Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Bereft of Icons Are the Yankees?

I went out to buy Christmas presents for my little brother and godson this winter, and I found myself reverting to a tried-and-true formula: tickets to a game and a Yankees jersey. For a couple kids in their early teens, that holiday present can't go wrong. There was a problem with the second half of the gift, though: Which player's jersey should I buy? Every young Yankees fan already owns at least eight Jeter jerseys and shirseys, and now it's time to move on. However, whose jersey is the new fail-safe? Masahiro Tanaka? Not with that potentially balky right elbow. CC Sabathia? Not in this decade. Brett Gardner? How is he already 31? A-Rod? Yeah, in your braDellin Betances? One more good season might make him the team's biggest star.

I ended up buying a pair of Jacoby Ellsbury jerseys. As I gave my brother and godson the gift, I explained that I felt like Ellsbury has the best chance to be a star for the next few years. They both seemed to buy it, despite my lukewarm sales pitch.

My Christmas dilemma is emblematic of a bigger issue for the Yankees. In this star-crazed city, the Yankees lack a true star. Ever since the days of Ruth and Gehrig, the organization has never gone very long without boasting at least one player with transcendent talent and personality. Even the crappy Yankees teams of the 1980s had Don Mattingly, one of the coolest and most productive players of the decade. Now, for the first time since '83 -- the season before Donnie Baseball hit .343 to win the AL batting title -- the Yankees lack an icon.

Monday, March 30, 2015

How Do We Imagine a Modern-day Copacabana Incident?

In a post a couple years ago, I wondered, "How Would 2013 View the Copacabana Incident?" For those who don't know, here's how I described the Copacabana Incident in that post:

"The Copacabana was a happening nightclub in Manhattan that consistently booked high-profile performers like Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra. You might know the Copa, as it was called, from the famous scene in Goodfellas.

On May 16, 1957 -- the night I'd time-travel to the Copa -- Yankee teammates Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Johnny Kucks, and Whitey Ford showed up to watch Sammy Davis, Jr. A group of bowlers showed up and began making racial slurs at Davis, who was black.

What happened next is sometimes disputed, but we do know that the Yankees whooped some ass. Several of the players stood up for their buddy Davis, and they beat up the bowlers just as you would expect pro athletes to beat up bowlers. (Here's a link to a video of Mantle talking about the incident.) Several of the players were fined, and the incident caused the Yankees to trade Billy Martin. One of the bowlers ended up with a concussion and broken jaw, so he sued Hank Bauer. The case was eventually thrown out. Yogi Berra later insisted, "Nobody did nothin' to nobody."

It's now 2015, but the premise of that post still holds. Can you imagine the reaction on Twitter, SportsCenter, and everywhere else if a similar episode took place today? With that in mind, I was wondering which sets of teammates would be most likely to reenact a situation similar to the Copacabana Incident. We're probably looking for a group of players that's young, likes to indulge in adult substances, and wouldn't be afraid to engage in fisticuffs. To be clear, I don't think any of these trios of teammates is likely to find themselves in a Copacabana-esque situation. We can dream, though. Here are a few groups of teammates who could pull it off:

Friday, March 27, 2015

How Jealous Should Yankees Fans Be?

If you only read my thoughts on the Yankees from this spring, you might think I was a real Eeyore. Here are some of the negative things I've written about the team the last few weeks:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Could Gambling Permeate Baseball? (Effectively Wild's Answer)

I haven't posted an Effectively Wild question in a few weeks, but my inquiry made the Listener E-mail Podcast this week. Grantland's Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus discussed an inquiry that I sent them after my post about gambling in baseball. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If a topic's interesting enough for those guys to talk about, it's good enough to rehash on my blog. Here's the e-mail, followed by a summary of their responses:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How Many 'Sandlot' Scenes Could the Yankees Pull Off?

In a nod to one of the best scenes in The Sandlot, the Yankees released this video yesterday:

Ah, Spring Training, when pitchers pretend to have four arms during interviews and the most business-like team in the game puts out a horribly-acted video imitating a children's movie from the '90s. I loved this parody for the aforementioned weak acting, for Jacoby Ellsbury's believable turn as Squints, and for Brian McCann's hammy impersonation of Ham Porter.

Here are several other scenes from The Sandlot the Yankees could pull off this year:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Will the Yankees Handle the Closer Role?

On Monday, Bryan Hoch wrote that the Yankees might enter the regular season without officially naming a closer. Both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller seem up to the task, but manager Joe Girardi said there's no rush to anoint one pitcher or the other as the designated ninth-inning guy. As someone who's railed against the team's rigid use of its closer in the past, I applaud the Yankees' wait-and-see approach. Because having the option to bring in either man (or both men) at the end of games should be one of the team's biggest strengths.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How Have These Teams' World Series Odds Suffered?

I said I would post this piece -- about the teams whose odds to win the World Series dropped -- over the weekend. However, I felt like it would be more appropriate to post it on a Monday, since the offseason for each of these teams must have felt like a long string of Mondays.

On Friday, I examined the reasons for four teams seeing their World Series odds more than double since October. The Padres, White Sox, Cubs, and Red Sox all had notable offseasons that caused Vegas to reconsider their chances to win it all. Today, let's look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Which five teams watched their odds decrease the most, and why? (All odds taken from oddsshark.com.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How Fictional Is Kris Bryant?

On the MLB.com blog Cut4, Michael Clair posted a fun piece in which he compared Kris Bryant to "The Kid Who Only Hit Homers." The post brought me back to my childhood days of plowing through Matt Christopher novels. (Yes, I had Coke-bottle glasses and religiously kept score of every Yankees game. Don't act like you weren't a nerd, too.) Anyways, Bryant's recent home run binge caused me to analogize the Cubs phenom to five other fictional characters. Who does Bryant remind me of besides Sylevester Coddmeyer III? Glad you asked!

Friday, March 20, 2015

How Have These Teams' World Series Odds Improved?

Earlier in the week, I wrote about some possibilities for gambling within baseball. Today, let's talk about gambling on baseball. Since Bovada first posted odds for the 2015 World Series winner on October 30, just days after the '14 Series ended, the Nationals and Dodgers have stood steady as the favorites. But a group of teams started off with lesser odds before charging up Bovada's list to nip at the heels of those well-heeled teams. We'll take a look at the reasons for those improved chances, then tomorrow we'll examine a group of teams who've seen their odds suffer considerably.

Here are the only four teams in MLB whose odds more than doubled since the fall. (All odds taken from oddsshark.com.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How Is My Inbox Like the All-time Home Run List?

It takes some really shitty spam to get me to delete an e-mail message. Even after I've read something and I no longer have any particular use for it, I usually just return to my inbox. It's like I think hitting "Delete" will come back to haunt me, analogous to my grandmother throwing out my dad's Mickey Mantle rookie cards.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Reassuring Was Sabathia's First Spring Start?

Last week, I examined Masahiro Tanaka's first spring start and came away feeling optimistic about the Yankees ace. Today, let's take a look at the team's former ace, CC Sabathia, and how he fared in his first outing in almost a year.

After two innings by Sabathia, it's time to react (and overreact!). Here are six CC-related questions to ponder as we approach Opening Day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Can We Ever Get Excited for a Young Pitcher?

My cousin used to joke that finishing college in four years is like leaving a party at 10:00. Well, watching good young pitchers in the last few years has been like never knowing if college will last more than a semester. You better enjoy it while it lasts, because there's a good chance it won't last more than a few months.

Strained metaphors aside, let's talk a bit about Zach Wheeler. The news came out on Monday evening that Wheeler's right UCL will require Tommy John surgery and put the 24-year-old on the shelf for the next year. This is just a gut-wrenching blow for Mets supporters and fans of good young pitchers.

Monday, March 16, 2015

How Could Gambling Permeate Baseball?

Last month, a tennis match in Dallas between Denys Molchanov and Agustin Velotti was marred by accusations of match-fixing. After Molchanov captured the first set, tons of money was laid on Velotti, who won the final two sets and the match. This incident was just the latest in a string of alleged fixed matches in professional tennis. That sport's match-fixing ills got me wondering about whether modern-day major league baseball might ever experience anything similar. As Ben Rothenberg wrote in the article linked above, "Given that it takes only one player to decide the outcome of a match, tennis is more vulnerable than most other sports to thrown matches." Still, it's worth pondering whether baseball could ever be prone to a gambling scandal, even in this era of mass media and widespread information.

While I doubt that any baseball players are throwing games under all of our noses -- like Springfield drinkers defying Rex Banner or something -- it's not totally insane to think that some form of betting could once again tarnish the sport. So what type of player would risk doing such a thing? What type of gambling would be most likely? Let's examine those and some other related questions. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

How Blank's Baseball Preview

As promised, for Day 21 of my baseball preview, I organized my previous posts into coherent categories. (Some posts fall under multiple categories, but I think they're easy to sift through.) I'll keep this page updated as I churn out more baseball posts leading up to the 2015 season. Now, help yourself to the buffet

Friday, March 13, 2015

How Reassuring Was Tanaka's First Spring Start?

Masahiro Tanaka returned to the mound Thursday night against the Braves, hurling two perfect innings and allowing my heart rate to stay below "Pamplona in July"-level for the entire outing.

Let's examine five Tanaka-related questions, about last night's performance and about the Yankees ace in general:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

How Would These Baseball-Related Parent-Teacher Conferences Go?

Today's supposed to be Day 20 of my baseball preview, but I have a bit of a conflict: five hours of parent-teacher conferences. During a short break in the action now (we have a couple hours to grab some food), I'm coming at you with a short post. Sorry about the quick pitch.

Here are five famous baseball parents and what they probably heard at parent-teacher conferences:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Much Fun Is the Giant Family Picnic?

Welcome to Day 19 of my baseball preview. Today's post has nothing to do with the upcoming season per se, but it deals with a very important question: Are the San Francisco Giants and New York Giants related by blood? I can think of no less pertinent question to ponder. 

On "The Mike Francesa Show" earlier this week, Mike fielded what he deemed one of the program's strangest questions in a while. (If you don't know much about Francesa, go read this then come back. Definitely come back, though.)

Here's the call, from "Dan in Waw-wick":

How Evil Is Technology?

Michael Scott was "right."

As Michael pointed out, technology can only help us so much. During Season 4, he told us, "Business to business. The old-fashioned way. No Blackberries. No websites. I would like to see a website deliver baskets of food to people."

Several years after we first heard those words of wisdom, ABC World News Tonight just ran a story about a family whose GPS led it 800 miles astray into the desert, with no food and no cell phone service for three days:

Monday, March 9, 2015

How Much Will We Miss Crop Top Jerseys?

As part of a bunch of rule changes for next season, the NCAA announced it is banning crop top jerseys. Johnny Depp fans all over the country wept.

How Supernumerary Are Josh Collmenter's Arms?

In an in-game interview on Monday, Josh Collmenter went all Spring Training on us during an entertaining interview with reporter Jody Jackson from Fox Sports Arizona. Collmenter enlisted fellow Diamondbacks hurler Trevor Cahill to act as his arms as Jackson tried to get him to answer actual baseball questions.

How Can We Diarize a Spring Training Game?

Sunday marked the first full Yankees Spring Training game I've caught. I decided that writing a running diary might be a nice way to entertain myself while players like Cito Culver batted. Here are my thoughts, about the game and about the upcoming Yankees season in general:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How Much Should Baseball Worry?

Yesterday was supposed to be just Day 16 of my baseball preview, and I'm pooped already. (I have no idea how Jesus made it through those 40 days in the desert.) I didn't have access to a computer so I couldn't write; today's post makes up for it. 

Here's another of my e-mails, this one from Episode 608 of Effectively Wild:

Friday, March 6, 2015

How Much Does Momentum Matter in Baseball?

I e-mailed the following baseball question to Grantland's Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, who discussed it on Episode 605 of the Effectively Wild podcast:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How Do Baseball Mascots Parallel 'Simpsons' Characters?

On Wednesday night, I was reading Jonah Keri's preseason edition of The 30, his weekly baseball power rankings. In the Oakland A's section, Keri began with this:

"Leave it to Billy Beane to see 93 wins a year and three straight trips to the playoffs only to conclude that everyone short of Stomper should be blasted into space."

When I visited Stomper's section of the A's site, I couldn't help but think of Bart Simpson's pet elephant, Stampy. The name, the appearance, and the elephants' underdog situations all pointed toward the possibility that Oakland appropriated Stampy from Matt Groening and Co. to create Stomper. Since Keri is a Simpsons aficionado as well as a baseball writer, I asked him what he thought. Here's the resulting Twitter exchange:

The Stampy/Stomper juxtaposition got me thinking about other Simpsons characters that we can compare to baseball mascots. Then I got ambitious; I examined every mascot in baseball to see if I could come up with a not-too-forced Simpsons parallel for each. (Note: The Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels don't have mascots, but I made some sort of connection to each of those teams, too.)

To the horror of every college professor in the country, most of my mascot research was done using this Wikipedia page. Meanwhile, most Simpsons information was based on the thousands of hours I've spent watching the show.

Feel free to find the section for your favorite team or read them all. Either way, enjoy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How Much Does Barry Zito LTG?

On my beer-league softball team, one of our mantras is Love the game, or LTG for short. Pretty creative, I know. Whenever someone slides into second, leaving raspberries on his butt-cheeks, we call out from the bench: "LTG!" Whenever a fat forty-year-old tags up and attempts to score from third: "LTG!" Whenever someone risks pulling a hammy and goes from first to third on a single: "LTG!"

Well, something that I read today tells me that Barry Zito deserves an "LTG!" Zito, who hasn't pitched since 2013, is attempting to make a comeback with the A's. Zito has made $137 million in his career, and he's now playing on a minor league contract for his original team. Here's what he said last week: "I've got my passion back, and I just want to continue to work hard and go out and enjoy competing. I guess you could say I'm competing against all these guys, but for me, it's more about competing against myself."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

How Fashionable Are Ballplayers?

A few weeks ago, the MLB.com "Cut4" blog posted this photo, which was originally tweeted by @HitchnerArt:
Unlike most of the other things surrounding the Mets organization, that dress is not the least bit disappointing. (Zing!) In fact, it got me thinking about other major fashion moments in baseball history. From the first baseball stockings to the batting helmet to top-of-the-line shades, attire has always served an important function on the diamond.

MLB can't hold a candle to the NBA in terms of fashion -- historically or recently -- but baseball has seen its share of Seventh Avenue moments. With that in mind, here are my five favorite instances of the garment industry intersecting with the game we love:

Monday, March 2, 2015

How Wonderfully Unique Was Minnie Minoso's Career?

This morning, during a tribute to Minnie Minoso, I heard an amazing stat on SportsCenter. Minoso is one of two players in major league history to play during five different decades. (The other is Nick Altrock.) We know about guys like Don Zimmer, baseball lifers who coached for many years after their playing careers ended. But Minoso played in five different decades. Think about that for a second.

For more perspective, take a look at these two dates:
April 9, 1949: Minoso debuted with the Cleveland Indians. Less than a week later, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg passed its last judgement.
October 5, 1980: Minoso played his last game with the White Sox, at the age of 54. It was just three days after Larry Holmes had knocked out Muhammad Ali to claim the heavyweight title.