Bases empty, two outs, a 3-1 game, #8 hitter up. Nothing comes down to this.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Dave Kingman

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Dave Kingman, who hit 442 home runs in the major leagues and retired in 1987.

Bottom of the Fourth: Dave, thanks for speaking with us. We've been talking to current players to see what kinds of things they like to do in the off-season, but we were wondering what players used to get up 25, 30 years ago, to see if things have changed much. So, speaking as a retired player, how are off-season regimens different from when you played?

Dave Kingman: What is this?! I'm not retired!!

BotF: Oh, are you coaching now? That's great!

Kingman: No I am not coaching. What is wrong with you? I'm a left-fielder, and I can swing a pretty mean bat.

Bottom of the Fourth: Um... who do you play for? You haven't been in the major leagues in 23 years.

Kingman: I could be in a starting line-up today. Any team would be lucky to have me. But the owners have blackballed me. Just like Barry Bonds, y'know? He could still be a great hitter, but the assholes who run the teams have a "gentleman's agreement" not to give him a contract. Well, if you thought Bonds was the first guy to get secretly banned from the game, you're wrong. It's been going on since 1987, at least. I go to 30 walk-on tryouts every off-season, and I take all those kids to school, and not a whiff of an offer.

BotF: You know, maybe you just can't get a job because you're not very good anymore. By the end of your career you weren't a very good hitter, and now you're SIXTY-ONE. Plus, the owners blackballed Bonds because he was involved in the steroid scandal. What reason do they have to conspire against you?

Kingman: They're racist against my low batting average. Just because a guy hits for a low average doesn't mean he can't be productive!

BotF: That's true, but how is that "racist"? Also, your batting average -


Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Dave Kingman for his time.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Pirates Should "Go For It" in 2011

Baseball teams are constantly being labeled by fans according to the state in which they're perceived as being. Teams are described as "in fire-sale mode", "treading water", "three sheets to the wind", "coming back down to Earth", and other such phrases involving one of the four classical elements.

Another common baseball-team-state-of-being is "going for it". When a team decides to "go for it", they say "fuck this, let's win the World Series", sign a bunch of free agents and gut their farm system by trading prospects for established major league players with the hope of having that one magical year.

I think this is the year the Pittsburgh Pirates should "go for it". Why? Let me explain.

1. It Would Come Out of Nowhere

Teams that "go for it" generally have a couple things already on their side:
  • a solid major league roster with several star-level players
  • the capacity to spend money
The Pirates have neither of these things. They went 57-105 in 2010, the worst record in baseball. And their payroll was just under $35 million, the lowest in baseball. It would totally catch the rest of baseball with their pants down if the Pirates "went for it", and by the time everyone else realized what was happening, Pittsburgh would have built an insurmountable lead.

2. The City Needs It

The current version of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been one of the most futile teams in professional sports history. They haven't had a winning season since 1992, when a 27-year-old Barry Bonds led the Bucs to a playoff berth. Some other things that have happened since 1992:
  • The New York Yankees have made the playoffs fifteen times
  • Miley Cyrus was born, rose to fame, and is now a legal adult
  • Bono has personally delivered meals to over 34,000 starving Namibian children
  • Stephen King has written 476 books, one fewer than John Grisham

3. It's in Their Nature

When did you ever hear about pirates who bided their time? Who slowly but surely built their reserves until the proper time for them to be unleashed? Who sacrificed instant gratification for sustained success?

If there's one thing pirates are known for, it's impetuousness. (Also: eye-patches, parrots, crassness, peg-legs, rum, hooks for hands, walking the plank, the Jolly Roger, treasure, piratey slang, pillaging, swabbing the deck, Somalia, eye shadow, Davy Jones' Locker, saying "avast", jibs, hornswaggling, parleying, confusing maps, timbers that may or may not be shivering, mutiny, Bluebeard, doubloons, cooking in a galley, crow's nests, spyglasses and gout. Also jaunty sea ditties.)

But yeah, impetuousness. It's a trait so deeply ingrained in the psyche of pirates that even a baseball team nicknamed for them absorbs it by association. The Pirates will take to this radical change in direction like a brigantine to a hearty gale. 


The Pirates could take the NL by storm next year

It's always a difficult decision to "go for it", perhaps sacrificing continued success for instant gratification. But pirates are not patient enough for the alternative, as evidenced by 18 years of futility. "Going for it" is the right decision.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Rod Barajas

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Rod Barajas, a free agent at the moment.

BotF: So Rod, any news on teams interested in signing you?

Barajas: Nah, I let my agent handle all that stuff. I'm not too worried.

BotF: That's good to hear. So what are you doing to pass the time these days?

Barajas: My wife and I are trying to complete the Eternal Cycle, that which was foretold by Diego, El Dios de la Vida.

BotF: That sounds... creepy. I'm going to regret this, but can you be more specific?

Barajas: It was prophesized by Diego in the Time before Then that I, He Who Would One Day Become The Man About Which It Was To Have Been Prophesized (I'm sorry, it sounds better in Spanish) would bear seven children, and each would represent one of the ancient symbols of the Barajas.

BotF: Ohhhhhh, you're talking about the name thing! Your kids - Bryce, Andrew, Rod Jr., Aunalilia, Jace and Aubrielle - are each named after a letter of your last name, and you're just missing the S. So you and your wife are trying to have another baby? That's great, congratulations!

Barajas: Do not speak of the prophecy in such crass terms! The Ritual of the Life-Making is a sacred one that involves all members of the clan gathered around the clan's patriarch and matriarch, channeling each other's energies, in an effort to bring forth new life into the world!

BotF: So... you make your kids watch you and your wife have sex?

Barajas: (sigh) I could never explain it to one who is not of the Clan.

Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Rod Barajas for his time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Molinas to Appear on SI Swimsuit Cover

A month ago, Bengie Molina was in a unique situation. Because of his time spent with both the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants during the 2010 season, Bengie knew he'd be getting a championship ring, regardless of the outcome of the World Series.

Now he's in an even more unique situation: he'll be the first man to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's famous swimsuit issue.

Or, at least, one of the first. His younger brothers Yadier and José, also MLB catchers, will join him.

Why the brothers will be featured on the swimsuit issue was unclear until we talked to SI's Logistics Director, Patrick Pigeon. It seems the Molinas were booked to come in the same time the swimsuit issue was being shot. "We have a complicated, rigid production schedule", explains Pigeon. "Photoshoots, articles, features, all that stuff is submitted months in advance so it can be shipped off to Korea to be put together. The stuff we're working on now comes out in February. So if the Molinas come in on a particular day, they're in a particular issue. And it just so happens that issue is the swimsuit issue."

It seems the unintentional scheduling gaffe was brought about by student intern Katie Stewart. "I just booked them when they were free. Why can't SI just archive the photos and article for a different issue? This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of."

The person most affected by this situation, besides everyone in the world who will eventually see the cover with their eyes, is SI's Head of Bikini Matters, John Cox. "So now I've been given two tasks. I have to shoot a swimsuit cover, and I have to shoot a Molina cover. And it has to be the same cover. What other choice do I have? I'm shooting the Molinas in speedos."

Now, it doesn't seem too outlandish to eventually make a conscious decision to feature men on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue. It's even conceivable that professional baseball players could work their way into that role - it is a sports magazine, after all, and there are some good-looking baseball players. Grady Sizemore of the Cleveland Indians, for example, has spawned a loyal fan-base of female fans calling themselves "Grady's ladies".

The Molinas are decidedly not part of that demographic of baseball players. Bengie, in particular, is often described as the slowest player in Major League Baseball, a deficiency that stems largely from his hefty 5'11", 225 lb. frame.

Future swimsuit model Bengie Molina
John Cox may initially seem resentful of being put in this situation, but when he starts to tell us some of his ideas, it becomes clear that he's relishing his most difficult creative challenge to date. "I thought about having them wear their catching helmets in the shot, so you couldn't tell which is which, except by looking at their bodies. I mean, that's the goal of a swimsuit issue: draw attention to the bodies."

And helmets aren't the only pieces of equipment under consideration. Cox is even thinking about photographing the Molina brothers nude, covered only by - what else? - a baseball bat.

Of course, the cover isn't limited to just the Molinas. Female models may appear with the brothers, if Cox and his team can find a way to make it work. "You know that thing where beautiful women dress in stereotypically male outfits? Like the sexy construction worker, or the sexy cop? Well, why not the sexy back-catcher? You don't know what's under that mask, and that chest protector, and those shin guards, but you know you want it."

Bengie, for his part, is excited. "Every kid wants to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Most don't expect it to be in the swimsuit issue, but it's a dream come true either way. Plus, it'll be a chance to show people that I do actually have a pretty rockin' body."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Offseason Check-in: Coco Crisp

In this feature, Bottom of the Fourth checks in with various MLB players to see what they're up to during the off-season. Today we spoke to Coco Crisp of the Oakland Athletics.

BotF: So Coco, I've gotta ask, why did you take to Craigslist to find a female live-in personal assistant?

Crisp: Well, near the end of the season Kevin Kouzmanoff (Crisp's A's teammate) got me into Craigslist. I'd never heard of it before, but there's so much good stuff!!!

BotF: Uh-huh, yeah, we're all familiar with the wonders of Craigslist. So what have you been up to besides patrolling random internet classifieds?

Crisp: That's pretty much it, actually. First I was just browsing, but I was too scared to actually contact anyone, because it's kinda weird, you know? But then I saw someone selling a green snuggie, and that was the only one missing from my collection. That first purchase was the gateway buy. I've been finding amazing deals on everything! Lamps, shower caps, condoms...

BotF: (pukes) You buy condoms off Craigslist? People actually put up ads for that?

Crisp: Yeah, can you believe people just throw their condoms away after one use? What happened to reduce, reuse, recycle? So I threw up an ad asking to buy them off people.

BotF: Wait, nobody was advertising their used condoms, so you... never mind. I don't want to talk about this anymore. So you've just been buying stuff off Craigslist all off-season?

Crisp: No, there's so much more to Craigslist than that! I browse the "gigs" section every day. I've auditioned for four bands, waited tables at two banquets and done voiceover work for something called "The Hotmale Inbox". And I put up "missed connection" ads all the time! Here's one I'm just about to post:

You were wearing a blue suit with like a tie that was like red or yellow or green or something. You're like 5'8" to 6'0", and I think you're a dude, I dunno, I was pretty far away, it was kinda hard to tell. You went into a bank.

BotF: Um, what are you trying to accomplish with this missed connection?

Crisp: I just want to let this dude know that I saw him!

BotF: Uh, I don't think you understand how... you know what, never mind.

Bottom of the Fourth would like to thank Coco Crisp for his time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Overheard at the GM Meetings

The rise of Twitter and rumour-aggregate sites like MLB Trade Rumors have ushered in a new era of up-to-the-millisecond reporting. The ability of reporters to relay information instantaneously has resulted in stories being posted increasingly frequently and decreasingly substantively. But the more juicy gossip the public gets, the more they want. It's like a perpetual motion machine, a machine that won't break until reporters are hardwired to their readers, brain to brain, sitting in adjacent chairs, at all times.

This phenomenon is never more apparent than at baseball's annual off-season GM meetings (currently ongoing) and Winter Meetings (slated to start in the first week of December), when members of the press awkwardly mingle in some hotel lobby, waiting for team executives to emerge from days-at-a-time secret meetings (the agendas of which generally focus on the merits of computers vs. punch cards in front-office analytical systems, we understand) in an effort to ferret out any morsel of information Twitterable: that is, anything at the maximum 140 characters and at the minimum 60% in English.

This year's edition of the GM Meetings has been no different; indeed, each year the inundation of micro-blogged "news" is more prolific. In an attempt to wean the uninitiated reader onto this new form of news reporting, Bottom of the Fourth has compiled several samples of the type of info passed on from baseball writers during this part of the off-season, and what that info means.

"Just got word that Dayton Moore was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his grapefruit juice this morning. Royals moving spring training facility to Florida?" - Joe Christensen, Minneapolis Star Tribune

For those who missed the connection here, half of the teams in MLB play their spring training games in Florida (the 'Grapefruit League') while the other half play in Arizona (the 'Cactus League'). As you've no doubt guessed, the Royals are one of the latter, and Christensen has effectively read between the lines and deciphered this clearly pointed comment.

"Hearing that the lunch room has run out of turkey sandwiches. Roast beef is still available and, I repeat, turkey is OUT." - Mark Bowman, MLB.com, Tuesday at 12:42 PM.

The Twittersphere went nuts over this one. It's been well-established that both Theo Epstein, GM of the Boston Red Sox, and Michael Hill, GM of the Florida Marlins, are huge turkey sandwich eaters. A lack of turkey at the lunch table made it very clear that Epstein and Hill had stocked up for a long afternoon negotiation. Pretty quickly, Florida and Boston beat writers were speculating about Hanley Ramirez coming back to the Red Sox, the team that originally signed him from the Dominican Republic.

The most popular version of the deal had the Red Sox acquiring Josh Johnson in addition to Ramirez in return for Darnell McDonald and Kevin Cash. The Marlins were are supposedly seriously considering this deal because they're looking for a "solid 4th outfielder" and a "steady back-up catcher", and this is the best offer they've received so far.

"A reliable source tells me that Longoria to the Yankees is a done deal." - Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports

A quick primer on unnamed sources: "reliable" generally refers to hotel bellboys, "trusted" suggests that most trusted of American information relays, the barkeep, while a source described as "food-bringing" or "delicious" may imply a room-service delivery employee.

These are just three of the thousands of tweets dispersed over the last couple days by sportswriters desperate to be the first to pick up a scoop. While reporting may be a constant flurry of activity, simply being a fan can become a full-time job in this day of never-ending information. We here at Bottom of the Fourth pride ourselves on being a bridge between that information and those attempting, ambitiously, to parse it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Defense of Jeter

Actually, the title should probably read "In 'defense' of Jeter". You'll see why. 

Anyway, this is the first (of hopefully many!) musical creation on Bottom of the Fourth. Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kevin Kouzmanoff Feels Constrained by the Batter's Box

In many ways, baseball is an extremely complex game. In others, it's very simple: one man tries to throw a ball past a man holding a bat. To go a little further: the first man stands on a mound, while the second stands in a box. That's just the way it is, and always has been. Nobody much questions the existence of the mound and the box.

According to Kevin Kouzmanoff, however, this seemingly inconsequential mandate is anything but.

"I get claustrophobic in there, man", says Kouzmanoff. "Society pigeonholes us into these little boxes. You have to go to school, and then university, and then you're going to be a doctor, and you're going to be a carpenter, and you're going to be a copy editor, and then you get married, you have kids, and then you die. It's just one huge box made up of tiny component boxes, and there's no breaking out of it."

But Kouzmanoff says this existential anxiety he feels isn't the only kind of claustrophobia present when he steps into the box.

"Oh yeah, it's physical too. Those lines… I can't deal with those lines. I feel them pressing on me, pushing me up, pulling me down, squeezing me like a straitjacket, from every direction. The only way I can handle it is with the knowledge that, if I hit the ball, I tear a hole in the fabric of that box, allowing me to break through and escape."

Despite Kouzmanoff's discomfort, he says that once he's in the batter's box, he never steps out, even between pitches. "How could I?" he exclaims. "It's solid. There are no exits. It's made of diamond, or carbon nanotubes, or something equally impenetrable. It would be physically impossible for me to leave that box before I succeed in my quest to rip it open."

Removed from the action, Kouzmanoff seems completely self-aware of his condition. But as he describes it more and more, it becomes clear that he can't fully accept the illogic of his inability to leave the batter's box. He seems to truly believe that, once he steps in, some sort of tangible, transparent, extremely durable box descends and envelops him. It isn't rational; how, for example, can his hands and bat extend out of the box when he swings? How does he walk back to the dugout when he strikes out? But then, psychological illness is complicated and doesn't always make sense.

Kouzmanoff recognizes that his struggle to overcome his fear is an ongoing process, and has been attending therapy for several years. His therapist has tried novel strategies, such as building a mock batter's box in his office.

"I believe that recreating the circumstances of the difficulties is paramount to vanquishing them." That's Dr. Robert Placzek, who specializes in batter's box-related phobias. When asked whether this strategy has worked, Placzek's face falls a little. "Unfortunately not. Thus far, each time Kevin gets in the box, he hasn't been able to leave until he hits a baseball. I've lost a lot of windows, and my entire collection of autographed framed photos from the 1929 Yankees. I'm not sure why I kept hanging them on the wall."

But Placzek is resolute. "We've made progress", he says. "Kevin no longer needs the ball to be fair in order to break out of the box. Foul balls work too. (It isn't clear how Kouzmanoff and Placzek determine what's fair and what's foul in a therapist's office.) Unfortunately, this breakthrough hasn't yet translated to real games, but it's something. Baby steps are always the mode d'emploi in this field."

Of course, phobias often develop as a result of childhood trauma. Kouzmanoff is reluctant to talk about what first instilled this deep-seated claustrophobia, but his doctor believes that unwrapping the mystery is the key to understanding Kouzmanoff's condition.

"I can't force him to talk about it; it just doesn't work. A few times, I've managed to get him into a relaxed, wistful state, where he just lets the words babble out without thinking about what he's saying. From what I understand, there was an incident one Halloween. I don't really understand this part, but it seems that one year, Kevin dressed up as a batter's box. I believe something terrible happened inside that box, but I haven't got that far. As soon as he realizes what he's saying, he wakes from his trance and is absolutely furious. He's smashed up my office so many times, I really have no idea why I keep suspending priceless crystal ducks from the ceiling at piñata height."

But no matter the cost, Placzek says it'll all be worth it in the end. He's a man utterly dedicated to his profession, and the knowledge that he helped a single person overcome their fears is worth more than any number of priceless crystal ducks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Change-ups > Sliders

There are many ways by which pitchers can attempt to fool batters in the great game of baseball. They can throw the ball fast, throw it slow, spin it down, spin it across, make it rise, make it zigzag, throw two (or more) balls at once, bank it off the ceiling, make it boomerang, shoot it out of a cannon.... the list goes on and on.

Two of the most prevalent techniques in a pitcher's arsenal are the slider and the change-up. I'm here to tell you why the change-up is always, in every case, definitively better than the slider.

1. Sliders Are Gross

As you well know, the slider is named after the miniature hamburger popularized by American chain White Castle. According to this nutritional information, an "A1 Slider", the namesake of the pitch, contains 9% of a person's recommended daily fat intake, and 18% of their daily sodium. Now, that may not seem like much, but remember - these are miniature hamburgers we're talking about. An average White Castle meal contains four of those bad boys. We're talking more than a third of your daily fat, and almost three-quarters of your daily sodium! And that doesn't even include the fries and coke!

Sliders embody everything wrong with America: unhealthy processed food, deception-based marketing, sharp left turns (did I just analogize the motion of a baseball pitch to the political climate of the most powerful country on Earth? You better believe I did). And with slider usage on the rise in baseball, it's no surprise our kids are getting fatter and fatter.

6 grams of fat per pitch

2. Change-ups Are Classier

Did you know that broadcasters used to call the change-up the "change of pace"? Isn't that awesome? Doesn't it just remind you of those crazy old-school pitching mechanics? The slider doesn't have any cool old-school nicknames. In fact, according to Wikipedia, one of its nicknames is the "yakker", which really only adds to the Gross Hypothesis.

Plus, whoever came up with the change-up was a genius. I can imagine the first time someone figured out there were pitches other than fastballs. "Hey, I keep throwing it as hard as I can, and they keep hitting it really hard. What should I do?" "Uh, throw it faster?" "Dude, I told you, I'm throwing as fast as I can!" "Um, okay, why don't you try throwing it, uh, slower?" "Slower? What? That's stupid. They'll just hit it harder!" "Man, I dunno. Just try it!"

(In case you're wondering, 19th century baseball players did in fact call each other 'dude' and 'man'.)

3. Sliders Are Gross

I want you to take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine a pitcher throwing a slider. Visualize every detail - the batter, the teams, the weather, the score, how well-attended the game is, who's umpiring, what merchandise is for sale, what else is going on the city that day. Everything.

Got it?

Now watch that game in your head for at least seven minutes.


The pitcher had a gross '80s moustache, right?

4. 'Pulling the String'

There are a lot of stupid baseball clichés out there, and while players, managers and fans have been known to spout these meaningless banalities from time to time, nobody is more distinguished in the cliché arts than the broadcaster. 

However, sometimes a cliché enters the lexicon simply because it's great, and though it gets overused and sometimes misused, it doesn't diminish that greatness. I love when broadcasters say "Santana really pulled the string on that one", because it's a very satisfying descriptive phrase. Watching a batter flail wildly at a pitch that's still ten feet from reaching him makes one believe that the pitcher really does have a string that he can yank at any moment to make the hitter look foolish, and that's a beautiful metaphor, at least in my mind.

5. Sliders Are Gross

"Slider? I hardly even know her!"

How many times have you heard this disgusting, horrific, misogynistic phrase uttered by players, coaches, announcers? I'll tell you how many times: too many times. Stop the sexism. Abort sliders.


If there was any doubt in your mind before, obviously that's been erased. The change-up is superior to the slider in every way, and it's not particularly close. Why any pitcher would continue to use the slider is beyond me. But then, I'm a vegetarian.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adam Dunn Admits to Liking Baseball

Contrary to a 2008 quote from then-Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, Adam Dunn does, in fact, like baseball. He clarified his position on Sunday, more than two years after the initial accusation. "After giving it a lot of consideration, I have decided to respond to Mr. Ricciardi's claim. Following the completion of an in-depth cost-benefit analysis, it has become clear to me that I do, in fact, like baseball."

Ricciardi's initial charge went as follows: "Do you know that [Dunn] doesn't really like baseball that much?" He went on, stating that Dunn "is not enamoured with", "fails to maintain interest in" and "is indifferent at best" to the sport. Dunn, an extremely thoughtful and meticulous individual, did not respond as most would to such an egregious claim (by bluntly tossing insults back through the media), but instead retreated into solitary contemplation. Two and a half years of careful analysis produced the following chart:

Dunn's two-year brainstorm resulted in this pro-con chart
In fact, Dunn says his hibernative refuge stemmed from an earlier phase in his career in which he genuinely convinced himself that he didn't like baseball. "My college buddies all hated their jobs," the slugger said, "and I always felt awkward hanging out with them, because all they wanted to do was complain about the technical report they had due on Friday, or the trade show they had to go to in Albuquerque, or the synergy analysis they had to get synergized. So I started telling them about the shitty parts of being a major league baseball player. Eventually, they started to believe it. And I think I did too."

They really sympathized with me," Dunn responds when asked about his friends' reaction to this new perspective on America's pastime. "I don't think they ever realized how truly gruelling and frustrating it is to be constantly on the road, never getting a day off, never seeing your family and always in fear that you'll get traded and suddenly see your family even less. But once I explained all that to them, they took me in and nurtured me like a wounded dove."

However, it seems that Dunn's friends weren't being completely honest with him. Andrew Percy, a former fraternity roommate, says that they saw through the ruse from the beginning. "That was such BS, man", says Percy. "I mean, c'mon. He makes millions of dollars because he's really good at PLAYING A GAME that is honestly oh my god so much fun to play. Is he fucking serious? Any of us would trade our lives for his in a second."

When pressed about why he never relayed this information to Dunn, Percy says that the group was worried about Adam's fragility. "Adam is a gentle flower. The slightest gust of wind can sweep him off course, and he might never find his way back home."

Fortunately, thanks to his time away from civilization, that may no longer be true. Dunn took all that confusion and turmoil in his mind and slowly but surely kneaded it until all the knots were straightened out. He emerged from that Pacific Northwest forest a new man. One who knows who he is. One who listens to Fleet Foxes, brews his own beer, and rocks a sweet beard. And one who genuinely likes baseball.