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Turning Back Time

There were no poetic words written for Babe Ruth’s final game at the stadium he built. Nobody mused about Gods and letters. The game was Sept. 23, 1934. It was well known before the game even started that this would certainly be his last home game as a regular, and probably his last home game as a Yankee. About 2,000 people showed up to see it. Ruth walked for the 104th time that season — one thing the man could still do was draw a walk — and then he came out of the game for what the papers called a “charley horse.” Ruth did finish off the season on the road, playing three games in Philadelphia and Washington, and he went to Boston the next year to play 28 sad games as a gimmick for the Braves. This proved, in the reverse of those immortal words by John Updike, that Babe Ruth did not know how to do the hardest thing: Quit.

But the point here is, people quit on him. He was 39, going on 40, and it was clear to everyone that he was done as a player (even though, with all those walks, he still posted a .448 on-base percentage in 1934). The Yankees offered him a minor league manager’s job then, upon his request, dumped him. After a few bad games in Boston, he retired. The point is, people understood that even the great Babe Ruth could not go on forever.

The same is true of Michael Jordan. He was, in the mind of most, the greatest basketball player who ever lived. I certainly believe that. His last six full seasons as a player in Chicago, he led the NBA in scoring and carried his Bulls to six championships. But when he came back to play for Washington at age 38, while there was a lot of buzz, there was no sense that he was the same, no sense that he could suddenly become young again. He still had enough fire and knew enough tricks to make himself a reasonable player, but nobody expected him to one day just become the invincible Michael Jordan again. And he never did.

Nobody (except perhaps wide-eyed Arizona management) expected Emmitt Smith to suddenly become his old dominant self when he went to play for the Cardinals at age 34. There was quite a bit of hype when Joe Namath went to play for the Rams at age 34, but only the people who believe in fairy tales could have thought that he was going to become Broadway Joe again (not with his knees shot and considering that he hadn’t really been worth a damn for three or four years). There was a desperate need by many (including me) to believe that Muhammad Ali had one more burst of brilliance left in him, one more butterfly dance and bee sting, and the house made a killing off those few naive souls who bet with their hearts when Ali fought Holmes. The house has built cities on the backs of naive souls who bet against time.

We often talk about how sad it was to watch Willie Mays flounder around at the end, to watch John Unitas get sacked time after time in a San Diego uniform that clashed with his football life, to watch Jim Palmer or Mark Spitz or Jim Brown begin “comebacks” that felt instead like sports funerals. They are sad, but I don’t know that we ever consider these things surprising. Somewhere inside, we understand and bow to the power of the years. Somewhere inside we know that even the greatest ever, even Dr. J., even Hogan, even Sampras and Aaron and Musial and Palmer, even Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Nicklaus, all of them get old. And when you get old you don’t get young again. It’s the unbreakable rule.

And we all understand it: Nobody goes back in time.

Except … we keep thinking Tiger Woods will go back in time.

The “we” in that sentence is getting smaller, no question about it. The “Tiger will be great again” school seems to be shrinking. The more we see Tiger Woods flail about on the golf course, like he did again this past weekend at Torrey Pines, the more people do seem to wonder about his future. But there is still something about Tiger Woods that seems to bend our perception of time. I can’t remember another athlete quite like him in this way …

… no, that’s not quite right. There is another athlete who bent time: Mike Tyson. In 1990, you will obviously recall, Tyson was knocked out by a no-name boxer named Buster Douglas. It remains one of the most remarkable sporting events I have ever seen in my life, and there is a powerful back story involving Douglas’ mother and his father, and there is no question that Douglas for one day lifted himself and found something in himself that nobody really knew he had.

But there’s another way to tell the story: A no-name boxer named Buster Douglas (who was knocked out by Evander Holyfield shortly thereafter) knocked out Mike Tyson. And that was it for Tyson. He was never a great fighter again. He was never a good fighter again. He had interesting but hardly titanic back-to-back fights with Razor Ruddock. He was arrested and convicted of rape. He had a series of pathetic comeback fights against setup guys like Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr., before getting knocked out by Evander Holyfield. He fought Holyfield again and bit his ear. He failed a drug test after fighting the comical villain Andrew Golota. He was knocked out and thoroughly outclassed by Lennox Lewis.

And yet, time after time, no matter how low he felt, there was a group of people who seemed certain that Mike Tyson would re-emerge as a great fighter again. It didn’t matter how bad he looked, how weird and pathetic he became, there were many people who just kept expecting him to show up one day and be the Mike Tyson who scared Michael Spinks to the canvas in 90 seconds and knocked Trevor Berbick senseless. It made no sense, at all, none, but there it was –it’s like there was a blind spot in the Tyson mirror, an inability to see him as anything except the hyped and spartan young man who wore black trunks and became the youngest heavyweight champion ever. We could not imagine him growing old and toothless.

It seems to me there’s a bit of that same blind spot with Tiger Woods. Let’s look at a few facts about Woods: After the 2007 golf season, he had won 13 professional major championships, and he was turning 32, and there seemed little doubt that he would break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors and semi-officially clinch his place as the greatest golfer who ever lived. In many people’s minds, he already WAS the greatest golfer who ever lived — Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, among others, say no one ever played at his level — but golf, like baseball, is a game of numbers and most agreed he needed to win six more majors to surpass the great Nicklaus. At the time, of course, it seemed like a foregone conclusion.

He finished second at Augusta in 2008, but it was a cosmetic second — he didn’t really challenge Trevor Immelman at any important point. This “failure” (which would have been a career highlight for almost anyone else ever) drove him. He went to the U.S. Open and put on the greatest show of his career. He basically won the U.S. Open on one leg. He beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff, though he grimaced on virtually every shot. That was his 14th major. Two days later, he had had reconstructive surgery done on his ACL. He missed the rest of the season.

He came back in 2009, and played well enough to sort-of, semi-contend at the Masters and the U.S. Open. He played miserably at Turnberry and missed the cut. He was still playing great for the most part — he won six times in 2009 — and at the PGA Championship he shot 67 on the first day, and led after the second and third days too. Tiger Woods had never lost a major championship he led going into the final day. Tiger Woods had never lost ANY tournament on American soil that he led going into the final day. But he lost that day. A no-name golfer named Y.E. Yang did not just beat him but crushed him in the final holes, eventually winning by three shots. It was as so stunning that people wrote it off. Like Buster. A fluke.

Three months later, Tiger Woods drove his Cadillac Escalade into a hedge, a fire hydrant and a tree at 2:30 a.m. We all know what happened after that.

Now, let’s look at this: You have a 35-year-old man who has not won a major championship since having reconstructive surgery on his knee — and in the last major where he contended he was taken out on Sunday. He has not won a tournament of any kind in a year and a half. He has gone through a very public divorce and a seemingly endless string of public embarrassments. He has changed swing coaches and has tried desperately and futilely to find a swing that fits his body and his age. Before this past weekend, he talked about how well he was hitting the ball at home, and he went to his favorite course, where he had won seven times, and after a pretty good couple of days (“I hit it as pure as I could possibly hit it starting out,” he told reporters) he played miserably over the weekend, shooting 74-75.

Sure, it’s just one tournament — and just the first of the season. Sure, it doesn’t mean anything — all of Woods’ preparation is focused on Augusta and the majors (that’s how Nicklaus was too). Sure, Woods’ game is still in transition — once his new swing kicks in, things might take off.

Sure, he could return to form, have another chapter as the greatest golfer in the world, win five more major championships* and claim his rightful place on the top of the list. But at this point, I think all that is a staggering long shot. He COULD have a glorious second career, absolutely. But I think at this point we have to say the opposite is more likely.

*I never think people realize just how unlikely it is for Tiger Woods to win five more major championships. Think about Phil Mickelson for a moment. He has been on tour for 16 years, since he was 25. He has won 38 times on the PGA Tour. That’s a Hall of Fame career — Phil Mickelson is almost certainly one of the 25 greatest golfers who ever lived. He has won FOUR majors in 63 starts. Does Tiger Woods have an entire Phil Mickelson career (plus one major) left in him over the rest of his career?

I was reminded of something watching the Farmer’s Insurance Open, a blatantly obvious but perhaps forgotten part of golf: To win a golf tournament, any golf tournament, you have to score lower than 100 or so of the best golfers in the world. That is: You have to beat the golfer who that week is draining every putt. You have to beat the golfer who who found a groove in his swing and is hitting every fairway. You have to beat the golfer who luckily chips in a couple of times, making his score artificially low. You have to beat the golfer who gets hot, makes five or six or seven birdies in a row, and rides that high. And you also have to beat the other great golfers, the ones who have extreme talent and burning competitiveness and want desperately to be the best in the world. At the major championships, all of this doubly true.

This is why even the best who ever played — Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Faldo, whoever — they didn’t win half the tournaments they entered or one-third of the tournaments they entered or even a quarter or one-fifth of the tournaments they entered. From 1962 to 1980, Nicklaus’s prime, he won 17 major championships — a glorious achievement. He finished second (or tied for second) 14 more times, which blows the mind. But that also means he finished below second 45 out of 76 times. And that’s the man who won more than anyone.

There are no cheap wins in golf, certainly not in the tournaments Tiger Woods plays. In tennis, you might get an easy bracket, your toughest opponent might withdraw with a hamstring injury, something strange might happen. But in golf, somebody is going to shoot a terrific score for the conditions. To win, you have to beat that score.

This makes what Tiger Woods has done — from 1999-to-2008, 10 years, he won 13 of the 38 majors he entered, and 58 of the 173 PGA tournaments he entered — beyond legendary. But people cannot possibly expect Tiger Woods — at his age, after surgery, after his slog through the tabloids and, mostly, after his golf swing confusion — to become that player again.

But many people do. There’s something about him that makes us think that. Nobody thinks Roger Federer is going to become the dominant force in tennis again. But people do think Tiger can (or will). Even I think that. As I write these words, a part of me is shouting “Come on, you’re not REALLY writing off Tiger Woods.” And I’m not. I think he is too mentally strong, too competitive, too knowledgeable to just disappear from the landscape. I don’t see him going dry like Arnold Palmer (who won his last major at 34) or Tom Watson (who won his last major at 33) or Nick Faldo (who won one major after he turned 35). I think he will have great moments yet.

But I think he is going to enter a new phase, where he will contend occasionally, like other golfers. He is going to enter a phase where it will be difficult to play well for four rounds. He is going to enter a phase where those 10 foot putts that were automatic will not be automatic anymore. I think things have changed for Tiger Woods, and they’re not going back. You can’t ever go back. And I don’t know how he is going to handle that. Nobody knows how he will handle it. Over the weekend, on one of his favorite courses, he looked lost. His swing was off. His short game was off. His putting was off. Yes, it was just his first tournament, but Tiger has always done really well in his first tournament — this was part of his game, he was always more ready to go when the seasons began than anyone else.

Anyway, what was as striking as anything was how uninterested he looked. I have never seen an athlete more laser focused than Tiger Woods. This was his greatest gift. He was locked in, all the time, it never stopped, on the course or off. He was driven to be the greatest golfer who ever lived, and every putt was to save the earth, and every shot was time stamped for history. No matter what question anyone asked him, the answer was: “I’m here to win.” No matter what challenge was thrown at him, the answer was: “I’m here to win.”

Does Tiger Woods still want to win? I have little doubt. Does Tiger Woods want to win in the same way he did four, five, six years ago, when he was young, when he felt healthy, when he was idolized, when his golf swing felt as natural to him as breathing? He came to the 18th hole on Sunday, and he needed to make a putt to shoot a 74, which is a lousy score for Tiger Woods and utterly irrelevant for scoreboard purposes. But it is better than a 75. That has always been the driving force for Tiger Woods. One shot better.

No one but Tiger Woods can know what he was thinking at that moment. All we can know is that he missed the putt, tipped his cap to the crowd, and went to sign his scorecard. “I have some work to do,” he told reporters.

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The Pro Bowl Doesn’t Matter (But I’ll Watch)

I was thinking the other day about ABC’s Wide World of Sports. There was a time in America — and not so long ago — when the concept of a show like Wide World of Sports made sense to all of us. The concept was best described in the famous lead-in, read by the incomparable Jim McKay:

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory. And the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Not many people know this, but that lead-in was actually written by a man named Stanley Ralph Ross who had one of the more wondrous careers in entertainment. He wrote the shows in the old Batman and Wonder Woman series, came up with story lines for shows like “All in the Family” and “Columbo,” did various parody songs, played bad guys in gloriously awful kids shows like “Far Out Space Nuts” and “The Lost Saucer,” showed up now and then on “Falcon Crest,” appeared in movies like “Helter Skelter” and “Sleeper,” and did voiceovers for countless cartoons — he was Braniac on the Superfriends, for instance. Wikipedia also says he became an ordained minister and officiated Burt Ward’s third wedding. Talk about someone’s cup running over.

Anyway, those Wide World of Sports words carried a lot of power back in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. Enormous words. We were willing to watch pretty much ANYTHING back then that fit within those parameters. Wide World of Sports would bring us rodeo and racquetball and surfing and loggers trying to make other loggers fall off of logs, and people on skates jumping over barrels and demolition derbies and Evel Knievel jumping busses on his motorcycle and the Harlem Globetrotters … we watched them all. Yes, there were some sports that we’d probably consider more serious too; we’d get big time boxing matches on Wide World of Sports, and huge track and field events and world championship gymnastics competitions and so on. But in many ways the point was that some weeks it was more important, some weeks less, but we watched it all — the constant variety of sports.

And I never once remember asking: Why are we watching this? We watched because it was sports. We didn’t need an actual reason. Anyway, there wasn’t anything else on.

The point is: It did not have to matter. To be blunt about it: Sports almost NEVER mattered, not in the way we think about today. Why would we watch a mishmash of professional athletes and actors compete in stupid superstars competitions or “Battle of the Sexes” match-ups? Why not? There was a little thrill of victory, a little less agony of defeat, and what else were we going to do anyway? The landscape was just different. People often wonder about the bowl setup in college football — how did a system so ridiculous ever get come together? But the system is only ridiculous when viewed through today’s prism. Well, for a long time in America, we lived in a bowl nation — a sports landscape of match races and boxing match-ups (we actually called the people who put these things together “matchmakers”), and odd professional wrestling matches and quasi-interesting exhibitions and barnstorming and now-quaint events like when the NFL Champions would face off against a team of college football All-Stars.* In that setting, it made perfect sense for men in ugly jackets to scout games and determine what might be a fun match-up for people to watch on Dec. 28th. That’s how we determined pretty much everything in sports.

*Though I’ve already had my 44th birthday, I like to think of today as my real birthday because I was born on the Sunday of the first ever Super Bowl bye week. I was born in those years when fathers were expected to wait nervously in the lobby while their children were born — all the while clutching celebration cigars to hand out to complete strangers upon hearing “It’s a boy!” — and my parents still talk to this day about how the moment I was born my father was watching pro football on TV. This, in and of itself, is no big deal. What I love is that the game he was watching was the now departed Playoff Bowl, a bizarre and long-forgotten NFL exhibition that would face off the third and four-place teams in an effort to determine, once and for all, who deserved to be third. That day, the Baltimore Colts beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14.

The landscape, of course, has changed drastically. We have little use for the constant variety of sports — quite the opposite. I hear people constantly griping that they want LESS variety, that they don’t care about soccer (boring) … track and field (come on) … tennis (who’s that guy?) … hockey (icing?) … golf (get over yourselves) … auto racing (that’s a sport?) … women’s basketball (they don’t even dunk) … baseball (too slow) … the NBA regular season (doesn’t matter) … college bowls (stupid system) … college basketball until March (no brackets) …. even the current NFL (not as good as it used to be). In many ways, it seems to me, today’s sports discussion is more about what we DO NOT care about than what we do care about. It’s all one blur. We are like candy store kids who can no longer taste the difference between Rolos and PEZ and no longer care. We just want the sugar rush.

All-Star Games don’t fit into our brave new sports world. This is true of all sports. Baseball’s All-Star Game, by far the most famous and well-regarded of the games, received its lowest ratings EVER this year. There were many attempts to explain this away, some of them technical TV jargon. Apparently: “Nobody gives a damn about all-star games” was not good enough. Up to 1986, the All-Star Game pulled a 20 rating every single year but one (1969 — not sure what happened that year). It often pulled 25 ratings. In 1976, when I was nine, it pulled a 27.6 rating. That’s about the rating that the AFC Championship just pulled — twice the rating of American Idol. Everybody watched. This year’s All-Star Game rating? Right: 7.5. A little less that “The Good Wife” will get most weeks.

Sure, television has changed — there were countless fewer TV options in 1976 — and baseball has changed too. But it seems to me that the feelings about all-star games have changed even more. There was a time when we would all gather around just to watch athletes play their sport, nothing had to be on the line, nothing had to be at stake, the ruled did not even have to make sense. We just wanted to watch, just like there was a time when we would gather around to hear the late Fred Travalena do a few of the same impressions, watch Donny and Marie do a few skits, watch that “You doesn’t have to call me Johnson” guy do that same annoying bit. Basically: We were stupid. And we didn’t have any other choice.

But now … no, people aren’t going to watch the All-Star Game just to see Albert Pujols get a couple of at-bats. We can see that any time we want. Nobody cares. Yes, the NBA has smartly turned their All-Star Game into a weekend of stunts — watch these guys dunk, watch these guys shoot three-pointers, watch Charles Barkley say something funny — and there’s a certain fun in that. The NHL has pulled out the North America vs. the World gimmick, which doesn’t seem to excite people nearly as much as playing games in odd places like Fenway Park (I think the NHL All-Star Game should be in some new odd place every year — (“Hey, they’re playing the All-Star game on the 14th green at Augusta! Awesome!”). Even staid baseball has tried to liven up its game with the interminable home run hitting contest. Basically, these ploys keeps these things afloat. But the basic theme remains: Nobody cares.

And the Pro Bowl — well, everyone agrees its the worst of the bunch. They’ve moved the thing around. They’re trying to mike up more players. Nothing works. I asked around to find why people think the Pro Bowl is widely viewed as the worst of the already lifeless lot of All-Star Games? They generally broke it down to three things:

1. It’s the only one played at the end of the season, not in the middle. For this, perhaps, it doesn’t feel as integrated.

2. It’s the only one where the players are specifically prohibited from playing their sport to the best of their abilities — no blitzing, for instance. If the game means so little to the league, how can it matter to fans?

3. Football, more than the other sports, requires perfect coordination between players. In baseball, nine strangers who have never seen each other can go out and win a baseball game.* In basketball and hockey, yes, more coordination is required, but that can come together naturally, during a game, in the flow of action, without much practice. In football, though, you have 11 players on each side doing 11 different things, and no matter how skilled they are individually their success relies so much on each other. And it really is a team sport — individual excellence really is of minor importance. In other sports, you might watch to marvel at Sidney Crosby’s feel for the game, Kevin Durant’s pure shooting touch, Roy Halladay’s ability to paint the corner. But if the Pro Bowl game itself is boring — and it’s pretty much ALWAYS boring — it won’t be salvaged by watching the blocking talents of Kris Diehlman or the instinctive movement of Jonathan Vilma. That’s just not the thrill of watching football.

*I’m reading John Thorn’s quite excellent Baseball in the Garden of Eden (coming soon), and he makes a point that I don’t think is made quite enough. Most people, unlike poor sap Bud Selig, know that Abner Doubleday did not invent the game of baseball, had nothing to do with inventing the game of baseball, probably never even played baseball and that believing in this myth is a bit like believing there’s are little tiny singers and bands performing inside your radio. But it has become common to believe that while baseball was not really “invented,” the man who came closest was Alexander Cartwright. He and a committee wrote down a set of rules in 1845 after forming the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. It is said on his Hall of Fame plaque that Cartwright set the bases 90 feet apart, established 9 innings and 9 players per team as standards and carried baseball to Hawaii. As Thorn writes of the Hall of Fame plaque: “Every word of substance is false.” But I’ll let you read the book.

The point that never gets old is that we are supposed to believe that Cartwright and the Knickerbocker fellas invented baseball, just came up with the rules. And then they played the very first game of baseball ever, the first game under the Cartwright rules, against a ballclub of ragtag players, a club so new and undistinguished that they did not even have a name (they are often called the “New York Nine”). So you would expect the Knickerbockers to have a bit of an advantage since we are supposed to believe they invented this new game.

As Thorn points out: The Knickerbockers lost the game 23-1 in four innings.

I think there’s at least one more reason the Pro Bowl matters less to us than the others — something else about football the game. I think football is a more serious game than the others. We may take everything in sports more seriously than we once did, but this is five times more true for professional football. Every game is staggeringly important. We accept the carnage of football — the concussions, the broken bones, the injury timeouts, the Coors Light coach commercials — because the games are so important.

But if you take away that staggering importance, football feels empty. This is why exhibition football games are unwatchable. Te Pro Bowl has no chance in this environment. People still argue about Pete Rose crashing into Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game and perhaps altering his career. It might be the most famous moment in All-Star Game history. Some think Rose was a jerk, some think he was just playing the game hard, and some think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

But imagine something similar in the Pro Bowl, imagine a linebacker blindsiding some gifted young quarterback, say Aaron Rodgers, and busting up his career. NOBODY would look at that as something worth arguing about. It would be a travesty. It would be a criminal act. Nobody wants to see someone get hurt in a stupid Pro Bowl. In baseball, you will hear people longing for those days when the All-Star Game mattered and players desperately wanted to win for their league. Nobody I know feels that way about football.

Of course, as much as people say they don’t care about the Pro Bowl … it’s a near certainty that more people will watch tonight’s Pro Bowl than any of the other all-star games. Many of us will watch, but we won’t really care. And, no, that would not make for nearly as compelling a Wide World of Sports opening.

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Angels in the Outfield

In the next few days, I have a post coming on hitting at home and on the road. It is based on the fun new book Scorecasting by my colleague Jon Wertheim and his lifelong friend Tobias J. Moskowitz. More on all that soon … maybe even a conversation (a Pozcast?) with Jon himself.

In any case, the book has re-energized many of my questions about why players generally hit better at home than they do on the road. Why? In the cases of players like Jim Rice or Dale Murphy or Todd Helton, it is fairly obvious that they spent (or spend) their home games playing in great hitting ballparks. So, obviously they hit better at home. Chuck Klein is in the Hall of Fame largely because of the absurd dimensions of his home ballpark, the Baker Bowl. He is not the only one in the Hall of Fame based on perception and context (and a liberal veteran’s committee).

But even beyond the extreme cases, players hit better at home, and I will talk a bit about that that later. But for now, I want to show the home and road statistics of one Vernon M. Wells from 2010:

Home: .321/.363/.628 with 20 homers, 44 runs, 54 RBIs.
Road: .227/.301/.407 with 11 homers, 35 runs, 34 RBIs.

Something kind of weird happened in the Rogers Centre in Toronto in 2010. For one year, the place kind of turned into a launching pad for right-handed hitters. It seems to happen every now and again in Toronto. Most years, it’s a pretty neutral place, but in 2006, for instance, righties found it to be a nice home run park. That year, Troy Glaus mashed 38 homers (25 at home) and Wells hit 32 homers (24 at home) and Alex Rios showed his first real signs of power, hitting 12 of his 17 homers at home.

But then in 2007, it was back to normal. It’s weird — the right-handed power thing just shows up every now and again, like Charo on The Love Boat. Maybe it’s the quirks of opening and closing the roof. Maybe it’s just chance — you really shouldn’t judge a park based on only one season. Or maybe it’s my imagination. Whatever the case, in 2010 right-handed hitters absolutely bombed Rogers. Of course, the most noticeable of those was Jose Bautista who, having never made any impact on anybody, suddenly mashed 54 home runs, 33 of them in the friendly confines of Canada’s Wonderland.*

*Of course, this still means Bautista hit 21 homers on the road, which is rather stunning. Still, that .737 home slugging percentage stands out.

Aaron Hill didn’t really hit anywhere, but he did hit 15 home runs at home. And, of course, you see Wells’ numbers above. It did not work that away for everyone, but Bill James’ park numbers show a 131 home run park factor for righties in Toronto, second-highest in the league behind that all-around wonderful home run playground in Chicago*.

*Adam Dunn, get ready to have some fun.

We’re focusing now on Wells because, as you know, the California Angels (as I continue to insist on calling them) have what I think is the most expensive outfield in baseball history — especially if you consider ALL of it. Wells is the centerpiece of that outfield, of course — he will be paid $23 million (though it now seems that $5 million will be paid by the Blue Jays). Torii Hunter will get $18 million. Bobby Abreu will get $9 million. And the Angels will pay the long-absent Gary Matthews Jr. $11 million for the one-time privilege of watching him not hit, listening to him demand a trade, then finally finding a team willing to take him (as long as that team did not have to pay his salary).

With fourth outfield options like Reggie Willits, the Angels will have about $56 million of outfield debt in 2011, which will be more than six or seven teams entire payroll. It really is an extraordinary thing. The bulk of the Angels’ payroll responsibilities are for four outfielders — Wells, Hunter, Abreu (now a DH) and the departed Matthews. The youngest (Wells) is 32. None of the four have has won an MVP … or ever finished in the Top 5 in MVP voting. The four have started a total of three All-Star Games. None of the four has ever hit 35 homers in a season or led the league in runs scored or RBIs or batting average or on-base percentage or slugging percentage or OPS or just about anything else (Abreu and Wells have led the league in doubles). None of the four was rated even a league average defender last year by Total Zone rating system or Ultimate Zone Rating or John Dewan’s Plus/Minus. None of the four stood out as a good base runner in 2010.

I’m not saying any of these things — especially the MVP voting, the All-Star Game starts and those flawed offensive stats — mean anything. Most of those things don’t mean anything at all. In fact, I usually rip those very measures when talking about Hall of Famers. But I’m not trying to make any point about the players VALUE. I’m just trying to make the point that this diamond-studded outfield is utterly inexplicable even on those ridiculous terms. At least if one of those guys was a former MVP or a perennial All-Star, you could see how someone might have been tricked into paying that kind of money.

Of the four, Bobby Abreu is clearly the best deal. For one thing, he’s the cheapest of the lot. For another, he has been unquestionably the best player over his career. Abreu’s great downfall in the minds of the masses is that he’s legendarily and indisputably boring. The boring part comes from both his mind-numbing consistency and his C-Span II excitement level at-bats.

The mind-numbing consistency? Bobby Abreu has hit exactly 20 home runs five times in his career — most in baseball history. And I would argue that nothing — NOTHING — is more boring than a 20-home run season. What IS a 20-homer season. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it tell you anything at all? No. It’s like driving across Kansas. You’ll be happy to know that Professional Hitter Harold Baines has the second-most 20-homer seasons (4) which is exactly as it should be.

Bobby Abreu has six seasons between 100 and 105 RBIs — again, most in baseball history. Boring. He has seven seasons between 95 and 104 runs scored — tied with Joe Cronin for the most in baseball history. Boring. Abreu has been absurdly sturdy — he has played more than 150 games in 13 different seasons, which is as many as Willie Mays and just one season behind that wonder of reliability Brooks Robinson — and that’s boring. He has walked a whole lot, which has made him more valuable than people realize but watching him foul pitch after pitch, take forever to dig back in, let pitches go that are 1/10th of an inch outside, no, it isn’t Spielberg. And he has put up the sort of consistent numbers that make him both admirable and invisible all that once. There probably is not another player in baseball history quite like Abreu.

Whatever the case, he had his worst season in 2010 — he hit .255/.352/.435 and coughed around in the outfield — and it’s likely that he is in serious decline. He will move to DH. He’s turning 37 in March. It’s hard to see much good happening from here on in. Abreu has two years and $19 million left on his deal. Got this wrong. Abreu has one year left on his $9 million deal and another $9 million option for 2012 … with a more likely $1 million buyout.

Torii Hunter has actually had perhaps his two best offensive seasons the last two seasons, which has made his signing look better than it looked on deal day. Hunter has always been a flawed offensive player because he doesn’t get on base much. His lifetime on-base percentage is .332 — and that’s actually up quite a bit from the .324 OBP he had when the Angels gave him a monster 5-year, $90 million deal. Hunter’s value was in his spectacular center field defense (though it is true that his defense never quite scored as high as expected on any of the big three defensive scales), his nice combination of power and speed and his general sturdiness in the clubhouse and community. Torii Hunter was the kind of player you wanted to have in your clubhouse, and the kind of player you wanted to cheer from the crowd.

Hunter has become a better offensive player with the Angels — he has hit .285/.353/.477 in three seasons, which is quite a bit better than his time in Minnesota — but he’s getting to that age where it could easily fall off at any time, and his defensive reputation has fallen enough that the Angels moved him out of center field in 2010. His numbers don’t really play all that well at the corner outfield spots. He was also, according to the Bill James system, one of the worst base runners in the game in 2010. He has two years and $36 million left on his deal. Can’t see how that will end well.

Gary Matthews … he was just a mistake and everyone has no choice to admit it now. But that deal was stillborn from the day it was signed. Nobody really understood what the Angels were doing when after the 2006 season they gave him a five-year, $50 million deal when he was 32 years old and had a career OPS+ of 97. He was coming off a good offensive season in Texas … but there you go. It was in Texas. Always look at those home and road splits when you see someone coming out of Texas. Granted, Matthews was pretty good on the road that year, but he hit .324/.396/.512 in that Texas hitters haven.

Up to 2006, Matthews had hit .249/.327/.397.

After 2006, Matthews has hit .245/.322/.377 and the Angels are stuck paying him even though he’s long gone.

Sometimes, you just wonder what is going through people’s minds.

Which brings us, finally and happily, to Vernon M. Wells. Two years ago, I wrote that Wells had the worst contract in baseball, even beating out Barry Zito and Jose Guillen, whose contracts were spectacularly bad. Then Wells — and I give it up to him — had a big rebound year in 2010. He’s still almost unplayable in center field, at least by the numbers I believe, but he was at least somewhat better defensively. And offensively he posted a 127 OPS+, mashing 31 homers and slugging .515.

Now, even if he would maintain those numbers (and the Angels plan on moving him to right field so his defense should be less of a problem … but also of less perceived value), he would not be worth anything close to the unbelievable $86 million he still has left on his contract ($23 million this year, $21 million next year, $21 million in 2013 AND $21 million more in 2014 … this contract goes on FOREVER).

But I would say that it is almost a sure thing that he will not maintain those numbers. Vernon Wells is 32 years old. And he is exactly the sort of player — .280 or so hitter, few walks, inconsistent power — who falls off a cliff around age 32. There is just example after example after example of this — George Bell, Kevin McReynolds, Carl Everett, Jose Guillen, Richie Zisk, Jeff Burroughs, Bobby Murcer, Amos Otis, Chet Lemon, Gus Bell … I could go on like this forever. Reggie Smith was a part-time player at 34. Raul Mondesi was mostly done at 31. Dale Murphy went into free fall at 32. Shawn Green, Greg Luzinski … obviously you could argue that Wells is different from some of these players — maybe even all these players. But the point is you don’t want to bet on ANY player to be great in their mid-to-late 30s, but especially not sporadically good offensive outfielders who don’t walk like Vernon Wells.*

*The best comp for Wells would be Andre Dawson … the hope would have to be that Wells could put together a career second half like Dawson did. There are not many Andre Dawsons in baseball history.

And yet, the Angels went out and got him and took on all that salary … and actually traded semi-useful players to make it happen. It’s almost like there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the game; if a deal like this happened in your fantasy baseball league you would invalidate it on the assumption that one player didn’t know what he was doing. When writing my worst contracts a couple of years ago, I wrote that you could almost forgive the Angels for the Matthews contract because they keep winning despite what seem to be irrational moves. But the Angels didn’t win in 2010. And they don’t look especially healthy for 2011. And you wonder if it’s all just caught up with them.

Now, look, if Vernon Wells goes on to have great years, I will be the first one to congratulate the Angels for seeing something that was not apparently there. But I have to say, having read this story in the LA Times where Angels owner Arte Moreno defends the move not by saying that Wells will be a great player worth the money but by saying that he won’t have to raise ticket prices … well, yeah, this looks like it will be every bit the disaster that everyone except for the most intense and optimistic Angels fans knows it will be.

Maybe the weirdest part of all is that the Angels will be spending all that money on their outfield, but their centerfielder looks to be a 24-year-old, former 10th-round pick named Peter Bourjos, who can run a bit, and showed a great feel for the outfield in 51 games out there last year while hitting .204 over those same 51 games. Scouts and baseball people disagree about his future as an offensive player, but everyone agrees that he’s special defensively. He will get paid the minimum in 2010.

“It’s our money,” Moreno told Bill Shaikin of the TImes. Well, actually, not anymore.

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Podcasting and Ken Tremendous

There has been a concerted effort by friends and loved ones to get me to start a podcast. As you might know, I have successfully avoided this. I have nothing against podcasts as entertainment or art form or however people see them. I have something against ME doing a podcast. I suppose this goes back to my brief but still tragic time as the co-host of a radio show. I clearly remember one time when I was arguing with my my co-host whether football was better indoors or outdoors. But that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that I was taking the “outdoor” point of view … and I was STILL utterly unconvincing. If you can’t go on radio and make a pretty air-tight argument that outdoor football is better than indoor, you probably don’t belong on the radio. And I did not. I quit within days. That was 13 or 14 years ago. I haven’t come back and will occasionally get a thank you letter for that.

Those friends and loved ones insist that a podcast is not like radio — it is more controlled, more personal, less pressured and so on. It can be as short or as long as you like. It can be edited. “It’s really a lot more like writing,” one friend told me. I have not believed a single word that they have said.

But lately, I have to admit I’ve been giving it more thought. This is in part because one good friend refuses to let it go (and seeing this post will REALLY set him off). But it’s also because I have been noticing that I’ve been having fun conversations with people that probably would be fun for other people to hear. Sometimes I write about these conversations, but I never quite remember everything that was said, and, of course, I don’t take notes.

Wednesday — NDA* — I had breakfast with the great Michael Schur, executive producer of Parks and Rec and Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan fame. And the conversation was great. I can say this without hesitation because I had nothing to do with it. We were just talking about sports, and Michael was very funny on numerous topics.

*Name Drop Alert.

I can write about some of what we talked about … and I will. But I have to admit that I’m not sure I can capture some of the funny immediacy of conversation, I’m not sure reading about it will be quite the same as hearing it. I actually think some combination — audio (or video) and words — might offer an even cooler overall experience.*

*Then I hear my own voice on this interview I just taped and think again. I laugh at people’s jokes during interviews. Not all jokes — not the unfunny jokes — but at the funny jokes I laugh, and it’s kind of awful and …

Anyway, some of the stuff we talked about:

The chains in football: Yes, it’s a pretty worn down gag already about how absurd the chain gang is. Twenty-two people crash into each other, an official kind of guesses where he should spot the ball, it’s about as imprecise as it can possibly be … and then they measure the thing to a hundredth of an inch. I mean, it’s ludicrous. And as I have pointed out before, what often happens then is that they throw the football across the field and re-spot it … I say bring the chains back out. Sometimes you will see a center move the ball up a couple of inches before he snaps it … I say bring the chains out yet again.

But Michael brought up a great point I had never thought about: Chains? Really? That’s the measuring device we are using? When was the last time anything was measured by chains? What was that, about 160 BC? “Spartacus, he’s about 20 links tall now.” Chains. You have to be kidding me. It’s so much a part of football we NEVER think about it, but it’s absolute ludicrous. This is the most successful sports league in America, and they’re measuring with perhaps the least precise measuring tool available. It’s like the Flintstones. Seriously: How do they keep the chains in a perfect straight line? If they’re not in a straight line, then you might be measuring less than 10 yards. How hard do you pull the chain to make it exactly 10 yards? They couldn’t use a tape measure or a laser or something?

We were just imagining someone explaining football to a foreigner and saying: “And then, to be sure they moved the ball 10 yards out, the officials bring out chains to measure the distance?” And the foreigner might reply: “Chains? This is America? Isn’t Apple and Google in America? You still use chains to measure distance?”

Louis CK: The funniest stand-up in comedy, and nobody at the moment is even close. This thing goes in cycles. Pryor had it for a long time. Carlin was like the Gary Player of comedy, re-emerging every few years to be the best. Eddie Murphy had his day. Seinfeld was the best in the business for a good while. Chris Rock had the title for quite a few years. There are others. Now, we both think, it’s Louis CK, whose ironically named concert film “Hilarious” is sincerely hilarious.

Would you have been better off not being a sports fan?: The question is really more like this — has being a fan of your professional sports teams brought you more joy or more pain through the years. Michael is, of course a Boston fan, and so if you had asked him the question in 2000 or so — before the Patriots won any of their Super Bowls, with the Red Sox mired in their 80-plus year slump, with the Celtics actually quite bad and 15 or so years removed from a championship — he feels sure the answer would have been yes, he would have been better off having his memory erased and his sports fandom surgically removed. Of course, since then the Celtics have won an NBA titles, the Patriots won three Super Bowls and had a perfect regular season and the Red Sox won two World Series and look loaded in 2010. So, he’s happy now.

And my teams … well, my teams have never won anything. Ever.

But, for me — I would not trade it in. There’s something about sports pain that actually makes you feel strangely alive. The moment when Brian Sipe threw the interception, when Elway completed the touchdown pass that tied the game, when Byner fumbled, when Jordan made his shot, when Mesa blew the lead, when LeBron and the team would not go down fighting … I would have loved if none of those thing ever happened. But they did happen. And they are now parts of my life, indelible parts of my life. Sports loss is not like real loss. You can hold on to it. I wouldn’t trade them in … not for blank and empty days without my teams.

Rob Lowe: Legitimately funny, Michael says.

There was a lot of other stuff about NFL parity, about Jim Harbaugh, about Belichick benching Wes Welker for a series, about Los Angels traffic, and a bunch of other things. I’m forgetting it now. Of course, I wasn’t taking notes. I guess it’s time to wonder: Maybe it should have been a podcast.

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The Most Beautiful Word

I’m out on assignment which might explain the slight lag between posts — well, there’s the assignment and there was the awful case of stomach flu I endured the other night. I thought about giving you a blow-by-blow account of the stomach flu but decided that might be stretching our writer-reader relationship a bit. Several posts — about NFL players, about the Pro Bowl, about the Angels outfield — are lining up. For now, a quick post about writing … and a single word.

* * *

Lately, it seems, quite a few people have asked how I became a writer. It is an awkward question to answer because the premise is that I became a writer, and there’s something about that word that still feels a little bit distant. Am I a writer? Me? It reminds me of when I was 24 or 25 years old, and I was a columnist at The Augusta Chronicle, and a little boy walked up to me at a ballgame to ask for my autograph. I was entirely sure he had me confused for someone else, and I said (gently, I thought), “Oh, you don’t want my autograph.” Of course, the boy broke out into tears — suddenly I had turned into one of those jerks would wouldn’t give a little kid an autograph — and I think I gave him an autograph, bought him some cotton candy, gave him a piggy back ride, put money into his college education, anything I could think of to make up for my own stupid self-awareness problem.*

*It only now occurred to me that this was probably 20 or so years ago, and the boy was probably 8 or 9 years old … which would obviously make him 28 or 29 years old now. So there’s a 28 or 29 year-old man out there somewhere who remembers the time that he asked for a simple autograph from the nobody local sports columnist and was initially rebuffed …

Ever since then, whenever someone has asked me for an autograph I have enthusiastically signed it as if it felt normal … but that feeling of “You are confusing me for someone else” has never faded. And so it is when people ask about me being a writer. I don’t think of this as modesty, exactly. It’s more like a constant crisis of self confidence. I never feel more than a few minutes away from someone official calling me up and saying: “Um, listen, we let this sportswriting gig go on long enough. It’s time for you to start working for a living.”

So, how did I become a writer? Not once in my childhood — not a single time in memory — did I ever have anyone tell me I had any talent for writing. This wasn’t for want of good literary scouting; I am quite sure I never showed any talent. I did not like writing. I hear stories all the time of journalists and authors who have always known of their destinies, who started a family newspaper when they were 2 1/2 years old or who finished their first novel at the age of 7. I saw writing, any kind of writing, as a chore and a bore, and I didn’t do any except in mandatory situations like when I had to write reports with fascinating and cheery themes like “Ohio: The Buckeye State” or “The Aztecs: Ahead of their time.”

Still, the question has been asked enough times lately that I have asked myself: How? There had to be something in my childhood, some sign that I would someday write 4,000-word essays on Snuggies and the baseball Hall of Fame, that I would actually write books and columns for great American newspapers and stories for Sports Illustrated, for crying out loud.

My parents, I have mentioned a few times, were born in the former Soviet Union. They each moved around as children, each living colorful lives, and they came to America just three years before I was born. This gave me a pretty unique perspective, I suppose. At the time, it largely felt like they simply couldn’t understand how important it was for me to get the cool Reeboks rather than the vastly cheaper generic sneakers I usually ended up getting.

What I could not have seen at the time was that my parents, especially my mother, loved the English language in a way that was probably quite different from people who had grown up with it. My mother had studied English before she came to America, and she really made the critical decision to only speak English around me. They each spoke four languages and a bit of a fifth, and English was the last language they learned and even now, almost 50 years later, they each speak English adeptly but with thick accents that I forget about until some stranger tries to guess where they are from.*

*This happens all the time. But people never come even close to guessing — it’s quite comical, actually, to watch people try to play this “Guess the country” state fair game. Greece is by far the No. 1 guess. But through the years I’ve heard Germany, the Czech Republic and, my favorite, Brazil.

Despite this, they only spoke English at home. My Mom has always said that they just wanted to be sure that I — and later my brothers — understood the language. She and my father had moved around enough to deal with language barriers. They did not want any confusion. My mother undoubtedly wanted to raise a doctor or a lawyer, the great American dream, but she would read to me daily. I think back at how much she read to me — it’s quite staggering. We read all sorts of books together. We read all the kids books, of course, but we also read Agatha Christie mysteries, and the Diary of Anne Frank, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Moby Dick, and the Judy Blume collection and various other classics and many, many other books. My mother loved to read, and I think she wanted me to love to read. My mother loved movies, and I think she wanted me to love movies. I don’t think it had much to do with writing. I’m quite sure it had nothing to do with writing. But I don’t now that either of us understood then how closely reading and listening and writing really are.

In any case, I remember one moment in particular. It was the day my mother was telling me about the most beautiful word. I was probably in the second or third grade, and we all had to write poems or essays for some kind of school magazine. I brought home the magazine and, as always, I don’t remember any particular comment about the story I wrote (assuming mine made the magazine — I don’t remember … I’m sure I got a parental “very nice job”). Anyway one of my classmates wrote an essay that my mother particularly likes. He had used the word, and I can still remember my mother saying: “You know what word is beautiful?”

“What/”

“The word “For.”

“What? Four?”

“No. For. The word ‘for’ is a beautiful word. ‘For she was heartbroken.’ ‘For he had not realized how much he loved her.’ The word ‘for” if used right is really a beautiful word.”

Of course, our conversation was not like this word-for-word — this was 35 years ago at least. But it was probably pretty close. The memory is strong. I never quite forgot it. I had never thought that words could be beautiful, not before that conversation. And I probably didn’t think that words could be beautiful after that conversation either. But something stuck with me, something about the way my mother said that. “You know what word is beautiful?” Something kind of clicked with me, I think; it was a whole other way of looking at words. And over time I was start to think about that, how words sound together, how the pacing of language and how the velocity and tempo can create layers of meaning, the staggering power of the simplest words. That power of those simple words could be like the power of simple-looking chess movies or short right crosses or quick Mike Schmidt/Bob Horner baseball swings.

I don’t know that I have ever used the word “for” in its poetic and literary form, to mean “because” or “since” but my mother’s tastes have always run a bit more Victorian than my own and anyway I can hear why the words sounded so beautiful to her. I guess, in the end, I don’t know how I became a writer. I simply can’t think that way. But I do know that without realizing it my mother raised me as one, for she loved words, even the smallest ones, and without realizing it she passed that love to her oldest son.

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RIP Rosalia

Tony Pena’s mother Rosalia passed away at the age of 79.

This is the story I wrote about him … and her.

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Trading walks for hits

A few people have written in to ask about the methodology behind the 500 walks for 325 singles … which is kind of tragic because, of course, this is ME which means there IS no reasonable methodology.

But since people have written in, here is my thinking about the basic concept.

1. We estimate that 500 walks equals 325 singles. Bill James mentions that smart people have come up with this formula, which as Tom Tango points out really comes from Pete Palmer’s linear weights.

Pete estimates that a walk is worth .32 runs.

500 x .32 = 160 runs.

Pete estimates that a single is worth .48 runs.

333 * .48 = 160 runs

So, by linear weights, 500 walks would equal 333 singles. But to round it out — and because many people seem utterly incapable of appreciating the concept that a walk is worth anything close to a single* — we go with 325 singles.

*Quite a few people wrote in to make this very point — that a single is better than a walk. They then give reasons why it’s better than a walk. They then say that beyond those reasons there are fuzzy intangible reasons (such a fielder making an error on a single or the psychological effect of a single on a pitcher’s psyche) that a single is better than a walk.

I thought it was obvious from the first point: A single IS better than a walk. That’s the whole point of this thought experiment. That’s why you have to trade 500 walks for only 325 singles. That exchange rate is based on some pretty intensive study of the game. If you think the exchange rate is too high, OK. If you think the people who broke down the game bit by bit by bit to come up with the exchange rate didn’t consider the psychological effects enough, OK. But at some point don’t we have to concede that walks have some value compared to singles? Saying that walks are only worth about 65% as much as singles actually seems low to me, but I’m willing to go low to make the point.

2. Numerous people wonder what happens to the 175 plate appearances that are voided when we trade in the 500 walks for 325 singles. I don’t have the math chops to answer the question properly but it seems to me they have to just go away. We can’t count them as outs because they’re not outs. The formula is not “(500 walks) = (325 singles + 175 outs).” No, it’s a straight up trade.

I think the hardest part of this to mentally overcome is — this is a VALUE swap. This is not a literal swap. You are not, in fact, trading 500 walks for 325 singles. Someone wrote in to say that if Harold Baines made this trade, his 325 extra hits would push him over 3,000 and make him a sure Hall of Famer. But, as I see it, this is not at all how it works. You are not literally getting 325 extra hits (and if you were, 3,000 hits would not longer be as meaningful anyway). All we are trying to do here is move VALUE from one column to another. The overall picture should not change. We’re just trying to look at the same thing in a different way.

Think of it as red marbles and blue marbles. Say that a red marble is worth about a dollar. And the blue marble is worth about 65 cents.

Player 1 has 1000 red marbles and 400 blue marbles. That’s worth $1,260.

Player 2 has 800 red marbles and 800 blue marbles. That’s worth $1,320.

Now, let’s say that because of bias against blue marbles, most people remain CONVINCED that the first player is more valuable. People just don’t believe in blue marbles, don’t think they’re worth that much (or anything at all). They only care about red. And look: Player 1 has more red marbles. So Player 1 goes to the Hall of Fame while Player 2 falls off the ballot and is consigned to spending a life in Internet blog limbo being praised by obscure baseball writers with nothing else to do but come up with examples about FREAKING MARBLES. What is this, 1913? Spanky and the gang coming over? The Great Brain? Who plays marbles anymore?*

*Actually, my youngest daughter — for reasons I cannot quite fathom — brought home a book about marbles which included a small bag of marbles. And so we ended up playing marbles. This blog, as always, comes right out of my life.

Back to the marble experiment: One way you might try to PROVE that Player 2 is more valuable is to come up with a conversion rate and have him cash in those blue marbles for red so that people might get a different perspective. In this case, like in the walks for hits case, 500 blue marbles would be worth roughly 325 red ones. And that’s the whole trade. You don’t worry about the 175 fewer marbles that you’re getting. The point is value.

3. I think the biggest problem will all this is that none of this should be necessary. We should be able to look at the many, many stats we have — OBP, SLG, WAR, OPS+, wOBA, RC, VORP, ETC. — and come up with a pretty good picture of the player. But, the reality is that there are biases that are just difficult to overcome, and one of those is putting the proper value on walks. I am often reminded of Leigh Steinberg’s famous story about negotiating with Cincinnati owner Mike Brown — anyway, I’m pretty sure it was Steinberg who told me this. Brown had taken one of the Steinberg’s clients with a very high pick, and he sat down with Mike at their first negotiation and said something like: “OK, let’s get started.”

And Mike said: “I am wondering why we have to give a player a large signing bonus when he has never played a down in the NFL.”

That was the starting point of negotiations: The elimination of signing bonuses. It’s like the negotiation was starting in 1958, like the first offer was for room and board. That’s how I feel sometimes when it comes to walks. People — real baseball fans in 2011 — will actually say things like, “Anyone can talk a walk,” or “what’s the big deal of watching four bad pitches go by?”

More astute baseball fans will downplay the walk totals of power hitters because apparently much of their walking is simply pitchers refusing to face them. But the walk rates of power hitters shifts madly — just among the 300-home-run club from Pudge Rodriguez (5%) to Ted Williams (20.6%). Andre Dawson didn’t walk. Jim Rice didn’t walk. Orlando Cepeda didn’t walk. Ernie Banks didn’t walk. Dave Kingman didn’t walk. Lee May … Willie Horton … Dave Parker … Matt Williams … Joe Adcock … some of the most intimidating hitters in the history of the game did not walk hardly at all. Walking is a real skill.

Let’s face it: Many people just don’t like walks. There’s something insubstantial about them; for many a walk is like getting on base on a technicality. And that’s OK. You don’t have to like walks. I don’t like pennies. I think they’re pointless and stupid; they clog up my pockets and my car ashtray, they clang around in the dryer, they drive me nuts. But 100 pennies is a dollar … 10,000 pennies is $100 … and a hundred million pennies is a million dollars. And if you are 12 cents short of a toll, you would be happy to find 12 pennies.

A walk is worth a lot more than a penny. A walk, I think, is worth a lot more than most people realize. That’s why I did this crazy exercise. To make that point.

OK … so now we’re through the explanations, we have come this, I figure I might as well go all the way and figure out something like a true batting average for every player with more than 5,000 plate appearances. This is just a simpler and dirtier version of some of the much, much, much better offensive stats out there like wOBA. All I did was trade in all of a players walks for singles … at a .65 exchange rate. That gave me a value batting average and a value slugging percentage (on-base percentage is now irrelevant). I multiplied those two numbers which gave me … something or other, I don’t really know. But it’s kind of a cool list. I’ll give you some of the highlights below.

First I’ll tell you: The best value batting average, as you might have guessed, belonged to Ted Williams (.440). The best value slugging percentage, as you might have guessed, belonged to Babe Ruth (.732). The worst value batting average belonged to the late great George McBride, who must have been the greatest fielder in the history of baseball because from 1911-14 he hit .220/.290/.270 … and he got MVP consideration EVERY YEAR. George McBride’s value batting average (.254) was quite a bit lower than anyone else’s. McBride’s value slugging percentage (.298) was BY FAR the worst in baseball history.

OK, so we’ll give you a list of the best players … skipping around after we get through the top few. The score is their 300*(value batting average * value slugging). Why 300? No reason — it just gave the numbers a little more oomph — I like showing Babe Ruth’s score a 95.0 rather than the percentage (.317). The order would be the same either way.

One more thing: These numbers are raw — I don’t have the math skills to consider park factors or era or any of that. I don’t really have the math skills to do what I’ve done. And so these numbers are skewed toward big offensive eras. If someone wants to do this with era and park considered … I’ll happily give you the blog for a day.

1. Babe Ruth (95.0)
2. Ted Williams (90.7)
3. Lou Gehrig (83.1)
4. Barry Bonds (79.5)
5. Albert Pujols (78.0)
— Yep, there’s Pujols. Fifth on the list. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the contract — I think the smart thing for him to do is stay in St. Louis. But I do know that another three or four more years of playing at his ordinary pace, we will have to start talking about whether Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter in baseball history. We really could start talking about it now.

6. Jimmie Foxx (77.1)
7. Rogers Hornsby (74.4)
8. Hank Greenberg (73.2)
9. Manny Ramirez (71.0)
— I think it’s fair to say there has never been another player like Manny Ramirez. I actually heard a couple of people arguing about whether Manny will ever go to the Hall of Fame. He has the steroid stain, he was a goofball, he often played defense with heroic indifference. And he almost always played for winners, and he’s one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. How do you solve a problem like Manny?

10. Todd Helton (70.6)
— Here’s the irony of Coors Field: It undoubtedly helped players put up ENORMOUS numbers. And at exactly the same time, it undoubtedly made those numbers look like mirages. Todd Helton’s career numbers are .324/.424/.555 which are absurd. And you get the sense that if he had put up significantly WORSE numbers but played his whole career somewhere else, his career might be valued higher.

11. Mickey Mantle (70.3)
12. Frank Thomas (69.7)
13. Stan Musial (69.6)
14. Joe DiMaggio (67.9)
15. Mark McGwire (67.5)
16. Jim Thome (66.9)
17. Ty Cobb (66.7)
— If you told pretty much any baseball fan that you think Mark McGwire or Jim Thome was a better hitter than Ty Cobb, they would think you were off your rocker. And they might be right. But Cobb played a long time ago and baseball was a very, very different game. There was a much smaller pool of players to choose from — not only because the game did not include African Americans or dark-skinned Latinos, not only because the game did not extend out to other countries, but also because America was a much smaller country. There were only 83 million people living in America in 1905, when Cobb entered the Major Leagues. The game was played in the day, in the East, with a dead ball for most of Cobb’s years. I don’t have any reason to believe McGwire or Thome could have gone back to that era and played as well as the rough-and-tumble Cobb. But, similarly, I don’t have any reason to believe Cobb could be transported to our era and be as valuable as Thome or McGwire.

18. Lance Berkman (66.7)
19. Larry Walker (66.0)
20. Mel Ott (65.9)
— From here on, we will pick out a few interesting players. You have probably noticed that just about everyone on this list is from a certain time period — either the 1920s and 1930s or the Selig Era. Those were just the big offensive eras. There is nobody yet on the list who played predominantly in the 1970s, for instance. Only Mantle among the list so far got significant at-bats in the 1960s, and he was a very different player after 1961 (.277/.412/.508) than he was through 1961 (.308/.429/.579)

21. Chipper Jones (65.7)
— Wildly underrated even by people who pause to call him wildly underrated.

23. Jeff Bagwell (65.4)
— Third guy on the Hall of Fame ballot. Even beyond steroids, the numbers of the era were dramatically inflated. Rob Neyer brings up the point — and he’s right — that even forgetting PEDs we should try to keep the numbers of the Selig Era in context. A pitcher with a 2.50 ERA during Deadball is viewed very differently. A hitter with a .500 slugging percentage during the Selig Era should probably be viewed differently as well. Maybe, in the end, that is how we will all come to some consensus on the era — by simply marking everyone down a certain percentage.

28. Alex Rodriguez (64.5)
— Question for you: What has a better chance of happening?

1. Tiger Woods breaks Jack Nicklaus’ major record.
2. Alex Rodriguez breaks Barry Bonds’ home run record.
3. Both.
4. Neither.

31. Willie Mays (63.7)
— Someone could say that a system that ranks Willie Mays this low is, by definition, faulty. I would not disagree with that. This system is ridiculous.

37. Hank Aaron (61.9)
38. Albert Belle (61.5)
— How about this combination?

49 Dick Allen (60.4)
50. Gary Sheffield (60.2)
— Or this one?

54. Mike Schmidt (59.6)
— I was surprised he scored this low. But even with all his walks, his value batting average was “only” .344.

60. Jackie Robinson (58.3)
— He really was a great player even beyond his contribution as a pioneer.

69. Wade Boggs (57.6)
— The only player in the Top 84 who did not value slug .500.

82. John Olerud (56.6)
— He’s the guy who started this whole mess … Bill James thought that people were not valuing Olerud properly. On this list he ranks one below Juan Gonzalez, and one spot above Eddie Collins.

102. Al Kaline (54.6)
103. George Brett (54.6)
— Ridiculously low for two all-time greats. Their just wasn’t much offense going on during their eras.

167. Roberto Clemente (51.4)
— And if Kaline and Brett’s low ranking wasn’t enough to make you mad … hey, I’m just recording what those numbers show. This is as good a time as any to remind you that we are only talking offense here — and in a limited way. We are only talking about average and walks and power. There’s no measurement of speed or defense or arm, we’re not trying to say who are the best players but simply trying to find the hidden value of players who walked a lot. Clemente did not walk at all. His power numbers were crushed by the pitchers era he played in. This isn’t his kind of list.

196. Robbie Alomar (50.3)
197. Harold Baines (50.3)
— A couple of Hall of Fame ballot guys, the top guy got in, the bottom guy got knocked off the ballot. Of course, the top guy could run a little and played some pretty good defense.

247. Ichiro Suzuki (48.9)
— Like Clemente, this exercise doesn’t really do him justice. He doesn’t walk or hit with power.

265. Andruw Jones (48.5)
— The newest Yankee is two spots above Alfonso Soriano, three spots ahead of Tino Martinez.

291. Bobby Grich (47.9)
292. Lou Whitaker (47.9)
— Snubbed Hall of Fame victim Grich please meet Snubbed Hall of Fame victim Whitaker.

299. Tony Perez (47.6)
— I love Doggie, love the guy, and am very, very happy that he is in the Hall of Fame. But there’s no question that he’s one of those players — like Catfish Hunter, like Kirby Puckett, like Jim Rice, like a bunch of guys from the 1940s — who inspires lobbyists to crow about various other borderline candidates.

315. Johnny Damon (47.1)
— Reports have him signing with Tampa, which means he will be playing for his fourth different team in seven years. I do believe Johnny Damon will get to 3,000 hits. He is 429 hits short, and he’s just turned 37, and I have to think he has three years left in him — Bill James estimates his chances at 3,000 hits at 57%. Interesting though: I used to think that, hey, if Damon gets to 3,000 hits he would probably get to the Hall of Fame. That’s not to say I think Damon is a Hall of Famer. But it’s still a TINY group of players who have 3,000 hits — only 24 since 1900 — and truth is that every eligible 3,000 hit guy in the last 50 years not only went into the Hall but went first ballot.

UNTIL this year …when Rafael Palmeiro got almost no support despite his 3,000 hits. Now, Palmeiro’s lack of support has nothing whatsoever to do with his numbers. His perception problem is more chemical in nature. But I can’t help but think that once you exclude one 3,000-hit guy, for whatever reason, the standards change. Until 1991, every single player with 400 homers was inducted into the Hall of Fame. This caused a now-funny bit of Millennium Bug panic when Dave Kingman hit his 400th homer. What would the votes do? Dave Kingman was clearly not a Hall of Famer. But he hit 400 home runs! What would the voters do?

What the voters did was give Kingman exactly three votes. And from that point on, 400 homers was no longer a Hall of Fame standard. Darrell Evans hit 400 homers, and he walked a lot (Evans value is 47.9 — excellent for his era), and he offered defensive value, especially in his younger years. He got eight votes. The 400 home run line no longer existed, not because it meant less but because a one-dimensional slug like Dave Kingman achieved it. I think Palmeiro’s 3,000 hits — though it has nothing to do with the achievement — will end the 3,000-hits as automatic Hall of Famer standard as well.

322. Ryne Sandberg (46.9)
— I have a friend, a Cardinals fan, who has what even she would admit is an unhealthy dislike for Ryne Sandberg. When I once mentioned that maybe Sandberg could manage the Cardinals after La Russa left, she gave me a very dangerous look.

361. Cal Ripken (46.0)
— At age 30, Ripken was hitting .279/.349/.467 … which probably doesn’t look like much now, but that was after the 1991 season and it meant that he had a 126 OPS+. For a good defensive shortstop who played every single day, those were pretty extraordinary numbers, almost unprecedented numbers. You really had to back to the young Ernie Banks to find a shortstop who was that good as hitter for more that just a handful of years (Robin Yount became a terrific hitter his last five years as a shortstop; Rico Petrocelli had his moments, etc).

After age 30, Ripken hit .271/.329/.424 … which is certainly worse, but not seemingly that much worse. Take out his last two years and the line is .276/.336/.428 — about the same hitter but with the inevitable loss of power. His OPS+ after age 30? A not-so-robust 94. Ripken did change, no question. He lost much of his defensive footing, and his power dropped, and he never had a great year after 1991. But while everyone talks about how much Ripken changed, I think the era changed ever more.

665. Omar Vizquel (37.3)
759. Rabbit Maranville (33.2)

— I was just reading somewhere … Omar Vizquel has a chance this year to tie a couple of players (Luke Sewell and Rabbit Maranville) for most season in a career with an OPS+ less than 100. Sewell was a remarkably powerless catcher (he hit 20 homers in more than 6,000 plate appearances) who every now and again would hit for a decent average and suddenly get MVP consideration. He must have been some kind of remarkable defensively. Maranville is one of the early legends of the game, a Hall of Famer, a defensive marvel, a topic of many stories, despite his career 82 OPS+.

Vizquel is one of the legends of his time, he has been a defensive marvel and a topic of many stories despite his career 83 OPS+. Vizquel is a lot like Rabbit Maranville. The differences come from era (Maranville spent a lot of time in deadball). Realistically, neither one could hit, but they both “didn’t hit” for a long time. Both left people awestruck with their defense. Both did things on the field that stick with you. I suppose that it comes down to this: If you think Rabbit Maranville belongs in the Hall of Fame, you probably should think Omar Vizquel belongs. If not … not.

802. Ozzie Guillen (29.7)
— “I couldn’t hit for %##%@^#%.”

813. Mark Belanger (26.6)
814. Sandy Alomar Sr. (26.1)
815. Mickey Doolan (25.9)
816. Ed Brinkman (25.8)
817. George McBride (22.8)
— And that’s the end of the list.

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Behind the Back Page

Every now and again, someone will ask how I choose what to write for Sports Illustrated. It’s not an easy process to explain. It’s rarely a linear thing. Stories tend to come out of good conversations with editors and openings in the magazine’s space and sudden turns and good pitches and interesting twists of thought and a lot of passion. It’s kind of a magical thing, or at least it still feels that way to me. I have a list of story ideas in my computer that probably takes up more memory than Microsoft Word. And I know that 95% of them will become blog posts or will disappear into the ether. A few will somehow become magazine stories.

Saturday, Jan. 8 was my 44th birthday. I celebrated it by taking both girls to their basketball games and then, in early afternoon, flying to Phoenix for the BCS Championship Game. It was during my layover in Minneapolis that I heard something about a shooting in Tucson. The details were fuzzy, but it seemed that a congresswoman had been shot, some were reporting that she had died, some others had been shot too. Before anything had been cleared up, it was time to board a plane.

When we landed in Phoenix, it was dark, and I got lost on the way to the hotel — an event that happens with such regularity that I now incorporate it into my itinerary. I read something about the Arizona shooting when I got to the hotel, saw that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was alive but others had died. And I went to sleep.

All of that is to say that I did not see or hear the name Christina Taylor Green until I woke up early Sunday morning. I wake up early at hotels because my body refuses to accept the basic fact that my young daughters are not there to wake me up. It was still dark in Phoenix when I started to read about Christina. I didn’t know anything about her background then — that she was the daughter of Dodgers scout John Green or the granddaughter of Dallas Green. No, the thing I noticed, the thing that made me keep reading and keep reading was this: Christina was born in 9/11.

Our oldest daughter Elizabeth was born on 8/30 — 12 days before 9/11.

There were many, many people who lost a piece of themselves on 9/11. Beyond that, everyone in America has some connection. Mine was having a tiny baby girl sleeping in my arms as I watched the television, as we watched the towers crash to the ground. We were first time parents, and we were emotional anyway, and we were exhausted, and we were hopeful, and we were scared … and now we were watching everything go to hell. The clash of the promise of a little girl and the smoke at Ground Zero, it was too much for us to understand. When I saw when Christina was born, I thought of Elizabeth and I could not stop thinking of the two of them, the same age, liking many of the same things, being so much alike. And then I read how Christina had asked the neighbors to take her to meet Giffords because Christina had been elected to her school council and wanted to learn more about politics.

That’s about when I started crying. I don’t cry. I don’t say that proudly or with any shame, it just is, I am not an outwardly emotional person. But there, alone in a Phoenix hotel room, staring at a computer screen, I sobbed. I knew I wasn’t alone.

And not long after that I learned that John Green was her father and Dallas Green was her grandfather.

I didn’t go to Tucson knowing that I would write about this awful thing. I just needed to go. At Christina’s school, I saw a memorial made by children — teddy bears, ballet shoes, posters, billboards, photographs, ribbons, roses, all sorts of bright colors, the sort of thing you might expect to find in nine-year-old heaven. Behind the Safeway, where the shooting had taken place, I saw a parking lot surrounded by police tape, and I saw a father standing there with three well-dressed children. The two girls were wearing matching dresses. The boy was wearing a little jacket and a tie. I saw the father stand the three children against the police rope, with the crime scene in the background, and I saw him step back a few paces, pull out a camera and take their picture.

How do we make sense of this kind of madness? Six died here because of the loose wiring in the head of a lost soul. A woman was clinging to life in a hospital bed. Around the nation people argued about what it all meant — some arguing for gun control, some arguing for watching the mentally ill with more vigilance, some arguing for less vitriol, some arguing for less political opportunism, some arguing because there is always more time to fill. And a man took his family photograph in front of the police tape in a bloody parking lot.

I decided to write about John Green because I was overwhelmed by the strength he showed. He and his wife Roxanna, the way the handled themselves, the words they spoke — these seemed the one real thing to cling to in the swirling madness. Where does that strength come from? How do we keep going? I talked with some of John’s friends, his fellow baseball scouts, to ask them if the John Green that we were all seeing on television was the John Green they had known. It turned out he was. “A John Wayne character,” his friend Logan White said.

Sportswriters — we deal with losses that aren’t real losses. That’s part of what’s fun about the job. News reporters deal with tragedy all the time. They interview people who have lost everything. They talk with loved ones who are unsure how they will go on. They try to bring some kind of reason to madness. There is the old newspaper line — if it bleeds, it lead — and I suppose that cynicism will always be a big part of the way we digest the world around us. But, maybe it isn’t that people want to read or hear about tragedy. Maybe we want to read or hear about strength in the face of tragedy. Maybe we just want to believe, through it all, that people somehow go on.

My story on John and Christina Green is here and on the back page of Sports Illustrated this week.

My conversation with colleague Richard Deitsch about the story is here and in this week’s SI iPad app.

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Snow Day

Well, you voted for “Snow Day.” So here’s a Snow Day post. I have no idea what it’s about.

* * *

My favorite kind of snow days were always the kind I didn’t know about when I went to bed the night before. That goes along with a theory of life I came up with when I was about 11 years old — you never, ever are more comfortable than when you need to be doing something else. I have since come to realize that this is not a theory but fact, and that I did not come up with the theory anymore than I came up with the miraculous concept of changing my team’s sporting luck by shifting into a different watching position.*

*Many years ago, when I was just starting out at The Charlotte Observer, I went to Fayetteville, NC and wrote a story about Putt Putt founder Don Clayton. I was too young to fully appreciate his story, I think, because Clayton was one of those rare people you run into who is half myth, half real. He was kind of the Evel Knievel of miniature golf. He was a self-made millionaire who (if you believed the stories) once lived in a brothel and was once almost shot by his stepfather and once almost had a nervous breakdown when he was trying to sell insurance and so on. I wasn’t yet equipped to deal with the many layers of that sort of story. It was like giving a student driver a Formula One car. Don died about 15 years ago.

Anyway, I could only follow the basics: One day after playing miniature golf on some crummy dirt course swarming with bees and lazy windmills that turned half-heartedly, Don decided that he could do way better. And so he created a classier kind of miniature golf, with green mats that were cleaned daily and multi-colored balls (that disappeared on the 18th hole) and no windmill gimmicks. Over time, he added fun centers with video games. Over time, he started promoting Putt Putt with commercials (“Putt Putt for the fun of it!”) and with a televised Putt Putt competition which featured putting savants and was announced by Clayton and Billy Packer. Billy was a GREAT Putt-Putt announcer, by the way.

In any case, I bring him up here because of one extraordinary thing he told me that I DID include in the story. He said that wherever he would go around country and around the world — because he built Putt Putt courses in many other countries — he would see the same thing again and again. He would see a child, no older than 3, trying to putt the ball into the hole. And after ineffectively smacking the ball around a few dozen times, they would all do the same thing. They would grab the ball, put it right next to the hole, and putt it in. They never put the ball IN the hole. No. They put it right next to the hole and putted it in. When our youngest daughter was three, she played miniature golf, and sure enough she did PRECISELY the same thing.

And I’m sure she thought she had invented it.

My version of the “You are never more comfortable” theory goes like so: You are lying on the couch watching something kind of pointless on TV — for me it might be a cooking show where the host is making something with artichokes and cabbage, or a home improvement show where the host is tearing down a wall to expand his bathroom. I will never do either of these things, ever. But in that bored stupor, I will start thinking about it. No, I don’t like artichokes and cabbage, but maybe if I add leeks the flavor will entirely change. And, hey, maybe I could tear down the wall in the downstairs bathroom and make that thing bigger. There’s absolutely no chance of these things happen — it is literally a zero percent chance, zero, it is more likely that someone will invent a flying pill and I will away fly to China before either of these things happen. Still, I will watch these shows when I have nothing else to do (or nothing else that I particularly want to do).

And in that situation, I am never entirely comfortable. Ever. I want a Diet Coke to drink. The volume’s too loud or too quiet. The couch cushions aren’t right, or I’m a little bit hot, or the sun is coming through the windows in an annoying way, or it’s too dark in the room or SOMETHING.

Now, different situation: I have to shovel the driveway right now. No, really, this is true. Our driveway is an absolute mess, and we have someone flying into town (for reasons I’d rather not get into), and I HAVE to go outside and shovel the driveway, there’s no way around it. And I have to tell you that my chair here in my office, which is slightly broken and leans badly to the right and was never especially agreeable in the first place, has suddenly become the most comfortable chair on planet earth. No, I’m completely serious. My wife is shouting from downstairs, the girls are getting dressed so they can “help,” and this stupid office chair suddenly feels like the bed they carried Cleopatra around in … I’m waiting for someone to drop grapes in my mouth.*

*Through the magic of time-lapse blogging, I am writing this Pozterisk AFTER I have shoveled the driveway. In truth, I don’t shovel anymore — that’s the wrong verb. I shoveled driveways until I was 43 years old. I believed in shoveling because I grew up in Cleveland, and I have been shoveling driveways since I was 6, and this was one theme that I carried with me, like the Cleve-bonic plague: Real people shovel driveways. Then last year, I had two revelations at about the same time. (1) People seem to have heart attacks while shoveling driveways and (2) Nobody else even understands my shoveling principle, much less admires me for them. So, I got a snow-blower, which inspired a third revelation: (3) What in the hell have I been thinking all these years?

So, I revved up the snowblower and cleaned out the driveway, opened up the paths to the neighbors (imagining all the while that the snowblower was Pac-Man chomping dots … hey, you clear your driveway your way, and I’ll do it mine), and about threw out my back because snow blower or not I’m in terrible shape. Now I’m back in my chair and, as expected, it it not one-one-thousandth as comfortable as it was before I went out there to shovel. In fact, this is the least comfortable chair in the bleepin’ house. My back hurts. This stupid chair leans so far to the right I feel like a tourist attraction. I have to finish this stupid post because I put up a poll about it. Nothing feels right at the moment.

Built around this theory — unexpected snow days were the best ever. I never slept better than I did on a surprise snow day. I’d wake up like one of those kids on Christmas morning in one of those holiday movies, sprightly, full of life, wondering why it was so bright, wondering why nobody had kicked my bed for school. And slowly it would dawn on me: SNOW DAY! And that was the best feeling in the entire world.

When you become an adult, snow days are not nearly as cool as they used to be … and by this I mean they suck. The roads suck. The other drivers suck. The biting cold sucks. Brushing snow off your car sucks. Waiting for the heat to kick in sucks. Slipping on ice sucks. Going to supermarket sucks. Going to work sucks (and except for a few there ARE no work snow days). The wind blowing snow back on your driveway after you’ve shoveled sucks. It all kind of sucks.

Except … this morning, woke up, and even thought it was cloudy outside it was also bright, the kind of glitter only snow provides. It’s sort of like turning up the brightness level on your computer only it’s that way for the WHOLE WORLD. The snow looks beautiful in the morning, before the footprints, before the plows push slush. Everything feels peaceful. The girls were running around in their pajamas, thrilled beyond belief about the snow day, the youngest looking every bit like Cindy Lou Who. They were so happy — for them this day is a little bit of a miracle. They were supposed to go to school. And then, God dropped a lot of cold white rain on the world and granted them a day of Polly Pockets, board games and sledding. They look in the refrigerator for carrots in case they get to build a snowman.

And, yeah, I don’t ever want to get old enough that I can’t help but get caught up in that, at least a little bit. I’m not that far removed from childhood, am I? I watch them, and I remember one of my best friends growing up, his father had a trick knee which would hurt whenever it was about to rain really hard or snow. This was in North Carolina, so snow didn’t come often, but the knee never failed to predict rain. I remember one day my friend calling me late and saying: “There won’t be any school tomorrow. Dad’s knee hurts.” I looked outside. It was clear. It didn’t seem very cold either. And it was North Carolina, where it didn’t snow. I set the alarm clock like always, and I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up — my alarm clock had not gone off. It was bright outside. I was going to miss school. I jumped out of bed, started to do the fireman dressing thing, and then I looked outside … and there was snow everywhere. Everywhere. A miracle. My parents had turned off the alarm clock and let me sleep. The day was so bright I had to cover my eyes. That’s how it is outside now … so bright I have to cover my eyes. But I look at the girls and I remember: Kids don’t cover their eyes.

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The Mom Perspective

I wrote about our daughter’s first goal. Well, so did Margo. Leave a message, she’d appreciate it.

Also … have to pass along our good friend Tommy Tomlinson’s latest contribution to JoeWords.

Comflict (n): A stupid, silly argument that almost never happens in real life but happens all the time in sitcoms.

You can leave your own comflict suggestions in the comments.

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