Archive for Reviews
You might remember a review of Out of the Park Baseball 14 from about a year ago. For those who don’t, OOTP is a powerful baseball simulation game that provides a fully customized experience. If you like the management aspects of The Show, but think that actually playing the games takes too long*, OOTP can scratch that itch.
* From what I’ve read, The Show is much more manageable this year due to a number of new features. It’s also apparently not impossible to score runs in The Show 14. Too bad this is the year I decided not to buy it.
For a full treatment of OOTP, please click the link above and read last year’s review. There are also some great points in the comments from long-time OOTP players. The beauty of OOTP is that the engine largely stays the same from year-to-year. Yet there are always changes that make the newest version better than the previous.
3D Live Simulation
If, for some reason, you would like to watch and manage one of your games, OOTP has a new feature to make it more worthwhile. You can actually watch the game in 3D mode. It might not be my bag — I want to plow through seasons and see the fruits of my labor — but OOTP has at least made the sim process interesting.
I imagine in a few years they’ll have actual 3D player models to stand on the 3D field. A few years after that, actual pitches and swings. For now we have this. It’s not the most compelling feature, but it certainly beats the old watching method, if you prefer to play the dramatic games rather than just hit the sim button.
All sorts of leagues
You don’t have to play starting at the 2014 MLB season. You can start from many historical points, which is part of what makes this game stand out. It’s pretty fun to start a historical team and sim like crazy.
You can also create a completely custom fictional league, even with fictional players. Have ideas for different rules? You can implement them. If you want to play with an international league — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Cuba, Netherlands, Italy — you can do that, too.
The ratings system
One thing I love about OOTP is the ratings system. When you set up a new league, make sure that scouting is on. You’ll have to hire a scouting director, and the strength of your scouting director will determine how well you evaluate players.
For instance, your scouting director might rate a guy as having five-star potential, but the default ratings might have him as two-stars. If you have a great scout, you might have a diamond in the rough on your hands. But your scout can be wrong. To me this is one of the most realistic aspects of the game.
You can, if you’re so inclined, eschew the star rating and put guys on the 20-80 scale. It’s not for me, but it might give you some granularity you don’t get with the 10-point system (half stars).
The ratings seem to be stronger this year, too. There are a number of ratings, both actual and potential, that underlie a player’s star rating. It’s a lot of information to process, but it ultimately makes the game satisfying.
Strongest suggestion: make trades hard
If you leave trades at the default setting, they’re far too easy. There is just no way the Pirates would deal a healthy Jamison Taillon for Jeff Samardzija and a three-star prospect. Yet that’s what happened during the first year of my first franchise. It’s almost like MVP 2004: if you make enough trades, you can get a team full of four- and five-star prospects and players.
If you bump up the trade difficulty one setting, you’ll have a much more difficult time trading. That makes it more realistic. If you have a poorly performing reliever on a one-year contract, you won’t get any offers for him. That’s the way it should be. Teams just don’t do that; otherwise maybe the Mets could have traded Kyle Farnsworth. It also means that you can’t go plucking top prospects from teams. They don’t trade them unless there’s a need and it makes sense for them.
I also got a chance to check out iOOTP, the stripped-down iOS version of the game. For $5 you could do a lot worse. It gives you the most basic version of the game. There is no minor league system, just a list of 20 to 30 minor leaguers who you can call up and send down at will. They develop, but they don’t play any games while in the minors.
I find the interface a bit obnoxious, but that’s because I’m used to the desktop version. You have to tap through a few screens to edit your lineups. In fact, the entire problem with the UI is the sheer number of times you have to tap the screen. But other than that, it’s a nice alternative if you’d rather just lay on the couch and sim some seasons.
Where you can get it
Head over to OOTP Developments website to pick up a copy of OOTP 15 for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It costs $39.99, so less than a copy of The Show. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find myself engaged in OOTP for far longer than I am with The Show or any other console baseball game.
You can get iOOTP 2014 from iTunes. Again, it’s $5. Not bad at all.
We had a full year to gush over Mariano Rivera‘s greatness. It didn’t seem like long enough. And it still feels wrong that he’s not closing the door this year.
During that year we saw fans show their appreciation. Teams honored Mo with ceremony after ceremony, paying tribute with gifts as though he were an ancient king. Most pervasively, we saw the media stumble over themselves to gush about Mo.
His peers talked about his greatness, but it felt as though we didn’t hear enough of their stories. What did it feel like to stand there in the batter’s box against Rivera?
We get answers in the recently published book, Facing Mariano Rivera, edited by David Fischer. It contains stories of nearly 100 opponents who faced Rivera. (It also contains contributions from guys like Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and other teammates who never faced him, plus a number of pitchers and managers.) If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to stand in the box and know what pitch is coming, and still not be able to hit it, this book will help get you there.
There is, to be sure, plenty of fluff praise for Rivera, the standard praise of his composure and class. But nearly every player says one thing that really stands out, that helps you more fully understand the opponents’ mindsets when they faced Rivera – with the game close enough for him to be in there, but still seemingly out of reach.
Here are two of my favorite excerpts:
Salmon debuted in 1992, when I was 10, thus at the very peak of my baseball card collecting phase. We all chased after his rookie card, and I’m fairly certain that we all had at least one. It really is no surprise that baseball cards lost all value when internet commerce was even in its infancy.
In his fourth season, Salmon accomplished something that at the time was insignificant. He recorded the first hit off of Mariano Rivera. He in fact recorded two that day, including a double. In his third at-bat he walked, which ended Mariano’s day. That was in 1995, when Rivera was still a starter.
In 13 at-bats after that, including postseason, Salmon went 0 for 13.
A lot of closers grunt and snort and spit, they scowl at you, and throw the ball under your chin, trying to intimidate you, which makes you want to bear down and beat them all the more. Mariano was never like that on the mound. He was pleasant; his demeanor was disarming, it was life facing an old friend. I think that works to his advantage. Hitters don’t have that extra motivation you might have against guys you despite who are flaunting their stuff and pointing to the sky and talking trash.
Mo faced 1,013 different hitters during his career. Who was the toughest of them all? When asked last spring, Mo didn’t hesitate when he answered.
The toughest – and thank God he retired – (former Mariners DH) Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though – respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.
Martinez must have traumatized Mo when the latter was a rookie in 1995. In 7 PA he went 6 for 7 with two homers, a double, and a walk. Even when Mo was Mo in 1996, Martinez went 2 for 2 with two doubles. After that Martinez went 3 for 10 with three walks, two intentional. He was on an 0 for 6 slide against Rivera before he singled on August 14, 2004, the last time the two faced each other.
Just how badly did Mo want to beat Martines?
I think what makes him great is his command and his location; knowing where to throw the pitch. A good example is when I faced him in the 2000 American League Championship Series. I made the last out of the game. He got me out with a sinker inside. I never remember him throwing me a sinker before. that was the first tim I ever saw a sinker from him. He knew when to change his plan, when to go with something completely new, something different that you’re not expecting.
If you’re missing Mariano, and I sure am, this book is a nice little reminder of the greatness we witnessed night in and night out for so many seasons. You can flip around and read stories at random. I’ve been trying to find as many current players as possible, reading their stories when the Yankees face them this year.
There is something of a graphical element, since the book contains breakdowns of every hitter’s at-bats against Mo, so the hardcover might be better. But if you’re using Kindle on a tablet, it should render just fine.
We’ve spent some time dissecting the team’s performance through the first half of the year. Mike wrote about the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s while I covered the D’s. Let’s wrap this up with the F’s and incompletes.
Every championship-caliber team has a group of individuals who go above and beyond, who perform incredible feats in incredible moments. These are the players who carry the team on their shoulders through thick and thin. Unfortunately, the players listed in this post are not those guys!
No, instead we’re going to discuss the “F” team. These are the retreads. These are the players that we, as fans, wish we did not have to watch on a daily basis. These guys are the ones who make us cringe, curse, and grind our teeth for three hours or so a night on a daily basis.
It’s sad, really. The Yankees shortstops have collectively posted a .241 wOBA and a 44 wRC+ (-1.2 fWAR). Relative to the rest of the league, this production (or lack there of) is ranked second worst in all of baseball.
While power is certainly a bit of a rarity from the shortstop position, it is both saddening and mildly surprising (at least to me) that this group, together, has only managed two (!) homeruns thus far. Hell, even the Marlins have three (though to be fair, the Cardinals and the White Sox both have one, and the Rangers none). I think, more than anything, what this tell us is a) how fortunate the Yankees are to have had Derek Jeter all these years, and b) how even a super-star in decline (like Derek Jeter or A-Rod perhaps) can still be a really preferable option to the alternative much of the time.
If the Yankees expect to reach the playoffs, they’ll need more from these guys, plain and simple. We’re not talking Troy Tulowitzki production (though that would be okay too), they just can’t be well-below replacement level. Right now, the shortstop position is a black hole in the lineup and it’s noticeable.
* I was a little torn about whether Nunez belonged in the “Grade F” group or with the “Incompletes.” At the end of the day I chose to throw him in with this lot which is probably a bit unfair. Nunez had a really great opportunity to prove his valuable to the team early on when it became obvious that Jeter would not be available for much of the year, and simply has not capitalized on his opportunity. Anyway you look at it, Nunez’ season has to be deemed a disappointment thus far. Of course, if you feel it’s unfair to give him a letter grade given his limited playing time, that’s fine too.
The Third Basemen
Next stop on the depressing infield tour is third base. It’s ugly. Really ugly. The good news is that the Yankees third basemen ranked higher relative to the league than their shortstop counterparts. The bad news is it’s not by much. They rank fourth worst in all of baseball with only the Twins, Blue Jays, and Brewers trailing. The group has managed to hit six home runs collectively (over 625 plate appearances) and has batted to a .219/.279/.295 (.256 wOBA, 56 wRC+) line. They haven’t taken many walks (6.2 BB%) though they have struck out at fair pace (25.8 K%), and as already mentioned, power has been a scarcity.
The culprits hear are pretty obvious. Kevin Youkilis was the super non-durable (and super desperate) backup plan to Alex Rodriguez. Even prior to his back injury, which ultimately sidelined him for the year, he looked pretty shot. He was getting an awful lot of weak ground outs down the third base line. His patented patience never really surfaced and he basically looked uncomfortable at the plate from moment one. I suppose if you’re generous you can give him a pass if you want to call his season “incomplete” too. I’m not that generous though. He’s getting an “F” in my book.
From there you can talk about Nix, who really has been used way more than he probably should be in an ideal scenario. Frankly, he was getting exposed out there. He’s an adequate fill in on occasion, but he’s not a starter. If the Yankees keep throwing him out their day in and day out, they should expect below replacement level production. As for Adams, I wrote a while back that we should temper our expectations. Well, our expectations certainly have been tempered. After an impressive hot streak following his big league arrival, he’s basically looked lost at the plate for months. There was a pretty clear reason why was he was optioned to AAA.
I hate seeing the young guys come up and struggle even though they do it most of the time. I mean, it has to be tough making the transition. After a lifetime of hard work, a prolonged stay in the Majors simply doesn’t pan out for many. For others, it’s a precious window that closes quickly. Very few stick around for an extended period of time, and even fewer make a big impact. That’s not to say Romine won’t enjoy a successful MLB career, but he’s had a pretty rough start.
At this point, Romine has batted .160/.182./.213 (.176 wOBA, 0 wRC+) and has been worth -0.4 fWAR. He’s taken basically no walks (1.3 BB%) and has struck out 22.8% of the time. This includes zero home runs. Of course, he’s only had 79 plate appearances. Joe Girardi‘s been unable to play Romine because he’s been awful in limited opportunities. It seems like this has probably been fairly detrimental to Austin’s confidence (and the team’s confidence in him). Romine, on the other hand, really hasn’t been able to bounce back because he rides the bench almost full-time. On the plus side, when he is in the game, he puts forth solid defense for the most part.
When I think about Romine’s predicament, I ultimately arrive at one point: the Yankees were not adequately prepared at catcher, and Romine was probably not ready to be a big leaguer when he was brought up. He missed substantial time during his minor league development due to back injuries in 2011 and 2012, and really never had the chance to progress at a typical pace. He was thrown onto the big league roster when Francisco Cervelli went down, and backup catcher Chris Stewart became the primary backstop. Maybe we should be apologists for Romine. Maybe we shouldn’t be. Either way, he’s been pretty abysmal through the first half.
It appears as though the Joba Chamberlain saga is finally coming to a rather inglorious end. The once heralded prospect turned elite setup reliever, turned failed starter, turned back into not-quite-so-elite reliever will likely be gone by the trade deadline, or if not, most certainly by the off-season. Although Joba spent some time this season on the disabled list with a strained oblique, there were no massive setbacks to deal with like Tommy John surgery or an ankle dislocation.
As for Joba’s pitching stats, they speak for themselves (negatively). Through 22.1 innings pitched, he’s produced a 5.24 ERA (5.03 FIP). Joba’s strikeout rates are definitely respectable, as they generally are (8.87 K/9), but he’s given up way more walks (4.3 BB/9) than normal. He’s also seemed way more prone to the long ball (1.61 HR/9) than he has in the past. While I’m sure Joba wasn’t delighted about losing his eighth inning gig to David Robertson a couple seasons ago, I’m sure he’s been pretty disheartened this year about losing the seventh inning job as well. In fact, he’s no longer really being used in any high leverage situations, mostly just mop up duty at this point. Instead of responding to the challenge positively, Chamberlain has taken a step backward. As David Cone noted on Sunday afternoon’s brutal loss to the Twins, he looks like isn’t throwing with any conviction.
I do believe Joba is a better pitcher than what we’ve seen this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned things around in the second half whether with NY or somewhere else altogether. Not to bludgeon a dead horse much further, I also believe the Yankees have mishandled Joba for a few years now, which in turn has hindered him to some degree. Ultimately though, Chamberlain needs to be accountable for his production, which has been pretty lousy. Basically, this seems like a sad ending to what otherwise could have been a promising career in pinstripes. In any event, I think the relationship between Joba and the organization has soured, which is a shame. Such is life.
Mike and I were originally thinking of dedicating a separate article to the walking wounded. This includes Derek Jeter (ankle, quad), Mark Teixeira (wrist), Curtis Granderson (forearm, hand), A-Rod (hip), and Cervelli (hand, elbow). What is there really to say though? Injuries have decimated this team.
Would the Yankees be six games back out of first place if these guys weren’t all injured? Maybe. I have to believe though they’d be much more formidable. I suppose it’s appropriate to throw Zoilo Almonte into the mix as well. While he’s been a breath of fresh air offensively with all the quality at bats, he hasn’t been around all that long. After a torrid start, he’s since cooled somewhat, and who knows what he’ll happen from here (though if I had to guess, I’d say he’ll turn back into the AAAA guy I expected).
The team could have absorbed extended injuries to one or two of these guys perhaps. Having them all out basically all season has been a nightmare though. Who knows how long Jeter will be sidelined with this most recent setback, or whether A-Rod will face a big suspension. Granderson’s basically a non entity at this point. All we do know is that the guys who have been brought on board to supplement the production of these big names aren’t getting it done. While we can’t grade these players on game performance, I think we can say it’s been a very disappointing season for them (and the team) in terms of injuries.
(click all images for larger views)
Since my birthday falls a few weeks after Opening Day, I’m frequently treated to early baseball-related gifts. My parents, for instance, renew my MLB.tv subscription every year in early March. My future wife, since she works at a video game store, pre-orders me MLB The Show. While I’ve gotten plenty of use out of MLB.tv this year, the copy of The Show has collected plenty of dust. As of this writing I haven’t played it in at least a month, probably more.
A friend of mine puts it best when he says, “Baseball and video games but not baseball video games.” I might have disagreed a few years ago, but in the recent past I’ve grown tired of The Show. The games take forever to play, and it takes a certain endurance to get through a season. Even then, once you do get through a season the off-season stuff — the stuff that nerdy baseball fans like me are supposed to enjoy — is full of flaws. There is little joy in building a team in The Show.
For years I’d heard about a computer-based baseball simulation engine called Out Of The Park Baseball. I never bought it, though, mostly because I already had The Show or the 2K game or MVP. Why spend money on a second baseball video game, especially one where you can’t actually play the games? Yet the curiosity always lingered. So last year, seeking a way to kill time before bed, I bought a version for my iPad. It definitely kept me occupied in times of boredom, so when the folks at OOTP offered me a review copy of their full computer-based program this year I jumped on the opportunity.
What baseball fans will love about OOTP is its attention to detail. You take charge of a major league franchise and are tasked with managing its entire system, from the majors down to an international complex. Each team’s owner has a personality, which affects budgets and other concerns. In other words, you have guidelines within which you must operate, just as a real-life GM would. The result is a game that should keep armchair GMs satisfied for hours on end.
MLB The Show is practical with its rosters. Each organization has a major league team and two minor league levels, with a reserve of players dubbed A-level. That’s fine and good, since the emphasis in The Show is actual gameplay. In OOTP you take charge of hundreds of players at every level of the minors, and the minor league levels are quite accurate. You’ll have a AAA, AA, A+, A, short-season A, and Rookie ball teams (though there doesn’t appear to be much of a differentiation between A+ and A).
Throughout the season you’ll have to promote and demote these players, accounting for their performances, their morales, and their potentials. If that seems like a gargantuan task, it certainly is. Thankfully, you can also modify your settings and let the computer take over many of those tasks. Letting the computer take care of the day-to-day lineups at both the MLB and minor league levels will save you plenty of time and frustration. As long as you control who is on the roster, that’s usually enough.
OOTP rates its players on what amounts to a scale of 1 to 10, representing their rating with stars. Half a star is really a rating of 1, and five stars is a rating of 10. Each player has both an actual talent rating and a potential rating. Both are subject to change at any time, which is pretty realistic. After all, a player with a 10 potential who doesn’t pan out will see his potential decline. But a player with a two-star actual rating and a 10-star potential could be a future star.
What stands out in OOTP is the subjectiveness of the ratings. Each team has a scouting director, and ratings are based on that specific person. You can toggle between your scouting director’s ratings and OOTP’s internal ratings, but it’s not as though OOTP’s ratings are the “true” ratings. This essentially means that your scouting director is the most important aspect of your organization. Find a good one and you’ll uncover hidden gems around the league and trade for them on the cheap. Employ a poor one and you’ll grow frustrated that your five-star potential player is hitting .200 in AA.
Personnel and front office
Just as in the bigs, you have to hire coaching staffs at every level of the minors. These coaches all have different ability ratings: teach hitting, teach pitching, and teach fielding, in addition to handle veterans, handle rookies, and handle players. Pick the wrong personnel and you can ruin player development and performance. Given the long process of finding personnel actually interested in working for your minor league teams, this can be maddening. (See nitpicks below.)
While you don’t do everything a GM does, you do have full control of baseball operations. This means setting scouting budgets, working within your given budget, and keeping tabs on basically every aspect of the organization. And make no mistake: just because you win doesn’t mean your owner will increase your budget. For two straights seasons my owner had expectations of a mere winning record. In both seasons I made the playoffs. The results? Budget increases of under $200,000.
On the franchise level you can also set your team strategy. This includes overview stuff, like favoring prospects or veterans, offense or defense, etc. You can also set strategy for nearly every aspect of in-game play. This goes into ridiculous detail, letting you set strategy for innings 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9 in nine different trailing or leading scenarios. Want a manager that plays it by the SABR book? You can make sure that he does that at every juncture.
(Almost) Realistic trade engine
In many sports video games, you can trade quantity for quality. Throw in enough mediocre players and a team will trade you a star. Anyone who played MVP 2004 knows this; you can assemble an All-Star team in that game with little effort by trading two or three meh players for Albert Pujols. In OOTP there is still a level of quantity for quality, but it’s not nearly as egregious.
There is no way you can get a four-star player, for instance, without including a three-star player or a five-star prospect. Even then, you’ll have to throw in more. One feature I love is the “make this work now” button. Click it, and the computer will run through your roster and find players the computer will accept. But don’t expect that to be some scrub. Almost always it will be a player of high ability or potential, at least in the computer’s eyes. Every once in a while you might get lucky and they’ll choose a player that they like but your scouting director does not.
You can also choose to shop around your players. That searches the league and finds one-to-one offers for the player. In very few instances will you find a good deal here, but it’s a quality starting point. It at least shows what teams might be interested, and the kinds of players they’re willing to sacrifice. Just don’t try to pry a four-star starter from a team in win-now mode, or try to dump an expensive player on a team in rebuilding mode. The computer takes that into account, too.
Draft and international free agents
The OOTP engine handles the MLB draft and international signing period pretty accurately. In early June you’ll draft from the created pool of amateur talent. Each player has a certain bonus demand, sometimes slot but more often a quite higher number. Teams have to work within their draft pool budgets, and players tend not to sign unless you meet their demands.
The international process can be a huge pain in the ass. Again, you’re dealing with your scouting director’s subjective ratings, and very few of the available players have high potential (both from your scouting director and OOTP’s ratings). That means a ton of teams compete for the top talent, almost always pushing the top players’ bonuses above your international budget. And yes, there are penalties for exceeding your pool, so if you make that big signing this year you’re limited the next year.
(Not to mention, you’ll get weeks of emails letting you know that another team made a better offer. So you go in and top that offer, only to be notified a day later that you have to increase it again. This goes on for weeks, sometimes into mid-August.)
At almost any time you can get a report on any aspect of your franchise or league. Looking for the top minor league systems? That’s an easy option in the league menu. You can go quite further, though, and assess the strength of each team’s system. The report takes seriously three minutes to generate, but it lets you know where every team ranks at every position.
The two most useful reports, in my mind, are the Minor League Report and the Player Development Report. The former runs through all of your minor league rosters and provides quick-take stats and notes. The notes let you know if a player is over his head or due for promotion. The latter lets you know about changes in your players’ abilities and potentials. It comes out a few times a year, and it can be a frustrating experience. No one wants to see their five-star first-round draft pick drop to a four-star potential. But it’s better to know that and have a better understanding of your organization.
I needn’t pontificate on injuries to Yankees fans. In the past two years in particular we’ve seen nearly every starter on both sides of the ball land on the disabled list.* Chances are you won’t see every starter on your OOTP team hit the DL, but if my experience is any indication you will have to deal with at least a dozen DL trips every year. In many instances those will be 60-day DL trips, and if they occur in late in the year they certainly can wrap around into the next season.
* Robinson Cano, Russell Martin, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Ichiro Suzuki are the only starters of consequence who avoided the DL in the last two years. Swisher, if I remember correctly, missed some time with nagging injuries last year. Phil Hughes did technically start this season on the DL, though he didn’t really miss a start. Note, too, that only two of those players have spent all of 2012 and 2013 with the Yanks.
In my second season two starters required Tommy John surgery. The worst injury, though, I blame on my future wife. One moment she was playfully mocking me for “playing with my ones and zeroes team.” The next moment my ace starter went down with a torn something or other, putting him out nine months — meaning the playoffs and a sizable chunk of the following season.
A game with such attention to detail sets a perhaps unrealistic level of expectations. There are a number of small quarrels I’ve had with the game playing through my three seasons. Clearly they weren’t deal breakers for me, but I’d have enjoyed it a bit more if I had these little features.
Lineup and rotation suggestions. If you want to get through some seasons and rebuild a team, you pretty much have to let the computer set your daily lineups and pitching rotation. It’s not a big deal for the most part. The computer tends to put your best hitters in the middle of the lineup. Yet there are some instances when I want to bench a certain player, or swap pitchers in the rotation and bullpen. But as long as the computer controls those aspects, you can’t do that. That means you have to either deal with the computer’s lineups, or else control lineups and rotations manually, which will slow down your season.
Computer trade proposals. It’s great that the computer can initiate a trade with you. Ideally, it opens up opportunities to improve your roster. But the computer proposes the most outlandish trades. They’re all incredibly one-sided, to the point where you don’t even want to negotiate. No, I won’t trade you two five-star prospects for your three-star third baseman making $15 million per season.
Minor league personnel. Need to fill your short-season A hitting coach position? Good luck. It doesn’t appear that the available personnel is listed in any particular order, so you never know which coaches aren’t willing to work for that particular level — and the lower the level the smaller the pool of willing coaches. You have to click five or six times to see if the coach is even willing, so it can be incredibly frustrating to find coaches for all of your teams.
This review already sits at over 2,000 words, and I could probably go on for another 6,000 describing every aspect of the game. Honestly, 2,000 words is a few too many, but I feel strongly enough about OOTP that I’ll let it stand. The overall notion is that the game brings ridiculous, and mostly accurate, detail to the game. You’re in control to a degree I’ve never seen from any baseball simulation engine.
The attention to detail can be straining at times. You’ll spend a lot of time tinkering when you really just want to get on with your season. And if you’re like me, you’ll have to put down the game for a week because you’re just tired of so much control. But if you’re like me you’ll also come back to the game after that week away. It’s just too addictive.
You can buy OOTP Baseball 14 for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It costs $39.99.
Just because apps share a name does not mean they are equals. Last week I reviewed MLB At Bat for Android and came away thoroughly impressed. Yet that app has a few differences from its iPhone and iPad counterparts. Since I use an iPad and not an iPhone, I figure reviewing the iPad app is a bit more appropriate. It represents another win for MLB Advanced Media.
The most prominent feature of MLB At Bat for iPad is Gameday. When you open the app you go to that screen by default. When there are no games playing you’ll see a rundown of the previous day’s scores on top, with the first game recap in the middle of the screen.
Here you can read the game story from each team, right from their MLB.com beat writers. You can check the box, the play-by-play, and watch video highlights. Each player’s name is clickable, so you can pull up a quick player card with his numbers from that game, plus a few select splits.
One thing I’ve always liked about Gameday in iPad is how they use the real home stadium in the background. And by real, I mean the rendered version from the MLB The Show video game. You don’t get accurate representations of each individual batter, which would be a neat effect. But overall it’s a neat little feauture.
When live there is perhaps no better Gameday interface. You can view lineups, box scores, play-by-play (including scoring plays), and more right from the Gameday interface. It also gives you the pitch-by-pitch breakdown of the current at-bat.
My only complaint here is that there is no way to check the play-by-play in the archive. MLB has generally cut out pitch-by-pitch Gameday breakdowns in all formats, which is a shame.
As you might imagine, the stats interface is a bit more robust on a tablet than it is on a smartphone. Since there is more screen real estate they can afford to provide more than the basics. When you click on the stats tab you’ll go right to the 2013 MLB player batting leaders. It might not be the FanGrapsh leader board, but it’s also not the archaic stats pages we’ve seen in the past.
It contains your typical counting stats, plus triple slash stats and OPS. It would be super nice to have OPS+ in there, therefore turning it into something like Baseball Reference. But all considered, this isn’t half bad. Sorting is as easy as tapping the stat at the top of the screen.
Click on a player’s name and you’ll go not to a new screen, but to a pop-up. That’s nice, because it keeps you on the stats screen. The player card has a quick summary of biographical information, a small stats screen that contains just AB, HR, RBI, AVG, and OBP, plus fantasy news.
There are a few ways you can manipulate the results, beyond sorting by clicking. You can toggle between player stats and team stats by clicking at the top of the page. You can also filter by position and league. Looking for a different season, or perhaps spring training and postseason stats? You can click on the Timeframe tab and find those. Again, it’s not what we expect given the huge stats databases on the web. But it’s much better than in years past.
The news section is either redesigned for 2013, or else I never checked it in 2012. It’s actually a great interface, resembling tablet aggregation apps like Flipboard and Zite. It defaults to general MLB news, and you can flip through multiple pages of the day’s top stories. Click the MLB News tab at the top of the page and you can select team-specific feeds — with your favorite team on top, of course.
I have to say that the new interface has me using the News feature much more often than I have in the past (considering I never used it last year). Since I use Zite and Flipboard often, the interface is familiar and welcome. The stories are laid out in traditional columns, too, making the reading even easier.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the news section is clickable video. If you see the play button, you can click it and the video will play right inside the news section. You can go full screen with another touch — the video will automatically minimize when it’s done, leaving you back at the news screen. I’m genuinely excited for this news app this year.
Yes, you can hook up your MLB.tv account to At Bat for iPad. In fact, I can’t imagine having At Bat without my MLB.tv account. Tablets are simply wonderful for streaming video. MLBAM has clearly prioritized streaming video, and has improved the quality of its feeds in recent years. The feed on the At Bat app is especially awesome, because it doesn’t use Flash. Honestly, the continued use of Flash for desktop streaming makes me never want to use it. We can only hope they adopt an HTML5 web streaming standard for 2014.
When you play your video you’ll have to overlay options. The first is for box score and play-by-play, which you can show and hide by dragging from the right side of the screen. The second sits atop the screen, filling otherwise black space. It’s the day’s scoreboard. You can use this to switch among any number of games. It gives you the base-out situation and score, so you can flip to any game at its most intense.
What has become an essential accessory for At Bat on my iPad is Apple TV. Yes, you can access MLB.tv from it, but that’s not the best use. If you have an Apple TV, you’ll notice a little triangle in the controls panel. Click that and you can send the feed right to your TV. As you might expect, it looks superb on plasma TVs and other HDTVs. It always amazes me a little that we can stream high-quality video on our TVs. It’s truly a sight to behold.
The advantage of using the iPad over the Apple TV interface, of course, is navigation. It’s just easier to flip between games on your iPad, given the scoreboard controls. At just $99 for the Apple TV unit, I’m not going to complain much about price.
As with the Android version, MLB At Bat for iPad is free to download, but requires a $20 subscription to access its features. MLB.tv premium runs $120 for the year, and is a must-have for baseball fans.
Opening Day might remain the holiest of days for baseball fans, but there are other dates to celebrate. Pitchers and catchers reporting, though essentially eventless, serves as a concrete reminder that baseball is coming. Another date that stands out for many fans: the first spring training games. For all of us, it’s our first chance to see our boys in uniform.
We all have different rituals and celebrations that go along with these dates. For the first game of spring training, I celebrate by installing the latest version of MLB At Bat on my smartphone. Since switching (back) to Android last fall, I had the pleasure this year of adding the MLB widget to my home screen. Since we’re a few days away from real baseball, it seems like as good a time as any to dig into the latest At Bat and see what it brings to the table.
Just to be clear up front, my review is based on the Galaxy S3. As long as you have Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher, though, it should function almost exactly the same whether you’re using Motorola, LG, or HTC phones.
MLB knows its fans. While many of us enjoy action from all around the league, most fans prefer to monitor the home town team above others. As always At Bat allows you to choose your favorite and then places them atop the scoreboard. They also become the default score on your widget. It might seem small and simple, but it’s a key feature.
The team homepage received a facelift this year, and so far has been an excellent hub for updates. In addition to the next-game information, it has a featured box with stories and video — and there don’t appear to be any pre-roll ads before the video. Below that there’s a full video clip section, with news, schedule, shop, tickets, and stadium information. Finally, there is a section to check the current roster and standings.
The team homescreen is somewhat reminiscent of Windows 8 on smartphones. It’s all based on tiles, and there are plenty of tiles you can scroll. I haven’t used this feature in the past, but I plan to this year for sure. Information about matchups, video clips, and quick schedule access make it a sensible hub.
When you click into At Bat, your default screen is the league scoreboard. Atop you’ll see the Yankees game for the day, if they have one, followed by the rest of the league in start-time order. Again, this is fairly standard, as is the ability to flip to different dates. You’ll get the situation, too, including bases, counts, and outs. Click on that diamond, and you’ll see options for Gameday, audio, video, and box score.
While the scoreboard screen is nothing new, it is remarkable for the amount of information it displays in a single screen. The default refresh rate (more on that in a moment) means you’ll be up-to-date, almost to the second. Easy access to various ways of enjoying the game makes this the perfect default screen. It’s a big winner for At Bat this year.
Gameday, audio, and video
I’m digging the Gameday interface this year, which includes a useful navigation bar at the top*. Flipping among the live Gameday broadcast, the box score, the play-by-play, videos, and the defensive alignment is quick and simple. When connected to WiFi and 4G LTE networks there is hardly any load time.
*This might or might not be new on Android; I was using the iOS version last year.
Other than that, Gameday is pretty straight forward, as it always has been. It’s been pretty crappy for spring games from what I’ve noticed, but it should get plenty better once the real games start.
As always, you can hook up your MLB.com account to At Bat and get the audio and video streams of every game. Again, with 4G LTE running the S3 the video feeds are better than ever. I imagine this is the same on most LTE-enabled phones. The larger screen size of modern smartphones also adds to the effect. While watching a game on the 4.8-inch scree of the S3 is far from ideal, it’s light years better than the 3.5-inch screen of the iPhone (pre-5).
News, standings, and more
One thing you might notice when using At Bat is that the menu button does not function at all. I’ve grown very accustomed to using that virtual button to bring up menus full of settings, but At Bat has done away with that. Instead their menu is entirely contained in the top navigation bar (which also contains listings for audio and video). From here you can access the array of MLB.com offerings, including news, standings, video, stats, and more.
The stats screen could certainly use some work, but of course that’s coming from a guy who used to write for FanGraphs. It’s not that I need wOBA inside the At Bat app. Hardly. Instead, I’d rather see a better display method for the stats. Under the stats pages you can check leaders in a huge number of categories, including OPS. In other words, not great, but serviceable.
The individual player pages, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. While they have neat little things like last 10 games and splits, the whole layout is just not useful. The only stats they give you are games played, at-bats, home runs, RBI, average, and OBP. That goes for both the summary page and the stats-specific page. I understand MLB caters to a more general crowd, but having at least the traditional AVG/OBP/SLG would be a huge help. Then again, with people using this for fantasy purposes, and with economy of space being an issue, it’s understandable why it works this way. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Before I installed At Bat and added the scoreboard widget to my home page, I’d get almost two days’ worth of battery out of a single charge on my S3. Ever since installing, I get about 20 hours’ worth before having to recharge. That’s because of the settings on the At Bat widget. If battery life is a concern for you, you might want to go update those settings.
There are separate refresh rate settings for scoreboard and the widget, so you can keep the scoreboard updating every 15 seconds while you have the app open. You can refresh the widget every 15, 30, or 60 seconds. The 30-second option seems to save a decent amount of battery life, but practically you can probably deal with once-a-minute updates.
While it’s off by default, I also recommend you turn off the Gameday Scout option. It claims to provide “color commentary on gameday discussing statistical trends and tendencies,” but anyone who has seen it knows otherwise. A typical “scout” observation: “Phil Hughes is having trouble finding his control, as he has walked two this inning and has three balls on Lind.” Ya think?
Free, but not
While the MLB At Bat for Android app is free to download at Google Play, it does require a $19.99 subscription. That gets you all the features except live video. You’ll need a MLB.tv Premium subscription to get that. It’s the one purchase I know I’ll make every year.
There is a book waiting to be written about the life and times of Derek Jeter. This book will explore what motivates him to excel on the field and how he behaves off the field where he was – and maybe still is – a king of New York’s social scene. In other words, it should delve into every aspect of Derek Jeter that makes him Derek Jeter. That book is not, however, Ian O’Connor’s highly anticipated biography The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter.
From the start, I knew that O’Connor’s book, at nearly 380 pages, would be a slog. The first sentence of chapter one read, “Like all good stories about a prince, this one starts in a castle.” That’s the way O’Connor has chosen to frame his biography. It’s not a critical look at Jeter; it’s not one with inside information about his social life; it excuses any short-comings; it is about a player O’Connor views as a prince.
After that, though, the book takes a turn for the better. The first 200 pages focus on Jeter’s background and early years with the Yankees. We learn about his grandfather’s youth in New Jersey as a foster child and how his work ethic shaped Jeter’s devotion to his eventual craft. We hear about the racial challenges Jeter’s parents faced as a mixed marriage at a time of less tolerance even in New Jersey and Michigan. We read about his youth as a start baseball and basketball player. As a scrawny teenager in the late 1980s, even then, Derek Jeter was destined for great things. He told his friends he would both be on the Yankees and date Mariah Carey, and everyone who knew him believed him.
As the tale progresses, O’Connor offers a glimpse back at the fateful draft of 1992. Somehow, Jeter, far and way the most productive player from that draft, fell all the way to the sixth pick. The Astros wanted Phil Nevin’s power while the Indians wanted Paul Shuey’s arm. The Reds’ advanced scouts and a young Jim Bowden urged the club to take Jeter with the fifth pick, but Julian Mock went the cheaper route. They picked Chad Mottola who appeared in just 59 games for the Reds, Blue Jays, Orioles and Marlins.
That draft was, of course, the first major turning point in Jeter’s life. He was expected to become the next great Yankee and had a signing bonus to match. He and Brien Taylor were due to lead the club into another era of greatness, but the game that came so easily to Jeter in Michigan proved challenging. At the age of 18, he hit .210/.311/.314 with 21 errors and would call home in tears every night. At age 19, his hitting improved, but he made 56 errors for Single A Greensboro. Already, Yankee officials were talking about moving Jeter out of short stop.
But as O’Connor notes, intangibles carried the day. Jeter, work ethic intact, turned himself into the sixth best prospect in baseball, and despite pressure from the front office to go with a more experienced short stop, he emerged as the team’s young spark plug in 1996. For his first five seasons, Jeter led a golden life. He won four World Series and dated Mariah Carey. After the 2000 World Series, Jeter was on top of the world, but even then, O’Connor had to position the second half of his book. “Derek Jeter, four-time champ,” he writes, “was the undisputed lord of the rings. He had no idea how much suffering he would endure in pursuit of his one for the thumb.”
The suffering, of course, came in the form of Those Other Guys. Once the synergistic energies of Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius departed, the Yankees, says O’Connor, became a Me-First team. Jason Giambi, for instance, asked out of the 2003 World Series, much to Jeter’s chagrin. And then A-Rod arrives.
If this book has a villain, it is Alex Rodriguez. He’s the guy who kisses himself in the mirror, who slaps at baseballs, who cares too much about his image and manages to put his foot in his mouth. He’s the guy who dissed Jeter in an Esquire interview and who bears the full weight of the Yanks’ post-season failures from 2004-2007. He is the anti-Jeter, and this goes on for nearly 150 pages as O’Connor defines Jeter for what A-Rod isn’t as much as he does what the Yankees’ Captain is.
Using stories from Selena Roberts’ A-Rod expose and the Joe Torre/Tom Verducci memoir, O’Connor paints a familiar picture of A-Rod as a selfish guy. Perhaps that’s not an inaccurate picture of A-Rod, but he’s also a player who hit .303/.403/.573 with 173 home runs over his first four seasons in the Bronx. He certainly wasn’t embraced by Jeter who comes across as vindicative toward those who double-cross him, but he was a big part of the Yanks’ regular season success.
Eventually, Jeter and A-Rod reconcile as the Yanks’ Captain brings Alex “back into the fold.” He is embraced, and the Yankees win the 2009 World Series. It was Jeter’s crowning moment. “Jeter did not just embody the pride of the Yankees as much as any mythic figure before him,” O’Connor writes, returning to his favorite metaphor. “He proved a prince can become a king without lusting after the throne.” Mostly, the book is as saccharine and sterilized as it sounds.
Yet, buried within this tale of the prince of New York is something more interesting, and now and then, it shines through. While Jeter didn’t fully cooperate with O’Connor, he clearly gave his blessing for some of his closest friends — including Tino Martinez, David Cone and one-time Yankee farmhand R.D. Long — to sit with O’Connor. When they talk, Derek becomes more human and less princely. It slams the Mets for allowing the Baha Men to perform “Who Let the Dogs Out” before the 2000 World Series at Shea Stadium. He is absolutely frigid toward those who slight him or friends who do him wrong. He dumps Mariah Carey and kicks her to the curb with a brutal efficiency. He yells at Bernie Williams and Jay Witasick behind closed doors and is a far more vocal captain than many fans think. He parties as a youngster during Spring Training and courts starlets for decades.
To me, that’s what would make a Derek Jeter biography more interesting. It doesn’t have to be all wine and roses. We know about his on-field accomplishments; we have seen them day in and day out. But O’Connor’s book leaves Jeter’s private life well enough alone. The book rehashes the 2003 dispute with George Steinbrenner that eventually lead to an amusing VISA commercial and mentions Jeter’s extreme secrecy concerning the women he has dated. But Minka Kelly, for instance, is mentioned on a whopping six pages, and Joe Torre’s reluctance to push his favorite pupil to improve his defense gets very short shrift.
As an epilogue to the 2009 World Series, O’Connor provides some behind-the-scenes glimpses at Jeter’s contract negotiations, and here, the book does what I want to do. Jeter, painted as proud and not always receptive to criticism, did not take kindly to the Yanks’ suggestion that he wasn’t worth a nine-figure deal or $20 million a year. This is the excerpt that ESPN New York ran a few weeks ago as a teaser for the book. The Yanks pushed hard, and Jeter got upset. Eventually, Randy Levine settled the dispute by offering Jeter more money than he otherwise would have gotten and a player option, and everyone became friends — or at least frenemies — again.
Yet, even here, the book seems incomplete, and that’s because it is. Derek Jeter’s story is far from over. We have yet to see how Jeter, long accustomed to exploiting his natural talents to win World Series titles and not receptive to moving position, will respond to the inevitable and ongoing aging process. We don’t know what’s going to happen when he does have to move from short stop, and we haven’t seen how the Yankees and their fading star will address his anemic bat. That isn’t just an epilogue to the softcover edition of O’Connor’s book; it’s an entirely new section that can’t be written for years. We might know Jeter a little better after reading O’Connor’s biography, but Jeter might not know himself until he faces the adversity on the baseball field that inevitably comes with age.
The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the least heralded success stories in sports of the past decade. In 2007, it was business as usual for the then-Devil Rays. They went 66-96, good for their ninth last place finish in ten seasons as a Major League club, and just under 1.4 million fans watched Alberto Reyes rack up 26 saves.
Since then, the Rays have won the AL East twice and made the World Series once. They’ve dethroned the league’s two richest teams and still sport a solid young core of players that make them a perennial threat in the American League. They don’t have a new stadium and still draw under 1.8 million fans per season. Yet, the Rays have become the latest small-market success story. How?
The how is the subject of Jonah Keri’s latest book. Entitled The Extra 2 %, Keri’s book explores, as the lofty subtitle says, “how Wall Street strategies took a Major League Baseball team from worst to first.” With a new ownership group in place that was willing to experiment and push the envelope, the Rays took advantage of their position at the bottom of baseball’s economic pecking order to dig for advantages. Luck played no small part in it, but the Rays have something that works, for now.
To set the stage, Keri spends the first few chapters exploring the tortured history of baseball in Tampa Bay. The sprawling metropolitan had always appealed to Major League Baseball more as a threat than as an actual landing place for a team. Whenever a successful franchise needed a new stadium, it would threaten a move to St. Petersburg. The White Sox did so in the early 1990s; the Mariners followed suit a few years later; and the San Francisco Giants were apparently this close to shacking up in the Trop.
Yet, despite the fact that St. Petersburg went so far as to build a stadium — an ugly one at that — without a tenant, Major League Baseball never graced the area with a team. Miami got its franchise first, and it took the threat of a lawsuit that would have rocked baseball from its lofty perch atop an antitrust exemption to see the Devil Rays enter the world.
When they did, it was a spectacular disaster. Vince Naimoli was the wrong man to own the team, and Chuck LaMar was the wrong general manager. The club burned draft picks by signing bad free agents. They wasted other picks by avoiding top talent in the name of “signability.” Sometimes, they landed the right guy; Carl Crawford stuck. But Jason Standridge and Dewon Brazelton are a testament to the disaster.
Keri’s narrative picks up the Extra 2 % when Stuart Sternberg, a baseball fan and Wall Street guy, buys the club from Naimoli. He brought Matthew Silverman and Andrew Friedman with him. Together, these three guys changed the franchise. They changed the way it does business; they spruced up Tropicana Field as best they could; and they began to search for the edge — the Extra 2 % — that would allow the Rays to remain competitive in the rich American League East.
Unfortunately for Keri’s book, the meat of the Extra 2 % is a proprietary one. James Click and Josh Kalk, two former Baseball Prospectus writers, are among the top figures working behind the scenes, but the Rays, who cooperated with Keri only at the end of his reporting, keep these minds away from the press. A certain part of the Extra 2 % is still a secret.
Yet, that doesn’t leave the book lacking, and Keri provides deep insights into the Rays’ process. He talks with Silverman and Friedman about their baseball arbitrage process, and while he doesn’t go inside the Rays’ draft room, he explains how the club is working to identify baseball talent on the cheap while selling high and drafting wisely. The Extra 2 % comes from the organization’s idea that they have to be that much more diligent than their competitors. The Devil Rays might have missed out on Albert Pujols in the early 2000s, but that’s a mistake the current regime will not make again.
Ultimately, the book is a great read, and I can’t recommend it enough for Yankee fans of all stripes. We might envy the Rays their recent success and no longer view them as the pushovers they once were. But that doesn’t make them an unlikeable franchise, and Keri’s book humanizes a franchise long scorned by the baseball cognoscenti.
The end of Keri’s book, on the current stadium, left me wanting the more than isn’t there yet. Tropicana Field is ugly and out of the way. It’s in a town with very high unemployment, and while the Rays have the highest TV ratings in the game, they can’t get fans to come. They also can’t force the area to fork over public funds for a new stadium.
So my question still remains: Can the Rays maintain their success? Keri says they can, but I’m less optimistic. (Perhaps, that’s my inner Yankee fan speaking.) Their payroll this year is much lower than in recent seasons, and their bullpen and lineup approach resembles something of a band aid. They will rise and fall on their arms, but as the young guns grow up, can they keep winning? The cast of The Extra 2 % came of age at a time when the Rays had the right guys making the right Number 1 draft picks. Success comes at a price, and in 2011, we’ll learn if the Rays can sustain success of it small-market wins are merely cyclical.
Editor’s Note: Jonah Keri is a good friend of mine, and his publisher supplied me with a review copy of the book. Joe and I are also mentioned by name in the Acknowledgements. Still, this review is an impartial one.
When I was 12 years old, the Seattle Mariners broke my heart. A perfectly-placed double by Edgar Martinez in the bottom of the 11th inning on a Sunday night in early October sent the Yankees home after a thrilling ALDS. It was the first Yankee playoff appearance of my life, and while the memories of it would be erased by a half a decade of World Series dominance, it was a crushing, stinging defeat for this young baseball fan.
Now, that series with Ken Griffey’s tremendous display of power, David Cone’s gutsy pitching, the emergence of Mariano Rivera, Don Mattingly’s last hurrah, the Martinezes’ — Edgar and Tino — constant bludgeoning of the Yankees and, of course, Randy Johnson’s relief appearance, has been immortalized by Chris Donnelly in a wonderful new book. Called Baseball’s Greatest Series, Donnelly explores how the 1995 ALDS match-up between the Yankees and the Mariners, in his words, changed history. It brought about key changes in New York that led to a dynasty and saved baseball as we know it in Seattle.
What most Yankee fans sitting 3,000 miles away from Seattle know about that 1995 series concerns the way it changed the Yankees. The Yankees left New York up 2-0 on the Mariners and had to return east losers of three straight, the first of the three great Yankee collapses during their magical dynasty run. That loss — with the shaky John Wetteland in the bullpen, with Mariano Rivera underutilized, with Jack McDowell on the mound, with a tight and tense Yankee clubhouse and a cantankerous owner — led to the ouster of Buck Showalter and the dawn of a new day. Getting to that point, though, was a battle.
Donnelly begins his tale in New York with a history of the Yankees from 1981 to 1995. It is a sad tale and one we’ve told in bits and pieces this winter. George Steinbrenner turned from a crazy win-now owner into a meddlesome and obsessed win-at-all-costs-yesterday owner. The Yanks fell just short of the playoffs in 1985 and couldn’t recover for nearly a decade after Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball and the Yanks’ baseball minds could put together a better team.
Necessarily, the New York part of the story focuses on Don Mattingly. A lynch pin for the Yanks throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, by 1995 he was a shell of his former self, and that 1995 ALDS was his only playoff appearance as a player. Mattingly hit .417/.440/.708 in his last games as a Major Leaguer, but with the likes of Dion James, Randy Velarde, Tony Fernandez and Ruben Sierra all faltering behind him, it wasn’t enough.
In Seattle, meanwhile, the story is more vital for the Mariners. While the Yanks’ loss led to a dynasty, the Mariners’ victory ensured the Pacific Northwest that baseball would survive there. Prior to 1995, the Mariners were a sad franchise that never enjoyed much success. They played in a dreary dome that remained mostly empty for decades, and as 1995 dawned, the team needed a new stadium or they would decamp for Tampa Bay.
As the Mariners climbed back from a late-season 12-game deficit to make the playoffs, Seattle became, in the span of one year, a baseball town. The story ends not with a Mariners’ loss to the Indians in the ALCS, but with a new stadium for the team and a decade-long rivalry with the Yanks. As hard as it is to believe now, but the Mariners were three outs away from leaving Seattle. The Yankees just couldn’t get those three outs.
The Yankees, meanwhile, blew it. As would be the case in the desert in 2001 and in Boston and New York in 2004, the Yankees were on the precipice of playoff victory and couldn’t seal the deal. They headed west triumphant with a two games to none lead in the best-of-five series. They went down against Randy Johnson in Game 3. The Big Unit, a playoff bugaboo both pitching against and for the Yankees through 2006, struck out 10. In Game 4, the team jumped out to a 5-0 lead and was outscored 11-3 over the last six innings. Scott Kamieniecki, Sterling Hitchcock, Bob Wickman, John Wetteland and Steve Howe just couldn’t get it done.
And then there was Game 5. It was a tense affair for the Yankees. George Steinbrenner had grown to hate the popular Buck Showalter, and Showalter’s tense managerial style clearly had an impact on the team. But the Yanks had a lead heading into the late innings. They went up 4-2 when a Don Mattingly double unfortunately bounced over the wall. Much as he could not when a Tony Clark double bounced over the wall in Fenway nine years later, Ruben Sierra was not allowed to score on Mattingly’s ball. It was the first bad bounce to change baseball history.
David Cone stayed in too long, and the Mariners tied it up in the 8th. Mariano Rivera came in to clean up the mess, and the Yankees finally recognized the weapon that would fully emerge in 1996. When the Big Unit came in to pitch in relief, the Yankees were in trouble. They eked out a run in the 11th, but Jack McDowell couldn’t hold it. Joey Cora singled, Ken Griffey singled, and Edgar Martinez roped a double down the line. It was all over.
Donnelly’s storytelling as the games unfold is a pleasure. More than once, I had to put the book down to gather myself when I knew the inning or the game wasn’t going to end for the Yankees. As the team gathered in tears in the visitors’ clubhouse in Seattle, I thought back to my frustrations as a young baseball fan. After the strike-shortened season of 1994, baseball needed a thrilling postseason, but Yankee fans wanted wins. We knew Mattingly would retire; we knew Showalter would be fired. But we didn’t know what glory awaited.
Baseball’s Greatest Series doesn’t dwell much on the game past 1995, and it doesn’t have to. It’s a great complement to Buster Olney’s The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty in that it dissects a transformative moment in baseball — and Yankee history — and shows how it led to a different era for the game. It’s heartbreaking to read about the stunning Yankee losses, and Edgar’s double burns just as badly as Luis Gonzalez’s single. But it’s a more interesting read than a profile of the 1990s dynasty teams.
Donnelly’s story, in the end, is about baseball’s redemption after a pointless strike. It’s about the way George Steinbrenner loomed over the Yankees and how the team’s loss in Seattle turned them into a winner despite the Boss’ crankiest moments. It’s about how the Mariners needed that win and how, with a bounding ball into left field, Seattle erupted, New York cried and we had to wait, without knowing what 1996 would bring, until next year yet again.
Chris Donnelly’s Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History is available for sale at Amazon and your local bookstore. If you use the link in this paragraph to buy the book, we earn a few pennies on the sale. It’s a brisk 287 pages, and you’ll find yourself yet again cursing the Mariners by the end of it.
What would your photo album look like if you had front-row seats to every Yankee game for decades on end? It would probably be a thing of beauty with vivid photographs of seminal moments in Yankee history.
Well, although you and I do not enjoy this luxury in life, the Associated Press has. Photographers from the AP have been at every Yankee game for countless years. Now, to coincide with the first playoff series at the New Yankee Stadium, the AP is making 365 of these photographs available in a new book. The book, entitled New York Yankees 365, is on sale now, and it truly is a marvelous photo retrospective.
Ostensibly, the book is arranged as a bound page-a-day calendar. Each photo is a full page with a description and a calendar date on the other. That part of the production I don’t understand. The calendar days do not actually correspond to anything portrayed in the pictures, and no one will read and soak in just one photo a day. But that’s a minor quibble about a great addition to anyone’s Yankee coffee table book collection. From the Babe to Derek, this one’s got it all (and you can see some of it in this slideshow).
Tom Curley, president and CEO of the AP, talked about the organization’s goals behind the book. “Baseball and The Associated Press grew up together, and no news organization has covered more of the nearly 400,000 professional games that have been played to date,” he said in a press release. “Over the course of the last century, the Yankees have come to embody the majesty of the game of baseball. They are a part of Americana. This book is a photographic celebration of the history and heroes the team has created.”
Meanwhile, to promote the book, former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton will be at Borders at 100 Broadway in Lower Manhattan tomorrow afternoon at noon to sign copies. I’m sure he’ll talk about Ball Four as well.
To purchase copies of this book and send a few pennies back to RAB, use this link. And yes, FTC, the AP did send me a review copy. Happy? Meanwhile, here’s your post-playoff game open thread. Play by the rules. Have fun.