Friday, October 29, 2010

Cain's Pitching Weighs 'Heavy' on Giants

The expertly-coiffed Eric Karros was effusive in his praise of Giants starter Matt Cain before last night's World Series contest.

"He throws a very heavy fastball," said Karros. "I mean heavy. If you're a hitter and you don't hit it on the barrel, it legitimately hurts your hands."

No, Cain was not throwing the shot put last night, though his line--four hits over 7 2/3rds innings--makes it sound like the Rangers were trying to hit one.

He ain't heavy...wait, yes he is.

The official Major League baseball weighs around 5 ounces, and pitchers don't get to choose more gravitationally enhanced spheres.

Throwing a heavy ball is one of the ultimate compliments for a pitcher. It often is used to describe a sinkerballer, who gets batters to hit the ball on the not-so-sweet part of the bat.

"We had Jimmy Rollins on our XM show, and I asked him if there were any young pitchers he thought were particularly tough that people should know about. He mentioned Jimenez, saying, that he throws a 'heavy sinker and you really have work to get the ball in the air with him.'"

Baseball Digest has what has to be the definitive essay, which dates back to 2004, on the "heavy ball" phenomenon. An excerpt reads:

It's the sinker that's usually the culprit. According to one-time Giants catcher and former Arizona manager Bob Brenly, "A sinker is the heaviest ball, especially if it breaks late. You don't catch it cleanly in the pocket, but lower, and it wobbles and vibrates all the way up your arm. It does the same to a batter who makes contact with it.

It is with heavy hearts that the Rangers return to the Lone Star State down 2-0.

Hooman Giant Steps Up For St. Loo

We visit the world of football, because we know that baseball players are not allowed to "make plays", for two terrific cliches in one sentence:

From my Yahoo Sports fantasy football guide:

Hoomanawanui was one of rookie QB Sam Bradford's favorite targets during the preseason and so his return from a high ankle sprain has been a positive for a Rams' club looking for a receiver or two to step up and make plays.

I mean, a lot of guys out there can step up.

And a good number of them can make plays.

But few, regrettably few, can actually step up and make plays.

It takes a big man to do both, and Michael Hoomanawanui, at 6 5" and 270 pounds, with broad shoulders and a long name, is just that man.

Monday, October 25, 2010

'Crooked' Rangers Have Yanks' 'Number'

Late in the fateful Rangers-Yankees game (Did the Rangers really beat the Yanks? I'm still processing this.), announcer Ron Darling spoke about the Texans' ability to put a "crooked number" on the board in a hurry--turning a hint of a rally into a full-blown smack attack that involved posting a 2, 3, 4 or more up on the scoreboard.

A crooked number.

An hour later, a somber Joe Girardi used the same phrase in his post-game post-mortem, saying how the Rangers' many innovative ways to advance on the basepaths led to some critical "crooked numbers" on the board for the boys from the Lone Star State.

(Another interesting description from a pinstriper in the post-mortem: Reggie Jackson telling the NY Times' George Vecsey the Yankees were "woodshedded", as in, taken back behind the woodshed and, you know, something violent, in the series.)

Wikipedia's Glossary of Baseball offers this for crooked number:
A number other than a zero or a one, referring to the appearance of the actual number. A team which is able to score two or more runs in an inning is said to "hang a crooked number" on the scoreboard or on the pitcher.

Crooked Number is also a Missouri band with a taste for Wilco's rootsy rhythms
I'm not sure how the phrase was originated; a true lexicon reporter like Ben Zimmer would probably do the legwork to find out, but I'm just too lazy. 
One online pundit notes that it dates at least back to the Buzz Bissinger book on Tony LaRussa, "Three Nights in August. "
Crooked number might have spawned from "crooked letter," which is street slang for the letter S. Surely you remember an old episode of Alice, when her son Tommy had a spelling test and someone (Alice? Mel? Dingbat Vera?) got him to remember the proper spelling of Mississippi by saying, "M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I." 
More recently, that old ditty was tweaked into something off-color by the Florida rapper Case.
Next up for the Yankees--seeing how much Derek Jeter wants for a crooked number contract.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yanks Have 'Snowball's' Chance in Hell

Every so often a geniune inside-baseball phrase pops up in the newspaper, straight from the mouths of the ballplayers. Such as "swinging at the rosin bag"--a term for a batter swinging at every last pitch, location be damned--which I'd never heard in, oh, almost four decades of following baseball, until Jerry Manuel said it over the summer.

And the way Lance Berkman described the Rangers' Little League-esque comedy of throwing errors in the 2nd inning of their game in the Bronx Wednesday. It went Francoeur to Young to Wilson to Treanor, if you're scoring at home, with assists from the grass, the dirt, and the backstop. (Speaking of swinging at the rosin bag--can a team that sends Jeff Francoeur to the dish four-plus times a game truly expect to make the World Series?)

“That’s what we call a snowball fight in the industry,” Berkman told our pal George "Cable Swag" Vecsey of the Rangers' spasmodic defense on the play. “It can deteriorate on you in a hurry. I’ve been on the other end of that. You’re trying to get an out desperately, and the ball’s flying around, and you end up making a throw that’s ill-advised.”

Little white balls flying around the yard...A snowball fight. Brilliant.

Berkman has emerged as a mensch in the Yankees clubhouse, despite a mostly middling performance on the field. The reporters gravitate to Fat Elvis (If you haven't read about how Berkman got his "Fat Elvis" nickname, it's funny) for his veteran perspective and humor.

A hunk o' burning glove

Fat Elvis's quote is interesting for a few reasons. I like the juxtaposition of the kids-at-play with the corporate jargon of "the industry." We've written a lot about the intrusion of corporate-speak into Major League Baseball--no great surprise, I guess, when guys are making $15 mil a year and "diversifying their portfolios" with stakes in bottled water, financial services, race horses, or whatever widget draws their attention.

The Yanks will of course be all business when they face the Rangers tonight.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Having a Think on 'Having a Catch'

When we were kids, we played catch.

We played catch, we traded baseball cards, we rode our bikes to Cumberland Farms for Suzie Q's and soda, and we played more catch.

I caught up on the season finale of Mad Men last night after being victimized by a number of Facebook spoilers (is that any way to treat a Friend?), and saw Don Draper and his bespoke boys pitch the anti-smoking folks an ad campaign that featured timeless father-and-son stuff like "playing catch."
(Speaking of great Mad Men moments involved fathers and sons playing catch, remember that hospital scene with Don and some strange guy who was waiting on the birth of his son? The man quizzed Don about fatherhood and asked, "You and your boy throw the ball around?" Don, perpetual short-lister for Worst Father Ever, replied, "Not enough.")

So the notion of "playing catch" is timeless, right? Not so much.

No, I'm not talking about videgaming's methodical takeover of all things outdoorsy.

Some time, ago, "playing catch" turned into "having a catch." It's almost as if the activity was so mundane, so bereft of drama or passion, that people simply stripped the "play" out of it and rebranded it with the passive verb.

I've noticed a trend with people turning a verb into a noun and adding a "have a" before the former verb in an effort to sound trendy or smart or European, or all of the above. Let me illustrate, because that previous sentence is a bit confusing. You and I think. But a boss I used to have would say "Let me have a think" about something. (Mind you, he's not my boss anymore. I guess he didn't have a think enough.)

Or, you and I look at something. A pretentious person might have a look at that same thing.

Maybe that was a factor in playing catch turning into having a catch.

"Play catch" kicks up 128 million links on Google, including a WikiHow video link for the really-not-too bright called "How to Play Catch: 4 Steps" (As I noted in a Metro NY column a few years ago, "Catch" is one of the few games out there where the instructions are right there in the name. Are there really four steps to it? I count two--catch it and throw it. Maybe they're counting the bike ride to Cumberland Farms and Suzie Qs too.)

There's also a quote from Field of Dreams: "Could you believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father."

"Have a catch," meanwhile, nearly doubles "play catch" on Google--306 million links (Granted, not all refer to throwing a ball back and forth, such as "The New Taliban Tactics Have a Catch"). There was a Wrigley Field event last year, promoted on Facebook, called "Hey Dad, Wanna Have a Catch?"--a 50 minute, open to the public, ball-throwing session for charity.

Whether you play catch or have a catch, the game is the same, and will be as long as there are fathers and sons, or fathers and daughters, or mothers and sons, or friends, or those Pitchbacks for people with no friends.

Cooling temps and fading summer sun be damned--I know what I--and my kids--will be doing when Daddy gets home from work today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wagner-ian Opera Comes to End; No 'Cupcakes' For Braves

We're sad to see the Braves' season end, because it brings Billy Wagner's career to a close. Wagner was a frequent, if unwitting, contributor to Batter Chatter, his outspokeness and dopey homespun manner always good for a memorable phrase or two.

It was Wagner, of course, who accused then-Mets teammate Lastings Milledge of "big-leaguin' it"--a serious charge in the big leagues.

And after the NY Times Magazine ran something on Francisco Rodriguez losing it after his common-law wife's father told him to "man up," we had a little email convo with the author of the column, Ben Zimmer. Zimmer told Batter Chatter he enjoyed the bit we did on Wagner and "big-leaguin' it", and said Wagner was also responsible for one of his favorite baseball expressions: "cupcakin' it" (Formula for a Wagner-ism: take a noun, turn it into a verb by pasting an -ing suffix on it, drop the g, and add "it.")

Cupcakin' it means taking it easy, handling with kid gloves, that sort of thing. There's no cupcakin' it in baseball, Wagner told then-Mets manager Willie Randolph back in 2006, after Randolph threw Wagner into a tight game to start the season.

"Might as well get thrown right into the fire," said Wagner. "No use cupcakin' it."

Wrote Zimmer:

I had never come across this use of the verb cupcake before, but its meaning was immediately obvious from the context. Wagner meant there was no point in trying to breeze through his assignment or get by with little exertion. There's a long tradition of similar dessert-related metaphors in American slang: piece of cake, cakewalk, pudding (meaning 'something easy'), easy as pie, etc. A little searching on Usenet newsgroups and other forums for sports talk turned up various uses of the verb cupcake, very often in reference to a team building up a deceptively good win-loss record thanks to an easy competitive schedule.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thinking Outside the 'Bandbox'

The Twins' new ballpark, on national TV for all to see tonight when the Minnesotans host the fearsome Yankees, is no bandbox.

Yet those homer-happy Blue Jays made Target Field feel like one earlier this summer.

“They made the place look like a little bandbox,” Twins outfielder Denard Span told the NY Times yesterday. “It’s hard to believe. We complain all year about the place, and they come here and hit like 10 home runs."

UPDATE: Today's NY Times!: "The Twins’ new Target Field is not the bandbox the Metrodome was, and the Twins, accordingly, scored 36 fewer runs in 2010..."

A bandbox.

Any time someone needs a metaphor for a small baseball stadium, they opt for bandbox. The Phillies newish stadium? Definitely a bandbox. "The Phillies raised the left-field fence at Citizens Bank Park 2 1/2 feet and moved it back five feet following the 2005 season, less than two years after it opened," wrote earlier this year. "Pitchers at Citizens Bank Park had complained that the ballpark played like a bandbox."

Yankee Stadium? Was a bandbox last year, short porch and all. "New Yankee Stadium is a bandbox," wrote Ohio's Times-Reporter.

Not so much this year...maybe it's the wind.

Of course, Denard Span's usage--"a little bandbox"--is redundant. A bandbox is, by definition, little.

But what the heck is a bandbox when it's not a baseball metaphor? I'd guess it's like an orchestra pit--a small box that sees several musicians jammed into it to provide music for theater. Or maybe something like a bandshell--another tight performance space for musicians.

I'd be wrong.

Merriam Webster's calls it a "cylindrical box of paperboard or thin wood for holding light articles of attire."

MW's second definition references the diamond. "A structure (as a baseball park) having relatively small interior dimentions.)

Wikipedia offers a few different uses for bandbox, including a novel by Thomas Mallon about a '20s men's magazine called, yup, "Bandbox," and the 1712 attempt on the Earl of Oxford's life that's known as "the Bandbox Plot." says the first usage of bandbox in the baseball context came from John Updike in The New Yorker in 1960.

"Fenway Park is a little lyrical bandbox of a ballpark," wrote J.U.

It's very strange that such an archaic word is still called upon as the metaphor of choice for small ballparks. Think about how many types of boxes are more current than the bandbox. The cigar box. The tackle box. The jewelry box, the music box. The glove box.

And it doesn't necessarily have to be a word ending in "box", does it? I mean, a small ballpark could be likened to a "cookie jar" or a "bread basket." (Wait, "breadbasket" is already in use in baseball slanguage.)

OK, enough on the topic. I have to hit the cleaners before they close and grab my new bandbox.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Batter Chatter's 2010 Name Hall of Fame

We hereby give out the inaugural 2010 season-end Batter Chatter Great Names in Baseball awards.

Player Whose Last Name Sounds Most Like a Corporation:
(tie) Jason Varitek (Red Sox) and Paul Konerko (White Sox)
Honorable Mention: Kelly Shoppach (Rays)

The Pirates '80s Third Baseman Jim Morrison Award for Best Rock Star Name:
(tie) Carlos Santana (Indians), Brian Wilson (Giants), Corey Hart (Brewers)

Names You Can't Make Fun of Anymore Because They've Been Too Funny For Too Long:
(tie) Milton Bradley (Mariners), Coco Crisp (Athletics)
Honorable Mention: Albert Pujols (Cardinals)

Player Who Sounds Like a Flavor of Cheese:
Tom Gorzelanny (Pirates)

Most Animals Mentioned in a Name:
Marlon Byrd, Cubs (2)

Most Body Parts Mentioned in a Name:
Tony Armas, Ret. (4)

The 'Dad Was Probably a Dentist' Award:
(tie) Chad Moeller (Yankees), John Buck (Blue Jays)

The 'Mom and Dad Don't Spell So Hot' Award:
Jhonny Peralta (Indians)

The 'Guy Who I Don't Like Even Though I Haven't Met Him Because of His Name' Award:
Madison Bumgarner (Giants)

Most Poetic Name:
(tie) Buster Posey (Giants) and Daniel Bard (Red Sox)

The Vanna White 'I'd Like to Buy a Vowel' Award:
Marc Rzepczynski (Blue Jays)

Player Most Likely to Be Related to Busta Rhymes:
Will Rhymes (Tigers)

The World Leader Name Award:
(tie) Chris Carter (Mets), Adam Kennedy (Nats), Ramon Castro (White Sox), Joe Thatcher (Padres)

And The Only Player in Major League Baseball to Have His Team Name on the Front and Back of His Jersey...
Jason Castro (Astros)

Monday, October 4, 2010

'Bonus Baseball' in October

The 2010 regular season didn't go down without a fight.

The Red Sox and Yanks engaged in two--two--extra inning games on Saturday, logging some eight-hours plus of baseball at Fenway.

The Rays and Royals went 12 innings yesterday, even though the Yankees had lost, thus giving the division title to the Tampa-ites.

And the Metsies, oh those Metsies, went 14 before losing in the most ignominious of ways. It's the stuff late-night comic monologues thrive on--what could make the Mets' dismal season worse than five innings of extra baseball that ends in a loss?

"Bonus Baseball," went the headline from our friends over at Baseball Musings. (Well, we're sort of friends...we're on each other's blogrolls and they ran a nice item on Batter Chatter not long after we launched.)

There aren't many synonyms for extra innings. Some wiseguys call it "overtime", the phrase every clock-based sport uses. Some say "extras."

Earlier this season, the surprisingly good writeups referred to "bonus baseball in the desert" after the Yankees and D-Backs went very long in an inter-league game.

Coincidentally, "bonus baseball" also refers to the one-game playoff to see who gets into the post-season when there's a tie--a game that would've been played today, if we'd been in such a situation.

"Playoff Watch: Another year of bonus baseball?" mused Sporting News yesterday, before all the races played out before the finish line.

Oddly, and against all logic, I had considerable interest in yesterday's 14-inning Met game. I'd gone to my first game at CitiField all season Saturday. Mets against Nats, October, there could not have been less on the line.
Let's call it the Fall Spastic. 
The view from the right-field terrace.
The place had about 13,000 people and me and Tommy T took in the game from a number of vantage points, including the glass-walled restaurant and the standing terrace beyond right field. (Lower-level ushers were oddly protective of the good seats, all things considered.) And boy, what a gorgeous day it was.

David Wright had a little Dave Matthews playing when he stepped up to the plate in the 7th, but the peace-and-love vibes were gone in seconds. Tyler Clippard through one under Wright's chin, and DW responded with a long three-run, tie-breaking home run, and a very slow and purposeful trip around the bases.

CitiField went wild. All 13,000 of us.

I truly wanted the Mets to end on a posititve note, just as I eagerly went to this morning to see how my last place Luckless Pedestrians did in their fantasy league final. (Sandbox down and I don't know if I held on for the win against Weaver's Beavers. Nice one, Sandbox.)

[UPDATE: Luckless Pedestrians took down the Beavers, 183-76. AJ Burnett even contrib'd some points this week, for once.]

Silly, I know. But I'd rather watch last-place baseball than football. That's just me.

I also had to mow the lawn, and set the DVR to record the last few innings. I tape the last game every year in case I suffer some sort of Mets withdrawal sickness in the dead of winter. I don't ever actually watch it -- it's more like the aspirins you through in your toiletry kit before going on vacation. It's good to have them, just in case.

I had the Blackberry in my back pocket and checked the game update every time the mower bag was full. The game went on, the 12th, the 13th. I ran inside when the lawn was finished, ignoring a neighbor and his angry dog who wanted to make small talk about taxes and the president.

Ollie Perez was in for the first time in weeks. Ollie Perez, who became pitcher non grata--at $12 mil a year--after refusing to go to the minors to figure out his woeful control issues. A ghost in the clubhouse, say the beat reporters.

Bad Ollie walked three and hit a batter in a third of an inning. Yeah, you're right, Ollie -- you don't need a tuneup in the minors. You're fine.

Game over. Season over.

On one hand, I appreciated the Metsies bringing me one hour closer to pitchers and catchers reporting in February. On the other hand, I'd just dedicated my weekend time and my emotional investment to a meaningless game that ended badly. (Badly doesn't quite describe it. Grotesquely?)

Had the Mets pulled out yet another walk-off win yesterday (they'd had two in the past week), a tiny hint of optimism would've buried itself in my brain for those cold winter months.

Instead, I just felt cold.