Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

FJM has gone dark for the foreseeable future. Sorry folks. We may post once in a while, but it's pretty much over. You can still e-mail dak, Ken Tremendous, Junior, Matthew Murbles, or Coach.

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Friday, December 29, 2006


According to Nate Silver, I Am 100% Wrong

And Keith Law is pretty close to right on. Not only that, I am "dumb." Certainly possible.

Nate Silver is a writer for Baseball Prospectus, and he didn't call me dumb specifically, but he did say it's dumb to use ERA as a predictive statistic.

To reiterate, the key difference between these two sets of projections boils down to the predictive value of ERA; if Zito’s ERAs were an accurate reflection of his ability (as our “dumb” projection assumes), then this contract would have been perfectly reasonable. But while ERA is a very useful backward-looking metric — it’s helpful in settling Cy Young Award debates, for example — it’s not such a good forward-looking metric. A pitcher’s peripheral statistics predict ERA much better than past ERA itself.

So what does PECOTA predict for Barry Zito?

PECOTA is not terribly optimistic about Zito, whom it regards as a just a hair better than a league average starter.

Wow. And what is he worth?

It thinks that Zito’s next seven seasons are worth $43 million in present value.

An average annual value of just over six million dollars a year.

We can't take this as gospel, of course. PECOTA is far from perfect. But it's probably better than a rough-hewn guess, which is certainly what I (or most people) would be able to manage on their own.

So who's buying this? Do we trust PECOTA and the peripherals? Is Barry Zito really going to be a league-average starter for the next seven years? Somehow, it's hard to swallow. Mostly because if he is, I'll have to apologize to Keith Law in 2013.

One more thing: are there instances of pitchers who consistently outperform their peripherals -- that is, guys who, year after year, allow fewer runs than you might predict?

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posted by Junior  # 3:28 AM
Hi, everyone. I'm back from holiday nonsense, and I'm thrilled to see this passionate and entirely meaningless waste-of-time debate raging on our little site.

My $1/50th:

The non-stat-based reason Zito is better than a #3 is: he throws many innings at league-average or better than league-average levels. He doesn't often totally shut people down, but he also doesn't often get lit up. There have always been very few Santanas or Carpenters -- truly awesome pitchers. But in this day and age, it seems to me, there are also very few Zitos -- durable, solid guys who are never hurt and give your team a good outing 4/5 times.

Now, he did pitch in a massive canyon with 300 hectares of foul territory and some good OF behind him. But he's good. He'll be fine in San Fran, I think -- not outstanding, but fine. ( LCF in that park is like 500 feet away.) I basically think he is totally worth the $56 million over seven years the Giants gave him.

What's that?

No. That can't be right. Let me check on that...


Oh boy.

Sabean. Sabean Sabean Sabean. What have you gone and done?
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Thursday, December 28, 2006


Highway 80 Revisited (Barry Zito: Not That Good, Not That Bad, But Also, Seriously, Not That Good)

Consider this a response / stream of consciousness/research / comment on Junior's post about Zito below.


Keith Law has now put his opinion on Barry Zito in writing, saying BZ "at best is a No. 3 starter on a contender." Just to add a little more useful data:

Zito's ERA+ the last 3 years:
105, 116, 116.

(And yes, as Junior said in correcting himself, we really shouldn't be using just ERA here. [Too convenient for a pitcher whose only experience has been for a team in a relatively weak division, in a pitcher's dream park.] Not that ERA+ is perfect, but it's (a) a fairer metric to use than just crude ERA and (b) designed to make it a little easier to measure against other players.)

Anyway. ERA+. One hundred is league average, and for starters, though I haven't looked too far into the numbers, I'd imagine the average is a little lower, as relievers generally have lower ERAs. Remember: for ERA+, higher = awesomer.

So...105, 116, 116...I'd guess, yeah, most "contenders" would take that out of their #2 starters.


All right, fine, my flight's delayed so I'm going to take this a step further.

Zito's 3-year ERA+ average is 112 1/3. Let's look at all teams who were "in contention" last year (by my own, kind of vague definition) and see where Zito would have ranked on those 2006 starting staffs, in ERA+.

Yes, that's right, I'm using his 3-year average against the single-year stats of 2006 pitching staffs. Seems right enough to me.

NYM: 3rd (Way better than team "ace" Pedro Martinez. Basically in a tie with Tom Glavine (113), and worse than John Maine on a kind of small sample size. I'd call it more of a 2 than a 3. But! This is science, motherfuckers. It's a 3.)
STL: 2nd
SDP: 4th (At least he was better than Jake Peavy.)
LAD: 4th (Maddux, Lowe, sure. Billinglsey is iffy again at 90.0 IP.)
PHI: 3rd
HOU: 3rd (Goddam, Clemens was good.)
NYY: 3rd
TOR: 3rd
BOS: 2nd
MIN: 3rd
DET: 4th
CHI: 1st
OAK: 1st (Well, he was 1st. Thanks, maybe, to an injured Rich Harden.)
LAA: 4th

Of these contenders, Zito would have been an average number 2.85 starter, thus obscuring all possible meaning the phrase "number n starter" might have.

Drop CHI and BOS from the calculus -- teams who both finished 3rd in their divisions -- and Zito becomes a number 3.08 starter. You know, the guy you usually pitch 3rd in the rotation, and then, once every 12 cycles through the rotation, you pitch him 4th.

I gotta gay say after going through these numbers, Keith Law doesn't look nearly as wrong as I thought he would. I mean, he's wrong that Zito's "at best" a number 3 starter. Zito basically should be a number 3 starter on a contending team. But I don't think he's far off. And as Law writes in his blolumn: Zito's only getting older. His fastball is, by most reports, slippin'.

In fact, Law may have more accurately said that Zito will at best be a number 3 starter; you have to wonder how BZ 2010-13 is going to perform. (2013?!)

Hopefully we can agree on this: Keith Law was off; Brian Sabean was way off.

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posted by dak  # 9:14 PM
Adding "on a contender" lets him off the hook a little in my book. Saying "at best" a third starter does not help his case.

Man, he hates Zito. I forgot about this, but in his rankings of the top 40 free agents (just Google Keith Law free agents) Zito is 15th, behind Ted Lilly and Gil Meche. Honestly, maybe Zito's Cy Young is undeserved and maybe he's a different pitcher now then he was when he won it, but what have those fuckers ever done to project better than he does?

Keep in mind Meche is the same age as Zito and Lilly is two years older!
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This is only marginally relevant.

A funny, sort of old Tangotiger post posits that a free agent Albert Pujols would get a $300 million deal.
An e-mail from Brisco County notes that Zito ranked 13th among MLB starters in VORP last year -- certainly a better metric than ERA+.

And that certainly makes him look more like a 1 or a 2 than a 3.08.
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Barry Zito: Not That Good But Not That Bad, Either

Look, Barry Zito probably isn't worth $18 million dollars a year for seven years. He walks a lot of guys. His WHIP last year was 1.40. He probably benefitted from a good outfield defense behind him in Oakland. His numbers against the better offensive teams are less than stellar.

But according to Keith Law on Colin Cowherd's radio show today, Barry Zito is "a third, maybe a fourth starter." What?

I don't really even like calling pitchers ones, twos, threes, sixes, or twelves. Pitchers are pitchers -- they give you a certain value and that's that. Putting them into absolute, defined, discrete categories speaks to a level of confidence about what their performance will be that we often don't have. Obviously, I really hate it when guys loudly proclaim "Pitcher X is not an ace, okay? He's not an ace." What the fuck does that even mean? (It means "I like to scream meaningless things and act indignant if anyone disagrees with my totally made-up bullshit.")

I understand that there are reasons to do it. It gives a rough idea of what to expect from a guy, it relates to their spot in the rotation, it sounds like baseball talk, whatever.

Back to Zito. Law, who's normally pretty reasonable on non-Gil Meche issues, is down on the guy. I want to be down on him too. His peripherals are bad. But let's be fair: even the new, bad Barry Zito of the past three years is a steady high 3 or at worst, low 4 ERA guy. For 35 starts a year. Last year his ERA was 3.83. You know what that was good for? Tenth in the AL. Twenty-third in baseball.

So I ask you, Keith Law, on what crazy awesome team is Barry Zito a goddamn number four?

There were, going by last year's stats, only three teams on which you or Keith Law could call Barry Zito a number three (by ERA alone): the Padres, the Yankees, and the Angels. There were zero teams on which he would have been a number four. From a quick look (I could be off by a couple here), there were nine teams on which Barry Zito would have been your number one, including the team he pitched for, Oakland.

Well, you say, Oakland must have been a terrible baseball squadron, then! They were seventh in ERA and they did okay in the playoffs. Speaks to depth, bullpen, lots of things -- but clearly having a number three (or a number four, depending on which Keith Law opinion you subscribe to) as their number one didn't totally wreck them.

At a certain point, being contrarian, as Law often is (and as FJM often is), can sometimes lead you into being just as wrong as the idiots you're showing up. Zito is overrated by a lot of dumb people ("he's a Cy Young winner!"), and Law sees that. But now he's overcompensating.

Point is: dude, Barry Zito is not a number three. Factoring in his durability, he's a solid number two, and in a pinch, he could even be your number one and you still might have a decent team.

He's not worth $126 million, though.

** INSERT **

Thank you, Jeff Sackmann of the Hardball Times for hive-minding with me and publishing a very relevant article yesterday that I hadn't read until reader Tim alerted me to it. Jeff ran the numbers, and this is what he found:

To start with, here are the averages for each rotation position:




Sorry that's so ugly. Jeff had it in a neat table. Go read his whole article. If you buy Jeff's procedure, then according to these results, Barry Zito was a #1/#2 starter in the AL. Who was "a third, maybe a fourth starter"? I don't know, Kris Benson (ERA of 4.82)? And he had a bad year even for Kris Benson. Barry Zito is not Kris Benson.

Jeff also states more clearly what I should have said about all of this kind of talk in the first place:

Of course, this usage is extremely imprecise: one man's #2 is another man's #4, and there's no clear way to settle the debate. Taken literally, a pitcher's position in the rotation depends entirely on context: Zach Miner, the fifth-best starter on last year's Tigers, had a lower ERA than any regular starter for the Royals.

And second:

My biggest beef with this kind of talk is that it invariably overestimates just how good pitchers should be.

Thanks, Jeff.


Ed. note: Colin Cowherd was not doing his own show today, or else he would have said something that certainly would have been fodder for a much more entertaining post. Something like this:

Fictional Colin Cowherd (in a nasal, contemptuous sneer): You know what bothers me about this signing? What has Barry Zito ever done on the big stage? What tells me he's a big-game pitcher? Do something in October, then come to me for the big bucks. Cy Young Award? That's a regular-season thing. Do you ever remember Barry Zito coming through with two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7? No! That's why he doesn't deserve 18 million a year. We'll be right back with Tony Romo. You're in the herd!

Fuck off and die, Fictional Colin Cowherd.

Second Ed. note: I just remembered that the guy filling in for Colin Cowherd did say something Cowherd-level dumb. I'm not going to take five seconds to go back and listen to the thing, so I'll just pretend I transcribed it. Here's the gist of it:

Guy Filling In For Colin Cowherd: Keith, I've always looked at Barry Zito and looked at a lot of the A's pitchers and wondered why there weren't more signature moments.

Signature moments? Signature moments? We're talking about $126 million. Do you know how low on the list "signature moments" is when a rational person decides how to make a $126 million investment? Answer: it's not even on the fucking list. Fuck off and die, Guy Filling In For Colin Cowherd.

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posted by Junior  # 4:37 PM
Too much swearing, I think.
Reasons why I might be wrong:

1. Zito also benefitted from Oakland's large amount of foul territory.

2. "Analysis" relied solely on ERA, which is highly imperfect.

3. In particular, Zito's 2006 ERA may reflect an unexpectedly high number of stranded runners.

I still think he'll be pretty dece and that calling him a third or fourth starter is hyperbole.
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Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Al I Wanted for Christmas Was a Mike Celizic-Brand Hat

And instead I got, like, a shirt. And "The Wire: Season 2" on DVD. Which is awesome, but it's no Celizic Hat. And I'm angry.

For this reason, and also because Junior's last couple posts contained an unreasonably small amount of anger/swearing, I present some thoughts on Magic Mike's latest word-conglomeration, which is sub-titled, hilariously:

Bronx Bombers could have enough to being in Zito after dealing Big Unit

Like the Yankees couldn't pay for them both. Like they care if their payroll is $206 million or $222 million. Whatever. Let's see why ol' Mikey thinks the Yankees should deal Unit and pick up Zito.

The Yankees went into this offseason saying they wanted a leaner payroll and younger lineup in 2007. Word out of the team’s front office also was that Brian Cashman, the general manager who looks like Jeff Van Gundy, but without the sunny disposition, had wrested control of the team away from George Steinbrenner’s Tampa-based committee of crack baseball advisers.

I'd just like to say here that the patented Mike Celizic "...x is like y..." comparison used in this paragraph is actually not totally, completely terrible. Calling Cash a grumpy version of Jeff Van Gundy kind of makes me laugh. Maybe he's getting less hacky/boring with his jokes.

Experience has taught us to take such pronouncements with a grain of salt the size of the Matterhorn.

Nope. He's not. That's pretty hacky/boring.

Invariably, every Yankee long-range plan crumbles the moment an overpriced and superannuated superstar comes on the market. They couldn’t help themselves; it was the Steinbrenner way, and to expect them to behave any differently was like expecting a St. Bernard to swear off drooling.

And that one is just weird. In fact, it's fucking weird. (Take that, Junior.)

But this year, it’s been different...[excised discussion of Sheffield and Wright trades] And now, word is that the Yankees are shopping the Big Unit himself, Randy Johnson. Suddenly, the idea that the pinstripes have an actual plan that will not only keep them competitive but also build for a future that’s farther away than next March, isn’t so farfetched after all.

Read that last sentence. Savor its tangled syntax. St. Bernard-style drool over how hard it is to parse.

Can this mean the Yankees are about the join the Barry Zito sweepstakes? Yankee fans hope it does; Red Sox fans hope it doesn’t.

Huh. Red Sox fans hope the Yankees don't get Barry Zito, you say?

Barry Zito 3-Year Splits vs. Red Sox, 2004-2006

2-3, 6.45 ERA (7.20 at Fenway)
7 GS
38.2 IP
50 H
27 ER
30/22 K/BB
.309 BAA

Yeah. We wouldn't want that coming at us four or five times a year. Especially if it's instead of this guy:

Randy Johnson 3-year Splits vs. Red Sox, 2004-2006

7-1, 4.87 ERA
10 GS
61 IP
59 H
33 ER
64/32 K/BB
.252 BAA

Both relatively small sample sizes, obviously, but still.

Moving Johnson makes all the sense in the world for New York, which is another reason it is so surprising. This hasn’t been a team that’s made a lot of intelligent moves ever since its run of four titles in five years ended after the 2000 season.

Since then, they got: Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Randy Johnson, and Bobby Abreu. They also kept: Chien-Ming Wang, Robby Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Phillip Hughes. There have been a bunch of high-profile disasters, absolutely. Lots of them. But don't tell me that these weren't intelligent moves.

Johnson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the most dominant power pitchers of all time. But he’s 43, he’s coming off his second back surgery, his 2006 ERA was 5.00, and he’s got $16 million coming in salary next year. By some measures — 17 victories being the primary one he’s still a premier pitcher. But for $16 million, a team can buy a lot of replacement.

I don't get this. Yes, he is clearly old and passed his prime. No question. He might be worse next year than he was in '06. But he might be better. And even though he was hurt, he still threw 205 innings. And, best of all, after next year, he's off the books -- he's a one-year committment right now, to a team that doesn't care about money anyway.

Trading him might be a good move, depending on what you get back. But not because of his salary. They don't care about his salary. I promise, they don't.

So let's see what Mikey's plan is.

[$16 million] just happens to be the annual salary Zito, the premier free agent on the market, wants for each of the next six years...Zito is still on the good side of 30 and has never had injury problems. He’s not the same pitcher who won the Cy Young four years ago, but he’s still the best starter available and one of the best lefties in the game. In other words, he’s exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees need to continue to control the AL East; exactly the kind of guy they’ve always pursued with the single-minded determination of a border collie chasing a Frisbee.

First of all, sweet metaphor. Second: Barry Zito wasn't the ace on his own team. His OPS-against over the last three years is basically idenitical to that of Mike Mussina, to whom you are about to refer as: ...39 and losing effectiveness. (He also has like 2.5 times as many BBs as Mussina in that time frame.) Zito's pretty good, but a #1? Seriously?

[The Yankees] aren’t going to win the World Series without a couple of top young arms in the starting rotation. Wright wasn’t it. Carl Pavano shows no signs of being the man, either. Johnson is old and very hittable. Chien-Ming Wang is a terrific number two or three starter, but he’s not an ace. Mike Mussina is 39 and losing effectiveness...[R]ight now, the Yankees need a number one. Zito could be that man. And if Randy Johnson can be made to disappear, the Yankees could have the money to sign him.

Wang is a way better candidate for a #1 than Zito right now. I don't know how he does it, with his like 0.04 K/IP, but he does it. That power sinker is something to behold. Zito is a flyball pitcher who walks a ton of dudes, and he'd be making 30% of his starts against the Sox and Blue Jays. And they'd have to sign him for 6 or 7 years.

Also, again, the Yankees have enough money to sign him regardless. They have enough money to sign anyone. That is not the reason to move RJ. And where is the section of this article where you discuss the oft-cited rumors that RJ wants out of NY? I mean, the guy has a no-trade, so in order for these discussions even to be happening, he kind of has to want out, right? And where's the obvious counter-point that if they do not pay Boras/Zito $100 million over 7 years, they would have that money, plus the RJ-off-the-books money to pay for Carlos Zambrano, a far better pitcher than Zito, when he becomes a free agent in 2007? Are you going to talk about that, Mike?


He's gone.

Okay. Back to "The Wire."

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posted by Unknown  # 5:10 PM
1. Not enough swearing.

2. I think Zito is a slightly better bet to pitch well in 2006 than Johnson. Not a lock, of course -- my guess is that RJ will lower his ERA a little from last year, and if Zito were to join the AL East you'd think his might go up. But still, Zito's had ERAs the past three years ranging from 3.83 to 4.48, and he'll probably end up somewhere in there. Unit, meanwhile, did post that ugly 5-spot last year and he's not getting any younger or healthier. (It is interesting to note that Zito's WHIP was 1.40 in 2006 and Johnson's was 1.24.) So if you think like I do that Zito will be overall a better pitcher, then yeah, I would rather the Yankees stand pat regardless of their numbers against the Sox, because he'd help them win more games over the course of the season.

3. Season 3 is the best. 2 seems almost like a different show from all of the other seasons.

4. Now HatGuy is on a dog kick (St. Bernard, border collie)? What happened to ice cream sundaes? Can we look forward to "Omar Vizquel ate up that baseball like a Weimaraner slurping up a banana split"?
"Moving Johnson"

Get it?
I've heard 3 is the best. Can't wait to watch it.

I think RJ's #'s will come down next year. As you pointed out, that 1.24 WHIP is nothing to compain about. And like I said, yes he is old, but he is also only a 1-year committment I look at Zito for 7/$100m and see an AL East mistake waiting to happen. He should go to Shea.

Junior: you remind me of Ziggy Sobotka.

dak: you remind me of Horseface.

Murbles: you remind me of Lester Freamon.

P.S. dak: I don't get it.
Ziggy Sobotka is by far my least favorite character in The Wire. Must be the revulsion of self-recognition. KT, I think you are Proposition Joe.

Well, Zito went to the Giants, so this conversation is moot now. 7/$126m is a pretty big overpay, but you just knew he was gonna get it in this market. I think he'll do well for himself in the NL. It makes you wonder what the Giants' long-term plan is. "Stay sort of okay for perpetuity"?
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I Do Not Endorse This Article

We've all been waiting with bated breath for months on end. I hope you've made all your picks, and good luck in your office pools. It's time for the 2006 Media Awards!

Oh. Oh no. This I do not agree with.

BEST ANALYST: Troy Aikman, Fox Sports. It's the second consecutive year I'm dropping this honor on Aikman, who keeps improving (has any football analyst benefited more from leaving a three-man booth?) and is always accountable with his opinions. Why do you think ESPN approached him last year to work in the Monday Night Football football booth? Regardless of scheduling conflicts and the fact that he doesn't regularly broadcast college football, Fox should have assigned Aikman as its analyst on the BCS national championship game. I want my best guy -- and football's best analyst, along with Ron Jaworski -- if I'm making my debut in a sport.

Honorable mention: Jaworksi (ESPN), Tim McCarver (Fox)

Best analyst blah blah blah Aikman blah blah blah football blah blah blah and then two words that do not belong. The second one rhymes with McBlarver. The first one is Tim. If you're still stumped, the second one is McCarver.

Give up? It's Tim McCarver. We don't like Tim McCarver.

(The "We don't like Tim McCarver" link goes to a Google search of "tim mccarver" on our site. There are 52 results. I recommend you read them all.)

Here are some things Honorable Mentioned Best Analyst 2006 Tim McCarver has said:

"I only care about on-base percentage if you can run. If you can't run, I could care less about on-base percentage."

"A-Rod just fouls that ball off beautily."

"On-base percentage? How about contact percentage?!"

"First year as a relief pitcher in the Angel chain, Woods made 97 out of 98 starts, did Woods, as a starter."

"In Scrabble, W's are worth 4 points. S's are only worth 1 point. But as far as Papelbon is concerned, S's are worth a lot more than W's."

"It stands to reason that guys vary as far as their strength is concerned from start to start. Sometimes 90 pitches is too much. Sometimes 130 pitches are not enough. A guy could throw 150 pitches per start."

"A Mark Wohlberg fastball. Catch me if you can."

"I think if Norman Rockwell were alive the guy that he would paint more than anyone else would be David Eckstein."


posted by Junior  # 2:55 PM
Yes, I know that on page 2 of this article gives FJM the award for "THE NONCORPORATE SPORTS WEB SITE OF THE YEAR."

What apparently does not realize is that FJM is a joint venture of Raytheon, Unisys, and the RAND Corporation. Our apologies.
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Peer Effects and Baseball

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred you will find us decrying baseball men's obeisance to good clubhouse chemistry, that most intangible of virtues. This post is that odd hundredth time where we stop to consider, if only for a fleeting moment, the possibility that there's something to it after all.

What could compel us toward this unsavory line of thought? A scientific study, of course. Or at least, an economic one. Slate posted an article with the intriguing subtitle "Do hardworking employees make their lazy colleagues more productive?"

To me, this read as "Does hardworking David Eckstein/Derek Jeter/Trot Nixon make his lazy-ass teammates more productive?" But I guess these guys were looking at supermarket checkout people or something:

The researchers in question, Alexandre Mas and Enrico Moretti, decided that checkout staff would be ideal guinea pigs in an experiment to answer a vexed question: What happens when an unusually hardworking (or lazy) worker joins a team?

The question is part of the broader study of "peer effects."

Sports commentators and sportswriters, I realized, love peer effects. They love talking about them, they love speculating about them, they love blowing them out of proportion. The negative manifestation of peer effects is obvious: oh my God, what will happen to our clubhouse if we trade for Milton Bradley? Will Terrell Owens poison our locker room? Artest is a cancer! We're fucked! (And in that last case, they actually sort of are now.)

But the positive peer effect is a favorite also -- maybe it's just me, but I feel like everyone has suddenly decided to agree that having Jason Varitek on your team somehow makes everyone else 10% better.

Back to the study:

Mas and Moretti rely instead on scarily detailed data: having somehow sweet-talked a supermarket into cooperating, they compiled a data-set that tracks every single "beep," every transaction, for 370 workers in six stores, timed by the second, for two years. They can measure each worker's productivity by the second and note how it changes depending on who else is working at the same time.

Okay. I didn't do a rigorous examination of their methodology, but my curiosity is piqued. What happened?

The positive effect dominates, according to Mas and Moretti: They find that a shop assistant sitting near someone who is 10 percent quicker than average will raise her own game by 1.7 percent.

That's a pretty cool result. Score one for the chemistry guys, right? Maybe? At least in a supermarket checkout environment, it seems like having the David Eckstein of checkout workers next to you actually makes you work harder, too. (In a subtle twist, Mas and Moretti found that the effect only took place when the fast checker worked behind you, not in front of you -- perhaps implying that you just felt guilty about these scrappy Ecksteins catching you slacking off.)

But even assuming that this positive peer effect is real, does it apply to major league baseball?

Here's a reason why it could: seeing a teammate practice "harder" (more swings in BP, more strenuous conditioning drills, more time watching tape, whatever) could possibly compel (or guilt) you into doing the same. If these methods of practice actually improve one's play on the field, the peer effect could have a positive impact.

Here are some reasons why it might not: major leaguers presumably already do almost everything they can to be the best players they can be; that's why they're among the several hundred men who are the best at what they do. The AL is like a supermarket filled with already superhumanly fast checkout guys, so perhaps any potential positive effect would be vanishingly small. Also, it's unclear if baseball is as transparently dependent on pure effort as checking groceries. Hitting a curveball better may not be learnable no matter how hard you're working.

My totally unfounded guess is that peer effects in baseball are generally very small (and extremely unpredictable) to the point where they're barely detectable in terms of raw wins produced on the field. The vast majority of the baseball media disagrees, from what I've heard and read. What do you think?

(P.S. Next post will have way more jokes and swearing, I promise.)


Reader Derek writes:

I agree with you guys on peer effect, clubhouse guys, intangibles, generally. Here is one question that you can feel free to address or not: Could the position of catcher be the one place where it might have a marginal impact inasmuch as the "peer effect" is actually the (equally difficult to measure) capability of managing a staff? I am a diehard Red Sox fan, and grew up *knowing* that one of Carlton Fisk's many virtues was his ability to manage a pitching staff. Sub Jason Varitek and you get the contemporary example. It's an argument that seems to me to be the upwardly mobile cousin of "peer effect" or "clubhouse" effect that might be a facile way of saying "I like my catcher better than yours."

Great point. I had meant to insert a small disclaimer about this, but I forgot. Yes, I think that some catchers probably manage their pitching staffs better than others. While it's difficult to measure, I think calling a good game qualifies as something tangible rather than something intangible or psychological.

Therefore I think it's reasonable to say that Varitek might help his pitchers perform a little better, but it's hard to back that claim up and I bet the effect is pretty damn small. Again, though, I'm basing this on something he's doing on the field, not some psychological effect whereby Daisuke Matsuzaka stands on the mound, looks into Varitek's steely eyes, gains a correspondingly steely amount of confidence, and whips a gyroball past a stunned Paul Konerko.

A good example of going overboard on catchers' effects on their pitching staffs can be found here, in a post I made last year.

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posted by Junior  # 2:39 AM
Hey there. Still scrolling all the way down here and looking for new comments? Nice. You're all right with me, kid.

Here, I'll treat you to this sweet email from Brandon H., who has a good insight about performance versus effort in peer effects and actual experience working as a checker. Enjoy:

Quick comment on the hard workers/intangibles/motivation piece. It seems to me, if I read the study correctly, that the peer effect actually depends on performance rather than effort. The study examines the
performance of workers when around those who scan well, not those who try
really hard to scan well. If the study's conclusions are generalizable,
people are inspired by performance and not the effort to produce it.

Two caveats. First, it may be the case that supermarket checking speed is primarily determined by effort and not talent. In my very limited experience as a Wal-Mart checker a few summers ago, that isn't the case: I was well above the store average and didn't really seem to be working harder than anyone else. Second, there is obviously the issue of perception. Whether a person is actually performing well, any peer effect would depend on others thinking that this person is doing so. For example, people who only saw Carlos Beltran's home games last year (and aren't statistically inclined) would see a pretty good offensive player, while one who saw only Beltran's road games would see an offensive superstar. If the Ecksteins and Lo Ducas of the world are perceived as stars by other players, their presence may have a peer effect. Presumably, any perception of these guys as peak performers in the sport would depend on these intangibles, as objective analysis doesn't really justify that view.

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Monday, December 25, 2006


I Understand Santa Brought Rachel Nichols Another Sackful Of Eyeliner This Year


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posted by dak  # 9:22 PM
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006


The Next Time You Bring Your Child To Cooperstown

Please remember that one of the men who gets to decide whose plaques will grace the Hall is none other than Hatguy.

Happy Chanukah!

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posted by dak  # 3:16 PM
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A Very Special Holiday Message

Hey everyone. Ol' Kenny T. is heading back to the East Coast for some family time. My Department Head here at Fremulon Insurance (Rick Basket -- good guy, die-hard Cards fan) was kind enough to give me and Mrs. Tremendous a full 2 weeks off for the holidays. I will, as always, be on the lookout for terrible sports journalism, but in case I don't post again for a while, I wanted to wish you and yours a Happy Holiday Season!


Ken T.
Senior Pension Plan Monitor
Fremulon Insurance,
Partridge, KS


posted by Unknown  # 3:30 AM
I just wanted to chime in here and wish everyone a calculated, objectively pre-determined holiday season.

I recommend that everyone design a metric to calculate which family members he or she loves the most; and purchase gifts, spend time and emotional energy accordingly.

Also, Ken -- I never asked.

How are things down in Fremulon's Argentina division?
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
We are taking a bath in Argentina. I don't even want to talk about it.

Also, I did a VORR (Value Over Replacement Relative) analysis, and the results shocked me:

Older Sister: 23.3
Mom: 19.8
Dad: 12.6 (!!!)
Younger Sister: 8.8
Cousin: 3.1 (makes sense -- he was injured most of the year)
Uncle: -1.1

I was going to get my dad a pair of fancy sunglasses, but after crunching the numbers I scaled back to a 3-month NetFlix subscription. Yet another way statistics have saved people money.
Hey KT -- sorry to hear about FI-ARG. I know how much that means to you.

Anyway, funny story. December 1988. Little ten-year-old dak is crunching his first ever set of VORR's. Crude calculations, sure, but enough to get the job done.

First number: Mom. Comes out to 0.0. "That can't be right," dak says to himself.

Next up: Dad. 0.1. "Huh?" Sis: 0.0. "What the?" Uncle Larry: -0.1. "Really?"

I go back over the numbers. Everything looks right to me. Somehow, the numbers I was getting suggested that my relatives were a lot more like replacement relatives than real relatives.

And believe it or not, that's when I realized I was adopted.
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Thursday, December 14, 2006


I Love You Guys

So I wrote a half-assed post about Richard Griffin because he said something sort of weird and uncalled for. Then I left and did other things for awhile.

I come back to the computer and check my email and I have about 50 emails giving me attendance figures for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Oakland Athletics. Seriously. Many, many people felt strongly enough to research this and write in about it. Thank you.

Once again, as a reminder, here's the setup:

There was never any emotion in A's scenarios. That was pure Moneyball.

This is not Moneyball. There has never been a chapter dealing with "replacement value" for fan favourites, which is the difference between A's and Jays and why on most nights you can fire a cannon through the Oakland Coliseum and not hit anyone.

And now, in honor of all of you who wrote in, I'm selecting one of the emails at random and printing it. Congratulations, TL.

Really? Because according to MLB's regular season attendance statistics, the Oakland A's have outdrawn the Toronto Blue Jays at home five of the last six years (2006 being the lone exception).

Check it out:
2001: OAK (26,598) > TOR (23,647)
2002: OAK (26,787) > TOR (20,220)
2003: OAK (27,365) > TOR (22,215)
2004: OAK (27,179) > TOR (23,457)
2005: OAK (26,040) > TOR (24,724)
2006: OAK (24,402) < TOR (28,422)

AVG: OAK (26,395) > TOR (23,780) (by 11%!)

Even if we assume that Griffin meant the Coliseum is emptier (percentage-wise), a quick look at the numbers defeats this proposition as well:

Attendance as Percent of Capacity:
2001: OAK (60.9) > TOR (47.4)
2002: OAK (61.4) > TOR (40.0)
2003: OAK (62.7) > TOR (44.0)
2004: OAK (62.2) > TOR (46.4)
2005: OAK (59.6) > TOR (48.9)
2006: OAK (55.9) < TOR (56.3)

AVG: OAK (60.5) > TOR (47.2) (by 28%!)



posted by Junior  # 8:04 PM
A gentleman named Titan (followed by a series of numbers) points out the following error in TL's math:

"That's not how percent difference works. It's merely subtracting the little number from the big number, not dividing. The correct separation is 13.3 percent [not 28%]. Still a big difference."
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How Can I Work Moneyball Into This?

Some baseball writers really must ask themselves that question before they sit down at their Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300s. I don't even understand the logic behind this slam of Moneyball/Billy Beane/Oakland fans, from Canadian Bill Plaschke Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star. You can't really tell, but he's talking about the Blue Jays losing Vernon Wells:

And please don't compare this to the A's losing Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and the big three starters, including, this year, Barry Zito. There was never any emotion in A's scenarios. That was pure Moneyball.

This is not Moneyball. There has never been a chapter dealing with "replacement value" for fan favourites, which is the difference between A's and Jays and why on most nights you can fire a cannon through the Oakland Coliseum and not hit anyone.

Trading without emotion is Moneyball? I don't think that's true, but hey, sign me up anyway. And the difference between the A's and the Jays is this: a chapter dealing with replacement value for fan favorites. In Toronto, they follow a code, and that code consists of signing players according to their RVFFF.

Vernon Wells' RVFFF is 492.3 (adjusted for all-time). As we all know, the value of each RVFFF unit is 53,624 dollars per year, so Wells is a bargain at even $20 million per season. It's a good thing Oakland would never sign him, because if they did, they would automatically fill their stadium with that kind of RVFFF.


posted by Junior  # 2:58 PM
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Here's What I'd Do Over, If Given the Chance:

I'd sneak into the offices and toss Mike Celizic's freelance writing submission in the incinerator.

Here's what he'd do:

What if we all had do-overs in sports?

Everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody admits them. And, when you get high enough up in a hierarchy, getting someone both to admit to a mistake and then correct it can be like spending your days down at the docks waiting for the Titanic to come in.

That's the opening paragraph. Yikes. "When you get high enough up in a hierarchy?" "...getting someone both to admit to a mistake and then correct it can be like..." Is that English?

And what is that analogy? The Titanic? Seriously? The only thing hackier than making a reference to the Titanic as a classic disaster is making a reference to New Coke.

That’s why it was so refreshing to hear NBA commissioner David Stern not only admit that his beloved high-tech synthetic basketball was a bigger mistake than New Coke

Oh my holy Lord.

but also order the microfiber ball banished at the turn of the new year and replaced with the familiar cowhide sphere the players know and love.

For Stern, it was a do-over. And seeing it happen had to make a lot of people wish there were more mulligans in sports, because the landscape of the games we pay to see other people play is littered with the kind of mistakes that cry out for correction.

The first thing I thought of that could and should have been corrected in the first two months after it was introduced was the designated hitter. The American League came up with that abomination in 1973, and it should never had made it to 1974.

Pretty sure that should read: "...should never have made it..."

That’s just my opinion

It's not iron-clad mathematical fact? You have misled me, sir!

and I recognize that many baseball fans whose powers of reason are otherwise in tip-top order believe the DH is the greatest thing to happen to baseball since beer vendors.

Mike Celizic writes like a man who has seen witty, urbane, humorous men speak in old movies and television shows and is trying to imitate them, but who dropped out of school in 8th grade and drinks a lot of really cheap brandy every morning at 11:00. And wears a funny hat.

But there are a lot of other situations that everyone would agree would have benefited greatly if teams and individuals could do it all over again...

I’m pretty sure the day will come when Michelle Wie will wish she’d have put off turning pro until a couple of years after her Sweet 16 party and concentrated on winning in the women’s game before taking on the men.

Really? She's still like 17 or something and is super super rich, and famous, partly (largely) because she got a lot of press for playing with men.

If Brett Favre could do it all over again, he might want to revoke his decision to play one more year with the Packers instead of either retiring or asking for a trade to a team that could actually play football.

Maybe. The Packers are terrible. But that dude really likes playing football. And you really think he would ask to be traded? Really?

These are the best examples of "Mulligans People Would Like To Take In Sports?" Not like Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open? Or Mike Martz running Marshall Faulk more in the 2002 Super Bowl? Or the Trail Blazers taking Sam Bowie over Jordan in the draft? No? You're going with "Michelle Wie shouldn't have turned pro?" and "Bret Favre should have asked for a trade?" Okay. Hennessy's in the cabinet, Mike -- help yourself.

If we could only hit control-Z for life’s well-intentioned blunders

You know he just learned how to do that on his computer.

how much easier would it be? Alex Rodriguez could have reversed his trade to the Yankees and found a home in a city with more adoring media and fans. And the Houston Texans could have decided a month into the season that they were going to take either Vince Young or Reggie Bush after all and let somebody else have Mario Williams.

ARod, maybe. Texans, definitely. Now you're cooking with gas, Celizic!

Pete Rose could go back to when he agreed to a life-time ban and started confessing his sins right then and there.

This is effing genius. Pete Rose would not go back to the first moment he bet on baseball and decide not to bet on baseball. He would go back to the moment he agreed to the lifetime ban for betting on baseball and apologize. Excellent plan.

If the NHL’s players association had the ability to go back and fix a bad decision, we would have had a hockey season in 2004-2005. Same thing for major league baseball had the players had the ability to say, “oopsie,” and ask for another shot at getting it right in 1994.

I know that 22 years later, Portland still wants to throw Sam Bowie back into the NBA draft pool and take that Michael Jordan fellow who went third to the Bulls.

There it is. Right after "the NHL shouldn't have struck in 2004." Well placed.

Back in 1979, the entire National Football League ignored a pretty good college quarterback because of what they thought was certain knowledge that the kid was a little too small and didn’t have a strong enough arm for the big time. Finally, in the third round, the 49ers wasted a pick on Joe Montana, who worked out all right in the end.

Here's my problem with this: Yes, obviously, all those other teams would have loved to have had Montana. But is it a "blunder" not to have taken him? No. He happened to be the perfect fit for the newly-designed Bill Walsh offensive juggernaut in San Francisco. But that doesn't mean he would have been just as awesome for the Browns or something.

To me, a "blunder," a thing you should want to take a mulligan for, is a thing that everyone in the world can see is a mistake, but you ignore them and do something else. Like not drafting Jordan. Or not drafting Reggie Bush. Or not pulling Pedro in Game 7 in 2003. Sometimes things happen that are very unexpected -- like, say, Tom Brady turning out to be a great QB. But the fact that Tom Brady turned out to be a great QB doesn't mean that all the other teams blew it by not drafting him before the 6th round. Because that would mean the Pats themselves actually blew it like 5 times. See?

Tom Brady, like Montana, was passed up repeatedly before going in the sixth round to the Patriots.

Oh. You don't see.

If life came with do-overs, Grady Little could go back and pull Pedro Martinez before the Yankees could come back and win the 2003 ALCS. Leon Lett could run across the goal line in the Super Bowl with his fumble recovery before holding the ball out for Don Beebe to knock loose.

Pedro thing: absolutely. Lett thing: embarrassing, but the Cowboys won that game like 78-4.

Ara Parseghian could have gone for the win against Michigan State in 1966.

Look, I hate ND. But this famous slam on Parseghian is a mystery to me. The Irish had lost like three guys (Nick Eddy, their QB Hanratty, and someone else who I am too tired to look up) and their back-up QB was (I believe) diabetic or something and was like vomiting from exhaustion. And the next week they beat USC 300-0 and won a share of the national title. Maybe the more manly thing would have been to try to score, but I kind of don't blame the guy for playing for the tie. Neither here nor there.

Ralph Branca could throw a different pitch to Bobby Thomson.


John McNamara could have put in a late-game defensive replacement for Bill Buckner.

Dave Stapleton was ready and willing. You're on a roll, Mikey!

Dennis Eckersley could have pitched around Kirk Gibson.


Pitched around him? Gibson hadn't played in forever and had like 3 bad knees, and Eck's ERA was like 0.000003 and there were two outs and a guy on first and Steve Sax was on deck. Pitched around him? Are you serious?

Maybe you can argue he shouldn't have thrown a backdoor slider on 3-2. But you cannot argue, ever, that Eck should have "pitched around him."

Mike Tyson could decide to find a protein source that wasn’t attached to Evander Holyfield’s head.


If only it were as easy for all of us as it was for David Stern.

If only you would retire and run a men's haberdashery, like you are destined to do.

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posted by Unknown  # 12:06 AM
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Monday, December 11, 2006


Pre-Orders Now Being Accepted

For what promises to be the best book of all-time.


posted by Unknown  # 6:35 PM
2007 National Book Award Prediction:

I predict that this tiny, scrappy little book will absolutely sweep the floor with the bloated, expertly-written behemoth that is Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day."
Anyone else feel that Dana Spiotta's "Eat the Document" was a little too basepath-clogging?

(I have not read this book and have no idea what I'm talking about.)
Best Books of 2006, by VORB:

Suite Française, Irene Nemirovsky: 76.3
The Emperor's Children, Claire Messud: 72.1
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Lawrence Wright: 66.9
Caesar: Life of a Colossus, Adrian Goldsworthy: 59.2
Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again, Ina Garten: 63.7

Lowest, interestingly:

Judge & Jury, James Patterson: -13.3

Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again by Ina Garten should be credited with a VORB of 53.7, not 63.7.

I mean, can you imagine? 63.7? For Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again by Ina Garten?!?!
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Friday, December 08, 2006



Eric from the great state of Indiana writes in to correct my ad hominem attack on Eckie:

I watched most of the show tonight, and the "Row Row Row Your Boat" question was the "play along at home" text message question (or whatever the hell they call it - I'm not a regular viewer). That question wasn't on the actual show on which Li'l David appeared. I know because when I saw he was on I decided to watch until he missed a question. I have no idea when or if he missed a question, but one minute he was there and the next he was gone. I suspect NBC edited his failure out so as to not crush the hopes and dreams of all the other tiny people out there.

It will be hard to know what really happened, because as soon as the 1 Vs. 100 episodes are finished taping, the master tapes are sent to a vault in the Smithsonian, not to be opened for 1000 years, and the text of the shows are etched onto titanium plates, which are then attached to satellites and blasted into space in an attempt to show aliens what our culture is really all about. But my guess is that Eck just flat-out hustled his way off the show, like he always does.

Did you guys know he's only like 5'7"?

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posted by Unknown  # 9:55 PM
As if we needed to spend more time on this...

Clarification from reader Warren:

The question in question WAS for play-at-home contestants. However, Bob Saget identified two celebrity panelists, one right and one wrong.

Jeopardy! champion Brad Rutter correctly answered C. The diminutive sparkplug was singled out as an incorrect dwarf for answering A.

Not the dwarf part.

Guaranteed that he WAS on the show with the question in question.

I think we can all agree that (a) Eck is small and (b) he got the question wrong.

I should go back to posting things about sports journalism, maybe.
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If Only the Other 99 Were As Scrappy

FJM is a site dedicated to the debunking of poor sports journalism and analysis, using strict statistical analysis and common sense. Except when it comes to Derek Jeter, when we suddenly reverse course and get upset that he did not help ARod out in the media and thus should not have been MVP. (He should have been MVP. Relax. We're kind of kidding.) (Kind of.)

However, we are also not above non-baseball-related ad hominem attacks on David Eckstein. He's got the heart of a champion. He can handle it.

Loyal reader Ludicrous Pat files this report on a little guy we all know and love, and his recent appearance on the NBC Non-Event Game Show Non-Extravaganza "1 Vs. 100":

The question was, "What word is repeated the most in "Row your boat"

a) Row

b) Boat

c) Merrily

Merrily with 4 beats Row with 3 and Boat with 1, but even though almost everyone got it right, Mr. Eckstein, the -- as the show proclaimed -- "World Series MVP," got it wrong.

But he got it wrong with grit and hustle.

That last line will be on Eck's gravestone. When he dies hustling to the dinner buffet at his retirement home at the age of 180.

posted by Unknown  # 8:57 PM
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Tuesday, December 05, 2006


One More Time, As Clear As I Can Make It

Does anyone still wonder why we are tough on Derek Jeter for not standing up for ARod this past year?

Here's a recent article where Derek Jeter talks about ARod:

Recently, the Yankees Captain has been hit with some misguided criticism that he should come out stronger in his defense of Alex Rodriguez...

"That's exactly what I said," Jeter calmly explained. "I said the only thing I wasn't going to do was tell the fans who they should boo and who they shouldn't boo."

And here's an article from 2005 where Derek Jeter talks about Jason Giambi:

Then Jeter took the opportunity to stand up for Giambi, who was booed so loudly after he struck out in the eighth inning it was hard to hear public address announced Bob Sheppard announce the next hitter. Jeter implored Yankees fans to stop booing Giambi.

"The fans have to start cheering for him," Jeter said. "If you're a Yankee fan, you want us to win and we need Jason ."

One more time: 2006, re: ARod:

"I said the only thing I wasn't going to do was tell the fans who they should boo and who they shouldn't boo."

And 2005, in re: Giambi:

Jeter implored Yankees fans to stop booing Giambi. "The fans have to start cheering for him," Jeter said. "If you're a Yankee fan, you want us to win and we need Jason ."

The end.

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posted by Unknown  # 2:43 AM
I wonder if its pure objective analysis, or a fetish for contrarianism that's led us to the conclusion that 2006 Jeter = great tangibles, weak non-tangible things.
Fetish for contrarianism.
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Monday, December 04, 2006


Richard Griffin, Non-Sex-Related Department

Several readers have written in to point out the crazy potshot Griffin takes at the end of his last column (the sex one):

The winter meetings, despite the unwelcome influence of player agents and younger, non-traditional GMs, is still one of the great traditions of sports.

The word "non-traditional" makes it sounds like all the GMs under 40 are gay or something. And according to Griffin, these decidedly homosexual general managers are universally-loathed vermin indistinguishable from Scott Boras.

Richard Griffin, meanwhile, bones his wife at the baseball meetings and makes babies with her like a real man, goddammit.


posted by Junior  # 6:25 PM
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My Demands Are Simple.

There's just one, actually. I demand to know exactly when and where Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin has been having sex.

Wherever it has been held, it's always been memorable. I proposed to my wife, Debbie, at the meetings in Dallas in 1980. The next day, John Lennon was shot. My elder daughter, Kelly, was conceived at the convention, four years later in Houston. For me, these meetings will always generate strong emotions.

Great. 1984. Houston. Baseball winter meetings. Thanks.


posted by Junior  # 2:59 PM
Hat tip: Ben.
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Friday, December 01, 2006


Isn't This Sort of Contradictory?

Bill Simmons' latest is a critique of the state of football broadcasting, a commendable idea. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a bit of a sprawling mess. I found these two sections to be somewhat at odds with each other:

You can't say things deteriorated this season because this has been an ongoing problem for more than 20 years, ever since the Cosell-Meredith-Gifford team peaked and John Madden exploded onto the scene, followed by the networks' collectively deciding, "instead of accepting that these were two once-in-a-lifetime situations that cannot be recreated, we're going to kill ourselves trying to recreate them."

Simmons posits in the first paragraph that the main problem is that the networks have been unsuccessfully trying to rip off Cosell-Meredith-Gifford and Madden, two beloved broadcasting entities. Fine, it's an opinion. But then, later in the same column, he throws this out there:

And that's the biggest problem with football announcing right now (well, one of the biggest): Nobody is trying to rip off the guys who everyone loved the most.

What? What happened to the argument you led off this piece with? People didn't love Howard Cosell and John Madden?

Fledgling broadcasters everywhere, please, you have our permission -- rip off Summerall and Albert. I'll settle for three poor man's Marvs and Pats and maybe even a couple of homeless man's Marvs and Pats.

Huh? Seriously, I'm just confused. Unless he's saying that these are the only two guys it's okay to hire lukewarm copies of.

Let's just forget this column happened.

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posted by Junior  # 5:25 PM
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Rick Morrissey, Chicago Tribune:

Big Mac won't get a taste of Hall of Fame

It was an interesting decision by McGwire, who could have chosen to lie, as then-Oriole Rafael Palmeiro apparently did. By saying he didn't want to talk about the past, McGwire all but admitted to using steroids.

And now he stands before us looking for entrance into the most prestigious hall of fame in sports.

I don't think so.

I think Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, who might be 5 feet 7 inches, 165 pounds after a week-long Pizza Hut jag, is more deserving of a Cooperstown bust than McGwire is.

Just amen, brother. Amen.

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posted by Junior  # 5:21 PM
Thanks to alert Eckstein-watcher Brian.
The worst thing that could ever happen to sportswriters is David Eckstein taking HGH and growing to 5'11 190. What would they write about?
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