General baseball Archives

March 30, 2004

Can it last?

I just wanted to point out that, if only for one day, the Yankees are in last place.


May 3, 2004

On the internationalization of baseball

Baseball is and always will be a quintessentially American sport, but there's no denying that other countries have increasingly contributed talent to the game at the major-league level. The Orioles typify this trend: by my count, eight players on their 25-man active roster (32%) were born outside of the United States. Here they are, listed next to their nation of origin:

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July 16, 2004

The Corked Bat Caper, ten years later

This is only peripherally related to the Orioles, but I thought some of you might find it interesting. Recently I ran across an article by Paul Sullivan on the Chicago Tribune site (subscription required) titled “Mystery over Belle's lumber still a corker.” It so happens that yesterday, July 15, 2004, was the ten-year anniversary of the corked-bat incident involving Albert Belle, who at the time was starring for the Cleveland Indians (some four years later he would join the Orioles as a free agent). For those who don't have or want a subscription to the Trib's site (I believe if you have an account on the Baltimore Sun's site, your username and password will work on the Tribune site because they are owned by the same media conglomerate), here's my summary of the story.

That day the Indians were playing in Chicago's Comiskey Park. The race between the two teams was tight that year. Early in the game, White Sox manager Gene Lamont, acting on a tip, asked the home-plate umpire to check for evidence of tampering in Belle's bat. The umpires saw nothing unusual with the bat on initial examination, but they exercised their right to confiscate it and locked it in the umpires' office/dressing room at Comiskey, from which it was to be sent to the league office in New York for X-ray inspection.

During the game, someone stealthily squirmed through the overhead crawl space connecting the visitors' locker room and the umpires' room, lowered himself into the umpires' room through a displaced ceiling tile, and switched the confiscated bat with a "clean" bat from the cache of Cleveland first baseman Paul Sorrento. The umpires noticed the switch after the game (not to mention pieces of broken ceiling tiles), demanded Belle's bat back, received it and sent it to New York. League officials found cork in the bat and suspended Belle for ten games (later reduced to seven on appeal).

The story doesn't end there. Five years later, the mysterious bat switcher finally revealed himself to the New York Times's Buster Olney. Who was it? Current Oriole reliever Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was a 26-year-old spot starter on the Indians in 1994, but had become a Yankee reliever in 1999 and felt that enough water had passed under the bridge to put the truth on America's so-called paper of record.

Tribe shortstop Omar Vizquel corroborated Grimsley's story in his 2002 memoir. He added that Grimsley had to replace the corked bat with a Sorrento model because “all of Albert's bats were corked.” Belle promptly denied this allegation, but Vizquel's version seems at least partially credible. If Belle had possessed just one or two corked bats, it would have been much simpler to use one of Belle's undoctored bats as a replacement. But if most or all of Belle's bats were corked, then the substitute bat would have to come from another player. Of course, Grimsley could not fix the difficult matter of Sorrento's name being on the replacement bat, so his risky work went for naught.

Other ex-Orioles litter the storyline, although their participation is more incidental. Mike Hargrove was the Indians' manager in 1994, five years before he took the same job in Baltimore. Although he apparently did not approve of the bat swap, his visiting manager's office at Comiskey was the starting point for Grimsley's overhead passage. John Hart was Cleveland's general manager, less than six years removed from an apprenticeship in the Oriole organization as a minor-league manager and major-league coach. He, too, did not condone the bat switch, calling it “more of a misguided sense of loyalty with a teammate than anything else.” And Grimsley's confessor, Olney, covered the Orioles for the Sun in the mid-1990s before moving to the Times and ESPN the Magazine.

What we learn from this story is that Grimsley is an exceedingly loyal teammate who will go to great lengths—and sometimes illegal ones—to help his team. But at 205 pounds, he is a good amount bigger than his 180-pound self of ten years ago, so crawling through cramped passages may not be a part of his skill set anymore.

August 2, 2004

Bird songs revisited, arguably the Internet's best (and unfortunately, most bloated) source of general sports information, has posted a Page 3 feature on the at-bat songs for every American League team, including the Orioles. Songs for all MLB teams are to appear in the near future.

The topic of player-selected intro songs came up in an April post here, and the page adds a few more to that list, along with a couple of song changes since then:

Brian Roberts: "Shake It Fast" by Mystikal
Miguel Tejada: "Hit 'em Up" by TK
Rafael Palmeiro: "California Love" by Tupac
Jay Gibbons: "Sweetness" by Jimmy Eat World
B.J. Surhoff: "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits and "Evenflow" by Pearl Jam
Jerry Hairston Jr.: "Hot in Herre" by Nelly
John Parrish: "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes
Eric DuBose: "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Buddy Groom: "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive

Other teams' selections reflect a high proportion of recent popular hits, including a healthy dose of hip-hoppers and hard rockers. Many Latin-American players select music from their native culture. Some players specifically request that no music at all be played before their game entrances.

A few observations:

Ex-Oriole David Dellucci, an Italian American outfielder now playing for the Texas Rangers, chose the theme to The Godfather. Lee Mazzilli must like this guy.

Another guy who once toiled in obscurity for the O's, Seattle manager Bob Melvin, is allegedly a master at identifying rock tunes. Now if only he could figure out how to turn around that team he's managing...

November 1, 2004

Postseason review

This hereby ends the postseason blog entry blackout for The Orioles Warehouse. Sorry for not being explicit about the hiatus, but it was not planned beforehand; it just unfolded that way because nothing really significant happened to the Orioles for three weeks after the end of the regular season, and so no commentary was warranted. But now baseball's offseason has begun, and so resumes our study of the anthropic version of Icterus galbula (translation: the Baltimore Orioles).

The red October surprise

But first, a few words on the thrilling postseason. The unquestionable highlight, in terms of sheer drama, was the Red Sox coming back against all odds in the ALCS to snatch the pennant from the Yankees' grasp. The unprecedented, storybook fashion in which the Yankees lost made it all the more satisfying to Oriole fans, whose hate for the Red Sox is exceeded only by their enmity for the Yankees. (If you totally missed the ALCS, here's a drive-by recap: the Yanks held the Sox at bay in Games 1 and 2 and blasted them to smithereens in Game 3 to take a seemingly invincible 3-0 lead in the series; but in Games 4 and 5, Boston eked out two extra-inning nail-biters in sudden death, then Curt Schilling and his patched ankle triumphed in Game 6, and in Game 7 long-locked Johnny Damon knocked two longballs to send the Sox to victory.)

It's tough for the Oriole community to have to watch a postseason with their favorite team on the sidelines. But from the perspective of a fan of the game of baseball, this one turned out well when the Red Sox shattered the Curse of the Bambino by sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series. It would have been nice if the Cards had been more competitive and stretched the series to six or seven games. But for once, Boston had everything go their way in the end. Ex-Oriole prez Larry Lucchino, now president and CEO of the Red Sox, is finally enjoying his just deserts. And native New Englanders across the country, a healthy portion of whom reside in the Baltimore-Washington region, are floating in the euphoria of their team's victory. Of course, they will henceforth have to shed their tiresome woe-is-me attitudes and assume the unfamiliar mantle of frontrunners from the Yankees. But let the Red Sox and their fans have their day in the sun. If anyone deserves it, they do.

Epstein leads with his head

The postseason confirmed that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is one of the game's sharpest decision-makers. Following last year's Grady Little/Pedro Martínez debacle, Epstein hired a field manager, Terry Francona, who handled the club like the seasoned professional that he is and made no dubious moves in the postseason (except perhaps his insertion of Pedro for a trivial relief inning in Game 7 of the ALCS). And although he could have stood pat after reaching the seventh game of the ALCS in 2003, Epstein identified his team's key weaknesses (lack of high-end pitching, suspect infield defense, and lack of team speed) and addressed them in the offseason and regular season by acquiring Schilling, Keith Foulke, Doug Mientkiewicz, Pokey Reese, Orlando Cabrera, and Dave Roberts. Of course, it helped enormously that his team had the second-highest payroll in the league ($125 million on Opening Day, far behind the Yanks' $183M but well ahead of third-place Anaheim's $101M), giving him the flexibility to acquire nearly anyone he wanted. And Boston's medical staff deserves a special award for their ad hoc repair of Schilling's ankle tendon for his final two starts of the postseason. But none of Epstein's big acquisitions backfired, and that includes his gutsy trade of his injury-impaired shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, for Cabrera and Mientkiewicz. The final product was a well-rounded, championship-caliber team that had every right to win it all, and it did.

For those who care about Oriole-related matters: Epstein got started in baseball as a public relations intern for the Orioles in 1992-1994. He then followed Lucchino to the San Diego Padres, where he rose to director of baseball operations while he earned a law degree at UCSD. In 2002 he migrated with Lucchino to Boston and subsequently became the game's youngest GM at age 28. If Peter Angelos had been able to retain Lucchino as president of the Orioles upon buying the team in 1993, could there have been a 2004 Orioles team with Epstein at the helm? Perhaps, although Epstein, who grew up in Brookline, Mass., has been a Red Sox fan since childhood and would have jumped at the chance to be their GM if the position became available.

Baseball's mind game steps forward

The success of the Red Sox should give another boost to the sabermetric community. In addition to Epstein, a sabermetrically aware GM, at least two other people of a sabermetric bent are part of the championship team's brain trust: longtime baseball analyst and writer Bill James, now Boston's senior baseball operations advisor; and Voros McCracken, famed for his defense-independent pitching analysis and a consultant for the organization since late 2002. If the Moneyball-documented success of the Oakland Athletics catalyzed a sabermetric movement in baseball, the recent éclat of the Red Sox should only increase the prevalence of statistically knowledgeable analysts and GM's in front offices around the league.

It's clear that the management and analysis of information is more important today than it ever has been to the sport (or to business in general—but that's another story). Technology has made it possible not only to access and store reams of performance-related data on players, but also to quantitatively measure and optimize aspects of player performance—think defense and pitching—that have long been riddled with guesstimation and uncertainty. The problem is knowing what to do with all that information, and that is why it is critical to have smart, analytical people in every area of an organization, including the front office, the scouting department, the coaches, and the field manager.

The Oriole angle

Will the Orioles be at the forefront of this activity, pouring money and manpower into information technology, quantitative analysis, and research and development? Or will they be content to rely on tried and tested (and arguably outdated and inefficient) methods in running their organization? Most of the evidence so far suggests the latter rather than the former, although it's hard to be certain because club executives have been tight-lipped about their internal evaluation processes. A recent reflection by former Orioles intern Josh Goodstein in the Yale Herald paints a dim view of the Orioles' management, at least on the non-baseball side.

However, the franchise has a chance to make a major step in the direction of data-driven decision-making when it chooses its next director(s) of scouting and player development. (News reports have indicated that the O's may hire one person to handle the former duties of Tony DeMacio and Doc Rodgers.) More on that in an upcoming article.

Other topics that will be covered soon: the re-signing of Rafael Palmeiro and other recent roster news; the D.C. baseball saga and its effect on the Orioles; a review of the Birds' 2004 season; a look at the Orioles' offseason needs; more perspectives on Miguel Tejada; and the continuation of the historical Orioles series (yes, really this time).

August 26, 2005

Short tackling the tallest of orders

Here's a pleasant story from the ex-Oriole vein: Rick Short, who toiled in the Orioles' organization from 1994 to 2000 without reaching the majors, is having the season of his life for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Les Carpenter of the Washington Post wrote a feature-length article on Short entitled “Career Minor Leaguer Is Defying the Law of Averages” that appeared on the front page of the paper yesterday. It describes Short's exceptional year and his twelve-year odyssey through pro baseball, during which he has encountered great frustration and responded to it with equally great determination.

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