Sunday, December 30, 2012

The return of baseball book club

Unfortunately, my extended absence from this blog left us unable to discuss Timothy Gay's Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert. I did hear from some folks who read it and no one, myself included, seemed particularly dazzled by it.

I have also since heard from some folks who would like to see baseball book club continue. Given my plan to read more baseball books, it seems like a no-brainer to go ahead and continue and give a place for people to voice their opinions about some baseball books (and/or inspire them to read some baseball books they normally wouldn't).

The biggest problems seemed to be deciding what books to read and then figuring out how much time to give everybody to read them. I think I have solutions.

First, I have an idea of some books I want to read. Many of them are about early baseball (pre-1920). The one I am reading right now is the massive first volume of Norman Macht's biographies on Connie Mack. I'm about 200 pages in of the 700 pages. If anyone wants to try and join in, you are certainly welcome to do so (I am enjoying it). Given the size, though, it doesn't seem like a good pick to try and get multiple people to read.

But not everyone is going to want to read about early baseball and I wouldn't mind reading about other aspects of baseball (I intend to, but I think some of the books on early baseball I want to read would make good book club books). My proposal is to have two books a month for baseball book club, one I want to read and one that comes from suggestions from you. I'll post six months of selections so people can pick and choose as they please based on their interest and time commitment. Here are the early baseball books I intend to read:

January: Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball by Norman Macht
February: The Pitch that Killed by Mike Sowell
March: A Game of Brawl by Bill Felber
April: Baseball Before We Knew It by David Block
May: Spalding's World Tour by Mark Lamster
June: Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof

If you know you want to read Eight Men Out, you have plenty of time to prepare for it. All these books should be easily and cheaply attainable, perhaps even free from your local library.

How about other suggestions to complement these? People mentioned Posnanski's books before. I still want to read Jonah Keri's book on the Tampa Rays. There have been some well-regarded mainstream biographies recently on Mays and Mantle. There's the usual fare from McFarland Press (although they don't come cheaply). What baseball books would you like us to read?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Have a merry Christmas

I hope everyone celebrating Christmas has a lovely time with their friends and families and that those who do not celebrate Christmas have/had an equally splendid time with their festivities.

In November I saw Michael Tolcher perform in concert for the fourth time, the most I have seen a professional musical performer live (technically, I've probably seen my son's youth choir the most times). And not only have I seen Michael Tolcher four times, I've seen him in four different venues. And not only have I seen him in four different venues, those venues were in four different states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and....Illinois).

During the concert he broke out a dandy Christmas song he wrote which I thought I would share with all y'all.

Have a merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Best books of 2012 - Part I

I have to apologize yet again. When I vanished from the blog scene and stopped writing book reviews, I thought I left a link to my Goodreads account so that people could still see what I was reading if they were interested. I did no such thing. So here it is now.

There's no doubt that I enjoy reading. But if you asked me how much time I spend reading, I'd say, not an awful lot. More than your average person but I believed that to be as much of a function of my not having a television as me being some fanatical reader. Thanks to Goodreads, I had to rethink my perception of myself. I read 102 books this year. I'm in the middle of two more but I do not see myself finishing either before the end of the year. Not only does Goodreads allow you to track and rate what you read, it also keeps statistics and it turns out that I read over 26,000 pages this year. Over 365 days, that's over 70 pages a day. Even if you assume I read a page a minute (which I don't), that's over an hour of reading a day. Cow holy, that's a lot.

At the start of the year, I laid out two reading objectives for myself: Read more baseball and read longer books. I'm not sure how I did meeting those objectives. I read six baseball books (as well as one basketball, one soccer, one cricket and one general sports book). I read seven books that were 400 pages or longer. It's silly that I don't read a greater number of longer books. My irrational belief is that I need to devote lengthy stretches of time to bigger books; that they require more focus to enjoy. I also believe that there are a lot of good books out there and that it is better to read two 200 page books than one 400 page one. This is nonsense. Two of my all-time favorite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, are massive in size. Of my top ten books this year, six of them were among the thirteen largest I read. More pages enables more story, more development, more analysis. I need to learn.

My reading goals for 2013 are to spend less time reading and more time engaging in writing, read larger books when I do read, read more baseball books (because I have so many) and read more books that I own. Of the 102 books I read, 87 came from various libraries. By definition, reading more baseball books will allow me to read more books I own so that will help. But I have one bookcase of books, maybe 150 books or so, that aren't baseball. Those need to be read, too. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of large books in that case. The two books I'm reading now are large, one is baseball and that one is my own book. I'm off to a good start.

2012 was a really good reading year. My top two books would probably make my top 50 of all time if I were to try and make such a list. Without further ado, here are numbers 10-6 of my favorite books from 2012 with reviews so you get more benefit than just leaping ahead to my Goodreads ratings:

 #10 Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew Blechman.

Family and friends had to deal with a good stretch of time this year when I was fascinated by pigeons. My fancy was initially struck when I read a pretty mediocre novel, A Pigeon and a Boy that was about carrier pigeons. I enjoyed reading about the use of pigeons in World War II, part of the time period of that novel,  and that led me to look for non-fiction books about pigeons. This one stood out.

Blechman looks at many different aspects of the history of pigeons, their use by humans, and how the perception of the bird has changed over the years. My only problem with this book were that the chapters were too short. I would have been happy to see every chapter turned into a book. This book did get me learning more about pigeons and also led to me reading an unusual book, Spirit Gun of the West: The Story of Doc W.F. Carver, which was about a legendary pigeon shooter of the nineteenth century. It is only through tremendous self-control that I am not joining Mike Tyson in owning pigeons.

 #9 Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia edited by Jeff Parker. I started the year reading a lot of Eastern Europe/Russian literature. I have also grown to appreciate the short story much more than I used to. As a matter of fact, I am a big fan of a new magazine (a magazine is a collection of pages of paper with a theme that are bundled and published on a regular basis. In case you didn't know.), The Coffin Factory, which publishes really awesome short stories. Rasskazy is a collection of modern short stories from Russia. Published by the wonderful Tin House Books, I thought this book was an absolute treat. 22 stories from Russia's top literary magazines, gathered into one place and translated into English. The stories are distinctly Russian but refreshingly different from the more recognized late 19th century, early 20th century Russian authors (Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoeyevsky, etc.). As with any collection of stories, some are better than others but all in all, it was a great compilation and one I heartily recommend.

 #8 Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.

Speaking of Kavalier and Clay, my favorite author released a new book. Chabon's stature has wavered with me over the last decade as his efforts have been good but not great. Telegraph Avenue is probably the best book he's written since K&C.

The novel is about two men - one white, one black, who run a record store in San Francisco (a record is a circular piece of vinyl used to play music. In case you didn't know). A "big box" music store is coming into town, owned by a former NFL quarterback, which threatens the livelihood of the two men. Race issues, family issues, relationship issues. Typical Chabon writing with lots of descriptions and 37-cent words. Semi-typical Chabon delving into homosexuality. Interesting characters with no real good guys. I might have it overrated because it is Chabon (the two library patrons to whom I recommended it did not like it) but we're talking about my favorites. So there.

#7 Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction by Stephen Pyne

One of our patrons has been working on a master's thesis on histiography and so some good books on writing about history have come through my hands. This one was excellent, possibly the best book on writing non-fiction I've read.

Most of the books I've read on writing are by writers who, while perhaps dabbling in non-fiction, tend to be novelists at heart. It was refreshing to see a book completely focused on writing non-fiction.

Not surprisingly, given the title, the book is very much about finding the right voice for a given writing. Pyne takes examples of different books (which is nice, too. It would be very easy to use articles for examples but Pyne sticks entirely to books), many of which he wrote, to explore how important it is to find the right way to identify the message you want to convey and the best way to convey that message.

#6 I am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett.

My favorite piece of metafiction from this year. Everett appears in this novel as himself (or at least there is a character with similarities to Percival Everett who is named Percival Everett) but the story focuses on the main character, the unfortunately named Not Sidney Poitier (which should really be written Notsidney Poitier given how he is known to people but it's not near as humorous that way, who, in addition to being named Not Sidney Poitier, looks amazingly like Sidney Poitier.

There are a number of other amazing not similarities. Ted Turner is Not Sidney's adoptive father and he happens to be married to Jane Fonda, but these are just characters named Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, and not the actual Ted Turner and Jane Fonda even though Ted is a billionaire media mogul and Jane is a babe.

The book is very funny and has great dialogue. But beyond the humor, there is also a level of seriousness as Not Sidney tries to find his way through a south that, while modern in era, is less so in tone (read: racist).

It is my understanding that if you're a fan of Sidney Poitier movies, there is yet another layer to this book of which I am ignorant as the only movie of his I've seen is Sneakers. All in all an entertaining story, this one from the excellent Graywolf Press.

I'll try and get the top five up before the end of the year but with the kids out of school and Christmas coming out, who knows. In addition, I am a judge again for the scholastic writing contest (no one wanted to do it and I wasn't going to get paid so, by definition, I had to do it again) and so I have two dozen pieces of high school journalism that I have to read, review and rate.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Be careful what you post online or how I became an expert on the Little Drummer Boy

I'm at work at the library today when one of our patrons comes up to me. "So, Jon, I understand that you're an expert on...."

Now, despite being a rather modest individual, there are quite a few possibilities as to that how sentence could have potentially ended. I don't proclaim myself as an expert in much, if anything, as there is always someone somewhere who is far more knowledgeable than myself in any given topic. But still, I was sort of expecting the sentence to end with the word baseball in there somewhere. Or given the setting, perhaps computers or books. For better or worse, I am our computer guru and there are still people who will take a shot and ask me for a book recommendation. But no. The patron continued....

"So Jon, I understand that you're an expert on the Little Drummer Boy".

I had to start laughing. Apparently my co-worker anointed me an expert based on my post from last Christmas and shared my vast appreciation for the song with said patron.

So the patron and I got to talking. Apparently he had heard a version of Little Drummer Boy on the radio this morning that involved bagpipes and he really liked it. We shared a head shaking about the Joan Jett version. Talked about a couple other versions and then he left.

I started looking to see if I could find the version he referenced and, well, there is a ridiculous number of versions of Little Drummer Boy that involve bagpipes. I tried to narrow it down by hitting the websites of local radio stations that play Christmas songs and checking their playlists to see if I could find the version the patron heard but no one played the song this morning (although numerous other awful "Christmas" songs (read in part: Dominick the Donkey)) on any of the stations I checked. I'm left unsure.

But I figured that since I am a recognized Little Drummer Boy expert, I should share some good bagpipe versions. Here you go:

I like this nice instrumental mix by Garrett Viggers. The bagpipes don't come in until late which is good or bad depending on your taste for bagpipes.

Little Drummerboy - Live (Featuring Jefferson Bagpipers) from Garrett Viggers on Vimeo.

If you want bagpipes and vocals there's The Celts version.

You can actually purchase entire Christmas albums of bagpipes. Purchasing seems to be the only way to hear The Munros play it so we'll have to go without for today.

I almost hesitate to share the Highland Bagpipes version of Little Drummer Boy because everyone knows that version.

If I find the version the patron wanted, I'll let you know. In the meantime, while the Scots have influenced Little Drummer Boy, the Scandinavians are really pushing the envelope.

I honestly like the Finnish Death Metal Cello Quartet, Apocalyptica. You know I like the cello.

OK, how in Sam Hill did I never hear of Apocalyptica before tonight? I had to stop this post to go listen to a bunch of their songs. I mean, wow! Here's their more traditional version of O Holy Night:

I am definitely going to have to get their albums. Their newest album, 7th Symphony, is simply incredible. But I must forge on. This is supposed to be about Little Drummer Boy.

The Finns might have a hold on awesome versions but the Norwegians have the oddball versions down. Here is Binärpilot. I shrank the screen in order to eliminate the absolutely hideous and inappropriate image a fan put the music to.

I'll wrap up with the version by Norwegian Lindstrøm, at least the short version. Lindstrøm is considered noteworthy by Little Drummer Boy scholars because he created a forty minute version of the song. The below clip is only five which was enough to give me a headache.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to some more Apocalyptica.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy of a completed series of books

You may have noticed that my return to blogging has been rather bereft of talk about books. As a matter of fact, not a single post has been about books. There is a madness to my method. This has been the most prolific reading year in my life, at least in terms of the number of books I've read. I recently finished my 102nd book of the year. If I had kept blogging book reviews, I wouldn't have had much time to do anything else.

Books are still important to me, obviously, and I will be writing more about what I've read this year in some upcoming posts. Today, though, I'm talking about the collecting of books and my continued quest to build a baseball research library. I'm always on the hunt for certain books and several weeks ago I was able to acquire the first edition of an annual publication that gave me a complete run of the series of books.

I was able to pick up the 1947 edition of Who's Who in the American Association. The American Association was, for the longest time, one of the premiere minor leagues, representing the highest levels of minor league baseball for many, many years. The league formed in 1902 and ran until 1962 when it disbanded. The league reformed in 1969 when Major League Baseball expanded but disbanded yet again in 1997 (which led to the teams in Iowa, New Orleans and Omaha, among others, to join the Pacific Coast League. If the Mayans are correct, we may see global flooding or something which will turn Omaha, Nebraska into a coastal paradise. Until then, it's jsut silly that they're in the Pacific Coast League). Now the name American Association is used for an independent minor league.

The league also has had a long history of issuing its own publications. In addition to the Who's Who, they put out Record Makers of the American Association, American Association on Parade and All-time Records and Highlights of the American Association. I'm still working on some of them. 

 The Who's Who run is done, though. The publication lasted for five seasons, beginning with the 1947 copy and ending with the 50 Golden Years anniversary edition.

I love the covers on these. I also love that with the exception of the 1948 edition, they use generic ballplayer images for the covers but that for the 1948 copy, they use German Heinz Becker to highlight the American Association. Becker war ein Berliner, having been born there in 1915.

In retrospect, I find it an interesting choice to feature a German so soon after World War II. But you can make an argument that Becker is the best professional baseball player ever to have been born in Germany and he was one of the best hitters in the American Association during his era.

The switch-hitting Becker joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 1942 and was second in the league in batting to his teammate Eddie Stanky with a .340 average. The Brewers hired Charlie Grimm midway through the 1941 season to manage the club. Grimm had been one of the few managers to have had any success heading the Chicago Cubs, leading them to the National League pennant in 1932 and 1935. At the helm of the Brewers, he turned a last place team that had lost 98 games in 1941 into a playoff team.

The 1943 season saw the Brewers winning the most games in the regular season but they again lost in the playoffs. Heinz Becker joined the Chicago Cubs at the end of the 1943 season which left him short of qualification for the batting title. He would have finished fourth in batting as he hit .326. 

Becker was back in Milwaukee for the full season in 1944 and hit .346 . The Brewers had an incredible lineup that season.  Bingo Binks hit .374, Hal Peck hit .345 and four others hit over .340 in part-time play. That's not including the "low-average" power hitters; Bill Nagel (.308, 23 HR (2nd in the league)), Tommy Nelson (.303, 20 HR (3rd)) and Bill Norman (.296, 17). The Brewers scored 954 runs, 100 more than the next highest team. They Brewers also had the league's best pitching staff with a 3.79 ERA. The team won 102 games but were beaten in the playoffs by Louisville. Charlie Grimm took over the Cubs again and was replaced in Milwaukee by Casey Stengel.

Louisville again proved to be Milwaukee's undoing in 1945. The Brewers again had the best record in the regular season, 93-61, but lost out to Louisville in the playoffs with the Colonels winning their second straight American Association title. Heinz Becker spent the entire season with Charlie Grimm in Chicago and the Cubs reached the World Series yet again under Grimm's management. Cubs fans would have to wait another, oh, ever, before they returned to the World Series.

In 1946, Heinz Becker went to Nashville in the Southern Association but returned to Milwaukee in 1947, where, as we know from the cover of the 1948 guide, he won the batting title for Milwaukee. Not only that, but Milwaukee returned to the playoffs (they had a losing record in 1946), and beat their nemesis, the Louisville Colonels, for the league championship. Despite winning the batting title, Becker was not named to the league's All-Star team, the nod being given to Louisville's Paul Campbell. It's easy to see why. Take a look at the stats:

Campbell - .304/.365/.421, 93 R, 71 RBI
Becker - .363/.472/.521, 90 R, 90 RBI

It's obvious was as inexplicable then as it is now. I guess Campbell had the intangibles. 

Becker spent his last season in Milwaukee in 1948, "only" hitting .321 (9th best in the league) and the Brewers lost in the plaoyffs yet again.

That was bit of a digression. I was really writing about these books. I always enjoy seeing where things lead, though, and you probably wouldn't have even given Heinz Becker a thought had I not written about him today.

Returning to the books, they're a neat part of minor league history. The players of each team are featured with a picture (and Becker looks nothing like he does on the cover), their stats, and a short biography (Becker was married with two children), which also included their home address at the time. There are some league stats in each of them and the 1951 edition, naturally, being the Golden Anniversary edition and all, concludes with a history of the league, primarily highlighting some of the stars that had passed through the American Association. 

Part of my pleasure in having the complete run of these publications is that no one else seems to have them. The Hall of Fame is lacking the 1947 edition and Worldcat shows no library with more than two editions. On the one hand, it may seem a bit meaningless in that the presumed interest in having a run of sixty year old books about a defunct minor league is rather minimal. On the other, I think it is important that someone has them, especially in our era of digitization. I will be writing more about why this matters and what the plans for my library/collection are in the near future. As for now, let us recall Heinz Becker's hitting prowess and enjoy learning a bit more about the great game of baseball than we previously knew.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This year's Trade Me Anything with Thorzul

Each year Thorzul perpetuates one of the greatest scams in baseball cards on his blog. He opens a box of Topps Update cards, takes the cards he wants and then offers the rest of the cards in trade for anything.

Each year he gets a lot of junk from his trade partners (myself included) but he also gets cards he needs and given that he requires his readers to send an SASE for their ends of the deal, he's getting good value. Stuff he potentially wants for stuff he doesn't want.

Now everyone enters into this willingly and I'm sure no one feels like they get robbed by Thorzul. I just think it's great that year in and year out he can get a mess of stuff from an unwanted portion of a box of cards.

As for me, I take part in it mostly to take part in it. Here is my link to last year's trade which also has links to the previous two. Yes, this is my fourth year finding stuff to send Thorzul in  exchange for a card or two.

This year I'm getting another Mat Latos card and a Steve Carlton card (although the latter isn't really card so much as an ad). So all told I've picked up two Mat Latos cards, an Adam Dunn card, a Chrsity Mathewson, a Jason Bay, a Steve Carlton and a Logan Morrison. That's really not too bad. Yes, it cost me an empty box of stuffing, some magazines and some other miscellanea (not to mention postage), but to paraphrase an overused credit card commercial, the enjoyment has been priceless.

Thanks again, Thorzul. I look forward to next year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guns, and I'm not talking about Jose Canseco's biceps

I don't do much in the way of soapboxing, either online or in person. I have my own set of personal beliefs that I believe are (I know this is a shock) personal. I don't try to inflict them on other people. I rarely defend my beliefs against others because I believe that there is room for a wide range of gray areas and we don't always need things to be black and white. If I want to vote for Barack Obama, I respect your wanting to vote for Mitt Romney. If I root for the Oneonta Outlaws, you are free to cheer for the Hornell Dodgers. You're a Scientologist? Catholic? Mormon? That's your call. For or against marriage among homosexuals, that's your prerogative. I usually like to know your reasoning if your viewpoint differs from mine if for no other reason than to make me think and rethink my own views. I like to think there is some thought behind your opinion other than that's what Fox News told you to think. Reasoned, logical arguments work wonders. Which is why I don't understand how anyone could have voted Miguel Cabrera for AL MVP. That's an argument about which I just can't be open-minded.

There's another argument I'm a bit closed-minded about, too, about which I'm writing today. I feel strongly about this because I really don't understand the logic by those who have an opposing viewpoint. In the wake of yet another school shooting, a tragedy that is becoming way too common, I have to wonder why we don't have stricter gun control laws in this country.

I've grown up around guns. My parents own. My uncle used to head the state game commission. I have fired firearms as have my sons. I understand weapons for hunting even though hunting is now a sport rather than a means of providing food. I think bows are a better tool but I at least understand the desire to use a gun in that fashion.

Law enforcement should also have firearms available. Military personnel, too, even though the conflicts today are so much more technologically advanced as to make the use of firearms feel quaint at times. The job of both the police and the military is to protect the citizenry of this country, often against others in possession of firearms.

Outside of those reasons, why does anyone need a gun? For personal protection? What kind of world do you live in that you are afraid of someone to the point where you feel the need to have a gun in your possession? And what exactly are you afraid of? Oh yeah, someone with a gun.

Are you perhaps worried about a financial collapse? Where our society collapses into a free-for-all where the strong and well-armed will survive and lead the new martial rule of the Country Formerly Known as the United States? If so, that's why the government requires psychological background checks, and good luck with yours.

One of our patrons came into the library this week to print out the paperwork to apply for a Lethal Weapon License? Why? We live in a town of 5000 people. The last murder here was in 1974. I'd like to keep it that way. There is zero reason for someone to walk into a public library to get application materials for a firearm. Zero.

The law says we have the right to bear arms. The sooner this antiquated piece of legislature from our musket-bearing forefathers gets removed from the books, the better we will all be. It is this so-called "freedom" that resulted in over two dozen people being killed in a Connecticut school today.

It is a freedom that killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.
It is a freedom that killed a dozen people in an Aurora movie theater.
And the ten in the nearby Nickle Mine school shooting.
Twelve in Columbine.

That's almost a hundred people right there, many of them children, who died in the name of freedom. A hundred people whose own freedoms were denied them, along with their lives, by someone with a gun.

But it wasn't the guns that killed those people, it was the people. If guns were outlawed, the gunman today would have gone around and strangled or stabbed all the little kids in the Connecticut school. Or maybe made them drink antifreeze. It wouldn't have mattered whether or not the shooter in Aurora had a gun or not. He could have just as easily killed all those people with a candlestick across the skull.

The fact that automatic or semi-automatic weapons are available to the general public is nonsensical. In what possible situation does one need to empty multiple rounds in a target outside of a school or theatre shooting? Even for hunting it makes no sense. You need to get off several rounds, why? Because the deer will come back with his friends and they'll all be packing heat? No, it's because you suck at shooting.

More than anything else, though, the question that I wonder the most is why should a gun ever be pointed at a child? I question why any normal human being needs to point a weapon at a fellow homosapien, but especially a child. If nothing else, there should be the reason to put further restrictions on firearms.

I could rattle off tons of numbers to support my stance. Since my stance is so contrary and ridiculous and all. But I'm not going to because Jason Kottke did a nice job of aggregating that information on his site. I hope you take a look at the information and I hope it helps prompt you to encourage tighter gun control laws in this country.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rain of Error errata

In a post published on February 1, 2011, this blog wrote that, "I have a huge autographed photo collection of three". Further research by our legal team has brought to light the omission of two other autographed photographs that were in our possession at that time that had been previously omitted.

Ryan Karp was previously written about in this post. He signed this for me on a day when he was charting pitches in the stands. Sadly, the photo has been in a file cabinet until being removed for this post.

Art Johnson was a pitcher for the Boston Braves/Bees in the 1940's. This picture was given to me by a book dealer as part of a congratulations package of oddball baseball materials he sent me when I got married. I have a box of oddball baseball ephemera where this has resided.

The staff of Rain of Error deeply regret our error and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

I'm trying something new here...using titles of David Foster Wallace works to title my blog posts in an effort to direct misguided souls to my blog through search engines.

I can't do that with a good conscience. So for those of you who came here looking for DFW's article by that name, here it is. I do like that article. Next to his essays on Roger Federer and Consider the Lobster, A Supposedly Fun Thing is my favorite thing DFW wrote (I'm no fanboy. I couldn't get through Infinite Jest and dumped it on my oldest son so that his bookshelves can be all hipster looking).

I digress (although I will be writing about books in the very near future). This post isn't about books or reading. It's about another baseball thing (the first being fantasy baseball) I did this year that seemed like it might be fun (it's baseball after all) and just wasn't.

This spring I was a Little League umpire. My youngest son played and there was a lack of people who were willing to umpire. The league had had a good set of umpires for a while but the kids aged out of the league and their father's left with them.

If there's any way to get me to do something, it's to let me know that no one else is interested in doing it and that there will be absolutely no way to make a dime from taking part in the activity (see being webmaster for a children's choir, heading a historical society, serving as a stream monitor, being a small-town public librarian and literally dozens of other endeavors throughout my lifetime. When it comes to secrets of being broke, I have all the tips). No one else wanted to do it. I know baseball. I was going to be at my son's games to watch him anyway. I agreed to umpire my son's games if they found that they didn't have someone else to do them.

Well, that turned out being almost every game in which he played. That wasn't bad in theory. Again, I was planning on being in attendance. Also, these were 11 and 12-year olds. They can actually play the game. It looks like baseball. It feels like baseball. Some of the good pitchers are fun to watch.

That was a big key for me. I love watching good pitching. My son's team had two good pitchers so most of the time, they were fun games to do. As a matter of fact, the whole team was really good and they went a long time before they lost a game. And no, you cynics, it had nothing to do with my being behind the plate for them. Over the course of the season I received many kudos (versus maybe two or three criticisms) from all the teams, coaches and parents for my umpiring.

Sounds good so far, right? Why wasn't it fun? Well, in addition to every game of my son's, there was also that two-day tournament to open the season that also involved younger kids' teams which they tried to have two umpires for each game. I umpired six games over the two days, five behind the plate. Then I found myself filling in for other games, including the younger kids. Those games aren't as much fun. The pitching distance is a little more challenging and so there's a lot more pitches and a lot more walks and a lot more squatting.

My right knee has some loose bodies in it and squatting during the tournament left me in pain with swelling for some time. I changed to a lunge for the rest of the season which was much easier on my body and also made me better able to get my 6'4" frame into the 9-10 year old strike zone better.

But it wasn't the physical aspects that made it a lousy experience either. The knee problem went away after a couple of weeks. The sunburn didn't bother me much. People approved of my performance. What made it so bad?

I hate calling kids out. They're all trying their hardest. They're trying to learn the game. I've been around a lot of these kids for years between baseball, school activities and working at the library. One of the few complaints I had came when I called a kid named Caleb, one of my favorite kids in the world, out on a play at the plate (in a younger age group game). Caleb is well-mannered, works hard, and is a heck of a ballplayer. I've rooted for him. But he was out. His Dad, who I thought highly of until this play, came down from coaching first to argue that he was safe. The only way I would call Caleb out would be if he was out and he was out. I hated to do so. He had hustled his way down the line to make it a close play but he was out.

In another game of the younger kids, a kid tipped a ball that slowly rolled down the first base line. The kid, trying to be helpful, went over and picked up the ball before it had stopped rolling. I had to call him out as it still had a chance to roll fair.

And then there was my son. My son who shows tremendous patience at the plate without having a strong sense of the strike zone. I had to ring him up on strikes with a full count in the final inning of the championship game which his team lost 1-0. I was sick. I was thinking the whole time, "Do not look at the pitch. Swing no matter where it's at". He didn't. It was a strike. He was mad at me forever.

I hated close plays. Not because of the possibility of getting it wrong but because you had two kids trying hard to make the out/be safe and someone had to lose out.

So despite getting to watch some ball games from a great location, I just can't do it anymore. I could possibly see myself umpiring adults but I have no desire to umpire Little League games ever again. Even if no one else will do it and I have to pay for the privilege of umpiring, they're still not getting me to do it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot, Part II

This will be a much shorter post. I feel that the Veterans Committee ballot is largely unnecessary and probably a bad thing for players. Say, for example, that with the influx of new blood on the ballot in the next couple of years, or as a result of the sabrmetric push against him, or bad luck, or what have you, Jack Morris does not get inducted into the Hall of Fame this year or next and he falls off the ballot. Can he be at peace? Can he say, "Oh well, I came close, it would have been nice, but now I can get on with my life"? No, he can't, thanks to the Veterans Committee. Sometime in the future he will be reconsidered yet again.

Is this a bad thing? I think it can be. Look at poor Ron Santo. He passed away before he was finally inducted. I know that there was much, much more to his life than induction into the Hall of Fame but how many interviews did he have to endure about the subject, how much did he fret, how much did others fret for him (especially Cubs fans) wondering if he would ever be inducted at Cooperstown? And now that he is in the Hall of Fame, is the memory of him and his play that much better for it? Or were people more aware when he was probably the "best third baseman not in the Hall of Fame"?

From a player standpoint, I'm against induction through the Veterans Committee. Players had their chances before and while the process is quite flawed, unless there's some groundbreaking reason to reconsider the player, a reason of which kind I cannot even think of an example at the moment, my personal belief is that once a player falls of the BBWAA ballot, he should no longer be considered a candidate for the Hall of Fame as a player.

So that eliminates Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Tony Mullane, Bill Dahlen, Deacon White and Bucky Walters from consideration for me. Although if any of them were inducted outside of Marion (who really does not seem qualified in the least to me), it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world (and it turned out that Deacon White was elected. Whoopie!).

That leaves non-players for consideration. I think this is where the Veterans Committee has a responsibility to consider those who impacted the game without playing it. I am hard pressed to feel that owners, even early owners, should be in the Hall of Fame unless they also served as executives (such as a general management position). Having money and writing checks isn't a Hall of Fame ability. Gauging talent, building ballclubs, doing something like integrating the game or developing farm systems or something that improved the sport would merit consideration. I don't particularly feel like Jacob Ruppert or Sam Breadon did those things so I would not vote for them (the voters felt Ruppert merited induction, though).

Al Reach deserves special consideration from me because he was involved in the publishing and sporting goods worlds as well as being an early ballplayer. But I don't think he really did enough and if you compare him to Albert Spalding (a rather valid comparison given the backgrounds), he falls way short in terms of his impact on the game.

That leaves umpire Hank O'Day as the remaining possible candidate. My first thought seeing him on the ballot was that if he is elected (he was), John McGraw would turn over in his grave (he was the umpire who called Merkle out on his infamous play). O'Day was behind the plate for the second most games in history (of course, that is much more achievable (but by no means easy), in an era of two-man umpire crews instead four). In the end, though, I wonder what the point is. We don't truly know how much better (or worse) he was than his peers. We have hearsay and newspaper reports of player and manager opinion. But I couldn't tell you, and I don't know that anyone really can, that Hank O'Day is a Hall of Fame caliber umpire because I don't really know what means.

In the end, my Veterans Committee ballot is empty but three of the ten men on it are actually being inducted. Color me unenthused.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Hall of Fame Veterans Committee Ballot, Part I - Wes Ferrell

If you look back on my interest in baseball history, going all the way back to my early childhood, there are two names that have been around the whole time, from just about day one until today. The first, not surprisingly, is Babe Ruth. Even people who don't know the first thing about baseball know who Babe Ruth is. The other player is definitely a more unusual and perhaps inexplicable name, which is part of the reason why I'm detailing my lifelong interest and fascination in the gentleman. It is none other than Wesley Cheek Ferrell.

I've always been fascinated by numbers and baseball is a plentiful source of numeric enjoyment. I have also been an avid game player all my life. The second baseball game I ever owned was Cadaco's All-Star Baseball. The game was played using player discs and spinners. The statistics of the player were translated into segments of the player disc based on the percentage of outcomes. If a player struck out 15% of the time, the #10 segments, the strikeout sections (see how much I like numbers? I remember that from when I was 8 or 9 years old), would make up fifteen percent of the disc. There were fourteen different segment types in all. You would slide the card of the player at bat into the spinner, flick away at the black plastic arrow, and check the result of the number that came up.

The best outcome, was old #1. The home run segment. Babe Ruth, of course, had a huge section for home runs which helped establish his historic greatness with me early on in my life.

What made Cadaco a flawed game, at least in terms of representing an accurate recreation of the game of baseball, was that all the cards were based on batting statistics. There was no attempt made to account for the level of a pitcher's skill. Instead, pitchers got cards based on their batting abilities. So it didn't matter if you had Lefty Grove or Juan Nieves on the mound, it didn't change the possible hitting outcomes in the least.

It also made pitchers near worthless. I have a sense that Cadaco was hired by the American League to help instill the need for a designated hitter in both leagues. Pitchers can't hit. The pitcher cards were almost all littered with gigantic #10 segments. It was pretty miserable. Unless you happened to have one particular pitcher. I think you can guess who that pitcher was. Yes, Wes Ferrell.

Wes Ferrell hit more career home runs than any pitcher in history (37). He also holds the record for most home runs by a pitcher in a single season with nine. To give you a sense of the magnitude of those records, ALL the pitchers in major league baseball this season hit a combined total of 24 home runs. Three players hit two home runs to pace the season mark.

So Wes Ferrell not only had a #1 segment, compared to every other pitcher his #1 segment was Ruthian (the only other pitcher I can remember with a legitimate segment (as opposed to a near-line) was Rick Reuschel (and don't ask me how they figured what cards to include in the game)). Needless to say, Wes Ferrell captured my interest early on when I was trying to win Cadaco ballgames.

I'm an old-timer. About half of my life was lived pre-internet if you can believe it. You couldn't just Google a player to find out about him. I couldn't tell you how I found out more about Ferrell over the years, but I did. One of the things I discovered was that he was a big believer in astrology. One day, while perusing the Waldenbooks at my local mall, I discovered an astrology program in the discount rack. 5.25" floppy disk. I had a brilliant idea. I would write a book about Wes Ferrell based on how he did versus what this astrology program predicted for him. How were the stars aligned when he hit his home runs? What were they like for his top pitching performances? I was excited.

I got home, started up the program, and went to try it out. Huge problem. For the most accurate astrological readings, I needed to know Ferrell's exact time of birth. I can't even find that now with all my fancy interweb sources. I thought maybe his brother Rick would know. I'm not sure how I found Rick's address but I typed up a letter saying that I wanted to write a book on his brother and could he send me whatever information he had on his brother, including the time of his brother's birth. I included a large SASE in case he wanted to mail me lots of newspaper clippings or something. Keep in mind I believe I was 16 years old at the time. I didn't know the first thing about how to go about researching and writing about someone.

Months passed with no reply (shocking, I know). Then one day I get my SASE in the mail. In it is my letter. At the bottom of the letter is written something along the lines of "we have already hired someone to write a book about my brother and I". No signature, just this one sentence. I was crushed. I may have this letter somewhere in my files. I sort of hope not.

As an aside as time transitions in the story of this post from high school to college, the last name of the first love of my life (female, not baseball) was Ferrell. Coincidence or not?

More time passed. I didn't give much thought to Wes Ferrell. I went to college and after struggling my first year I transferred to little Guilford College, a small Quaker school in Greensboro, North Carolina. Lo and behold, I come to discover that Guilford is the alma mater to none other than Rick Ferrell. And the Ferrell brothers were born and raised there. And Wes was buried right across the street from the college. Almost spooky, huh?

I got involved with the North Carolina chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research and I started researching North Carolinians in general. I picked up some dandy R311 cards of the Ferrell brothers and Ray Hayworth (another North Carolina native) of which my Wes one is pictured above. This is the story of my memorabilia collection. I have tons of oddball things which are sort of inexplicable unless I go back and think about them.

Still I didn't pursue anything more with Wes Ferrell. Then I moved to Delaware to go to graduate school. I met my friend Jason and we made the stupid decision to make our first visit to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in late October. Why is this stupid? Because we decided to camp. It was so cold we gave up the first night and slept in the car and returned home after hitting the Hall of Fame the following day. While there we went to the library and I checked out Wes Ferrell's player file and made some copies. No idea why.

That might have been it for me and my interest in Ferrell. I do have a knack of getting distracted when it comes to baseball research. But then I got interested in minor league research and who should pop up again than good ole Wes Ferrell.

As we established above, Wes Ferrell could hit the ball well for a pitcher. That is actually an understatement. He could hit the ball well for any position. After shoulder pain curtailed his career as a major league pitcher, Wes returned to North Carolina (with the exception of a season in Lynchburg, Virginia) to manage and play outfield in the minors. In 1942, at Lynchburg, Ferrell won the batting title and led the league in home runs. In 1948, he had an amazing season at the plate for Marion of the Western Carolinas League. He led the league with a .425 average, and slugged .766, clouting 30 doubles (third in the league), 14 triples (third in the league) and 24 homers (fifth in the league). This at age 40. Once again I was captivated by Wes Ferrell's hitting.

One last story involving me and Wes Ferrell's batting prowess. During my first trip down to Hot Springs, Arkansas for SABR's Deadball Committee's Boiling Out conference, a bunch of us would get together for morning strolls, much like ballplayers in the Deadball Era did when they had spring training there. On those hikes we would engage in a couple of baseball mind games that originated from Guy Waterman. Waterman was an outdoorsman and baseball fan who committed suicide in 2000. When he would hike or climb mountains he would play these games with himself to keep himself engaged and entertained.

The one game involved coming up with a baseball batting lineup, one player at each position, with the players being in alphabetical order. This was a lot of fun with a bunch of us as we would debate the validity of each pick. So say for example the first person was up, they had to come up with a good leadoff hitter whose last name began with the letter A. You wouldn't pick Hank Aaron, the obvious A name. He's more of a cleanup hitter. Maybe you'd go with someone like Tommy Agee. So you have Agee, centerfield, batting first. Then the next guy comes up with a #2 hitter whose last name begins with the letter B. But it can't be a centerfielder since that position is taken. So maybe Buddy Bell will play third and bat second. We started off playing one morning and I was up with the #6 spot and the letter F. "Batting sixth, pitcher, Wes Ferrell". Everyone loved it. Probably never happened but it was logical. It also made it a little more challenging for the person who no longer had to come up with a pitcher whose last name began with I in the last spot (the ninth spot was always the easiest normally since it was pretty much always the pitcher spot).

All this is to provide some background for why I think Wes Ferrell should be in the Hall of Fame. You'll note I haven't really mentioned his pitching yet. There are two problems with Ferrell's potential candidacy. The first is that the era in which Ferrell played was one that aided hitters. Ferrell's career ERA is over 4. He walked more batters than he struck out and despite being in the top ten in strikeouts most seasons, he only K'ed more than 125 once in a season.

If you look at the advanced statistics, you see that he pitched well for his era. His WAR from 1929-1936 was 46.0. By comparison, Sandy Koufax's final eight seasons (his best) earned him a WAR of 47.7. Ferrell was the second best pitcher in the American League over this era, behind only Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. His WAR totals don't include the additional benefit he provided with his bat. He had a 193-128 record during a time when pitcher's record mattered (because of the 227 complete games in 323 starts).

I used Koufax as a comparison for a reason. The second reason why Ferrell is potentially lacking. Those eight seasons of Ferrell's are, in essence, his career. Shoulder ailments did him in and so his career is much shorter than a typical Hall of Famer's. Those with short careers who are in the Hall of Fame tend to be flashy strikeout artists like Koufax or Dean or died prematurely like Addie Joss. While Ferrell didn't have the flash, he did have the results.

So do I really think Wes Ferrell should be in the Hall of Fame? I think he's more qualified than his brother who is in. I think he wouldn't be a bad selection. I think it would be nice to increase awareness of his success in the game. I'm going to hold of on committing to my answer until my next post (and by now, unless you get all your news from my blog, you should know that Wes Ferrell was not chosen by the Veteran's Committee).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Hall of Fame ballot, Part II

We continue today with the guys on the Hall of Fame ballot who I think merit at least strong consideration.


Edgar Martinez 1987-2004 4th

I've made a case for Tommy Herr for the Hall of Fame based on cherry-picking stats so I'm not a fan of the process as a means of establishing greatness. That being said, there are just fifteen players in baseball history who have played in 2000 games, hit .300, with an OBP greater than .400 and a SLG greater than .500. I think we can agree that those are some high standards, right? Ten of those fifteen are in the Hall of Fame. The other five are Frank Thomas, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones and Edgar Martinez. All five are serious candidates for the Hall of Fame.

But in the case of Edgar Martinez, hitting was all he did. It shouldn't matter that he was mostly a DH and maybe in a year or two I won't care. This year, though, I do. Although looking back over that list, I can almost talk myself into it this year. Yes, Frank Thomas had a position for a while but would you really say that either he or Manny contributed anything with their gloves? Hmmmmm. It's all right, Edgar, I'll put you in next year probably. You still have ten more years of consideration.

Mark McGwire 1986-2001 7th

He was just too injury prone. That's what does it for me. Also, as a single test case, McGwire doesn't lend much support to the idea that steroids increase longevity and keep players healthier (or lets them recover faster).

Jack Morris 1977-94 14th

Like members of the Montreal Expos, I think that all members of the 1984 Detroit Tigers should be in Cooperstown. Trammell and Whitaker at least. Evans. Then maybe Parrish and Morris and Gibson. Why not? Then Petry and Grubb and Lemon. OK, maybe not everybody. I used to think Morris should be in but over the years my confidence has diminished thanks to those danged sabrmagicians.

Dale Murphy 1976-93 15th

This is a sad one for me as I know he won't be inducted. If you had asked me my senior year of high school (1989) who the best player of my lifetime was, I would have said Dale Murphy. And he was already washed up by then. I still think he was one of the best. Just not one of the best for long enough, though.

Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 3rd

Like a Harold Baines who could play defense. An accumulator of stats.

Mike Piazza 1992-2007 1st

My word he was a horrible catcher. Besides, can we really put a former 62nd round draft pick in the Hall of Fame? Doesn't that make a mockery of the game? Don't we have to put Royce Clayton in then since he was taken with the 15th pick overall in the same draft? Let's get Brad Duvall in there, too, since no one seems to be mentioning him in the conversation.


Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 3rd

Misses that .300/.400/.500 club mentioned in Edgar Martinez's entry by three batting average points. And shouldn't there be a factor for overcoming crazy batting stances? It always amazed me that Bagwell could even hit a ball since he seemed to be moving backward when he swung.

Craig Biggio 1988-2007 1st

If he were Pete Rose, he would have become a player/manager and found a way to get hit by three more pitches to be the career leader. A player who did more than what is expressed in traditional stats - taking extra bases, making smart plays in the field. One of the best second basemen ever.

Barry Bonds 1986-2007 1st

One of the best players of all-time. And an asshat.

Roger Clemens 1984-2007 1st

One of the best pitchers of all-time.

Tim Raines 1979-2002 6th

An Expo. One of the best leadoff hitters of all-time. One of the best base stealers. And a Hall of Fame caliber all-around player.

Alan Trammell 1977-96 12th

Terribly, terribly, terribly underrated. He will always be in my personal Hall of Fame no matter if a plaque hangs for him in Cooperstown. I'm sure that means a lot to Alan.

There's my ballot for this year. Six names, possibly seven if I hadn't mailed my imaginary ballot already. We'll take a look at the Veterans Committee this week in two separate posts (even though the results will be announced tomorrow), one on Wes Ferrell, the other covering everyone else (which should give some foreshadowing into my views on the matter).