|Monday, June 2
Updated: June 3, 9:40 AM ET
Baker's Dozen: The week in preview
By Jim Baker
The Mariners have run their record to the point where they would have ended up in this week's Best Matchup category with just about anybody they played provided the team had a .500 record. As you are no doubt aware, Edgar Martinez, their best hitter, will be sitting this one out, owing to the DH restrictions in National League parks. Here are few things he can do to while away the games during his week as the best-hitting pinch hitter in baseball:
Ransack Veterans Stadium looking for long-ago discarded Philadelphia Phil and Phyllis mascot costumes.
Take a cab over to the Melrose Diner for a piece of apple pie. When one of their famed veteran waitresses asks why he's in uniform he can say, "I could ask you the same question, couldn't I?"
Walk over to the Spectrum and put a "Mariners Rule" sweatshirt on the Rocky statue.
While out and about, buy some JB Weld and fix that broken bell they've got over there.
Dare to discover what was previously thought to be unknowable: Do chemical analysis and carbon dating on scrapple samples purchased in local supermarkets.
Join the Electrician's local and pick up a few hours' pay helping to build the new ballpark.
I'll let the title of this one speak for itself regarding my sentiments on a certain unnecessary "improvement" to baseball made this past decade.
Instead, let us talk about the Brothers Giles. By the time this series is played, Giles the Elder or Pittsburgh -- Brian -- may well have passed Giles the Younger of Atlanta -- Marcus -- in OPS. Whether he does or not, they're close, which is saying something for Marcus considering his off-year last season and the fact that his brother is one of the best hitters in the game. While some of this owed to Brian's injury, much of it is owed to Marcus's arrival on the next level of ability, if that is, in fact, what it is.
Before writing off his great start as a flash-in-the-park, consider this: Marcus just turned 25 two weeks ago. Brian barely had 130 big-league at-bats by that age and look how he turned out.
Think back for a moment to the famous play that ended the NLCS in 1992 when Sid Bream scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 to put the Braves over the Pirates. How close were these two franchises then? About one throw apart, right? Now think of what has happened to them since: about 275 games apart in the standings. Would things have turned out differently had Barry Bonds nailed Bream? I think we can safely say the Braves would have done what they were going to do, but a World Championship that year might have made a big difference in the fate of the Pirates.
The average American League team has surrendered 270 runs so far. You know how many runs the Tigers have given up? That's right: 270. That means, if they had an average offense, they'd be a .500 team. There's the trick, though: they are over 100 runs shy of being average. Project that over a full season and you're gonna set the record books on fire!
One reason to hope that this Tigers team will not be the first sub-.300 team since the '62 Mets is that historically bad teams tend to finish last in the league in both runs scored and runs allowed. The Tigers are a lock for the former, but have six teams being more generous than they in the latter. Of course, there are two things to consider: they play in a pitcher's park and this is skewing things somewhat and the larger the league, the more aberration there can be. So, with 14 teams, it is possible to finish ninth or 10th in ERA -- aided by a friendly home park -- and still only win a quarter of your games.
With Benito Santiago and Jose Cruz, Jr. playing the way they are, the Giants could put this race away if Edgardo Alfonzo and Rich Aurilia were playing somewhere near their career bests.
How many A's fans do you think remain in the Philadelphia area? It can't be that many. The very youngest would be no less than 57 years old. One has to assume that, over the course of the 49 years since the team bolted town, the allegiances of the few fans they did have (they averaged about 6,000 per game their last five years in Philly) that are still alive have been switched elsewhere. Are there even one hundred left who have continued to follow the team as their own throughout their moves to Kansas City and Oakland? Speaking of 1954, the Athletics' last act in Philadelphia was to get swept by the Yankees in a three-game series. They also had a 10-game home losing streak that year and on July 11 lost a doubleheader to the Red Sox 18-0 and 11-1.
Who was the last Philadelphia Athletic still active in the major leagues? In 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies had two former Philly A's on their roster in the persons of pitcher Bobby Shantz and first baseman Vic Power. Shantz was finished after that season, making him the last active Philly A's pitcher. Power moved on to the Angels where he closed out his career in 1965. Nellie Fox, the Hall of Fame second baseman the A's gave away in 1949 also played a handful of games with the Astros in 1965.
It's been 100 years since Boston has shown up in Pittsburgh. The first and last time they were there it was for the more serious business of reintroducing the World Series concept to baseball. That first Series introduced a practical concept to Series strategy, albeit in the context of very different times, that is: focusing the number of starting pitching assignments on a smaller number of pitchers than were used during the regular season. The Pilgrims -- as they were known then -- had gone with three main starters: Cy Young, Bill Dinneen and Tom Hughes. (Back then, relieving was rare, the Pilgrims only carried five pitchers all season and had a total of 36 relief appearances in 141 games. Nowadays, that's about a homestand's worth for Bobby Cox.)
In the Series, they gave seven of eight starts to Young and Dinneen and Young relieved Hughes in the third inning of the one game neither of them did start. The Pirates did the same thing, giving seven of eight starts to Sam Leever and Deacon Phillippe. The two teams arrived at the two-man rotation for different reasons. In his book on the Series, 'Autumn Glory,' Louis P. Masur suggests that there were rumors about the integrity of Hughes and that made Boston decide not to give him any more innings after he blew up in the third game. (In his defense, three balls were hit into the fans that ringed the field and would have probably been outs under regular circumstances.
As for the Pirates, their situation was a bit different, though, in that their third starter, Ed Doheny, had a career-ending bout of mental illness and was not available. Masur describes Doheny as beating a male nurse in his home during the Series, an act that got him put away.
Now the game has evolved to where it's the fifth and sometimes the fourth starter that gets left out of the equation, but the seeds of shortening the rotation go right back to the beginning.
In a battle of philosophical and talent-available extremes, the visiting A's have attempted the fewest steals in baseball while the hosting Marlins have attempted the most. Through Saturday, the A's had picked up 12 bases at the cost of five baserunners while the Mariners had picked up 75 at the cost of 29 men.
Interestingly, both the hare and the tortoise have about the same success rate: .721 for Florida and .706 for Oakland. So, who is doing the right thing? This much we know: The A's are averaging about a half-run per game more than the Marlins, 4.81 to 4.36. While some of that is owed to the presence of the DH in their games, the Marlins have a better slugging average than the A's do (.438 to .414) and have drawn a comparable number of walks and have more hits. What if the Marlins played it safe like the A's? Would they score more runs? Their success rate at stealing is just over the point where it's a break-even proposition. They do have a fair amount of baserunners, however, and have the third-best slugging average in the National League so it would seem they should be scoring more. They are among the worst teams in the league hitting with runners in scoring position and with runners on. This would certainly account for the disparity between their expected scoring and actual scoring. So here's a question: if you're not hitting with men on anyway, why risk them trying to advance one base?
Where is Toronto?
This series ought to provide a bit of sport. When you combine the runs allowed and runs scored, Toronto and Cincinnati lead their respective leagues. Together, their games have totaled nearly 1,300 runs so far. By contrast, the A's-Phillies series features two teams that have only totaled 946 runs to this point. If you're looking for the bombing range, stop right here (although there will probably be some ordinance expended as well when the Texas pitching staff meets up with the Braves this week).
A virgin dosed with salt peter meets a raging nymphomaniac: what happens? We'll find out this week in San Diego where the Tigers and their impotent offense collide with the Padres and their promiscuous pitching and defense. San Diego has allowed nearly twice as many runs per game as the Tigers have scored (5.97 to 3.09). That's a wild swing right there. What might happen is the two forces will neutralize each other making these games look completely normal to the naked eye.
Talk about your forgotten World Series! Except for the picture of Al Smith getting the beer dumped on his head, does this fall classic get any attention in the national media? What if individual events could hire Public Relations firms? If you were a PR man, what would you do to get more ink for the 1959 World Series? How about suggesting the Sox threw it, just like their last visit to the Series in 1919? It's not true, but it's not the truth we're after here, it is publicity.
Anyway, here's one of those pain-in-the-neck trivia questions that make people hate trivia and wish they could cut out that part of the brain that stores this sort of thing and place it in a jar with formaldehyde and only put it back into their heads when it was time for an appearance on Jeopardy: What is the White Sox record in Dodger Stadium? "Hey Baker, you insidious lout," some of you are thinking, "interleague play is new and they've never played the Dodgers before."
But then, others are thinking, "Baker, even the most trivia-impaired simpleton knows the Angels played at Dodger Stadium from 1962 to 1965, but how the hell should I know what the White Sox record was when they were there?"
Finally, a tiny percentage of you are thinking, "19-17."
The Yankees have been struggling at home this year with a 13-15 record. On the road they've gone 20-8 and lead in road attendance, as is their thing. In their 100-plus year history, the Yankees have only played better on the road than at home 17 times. The good news for Yankee fans is that they managed to win seven pennants in those years, the most recent coming in 1999. Only three times prior to this, however, have they had a .500 or better record on the road while finishing under .500 at home. This occurred in 1907, 1911 and 1968 -- three seasons rarely mentioned in Yankee history books. Don't bank on 2003 being added to that short list.
Bill Veeck took over the Browns with a mind to running the Cardinals out of St. Louis. This, as we know, did not happen, and the Browns trotted off to Baltimore a few years later. This is their first return to the city that would not love them since 1953. The next year, for the first time since 1902, the Mid-Atlantic cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington found themselves in the same league. The results were not pretty: they finished in the bottom three positions of the American League with a combined .373 winning percentage and 162 games behind the first-place Indians.
There have been 12 franchise shifts in the American and National Leagues since 1901 and, on just about every occasion, the departing team lost its final home game. The exceptions are the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1967 Kansas City A's. The 1971 Washington Senators were beating the Yankees 7-5 in their last game at RFK when unruly fans took over the field and caused the soon-to-be-not home team to forfeit 9-0. Some of the teams took their last homestands very hard. The 1960 Washington Senators lost their last seven home games before departing for Minnesota. In 1952, the Braves lost their last six games in Boston as did the Orioles their last six in Baltimore in 1902 before leaving for New York. The Braves dropped their last five in Milwaukee in 1965 and the A's did the same in 1954 in Philadelphia.
This matchup (if it comes off -- these things have a way of getting waylaid) is interesting because it offers us the opportunity to see how incredibly hard it is to get where Roger Clemens is right now. So many things have to go right, starting with genetics and going on from there. Taking a look at Clemens and Wood at similar junctures in their careers (through the end of the season in which they turned 25 which for Clemens was 1988 and for Wood last year), we find that Clemens has it over Wood in just about every category:
Fate put Clemens up on a better team -- although the 1984-88 Red Sox were really only a .500 club without him as you can see. Clemens' ERA is better relative to the league in which he pitched than is Wood's, as well.
Wood has the much better strikeout rate, which continues to serve as a sign that he still has a great career ahead of him. As for reaching the point Roger Clemens is at this moment -- knocking on the door of victory No. 300 -- his injuries and lack of support have already put a big crimp on that. Not that he should be judged a failure if he fails to do so. I bring it up just to reinforce our acknowledgement of the difficulty of Clemens' achievement.
13. The Mystery Matchup of the Week
This team played a key role in the history of major league baseball in their opponent's state, although this series will be their first regular season visit there.
The clue from May 19 was this:
These two teams helped each other close out their old stadiums and open their new ones. When the first team ended its run at its old stadium, the second team was its opponent. When the new stadium opened the next spring, they were the opponent once again in the first game ever at the new facility. When it came time for the second team to get their new stadium, the first team closed out their old facility and opened their new one as well.
The answer was Philadelphia and Montreal. The Expos were the Phils' opponent for the last game ever at Connie Mack Stadium in 1970 and opened Veterans Stadium the next spring. The Phillies returned the favor for the Expos in 1976, closing out Jarry Park and providing the opposition in the first regular season game ever at Olympic Stadium in 1977.
Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.