Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: Best St Louis Sports Arguments

On or about 2 November, I was minding my own business when I received an email about Bryan Burwell's book, The Best St Louis Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions For Die-Hard Fans. The publisher (Sourcebooks, Inc) was asking if I 'would be willing to review this book for your blog'.

Gotta be a joke, I thought.

Well: Sourcebooks, Inc actually exists - it's an independent publishing company based out of Illinois. When I called the number, a person answered - and the name she gave matched that on the email I received. They were serious. So I told them sure I'd read and review it. They asked that the review come out the week of 26 Nov; so it follows below.

Here's a photo of the book cover:

Now a disclaimer: I haven't written a book report since high school, so if you're expecting this to read like a New York Times book section review, you're going to be SORELY disappointed. Of course, if you think the writing on this blog approximates the New York Times writing style, either I'm in the wrong line of work or you should stop drinking. Immediately.

Bottom Line Up Front: If you're tired of slogging through the Confessions of St Augustine and want an intellectually non-threatening book to read for that 3-hour flight anywhere, this book is for you. However, I was disappointed with the book, mostly because the amount of facts used to back up any of the opinions expressed inside it are scarce to say the least, and there are no references given for the reader to review to see the veracity of his arguments.

It lists for $14.95, which I think is a bit much for 265 pages of Bryan Burwell's opinion.

Having said that, I've been kicking around how I was going to write-up this review, and all my rough drafts focused on what I thought was wrong with some of Mr. Burwell's arguments, which means he succeeded in what he was trying to do, namely, present a position as a jumping off point for you to say, 'yep, that's right' or ' that's BULLSHIT! And here's why.' So although I was disappointed in the book overall, I must admit, in all fairness, many of the positions presented got me thinking, which again, is the intent of the book.

Some specific constructive comments:

- There is one outright error, on page 95: Chris Pronger has only won 1 Stanley Cup as of the printing of the book, vice the two quoted, and that was with Anaheim in 2007. He has been to the Finals twice (last year and 2006 with Edmonton); perhaps that's what Burwell meant.

- Burwell's picks in just about every category lean heavily and almost exclusively to players and teams he watched personally or that played during his lifetime. This is understandable when you realize....

- Burwell appears to have done very little research other than talk to some sportswriting cronies and do one interview with Jim Hanifan. It's hard to say for sure, since there are no footnotes included in the discussion, no references cited, and virtually no hard facts quoted throughout the book.

- His statement that Don Denkinger can't be blamed for the 1985 World Series loss to KC is valid, but his argument is so weak that it almost forces the conclusion that Denkinger WAS to blame (pg 117).

- Same can be said about his argument for who the greatest Cardinal manager of all time is. I would have used a different metric than longevity and division titles, since the men he's trying to compare (Southworth, Herzog, and LaRussa) managed the game under different rules and in a different league (8 teams, 1 division vs 12 teams, 2 divisions vs 16 teams, 3 divisions and a wild card). Perhaps wins per year? NL titles (although a difficulty factor would have to be added - it was easier to win a league title before one or two tiers of playoffs were invented)? WS titles (which, after all, is the goal of every baseball team)?

- I think he's arguing that St Louis isn't the great baseball town its reputation says it is (pg 201-205), but his argument is a little convoluted and I couldn't tell what he was arguing for when it was over.

- Curt Flood's challenging the Reserve Clause is a significant moment in baseball history, but the most significant moment in St Louis sports history (pg 49)? I don't think so. The most significant moment in St Louis sports history is signing Branch Rickey to be team president and manager of the Cardinals in 1919. The Cardinals we all know now as the NL's marquee franchise (in terms of World Series titles)? Didn't exist until Rickey invented the farm system. Those 9 NL titles and 6 World Series titles from 1926-1946 don't happen without Rickey. He laid the foundation for success that continues to the present. If that's too esoteric, I would suggest four others that deserve mention: trading for Lou Brock (led to the El Birdos 3 WS appearances and 2 titles), trading for Mark McGwire (led to a revival of interest in Cardinal baseball and the long term signing of Jim Edmonds, a key member of 2 WS teams), trading for Brett Hull (which revived Blues hockey, not to mention bringing the Greatest Blue of them all to St Louis), or Trent Green's blown knee (letting Kurt Warner get a shot and 2 Super Bowl appearances).

Some general comments about content:

- I completely agree with his position on whether Cardinals/Cubs is a great rivalry (pg 100), on whether the Rams should bring the throw-back unis back (like the Chargers do with the powder blues - one home game a year) on page 152, and the things he says about kid and high school sports on page 263-64.

- I continue to find it amusing that a man who was an unrepentant apologist for Barry Bonds for years, and manages to include Leonard Little on his 'All St Louis Football Team' (pg. 177) without mentioning the fact that Little killed a woman with his car while driving drunk, never misses a chance to savage Mark McGwire by talking about his alleged steroid use. There is no discussion about McGwire's performance on the field, just page after page screaming "HE CHEATED!" Bryan: (a) Andro was legal when McGwire was taking it; (b) McGwire, although not as forthcoming as many sportswriters would have liked at the Senate hearings, at least was honest (unlike Palmerio); (c) McGwire has never been found to have failed a drug test or been indicted by the Feds for perjury and obstruction of justice (although if his name appears in the Mitchell report, I may have to rewrite this paragraph).

- I found one passage on page 71 to be patently offensive: "With the early 1940s National League watered-down because of both the war and the lack of black players in the majors..." (emphasis mine). Why did he feel the need to throw the second part of that comment in? Would he say the early 1940s Negro Leagues were watered-down because of both the war and the lack of white players? Saying the league was at less than it's best because of all the players in the service during the war would have been enough. But no, we've got to bring race into it, which weakens the argument, insults the reader, and discredits the author.

- I can't believe he didn't find room for Marty Marion at SS for the all-time Cardinals team (3 WS titles, 8-time All Star, NL MVP in 1944).

- I can't believe Orlando Pace continues to get the props he does even though he breaks down with injury virtually every single season.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


He's 87 years young today. SO, in the spirit of the occasion:

Here's some cake:

Please pardon the right-handed batter. But the stance is about right, isn't it?

St Louis Post Dispatch's site has two articles on Stan today, and they are linked here and here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A day late and a dollar short.

Yes, I've been busy (aren't we all). No, it's not going to slack off until mid-December (midterms, finals, and my regular job). This is a quickie to let everyone know that I'm still.....alive.

Today it was announced that the Cardinals signed Jason LaRue (late of the KC Royals, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds) as Yadi's back-up. They also signed a Dewon Brazelton (also late of the KC Royals), and John Wasdin (most recently a Pirate and Ranger), both pitchers, to minor-league deals.

Let's see...

The aforelinked (I just made that word up, go me) article used such superlatives to describe LaRue as "..we also want to get him back with Hal [McRae, hitting instructor] and get him back to where he's more comfortable at the plate," and "He carries a career .235 mark depressed by a combined .170 mark the past two seasons." Not to mention the fact he couldn't cut it with the Royals. So we have a no-hit backup we're paying $50K less than our previous no-hit backup (Bennett). I don't know, maybe someone in the organization needed that $50K to pay for Christmas.

Brazelton's been cut by both the Royals and the Pirates, two of the pitching-richest franchises in the league.

Wasdin has appeared in 21 major league games TOTAL the past two seasons.

Memo to Mozeliak: Sign me! I'm left handed, and have good control. I can get one lefty out a game. I'm sure I'll work well with Dunc and Tony.

Because it seems you're the big boss man guy picking up illegals, er, MIGRANTS, on weekday mornings, who are looking for work at Sawtelle and Olympic.


One programming note: I've added a new Cardinals blog in the list - C70 at the bat. Another regular Joe [not his actual name] who follows the Cardinals; also he's commented repeatedly on this site, meaning he's either one of the brightest CPAs in the land or really, really bored.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bill Simmons doesn't know Jack about bad calls

Bill Simmons spent several thousand words on Friday whining about how the Patriots got homered last week in Indianapolis. Even though they won the game.

That's OK; it's what we expect from the Mass-hole contingent.

I hope he watched tonight's Colts/Chargers game. You want to see a team get homered by bad calls? Try these on:

1. First Quarter: LB Session makes a tremendous 'alert' play to catch a bouncing ball in the end zone. He then returns it to the San Diego 6. BUT WAIT! There's an inadvertent whistle! Apparently, the referee standing in the back of the end zone can't follow the bouncing football. Indy is at least awarded the ball, but on their own 20. Manning subesquently throws his 4th pick, leading to San Diego's only offensive TD.

2. Fourth Quarter: Third and 8, 7:35 to play. Peyton throws a deep ball towards Moorehead. Ball goes through his arms; he protests for a flag. There isn't one. Replay shows the Charger DB grab his arm just before the ball arrives - clear PI. The referee, STANDING LESS THAN 3 feet away, makes no call at all. Indy forced to punt.


3. Fourth Quarter: Fourth and 1, 1:36 to play. Indy in a run formation. Center Saturday looks up, 3 Indy players shift....and the back judge calls a false start on Utecht. Al Michaels and John Madden are left wondering, 'where was the penalty?' as they peer at the replay.

I've been watching football for over 30 years, and I'm having a hard time remembering when an officiating crew was that bad. Including last week's Colts/Patriots game.

Yes, two special teams lapses in the first quarter really crippled the Colts. Yes, Peyton threw 6 picks (although the last one is a whatever pick). Yes, Vinateri missed 2 chip shots at the end of each half. Despite that, the referees played a DECISIVE role in determining the outcome of this game.

Ya think Simmons will mention this travesty in his next article? Or will the big cloud of smug over the Simmons house at another Colts loss preclude his judgment?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lidge to Phillies; Pujols shakes head sadly

The GM Barbeque meetings in Orlando concluded today. I don't know what else to call this precursor to the winter meetings; why do they need a pre-meeting a month to 6 weeks before having the actual meetings? This is one of the worst practices corporate America has foisted on the working man: the pre-meeting meeting. "We're going to have a meeting to discuss what we'll discuss at the next meeting." Why not just have the next meeting now and dispense with this waste of time?

Of course, if they do it as a way to get away from their wives, drink some beer and go to the Orlando area strip clubs (which, I hear, rock), then good on them.

This week the meetings concluded with some big news (drawn up on a cocktail napkin? On Bambi's equipment? Is that taking the joke too far?), namely, that Houston had shipped Brad Lidge and parts to Philadelphia for Michael Bourn and some other names.

Looks like a really good move for the Phillies. They solve their closer problem and move one of their better pitcher (Brett Myers) back into the rotation, where in 2005-06 he was 25-12 with an ERA of about 3.8.

Houston gets a legitimate CF in Michael Bourn to fill that hole. Not sure who will close for them next year (Chad Qualls? someone else?), but they have picked up a great prospect in Bourn. Someone who's been bandied about on some Cardinals blogs as worth getting to play in St Louis.

Which begs the question: given our fiscal woes for the 2008 roster, did the Cardinal hierarchy consider shopping Isringhausen or Pervical to Philadelphia to get Bourn?

Granted, Izzy is 35 (and Percival 38) while Lidge is 31, but who was the better closer last year? Who has been the more consistent closer over his career - Izzy or Lidge? It's Izzy by a lot. I know hindsight is 20-20, but we could have shopped Izzy to Philly and, if we were able to broker a deal for similar pieces that Houston got, gotten a ML ready CF to step in for Edmonds (letting Ankiel stay in RF), and shaved about $7M off the payroll for next year. Sign Percival to a $1M deal that's incentive laden to be worth more, and wha-la! more wiggle room to sign those starting pitchers we so desperately need. We certainly could have thrown in a used piece (like Brunlett) - perhaps John Rodriguez or someone of similar ilk.

Are there any other clubs out there looking for closer help?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Say It Ain't So, So

I don't blog much from work; there never seems to be enough time, and, since my monitor faces the passageway, it's fraught with danger. However, I was remiss in my post yesterday in that I didn't mention Gary Bennett's contract was bought out, meaning the Cardinals are in the market for a back-up catcher.

And then today is the report they've bought out So Taguchi's contract.

Based on the payroll the team has already allocated for next year (upwards of $95M), the holes they still have to fill, and the glut of young outfielders they have on the 40-man roster, this move was inevitable. John Mozeliak wouldn't slam the door on Taguchi, saying there was a chance he could come back; but at 38, that's not likely (for the aforementioned reasons). I'm a bit glum about this; I'm going to miss So.

So's loudest hit - HR off Wagner, Game 2 2006 NLCS. Courtesy

Why do I like So Taguchi so much? He played the game right.

So played 10 years in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave. Yes, the same team Ichiro played for before he joined the Mariners. Imagine the OF where Ichiro played RF because So was a better CF! A 4-time All-Star (1995, 1996, 1997, 2001), his teams won 2 Pacific League Championships (1995, 1996) and the Japan League Championship in 1996. He wasn't the first Japanese player to win a Japan League title and a World Series title (Tadahito Iguchi has also done it, at a minimum), but he's a member of that very select group.

All that's great; but then, following the 2001 season, he headed for the states to play Major League baseball. Didn't speak a lick of English; he learned that on the fly and from his wife. He struggled mightily to hit Major League pitching, but he wanted to play at the ML level so HE WENT TO THE MINORS AND STARTED FROM SCRATCH WITH HIS SWING. I play a little bit of softball now and then, and I have a swing honed from 30 years of swinging a bat; it's not great, but it's good. I can't even imagine a successful baseball player willing to start over from scratch learning how to hit. Can you see any successful American player being told, 'yeah, you need to start over or you might as well quit' and then the same player willingly and without complaint doing the work needed to fix it?

So eventually made it back to the majors, and you know the rest. He carried the Cardinals during the summer of 2005, when Edmonds was down with an assortment of nagging injuries, batting .379 in July at the top of the order - easily the brightest he shone until that great HR off Wagner last fall.

He was also an excellent defensive outfielder. I haven't been able to find any Gold Glove statistics for him in Japan (or if they even give out a similar award over there), but So could play the OF. However, the thing that sticks with me about him defensively happened in the 2006 NLCS as well. He mis-judged a fly ball to CF that hit the wall behind him, and then caromed away. Of course, the bases were loaded, and the hit cleared the bases. Not good.

So went out to CF with a coach the next day and practiced taking balls off the OF wall so he wouldn't make the same mistake.

Which is exactly what I would have done had I been burned like that.

I'm glad I was able to get a hold of a 'Taguchi 99' shirt last season. I seem to play better defense with it on.

So a toast - to the great So Taguchi. You will be missed in this corner of Red Bird Nation.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Not Enough Hours In The Day

Small children have a tendency to monopolize your time. That isn't a regret for having children; it's a fact. They also like to derail plans. For instance, I had/have a research project in mind that I'm going to finish and publish results here. My intentions were to do it over the weekend and have it up for Monday morning. My boys essentially said, 'Nice idea, Pops, but we're taking over your weekend and you'll LIKE IT!'

It's amazing that they can get their point across when neither one of them has uttered a word, much less a complete sentence.

So I'll keep plugging away and try to get my project out to you by the end of the week. In the meantime, the biggest news of the past week is Mozeliak being named GM (vice filling in as interim GM) and the reported overtures the Cardinals made to Curt Schilling.

Mozeliak getting the job does a lot for continuity in the office; he knows the playing field and the players, which is a plus, and he had a chance to learn from Walt Jocketty. It remains to be seen where his priorities lie in rebuilding the club. I don't think a high-profile free agent signing will fix what made the 2007 Cardinals a sub-.500 team, but with that said, they have holes they need to fill, and the cupboard within the organization is pretty bare. I have some thoughts on which way they should go, but that's a later post.

The Curt Schilling thing - he's an attractive name, in all likelihood a first ballot Hall of Famer when he comes eligible for enshrinement - but he's 40 now. As has been pointed out elsewhere, (and because I kept pretty close tabs on the Red Sox this season thanks both to my wife's affinity for the franchise and the sheer number of Boston players I had on my fantasy roster), he wasn't the same pitcher who won 20 games in 2003. He would certainly be a large upgrade over KFW or Reyes, but I'm not sure he'd be worth the price he'll probably command for one year. Late breaking tonight is the Red Sox appear close to a deal with him, so it all may be speculation washed down the drain by mid-week; even if that deal falls through, I think I would look somewhere else for starting pitching help.

Well that's it. The GM's are meeting in Orlando this week; if anything interesting comes out of it, we'll discuss it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

No Soup Today

Hi All. No post today, however, I am working on something and intend to have it up Monday. Please check back! Cheers!