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(transferred; posted Oct. 19)

You know me, Al.

I like baseball stats as points of reference, or conversation starters, but I do not revere them enough to be considered an acolyte in the Church of Beane. I prefer to think my pedigree goes back to Casey, through Whitey. My team wouldn't try to outslug an Earl Weaver team, or play little ball against Billy Martin. We would adapt our game to the opponent, to each situation, each at-bat, each pitch.

This team would hack away sometimes, but be patient when it counted. Guys would step up with spectacular catches and timely hits, winning most of the critical duels. This team would have a common goal with no individual agendas. Call them the Anaheim Angels.

It's obvious to me; the big, mean Giants wear black hats and the Disney team wears white. No further analysis should be necessary, but why stop here?

Going in, I thought the only AL playoff team the Giants might have beaten was the Twins. Only the top-heavy Arizona rotation concerned me in predicting an AL champion. Strange, as the NL is the stronger league top-to-bottom -- the AL has the very best, and the very worst, teams. I've liked the Angels since the start, and considered the A's-Twins winner a much bigger obstacle. Reminds me of the Red Wings in a Stanley Cup final.

Why do we "like" the players and teams we like? Are we completely objective? In my harness racing days, I was a renowned tout. Steinbrenner would call from a dog track or jai-alai fronton up north, where he would be hosting a dinner party to watch his trotters and pacers via satellite from Pompano. Using my picks, he'd win some dough and look smart; both of us got the ego rush of correctly predicting outcomes.

"Who do you like?" (A more popular greeting than "hello" at the track.) Everyone is crystal ball gazing; if they all get good trips, which horse wins? Past performances are even more detailed than baseball stats, so you can compute plenty of data. On the other hand, you can crunch those numbers to support almost any theory.

Baseball's even more complicated. Personalities matter. Humans are less consistent than horses. Which Jeff Kent will show up? The regular-season extra-base hit machine, or the invisible man of the postseason? Does Jason Schmidt, an amazing physical specimen, have the maturity to succeed on this stage? More variables, harder to measure. David Bell can hit .500 and John Lackey can be unhittable, in a short series.

I could support my "Angels in five" prediction with a batting order/rotation comparison, or a position-by-position analysis, but for me, Washburn beats Schmidt to set the tone, Frankie outpitches Felix for the coveted F-Rod award, GA neutralizes Bonds, likewise Percival and Nen, and so on. Some decisive edges to Anaheim. After you compare the rosters, start playing innings in your mind -- you eventually get to this matchup, late in the game. Dusty brings in lefty Scott Eyre, who wasn't good enough for the Blue Jays; Mike points to the monstrous Shawn Wooten. The baseball is hit on a line, off (or over) a wall.

So it's the Angels for me, with deeper depth, and more likeable guys playing better team baseball, but unlike picking winners at the racetrack, I suspect my heart affects my decision. Although I rooted for certain talented horses and deserving people to do well, I never identified with the participants; I was well paid to be a neutral handicapper. The Angels are the team I'd prefer to play for, or coach. I want them to win, not just to be right, but in part to validate my self-image, in a baseball sense.
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