New Year -- New Title? -- Part 2

by Gregg Pearlman

Tuesday, January 13, 1998

You'd think the offseason would mean some relaxing moments for all of us here at EEEEEE! Plaza Heights Towers. Well, no-ho-ho-ho! All offices in all of our towers bustle day and night. All elevators zoom up and down, all parking spaces are full, and I don't get a dime from the parking people. It's so annoying! A little kickback would be nice, right? But no, sir, alas, not. Sigh.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Busy. Busy busy busy. The Giants newsgroup has been hopping lately, despite the lack of major news. And don't forget, we hear from our readers, too -- all correspondence is welcome (of course, though we can't return your photographs and contest entries) -- so whether you're talking to the group, or you're talking to EEEEEE!, you've been busy, too.

That's a good thing. The great many of us here at EEEEEE! love it when the Giants are a hot topic. And as the Giants are inherently a hot topic, well, the great many of us here at EEEEEE! love it all the time.

"So why are you stalling?" you ask.

No special reason. Just wanted some sort of introduction, however feeble, before launching into this installment, completely with contributions by Billy -- the leadoff hitter for the second straight game -- as well as Dan, Carlos, Richard, Dave S., Tjames, Henry, Tom A., Jerry, Jonathan, Steven R., Jim J., David S., Jeff, Marie, Julie, Ben H., Edith, Albert, John S., J.E., Andy, Chris F., Francisco, Paul, Jim G., Erik, Coach Larry, Marty, Chris C., Ben F., Brian, Peter, John G., and Rick.

Billy and I were discussing a variety of things, including park factors, especially as they pertain to the now-standard Larry Walker-vs.-Mike-Piazza-for-MVP debate. I talked about how we're aware that park factors matter, and that they provide evidence that there should be zero surprise if, say, new Colorado Rockie Darryl Kile goes 8-17 with a 5.63 ERA this year.

"Or he could very well go 17-8 with a 5.63 ERA," said Billy.

Sure he could -- another thing not understood by anti-statheads.

"Yeah, they never can understand why some guy can have, say, a 2.95 ERA and not win 20 games. Then you get into the 'knowing how to win' argument, and 'pitching to the score.'"

That's so silly. There's nothing a pitcher can do about the offense -- even, usually, in the National League. It's like a quarterback, who has to hope that his defense will keep him in the game.

"Some guy told me Livan Hernandez pitched 'as well as he had to' in the World Series, as if walking about 12 guys and giving up a bunch o' runs and being bailed out by his offense is something to be amazed with. He didn't pitch 'as well as he had to.' He pitched 'badly.' I forget, but I think his ERA was about 5.63 too."

That's about right. He was just the media darling, that's all. An appalling selection.

Clearly, though, to pitchers, the money stat is wins -- which is okay; I mean, you want that kind of accomplishment. It's just kind of interesting, that's all. I've heard Ted Robinson -- whom I consider very intelligent and on the ball, if a bit annoying as a broadcaster -- say that the only stat that really matters for pitchers is wins. I thought he must have been mainlining paint thinner, until I realized that maybe what he meant was that wins are the only stat that matter to pitchers.

"Well, they know what they're judged by. Whether they buy into its validity or not is another story. If I read one more frigging article or newsgroup post about Denny Neagle being 'the ace of the [Braves] staff,' I shall rend my garments.

Well, the Giants have had a number of suspicious people called "ace." I'm thinking here of Mark Leiter in particular.

"Joe Morgan once called ERA 'just an arbitration stat.," Billy continued.

Well, Joe Morgan makes me crazy anyway. I like Jon Miller, but it's hard to watch ESPN games and try to know just when to hit the mute button. But try selling the anti-statheads on something like Baseball Prospectus -- a book full of fake baseball statistics. "Yeah, but when all's said and done, BP is what it is, and I use it to tell me three things: Who sucks, who's great, and who's decent."

That's what it's for. Frankly, real stats don't tell you that as well.

If their prediction is off on Dave Hansen's slugging percentage by 20 points, I don't even care. I'm not that nitpicky. But some guys would say, 'You said Hansen would slug .490 and he only slugged .470, so your projection methods are totally worthless! Stats mean nothing!'"

Of course. Then again, others would say that even providing slugging percentage -- real or fake -- means that you don't really know or care about the game on the field anyway. (Or, as a certain Canada-based scourge of the baseball newsgroup would say, "You know nothing about sport.")

"One guy actually said something like, 'Brady Anderson, a lefty, homered off Randy Johnson today! How do stats explain that?' Then people like that act all smug, while you want to punch them."

It's as though this person was making an assumption that because statheads occasionally point to the fact that righties hit lefties better than lefties do, they must believe that lefties can't hit lefties at all.

Know what's worse? That's simply cement-head mentality -- no explanation will get through to that kind of person. None.

Since Billy is a Braves fan, you wouldn't expect him to be a big Barry Bonds fan too, but he is. I pointed out that Bonds usually says this in interviews: I really don't care what other people say about me -- they don't know me" -- but he still seems ticked off.

"I never believe anyone who says he or she doesn't care what other people say," Billy said. "If they didn't care, they most likely wouldn't bother to say they don't care. Thou dost protest too much."

Oh, I feel pretty much the same way. I mean, every kid who complains about being teased hears this: "What does it matter what other people think?"

Yeah, right.

"But you're right, he does seem angry, and I remember hearing that he keeps a scrapbook of articles in which he's been misquoted by reporters. Not that I blame him, but it does seem a little bitter. Sadly, I also have read that Hank Aaron kept, and still has, his hate mail. I don't understand why, but who am I to tell him what to do?"

Maybe it's just so they can get mad all over again.... On the other hand, to me, that's kind of like keeping all your 14-day notices from PG?.

"Glavine got a lot of flak from some jerks in 1994-95, since Atlanta is a big non-union town, and he said he doesn't care. Said it bothered him at first but eventually he got thick-skinned about it and it didn't bother him anymore -- although he said he got real paranoid in spring training 1995, whenever someone would call his name, he would expect to get screamed at and cussed out and whatnot, and he would turn around and it would only be a kid wanting an autograph."

Better than worrying that he'd get shot or something. I'll take a cussing out over a bullet wound.

Not that I want the cussing out.

"Then the season started and the shit really hit the fan, people would hang over the rail near the bullpen and say they hoped he'd break his arm, or get hit by a line drive, and so on. But it didn't bother him."

Well, he probably figured, "Ah, screw 'em. They're paying to yell at me."

"Which in itself is retarded. Who pays $20 for the privilege of yelling at somebody? You could use a 32-cent stamp to tell him the same thing."

Also, in polite society -- which I understand might exist on some other planet; certainly not here -- the privilege to yell at someone does not exist. I find it funny that so many people, when confronted with the choice to treat people okay or to treat them badly, opt for the latter path, even when the former path brings with it no negative consequences whatsoever. We live in an angry world, man. Billy talked about an incident in which a bunch of kids lined up for Bonds to sign autographs: "They would tell him he sucked and they hoped he'd be traded or whatever, and he just went on signing stuff."

Of course, I think this happens all the time -- I mean, ballplayers hear "You suck" when they won't sign, and they hear "You suck" when they won't sign twice. I'd think it would hurt from kids, though, even though, as Billy says, they know Bonds isn't going to do anything to them.

That kind of pisses me off, actually -- I mean, the philosophy that it's okay to do rude things because there are no consequences. I find it easier not to go out of my way to be rude.

(Ever see the movie Heathers? I'm talking about the scene where Winona Ryder says to Shannen Doherty, "Why are you acting like such a mega-bitch?" Doherty says, "Because I can.")

"That autograph thing has got to be tough," Billy said. "Bonds (or whoever) could sign 200 autographs and some guy will leave the park mad at him because he didn't sign 201, and go around telling all his friends that Bonds blew him off."

You bet -- but the same is true for all of them. Thing is, I really feel that they're under no obligation to interrupt their "private lives in public" to sign autographs or glad-hand some fans. At the park, that's different (at least during prescribed signing times). But even then, they'll often say, "Okay, I can only sign one more. Then I gotta take BP."

At which time they get to hear, loud and clear: "You suck!"

Last time Richard asked, "Which is better to follow as a fan? A team like the 49ers, which we start to take for granted? Or the Giants, whose rare successes are very sweet indeed?"

"The Giants successes are sweet, but indeed rare," says Dan. "Sadly, in my lifetime, they've never won the whole burrito."

"That's my sadness too," says Carlos, "but all I really want is a contending team that is legitimately in the hunt until at least the last few weeks. I want the games being played to have meaning for the players and the fans. The rare success are very special, but it's harder to justify my fanitude if all I can say is 'remember back in '82?.' I want glorious battles between the contending teams, especially the Dogs, so that the victories are extra sweet. (I still want that sweep on video, by the way.)"

"It's tough to root for an organization that keeps shooting itself in the foot. The 49ers are really with it, and any stupid moves are vastly compensated by the stunning personnel moves [Niners GM Carmine] Policy & Co. pull off with uncanny regularity. Outside of the Charles Haley trade, how often do the 49ers get fleeced by other organizations? Outside of the Sean Estes trade, how often have the Giants not been fleeced by other organizations?

"The 49ers are like the logistical juggernaut of the United States Army in World War II. The Giants are like, well, Italy.

"Generally, when watching the 49ers, I expect the best. I have a certain faith that they know what they're doing. When watching the Giants, I have learned to expect the worst, in order to minimize the disappointment."

"Yeah, the 49ers are pretty much ho-hum," says Carlos. "They do make being a Giants fan easier, though. I honestly wouldn't feel too bad if they met Denver in the championship and barely lost to Elway. They have had it so good that I won't be hurt if Elway had a last chance to shine. The cool thing is that they don't have any crosses to bear like the Bills. They've won it, and are pretty much always in the hunt. They've been one of the best franchises in sports, period. That's really reassuring when the Giants are down."

On the other hand, I would've been in a funk for weeks if the Niners had lost the Super Bowl, especially to Elway, whom I've disliked for a long time, even if the reason isn't very rational, because he may be a great guy and all. See, he was drafted by the Colts, but refused to play for them because they were losers, and thus he managed to get his butt traded to Denver. My feeling is this -- pay attention, Matt White: if you're drafted by an organization, that's the organization you play for. The end. Of course, it's all academic, as the Niners flopped against Green Bay on Sunday.

"I started to think about those stunning moments when something done by the team you follow brings tears to your eyes and just takes your breath away," says Richard. "Clearly, the Brian Johnson home run against the Dodgers this year was one of the all-time stunning moments. Others for the Giants were the Will Clark hit in Game 5 vs. the Cubs in 1989, the Joe Morgan home run [that knocked the Dodgers out in 1982], probably the Robby Thompson home run in the bottom of the ninth against the Marlins in 1993, and Bonds' two HR game [against the Dodgers] in the last weekend -- any moment when you could play the music from The Natural against the replay and it wouldn't sound stupid. They don't happen often for the Giants, but they have happened fairly recently and somewhat regularly (considered in the scope of decades). As you follow the team, the hope of experiencing such a moment is always there in the back of your mind.

"For the 49ers, there were clearly three in 1981 (both games against Dallas and the Super Bowl goal-line stand), the 1984 Super Bowl win over Miami, the NFC championship game win over Chicago before their third Super Bowl victory, and maybe the game where Joe Montana came back from back surgery. There are probably a few more, but the point is that these are all a decade old. For all of the fine performances they have generated in the 1990s, the most memorable was the 1994 NFC championship game win over Dallas, and the satisfaction from that had more to do with revenge than the thrilling unexpectedness of the moment.

"I think it's that thrill, the moment when all rationality flies out the window and you are completely caught up in the wonder of it all, that I miss in following the 49ers anymore. Nothing can ever really be outside the scope of expectations with them, and it removes some of the spontaneity of being a fan. I surely enjoy following them, but I am starting to realize that an important part of being a sports fan involves sifting through hundreds of games trying to find one that you can remember for the rest of your life, and with the 49ers that opportunity is very slim at best. Not so with the Giants, at least for me."

Henry Schulman of the Examiner tells us, "I'm going to make an admission that will not endear me to the few folks [in the Giants newsgroup] who don't already think I'm a total idiot: I'm from Los Angeles. Grew up as a Dodger fan. Spent the first 19 years of my life there."

Well, we can't blame Henry, necessarily -- he's not evil; simply misled. We should have a long chat with his folks, though.

"We welcome those who recant," says Tom A. "I myself lived in Southern California for most of the last 30 years, but fortunately I was inoculated into Giantsdom at the age of five. Yes, I knew even at the age of five the team to follow, and not because of inheritance: My dad is a Red Sox fan. I just knew. Willie Mays."

Exactly. He just knew.

It seems so obvious.

"We forgive you," Jerry says to Henry. "For some it takes time to see the light."

But others remain forever in darkness, squirmin' with the vermin. (Oh, all right, I'll be nice.)

"I only tell you this as background," Henry continues, "to let you know I was in L.A. visiting family. While I was there (and during the drive down) I thought a lot about the recent postings back and forth on Bonds vs. the media."

"I'm actually pretty impressed that you spent any time at all thinking about it," says Richard. "Worried for you, true, but also impressed."

"A few concessions," says Henry: "You guys confirm what a lot of people in the media don't understand, that the fans are a lot happier with Bonds than we are."

I'm wondering if Henry's take is that the fans are happier with Bonds than people in the media think they are.

"I'll tell my grandchildren I watched him play," says Tom.

Just as long as he doesn't tell them about Showgirls.There are just some things kids don't need to know.

("Say, didn't Barry Bonds date the star of that movie?" says Dan. Wait: Showgirls had a star?)

"I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that some of the statistics you have pointed out to me are better indicators of Bonds' hitting in 1997 than those I used," continues Henry.

"This group leaves no stat unturned," says Jerry.

Well put. Within an acceptable margin for error, that is.

Henry adds, "I think some of you felt I was being condescending when I wrote that I based my 'feelings' on having watched a lot of games, as if you don't watch a lot of games, or that my observations are somehow more valid than yours because of my job. That was not my intent."

For what it's worth, I never had that impression. I just figure that each of us has his or her own take.

"The one problem with [newsgroups, e-mail, that sort of thing] is it's hard to judge one's tone from looking at a bunch of words on a page."

This has always been a bit of a problem for me as well: You can't always tell when someone's teasing from reading what they wrote.

"I respect your observations and opinions. I've gathered that many of you think about and study the Giants a heckuva a lot more than I do. If I didn't respect your opinions, I wouldn't waste your time with my posts."

Spoken like a gentleman.

But, Henry says, "I can't back down on having to base my writing on feelings, intuition and other forms of legerdemain, nor can I stop offering my opinions at times in my articles. Regardless of what you or I were taught in journalism school years ago, the explosion of television has changed the role of sportswriters, as I'm sure many of you know, and we are being looked upon more for our analysis and our observations. Furthermore, we often don't have the time to research all the relevant statistics before we offer these opinions."

Fair enough. However, I'd be interested to know what kind of "offseason research" Henry and his colleagues do. I mean, does anybody ever say, "You know, back in October, I said that Biff Smiff always seems to strike out with the tying run on base in the ninth, but I've since seen that (a) he only had 14 at-bats in those situations, and (b) he actually had four hits and only two strikeouts"? Of course not -- there is no Biff Smiff (as far as I know).

But, says Richard, "If you guys [i.e., beat writers] don't have time to do [the research], you should have someone who can do it for you in support."

It seems obvious -- but then, obviously the Chronicle (at least; I don't read the Examiner as often) evidently has, like, zero fact checkers. Or copy editors.

"It's probably true that most of us are too quick to jump on the beat reporter when he's doing his job as the editors define it," says Jonathan. "I'll try to remember that. Frankly, I'd prefer if editors valued observation more than analysis, but that's not up to [the writers]. Plenty of times, analysis just isn't going to get you anywhere: asking why Kent had a lousy game or Benard has been hot for the last week is a losing proposition.

"As I've said, phrasing these things in the most careful way possible might be a solution, sometimes. Saying 'Everyone believes Bonds is not hitting in the clutch this year' might be a true observation, no matter what Bonds is actually doing in clutch situations. But I realize that phrasing things carefully might not be compatible with what the editors want."

"I'm really okay with [what Henry said above]," says Tom, "as long as the journalist in question is not being too unbearably pompous about his intuitions, like a certain Santa Rosa Press-Democrat columnist I could name." (Pseudonym: Bob Certain.)

"Does that make us great scholars?" says Henry. "Obviously not. Are we doing a disservice to our readers by writing a story on deadline after a night game with all sorts of opinions that may or may not be defensible with more extensive research? Maybe. But we do our best, and when we're wrong, there is no shortage of people to let us know. That's a good thing. Checks and balances."

"If R.E. Graswich still has a column in any American newspaper," says Richard, "the checks and balances aren't working well enough yet. Of course, the Sacramento Bee may not qualify as that, so maybe it all works out."

("ARGH!" says Jeff. "He used the G-word! We are the Knights Who Say EEEEEE! He said 'Graswich.' Oh, no! I just said it! Bring us a shrubbery!"

By the way, in case you've wondered: Yes, I do actually say "EEEEEE!" occasionally when frustrated, especially while watching a sporting event.)

See, this is what bugs me about the supposed "integrity" of the journalism profession. Henry apparently treats it as though he has to uphold it. Graswich... not so much.

"These checks and balances don't work," says Jonathan: "None of us have voices as loud as yours.

"I think the time for extensive research isn't on deadline, but during the rest of the time. There's a lot of very good stuff out there in print on baseball, and having a good working knowledge of it means that all [a writer will] need for a specific piece is to quickly check an up-to-date website for one or two facts.

"That is, there is plenty of excuse for some things, but really no excuse for anyone thinking that Barry Bonds had a worse year than Jeff Kent in 1997 -- anyone who understands how to interpret performance will conclude that Bonds was one of the top five to ten players in the National League, while Kent wasn't. There are plenty of similar examples.

"Anyway, thanks for taking your job seriously."

I have no doubt that Henry takes his job seriously and does his best, and that the same is true of many of his colleagues. However, I can think of another local beat writer who seems to be good for at least one factual error per story, plus some wretched and lazy reporting. I'm not intending to hold Henry (or anybody else, except for that writer) accountable for this; I'm just pointing out that if what we've seen is this person's "best," well, it's kind of frightening.

But, says Steven R., "Something's wrong here. On the one hand, [writers are] expected to do more analysis. On the other hand, [they] don't have time to do research. This isn't a knock on Henry, but it is an indictment of Journalism '98. Analysis without research is no analysis at all."

"It doesn't bother me if [Henry's] columns -- or even most of the Bay Area baseball writers' columns -- aren't statistically based," says Jim J.

Same here -- I mean, they don't have to be statistically based. It helps to have some working knowledge of stats beyond home runs, RBIs, batting average, wins, and (maybe) ERA. When I read a newspaper column or beat piece, I'm not looking for Davenport Translations or a dissertation on the inner workings of Vladimir Projections (because I doubt I'd understand them anyway), but I would like to get the impression that (when appropriate) the writer has a clue about things like on-base percentage and slugging percentage. (And here I'm harking back to the Hamilton signing, and the fact that Glenn Dickey cited his .348 OBP as proof that he's a "true" leadoff hitter.)

Because the thing is, I would venture to guess that many readers, if not most, don't know much about this stuff, and I feel that the writer should help educate them (again, when appropriate). On the other hand, who says they have to be interested in that part of baseball?

"But you would think that in a market as diverse, as educated, as 'tuned in' as the Bay Area," says Jim, "that one of the folks at one of the papers would devote himself to writing about sports 'by the numbers.'"

I'd be interested in seeing that, too. The problem with this is that he'd run into a lot of flak about how the numbers don't matter, how only the game on the field matters, and "I see your precious numbers told you exactly the wrong thing about J.T. Snow," etc. Can't please everybody, I guess.

"Mark Camps of the Chronicle writes a column during the season called 'By the Numbers,'" says Richard, "but that offers mostly trivia (not 'trivial') facts and some light history."

(By the way, this comes from Camps' offering on Saturday: "Don Sutton [the newest Hall-of-Famer] was regarded as the third-best pitcher in the Dodgers' rotation in the 1960s, behind Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. However, Sutton's winning percentage (.559) is slightly better than Drysdale's (.557).")

"I think the local press could successfully offer a more statistical analysis of the Giants doings on occasion," says Richard. "Sort of a light and entertaining, Rob Neyer-like approach, but focused on the only team that really matters (oh, I know, somebody would want to put the damn A's in there too). Baseball fans seem to be pretty voracious readers of things related to the sport, so I think it would be read. Heck, fans would probably even enjoy it."

I'm sure Richard's right. Of course, some space allowances would have to be made.

Bye, Glenn.

Seriously, stats are a large part of the whole baseball experience -- so much so that the interest in them in baseball seems to have led to similar interest in other sports. I mean, before maybe 10 years ago, who had ever heard of "unforced errors" in tennis?

"I know I started here with no real understanding of the heavier statistical concepts," Richard says, "but now I read them with some comprehension and I almost always find some entertainment in the discussions."

Exactly. And to those who'd say, "Well, I wouldn't even read a column like that," well, at least that many people have said the same thing about certain Bay Area columnists....

"The past 10 years have seen an explosion of fans who take a more analytical (and occasionally quantitative) approach to baseball," says Jim (though it's more than 10 years -- I'd say close to 20, thanks in large part to Bill James), "and with the growth of the Web, that kind of information is available to increasing numbers of even the more 'casual' fans.

"Why can't at least one of the regulars be of the mind that statistics are of more value than feelings?"

I don't even know if the two elements can be compared in terms of value. Emphasis, maybe, but not value.

Not that there's any need to go overboard. I mean, talk about some strikeouts-to-innings-pitched or strikeouts-to-walks ratios... talk about baserunners per inning pitched... talk about OPS... maybe some Runs Created... or a little about park factors -- no need for really esoteric stuff.

I've used this example enough already, but one kind of touchy area is the aforementioned (and oft-mentioned) Walker-Piazza debate, which I'll try to synopsize:

Stathead: Piazza should've won it because he put up monster numbers in Dodger Stadium.

Anti-stathead: Well, Walker put up way better numbers.

Stathead: Yeah, but he did it in Coors. If you park-adjust, Piazza's numbers are way better.

Anti-stathead: I'm not interested in fake numbers. Walker's real numbers are better than Piazza's. End of discussion.

Stathead: Yes, but --

Anti-stathead: End of discussion.

(And the thing here is, neither of the two is entirely right or entirely wrong.)

"Since Barry Bonds is such a hot-button issue," Henry says, "I will endeavor to be a little more analytical if and when I do criticize him in print. As for your end of the bargain... please don't assume that everyone in the press box is critical of Bonds because of a personal dislike for him, or because he mistreats the media. That's too simplistic, and it denigrates the work of some fine Bay Area sports journalists who can put personal feelings aside."

Fair enough. I will do my best to remember this and keep it in mind.

"But I hope you won't be too offended if we lapse a bit sometimes," says Richard.

See, that's the beauty part: We in the Giants newsgroup aren't professional journalists. We don't have to put our personal feelings aside. Yaaaaaay!

"Okay," says Steven, "but, to be simplistic, anyone who regularly attacks Barry Bonds for anything other than a personal dislike for him would seem to be a poor judge of baseball talent. Barry Bonds is not above criticism; no one is. But he is the best player of his era, and the ratio of criticism to his production on the field is far different than for so many other players. He is a Grade A player who gets criticized as if he were a Grade C player, while someone like, say, Jose Vizcaino is a Grade C player who gets criticized as if he were a Grade A player.

"Barry Bonds was the best player on a team that surprised everyone and outperformed all expectations. He also drew more criticism from local media than his teammates. The level of criticism relative to his contributions can only be explained by either a personal dislike for him or an unintelligent approach to the game."

Perhaps that latter condition can be interpreted as "a gaping disparity between actual expectations of Bonds and realistic expectations of Bonds." I've said this in the past, flat out: "The media hates Bonds." What Henry has said reminds me that "the media" is made up of a bunch of people, as different from each other as the members of any other group, and that it's not fair to lump them all into one category, whether it's about Bonds or not.

I still believe, though, that some (if not many) writers are critical of Bonds because of a personal dislike for him, because he's treated them badly, because of the money he makes, or any combination thereof. The way they write about him makes their feelings clear. (Again, mostly we're talking columnists here, rather than beat writers.)

Another thing is that I assume -- right or wrong, I don't know -- that the perception is that negative press about Bonds makes for better copy than positive press, and besides, you don't get a lot of "Bonds apologists" in the media anyway.

"As a media-type guy myself," says Jerry -- and I may as well come clean here: It's Jerry Springer -- "I know it's much easier -- even subtly encouraged -- to be negative. I tend to be optimistic in this newsgroup, which is a departure from my cynical workplace environment. Feels really good, by the way."

Okay, I was kidding: It's not Jerry Springer. However, Jerry brings up another point, which is that people tend to believe what they read in the papers -- or, at least, I think they do, for whatever that's worth. So if some writer postulates that none of Barry Bonds' 100-plus RBIs was "in the clutch," and that he's a sheep pimp besides, some readers are going to think, "Hey, yeah. It says so here, so it must be true. Yo, Bonds! You suck! Boooooo!"

"I'm just guessing here," says Jerry, "[but] I imagine that for someone who has to follow a baseball team every day for six months it gets to be quite a grind. Especially if you're traveling with them. And I think that lends itself to negativity."

Another pitfall is that if you're really close to a situation, sometimes it's hard not only to see the forest for the trees, but also to see certain trees. So it's reasonable to think that under certain circumstances, outsiders might have an observation that turns out to be more accurate than that of an insider.

A more practical example: having a "fresh pair of eyes" take a look at a writer's work before it gets submitted. (I'm not talking about Henry, here -- more about myself.) The writer won't notice the typos, necessarily; or something that made sense at 3 a.m. doesn't make sense in the light of day, but the writer doesn't see it. That sort of thing.

Regarding Bonds himself, Dan says, "I suspect there's a strong measure of subliminal gratitude: Bonds voluntarily came to the Giants and has performed as well or better than he did before signing a big multiyear contract. That has never happened before!"

I'm racking my brains to come up with a similar example, but I can't. The closest may be Brett Butler.

"But I've had problems with Bonds' attitude and demeanor, despite his on-field prowess. I'm more sensitive to those sorts of things than most fans. I did notice a marked improvement in his fan relations this year, though."

Well, I'm not big on players who appear to be jerks, either. I just figure I don't know them. I mean, my impression, till Marie hinted otherwise, was that J.R. Phillips was "just some guy," neither nice nor not, just another sub-.500 OPS dude trying to scratch out a living (albeit an admittedly fine living). But Marie gave the strong impression (based on many opportunities to observe as a fan) that Phillips (a) a major jerk, and (b) perceived as such by the fans at Phoenix, where he's spent far more time than he'd like. My point is, we see Phillips a certain way (even if it's a very neutral way, but apparently that ain't the whole story.

Then again, Marie's ain't the whole story, either.

Only way to know is to be in that locker room and not be media, I suppose....

"Wonder what it smells like in there."

Well, I'll bet all that Aqua Velva doesn't really help....

As for Henry's by-now-well-documented feelings, Dan says, "Because of my fragile sensitivities, I don't summarily dismiss 'feelings' when they are reported, whether they be perceptions or undocumented trends. For instance, if a team is out of the race, and you legitimately 'feel' players are dogging it or quitting, I'd be interested in those thoughts."

That's a little different, though. I agree with that feelings themselves should not be dismissed or denigrated, and I believe that feelings themselves are neither right nor wrong -- they just "are."

But feeling that a player is dogging it is a little different from "having the feeling" that a guy's going to fail when it counts. I mean, both are pretty much products of intuition, but the former isn't something you can quite put your finger on. The latter is, in the sense that you can say, "Look, he's only hitting .244 with runners in scoring position and two outs." The problem comes when you reach a conclusion about overall performance (or, in this case, overall "clutch" performance) based on this feeling, then decide that no further analysis is needed. (Sorry, Henry -- don't mean to pick on that; I'm just trying to stay within the context of the ongoing discussion.)

The flip-side, as I've kind of pointed out (when it was less timely), is when you conclude that, say, Glenallen Hill's a money player based on three game-winning home runs in three ninth-inning situations (against -- okay, I'll say it -- the Giants in 1998), and while I wouldn't want to denigrate that achievement, I wouldn't talk it up, either, if those were his only positive plate appearances in, say, 30 such situations.

"It cannot be overemphasized how important it is to make that distinction," says Billy. "If you can't, you may end up playing, say, a second baseman who can't hit my cat's weight as an everyday player for six years after he hit .400 for a week in October, justifying it as 'he's a clutch player.'"

Say, Billy: Got any particular second baseman in mind?

"This can get way, way, way out of hand," he says. "Myth is a powerful thing.

"Also, one of the many stupid things Fox puts on its postseason 'scouting report' graphics was this, in 1996, about David Cone: 'One of the few big game pitchers left.' Of course that's half-assed on the face of it; there are more big games than ever, so obviously there are more big game pitchers -- someone wins those games, don't they?"


Livan Hernandez.

"If I may borrow... EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

You may -- and I'm sure the cry might be echoed by most non-Marlins fans.

"At least now Pat Borders doesn't have to live with the stigma of being the worst World Series MVP choice in history."

What's scary is that, you never know, Livan might only have to live with it for a year.

"But when you look at Cone's actual postseason performances, he ain't that impressive. He's pitched in a lot of postseason games, but not particularly well. But because he's been there, and he's been on winning teams, he has that 'big game pitcher' mythology about him."

I guess the mythology is one of the more fun parts of the game, though. Baseball fans seem to really like their heroes.

"Absolutely. But what place does that have on a Fox graphic which is supposed to be telling us some kind of, like, fact about the player in question? Of course, Fox never bothers to do any kind of actual research or anything. During the All-Star Game they claimed Maddux was really good at holding runners, when in reality he can't hold my grandma on. Actually, neither can Cone; maybe this inability is a good sign."

Well, you might say they don't have enough practice in holding runners on. I mean, Terry Mulholland has had ample opportunity to show off that great move of his. (Plus, who knows, maybe Billy's grandma's got wheels.)

But to return to the concept of "heroes," Francisco Cabrera got that huge hit against the Pirates in the NLCS a few years back, but who really thinks of him as a clutch player? And yet Bonds is thought of as a choker -- despite tons of evidence to the contrary -- based on things like, say, that foul out against Nen in that Marlins game, or that called strike three in the Division Series (and that 47-hop throw on Cabrera's hit). Basically, we remember the big moments and magnify them further.

"Absolutely. Hit .400 in one series, and no one will remember that you didn't hit .200 in two or three others."

In (roughly) 100 postseason plate appearances -- I'm approximating because I don't have sacrifice fly numbers, for instance -- Willie Mays went had a batting average of .247, an OBP of .320, and a slugging percentage of .281, with one home run and 12 RBIs in 25 games. In six series (of which two were LCSs), his team won twice -- the Mets in the '73 LCS (and, as I forgot the first time I mentioned this, the Giants in the '54 Series). In the '73 Series, Mays, who clearly was through, dropped a fly ball, but because he's Willie Mays, the error went to George Theodore on the grounds that his nickname was "The Stork."

Now, Mays will always be my favorite player -- but you'd really have to reach if you wanted to call his postseason performance "spectacular." (I'm hardly likely to hold it against him, because the guy was just dandy over the course of 154 or 162 games most years.) But does anyone call him a choker?

No. And no one should.

But then there's Barry Bonds.

"I think the constant harping on Bonds kind of ruins some of our enjoyment," says Richard.

Good point. I should probably apply that thinking to some of my harping -- J.T., former Giant G. Hill....

(Oh, you hadn't heard about that? Where have you been? Glenallen Hill -- the man who, as Marie points out, spouted off in the press about how he was the regular right fielder (during a time when he was sitting and Stan Javier was hitting) -- has signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners.) "I guess some people were trying to make that point when they kept complaining about it early in the season, but it's different," Richard continues. "Guys talking about something is one thing. An expert proclaiming it is something else entirely.

"Remember," says Richard, "the whole industry is based on entertaining fans (except perhaps in the fertile mind of Bud Selig, but whatever). Giant fans want to believe in their players.


"It is the most disturbing part of the disease."


(Gregg: Hi, I'm Gregg, and I'm an obsessed Giants fan.

Omnes: Hi, Gregg!)

"We have believed in the putrid likes of Willie Montanez, Manny Trillo, Al Oliver, Rennie Stennett, Mark Portugal, and so on -- "


" -- when they waltzed in the door, and in each case had to deal with disappointment when they didn't come through."



"Good God, man, get a hold of yourself," says Richard. "Anyway, this is the symptom. [Well, one symptom. -- GP] I mean, I distinctly remember being excited that Al Oliver was joining the team, partially because at least someone in the media was enthused."

Ditto. I also remember how weak he was, and the best part was when he got traded. (Of course.) But the best part of that was, he was traded in, like, midseries, or at least just before the Phillies came to town, and the fans booed him unmercifully when the lineups were announced. Lots of the Giants got up out of the dugout and glared at the fans, evidently incensed that fans could boo such a classy guy after all he'd done -- but, well, this was kind of the fans' point.

"Now there is a vision. A bunch of underachievers glaring at you for booing another underachiever. At least they banded together. It was not a good time.

"Now, however, we have one of the greatest players of all time actually playing in a Giants uniform, and some people insist on constantly telling us how bad he is. It just isn't right. We deserve to be able to enjoy him and our good fortune at least some of the time."

Also, apparently much of the positive hype about Mays was bull -- supposedly he treated reporters, well, a lot like Bonds does. But ain't nobody gonna take Willie away from me.

To Henry's comment that beat writers are "being looked upon more for our analysis and our observations," Richard says, "Sounds like the whole issue of entertainment vs. reporting. I guess perhaps entertainment is weighting heavier in the editorial decision-making process these days. I actually enjoy the analysis. (If I wasn't interested in other opinions, I wouldn't spend so much time [in the Giants newsgroup)."

Plus, God knows we're all pretty damn funny....

"The way I see it, there are two sides to the issue of Bonds and his, shall we say, attitude adjustment difficulties," says David S., also a member of "the media": 1) Can he play baseball? and 2) Does it matter if he isn't a nice guy?

  1. Of course he can. He's the greatest player of the decade, probably still the best player in the game (and this coming from a Mariners fan who works and lives in Seattle), one of the best 10 or 15 of all-time.

    [And one entertaining dude to watch. -- GP]

  2. No. Barry Bonds is paid to win baseball games. Yes, talking to the media should be part of his job. Signing an autograph or two should be part of the job. Smiling once in awhile should be part of the job. But he has no obligation to do those things.

    [Well, common courtesy should be part of any job. But I know I'd find it hard to be a sweetheart if I thought I'd end up being ripped anyway. -- GP]

"Jim Leyland once said (after his famous spring training incident with Bonds), when asked about how the incident affects clubhouse chemistry: 'Chemistry? I'll tell you what good chemistry is. Good chemistry is winning games.'

"Now, being a jerk can matter if you're like Dick Allen, who was always dividing the clubhouse, setting one player against another, holding out, skipping games, or not hustling.

"Bonds plays hard, he plays in nearly game every season, he plays it a level that should be admired and appreciated by all.

"Instead, writers let their personal relationships with Bonds affect their writing and analysis (when they do attempt to analyze)."

Which (to the credit of, say, Henry) doesn't seem to be universally true -- but true enough for us to notice.

"This filters down to the public, who don't like Bonds (at least in a general sense, Giants fans probably like him) and thus fail to understand what an unbelievable player he is."

I think virtually all Giants fans like him as a player (except those who show up on call-in shows and say they won't go to games because Bonds is such a jerk, citing those times when they think he failed to hustle), and most of us don't care if he's particularly nice.

"But Griffey smiles once in a while," says David. "And since the Seattle press never writes that, believe it or not, Junior can often be self-absorbed, grumpy, moody and a jerk, the public loves Griffey and hates Bonds."

What's kind of interesting is that Bonds is clearly at ease in front of a camera and does great on, say, Letterman. Wonder if the guy just freezes up when he sees a notepad or something.

In any case, Jeff says, "The guy is human. Don't we all go through days where we don't want to talk to people even if it means being slightly standoffish?"

Not only that, but some people (a) are shy (which doesn't quite sound like Barry), or (b) are just not particularly friendly (which doesn't automatically mean unfriendly).

"Too bad not everyone understands that simple nuance," says Jeff.

"I think once Barry felt he got burned by a sportswriter the first time, he never got over it," says Jerry. "Now when the press moves toward him, he puts up his defenses. That could easily be construed as unfriendly or worse. Maybe it's as simple as that." Know what? That sounds like a great call -- and simple indeed, perhaps too easy to have considered previously. In other words, maybe he's not insensitive -- things like his "I suck" quotes suggest that he's actually sensitive, and maybe, as Jerry is suggesting, he's overly sensitive. I can understand that....

"I've always understood it to be the case that he blames the press for things that went wrong with his dad," Jonathan says. "I can't recall exactly where I got that idea, but I'm pretty sure it's based on a Barry interview at some point. I don't know exactly what Bobby Bonds felt the press had done to him, or what Barry thought the press had done to Bobby, or what, but I think it's rooted in that.

"There's a story about Barry getting incredibly defensive with the press back at Arizona State -- the point of the story being, by the way, that he's always had a lousy relationship with [reporters]."

"Look at Bob Gibson," Billy says. "He once said, 'I don't like all this personal contact with the press. The press expects everyone to be congenial. Everyone's not congenial! They want to put every athlete in the same category as every other athlete. It's as if they thought they owned you.'

"He also didn't like talking to the fans."

I'd never heard this, but then again, Gibby did have a reputation for being something of a grouch. (Mays too, though -- at least with some writers.) Then again, you never know: maybe Gibson's shy.

Commenting on some probably tall tale about Barry Bonds being rude to some fan at a Mrs. Fields, Billy says, and I concur, that if he saw someone famous in public, he'd pretend not to recognize him. "I don't think famous people necessarily like everyone coming up to them all the damn time when they are away from whatever their job is. Surely we can give a man some space to buy some cookies, no?"

"Hmph," says Jeff. "I'd bet that that guy probably told all his friends how he was verbally assaulted by Barry."

I'd bet on it too. I had a boss who used to idolize Wilt Chamberlin, until an incident that she told us about at least 400 times wherein she went up to him at some volleyball tournament and tried to tell him how great she thought he was, and he just stared at her, then told her to go away. (I guess she didn't become one of the 20,000.)

"My personal opinion on Bonds and how people deal with athletes' personalities off the field is, we should consider the Cal Ripkens of the world to be the exceptions, not the norms," says Edith. "Not every player has the personality, or demeanor, to be nice. And yet, not every player attacks, beats, or throws firecrackers at fans, either."

I mean, athlete personalities are as diverse as normal-people personalities, so why expect the same kind of adoration out of them that we give them?

"I have, in my youth, invaded players' personal, private space as they ate breakfast in the team hotel," says Edith. "I've never been rebuffed, but don't doubt that I would've have deserved it."

This may not be an issue at all, but I wonder if Edith's particular gender (unless she's a guy named Edith) might have spared her some rebuffitude. (Before I get shouted down on this one, yes, I know I just talked about my female former boss being rebuffed by Wilt Chamberlin -- who was not widely known as someone who routinely rebuffed women.)

I'm just wondering, not trying to diagnose a situation.

"I had the waitress ask Ruben Sierra's permission and my dad was quite polite when I became mute in the presence of Nolan Ryan," Edith says. "When my brother lied to a variety of Texas Rangers and told them that I wasn't approaching them myself because I was a deaf-mute, they seemed to enjoy the absurdity of the claim -- I had already spoken with Harold Baines -- and I even ended up making a friend out of it."

I think Joe Namath once appeared on The Brady Bunch because one of the mutant, hero-worshipping kids claimed that he was dying or something.

"I'm a strong believer in the emotion of baseball. Stats have only ever provided me with an algebra diversion in train stations (I predict what the final stats will be if players stay on pace to keep from falling asleep), and tend to gravitate in my preferences to players who may not be strongest statistically but who have projected an 'Aw, what a nice guy' image. Check out the Jeff Huson Home Page and learn all there is to know about a light-hitting utility infielder who took the time to write to me and you'll understand."

I already understand.

Isn't it interesting how much it means to people when others act nice, if even a little bit? It should be a bit of a watchword, shouldn't it?

Of course, if I were really nice, I'd provide a link to Edith's page. I would, except I can't find the link right now. (You'll find it if you do an Infoseek search on "Jeff Huson," then "Edith," I bet.)

My "closest encounters" were (a) the time David Beck and I saw Mike LaCoss and Mike Aldrete eating omelets at JoAnn's in San Bruno, and (b) the time I saw Roger Craig at TGI Friday's the day after the Giants beat St. Louis 21-2. In the first case, I didn't acknowledge the players, and in the second case, because we and Roger and had had the same idea of heading to Friday's after a ballgame, I merely tugged on the bill of my Giants cap when he looked at me, and he tugged on the bill of his cowboy hat.

That's all anybody needed.

For me, it's not just the consideration of a famous person's private time that would prevent me from trying to talk with them; it's also the concern that they'd loudly remind me that they're trying to have some private time. Who needs the embarrassment?

As I mentioned earlier, Glenallen Hill signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners, which probably explains why I drove to work on Friday with a smile on my face.

"A minor league deal?" says Marie. "Is that the best the man can get after insisting he should be the everyday starting right fielder? Must have been a hell of a wake up call."

("Well, nobody wanted to pay me what I deserve....")

"Call me perverse," says Tom A., so I did, "but I'm going to miss Barney. See, I have no fear that he'll do well enough to make us miss him."

Me neither. However, I do have this fear that the Giants will cite Barney's absence as a reason for going into the tank.

"To which I hope we will all respond: 'Oh, please.'"

Well, I'd respond that way. It's just that we hear about Hill being a "spiritual leader," etc.

"September 1998," says Jeff: "Dusty Baker on why the Giants failed to make the playoffs:

"'We just didn't have that X factor this year. It's that intangible that you feel in the clubhouse. We didn't have that pick-me-up, cheerleading personality in the dugout. Man, we really missed G. Hill this season.' [Sob.]" To which I respond: "Oh, please."

"Maybe now he'll go from losing the ball in the Candlestick wind to losing the ball in the Kingdome lights," says Julie. "If he plays outfield, then I feel sorry for Griffey, surrounded by Hill and Buhner!"

"Well, Buhner and Hill both play right field," says Jeff, "so it's unlikely they'll be surrounding Junior. On the other hand, I don't think I'd be the one to imply that Buhner is anywhere near as bad an outfielder as Hill."

To be honest, I'd expect the Mariners to give Hill a look as a DH against lefties, and nothing else. On the other hand, if they have Edgar Martinez, what possible use could they have for Hill?

"Whoa," says Ben H., "Buhner-Griffey-Hill. Truly fright inspiring. I think the main reason they picked up our buddy Barney was to have a backup outfielder worse than Buhner."

This kind of thing reminds me of the stories about Frank Baumholtz, who played center for the Cubs in 1954 between Ralph Kiner and Hank Sauer, who were immobile, bad outfielders even in their prime (from what I can tell). Apparently, all season long, Baumholtz would hear, "Plenty of room, Frankie! You got it, Frankie!"

"When the day is done," says Richard, "I am probably going to look back on Hill with some fondness. Even though he really never did all that much with the Giants, he seemed to have a sincerity and an earnestness about him that always touched me a little. Plus, last year when his role was reduced, he really could have caused problems by throwing a big temper tantrum. Instead, after a few little grumbles, he shut up and just rolled with it. For not ruining the ride for the rest of us, he has some real appreciation from me."

"Ditto," says Chris F. "I still remember that comeback against the Phillies when he got that dinger off of Ricky Bottalico near the beginning of the season. That was when the Giants were taking that early division lead. That game was the first time I remember daring to think, just for a second, 'maybe....'"

Hill does have that "seductive" way about him -- thus making him pretty typical as a Giant....

Again, I have nothing personal against the guy. He simply drove me crazy as a ballplayer, and some of his quotes about being the "starting right fielder" were classic "ain't just a river in Egypt" time. I also got kind of bugged whenever I'd hear him in interviews, talking very matter-of-factly about how talented he was.

On the other hand, I agree with Richard: he could have really rocked the boat and been very divisive, because almost certainly some players would've backed him over Dusty. However, he wasn't, and should be appreciated for that.

Well, one question mark on the pitching staff was addressed on Saturday. The Anaheim Angels agreed to terms on a one-year contract with free agent pitcher William VanLandingham.

Wonder if we really could've gotten, say, Garrett Anderson out of them before, as rumored.

"And just why would the Giants even want Anderson?" says Albert. "His seemingly impressive batting averages are rather empty."

Actually, I knew someone would say that, but I'd have preferred Anderson over what we got, which is absolutely nothing (not that I'm complaining, really). Anderson's not a major source of excitement for me, either -- but how could he have been worse than G. Hill?

"Yay!" says Carlos. "I'm happy for VanLandingham. "I remember he had a really gutsy performance at the Big A, where he beat the Angels 4-1. It was classic Vandy, where the only person who could beat him was himself. Lots of walks, and barely getting out of jams with great pitches. It will be cool to see if he begins to live up to his 'potential' (I hate that word). And he won't be in a position to hurt the Giants (too much)."

Hey, I hope he kicks ass on every NL West team but the Giants.

"I seem to have missed the whole Donovan Osborne strain," says John S., who was on vacation. "What the heck is going on?"

Probably nothing. As I said in the last installment, a rumor came out of San Diego -- Lee Hamilton on XETRA, who does this a lot -- that the Giants planned to sign Andy Benes, then trade him back to the Cardinals for Osborne.

"It does appear that under this scenario, the Cardinals would be attempting to do something indirectly that they are prohibited from doing directly," says J.E. "The Basic Agreement does not really address this issue, but the trade procedures should be spelled out in the Major League Rules."

I haven't seen it in a long time, but there at least used to be something called the Major League Baseball Blue Book, in which this kind of stuff seemed to be spelled out, albeit in a language not native to this planet: legalese.

"I do see that the trade could be mutually beneficial to both teams; however, I am very wary of Osborne's health. It seems that the Cardinals are all too willing to unload Osborne and his $4.5 million 1998> salary in return for Andy Benes' services for one month."

(By "one month," J.E. is referring to the fact that the Cardinals, not having offered him a contract in time, cannot re-sign Benes until at least May 1.)

"If Osborne is healthy, his old (February 1997) contract could make him a great addition at an economical price (relatively speaking, of course). But, more importantly, look at Osborne's injury-marred '97 season and injury history.

Yow! $4.5 million for Osborne?

"Gregg, your prediction that Giants fans would probably be the only ones hurt by this deal could be quite prophetic if this is a real deal."

EEEEEE! I thought I was joking at the time.

"I've done some checking," says Henry, "and one of my best sources said the Benes-for-Osborne deal is pure fiction."

The only cited source I've seen is the aforementioned Lee Hamilton, who seems to be in the business of spreading rumors like this.

"My source said the Giants have never talked to the Cardinals about such a deal, and that their discussions with Benes' agent, Scott Boras, never got beyond one phone call in which the Giants said thanks, but not thanks.

"I also talked to Boras [Eeeeww. Why? Did you keep garlic by the phone? -- GP], who said he can't negotiate a deal for Benes with a prearranged trade. On the other hand, Boras is not discouraging such talk. He's making it known that Benes would be willing to waive his right to block a trade before June 15 if a club did sign him and in turn wanted to deal him away. Any free agent who signs a new contract has this no-trade right.

"There were two problems with the Donovan Osborne scenario. Well, three, really.

  1. His cost

  2. His history of injuries

  3. To a lesser extent, the fact he's lefthanded. Giants need a solid righty.

    [Bet they wouldn't mind a solid lefty.... -- GP]

"With all the 49ers stuff to print, I couldn't get any room in the paper for this stuff, so you heard it here first."

"I've never understood this one," says Jonathan. "I can see it for the bullpen -- although even then, I'd rather have better pitchers than balance -- but for the rotation, I don't see this at all. I've never seen any particular reason to seek balance in the starting rotation, and I don't see any real-world cases where it would matter."

I don't know that I have, either. I mean, the Dodgers are probably a great example, given that they went, like, five years without a start being made by a lefty.

I assume that the logic is, since most hitters are righthanded, you want plenty of righties to "neutralize" that.

As if.

"I recall the Angels having several lefties in their starting rotation," says J.E. "I remember Jim Abbott, Chuck Finley, and Mark Langston all having good to great seasons, but not necessarily at the same time. So I did a novel thing: I looked it up.

"Check out 1991: Abbott and Finley each won 18 games, with Langston winning 19 -- not bad for a bunch of lefties. Miraculously, the Angels finished seventh in the AL West in a year in which every AL West team finished at .500 or higher.

"Otherwise, I think the fear is, as you mentioned, Gregg, that there are generally more right-handed hitters."

Fear, logic -- it's a fine line. (If you've ever seen or heard The 2000-Year-Old Man, you know that pretty much everything is driven by fear.)

Now, speaking of not looking things up, I'd always assumed there was a wide disparity between (bats right vs. throws right and bats left vs. throws left) and (bats left vs. throws right and bats right vs. throws left). (Can we just say RR/LL and RL/LR?) So I was kind of surprised years ago when Bill James said that the league difference was usually only about 15 points in batting average, and since then I haven't really bothered to think much about it, except to feel that, for instance, Dusty Baker's knee-jerk percentage plays get kind of tiresome. I mean, sometimes I'd wonder if, when Tony Fossas came in to pitch to Barry Bonds, Dusty might put up Kim Batiste in his stead.

So, numbers people, anybody know (because I don't want to look it up) what the disparities in, say, batting average, slugging percentage, and OBP (and thus OPS) are between RR/LL and RL/LR? Are they really that much?

"I don't have any numbers to back it up," says Andy, "but my guess is that the difference in slugging is going to be more dramatic than for batting average. It seems to be very common for players to hit, say, 12 of their 14 homers against pitchers from the other side. In following Will Clark, I know it's been true for him ever since about '93. I too would be interested in seeing these numbers."

I'm thinking, though, that it's not weird for a guy like Clark to have, say, only 37% of his at-bats against lefties, as he did in 1989. However, in that 37%, he hit 35% of his dingers. But that 35% is eight -- out of 23 -- so the disparity might, in many cases, look greater than it actually is. This might not be a great example, though, because that was arguably his best season.

Also, Andy says "12 of their 14 homers against pitchers from the other side," but I betcha it's more common to hit 12 of 14 homers against righthanders, no matter what side you bat from.

"Baseball America did its Top Ten prospects for each NL West club," says Dan. "I don't remember much, except: (1) Jason Grilli (pitcher, he's the former number-one pick, son of a major leaguer), (2) Dante Powell, and (6) Jacob Cruz. Russ Ortiz and Darin Blood were in there, plus a bunch of guys I've never heard of (which means nothing).

"Included in the article is a picture of lost number-one pick Matt White with a Giants cap. I hope, in 10 years, that we don't see any irony or heartbreak in that.

"BA led off with an article in which Brian Sabean defends the Giants farm system. The plunder has been pretty evident, but Sabean's stated policy is the fast-track approach to player development. The Giants are drafting more collegians and want players who will make a more immediate impact. The article goes on to state that the Giants have only five farm teams, fewest in baseball.

"The fact that the scads of traded prospects were years from the big leagues mitigates the deals, at least as it conforms to Sabean's philosophy.

"I remember Al Rosen saying that college was 'absolutely not' a good equivalent of minor league ball. Minor leaguers in three years will play many more games than a college athlete, and this total 'immersion' produces a more polished player. After all, baseball is a game that relies as much on learned and practiced skill as raw talent.

"(That stuff is from George Will's 10-year old book. I just picked it up for $1 and found it very interesting.)"

"You know, I got this years ago as a Christmas present but still have never read it," says Richard.

"Me too," says Jonathan. "Mine is signed (by Will, that is), so I figured I couldn't take it back to the bookstore, and so I'm sort of stuck with it. Unlike this year's present, the Doris Keans Goodwin book about the Bums, which lasted about 12 hours in my house."

This just reminds me about Ken Burns' Baseball thing, in which most of the speakers were writers who(m) (a) I haven't heard of, or (b) have nothing in particular to do with baseball. (Including Goodwin and Will.)

"And if the Al Rosen thing was typical, it's not worth reading," says Jonathan. "Rosen may be correct that the minors develop players better than college, but college draft choices are far more successful than high school draft choices. I don't know whether it's because players learn more in college, or simply that it's a lot easier to judge 21-year-olds than 18-year-olds."

"I think it's the latter, most definitely," says Dan. "I can't see how a full-time student/part-time baseball player (and for really good athletes you can add basketball and/or football) is going to learn more, or develop better instincts, in four years of college ball than a full-time professional minor leaguer, who might also spend some winters in the South America (or if he's more lucky, Arizona)."

"This may well be true," says Chris F., "and the high school players drafted often have higher 'ceilings' than collegiate ones, since college graduates pretty much need to get to A+ or AA by the end of their first year to be 'on track,' age-wise. On the other hand, college players are much more known commodities. An 18-year-old may or may not learn to take a walk or add 5 mph to his fastball, but if a 21-year-old hasn't done so, its a pretty good bet that he won't.

"Also high school pitchers are always risky especially if you have the Mets' old philosophy of 'pitching through the pain.' If they stay healthy through college (where they generally pitch a reasonable number of innings), they are a much better chance to stay healthy. Many severe early pitching problems happen by pitching too many innings when one is 19 or 20 (Salomon Torres, Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and possibly (time will tell) Darin Blood)."

"You have to remember that Will's book is 10 years old," says Dan. "I may be mistaken, but nowadays, it seems that more and more high school draftees are using college scholarships as a bargaining tool. Outside of your occasional Brien Taylors, clubs have been resistant to giving Rennie Stennett-like contracts to draft picks, and hence many of the high-draft-pick scholarship players have gone to college. College players, unless you're John Elway, have a lot less leverage.

"Some players mature later and probably would never have even been drafted. Will talks about Greg Swindell and how he was a pudgy kid who barely made the University of Texas team.

"Didn't the Giants draft Barry Bonds? I don't think he would've been any worse now than if he played in the Giants farm system. But they didn't offer him enough moolah [By five thousand dollars, I've heard -- GP] so he went to ASU instead. It's all economics. I think recent events have radically upset whatever equilibrium there once was (Steve Boras). If the deep pocket teams continue to give these insane signing bonuses, assuming shrewd agents keep finding loopholes, the pendulum might swing back to high school talent. In a few years, most of the best football players will have entered the NFL as underclassmen."

Well, this installment's so insanely long, I have to split it in two.

Double the love.

New Year -- New Title? -- Part 3

Copyright ©1998 by Gregg Pearlman

Last updated 1/13/98
Gregg Pearlman,

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