Category Archives: Baseball

Damn Yankees

Ryan and I watched an inning or two of the Yankees-Rangers ALCS game tonight. Since we just went to New York City, Ryan said “Go Yankees!”, at which point I sternly told him that we don’t say things like that in this house. He seemed surprised when I told him that I wanted Texas to win. I told him that I’ve always hated the Yankees. My whole life (well, ever since 1977 when the Jays came into existence and I started paying attention to baseball), my two favourite teams on any given night were (1) the Jays, and (2) whoever is playing the Yankees. Ryan asked why, and I was a bit surprised to find that I had a hard time answering him.

I tried to think about Yankees players that might cause these strong feelings. Before my time, there was Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris. You can’t hate any of them. Back in the 70’s there was Reggie Jackson, but everyone loved Reggie. In the 80s they had players like Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti, all of whom I liked. Even non-Yankee Yankees like Wade Boggs – in my mind he never left Boston and he certainly never played for Tampa. I mean that would be like George Brett not playing for Kansas City or Paul Molitor not playing for Milwaukee. Oh yeah, um, never mind about Molitor. From the 90’s until now there’s been Derek Jeter, who I have all kinds of respect for, Mariano Rivera, one of the best closers of all time, and Andy Pettitte, a great pitcher and a classy guy. I have no problems with them or Posada, Teixeira, Cano, Swisher, or Sabathia.

Of course, there are Yankees players who I don’t like. Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players in the game, but a bit of a jerk. I have less of a problem with his taking steroids than others do; in fact I think it took some serious stones to come out and say “Yes I did them and I regret it”, knowing it might cost him the Hall of Fame. He has pulled a few dick moves though (and I’m not talking about his relationship with Madonna – heyo!), so I can’t say I really admire him. Similarly, I liked Roger Clemens when he was with the Jays, but he turned out to be a jerk as well. I don’t remember the details of the circumstances under which A.J. Burnett left Toronto (I hate getting old), but whatever they were, they made me not like him. David Wells was not the most popular player around, though I never really hated him. I think he fit in on the Yankees better than on the Jays, and after he was traded to the Jays from the Yankees in the Clemens deal, he publicly stated that he wasn’t happy with that trade and would have preferred to remain a Yankee. Way to make new friends in Toronto, Boomer. But I hated the Yankees long before any of those four donned the pinstripes.

I never really liked George Steinbrenner (did anybody?), but you gotta admit that what he did with the team was pretty damned impressive. He bought the Yankees for dirt in the 70’s and not only turned them into a baseball powerhouse (they’ve only missed the playoffs once since 1994) but more importantly for him, he turned the team into a multi-billion dollar enterprise and one of the most valuable franchises in any sport in the world. I found it amusing how often he changed managers, up until Joe Torre I guess. I believe he hired and fired Billy Martin five times. Martin himself was entertaining. I liked Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. I don’t particularly like Joe Girardi, but I can’t say that I hate him.

But because of Steinbrenner, it’s gotten increasingly easier to hate the Yankees over the last ten or fifteen years. Because the team rakes in so much money and because there’s no salary cap in baseball (just a “luxury tax” that the Yankees are only too happy to pay), they’ve been able to sign just about every big-name free agent out there. Whenever any star player becomes a free agent, it’s assumed that the Yankees are going to talk to him. What other team would have even considered signing ARod to a multi-gazillion dollar deal when they already had a superstar shortstop? There’s already talk of Cliff Lee signing with the Yankees in the off season, and that he has increased the amount that New York will have to pay him next year by beating them this year. But again, I hated the Yankees even before they started to outspend everyone.

So it’s not the players, ownership, or managers that makes me hate the Yankees. It’s not that they play in the same division as my favourite team, since I don’t hate the Red Sox or Devil Rays. It’s not the city of New York, since I don’t hate the Rangers or Mets. So the answer to the original question “Why do you hate the Yankees?” would have to be: “I dunno. I just do.”

So long, Cito. And thanks.

Today is Cito Gason’s last home game as Blue Jays manager. I don’t really have a lot to say here, but I wanted to acknowledge what Mr. Gaston has done for the Blue Jays. He was the hitting instructor in the mid-80’s, when the Jays went to the post-season for the first time. He became the manager in 1989, and the Jays returned to the playoffs. They won the AL East three more times, and of course won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. If the 1994 season hadn’t been cut short, who knows what might have happened (Jays vs. Expos in the World Series? It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities…) Gaston helped to take a team that was on the way up and bring them all the way to the top.

Cito announced earlier this year that he would be retiring after this season, so I wanted to write this as my way of saying thanks. Thanks for the pennants, the championships, and the All-Star games. Thanks for the slow trips to the mound and the arguments with umpires. Thanks for being a quiet but commanding leader. Thanks for letting Todd Stottlemyre do his own baserunning. But most of all, thanks for the greatest moment in Blue Jays history:

The Ole Ball Game

I was watching a Jays game a few nights ago, and they mentioned Roy Halladay’s 8-6 record, as well as both Shawn Marcum and Ricky Romero, both of whom pitched very well at the beginning of the season but got no run support and therefore have fewer wins than they really deserve. I already knew this (as do all baseball fans), but it became clear to me once again that wins and losses are a rather meaningless stat for pitchers. It seems to me that a pitcher is not out there to help his team win, he is out there to help his team not lose. There’s a subtle but important difference there. To win a baseball game, you have to score more runs than the other team, and (ignoring the occasional NL miracle of a pitcher hitting) the pitcher can’t help do that. All he can do is try to minimize the number of runs the other team gets. Short of throwing a perfect game and hitting a home run, a pitcher cannot win a game by himself. But he sure can lose one.

How many times have you seen a pitcher throw a complete game with no walks, a handful of hits, give up one or two runs, and lose because his team scored nothing? Happens all the time. Hell, there have been pitchers who have thrown no-hitters and lost the game. And yet who, according to the pitching stats, is responsible for the loss? The pitcher – the only guy on the team who did his job.

It’s even more interesting when you consider relief pitchers, particularly closers. I remember a year when Tom Henke had a great season but finished with an 0-6 record, and some baseball journalist said that this wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounded because wins, for a closer, are generally a bad thing. This seemed incomprehensible to me until he explained: closers generally come into the game when their team is already winning. To get credit for a win, the pitcher would have to allow the other team to tie the game (or go ahead), and still be the pitcher of record when his team comes back to win it later. This means that to get the win, you have to screw up your save opportunity. But if wins are bad for closers, how do you explain Henke’s 1989 season, where he went 8-3? Using this logic, 8 wins for a closer should be terrible but he had a 1.92 ERA and 20 saves, which ain’t bad. And Mariano Rivera, arguably the best closer in the history of the game, has had W-L records over .500 in 10 of his 15 complete seasons including two seasons with 7 wins and one with 8. Once again, we see that wins are meaningless.

There are other pitcher stats that don’t necessarily indicate the skill level of the pitcher – ERA for one. If you have Tony Fernandez and Roberto Alomar as your middle infield, you’re going to have a lower ERA (and possibly more wins!) than if you have just average defensive players there. If you have a catcher that throws out 95% of runners attempting to steal a base, you can concentrate more on the batter and less on the speedy guy on first because you know he’s less likely to run, and if he does your catcher will take care of him.

Similarly, RBIs are meaningless for hitters, because they depend greatly on who’s hitting ahead of you. If you’re the team’s cleanup hitter and the #3 hitter is having a bad season, you’re likely going to see your RBI total drop – not because you are having a bad season, but because someone else is. Or say the guy hitting in front of you last year was a great base stealer, but the guy hitting in front of you this year isn’t. Even if his OBP is about the same, you’re likely going to have a drop in RBIs as well, since the new guy will still be on first when the old guy would have been on second. Unless the new guy doesn’t have to steal bases because he gets more extra-base hits than the old guy, then you might get more RBIs. Unless a lot of those extra base hits are home runs, and then you might get less.

I suppose these types of things are the reasons they come up with new stats like OPS, WHIP, and ERA+, in the hopes of measuring a players skill level while attempting to filter out external influences. There is even an Adjusted OPS, which takes into account the park that the player plays his home games in, as does ERA+. Pretty soon you’re going to need a degree in statistics to be able to understand all these things.

Roberto Alomar and Richard Nixon

On my way home from work today, I was listening to a Prime Time Sports podcast from the other day, the day after the Baseball Hall of Fame announcement. During the show, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star made perhaps the dumbest comparison in the history of, well, anything. They were discussing the fact that some players are not voted in to the Hall for years and then are voted in, when nothing changed in the meantime to suddenly make them HoF-worthy. Griffin said:

Richard Nixon in 1960 was no different than the guy in ’68. He was not elected in ’60, he got to be President of the United States in 1968.

He’s comparison the election of a President with the selection of a player into the Hall of Fame. This is not just an apples-to-oranges comparison, this is apples to Volkswagens. And I don’t mean Beetles, because they’re sort of round like an apple, I’m talking about a Touareg or one of those big old bus things. And one that’s not red. Or green. Or yellow.


  • I don’t know what the population of the US was in 1960 or 1968, but it was well over a hundred million, most of whom were eligible to vote. A large percentage of them are less than fully informed on the issues and where the candidates stand on things. There are about 500 professional baseball writers who can vote for the HoF, and they all follow baseball in great detail because it’s their job. You and I may not agree with them all of the time, but they are better informed on baseball than the majority of voters are on politics.
  • When you vote for the President, you choose exactly zero or one of the candidates. There are only a handful of candidates, and usually only two that have any real hope of winning a Presidential election. Not only will people vote for you if they want you to be President, but they may vote for you if they don’t want the other guy to be President. Perhaps people thought Kennedy was a better choice for President in 1960, but that Nixon was a better choice than Hubert Humphrey in 1968. The HoF voters can vote for any number of eligible candidates, so voting for one doesn’t automatically mean that you can’t vote for someone else. If you think Andre Dawson and Tim Raines are both worthy, you can vote for both of them. If you don’t think Dawson is worthy, you don’t vote for Raines to try to keep Dawson out.
  • You elect a President for what you think he is going to do. You elect a baseball player to the HoF for what he’s already done.
  • Does he really think that Richard Nixon was no different in 1968 than in 1960? He may not have served as a Senator or Congressman during that time, but things happened during his life that changed who he was. Plus the country changed, so even if he wasn’t right for the country in 1960, he may have been in 1968. None of that means anything when electing someone to the HoF. What Alomar did during his career will not change between now and a year from now.

I’m not sure what surprises me more – that a professional journalist would make such a meaningless comparison, or the fact that none of the three other professional journalists / broadcasters on the show called him on it.

Oooooooh, Roberto!

The baseball writers of America put their heads together recently and came up with this year’s list of inductees into baseball’s Hall of Fame. The HOF is a place that honours what should be “the best baseball players of all time”, but the players in the Hall are more accurately described as “the most popular baseball players among baseball writers”. For the most part, the lists are the same, but there are some players not in the Hall who should be, and some who are in but shouldn’t be. I wrote about the mystifying voting procedure last summer.

Anyway, the only player to get inducted this year is Andre Dawson, who I think is deserving. It took eight years for Dawson to get in, and when asked about that, he came up with this bit of brilliance: “If you’re a Hall of Famer you’re eventually going to get in“….mmmmmmkay. It’s actually the other way around, Andre – if you get in, then you’re a Hall of Famer. On the other hand, if you’re not a Hall of Famer and you get in, then you are a Hall of Famer. Reductio ad absurdum. QED.

Of course, it’s more interesting to talk about those who didn’t get in than those who did. Bert Blyleven missed again, this time only by five votes. I’m not sure about whether or not Blyleven deserves to be there. He was a very good pitcher, no question, but he only won 20 games once, and only made the All-Star team twice in a twenty-two year career. He also lost fifteen or more games seven times. Blyleven’s numbers remind me of Don Sutton – when Sutton was inducted into the HOF in 1998, many said that he didn’t deserve to be there. The argument was that Sutton was a very good pitcher for a very long time, but I don’t think that’s what the Hall of Fame is for. Sutton also won 20 games only once, and Blyleven looks the same – long career, good numbers with some great years, but never outstanding.

Roberto Alomar, on the other hand, was outstanding. He played in twelve consecutive All-Star games and won 10 Gold Glove awards. He only played in Toronto for five years (was it really only five?), but was one of the most talented players (arguably the most talented position player) ever to wear the uniform. He could hit, he took walks, didn’t strike out a lot, he could run, he could steal bases, and boy, could he play defense. Watching Roberto play second was just a joy – I remember going to games at Skydome with a bunch of friends and mimicking the Alberto shampoo commercials when he did something spectacular: “Oooooooh, Roberto!”. He only missed by eight votes – you might say he was within spitting distance of getting in (I’m afraid I can’t take credit for that one). I’d love to hear the voters who didn’t vote for him explain why not, but he’s pretty much a lock for next year.

As for the spitting incident itself, there are writers (Marty Noble is one such moron writer) who have admitted that they have not forgiven Alomar for that, although the umpire who was involved has. Look at the numbers people, look at the All-Star appearances, the Gold Gloves, how important he was to the teams he played for (if not for Roberto Alomar, the Jays would still be waiting for their first World Series), how he was the best second baseman in baseball for a decade or more, and how he lowered the ERAs of all kids of pitchers thanks to his defensive prowess. And after a sixteen year career of that calibre, you’re going to deny him Cooperstown because of a one-second loss of control? A loss of judgement? A brief, sort of periodic total breakdown of judgement? Some kind of judgement failure? Some kind of failure to, you know, have judgement? (Sorry, faded into a Tragically Hip thing there)

Other players who missed out: Barry Larkin, Lee Smith, Jack Morris, and Tim Raines. Larkin and Raines should definitely be there – I might even have put them in before Dawson. Smith isn’t a lock but I would support him, and Morris is in the same boat as Blyleven and Sutton – very good for a long time, but probably not HOF material. Having said that, I’d put Morris in before Blyleven or Sutton – and Sutton is already there. Oh, and Mark McGwire didn’t make it either, but he never will. Even without the whole steroid issue (which should be a non-issue since he took them before steroids were illegal in baseball), he just wasn’t a good enough all-around player to make the HOF. In case you’re curious, I think Bonds and Clemens should be in (they were both locks before they ever touched steroids), and McGwire, Sosa, and Rose should not.

In other baseball news, one of the best pitchers of the last twenty years retired on Wednesday. When Randy Johnson was on his game, he was right up there with Clemens and Maddux as the best in baseball. Nobody had a nastier stare, and the fact that he’s taller than half the NBA made him even more intimidating. Any season where a pitcher has 20 or more wins and 6 or fewer losses and had an ERA under 2.50 is accurately described as incredible – and Johnson had three such seasons. Ten All-Star games, five Cy Youngs, World Series co-MVP, even a no-hitter and a perfect game. And given the era in which he pitched and the fact that he was a power pitcher, it’s amazing that he was not even mentioned in the Mitchell Report, and I have never heard any suspicions of him using steroids. A guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer. Of course, I thought Roberto Alomar was too.

The big trade and the other big trade

This week was quite a landmark week in Toronto sports. Roy Halladay, quite possibly the best pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history, and Colin Doyle, quite possibly the best player in Toronto Rock history, were both traded – Halladay left Toronto while Doyle returned. Halladay’s trade was expected and, I suppose, logical, but saddening, while Doyle’s return is a cause for celebration.

I am really going to miss Roy Halladay. He is the best home-grown pitcher the Jays have ever had, and rivals Roger Clemens for the best overall pitcher in Jays history. He won a Cy Young, and finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times. His stats over the past few years have been staggering; according to Wikipedia, “From 2002-2008, Halladay has a .698 winning percentage, 113 wins, 9 shutouts, 37 complete games, and 7.14 innings per start, all of which are the best in the American League in that time frame.” Think about it – no AL pitcher (and only one NL pitcher) won more games during that time span, and Halladay played for some pretty mediocre Blue Jay teams. And 37 complete games in seven years – nobody else even has 20. Last year Halladay had nine – the only other pitcher to have more than four was Zack Greinke, the Cy Young award winner, who had six.

But the stats aren’t the whole story. Halladay is simply a joy to watch. I loved watching an opposing hitter look at strike three from Doc. Rarely did you see the batter argue that it wasn’t a strike; more often, you would see the “Holy crap, that was a nice pitch” look on his face. Doc was widely known for his work ethic and his stamina (the complete games I mentioned above). He first came up looking like a star and then totally forgot how to pitch. He was sent all the way down to A ball, a move which would destroy the confidence (and likely career) of lesser mortals, but Halladay worked his ass off and used that opportunity to rebuild his delivery. When he made it back to the majors, he became untouchable. And in this era of an athlete’s fall from grace becoming commonplace (Kobe, the Steroid Kings of baseball, even Tiger), you will never find a classier athlete than Doc anywhere. The deal isn’t finalized yet, so it’s not clear who the Jays are getting in return, but it looks to be at least three good prospects that the Phillies don’t want to give up. I figure if Pat Gillick wants to hold on to them, they’re likely players we want to have.

Colin Doyle was the Toronto Rock’s best player for many years. He won five Championships with the Rock, was named Championship Game MVP three times, and League MVP once. He was first or second in team scoring every year that the Rock existed, including their year as the Ontario Raiders when Doyle won NLL Rookie of the Year. Almost three years ago, Doyle was inexplicably traded to the San Jose Stealth and the Rock’s fortunes departed with him. Of the three seasons he was in San Jose, the Rock missed the playoffs twice, while the Stealth made the playoffs all three years. Doyle is a scorer – a powerful forward who can plow through defenders on his way to the net – but he can also be a playmaker. Indeed, Doyle hasn’t finished with less than 53 assists since 2002, putting him in the top five every year. He, like Halladay, has a strong work ethic and is a fan favourite. He has the ability to make those around him better, and thrives under pressure. Doyle was the captain of the Stealth and is the logical choice to succeed Chris Driscoll as captain of the Rock. As good a player as Lewis Ratcliff is, Doyle is better and I think the Rock just made a big step forwards towards making the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Amazing stats of the day

Before their win over Anaheim on Monday, i.e. over the first eight games of the season, covering almost 485 minutes, the Toronto Maple Leafs had played with a lead for a grand total of six minutes.

The last time Mariano Rivera gave up runs in different innings in the same game was June 1999, and he has never done it in the post-season (ref: Ed Price). His career postseason stats are unbelievable:

Division Series: 34 games, 51.1 IP, 0.35 ERA, 0.58 WHIP
League Championship Series: 30 games, 45.2 IP, 0.99 ERA, 0.83 WHIP
World Series: 20 games, 31 IP, 1.16 ERA, 0.97 WHIP.

Sure, he gets worse as the post-season goes on, but his “bad” is everyone else’s “amazing”. It’s people like him, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter that make it harder and harder to hate the Yankees. But I’m doing my best.