A Baseball Remembrance

This is a repost from something I wrote at RAB in 2015. Updates are in brackets.

Every baseball or softball game that I’ve ever played in has, generally, started the exact same way: some running, some stretching, some throwing. Lately, as in, since I graduated (read: got too old for one) from baseball to slow-pitch softball, I haven’t had a consistent throwing partner before games like I did during high school and American Legion baseball. Back then, I generally threw with the same teammate before each game. My first throwing partners, though, were my relatives, namely my father and his father, my grandfather. This is hardly unique; I’m sure that many of you reading this learned the game through your parents, grandparents, and siblings. Now, however, I’m going to be a bit selfish because today, May 10, would have been my grandfather’s [93rd] birthday.

When it’s hard for me to think back on the totality of the person my grandfather was, I think back on specific memories that involve him or his home where I spent so much time as a kid. And every image has something to do with baseball.

He kept a tennis ball under his deck that he’d throw at his neighbor’s roof if the pigeons he kept got up there. I used to take that ball every chance I could and throw it against his neighbor’s garage, whose outer wall faced into my grandfather’s yard.

Before big pigeon races, he would take his birds to random locations in the tri-state area (he really loved the Vince Lombardi Service Station on the Turnpike for this). One time, I went with him and we let the birds go on a baseball field. I was young, still playing on the small diamond. For fun, I ran the bases of this big diamond; I’m sure it took me forever and a half, but he made me feel like Rickey Henderson.

I recall his living room, which was my father’s childhood bedroom, where I would adjust the blinds so there wouldn’t be too much glare so we could watch the Yankees–at least until he fell asleep in his recliner.

On Saturdays when I would have games of my own on his side of town, my father and I, pizza in tow, would sit in his backyard, waiting for the pigeons to come home, listening to the Yankees on the radio.

His backyard sloped and when we did have a catch, he always insisted that I stand on the top part of the slop so I felt like I was pitching, so my throws would be easier, would seem harder, faster. Even now, I can picture his throwing motion, almost perfectly overhand, his bicep practically clipping his ear as it passed; this makes me think he’d absolutely love watching Chase Headley throw (seriously, could his throws be more over-the-top?).

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times he and I sat with my father around the kitchen table, talking about baseball. The generational connection so often peddled out by MLB for marketing purposes is definitely tired, but it exists for a reason. The three of us did not always have a lot in common–how could we?–but baseball was always there to bind us, to lighten our stresses.

And then on July 24, 2006, after a little under a month in the hospital, my grandfather died. To cope, or to help cope, I threw myself headlong into baseball. Looking back, I most definitely pushed away family and friends at times that summer, which I regret, but I embraced baseball with vigor I hadn’t known before. Every night when the Yankees played, that was my catharsis. I doubt I expressed this properly then, maybe I couldn’t, but turning on those games on TV or the radio, or being at the Stadium made me feel a connection to my grandfather. For three hours a night, I felt better and that’s all I cared about.

I owe all the baseball writing I’ve done to my grandfather. It is partially through the memory of him that I love watching the game, and talking about the game, and writing about the game. This piece alone cannot adequately encapsulate just how much I miss having him around, but (again) selfishly, it feels good to put “pen” to “paper” and talk about his influence on me as a player of and a fan of the game. Happy Birthday, Louie; thanks for helping imbue me with a love for the greatest game there is.

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The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 9: Conjugal Visits?

Randy and Matt join forces to discuss some recent news on the Yankees injury front along with the New York Times opinion piece from Scott Boras regarding the start of the 2020 season. In addition, we talk about The Athletic round table with Ken Rosenthal, Shams Charania, and Pierre Lebrun. The three journalists discuss the potential for a return to sports in the major sports leagues this summer. Finally, the podcast discusses the absurd idea of turning major league baseball into more of a reality tv show.

We are adhering to the shelter in place guidelines of New York State and recording remotely. We will be doing so for as long as the “shelter in place” order remains. We’re talking on Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. Here are the episode notes:

[Introduction]: Matt and Randy catch up and we find out exactly what Matt does for a living.

[4:40]: Aaron Boone gives an update on the injured Yankees and gives some encouraging news. We talk about what this means for the upcoming season.

[18:20]: Scott Boras gives his opinion on whether MLB should open back up for business. Is it a tone deaf stance?

[34:25]: Ken Rosenthal drops some more information about what a season could potentially look like if we have one. We consider the most viable options.

[57:38]: Conjugal visits for the winning team? What.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and spread the word.

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy. See you again next week.

The 2019 Yankees and RBI

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve at least dipped a toe into the waters of analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. Even if you haven’t done more than that–or even that at all–you likely know that RBI isn’t exactly an ‘in vogue’ measure of a player’s performance. And, really, it shouldn’t be. While getting a hit with a man on base is great, that hitter didn’t do the work to put the men on base. At best, a high RBI total shows us a combination of skill–getting the hit–and chance–hitting while there happened to be men on in front of you. 

Stil, RBI tells us a story–who scored when and courtesy of whom. Without that story, the story of the game itself can’t be told. Earlier in the week, I saw a story about RBI that caught my attention. 

In a Facebook group, someone mentioned Luis Castillo’s 2000 season, in which he notched 17 RBI in 626 (!) plate appearances. Curious as to how that happened, I went to Castillo’s game logs page on Baseball Reference and looked up this handy chart:

Despite how shockingly low that is, especially when you see it compared to the average, it makes sense. Castillo was mostly a leadoff guy who was on a below average (79-82) team, so he routinely had bad hitters and the pitcher in front of him to drive in. The whole thing, though, got me curious about the Yankees. How good were they at driving in runners? Let’s take a look, using some charts. I included only those who had 300+ PA. 

Gary Sanchez

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44629677265426321+5

Luke Voit

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
51032062196130020+1

DJ LeMahieu

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
655343102307938620+10

Didi Gregorius

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
34421561284120220+8

Gio Urshela

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
47630474245728020+4

Gleyber Torres

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
60436890247335621+3

Brett Gardner

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
55030574246632420+4

Aaron Judge

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44724955225426321+1

This isn’t too surprising, is it? The Yankees get a lot of men on base–not one player had fewer than expected runners–and drive a lot of them in–not one player had fewer than expected RBI. As such, all of them are above the average expected RBI% by at least 1%, with DJLM smoking everyone else at 10% above average. 

Are these players good because they have high RBI totals and percentages compared to the average? No. They have those things because they are good players and they play with good players who get on base. RBI don’t tell the whole story, but they tell part of it. In this case, it’s another way of telling us the the Yankees are good at hitting. Plain and simple.

The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 8: No Sleep ‘Till Quarantine

Randy and Derek join forces to discuss some movement on potential plans for the 2020 MLB season and the punishment levied upon the Boston Red Sox. We discuss all of the complicated machinations for staring the season laid out in the latest Jeff Passan article. Then we move on to break down the fallout from the Red Sox cheating investigation.

We are adhering to the shelter in place guidelines of New York State and recording remotely. We will be doing so for as long as the “shelter in place” order remains. We’re talking on Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. Here are the episode notes:

[Introduction]: Will we ever return to our normal sleep patterns?

[3:15]: We discuss the NFL Draft going on without a hitch and what that could mean for MLB moving forward.

[8:10]: We jump into the details of the Jeff Passan article.

[30:56]: A World Cup style tournament?

[44:30] Those cheating’ Red Sox. There may be a rant involved. Maybe.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and spread the word.

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy. See you again next week.

My Top Three Part 3: Important Players

Welcome to another edition of my Top Three series. As always, I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy where you are. Thanks, again, as always, for reading along during these tough times. There’s a lot of ways you could while away your hours and that you choose to do part of that with us here is flattering to say the least. We’re all in the same boat by isolating or quarantining or sheltering in place and it’s comforting in an uncomfortable time to know that. But we’re also in the same boat when it comes to missing baseball. Hopefully we can provide a little taste of that, even if it isn’t game action. Anyway, on to the list…

Today, I’m gonna discuss the three players I think were most important to my development as a fan and writer. These players aren’t necessarily the ones who had the most impact on the game or were even the best players for my lifetime. Rather, they’re the ones whose careers shaped the way I think about the game or the way I write about the game.

First up is Derek Jeter. Is this cliche for a fan my age (32)? Hell yes. Do I care? Hell no. This isn’t to say Jeter was always my favorite player growing up. Bernie Williams was eventually my favorite with Andy Pettitte close behind. But what Jeter represented and when he did it made him more important to my budding fandom. As Jeter rose to prominence, so did the Yankees. As the Yankees rose to prominence, so did my fandom. Like many young people, I found it easy to latch onto the idea of Derek Jeter–not that his ballplaying didn’t match that image most of the time–and root for him and the team. As the years went on, that image faded and I, like many fans my age and of my persuasion, poked holes in the Jeter image. But all the while, I owe a lot of my Yankee fandom to him. He came along at a perfect time to hook a young fan for life.

Next on the list is Chien-Ming Wang. CMW’s career with the Yankees, despite its brevity, was impactful to both the team and me. To the team, he was the first “real” starter they’d developed since Andy Pettitte. He turned in two back-to-back excellent seasons with the Yankees in 2006 and 2007, finishing (a distant) second to Johan Santana, ahead of Roy Halladay, in 2006’s Cy Young Award voting. It was all going great until June 15, 2008 (coincidentally, my 21st birthday!) when he was injured on the bases in Houston. I’ll never forget the way Robinson Cano went from signaling Wang to stay up, not slide, to waving for a trainer in a split second. But I digress…

Wang’s importance to me came well before that terrible afternoon in Houston. Back then, I spent a lot of time arguing about baseball, mostly on message boards, forums, and the like. Then at some point in 2007, I decided to put myself out there and submitted something for publishing.

It was a piece about CMW that got posted to Dugout Central and, in retrospect, it is terrible, horrible,no good, very bad. Were I to read it today–and I definitely prefer not to–I would likely be embarrassed by its hypothesis, its content, its writing. But what mattered is I published something somewhere public where I could get feedback from outside the closed echo chamber of a forum where I knew everyone. About a year later, I had set up my own blog, then began my odyssey of Yankee writing that eventually led me here. May I have done that anyway, having written about someone other than CMW? Probably. But the reality is I wrote about him because something in his game inspired me to do so. Now here I am, almost 15 years later, still spilling digital ink about the Yankees.

Nick Swisher will likely not go down in any sort of Yankee lore. He was a fun, easy to root for player for some good Yankee teams, but his impact wasn’t monumental. Despite that, he was one of my favorite players in that 2009-2012 run. He was also important to my development as a writer.

When Swisher was acquired from the White Sox, there were doubts about him, considering how poorly he fared in 2008. And even after Spring Training, he wasn’t penciled in as a starter in the outfield–Xavier Nady was until he was injured and Swisher took over full time starting duties and never gave them away. Those doubts, which Swisher eventually erased, helped me become a better baseball writer. I had to make an argument for a player. I had to use (for the time) off the beaten path data to make that case in my writing.

Having to craft the argument(s) in favor of Swisher honed my writing skills and my analytical ability and informed how I would write and analyze going forward. Both things have certainly evolved since then, but they came from humble beginnings.

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