You Can Call Me Al (Jaffe)

Since Al Jaffe seems to be asleep at the wheel on the mispronunciation front, allow me to point out a very public mistake made by one of his employees. Josh Elliott is doing commercials for his new show on ESPN classic and references Honus Wagner. At least I think it was “The Flying Dutchman,” because Elliott actually invokes a name that sounds like hah’niss wăg’nur. The great shortstop’s name is pronounced hō’nŭs wăg’nur.

Phil-anthropy

The New York Post‘s Phil Mushnick has a pretty interesting job; he berates the sports media establishment for a living. Although always sanctimonious, his articles are sporadically entertaining. However, if one makes a career of ripping others in one’s profession, one must be extra careful not to invite similar scrutiny. In today’s column, Mushnick takes ESPN’s Matt Winer to task for mispronouncing “Wheeling.” (And we all know from that Al Jaffe is not particularly tolerant of mispronunciations.)

After leveling his criticism, Mushnick follows with this sentence:

While we understand that the NHL is in no position to push any TV network around, this latest deal, with the Outdoor Life Network, ain’t gonna make the NHL rich yet gives OLN a lot of exclusivity, the kind that will shut fans who care most out of games they most want to watch.

Wow! That’s an impressive exercise in obfuscation. I had to re-read that one sentence four times just to understand it.

Finally, Mushnick veers off course and offers a compliment:

Adam Shein, who talks football on Sirius and is fluent in several sports when weekending on WFAN, Saturday was chatting with White Sox GM Ken Williams when Williams said he’d been ripped for trading Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik. Shein told him that he was among those who had ripped him. Not that Williams knew or cared, but that kind of honesty is rarely heard on FAN.

That seems nice enough. The problem is that the broadcaster he mentions doesn’t exist…at least not with that spelling. The person who merited what practically amounts to effusive praise is not Adam Shein, but rather Adam Schein.

Can You See Through This?

Nike contact lenses? They’re coming to stores near you in a matter of time. And odds are that they will improve your chances of hitting a major league fastball as much as the old Nike pumps improved your ability to dunk. What’s interesting is that, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Nike is making Brian Roberts, who remains largely obscure despite enjoying a career year, a centerpiece of its campaign.

From “Nike hopes contacts will be big business“:

The best thing that happened to the MaxSight project was Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. In the 384 games Roberts played in his major-league career heading into this season, the 27-year-old hit 16 home runs. In his 110-game 2005 season, he’s smacked 17 homers. Before this year, he had a .264 batting average. This year, he’s batting .321 and started in his first All-Star Game.

Although Roberts doesn’t wear the lenses at night, he partly credits his improvement to MaxSight.

While Roberts may see a bump in his bank account, the campaign diminishes his efforts to improve himself as a baseball player. I don’t know anything about his offseason routing, but if one can draw any conclusions from the numbers, it’s that the contact lenses have impeded his progress. At this point, I don’t think there is a statistically significant sample to validate such an assertion, but Nike’s decision to build a campaign around Roberts has more to do with perceived marketability than it does data that the MaxSight lenses improved his performance. But hey, what is marketing other the creating a perception?

Here are the triple crown stats (for you traditionalists) as well as OBP, SLG, and OPS for the sabermetrically/sabremetrically inclined.

Brian Roberts Day/Night Splits 2002-2004
Day:    411 AB   4 HR  43 RBI  .280 AVG .340 OBP  .414 SLG  .754 OPS
Night:  818 AB   6 HR  62 RBI  .260 AVG	.336 OBP  .340 SLG  .676 OPS

Brian Roberts Day/Night Splits 2005 (through August 15, 2005)
Day:    148 AB   6 HR  19 RBI  .311 AVG	.383 OBP  .500 SLG  .883 OPS
Night:  292 AB  11 HR  41 RBI  .329 AVG	.396 OBP  .555 SLG  .951 OPS

OPS % improvement
Day:   17.1%
Night: 40.7%

Great Manager???

I think Joe Torre has done a wonderful job keeping an even keel during his tenure as Yankee manager. However – and this has been pointed out before – he was not exactly on the Hall of Fame managerial track until he took over the team with the largest payroll in baseball. Hate to say it, but if you’re the Yankees manager in the current economic system, you’re supposed to win 95+ games per year. Torre’s strength is his demeanor and I think, for that reason, he’s well-suited to work for George Steinbrenner. However, someone needs to talk a little strategy.

Torre announced that he is committed to keeping Hideki Matsui in centerfield, Tony Womack in left, and leaving Bernie Williams on the bench. I don’t understand this. I’m not a Yankees fan and there’s little nostalgic impact for me in watching Bernie patrol the outfield of The House That Ruth Built. And I would argue that there’s no way a player of his (current) ability should be starting for a $200 million team. But look at the alternative. Tom Verducci correctly points out that Tony Womack isn’t just a run-of-the-mill offensively challenged outfielder, but a historically bad offensively challenged outfielder. Torre has an opportunity to do the right thing for his team AND make Yankee fans (who love Bernie) happy. Let’s hope he does.

What have I wrought?!

So I helped a certain someone set up a blog and it has begun to consume her every waking thought. While it’s likely that the blog in question will not be up your alley if you’ve somehow stumbled here, I’ll give it a mention anyway. And be sure to buy the book when it comes out in early 2006. In the meantime, check out Some Like It Haute. There’s a Haiku there; I encourage you to leave a comment requesting an ode to footwear written in iambic pentameter.

What It Takes to Be a Closer

The NY Times ran a good article about relief pitchers today that focused, in particular, on what it takes to close games. A couple of year’s ago, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein turned conventional wisdom on its head by fielding a team that hoped to contend without a “true closer.” After a few shaky outings by the bullpen, the Sox yielded to public pressure and installed someone to finish games. I still think that the idea is a valid one, especially in light of how relief pitching has evolved. The era of the specialty closer, i.e. the guy who enters the game in the ninth almost exclusively in save situations, is relatively new. And statistics indicate that most relievers will post similar numbers when closing or not. So why not use your best pitcher in the most crucial situations?

“Researchers who study human behavior know that people tend to focus on evidence that supports ideas they believe, and baseball executives are no exception.” I think that about sums it up.

Not Quite Famous, But Almost…Seriously

I’m a little late on this, but I recently read a pretty interesting article about the plight of reality TV “stars,” once they’ve finished the talk show circuit. I’d heard about these lecture and party circuits, but was always skeptical. I mean, who wants to see Joe Whomever from some show give a speech? Apparently, the answer involves enough people that these less-than-iconic everymen/women are able to make comfortable livings merely by showing up for appointments. A little notoriety – and in many cases, I mean very little – still seems to go a long way.

The Creamy Center

The schism between political left and right in this country seems to widen by the day. I’ve long defined myself as a centrist who doesn’t cling to a particularly ideology, but who forms opinions on an issue-by-issue basis. One of the benefits of not being doctrinaire is that I get to revisit my thinking as I accumulate more information. This means that my ideas and opinions change, which in the eyes of some, may make me “wishy-washy.” However, I hold that abiding by an outdated view of the world for the sake of consistency is not only ridiculous, but irresponsible. Absent perfect information, the likes of which is only available in an economic utopia, we typically have insufficient data to justify such rigidity. It only makes sense that we reassess our stances with some regularity.

John Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change America and he thinks that we, “the Vital Center” (I’ve always called it “the Creamy Center” because it conjures up images of the best part of a Tootsie pop.) can and will change the country’s political discourse. Regrettably, I’m disinclined to agree with him. I think that the country will swing from right to left and left to right like a pendulum for the foreseeable future. Quite simple, the cost of losing one’s political currency appears to be too great, compelling politicians to toe the party line. Political patronage, rampant “insiderism,” and quid pro quo make it increasingly difficult for elected officials to do what they feel is right if it means being tagged with the maverick label. There are few so bold as John McCain, who has managed to cross party lines and catered to his constituents without resorting to demagoguery. The price? A horrific assault on his character and mental health during the 2000 presidential election.

A political system that has become more partisan and more fractious in recent years has led to a disconcerting attack on checks-and-balances. Take, for example, Tom Delay, a man who purports to stand for – among other things – moral values, small government, and the sanctity of life. Delay, the House majority leader is being investigated on several possible ethics violations (again). He repeatedly intervened in the Terri Schiavo case, attempting to create legislation on a “one-off” basis. And he had the gall to do this after taking his own father off life support years earlier. Now Delay, after threatening the judiciary in general (“We set up the courts. We can unset the courts.”) is attacking Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointee, for rulings that he perceives as not adhering to strict constructionism. Perhaps his next salvo will be fired at someone else who has reinterpreted the Constitution, the iconic Justice Scalia.

What Baseball Can Learn from Football

How do MLB and the NFL handle their public relations differently? Let’s see…. According to Jason Stark, an All-Star baseball player thought that the MLBPA could get 1,100 votes for a one-year suspension – and possibly more – for a first time steroid offender. However, in a show of unity, MLB and the leadership of the MLBPA have presented a united front, promoting a policy that is weak by almost every measure imaginable. This “one voice,” which has been all-too-rare in baseball’s recent history has brought together two groups that often find themselves at odds: Democrats and Republicans. So despite the overwhelming majority of players’ wanting a more stringent policy AND the threat of further government intervention AND the clamor of fans, baseball continues to fight what appears inevitable.

On the other hand, the NFL has, for many years, enforced a drug policy that is substantially more rigid than the one that was just approved by MLB. It’s by no means a panacea, but what’s instructive (and where baseball can really learn something) is how football deals with the exposure of holes in its program. Upon finding out that several Carolina Panthers players obtained (and presumably) used steroids, the NFL almost immediately announced that they were going to tighten their drug program. Furthermore, they suggested that the decision to enhance the policy were not tied to Panthers investigation, but to the stiffening Olympic standards.

Baseball’s decision to antagonize Congress, alienate many of their players, and leave the fans wondering who is/isn’t clean makes little sense. Here’s hoping MLB’s decision makers tune into the NFL and learn the art of PR.

At Bat: Baseball

Tomorrow, MLB’s warts will be on display for everyone in the U.S. who has basic cable. CSPAN-3 will be covering the live Congressional hearings with CSPAN-2 running a slimmer – albeit still six hour – version afterwards. In light of all of the bad publicity, one would expect the owners and players to present a positive united front. There is indeed some unity, but I don’t think recent develops cast a particularly positive light on the game. Baseball’s policy, a still-unsigned 27-page document, was released today. Too call it cynical and disingenuous would be an understatement. No mandatory suspensions. No mandatory out-of-season testing. A banned substance list that falls well short of comprehensive and a testing policy that falls short of rigorous.

For those of you who are tuning in, my father will be doing a one-on-one call-in show on CSPAN at 8:30 AM. He’ll then be on Panel 2 during the hearings. And should you think that this proceeding is nothing but grandstanding (and I don’t deny that some of it probably is), I invite you to look at an excellent piece by Keith Olbermann. He rightly points out that baseball has periodically needed a kick in the rear.