Tag Archives: baseball

Even high jumpers get the yips

The yips plague athletes in many sports, and even musicians. Hopefully sports psychologists can find a cure.

Golfers know all about “the yips.” If they’ve never experienced it themselves, they’ve probably played with someone who has. And they certainly know the stories of famous golfers whose careers were challenged, if not devastated by the phenomenon. This list includes Tommy Armour, who coined the term to describe the condition that forced him to abandon tournament play. He was hardly the only one.

Golfers seriously afflicted by the yips include Bernhard Langer, Ben Hogan, Harry Vardon, Sam Snead, and Keegan Bradley, who missed a simple 6 inch putt in the final round of the 2013 HP Byron Nelson Championship due to the condition (although he may also have been suffering from Strabismus).

Continue reading Even high jumpers get the yips

Advertisements

Jackie Mitchell: the legend of the woman who struck out Ruth and Gehrig

Did a woman really whiff two of the greatest sluggers of all time … back to back? We’ll never know, but it’s plausible.

My buddy Guy Saperstein sent this around last night.

The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig

One spring day my son came home from school and asked, “Do you know about the girl who struck out Babe Ruth?” Continue reading Jackie Mitchell: the legend of the woman who struck out Ruth and Gehrig

Should Major League Baseball allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame? No, Says Sam Smith.

Part 2 of a series.

How can we honor athletes for cheating and then talk to our children about honesty and integrity with a straight face?

Matt Record’s post yesterday arguing that Major League Baseball should admit steroid users to the Hall of Fame gets a lot of things right. For instance: Ty Cobb? Sub-human PoS, no doubt about it. And Matt could have devoted volumes to the abject malpractice of the sports “journalism” industry during Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s pursuit of Roger Maris’s single season homerun record; they chose to ignore what was obviously happening under their noses because the steroid era was good for business, and the less pontificating we her from them now the better.

And what about the ways in which MLB’s apartheid system kept some of the greatest stars of their time out of the league for decades? If anything, Matt doesn’t stomp hard enough here. Babe Ruth was a legendary hitter, but he never had to stand in against Satchel Paige, whom DiMaggio called the best pitcher he ever faced after playing against him in a 1936 exhibition. Continue reading Should Major League Baseball allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame? No, Says Sam Smith.

Should Yasiel Puig be in the All-Star Game?: here’s the definitive answer

Let’s play trivia.

Q: Who are George Scott, Mitchell Page, Van Kelly, Rocco Baldelli, Mike White, Hector Rodriguez, Warren Newson, Ron Jones, Ken Harvey, Gail Harris, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Giles, Bobby Darwin, Joe Cunningham, Thad Bosley, Oscar Azocar, Gus Zernial, Dan Walters, Taylor Teagarden, Dick Stuart, Shane Spencer, Dwight Smith, Bob Smith, Ryan Shealy, Kevin Roberson, Will Rhymes, Irv Noren, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Kevin Mench, Martin Maldonado, Al Luplow, Joe Keough, Ricky Jordan, Tracy Jones, Dalton Jones, Sam Jethroe, Akinori Iwamura, Jim Hickman, Elian Herrera, Fran Healy, Paul Goldschmidt, Brent Gates, Joe Foy, Tom Donohue, Terry Crowley, Jose Constanza, Doug Camilli, Larry Burright, Barry Bonnell, Kevin Barker, Gabe Alvarez and Glenn Adams?

Answer in a minute.

In the coming days it seems almost certain that Major League Baseball fans will vote Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig into the All-Star Game. The whole idea is rather controversial since Puig has been in the show for barely a month. Some pundits love the idea, saying that the game is for the fans and they should get to choose. Others, expressing a position more sensitive to the game’s history and tradition, are vehemently opposed to a player with so little track record being admitted into the greatest all-star competition in US club sports. Some insider estimates say that 80% of current MLB players are against his inclusion.

There’s no question that Puig has been from hell since he was called up from Chattanooga on June 2. As of this writing, his line looks like this:

 

GP

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

2013 Regular Season

32

127

25

52

8

1

8

19

5

31

5

3

.409

.437

.677

1.114

That’s incredible, especially the average, on-base percentage and OPS, which are just ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing bad you can say about Puig to this point in his career.

But back to that opening question: who are those other guys?

The answer is that they’re all current and former Major League Baseball players who, according to the Win Probability Added (WPA) Sabermetrics stat, were as good as or better than Yasiel Puig over the first month of their careers.

Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral — they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others. While wOBA rates all home runs as equal, we know intuitively that a home run in the third inning of a blowout is less important to that win than a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a close game. Win Probability Added (WPA) captures this difference by measuring how individual players affect their team’s win expectancy on a per-play basis.

For example, say the Rays have a 45% chance of winning before Ben Zobrist comes to the plate. During his at-bat, Zobrist hits a home run, pushing the Rays’ win expectancy jumps to 75%. That difference in win expectancy (in decimal form, +.30) from the beginning of the play to the end is Ben Zobrist’s WPA for that play. If Zobrist strikes out during his next at bat and lowers his team’s win expectancy by 5%, his overall WPA for the game so far would be +.30 – .05 = +.25, as WPA is a counting statistic and is additive.

Arjun Jaikumar, another of my data-savvy friends, also points this out:

I’ll say this, though; *this* season, in the AL, there is another player who has virtually the same WAR as Puig in more or less the same playing time. He is hitting .403/.455/.517 at the moment, and is a marvelous defender – one of the best at his position even though he’s playing out of position.

Yet no one is promoting Jose Iglesias for the All-Star game (with good reason; I wouldn’t either).

In a perfect world I’d be able to extract from the sport’s massive historical database the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) scores for the first month of the career of everyone that ever played the game, but my data savant guy, Adam Bonin (major props, by the way – this analysis wouldn’t have been possible without him), hasn’t figured out how to do that yet. Still, WPA is a pretty useful stat in that it evaluates how important a player is to his team’s chances of winning.

If you’re looking at that list of names at the top and thinking you never heard of any of them, don’t feel bad. Very few of the fans casting their ballots for Puig this week have, either.

If you’re thinking instead that, hey, it’s unfair to compare an obvious future Hall of Famer like Puig to that pack of pikers because you don’t have enough of a sample size yet, congratulations. That’s. The. Point. A great month doesn’t make you an All-Star.

I admit that Puig looks like the real deal. And he may be a future HoFer. Seems like a great kid and here’s hoping he turns out to be everything his overenthusiastic fans think he is and more.

But we have this tendency in the US, fueled by a barking gongbat 24/7 sports punditry cycle, to begin cranking out the hyperbole as soon as we hear a guy’s name. If Stephen A Smith says something stupid – and he will if there’s a microphone in the room – the only thing you can know for sure is that Skip Bayless is a’fixin’ to say something even stupiderer.

You know what? It’s okay to wait and see. Getting it right is better than getting it first. You’re not cheating anyone if you wait a year to see if it’s sustainable or if it’s just a hot streak. It’s okay to make a guy work his way around the league a second and third time to see if opposing pitchers figure him out. It’s not an insult to say damn, kid, you’re on fire. Keep it up and you’ll be an All-Star next year.

But hey, this is America, and we have to let the fans vote on everything, no matter how dumb they are.

Is it too late to get Tim Tebow on the ballot?

A league of their own: S&R honors Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis (and baseball-playing women everywhere)

Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” You could look it up. – Annie Savoy

My grandfather used to tell stories about his sister, my aunt Janie. She played baseball. Not softball, but baseball. And was better than most of the boys. Her girls team even beat the boys a time or two (I’m guessing that boys in the 1930s were enough like the boys of today that they didn’t want to lose to the girls, so there might have been fewer opportunities for inter-gender matchups after that first win). Then there was Gertrude Hines, and older girl in his neighborhood when he was growing up. Nobody wanted little Sammy Linville on their team because he was too young and small, but Gertrude, who was always one of the captains, would say “I’ll take him if I can have his third strike.”

In my neighborhood, Debbie Altman was maybe the best baseball player. A leftie, she was a great pitcher and could hit the hell out of the ball. (She was also really, really pretty, and the combination of athletic ability and long blonde hotness was responsible for my first major boyhood crush.)

Later, when I managed the Colorado Sun Kings in the Denver NABA 30+ league, we had a woman on the team. Teresa, who played second and short, was set for a tryout with the Coors Silver Bullets, but injured her hand just before camp. I saw the Bullets play, and Teresa would have made that team.

This past week, Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis died at the age of 88. Paire-Davis was our most visible link to a past when girls were allowed to play hardball, owing to the fact that she was the inspiration for Geena Davis’s character in A League of Their Own, the 1992 movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. If you don’t know the story, the AAGPBL was started as an alternative to the Major League, which was hard hit by World War II. It was originally feared the league might fold for the duration of the war; it didn’t, but the quality of play obviously suffered as all the young stars, men in the prime of their lives and careers, marched off to the European and Pacific theaters.

It wasn’t enough for AAGPBL players to be athletes, of course. The original rules (which evolved into something like pure baseball over time) looked more like softball, and the players were required to wear skirts and behave like proper ladies at all times.

During spring training the girls were required to attend Helena Rubinstein’s evening charm school classes. The proper etiquette for every situation was taught, and every aspect of personal hygiene, mannerisms and dress code was presented to all the players. In an effort to make each player as physically attractive as possible, each player received a beauty kit and instructions on how to use it. As a part of the leagues ‘Rules of Conduct’, the girls were not permitted to have short hair, smoke or drink in public places, and they were required to wear lipstick at all times. Fines for not following the leagues rules of conduct were five dollars for the first offense, ten for the second, and suspension for the third.

Paire-Davis was, to all accounts, a very good player.

An All-Star catcher, Paire was a fine defensive player with good range on the field and a strong throwing arm. She exhibited an aggressive catching style, leading to a broken collarbone in her rookie season. She suffered numerous injuries thereafter, but kept on playing. Basically a line-drive hitter, she had a compact swing and tremendous plate discipline, collecting a significant 2.63 walk-to-strikeout ratio (308-to-117). A lifetime .225 hitter she made good contact, hitting safely more frequently with runners on base or when the team was behind in the score, as her 400 runs batted in ties her in fourth place with Elizabeth Mahon on the all-time list, behind Dorothy Schroeder (431), Inez Voyce (422) and Eleanor Callow (407). In addition, the versatile Paire played shortstop and third base, and even pitched. She also was a member of a championship team and made the playoffs in nine of her ten seasons.

In 60 playoff games, she hit .211 with one home run and 16 RBI, including one triple and seven stolen bases.

In fact, a lot of women were good players. And would be today if they were allowed to play the game. But instead they’re stuck playing softball, and I can only assume this is because it’s presumed to be safer. (This isn’t a logical conclusion that takes into account the speed with which some women pitch or the fact that the ball is plenty hard, but the fact is that little girls don’t have the option of playing the American pastime once they get past coed tee-ball age.) This system has always felt a little like the old six-on-six basketball rules, which were finally eradicated for good in the ’90s (Iowa and Oklahoma were the last two holdouts).

Is softball a remnant of a paternalistic culture that feels girls and women have to be protected? Probably. But I’ve played a number of sports with women – basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, you name it. The idea that these are delicate flowers who can’t handle the full measure of the game is ludicrous, and we have all the examples you’d ever need in pretty much every game except baseball and American football (which frankly, I’m not sure anyone ought to play, male or female). Do Mia Hamm and Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach look fragile to you? Maya Moore and Candace Parker?

A League of Their Own sparked a brief revival in women’s baseball. The Silver Bullets were founded shortly after the movie popularized the idea of women with fastballs. Here in Denver, the NABA launched a women’s league. The whole fad fizzled, though, and with our last links to that legacy of women’s baseball dying out, it’s hard to see how the vaguely sexist softball culture might ever be replaced with a baseball option.

It’s a shame to think that there will be no more Pepper Paires. There will certainly be plenty of Debbie Altmans ripping doubles into the gap on the playground and Gertrude Hineses taking little Sammy LInville’s third strike and Aunt Janies who show up the boys every time they step on the field. The occasional Teresa will love the game so much that she’s willing to deal with being stared at and whispered about when she steps into the box as the only woman in a man’s league, and her teammates will scream their fool heads off when she smacks an RBI single up the middle off a pitcher who now has to go back to the dugout and endure the humiliation of having given up a hit to a girl.

Perhaps no character in the canon of American culture has ever loved baseball so completely as Bull Durham‘s Annie Savoy. Few have known more about the game or more fully inhabited its spiritual essence. I have always called Bull Durham the greatest sports movie ever made, and in part this is because not of what happens on the field, but because of the negative space in the social fabric: Annie, the soul of the narrative, is only allowed to play the game in her back yard. She has no league of her own.

For a few years, Lavonne Paire-Davis and the rest of the women in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League did. S&R honors them and the grace with which they crashed the gender barrier, if only for a while. We hope that the US, as it evolves on questions of fairness and equity, finally creates a place where little girls and young women can fully share in what the Boston Globe‘s James Carroll once called the “baseball communion.”

If we do, it will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.

Image Credits: NBC Sports, Feminist Guide to Hollywood

Castro and Miami’s Cuban community and what the hell was Ozzie Guillen thinking?

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen recently lost his freakin’ mind. He told Time that

I love Fidel Castro…I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [SOB] is still there.

Predictably, the world then stopped spinning on its axis.

#EPICFAIL: the return of the 86ers

For 86 years the Boston sports fan’s image was defined by the Curse of the Bambino and its periodic avatars, like Bucky Fucking Dent. And Aaron Fucking Boone. And Bill Buckner, who later tried to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of a bus, only to have the bus go between his legs (rim shot). The Boston brand was futility, the yearly ritual of hope and its eventual collapse into despair. Continue reading #EPICFAIL: the return of the 86ers

The Colorado Crusading Rockies: why is the club’s religious mandate such a huge secret in its own hometown?

Here in a few weeks my company is taking all the employees to a Colorado Rockies game. All of us except me, that is – I’ll be begging off for reasons that I feel like I’ve hashed through a million times. I will no doubt be afforded several more chances to explain why I refuse to patronize the Rox as the big day approaches.

Short version: the Colorado Rockies are an evangelical Christian organization that, if I take them at their word, appear to discriminate (as a fundamental operating philosophy that I can only assume includes personnel decisions, both on-field and in the front office) on the basis of religion. I first wrote about the story shortly after it broke in an August 2006 Lullaby Pit piece on Who Would Jesus Play For? Continue reading The Colorado Crusading Rockies: why is the club’s religious mandate such a huge secret in its own hometown?

The complex legacy of Darth Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner is dead.

Let me begin by saying that I’m a Red Sox fan and a lifelong Yankee-hater who loathed Steinbrenner from shortly after I first heard his name. Let me further note that for the better part of the last three decades I have argued, passionately and to anyone who’d listen, that there were precisely three things wrong with Major League Baseball: domes, turf and George Steinbrenner. He was, in a nutshell, the Donald Trump of the National Pastime, and anyone who knows me even a little bit realizes that I don’t mean that in a good way.

Much has been said about Darth George and the Evil Pinstriped Empire, and much more will be said before the week is out, as the first shots are fired in the war for the man’s eternal legacy. Some of it will be positive, perhaps even worshipful. Some of it … not so much. Continue reading The complex legacy of Darth Steinbrenner