By In Stuff

The Bonds Trial

So here’s the thing: I love courtroom scenes. Paul Newman in “The Verdict,” and Al Pacino in “And Justice for All?” Awesome. The jury room in “12 Angry Men?” Fabulous. The real culprit shouting out from the back of the court room, “Yes I did it! And I’d do it again!” in Perry Mason? Can’t get enough. I love the cross examination of Jack Nicholson (as unrealistic as the Perry Mason scenes), the literary recounting of Scopes in “Inherit the Wind,” the throwing of the briefcase on The Brady Bunch, and the yutes in “My Cousin Vinny.” Basically, I love them all.

The reason I love them, I think, is because no matter how good or bad they are, every courtroom scene offers something to root for. You want the bad guy to get punished. You want the wrongly accused to be set free. Sometimes, like in Primal Fear*, there’s a cool twist. But there’s always something to touch you emotionally.

*I have been working on a list of good movies with terrible names, and at last check Primal Fear was No. 1 on the list.

I think that, in the end, is why the Barry Bonds trial that is going on right now has no affect on me at all. I am numb to it. I hate that it’s happening. I don’t want either side to win. I don’t have a single rooting interest or a single reason to believe something good will come from this thing. I know that the ending, whatever the ending, will feel pointless and sad and like a horrible waste.

Here’s what I think most people believe: Barry Bonds used steroids to become a better baseball player. He, reportedly, does not even deny this. He does claim — and claimed before a grand jury — that he did not KNOWINGLY take steroids. To think that Barry Bonds took steroids, but not knowingly, seems ridiculous, absurd on its face, and it seems an insult to the question and the people asking it. For seven years now the U.S. Government has been trying to nail him for this unconvincing bit of nonsense.

So, on the one hand you have someone who is probably lying — and obviously we should not stand for people lying to grand juries. On the other, you have what seems an extreme use of government power and money and shaky methods to nail him for this lie. Supposedly at some point during this trial we are going to get a spurned girlfriend telling the court all about Barry Bonds’ sex life and mood swings. The whole thing feels unseemly.

And … for what? I have seen it written in numerous places that this trial will help us “get to the bottom” of the Selig Era in baseball. But, one thing that seems absolutely certain to me is that this won’t help us get to the bottom of anything. People already know Barry Bonds used steroids. People already know Mark McGwire used steroids. People already know that Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield and Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner and Ken Caminiti and numerous pitchers and many others used steroids or some kind of illegal performance enhancing drug. There are no questions left that steroid use was prominent among the biggest stars in baseball, and many non-stars too. There is nothing left on that front to “get to the bottom of.”

What we don’t know is what it means. How we should feel about it. How prevalent it was. How we should view the Selig Era. And this Barry Bonds trial most certainly will not help shape a clearer picture there.

The most popular complaint about PED use — steroid use in particular — builds around home runs. Few seem to care much about PED use in pro football, for instance. Few seem to spend much outrage about PED use by pitchers or non-home run hitters (Roger Clemens excepted, but Clemens has always been a contentious figure). The thing is home runs, and the thing can be pointed out like so:

Players who hit more than 45 home runs between 1972 and 1986:
1. George Foster
2. Jim Rice
3. Dave Kingman
4. Mike Schmidt

Players who hit more than 45 home runs between 1987 and 1994:
1. Mark McGwire
2. Juan Gonzalez
3. Cecil Fielder
4. Kevin Mitchell
5. Andre Dawson
6. George Bell

Players who hit hit more than 45 home runs between 1995 and 2010:
1. Alex Rodriguez (5 times)
2. Sammy Sosa (5)
3. Mark McGwire (4)
4. Ken Griffey (4)
5. Barry Bonds (4)
6. Ryan Howard (3)
7. Albert Pujols (3)
8. Jim Thome (3)
9. Albert Belle (3)
10. Prince Fielder (2)
11. David Ortiz (2)
12. Rafael Palmeiro (2)
13. Juan Gonzalez (2)
14. Jose Bautista
15. Carlos Pena
16. Alfonso Soriano
17. Derrek Lee
18. Andruw Jones
19. Adam Dunn
20. Adrian Beltre
21. Todd Helton
22. Shawn Green
23. Luis Gonzalez
24. Troy Glaus
25. Jeff Bagwell
26. Greg Vaughn
27. Vinny Castilla
28. Jose Canseco
29. Larry Walker
30. Andres Galarraga
31. Brady Anderson

Whew. No matter how many different ways you put together the home run list since the 1994 strike, it boggles the mind. And, as you can see, many of the players on the last list have either admitted steroid use, tested positive at some point or were implicated in some way. And many of the others are strongly suspected — so strongly suspected, in fact, that it has affected their Hall of Fame cases. With home runs so dominating the era, and the players hitting home runs at a pace unmatched in baseball history, we want to know what’s real and what’s unreal.

In this, the Bonds trial will not give us any satisfaction. The only satisfaction will be to those who want to see Bonds punished or to those who want to see the government case fall on its face. And that’s not much satisfaction at all.

Baseball has a flawed history. Until 1947, African Americans and dark-skinned Latin players were barred from the Major Leagues. Until the mid-1970s, players were basically the property of the teams and relied almost entirely on the generosity of owners to make their living. Great pitchers scuffed and spit on the baseball. Great hitters corked their bats. Players took amphetamines to jolt them through the long seasons. Some bet on their games, some even tried to fix those games. “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it,” Leo Durocher rather famously said, and that philosophy, as much as any, has governed the game.

So the steroid era is not really out of character for baseball history, no matter how many old-time players say it is. Players found that using steroids could make them stronger. Baseball did not test for it — which was like an open invitation to use whatever you wanted. Baseball was coming off a devastating strike and pro football had long before surpassed baseball as America’s pastime and everyone wanted — needed — the games to be more exciting than ever before. Players from every single era, given those circumstances, would have widely used steroids. I believe that wholeheartedly. As the ultra-honest Buck O’Neil said: “The reason we didn’t use steroids is because we didn’t have them.”

We don’t know how much of a role steroids played in the power numbers. We may THINK we know. But we don’t, not really. Sure, we know they played a significant role … but there were other factors too like smaller strike zones, better home run parks, harder bats, expansion, perhaps a livelier ball. Everything was geared toward home runs and bringing people back to the park. For a long while, America celebrated baseball’s glorious new era of extreme power. Comic books were made. Commercials were filmed. Chicks dig the long ball! Baseball dominated the summer of 1998 like it had not dominated a summer in decades. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were heroes — so much so that they were on the cover of SI as ancient Olympians.

It seems to me, that it really wasn’t until Barry Bonds started hitting home runs like mad that feelings really turned. Bonds, throughout his career, was almost like a cartoon villain. He could be arrogant. He could be unfriendly. He could seem a bad teammate. I often compared him in his younger days to Ted Williams, who was also a genius of a hitter and also widely despised. I had this weird relationship with Bonds (though “relationship” is overstating things) where it seemed like whenever I needed to talk with him for a story, he was friendly and helpful and thoughtful. He could be like that. Most of the time, he was not. Anyway, when he started hitting so many home runs that managers simply stopped pitching to him, everyone seemed to agree at once that this steroid thing had gone too far. It was one thing when lovable Sammy Sosa and titanic Mark McGwire were hugging. But Bonds … no, that was too much.

So I would say Barry Bonds, more than any other player, formed the public and media sentiment on steroids in baseball. He hit 73 home runs, often to boos. He passed Henry Aaron on the all-time home run list to almost unanimous boos and angry columns. He offered some cockamamie story to the grand jury about having taken steroid-type substances from his friend (and convinced steroid distributor) Greg Anderson but he insisted that he did not know what it was, and he insisted that only his doctor actually gave him injections. Anderson has since gone to jail — and he is going back to jail — rather than talk about it.

And so, the federal government — particularly the seemingly obsessed Jeff Novitzky — has gone hard after Barry Bonds. Now, they have Bonds in court. They may get him thrown in jail for a while. They may not. They will undoubtedly embarrass him. Bonds meanwhile counters with a high-priced defense team that will stop at nothing to protect their client. They may get him acquitted. They may not. They will undoubtedly embarrass the government.

And the whole thing will end, and we will be right back where we started when trying to figure out the Selig Era. Well, we won’t be right back where we started … we’ll all be a little sadder. And then, we can look forward to Roger Clemens trial this summer.

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Terrible Timeouts

I love just about everything about the first week of March Madness. I love the wall-to-wall games. I love the upsets. I love the blowouts. I love the great individual performances. I love the close final minutes. I love the enthusiasm of the players, the fans, Kevin Harlan. The regular college basketball season doesn’t do much for me, but March makes it all worthwhile.

Except for one thing … I am SO sick of the studio hosts talking again and again and again about the officiating.

This hit home today after the North Carolina-Washington game when they spent a good 20 minutes arguing whether or not Washington (after heaving a half-court shot that a North Carolina player lost out of bounds) deserved to have a few tenths of a second more than then 0.5 seconds they actually got to take a last three-point shot. Yikes. I mean they brought in the head of officials, they they replayed it 20 times, they showed an angry Washington coach several times, they talked about it like this was one of the most important questions of our time. And even after showing it all those times:

1. I’m pretty convinced the officials got it right.
2. If they had added two- or three-tenths of a second, that almost certainly wouldn’t have meant ANYTHING.

But that was NOTHING compared to the endless and pointless talk about officiating at the end of the Texas-Arizona game. Here’s what happened. Arizona led most of the game, but Texas took the lead 69-67 with about a minute left. Arizona then had several chances to tie the game, but kept missing. With 14 seconds left, Arizona had a shot blocked, and Texas’ Jordan Hamilton got the ball. And then, inexplicably, he called timeout.

No, really, it was inexplicable. It was as bad a timeout as I can ever remember in a college basketball game. You are up two points with 14 seconds left and and the clock is running — you are breaking about 500 rules by calling timeout there. You don’t want to stop the clock. You don’t want to have to inbound the ball against a set defense (especially because you cannot move after a timeout). You don’t want to give the other team any chance at all to regroup. YOU DO NOT WANT TO STOP THE CLOCK!

I sat there with my jaw dropped open.

And neither Marv Albert — my favorite ever basketball announcer — or Steve Kerr said one word about it. I don’t think I know a lot about basketball, so I figured maybe I was somehow wrong. I didn’t really see how I could be wrong, i could not see how that timeout could possibly do ANYTHING but hurt Texas. But hey …

Of course, what followed is that Texas could not get the ball inbounds. The Longhorns did try to call timeout before the five-second call, but the official didn’t give it to them. So that was a turnover, a terrible turnover, a turnover directly caused by Texas calling a timeout they absolutely should not have called. And STILL the announcers did not talk about it. Then, Arizona did not just score but got fouled for a three-point play to take the lead — so apparently that scenario was not covered by Rick Barnes in the timeout. And then Texas went down the court, missed a shot, got a rebound and time ran out.

There are not too many cases, in my mind, where a dreadful strategic move actually costs a team a game. But I think this one was pretty close. If Texas does not call timeout, Arizona HAS to foul him. If he makes both free throws, Texas wins. If he makes one, Texas can’t lose in regulation. There were only a couple of ways Texas could lose the game in regulation with the ball in its hand, up two with 14 seconds left. Calling timeout there made one of those insane scenarios come true.

Anyway, after the game, there was not one word about the terrible timeout. Not one word. Instead, there was just minutes of tedious talk about the officials and whether they should have called a foul at the very end (it looked like time had run out). Look, basketball is a hard game to call. I have no doubt there are some bad calls being made, some mistakes being made, but frankly I’m really sick of hearing about it. If the officiating plays a major role — as it did at the end of that crazy Pittsburgh-Butler game — then, sure, talk about it.

But arguing (and I mean ARGUING) about whether the officials should have bailed out Texas with 0.1 seconds left like THAT was what the game was about?

It’s crazy. As much as college basketball coaches are lionized this time of year, as much as studio hosts talk about the coaches’ genius non-stop — so much so that in the studio the players often seem to be like extras — it would have been nice to point out that the officials didn’t cost Texas the game. The Longhorns cost themselves.

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Lamp Posts

Brilliant Reader Elmaquino5 just put into absolutely perfect words why I find that anti-stats crowd so baffling. He puts it it perfectly in back to back sentences in a comment, the first sentence his own, the second sentence a famous quote by Vin Scully:

First sentence: “That’s why I’m content with averages, HRs, etc. I just don’t see why you have to get too specific.”

Second sentence: “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support, not illumination”. –Vin Scully.

Why do people who so dislike advanced baseball statistics not realize that counting home runs is figuring a statistic. Batting average is a statistic. Wins — statistic. RBIs — statistic. Not only that, they are statistics first figured by the cellar-dwelling, skivvies-wearing drips of the late 19th century and early 20th century. They are the best statistics people had before computers, before the Baseball Encyclopedia, before Bill James, before Pete Palmer, before Rob Neyer, before Fangraphs, before Baseball Reference, Retrosheet, before smart people did a little figuring and determined, “These statistics are fuzzy, and they are often unrevealing, and they can lead us in the wrong direction.”

I’ve often heard people do what Elmaquino does — use the poetic Vin Scully quote to defend their own desire to avoid and jeer at the advanced statistical world. And that’s fine. I’ve always said that people should enjoy baseball the way they want to enjoy baseball. It is a sport, and it is meant to be loved, and if you love it by doing spreadsheets, if you love it by sitting down the third base line with a beer and without even knowing the players names, if you love it for its history, for its pace, for its drama, for its familiarity, for its connection to spring, for its apparent simplicity, for its apparent complexities, for the way the game reveals character, for the way the game reveals talent, for the way the game rewards consistency, for batting average and wins and RBIs, for UZR and Runs Created and FIP, for whatever … that’s great. Love the game your own way.

But Vin Scully did not first say that quote. It was probably — though this is somewhat hazy — Scottish poet Andrew Lang who said, “An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts — for support rather than illumination.” Lang died in 1912, long before WAR or VORP or xFIP or wOBA or Win Shares or any of the other stats people try to mock with the quote. Even when Vin Scully first said it, that was also before WAR or VORP or xFIP or wOBA or Win Shares.

In other words: Stick with batting average if you like. Quote wins if you want. Enjoy the game because, damn it, that’s why they play the game. But I would suggest that at the very least you keep the superiority levels to a minimum. Because there’s a pretty good chance when you quote batting average and wins and RBIs and the like as definitive and authoritative and certain … well let’s just say you probably ought to hold on to a lamp-post.

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My Mother’s Basement

“It won’t be long before we get the first wave of nonsense from stat-crazed dunces claiming there’s nothing to be learned from a batting average, won-loss record or RBI total. Listen, just go back to bed, OK? Strip down to those fourth-day undies, head downstairs (to “your mother’s basement and your mother’s computer,” as Chipper Jones so aptly describes it) and churn out some more crap. For more than a century, .220 meant something. So did .278, .301, .350, an 18-4 record, or 118 RBIs. Now it all means nothing because a bunch of nonathletes are trying to reinvent the game?”

— San Francisco columnist Bruce Jenkins

When I was a kid in Cleveland, we had this unfinished basement where I spent a lot of my time. That probably explains my nuttiness as well as anything. It was down there that I used to put together absurdly involved sports recreations. In one of my favorite scenarios, I would put laundry baskets on each side of the basement — it was a thin rectangle of a room with yellow brick walls and a concrete floor and two three tiny windows on the left wall near the ceiling — and I would act out one-man plays of entire Cleveland Cavaliers games. I can remember being fascinated then that the Cavaliers had three guys on the team named Jim — Jim Chones, Jim Cleamons and Jim Brewer — and in my basement scenarios the three Jims were amazing. They could do anything. No matter how far behind the Cavaliers were — and I usually had them fall behind by 20 or 25 — the Jims ALWAYS brought them back. The Jims did the hard work. Then, my finisher of the day — usually Austin Carr or Bingo Smith, but sometimes Campy Russell or Footsie Walker — would come in to put the other team away. Needless to say that the Cavaliers were unbeatable in my mother’s basement.

More often, I would throw hardballs against the walls and field grounders. In these exercises, I was almost always Buddy Bell. I may have mentioned a time or two that Duane Kuiper was my hero, and he was — I spent pretty much every baseball game of my childhood pretending to be the Kuip — but the basement was for Buddy Bell because I loved watching him make that long throw across the infield. He had an amazing arm, I thought. I would spend hours and hours and hours in my mother’s basement throwing a hardball against the brick wall while pretending to have the arm of Buddy Bell.

I often would practice swinging the bat down in the basement. I tried many different times to invent a pitching-hitting game that would allow me to recreate the pitcher-hitter tension — and every now and again I would come up with a reasonably interesting thing, like one where I would throw a tennis ball against the wall, wait on the bounce, and then swing the bat — but it wasn’t quite realistic enough, and I wanted realism. So more often I simply would imagine pitches coming in. If you saw me down there, you would see a little boy with thick glasses swinging the bat over and over and over again for no apparent reason. In my mind, though, I would swing the bat at imaginary pitches thrown by Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver or Catfish Hunter. I was at my best in those moment. In actual Little League baseball games, against real young men throwing as hard as they could from 40 feet away, my nerve was shaky, and my form was a blend of tentative aggression and blatant fear, but in the basement my stance was balanced, and my swing was pure, and I hit everything on a line — exploding fastballs and filthy sliders and back-breaking curves, everything. No pitcher alive or dead could ever throw anything by me in my mother’s basement.

I shot jump shots against the stairs in my mother’s basement. If I could land the ball so it dropped on the top step, that counted as a basket. If I shot it too soft, the ball hit a lower step and ricochet unpredictably. If I shot the ball too hard, it would bang the door and make a loud sound and inspire my mother to scream and threaten. But if I shot it just right, the ball would settle up there nicely and then hop down happily, like a child skipping into Disney World.

I had another game with those stairs — I would throw a tennis ball up there and then try to prevent it from slipping past me for a goal. In this scenario, I was former NHL goalie Bernie Parent. I had just read Bernie Parent’s biography — creatively named “Bernie!” — and it was (improbably, now that I think of it) the first full sports biography I ever read. I loved every word of it, and while the thrill of reading it played its small part in making me want to write I couldn’t put that together then. So for a while I misunderstood that thrill and had the rather ill-considered goal of becoming an NHL goalie. My entire childhood I never once went skating, not even once, and so the closest I ever came to that temporary dream was kicking away and blocking tennis balls rolling down stairs in my mother’s basement.*

*Years later, as a columnist for the Cincinnati Post, I was given the chance to be a goalie for a practice with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Two memories remain. One was a player “warming me up” by flipping 70- or 80-mph wrist shots off my pads. I remember this well because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I was not nearly quick enough to move out of the way or catch the puck or any of that. So he just kept hitting my pads with the puck, again and again and again, until he asked: “You warmed up?” I had not moved.

The second memory was of the photo in the paper the next day … I was in goal and the puck was clearly pictured right beside my head, an excellent timing shot by the photographer. But the most arresting part of the photograph is that I am looking straight ahead, and am obviously completely unaware that there is a puck up by my head. I mean COMPLETELY unaware. I probably lifted my glove hand about 6 seconds later. No, I was never going to be a goalie.

I flipped baseball cards in my mother’s basement. I read books in my mother’s basement. I dreamed of becoming someone in my mother’s basement. I invented games, learned how to throw a spiral (with a Nerf ball, but still), perfected my between-the-legs dribble (sort of), played marathon games of Monopoly and generally became the person I became in my mother’s basement.

I’ve always liked and admired the work of Bruce Jenkins. But the top quote is so annoying and bizarre and convoluted and maddening … how could anyone fighting for the integrity of resplendently crappy stats like batting average, wins and RBIs call ANYONE ELSE a “stat-crazed dunce?” Why are people who hate advanced stats so interested in the underwear bloggers wear?

And the whole statistical line — .220 used to mean something, 18-4 used to mean something — is just whacked. Sure, it means something. I don’t think anyone would say there is NOTHING in batting average, wins or RBIs. Other stats just mean more. In 1973, Jimmy Wynn hit .220. He had a better year than Willy Taveras, who hit .278 in 2006, and a better year than Randall Simon when he hit .301 in 2002. Only four pitchers in baseball history have gone 18-4, and they all had good years, though I suspect most would agree that Mark Portugal’s 1993 wasn’t as good as Roger Clemens’ 2004. Anyway Roger Clemens’ 2005 was better than all of them and he went 13-8. As for RBIs … I would hope that George Brett’s 118 RBIs in 1980 might carry a little more weight in the mind than Dante Bichette’s 118 RBIs in 1997. Neither was as dominant a year as Barry Bonds in 2002 or 2004 — two of the more remarkable years of the last 50 — and he didn’t get to 118 RBIs either time.

Also … the nonathletes line at the end is nonsensical. Does Bruce think that athletes invented batting average and RBIs? Does he think Walter Johnson sat at home and devised the archaic rules to define a pitcher’s win? Lou Gehrig said “we ought to give an RBI to the guy who drives in a run?” I never stop being amazed by how much people who hate stats because they’re “flawed” quote so much more obviously flawed stats.

More than anything, though, I have to ask: How could Bruce really think that one of the biggest cliches of our time — the blogger in the mother’s basement cliche — was invented by Chipper Jones? This is like suggesting that the knock-knock joke was originated by Dermonti Dawson.

No, Bruce, that bit is ancient, and it’s dumb, and consigning the person you disagree with into their mother’s basement is just admitting you’ve run out of arguments. Anyway, it’s wrong. My mother’s basement was a wonderful place. It is, in so many ways, where I became a man. I visit there often in my mind. I’m usually wearing pants.

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Guest Post: Year of the Pitcher?

You probably already know about my obsession with the juicing and deadening of baseballs. I am not a conspiracy theorist by trade — that’s my wife’s department — but I remain utterly (and, I admit, bizarrely) convinced that the commissioner of baseball can dramatically influence the game by having the composition of the baseball changed even slightly. More than that, I remain convinced that commissioners HAVE dramatically influenced the game.

But, to even things out, I also believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

In any case, I think that nothing — not steroid use, not harder bats, not higher mounds, not widened strike zones — can so clearly and overwhelmingly impact offense like changes in the baseball. I believe that’s how the home run year of 1987 happened. I believe that was an important part of the offensive spike after the 1994 strike. There are numerous other smaller examples. I’m not saying — and, in all seriousness, do not really think — that this was always a masterminded plot. But whatever the reasons, I think that in baseball if you want to explain a rather sudden and shocking shift … check the baseball first.

So, naturally when Brilliant Reader Chuck sent along a theory about how he thinks 1968 might not have been the year of the pitcher as much as it was the year of the mushy baseball, well, it was like sending a hare-brained plot to Oliver Stone.

And so, I reprint it here. Please discuss:

* * *

I think I found something remarkable in looking through the split data from the late 1960’s. What got me interested was this quote from a Sports Illustrated article in early 1969:

“Last week Pitcher Jim Hannan of the Senators revealed yet another facet of this strange spring training. “In 1968,” he said, “the balls were softer than they had been before. Ken McMullen … used to sit on the bench and squeeze the horsehide up into a lump on the outside of the ball. Nine of every 10 balls I picked up seemed to be soft. Heck, one day an umpire pushed on a ball and the horsehide came up so that he could hold it between his fingers like a pendant on a chain. This year the balls feel much, much harder.” 

In compiling home run data for the NL in 1967 I noticed this strange split in the percentage of homers per batted ball:

1st half: 2.77%
2nd half: 2.03%

That’s a pretty sizable drop. In 1966, it was 3.10% in the 1st half, 2.82% in the 2nd.

Digging a little further revealed a turning point for this NL homer rate in ’67:

April 2.56%
May 2.64%
June 2.99%
July 2.60%
August 1.82%
Sept/Oct 1.89%

Wow. That looks to me like something happened to dramatically reduce homers either at the beginning of August that season or somewhere in the back end of July.

In 1968, that low rate resumed:

1st half: 1.94%
2nd half: 1.95%
April 2.37%
May 1.69%
June 2.04%
July 1.72%
August 2.03%
Sept/Oct 2.00%

Were 1967-1968 the Years of the Deadball, rather than the Year of the Pitcher?

In the NL, the drop in the homer rate from the first 4 months of 1967 (2.72%) to that of the last two months (1.86%) was an enormous 32% drop. 

The average rate from 1966 through July of 1967: 2.87%
The average rate from August 1967 through 1968: 1.92%

Again, that is a drop of 33%, and it seems to me it did not happen gradually, from pitchers just becoming more dominant on their tall mounds and with their big strike zone, but from a change in the quality of the baseball that appeared in July or August of 1967.

Here is the rate of doubles and triples per batted ball over those periods:
1966-July, 1967: 5.70%
August 1967 – 1968: 5.18%
A drop of 9% in doubles+triples.

But the rate of singles was not affected like that:
1966 – July, 1967: 21.44%
August 1967 – 1968: 22.08%.

The singles rate rose just a bit, by 3%. It was the extra bases, particularly the homers, that dropped off the table.

In 1969, things snapped back to their former shape for homers.

Per batted ball:
1st half: 2.77%
2nd half: 2.58%

April and September were low that season, but the middle four months of 1969 were in line with the previous NL rate, around 2.90%. 

* * *

What about the AL homer rate?
1966: 3.04%
1967: 2.68%

1st half: 2.92%
2nd half: 2.45%
April 2.71%
May 3.08%
June 2.95%
July 2.78%
August 2.40%
Sept/Oct 2.27%

Again, a sizable drop occurred either in August or partway through July, 1967. 
April – July: 2.90%
August-Oct: 2.34% 
A drop of 19.3%. Somewhat lower than in the NL, but noticeable.

The AL in 1968 had a home run rate of 2.48% overall.

1st half: 2.64%
2nd half: 2.34%
April 2.58%
May 2.75%
June 2.39%
July 2.69%
August 2.31%
Sept/Oct 2.24%

The AL in those same time frames as the NL:

1966-July 1967: 2.98%
Aug.1967 – 1968: 2.44%

The AL had a drop of 18% during the same period, less than the NL drop of 33%, but still a good-sized one.

In 1969, again, things went right back to the previous AL homer rate:
1st half: 3.11%
2nd half: 2.82%

* * *

So what might have happened in 1967?

From the following link to Rawlings’ history:

“Rawlings had … six manufacturing plants–four in Missouri and two in Puerto Rico–when it was sold in 1967 to Automatic Sprinkler Corp. of America. This conglomerate made the company a division under its prior Rawlings Sporting Goods name.”

It seems a remarkable coincidence that a change in home run rates should come in the same year that the ball manufacturer changes ownership. As yet, I’ve found no smoking gun for if or why there may have been a lapse in quality control. But I do think that MLB’s changes to the strike zone and mound height in 1969 may not have come about had the power rates not plummeted in 1967-68.

The rate of strikeouts had only gone up marginally in the NL over these years.
1966: 16.7% ( K / (ab+sf) )
1967: 17.1%
1968: 17.2%
1969: 17.6%

They actually ROSE in 1969, after the lowering of the mounds and return of the old strike zone.

In the AL the K rate went up in ’67, but actually much more so in the 1st half of the year, not the 2nd.
1966: 17.4%
1967: 18.2%
1968: 17.8%
1969: 16.4%

From 1966 through July, 1967, the AL strikeout rate was virtually the same as for the end of ’67 through 1968. 

In case you’re wondering about parks changing during this time, I looked at data on ballpark fence changes. 

In the NL the average right field foul pole distance went out by just a foot in 1967. In ’68 it went out another foot in both the left and right foul poles, but not the alleys. 1969 was when some parks brought distances in, shaving a few feet off the power alleys and center field. From 1963 through 1967, distances had actually DEcreased substantially. The average NL power alleys had come in by 7 feet in left and 4 feet in right.

In the AL, a foot was shaved OFF the power alleys in 1967, and each moved in a couple more in 1968. Home runs SHOULD have been getting more plentiful. In 1969 4 feet more came off the alleys and center field.

The “year of the pitcher” wasn’t about pitchers increasing their domination with strikeouts. It was a sudden drop in power in both leagues, much more so in the National League, that led to so many fewer runs being scored in the back end of 1967 and through 1968.

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Zero Intentional Walks

So I was thinking about one of the coolest statistical anomalies in baseball history — that Roger Maris was not intentionally walked a single time the year he hit 61 home runs. I first heard that stat, nerdily enough, at a baseball card show. There was some kind of trivia contest going on, and one of the questions was, “How many times was Roger Maris intentionally walked the year he hit 61 home runs?”

Bizarrely, my guess was 61. Well, how would I know? I was like 14.

In any case, once I realized it was zero — and once I realized that the REASON it was zero is because, of course, Mickey Mantle hit behind Maris, I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever heard. I knew, of course, about Mickey Mantle but only in that vague, historical way that my daughter knows that Elvis was once kind of popular. My father had told me Mantle stories, and I’m pretty sure I knew that he hit long home runs, that he was a switch-hitter (which meant you would never intentionally walk the guy in front to get a lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchup) and that had as good a baseball name as anyone ever. But it was after I heard that stat that Mantle grew in my mind, became something larger, a force of nature. As a kid, I LOVED books like “The Boy Who Only Hit Homers” and “The Boy Who Never Struck Out” and “The Boy Who Went To Visit Dr. Frank Jobe” and all those. When I heard the stat, Mantle became for me, “The Man You Never Wanted To Pitch To.”

Amazing that a silly little stat about intentional walks could do that for a boy.

Later, I looked up Maris’ 61-homer season and found out all sorts of cool things about it. For instance, he actually began the year hitting BEHIND Mantle — he hit fifth in the lineup in seven of the first nine games. He was hitting so poorly then, they moved him to SEVENTH in the lineup. On May 2nd, he had one home run. He was hitting .212 and slugging .308. He picked up a little and on May 17 was more or less moved full-time to the No. 3 spot just in front of Maris. He celebrated by hitting homers four games in a row. He actually hit 19 homers in his first 30 games in the No. 3 spot.

In any case, I was thinking about this, and because I’m like this I started to wonder if anyone else has ever hit even 35 home runs and not been intentionally walked in a season. Turns out, it has happened five different times.

Tony Armas (1983)
Hit 36 home runs without an intentional walk.
Main batters who hit behind him: Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans, Yaz.

Comment: Funny thing, but while the Red Sox seemed convinced that Armas was actually helping their offense in 1983 — he was in the cleanup role all year and (after all) he did hit 36 homers and drive in 107 RBIs — every other team seemed fully aware that he was not. Armas’ on-base percentage that season was a looks-like-a-misprint .254. He had an 85 OPS+. His WAR was minus-1.4. He was actually KILLING the Red Sox, and they were the only ones that did not seem to realize it. They just kept throwing him out there, day after day, smack in the middle of their lineup. Yes, those RBIs can trick you. Meanwhile, there was no way any manager in his right mind was going to walk the 1983 Tony Armas to face the young Boggs, the middle-aged Dewey or the aging Yaz.

Armas was markedly better in 1984, and he was intentionally walked nine times that year.

Geronimo Berroa (1996)
Hit 36 homers without an intentional walk
Main batters who hit behind him: Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach, Jason Giambi.

Comment: Actually many different batters hit behind Berroa — he moved all around the lineup that year — and it seems his lack of intentional walks had less to do with who was hitting behind and more to do with a complete lack of respect. Berroa was actually quite a decent hitter from 1994-97, but he did strike out a lot, and he hit into double plays, and managers apparently felt pretty comfortable pitching to him. The following year, he was intentionally walked four times.

Andruw Jones (2000)
Hit 36 homers without an intentional walk
Main batter who hit behind him: Chipper Jones.

Comment: OK, see, this was the thing I was looking for … I was trying to find players who were so good, so dominant, so fearsome that no matter what the situation and no matter how good the hitter at the plate, managers would absolutely not pitch around anyone to get to them. Mantle was obviously that good. So was Chipper Jones. Andruw Jones was a terrific player in 2000. He hit .303, crushed 36 homers, stole 21 bases, played insanely great defense — Baseball Reference actually ranks him third in WAR behind only Todd Helton and Barry Bonds.

But as good as he was, nobody wanted to pitch to Chipper Jones for that five year run from about 1998 through 2002. As a switch-hitter, he too blunted any matchup-advantages. And he just seemed to hit EVERYTHING hard. Chipper was equally great at the plate from 2005 to 2008, by the way, but he was older, and he was injured quite a bit, and he did not seem invincible like he did in his younger days. The young Chipper — you just didn’t mess with the guy. And managers didn’t.

Carlos Quentin (2008)
Hit 36 homers without an intentional walk
Main batters who hit behind him: Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko.

Comment: I think this was a bit of a different thing from all the others on the list … I just don’t think people believed in Quentin. His first two seasons in Arizona he hit .230/.316/.425. He struck out almost three times as often as he walked. The Diamondbacks essentially gave up on him. And so when he went to Chicago and killed the ball that year, I think managers were like: “Oh yeah, that won’t last.”

It did last for the season and by the end, maybe people started to believe. But in a way they were right … Quentin (because of injuries, perhaps) has not been nearly as good since 2008.

Alex Rodriguez (1998)
Hit 42 homers without an intentional walk
Main batter who hit behind him: Ken Griffey

Comment: Here is the golden one. Who was SO scary a hitter that managers simply refused to walk A-Rod? And, yes, A-Rod was absurdly good in 1998. He had been absurdly good for three years. He was INCREDIBLE as a 20-year-old in 1996, leading the league in hitting, runs and doubles. He was plenty good as a 21-year-old in 1997. And in 1998, he hit .310/.360/.560 with 42 homers, 123 runs, 124 RBIs, 46 steals and a league-leading 213 hits. He led the league in WAR. Oh, everyone knew all about A-Rod.

But, much like Mantle, much like Chipper, managers were not going to walk anybody to face Ken Griffey in the 1990s. Griffey mashed 56 homers in 1998, just like he had in 1997, and he did it with such style and grace … and I really do believe that plays a part in the managers’ mindsets. I mean, sure, 56 homers is 56 homers. But there was something about Griffey that seemed classical and legendary even before he WAS classical and legendary. He always felt like a player out of time — he was Buck O’Neil’s favorite player, the one who reminded him sometimes of Willie Mays, sometimes of Ted Williams, sometimes of Oscar Charleston, sometimes of Turkey Stearnes …

In any case, managers intentionally walked A-Rod TWO TIMES in more than 2,000 plate appearances from 1996-1998. That was the power of the young Ken Griffey Jr.

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Carrying A Team

While looking up Darrell Porter’s career for the recent Royals Hall of Fame post, I came across George Brett again. This happens every so often — George’s career is endlessly fascinating to me. And I realized that George could have won four MVP awards in his career. I’m not saying he SHOULD have won four, but he certainly could have … there’s a strong case to be made for all four. I should tell you that this post, by the end, is not specifically about George Brett … it’s about the best offensive players on World Series teams. But it will take a few paragraphs to get there.

George Brett won his only MVP award in 1980, of course. It’s one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history. My first ever book idea was actually to write about Brett’s 1980 season … and how close he really came to hitting .400. I’d love to revisit that someday.

Anyway, the only stunning thing about Brett’s 1980 MVP is that he did not win it unanimously. He actually did not come especially close to winning it unanimously — he had 17 of the 28 first place votes. Reggie Jackson got five first place votes and Goose Gossage got four. Brett’s teammate Willie Wilson got one. It’s true that Brett missed some games with injuries, but it seems to me that hitting .390/.454/.664 should probably get you the unanimous vote. How ANYONE could have thought there was a more valuable player in the American League — and four thought it was a reliever who threw 99 innings — is beyond me.

Anyway, he did win that one. He could have won three others. Brett could have won it in 1976 — the year he led the league in batting average (.333), hits (215) and triples (14). He had the highest WAR for any every day player, and the Royals made the playoffs for the first time, and he was spectacular. Yankees catcher Thurman Munson won that year, and I’m always one to give catchers extra credit, but his .302/.337/.432 line doesn’t exactly jump off the page. Munson did drive in 105 RBIs, largely as a result of having Mickey Rivers and Roy White hitting ahead of him. I think that’s a miss by the voters.

Brett could have won it in 1979. He again led every player in WAR. He again led the league in hits and triples. He finished third in the MVP voting, behind Don Baylor and Ken Singleton. I certainly understand why Baylor won — we all know that many MVP voters have an RBI fetish and Baylor drove in 139 runs for an Angels team that finally broke through and won the division title. I think Brett had the best year.

Then, of course, there’s the famous 1985 MVP vote, which leads to the real point of this post. I have long thought that no player in baseball history singlehandedly carried an offense to a championship the way Brett did in 1985. It is, I admit, kind of a tricky concept. It led me to do a little research, which I think is interesting … I’m not promising any great revelations, but it’s interesting.

First, the 1985 MVP vote. Don Mattingly won the MVP over Brett in ’85. Its not hard to understand why. You look at their basic numbers — and in 1985, few looked beyond the basic numbers — and it’s pretty clear cut:

Mattingly: .345, 35 homers, 145 RBIs, 211 hits.
Brett: .335, 30 homers, 112 RBIs, 184 hits.

If you look beyond those core numbers, though, you will see that Brett had a clearly better year than Mattingly:

Mattingly: .371 OBP, .567 SLG, 107 runs. 6.4 WAR, 32 Win Shares.
Brett .436 OBP, .585 SLG, 108 runs, 8.0 WAR, 37 Win Shares.

The 65 points in on-base percentage is the most decisive of those advantages. That Brett also outslugged Mattingly and played a more demanding position just clinches his better year. Mattingly had a wonderful season, but it seems his 145 RBIs were the biggest reason he won … and the fact that he spent the entire year hitting second or third behind a guy named Rickey Henderson (who scored 146 runs) might have had a whole lot to do with it.

In fact, I think Henderson was probably the most deserving choice for MVP in 1985. But, of course, nobody was looking at OBP or leadoff hitters in 1985 and Mattingly, believe it or not, won the vote more decisively than Brett did in 1980 — he got 23 votes to Brett’s five.

Anyway, that’s been much discussed. The thing that struck me more than anything about George Brett’s 1985 season is JUST HOW BAD the Royals were as an offensive team. The only other player on the team to manage even a .325 on-base percentage was Hal McRae. I’m about to give you the most fun statistic you will hear today … I feel pretty sure about this. In 1985, the entire Royals offense — we’re talking about all 20 players who got at least one plate appearance — put up an 8.9 WAR. OK? That means all the every day player combined were worth 8.9 wins above replacement.

George Brett alone was 8.0 wins above replacement.

It’s OK to gasp.

I felt certain that no World Series team has ever been so dominated by one every day player. But feeling certain of something and having it actually be true are two different things, so here is what I did: I looked at every World Series winner since the end of World War II. And I looked to see how much of the offense their best player contributed. I wanted to make this as easy as possible, so I used Baseball References “Runs Above Replacement” as my guide. The results are kind of fun, I think, so let me give you a couple of quick points about Runs Above Replacement (RAR):

— The average World Series champ since World War II has scored about 248 runs above replacement. The highest was the 1998 Yankees with 410 RAR. The lowest, as you might imagine, was the 1985 Royals with only 91 RAR (the second-lowest was the 1995 Braves with 119 RAR).

— The average RAR for the best player on a World Series champ is about 61. Mickey Mantle in 1956, his Triple Crown year, had 122 RAR. I didn’t go back before 1946, but I suspect the biggest total for World Series winner in all of baseball history belongs to Babe Ruth in 1923, when he had 128 RAR. The lowest RAR leader for a World Series team was Ryan Klesko with the 1995 Braves — he led the team with only 28 RAR.

Now, a look at the list since 1946:

2010 Giants: Aubrey Huff 44 out of 157
2009 Yankees: Derek Jeter 62 out of 364
2008 Phillies: Chase Utley 56 out of 188
2007 Red Sox: David Ortiz 61 out of 254
2006 Cardinals: Albert Pujols 69 out of 196
2005 White Sox: Paul Konerko 35 out of 148
2004 Red Sox: Manny Ramirez 50 out of 273
2003 Marlins: Pudge Rodriguez 41 out of 201
2002 Angels: David Eckstein 45 out of 288
2001 Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez 71 out of 156
2000 Yankees: Derek Jeter 70 out of 220
1999 Yankees: Derek Jeter 94 out of 256
1998 Yankees: Derek Jeter 78 out of 410
1997 Marlins: Gary Sheffield 42 out of 192
1996 Yankees: Bernie Williams 50 out of 192
1995 Braves: Ryan Klesko 28 out of 119
1994 Nobody
1993 Blue Jays: John Olerud, 77 out of 278
1992 Blue Jays: Roberto Alomar 60 out of 244
1991 Twins: Kirby Puckett 37 out of 223
1990 Reds: Barry Larkin 37 out of 168
1989 A’s: Carney Lansford 49 out of 219
1988 Dodgers: Kirk Gibson 59 out of 186
1987 Twins: Kirby Puckett 53 out of 174
1986 Mets: Keith Hernandez 44 out of 309
1985 Royals: George Brett 77 out of 91 Runs Above Replacement
1984 Tigers: Alan Trammell 50 out of 289
1983 Orioles: Cal Ripken 71 out of 241
1982 Cardinals: Lonnie Smith 48 out of 175
1981 Dodgers: Ron Cey 31 out of 160
1980 Phillies: Mike Schmidt 72 out of 229
1979 Pirates: Dave Parker 60 out of 233
1978 Yankees: Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph 45 out of 254
1977 Yankees: Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson 45 out of 270
1976 Reds: Joe Morgan 91 out of 354
1975 Reds: Joe Morgan 98 out of 322
1974 A’s: Reggie Jackson 63 out of 262
1973 A’s: Sal Bando 76 out of 309
1972 A’s: Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi 47 out of 238
1971 Pirates: Willie Stargell 69 out of 332
1970 Orioles: Boog Powell 52 out of 273
1969 Mets: Cleon Jones 58 out of 183
1968 Tigers: Bill Freehan 57 out of 255
1967 Cardinals: Orlando Cepeda 59 out of 262
1966 Orioles: Frank Robinson 80 out of 274
1965 Dodgers: Maury Wills 35 out of 214
1964 Cardinals: Ken Boyer 49 out of 225
1963 Dodgers: Jim Gilliam 51 out of 240
1962 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 82 out of 274
1961 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 115 out of 304
1960 Pirates: Don Hoak 45 out of 256
1959 Dodgers: Wally Moon 43 out of 157
1958 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 95 out of 309
1957 Braves: Henry Aaron 68 out of 271
1956 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 122 out of 336
1955 Dodgers: Duke Snider 81 out of 339
1954 Giants: Willie Mays 79 out of 196
1953 Yankees: Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle 48 out of 310
1952 Yankees: Mickey Mantle 61 out of 296
1951 Yankees: Yogi Berra 46 out of 286
1950 Yankees: Phil Rizzuto 62 out of 321
1949 Yankees: Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich 45 out of 272
1948 Indians: Lou Boudreau 85 out of 266
1947 Yankees: Joe DiMaggio 59 out of 308
1946 Cardinals: Stan Musial 90 out of 274

A few thoughts:

— Most of the players who led their offenses to World Series victories are either in the Hall of Fame, will go to the Hall of Fame or merit serious consideration. There are 55 different players who led their World Series teams in RAR. Of the 55, 19 are already in the Hall. Barry Larkin will go in next year so that’s 20. Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Pudge Rodriguez are Hall of Fame locks. That makes 23. I suspect Manny Ramirez will get in, so that’s 24. It’s too early to tell about Chase Utley, but I think he certainly has a shot with a few more good years.

After that, I think Alan Trammell deserves serious consideration, so does Gary Sheffield and Ken Boyer. David Ortiz will be an interesting if he has three or four years left in that bat. Many people think Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, Willie Randolph, Thurman Munson and Bill Freehan have deserved more consideration than they received. Point is most of the players on the list are considered among the best to play the game, which makes it a fun list.

— Yes, it is really true that David Eckstein led the 2002 Angels in RAR. It’s important to note that RAR is a counting stat, meaning that getting the most plate appearances really helps and Eckstein came up 702 times that year. But he also got on base — his .363 OBP was well above average and he led the league in getting hit by pitch — and he is compared to other shortstops rather than players at every position. So he was really quite valuable.

— I’m thoroughly blown away by how overrated AND underrated Derek Jeter has been through his career. I’m not sure there’s another player who has quite that combination of hype and underappreciation. My friend Seth Mnookin tackles the subject in this month’s GQ (in full disclosure, I’m quoted in it). But it’s really staggering both how stunningly over-glorified Jeter is and yet how little respect he has received in the MVP voting.

Jeter was probably the most valuable player in baseball in 1999. I mean, you certainly could make an argument for Pedro Martinez, and it really is hard to compare pitchers and hitters. But among hitters, I don’t think there was anyone in baseball more valuable. Jeter hit .349, scored and drove in 100-plus runs, posted a .438 on-base percentage, all while playing 158 games at shortstop. I mean that is a seriously fabulous year. He was very clearly the best player on the best team, and for the second year in a row. He tied with Manny Ramirez for highest WAR among position players. And he’s Derek Jeter, much admired, much beloved, much respected Derek Jeter …

And he finished SIXTH in the MVP voting. He got one first place vote. I mean, seriously, how the heck does that happen? Bleepin’ Rafael Palmeiro got more first place votes than Jeter, and he was a designated hitter in an insane hitting park. The Jeter conundrum baffles the mind.

Finally we get to the final point … nobody, and I mean nobody, is even close to 1985 George Brett when it comes to carrying an offense. Here are the Top 10 percentages — that is the percentage of RAR by one player:

1. George Brett, 1985 Royals, 84.6%
2. Luis Gonzalez, 2001 Diamondbacks, 45.5%
3. Willie Mays, 1954 Giants, 40.3%
4. Mickey Mantle, 1961 Yankees, 37.8%
5. Derek Jeter, 1999 Yankees, 36.7%
6. Mickey Mantle, 1956 Yankees, 36.3%
7. Albert Pujols, 2006 Cardinals. 35.2%
8. Stan Musial, 1946 Cardinals, 32.8%
9. Lou Boudreau, 1948 Indians, 32.0%
10. Derek Jeter, 2000 Yankees. 31.8%

Nope. Nobody close. This is because Brett was so good and the Royals offense was so bad. Whatever the reason, though, it is I believe a season unique to baseball history.

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Why We Have Halls of Fame

We have a couple of Royals inspired posts today to go along with my story in this week’s Sports Illustrated about the exciting future of the Kansas City Royals. We start with the sad promotion that is “Fans voting for the Royals Hall of Fame.”

* * *

Sometimes, I think people complete miss the point of Hall of Fames. I am talking specifically here about the Kansas City Royals. But this really could refer to almost anyone. It seems to me that a Hall of Fame is about celebrating something — a sport, a team, a a culture, something. The most famous (and in my opinion, best) of these is the Baseball Hall of Fame because of its history and mythology and remarkable flexibility. By flexibility, I mean that people tend to think the Baseball Hall of Fame is exactly WHAT THEY WANT IT TO BE.

That is to say there are people who believe that, say, Bert Blyleven’s election somehow diminishes the Hall of Fame. This is ridiculous, of course. The Hall already has many pitchers with inescapably inferior careers, pitchers like Rube Marquard, Jesse Haines, Jack Chesbro, Catfish Hunter, Chief Bender, Vic Willis, Eppa Rixey, Bruce Sutter and at least a dozen others who you probably have never heard of.

There are people who believe that, say, Jeff Bagwell doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer when the Hall already includes Rick Ferrell and Chick Hafey and Freddie Lindstrom and Jim Bottomley and George Kell and Chuck Klein and a host of other players (including the last two every day players voted into the Hall Jim Rice and Andre Dawson) who, if you judge them in context, were not the player Bagwell was.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has that sort of grip on our culture … it doesn’t just pay tribute to greatness, it DEFINES greatness. Jim Rice became a different player in baseball history when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Dwight Evans is a different player in baseball history because he was not. That’s the power of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Most Hall of Fames don’t have that particular power. They are around to help us celebrate, say, great Polish athletes or the people who made a difference in agriculture or, specific to our discussion, the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals have a proud history. The franchise began in 1969, the same year as the San Diego Padres, the Montreal Expos and the Seattle Pilots (who a year later became the Milwaukee Brewers).

The Royals were a cutting edge organization from the start, headed by a forward-thinking owner in Ewing Kauffman who had no connection whatsoever to baseball tradition and so was perfectly happy to try new things. In those early years, the Royals opened up the famed Baseball Academy in Florida. They brought in community members to sell season tickets. They made a series of fabulous trades that brought in, among others, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, John Mayberry and Fred Patek. A quick comparison of the early years of those four expansion teams will tell you just how far ahead of the curve the Royals were in the early 1970s:

Expansion teams overall record from 1969-1977:

Kansas City: +48 games
Montreal: -204 games
Seattle/Milwaukee: -250 games
San Diego: -338 games

It wasn’t just that stark overall difference in record. None of the other three teams had a single winning record until 1978 (Milwaukee). The Royals had already had four winning records and been the playoffs twice by then, and they probably had the best team in the league in 1977 (though they lost to the Yankees in a five-game series).

Like I say, a proud history. From 1976-85, the Royals reached the postseason seven times, won two pennants and a World Series. They developed one of the premier players of the generation in George Brett — more on him in the next post — one of the great defensive second baseman ever in Frank White, and perhaps the fastest man to ever play baseball in Willie Wilson. Things took a bit of a nasty turn after 1985, but even so the Royals drafted and developed Bo Jackson, Bret Saberhagen, David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and so on … even when the organization fell apart in the 1990s and 2000s, there was this certain pride that trailed back to the days when Kansas City represented all that was good about the game.

Unfortunately — and I say this with sadness — the Royals also lost their way, not only on the field but off. They went cheap, canceling the popular banquet in town, moving away from the Royals Lancers (those community people who sold tickets), once deciding not to have the players wear authentic Negro Leagues uniforms on Negro Leagues Day because, best I could tell, the uniforms were too expensive. I have this theory that when you stop acting major league, in many ways, you stop BEING major league, and the Royals definitively stopped acting the part. There was a “poor me” vibe about the franchise that wasn’t exactly anybody’s fault — the Royals HAD been pushed into a situation where it was extremely difficult to compete — but it was discouraging to watch. For years, I watched good baseball people try to break through this defeatist culture, but they could not, and the Royals were in this cycle of both losing and irrelevance for a long time.

Dayton Moore — and this is what I focus on in my SI piece this week — changed the culture but in a crafty and quiet way that many people did not fully notice. He hired a bunch of good people and spent a lot of money building a farm system. The reason people often didn’t notice — and I include myself in this — is that the Royals continued to LOOK like the same team at the big league level and continued to make some of the small decisions off the field. Moore’s two-prong plan was to make the major league club respectable while he built the infrastructure for future excitement. The infrastructure thing seems to be working brilliantly. But he failed miserably on the first plank. His managerial choice, Trey Hillman, flopped quickly and decisively. His free agent choices were often disastrous on several levels. His talk about the process proved an easy punch line while the team never got any better.

And … the Royals continue to just do what I consider to be dumb things on the public level — things that once again suggest the Royals are small-time. They tried for a while to promote the perfectly adequate left-fielder, David DeJesus, as a Gold Glove candidate. This bugged the heck out of me, not only because it was futile — left fielders almost NEVER win Gold Gloves, and if they do they have to be better than David DeJesus — but because it reeked of small-time. Who cares if your left fielder wins a Gold Glove? How does this help anyone? Who gets excited about something that ridiculous?

They had a public break with Royals Hall of Famer Frank White. Now, Frank is a friend of mine and the situation is more complicated than a simple paragraph can explain. But the main point is that Frank White is from Kansas City, and he was a fabulous second baseman, and he has been loyal to the organization, and I suspect it would not have taken much money at all to make sure that the rift didn’t go public and become an embarrassment. Again … small-time.

There are a lot of other examples, but I don’t think I can come up with a better one than the voting that is going on right now for the Royals Hall of Fame (hat-tip, The Pitch through Baseball Primer). You might recall what I said at the top … Halls of Fame are supposed to celebrate the greatness of a team. The Royals Hall of Fame should celebrate what the Kansas City Royals have been about.

And then .. they do this poll where they ask fans to vote for the next Royals Hall of Famers. So far, so good. But some of the players on the list, frankly, are so embarrassing that it really makes you wonder if the Royals understand the point at all.

Take a look:

Brian Anderson
Career with Royals: 12-15, 5.44 ERA, 245 1/3 ip, 306 hits, 46 homers, 102 Ks, 68 walks, 1.518 WHIP.
Best season: 2003 when he went 5-1 with a 3.99 ERA down the stretch

Comment: Brian was absolutely one of my favorite people … just a great guy, a funny guy, a thoughtful guy. I guess he’s doing some announcing work with Tampa Bay, and my sense is that he can be a big, big star in the announcing game. But as a Royals pitcher … he was dreadful. He will tell you he was dreadful. He pitched pretty well down the stretch in 2003, but after that he was so bad that, as he himself said, they could have called up any random guy from A ball, and the kid could not pitch worse. He was probably hurt but the point is … if someone was making up a joke Royals Hall of Fame, Brian Anderson would be on the list. And, knowing BA just a little bit, I’d guess he would probably vote for himself for that joke Hall of Fame.

* * *

Kevin Appier
Career with Royals: 115-92, 3.49 ERA, 1,843 ip, 1,671 hits, 138 homers, 634 walks, 1,458 Ks.
Best season: 1993, 18-8, league leading 2.56 ERA, 238 ip, 186 Ks, 179 ERA+, led league in WAR, finished third in Cy Young and probably should have won it.

Comment: Here’s a true Royals Hall of Famer. He’s one of the three best pitchers in team history … and when you consider an entire career, I’d say that he’s almost certainly the best starter in Royals history. Here are the Top 5 Royals pitchers by WAR:

1. Kevin Appier, 44.1
2. Bret Saberhagen, 37.3
3. Mark Gubicza, 35.6
4. Dan Quisenberry, 25.2
5. Dennis Leonard, 24.0

There are about four or five starters — Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Larry Gura, Charlie Liebrandt — who were all very good and about the same level. Zack Greinke was great for one year and parts of others. Saberhagen is one of the best young pitchers in baseball history. But Appier lasted for long enough that I think he’s the Royals best overall starter and one of the better pitchers of the 1990s.

* * *

Al Cowens
Career with Royals: .282/.329/.404 in 3,042 PAs, 45 homers, 374 RBIs, 373 runs.
Best season, 1977: .312/.361/.525 with 32 doubles, 14 triples, 23 homers, 112 RBIs, 98 runs, won gold glove, second in MVP balloting. Finished 10th in WAR.

Comment: It was kind of a one-year career. At least it was a good year.

* * *

Al Fitzmorris
Career with Royals: 70-48, 3.46 ERA, 1098 ip, 1,075 hits, 66 homers, 391 Ks, 359 walks.
Best season: 1974, 13-6, 2.79 ERA in 190 innings, 4 shutouts, 4.7 WAR.

Comment: Al is a good friend, and he holds the team record for winning percentage. He actually began his career as an outfielder, and he will tell you that he had pretty much nothing as far as stuff goes. His 391-359 strikeout-to-walk suggests he’s not just being overly modest. But Al kept the ball in the ballpark, and he stayed in games, and I would say he got the most out of his ability. It’s a career that Royals fans should remember fondly.

* * *

Jason Grimsley
Career with Royals: 10-21, 1 save, 3.94 ERA, 253 ip, 247 hits, 19 homers, 116 walks, 196 Ks.
Best season: All the same — four seasons had WAR of 1.5, 1.4, 1.4 and 1.5. ERA bounced around but his value was pretty much the same throughout for four terrible teams.

Comment: Come on. I mean, no offense, but Jason Grimsley? For the Royals Hall of Fame? The only thing that I can really remember about Grimsley the ballplayer was that he could not finish saves. He seemed to have some kind of mental block about it. He would look thoroughly dominant in the seventh or eighth inning. Then, ninth inning, blow up. I know, I don’t usually buy into this sort of thing but with Grimsley it seemed real — scouts said he gripped the ball harder in key situation and threw too hard so that his fastball lost movement. It seemed as reasonable a theory as any other because the guy saved one game in four years.

On the personal side, I do have one story. Jason was a gruff guy, and he had some weird things happen to him (once, I recall, a plane crashed into his house) and of course he had the PED connection that made his name somewhat famous. But one spring training, I brought my oldest daughter Elizabeth. She was probably 1 1/2 or so, and I left her with my wife for a while. When I came back, I saw a Royals player in full uniform, sitting in the dirt playing with Elizabeth. Yes. Jason Grimsley.

* * *

Bo Jackson
Career with Royals: .250/.308/.480 with 109 homers, 81 SBs in 2010 PAs.
Best season: In 1990, he hit .278/.342/.523 with 28 homers in 456 PAs.

Comment: I actually think there’s a good reason to put Bo Jackson into the Hall of Fame though he wasn’t a great player. He was, after all, a phenomenon. And it is true that in 1990 the light seemed to be turning on, and without the injury there really is a chance that Bo would have turned into a fabulous baseball player. Certainly no player in baseball history ever maxed out the more exciting tools — speed, power and arm — quite like him.

Again, Halls of Fame are there to celebrate the team. I think the memory of Bo Jackson does celebrate the Kansas City Royals.

* * *

Mike MacFarlane
Career with Royals: .256/.327/.439 with 103 homers in 3,150 PAs.
Best season: In 1993, he hit .273/.360/.497 with 20 homers and 27 doubles. Two other years led league in HBP.

Comment: Here’s a guy I could endorse for the Royals Hall … not because he was a great player, but because he was a good one for a long time for the same team. MacFarlane played 11 years for the Royals, and you might know that he was the player who inspired Bill James to rank every position 1 through 100 in the New Historical Abstract. Bill and a friend were watching MacFarlane play, and Bill said: “I’ll bet he’s one of the 100 best catchers ever.” The friend disagreed. In the end, Bill did indeed rank him in the Top 100.

Anyway, I cannot argue that Mike MacFarlane was a great player — he was not. But he was a big part of the Royals for a long time, and I certainly think that there’s room for a very good 11-year catcher in the Royals Hall of Fame.

* * *

Darrell May
Career with Royals: 23-37 with 4.81 ERA, 527 1/3 ip, 158 walks, 330 Ks.
Best season: In 2003, went 10-8 with 3.77 ERA and 4.9 WAR.

Comment: Darrell May … kind of unbelievable that the Royals would put him on this list. May had one useful season with the Royals which he followed up with a disastrous one. I remember him mainly for the way he was always jogging, and for the one time he complained that things were going so bad he could not even get a no-decision.

* * *

Brent Mayne
Career with Royals: .244/.305/.322 with 20 homers in 2200 plate appearances.
Best season: His total WAR with Royals was -0.5 so he never really had a best season.

Comment: I never fully realized just how bad an offensive player Brent Mayne was. No, I mean, it’s kind of shocking to me. I remember Brent being impossibly slow — we once asked Royals manager Tony Pena if he could beat Mayne to the mound running from the dugout, and Pena said: “I will not answer that.” Then he smiled and said: “By 10 feet,” and ran out to the field.

Anyway, Mayne was a really bad hitter. But he was a really nice guy, and to this day I get emails from him, though I will admit the emails are titled “Brent Mayne’s The Art of Catching” and I think he sends them to lots of people. I thought Mayne was a pretty decent defensive catcher, though his defensive numbers are not too stellar. Anyway, his latest tip — I don’t think he would mind me passing it along — states that a catcher must communicate.

* * *

Jose Offerman
Career with Royals: .306/.385/.419, 78 stolen bases over three seasons.
Best season: 1998, best season overall, hit .315/.403/.438, led league in triples, won himself a startlingly big contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Comment: Really? They’re asking fans if they want to put Jose Offerman in the Royals Hall of Fame? See, this is the lack of self-awareness I’m talking about. Offerman goal in Kansas City was to put up some numbers so he could sign a big contract — not an unworthy goal, but it’s hardly something you build exhibits around. He put up those good numbers in 1998, though it was the kind of season that reminds me of something someone once wrote about Kevin McReynolds: “He had 85 RBIs, and even the most passionate Mets fan probably doesn’t remember a single one of them.” Offerman’s year earned him that fat contract with Boston, and good for him — but you don’t embarrass yourself by putting the guy on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot later.

* **

Darrell Porter
Career with Royals: .271/.375/.435 over four seasons with the Royals.
Best season: 1979, could have won the MVP, hit .291/.421/.484 with 20 homers, 112 RBIs, 101 runs scored.

Darrell Porter had one truly great season with the Royals — probably not enough for the team Hall of Fame, though I’d let voters decide — but looking up Porter’s career reminded me that George Brett could have won four MVP awards. And this reminder led me to write an excessively long and winding interlude which I split off as a separate post to be put up later today … about the best offensive players on World Series teams.

* * *

Joe Randa
Career with Royals: .288/.340/.428 over 8 seasons with the Royals.
Best season: 1999 (.314/.363/.473) or 2003 (.291/.348/.452).

Comment: Another solid player who was good for an pretty long time … if you want, you can make the MacFarlane argument for him, though I think Mac goes in first.

* * *

Kevin Seitzer
Career with Royals: .294/.380/.394 with 33 homers in 6 seasons.
Best season: 1987 when he got 207 hits and hit 15 homers as a rookie. Hit .323/.399/.470 that year. But 1988, though his numbers look down (.304/.388/.406), his year was almost as good.

Comment: He looked like he had a chance to be a very good hitter after those first two seasons, but things kind of tapered off after that for him. It’s a shame because few have ever worked harder on learning the art of hitting than Seitzer. He is now the Royals hitting instructor, and whether or not he gets the team hitting he can always take solace in the fact that he worked with me on my hitting before my appearance at Royals fantasy camp a few years back. And believe it or not former Royals players STILL talk about how surprised they were by my play (though, admittedly, this was probably because they fully expected me to hit myself in the head with the bat).

* * *

Scott Service
Career with Royals: 11-12, 4.73 ERA in 3 seasons.
Best season: 1998 went 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 4 saves, 95-34 K to W. Followed that up with a fantastically awful season, a 1.712 WHIP, 13 homers in 75 innings, 6.09 ERA.

Comment: OK, this might be the worst one. It’s a battle, but this might be it. Scott Service. I cannot even conceive of who came up with the idea of putting Scott Service on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot. I’m sure there was some rule they used, something like “every player with three years experience with the Royals automatically goes on the ballot” or whatever. I don’t care. Scott Service was an occasionally useful pitcher who played for nine different teams and had a career 0.3 WAR, which makes him only the second most valuable player of his era actually named Scott Service (though the other spelled it “Servais.”).

* **

Michael Tucker
Career with Royals: .257/.335/.422 in 4 seasons.
Best season: None, but had a memorable three week stretch during the 2003 season when he hit .382/.453/.671 with five homers and carried the Royals when they desperately needed him to. Drove in 19 runs and scored 18 more in that 22 game stretch.

Comment: Then again, this might be the worst one. Now, I will admit up front that, unlike pretty much every other player on this list, I did not like Michael Tucker. Well, more to the point, he didn’t like me. He once yelled me out of the clubhouse for some vague offense to his literary sensibilities. He was hardly the only one who lit into me through the years, but I would say he was the only one who ever did it for reasons that were never exactly clear. Anyway, in four years with the Royals, Michael Tucker managed to be one win better than a replacement player.

* * *

John Wathan
Career with Royals: .262/.318/.343 with 21 homers in 10 year career, all with Royals.
Best season: 1980 when he hit .305/.377/.406 in 126 games. In 1982, his only other year when he got 500 PAs, he hit .270/.343/.328 but set record for stolen bases by a catcher with 36.

Comment: There are just mismatches in life. John Wathan was a fast and athletic catcher. The allowed him to set that quirky record for most stolen bases by a catcher, but it did not allow him to be an every day player for very long. There are expectations for catcher — and Duke (as they called him for his dead on John Wayne impression) did not hit for power and for much of his career he was ASTONISHINGLY free swinging.

No, I mean it’s really astonishing. In 1978, he came up 203 times and walked THREE TIMES. And one of those was intentional. He was a well-liked player who became the Royals manager and has been involved with the team ever since his retirement. One of the real good guys. But I don’t think he would see himself as a Royals Hall of Famer.

* * *

U L Washington
Career with the Royals: .254/.316/.347 in 8 seasons.
Best season: 1982 hit .286/.338/.412 with 10 homers in 487 PAs. Stole 40 bases the next year.

Comment: U L Washington in the Royals Hall of Fame? No, I can’t see it. The toothpick, though? Definite yes.

* * *

Kris Wilson
Career with the Royals: 14-9, 5.32 ERA, 4 seasons.
Best season: None. Only positive WAR season was 2000, when he threw only 34 1/3 innings.

Comment: Well, sadly, it ends with Kris Wilson. I have rarely rooted harder for a player than I did for Kris. He was a bulldog of a guy, a force of nature really, someone who I really thought deserved to have better stuff than he had. He worked so hard, cared so much, wanted it so badly. He pitched fearlessly, with command of his stuff, and I so wanted it to work out for him. Unfortunately, his stuff just wasn’t good enough, and he hung around for four rough seasons only because the Royals were terrible and everybody liked him. If there was a Hall of Fame for athletes who deserved better, Kris would be first ballot. But putting him on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot just makes me kind of sad.

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Inspiration and Perspiration

Got a great little lesson about stats, life and Tiger Woods last week. Well, it might not actually be a lesson about life or Tiger Woods, but it is definitely a good lesson about stats.

I recently posted a long and rambling thing about a few of the hitting stats that I find interesting. I don’t like all of them, certainly do not like them all equally, but what I like about advanced baseball statistics are that they can get you thinking about HOW you might try to measure something. How would you go about trying to measure a batter’s hitting ability? A pitcher’s ability to prevent runs? A defender’s ability to play his position? These are complicated questions with many, many layers of questions within them. It’s fascinating for me to see some of the more thoughtful statistical minds attack all these questions.

Well, I mentioned in there a very interesting statistic called wOBA, invented by my e-migo Tom Tango. This stat gives a well-thought out value to everything an offensive player does. I won’t go into any more details here except to point out two seeming quirks of wOBA, two quirks I touched upon in the original story.

Quirk 1: A reached on error is worth more than a single.

According to the wOBA chart I included, a single is worth .90 while reaching on error is worth .92. This seems interesting.

Quirk 2: A hit batter is worth more than a batter walking.

A non-intentional walk is worth .72. A hit-batter is worth .75. Again … interesting.

Before I explain to you why these things are so, I should say that I came up with my own theories about why these things might be so. And before I tell you my absurd theories, I should say that baseball fans all decide how much they want to believe in things that they cannot see. That is to say that everyone will choose to believe how important leadership is for a baseball team, how significant and varying is the ability to perform in the clutch, how big a part mental qualities like self-doubt and unbreakable confidence and experience and guts and heart and all that play in the failures and successes of players.

I think there is a sliding scale — some people think these intangibles mean EVERYTHING in baseball, some think these intangibles mean almost NOTHING in baseball, and most people fall somewhere in between. We can call this the McCarver Scale. McCarver — and most other color commentators, to be fair — tend to think intangibles are pretty close to 100% of the game.* And so I’d say I score 12% on the McCarver scale. Maybe 8%. I think those qualities like veteran leadership and competitive nature do play their part in the game.

*Or, anyway, that’s how they talk on TV.

But I think — and this is just my theory — that things like that are almost always overstated because a part of us WANTS these things to matter more than they do. We WANT (many of us) to believe that players who drive in a lot of runs have some special talent for hitting with runners on base. We WANT (many of us) to believe that pitchers who win a lot of games have special talent for winning games no matter what everyone else on the field does.

And, hey, I have these same prejudices. That’s how Tiger Woods gets in. Every realistic instinct in my being tells me Tiger Woods is done as the best golfer in the world. Done. I really don’t think he will ever get back up to the top. I’ve been over my reasons a dozen times at least — he’s 35 years old (and probably even older in golf years since he has been playing, since he was 3), he’s had major knee surgery, he can’t find a swing that fits his current body, he has been trampled by the culture he created, and there are many very talented young golfers who grew up with Tiger Woods as their standard of excellence and are not intimidated or unfamiliar with his greatness. I am now at the point where I would be thoroughly surprised if Tiger Woods reached the top again. To tell the truth, I would be less surprised if Tiger Woods fell off the world golf map entirely.

I THINK that … but every time Tiger Woods plays, I again hold my breath. This past week, he’s playing at Doral and I held my breath. And here’s why: Part of me so respects Tiger Woods’ competitive nature that I cannot help think if he WANTS it bad enough, if he GETS ANGRY enough, if he FOCUSES HARD ENOUGH, then he can will himself back into the greatest golfer on earth. I may believe logically that such thoughts are silly or naive or flat misguided, but I still have those thoughts. I can’t help it.

Then Tiger Woods is tied for 31st at Doral and I remember reality again.

Then Tiger Woods shoots six-under on Sunday and I again hold my breath for the next time. That’s pure emotion. And it colors the view.

Similarly, when I saw those quirky baseball numbers above — about reached on error and hit-by-pitch — I could not help but immediately pin the reasons for the difference to something mental and vague and ambiguous. For instance, when I saw that a reached-on-error had a slightly higher value, my thought was that this might be because reaching on error has a negative impact on the the defensive team’s psyche. The pitcher’s ticked off that the defense let him down, the defenders let down slightly because they know they should be out of the inning, the batters have a little more confidence because they have been given a second life. I figured this was the reason a few more runs are scored.

And when I saw that hit batters are worth more than batters who walk, I had almost the exact same thought. I figured the MENTAL reaction — anguish on one side, a little added fury on the other — leads to scoring a few more runs.

In both cases, my theory was completely wrong and the real answers both (1) make more sense and (2) do not rely on creative accounting.

For the reached-on-error issue, Tom Tango explains that reaching on error is worth slightly more than a single only because these will include occasional errors where the hitter ends up on second or third base. Grounder to third is thrown away, that means a runner goes to second, and that’s the extra value. That’s it. That’s the whole difference. There is absolutely no other detectable difference.

As for the hit-by-pitch, the reason it is worth more is because it happens at more random times than walks. A pitcher can have some control over a walk. He might be more likely to walk someone with first base open, for example. But a hit-by-pitch is a much more random act. Only a small, small, small percentage of HBP are purposeful. As such, they tend to lead to slightly more runs.

Of course, the numbers we are talking about are so small that nobody could possibly just notice them. That’s the thing about baseball numbers. Someone who hits .296 gets hits on 29.6% of his at-bats. Someone who hit .302 gets a hit 30.2% of his at-bats. If someone gets 184 hits in 622 at-bats, he hits .296. If someone gets 188 hits in 622 at-bats, he hits .302. The difference is four hits over a WHOLE SEASON. That’s fewer than one hit a month. You simply could not notice that unless you were charting it.

By charting it, you get those batting averages which tell you, decisively, which guy got more hits. But the more you chart, the more you take a little bit more myth out of baseball. Charting baseball basically proves that the tiny things that have become part of the mythology of baseball, well, they might exist, maybe, but only as tiny things. Thomas Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. It’s a good quote, but he was pretty wildly overestimating. It’s probably closer to .0001% inspiration.

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When I was in Japan a few years back to write a story about former Royals manager Trey Hillman, I woke up in the middle of the night with a kind of crazy back pain. I wrote a bit about it — and how Bruce Springsteen’s “Girls in their Summer Clothes” helped save me. But the thing is I never really knew what happened that night. I figured that it had something to do with how hard the bed or something. The funny part is that I was talking about it with Dave Owen, brother of Spike, who was Trey’s bench coach in Japan. And Dave said: “Well, at least it wasn’t kidney stones.”

And I said: “Well, that’s good to hear. I was actually worried that it was kidney stones.”

And he said: “Oh, if you have kidney stones, you will know. Worst pain of my life.”

Sunday morning I started feeling a bit of back pain. I will not take you through the awful next couple of hours except to say that soon a little bit of back pain turned into quite a bit of back pain turned into quite a lot of back pain. There were other symptoms I’d rather not describe. But the back pain was the thing and after a little while I decided I better go see a doctor. We happen to be in Florida, which made things a bit more complicated.

We went to a nearby doctor, and we sat in the waiting room for about 20 minutes. It’s fair to say that things did not get better at that point. I will explain the symptoms just slightly for effect … I could not sit down so I walked across the room and grunted like a madman. People were holding on tight to their children. I twice had to go to the bathroom where I unloaded comical vomiting sounds that could be heard pretty much throughout Tampa, which was bad since we are in Orlando. At that point, I told Margo that we probably should go to the emergency room because it was possible that an alien was trying to emerge from my stomach.*

*I have little doubt that scene was inspired by a bout of kidney stones.

I actually did not tell Margo that exactly. What I said was “URRUEOJOFHGHHH!” There was no light joking going on during the intensity phase of this thing. When my daughters were saying, “Are you OK, Daddy,” I wanted to say, “Oh, yes, don’t worry, Daddy will be fine, I apologize to you both for delaying our spring vacation.” But what I said was “URRUEOJOFHGHHH!” No comedian, not even Louis CK or Chris Rock, could work the kidney stone wing of the emergency room.

That’s where we went … to the emergency room next, where I got to sit in a waiting room that held roughly the population of the Fox River Cities. I certainly do not want to make any comment whatsoever on the health care debate — we all know that I try to avoid politics — but I will say that after having to wait more than three hours to get anyone to even look at me when it felt like an alien was coming out of my stomach … you can finish the thought.

After waiting an hour I went up to the front to give them what I considered a rather alarming bit of news about what I had done in the bathroom. They alerted me that there were only 10 people in front of me. Ten. This is not a joke.

The one thing they did keep doing was asking me to rank my pain, 1 to 10 — one being “pain free” and 10 being “the worst pain you have ever felt in your life.” They repeated that exact phrase at least a dozen times: “Rank your pain 1 to 10, one being pain free, 10 being the worst pain have ever felt in your life.”

Nothing at that moment felt funny at all, but if you think about it this is really a funny question to ask someone. The pain, seemed to me, to be A LOT. I mean, we all know I’m kind of a statistical guy — I have another baseball stat post ready to go for later today — but I really didn’t have any great way to rank the pain beyond “A LOT.” On the one hand, I didn’t want to seem like a wimp. On the other hand, I wanted them to give me a pain killer that would knock me unconscious, if necessary. Sure, if I’d had my computer with me, I could have tried to whip up a little formula for POPC — pain over paper cut.

But in that setting, without a calculator around, I didn’t really have any reference point. I could not remember the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. It could have been one of my many accidents as a kid. It could have been the feeling after I had my adenoids removed. It could be the time I slipped on the ice, fell back on concrete stairs and was sure I had paralyzed myself.

But this pain had one strong advantage over those in that I was feeling it RIGHT THEN. And that was my feeling. I wanted to say, “Compared to all the pain I am feeling right now, this pain is really the most excruciating. The time I cracked my head open on the window sill when I was 8 does not really hurt now.”

I decided to go with 5 on the pain scale at first, which was convenient because before the day was done I would say the pain doubled, which would have made it 10. Of course, I never said “10.” The highest I ever went was “7 or 8,” which made me feel tough, but perhaps did not reflect the urgency of the situation. I was in the emergency room for more than 12 hours. They gave me three different kinds of pain killer. The first was morphine and it did nothing — the worst pain I felt all day happened after I took it. The second worked a little bit better. The third knocked out the pain, though I suspect this was not so much because of the pain killer but because the kidney stone moved.

The pain killers and intensity of the pain turned me kind of loopy I guess … I know at some point I started telling a doctor why I wear a fedora on my photo on the back page of SI.* Mostly I drifted in and out of some kind of weird sleep with crazy dreams. One, I distinctly remember, involved Cameron Diaz and popcorn.

*That’s a conversation I wish I remembered because, frankly, I don’t really know why I do wear a hat.

There’s plenty more — I guess I was so dehydrated that it took them eight shots and three nurses to draw blood, which would normally have really bothered me but compared to the back pain that was like nothing. I know you don’t care about it. I don’t even care about it. At about 2 a.m. they let me go with prescriptions for half the medicines in the place. I was pretty much pain free at that point, though I don’t think the kidney stone has passed. I feel OK now, a bit tired, but without pain. I took a cab back to the hotel so not to wake up the family, and when I went into the cab the driver said: “How are you doing today?”

I said: “Well, it was kind of a rough day.”

He said: “You need to be positive. You will get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow will be a great day.”

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