MONKEYING WITH BONDS
Now that Barry Bonds has gotten the post-season rally monkey off his back for good, the larger question remains: Why should the Angels pitch to him? The Braves didn’t (.409 OPB); the Cardinals really didn’t (10 walks in five games); and in general, National League pitchers didn’t—he walked a record 198 times this year. Is this don’t-let-the big-guy-beat-you strategy smart? In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James did a study that addresses this very question in its most extreme dimensions. He tweaked a 1921 model Babe Ruth—a virtual clone of a 2002 model Barry Bonds—and put him in a lineup with the best bunch of schmoes imaginable: Jamie Quirk, Angel Salazar, Gino Cimoli, Don Wert. Then he ran two full-season computer simulations. In the first, Ruth is allowed to be Ruth, only a little better, hitting .385 with 60 homers and walking 148 times. In the other simulation, Ruth walks every single time: a batting average of .000, no homers. So did it make sense to give Ruth an endless string of free passes? No way. The Walk Ruth team scored far more runs, 667 to 601, and won nine more games, 62 to 53. Looking at the numbers another way, it all makes sense: The Hitting Ruth compiled a very impressive 680 bases while making a miserly 330 outs. The Walking Ruth compiled an otherworldy 726 bases, and made no outs at all. OK , Angel pitchers, repeat after me. Babe Ruth is dead. Throw strikes. —Allen St. John
LOU IS FOR LOSERS
Given baseball commissioner Bud Selig‘s edict barring teams from making major announcements during the World Series, we may not find out until the beginning of next week whether the destination tag on Lou Piniella‘s packed suitcase is New York or Tampa Bay, even if only one of them (the one that’s not the Mets) continues to honestly pursue him as their next manager. At press time, Piniella’s agent, Alan Nero, was continuing to say nice things about the pawn-in-everyone’s-game Devil Rays, proclaiming that Tampa Bay, which finished this past season a mind-numbing 48 games behind the Yankees in the A.L. East with a 55-106 record, is “a year or two from contention.” (That’s more than nice—it’s positively hallucinatory.)
Meanwhile, the feisty Piniella, who’s gone on record as saying that “I’m not a rebuilding-type manager,” has been characterized as “impatient” and “irritated” by the snail’s pace of negotiations between the Mariners and the Mets, who’ve been unable to reach agreement for compensation over the remaining year on Sweet ‘n’ Sour Lou’s Seattle contract.
Realistically, the Mariners have no leverage in their demands for the few significant prospects in the Met farm system, such as pitcher Aaron Heilman or shortstop Jose Reyes. (Better the Mets try to throw Roger Cedeño at speed-starved Seattle.) Then again, because the Mets seem incapable of even contemplating rebuilding, don’t put it past owner Fred Wilpon to do something utterly idiotic—like actually hire Piniella, who, besides holding the all-time record for longest toss of a dislodged base after an ejection and ranking second only to his old Yankee skipper Billy Martin for most career dust kicked on an umpire, is far removed from both his lone championship (’89 with the Reds) as well as the National League itself, where he hasn’t managed in over a decade. Approaching age 60, it seems unlikely that old dog Lou will have any new tricks to make, say, Jeromy Burnitz start hitting—or Mo Vaughn stop eating. —Billy Altman
YOUR ANALYSIS IS CORRECT
The play of the Rangers and Knicks has left many Garden faithful flocking to the rest rooms in recent years to try to wash their hands of their overpaid teams. Now it seems that may have been part of the plan of the Dolans all along. Last spring, Garden management reportedly contracted with Orlando-based Score Media, Inc. to install billboard ads above men’s room urinals and near bathroom sinks in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
The building isn’t the first to commercialize its crappers with ads from airlines, car insurance companies, tire manufacturers, and the like. According to Sports Business Journal, Score Media has similar contracts with 18 other NBA and NHL arenas across North America. One has to wonder, though, whether this is a sign that Cablevision, the Garden’s parent company, isn’t flush enough to cover the exorbitant player salaries of its hockey and basketball teams. But with its teams’ 2002-03 fortunes already seemingly in the toilet, there’s no reason why the Garden shouldn’t try to find other ways to bolster its revenue stream.
Meanwhile, the most successful big-league team in New York right now is the football Giants, and they’re only 3-3. But after some patsies and then a bye week, they next play the Eagles, on Monday night. The Giants have been winning ugly, but they may be losing ugly if they don’t figure out a way to juice up their anemic offense and stop the other team from running, now that veteran defensive tackle Keith Hamilton is out. —Brian P. Dunleavy