Tagged: Baseball

ToriiTown Is Where The Heart Is

In the November 1977 issue of “Yale Alumni Magazine and Journal”, Bart Giamatti opined that baseball “is designed to break your heart” (Giamatti). It is. And it does. 

Giamatti was speaking about the schedule of baseball as he continued “as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone” (Giamatti, 1977). A lot has changed since 1977, and the fall is now full with the Arizona Fall League and the Hot Stove Season. Yes, not watching the standings for you favorite team is difficult, and so is knowing that your team probably fell short of your spring training expectations. But, in 2012, baseball breaks your heart in a much different way than it did in 1977. 

The majority of what has changed can likely be linked to Free Agency. In November 1977 the Yankees had just become the first team to truly benefit from Free Agency (and the excellent managerial skills of Billy Martin), and fans hadn’t truly seen how the market can change a team. In 2012, with a new collective bargaining agreement changing the rules of free agency and team options yet again, fans are acutely aware of how every idiosyncrasy can impact their team. 

And, on November 2, 2012, Angels’ fans specifically are aware that the familiar face we’ve seen smiling in the outfield since 2008 is likely moving to a new city. To play for new fans. To found a new ToriiTown. Today, baseball is breaking the hearts of Angels’ fans.  

This must be how Twins’ fans felt in 2007. 

My Dad and I started watching baseball together religiously in the early 2000’s. On what feels like a nightly basis we would ask each other the following question: “If you could have anyone in the league on the Angels, who would it be?” Our answers never changed. This game never got old. 

My Dad, without fail, would say Torii Hunter. He loved his defense prowess. In 2008, when Hunter came to the Angels I couldn’t have been happier for him. And, I too learned to look forward o Torii’s presence on the field, and his always smiling face during interviews.

I would always say Mark Teixeira. I loved the idea of getting a switch hitter in the lineup. Halfway through the 2008 season the Angels traded away Casey Kotchman and got Mark Teixeira from the Braves in return. 

For half of 2008 my Dad and I couldn’t have been happier, seeing the two players we wanted most in the league on our team. Our dreams, despite a first round playoff loss, had come true. 

Teixeira left after 2008, but Torii stayed and became a favorite of mine as well. Torii’s play and leadership has given my Dad and I countless memories to share forever. In 2010 I had the opportunity to interview Torii for Angelswin.com. Torii Hunter has played a large role in my development as a baseball fan, and researcher (as well as my fantasy team). 

So finding out today that the Angels had not made Hunter an offer by the deadline broke my heart. Yes, I know these things are to be expected, after all in 2012 this is how the game “is designed to break your heart” (Giamatti, 1977). 

But even when you know something is coming, it often doesn’t make it any easier. 

Thank you Torii, for all the memories. Know, wherever you go, my Dad and I will still be watching!

Giamatti, A.B. (1977). The green fields of the mind. Yale Alumni Magazine and Yearbook

The Angels at the Winter Meetings

My junior year English teacher, Mr. Gordon, had one strict policy- whenever a paper was returned we were required to have a “cooling off” period before we approached him about it. Regardless of whether our feedback was positive or negative he wanted us to think about what he had written, the work we had put into the original paper, and try to understand the grade we had received before we discussed it with him. 

As the Angels introduce CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols, and I am two days removed from the Hot Stove that is the Winter Meetings, I think my cooling off period is over. 

Firstly, the real deficits that the Angels faced entering the offseason were at third, catcher, and in the bullpen. 

Dipoto’s first move- to rid the team of starting catcher Jeff Mathis- said less about the organization’s thoughts on Mathis and new catcher Chris Iannetta, and more about the transition throughout the club. It seems that Moreno, in firing Reagins and promoting Dipoto to General Manager, moved the baseball operations decisions from on the field to in the front office. To expand, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia no longer holds the reigns on player decisions. For some reason or another, in the 2010 offseason the Angels thought it was a good idea to trade arguably the most productive offensive player on the team, Mike Napoli, for Vernon Wells. Needless to say this deal ended up working out great for Napoli’s ultimate suitors- the Texas Rangers, as they made their second World Series- and not so well for the Angels as Wells continually struggled at the plate. 

The Napoli-Wells deal was questioned by a number of sources- how could someone so productive be traded for someone so… past their prime. The answer is likely because Scioscia wanted to play Mathis at catcher instead of Napoli. Others could argue it was because the team had hoped that brining up 2006 first-round draft pick Hank Conger would be fruitful and carrying three catchers (with Bobby Wilson also in the wings) would have been obnoxious. But, as a former catcher, Scioscia has been known to carry three catchers at a time. While Napoli was clearly better offensively, Mathis worked well with Weaver. And, to be fair, the Angels’ starting pitching in 2010, primarily in Haren and Weaver was effective. Mathis was not the right choice, and with Scioscia in the middle of a long contract, it may have been the end of Reagins. 

Righting the Mathis wrong was the first step Dipoto took in winning over Halo fans this off-season. Ianetta will undoubtedly improve the team’s OBP, and will hopefully help bring a cluster of near 20 game winners into their prime.

Dipoto did, to some extent, address the bullpen issues the Angels faced last season as he signed LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins has been with more than a handful of clubs since his 1995 Major League debut. His WHIP and ERA are not particularly impressive, but a veteran pitcher in the bullpen is something the Angels needed to acquire this off-season as All Star closer Jordan Walden enters his second full year in the Majors. 

While Angel fans were already happy with Dipoto’s decision to get rid of Mathis, I doubt any of them could have anticipated what was next. As the Winter Meetings approached the eleventh hour, Dipoto managed to sign the two biggest free agents on the market. 

The Albert Pujols deal, while impressive, unfortunately does not address the larger infield needs the Angels have. The Angels were in need, desperate need, to get a third baseman. The quasi-platoon situation at third through which Macier Izturis emerged as the team’s starter simply won’t cut it in the ultra competitive American League (which is not to imply that the American League West is highly competitive, because it isn’t). With Mark Trumbo, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, the Angels didn’t really need a second player to man first. They certainly did not need a 31 year old first basemen (albeit one of the most naturally gifted batters of all time) to sign a 10 year deal with them. 

While Pujols will undoubtedly bring in fans (though the Angels have consistently met the three million mark over the past several seasons) over the course of the next five years, that still leaves five years on his contract. Five years during which fickle and fair-weather Southern California fans will likely forget their brief excitement on December 8, 2011, or Opening Day 2012. Even if Pujols brings the team a championship in 2012, many fans will forget this like they have forgotten Glaus, Spiezio, Kennedy, Eckstein and the like, by 2022 when Pujols will undoubtedly be relegated to a DH position, and will no longer hold the same allure over them. Yet, the teams’ payroll will still be wrapped up in someone who was great 10 years ago. 

What Pujols doesn’t realize is that the great reception he received in Anaheim at his press conference today is not typical of Angels’ fans. Pujols has left one of the most storied franchises in baseball history, and come to a 1961 expansion team who has won half the total rings Pujols has in its entire existence. Hopefully the buzz around Pujols will encourage fans to pay more attention at games, to engage in statistical research, to care about the past, present, and future of the team, but it seems that in their excitement they have shown how present minded they are. 

Dipoto’s final trick at the end of the Meetings was to sign CJ Wilson. The Angels got Wilson at a hometown discount rate (or perhaps a Pujols discount rate). The Wilson signing is the best of all the work done by the Angels at this year’s meetings for a number of reasons. Firstly, in signing Wilson, the Angels guaranteed that their division rival Rangers lost a 16 game winner. The Rangers will now be forced to find another ace to keep their games close. Additionally, in creating a rotation with a strong front three in Weaver, Haren and Wilson the Angels have become one of the most dominate pitching staffs in the Majors (along with the Phillies and Giants). Moreover, they have ensured that the bullpen will have additional rest as these starters tend to go deep in games (Haren himself was forced to pitch in relief last season in an early April game against the Blue Jays). 

While the Angels’ new TV deal is rumored to be worth approximately three billion dollars, the question still must be asked: How will these deals impact the Fan Cost Index (FCI)? 

The Angels in recent years have taken to bringing up players through their farm system, not to signing Free Agents. The payroll the Angels have added will probably move the team out of the cellar in FCI rankings. And no, the Pujols jerseys will not help cover the difference as MLB’s revenue sharing procedures manipulate how much teams profit from merchandise expenditures. 

If nothing else, Dipoto has shown that the Angels are transitioning into a role of movers and shakers. That they will no longer sit on the sidelines and allow top notch free agents to go elsewhere. Hopefully, fans recognize this sharp juxtaposition and appreciate the managements apparent commitment to winning, as well as Pujols in his prime. 

 

An Open Letter to Brian Wilson

Dear Brian Wilson,

On the eve of one of the saddest days of the year, the last day of the Major League Baseball Season, I wanted to take the time to thank you.

As a twenty-three year old baseball fan I spent the majority of my formative baseball years adoring players who, during the majority of my (albeit few) adult years were not inducted into the Hall of Fame, but rather spent their time sitting in front of congress and being persecuted in the court of public opinion. Yes, as a twenty-three year old baseball fan the majority of my baseball years have been marred with asterisks and fallen heroes.

There were guys who were all but certainly using steroids, there were guys who were never suspected, and there were guys who I just couldn’t bring myself to believe could have tarnished the game (perhaps more appropriately, tarnished my pure image of the game). Those in the last category fell the hardest. Those in the last category broke my heart.

As a fan of pitchers, pitching duels, pitching idiosyncrasies, pitching records, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that Roger Clemens had used steroids. These accusations, the idea that everything I had cherished for years might somehow be false, or tainted caused me to question the validity of the only thing I had ever truly loved; the game of baseball. When it was revealed that A-Rod, a player I had never suspected, and always defended, had used steroids my heart could no longer take it. When I realized that the perfect embodiment of the so-called “American Dream,” the idea of a level playing field, of hard work, and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps had failed, I became disenchanted with game.

More importantly, when I turned on a game and was bombarded with news of who was found to be in this report. Who was now being deposed. Who may or may not have taken steroids. When I could no longer listen to a game or news broadcast to learn the updated stats of my favorite players, I became disenchanted.

This isn’t to say I didn’t love baseball, but rather that baseball had broken my heart in a way no boy ever could. But still, as someone still so in love (an unrequited love) I remained friends with baseball. Always there to support it, but hurting inside knowing that everything I had ever thought to be true was false. Realizing that the numbers and statistics I had adoringly memorized as fact were somehow fiction.

Last season as you, Brian, decided to grow out your beard, as your Giants made an improbable run to the World Series championed by Weez and your fastball, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the game again. The 2010 Giants embodied baseball, 25 guys working together on a level playing field to accomplish a goal, and not letting anything in the way of that goal.

But, perhaps more than the team, more than the championship, more than anything, it is your carefree, passionate, and often hilarious persona that has reconnected myself (and many others) with the game I grew up loving. Despite a few stints on the disabled list, through a series of interviews, commercials, outstanding pitching performances, and the maintenance of Weez, you have refocused baseball on baseball and fun (and away from steroids and negativity).

The Sports Pickle ran an article earlier this year entitled “Brian Wilson’s Beard Apparently MLB’s Entire 2011 Marketing Campaign”, and with good reason- The Beard was in a plethora of commercials. The Beard, The Machine, whatever else you want to throw at us remind us that baseball is a game to be enjoyed on and off the field.

This season I went to 17 regular season games and 3 spring training games. I saw you in your spring training debut, and on Brian Wilson Jersey day against the Phillies in August as you closed out a game for Lincecum. As you warmed up in the Giants’ bullpen, your face, beard and pitching highlights were displayed on the big screen while the crowd went wild. An otherwise stressful outing with playoff implications was turned into a joyous event as the AT&T faithful were assured you would bring home the win.

A Giants’ fan or not, it is impossible not to love what you have done for the game of baseball over the past year. Fans of every team must agree that the positive exposure you have given the game in a post steroid era (especially after the year of the pitcher) is incredible for the game as a whole. You have earned yourself a rare place in the baseball history books, one based not only on stats or rings, but overall impact on baseball.

Thank you, Brian Wilson, for The Machine, The Beard, The Speedo Tuxedo, the impressive pitching, the commercials, the flair, and the passionate, positive attitude. Thank you for reminding me what baseball is about.

I’m already counting down the days to next season, I’ll be wearing my “Fear the Beard” shirt, as long as you continue to inspire.

Thanks again,

Coral

P.S. I would love to see Weez break another bat in the dugout while you wear your Marty McFly Nikes.