Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down

Sleepers or Sluggers? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00

Just about this time last year, I remember writing about how completely deceived I was by the Oakland Athletics, a team I thought should have lost 90 games by late September, not win that many.

Sure, the rag-tag fellows in Green and Gold played loose, and had really great and unparalleled rookie pitching, along with a couple of young outfield stars in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick

But, Oakland used their experience last season, and were brilliantly managed by Bob Melvin, coming amazingly close to even making it to the series last year.

However, I saw the moves Billy Beane made over the off-season, like acquiring Jed Lowrie, John Jaso and Chris Young while retaining Coco Crisp, and it was very clear to me what the 2013 path could be.

In fact, just before Tout Wars, on the CBS Broadcast hosted by Nando DiFino, I was pretty sure that Young would get 400 at-bats (currently at 353 plate appearances, and 315 at-bats, with an average that just crept over the Mendoza line), that neither Jemile Weeks nor Hiroyuki Nakajima would be a factor, and that pretty much every position player on the team was capable of double-digit dingers over the course of the season.

Add in that those record setting rookie pitchers of last season all were now essentially veterans, with playoff experience, along with a pretty good bullpen.

Still, in the toughest division in the Majors--and I do mean the AL West, with the Rangers and Angels--going into the 2013 season it seemed that despite the solid roster, Oakland would still have a tough row to hoe to make it to the postseason.

However, after last night's 11-0 trouncing of the Twins, brilliantly manipulated by the wiley Bartolo Colon, who nabbed his 17th win, Oakland now has 174 homers for the season, including four players with 20-plus big flies.

And, paramount among those players is third sacker Josh Donaldson, who at .306-24-91 is among the league leaders in hits, and has 54 multi-hit contests. If you have not paid much attention to Donaldson, remember that going into the spring of 2012, he was a catcher, not a third sacker, and he was struggling with defense and the plate such that he had to spend the first couple of months of the year in Sacramento.

Since his return to, however, the 27-year-old has been more than a revelation, playing an increasingly strong defense, and proving himself to be the best pure hitter on the team.

The only exceptions to the double-digit taters are catcher Derek Norris (who does have eight, but also has missed time on the DL), any of the three Oakland second basemen (although by the third week of spring, Scott Sizemore was still the Athletics second sacker) and the DH spot (Seth Smith also has eight). However, fourth outfielder Chris Young does have 12.

Still, Oakland is largely unknown and underestimated.

But, with a great defensive lineup--the team can essentially play centerfielders at all three outfield spots--great pop on both sides of the plate meaning good platoon possibilities, and a postseason rotation that is probably Colon (17-6, 2.64), Jarrod Parker (11-7, 3.81), A.J. Griffin (14-9, 3.78) and Dan Straily (10-7, 4.08), or even more dangerous Sonny Gray (3-3, 2.50), the other postseason teams better not let down for a second.

If you remember way back in the spring, when I noted the Athletics were really good, it seemed everyone's favorite in the American League were the revamped Blue Jays. In fact, conversely, while the Athletics might have been underrated, the Red Sox and Yankees were flat out dismissed.

However, if we look at the standings today, well, the Sox, and soon the A's may well have the last laugh, while the Jays, despite all their talent, will have to wait until next year.

What that means is the best collection of players does not necessarily constitute the best team. The collection of players needs to perform well as a unit.

I am not sure if Oakland has the best of those, as in team, but they certainly are one of them.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


How Did We Live Before Technology? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 14 September 2013 00:00

Remember back in the Pleistocene era, when we just had touchtone phones? Around the time of 4800 BAUD modems? When Beta tried to rain on the parade of VHS, and cassettes were happening?

That was when a "portable" video camera weighed about 10 pounds, and rested on your shoulder, and long before the first batch of portable phones. Though, I vividly remember the first one of those I saw: it was huge, and sat in a giant cradle, plugged into a cigarette lighter, and looked as stupid in retrospect as those portable video cameras do today.

Well, for the past week I have been up in the mountains, at Donner Pass, near Lake Tahoe at around 7200 feet of altitude.

Meaning my cell service is, at best spotty; that is, we can maybe get one bar in our bedroom and the bathroom, but none in the living room or kitchen.

The truth is, one of the reasons I like coming up here is just that: that no one can get to me unless I want them too.

While we have no television reception, we do have TVs with DVD players, so this is the perfect place to catch up on Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad episodes without much distraction.

We do have DSL, though, allowing me to write and post and edit and follow the scores, and while I could probably subscribe to SiriusXM, and stream on our iPhones, or subscribe to or, I am just not that interested (I do get Extra Innings and Sunday Ticket at home).

Not that I don’t follow the scores when I am up here, but mostly just on-line or via MLB At Bat.

Since the Athletics are in the throes of a great pennant race with the Rangers, I have been following those scores to the best of my ability.

However, I don’t remember not being anywhere near where there was coverage of the NFL for the first weekend of the season.

In fact, I worked the Athletics/Astros game the Thursday the NFL season opened, so I missed that game, and got up to the mountain house Saturday afternoon, meaning no NFL Today or any of that stuff.

So, Sunday morning, I set my four rosters just by using the basics that MyFantasyLeague (and if you don’t know this great site, shame on you!) provides, winning half my games. Although the two I lost were simply because I did not trust my instincts, leaving Jordy Nelson on the bench against the Niners defense.

So, despite my somewhat deprived access to technology, I was able to set lineups for all my football and baseball teams and track their progress, or lack thereof, as often as I liked.

I did think about driving into Truckee, to the Blue Coyote specifically, to watch as they have food and 21 flat screens, but it just didn’t seem that important, and I don’t think the only reason for this is age.

Still, it did make me think of the early days of fantasy baseball, when I tracked games on CompuServe with the aforementioned 4800 baud modem. Back before there were commissioner services, when we had to download the weekly USA Today stats, American League on Tuesday, National on Wednesday, and have someone convert using a DB program (I think we used a product called Paradox) and we would get standings once a week.

This is a far cry from my being able to track pretty much anything I want up here.

Right now, it sort of feels like the best of both worlds, but it does make me wonder what we did way back in the dark ages, back in the 70’s when dial phones still ruled?

Draft Blown? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 07 September 2013 02:01

I don't know about you, but last week was crazy with Fantasy Football drafts for me.

First, there was the Experts Schmexperts draft, curated by my good friend Trace of Long Gandhi Fame. Then during the week, two slow drafts--The Kathy League Gifford and the North American Internet Fantasy Football League--both driven by my partner Lord Zola, ensued.

This all culminated Monday with the drafting of The Utter Genius League, driven by yet another mate, Michael Duca.

Now, I might have my troubles with some football leagues, but in the Utter Genius I won in 2010, and though I lost in the playoffs in 2011, my team The Smith Brothers (as I had both Steve Smith and Torrey Smith, although the cough drop box is our logo) had the most total points by season's end.

Last year, I again won, although my friend Jeff Smith maintains that he had the best team because he had the most points, even though I not only had the best won-loss, but I beat his Megalodons not once, but twice.

In 2011, the league freeze rules changed such that we were only allowed one keeper instead of two, so I let go of Ray Rice and hung onto Arian Foster, and grabbed Wes Welker and Marshawn Lynch with my next picks. I got the Bears defense, but where I struck paydirt was in drafting Russell Wilson as my #2 QB (behind Carson Palmer).

For, the Utter Genius League allows us to plug a second QB into a Flex spot, meaning playing a pair of signal callers is a great move. Well, as soon as the Raiders had their bye week, I dropped Palmer, who was then picked up by another team, so, I grabbed Colin Kaepernick, and, well, you can guess the rest.

So, this year I froze Lynch and Foster, figuring that when I got my first selections--picks 36 and 37--I would simply grab Kaepernick and Wilson back, assuming running backs and the likes of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning would eat up the bulk of early picks.


Both my desired quarterbacks were gone by the first two rounds, so I figured I would hold on that spot, drafting Darren Sproles and Victor Cruz with my first selections.  

In fact, I did not pick a quarterback till I got Joe Flacco in the sixth round. Actually, I think Flacco is seriously underrated this season for a guy who led his team to a Super Bowl win last year, although there are other guys I wanted more.

And, even though I do like playing a pair of QBs in leagues that offer that option, I chose Mark Ingram and Danny Woodhead, assuming Philip Rivers would still be there when I wanted him.

He wasn't.

Nor was the Seahawks or Bears defense.

Or even Vernon Davis or Jermichael Finley.

So, I wound up with Martellus Bennett and the Ravens defense on my roster.

In other words, "who are these guys?"

And, while I left the draft well covered at RB and WR, I was concerned elsewhere, especially at defense, for Ravens' stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed retired during the off-season. Still, Baltimore did not win last year on the strength of two players, and they have had a strong defense for years. Not to mention they are well coached. 

At least that is what I told myself when I picked the Ravens.

In fact, Thursday, when I got to the Coliseum to cover the Athletics/Astros game, Jeff, who sits beside me at the yard, simply said "you're killing me."

For at the end of the first quarter, the Ravens had held the Broncos scoreless, while Flacco had thrown for a score.

"It's early", I replied, and the game began, and we did not pay any attention to the football score until the game was over. And, I discovered that the Ravens allowed 49 points, good for -11.2 for my team.

OK, so I know we have only finished one game, and there are 478 teams worth of numbers remaining, but I am getting a really bad feeling about this draft.

As in I already feel drafty.

And, while I did adjust with the free agent market last year building a winner, I don't feel so solid about the possibilities this year.

I think Jeff will cream me this first week. And, with Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles as his freezes, it will be his turn to run the table.

I guess karma is everywhere.


The Problem With "I'm Sorry" PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:00

One of the great things about being at music camp, and then up in the mountains for a couple of weeks, was being spared the news.

Not that I am not concerned with the state of the world, or condition of our country, and such. It is just we get so hammered by the news and tweets and internet updates and repetitions of the same story with gossip, scandal and opinion dominating so much of what could just be a straight news story--if that--that the news sort of becomes like being bonked on the head with an inflatable hammer after awhile.

So, while it was interesting being away early in August when a cluster of baseball players were rather unceremoniously suspended for the balance of 2013, I really did not care.

Truth is I was not really interested in what any of the players in question had to say, or why. They did what they did, and while I understand wanting to get every possible edge to be successful in any field, the rules are the rules, and well, you break the rules, and then get caught, and you suffer the consequences.

I am actually of the opinion that even when we break a law or rule--and that could be something as simple as lying or cheating on a test--we will subvert ourselves in some other way, even if we get away with the original misdeed in the first place. That is because deep down we know when we are cheating, and in a way we are our own version of Santa Claus, as in "we know when we are sleeping and we know when we're awake."

However, Ryan Braun did cop to his HGH use, and accepted his suspension for the remainder of 2013 before I left, and the reality is I did find the outfielder's simple acquiesence somewhat refreshing. I mean, generally folks go the complete denial route until caught and/or punished. And, then they generally acknowledge that thanks to Jesus, they are forgiven for their misdeeds (and as Bill Maher has pointed out, has anyone ever heard of Jesus not forgiving someone, irrespective of the transgression?).

But then a week ago, Braun decided to take it a step further, and made a pubic apology for his misdeeds, including apologizing to Dino Laurenzi Jr., who was accused of mishandling the urine sample that almost got Braun suspended prior to the 2012 season. It was that technicality that put fantasy players in a tizzy, not knowing whether 100 games of Braun was better than nothing, or if the suspension would have a successful appeal.

Of course, those who took the Braun crap-shoot were rewarded with a .319-41-112 season, and there was virtually no cloud hanging over Braun in 2013. Or so we thought.

That made Braun a clear first-round pick, but all we got out of him in an injury-plagued season were .298-9-38 totals over 61 games.

Meaning Braun figured out a way to indeed pay himself back--and many of us as well--with a seriously sub-par season.

And, while we did have to expect first that Major League Baseball would indeed target the guy who successfully thumbed his nose at the system a little over a year ago, I do wish Braun would not have made his public apology.

Not that I am against taking responsibility for one's actions, but it reminds me clearly of both being a kid, and having kids, and demanding that I either provide an apology, or be given one, depending upon my situation in life as a child or a parent.

In particular, I remember the air of resentment my kids carried when their mother told them to say they were sorry, for the act of contrition was not voluntary, and as I agreed with my mate Lord Zola just the other day, most of the time the source of the apology was more the result of being caught as opposed to actual remorse over a misdeed.

I would like to think that Braun's confession was sincere, just as I am almost always willing to give a transgressor a second chance. However, the whole thing does ring in a Shakespearean sense, echoing these lines from "Hamlet": "Thou doth protest too much."

Of course, we are just talking a game here, and hardly anyone's life hangs in the balance, although as Todd did note to me, it would be great for Braun to go into a draft year without any semblence of a cloud hanging over his head.

For, in 2014 there will be both the questions of the enhanced season, and whether or not Braun is really healthy, mentally and physically.

Personally, I hope he is both, and that he returns to being one of the better players in baseball simply because it is fun to watch a person who really knows how to do their job, especially an athlete performing publicly.

As for the apology, the best thing Braun could do is simply shut up, go about his job and prove to us why he was--and ideally still is--one of the best players in baseball on the field. If he does that, everything else good will certainly follow.

Charlie the Pill PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 24 August 2013 01:39

I wondered about Mariners' hurler Charlie Furbush over the past few years,wondering why Seattle kept the pitcher in tow.

Of course, my wondering had nothing to do with his past couple of very good seasons. As in last year Furbush was 5-2, 2.72 over 46.1 innings, with a terrific 0.95 WHIP, and this year he is 2-4, 3.20 over 53 more innings, with 1.086 WHIP. Plus, Furbush has a solid 122 strikeouts over 99.1 innings.

My problem is unreasonable. It just seems like a guy who goes by Charlie and is 6'5" sounds more avuncular than dominant to me.

So, when I started filling in my roster last night when the Giants and Pirates matched up for their only series in San Francisco this year, who was pitching for Pittsburgh? Charlie Morton, going up against Madison Bumgarner.

I asked my mates if anyone could think of a dominant pitcher named Charlie, and Bill Arnold brought up both Charlie Liebrandt and Charlie Hough.

And, while Liebrandt turned in a pretty good resume from the mid-80's into the 90's--and graced my Strat-O-Matic team during much of that period--he was more a control pitcher than a dominant one. Liebrandt was 140-119, 3.71 over 2308 innings, but he only whiffed 4.4 per nine innings, and was 6'3".

There was also Charlie Hough, who went 216-216, 3.75 over 25 seasons and 3801 innings, though with 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his 6'2" knuckleballing body.

I did look through the Charlies at the Baseball-Reference site, and could only make it through the first 125 names before yielding to write this and shoot for some sleep, and I did make some discoveries.

As in Chuck Finley was a hard thrower, with 7.3 strikeouts per nine over his 3189 innings (200-173, 3.85), and though he is 6'6", well, he goes by "Chuck" which just sounds tougher than Charlie.

Another Chuck was Chuck Connors, who was also 6'6", but was also a Chuck, was a hitter (and not such a great one at .228-2-14 over 67 Major League games), and became an actor (The Rifleman, Branded--and got that Lebowski fans--and a great part in William Wyler's fine western The Big Country).

Also, Connors' given name was not Chuck, but rather Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors.

Both Charlie Comiskey and Charlie Ebbets, both of whom were managers, came up in that first batch as well. Both also had ball parks named for them, among other things.

So, I was surprised when Charlie, as in Morton, held the Giants to seven hits and a walk over 7.2 innings, tossing just 83 pitches, 54 for strikes--and earned his fifth win of the season, pushing his record to 5-3, 3.42 over 13 starts and 76.1 innings. 

In fact, he more than matched up against Bumgarner, who went eight, but was taken down by a three-run Clint Barmes jack down the left field line in the seventh.

Still, though I saw the performance with my own eyes--in fact I scored every pitch of the contest--I still have a hard time believing the 6'5" Morton is that good.

Though he does have 5.9 punchouts per nine, better than the other Charlies. 

Maybe it is time I rethought this pitching Charlie prejudice?

While My Mind's on Vacation PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 17 August 2013 00:00

In case you hadn't noticed, I have been away for a couple of weeks, on vacation.

Last week, Diane and our niece Lindsay took off for performing arts camp in the Redwoods on the California coast. Since this is the 13th time I have attended, I guess that makes it kind of a tradition, and though we get spotty internet at camp, our cell phones don't work at all.

Which is great, because vacations are supposed to be a respite from whatever it is we face on a daily basis in our lives.

We did return home for a couple of days, but then took off again for the place we own up in Serene Lakes, about 25 miles south of Lake Tahoe.

Though we do get pretty solid internet at the Lake, again our cell phones are toast. We can play games on them via the wireless router, but, no calls, no texts, and so for the most part we go through a couple of weeks having very little contact with the outside world.

The reality is, I find it kind of refreshing, for it reminds me that our wonderful planet ticks on with or without my sanction, and for some odd reason that makes me hopeful for our species.

Over the years, while we have been "off the grid" as my mate Lord Zola likes to call it, there have been holocausts. For instance, around ten years ago, there was a huge heatwave and brown-out back east and a lot of people lost their lives as a result. Famous people have died during our absence, like Bernie Mac a few years back, and Dyan Cannon this past go-around.

This past cycle, Egypt has been going through the pains of revolution, again costing many, many lives, reminding us that freedom is certainly not free, while our own National Politics pretty much stayed with the gridlocked business as usual that our leaders have self inflicted.

In fact, I believe the Affordable Health Care Act was subject to its 40 recall attempt, suggesting the mental health aspects of the bill should be administered to those who cannot grasp repeating a mistake is not always such a sane thing to do.

Just as we were leaving, a cluster of ballplayers, including Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera joined some lesser names, along with the previously disciplined Ryan Braun, in the Biogenesis debacle, so I largely missed those players acquiescing, turning in their spikes until spring of next year.

It also meant I missed seeing how the contenders, like Texas and Detroit, are adjusting around a lineup hole, let alone the fantasy teams trying to adjust to such an instant hole, for especially in a deeper format, everyday players and at-bats are essential to success simply because the player pool is thinner.

Similarly, I completely missed the feisty Alex Rodriguez and his return to Yankee Stadium, in defiance of the ban, as he challenges the right of the Commissioner's Office to essentially end his career. Which, is why it makes sense for Rodriguez to challenge, for at age 38, returning to baseball at age 40 does not bode well for any kind of success, so he has very little to lose by challenging (actually, if anyone needs to rethink, it would be the Yankees front office who have to pay their aged third sacker through the 2017 season). Because this is the end of the line on the field for A-Rod no matter what happens.

Of course, it was interesting to see the reactions, for A-Rod, like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and probably even Barry Bonds, might find himself blacklisted out of Hall of Fame consideration much like Pete Rose, who self admittedly had the wrong kind of addiction. But, as all these actions play out, just like the Affordable Care Act, and promotions and earthquakes and weddings, it will be interesting to watch how us goofy human beings compartmentalize and process all the rights and wrongs about all of this.

All of these machinations I had missed, along with the first few preseason games for the NFL, which in retrospect proved to be no more important than anything else in the grand scheme.

At camp this year, a particularly devout Athletics fan and friend asked if I wasn't concerned about the pennant races and play while I was away, and I shook my head, noting "it will still be there when I got back home."

It was.




More Strangeness at the Yard PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 27 July 2013 00:00

Trivia time: When was the last time two teams split a doubleheader, where the home team won both games (answer coming)?

It has been a crazy week, locally, as both the Giants and Athletics were set to be in town this weekend, while between the two teams there were not just daily games to cover, but the Giants and the Reds managed a twin-bill on Tuesday, and I worked them both.

As I have said many times--and as we all know--part of the charm in baseball is you never know what you are going to see. And, the chances that you might see something unusual on any given day are pretty much equal.

For example, I worked the Giants 16 inning game against the Mets earlier this month, and despite 48 putouts made by the Giants, none went to center fielder Gregor Blanco.

Or, just as goofy, during that second game of the Tuesday doubleheader, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford never touched the ball on defense despite 27 outs.

No assists. No putouts. No relays. No nothings.

So, out of 75 outs, over those two games, the two middle guys hardly touched the ball at all. Weird.

As for weird double dips, the Yankees and the Mets have played cross-town two stadium games three times, and the White Sox played two games against two different teams--the Indians in the day, and the Twins at night--the same day.

And, with the advent of interleague play, the resetting the home squad as part of a make-up game has become sort of business as usual for baseball. Though unusual is still more like it.

Irrespective, when the Reds and Giants took the field for the second game on Tuesday, it was to make up for the July 4 Cincy rainout, making the Reds the home team.

Which was indeed very odd to score, let alone watch.

For the Reds wore Red jerseys, but white pants, while the Giants wore greys. And, the Giants batted first, meaning Barry Zito had a chance to win his first road game of the season. Except at home.

It was odd.

And, in the end, Zito only lasted 4.2 innings, but the Giants did win, although it took four outs from Sergio Romo closing out the powerful Reds in the bottom of the ninth to get the win for Santiago Casilla (not Jake Dunning, who did get Zito off the hook to close out the fifth).

The game proved to be Bruce Bochy's 1500th victory as a manager, certainly an auspicious achievement, but Bochy's real sentiment was expressed in the statement, "it felt good to win a road game."

Oh, and by the way, since the Reds won the opener, that did indeed mean there was a doubleheader split, and the road team came out victorious each time.

Once again, you gotta love baseball.

Two Weeks Into a 30-day Game PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 20 July 2013 00:00

I have good news and I have bad news with respect to my Lawr-gesse team, the squad I chose for Ron Shandler's new twist in roto, 30-day leagues.

Ron's idea is we play a month at a time, with a salary cap team based upon current performance, meaning Matt Kemp only cost $6 while Max Scherzer's price tag was $25 in the format where we picked 30 players with a $300 budget.

Back to the news, my being in 10th place, with 81 points, means there are nine teams beneath, which is good. It also means there are nine teams above me, which is bad.

The contest, which balances relievers by giving points for saves plus holds, and for hitters runs produced and on-base percentage.

My team features Yasiel Puig ($6), Michael Cuddyer ($25), Matt Adams ($5) and Mike Trout ($43), along with Zack Greinke ($1) and Chris Sale ($18) to name a core, and my league best 116 points over the past week has been enough to put me halfway up there, and, understand how volatile standings are over the first month. I guess I have a chance at first place, although I would need to pick up about 45 points.

Still, I am only six homers behind first place, though ten swipes back, while being among the leaders in strikeouts, while not so high in saves plus holds.

Since it is draft-and-follow, meaning the team you draft is the team you are committed to for the 30 days of the contest, Ian Kinsler ($11) and Rajai Davis ($9) have to kick it in gear.

The truth is I probably need to play the format a few times, not so much to get the hang but to see if I can find a pattern beyond the obvious, "if you pick the 30 hottest players, you will win."

Ron's set-up does allow for roster changes a couple of times a week, although doing that mid-week set is still something that I haven't gotten used to (meaning I forget I can do it).

In fact, Ron played in all the leagues this first time, and set all of his rosters without buying the rights to either Puig or Trout. 

On the other hand, I am not really one to stream pitchers, for example, and especially when the time frame is a month, there are really not that many opportunities to take advantage of a two-start week anyway.

But, aside from the fact that I personally think you will shoot yourself in the foot by streaming any players, I like to think that I picked the best players I could relative to what I had to spend, and to tell the truth, who I thought would produce over the month.

Since I am in the middle of the pack, I guess I have just as much ground to gain as I have to lose.

I guess I will have to report back in a couple of weeks.



Going the Extra Inning PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 13 July 2013 00:00

When I was young, and first attending baseball games, the best thing I could ever hope for was extra innings (well, actually a doubleheader was better as we were guaranteed 18 innings). That is because the longer the game lasted, the longer would my joy at simply being at the yard be extended.

However, times have changed, and though I love that I get to work at the yard a good 40-50 games a year, the last thing anyone in the press box wants is those same extra innings.

Now, that might sound like sour grapes, but, for most of the folks working the game, it is indeed their "8-5" and for the most part, most people don't like staying after work any longer than they have to, irrespective of the profession.

The other reason is that extra innings just throws everything in our universe off.

For, an extra innning game generally means funky plays and weird calls. It means writing and re-writing the leads for articles and running up and down between the clubhouse and booth as players come in and out of the game.

For the Official Scorer, my mates Jerrin, Jeff, or Mike--who score for STATS, and me, it means another inning of tracking every pitch and the disposition thereof.

And, that is a lot harder, and takes a lot more focus than you might imagine, for if each half-inning averages 18 pitches--or 36 per inning--that simply affords that many more chances to make a mistake as the game wears on, for we do indeed get tired after awhile, as anyone would at work.

Well, as it happened, I have had two extra inning games this year that tested my endurance.

The first was the Athletics' 19-inning game against the Angels last April 30, a game that lasted six hours and thirty-two minutes. The second was last Monday, when the Mets beat the Giants 4-3 on an unearned run over 16 innings after five hours and twenty-six minutes.

Both games did have weirdness, which is one of the things that makes baseball fascinating.

For instance, there were three triples, and also three swinging third strikes that necessitated a throw to first (thus a K23 putout). There were three terrific defensive plays by Brandon Crawford, all web gem quality. And yet, the game ended as a result of the same Crawford botching a fairly simple play.

The Giants stranded 18 baserunners during the 16 innings, while the Mets just seven, as San Francisco fanned 19 New York hitters.

While Buster Posey got five hits over eight at-bats, Brandon Belt struck out five times over eight at-bats.

But, perhaps the oddest stat was over those 16 innings and 48 outs recorded, there were no putouts to center fielder Gregor Blanco over the entire game.

That is really strange. Strange enough for the media team for the Giants to note it while the OS and I happened to be discussing the same thing after the game as we were squaring out box scores.

But, there was also the tactical blunder made by Bruce Bochy in the 14th inning. 

With George Kontos pitching, and Eric Young on first, pitching coach Dave Righetti went to the hill to talk with Kontos as David Murphy stepped into the box. On the second pitch to the Mets second sacker, Young took off and stole second, so Bochy went out--mid at-bat--to put in Javier Lopez, a southpaw to finish off Murphy (also a lefty).

The problem is a manager cannot go to the hill twice during a single at-bat, per the rules. If he does so, the pitcher must complete the current at-bat--meaning Murphy--and after the conclusion, that pitch must come out. Meaning Kontos had to finish pitching to Murphy, and then he had to be removed.

This was a rule enforcement over half of us in the booth had never seen enforced, so once again it was one of those "never saw that before" baseball moments. In the end it was inconsequential, but at the time, it was scorebook chaos.

All this does mean I did have to log 12 hours working two games, which is usually about three-and-a-half games worth of work. And, while I didn't get to sleep until two in the morning last Monday--and, 3:30 A.M. back when the Athletics triumphed after a Brandon Moss walk-off in the 19th--and it meant all that extra stress and pitches (638 for Oakland game and 517 for the Giants game), I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

A few years back, I worked an Oakland night game on a Friday, then had to go in to work the next day's game which was a day game. Meaning I left the yard around 11 P.M. and then had to be back by 11 A.M. the next morning.

I got into the elevator with Marcel Lachman, and he looked and asked if I had worked last night and I nodded. "It is kind of like having a hangover without being drunk" I said, and Lach nodded, sort of smiling.

"But," I finished, "it is still a lot like that bumper sticker about the worst day fishing is still better than the best day at work or in an office."

However long our games last, it is still a pretty good deal.

The Perfect Score PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 06 July 2013 00:00

I worked the Athletics/Cubs game on the Fourth of July and like any other game, it had its idiosyncrasies. 

It was a game where the winning team--Oakland--conjured a victory on an unearned run with no RBI.

But, what made it particularly goofy was the final score was 1-0, so, the only run scored all day was Derek Norris coming in from third on a wild pitch cut loose by losing pitcher Matt Guerrier.

To me, though, the best part was this was the first 1-0 game I have seen this year. Because, my favorite score when watching a baseball game is 1-0.

In fact, my very favorite is 1-0 with a lead-off home run, something I have witnessed once in person (Rickey Henderson hit the dinger, if memory serves).

Now, I know there are those who love a lot of runs, and it is not like I don't appreciate that, either.

In fact, a wild 11-9 game where the lead changes hands four or five times is a great thing to watch (though not so much fun to score, let me tell you).

But, there are a few things about a 1-0 game, and particularly the lead-off homer variety, that pique my intrigue with baseball even further.

First, a lead-off homer makes me think the game will be one of those 11-9 back-and-forth affairs.

Second, as the game progresses, the significance of that one run increases with what seems to be some kind of geometric progression.

Third, it means the game boiled down to one pitch. Now, this is really true of any one-run game. And, it can be true in any shutout where one hit scores all the runs of the game.

It also means with every pitch the balance of the game hung in jeopardy for at least a microsecond. For, one more mistake and everything changes even more dramatically. As in, a homer for the team behind means suddenly the game is tied, and a dinger for the winning team means 2-0, a lead that can seem insurmountable when there is a dearth of runs.

Even more in line with the strange beauty baseball offers, as observers of said 1-0 game, we did not know just how important each pitch would really be until we can see the completed contest and look back upon the opportunities offered, and most likely missed.

And, in the Cubs and Athletics contest on Thursday, that pitch boiled down to a swinging strike wild pitch, an odd combination to start with, let alone for a winning run to produce. As in, no one even hit the ball and yet the game was won.

Still, in the scheme of baseball, where so many games are played, and the winning percentage of a good team is 55%, and, is also an environ where one at-bat can make or break one game, and thus the season. The same can be said of that one pitch in a 1-0 game, and there is something so strangely mystical and yet totally fatalistic about the possibility of an entire season being won--or lost--on one pitch.

It is also just another reason why baseball will keep me engaged to my last breath.



Climbing the Fantasy Mountain PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Sunday, 30 June 2013 00:00
When I first met Matthew Berry, the night before Tout Wars 2003 in the restaurant of the Radisson in Schaumburg, Illinois, he had just cracked wise during the annual pre-draft soiree, and I made some kind of remark. Matthew looked at me, smiled, and said "I can see we are going to get along."

At that time Matthew was toiling for Rotoworld, but within a few years he initiated his site, The Talented Mr. Roto (TMR), that eventually became part of ESPN, with TMR himself easily becoming the most recognizable face in the Fantasy Industry.

In his new book, "Fantasy Life," Berry goes back before that fateful day in suburban Chicago, to growing up in Texas as a somewhat nerdy Jewish kid (as one, I relate)/tennis player/fantasy geek, seeming much like Valentine Michael Smith of Robert Heinlein's "Stranger In a Strange Land."

Although tennis gave Matthew some sense of belonging, it was fantasy baseball--still a new and bizarre concept to most in the mid-80's--that gave him not just a passion, but a community, and as TMR's tale unfolds, he cleverly parallels his own evolution with that of the fantasy industry, tying in the strange, outrageous, and wonderful about the game that binds us as human beings.

Through the journey, however, there is no more poignant or important moment than when we are introduced to Matthew's Uncle Lester.

It is within that brief "time-out" on Uncle Lester--each chapter of "Fantasy Life" has such a departure nestled within--that we see the heart and soul of the book, and more important, the guiding forces that led Mr. Berry to the top of the fantasy heap.

Invoking such gems as "Never chase a woman, a streetcar, or a deal," or "Don't risk what you cannot afford to lose," Lester's simple aphorisms may well seem to allude to life, but as Matttttheeeeeew--for that is how Uncle Lester enunciated his nephew's name--points out, the common sense of life and business make a perfect metaphor for both the fantasy game and community.

Furthermore, very few things these days build that community like fantasy, be it a work football league, a group of college buddies reuniting for years for their baseball league and draft, or a handful of distraught housewives meeting and bidding on the rights to Bob Mackie and Natalie Portman in a fantasy fashion set-up.

So, as we track Matthew from College Station Texas (and the Fat Dog Rotisserie League, which still functions with Berry as a member) to Syracuse and college, then off to Hollywood and a screenwriting career, and finally into the throes of a burgeoning industry that was haunting him all the time anyway we see heredity and environment converge with pop culture, dangling the fantasy gold ring that Matthew grabs.

For it is shortly after Uncle Lester's "Time Out" that Matthew takes a chance, chucks making a living a traditional way, and essentially by embracing much of the avuncular wisdom Lester imparts, carves a path to Sunday prime time.

In the process we hear about leagues with crazy rules, and trades that border on solicitation. We see trophies that are explicit enough to be censored in the book  along with players--and more important the leagues in which they compete--joined in a brother/sisterhood of play that transcends virtually all of the social stigmas that often separate us as Americans.

For in fantasy, no one cares what you look like or who you sleep with. My league-mates are oblivious as to  who I vote for, or whether I spend time working for Habitat for Humanity or the Tea Party for that matter. But, they do care if I got a steal in picking Chris Davis in the fifth round, just as they relate to biting it by taking Ryan Braun in the first round this year. More important, if they can swap Braun to me for Davis at the break, that is even better. And, cutting such a deal, and then bragging about it endlessly is the cream of the league crop.

Irrespective we see people bound to one another as mates, making their drafts despite motor cycle accidents and car repossessions and cancer surgeries and weddings and funerals and the gamut of the human experience filtered through the game creator/mentor/high priest of all things fantasy (and some things more) Dan Okrent, called "The Greatest Game for Baseball Fans Since Baseball."

If you have seen the Talented Mr. Roto on NFL Sunday, or tweeted him, or heard his podcasts, you probably have a pretty set opinion--in the form of love/hate--about him.

Like it or not, when you are arguably the most visible member of a given industry and in the public eye, as Matthew is, scrutiny and related criticism just go with the territory.

As for "Fantasy Life," it is indeed a fun and compelling read for anyone who loves the games--in your head and on the field--as well as anyone who wants to simply understand those of us who do play.

By the way Matttthhhhheeeewwwwwww: Uncle Lester would be proud.

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