Fan Confidence Poll: February 28th, 2011

Record Last Week: 1-1 (11 RS, 8 RA)
Spring Training Record: 1-1 (11 RS, 8 RA)
Schedule This Week: @ Tigers (Mon.), @ Pirates (Tues.), vs. Astros (Weds. on YES/MLBN), @ Rays (Thurs.), vs. Red Sox (Fri. on YES/MLBN), vs. Nationals (Sat.), @ Astros (Sun.)

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Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, passes away

Duke Snider, shown here in Ebbets Field in 1950, patrolled center field in Brooklyn for years. (AP Photo/File)

The Hall of Fame, on behalf of the Snider family, announced on Sunday afternoon that Duke Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, had died at the age of 84. Snider, a mercurial player who had a love/hate relationship with the fans and eventually faced tax fraud charges, is the only player to hit four home runs in the World Series twice and blasted the last long ball at Ebbets Field. Of the famous trio of New York center fielders immortalized in highlight reels and song by Terry Cashman, only Willie now remains alive.

Snider, enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1980, suffered under the shadow of his more well known center field counterparts. Both Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle put up better career numbers and won more awards. But Snider, an eight-time All Star and one of two players to drive in 1000 runs or more in the 1950s, earned Brooklyn’s love by sticking it to those damn Yankees in the 1955 World Series. He blasted four home runs and hit .320/.370/.840 during the Dodgers’ lone World Series win while in Brooklyn.

What I know about Snider I’ve learned through second-hand sources and my own study of baseball history. I’d urge you to read The Times obituary and excerpt Dave Anderson’s profile:

They don’t make center fielders like that anymore. With the big ballparks now, most center fielders are gazelles who can chase down balls lined into the gaps and hit for average, if they hit at all. Willie, Mickey and Duke not only were sluggers, they could also run.

Over their careers, Mays and Mantle each earned adulation as arguably the best baseball player ever. Snider never did, but for a time in the ’50s the Duke of Flatbush was better than either of them. He hit 407 home runs, almost all for the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and a few for the Mets and the Giants at the end. But in the ’50s he hit more home runs than Mays or Mantle or anybody else in the big leagues.

Duke had it all: a sweet swing, a bazooka arm, springs in his legs. He also had the luck of being virtually the only left-handed slugger in a lineup dominated by right-handed hitters like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo. As a result, Snider usually was swinging against right-handed pitching.

Then again, he didn’t really have it all. As he often acknowledged, he had a “big mouth” that tarnished his image and his popularity. After being booed at a game at Ebbets Field one night, he snapped that Brooklyn fans “don’t deserve a pennant.” That prompted even more boos the next night. He later put his name on a Collier’s article confessing that he played baseball only for the money, that he would rather be in California on his avocado farm not far from Los Angeles.

Today, I live a short walk — and an even shorter subway ride — away from where Ebbets Field once stood. Now and then, old Brooklyn Dodger fans emerge to wax nostalgic about Dem Bums. Baseball lost another one. Here’s to you, Duke, ever the Duke of Flatbush, ever a thorn in the Yanks’ side.

Open Thread: February 27th Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Today’s goings on…

Here’s the open thread for the night. The Knicks are playing the Heat at 8pm ET (ESPN), and today’s Yankees game is being rebroadcast on MLB Network at the same time. That’s it for local sports, talk about whatever.

Priorities and Two-Sport Times

Up until this year, I have always been a one-sport kind of girl, which is basically because I was not indoctrinated to be a fan of any sport besides baseball. Total brainwashing, I tell you. Anyway, recently I moved in with a pair of rabid hockey fans in the bay area, California. It was the perfect rebound relationship: one crying Yankees fan, left deserted by an early, disappointing departure from the playoffs and surrounded by the orange and black success of the home team. Enter: exciting NHL preseason for a hip team with giant expectations, endless possibilities, and a lot of really good players. I was weak! I was sad! I was left with a desolate, depressing offseason (even though I knew the Yankees would obviously – obviously! – get Cliff Lee), and hockey sweet talked me into being a fan like that guy in the leather jacket and the sweet Mustang at the party you were at last night. I woke up the next day and said to myself, “Hannah, you’re a San Jose Sharks fan now. Read a lot of blogs and learn all their names and find out what the heck the blue line means, and don’t forget to uncover the flaws in all the traditional stats.” (Note: +/- is almost as bad as pitcher W/L.)

It was a good choice. I like hockey. But now it’s time for baseball and I’ve reached a terrible point in my life that I have never had to deal with before: which sport do I watch? On one hand, I have the love of my life playing games which are totally meaningless. I already knew (and it was proven to me yesterday) that the games will vary from boring to an absolute comedy of errors with only the occasional bright spot. It’s nice to take in baseball without having to worry about the actual games, but at the same time, getting into the game is just a little harder when they don’t matter. It’s not that I’m not excited about watching the pitchers and catchers and bench guys fight for their spots. It’s not that I’m not excited to see Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos become big leaguers or I don’t want to see Derek Jeter rebound. It’s just that, like I wrote yesterday, the games simply do not matter.

On the other hand, the NHL season is barreling towards the playoffs. The trade deadline is tomorrow, and the Western Conference (where the Sharks play) is especially tight. Every game matters. Maybe we’ll pick up another player. Maybe not. Maybe our exceptionally hot (game-wise, not attractiveness-wise) goalie will break under the stress of playing twenty games in a row – that’s a lot. Will our superstars plagued by down years pick it up when we need them? Can we continue to be the amazing San Jose Sharks, or will we return to our pre-All Star Break inconsistency issues? It’s these kind of pressing questions that watching the games would answer. Like baseball, hockey highlights and stat reels don’t ever tell the whole story. What kind of fan would I be if I didn’t watch every minute of nail-biting, second-half hockey?

Football fans have an advantage over us hockey and basketball people – your season is over before baseball even begins, so there’s no stress to worry about now, though your collective problem comes in September when football starts up again. I guess in the end, it’s all a matter of priorities. I’m certain that my hockey-loving household is going to give me absolute piles of crap when I tell them I’ll be turning off extremely important Sharks games to watch meaningless Yankees games. I’m also pretty sure that I’ll miss some important Sharks moment and catch some unimportant (but amazing) Betances pitches and Montero bombs.

I guess it’s all about priorities. I’m sure there are some Yankees fans who put more value in their Knicks, Giants or Rangers, and are paying very little, if any, attention to these beginning games where all we’re doing is swooning over prospects and rolling our eyes as Ryan Howard pulls a Bill Buckner. Likewise, I’m sure there are people who are clapping their hands in glee over NFL preseason while we’re pulling our hair out over the end of regular season baseball. For me – and this should come as no surprise – I’d much rather watch a meaningless baseball game than a meaningful hockey game. All I can hope for is that the Yankees play in one time zone and the Sharks play in the other. That way I can watch both at the same time. And what’s better to a two-team sports fan than to watch both games on the same day?

Easy question: for a baseball person like me, it’s regular season baseball. Sorry, Sharks.

Spring Training Game Thread: Take Two

Charlie's getting into it. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Yankees dropped their Grapefruit League opener to the Phillies yesterday, but they’ve got a chance to exact revenge today. Far more important than that is the starting pitcher though, as Ivan Nova gets his first crack at winning a spot at the back of the rotation. Bartolo Colon was okay yesterday but definitely needs work, so Nova’s got a chance to take a bit of a lead early in camp. What do I want to see out of him today? I dunno, I guess throwing his fastball to both sides of the plate. There’s not much you can expect out of guys in February.

Aside from that, we’ve got some big-time prospects playing today. Jesus Montero is starting behind the dish and batting sixth, and Dellin Betances is scheduled to come out of the bullpen at some point. I’m guessing he’s slated for two innings, but don’t hold me to that. Both guys are among the 50 best prospects in the game, and there’s a very real chance we’ll see both in the big leagues at some point this year. Adam Warren, a personal fave who has a bit of a cult following, will pitch after Betances. Otherwise, none of the regular infielders are in Clearwater this afternoon, and I suspect the regular outfielders will only be around for about five innings, maybe less. Here’s the starting nine…

Brett Gardner, LF
Nick Swisher, RF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Jorge Posada, DH
Eric Chavez, 1B
Jesus Montero, C
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Ronnie Belliard Brandon Laird, 3B
Ramiro Pena, SS

Scheduled to Pitch: Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Boone Logan, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren.

Belliard was supposed to start at third base, but he was scratched with a calf issue. Getting injured before Chavez won’t help him win a job. YES will carry the game live at 1:05pm ET, and MLB Network will have it on tape delay starting at 8pm ET. Enjoy.

The benefit of the doubt, and the appeal to authority

This week the NBA had its trade deadline, a trade deadline that pales in comparison to the frenzy of the MLB trade deadline. Seriously, it doesn’t even come close. Aside from the trade of Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, one of the biggest moves came when the Celtics agreed to trade Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green. This move continues to evoke anger and confusion from Celtics fans who wondered why the Celtics would sacrifice size, given that it makes their matchups against big teams like the Magic or the Lakers more difficult. Yet there was a contingent of Celtics fans who refused to get upset about the deal, reasoning that Danny Ainge wasn’t an idiot and surely considered the size question before making the deal.

This raises an interesting question that most fans are constantly dealing with, at least subconsciously. How do you balance the desire to give your favorite General Manager the benefit of the doubt with the need to evaluate the moves of that General Manager in a rational vacuum? At what point does giving your favorite General Manager the benefit of the doubt turn into an appeal to authority? There’s a fine line between arguing that a GM deserves the benefit of the doubt because of the past moves he’s made, and arguing that any given move the GM makes is good because the GM is smart.

As an example, this offseason the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth, as we all know, is the wost reliever of all time. Well, not really, but his tenure in New York went poorly and he’s generally regarded as someone with good stuff but inconsistent results, someone who probably doesn’t deserve the highest leverage spots in a game. Now, Dave Cameron pointed out that this might be a bit of a perception issue, given that a difference in repertoire might have led to greater groundballs and improved results. As a result, he goes out of his way to argue that Tampa wasn’t given enough credit for signing Farnsworth. I won’t suggest the opposite of this, but I think it’s at least possible that Tampa’s signing of Farnsworth led more people to consider Farnsworth an underrated commodity, and therefore a good acquisition, simply because it was Tampa doing the signing. In other words, if Kansas City had re-upped with Farnsworth, one has to wonder if they would have received the same level of accolade that Tampa did. To state it even more starkly: when Tampa signed Farnsworth, many assumed that the 100 IP sample of the past two years was the real Farnsworth, assumed that he would be used mostly correctly, and assumed that this was a good signing because Tampa is super-smart and never makes mistakes.

I’m not trying to suggest that any of those things are false. Tampa may very well have made a good signing of a player whose reputation led him to be slightly undervalued. What I would simply draw attention to is the danger of evaluating moves based on the person making the move.  If organizational and budgetary needs are identical, one’s reaction to a signing shouldn’t hinge on whether one thinks the GM is smart or stupid.

Yet, this is mostly inevitable, which is why this is a constant tension. It’s natural to look more closely at moves made by stat-friendly teams like Cleveland, Tampa, Toronto, Boston or Oakland. It’s also natural to have the default setting of mockery on whenever Kansas City’s name pops up on MLBTR. It’s because their track records are different, and because we don’t expect Dayton Moore to suddenly see the light, or for Andrew Friedman to suddenly blow 10% of his budget on some middling homer-prone reliever. We’re simply making very rapid subconscious probability calculations.

One of the biggest fallacies people can make is assuming that things will always be like they’ve been in the past. It’s normal to assume that the current state of affairs will continue interrupted and in perpetuity, yet this is never the case. The same holds true in sports. Just because Andrew Friedman has made a bunch of savvy moves in the past doesn’t mean that he’ll always make savvy moves from now until when he retires. It’s possible that at some point he’ll operate under faulty logic or bad assumptions or bad data and make a mistake, and it would be a disservice to continue to call his moves savvy when the opposite is true.

This is the tension that fans have to monitor, then. One has to walk the line between saying, “Because you’ve made smart moves in the past, I will assume that this move is a good one” and “Because you’ve made smart moves in the past, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and see how this plays out before I call you an idiot”. It’s a very fine line, and it’s the line between analysis and homer-dom.

Open Thread: February 26th Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Today’s news…

  • The Yankees fell to the Phillies this afternoon by the score of 5-4. Eric Wordekemper allowed the game-tying and go-ahead runs in the the eighth inning on the bloop single that probably should have been caught by Colin Curtis in left. Jorge Vazquez hit a two-run homer over the batter’s eye in dead center, Alex Rodriguez hit two balls right on the screws, and Mark Teixeira tripled. Bartolo Colon was meh at best, hitting 93 a few times and saying afterwards that he wants to work on his two-seamer to lefties. Here’s the box score. (Marc Carig)
  • Tex had a bruise on the big toe of his right foot after Cole Hamels hit him with some kind of offspeed pitch in the first inning. It’s the same toe he broke last year when Vin Mazzaro got him with a pitch. Other than that, no one got hurt. (Carig & Carig)
  • Before the game, the Yankees had their annual meeting with the player’s association. Turns out that former Yanks Tony Clark and Mike Myers work for the union. (Sam Borden)
  • Andrew Brackman said his hip felt just fine, which is weird because yesterday we heard it was the groin that was giving him trouble. Maybe he just felt like giving up update on an irrelevant part of his body. (Carig)
  • None of the regular infielders will play tomorrow, and neither will Andruw Jones, Russell Martin, or Frankie Cervelli. Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Boone Logan, and Dellin Betances are scheduled to pitch. (Ben Shpigel & Bryan Hoch)

Here’s the open thread for the night. The Islanders and Nets are the only local teams in action, plus the Rockies and Diamondbacks will be on MLB Network starting at 11pm ET. Until then, MLBN is showing some college baseball. Talk about whatever, go nuts.