Welcome to my web log, published via Blogger Pro. Below are some links to recent baseball-related articles I found of interest, with my own two cents thrown in. Feel free to chime in via the comments link at the bottom of each post (powered by YACCS), or use my Contact page, or my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I'm starting to think Bud Selig's gag rule on owners speaking out about the labor situation was a good idea. The current flaunting of the rule has me gagging every time one of the owners opens his mouth and reveals just how ridiculously stupid the lords of the game can be. Tuesday's New York Times had an article in which San Diego Padres owner John Moores said he's prepared to shut down the game for an entire season to get a deal favorable to the owners. Never mind the fact that Moores' team is slated to move into a new ballpark in 2004, a ballpark which is supposed to produce the kind of revenue stream a small-market team needs to stay afloat, a ballpark which Moores wrung out of the taxpayers at the 11th hour.
Most ridiculously, Moores is quoted as saying, " I'm not going to be a part of a crazy system where we have to keep raising ticket prices." As if ticket prices won't rise upon moving into a new stadium. Over at a weblog called Mike's Baseball Rants, the proprietor cites the price gouging which occurred when the Brewers and Pirates recently moved into new ballparks:
Actually what cause the greatest increase in ticket price are new stadiums. Owners believing that a new stadium is enough of an attraction in and of itself to command a higher fare have increased ticket prices: According to CNN, when the Pirates moved into a new stadium in 2001 the "average ticket price soared 82 percent to $21.48 from $11.80" the previous year and the Milwaukee Brewers also the recipient of a new stadium in 2001 "raised prices by more than half to an average of $18.12 from an average of $11.72." Now those teams are complaining of decreased attendance in the new stadium's second year. What do they expect when the gouge the locals as soon as they open the gate?
Moores isn't alone in shoveling manure. Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, speaking about the owners luxury tax proposal, told a Dallas newspaper, "Every team in baseball that has any kind of business sense would try to manage its payroll to stay under that tax threshold. There might be one or two that wouldn't, but that's a decision those teams have to make. Certainly, I can assure you, the Texas Rangers wouldn't be among them. If this system is implemented, the Texas Rangers will be under the threshold."
If ever there were a case for calling bullshit, this is it. This from the man who signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million dollar contract two winters ago, and who currently has Chan Ho Park at 5 years and $65 million, Juan Gonzalez at 2 years and $24 million, Rusty Greer at 3 years and $21.8 million, Jay Powell at 3 years and $9 million, Jeff Zimmerman at 3 year and $10 million, and an already-picked-up option on Carl Everett for $9.15 million in 2003. Park has been a disaster, with a Boeng-level ERA (7-something). Gonzalez has been a shadow of his former self. Greer is slated for neck and hip surgery and is probably Done. Middle reliever Powell spent the first half of the season on the DL. Closer Zimmerman has undergone Tommy John surgery. A payroll of $131 million for a team 15 games under .500 and 20 games out of first--that's fiscal responsibility for you. As we say around here, have a nice hot cup of Shut the F--- Up, Mr. Hicks.
A Murray Chass article in Thursday's Times speculates that both Hicks and Moores, along with Steinbrenner, are headed for $1 million fines by Selig for violating the gag rule. Chass cites skeptics who think Steinbrenner will be fined more money for being critical of Selig, and those who think His Rugness put Moores and Hicks up to their comments. But he also notes that those comments may actually have played to the players' union's advantage. On Hicks:
In a memo to agents earlier this week, for example, Donald Fehr, the union executive director, cited Hicks's comments as evidence that what the owners really seek with their proposal for a luxury tax on payrolls is a payroll cap, pure and simple.
If there were any softness in the union ranks on the idea of striking, that kind of talk would not further intimidate players but would reinforce their resolve. Players are competitive by nature, and when someone challenges them with incendiary statements, they respond in kind. As usual, the owners are doing Fehr's work for him.
In other quarters, there are some glints of optimism. ESPN's Tim Kurkijian, never my favorite writer, lists five reasons why there won't be a strike, focusing on the bad PR of being on strike September 11 and the fact that the two sides are separated by only a relatively small amount of money on the luxury tax (at last count $33 million, according to Chass.
Over at Baseball Primer, labor lawyer Eugene Freedman points out that the owners have already won by getting the players to agree in principle to increased revenue sharing, a stronger salary tax system, a worldwide draft, and steroid testing. Of course, until the ink is dry, ain't nobody won nuthn'. We've seen plenty of instances in the past where acrimony at the negotiating table has scuttled a deal and taken both parties back to square one.
Wednesday night my friends and I took an informal poll of each other over cold beverages at a New York City bar. 100% of us agreed there would be a strike, with 75% believing that the strike would wipe out the postseason. Today, I'm a little more optimistic. Tomorrow will probably crush that optimism. But for the five days after that, I'll be off the grid somewhere in the Wind Rivers mountain range in western Wyoming, taking in fresh air unbefouled by the likes of Selig, Moores, and Hicks. Since I don't return to civilization until August 30, I'm going to let the two sides take it from here without my help. Close the deal or close the doors.
My pal Nick, a.k.a. the Clubhouse Lawyer, called my attention to a study published in the July-August 2002 American Journal of Sports Medicine regarding youth pitchers and injury. The study found a significant correlation between the number and type of pitches thrown and the rate of elbow and shoulder pain in youth pitchers.
According to the press release (I have not read the actual article), the AJSM followed 467 pitchers ages 9-14 for one season. Data was collected via pre- and post-season questionnaires, postgame interviews concerning injury and performance, and pitch count logs; pitcher videos were used to analyze proper mechanics.
The study found that 15% of all pitching appearances resulted in shoulder or elbow pain (joint pain, not muscle soreness). Curveballs increased the risk of shoulder pain 52%, and sliders increased the risk of elbow pain 86%. Ouch! Intriguingly, the use of a change-up lowered injury risks for both elbow injury (12%) and shoudler injury (29%), though it's not clear from the press release whether that's in combination with breaking pitches or as an alternative. As for pitch counts, the correlation between pitch count and elbow pain was not statistically significant, but "there was a significant relationship between an increased number of game pitches and the risk of shoulder pain." The authors of the study note that the risk of breaking pitches "is magnified for the prepubescent athlete because the growth plates in the elbow and shoulder joints are still open and are more susceptible to stress-related injuries."
These results are interesting for their quantification of injury risks, but not surprising. "[I]ncreased number of game pitches" equals high pitch counts, and high pitch counts are where we presume most pitching-related arm injuries come from--specifically, the accumulation of microtrauma from the repetitive pitching motion. The risk of breaking pitches on young arms is (one would hope, at least) conventional wisdom.
The study obvioiusly has implications at the big-league level, but it's important to note what it does and doesn't show. Nick and I had a lively back-and-forth email session on this, which I'll re-run here.
Jay: Most interesting for the quantification of injury risks, but hardly a surprising result--it's right in line with the conventional wisdom that throwing breaking pitches before the arm is fully developed is a bad idea.
Nick: I think what's most fascinationg about this study, is that it implies that the seeds of destruction (or at least major arm injury) are planted before major league scouts ever lay eyes on a pitcher. Perhaps when drafting pitchers, organizations should do background checks on little league, junior high, and high school pitching history of potential draftees. It would appear from this initial study that poor use of pitchers at the adolescent level has much more to do with major injury risk than overuse at the professional level. I look forward to more studies on the subject.
Jay: Implies is the important word. We can speculate all we want, but we don't know what comes of THESE 9-14 year olds--how many of them are still pitching several years later, whether they sustain injuries or what kind.
In this study, we've got young kids, we've got breaking pitches, we've got pitch counts, and we've got increased injury risks. We don't have a link to whether THEY are at risk for further injury later, or what kind of injury.
I suspect a good many of the ones who get hurt early fall by the wayside before they ever get to high school or college ball, and the ones who make it that far do so because they didn't get hurt in their adolescent years. I don't think you see too many high school or college pitchers who survive consistent abuse. 15 year olds who need rotator cuff or Tommy John surgery don't make comebacks.
Nick: Clearly this is very much an initial study. You'd think the Major League Baseball would have a vested interest in serious medical studies on the links between pitch, type, pitch count, and injury rates in all age groups. What this study suggests, and what clearly needs further in depth study, is the link between abuse of adolescent pitching arms and the likelihood of major injury to adult pitchers. With the amount of money at stake, you'd think MLB would want to more about pitching related injuries than "it's an unnatural stress on the arm, a certain percentage of career ending injuries is to be expected". Then again, look who's running the show.
Jay: You'd think they'd have an interest. But with all of them rocket surgeons piping up on the management side during the current labor situation, it seems pretty clear that the likes of Bud Selig, John Moores, Tom Hicks, Drayton McLane, David Glass, and Jeffrey Loria need Mapquest and a military-precision GPS system to find their own [...] asses. Expecting them to extrapolate the link between adolescent pitching arms and major league contracts is like expecting the family mutt to take over the responsibility of managing your stock portfolio.
Of course, it's tough to dig too deeply into the implications of a study for which I've only read a press release. While the results aren't quite the smoking gun needed to indict current big league managers who abuse the arms of promising young hurlers, they do shed some scientific light on the situation and offer a promising avenue for further research. I've sent away for a copy of the full article, and I'll report back if I glean any further wisdom from it.
The Internet is a tough racket to make a buck in, kiddo. I learned it the hard way. Six years ago, I worked for a weasel whose company churned out guidebooks about websites. Real paper-and-ink books about a medium that was moving so fast it turned our product into Instant Doorstop. But you don't want to hear that story. It gets ugly fast, goes downhill from there, and puts me in a very grouchy mood.
Suffice it to say, my experience taught me one thing: it's a cold day in hell when somebody gets excited about paying for a website. But that's exactly what happened Monday when the online baseball encyclopedia, excuse me, Thee Online Baseball Encyclopedia, baseball-reference.com, announced it was selling sponsorships of individual pages. The result set off an entertaining feeding frenzy, as those of us who admire the labor-of-love website and the work put into it by its founder, Sean Forman, opened our wallets without hesitation.
Forman has come up with an ingenious plan to help offset the bandwidth costs of his site, which has served over 80 million pages in two years. For the three of you here with no interest in baseball statistics, those pages contain stats--from the most basic to the most obscure--of every major league player and team. Ever. It's a brilliant site because it's lean and clean. Everything is cross-linked, and it all loads quickly. The 1998 Yankees link to Tim Raines, which links to the 1986 National League leaderboard which links to Fernando Valenzuela, ad infinitum. A guy could spend hours there.
B-Ref is selling hyperlinked text ads on each page for $5 and up, based upon how much traffic that page receives. The most expensive player, Barry Bonds, goes for $290; the most expensive page, the league directory page, rolls for $385 a month. Babe Ruth: $240 a year. Luis Sojo: $10.
And the feeling of sponsoring the Luis Sojo page: priceless. Having supported B-Ref in the past but still feeling karmically indebted, I put my money where my mouth is upon discovering the sponsorship opportunity. As Sean graciously rewarded my past work on the site (I designed the Babe Ruth banner and button) with some matching funds, I quickly found myself with a bankroll and a lunch hour to spend it.
I sprung for eight pages in all:
• A few true-blue futility infielders: Sojo, whom I informally claimed as the 2001 Futility Infielder of the Year), Mario Mendoza (the man with the Line), and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, the first player or ex-player ever to refer to himself as a futility infielder. Gardenhire, by dint of the Twins' success in his rookie year managing, has already clinched the 2002 Futility Infielder of the Year award, unless Fred Stanley rescues a house full of burning kittens, Mickey Klutts stumbles on a cure for cancer, or Enrique Wilson wins World Series MVP.
• Two Yankee favorites: Alfonso Soriano and David Cone. One becoming a star, the other on the verge of retirement and enshrinement in the Wall, if not the Hall, of Fame.
A pretty good haul, I'd say. The only player I really wanted that I couldn't get was Jim Bouton, already taken by Don Malcolm of bigbadbaseball.com. My brain cramped as somebody else on Baseball Primer bragged about sneaking off with the 1969 Seattle Pilots: "THE ONLY ONE!" To quote the immortal (and as yet unclaimed at $10) Pilots manager Joe Schultz, "Ah, shitfuck."
Plenty of other people were just as swept away; Forman claimed over 180 pages sponsored by 140 users in the first day, including at least one who got out of hand: "I had to cut one guy off earlier," he wrote on the Primer thread. "He clearly had left his senses. I hope you don't all get your credit card bills next month and think, 'What the hell was I thinking?' Please sponsor responsibly."
Many of the sponsorships were obscure obsessions gone vanity plate (Floyd Rayford: $5); several other webloggers, like me, used theirs to flog their blogs. Baseballblog.com's Aaron Gleeman (a Twins fan) bemoaned the rising cost of sponsorships (which last 12 months) as pages grew in popularity: "I was hoping I could keep Adam Dunn for a few years. It may turn out to be a small market/large market situation. I won't be able to afford Adam Dunn and Torii Hunter when they start getting more page views, so I will have to let them go. Then Sponsorship Yankees will just grab them up for big bucks."
That's optimism for you. We should all be so lucky that B-Ref thrives enough to cover its costs and repay its founder for the work (and thought) he's put into it. Go buy yourself a player, and support a great site.