Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The interviews are back.

Happily, I'm back to my Wednesday interviews. I've got a few of them coming up, will continue to try and make them a regular thing. Assuming anyone actually wants to answer my questions.

Lets start with the next one below.

An interview with Jeff Polman of Play That Funky Baseball and 1924, And You Are There!

Some of the most enduring memories of youth are baseball related. Getting our first ball, hitting our first homer run, and attending our first game. Endless summer days of Little League, playing catch, simply shagging flies, watching on television, or listening to it on the radio, baseball fills the years of our youth.

Sadly, however, along with the games came rainy days, nights with no games broadcast, and winter. To fill the time, I, like millions of others, turned to tabletop board games, and later, computer simulations. Probably the most famous board game was Strat-o-Matic. Simple genius before the silicone chip made it so easy. Strat-o-Matic was, and still it, the most realistic baseball board game that has ever existed.

My brother got one in 1978. I quickly co-opted it from him, and become obsessed with it for the next few years. I even completed a complete 162-game season with the 1979 card set, complete with box scores and stat sheets. All hand done, it took me the better part of four years. I picked it up again in 1995, but dropped it when I left for Africa. I still have the set somewhere in storage, although I haven't seen it in years.

One man who hasn't set it aside is Jeff Polman, writer extraordinaire, and re-creator of fantastical seasons of yesteryear. Jeff has been doing season recreations for years, and writing about them for since 2007. Combining his love of baseball, Strat-o-Matic, and writing, he began blogging about the campaigns so that we might all enjoy them.

His first blog, 1924 And You Are There!, oddly enough, is about the 1924 season. The focus of the National League is phanatical phan Vinnie Spanelli, who quickly becomes more than just an observer, finding employment and love along the way. Bringing us the American League is Calvin J. Butterworth, writer for the Detroit Free-Enterprise, kidnap victim, air traveler, and user of fancy words (insert "Blazing Saddles" quote here). Along the way is the most innovative plot twist ever concocted. An amazing idea that is strange at first, but quickly grows on you for the sheer audacity of it.

Sadly, like the real 1924 season, 1924 And You Are There!, has been concluded. Champions have been decided, winners shares allotted, and barn storming tours begun. Vinnie, Rachel, and Calvin, amongst others, have settled into their never-ending off-season. But don't despair if you've missed the story up to now. The blog is still active and you can follow along at your own pace, or better yet, wait for the book. Details to follow.

Not one to rest on his laurel, or to contemplate his own off-season, Jeff has started again. Choosing that Holy Grail of baseball seasons, 1977, with Play That Funky Baseball. An Oscar Gamble sighting is always relevant. Shaking things up a bit, Jeff has enlisted the help of celebrated baseball writers and bloggers to manage each team.

YANKEES: Joe Sheehan, of Baseball Prospectus
ROYALS: Rany Jazayerli, of Rany on the Royals
RED SOX: Josh Wilker, of Cardboard Gods
INDIANS: Joe Posnanski, of Sports Illustrated and the one and only JoeBlog
TWINS: Howard Sinker, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune
WHITE SOX: Keith Scherer, legal eagle and contributor to Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, and
ORIOLES: The Eutaw Street Hooligans
RANGERS: Ted Leavengood, baseball author and regular contributor to Seamheads

DODGERS: Larry Granillo, of Wezen-Ball
PIRATES: Pat Lackey, of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?
ASTROS: James Yasko of Astros County
REDS: Amanda Cross of Red-Hot Mama
EXPOS: Jonah Keri, of Bloomberg Sports and Jonah
PHILLIES: Daniel Rubin, of the Philadelphia Inquirer
CARDINALS: Mike Metzger, of Stan Musial’s Stance
CUBS: Scott Simkus, of Strat Negro Leagues renown

Not content to let the numbers do the talking, Jeff has also enlisted the help of C. Buzz Gip, our humble narrator; Sherman Wayman from L.A.; Friendly Fred from Harlem and the Bronx; Mikey Spano from Philly; and Crazy Ann Gulliver from who knows where; to lead us through the season. Early as it is, we are just beginning to find out who these people are. Adding in a mysterious homeless boy found in the bowels of Fenway Park, I expect to be taken on a fanciful ride of soul train, disco and psychoanalysis.

Jeff's take on this newest endeavor:
The 1977 season, rewound, replayed, reimagined and put through the wah-wah pedal. Using the classic Strat-O-Matic baseball game, the almost-best 16 teams from that funkified year do battle for 154 games, under the absentee-managed guidance of notorious baseball writers and bloggers from around the nation.

I’m Jeff Polman, your ‘77 tour guide, thrilled to be liberated from the Jazz Age constraints of my earlier, even more exhausting 1924 replay blog. The esteemed managers have been kind enough to send me lineups against righties and lefties, a 5-man pitching staff, and let me roll. They have the ability to make changes throughout the season, and are free to post their comments and PG-rated trash talk to my special “Wah-Wah Page”.

I trust you will find the season entertaining, especially through the colorful words of C. Buzz Gip, your more-than-humble, less-than-sane 1977 narrator. Look for posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with Twitter updates in between when extra funky stuff happens. May the best and luckiest team win!!
Jeff is on Twitter at

Jeff has kindly offered to answer a few questions about the himself and the two seasons.

Tell us a little about yourself?

I'm a native New Englander, born in Hartford while living in Providence, grew up outside Springfield, Mass and later lived in Vermont. Sorry Maine and New Hampshire, you're out of the loop. I was always interested in writing fiction and making short films so did a lot of that in high school and college (UMass/Amherst), before getting a job as Arts Editor of a weekly paper in Burlington, VT for its first five years. For what it's worth, I won a bronze medal for a 25-minute Super 8 film at the Virgin Islands International Film Festival in '75 called "The Hostage," with my older brother playing a psycho, then had two thriller screenplays produced out here in L.A., one starring Donald Sutherland.

Why is baseball your sport?

Baseball has been my passion since I attended my first Fenway Park game in 1963. When I lived back east the sport symbolized spiritual and mental rebirth every year because it meant the weather was warming up. Plus it meant your team, no matter how bad they were, had a fresh chance to win a pennant. I admire American football and hockey and tolerate the NBA, but baseball's in my blood like nothing else. It is perfectly designed, deeply historical and often shockingly dramatic when you least expect it. The fact that it's still hugely popular despite Bud Selig, the owners, and the networks constantly trying to screw it up says a lot.

Which is your favorite team?

The Red Sox are obviously my favorite team, but I can take joy in anybody else winning the World series except the Yankees.

Who is your favorite player?

My favorite players today are Utley and Pujols, though it was Carl Yastrzemski for a very long time.

What is your favorite stadium?

Favorite park is Fenway. The place is so tiny it forces you to completely get into the game. Wrigley Field is a gorgeous marvel, and has the best street scene surrounding any park, but doesn't have the same intensity as the Fens. Been to Camden Yards, which I loved, but there's a rash of new retro places like PNC, Great American, Comerica and whatever they're calling the Giants Park these days that I've yet to visit. Dodger Stadium is heaven, but the traffic getting in and out of it is a bloody nightmare.

What is your all-time team?

I assume you mean my favorite team in history. Have to go with the 2004 Red Sox for what they meant emotionally, but they certainly weren't the best. The '75 and '76 Reds had the best lineup since the '27 Yanks in my book.

Your all-time, All-Star team?

LF-Williams/Musial (tie)
C-Campanella/Bench (tie)
Apocalypse DH-Aaron

What is your first baseball memory?

First baseball memory would be walking under the stands at Fenway in '63, coming up the tunnel into the grandstand and getting that first flash of green field. In the middle of this ugly, featureless part of the city it was truly astonishing.

What is your favorite baseball memory?

My fave baseball memory would be Boston demolishing the Yankees in a June 1977 three-game sweep, outhomering them 16-0. You can look it up.

What is your most heart-breaking baseball moment?

Without question, the biggest heartbreaker was the Bucky Dent playoff loss in '78. I watched it with my dad in our Western Mass. home, and after Yaz popped out neither of us could even talk, and then I had to drive the four hours back to my place up in Burlington in a total comatose state. On top of that, one of my roommates was a seriously annoying Yankee fan, and proceeded to rub it in for the next week. I wish I had his phone number to get my revenge when we skunked their asses in '04, but by then I'd successfully removed him from my life.

How did you get started playing Strat-o-Matic, and what is your history with it?

My older brother ordered a Strat-O-Matic game in 1963, and it arrived when he went off to summer camp. I opened the game and put a candy bar inside for him, which naturally melted, but he showed me how to play anyway. There were half a dozen kids in the neighborhood who would get together and play with the 1962 season, and I just dove into it from there. I played my first full-season with the 1970 cards (Mets beat A's in the Series), then went off to college in '72 and didn't pick it up for at least five years, but resumed soon after I moved to Boston. Been addicted to it ever since, but as I tell my wife, it's healthier than heroin and at least I'm home.

Why did you decide to recreate historical seasons and write about them?

I'd been replaying a lot of full seasons, and finally decided to post results and blurbs on the great Strat Fan Forum site about three or four years ago because it was a great way to either share my replay creations or vent about them with others. For the 2007 season I got a little more clever and took the best eight teams in each league, used the 1930 schedule and enlisted Strat players from each city as "absentee managers" for the teams, the same format I'm doing now with 1977.

So, why 1924, and why should we be there?

1924 happened because Strat just happened to be releasing it at the time, and it was a baseball era I loved. You had all these Hall of Famers, the best Washington team ever, and it was a hotbed for my twisted creative mind.

How did you come up with the concept of Calvin Butterworth and Vinnie Spanelli doing the narrations?

Instead of having me narrate, why not come up with fictional characters speaking in the language of the time and plunge the reader even deeper into the era? I had great response to my 2007 write-ups on the Forum, so it inspired me to do something more outlandish with 1924 on my own site. And I picked the Phillies and Tigers to follow because I wanted one team out of the race and one in it.

What kind of research did you do to make it historically accurate?

Virtually all of the research for 1924 was done on the fly, because I was letting the actual games and pennant races dictate the story's direction. Before Vinny got to Cincinnati, for instance, I would hit Google and gather as much real info on the city and neighborhoods and culture as I could. Learning about the German-heavy, Over-the-Rhine district gave me a lot to work with there.

About halfway through the season, you veered away from history and into something completely different by having the Phillies go on strike and have them be replaced by an All-Star team of Negro Leaguers. How did this happen?

I had two absolutely awful pennant races going for most of the year, and had to infuse something more dramatic into the replay. The Negro League set, developed for Strat by my new friend Scott Simkus, was an amazing achievement, and there was no way I wasn't to going to utilize the cards somehow. But I really couldn't let them affect the races, so I used the mediocre Phils as replacement fodder for about a week of play. I loved it, just as a "what if?" scenario, but I couldn't go much further with them because the Negro stars were just too damn good. They were flat-out butchering teams.

While historically inaccurate, we’ll deal with it, as it sticks it to Landis, Cobb, Speaker and the entire idea of segregation. Are you satisfied with the final outcome, as you played it out? (Stephen King often says he doesn’t write his books, they write themselves, and he has no control over what happens)?

Landis was a tyrannical racist, and there was no way he would have let the white players play the colored ones, so I concocted this goofy side story where Vinny's friend Benny knocks him out of commission for a week with a strong drug to enable the games to happen. Then when it was decided they couldn't keep playing, I had the Negro players' train vanish into the fog. It seemed to be an accurate representation of the way they were treated and forced to be baseball's ghosts.

Any surprises or noticeable accomplishments from the season?

On a purely Strat level, 1924 was the most frustrating season I ever played. The races sucked, the Yankees and Giants were matching disgraces, and I probably tore more cards in half than ever. Creatively, though, it was a joy from start to finish, and I'm still amazed I was able to post something nearly every day.

You’ve gained a bit of notoriety from a lot of high profile bloggers and some main stream media types with the season. Brag about yourself?

I had a handful of nice articles written about the season, but nothing that made my reader hits go through the roof and stay there. What I'm doing is for a very specialized niche, the serious baseball fan who is also a fiction-head, though hopefully that will broaden with my current endeavor.

What does the future hold for Calvin, Vinnie, Rachel and the rest? Will we see them again?

Cal, Vinny, Benny and Rachel will live in our memories, I'm afraid, though I'm exploring a possible link to one of them in 1977.

Since you integrated the majors (well done) and the Negro Leagues are now represented in Strat-o-Matic, any plans for a season there? Sidenote – if you need a manager for the Monarchs, I know someone who is available?????

I haven't thought about a pure Negro League season blog, though that's a good idea. It would be a lot tougher to research, though. And yes, the Monarchs are yours if I do it.

Moving on to your new recreation, ‘Play That Funky Baseball’, how did you settle on 1977?

1977 holds a special place for me. I had an apartment about a twenty-minute walk to Fenway that year, and saw a lot of games and a lot of home runs. Boston had almost no pitching but their lineup of mashers (Fisk, Yaz, Rice, Lynn, Scott, Carbo, Hobson, Evans, etc.) produced a lot of 16-13 games. Again, if Strat had released a different season, I may have done that one too.

You’re using celebrity managers. How easy was it to get them involved in this?

Well, they're "celebrities" as far as the baseball blogosphere reaches, but it's certainly added a fun wrinkle to the replay. The idea began as a pure fantasy of mine which I mentioned in an interview for Scott Simkus' blog, and snowballed from there because he was into taking the Cubs and had some writer friends in Chicago interested in some of the other teams. Then it was just a matter of hitting up the writers I liked from the Baseball Bloggers Alliance roster. Some people, like James Yasko from Astros County, responded immediately with enthusiasm, but four people I tried recruiting in Texas for the Rangers didn't respond to me in time, and I had to go with Ted Leavengood from Seamheads, who was also a good choice. My bigger names are probably Joe Sheehan from Baseball Prospectus (Yanks), Jonah Keri (Expos) and Josh Wilker (Red Sox), both who have books coming out, and the wonderful Joe Posnanski, who as you'd imagine took a little tracking down and reminding. Joe P. wanted the Indians from his childhood, even though they were technically the tenth best team in the A.L. that year, but I would've given him the 1899 Spiders to have him in the league.

How much are you holding them to historical accuracy? Or are they free to do as they please?

I'm pretty loose with the accuracy thing, because I'm not using all of the teams and this is "fantasy" after all. The only exception is for players who fall under what I call the Roger Freed Rule, named after a utility player for St. Louis who hit over .390 in limited play that year. I can't exactly allow Freed to play every day, although I pinch-hit him in every big spot that comes along.

How much day-to-day involvement to they have?

The managers can change up their rotations and lineups whenever they want, but no one's sent me an e-mail yet, so I assume they're letting the season find its legs. Probably a wise move. I get regular links and comments from some of the skippers, while others have chosen to remain quiet. Hopefully I'll end up with one or two good races and the trash talk will heat up.

Give us some dirt? Of the managers, who’s good, and who doesn’t have a chance?

I really don't want to be criticizing any of the managers; they're all professionals and know their baseball. But I can tell you that Rany Jazayerli from Rany on the Royals sent me two very detailed pages of notes along with his lineups, which perfectly reflects the thorough, engaging blog posts he writes on his favorite team. It may also be why he's in first place; it sure hasn't hurt. Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a fine blog and was the first to send his stuff in, but his Twins have gotten virtually no luck yet. There's no telling.

Why only 8 teams per league?

Everyone was happy with eight teams per league from 1901 to 1960. I saw no reason to change that up, and it's a more manageable number of games.

There are no box scores or stat sheets. Will we see this eventually, or is it too much?

Box scores are impossible, because I'm playing with cards and dice and not on the computer. I will be posting leader stats on the blog now and then, but with a full-time job and all these games to play, there just isn't the time to be figuring out win shares and VORP for everyone.

Tell us what you can about Friendly Fred, Dr Grossinger, Gip and the others?

Not much more I can tell you about these new characters yet, because I'm developing them in my head every day. And there's 16 teams in the league to root for, so you gotta figure there will be a bunch more coming. At this rate Squallpocket State Hospital will be like a friggin Robert Altman film by the all-star break.

I won't ask what, because surprises are good, but do you have anything planned for 1977?

Other than character, suspense and surprise are the engines of every good story, and it's hard for me to write anything without them. Guess people will just have to be patient and follow along. It's a long season.

Predictions? Who do the ’77 Royals beat in the series, after sweeping the Yankees?

The Dodgers and Royals look strong in the early going, but L.A. has almost no bullpen and K.C. is a bit weak in the power department, so who knows? All I ever root for in Strat is a good race.

What comes next?

Not sure what's next. I hear 1958 might be the next Strat release, but that's a pretty boring brand of baseball. First I want to see how people respond to '77. I'm also going to make an effort to get the '24 blog published in book form, and we'll see how that goes.

Commissioner for a day?

Hmm, let's see... Rose, Shoeless Joe, and Ron Santo are put in the Hall. Selig is fired and replaced with an actual commissioner who isn't there to kiss owner asses. Fox is not allowed to monopolize Saturday afternoon broadcast time anymore. ESPN is only allowed one Yankees story per week. The Marlins and Rays are forced to move to a state that wants baseball during the summer. Players are fined $10,000 for not running out balls. The All-Star Game is made into a pure exhibition again and World Series home field determined by either the best record or cumulative league record in interleague games. The World Baseball Classic is disbanded, but expansion teams are added in Australia, the Far East, Mexico City and Havana. How's that for one day's work?

What else would you like to add, about baseball, or anything in general about Strat-o-Matic, recreations, etc?

My main goal with these replay blogs, other than providing a year of entertaining reading, is to uplift Strat-O-Matic's image from it's basement geek status into something more educational, wondrous, and I guess you can say literary. For god's sake, there have been books written about Rotisserie leagues, a hobby that to me is about as much fun as playing the stock market. With Strat you can learn the nuts and bolts of field managing, but also how baseball was played in the different eras. On their 1911 cards, for example, nearly every player has massive stolen base attempts, something I just never knew until I played with those teams. Hal Richman created an incredible game and I'm not even sure how much he or his company realizes it. So I'm doing all I can to help them out.

Many thanks, Jeff, for doing this. Please check out the sites, as they are an entertaining and historical look at the great game of baseball. Sorry that the picture didn't come out so well.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Top 10 European catchers

I've always maintained that catcher is one of the hardest positions to play if you've grown up with the game, let alone being an import to it. I caught a little bit, but was never very good at it. It was mostly because no one else wanted to do it. And that was mostly softball, and not baseball. It was fun. It was also difficult.

It's not just catching the ball and returning it to the pitcher. It's calling the game, keeping the pitcher in his rhythm, controlling the running game, calling defenses, etc. Catching isn't easy, and there is a lot of unseen activity involved in it. The fact that Europeans are getting to the point where they have a chance to catch in the minors, and hopefully, the big leagues is an indication of  howmuch the game is progressing over here. So I really enjoyed seeing this list from baseball de world.

It is the top-10 European catchers:
The rankings are put together by Baseball de World Managing Editor Marvin Moore, who won four Swiss championships in six seasons while compiling an .863 winning percentage from 1993-1998 with the Therwil Flyers and Zurich Challengers. Moore has also been covering the European baseball scene since 2007.
As Marvin states:
From Italy to German, Spain and the Netherlands – and even Switzerland – the European baseball scene features an abundance of talented catchers.
The list:

1. Sidney de Jong, L&D Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Batted .333 (49-for-147)in 2009 with eight doubles, 21 RBIs, 30 walks and 31 runs scored in an “off” year after hitting .360 with six homers in 2008.

ed note - you may remember de Jong from the Dutch team that beat the Dominican Republic twice in the World Baseball Classic

2. Simon G├╝hring, Heidenheim Heidekopfe (Germany)

Former Brewers prospect with Herculean physique mashed the ball to the tune of .449 (40-for-89) with nine doubles, four homers, 22 runs scored, 16 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.

3. Dewis Navarro, Danesi Nettuno (Italy)

Spanish national team standout hit .339 (43-for-127) with two home runs, 12 doubles, 23 runs scored, and 26 RBIs in his first season in the Italian Baseball League.

4. Juan Angrisano, Fortitudo Bologna (Italy)

Batted .312 (49-for-157) with eight doubles, four homers, 36 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 2009.

5. Mark Duursma, Konica Minolta Pioniers (Netherlands)

Drew a whopping 40 walks last season while hitting .307 (46-for-150) with 39 runs scored, 31 RBIs, six doubles and five stolen bases. Cut down 18 of 44 base runners.

ed note - the walks and the arm out to be getting this guy a look

6. Ruben Cabrera, San Inazio (Spain)

The 28-year-old former minor leaguer is hitting .360 (9-for-25) with five walks and six RBIs heading into the fifth week of the Spanish League schedule.

7. Maikel Benner, L&D Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Hit .316 (50-for-158) with five doubles, 15 RBIs and 32 runs scored.

8. Trevor Howell, Dortmund Wanderers (Germany)

The 26-year-old Californian batted .411 (37-for-90) in 24 games last season with nine doubles, four home runs and 21 RBIs.

ed note - an American playing in Europe

9.  J.B. Tucker, Therwil Flyers (Switzerland)

The 28-year-old former Seattle Mariners prospect popped two doubles, a home run and tallied five RBIs in a recent exhibition game against top German club Solingen.

10. Orlando Diaz, FC Barcelona (Spain, pictured)

Entered the fifth week of the 2010 season batting .417 (10-for-24) with a homer, four doubles and 12 RBIs in six games.

A lot of Dutch prospects, but they do have one of the better established programs in Europe. As far as the numbers go, there is some misconception with a few people. Just because these guys put up high numbers doesn't mean the leagues are easy. I played, coached, and umpired last year, and saw as many 1-0, 2-1 games as blowouts. The numbers these guys are putting up are legitimate. They might not put up the same kind of numbers in the minors, but neither do a lot of college guys with the inflated numbers there. So don't be fooled by any of this. Hitting is hard, and if a player is putting up these kind of numbers, it means he can hit.

As far as the other positions:
This 2010 Top European Player Series will be updated each month with the sole purpose of allowing international baseball fans an opportunity to learn more about the top players in Europe. Rankings will be based on monthly individual statistics and strength of league.
Stay tuned.

Friday, March 19, 2010

No posting

Apologies for the lack of postings this week, but work, lack of decent material and a couple of big things for the next couple of weeks have kept me out of the loop.

I will be back on Monday with new posts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baseball in Ghana

Add Ghana to your list of countries where they play organized baseball. Even though I'm sure most of you knew it already. And it's starting where all baseball should start. With the kids:
Today the African Developmental Foundation (ADF) welcomed the visit of Ghana Little League District Administrator Hugo Huppenbauer to the United States. Mr. Huppenbauer will attend the 25th Little League International Congress in Lexington, Kentucky, March 12-15.
With the news that Africa will have a representative in the Little League World Series, it's good that another country is involved. This isn't some fan out in his back yard with a few embassy and ex-pat kids. This is kids from Ghana, actual citizens of the country, playing the game. It's the real deal:
GHABSA currently operates 4 Little Leagues and has over 1,500 children playing baseball, which includes Tee Ball programs for 5 to 8 year-olds in 12 schools
They're getting some help from the African Development Foundation, a organization that will get its own post later.

Baseball in Africa. Organized and supported by outside foundations. Yeah, Bud, that's another opportunity lost.

The Golden Baseball League doesn't listen to Torii Hunter

The Golden Baseball League, that bastion of normalcy in a crazy baseball world, has struck again. Former home of Jose Canseco, current home of Eri Yoshida, and the only league that really dares to take a chance has struck again. There is no confirmation that has anything to do with Torii Hunter, and his diatribe against his idea of fairness in major league baseball.

Instead, it is an attempt to do - well, I don't know what it's an attempt to do really? But this is it:
The Yuma Scorpions of the Golden Baseball League are holding a three-day evaluation camp in Barquisimeto, Venezuela this week. Field manager Darryl Brinkley put close to forty players through workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday at the famous Daniel Chico Canonico stadium. When camp breaks on Thursday afternoon it’s expected that up to twenty players will earn tickets to Arizona for the Scorpions early May training camp.
Yeah, the Yuma Scorpions have decided that it's time to give Venezuelans their place in baseball. In case you just skimmed through, what is happening is that the entire team will be comprised of Venezuelans.

Yes, forgoing the usual accumulation of former minor leaguers, former college players, and former high school players, with an occasional former major leaguer thrown in, the Yuma Scorpions will go to Venezuela for the entire team.

Now, I've been to Yuma a few times in my life. It's hot, and it's not too bad, when its not hot. Which it always is. And Yuma's not that big. So they don't have a big population base. Of course, neither does any town, which is why they allow anyone to come play.

This might be taking it a little bit too far, but who am I to judge. If this is what they want, then so be it. They won't be playing in Venezuela, but in Yuma. However, the league did say this:
The executives are putting the finishing touches to their affiliation agreement and exploring the possibility of some post season play in Venezuela.
For the life of me, I can't see what this is beyond some kind of marketing ploy. However, I don't remember a large Venezuelan population in Yuma. Venezuela is an actual baseball country, but why go there when Yuma is on the border of two the biggest baseball countries in the world? Seriously, they didn't want Mexican players who would actually bring fans to the game? Unless they are really having a problem finding players to go to Yuma, which I don't think would be an issue. Even though it is really hot.

The players will need to get used to the heat because:
The Scorpions begin the season with a sixteen game home stand beginning on Wednesday, May 19th at Desert Sun Stadium
Someone better bring some Gatorade. It's going to be hot.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A brief look at the Korean Baseball Organization

From billsportsmaps comes a look at the Korean Baseball Organization. This gives us a look at the the 8 teams, with teams’ parent corporations listed, and baseball stadium photos.

A little history on the league:

The Korean Baseball Organization was established in 1982, and began with 6 teams. There are now 8 teams in the league. The KBO has seen a surge in popularity in the last couple of seasons, and in 2009 the league had it’s highest-ever attendance numbers. The 2009 Korean Series was won by South Korea’s most successful baseball club, the Kia Tigers. The Kia Tigers have won 10 of the 29 Korean Series titles that the KBO has played. The Tigers are from Gwangju, which is in the south-west of the Korean peninsula, and is the 6th largest city in South Korea, with a population {2006} of 1.4 million. The Tigers, like all teams in the KBO, are not named after their home-city but after their parent corporation, in this case, the automobile manufacturer Kia Motors. Kia Motors bought the Tigers ball club from the Hatai Corporation in 2001.

Last year, the Kia Tigers were powered by both of their allowed two foreign players. One was pitcher Rick Guttormson (USA-born, and a former NPB player who threw a no-hitter for the Yakult Swallows in 2006), who went 13-4, with a 3.24 ERA. The other was 2009 wins and innings-pitched leader Aquilano Lopez (Dominican Republic-born, and a former Detroit Tigers player), who went 14-5, with a 3.12 ERA. Offensively, the Tigers relied on former Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Hee-seop Choi, who hit .302 with 32 home runs.

For the 2009 regular season, the Korea Baseball organization had a cumulative average attendance of 11,138 per game.

Eri Yoshida has caused it to snow in a hot place

Eri Yoshida, the Japanese, female knuckleballer of renown has gotten her pro contract. I'm still not sure she isn't there as a sideshow, however, I do wish her the best of luck and hope she actually succeeds. I don't have a problem with women playing baseball. I want the best players my team can find. My niece is the best pitcher of any kid her age back home, and would be the best in her league if she wanted to play. She doesn't, because her friends don't.

However it works out, no matter what the reason is, Eri has gotten something started. She won't be the only woman playing professional baseball this year:
Following a successful stint in the Arizona Winter League (Pro Independent Instructional League) in Yuma, Arizona where she was one of two females to ever attend, Tiffany Brooks of Spokane, Washington has agreed to terms with the Big Bend Cowboys of Alpine, Texas of the Continental Baseball League.
That's what I've found on it so far, but there really isn't a lot more to say. Due to the lack of publicity of the kind that followed Eri, I would have to see this is at least a legitimate signing. Tiffany is the latest woman to play professional baseball:
Brooks, who plays 1B and is a Relief Pitcher, is excited to follow in the steps of American female ballplayers who have come before her, notably Ila Borders who pitched in the Northern League from 1997-1999, and both Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1950’s)and Jackie Mitchell (1930’s).
I think we can actually drop Jackie Mitchell form the list, as it has been documented that this was a publicity stunt, and in her famous outing striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, they both admitted they weren't trying to hit the ball. That doesn't take anything away from the others have actually succeeded on their merits.

For more on women in baseball, see Checked Swing.

Original link from Baseball de World

Friday, March 12, 2010

The African American Baseball League

In light of all the controversy created by Torii Hunter a couple of days ago, I have decided to go ahead and publish this post. I wrote it up a while back, but wasn't sure it was appropriate to publish it. Mostly because I wasn't sure why I would do so. I think this is a good idea, but I also have a problem with exclusionary anything.

However, being a historical component to the Negro Leagues, and the fact that it is a tribute to such, I don't really have an issue with it, and think it is a worthy undertaking.

So here goes.

The story of the Negro Leagues, and the players who were denied an opportunity to play at the highest level, is one of the black marks on baseball history. However, in the best manner of turning the other cheek, instead of hating the game that denied them, they created their own league and played it as well as, or better in some cases, than those who kept them out.

There is a relatively unknown league playing that is attempting to bring back this sad, but great story:
There has not been an all African American baseball team playing at the professional level in the United States in over fifty years.

Until now

We have made tremendous strides from 2003 in rebuilding Negro League Professional Baseball
The African American Baseball League is alive and well, and looking to continue a once proud tradition:
Thus far we have rebuilt three of Negro League Baseball's greatest teams, the Kansas City Monarchs, Washington Black Senators and Philadelphia Stars.
Anytime you mention the Monarchs, team of the legendary Buck O'Neil, I'm going to listen.

And there is this little item I have to bring up:
2009 African American Baseball League ABL CHAMPIONS Kansas City Monarchs
I don't care what league it's in, there was a baseball champion in Kansas City. How about that, Dayton Moore? Someone's "process" is working.

But these guys are not just sitting back, playing for historical purposes, nor are they content to be relegated to secondary status again:
Our goals are to rebuild Negro League Professional Baseball and to participate in the World Baseball Classic Tournament in 2013 with USA, China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, Australia, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Italy, Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Kingdom of Netherlands ..... to showcase the return of Negro League Professional Baseball.
As I said, I have some issues with any kind of exclusionary organization, but happily, that isn't true here, as players of all racial backgrounds are welcome. Taken that, Commissioner Landis. I hope they get a chance to play in 2013. I support this wholeheartedly.

Right now, they have 3 teams in the League, but are looking to add up to 5 more for 2010, which will give them more of a legitimate base.

Torii Hunter must not know about this league, as their stated purpose is:
First, will be to to teach our 18 and older African American ballplayers how to compete at Professional level on the world stage.

Second, will be to showcase the return of Negro League Professional Baseball.

Third,will be to build new and lasting relationships here in the United States and around the world.

Fourth, will be to completely rebuild our legendary Black Professional baseball league in the 21st century
Who knows how this will work out, or if they can make it successful, but I hope they can. Good luck, guys.

Still no respect


Mark, aka The Tainan Man, sent me this update about the upcoming Dodgers visit:

The Taiwanese airline that the Dodgers have booked to fly them out here decided to offer the team their flights at a 50% discount, after the team had already committed to coming.
I guess the McCourt divorce has the team strapped for cash, and they couldn't afford the fares. Hey, guys, how about coach like us mere mortals? Shouldn't the Taiwanese airline being working a monetary deal to actually prop up their own league? Just wondering?

Original story:
In the world of international baseball, there is most definitely a pecking order. At the top are Bud and his boys in major league baseball, followed by the Japanese leagues, and so on down the list of countries. And of course respect comes with the pecking order. As I was taught in the Army, respect rolls downhill.

So of course, the Dodger will get maximum amount of respect in their upcoming series in Taiwan:
On the MLB side, the Dodgers agreed when their appearance fee of $1 million U.S. per game was met. The MLBPA signed off on the deal when the team agreed to pay the players for their performances
Not bad for a few days out in Asia, specifically considering all of their expenses will be paid, and they make a few million each a year.

That's a lot of respect for the major league players. What there isn't is a lot of respect for the Chinese players in Taiwan:
On the CPBL side, the four teams agreed to send their players once their appearance fee was raised to NT$ 7 million for the series. The teams then decided to keep this money for themselves, declining to offer their players appearance fees for their performances.
Needless to say, the players aren't quite as happy in terms of respect as far as their counterparts.

But why complain. They'll get to socialize with Manny:
Manny Ramirez seems to have managed to finagle a personal appearance fee.
Yup, good for the game. Good for the league. Good for the country. Not so good for the players.

H/T to Mark from Pro Baseball Taiwan

It is too a global game

This is just a little tidbit from the article "Baseball Gone Global" at Foreign leagues are nothing new and have been around for almost 100 years now. Baseball started in the United States, moved to Canada, then Cuba. Since 1922, national leagues have been forming all over the world, playing in international tournaments, and sustaining leagues all over the world. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a few that come from the article:
Canadian baseball began as closely connected with its starting point in the United States. As early as 1877, a professional league featured teams from both countries.

It was in Cuba on the year 1878 that a formal baseball league was formed outside the U.S. and Canadian soil. The country is known for its rich baseball tradition and has the reputation of having one of the strongest teams since the beginning of the international play during the 1930s. Between the periods of the war, many countries formed their own professional leagues namely: The Netherlands on 1922, Australia on 1934, Japan on 1936 and Puerto Rico on 1938. Not until after the world war that the countries of Latin America joined in the roster of pro baseball leagues. Venezuela and Mexico joined the picture on 1945, and the Dominican Republic on 1951. Asian countries also came up with their pro leagues during these years: Korea on 1982, Taiwan on 1990 and China on 2003.
So, to recap:

Canada - 1877
Cuba - 1878
Netherlands - 1922
Australia - 1934
Japan - 1936
Puerto Rico - 1938
Venezuela - 1945
Mexico - 1945
Dominican Republic - 1951
Korea - 1982
Taiwan - 1990
China - 2003

Looks like someone could establish a pretty good tournament with those countries. Oh wait, they all played in the World Baseball Classic. Twice.

Of course, this doesn't count leagues in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Israel, Guam, Colombia, and Venezuela, to name a few.

Americans might not care about the international game much, but to me, this just points out what Bud and his boys (and all the nay-saying American fans) haven't figured out yet.

Baseball is a global sport, and not a new one. It's been going on for quite awhile. Pretending like the game is a niche sport in just a few countries does a great diservice to the game. The game doesn't need the Olympics. It needs the sponsorship and backing of the most prestigious league in the world.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baseball in the Olymics

No, I'm not advocating baseball go back into the Olympics. It's been tried, and just isn't working. What I didn't know was the amount of times it had been tried prior to 1984. It seems that wasn't the first time baseball was played in the Olympics. It might have been unofficial, and it might not have lasted. But it was baseball. I was surprised at how many times it was played:
Baseball had been played in 3 previous Olympics before 1936; 1904, 1912, and 1928. These were basically pick-up games played with the track and field athletes, and were just exhibitions to show the game of baseball to the other participating countries.
Sadly, much like modern times, baseball didn't last. I guess it just isn't meant to be. Personally, as stated many times, I'm okay with this. Other want it, others don't, most don't care. I guess it doesn't really matter anyhow, since baseball is out.

From Kevin at DMB History World Series Replay comes the story of the 1936 Olympics and the baseball game that took place between an American team and a Japanese team:
Unfortunately the Japanese baseball team backed out of the scheduled game, and the US had to play an intra squad game. The teams would be called the US Olympics and the World Champions.
I'm not making fun of that statement. It just goes to show that baseball and the Olympics are a match made in sporting heaven. Every time they've tried, something has gotten in the way:
The game proved such a success that the International Olympic Committee approved baseball for the 1940 Olympics in Japan. Unfortunately WW II wiped out those Olympics, and baseball would not be a part of another Olympics until 1984.
This falls under the category of what might have been. OF course, World War II put about 1 billion people into the category.

I'm not a big believer in what if?, but I'll bet if baseball had gotten a foothold in the Olympics in the '40's, it would still be in, regardless of what Bud wants. Sadly, we'll never know.

A brief look at the Nippon Professional League

From billsportmaps comes a breakdown of Nippon Professional Baseball. In other words, the Japanese league for those who don't know.

It lists the team, their locations, average attendance, records, and number of titles. He's got a lot of these maps for a wide variety of sports all over the world.

Europoean Fields of Dreams

Even though there are still many naysayers about European baseball, some people (besides me) do like it, and want to see it succeed. One of the main issues to baseball taking off for the big time is the lack to major league quality, or even minor league, ballparks. There are some good fields in Europe, and there are some bad ones. I've played on both of them.

From My Field of Dreams comes a photo montage of ballparks all over Europe. I won't re post the pictures here, as you should go see the original post. But it's well worth a few minutes of your time.

The thing to remember is, we don't have to have $1 billion stadiums to play the game. All we need is some open space and a desire to participate.

Check it out.

Link from Mister Baseball

I originally saw this link on Rob Neyer, so go to ESPN and check out his writeup on it.

It's all about respect

In the world of international baseball, there is most definitely a pecking order. At the top are Bud and his boys in major league baseball, followed by the Japanese leagues, and so on down the list of countries. And of course respect comes with the pecking order. As I was taught in the Army, respect rolls downhill.

So of course, the Dodger will get maximum amount of respect in their upcoming series in Taiwan:
On the MLB side, the Dodgers agreed when their appearance fee of $1 million U.S. per game was met. The MLBPA signed off on the deal when the team agreed to pay the players for their performances
Not bad for a few days out in Asia, specifically considering all of their expenses will be paid, and they make a few million each a year.

That's a lot of respect for the major league players. What there isn't is a lot of respect for the Chinese players in Taiwan:
On the CPBL side, the four teams agreed to send their players once their appearance fee was raised to NT$ 7 million for the series. The teams then decided to keep this money for themselves, declining to offer their players appearance fees for their performances.
Needless to say, the players aren't quite as happy in terms of respect as far as their counterparts.

But why complain. They'll get to socialize with Manny:
Manny Ramirez seems to have managed to finagle a personal appearance fee.
Yup, good for the game. Good for the league. Good for the country. Not so good for the players.

H/T to Mark from Pro Baseball Taiwan

Bailouts are the same everywhere

The US government has been good lately at bailouts. I don't particularly agree with it, but that is a separate matter. This isn't about politics. Baseball and politics don't mix, and shouldn't. However, it seems that the US government is also going to give another bailout. And to baseball, it seems:
Taiwan has pledged to inject $60 million US of government funding into baseball to help revive a sport marred by betting scandals and embarrassing international defeats, the presidential office said on Saturday
The Chinese Professional Baseball League is in serious trouble. There has been game-fixing, and they haven't played well internationally of late. Possibly, the two are related.

Baseball is a huge sport in Taiwan, and it would be a shame to see it go under. Taiwan also has a good history in the game, from Little League World Series titles, to winning international tournaments, and winning games in the Olympics.

If the government of Taiwan wants to give $60 mil to the league to prop it up, I guess they can. The issue I have with this is the same issue I would have in the states.

First and foremost, government involvement. I don't think it's a good idea. Mostly, however, I am against Taiwan using US funds given to them for the defense of the island to prop up the league. As an American taxpayer, I just don't think this is right.

Of course, no one is really listening to me. This is what the money will be used for:
The government would filter out the funds over the next four years to increase the number of qualified players and offer incentives for students to take up baseball,
I guess they don't have unemployment or housing issues in Taiwan.

Going their own way

The face of baseball is changing, and it's a good way. Anyone who can play should get the chance. Regardless of who they are, if they can beat out the competition, then the job should be theirs.

So some good news from the world of independent baseball:
Female knuckleballer Eri Yoshida received a contract offer from the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League on Friday.
It's not a guaranteed thing that she'll sign. She wants to think it over for awhile:
Yoshida is scheduled to return to Japan in the beginning of March. Marshall plans to wait for her response until mid-April.
She's had some good games, and actually winning one, while getting rocked for 4 runs in 1/3 or an inning.

As I said, I'm all for anyone having a chance. As long as it's real. When it becomes a publicity stunt, then I'm not so sure. She's had some success, but not really enough to really warrant a contract.

Considering that the last major signing by the Golden League was Jose Canseco, then I have to be sceptical. I hope she signs. I hope she does well. Because giving her a chance and letting her fail spectacularly just to put some people in the seats isn't the way to do it.

It does a disservice to the league, to Eri Yoshida, to women attempting to play the game, and to baseball in general.

Good luck to her.