This week: Happy endings with Joe Posnanski

July 30th, 2007 → 9:04 am @

July has been a slow month for me (at least on the FTM blog count); already, August looks to be a more satisfying time for those of you who need some more Mnookin in your mornings. Or evenings, as it were: this Wednesday night, I’ll be reading at New York’s Happy Ending Lounge as part of the Varsity Letters Reading Series. Best of all, I’ll be joined by two other writers: Sally Jenkins, author of “The Real All Americans: The Team that Changed a Game, a People, a Nation,” and the inimitable Joe Posnanski, author of the excellent Buck O’Neil biography, The Soul of Baseball. I first met Posnanski in August ’05, when the Jose Lima and the Royals were routing Schilling and the Sox in KC’s Kaufman Stadium. I’m a big fan of his work — baseball fans would be well served by regularly reading his column in the KC Star — and his presence there guarantees a classy evening. The Happy Ending is at 302 Broome St between Forsyth and Eldridge; the reading starts at 8 pm, and books and booze will both be available for sale (although I’ll only sign books).


Don’t yet have your copy of Feeding the Monster, the Boston Globe and New York Times bestseller that’s been called “Red Sox porn”? Can’t make it on Wednesday? Don’t worry — now’s the perfect time to buy your copy (available from Amazon for only $10.20 (cheap)…and you can even get your copy inscribed with one of these free, signed, personalized bookplates. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one.

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Readings & Joe Posnanski

It’s like the Colbert Report, except with me and Joe Posnanski

March 22nd, 2007 → 1:09 pm @

For those of you who don’t know who Joe Posnanski is, well, shame on you: he’s, for my money, one of the best baseball writers working. (I’ve said this before — using the exact same language, actually.) His new book, The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America is excellent. Go buy the damn thing. (Posnanski earns bonus points for living in Kansas City, the ancestral seat of the Mnookin clan. That also means he can eat all the Arthur Bryant’s he wants. Lucky bastard.Recently, Joe and had a little e-exchange, which he printed on his site. Here are some excerpts. He’s doing the questioning, I’m doing the answering. The whole thing is humorous, but go check out his blog for everything else that’s on there.

Who do you think is the best player in the division?

David Ortiz. There’s a good argument to be made that the best player should also play in the field, but that argument doesn’t hold up here. Pedro was the best player in the league in the 1999-2000 era, and Papi is now. He’s the most fun to watch, he makes his teammates better, he changes the complexion of every game when the Red Sox enter the 8th or 9th down a couple of runs. Someday we’ll look back and realize that, over the last four years, we all witnessed something truly incredible.

True of false: Derek Jeter is a lousy defensive shortstop.

True. He’s perfected the Nomar move: make an average play look remarkably difficult, thereby drawing oohs and aahs from fans and ignorant broadcasters alike. He’s not as bad as some think – he’s far from the worst shortstop in baseball – but he’s in the lower half.

For your first book, Hard News, you appeared on Bill O’Reilly and on Jon Stewart’s show. Which one was more fun?

That’s such a gimme. C’mon. Stewart. He’d actually read the book; he wanted to engage on a real level; he repeatedly called (former New York Times editor) Howell Raines a dick on the air. O’Reilly really is more of a kabuki theater experience: you’re having a conversation, the red light comes on, and all of a sudden there’s lots of yelling and sudden movements. It wouldn’t be a good show for an epileptic to do.

Who is the best starting pitcher in the division?

Chien-Ming Wang. (Doesn’t it sound crazy to say that?) Nah, just kidding. Right now it’s kind of a toss-up. Roy Halladay would be if he stayed healthy. I’m interested in what happens with Daisuke-san, although even in the best of circumstances he’s not going to be the best pitcher in the division. Outside of that, who knows? Phillip Hughes could come up and blow everyone away. Scott Kazmir would pull it all together. We could have a Papelbon-esque emergence somewhere. One thing I know: it won’t happen in Baltimore. Because Baltimore sucks.

Who is the best closer in the division?

Mariano. He’s older, he’s slowing down, but he’s still the best. This is assuming Papelbon stays in the rotation.

You started out as a rock critic. A friend of mine who works for Warner says Linkin Park will have the No. 1 selling album in America this year. This depressed me. The question: Is there a great rock and roll band left in the world?

Oh, sure. There are a lot. Radiohead’s a really great rock band – when I saw them in Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago, I was blown away. Wilco is occasionally a great band. The Arcade Fire is on its way to being a great band. U2 is a great rock band. And there are lots of small and smallish bands that I think are great; it just depends if you’re defining the term as someone/something that can blow away 20,000 people at a time.
Remember, too – and I’m saying this only because I hate to see you depressed – there have been lots of awful bands that have had the best selling album of any given year: The Saturday Night Fever, The Bodyguard Soundtrack, albums by REO Speedwagon, Bobby Brown, and Ace of Base.

Editor’s (i.e. Posnanski’s) note: I can’t get into Wilco. And I feel like I’m a traitor to my Generation X or something. I’ve had dozens of people try to get me to appreciate Wilco. My friend Brian, the Warner Music guy, has given me something like 493 free Wilco discs, others have played Wilco in the car when we’ve been together and slowly explained to me why Wilco is great. I don’t deny Wilco’s greatness. I really don’t. I just can’t get into the music. I know it’s me.

Two part question. Do you: a.) Believe in clutch hitting? and b.) Believe that Big Papi is a bonafide clutch hitter?

A. Yes.
B. Yes.
I don’t see how there’s any way you could have watched baseball for the past half-decade and not believe that Ortiz rises to the occasion; ergo, clutch hitting exists. As Bill James told me in Feeding the Monster (available for just $17.16 from Amazon! Cheap!), just because we don’t know how to quantify it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The Yankees pitching staff features 39-year-old Mike Mussina, 37-year-old Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite, who is 498. While the Yankees will still have the youngest pitching staff in New York, does the Yankees staff give you hope?

Hope for the Red Sox? The Yankees also have Phillip Hughes. The Sox have 40-year old Schilling and the Depression-era Wakefield/Timlin duo. Either rotation could end up clicking – Pavano could have a good year (unlikely, but theoretically possible); Wang could replicate ’06; Hughes could come up and dominate circa Papelbon ’06. And in Boston, Beckett could get electro-shock treatment and cure him of the misconception that he can blow his fastball by AL hitters, Dice-K could gyro his way to a 40-0 record, Papelbon could make the transition to starter and finish the year with a .03 ERA. Or it could all go to shit. Who knows?

True or False: The Red Sox will rue the day they signed J.D. Drew.

True. That day will be on April 1, 2010.

You are one of the few people who have had the good fortune of talking with Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and James Frey: the Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard of untrue journalism. Give us a scouting report on each:

Actually, I didn’t really talk to Frey. (Or I did, but only when I mistook him for someone else at a charity auction. He’s short. And really pathetic.) Jayson is, legitimately, a manic loon; Stephen is, legitimately, smart and also seemed to me to be aware of what he’d done, although I found his decision to write a “novel” instead of dealing with the people he’d screwed over a bit odd. Or at least indicative of his not fully accepting the consequences of what happened.

What are your favorite and least favorite Yankees-Red Sox moments?

I’m going to limit this to the last decade. Favorites: the ’04 playoffs, the two ’04 July games (the brawl and the Jeter-into-the-stands), the ’03 playoffs, the ’99 Pedro 17-K game in Yankee stadium. Least favorite: the opening series of the ’06 regular season (the Sheffield into the right-field stands series) and the final series of the ’06 regular season. The first series was just ugly; the final one clearly signaled the jump-the-shark moment of the rivalry. (Incidentally, I was at all of these games/moments save for the Fenway July ’04 match and the ’03 playoffs.)

Many people have said that the Red Sox are the new Yankees … they just go out and spend money and buy players. Does this in any way cut into your enjoyment?

Actually, yes. If I was the god of all things baseball, I’d have a salary floor and a salary ceiling. It’d make the game more interesting.

I asked Alex Belth if that thing Yankee fans do — where they call out each player’s name until recognized — is cool or unbearably obnoxious. What do you think?

It’s not so much obnoxious as stupid and childish. It’s what a three-year-old would do if he were trying to get his dad’s attention while he was at work.

True or false: Curt Schilling will be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tough call. I’d vote for him. He’s the best postseason pitcher of his generation, and arguably the best postseason pitcher ever. That counts for at least as much as having the good fortune to be part of a double-play combination that was made into a catchy ditty. His ERA+ was pretty much always above 120, his WHIP was below 1.2 for six straight years, and he has more than 200 wins and 3,000 Ks. He was killed by those years in Philly, though, and too many of the writers who vote on the HOF (Hi, Murray!) are boobs who seem to be proud of their ignorance.

Post Categories: Joe Posnanski & The Soul of Baseball

Don’t cry for me: explaining the weird economics of the publishing industry

March 22nd, 2007 → 12:25 pm @

A clarification from a point I made in in yesterday’s cuddlefest, prompted by a couple of comments and couple of private emails I’ve received.

It’s true: I won’t ever receive royalties from Feeding the Monster, but that’s not because I’m being taken advantage of or being underpaid; if anything, it’s because I was overpaid at the front end of the deal. For the most part, authors are paid advances for their books (I say for the most part because it’s certainly true that some writers work on books in hopes of enticing a publisher after said book is completed). In publishing, the term “advance” is a bit of misnomer, since the author will never be asked to return an advance if he doesn’t make it back. (Well, almost never: in 1996, Random House sued Joan Collins, claiming she had delivered an unpublishable manuscript. They lost.) And the vast majority of books don’t earn out their advances. This is especially true in non-fiction, where the research costs and time it takes to finish a project generally mean a publishing house can’t offer, say, $25,000, which they can do with a first novel.

This creates an odd system in which the author has no real economic incentive to sell more books. (That’s a bit simplistic: future advances are effected by past sales figures, although this is less true in non-fiction — where books are seen as more topic-dependent — than it is in fiction. Plus there’s the ego factor.) If it seems as if under this model, publishers must lose money on a lot of books, that’s because that’s true…although not as true as it may seem as first. An author generally needs to sell a bit more than twice as many books to start earning royalties as a publisher needs to sell to break ever, because the publisher gets somewhere around 2x as much per book as the author does. (Ex: author X gets a $100 advance from publisher Y. Author gets $2 per book; publisher gets closer to $4. Publisher needs to sell 25 books to start making money beyond that $100 advance; figuring in another $25 or so in printing, labor, and other attendant expenses on the publisher’s part, it would need to sell about 31 books to clear a profit. The author, meanwhile, would need to sell 50 books before he earns out his advance.) So, for the most part, my shameless shilling isn’t because I’m hoping to see more dough rolling in at the end of the day. It’s because I crave affirmation. And I crave readers.

All of this raises an interesting question: how is it that publishing houses stay in business? The (also slightly simplistic answer): because of the Stephen Kings of the world. So thanks, Stephen, for helping out with my advance. Since you’re a big Sox fan, I know you don’t mind.

Post Categories: Joe Posnanski & The Soul of Baseball

You like me! You really, really like me!

March 21st, 2007 → 3:52 pm @

The good folks at Baseball Think Factory have started a thread about my thoughts on the Times “Keeping Score” piece and (author Dan Rosenhack’s thoughts on my thoughts). I think it’s fair to say I come out holding the shit end of the stick. (To wit: I’m a “Boston sportswriter…in the bad way,” I have a “particular blind spot with regard to Ortiz,” I’m a “front office mouthpiece,” my analysis is “simple-minded, fan-boy tripe” (that’s actually in reference to something on Joe Posnanski’s site), I’m “unwilling to entertain reasonable analysis,” my post was a “crap” “hatchet job,” and my follow-up posts don’t “help my argument” or “make me look very good.”)

On the positive side of the ledger, I’ve been elevated to Gammons’s echelon — which truly is an honor — and as far as supposed Sox mouthpieces go, I’m apparently the “updated, cooler, albeit non-rock star, version, since he writes for Slate and Salon, and, according to Posnanski ‘wears black and swears a lot.'”

Awesome. (Er, I mean, fucking awesome.)

Anyway. In the interests of fairness, or impartiality, or something, I wanted to put this out there. It seems as if both sides of this, um, discussion, have stopped listening to the other, and rather then get into a point-by-point refutation of various and sundry quibbles and counter-quibbles, I’ll respectfully bow out at this point…although, trust me, it’s hard to resist on some counts.* And, in all sincerity, I’m glad there’s apparently a goodly amount of interest in what I have to say. It’s always gratifying to know you have a passionate audience. Even if they passionately hate you.

So. This really will be my last post on the topic; I’m sure some of my two-dozen readers are getting bored, and, since this isn’t my job**, I really should get back to work…

*Ok, make that impossible. One of the BTF posters says, “I’ve spoken directly with a guy at Stats Inc, and he claimed that they had guys double checking all the field reports on video. So unless he was lying, I don’t think Seth has all the info….despite his claim to have ‘spent a fair amount of time speaking with those Stats Inc. observers.'” I’ll avoid being snarky and instead just say that that double checking is exactly what I was referring to when I said that “one crucial part of the equation that I left out of my post — probably stupidly — is that the hired-gun defensive scorers are actually fined (or docked pay) when their assessments vary too much from other assessments.” That’s why their reports are double checked.

** But writing Feeding the Monster was, at one point, anyway, my job, and even though I will never see a penny in royalties (that, sadly, really is true), I still want you to read it. It’s good! (Don’t take my word for it; read some excerpts and decide for yourself. Or just check out some of the reviews. Those of you who think I’m a talentless hack should get it too; that way you’ll have more ammo to help hone your disgust to a diamond-fine point.) Anyway, it’s available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!) and, as always, free, signed, personalized bookplates are still available. (Virtual) operates are standing by!

Post Categories: Baseball Think Factory & Dan Rosenheck & Interweb spats & Joe Posnanski & Manny Ramirez & New York Times & Oblique references to Sally Field's Oscar Acceptance Sp

Big Mac, revisited: still not worth much more than a QP with cheese.

December 30th, 2006 → 11:57 am @

Ah, yes: Hall of Fame voting. For folks not living in New England, this year that means a debate about Mark McGwire. I don’t think McGwire deserves to get in, for reasons I’ve explained before. (CliffsNotes version: if I had a vote (I don’t and never will) I’d settle the whole steroids issue thusly: players I think would be HoF players without ‘roids — Barry Bonds, et al — would get a check mark next to their name; players who wouldn’t — McGwire, Sosa — would not.) I also have a philisophical problem with voting for anyone who makes Jose Canseco look honest in comparison.

For anyone about to go on about how good McGwire was regardless, I call major shenanigans. I’m not the first person to point out that, sans juice, McGwire resembled Dave Kingman more than he did Willie Mays. McGwire is, after all, a guy who hit .220 over what should have been the prime three-year period of his career: his 25 to 27 years. And Kingman, a one-dimensional slugger, to be sure, was pretty good in that one dimension. When he retired in ’86 with 442 long balls, he was 19th on the all-time list.

Some other fun ‘roid-related stuff: in going through my archives, I found, among other humorous posts, likely the only one that marries Jason Giambi and the First Amendment. It also wins the award for one of my favorite headlines: Jason Giambi is a Gutless, Steroid-Using Punk. I’m also glad to see I was correct in calling bullshit on Jayson Stark’s mildly hysterical piece in the wake of the Rogersgate (or whatever you want to call it), when Stark wrote that “It wasn’t just his pitching hand that Rogers soiled on Sunday night. It was, regrettably, his whole sport. And that’s a stain that will take a lot longer to wash off.” Out damned spot, indeed.

Finally, in yet another air kiss to one of my favorite baseball writers in the country, make sure you check out Joe Posnanski’s column in tomorrow’s KC Star.

Post Categories: Hall of Fame & Joe Posnanski & Kenny Rogers & Mark McGwire

The Red Sox’s rookie pitchers, Dee Brown, and the development of minor league talent

July 24th, 2006 → 11:03 am @

In Sunday’s Kansas City Star, Joe Posnanski–one of the truly great baseball writers out there–has a feature on Dee Brown, a former Royals can’t-miss prospect who, in 1999, at age 21, was a minor-league sensation, hitting .331 with 25 homers, 30 steals, and 107 runs. At the time, Baseball America ranked Brown the #11 prospect in the country. Today, seven years later, he’s playing for the AA Witchita Wranglers. He’s been released five times.

Posnanski’s story is heartbreaking, a tale of talent, character, and maturity colliding with spectacularly disastrous results. It’s also a tale of how to mishandle young talent, and might help explain why the Royals have remained mired in the cellar when other teams with low payrolls have had some success. It might even help explain why the Red Sox’s pitching staff has been propped up by a trio of rookies who’ve shown surprisingly consistent poise and confidence.

In his story, Posnanski recounts how, in 2000, Brown got news that his mother had breast cancer. He spent the night in tears, and in the next day’s game, he didn’t run out a fly ball. His manager benched him, made a throat-slashing gesture with his pencil, and told Brown he was “done.” Brown swore at his manager and took off from the stadium–an immature reaction, to be sure, and one that likely signified a player not only struggling with a personal crisis but also in need of some nurturing and patience.

Brown was promptly suspended. And, as he tells it, he was never forgiven. “I was a kid, man,” he tells Posnanski. “And they decided I was a bad person.” (This account is backed up by a former Royals employee, who told Posnanski, “I’ve never seen any organization fuck with a player the way the Royals did with Dee Brown. They ruined him.”)

So what does this have to do with the Sox? A lot. Theo Epstein and the team’s baseball operations crew have been proud of the fact that they’ve held on to their prospects. But they’ve done more than that. They’ve tried to figure out the effect coaches have on developing players. Instead of letting prospects get by on their talent, they’ve tried to teach them good habits. (Take, for instance, the “Red Sox Minor League Quality Plate Appearances Award,” which is given out every month.) And they’ve taught the team’s minor leaguers how to deal with the media, how to deal with success, and how to deal with failure.

Last September, a little over a month after his big league debut, Jonathan Papelbon told me, “In January, I did the media development program. A lot of the subjects we went over in that time period are coming up now, and I’m able to go back to that and rely on it and say, ‘Hey, what did I learn and how can it help me?’ So in terms of dealing with the press and everything else that comes with playing major league baseball, yeah, it’s helped.” Papelbon is clearly an incredibly poised, confident pitcher. But I’d bet it’s not coincidental that he’s dealt with his incredible success in stride and has shown such steely resolve while mowing down opposing teams in the ninth.

Brown’s failure likely doesn’t come as a big surprise to Bill James. “A highly successful player is supported by a ‘network’ or ‘scaffolding’ that must be built up gradually over time,” he told me last year. “To play successfully in the major leagues requires a great deal of athletic ability, but also a great deal of knowledge of how the game is played, training habits, self-motivation habits, self-confidence, and a wide variety of skills.” To explain his point, James referenced Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox’s infield propsect. Last year, with Mark Bellhorn limping through the beginning of the season, there were plenty of fans who wanted Pedroia to take over second base. After all, he couldn’t be any worse than Bellhorn, right? Well, if Pedroia came up, fell on his face, and was scarred by the experience, the Sox not only would have had a hole in their infield, they would have had a freaked out prospect on their hands. “Obviously, [Pedroia] has a lot of things going for him beyond talent,” James says. “But then there is a danger of relying too much on that. … [You want to] give the player the opportunity to succeed, but hold back as much as you can on the pressure to succeed.”

(An aside: Last May, the Red Sox called up pitcher Cla Meredith. Meredith made his major league debut in the 7th inning of a tie game against the Mariners with two outs and a man on second. Meredith walked the bases loaded before giving up a grand slam to Richie Sexson. When Epstein stopped by John Henry’s suite later in the game, he seemed at least as upset about the effect the experience might have had on Meredith as he did about the loss. Meredith, who pitched two more innings that year and was traded to the Padres this May, looked absolutely shell-shocked in the Red Sox clubhouse after the game.)

I’m certainly not arguing that the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Mets, the Dodgers and all of the game’s other big revenue teams don’t have a huge advantage over teams like the Royals, the Brewers, and the Marlins. But in sports, money doesn’t equal success (see Knicks, New York) and the absence of a $100 payroll doesn’t equal failure (see Athletics, Oakland). In the past four years, the Red Sox have had the dough to add players like Curt Schilling and they’ve been smart (and lucky) enough to pick up players like David Ortiz. They’ve also, as Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmon, and Jon Lester can attest, given their young players the chance to succeed. I bet Dee Brown wishes he’d gotten that, too.

Post Categories: Joe Posnanski & Kansas City Royals & Minor leagues & Red Sox