$160 million doesn’t buy what it used to

June 15th, 2006 → 9:19 am @

Manny Ramirez speaks out on the differences between life under Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke.

“It’s all I can afford on my budget.”
— Manny Ramirez, June 2006, after stopping for take-out Chinese at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got money. I can buy another one.”
— Manny Ramirez, June 2002, after losing a $15,000 diamond earring after a headfirst slide during a rehab stint in Pawtucket.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Obscene amounts of money

Doggy up?

June 14th, 2006 → 11:18 pm @

Maybe Millar really isn’t wired right.

Post Categories: Kevin Millar & Steaming bags of dog crap

Gentlemen, update your resumes…

June 14th, 2006 → 3:35 pm @

Chris Snow began covering the Red Sox fulltime less than a year-and-a-half ago. His first stint with the team came during spring training, which, especially for reporters who’ve been on the beat for a while, can be a slog: the hundreth article on a crusty veteran’s hopes for the coming year, a bunch of plus ca change pieces…and on and on and on. Snow worked the hell out of the job from day one, always looking for different angles and always coming at stories with fresh reporting. In the regular season, during the soul-crushing hours reporters spent idly wandering around the Sox’s clubhouse before and after games, Snow was always politely excusing himself to go buttonhole a player about a story.

Today, the Globe announced that Snow was leaving the paper for a job as the director of hockey operations for the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild. At age 24, Snow will be one of the youngest executives in professional sports—but then, he knows all about the pressures of being a young executive.

In hiring Snow, Globe editor Marty Baron showed he wanted young, hungry reporters covering some of the paper’s most important beats. It’ll be interesting to see who ends up filling Snow’s spot: there’s the equally precocious Amalie Benjamin (a Newton North High School alum; go Tigers!), along with all the Herald scribes worried that the city’s tabloid is about to go under. And, of course, there’s Chasing Steinbrenner author Rob Bradford, who’s been cleaning up on the beat this season while toiling away for the Eagle-Tribune and its criminally difficult to navigate website

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Chris Snow & Red Sox & Sports Reporters

Life is unfair

June 14th, 2006 → 12:05 am @

After a game like this, you need some sort of reaffirmation of all that’s right and true in the world. Yeah…this should do the trick. (And you sir, are a great American.)

Post Categories: Baseball & Ben Cohen & Oblique Refrences to Killed Newsweek Headlines & Videos that restore faith in humanity

Outtakes: Kevin Youkilis

June 13th, 2006 → 11:30 pm @

This is the first in a series of outtakes from interviews done for Feeding the Monster, to be published on July 11 by Simon & Schuster. This interview with Kevin Youkilis was conducted in the Red Sox clubhouse on May 21, 2005. Read the book for exclusive details about how close Youkilis came to being a member of the Oakland A’s before his first at bat.

On the Red Sox farm system under the old ownership: When I got drafted [in the eighth round of the 2001 draft] and a couple of classes before me, and one or two after that, we weren’t that good. We didn’t have good drafts because [the organization] had spent all the money on the big leagues. They didn’t think about the minor league system when Dan Duquette was here. They’d rather spend their money on the big league level and not worry about the farm system. We had so many college guys that were getting paid $1,000 because they got drafted later and that was all [the club would] focus on. I was a four-year college guy, and you don’t have to pay those guys. There just wasn’t a lot of talent there. I mean, we were playing against some teams that had four first rounders on the team. We just didn’t have that kind of talent. We couldn’t compete. We battled, but we couldn’t compete against those teams on a regular basis because they had so much more talent than us.

On learning the game in the big leagues: Last year [in 2004] I didn’t really ask about stuff, I’d just watch. Now I’ll go sit down next to a coach after a play and ask him, you know, “You know, what if, like, I did this?” I talk to Dale Sveum a lot. Papa Jack—we always sit up there on that little bench. That’s the big thing for me, just getting knowledge and retaining knowledge of the game.

On the Red Sox’s reliance on statistics: We’ve got a great staff in here. We’ve got a lot of staff members in here that work their butts off. We’ve got more stuff on the computer – it’s unbelievable. They’ve got a war room in there. They’ve got their own little office in there that’s like a war room. They work to try to give us have an edge and they’ve done a great job with it.

On being known as Moneyball‘s Greek God of Walks: I got so much attention from that book. I mean, I was in AA and I got asked to the futures game, and I was like, “what?” I’ve always had the confidence that I could play the game, but I’ve never thought that I was at the elite status. I thought maybe down the road I’d make it, but then the next year I was in the big leagues. It was such an unbelievable year. All of a sudden this is getting introduced to the whole entire country as being in a New York Times bestseller. I read most of it. I’m bad with books. I’ll read like three-quarters and then put it down.

On playing with Derek Lowe: When he’s got his sinker on, he’s just deadly. He was great for us as position players. We loved it. When we were playing behind him, we knew we were going to get action in the game. But [2004] was tough. He knew he was going to be a free agent. I don’t know if that was the key. You know, sometimes it’s mental. Sometimes it’s physical. I don’t know if he wasn’t feeling well or – I think it was more a mental strain. The Boston media and the fans and everything – everyone jumps on you here so quick and sometimes some guys can’t get out of the hole mentally. Then in the playoffs I think he had a little chip on his shoulder, like I’m going to show them.

On Boston fans: It’s hard to go out. You gotta know where you’re going. You gotta watch yourself, too. You know, if you want to go out and have a drink or hang out with some of your friends, you just gotta know where you’re going because here they got Inside Track and this other stuff and you don’t want to end up in a gossip column. But it’s tough. We all want to go out and do things sometime. Sitting around in your house everyday is not fun.

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Kevin Youkilis & Red Sox

Statistics, clutch hitting, and the left arm of God

June 13th, 2006 → 11:40 am @

On Sunday afternoon, David Ortiz, after being down 0-2 to Rangers closer Akinori Otsuka, hit his sixth regular-season walk-off home run since 2003; those, of course, go along with the two walk-offs he had in the 2004 playoffs and the four other walk-off hits he’s had over that same time period. (Check out this photo gallery for some great shots of those moments.) Ortiz’s monster shot into the right-field bleachers raises a couple of interesting questions. First, why in the world would managers keep pitching to Ortiz when the game is on the line? I know, I know, walking Ortiz would have loaded the bases for Manny Ramirez, with his 20 career grand slams (behind only Lou Gehrig’s 23 on the all-time list). But isn’t Ortiz recognized as the best clutch hitter of his generation, a sort of anti A-Rod?

Well, yes and no. Since the advent of sabermetrics a couple of decades ago, there’s been a good amount of debate concerning whether or not clutch hitting truly exists. Bill James, who helped pioneer the field and now works as an advisor to the Red Sox, initially said no; recently, he says he’s changed his mind. Then, in a new book published this spring, writers from Baseball Prospectus argued that Ortiz’s lifetime clutch rating is essentially zero. “[M]ost of the damage was limited to just two seasons, 2000 and 2005,” BP’s Nate Silver writes. “It isn’t a bad track record, but if clutch hitting really exists, one would expect more consistency out of the ‘greatest clutch hitter in the history of the Boston Red Sox.'”

Silver’s analysis shows how easy it can be to use statistics to prove almost anything—and how difficult it can be to figure out the best way to use data so that you’re truly learning something. Since winning a full-time job with the Red Sox a couple of months in to the 2003 season, Ortiz has become a much smarter hitter: he’s closed up his holes and has learned to foul off pitches he used to whiff at. It stands to reason that his performance in clutch situations has improved as well; indeed, his epic at bat against Esteban Loaiza in Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series—an at bat Theo Epstein called one of the greatest of all time—was a gorgeous example of a hitter wasting pitches until he got one he could handle. And since October 2004, Ortiz has come up big again and again and again. (As soon as Ortiz connected with Otsuka’s pitch, Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo screamed, “How many times can he go to the well?”) The fact that over the entirety of Ortiz’s career–including the years in which the Twins wanted him “to hit like a little bitch”–Ortiz’s clutch performances come out as a wash doesn’t really tell us anything about what kind of hitter he’s been for the last several seasons.

“I’m still not sure exactly how to measure clutch hitting,” Bill James told me last year. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Here James, generally an understated man, paused for a moment. “Watching Ortiz, it’s hard to think it doesn’t.”

There’s more–much more–about Ortiz, clutch hitting, Bill James, and what life is like inside a Major League Baseball organization in my book Feeding the Monster, due out in July.

UPDATE: In Michael Silverman’s Red Sox Notebook he writes that Ortiz’s walkoff on Sunday was the first “two-out walkoff blast by a player whose team trailed by at least two runs since Brad Wilkerson of Montreal did it July 17, 2003.” Ortiz is also the first person to have a game-ending home run in five straight seasons since the Crime Dog did it from 1993 to 1997.

Post Categories: Baseball & Bill James

Howell Raines: There’s a wicked wind still blowing…

June 11th, 2006 → 9:41 pm @

“I’m a political reporter,” Howell Raines writes in his new memoir, The One That Got Away. “I can read an audience.” Only half of this is true: Raines was a political reporter, and, at times, a very good one. But in the final years of his career, he showed he was horrible at reading an audience. In the days after September 11, Raines, who’d been the executive editor of The New York Times for less than a week when the Twin Towers collapsed, took pride in the fact that his staff, as he once pungently put it, had been “rode hard and put up wet.” After hundreds of Times journalists performed truly heroic feats of journalism, Raines took all the credit for himself. And when Jayson Blair was outed as a plagiarist and fabricator, Raines misinterpreted anger directed at him as the griping of a complacent newsroom.

This passage in The One That Got Away is of particular interest to me because it’s where he takes a swipe at my own reporting and reputation. Referring to what he calls “a Bermuda triangle of angry druggies,” Raines writes, “[T]he guy hammering me in Newsweek had been treated for heroin addiction. … I had passed on a chance to hire this guy earlier in his career because I believed he was too easily spun by his sources. If I had known about the heroin, I might have hired him, too.”

This sentence is a beautiful example of Raines’s M.O.: start with some basic facts and twist them in a way that’s both inaccurate and demeaning. It was an approach executed with aplomb in Raines’s semi-hysterical settling of scores in his Atlantic Monthly article of May 2004, when he started with some undeniable premises—that the Times‘s cultural coverage needed to be updated, for instance—before misstating facts in order to create a new reality in which Raines’s predecessor at the paper had led a lazy and incompetent staff and he had been the savior cast off by bitter ingrates.

In the section I quoted above, Raines refers to me dismissively as a junkie, implies that my critical coverage of him had stemmed from the fact that he hadn’t hired me, writes that he would have hired me out of pity had he only known about my past, and disparages my reporting. I was, at one point, a heroin addict; that’s no secret. And I had sent in some clips to the Times in the fall of 2001, after Inside.com and Brill’s Content shut down. But if Raines had ever even seen those clips, he would have known about my personal story: I included an essay I’d written about my treatment and recovery because, as I said in my cover letter, I wanted to give prospective employers “the broadest sense of my abilities” and not have them caught off guard. In fact, Raines had not “passed on a chance” to hire me; as I later confirmed, my clips—which I sent to Adam Moss, then the editor of the Times‘s Sunday magazine, Dave Smith, then the Times‘s media editor, and Trip Gabriel, the editor of the Times‘s Style section, had never made their way up the ladder. (Neither Raines nor anyone else at the Times contacted me at the time about a possible job.) And to the extent that I had a reputation in 2001, it was for being hard on my sources, something Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker discovered when, in my final story for Brill’s, I wrote how Whitaker had bungled (and possibly prevaricated about) the handling of a story detailing Bob Kerrey’s role in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians. Whitaker, to his credit, hired me soon after. What is undeniably true is that I had hammered Raines both before and after I sent clips in to the Times—for the very things that would lead to his downfall. I’d written critically about Raines since before he had taken over the paper, when, as the media reporter for Inside, I had written about the anxiety in the newsroom related to his appointment. After Inside closed, I reported on Raines’s roiling of the Times‘s national staff for New York. Then there was my coverage of Raines in Newsweek and in my book, Hard News.

By the end of his career as a journalist, Raines had come under fire in many quarters for letting his personal agendas get in the way of the real story. Three years after he was fired for this and for his mishandling of the best newsroom in the country, it’s clear not much has changed.

Post Categories: Bob Dylan & Hard News & Howell Raines & New York Times & Oblique Refrences to Killed Newsweek Headlines & Street Legal Lyrics