Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Explanation All-Star Game's Irrelevance

On the heels of the advent of our unique signatures, we'll also introduce a new feature: the back and forth.

Interleague play might have killed the All-Star game, but it was already on its last breath after the ‘93 game at Camden Yards. That’s when, with the game in hand, Cito Gaston went to his own Duane Ward, instead of Baltimore’s own Mike Mussina, to pitch the almost perfunctory ninth inning.

The Baltimore fans booed throughout the ninth inning, the media brouhaha followed, and a precedent was set, that the stars be allowed to shine, that managers should not get in the way.

Each successive ASG came with the obligatory broadcasters’ late inning speculation about which one, or god-forbid two, players might not get on the field, Bob Costas bemoaning Ricky Bones’ exclusion on behalf of the Milwaukee fans, or perhaps Joe Buck wryly noting the Paul Byrd Omission.

The trend's natural evolution culminated in the tie of 2002. The managers were primarily concerned with getting everyone on the field, and neglected to consider the possibility of extra innings (Which is exactly the reason Gaston gave for saving Mussina back in ’93! ), let alone concern themselves with winning. But you can’t blame them, because precedent, and supposedly the fan’s preference demanded such an attitude.

I'm sure tonight they'll replay the iconic video of Pete Rose barreling over Ray Fosse, and the requisite commentary about "Fosse never being quite the same again" will follow, and the announcers will, even if only subtly, pine for the All Star Games of yore, when they meant something without the aid of a contrivance.

But they (and we) can’t have it both ways.

The devaluation of the ASG began long ago, when, combined with the 1 rep per roster rule, the league’s expansion began to turn the ASG into more of a spectacle than a competition. The extra (and often inferior) players were usually superfluous in a nine inning game. It was only a matter of time, that the fans’ attention turned to the surplus of benchwarmers.

Without knowing the entire context of the ’93 game, one might suspect that the Baltimoreans were right in their umbrage because perhaps one might assume that Mussina was the host city’s lone rep. In fact, Cal Ripken was in the starting lineup. But such consolation no longer mattered and the fans believed that the game was there primarily for their entertainment and only secondarily as a competition. And so booed their league and the winning team.

- Agent Easy

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why the All-Star Game Still Doesn't Matter

This year's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium is going to be a financial bonanza for MLB, causing some to call the Midsummer Classic "revitalized" since the infamous 2002 tie.

From a pure baseball perspective, though, the ASG is nowhere near as compelling as it used to be, nor it it likely to become so. To understand why, think for a moment back to 1996 - no, not because it's the last time the National League won, but because it's the last time the All-Star game was genuinely interesting. This is because it was the last year before MLB instituted interleague play, making it the only chance to see marquee players from each league go up against each other, except on the off-chance they'd meet again in the World Series. Take a look at the play by play and think of some of these then-rare matchups: John Smoltz having to face Mo Vaughn, Pudge Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr. in an inning, or Pedro Martinez (then with the Expos) facing in one inning Kenny Lofton, Wade Boggs, Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle and Vaughn.

Whatever interleague play's merits, it's definitely undermined the most interesting thing about the ASG. As just one example, we've already seen Dan Haren go against the Red Sox lineup (granted, without Ortiz, but does he even really count as an All-Star this year?). Hence, MLB's artificial attempt to restore some intrigue by making World Series home-field advantage depend on its outcome.

There is a bright spot, though: the Home Run Derby still remains interesting, because getting to see the top power hitters in a pure slugging competition is both compelling in its own right, and hasn't been diluted by seeing it over and over throughout the year.


(quick post-Home Run Derby addition - are we likely to see anything in the ASG as exciting as Josh Hamilton's first-round performance?)

A Minor Tweak, Nicknames for All!

Up until now, this blog, while authored by two people, has been published as if written by one. Today, we're making a small change and from now on will sign our posts individually. Our efforts will continue to be largely collaborative, but now we'll have cool nicknames.

-Agent Easy

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Firsthand account from the Dodgers' hitless victory (guest piece by DaSkeeza)

What makes the game of baseball fascinating is that there is a wide array of things that can happen. The game can be won on a home-run in the bottom of the last inning. A team can rally from over ten runs down to seize victory. The pitcher can throw a perfect game. A defensive player can make an unassisted triple play. There can be a bench-clearing brawl.

Yet last Saturday, I witnessed something so rare, that in modern major league history, it has only happened five times.

A team won a game without a single hit.

With the need to be out of Orange County that night, I attended last Saturday’s Dodgers/Angels game at Dodger Stadium. Seeing as how my time in the southland may be numbered, I figured I’d take in a little bit of the freeway series just for the experience. Besides, there isn’t a place where baseball is bigger than southern California, and seeing these two clubs battle for LA supremacy was a fun and interesting proposition.

So there I am, in my usual third-deck seat behind home plate (I like this view because it’s the same one I have when I do the PA for college games), scorebook in hand with a couple of pencils. I’ve downed my order of nachos and am ready to take in the latest feud between LA baseball’s Hatfields and McCoys.

For the most part, it feels like any other game. Both pitchers are tossing gems. The crowd of better than 55,000 projects a sea of red and blue. During the Kiss Cam promotion, the last couple shown has the man propose to his girlfriend, who thankfully said yes.

The Angels get a chink in the armor in the 5th, when Matt Kemp reaches first as a slow roller to Jered Weaver’s left dies in the grass, and Weaver can’t pick it up. The scorer originally rules it a hit, but my better judgment thinks it’s an error, as it seemed well within Jered’s ability to make the play. A minute later, the scorer agrees with me and changes it to an error. Kemp then steals second while Jeff Mathis’ throw sails into center, allowing Kemp to take third (SB, E2). Then, Blake DeWitt floats a ball to right for a sac fly to score Kemp. Yadda Yadda, 1-0.

Yet Weaver continues to be solid, and while the Angels are able to get a couple on in the 6th and 7th, but then get shut down by the Dodger defense. And once the stretch is over, you start to realize that the Dodgers could win the game without a hit. Once they went down in order in the 8th, you knew it HAD to be without a hit.

Takahashi Saito then takes the mound for the 9th, and it certainly got interesting after a 2-out double by Kendrick and a walk to Mike Napoli. But then Saito’s breaking ball regains its zip, and Reggie Willits strikes out swinging to end the game.

PA Announcer Eric Smith begins his postgame announcements by stating that only four previous times has a team won a game without a single hit. He reads off the totals. “For the Dodgers, one run on NOOOOO HITS, and two errors.”

In baseball, there are rarities, but this one is one of the most elusive. You need a combination of lights out pitching, miniscule blunders, and luck out the wazzu to get such a result. Not even in video games can you finagle such a result on purpose.

But in the end, perhaps that’s why baseball is such a fascinating game. Why those of us most captivated by it stay through the five-hour games and the late nights and long, hot days to see a game from start to end. It’s moments like these that are for those who love the game the most.