat on their knowledge that Rodriguez was damaging his own pitchers, this must be dismissed as the worst kind of hearsay. That Roberts knows relatively little about baseball must be considered here — her credulity and our skepticism must be of equal proportion.

Rodriguez and his all-too-evident feet of clay are being attacked by a not particularly knowledgeable writer in a way that hurts the player and the game without adding any illumination. Rodriguez should not be made to carry the banner for the steroids era, one which few sportswriters are willing to treat with anything like fairness anyway. Until the mainstream writers are willing to examine in a realistic way what we really know about the impact of steroids on performance, their metaphorically running down Main Street shouting “Cheater! Cheater!” does nothing but add heat where there should be light.

For the thousandth time: the players broke the rules, but they did not rewrite the record books, not A-Rod, not even Barry Bonds. You can’t prove it logically, you can’t prove it by inference, and you can’t prove it medically. Roberts has damaged an already damaged man by wielding a very blunt instrument. Hooray for her, hooray for us for paying attention. 

Ending the A-Rod debate


Judging by the comments and email, my reaction to the A-Rod presser didn’t please anyone. The criticism was about evenly split between those who seemed to think I was too hard on the guy and didn’t give him enough credit for being candid, and those that still think that I’m not hard enough on him because I still argue that his usage almost certainly had little effect on his numbers.

Some days you’re better off just staying in bed. Or maybe I could blog recipes. I don’t imagine that those folks get too much hate mail. “You’re calling for too much sugar! Who likes custard, anyway! Obviously you’ve never cooked in a real restaurant.”

Let’s try to deal with both objections, starting with the first. I would very much like to give Rodriguez the benefit of the doubt here, as I have steadfastly defended him over the years from those so-called fans who want to blame every bad bounce of the ball on him, not to mention the declining economy, global warming, and the continued popularity of “American Idol.” Despite this, I think his performance on Tuesday was ludicrous. I can’t sum up his explanations any better than did Joel Sherman in Wednesday’s New York Post:

So before we even deal with the discrepancy that Rodriguez, according to the Sports Illustrated story, failed a test for two steroids, not just “boli,” let us just sum up A-Rod’s new story: Fitness freak lets untrained relative shoot drugs that the fitness freak cannot fully identify or vouch are safe into his body 36 times, though the fitness freak is not sure he is taking the drugs correctly or if they are having a positive result.

Lewis Carroll’s White Queen could believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast, and you’d have to be her to buy into this mess. It makes very little sense. Nor does the “youthful indiscretion” thread ring true, given that the guy was 25 when he started. Whatever maturity issues the guy was facing, it’s pretty clear he had a fully developed sense of right and wrong or he wouldn’t have tried to hide what he was doing.

As I said yesterday, this has little to do with my estimation of Alex Rodriguez as a ballplayer. I respect his on-field performances and feel they are legitimate. The same goes for Ty Cobb. Had I been around, I would have paid good money to see Cobb play, but I don’t think I would have wanted to be friends with him or have him over for dinner. Heck, given what I’ve read of Babe Ruth’s table manners, I don’t know that I’d want to have dinner with him either. Ted Williams was not easy to get along with. Mickey Mantle was so good he’s actually underrated, but it seems like his personal character left a lot to be desired. These guys are not my idea of great human beings, but they can play on my all-star team anytime.

As for those on the “steroids corrupt all stats” debate, I remain somewhere between agnostic and outright skeptical. I’d be more willing to believe in a placebo effect than I do in a large-scale impact on home run production. If you feel differently, I’m open to your argument, but we need an argument more solid than, “Look at the home runs, man!” I did a radio spot recently, and the host said — I loosely paraphrase — “You puny stathead, I used to play the game, and I look at how Bongs and Ray-Rod can stay back on the ball and still hit it out — that’s unnatural power that can only come from the juice!” And as I struggled to say something more than, “Wait, what?” he repeated, “I played, I know.” Well, great. Let’s say we accept your argument. These guys hit 50 home runs a year. In how many of them did they “stay back” and still hit it out? What is the recurrence of your little anecdote in a given year? Are there any players who can do that naturally? Is it possible that, given that we’re talking about the top one percent of home run hitters in the game, that they can do some things the average player cannot? That you cannot? We’re talking about people’s lives and good names here. We cannot condemn them based on inference, innuendo, anecdote.

All of this searching for a “natural” production baseline is ridiculous given that there is no such thing. The line drawn between fair and unfair substances is completely arbitrary. No player, in any sport, is competing with only the assets that birth gave him. There’s always something else going into the pot, be it aspirin, absinthe, or amphetamines. During his 56-game hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio chain-smoked cigarettes in the dugout to calm his nerves. That gave him an unfair advantage on Wee Willie Keeler.  Heck, genes are unfair and should be banned. Consider Barry Bonds and Jose Cruz, Jr. Bobby Bonds was a very good player. Barry Bonds is better. Jose Cruz was a very good player. Jose Cruz, Jr. is not half the player his old man was. Seems like Barry’s mom brought more to the chromosome hoedown than did Jose Jr.’s mom. Clearly, Barry Bonds is the beneficiary of genetic hypergamy, giving him a competitive advantage unavailable to other players. As such, his records should be stricken from the book. Breeding, intentional or not, makes a mockery of the level playing field.

I’m done. This is over. Let’s move on… at least a couple of yards down the road. At least until the next revelation.

Some random bits gleaned from the comments

posada250_012209.jpgJlevy1112 asks: What about the Yankees two highly rated catching prospects in the Minor Leagues, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine? If Posada can’t make his full complement of starts, could one of these two be called up to join the team? I seem to remember they both have nice offensive numbers in the minors. If the Yankees traded for a Saltalamacchia, Teagarden, or Miguel Montero where would that put the aforementioned catching prospects?

Both Montero and Romine are both very far away. As you probably know, Montero may never arrive as a catcher, as he’s a hulking giant of a kid who doesn’t fit very well behind the plate. He has sufficient talent as a hitter that he should be able to make the transfer to first base — I keep thinking of Carlos Delgado, who actually made it to the majors as a catcher before everyone said, “Whoa, that’s not going to work,” and he went over to first base (after a brief stop in left field) and proceeded to hit (to date) 469 home runs. I’m not saying that Montero is going to be a borderline Hall of Famer — that would be premature — but that his career so far has echoes of the Delgado story.

In contrast to Montero, Romine seems to have the defensive tools to remain behind the dish, and he had a terrific finish to his season, punching out eight of his 10 home runs in the final two months of the season. Now, both of these guys are very young. Neither can legally buy a beer, with Montero having turned 19 around Thanksgiving and Romine reaching 20 less than a week earlier. Both finished the year at Low-A Charleston, which means they’re a big three levels from the majors, including the hard jump to Double-A, which many catchers do not survive.

If the Yankees traded for one of the players you mentioned, it wouldn’t harm these players at all given that they seem to be at least two years away, more likely three. As the younger players started to become expensive, the Yankees would have the option of moving them out and starting over. And, of course, Montero might not be a catcher anyway. We’ll soon see what the presence of Mark Teixeira means for his future.

Now, a lot of writers would ignore or ban the following crank, but you know, I find guys like this “42Yankee” kind of amusing.


1. “Retire?” Dude, I’m 38 years old. I have a mortgage to pay, two kids to put through college, and most importantly, I’m having way too much fun.

2. “Porky.” Well, that’s not a charitable description, but it’s not unfair. I’ve been working on it, including hiring a personal trainer to develop a workout program for me. Weight has been a thing I’ve fought my whole life. I can show you pictures where I’m kind of svelte and then others that are like, well, now. There are exculpatory medical factors, but they don’t really change the big picture, pun intentional. Anyway, it’s something that bothers me, but unlike “42Yankee” I’m not seven years old. Taunting my physical appearance as a way of attacking my ideas doesn’t really register as anything more than a pathetic, helpless gesture, an Internet wuss’s version of emotional terrorism. Nice try.

Back about my sophomore year of high school I guess I was having one of my heavier seasons. At this time, some friends and I were in the habit of scraping together teams of for pick-up softball or baseball games. We were in a fairly large school, so it wasn’t too difficult to come up with 18 or 20 kids who could show up at the park on a Saturday or Sunday morning and play six innings or so (the scores were usually too lopsided to go nine). One of my best friends threw very hard for a 15-year-old, and he and I made up the battery.

One day after school, he and I went out to a neighborhood park to practice. I was squatting down, catching his fastball. Parenthetically, I never was very good at catching his offspeed stuff, and one day a year or two later he crossed me up and unexpectedly threw something that broke sharply downward, ticking off my mitt and hitting me on the foot, mildly fracturing it. One of our class idiots wandered by — I would like to call him the class idiot, but as I said it was a large class and we had several — and came over to see what we were doing. After a few minutes of watching, for no particular reason he started aiming a series of very weak fat jokes at me, lines that even a third grader, or “42Yankee” here, might find too childish to use.

This was more irritating than effective. The guy had taken up a position a few yards behind me and was endlessly chattering as I caught the ball and flipped it back to my pal, the pitcher. I wasn’t bothered, but my friend was deeply offended on my behalf.  He warned Class Idiot, but the babble continued. I remember what happened next vividly. My pal wound up and fired with something extra on the ball. “Sssss” went the ball as it went over my head. Behind me, the Idiot said something like, “Hey, are you an elephant or — aaagh!” I turned around. There was another “Sssss” sound going past me. I ducked, but not before seeing a fastball come within a hair of hitting the idiot in the head.

I’ve rarely been more moved in my life. Here was my friend about to turn this guy into Ray Chapman because he had attacked me. Simultaneously, I also knew that if I cared at all about my friend, that I couldn’t really just watch it happen, because friends don’t let friends go to jail for murder. I shouted that it wasn’t worth it, that the Idiot should be allowed to live, but before the message could sink in, one more fastball lazered just past the bridge of Idiot’s nose, at which point he fled, threatening to tell his mom.  How can I be bothered by weight jokes when I have friends like that?

“42Yankee” is correct that in an ideal world the Yankees should not have given Posada a four-year deal after 2007, because his age and position made him even riskier than would be typical when you’re booking a player for seasons 36 through 39. That’s the only argument against it, however, and if the deal had been for only two years there wouldn’t be any grounds for criticism at all. However, even the four-year deal has to be excused because Posada had all the leverage in the situation. The Yankees weren’t about to get Joe Mauer away from the Twins, so if they didn’t want to take a big, giant hit at catcher, they had to cater to Posada’s demands. I wrote at the time that they were paying for four years to get two good ones, and perhaps that will still be the case.

“42Yankee” is, however, spectacularly wrong when he implies that the Yankees were solely overreacting to Posada’s 2007 season. Yes, he had an unusually belated peak and an uncharacteristically high batting average that season, but he was also a player who had had three other seasons with an OBP above .400, was a five-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner as the best hitter at his position. Among catchers with 5000 or more career plate appearances, Posada ranks fifth in OPS, trailing only Mike Piazza, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett; fifth in on-base percentage (Cochrane, Wally Schang, Dickey, and Piazza are ahead of him); f
ourth in isolated power (behind Piazza, Johnny Bench, Javy Lopez). He even ranks 17th in batting average. If he can hit at all this year, he’ll break into the top 10 in home runs by a catcher, and if he plays something like two more full seasons he’s going to have drawn more walks than any catcher to play the game. Posada may or may not be a Hall of Famer, but as a hitter his peers are all guys with plaques.

I think the most amazing thing about “42Yankee” having written that the Yankees should not have re-signed Posada is that he did so despite having the evidence of what a Posada-less Yankees team looks like. We call it the 2008 Yankees, and they don’t make the playoffs. There you go, “42” — thanks to Posada’s shoulder, they did it your way. Look how it wound up. Congratulations.

How many games did Molina win by throwing out baserunners? The easy answer is, not as many as he lost by making outs. First, The Yankees went 43-38 in Molina’s starts, which is a .531 percentage. They were actually a game better with other catchers in the lineup, which says something given how miserable some of the other guys were. Now, I see that one of our correspondents ran through some very simple math for you in the comments, but let me try taking it from a different angle. Last year, Molina caught 44 percent of attempting basestealers, or 33 in 42 attempts. The average stolen base success rate was 27 percent, so in a similar number of attempts, we should have expected the average catcher to catch 20 or 21 baserunners. Right away we have a problem with your valuation of Molina, because his real defensive worth becomes 13 dead baserunners. On average, four or five of those would have scored. That’s what you’re touting here, a defensive benefit of five runs. Given that a generous estimate of his offense would have him worth something like 20 runs less than the average player and 15 runs less than the average catcher, Molina is still deep in the hole. The Yankees didn’t get back to even on those ex-baserunners. Surely, “42,” you can recognize that games won and lost are a matter of those scored and allowed, and that had the Yankees scored 20 more runs in Molina’s plate appearances, but allowed five more, they still would have been close to two wins better off?

6. “Chubbo,” “Moron.” I don’t mind debating with third-graders, Hall of Fame voters, and members of Congress.

Here’s that “retire” stuff again. You know, my boss at YES told me that the current caricature on the site made me look too old. Now I believe him. Fortunately, the great Rich Faber will soon be supplying us with some new art. By the way, I’ve never claimed to be a “sports reporter.” Nowadays people tend to call me a blogger, but having opened the Pinstriped Bible in the days before blogs, I’ve always thought of myself as a columnist, although the content here has always been blog-like. My BP colleague likes to use the term “analyst,” and maybe that works too, but in the final analysis I’m just proud to be a writer and happy that I get to engage the public on a regular basis. For now, Chubbo the Columnist is going to retire to the kitchen for some pasta and then do some sit-ups. Thanks for writing, “42.” I look forward to your next note on how Melky Cabrera is more valuable than Mickey Mantle, or perhaps something on how much the team misses Tony Womack’s baserunning capabilities.