Wooden's World of Baseball

Saturday, May 31, 2008

First-Year Draft? *Yawn*

As a baseball junkie, most folks might be surprised to learn that I hate the first-year draft. It's true. In fact, I hate all drafts because it's probably the one thing that proves the accusation that sports are simply soap operas for men.

Maybe it's because when you look at the first round of picks from, say, five years ago, you can just as many hits as you do misses. And by that, I mean guys that haven't become established major leaguers. (Sorry, but if you're good enough to be drafted out of high school, you should be good enough to make it up by the age of 23).

But mostly it's because of the hype. Sure, I get it that most of the guys taken in the first round will eventually make the majors to some degree. But in the meantime, I have to live with the suspicion that some guys are put where they're put because of that hype.

Take Ross Detwiler, for example.

Here's his 2008 line in Potomac:
4-2, 5.09 ERA, 46IP, 50H, 2HR, 26BB, 50K

Now compare that to Jhonny Nunez, an NDFA that came to Washington via a trade from the Dodgers. He's about 4 months older, so it's fair to compare them side-by-side:
0-5, 5.10 ERA, 47.2 IP, 54H, 5HR, 9BB 50K

So who's the better pitcher?

Now, compare that to this breezy description of Detwiler from Baseball America:
Just because Detwiler is so slight, don't mistake him for a finesse lefty. He's got outstanding stuff, with four options -- two fastballs (two- and four-seamers), a curve and a changeup. He improved his command considerably during his junior season of college, helping make him a top 10 pick.

After just nine games and 33 1/3 innings in the Minors, Detwiler was rewarded with a callup to Washington and a spot on the 40-man roster. He threw just one inning, but it was a sign that he likely isn't long for the Nats' farm system. While it's unlikely you'll see him in Washington on Opening Day, a 2008 arrival isn't out of the question.

Outstanding one-handed typing. But the evidence does not support this delusion.

But will Ross be demoted to Hagerstown? Nope. Not after failing to get out of the second inning for the second time this season last night. I don't have the time to research this assertion, but I'll bet he's the only pitcher in high-A to have done so without getting demoted or bumped from the rotation.

And that's why I'll never be completely sold on affiliated baseball being better than independent baseball, or that when a player is drafted really matters all that much.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Pennant Race In Potomac?

It's an odd headline to write, even though they gave us an incredible run last August because the past two seasons have largely been about mediocrity. Thirty-five wins were enough to take the first half in 2006, thirty-two in 2007. This year, it may take 40.

With Kinston struggling for the first time in three years I've been watching, the balance of power has shifted to the northern division. Actually, it's clustered to three teams: Potomac, Frederick and Myrtle Beach. The fourth-best team is two games under .500.

There are 22 games left, four against second-place Frederick, but 16 at home, where the team is 16-6 already. But what worries me is that for a team built on pitching (2.89 team ERA is the league's best) the loss of another (Novoa to Harrisburg) might be enough for them to fall short. More concerning: The all-or-nothing nature of their hitting, which has them leading the league in HRs but only fourth in runs scored and 7th in both average and on-base percentage.

If Frederick has proven anything, it's that getting in early is what really matters. Winners of the first half the past two seasons with .500 or worse records, somehow they managed to knock off the class of the league in the uber-short playoffs (is there any justice in having a league champion declared in eight games?).

Looking forward to tonight's cheeseball promotion: Internet Safety with Erik Estrada. Pictures possibly tomorrow?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Mall Comes To Cooperstown

Last week, thanks to the threat of rain in southern Virginia and North Carolina, I went with Plan B and drove up to Cooperstown for the third time in six years. As it turns out, it was sunny and 70 degrees in central New York and from the perspective of avoiding bad weather, it was a success.

However, from the primay factor of avoiding disappointment (like driving several hours to see a game that was rained out), it was a mixed bag. Obviously, I came Cooperstown to see the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and it did not disappoint. But I also came to shop, looking for some more unique treasures... and another one of my favorite sweatshirts that I like to bring to the ballpark for the late innings when it starts to get just a little chilly.

The name of that store was on the label, so I thought it'd be a slam-dunk to go back there and find what I was looking for. Turns out that Cooperstown Gear has changed ownership, and none of those sweatshirts were to be found.

If it had simply been that I couldn't find what I wanted, it would be one thing. But then I noticed something. On the outside, this looked like most of the other memorabilia stores. But on the inside, it was no different and no better than the cheap t-shirt shop you'd see at a second-rate strip mall, offering moronic variations of the Yankees/Sox rivalry and sophomoric references to nocturnal penile tumescence.

Even better, I was offered the privilege of having such drivel ironed onto the flimsy polyester of my choice. In an array of colors and a variety of styles. But worse, this kind of crap was to be found in several of the other shops.

And I guess that's what bothers me; that this town, built on a myth, which purportedly goes to great lengths to keep up the facade of the 1950s main street, would tolerate folks selling merchandise that one usually finds on the beaten paths between tourist traps. This is central New York, not central Florida, right?

Yes, there are still shops in Cooperstown that recognize the reason that people come there: To celebrate and venerate the history and legends of baseball. National Pastime, Legends Are Forever, Where It All Began, and Mickey's Place, just to name a few. But I worry that the catering to the lowbrow "fans" will continue, and I have to admit. It's going to be a few more years before I'm willing to find out.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Break From The Usual Fare...

Reading my friend's blog "Musings about Sports and other important items" I decided to, as the headline says, take a break from the usual and write about something I'm more than qualified to discuss:

Bloggers vs. "sportswriters"

I put the latter in quotations because I personally think that the true sportswriter is a dying breed. I used to be one, once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away. But I left the field, and anecdotally speaking, I think a lot of guys my age did too for the same reasons...

...Having to pay your dues covering small-town sports at tiny newspapers
...Getting paid less than a shift supervisor at McDonald's while doing so
...The ESPN-ification of sports

The Internet is blamed for a lot of what's wrong with sportswriting today, but the true culprit is the (sharp) rise of style over substance and no other entity encapsulates it than the jocksniffing fanboys at ESPN.

It began with Dick Vitale, the used-car salesmen who allegedly was once a respected college coach. Once he became the face of ESPN's signature product in the 1990s, college basketball, the slide started and it became a requirement to develop a catch phrase.

Yes, I know Chris Berman came before Vitale, but one could stomach his puns (Bert "Be Home" Blyleven is still a classic) when he was mostly an anchor. Vitale, on the other hand, is like the verbal equivalent of one-handed typing. Once his unabashed self-serving cheerleading went from tolerated to celebrated, the locusts began to roost.

Sportswriting became more about how you said it than what you actually said. You had to have a radio gig, even it was just with the local AM radio station. But sooner or later, you'd better get on TV. Anywhere. Anytime. God help you if you didn't have the right look. Or the right "personality."

Even worse, having a Journalism degree (or in my case, two) was becoming less of a requirement and more of an impediment. The lessening emphasis on the printed word was leveling the playing field.

So I left the newspapers, and I left sportswriting. That was 1997.

Now I've been fortunate enough to have been able to translate the skills I learned as a journalist and in J-school to other fields. As alluded previously, a lot of folks who got Journalism degrees hae done the same. Unfortunately, as I've gone along, it's been less and less writing.

Starting my own blog was an effort just to get back to doing something I used to be pretty good at: Writing. I think a lot of bloggers are in the same boat. And is the case with ALL writers, there are varying degrees of quality and passion. But considering that most bloggers aren't in it for the money, I'd have seriously question the implication that there's a lack of passion with bloggers. Perhaps they're untrained, but they're not unmotivated.

Not for one minute do I truly believe that bloggers represent a threat to "sportswriters" — what the most recent to-do between Buzzy Bissinger and the folks at Deadspin.com is grossly overblown. Let's face it, if a blog is selling online advertisements to national advertisers, it's not an alternative media outlet, it's part of the mainstream.

The true confusion is between the message and the medium. If Buzzy Bissinger is upset about what he perceives to be lower standards on blogs, I'm curious if he's ever picked up The New York Post. Or watched "Entertainment Tonight." Or listened to talk radio. Perhaps he hasn't, so maybe he should.

There has always been a prurient element within communication forms, whether they're printed, posted online, or broadcasted. That it involves sports is irrelevant. Sex, violence, and human foibles are always great fodder. And so long as people will consume it, others will produce it.

So while I'm disappointed that sportswriting and sports journalism aren't what they used to be, or what they ought to be, I think there's something to be said about what John Calipari said in the clip I linked above: If you don't like it, don't read it or watch it.

Which is why I watch very little ESPN these days...