Coming through in the clutch to the tune of a 7.94 ERA

October 16th, 2006 → 12:36 am @

So many people are gushing over Oliver Perez’s 5.2 inning, 5-run outing last night in St. Louis you’d have thought Pedro hobbled out of the Mets’ clubhouse and pulled a Schilling. ESPN called Perez the game’s unsung hero because “he kept the game close — before the Mets’ offense exploded — and went deep enough to give the bullpen a much-needed break.”

Topping that, the Times‘s peerless Murray Chass* wrote, “Perez did not resemble Sandy Koufax or Mickey Lolich, but he did the job the Mets needed him to do in their 12-5 victory. Of such efforts heroes are made, in this case an unlikely hero.” Then, citing the Elias Sports Bureau (Chass’s favorite “source” — he’s cited Elias 17 times since the baseball season started), Chass wrote, “Perez, after all, had a 6.55 regular-season earned run average with the Pirates and the Mets, and that is the highest E.R.A. ever for a pitcher making a postseason start of any kind, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.” I’m pretty sure Elias doesn’t keep stats like this, but I bet it’s one of the only times a pitcher was called a hero after giving almost a run an inning and doing his best to give up a lead.

To wit: Perez gave up a run in the first, gave back a 2-1 Mets lead in the third, and, after the Mets scored three in the 5th, coughed up a home run to perpetual power threat David Eckstein in the Cardinals’ first at-bat in the bottom of the inning. (For those of you keeping track at home, Eckstein hit two home runs in 123 games this season…which, granted, is a bit off of his career-average of a four-bagger ever 31.5 games.) Before being yanked in the sixth, Perez gave up two more homers, although the Mets’ six-run explosion meant even Perez’s best efforts couldn’t bring the Cards back in the game. Context is everything, I guess. (Or, perhaps, in the world of sports reporting, reality is nothing.)

* Increasingly, the Times seems to feel that Chass is, well, peerless as well. Chass’s piece is nowhere to be found on the homepage for the paper’s sports section, and, in what increasingly appears to be a trend, Chass (unlike George Vecsey, Dave Anderson, or Harvey Araton) is the only one of today’s sports columnists who’s piece you can read without being a member of TimesSelect.

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Murray Chass & Sports Reporters

This is how sportswriters make the offseason seem exciting

October 16th, 2006 → 12:05 am @

As Jerry Remy pointed out at the end of the year, Boston is “probably the only place in the country where there’s a baseball story in both papers every single day of the offseason.” That’s a lot of column inches to fill, and not a lot of news to fill them with. Which is why it pays to be creative.

Take the “Baseball Notes” column in Sunday’s Globe, in which we learn that…

* Manny Ramirez might be the answer to the White Sox’s left fielder problem…but only if Boston can get someone like, say, Freddy Garcia in return
* The Yankees and the Cubs might be swapping third basemen, with A-Rod going to the Chicago and Aramis Ramirez coming to New York
* Barry Bonds might be going to the Orioles, and
* Kevin Millar might be coming back to Boston (Schilling and Francona will undoubtedly head the welcoming committee).

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the most likely scenario is that none of these things actually happen…and I’d be shocked if more than one actually did.

Still, my pet peeve of the piece is the following: “Bill Belichick might want to purchase a Tigers jersey. Jim Leyland has proven he’s the best manager in baseball.” Leyland is a great manager, and he did a good job this year…but guiding a team with three 20-HR players, two 19-HR players, and a staff with a 3.84 ERA (and two players who throw 100-MPH heat) to the playoffs does not, in itself, mean a heck of a lot. Sort of how last year’s White Sox victory didn’t mean Ozzie Guillen was a genius any more than the Marlins’ ’03 victory meant Jack McKeon was a genius.

(Leyland is a helluva lot of fun, though. I wish I’d TiVo’d it, but in the post-game on-field presentation after the Tigers finished their mercy killing of the A’s, Leyland was asked something along the lines of whether this was the highpoint of his life. Leyland — who toiled in the minors for the Tigers from ’64 to ’69 — said something along the lines of, “No: I wanted to be Yogi Berra, not Casey Stengel.” Then he gave a wan grin and shuffled off the on-field stage. Undoubtedly to have a smoke and kiss a fan.)

Post Categories: 2006 Playoffs & Sports Reporters

Reality bites: The Times ain’t gonna let no stinkin’ facts get in the way of a story

October 8th, 2006 → 10:21 am @

“[M]omentum going into the playoffs means nothing, right? Wrong. … Since 1950, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and the 1974 Oakland Athletics are the only other teams to win the World Series despite finishing the season with a sub-.500 record over their final 30 games. But they had records only slightly under .500, finishing at 14-16. …

So playing well at the end of the season is important. It not only increases the chances that a team will make the playoffs, it also increases the chances it will reach its ultimate goal. …

Playing well at the end of the season may even be more important than playing well over the entire season. World Series champions had a higher winning percentage (.622) over their final 30 games than they did over the entire season (an average of .606). This is not true for World Series runners-up. World Series runners-up win at a clip of .610 over the entire season and over their final 30 games.”

Success in September is the Key to Winning in October
by Martin B. Schmidt
New York Times
October 8, 2006

2006 Playoff Teams and Their Records Over the Season’s Final 30 Games
New York Yankess: 18-12
Detroit Tigers: 13-17
Tigers Win Series, 3-1

Minnesota Twins: 19-11
Oakland A’s: 17-13
A’s Win Series, 3-0

Los Angeles Dodgers: 18-12
New York Mets: 15-15
Mets Win Series, 3-0

San Diego Padres: 21-9
St. Louis Cardinals: 13-17
Cardinals Win Series, 3-1

So, to review: in all four of this year’s Division Series, the team with the worse record over the final 30 regular season games won. The Twins, with the best record in the AL over the season’s last month (and a day), were swept. The Padres, with a .700 winning percentage and the best record in all of baseball over that same period, lost in four games to a team that played .433 ball. Of the four teams in the LCS, two had losing records in September and one (the Mets) went .500…and they only managed that by sweeping the last place Washington Nationals during the season’s final series.

But this must be an anomaly, right? Not in this millenium. The team with the worse record over the season’s final 30 games has won four of the last six World Series: the 18-12 White Sox beat the 19-11 Astros last year; the 21-9 Angels beat the 22-8 Giants in 2002; the 15-15 Diamondbacks beat the 19-10-1 Yankees in 2001; and the 12-18 Yankees beat the 16-14 Mets in 2000.

Yeah, success in September sure does seem to be the key to winning in October.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times & Sports Reporters

The press is shocked, shocked! Roger Clemens named in Grimsley steroid affidavit

October 1st, 2006 → 5:16 pm @

You remember Jason Grimsley, right? Back in June, the Diamondbacks reliever was busted by federal agents when he signed for a shipment of human growth hormone; within days, he’d given an affidavit in which he named a bunch of names of MLB players who’d recommended PED regimens and/or used the drugs themselves.

Well, as Will Leitch predicted, the names in those affidavits didn’t stay blacked out for long. Today’s Los Angeles Times has a report in which they reveal those players: Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, who played with Grimsely on the Yankees, and Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons, who played with Grimsely on the Orioles. (David Segui, now retired, has already told ESPN he was one of the names in the Grimsley affidavit.) Grimsley, according to the Times piece, met his first steroid supplier through former Yankees trainer Brian McNamee, who remains Clemens’s and Pettitte’s personal strength coach.

Anyone who’s followed Clemens’s remarkable career shouldn’t be completely surprised by this. (As Buster Olney wrote earlier today, Clemens’s name was not “being whispered on background” after the Grimsley affidavit, “it was being shouted behind the scenes.”) Before the start of this season, Clemens had the best winning percentage of any pitcher after age 40, the third best ERA, the third best walks plus hits per nine innings, the third best hits per nine innings, the second best strikeouts per nine innings, and the fifth most strikeouts. Save for K/9, Clemens’s post-40 numbers are all better than those he put up from ages 21 through 39. The question is, why hasn’t someone looked into this possibility before?

Olney thinks the fact that Clemens’s name is in the affidavit won’t affect whether or not he returns next year. If true, I think that’s a sign of arrogance, although Olney clearly disagrees. But it should affect whether or not the Red Sox pursue Clemens in the offseason, as they did before before the ’06 season and at this summer’s trade deadline. As Jerry Remy noted in last night’s broadcast, the media coverage of the Red Sox is unique: “It’s probably the only place in the country where there’s a baseball story in both papers every single day of the offseason.” A PED scandal in Boston would make the tempest surrounding Manny’s knee injury seem like a decorous meeting of the local library lovers club.

Clemens will get a lot of scrutiny, and a lot of criticism, over the coming days and weeks. (Can you imagine what it would have been like had the Astros made the playoffs?) But this is a black mark on more than just a handful of players. It hasn’t been long since the country’s sportswriters made massive mea culpas — with special reports, investigative articles, and tendentious broadcasts — promising that never again would they turn a blind eye to players who mysteriously bulk up or show odd performance spikes. And yet there’s been very few questions asked of Jason Giambi concerning his remarkable return to his peak performances…which occurred during a time in which Giambi has acknowledged he was using steroids. And there’s been nary a published peep about Clemens.

Back in June, Jeff Pearlman asked, in Slate, why the country’s sportswriters were pretending that the steroid era was over. It was a good question then. It’s an even better — and more embarrassing one — now.

Post Categories: Jason Giambi & Jason Grimsley & Obvious references to Casablanca & Roger Clemens & Sports Reporters & Steroids

Manny. (Duck!)

September 29th, 2006 → 11:23 am @

Way back in June, I said Manny Ramirez was likely to finish out his contract with the Red Sox. I based that conclusion on a couple of factors: Manny’s $160 million contract, signed in that crazy free-agent winter of 2000, no longer looked so onerous. (This is due to a bunch of reasons which could make up a post of their own, but the gist of them are: Manny hasn’t seen the decline in skills many people feared and revenue sharing has given small-revenue clubs enough money to sign their young superstars before they hit the open market, making it unclear where the Sox could better spend that $20 million a year.) What’s more, Manny seemed to be making good on a promise he made to John Henry when Ramirez visited the Red Sox owner at his Florida house during spring training. For the first four-and-a-half months of the season, he was putting up his usual prodigious numbers and was playing hard, wasn’t complaining, and, for the first time in memory, seemed genuinely happy to be in Boston.

Well, as that gender-neutral named author S.E. Hinton first said back before Manny was born, that was then, this is now. Manny hasn’t been a regular in the Red Sox’s lineup since the mid-August, Yankees-induced Boston massacre; in 35 games since then, he’s put together only 22 at-bats (and 27 plate appearances). That’s about 3/4 of a plate appearance per game…or a full trip to the plate less than the ferocious offensive powerhouse known as Gabe Kapler has gotten over that same stretch.

Manny’s lingering absence — officially ascribed to tendonitis in his knee— has prompted rumors of malingering since the days after that Yankees series, when the Providence Journal‘s Sean McAdam wrote an article in which he described Manny’s being infuriated by an official scorer’s call and said at least one player was worried about an impending “episode.” The Sox — from Manny’s teammates to his manager to the front office — have officially stood behind Ramirez (even after he backed out of a game earlier this week), and, as the New York Mets learned yesterday, there can be harsh consequences to trying to come back early from an injury. But behind the scenes, Manny’s absence has ruffled more than a few feathers, and Manny, once again, has summoned his agent to Boston to request a trade…with the list of teams Manny’s willing to play for apparently growing by the day.

As is often the case, (and as I’ve written about before), any reporting of unrest in Manny world inevitably results in a round of proverbial rotten eggs being thrown at the media doing the reporting. The Globe‘s Gordon Edes learned that in a particularly painful fashion this weekend, when a critical column of his prompted more than just the usual round of hate mail; this time, Edes actually had a disgruntled reader call him at home. (Edes didn’t point out the irony of a member of a fanbase that often complains about the ways in which the Boston media violates the Sox’s privacy violating his privacy in a much more frightening manner…so I will.) But it’s not just Edes and McAdam who’re writing about the ways in which Manny is impacting the Sox.


In the two-and-a-half months since Feeding the Monster was released, the most common reader queries have shifted from questions about Theo and Nomar to questions about Manny. I usually explain him thusly: he’s someone unusually dedicated to his craft. He works incredibly hard, isn’t a clubhouse distraction, and genuinely cares; you don’t put up these numbers coasting by on raw talent. What’s so confusing — and so fascinating — is the way in which that drive is combined with periods of total apathy. There are those players who don’t work very hard and don’t do that well (*cough* Doug Mirabelli *cough*) and players that work their butts off and succeed beyond where their God-given talents would naturally bring them. But I’ve never encountered anyone — in baseball or in the rest of my life — who combines the raw talent, the will to succeed, and the frequent stretches of apparent disinterest exhibited by Ramirez. When fans detect a frustration on the part of the media (or the front office) in regards to Manny, I suspect it doesn’t stem from some sort of latent disregard; that’s why, during those periods in which Manny is absolutely crushing the ball, there are very few complaints about the ways in which he ignores the media or suffers from occasional brain farts in the field. I’d bet this frustration is roughly parallel to the frustration friends, or family, or whomever feels when someone they’re close to is occasionally squanders his or her talent and abilities. Manny will, without a doubt, be voted into the Hall of Fame. He’ll be remembered as a great, great hitter. But an equal part of his legacy will be turmoil that’s trailed him throughout his career; absent that, he could be discussed as among the best players in the history of the game.When Manny said earlier this month that he was the season’s real MVP, the joke wasn’t that he was so off-base, it was that he very well could have been the MVP before he missed the last month-and-a-half of the season.

If you put a gun to my head, I’d still say it’s more likely Manny is back in a Boston uniform next year than not. There have been plenty of times when both the Sox and Ramirez have been focused and dedicated on getting him out of town, and nothing has worked thus far. On the other hand, Manny’s contract becomes less scary with each passing year, and the very fact that there are fewer monster mashers hitting free agency makes it that much more likely someone will desperately want to pick up Manny’s last two years. (Of course, that’s also the very reason the Sox will be unlikely to trade him…but if the front office feels that this fall’s sit-down was more a result of Manny’s unhappiness than his balky knee,* they likely won’t want to risk two more years of periodic strikes. This was very much the fear at the 2005 trade deadline, when Manny came thisclose to going to the Mets.)

A Manny-less Red Sox team also raises the specter of David Ortiz getting approximately 800 walks a season; this is a concern Ortiz himself recently voiced in the Herald. And certainly Manny offers Papi some protection, but Ortiz’s numbers this month seem to indicate the effect might not be as great as we all thought. From April through August, Ortiz averaged 9.4 home runs a month; with two games remaining in September, he’s hit 8. And Ortiz’s OBP (.462 in September versus .409 on the season), slugging percentage (.657 versus .636), and OPS (1.120 versus 1.045) have all been better, while his batting average has stayed exactly the same, at .286.

This offseason is sure to be an interesting and tumultuous one — more on that later — and all we know for sure is that Manny is sure to be part of that tumult. Stay tuned…

* No, I’m not saying Manny is faking his injury, and it’s well known within baseball that Manny has a relatively low pain threshhold. There does seem to be a consensus that he could play without serious risk of further injury, but that’s something that’s impossible to ever truly know.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Sports Reporters

That’s just Manny and his hammies (And it’s just Manny being omnisciently sourced)

August 23rd, 2006 → 11:50 am @

Imagine you’re married to a smoking hot chick. (I say chick only because, judging from the comments and names of people who’ve registered on the site, it seems as if most of the blog’s readers are men. But for the ladies in the house, imagine you’re married to a smoking hot hunk, and substitute in as you wish.) She’s a hellcat in the sack. I mean mind-bendingly, jaw-droppingly good, the kind of sex that leaves you weak-kneed for a day or two afterwards. She also likes football, baseball, and the Three Stooges. She’s funny. She’s smart. She’s interesting. She’s exciting. In the history of wifedom, it’s hard to imagine more than a handful of women who’d ever be able to compete. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her drawbacks: she refuses — flat out refuses — to visit your parents. She hates your friends. And she stubbornly chews with her mouth open. But you can deal with all of this. You happily deal with all of this.

The one thing that’s harder to deal with is those times, once or twice a year, when she up and disappears. Literally just checks out. Oftentimes, these moments come when you need her most: your boss just tore you a new one, or your dog just died, or you’re going in to get that weird lump checked out…and suddenly, she’s gone. Usually she’s back in a couple of days, but sometimes it’s a week. Or longer. The weird thing is, these moments often come immediately after she’s once again blown you away with how amazing she is. She’ll insist on staying at the game in the middle of a thunderstorm, or will surprise you with a pre-paid trip to Vegas…and then, bam, she’s gone. No matter how amazing things were a couple of days (or hours) earlier, that hurts. It hurts bad. And it’s almost impossible to understand.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re the Boston Red Sox. And that smoking hot wife is Manny Ramirez.


Buried amidst all the carnage of the Boston Massacre, 2006 edition, is how freakishly good Manny has been as of late. During the five games against the Yankees, Manny had 20 plate appearances. He reached base 19 times. Think about that: in five games over four days, Manny made exactly one out. (It’s likely true that, as ESPN’s David Schoenfield argued last week, Manny is among the most unsung superstars in the game, although that’s due more to his silence than anything else.) He had two four-baggers. He had seven RBIs. The pitching might have come up short. The bullpen might have leaked runs like a flimsy piñata. David Ortiz might have had a frustratingly human series. But Manny? Manny really was (as the Fenway PA system reminded us on July 31, 2005) like Superman.

Except all was not right in Manny-world. Friday night, a couple of hours after the first gut punch of a loss and a couple of hours before the second one, Manny hit a sharp ball into the hole. It glanced off Derek Jeter’s glove, and he was given an error. Manny certainly didn’t need the single to improve his average (.329, 4th in the AL), his OBP (.445, 1st in the AL), his SLG (.625, 2nd in the AL), or his OPS (1.080, second (by .008) in the AL). Lord knows he wasn’t looking for that elusive base hit that’d help him snap out of a slump.

But to repeat what’s already become a hackneyed phrase, Manny, being Manny, threw a hissy fit. According to teammates (or according to people in the clubhouse who attributed this to teammates) and club officials, Manny had to be talked into suiting up on Saturday. On Sunday, according to several people privy to the situation, Manny tried to convince an MLB official to give him a hit on the play. And on Monday, according to everyone who was watching the game, Manny, because of his suddenly tightening hamstrings, didn’t play after the fourth inning. He also didn’t start last night’s game (although he did pinch-hit for Dustin Pedroia to lead off the top of ninth with the Sox down a run).

For years, Manny has had tight hamstrings. Manny’s also incredibly limber; the next time you go to a game, watch him warm up. And for years, Manny’s hammies have been the excuse cited by the team whenever Manny’s needed to take a couple of personal days. This is infuriating, regardless of what Manny did in the previous four innings or the previous four days or the previous four days or the previous 12 years. Yesterday, Terry Francona told the media, “He’s just sore. So rather than turn this into a week, try to let him get worked on and get him back as quick as possible.” Was he talking about Manny’s hamstrings? Or his head? Or a bit of both?


Sportswriting is a unique beast. It’s the only type of journalism in which someone’s called on to be a critic, an investigative reporter, and a gossip columnist…all at the same time. (Can you imagine if movie critics were also asked to report on the business side of Hollywood? How do you a pan a movie when the next day you need the exec who greenlighted the project to tell you about an upcoming merger?) It’s also the last place reporters and columnists regular elide from one role to the other (you’re not about to see Maureen Dowd writing news stories from Crawford), and just about the last place omniscient sourcing is permitted. If you can’t think of the last time you read a sentence that began, “According to teammates who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of clubhouse interactions,” that’s because you’ve never read a sentence that began that way.

I’ve never covered football, basketball, or hockey, but I have covered politics, business, and crime, and baseball is the only arena I know of in which everyone — from the players to the agents to the coaches to the managers to the front offices — is fully expected to lie. After he signed with the Yankees, Alan Embree never copped to telling the Red Sox he was going to sign with a team on the West Coast before ending up playing for the Yankees, the Red Sox never called him out, and Embree’s agent kept saying how disappointed Embree was about the whole thing. A lot of the time, reporters aren’t privy to these types of prevarications. Sometimes, however, they are, and sometimes people — the front office, players, etc — tells reporters something but tells them they can’t attribute it to anyone, even anonymously. And since there’s the absence of those “requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature” clauses, viola: omniscient sourcing.

This, I assume, was the case with Sean McAdam’s column in yesterday’s Providence Journal. “Think about that,” McAdam wrote. In the middle of the Sox’ three most dispiriting losses of the season, suffered at the hands of the team’s archrival, Ramirez sulked about losing credit for a meaningless single that didn’t even involve an RBI. …
[W]ith his team’s season in the balance, Ramirez intended to sit out to protest a scorer’s call? Would Jeter do that? Would David Ortiz? Would, in fact, any other player in the game?”

For anyone who saw Ortiz making a mad dash for second, sausage-link legs akimbo and arms furiously pumping, in the botttom of the ninth on Sunday knows the answer to that question. (Ortiz’s hit, a sharp shot down the first base line, was flubbed by Jason Giambi. Unlike Jeter’s play with Manny, Giambi wasn’t charged with an error, and Ortiz was given credit for a double.) McAdam, one of the most respected (and one of the best) Red Sox writers, doesn’t cite his sources. That’s not, I’m sure, because he doesn’t have them; I was able to independently confirm the basic facts with a couple of phone calls from my apartment in Manhattan. But sportswriters aren’t supposed to use the pedantic sourcing found on the front page. And because of that, sources expect they won’t be linked to a story…even as a generic “teammate” or “club official.” Still, in many quarters, fans were outraged at McAdam for writing his column instead of at Manny for up and disappearing at another crucial moment.


Thirty-eight years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren told Sports Illustrated the order in which he read the newspaper: “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures.” New Englanders, with their near-religious devotion to the Sox, expect the sports section to record people’s accomplishments more than most places. New Yorker’s don’t explode in outrage when players are caught acting like morons (or horny teenagers). Bostonians do…but this outrage is directed at the messengers, not the message. I understand that, and I’m sure McAdam does, too. But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Media reporting & Sean McAdam & Sports Reporters

The commissioner is in the house

August 19th, 2006 → 2:31 pm @

Today marks Peter Gammons’ first trip to Fenway Park since suffering a brain aneurysm in June.

Of everyone I came in contact with last year — players, coaches, reporters, members of the front office — Peter Gammons was the most generous, the nicest, and the most fun. Watching games with him from his seats behind home plate was a highlight of the year, and will be a highlight of my baseball-watching life. Decades after he revolutionized baseball beat reporting with his Notes columns for The Boston Globe, Gammons remains a huge fan of the game, the type of guy who spent the weekend he was inducted into the Hall of Fame working the phones so he could come up with his typical must-read piece for

Let’s hope today is a joyous return to the park for Peter. (Because remember: he did pick Josh Beckett to win this year’s AL Cy Young award.)

Post Categories: Sports Reporters