Doris From Rego Park

August 16, 2010

I hadn’t commented on Razzball in about a week or so, which actually feels like a long time to me since I started checking out the site on a daily basis back in March. Saying the site’s main voice, Grey Albright, is a great writer baseball writer is like saying Albert Pujols can hit. That he’s just about always connected to the site and giving specific fantasy feedback and advice – for free – is unprecedented in the fantasy baseball world. What makes the site special is in no small part the commenter however, whose comments usually number well into the triple digits for every post. The same names always appear day in and day out: Royce!, Wilsonian, ThePoonTycoon, Howie Met Your Mother, and many more offering wit, wisdom and obsessive comradery during the long and often grueling months of the fantasy baseball season.

Today I dropped a comment on the site, starting it by jokingly channeling Doris From Rego Park with a trade offer of Benny Agbayani and Masato Yoshi for Luis Gonzalez. It got a few laughs and this response from Grey, which I thought I’d share:

I wish I could have met Doris. When she died in 2003, I felt like I lost an aunt, whose raspy voice comforted me on many a sleepless summer night. Here’s to you Doris. Thankfully for your sake, you were spared the horrors of watching those two colossal Met collapses in ’07 and ’08.

Here’s a posthumous fan page on Facebook for Doris Bauer. Check it out and spread the love.

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Film Review: “The Lost Son of Havana”

August 2, 2010

Born in 1975, I didn’t get to see Luis Tiant at the peak of his pitching prowess. In fact, my few memories of Tiant consisted of his unique, whirl-wind windup and his affable, cigar-chomping post-game interviews with the press after pitching for the Yankees. Only a few years removed from some incredible years pitching for successful Red Sox teams that seemed to come up just short year in and year out through the mid to late 70’s, my father would tell me how Tiant was a fierce competitor with impeccable control and a pure joy to watch on the field. In that era, some would say that if you had a must-win game, the man you’d pick to start it would be Luis Tiant.

As a mixed-race child of divorce, who grew up often feeling alone and displaced in the world, Tiant’s mystique as a Cuban exile captivated me. Even then, there was something about a man with no place that struck a chord with me. The pitcher I saw in his final years was but a shadow of his former self, but the numbers on the back of his baseball card didn’t lie. There was a time when Tiant was about as good as any pitcher in the game. In fact his 1.60 ERA in 1968 was the lowest in the American League since Walter Johnson’s 1.49 ERA in 1919, second in baseball that year behind Bob Gibson’s mark of 1.12, which still stands as the lowest in the modern era. Opposing batters hit .168 off of Tiant in ’68, a Major League record, as he notched 9.22 K/9 over 258 innings pitched. With his funky wind-up, his fu-manchu moustache and his ever present post-game cigar, he was a larger than life figure and his legacy of excellence inspired me to emulate his trademark delivery when I pitched out in the courtyard in front of our little garden apartment in Flushing. Even though he was on his last legs as a professional pitcher, he was one of my first baseball idols, a few years before a young flamethrower named Dwight Gooden would come along to sweep New York City off of its feet.

In 1961 Tiant was a young amateur, touring America as part of a traveling exhibition of Cuban players. Then the Bay of Pigs invasion occurred and Fidel Castro gave those players in the states an ultimatum: return home to play in Cuba or never return home again. Spurred by his father, Luis Tiant Sr., himself a fantastic pitcher in the American Negro League, who never had the opportunity to pitch off of a Major League mound before returning to a working class life in Cuba, young Luis stayed in America and carved out a name for himself as one of the era’s finest hurlers. In 2007, after 46 years spent in exile, Luis Tiant returned to his native Havana, followed by a film crew, lead by director Jonathan Hock. “The Lost Son of Havana” documents Tiant’s bitter-sweet return home.

Tiant’s journey back to Havana is a touching and poignant tale, which shows a side of El Tiante that we’ve never seen before – a man torn with regret, as he returns to find an aged and impoverished extended family that he felt in some ways he abandoned when he decided to stay in America. As much about Tiant’s family as it is about the pitcher himself, Hock does a great job skillfully weaving the stories of both Tiants, father and son, together. With a photo of his old man in tow, his only tangible connection to his past, he reminisces about his youth and talks with others of his generation who saw both him and his father play. We’ll never know, but many say that “Lefty” Tiant, the senior, with his confounding array of pitches was better than his son. Said by some to have invented the screwball, he once struck out the mighty Babe Ruth in an exhibition game and held him to lone single while facing him as a starter in both games of a doubleheader.

With Cubans living and breathing baseball, many in the streets of Havana knew of Tiant’s triumphs in the majors and welcomed him home like a conquering hero. A fun moment occurs when they visit a Havana park where men gather to talk baseball. When asked “who is the greatest Cuban pitcher of all time,” the mostly young crowd rattle off names familiar to current baseball fans, such as Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Jose Contrares, before one young man knowingly barks out, “Luis Tiant,” as the aged legend stands their behind them with a grin. As testament to Tiant’s tremendous success, Hock intercuts the film with a wealth of old footage from Tiant’s playing days, as well as interview clips from former teammates such as Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski. Along the way we hear of all the highs and lows of Tiant’s career, from his early days with the Indians, where he threw his hardest stuff, to his reinvention as a pitcher and the development of his tornado wind-up, after he suffered an injury plagued campaign in 1969. From his return to dominance in the 1970’s to his multiple comebacks in the early 80’s, Tiant comes across as a man who loved nothing more than to take the mound and pitch. Of course, we see his greatest on-field moments with the Red Sox, where Tiant became one of Boston’s most beloved athletes, averaging an astounding 280 innings pitched a season from 1973 through 1976 and ultimately leading them to a World Series appearance against the Big Red Machine in 1975. There Tiant put the team on his aching back, going the distance in complete game victories in Game 1 (a five-hit shutout) and Game 4 and received a no-decision in Game 6.

Perhaps the high point of the film comes as we look back at Game 1, before which Fidel Castro allowed Luis’ parents to go to America to watch their son pitch in the World Series. Before a frenzied Fenway Park crowd, Luis Sr. proudly took the hill to throw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch – a strike – that brought a thunderous ovation from the Boston fans. Denied the chance at his beloved sports ultimate glory because of the color of his skin, the father then got to watch the son pitch the game of his life on baseball’s biggest stage. Seeing that footage brought me to tears, as my father, a scouted high-school star, also once dreamed of pitching off that big league hill before his career was curtailed by injury. It’s times like those when the game transcends provincial, generational and cultural boundaries and becomes something greater than what we simply see on the field. It becomes more than just a pastime, but a link to our past itself, both personally and as a nation.

Hock’s crew takes us along with Tiant through his native city, who’s 1950’s architecture and automobiles seem so alien to him now. Sometimes shown in grainy images, as though frozen in time, the city of Havana itself comes alive for the audience as we are lead down its boulevards and alleyways, meeting people such as Juan Carlos Oliva, the brother of former Major League star, Tony Oliva. Juan Carlos was a talented ball-player himself but decided to stay in Cuba and served in Castro’s army as a tank commander before later becoming a baseball coach. Together he and Tiant talk of the many greats who never got a chance to prove their meddle and reap the rewards of glory and wealth in America. We also meet a childhood friend, named Fermin, who while taking a sentimental look at their youth, cannot help but convey his anger and envy at Tiant, whose career brought him riches beyond the wildest dreams of most Cubans. Of course we meet Luis’ extended family, living an impoverished life, far removed from that which Luis came to enjoy in The States. From the old aunts who last days draw near to the young ones who seem somewhat puzzled by all the commotion, it is a bittersweet scene as Luis feels the pain of having stayed away so long and finds out that many of the care packages he had sent home never made it to his family. Haunted by regret, we see Tiant give them necessities in short supply, such as needle and thread and toothpaste, before peeling off dollar bills.

As reviewer Michael Janusonis of the Providence Journal artfully pointed out, the film is indeed two tales. One is the story of Luis’ catching up with a family that he had lost touch with after all those years away. The other story is the tale of Tiant the pitcher and his triumphs in America, succeeding in ways that his father, denied the opportunities he was afforded, could not. The two stories are woven together masterfully and serve to make the film an engaging and rewarding viewing for fans and non-fans alike. Even my wife – who’s hardly a fan of the game and is truthfully sick of it, since it’s always on in our living room – enjoyed this film. If you are a fan of baseball, do yourself a favor and see this film immediately.


Welcome To Splitsville Part 1

July 13, 2010

Reprinted from an article that I originally wrote for Advanced Fantasy Baseball

It’s common knowledge in baseball today that hitters generally find it easier to bat against pitchers of the opposite hand. It’s easier for the hitter to pick up the pitch as it leaves the pitchers hand and most breaking balls will break into the center of a hitter’s field of vision, rather than away from it. When a team’s roster allows, managers regularly deploy platoons to gain the upper hand on the day’s opposing starter.

Ever since Bob “Death To Flying Things” Ferguson (how’s that for a great nickname?) first took to hitting from both sides of the plate, back in the formative days of our pastime, players and managers alike have understood the advantage that a hitter has when facing a pitcher of the opposite hand – even if teams were not actively platooning players to get the most out of this advantage until years later. According to Bill James’ essay, “A History Of Platooning,” featured in “The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball” the first manager known to utilize the lefty/righty platoon was Detroit Tigers manager, Bill Armour, who juggled catchers to take advantage of their handedness in his final year in The Bigs, 1906. As roster size expanded and the dead-ball era waned, managers such as John McGraw and later Casey Stengel would popularize the strategy and make it common practice in modern baseball.

In deeper fantasy baseball leagues, owners often roster players whose splits are extremely weighted to one side or another. With awareness of these splits, astute owners can make daily lineup decisions (if league rules allow of course) just as real managers do to get the most out of their players strength and minimizing their weakness.

In keeping with this week’s All-Star theme, I present to you my position player picks for the 2010 all-left/right-splits team, based on a pool of players who are generally rostered on approximately 50% or fewer teams according to Yahoo. So without further ado, or a profanity-laced Ichiro speech, here are some guys to consider platooning when the opportunity arises.

Note: In a one catcher league, I would not recommend rostering two catchers unless one is also playing another position and his currently catcher eligible.

Part One: Vs. Lefties

C: Ivan Rodriguez (20% owned) The man who’s caught the most baseball games in history has shown slightly more aptitude hitting left-handers over his career. In 2010 however, his splits are quite notable in an admittedly small sample size. Against lefties, Pudge has raked to the tune of a .383/.413/.500 line in 63 PA, while posting a pedestrian .263/.291/.346 triple slash against righties in 166 PA.

1B: Gaby Sanchez (34% owned) In his first year as a starter in Florida, the 27 year old first baseman is showing surprising hitting prowess against both lefties and righties. His .285/.347/.434 line against right-handers is nothing to sneeze at for a guy who you probably took a late-round flyer on or possibly even picked up off of waivers. Against lefties however, Sanchez has raked up a gaudy .350/.416/.563 line in 89 PA. He’s good enough to start every day in my league, but against lefties he’s been money.

2B: Clint Barnes (47% owned) With a .289/.337/.496 career line against lefties versus .247/.290/.384 against righties, The Rockies middle infielder has always displayed lefty-heavy splits. Seeing more playing time since Troy Tulowitzki has been on the shelf, Barnes has used the opportunity to display even more extreme splits this year. Against lefties Barnes has gone .304/.371/.430 in 89 PA while posting a pedestrian .238/.301/.386 against right-handers.

SS: Orlando Cabrera (45% owned) We may not find more extreme splits than those of the the Cincinnati Reds shortstop. Cabrera has been stellar against lefties – .344/.394/.427 in 105 PA and absolutely awful against righties – .207/.241/.291 in 272 PA. I wouldn’t roster him with your team, but you have him in a very deep league, I’d pair him up with another SS capable of hitting righties well, such as Mike Aviles or Omar Infante – both of whom hit right handed but do their best work against hurlers coming from the same side.

3B: David Freese (20% owned) In his first full year in the majors, Mr. Freese was offering the Cardinals and fantasy owners alike surprisingly solid offensive numbers through the first three months of the season, before hitting the DL on June 28, with a deep ankle bruise. He’s hit lefties at a .357/.416/.457 clip in 78 PA, while posting a respectable .271/.339/.382 against righties. You’re likely to want more out of your hot corner, but paired with Chase Headley (who can only seem to hit right-handers), you have a potent 3B duo that can do damage.

OF: Cody Ross (41% owned) With an honorable mention to Rajai Davis – who’s 27 steals makes him pretty much an every day player on most rosters even with his struggles against righties. Ross makes for a good platoon candidate, going .303/.354/.513 with three of his seven homers coming in 82 PA against southpaws. His power numbers are markedly improved facing lefties, as he’s hit 40 career jacks against lefties and only 39 against righties in more than twice as many plate appearances.

OF: Dexter Fowler (13% owned) Since coming back to the big club from AAA, the Rockies outfielder has been a huge spark for the resurgent Rox. With only 773 PA in the majors since debuting with a cup of coffee in 2007, we’ll use his entire MLB resume here to find that Fowler’s noticeably more effective against lefties with a .314/.388/.462 line versus the paltry .221/.338/.354 he’s posted against righties. At 24, Fowler’s still young though and his recent success leads me to believe he’ll close that gap enough to give him full-time playability in 12 team mixed leagues.

OF: Lastings Milledge (3% owned) Once thought to be a “can’t miss” prospect, Milledge has just about disappeared off of the fantasy radar the past couple of years. In 2010 however, Milledge makes an appearance on my all splitsville team. While righties are still giving Lastings a hard time (.255/.297/.327 in 177 PA) the 25 year old has found his stroke against the southpaws going .318/.431/.518 in 102 PA. Notably, he’s hit all three of his homers against lefties and perhaps even more telling he has a 17/11 BB/K ratio, a lot better than the lousy 8/36 BB/K split that he’s posted against righties.

UTL: Jeff Francoeur (27% owned) Free swinging Frenchy has always hit lefties much better (.302/.345/.484 in 924 career PA versus an anemic .256/.297/.406 in 2341 PA against righties). With Carlos Beltran returning to Flushing to roam centerfield, it seems that the sizzling hot Angel Pagan will slide over to right and form a potent platoon with Francoeur. With the switch-hitting Pagan wielding a better bat from the left side of the plate, Francoeur will be relegated to taking his cuts against lefties, who he’s pounded this season (.348/.403/.449 in 77 PA). In deeper leagues where he might rostered, this could be used to a fantasy owners’ advantage by pairing him with a righty killers like Pagan or David DeJesus.

No this isn’t an NL only team, that’s just how it worked out. I assure you that when we see who’s carrying the righty heavy splits, you’ll see some A.L. players. Tomorrow, I’ll flip around and swing from the other side in Part Two…