Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin..."What's happened to me?" he thought. It was no dream..."Oh God," he thought, "what a grueling job I've picked. Day in, day out on the road (as a traveling salesman)...To the devil with it all!"
-From Franz Kafka's "burlesque" The Metamorphosis (Bantam's 2002 translation, which is not the best).
Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate ... but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins.
-From the "Hunger Artist" Frank Kafka's published diaries
In the days of my youth, the daily newspapers would publish only the box scores from the games completed by the previous night's Mannix episode. West coast games were the stuff of legends-you were luck if they reprinted the box scores from local team's late-night games two days later. You were lucky to get the league leaders in Sunday editions.
I was told to be a man (to continue the Led Zep motif) from the pages of The Sporting News, which have every box score, every stat. I would pour over the box scores that were that I missed and these were still the bare-bone affairs (i.e., no batting average or ERA or anything). TSN was monolithic in those days: Baseball Digest was nice, the glossy magazines had great pictures but little else. For the inside look at the game, there was just TSN. They had the weekly stats, the weekly team blurbs, and the annual register, guide, dope book, and record book. That's how it had always been and that's how it would always be and by cracky, we liked it.
Well, then again there was Big Mac. My first Official Baseball Encyclopedia (paperback ninth edition from 1977 with Dave Concepcion on the cover) actually predated the MacMillan appellation-it was published by Doubleday. This was also before pitchers and batters were split out and, when viewed today, contained scant information. Here's Babe Ruth's entry from the above edition:
RUTH, GEORGE HERMAN "BABE" "THE BAMBINO" OR "THE SULTAN OF SWAT"
B. FEB.6, 1895 BALTIMORE, MD.
D. AUG 16, 1948 NEW YORK, N.Y.YR CL LEA POS GP G REC 1914 BOS A P 4 5 2-1 1915 BOS A P 32 42 18-6 . . . 1934 NY A O 125 .288 1935 BOS N O 28 .181 BLTL 163 2503 93-44 .342
Soon, however, Bill James would start to self-publish his abstracts (though most of us were unaware of him until the mid-Eighties) and then we got naked and started the revolution. TSN took a backseat to the USA Today, which had the same box scores and blurbs but on a daily basis. It's bastard child, Baseball Weekly quickly unseated TSN as the weekly baseball record. Then ESPN.com came around and gave you box scores and notes in real time. BW since has become Sports Weekly to attract football fans who can actually read. Aside from "Matt at Bat" and Paul White's "Leading Off", BW is a shadow of its former self. Their front cover last week read "Double Threats: second base thrives with glove men who can drive the ball" accompanied by a photo of the no-range, stone-mitted Alfonso Soriano. Meanwhile, TSN fired baseball staff two weeks ago and will go with all newswire stories.
Total Baseball quickly stole MacMillan's steam and became the official encyclopedia, but it has not been published in a few years. So our only up-to-date encyclopedia is Neft and Cohen's chintzy paperback one. No analysis in there.
Meanwhile James became embittered with the world he had help work and gave up the abstracts. He still wrote his excellent books and helped form STATS, which published their Major League Handbooks until they were bought out by TSN and dismantled.
We now have WHIP and DIPS whereas once we just had "The Lip". And so where are we? Baseball analysts are now the prop comics of the sports journalism world led by the Carrot Top-inspired Jayson Stark. They use stats inappropriately-"He's batting .400 against Pedro Matinez!" Of course, he's 2-for-5 with two dink singles and three K's, but they cite it like he owns Pedro. They use statistics to shock and amaze us-" If you count the 2000 World Series, it means that every year that the Yankees and Mets have met, at least one game has been decided in one team's final at-bat." (an actual Jayson Stark todbit).
Then there are the neo-Luddites with their leader and my hero, Joe Morgan, a man who questions the validity of ERA and on-base percentage. So even after our metamorphosis what have we wrought? Let's witness:
The only time you should slide into first is to avoid a tag. You don't do it to beat a throw. Running from home to first, you get their fast by running through the bag. I don't believe in diving into first. But sometimes your momentum just takes you that way. We've all done it. I never did it intentionally though.
[Mike: Yep, that's the only one.]
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