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A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Friday, February 06, 2004

Reminder: A's Fanfest Tomorrow
Meanwhile, there's a team across the bay that's apparently putting tickets on sale Sunday. You might have heard about this if you've turned on Bay Area TV or radio at all this week.

Seriously, as marketing blitzes go that one's pretty stunning. Many times a day I hear the old radio calls from Kuiper, Krukow, and Jon Miller in those ads. They're deeply inspiring, no doubt--and they leave me wondering what the A's would be like if they ever had a publicity machine.

(I heard a radio DJ this afternoon give A's fanfest a couple seconds of free publicity right after the station aired the Giants ad; it was pretty funny.)

Then again, one of the reasons why this has been arguably the best place to live for major league baseball for at least four years now: Two very different teams pursuing two very different business plans, and both of them working it almost to perfection.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Zen and Zito

I felt the need to write about the most interesting player in baseball, Barry Zito. Monday night I went to meditation with my wife. I don't really know how to meditate so I thought about the A's. I tried to will a good season on them, envision everyone at the plate and on the mound succeeding. I think there is a zen aspect to success in sport. Tom Kelly in 87 while managing the Twins would say on the radio all the time, "We try to keep an even keel, never too high, never too low, play one game at a time." He would stress the fundamentals to an extreme. In the down years he would be happy if a Twins sac bunt was well executed. Where am I going with this? Maybe the A's could use a little more even keelness this year. Howe might have had it a little more than Macha, or maybe Howe was just sleepy.

Zito has said that when he pitches and he is really into it, his mind feels, "unconcious". He feels as though it doesn't matter who the batter is, he is just doing his thing. Then he lets loose with a mind-bending curve ball. I gotta pimp mlb.com for a sec, for $4.95 you can watch every game of last year's season. I like the "condensed game" format where you can watch a whole game in like 20 minutes. And you can watch Zito throw curve after curve after curve to the Sox in game 2 of the ALCS. You can feel the pressence of a jedi master wearing number 75.

I have always thought the perfect person would be 1/2 Bill Murray 1/2 Yoda. Funny, light hearted, but wise and careful and thoughtful. And maybe a lot like Barry Zito.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Over at Athletics Nation, Blez has a post up called Los Atleticos Blancos about the mostly Caucasian racial makeup of next year's team. Not surprisingly, he's gotten a few heated comments about it. Last summer, there was a much-ridiculed Toronto Star article about the Blue Jays in the same vein. I will say that Athletics Nation does a much better job discussing the issue than the Star writer. Another piece of evidence for the superiority of your typical blog writer vs. the mainstream sports media.

My basic opinion about the matter is that:
a) baseball today is about as pure a meritocracy as one will find, at least as regards matters of race. This of course excepts Dusty Baker. Age is a different story and worth another post entirely.
b) the A's are no different from most teams in this matter.
c) the skills the A's covet are more likely to be found in American college players. For any number of complex sociological and athletic reasons these players are Caucasian at a rate slightly higher that the population of American ballplayers as a whole.
d) ultimately the fans, even in a region as diverse as the Bay Area, are going to care about winning approximately 100 times as much as diversity.

The success of the A's at the box office is almost totally a function of the standings. All other concerns are secondary. The real problem right now is that the A's are expecting fully half the lineup to have bounce back seasons.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Biting the Apple

It's funny, I liked Cory Lidle, a lot. I thought he was a great pickup and an underrated part of the A's success in 2001-2002. But thinking about it, I cannot really recall many great memories of him. My memories are almost totally abstract; mere numbers on the page. 3.59, 30 consecutive scoreless innings, etc., etc.. I can only recall one specific game in late 2001, where I watched Cory pitch well but lose 3-1 to Joe Mays and the Twins during the height of Mays' fluke season.

My memories are organized much more in terms of games than of the performances within those games. When I think about player performance, I almost always evaluate as a whole rather than as a sum of parts. For example, by favorite memories of 2002 are watching the 16 inning A's-Yankees tilt from the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, and sitting in Sec. 127 for game #20. I could tell you lots about each of those games, including what individual players did in them. But, ask me about a player and with only a few exceptions, I'd be hard pressed to give you specific performances.

The last player whom I felt a really deep connection, with lots of personalized memories, was Mark McGwire. I recall him making a great backhanded stop in Game 3 of the '89 series, the graphic on the TV screen when he broke the rookie home run record, hitting the Bud Light sign on his 20th homer in his awful 1991 season. I hadn't heard before that Lidle cried when he was traded, but reading that reminded me that when McGwire was traded, I cried a little myself.

But when he was gone, he was gone. Watching McGwire with the Cardinals was like watching someone else entirely. No longer with my team, he held no more significance for me than Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds did.

Maybe if Chavez or Hudson stick around for a few more years I could feel that way about them. Hard to say if it's even possible for someone who's a bit older now.

I've always identified my growing disconnect with the players to a combination of getting older and seeing the departure of McGwire. I wonder though, to what extent can this disconnect be attributed to my growing tendency to look at players through a statistical lens? If my primary focus, or anybody's for that matter, is to determine how a player figures in the their team's chances for a title, what do I lose as a fan when the personal identities of the team are sublimated to this larger goal? This isn't some naysaying, nostalgia ridden rant. I love baseball now more than ever. I appreciate its beauty more as I understand its internal structure, its rhyme and meter. Sabermetrics are the best avenue towards understanding that this fan has ever found. I feel lucky that I am devoted to a team that understands this as well.

To believe in sabermetrics is to approach baseball as a rationalist. I'm on Eve's side. "Bite into the apple," I say. "Choose Knowledge over Innocence." It may be the right choice, but with every choice, there's always something that is lost.


Cory Lidle and the A's Good Pitching Environment

I have a pic of Cory Lidle above my desk. I liked that guy. He loved the A's and literally had tears in his eyes when he was traded. He knew baseball would never be quite the same for him. Koch was the same way. The A's have a good environment for pitching. Could be the park, could be the coaching, could be the Big 3, but pitchers show up in Oakland and have better years here than they do on the teams they are on before or after. Lidle, Koch, Isringhausen, Foulke, and Lilly are examples. I am hoping that our "good pitching environment" will still be here in 2004 even though pitching coach Rick Peterson has left for the Mets.

I have 2 good memories of Lidle games in 2002. One in May, at home against, the M's. He is winning a game like 2-0, and it is raining pretty hard. Its the top of the 5th, there is a guy on 1st and one out. I am thinking, "get this DP, and they'll call the game." The batter hits a comebacker to Lidle, and he tries to go to 2nd and throws the ball into CF. Soon after, 2 runs come in, then there is a rain delay. Now they can’t end the game, it's not official, it's still the top of the 5th and it’s tied. I think eventually the A's lost that game, but never have I seen such a pivotal play in the top of the 5th. I can't blame Lidle for throwing the ball away, it was obviously wet, but I think if he makes that throw, A's win. One thing Lidle was not so good at was handling adversity. He would be cruising and then seemed to come unraveled when things started to go bad. Any one of the big 3 can do it too, but often it seemed like Lidle was one good pitch from getting out of something, and he couldn’t quite do it, and you could see the worry on his face. When he finally got it together in late July, he was unstoppable. His hot streak coincided with the A's 20 game win streak.

Game 2, Lidle vs Pedro in June or July at the Net. Best seats I ever had for an A's game, right behind the plate slightly on the first base side, 2nd row. Red sox fans everywhere. Lidle was a battler, Pedro was knocked out first. The thing I noticed was that Lidle, speedwise had 2 speeds that night, 92-93 for fastball, 84-86 whatever other pitch he threw. Meanwhile Pedro hit every speed between 74 and 96 on the gun. EVERY SPEED! Pedro only hit 96 when he really needed a strike 3. But Lidle hung in there with his 2 speeds, and gave a gutty performance. I think eventually the sox won 7-5, and neither starter got a decision. Were the A’s better off with Lilly last year? Maybe. Will Redman this year make us forget about Lilly and Lidle? Hopefully. But Lidle was and is still a decent major league pitcher and I wish him the best with the Reds.


Monday, February 02, 2004

Cory Lidle
Hi to all the new people; thanks for posting (and reading)!

If you read Baseball Primer then you may have seen a link to this study of Lidle's disastrous 2003 season.

I found it amusing that a commenter mentioned how ssslllooowwwlllyyy Lidle worked with runners on base, considering that he did that in Oakland too.

In the midst of the 2002 season I went through a stretch where seemingly every game I went to was a Lidle start. On the plus side this turned out to be right when he suddenly became unhittable, like that turn-back-the-clock night against "Washington" [sic] when he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning.

Feel free to share your favorite Lidle story in the comments widget, or even your favorite 2002 A's story.

(More evidence of the Winners' Curse and its corollaries: As part of my flightiness I forgot to renew some Baseball Reference sponsorships. All but one of them I'd have probably let lapse anyway, but losing the 2002 A's could have been brutal. Fortunately, and against everything I'd have expected, they were still out there.

(As soon as Sean Forman approves the renewal, they won't be.)

Continuing on a Common Theme

It looks to me as though everyone here has covered the Eric Karros signing very well and that there is no need for me to provide any commentary. I'd just like to reiterate that Karros should never, ever bat against a right handed pitcher. He useless there.

The only other thing I'd like to add is that, for whatever it's worth, he's a good guy.

I miss you Albert Belle

This doesn't have anything to do with Barry Zito or the Oakland A's, but it is about spring training, which is coming soon. I can't wait.

The year was 1998, the place was Tucson, Arizona. Spring Training at Tucson Electric Park. It was the White Sox against someone. There weren’t too many fans there, it was a weekday night game. I was on the first base line and Albert Belle was signing autographs before the game. I had my glove. I brought it up to the edge of the stands, and I don’t even remember anyone else around, it was just me and Albert.

Our dialog went like this:

Me: Hi Albert.
AB: Hi.
(I give him my glove, he signs it, gives it back)
Me: You wanna go golfing?
(My idea was, ball players golf, I golf, it might make a cool Chinmusic article, unfortunately, I didn’t get that part out.)
AB: (looking at me confusedly and wrinkling his nose as if he smelled something bad)
AB: With you?? No.

Then I hear the sounds of fans snickering behind me. I smile and walk back to my seat. In a Baseball Weekly article from the next spring, there is a story about Albert Belle going golfing with a reporter from BBW, and that guy who wrote about it couldn’t even play golf!!

I guess this story reflects the beauty and tragedy that was Albert Belle, the player. Was he the man that got suspended 8 times for doing things like throwing a ball at a fan's chest and forearming Fernando Vina, or the misunderstood guy who signed gloves for fans and did a lot of nice stuff that went unnoticed? He was both. He is the only player who ever signed my glove and the only one who ever made fun of me. He is smart and loves to play chess and strategize about baseball. If he didn’t have such a bad rap, he’d make a fine manager. When he retired prematurely with a degenerative hip, I get the feeling no one noticed, or even cared. Some might have said, “good riddance”. But still I can’t help but miss that guy. He could really rake. His 12 year career ended with 381 homers and 1239 RBI, a hall of famer for sure with 5 more good years in the league. I miss you, Albert Belle.


The Far End of the Bench

Well, as Mike says, the rumored acquisition of Eric Karros has come to pass. As advertised, Karros does bring some right-handed power off the bench. One million for a year with a club option for 2005 is the price. To me this seems like a bit much. Here are Karros' numbers vs. lefties and righties over the last three years.


__________AB__AVG__OBP__SLG__OPS
vs. Left 307 .316 .389 .515 .904

vs. Right 991 .246 .298 .374 .672


Long story short, Karros only has value against lefties. Consider Karros' usage to be a test of Macha as a tactical manager. If more than say, 60% of Karros' plate appearances come against right handers next year, that should not be considered a success.

It's funny that the A's would place so much importance on beefing up against lefties. Neither Hatteberg nor Durazo had significant platoon splits last year. It should be noted that during Durazo's days in Arizona he had significant platoon splits in very limited plate appearances against lefties. That may be the impetus for the front office's belief that a right-handed 1B is necessary. Ultimately I expect that both Hatteberg and Durazo will lose some playing time, with one or the other on the bench vs. a left-handed starter.

The other effect this signing has is to virtually set the A's offensive lineup.

Catcher:
Miller
Melheuse

1B/DH:
Durazo
Hatteberg
Karros

2B:
Ellis

SS:
Crosby

3B:
Chavez

OF:
Kotsay
Kielty
Dye
McMillon
Byrnes

The man bounced from this list looks to be Graham Koonce. Despite his killer year at AAA, there just isn't room for him with Karros' signing. A trade may ultimately be the only solution, and I'm afraid Hatteberg's contract may be untradeable.

The only spot up for competition appears to be backup middle infielder. The favorite at the moment has to be Frankie Menechino, primarily because of his known ability to play 3rd as well as second. Personally however, I'd like to see Marco Scutaro come away with the job. Scutaro projects as a better hitter than Frankie. If Scutaro can demonstrate an ability to play 3rd and short competently during spring training, don't be surprised if this waiver pickup breaks camp with the A's.

Hi. This is my first post. I love the A's. I wonder if Karos is going to help? With him and Hatty and Durazo, someone is going to have to sit, unless there is another move coming. I hope they all stay, I like them all.

Hello everybody. The name's Andrew Van Wye. I'm a senior at Northwestern University. More importantly, I'm an Oakland native and an A's fan since before I can remember. In the coming months I'll try to bring Barry Zito Forever's readers not only great opinioneering from a well informed A's fan, but also reports from Spring Training and the A's Single A affiliate, the Kane County Cougars. Without further ado, on to the posts.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Who's the New Guy?
Hiya folks. My name is Johnny Rhoads and I am an 18 year old college student living in west-central Illinois. You might wonder how someone with my geographic disadvantages would come to find himself with a rooting interest in the Oakland A's. Basically, we had a satellite dish when I was younger, and the A's games were on when I was watching. I went with them over the other West Coast teams because (and a few of you might find this simplistic) I liked the white shoes.

One of the greatest accomplishments of my otherwise un-noteworthy life was April of last year, when I convinced the Junior High Girls softball team that I was coaching that I was entirely serious in my demands that they all purchase white cleats. I am especially proud of the fact that three (!) girls actually quit over the matter. That was a good day.

Anyway, I liked the Athletics for the most pointless reason possible until one day it dawned on me -- this was the coolest team in baseball. The people involved in the organization just seem like the most interesting group of guys you could hope to find. Except Mulder. He strikes me as boring as hell. But, other than that, I realized this was a really fun team and that I should just enjoy them. It's also kind of cool because my geographical favorite team (the Chicago Cubs) employs about as diametrically opposed system of running a successful baseball team as you could come up with. Comparing and contrasting them can be a lot of fun, except when one of them is trying to give fifteen million dollars to a 38 year-old pitcher just because it might be cool. Oh well.

All the more reason to like the A's.

Edit: Somehow, I typed Hudson when I meant Mulder. I might be kind of dumb. Thanks Ken.

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