Heller’s book offers ‘Confessions’ of any fan

confessions-of-a-she-fan-213x300 Nearly two years ago, Jane Heller penned a column in The Times expressing her utter frustration with the New York Yankees. Her favorite team since she was a teenager, the Yanks had frustrated her with their mediocre play, and finding little joy in the corporate and middling Bombers, she threatened to divorce the team.

That column set off a firestorm of sorts. Yankee fans — and baseball fans — from around the country attacked Heller’s fandom. How could someone proclaiming to be a fan, to love a team ’til death do us part, divorce them for bad play? That’s the very definition of a fair-weather fan.

In response to the column, Heller did what any rational fan would do — she wrote a book about her love of the Yankees. That book, published this spring and entitled Confessions of a She-Fan, isn’t your typical baseball memoir. While it talks about the origins of Heller’s love of the team, it’s more about the process of an outsider writing a book about the team she loves while facing a lot of pushback. It’s also about a female writing from a distinctly female perspective and hoping to connect on a level that might not exist.

The main gist of Heller’s book focuses around her efforts in 2007 to follow the team. She gets a book deal to write about the Yankees and then spends the summer trying to get access. She follows the team around the country for the better part of four months, missing only a handful of games. Along the way, she rides the ups and downs of the season while trying to get inside the clubhouse to interview the players.

Needless to say, she doesn’t quite succeed until the end when she runs into one Yankee — I won’t say who — in a restaurant. That Yankee, a short-lived member of the Bronx Bombers, gives her a ring after the season to talk about playing on the Yankees. It’s a great coda to a tale of frustration.

That frustration stems from a Yankee organization intent on limiting access. She tries to go through Jason Zillo, the Yanks’ media gatekeeper, but Zillo, who fields more than his fair share of calls like Heller’s, wants credentialed writers only around the Yanks. She tries every which way to make an end-run around Zillo. She tries to go after Jean Afterman and Suzyn Waldman, connecting to them on that female level. Waldman is responsive; Afterman is not. She befriends John Sterling and runs through her Rolodex searching for ways in to no success. It is, then, no surprise that the Yanks didn’t want Heller’s publishers to advertise her book in the Yankee Magazine this year.

The tale of access though is nearly beside the point, and the focus on Heller’s gender nearly detracts from the fan experience. Throughout the book, Heller relates her emotional ride as the Yanks stumble out of the block, recover over the summer, make the playoffs and then lose when a bunch of bugs attack Joba Chamberlain on a hot October day in Cleveland. She talks as though a She-Fan is a distinct species of fan, but it’s not. In the end, Heller is just like the rest of us who live and die with the Yankees.

The culture of exclusivity around the Yankees made me chuckle as I paged through Heller’s story. The beatwriters are more or less obliging after initial skepticism; the Front Office is less than forthcoming; and Sterling and Waldman, the voices of the team, come across as the most obliging. Heller weaves a fun tale of fandom, and it makes for some baseball reading to which the most dedicated and obsessed can easily relate.

Jane Heller’s Confessions of a She-Fan is available here at Amazon. That link contains the RAB affiliate code. So if you’re thinking of buying the book, that link will toss us a few pennies. Jane continues to write about the Yankees on a daily basis at her blog of the same name.

Review: Mohegan Sun Sports Bar Seats at Yankee Stadium

By A. Fan

As the byline implies, this is a guest post. For reasons we deemed reasonable, he wishes to remain anonymous.

I haven’t seen any reviews of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar at Yankee Stadium so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I attended Sunday’s game, which the Yankees won thanks to Jorge Posada’s disputed home run. I bought tickets online Friday night and had no problem getting seats.

The Mohegan Sun Sports Bar offers four rows of seats. I would guess the four rows contain approximately 125 seats.

This bar has received much criticism because it obstructs the bleacher seats on either side. Many have called for its dismantling after the season and even the Mohegan Sun has expressed its displeasure over the situation.

I have a different take, having watched a game there. I think the Yankees deserve praise for creating seats with a unique vantage point. The photos you’ve seen don’t do it justice. The seats offer a tremendous view of the field — dead on. You see the game pretty much as Brett Gardner does and as Mickey Mantle once did. If Mohegan Sun backs out of their deal, the Yankees should rename it the Batter’s Eye Sports Bar.

I hope the Yankees keep these unique seats intact and make some much-needed improvements (see below). I would prefer to see the Yankees remove the $5 obstructed bleacher seats to create a larger area for Monument Park.

What I Liked

Privacy: Unlike the pricey Legends seats across the field, the Mohegan seats offer privacy. Because you’re sitting inside behind one-way glass, you need not worry about being caught on TV if you’re playing hooky from work or other responsibilities.

Unique View: I already mentioned the unique view of the game these seats provide. Ross Sheingold of New Stadium Insider expressed concern about glare. I can report that there’s no glare. I sat there from about 12:15 to 4:30.

Seats: The seats are not fixed. You can move them around. There’s ample space between the seats so it’s not cramped. The artist renderings on the site show fixed seats. The Yankees should replace these with actual photos.

Food: You need not order from the bar’s menu. You can take a short walk to Lobel’s or any other concession and bring the food back to your seat.

Kids: Kids are welcome. That was nice to see.

Beer: The beer selection is excellent for a baseball stadium — Brooklyn Lager, Newcastle, and Hoegaarden to name a few. Plus my favorite lowbrow beer — Yuengling (much better than Bud or Pabst in my opinion).

Service: The servers are friendly and helpful. You can go to the bar on your own, which would not have been a hassle on Sunday, but if the bar becomes jammed (as I suspect it will for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night games), it’s nice to know that you can order from your seat.

Indoors: Attending a baseball game on a cold April or October night just isn’t as pleasant as attending during warm weather. For those of us who hate cold weather, it’s nice to have an indoor option. If the Yankees make the postseason, I’ll try to get tickets in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Plus, what better place to wait out a rain delay?

Bathroom: Not only is it relatively clean, but there’s a full-time attendant so no one misbehaves and the supplies remain stocked.

What Needs Improvement

Menu: I have a fairly wide palette yet I found nothing appealing on the menu. Instead, I went to the concessions (two Nathan’s hot dogs and garlic fries). I realize the Yankees run their own food services operation, but they should swallow their pride and bring in some people who know how to create great bar food. I would vote for Rite On (PS 450, Vig 27, etc.), but there’s lots of talent out there. The current menu is an embarrassment. See for yourself (ed. note: PDF file).

Booze: I’d like to see frozen margaritas, especially once the hot weather arrives. Most frozen drinks are too girly for your typical baseball fan (i.e., male, 25-55 years old), but everyone likes frozen margs.

Sound: If you think the new stadium is quiet when you’re sitting outside, try sitting inside. You cannot hear anything, including the PA system. Unfortunately, the Yankees pipe in the radio broadcast. I would prefer the YES broadcast as I’m not a Suzyn Waldman fan (is anyone?).

TVs: The folks without seats in the upper bar area have TVs to view, but you cannot see these TVs from the seats. And of course, the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar resides below the scoreboard so you can’t see that either. Thus, you cannot watch instant replays. I suggest hanging a TV from the ceiling perpendicular to the seats so you can see important plays like Jorge’s disputed home run.

WiFi: I could not use the WiFi network. I found it, but it requires a login and offers no way to create an account.

AT&T: AT&T’s service was spotty. It worked, it didn’t work, it worked. When it worked, it was helpful to catch up on game details easily missed from way out in center field.

Other Thoughts

Price: Tickets cost $90. As a guy who believes in market forces, I can’t really offer an opinion. I had fun and felt I got my money’s worth. Most of the seats seemed empty (but you never know how many sold) so perhaps the Yankees will drop prices. However, these seats could become a big draw because of the unique view, the beer selection, and the waiter service. It would make for a great bachelor party and other events.

Casual Fans: Several people with seats sat down, ate a meal, watched an inning, and then disappeared for long stretches. Some never returned. I think these casual fans now exist in all corners of the new stadium. Unlike other fans, I don’t necessarily see this trend as a bad thing. It’s probably inevitable. Steve Wynn realized that Las Vegas could grow larger only by appealing to non-gamblers. The Yankees probably feel the same way about casual fans. And yes, these folks don’t cheer as loudly. That’s no reason to vilify them.

Conclusion

Don’t knock the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar until you’ve sat through a game there. I bet you’ll have a good time. Let’s hope the Yankees improve these already enjoyable seats.

The Final Game as seen through the eyes of a fan

Those of us lucky — or rich — enough to attend the final game at Yankee Stadium last September all witnessed a spectacle of photography. There were over 56,000 fans at the game, and as the flashbulbs went off at every pitch, it seemed as though there were just as many cameras.

Most of just didn’t do much with the pictures. I tossed mine up on flickr and wrote a post about it. That was the extent of my sharing. The pictures remain digitized for posterity, and the post sits buried deep in the RAB archives.

Jeff Fox, though, had other ideas. Fox had been attending games at Yankee Stadium since May 26, 1962 when he was 11 years of age. He’s seen numerous World Series, a complete stadium renovation, some time at Shea and countless games in between. After attending the the Swan Song for a Cathedral — and snapping just as many pictures as everyone else, if not more — Fox put his photos together in a self-published book, and it’s a beauty.

Entitled Yankee Stadium: The Final Game, the book lives up to its subtitle. It truly is a fan saying good bye. The book, a nice addition to any Yankee fan’s coffee table, starts out with a personal essay from Fox. “Watching the game wouldn’t be enough,” Fox writes in his proclamation of love for the House that Ruth Built and its surroundings. “I needed to soak up the neighborhood in all its glory and filth, observing it as it would never quite be again.”

What follows then is the neighborhood and stadium through the eyes of a die-hard fan. There’s Harlan Chamberlain signing autographs outside the park. There are some early tailgaters hankered down at Stan’s Sports Bar. Inside the stadium, people dominate the picture. The ballpark looks pristine on a sunny September Sunday in New York, close to the start of autumn, and Yankee fans are all over the place.

Fox takes his laps — around the Stadium, around Monument Park, around Upper Deck — and gets some stellar shots for it. The most poignant are those of the fans. My favorite is one of the far edge of Section 35, dangling over nothing. One fan in his Yankee hat and jersey is standing there simply surveying the scene for one last time.

As the game draws near, the Yankee Legends fill the pages of photos, but the fans steal the show. Mariano Rivera jogs in; the game ends; and the fans begin, after a forty-minute Irish wake, to filter out. The book ends, as my photoset does, with a shot of fans crossing the stadium threshold one final time. It is a fitting conclusion to a Yankee Stadium saga.

Jeff Fox’s Yankee Stadium: The Final Game is available for sale on Amazon and at its own website. With views from the stands and not the exclusivity of the pressbox, it is a great way to appreciate and see images from the final game at Yankee Stadium.

Final review of The Fielding Bible

The subject of defense is a hotly debated one in baseball analytic circles. For years we were stuck with just errors and thusly judging fielders on their ability to cleanly field batted balls. As statistical analysis has progressed, so has the measurement of defensive ability. These new defensive metrics — UZR, ZR, the plus-minus system — are interesting to consider, but they don’t give us the same level of insight as offensive and pitching stats. Yet they are interesting because they are not perfect. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to measure defense, and imperfect stats make great conversation starters.

Last week we discussed some Yankee-related issues from The Fielding Bible Volume II, John Dewan’s updated effort at pegging defensive ability. Using stats, articles, and scouting reports from the book, I was able to piece together articles on Robinson Cano’s range and Derek Jeter’s clean fielding skills, but those clearly aren’t the only cases you can make after reading through the 400-page tome. It contains all sorts of stats and leader boards that can provide varying levels of insight on defensive ability.

The volume can keep a fan occupied for days, even weeks. It’s filled to the brim with data, from raw numbers to processed stats. Dewan rates fielders on all sorts of criteria, and most of it is presented in these pages. How well they ranged to their left and right, how they turned the double play, how they fielded when playing shallow, deep…it’s a truly comprehensive look at a player’s fielding ability. Even if you want to know how many outs a player recorded in 2008, The Fielding Bible has that.

One of the most interesting parts of the book, which we didn’t get to touch on in the Jeter and Cano discussions, is the Defensive Positioning Chart. As Dewan notes, these are not spray charts. Rather, they represent the distribution of hits which can be reasonably turned into outs. That, of course, requires a level of subjective judgment, a complaint I’ll address in a minute. For now, let us revel in these colorful charts which depict a player’s hitting tendencies. One of my favorite charts is of Joey Gathright. The charts make a case for an Ortiz-like shift for the speedster, but to the opposite side. He almost never hits the ball down the first base line either to the infield or outfield. (The problem, of course, is that he’s so fast that the first baseman can’t stray too far off the bag.) According to the chart, if a manager plays his second baseman pinching towards second, his shortstop playing slightly toward second, his third baseman slightly to the left of normal, his left and center fielders shallow, and his right fielder well off the line, he should be able to contain Gathright considerably. It’s really neat stuff both from an analytical and visual perspective (The colors, children! look at the colors!).

Another amazing aspect of the book is the six-year register. As the name implies, this section contains data for nearly every Major Leaguer over the past six seasons. As Dewan explains it, this helps mete out poor single years in favor of a more comprehensive, thus more accurate, view of the player. For instance, he says, Mark Teixeira had a pretty poor season with the glove in 2007, but when you look at his six-year marks he still emerges as one of the best first basemen in the league. This is one aspect which will help advance the accuracy of defensive statistics. We’ve only started to seriously measure them recently. Larger samples will do wonders for analysis.

The book isn’t without its faults. While Bill James’s chapter on Defensive Misplays and Fielding Good Plays was interesting, he’s still using some subjective judgments. That’s not wrong in itself — we make subjective judgments about baseball every day and sometimes we’re right — but when the goal is an objective system to judge a fielder’s ability to make a clean play, any hint of subjectivism detracts from the case. Still, I like the idea of stripping defensive misplays (the act of misplaying a baseball, not James’s stat) of as much subjective judgment as possible. We all have our own ideas of what “ought to have happened,” meaning five people making the judgment could call it differently. As such, we either need to qualify those who do make the judgment, or else need to strip the subjectivity out as much as possible. James’s effort is certainly commendable, and I hope in the future he’ll not only release a more comprehensive list of his results, but also go deeper into his methodologies.

Through the efforts of curious minds like Bill James, the baseball analysis community has evolved over the past three decades. We now have not only a better idea of which basic stats tell us a better story about a player (OBP, SLG), but some great minds have developed advanced statistics which put them into an even greater context (wOBA, EqA, VORP). Similar efforts have been made to harness pitching stats. We’ve learned that pitchers have little control over what happens to a batted ball, hence the focus on peripherals like strikeouts, walks, ground balls, and line drives. These help us not only determine which pitchers have better and more sustainable abilities, but also to help us construct a more complete story of the player. The hope is that over the next few years we make this kind of breakthrough with defensive stats. So observe, analyze, criticize, scrutinize. It’s how we come to new conclusions about previously unknown issues.

You can get The Fielding Bible–Volume II from Amazon.com for $16.29. That’s our Amazon Associate code, so if you buy the book from that link you’ll kick us a few pennies.

Official MLB 09: The Show Plug

If you’re an RAB regular then you know I’ve made no secret of my affinity for video games, especially sports games. I’ve always found them to be a great way to mellow out and blow off some steam, but I also enjoy them because it’s chance to do things we normally never would be able too. Right at our fingertips is the ability to run a baseball team, or battle an army of Nazi zombies, or jump off the Empire State Building after a long night of stealing cars and killing hookers, or literally countless other possibilities. Needless to say that when we received an email from the crew behind MLB 09: The Show asking to plug some screen shots of the game, I jumped at the chance.

The game has a ton of new improvements this year, including fielding and pitching/hitting upgrades, and even has some new training modes. If you’ve ever played The Show, then you know it’s attention to detail is unmatched. You probably remember the New Yankee Stadium and CitiField clips we had last month, but if not here’s the link. The game is scheduled for release on on March 3rd, and will be available on PS3, PS2, and PSP (sorry Xboxers).

After the jump are some screen shots of the game on each console, courtesy of Playstation’s Press Center. Click the images for a larger view.

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Review: 2K Sports MLB Front Office Manager (PS3)

We all think … no wait … we all know we can be highly successful Major League General Managers. It’s a piece of cake. Sign this guy, trade these guys for that guy, cut that dude, deal this guy for a bag of balls to free up money, so on and so forth. It’s never as easy as we make it sound, but most of us will never get a chance to find that out for ourselves. Until now.

2K Sports’ MLB Front Office Manager is basically the baseball version of NFL Head Coach. It puts you in the GM chair and bombards you with all the team building stuff every real life GM has to deal with. (Luckily you don’t have to deal with the shareholders or marketing people or politicians though.) Billy Beane and Brian Cashman both consulted on the project, and the game is true to life in almost every way possible. There’s waivers, the arbitration process, 40-man rosters, the Rule 5 Draft, no trade clauses, performance bonuses, Type-A and B free agents, unhappy superstars, pissed off owners, you name it.

As you can probably imagine, the game is menu heavy. You’re kept up to date on all the major news around the league via email, although you’ll have to dig around for the smaller moves yourself. Beane also acts as your “advisor,” emailing you with advice and instructions for some of the more complicated parts of the game. The filing system for the emails is a little stupid, but it’s not terrible. I’ve seen come complaints about the intricate menu system, but I don’t have any problems with it. I think it’s pretty easy to navigate, actually.

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Book Review: Daniel R. Levitt’s Ed Barrow

On the last page of his biography of Ed Barrow, author Daniel R. Levitt allows a long quote from Branch Rickey to close out his tome. “I say there has never been a smarter baseball man than Mr. Barrow,” Rickey once said. “He knows what a club needs to achieve balance, what a club needs to become a pennant winner. I, perhaps, can judge the part, but Mr. Barrow can judge the whole.”

These are glowing words from one of the men considered to be among the smartest baseball minds in the game’s history. It is a quote, in fact, better served for the first page of a book. Branch Rickey, one of baseball’s most famous executives, talks about Ed Barrow, one of the games most influential — but not quite as well known — executives, in positively glowing tones.

With that type of quote setting the stage, Levitt as the author of a biography would have had free reign to build up Ed Barrow’s life and accomplishments in baseball. Instead, the quote is buried. This is but one of the many missed opportunities that arise in Levitt’s informative but misguided biography of a man who deserves so much more.

For many Yankee fans, the name Ed Barrow is lost to time. But he was part of the game for fifty years and nearly half of those he spent constructing Yankee dynasties. He saw baseball emerge as a big business in the early 1900s, won a World Series ring as a manager, help bring the Babe and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio to New York, ushered the Yanks through the dark days of World War II and sat on a committee to bring in some of the Hall of Fame’s first members. Throughout those years, he was a key player in establishing first formal relationships between minor league clubs and Major League teams and later building up the farm team system we know and love.

But Levitt doesn’t always bring across just who Ed Barrow was. Early on in the book, Levitt introduces Barrow as a stubborn hot-head with little taste for the internal politics of baseball. He is very much the bulldog in the book’s subtitle, “The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty.” While we learn this much about Barrow in the late 1890s, for the next fifty years, Levitt relies on that trope to tell Barrow’s story. At turn after turn, meeting after meeting, he doesn’t get what he wants because of his stubbornness.

While reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel that there was more to the story. I never got a sense of who Barrow was, and he seemed almost incidental to Levitt’s year-by-year recitation of Yankee — and baseball — history. Now and then, bits and pieces of Barrow’s personal life are interspersed into the baseball narrative, but one gets the sense that Barrow either had no life outside of baseball or just wasn’t an interesting enough person to warrant a biography.

When the book first hit stores in April, Levitt ran through the blog circuit. Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts interviewed him, and Baseball Prospectus chatted up the author as well. Those Q-and-A’s better serve to introduce Barrow than the book does, but that doesn’t mean the tale is not one worth reading.

Levitt’s book works best as a story of the development of the game from a pastime that was incidentally a poorly-run gathering of businesses into a big money-making business with tentacles throughout America. The appendices to the book are chock full of payroll and salary statistics from an era prior to free agency, and his superb detailing of the uneasy relationship between the Major and Minor League is a story rarely, if ever, told. In the end, Barrow, influential at the time, is almost incidental to the story Levitt ultimately tells.

Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty is available on the University of Nebraska Press. Cover price is $29.95, but Amazon has it for $21.86. I am, however, a firm believer in supporting local bookstores.