Monday, August 27, 2007

Cookie of the Indeterminate Time Period

Last Saturday, 44-year-old Randy Couture absolutely dominated the bigger 28-year-old Gabriel Gonzaga in a fight that ended in the third round with a TKO. In doing so, he kept his UFC Heavyweight belt. Here's a man who has always been the underdog since he made his comeback, and yet still manages to out train, out maneuver, and out fight Tim Sylvia and Gonzaga.
Gonzaga was supposed to be a terrible match up for Couture. Couture is a very good wrestler who fights well in the clinch. Gonzaga is both a good striker and a good wrestler, as well as being 16 years younger. Despite this, Couture made Gonzaga fight his fight and controlled the pace from the very first second.
Now, this is all pretty badass, and this alone would certainly be worth a cookie, but there's more. What could possibly make him more awesome? How about winning the fight with a broken left arm.
Enjoy your victory while your arm heals Randy. We here at the Immaculate Inning look forward to watching you fight again, and Dana White willing, perhaps even some day fighting the consensus Baddest Man on the Planet, Fedor Emelianenko.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jeff Conine, Met for now, Marlin forever

Jeff Conine was traded to the Marlins' NL-East rival the Mets the other day. With all the former Marlins there it is in Conine's own words, "the Marlins North." Fish Chunks spells the situation out pretty well. I've always been a big believer in Former Marlin Power, and apparently the Mets are too.

It is always sad to see Conine go to a non-Marlin team, because he is the closest thing the Marlins have to an iconic player. He started in the Marlins very first game against the Dodgers and went 4-4 in the win, earning the title Mr. Marlin. (also note that future Former Marlin Mike Piazza was playing for the Dodgers).

He played Left Field when Al Leiter threw the first No Hitter in Marlins' history.

He played First Base when Kevin Brown threw his No Hitter.

He was a member of the 1997 Florida Marlins, the first Wild Card team to ever win the World Series.

During the Marlins 2003 season, they randomly had Jeff Conine bobblehead night...even though he wasn't actually on the team yet. When Mike Lowell got hurt though during the playoff chase, the Marlins ownership manned up and got Conine to help the team out (also, they called up a couple guys named Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera).

Although his regular season numbers with the Marlins that season aren't particularly great, he had some huge hits against the Phillies which helped the Fish beat them out for the Wild Card spot. At the time, it seemed like he was single-handedly taking a bat to their playoff hopes. In the playoffs he hit .267 in the NLDS, .458 in the NLCS, and .333 in the World Series.

In the Marlins untarnished playoff series record, he's appeared in all but one game(Game 4 of the 1997 WS). For a team like the Marlins where you're forced to watch your team get taken apart over and over again, he is the closest thing to consistency.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Glavine: Not Shot After All

In the summer of 2003, I had my experience in an Office Space type job, making copies and filing mail 8 hours a day and a 1 hour commute each way. Not knowing anyone else in the company, I usually ate lunch in my car, listening to Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN. In the days before the explosion of blogs and other internet commentary, this was the pinnacle of interactive New York sports. Their call-in show was one of the firsts of its kind, and balanced the calm bass voice of Mike Francessa with the crazy, octave-too-high hot-head of Chris "Mad Dog" Russo. This was not always the case, particularly during the summer when one or the other would go on vacation, leaving his partner with four hours a day to fill.

July 20, 2003 was one of those days. The previous day, Mets' starter Tom Glavine threw a stinker against the division leading Braves- he went just 4.1 innings, giving up 7 earned runs on 9 hits. The loss dropped the Mets to fifth place, 24 games behind the Braves. Russo, on his own with Francessa on vacation, decided to make it the "Bash Tom Glavine Show."

"Glavine is shot! He's 37, he's 6 and 10, he's got a 5.10 ERA-- he's just shot! The Mets are going nowhere until they get rid of him! He's shot!"

It went on and on like that until the end of my lunch break. Three hours later, as I drove home, Russo was still going strong with the Glavine bashing.

Tom, however, was not fazed. He went 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in August of 2003, and finished the season having dropped his ERA to 4.52. He followed this with the following seasons:

2004: 119 ERA+
2005: 118 ERA+
2006: 113 ERA+

While Glavine has been pretty average (96 ERA+) in 2007, he's now 41 years old and certainly nearing the end of his career. And on Sunday, Glavine joined a pretty exclusive group and won his 300th career game. While we at Immaculate Inning realize the relative unimportance of wins as a measurement of a pitchers' worth, we also realize that this is a milestone to be proud of, especially when blowhards like Russo are proved wrong. So have a cookie, Tom, a Publix cookie.

One final note, about 300 wins- lots of announcers have been pontificating again, much as with the "cheapened" 500 HR plateau. They say that 300 wins will never be touched again, as Randy Johnson (284 wins) is old and Mike Mussina (246 wins) is just too far away. They say that with the rise of relief specialists and the five-man rotation, that no one will make it again. Yet Glavine (and Johnson, and Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux) pitched their entire careers in an era where the 5-man rotation was dominant. Glavine and Maddux may have been aided by a few years with the braves when they, John Smoltz, and Denny Neagle had a de facto 4-man rotation. However, with the many young pitchers entering the game in their early 20s, is it so hard to imagine that someone could put up 15 wins for 20 seasons? Or even 18 wins for 17 seasons?

So it's interesting to me that, for some reason, the mainstream media sees five 500 HR hitters in four years and calls the plateau "cheapened." But three hurlers passing 300 wins in the same period means that it will never happen again? God forbid we use the passing of milestones to celebrate the careers of those who pass them. No, we should discuss existential properties of the milestones, instead. In other news, I am proud to have not listened to Mike and the Mad Dog since I left the NYC area.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

756, meh

It shouldn't be like this, not for the most important record in all of sports. I shouldn't be watching Bonds hit his 756th career homerun with my eyes half-rolled. The record is too important to be shadowed by suspicion. I remember watching Cal Ripken Jr. play his 2,131st game with my father. My dad is a huge Lou Gehrig fan but he was happy to see someone break a record that seemed unbreakable. I remember getting goosebumps when they changed the giant sign they had mounted on the brick wall from 2,130 to 2,131. It was a record that every baseball fan could celebrate.

The same thing happened when McGwire broke Roger Maris's record of 61 HR in a season. Yes, it turned out we were all naive about the whole steroid thing, but it was a great moment at the time. Supposedly, it was this homerun chase which pushed Bonds into steroids. You can argue the chemistry, philosophy, whatever, but he basically changed his body type chemically. Scroll down to the picture at the bottom of this article, it's such an unnatural change that it's grotesque.

I really don't see what he gained and I don't think he's fully grasped, or cared about what he lost. Nobody would argue that Bonds isn't a great hitter, regardless of chemicals. It's possible he would've hit in the mid to late 600's through natural ability. Even if he only hit in the mid-500's he'd still be considered one of the greatest hitters ever. He was never a particularly loved athlete, but he could've been like Rogers Hornsby or Ty Cobb. A complete asshole, but respected as a baseball player.

I wouldn't wish harm on anyone, but it would've been interesting if the luck of Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds were swapped, and that in a couple years all of baseball would stand up and cheer as Griffey hit 756. I hope Bonds decides to quit while he's ahead after this season, and that in 7 or 8 years from now we can watch A-Rod seize the career homerun record from controversy and return it to its proper place in baseball lore.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

It begins again

The intensity of the NFL season builds throughout the regular season, becomes white hot in the playoffs, and peaks with the Super Bowl. However, the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday begins a period of emptiness.

In most sports the season ends at different times for different people. Typically in baseball, Kansas City's fans stop caring about the season well before the season ends for Yankee fans. In football, everyone watches the championship game, as opposed to sports such as baseball and basketball where only the fans of the teams involved and a percentage of casual fans watch. Columnists talk about certain World Series match-ups being good for ratings. Nobody worries about the Super Bowl ratings being low because it involves small market teams.

In football, the season ends the same day for everyone. Once the playoffs are over, the long drought begins. Sure, there's the Pro Bowl, but nobody cares about that. Within a few months though, signs of the dawn of the new season begin to appear. Teams start talking to free agents. Players are drafted. Draft picks start signing(or don't). Mini-camps begin. Training camp begins. All these events happen at the back of the collective sports consciousness, but one event is the trumpet call that signals the football drought is almost over, today's Hall of Fame Induction.

Tomorrow is the Hall of Fame Game. The New Orleans Saints play the Pittsburgh Steelers on a high school field in Canton Ohio. Sure, the starters might only play a quarter, but this signals the beginning of preseason, and therefore the beginning of Football Season. Sundays begin their transition from the least important day of the week to Gameday.

Next week, all the other teams(including the Unstoppable Miami Dolphins) play their first preseason game. Early favorite teams and players will emerge. Starters will start to play more and more of the games, and soon enough it'll be September 6th and the regular season will begin once more.

Football season is here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Waiting to Bash

"They were taking pictures of the wrong guy," said Alex Rodriguez, when asked about all the flashbulbs in Yankee Stadium on July 31, 2007. A-Rod's light sense of humor about the issue suggested he wasn't "pressing," while waiting for his 500th career home run. This even in the light of how seven of his teammates tied a franchise record, hitting 8 homers in one game against the White Sox. So, using the immutable power of the play index, let's find out how long sluggers have "pressed" to get from #499 to #500 (since 1958, anyway). From the top:

Henry Aaron: 4 games, between 7/7 and 7/14/68 (there was an All-Star Break in there)
Barry Bonds: 1 game, between 4/17 and 4/18/01 (on his way to 70)
Babe Ruth: unknown via, I'll try to look it up elsewhere. Suffice to say there was no pressure, as no one had even hit 200 before Ruth.
Willie Mays: 1 game, between 9/12 and 9/13/65
Sammy Sosa: 4 games, between 9/29/02 and 4/4/03
Ken Griffey, Jr: 7 games, between 6/13/04 and 6/20/04 (he would get injured two weeks later and not have another homer for almost a year... what might have been...)
Frank Robinson: 0 games, hit two on 9/13/71
Mark McGwire: 1 game, 8/4 to 8/5/99 (but we're not here to talk about the past)
Harmon Killebrew: 26 games between 7/25 and 8/10/71
Rafael Palmeiro: 3 games between 5/8 and 5/11/03 (The only member of the 500 club proven to have used PEDs).
Reggie Jackson: 2 games between 9/15 and 9/17/84 (The first 500th home run of my lifetime. I remember it well.)
Mike Schmidt: 1 game, between 4/17 and 4/18/87 (BOOOOOOOOO!)
Mickey Mantle: 9 games, between 5/3 and 5/14/67
Jimmy Foxx: unknown
Willie McCovey: 3 games between 6/27 and 6/30/78
Ted Williams: 1 game between 6/16 and 6/17/60
Ernie Banks: 3 games between 5/9 and 5/12/70
Eddie Mathews: 3 games between 7/8 and 7/14/67
Mel Ott: unknown, all homers before 1958
Eddie Murray: 6 games between 8/30 and 9/6/96
Frank Thomas: 4 games between 6/24 and 6/28/07

It would be fair to say that Killebrew didn't have to face 24 hour sports coverage and live look-ins, and perhaps the "pressure" of hitting #500 would not be as grand as those that came in the last 15 years or so. That would mean that in the ESPN era, only Junior Griffey has gone more games than A-Rod between #499 and #500. This makes a bit of sense, as A-Rod seems to hit homers best when he's not "trying" to- like #499, which came on an opposite-field shot in a situation when A-Rod was clearly just trying to poke a single for a game-tying hit. Hopefully A-Rod hits the big one soon, because the Yankees will need a comfortable, non-pressing cleanup hitter as they move closer to the post-season.

The other interesting thing I noticed in doing this was the frequency of players joining the 500 Homer Club. Mantle and Matthews hit their 500th in the same season, and Aaron's was a year later. In the next three years, three other players joined- Banks, Robinson, and Killebrew. I find this interesting in light of all the articles calling 500 homers "not all that impressive" anymore. After A-Rod's 500th, the four year period beginning with Sosa in 2003 will include the same number of club inductees as the 1967-71 period.

I wonder if, as Killebrew neared the mark, sportswriters noted the sudden surge in the number of players with 500 hits and thought that it "cheapened" the milestone. Then again, in a world without specially marked baseballs, live look-ins, and announcers completely overdoing their calls of deep fly balls (see: Kay, Michael and Sterling, John), how would fans even know that homer #500 is momentous?

Meanwhile, as I write this, Robinson Cano and Shelley Duncan both homered for the Yankees. Maybe they'll reach #500 first...

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