Friday, April 27, 2012

Ya Gotta Play 'Em to Get the Win

I don't like hearing voices on KNBR 680 AM talk as if the San Diego Padres are easy pickings.  Because they most certainly have not been.  And for that reason I think the Padres will be ready for the Orange and Black tonight at AT&T Park.  (The San Diego Manager, Bud Black, is likely grimacing as he thinks, "I got your Orange Friday, RIGHT HERE!")

On the hill tonight (4/27/12) will be Cory Luebke, a left-hander.  And Giant fans have to know by now how effective lefties are against the 2012 San Francisco Giants.

Again, the teams have to play the game.  Just showing up is not an option it's called being there because these guys get paid bank to play a little boy/girl's game!

Kevin J. Marquez

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Origins of the Strike Zone

(The information in this article was received from a book by Peter Morris entitled, Game of Inches. The Stories Behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball.)

Balls and Strikes.
Batsmen accumulated no balls while strikes were recorded only on swing and a miss. The premise was that each batter got to strike the ball once and that the pitch was the prelude to the fundamental conflict: The batter's effort to make his way home- by way of first,second, and third base- before the fielders could put him out.

Batters began to be very selective in the pitches they would swing at.  Since there was no limit to the number of balls thrown you would see as many as fifty (50) pitches before a batsman decided to swing at a ball he deemed suitable to for swinging.  This presented a grave dilemma. Something must be done to effect "the transfer of the interest of a match from the pitchers to the basemen and outfielders." (New York Clipper, May 7, 1864.)

The rule change had been intended to restore baseball to a battle between batters and fielders by reducing the pitcher's resources. Instead it had the unintended consequence of elevating a new figure into prominence- the umpire.  The umpire was in-charge of determining the players' intentions and many umps, at first, were reluctant to fulfill this responsibility.

The game of baseball was being adjusted for the enjoyment of those who played it and also for those who liked watching the game.  It's beginning stages had quirky rules such as a batter could be thrown out after a base-on-balls if he "walked" to first base rather than run to the first sack.

In 1889, three (3) strikes and four (4) balls were finally settled upon as the parameters for an at-bat. It was not until the early 20th century that fouls began to count as strikes.

Strike Zones.
The concept of a strike zone began to develop once called strikes were established in the late 1850s.

In 1868, Henry Chadwick: "When batsmen take their position at the homebase, the umpire asks him where he wants the ball and the pitcher is required by the rules to deliver the batsman a ball within legitimate reach of his bat and as near the place indicated as he possibly can."

Batters could not change their requested pitch location during the game.

In 1896, the batter played a role, at least as much as the umpire, in determining the strike zone. Was the toss by the pitcher "suitable"?

Like now, umpires then had a different interpretations as to how close the pitch had to be to the designated location. Some umpires considered a pitch as having to land within an inch or two of an exact spot. Translation, like with today, some umpires go "by the book" while others let their judgment be their guide as to how the rulebook (for a particular play) is most functional.

In 1871, the rules makers restricted the batter to calling only for a "high" or "low" pitch. This created two different strike zones- between the waist and shoulder for a batter who requested "high" and between the knee and the waist for a batter who chose "low" pitches. Since the pitcher could aim for anywhere within the area the batter had selected, the basic concept of a strike zone had been established.  

Explained, in 1874, Henry Chadwick wrote, "The umpire, whenever the striker (batter) takes his position at the home base (plate), should satisfy himself as best as he can as to what constitutes the fair reach of the batsman."  In other words, was the pitch hittable?

In 1885, Harry Wright suggested doing away with the requests for high and low pitches and just having a single strike zone that stretched from the shoulder to the knee (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 27, 1885.)  His idea was implemented after the 1886 season.  For the first time each batter had to defend a standard strike zone. The exact parameters have changed only slightly since, but there have been bigger changes in how umpires interpret the strike zone. One could view today's strike zone as having reverted to that of a batter between 1871 and 1886 who requested a low pitch.

In the early 1890s, moving the pitcher back became a key plank of the Lester Plan, a series of changes proposed by Philadelphia Record sportswriter, W.R. Lester. Lester's ideas gained a key ally in Sporting Life editor Francis Richter, who argued that another five feet between the pitcher and the batter would result in "the restoration of the proper equilibrium between the two great principles of the game- attack and defense. With the pitcher reduced to the ranks, nine men instead of two will play the game." (Sporting Life, 11/11/1892).

The current distance of 60'6" was adopted by the National League on March 7, 1893. This change from 50-feet to 60-feet, 6 inches is sometimes depicted as having moved the pitcher 10 1/2 feet farther from the plate, and the mysterious six inches is sometimes attributed to a surveyor's error. Neither is the case.

It was actually the intention of the rule makers to move the pitcher's back about 5 feet.  But the 5 1/2 foot pitcher's box had been the limit for the pitcher's front foot, while the new rubber effectively determined the location of the pitcher's rear foot. The result ws that the five foot change was added to the 5 1/2 foot box in the wording of the new rule, which created the magic number of 60-feet 6-inches.

(My thanks to the book, A Game of Inches, by Peter Morris. It is a very good read for those baseball officianados who are interested in the game's roots. Note: The Henry Chadwick Award was established by the Society for American Baseball Research in November 2009 "to honor those researchers, historians, analysts, and statisticians whose work has most contributed to our understanding of the game and its history."  Chadwick is credited with writing baseball's first rule book and the first box score by modifying the Cricket box score.)

Kevin Marquez

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What the Hell?

On the Murph and Mac show (Monday-Friday,KNBR 680AM,5am-9am) Pauly Mac has this incredible sound board with tracks from movies, interviews, and all things not necessarily sports that the two weave into the fabric of their topic of the day conversation. And I'm here to say, Charles Grodin's, "What the hell?" is in reference to the 2012 San Francisco Giants' defense.

Somewhere in Fresno, is Freddy Sanchez hearing the Curtis Mayfield tune, "Freddie's Dead"?  You remember that song don't ya? The Starsky and Hutch type music when those two uncaped crusaders of the 70s were racing around town, running red lights in hot pursuit of a lead given to them by Huggy Bear.

We're all built up with progress
But sometimes I must confess
We can deal with rockets and dreams
But reality, what does it mean
Ain't nothing said
Cause Freddie's dead...

It's hard to understand
there was love in this land
(called AT&T Park
 when Freddy came to bat there was a chant!)

Until Freddy Sanchez returns to the Giants lineup there will be a hole in their defense.  If Freddy's arm is dead then all the love will go the opponents' way because you have got to catch the damn ball!

(thanks to Curtis Mayfield for inspiring this Freddy rant.)

Kevin J. Marquez

Monday, April 16, 2012

16th and Bryant Watering Hole

According to "The Golden Game, The Story of California Baseball," by Kevin Nelson...

The Double Play was a favorite of ballplayers who liked to imbibe in the spirits, which meant most of them. In the 1930s, the Seals featured an aging pitcher named Noble Winfield who was called "Old Pard" Ballou. "Old Pard" liked to wind down afer a night game with a nightcap or two at the Double Play (across the street from Seals Stadium). Some nights, "Old Pard" had a few drinks more than was perhaps wise, and on these occasions he could be found the next day sleeping it off in the Seals' bullpen. Then there would be times when the Seals would be wanting to warm-up "Old Pard" and he was nowhere to be found. At which time a clubhouse boy was called to fetch "Old Pard." Knowing pretty much where the "dry-throated" pitcher would be the boy ran his errand.  Sure enough there he was irrigating himself with the hair of the dog that bit him.

Knowing it was time to get to work, Mr. Winfield lived up to his name by showing some nobility as he returned to the bullpen to begin warming up in case he was called on and if he were called on he generally was up to task.

Lefty O'Doul, who managed the Seals in Joe DiMaggio's last season with the team, brought in Ty Cobb as an advisor when the New York Yankees began salary negotiations for DiMaggio's rookie contract.

Cobb's services were enlisted  because, in Richard Ben Cramer's memorable phrase, Cobb was "a man who could squeeze a nickel till the buffalo on it was dead from lack of air." 

The Yankees' original offer was $5,625 and that wasn't enough for Cobb. The Yankees upped the ante to $6,500- still not enough. Cobb wrote back (for DiMaggio). The Yankees apparently knew the identity of DiMaggio's business agent because when they presented their third and final offer of $8,500, they told Joe not to have Cobb send them any more letters. 

(thanks to the Kevin Nelson book, "The Golden Game, The Story of California Baseball," for these interesting tidbits of baseball lore.)

Kevin Marquez 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

He's a Burr (Against My) Ass

I have reason to believe this will not be the only time someone has nothing nice to say about Emmanuel Burriss (pronounced: burr/ass).

Emmanuel Burriss has had several opportunities to make the Giants' big league club but for some reason he manages to do something that puts a nasty flavor in the powers-that-be's collective mouths.

This Spring he began the Cactus League aflame.  Hitting and running the bases like a man determined to make the club once and for all.  And while nobody questions his determination it's those brain cramps he gets when the chips are down that makes the novice fan feel like something just aint right.

On April 11, 2012, Tim Lincecum had his worst start in his major league career.  Two and one-third innings before being removed.  He allowed 6 runs. Sure, he was throwing to a rookie catcher.

But it was the same rookie catcher that just caught Barry Zito's sterling game Monday afternoon, one might question. Ah yes, but who do you think has the livelier stuff?

In listening to the game my displeasure was in the inconsistency of the person positioned behind the catcher. The guy trying to separate balls from strikes.  A guy who has been given the nickname "Balking Bob," because he calls balks like he's crying wolf.  A certain false alarm. When Bob Davidson is behind the plate he is a kind of wolf in sheep's clothing to be adamantly sure. Why is that? Because he hides behind his facemask an intent to disrupt a game in the most benign manner.  He thinks he has to contribute to the outcome.

He's an umpire whose idea of a strike zone would make his cohorts question the validity of his efforts. Fortunately, for Lincecum, his replacement (Dan Otero) got the batter to hit a grounder and the infield turned it into an inning ending double-play.  At the end of 3, Colorado: 6  San Francisco:0.

But the fireworks were being put into place.  Nate Schierholtz led off with a booming home run only to be followed by Brandon Crawford's liner over the right field fence. Hit after timely hit, with the questionable base on balls sprinkled into the arsenal and WOW!, after 3 and one-half innings, Colorado: 6  San Francisco: 7.

At this time of the game Guillermo Mota was called upon. And the with the first batter he induced a grounder to the second-baseman, our man Burriss.  There really is no such thing as a routine grounder.  Even the plebe attending his first game wouldn't agree to such a thing if some salty cantankerous fellow was barking the book of baseball with peanut shells a-flying within earshot of the interested fan.  But in a situation where a team came from a 6-0 deficit, you have to catch a ball that is hit to you with less than reasonable difficulty.  However long one chooses to play baseball he/she will learn not to give opportunity to the opponent when they come from behind to take the lead. When this happens, it is akin to saying you were just glad to be playing and were not playing to win.

Kevin Marquez

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Take on the Final Cuts

It has become very clear that last year's season had a lot of wear and tear on the Giants' decision-makers for who makes up their 2012 roster.

The pitching staff to begin the season has the usual suspects such as: Jeremy Affeldt, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Santiago Casilla, Tim Lincecum, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson and Barry Zito.  The new additions to this staff as of April 5, 2012 are Clay Hensley and Dan Otero.  And remember, there is Eric Surkamp waiting in the wings on the 15-day disabled list just in case Barry Zito has been what no pitcher ever wants to become. (Note: No pitcher wants to be a batting practice pitcher and no batter wants to be an automatic out.)

The catching position took an interesting turn of events.  The Giants have long been a team that stands by it's defensive approach to the game.  With that in mind it would have been easy to understand why either Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart would have made the club.  But because both had such a difficult time having their bat hit the ball one was sent to Fresno while the other was dealt to another ballclub.

Eli was sent to Fresno while Stewart was traded to the Yankees for George Kontos.  Kontos is a 26-year old, right-handed pitcher from the University of Northwestern. He is 6'3" 225 lbs and made his major league debut last September 10, 2011.  His totals were 2 runs in 6 innings while making 7 appearances.

This left the door to their clubhouse wide open for a rookie named Hector Sanchez.  Per, a 22-year-old, Sanchez, who has risen rapidly through the Giants' system, will serve as the backup.  He hit .383 with 4 homers. "He's done a good job. He's earned this," said Bruce Bochy.

The infield's biggest surprise is that Brandon Belt is the first-baseman and Aubrey Huff is the left fielder.  Why? Because Nate Schierholtz didn't do enough offensively to warrant a starting spot in the lineup.

Also making the lineup, largely in part to Freddy Sanchez's slow healing shoulder, is Emmanuel Burriss.  He is versatile but will be watched over if he begins the Spring the way he ended the Cactus league, not reaching base.  I have a feeling that Joaquin Arias is just getting his reps down in Fresno until he gets the phone call asking him to catch the next mode of transportation back to San Francisco.  In other words, Emmanuel is on a very short leash.  This is his last chance to prove he is a major leaguer wearing the black and orange in San Francisco. (I suppose if you're into the color thing he could make it with the Baltimore Orioles, another team whose colors are orange and black.) If he doesn't begin the season the way he began the Cactus League it's likely his tour of duty with the Giants will be terminated.

Brett Pill, another versatile player, who has shown the Brass enough in his ability to play the corner outfield positions (left and right) and the corner infield positions (third and first) and has enough sock in his bat (from the right side of the plate) that he earned a roster spot.  It's the reason Mike Fontenot was let go for Ryan Theriot. Offense. 

The outfield has only 4 players (knowing that Burriss is a fifth candidate to roam the spacious sod at AT&T and elsewhere in the National League).  Newly acquired Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera will have to show their new team they were worthy of being acquired as does Gregor Blanco.  Blanco has impressed the Giants' decision-makers and their fans so much that he will get plenty of opportunities  to contribute to the Giants.  (The Giants hope he can bring something offensively. Not to say he isn't capable defensively because he covers ground and has an above average arm but his asset is that he is fleet of foot.)  With Nate Schierholtz coming in as a late-inning replacement I am pleased to say each outfielder, sans Aubrey Huff, has a cannon.  

Huff, why is he the left-fielder?  O-F-F-E-N-S-E.

Good luck and stay healthy Giants.  The fans are looking forward to the 2012 season.

(thanks to for the facts on the aforementioned Giant players.)

Kevin Marquez

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tools of Ignorance Not Always Operator's Error

I recently did a presentation called: Concussion- Not Just a Headache.  With the topic of study being former Milwaukee Brewer,St. Louis Cardinal, and San Francisco Giants' catcher, Mike Matheny.

I searched the Internet and library for information about the evolution of catcher's equipment, also known as, Tools of Ignorance.  I was looking to discover if during the change in styles of catcher's gear comfort replaced safety.

I fully understood that very few if any apparatuses of baseball equipment will come off the market due to it being defective.  Because if the user of this equipment is unfamiliar with the proper way to use the gear it is operator error (i.e. if you turn your head and the ball bounces and short-hops the side of the fielder's head it landed where it did because the fielder's action caused that area to be exposed. Or, if when dropping down to block a pitch that does not cross the plate and you don't tuck your neck into the chest protector you are exposing your neck to a possible bad bounce striking it. Again, that is the fault of the catcher not the gear.)

If you choose to play catcher and do not learn the proper way to catch a thrown ball you are not only wearing the Tools of Ignorance but as a player you are an ignorant fool.  The bumps and bruises should accelerate the rate in which you learn how to play the position.

What I was able to learn in Mike Matheny's case is that he changed to the hockey-style mask because his head was covered by a helmet and the mask had better visibility. But, according to former backstop and current Oakland A's broadcaster, Ray Fosse, the hockey-style mask doesn't have nearly the padding to absorb the brunt of foul balls or any deflection of the ball off of the mask.  Back when Fosse played the mask he used was made of carbon-steel and was flexible but strong. The goal of the mask was to get some deformation in the mesh to reduce some of the shock but still retain its structural integrity. And even though it is said that the design of the hockey-style mask is to deflect the ball rather than having the ball hit the catcher flush as the carbon-steel wire mesh model supposedly does, the trouble with that is the hockey-style mask has approximately one inch of padding versus the 4-5 inches of the carbon steel wire mesh model.

Since the inception of the hockey-style mask, a noticeable number of catcher's have experienced time away from the game due to concussions.  More than ever before, that's for sure. 

How many more players (who may have played catcher at one time during their careers) will be forced into an early retirement for the maker's of this hockey-style mask to add padding to the current model? It is this reason why I say it's not always the operator's error.  If the mask's only flaw is lack of padding it's still detrimental to the user's health. 

(thanks to Ray Fosse for enlightening me on the evolution of the catcher's mask.)

Kevin J. Marquez