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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

We all love the spring, don't we?

Chock full of anticipation, for just as we were kids and could not wait to see the new baseball cards, and then, mercifully for the season to begin, well, nothing changes.

That Pavlovian feeling morphed into wating for new Strat-O-Matic cards, to the new version of the Bill James Baseball Abstract and then The Bill Mazeroski Annual until the sophisticated books like The Forecaster and the STATS Notebook. This week, spring games even started, and suddenly it is time to bag all the mock drafts in which we have participated the last six weeks as the bullet hits the bone.

Today, I am winging my way to Phoenix for LABR 2010, as well as a quick shot at the Athletics and Angels (last year during the stopover I saw the debut of Brett Anderson).

Next week my Scoresheet League drafts on Saturday, and then on Monday, there is the Bloomberg League (in fact the league is soliciting six regular guy players, so see the piece on the Mastersblog on how to participate), and then comes the first NFBC weekend in Vegas.

The month culimates in New York with both Tout and the NFBC, and, while I am guessing your schedule is not quite so broad and travelled, you likely have a similar set up with drafts and dates that were penciled into your calendar, or entered to a mobile device and Outlook months ago.

And, like Christmas, or Hanukah, or your birthday when you were back in those baseball card days, the date seemed like it would never get here and pow, here it is.

Of course the travelling is fun, but hard on me. And, though I love playing in all those leagues, well, seeing my leaguemates and sharing some time with them is the best part by far.

Somehow I get to see these guys off and on in the month of March as we all zig zag the country and hook up here and there for various leagues, and the time is great, but short. And, I know I won't see most of them again till the fall when we all converge again on Phoenix for the BBHQ AFL soiree hosted by Ron Shandler. In fact, if any of the above rings true for you, well, you owe it to yourself to attend, for it is so much more relaxed, and, well, is the best time I have during the season watching games. And, well, I see a lot of games during the season.

It is a lot of fun, no? A whirlwind, but, a lot of fun. At least, I am guessing you are having as much fun this month as I am.

Earilier in the fall I wrote about the retirement of Randy Johnson, and then a few weeks ago, that of Frank Thomas. Well, on the same day that Thomas retired, Braves (and sometime Met hurler) Tom Glavine also called it a career after 22 seasons and 305 wins.

Meaning this year three players retired, all of whom should be first ballot Hall of Fame inductees in 2015, when they will likely be inducted. And, the last time three like players both retired, and joined the Hall together was the fabulous troika of George Brett, Robin Yount, and Nolan Ryan (in fact I attended that particular induction ceremony).

But, this year it hardly seemed fair to acknowledge Johnson and Thomas without mentioning Glavine.

Maybe because Glavine was so low-key, pitching in the rotation with first Greg Maddux, then John Smoltz, both of whom garnered more ink than the subtle lefty. And, both of whom, along with the other names on this list always seemed so much more dominant.

But, make no mistake, Glavine, did win 305 games, making him one of a select crowd alone. And, he won 20 games five times, and won two Cy Young awards (in 1991 and 1998). So, he was more than good, but, as a soft thrower who could actually pitch, Glavine was not a strikeout machine like say Ryan or Johnson, nor could he command the strike zone like Maddux.

He was kind of a throwback, mixing speeds and control, taking advantage of the batter's weakness or anxiety, and parlaying that into a career that probably never defined him as the best pitcher in baseball, but proved him to be so consistant for such a prolonged period, that he clearly deserves recognition.

Much like Don Sutton, who did get into the Hall a few years back, but carried that same knock, that he was never the best pitcher in baseball at any time he pitched. In there is an argument for that, but, the durability and dependability--for in those 22 years, and in particular the years between 1988 and 2007, Glavine started fewer than 30 games only three times, with 29 in 1989, 25 in 1994, and again 29 in 1995, amassing 4413 innings and 2605 whiffs over that span.

So, while there is something riveting about the dominance of Ryan, or the bat of Thomas, well, the quiet workmanlike way in which Glavine got it done is just as worthy of high recognition.

And, well, if things do see to happen in threes, and Glavine joins the groups above, there is also the chance that both his Braves brethern, Maddux and Smoltz make the Hall too.

Because good things do seem to happen in threes.

I cannot claim to be a Tiger Woods fan. I mean, I like him, but for what it is worth, I don't follow golf, and I don't play (at least anymore, and I have not for 35 years, but that is another story) it either. But, I also am ambivalent about Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky for the same reasons.

Certainly I recognize that all three of the troika above are, or, I guess were not only dominant in their relative sport, but players with a singular exceptional skill set that really redefined their sport. In baseball, as good as many players have been, only Babe Ruth really comes to mind as single-handedly rewriting everything.

In football, the other sport I follow, it is hard to think of players, although surely Brett Favre and Joes Namath and Montana could be included. But, I think more in terms of coaches like Paul Brown and Don Shula and Weeb Ewbank and Tom Landry as being the real innovators.

But, as usual, I digress.

I have sort of watched with amusement as sex revealed itself as Tiger's Aristotelean Tragic Flaw, and his resulting fall from grace since last Thanksgiving.

But, I am pretty much never shocked by our personal misdeeds. In a world with the beliefs that we share, where it is so easy to judge others while making excuses for our own transgressions, I tend to take the cynical approach espoused by Groucho Marx when he said he would not want to belong to a club that would have him for a member.

For, certainly it implies a lowering of standards in a funny self deprecating way, but, the idea also suggests a subtle air of superiority.

And so I have had a hard time with those so eager to jump on Tiger and his transgressions. To condemn his religious beliefs (in ignorance, I might add) as the source of his problems, for example, or to just be fascinated with Tiger's sexploits while simultaneously acting outraged at any form of transgression is just kind of two-faced to me.

My biggest issue with Tiger has been two fold. First, he was stupid. As in dumb and stupid for not realizing that eventually this would catch up with him. And, second, despite the temptation--and remember it was the great Oscar Wilde who said "I can resist anything except temptation--that Tiger did not realize his fans, let alone sponsors, let alone wife and family would not be at best disappointed in his behavior, and simply using that as a line in the sand suggest a lack of consciousness to me.

On the flip, I would be happy to guess that 80% of those criticizing Tiger's morality would not have such an easy time as they say extricating themselves from offers of pleasure from more beautiful women than one can imagine. And, well, let's face it, he is not only still a young man in many ways. At just 34, Tiger's life and exposure to public scrutiny is not that much different from say another guy who came into public scrutiny and disfavor, Michael Jackson.

In fairness neither of these guys led anything close to a normal childhood, let alone life, and while I am not trying to make excuses for either, the rules under which both grew into maturity were different from most of the rest of us, for better or worse. So, that adds another layer when judging, and one none of us can really appreciate.

That said, for some reason I watched Tiger's 14-minute talk (for it was not really a press conference) today, and, well, I totally respect what he did, and what he said.

For, he took responsibility for his actions, and for being the one who must correct the path of his life if he wishes to continue with success, let alone happiness.

Our culture is so anxious to expect this responsibility, save when they are involved (I get flushed when I think, for example, of the "party of personal responsibility" for as I see it, people who say this never taking any at all).

Of course, as noted above, there is indeed more than just saying the words: there following up on them, and in that instance, Tiger still has some work to do to regain his credibility. But, Tiger also took the toughest part seriously: he stood up in front of the world, alone, and said he did it and he will work to fix things.

I wish him well. I think he is halfway there.

By the way, I hate to take away from the sincerity and seriousness of Tiger's talk, but, did anyone notice when Tiger said he was concerned about being accused of using "performance enhancing" drugs?  I had to chuckle, thinking, "hmmm, does he mean HGH or Viagra?"

 

I am sure I have mentioned this before, but for some reason whenever I hear a reference to former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, I think of Toni Fischer's 1959 hit The Big Hurt.

And, as it turns out, I happen to be in Chicago (it is Super Bowl week and that is where I spend it these days) where Thomas and his bat did the bulk of their damage in The Show, and where yesterday morning he officially retired from baseball.

Thomas is one of those guys who to me simply had a charmed everything, not that he did not work hard at it. He was born May 27, 1968, amazingly enough the same day as another potential HOF'er, Jeff Bagwell. He played baseball, but also was a tight end at Auburn at the same time Bo Jackson was a running back.

And, he debuted, auspiciously as a White Sox on August 2, 1990, and never looked back, hitting .330-7-30 over 62 games that first season, with an incredible .454 OBP, it was clear Thomas had an understanding of the major league strike zone and major league pitching that transcended the skill set of most players.

I thought at the time he came up that he was arguably the best pure hitter the majors had seen since Ted Williams. Proving the point, Thomas went .318-32-109 with  a .453 OBP and 1.006 OPS, leading the league with 138 walks his first full season, and prompting my regular argument that "for every Frank Thomas there are 100 Paul Konerkos, a line designed to emphasize how rare players like Thomas are as opposed the Konerkos who need a few seasons to adjust to the bigs.

Not so Thomas, who was as steady as they come, logging career .301-521-1704 totals over 19 seasons, numbers that will surely make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.

In 2006, when he resurrected his fading career in Oakland with a .270-39-114 season that bought him another year in Toronto, and enough dingers to pass the 500 mark.

And, I remember him, that year, crushing a ball off the center field wall in Oakland while I was scoring a game. As Thomas rounded first he tweaked something in his leg, and instead of advancing to second, he retreated to first and was promptly replaced by a pinch runner. As I was leaving the yard, Thomas sidled up next to me and I asked him how his leg was.

"OK," he said.

"Think you will wind up on the DL?" I asked.

"Naw," he said, "I felt a twinge and I did not want to stretch it and risk anything."

I nodded and looked at him and said, "All I can say is I have never seen anyone hit a single as high or as far or as hard."

"You think?" he asked.

I simply nodded and said no more, feeling pretty happy that the circumstances of life made it so I could even have an exchange with a guy like that.

Not bad. Congrats Frank, on such a wonderful career. For carrying it out with dignity, passion, and style. Because, since Teddy Ballgame, you were the best pure hitter I have seen. And, I have seen a few.

 

Pretty regularly, I get into music threads with my mates Peter Kreutzer, Steve Moyer, and Gene McCaffrey. We all share pretty broad taste in what we listen to, and enjoy advising one another accordingly.

For example, Peter started a thread a month back where he had rediscovered Lou Reed's Berlin, and in the process Darby Crash and The Germs were pulled in, along with Animal Collective and upon Steve's suggestion, Them Crooked Vultures (if you do not yet know them, they are Dave Grohl, Joshua Homme, and John Paul Jones and they are very good).

Over the course of the thread, Steve noted that the Compact Disc (ergo CD) was a thing of the past. Steve also said that the download world has trashed the CD, the way the CD trashed the Cassette, and the Cassette whacked the 8-track, and the 8-track bumped the vinyl. Although be it told, I never really abandoned the album for any format until the CD. Though I did own cassettes, and a handful of 8-tracks.

But, the album--and I mean vinyl when I use that term--translated nicely from the album format. You still got liner notes and pictures and lyrics and all the tactile things that go with listening to an album while perusing the cover and package. Other formats don't lend themselves so readily to translation, but CD to vinyl did work for me. And, apparently my mates.

Truth is, I had not really thought about letting go of my CDs (I have a lot). I still have my albums (again, a lot, and many are duplicated between the medium) and I won't let them go, either. But, generally, over the past 15 years, if I want something new, I buy the CD.

I do have a shuffle--actually now I have an iPhone, a toy I love as much as any I have ever had--so I carry my tunes with me, but I still liked to put CDs in the stacker of my car. Only, over the past few years, the stacker, which is in the trunk, is schizy. Sometimes it cannot read the disk, and sometimes I cannot get it open to retrieve the discs, let alone change them.

And, though my car is a '99, I have the stuff to play my iPhone through through the car stereo, which still boasts a pretty good system.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, the stacker shut down, as in the "CD not recognized" on the dashboard display. Later, I went into the trunk, and could not get the stacker open, either, which was a drag as it was not only full with six discs, but my Crooked Vultures was also among them, and though I could burn a copy, I wanted my disc back.

While I was imagining the car at some shop, costing a fortune to fix, I realized I did not really need to get it fixed. That I had everything in the stacker on my iPhone, and that anything else I wanted, I could copy over. Which meant I really did not have to do anything, save get the discs out of the stacker cartridge.

Which, a couple of days ago, for no reason any more explicable than when the cartridge decides not to surrender its contents back to me, I pushed the button and bingo, out popped the cartridge and my discs.

I put them back in the jewel cases, but, I decided that Steve was right. Anything I want can go on my iPhone.

Sigh. No more CDs for me.

I hope I will adjust.

 

I was 13 years old in the fall of 1966, a sophomore in high school (almost 14, by the way) when my new friend Barry Cassidy gave me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I was already a pretty voracious reader and, sigh, an honors English student, but at the time probably the most challenging novel I had read to date was Harper Lee's wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird. Otherwise, I was into dog stories (Big Red and The Call of the Wild, for example).

And, because of my Crohns Disease, and certainty that I was going to die (by then I had been sick for four years with no end in sight) I was very much interested in reading stories of death. Books on the Alamo and the Little Big Horn, for example were examined hardcore from both sides by me. I read about Santa Anna and Sams Houston and Austin, and William Barrett Travis, trying to get stories from all perspectives, as I did Custer, but also Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.

I read these stories because, to be frank, since I was not feeling well, and as said with nothing out there promising cure wise, I figured I was going to die, and so I wanted to read about death so I could know what it was like when the time came.

In other words, I felt as maladjusted as any 13-year-old, and I was sick every day.

Well, JD Sallinger's book changed things to a large degree, save it took another three years to understand the nature of the Crohns. But, within the pages of the book and the odd journey of Holden Caulfield, I suddenly did not feel so alone. For a boy, just my brother Peter's age, was just as confused and frustrated about the paradoxes of life and what people said and did as I. For I knew the book was very popular, and I knew that whoever wrote it had to understand Holden's perspective in order to convey it.

And I knew that if it sold a lot of copies, more people were probably touched by it than just me.

So, it reassured me about life and suffering and understanding in a way nothing before had. It made me not feel so alone. And, I was grateful, not to mention captivated. In fact I re-read the book every six months for a handful of years, although by then the floodgates were open and I read everything I could get my hands on.

The reclusive Mr. Salinger passed away the other day, at the age of 91. He wrote, that we know of, a handful of short story collections. Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Franny and Zooey. Like all who were fascinated by Salinger, I read them all, but none nailed me like The Catcher in the Rye.

I think he did one interview--to the local high school newspaper--adding to what was legendary, making him even more of a cult hero, to those of us devoted to the words of Holden.

That same day, Historian and Human Rights Activist Howard Zinn also passed away, at the age of 87.

Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, written from the perspective of those outside the mainstream, is a great and honest look at our culture, who we are, where we came from, and why we might be going where we are.

Almost the antithesis of Salinger's disdain for the public light, Zinn spoke and lectured endlessly about civil rights and human rights and dignity everywhere.

They were both great men and influences, and we are all lucky to have had their words. Neither minced his words, and though both could be sentimental, neither wallowed in it. They wrote what they saw. But, what was compelling was that they did it better than most everybody else.

Even better, they did it, as Holden Caulfield would say, "with none of that David Copperfield kind of crap."

Thanks guys. We will miss your presence.

 

 

I got to interview Randy Johnson once. Not alone, but with a bunch of writers in Tucson after a spring game wherein the big lefty was rocked beyond all belief. That was probably back around 1998, and Johnson was not so much surly as he was weary of answering the same stupid questions over and over. At least that is how it looked to me.

In fact, after, one of the local writers told me that Johnson would probably take an off road car out into the desert to think the performance out of his system, and that sounded right to me.

I was also in attendance in in 1999 when Johnson matched up at the then BOB against the Cardinals and Jose Jimenez. Actually that was part of the SABR convention of the year, so there was around 500 of us who witnessed a no-hitter, but it was oddly tossed by Jimenez, not Johnson.

Typical for a young hard thrower, Johnson started in Montreal with promise, and then found himself in Seattle where the lefty really established himself, then moving to Arizona which is where I encountered him as noted above, and then briefly with the Yankees, then back to Arizona, and finally San Francisco. Which was about right as Johnson is a bay area homeboy, and finishing such an illustrious career just made sense at ATT.

Over his 22 seasons Johnson won 303 games, whiffed 4875, and won five Cy Youngs. He also led the league in whiffs per nine innings, walks per nine innings, home runs per nine innings, batters hit per nine innings at various times, and pitched on ten All Star teams and won 20 games three times.

And, since it is January, the month where HOF elections are annually announced, Johnson certainly assembled a career that should be a no-question first ballot entry to Cooperstown.

I had heard over the years that Johnson could be aloof with the press, and even surly. But, my read, especially after that spring training is that he is a bright guy, but also more introspective, and willing to think about what happened and how to adjust as opposed to answering for the millionth time, "what happened out there today Randy?"  His impatience with stupid questions might have been interpreted as indignance, but I suspect the subtext was "Can't you ask me something a little more substantive than that?"

One of the keys of Johnson's success was indeed that he learned to pitch, not just throw, and that again reinforces my notion that Johnson was a bright guy. And, this season it was fun to score a couple of his games and actually watch the Unit set up hitters with offspeed pitches and nibbling at corners before putting them away with a fastball that still clocked in the low 90's despite Johnsons' age and perennially bad back.

In fact, it was that back that kept me from having the guy on my fantasy teams over the year, for I was always sure that back would go out, or his arm would fall off as a member of one of my squads. Hence, I never did get to take advantage of that dominance.

I had hoped that I could score Johnson's 300th win, but alas, it was not to be. Still, I got more than my share of watching and enjoying the Big Unit over that wonderful 22-year run.

Thanks a lot Randy. I appreciate all the memories. I am sure we all do.

 

I have written a lot about the MWStrat League in my Tumbling Dice column, and ideally I can cover some thoughts around both Strat-O-Matic now as part of my Zen Zone blog, but also here. I can probably even do some Scoresheet talk too, but, today, as we move towards the 2010 set of Strat Cards being released, I have to talk about some of the trades in the MWStrat League.

That league is easily my favorite fantasy/sim competition, because the set up is so cool.

To start, Strat has those extra variables like defense and ground ball and platoon skills, not to mention base-running and range.

But, this league actually has 30 owners, and 30 teams. We each have a home park--one of the major league ones--and our league as such is broken down into the same divisions as the Show, with the home park dictating division. And that home park dictates league and our playoff schedule, with the day to day schedule based upon the MLB one. Our IT wizard, Dean Peterson simply codes my team, The Berkeley Liberators as the Giants (ATT Park is my home field)

It is a sim league, so a little of the day-to-day excitement of player performance is lost (but, since we can keep 29-plus players, year to year, there is always anticipation of how next year's card will look) but, with rules around usage of our players, and a monthly schedule of H2H games, well, this league is the closest I have gotten to actually creating and managing a team.

And, this time of year, we are all--and I mean all 30 of us--anticipating the new cards coming out. For the AL teams it means a load of young arms. Brett Anderson, Rick Porcello, Jeff Niemann, and the NL bonanza winner will likely get Tommy Hanson.

For some teams there is major rebuilding. Jason Grey, whose Disco Pimps won the league, but mortgaged a year or two in the process, is trading much of his current value to build a new winner. Some of us are tweaking here and there, with solid teams. Others are completely deconstructing, swapping off and essentially starting from scratch. That is because they are newer to the league and the team they inherited is not the winner envisioned.

It is all good fun, but there has also been a serious trading frenzy of late as the 30 of us jockey with trade offers and draft picks of the future for sure things in the here and now. I think around 15 deals have been consummated thus far, and there have to be a good 20-30 offers floating around (as my team needs pitching in the coming year, I am offering bats, which I have for some potentially dependable arms). And I am sure I have made at least a half dozen swap suggestions, with none coming to fruition yet.

Truth is I think it takes a couple of years to really rebuild to a competitive level in this league. At least that is how long it took me after an initially poor draft, and then a couple of terrible trades that I should not have made (I had not played Strat for a few years, and neglected the importance of defense in this game).

But, one good year, after swapping up and sacrificing a year of draft picks, selections and a couple of trades can set up a team that will compete for a number of years. Of course the year-to-year tweaks are essential, but for me that building of puzzle pieces, and attempt to make the parts work better than anyone else in the league is what is so fun and intriguing.

I am hoping, as noted, in a week I have a couple of new arms. It seems unlikely that I will be able to swap for one of the AL top arm picks, but maybe I can grab JA Happ and Ubaldo Jimenez and rebuild my ailing staff (Greg Maddux, Dana Eveland and Jorge Campillo have left me vulnerable).

And, maybe I can pick up a young flychaser to replace the hitters I have on the market (Adam Dunn and Shane Victorino).

The thing is, for the most part, this is because of the season, then the post season, then the trades in anticipation of the draft, then the draft, the league is pretty much active all year around.

What more could you want?

Greetings.

Here we are, a new year, a new decade, and well, a new site, sort of, with our new Mastersball partnership.

Last week I noted that my Utter Genius team, The El Cerrito Mugwumps were actually in a championship game, something that has not happened for me in a football league for a good ten years.

As it was, I have a pretty good squad, and my team defense is that of the Jets. Now the Jets have generally been pretty solid all year, but last Sunday they went up against the perfect Indianapolis Colts, and that had me nervous. Not to mention my opponent, The Fighting Lawyers made it to the post-season on the legs of Chris Johnson who racked up 27 points Christmas night (Fortunately I had Philip Rivers) against the Chargers.

In this league our defensive teams begin with 21 points, and as an opposing team gains yards and ostensibly points, that total drops, though it can be offset by recovering fumbles and sacks and interceptions as well as defensive touchdowns.

Well, if you watched the first quarter of the Colts and Jets on Sunday, you saw Peyton Manning pick apart the New York defense as he is wont to do, knocking my 21 points down to 11 by the end of the first quarter, and making me think a win was lost.

Now, within my leagues there has been a lot of discussion this year about H2H play and how freakish it can, not to mention the best team--that is the team that scores the most points--is not always the team that wins the league, or even makes the playoffs, depending upon the rules by which we play. In fact, in the Kathy League Gifford we switched to an all-play format this year for the first time just to combat that potential inequity.

Well, I was trying hard to remember in football--well, in all sports and fantasy--the luck of the draw and match-up is just something one has to live with. But, I was also not real happy with the idea that my season would be done simply because my defense was facing the best team in the NFL and that my picks and roster selection would all fall by the wayside because of one 60 minute game.

So, I turned to the Broncos game, and actually took a nap, my head swimming with thoughts of losing because Manning is so good.

When I awoke, ten minutes into the third quarter, suddenly the universe had changed. The Colts, ensuring their health for the post season, benched their starters, including Manning, and essentially gave away their perfect season, choosing instead to focus on making sure the team was at full strength for the playoffs. And that, I thought, was a smart move on behalf of the team's coaching staff.

Ironically, the same thing that I thought would kill my chances to win during the first 30 minutes of the game, melted, as I discovered the Jets had scored a TD on a kickoff return, and another on a fumble recovered in the end zone. All of a suddent, my defense had 31 points, and the Mugwumps were indeed on the way to a championship (we wound up winning 123-88).

It did, however, not seem any more fair that I should lose because I was simply facing a killer offense, than that I should win because the coaching staff of that offense decided to substitute.

Which makes it seem like the "play all" format, which squares each team off against all the teams in your league each week against one another. In other words, my team Lawrceny plays matches up against all 11 teams in Kathy League Gifford and if I have the highest point total in a given week, that counts as an 11-0 record for the cycle. Should I have the least points--which I have this year--I walk away 0-11.

Now, that might seem a better way to determine fantasy football outcomes, but in League Gifford Lori Rubinson has totally slaughtered us, losing just 18 games while winning 147. The next best team has 97 wins, so while this scoring format seems fair, well, it made for a pretty dull season in League Gifford and my guess is we are going back to H2H next year.

In the mean time, well, winning is sweet. I can deal with having the #12 pick next year in Utter Genius, because I will get #1 in Gifford.

I can live with it.

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