Lessons of baseball
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    I'm napping Array psyclone's Avatar
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    Lessons of baseball

    I don't not interested in baseball and don't watch it but here is an article that was interesting. Some interesting ideas/lessons.

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    Stupid bastard Array Hu99's Avatar
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    NYTimes requires membership to read online articles. Maybe copy and paste it.
    What was it all about?

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    I'm napping Array psyclone's Avatar
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    Here goes from the New York Times by Michael Lewis, a contributing writer, is the author of ''Moneyball'' and the soon-to-be-published ''Coach,'' which expands on an article he wrote for the magazine last spring. He last wrote about Eli Manning, the rookie quarterback for the New York Giants.

    n February 2004, a 24-year-old minor-league baseball player named Steve Stanley sat down and wrote a letter to President Bush. He had no talent with a pen, and he wanted badly to be understood, so he asked his wife, Brooke, to put what he had to say into words. He wanted to thank the president, whom he admired, for mentioning steroids in his State of the Union address, but he was also hoping to use his own case to advance the discussion. He was a small-boned, 5-foot-7, 155-pound center fielder who, even as he wrote, was succeeding in baseball because of his speed and his abilities to play defense and get on base. Even so, just over a year into his pro career, he was beginning to feel like a freak. He could live with being the least likely player on the field to hit the ball over the wall; what drove him nuts was the thought of bigger players using drugs to widen the power gap even further between him and them. The season before, he'd actually watched some hulking bomber taking batting practice hit a high fly ball to the warning track, turn to a teammate and, referring to a steroid, say, ''One cycle of Deca and that's out.'' And he had no doubt that the slugger would make sure that, next time, the ball left the park.

    The putatively rigorous drug testing in the minor leagues, in Stanley's view, didn't reduce the use of steroids so much as it increased the energy players put into not getting caught. In 2003, players were going off into a separate room to fill a cup with urine; that was a joke. Last year, the testers followed the players into the bathroom; steroid users were said to fill false penises -- whizzinators, they called them -- with clean urine and stick them down their pants. The testing wasn't designed to catch cheaters but to create the illusion of trying to catch them. And never mind the biggest loophole of all: the off-season, when the testing of players was haphazard at best.

    As the 2003 season's end approached, players could contact their dealers and arranged for shipments of Winstrol -- a kind of steroid with a half-life sufficiently short that it was undetectable a few weeks after the final dosage. A year into his professional baseball career, Steve Stanley had seen enough. In his letter to the president he -- or his wife -- made three observations: 1) the higher the level of the game, the more steroid-aided power he seemed to encounter; 2) steroids put a player like him, who refused to take them, at a competitive disadvantage; and 3) steroids were so deeply embedded in the game that the only way for baseball to be cleansed of them was for outsiders to take matters out of baseball hands.

    When he mailed his letter to the president, steroids seemed to be Steve Stanley's problem more than baseball's. The people who judged baseball players, and made decisions about their careers, hardly gave steroids a second thought. Never knowing for sure who was on them, and having no good way of finding out, they were unable to calculate their importance. Anyone with eyes could see that, since the late 1980's, the shape of baseball players had changed. Anyone with a record book could see that, since the late 1980's, there had been a widespread increase in power, as measured by the number of doubles and home runs. But who was to say what caused the one, or that the one caused the other?

    Of course, there's now some sketchy evidence that steroids have contributed mightily to the power surge. Clay Davenport, who studies minor-league players for the Web site Baseball Prospectus, has found that three of the four players with the most remarkable midcareer power surges in the last two decades are now famously linked to steroid use: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi. (Giambi has gone from hitting 10 home runs in his entire college career to hitting 43 home runs off major-league pitching in a single season.) Ron Shandler, who has worked as a statistical analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals and publishes Baseball Forecaster, an annual survey of major- and minor-league players for fantasy leaguers, expresses his suspicions another way: he flags players who acquire power the same season that they've come back from vacation 20 pounds or more heavier. For instance, Shandler has noted that last season Adrian Beltre, in his final year with the Dodgers before becoming a free agent, reportedly showed up 20 pounds heavier than the year before. Beltre, whose career up to that point had been a story of unfulfilled promise, blasted 48 home runs, 25 more than he had ever hit in a single season -- for which he was rewarded, by the Seattle Mariners, with a new five-year, $64 million contract. (When a Tacoma, Wash., reporter asked if he had used steroids, Beltre laughed in denial.)

    Another piece of evidence that steroids work is the reluctance of the players to part with their drugs. A few weeks ago, not long after after Major League Baseball's public humiliation before Congress, the commissioner's office released the names of 41 minor-league players who failed spring-training drug tests. The players came from just 10 of the 13 major-league organizations tested so far. Given the public outrage over steroid use during the off-season, you might think that the minor leaguers would have arrived in camp prepared. (They needn't stop taking steroids altogether; to avoid being caught they only had to stop taking them a few weeks before the test.) And yet an average of more than three players per organization appeared to be unwilling to play clean.

    Perhaps all this means nothing. Perhaps minor leaguers are deluded about the importance of the drugs. On the other hand, they might be right that they need them -- that steroids are so helpful in today's game that a 15-game suspension and a reputation as a steroid user is a small price to pay for the benefits. The evidence is unlikely ever to be anything but inconclusive. There are too many alternative explanations for the power surge: players have altered their swings (though most swings are still idiosyncratically personal affairs); players have grown naturally stronger (but have they?); some hitters, like Barry Bonds, have switched from ash to maple bats (though most hitters haven't); pitchers aren't as good (though there is no hard evidence of this); ballparks are smaller (though a few are actually bigger).

    But the ambiguity of steroids' effects may have, in an odd way, increased their grip on the game. Unable to parse the statistics and separate natural power from steroid power, the people who evaluate baseball players for a living have no choice but to ignore the distinction. They've come to view the increase in the number of young players without power who become older players with power as a new eternal truth about the game. ''Good hitters become power hitters, power hitters don't become good hitters'' has become a kind of cliche for baseball's more statistically minded general managers. Power is now understood as less an innate gift than a gettable skill -- more like speaking French than being 6-foot-3. Which is to say that steroids may have changed not only the way the game is played but also the way the game is understood. They have given birth to a big, beefy idea from whose side-effects no player is immune. Not even Steve Stanley.

    One Player's Batting Stance: Slugging as a Faith-Based Initiative

    The odd thing isn't that Stanley caved to the pressure to go get himself power, but how he caved -- how an idea now at the heart of baseball provoked him to behave, last spring, so unreasonably. All his life he'd been told he was too small to make a difference on a baseball field, and until he sat on the cusp of the major leagues, he'd never let it bother him. ''My dad was savvy enough to know that I was going to be small my entire life, because of my genes,'' he says. ''I remember him sitting me down and saying, 'You'll never pass the eye test, so you'll always have to prove that you can play, whereas a big guy has to prove he can't play.' '' His father shaped his game to minimize the costs of what he couldn't do and to maximize the benefits of what he could do. Steve Stanley could do two things impressively: put the bat on the ball and run. Mike Stanley pointed out to his son that the ball took a lot longer to get to first base from shortstop than from second base, so if you hit the ball to the shortstop you have a better chance of beating the throw. ''I never thought to elevate the baseball,'' Stanley says. ''I lived on the ground and up the middle. If I hit the ball weakly to third base, it's an out. But any ball two steps to the right of the shortstop, I'm safe. If the shortstop cheats to his right, I hit the ball up the middle. If the infield plays me deep, I bunt.''

    He finished his career at Notre Dame with the third-most hits in N.C.A.A. history, the second-highest batting average and the most stolen bases ever at Notre Dame, and he led his team, in 2002, to its first College World Series appearance in 45 years. Notre Dame's baseball coach, Paul Mainieri, called him the finest defensive center fielder and the ''winningest'' position player he'd encountered in his 20 years as a college coach. Still, as Stanley entered the market for professional baseball players, his value appeared to collapse. Baseball scouts looked at him and saw a body unlike any in the big leagues. Scouts from two major-league teams told Stanley that, if he was lucky, he might be selected in the 15th round of the '02 draft, which is to say he'd be handed a thousand bucks, a plane ticket and a recommendation letter that told everyone in baseball not to pay him any mind. A scout from one big-league team told Coach Mainieri that his team couldn't draft his star center fielder at all, for fear of embarrassment.

    But in June 2002, the Oakland A's shocked a lot of people, including Stanley, and took him as their second-round pick -- the 67th of 1,482 players drafted that year. The A's shocked him again by sending him, alone of the players drafted that June, straight to high-A ball, skipping the usual steps of rookie ball and low-A. When he arrived later that summer at the Oakland high-A affiliate in Modesto, Calif., Stanley discovered that his new team didn't own a uniform small enough to fit him, so he grabbed the bat boy's uniform and ran out into center field. That's when Oakland's general manager, Billy Beane, saw his new employee in the flesh for the first time, running out there in that uniform, and blurted out: ''God, he's a little runt! Take a deep breath and say, 'This can work.' '' The Modesto A's hitting coach, Brian McArn, recalls how Stanley showed up in Modesto with his college batting stance, his college shower shoes and his college spirit. ''He was physically running in and out of the batting cage during batting practice,'' McArn says. ''We all looked at him and thought: What is this guy doing? The first game he strikes out and he runs back to the dugout. We took him aside and told him: 'Look, we love your energy, but we play 140 games. You can walk. And when you strike out, don't run back to the dugout, because it looks like you're ashamed. Take a look at the pitcher. Give him a look.' ''

    Well, Stanley wasn't going to frighten anyone; and in any case, he knew only one way to play baseball, the way he had always played. He took the game his father taught him into pro ball and succeeded well enough to be promoted, in 2003, to the Double-A team in Midland, Tex., where he made the all-star team. Heading into spring training in 2004, Steve Stanley was named the starting center fielder in Triple-A Sacramento, one rung below the major leagues. ''That almost never happens,'' Keith Lieppman, who runs the Oakland farm system, says. ''That we get a guy who starts in high A, goes straight to Double-A and then to Triple-A without a pause. You just don't see it.''

    By last spring, Stanley was, for the first time in his career, being described in print as a ''prospect.'' His name appeared alongside hundreds of others in scouting handbooks; baseball people paid him a new, if reluctant, sort of attention. What they were saying about him, Stanley says, was that he was ''a good little player -- why do they always put it that way? A good little player.'' The noise buzzing in the back of his brain at the end of the preceding season in 2003 -- the noise that had led him to write a letter to the president -- was growing louder. Yes, he was a prospect, but the people closest to him -- his coaches, his teammates -- were letting him know that his little man's game had no place in the big leagues. In the big leagues, that ball two steps to the left of short wasn't a hit: the shortstop would be faster, his arm would be stronger. That line drive over the shortstop's head wouldn't fall for a hit, either. Outfielders, knowing Stanley could not even hit the ball to the wall, would cheat in, play him shallow, take that away from him too. When asked the same question -- whether Steve Stanley had a chance to play in the major leagues -- both Lieppman and Eric Kubota, the A's director of scouting, drew deep breaths and uttered exactly the same phrase: ''You don't see many guys who look like Stanley in the big leagues.''

    In the first inning of one of the first games in spring training last year, Stanley stepped into the batter's box and scratched the dirt with his back foot. The off-season had proved that no matter how much he ate, or how much iron he pumped, he would remain a small-boned, 5-foot-7, 155-pound ballplayer. He knew that the Oakland coaches were looking for the answer to a single question: had he become strong enough to hit the ball 300 feet? He looked around: the stands were empty, apart from the coaches, a few scouts and an elderly gentleman in a blue sun hat who appeared as comfortable in the Arizona desert as a penguin. This was John Stanley, Steve's grandfather, who had flown out for a week from the family seat in Columbus, Ohio. He knew what baseball people said about his grandson.

    he pitcher quickly got ahead. Stanley thought: Defend the plate. Just put the ball in play. The pitcher came with a fastball high in the strike zone but not so high Stanley felt happy to let it pass. He hit the ball on the fly to dead center field, the deepest part of the ballpark. The moment he saw its trajectory, he was sure he'd messed up. Sprinting toward first base he felt how he always felt when he hit a high fly ball: ''Like I did something wrong.'' Rounding first he glanced up and spotted the center fielder, staring. Then Stanley saw the ball, rocketing over the 410 marker and smashing into the top of the ''batter's eye,'' as the high, dark screen outside the ballpark is called. Allowed to fly freely, it would have landed about 450 feet from home plate.

    It was the first time in his life Stanley had hit a ball over a center-field wall. A year earlier when he hit a ball off the right-field wall in batting practice, the entire team cheered. In his official career -- which at that point consisted of 1,003 college plate appearances and 741 minor-league ones -- he'd hit just three home runs, all little flies that barely cleared short right-field fences. Now, in a game, he'd launched a fastball with a force impressive even for a big-league slugger. Apart from the players, and me, there were only about 20 eyewitnesses. But theirs were the right eyes. Their cheers took the form of an unsettling hush.

    ''Where did that come from?'' Kubota asked finally.

    Lieppman's jaw hung slack for a good 10 seconds. ''It's a mysterious game,'' he said.

    John Stanley rose from his seat and walked away from the ball field, chuckling. ''If there really was an argument about Stephen,'' he said later, ''I think it just ended.''

    To Stanley there was no mystery, no argument. It had required so many improbable events for him to get this far that he had come to accept the likelihood of the improbable. Even though he had written to the president to protest what had happened to the game he thought he knew how to play, he was now prepared to believe that he, too, might change: he might learn power. ''I believe that was supernatural,'' he told me later. ''The only way that happened was that God was there. Without getting too weird on you, I really believed God was making the little guy a testimony to his strength and power. That he intended for me to go out and hit 25 home runs.''

    Nature vs. Nurture, the Power Version

    One way to understand baseball's obsession with power -- the insistence that, to make it to the big leagues these days, a player needs at least some -- is as a reaction to baseball's own ignorance. Even the experts are astonishingly bad at guessing who will become a good major-league player and who will not. Eddie Epstein, a former front-office employee with the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres and a man with an analytical bent, recently illustrated the depth of the problem. Now a consultant to three major-league teams, Epstein was asked by one of them to analyze the success of past baseball drafts: how good have baseball scouts been at guessing which amateur players will make successful professional ones? Epstein took the first two rounds of the drafts from 1987 to 1998 and divided the picks into two groups: the supposedly ''can't miss'' players, taken with the first 20 picks and paid millions of dollars to sign professional contracts; and the ''shouldn't miss'' players, taken in the bottom of the first round and the top of the second round and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sign. Of the can't-miss prospects, less than half had meaningful major-league careers -- defined, modestly, by Epstein as having played regularly for three consecutive seasons -- and a quarter never appeared in a major-league game. Of the shouldn't-miss prospects, fully half never had an at-bat in the big leagues -just one in six had made it in the majors. One in six.

    But that's only the beginning of the uncertainty. The relatively new ability of big-league front offices to translate minor-league statistics into major-league equivalents has exposed another layer of confusion: a lot of players who make it to the major leagues are essentially interchangeable with those who don't. As Paul DePodesta, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, puts it: ''A very small percentage of the players in the big leagues actually are much better than everyone else, and deserve to be paid the millions. A slightly larger percentage of players are actually worse than players who are stuck in the minors, but those guys usually aren't the ones getting the big money. It's the vast middle where the bulk of the inefficiency lies -- the player who is a 'known' player due to his major-league service time making millions of dollars who can be replaced at little to no cost in terms of production with a player making close to the league minimum.'' Just beneath a thin tier of truly great big-league ballplayers is a roiling inferno of essentially arbitrary promotions and demotions, in which the outcomes are determined by politics, fashion, misunderstanding and luck. Put another way: the market for most baseball players is hugely speculative, more like the market for, say, new Internet stocks than the market for stocks in companies with healthy earnings. The investors don't know how to value the assets.

    Heading into the 2002 draft, the Oakland A's had seven selections of the shouldn't-miss variety and a financial problem. They couldn't afford to pay amateur players the going rate to sign professional contracts. At the same time, they were asking themselves a good, if convenient, question: if this market is so speculative that the odds of finding genuinely good big leaguers with the current system of thought is one in six, how risky was it to think about the problem some other way? ''How much more wrong can we be?'' asked the Oakland general manager, Billy Beane. Instead of judging players as they had always been judged, by their ''tools'' -- the strength of their arms, the speed of their feet, etc. -- they judged them by their accomplishments. The Oakland front office combed through the statistics of college players and asked what might indicate something about a player's ability to make it in pro ball.

    Getting on base a lot was the most valuable thing a hitter could do: a lineup of hitters with high on-base percentages and no power would score more runs than a lineup of hitters with high slugging percentages but low on-base numbers. (On-base percentage is between two and three times more valuable than slugging percentage, depending on whom you ask within baseball's statistical community.) If they could identify a knack for getting on base, the Oakland management figured, they were ahead of the game. Amateur hitters, they knew, fail to get on base as professionals because they lack a feel for the strike zone. Professional pitchers exploit this weakness more ruthlessly than college pitchers. Oakland's first hypothesis was that a college player who got himself on base at an extraordinarily high rate, and who drew many bases on balls, possessed a core competency: an ability to judge, and control, the strike zone. A keen eye, and the discipline to use it, reduced the risk that a hitter would fail completely as a pro.

    The Oakland hypothesis might prove to be right; it might prove to be wrong. It might give Oakland a better-than-average shot at finding big-league players, or it might not. ''We didn't know the answer,'' Beane says, ''but if we made selections with some sort of process, we had the chance of finding some common denominators for success.'' The players Oakland selected in 2002 were not, in every case, bizarre: several of them turned up on the list of prospects in the leading scouting journal, Baseball America. To them, Oakland paid market-rate signing bonuses. But a surprising number were outliers who, were it not for Oakland's quixotic way of looking at the game, wouldn't ever have been given a real shot in pro ball. To them Oakland paid, relatively, chicken feed.

    One sort of outlier encouraged by the Oakland experiment, at least at first, was the player, like Steve Stanley, who lacked power. There were two reasons the Oakland front office didn't worry too much about the ability of college players to hit home runs: the statistics suggested that a lot of good hitters acquired the ability to hit home runs in their early or even mid-20's; and if these players with their gift for getting on base continued to get on base, it didn't matter as much whether they hit home runs. A player like Stanley, if he just kept doing in pro ball what he had done in college ball, could become a valuable big leaguer. But what the Oakland front office did not anticipate was the pressure, even within its own farm system, on these oddly chosen players to conform to big-league norms. Their experiment had inadvertently dragged right into the center of the game a group of oddballs who had to decide what their response to the pressure would be. Stanley offered one kind of response -- a wildly improbable and charming faith that the Lord was going to turn him into a 25-homer-a-year slugger. But there were other responses.

    The On-Base Stud Trapped in a Home-Run Body

    When Oakland made him a first-round pick, Mark Teahen should have been as surprised as everyone else. Instead, he treated it as just another example of the odd ways people judged people. A few years before Oakland drafted him, his high-school classmates voted Teahen the shyest male in the school. If by ''shy'' you mean a bit slow to offer an opinion and gifted at shutting down a conversation, the label wasn't unfair. But Teahen was one of those people for whom silence is not reticence, or stupidity, or even being at a loss for something to say. It was caution. All that time Mark Teahen wasn't saying anything, he was busy wondering just how seriously to take what you had to say. His face was so open and friendly, his manner so pleasantly inoffensive, that when people met him they couldn't imagine him harboring critical thoughts. (After playing with Teahen, Nick Swisher, a fellow member of Oakland's 2002 draft class, declared, ''If you don't like T, you don't like people.'') He had a rare social gift, an ability to learn from other people's mistakes, rather than his own, without being obnoxious about it. From age 4 -- when he first went out into the backyard with his two brothers to hit a Wiffle ball -- he'd had a vision of himself playing in the big leagues, and he kept on the lookout for anything that might cloud it. ''It was weird, growing up in Yucaipa,'' east of Los Angeles, he says. ''You'd hear about this guy who was a can't-miss prospect. Then his career would end, and you'd hear, 'Oh, he got his girlfriend pregnant, and he had to come home.' '' Before his junior year in college, at St. Mary's in Moraga, Calif., expecting to be drafted, Teahen suspended a promising relationship with his college girlfriend. ''If I went in the eighth round and the money wasn't good,'' Teahen says, ''I didn't want the fact that I had a girlfriend at St. Mary's entering into the decision about whether to sign.''

    Teahen was another beneficiary of the Oakland experiment -- another player dismissed by scouts for his lack of power to whom the A's had given a better chance. The reason the scouting journal Baseball America listed him a lowly 134th on its 2002 list of the best college players was the same reason it ignored Steve Stanley: Teahen didn't hit home runs. Like Steve Stanley, he hit lefty. Like Stanley, he preferred pitches on the outside half of the plate, out of a hitter's natural power zone -- but in the place where he could hit the ball the other way and beat out base hits. And like Stanley, his chief contribution to a baseball offense was his ability to get on base. The difference was that, unlike Stanley, Teahen had no obvious alibi: he was a big kid who played a position, third base, expected to generate home runs. And yet here he was, hitting .412 his junior year with a mere six home runs. ''My college coach sat me down early in my junior season,'' Teahen says, ''and told me that if I wanted to get drafted high I had to hit more home runs. And, if I wanted to help the team, I had to quit taking all those walks.'' His coach, like everyone who tried to advise Mark Teahen, interpreted his silence as assent, which made it easier for Teahen to ignore him. (''When you talk to Mark,'' says a former college teammate, ''sometimes he is listening but a lot of times what you say is going in one ear and out the other, and you can't tell which it is.'') And ignoring his coach turned out to be the most lucrative decision Mark Teahen ever made, because those walks were exactly what the Oakland Athletics were looking for. But of course, he could have had no notion of that at the time. ''Every scout I talked to -- that was their one question to me -- 'Can you hit for power?' '' Teahen recalls. ''I said, 'Yeah, I could hit for power.' '' He laughs. ''I understood that it was a process, I guess.''

    But from the moment he turned pro, Teahen had one thing going for him that Stanley did not: the benefit of the doubt. He played like a small guy but he was a big guy -- and the apparent paradox wasn't hard to explain. From just under 6 feet and 175 pounds at the end of his senior year in high school he had grown to 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds at the end of his freshman year in college. This new physique came to him as a shock -- no one in his family was over 5-foot-11. ''No one could believe what had happened to him when he came back to Yucaipa,'' his high-school teammate, James Gaulke, recalls. ''There were literally people who didn't recognize him.'' His size tempted others to imagine how much different a player he might be than he was. When they saw him, baseball executives thought of big-league analogues: Jason Giambi, Todd Helton, Sean Burroughs. ''The first time I saw him,'' Allard Baird, a former scout and current general manager of the Kansas City Royals, says, ''he reminded me of the young Troy Glaus,'' the mammoth third baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks. ''If he ever pulled the ball,'' Keith Lieppman, the A's farm-system director, told Baseball America, ''the guy could be a monster.''

    To teach him how to pull the ball, the Oakland staff took Teahen into a room and showed him tapes of Jason Giambi. Giambi once had been just like him, they said: a third baseman who hit well but not powerfully. At the end of his first season, Oakland sent Teahen to a training center in Florida with instructions to gain 15 pounds and drop his body fat from 15 percent to 10 percent. He made a halfhearted stab at it -- and put on fat. (''I'm not sure how you do that, gain 15 pounds and lose all that body fat,'' he says. ''It'd be a lot easier if they didn't include the body-fat part of it.'') The extra weight made him feel clunky. And the attempt to pull the ball felt wrong. He dropped the weight, and kept on hitting the ball the other way. He didn't want to be Jason Giambi. He wanted to be Mark Teahen. And Mark Teahen, as a minor-league hitter, looked a lot like Steve Stanley. Twenty months younger than Stanley, but playing a level below him, Teahen had generated very similar batting totals over his two-year career in the minor leagues. Go to Chart

    Maybe Teahen was lucky he was so slow to let other people know his thoughts, as they would have known his great capacity to ignore what they were telling him to do. Maybe things were going to work out for him either way. At any rate, he opened the 2004 season in Double-A Midland, and went on a monthlong tear. Six weeks into the season he was leading the Texas League in hitting, with a .335 average. He had six home runs, nearly half as many as he had hit his whole life up to that point. Tellingly, all but two of them had been to left field: he still wasn't pulling the ball. He still wasn't hitting like a power hitter. It was then, during the first hot streak of Teahen's pro career, that a 90 m.p.h. fastball from Chicago White Sox pitcher Damaso Marte struck the right hand of Oakland's $66 million third baseman, Eric Chavez, and broke it.

    Oakland had no genuine third baseman on its Triple-A team. Up Mark Teahen shot to Triple-A, and not because the Oakland front office was happy to move him; they would have preferred to leave him in Double-A and see just how real his hot streak was. (''I hate this,'' Billy Beane said at the time. ''I'd rather leave him down on the salmon farm and fatten him up.'') But they weren't sure how long Eric Chavez would be out, and Oakland felt it had no choice but to prepare Teahen for the big leagues. To make room for Teahen's bat in the lineup, someone in Sacramento had to sit. The regular third baseman, Mike Edwards, was more naturally an outfielder -- and so back to the outfield he moved. As it happened, there was an open spot there, as one Sacramento outfielder, in his quest to hit with power, was not hitting at all: Stanley.

    Acquiring Power the George Brett Way

    That single 450-foot shot hit in early spring training had led Steve Stanley to convince himself he was capable of acquiring power. Only in retrospect did he grasp why he was so susceptible to the pressure to change. ''From Day 1, I've had people telling me I was too small,'' he says. ''And in the back of my mind, I always thought, They're probably right. It's amazing how people look at you and it does something to your psyche.'' From the moment he arrived in Sacramento, his coaches tried to enlarge his game. In batting practice they fed him inside pitches, and told him to focus on pulling the ball. In games, instead of looking for the pitch on the outside half of the plate that he could place in the hole between third and short, he'd wait for something on the inner half of the plate that he could drive. In batting practice the balls left the park. Before the first game of the season, his hitting coach bet him that he'd hit six home runs in the first nine games. Those words stuck in his mind.

    But then the games began, and the balls didn't fly as far. A lot of them didn't fly at all. After 25 games and 96 plate appearances in Triple-A, Stanley was hitting .250, with many fewer walks than usual, one double, no triples and no home runs; in 25 games he had hit just a single ball to the left side of the infield. In trying to hit with power he had pulled himself out of the game. His manager, Tony DeFrancesco, called him into his office and gave him the bad news. ''He told me, point blank, that nothing in my game translated to the major-league level,'' Stanley recalls. And then came the accident: Eric Chavez went down; Mark Teahen came up. To make room for Teahen, Stanley went to the bench -- and so far off any prospect list that no one would ever remember he'd been on one. ''His little window opened up for a few seconds,'' Keith Lieppman, director of the A's farm system, says. ''Then it closed.''

    As Stanley floundered about and wondered how his career had so suddenly gone poof, Mark McLemore arrived to tell him what a fool he'd been. McLemore was 39 years old, in the final season of an 19-year major-league career. Coming off a knee injury, he needed to face some live pitching in Triple-A before returning to play second base for the big league Oakland A's. McLemore's offensive value his entire career had been his ability to get on base -- in 18 previous big-league seasons he had hit just 51 home runs and had a career slugging percentage of .341, about the same as Stanley's. Before one game he stopped whatever he was doing and paid attention to Stanley's batting practice. When Stanley hit a hard ground ball to the right of the shortstop, the hitting coach shouted, ''Those little slap hits aren't going to work in the big leagues!'' When Stanley finished, McLemore pulled him aside. ''Don't you listen to a word that man says,'' he said. He pointed to the hole on the left side of the infield, between short and third, as if it contained the mother lode. ''See that hole over there -- there's $40 million in it. I know because I made it.''

    Six weeks was all it took. Two careers, which just a few months earlier had been on such similar paths, had forked, incredibly. Teahen played 20 games in Triple-A Sacramento and hit zero home runs. But by moving Teahen to Triple-A, Oakland added momentum to his narrative: Mark Teahen was a player on the move -- a player who looked like a big leaguer. People noticed. After a game in late June, three weeks after his promotion, Teahen walked into the clubhouse, past a sweatless Stanley. The television was tuned, as always, to ESPN. The announcer promoted a coming segment with ESPN's baseball reporter, Peter Gammons. Gammons had the scoop on which team was about to land Carlos Beltran; the sensational center fielder of the hopeless Kansas City Royals was assumed to be on the trading block. Teahen was interested, as a fan. Oh, I'll just sit here and watch that, he thought, putting off showering. Gammons came on and said that Beltran would be dealt to the Houston Astros in a three-team trade that included the Oakland A's. Kansas City's general manager, Allard Baird, was intent on getting a future big-league third baseman, and Oakland had the guy: Mark Teahen. ''Pretty cool,'' said Teahen. ''It's the first time my name's been mentioned on 'Baseball Tonight.' '' Then he promptly shut up.

    The next day it was official: Mark Teahen was sent to Kansas City, along with two other players, in the deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston. Of the three, Teahen was advertised as the prize. ''Without him'' Baird said, ''there wouldn't have been a deal.'' Why was Kansas City -- which had had no interest in drafting Mark Teahen just two years earlier -- so keen on him now? The short answer is that their general manager needed a young third baseman, and Teahen was the most likely candidate. The long answer is that Kansas City, haltingly, was buying into the new school of baseball analysis. Baird had, not long ago, hired a statistical analyst. (''I'd tell you who he is,'' he says, ''but he doesn't want me to reveal his identity.'') He still values the opinions of his traditional scouts, of course. But when asked if he would have even thought to pursue Mark Teahen, if he had not had someone analyzing Mark Teahen's minor-league statistics, he says: ''That's tough to answer. I will tell you this -- that the numbers heighten the awareness of a player. And our scouts all said that they didn't think he'd hit for enough power.''

    To cut through the tangle of opinion about Mark Teahen's ability, Baird had flown to Sacramento to watch Teahen play. ''He played a lot smaller than he was,'' Baird recalls. ''He was quick, agile and a very polished third baseman.'' He didn't hit with power, but that didn't matter so much. ''Good hitters develop power,'' Baird says. ''You look at those legs, and you can see that there is untapped power in them.'' The young man just needed to make a few adjustments. Change that weird swing of his -- that had him hitting everything to left field.

    Kansas City picked up where Oakland left off, trying to coax Mark Teahen into hitting with more power. Baird arranged for George Brett, the legendary Royals third baseman of the 1980's, to work with him. ''George was the perfect guy for Mark,'' Baird says, ''because if you look at George's early career he did the same things -- taking everything to the opposite field.'' Brett, a delightfully unpretentious Hall of Famer, spent two days explaining how, in effect, to hit like George Brett. How to get the bat around more quickly so that he could pull the inside pitch. Once again Teahen nodded, smiled and said nothing. For two days, with Brett looking on, Teahen went into the Triple-A batter's box and cantilevered backward, bat lowered and tucked tightly against his back shoulder. Just like George Brett! Then Brett left -- and Teahen went right back to hitting a baseball the way he always had. ''Two days!'' Brett said, six months later, not knowing whether to laugh or scream. ''That kid, he did what I showed him for two days. . . . Then the moment I left he went back to doing it his way.'' Brett stopped and thought about Mark Teahen's problem. ''It might help if he wasn't so quiet,'' he said. ''If he told you a little more what he was thinking.''

    The Abdication of Power

    God's plan for Steve Stanley turned out to be not as simple as he first presumed. ''I think we can look at what God does and take it to mean what we want it to mean,'' Stanley said last month -- just before he learned that he was going to start the season in Double-A, a rung below where he started out last year. ''When I hit that ball in spring training, I took it to mean that I was meant to hit home runs. God meant it differently.'' In the first six weeks of last season, Steve Stanley had gone from a prospect with true hope to a guy without any margin of error. All along, people had expected him to fail and, when he didn't, they pressed him to change the way he played, and when he did that and failed they said: ''Aha! See! He doesn't belong!'' His name appears on none of the recently released prospect lists. For instance, John Sickels, who publishes one of the more interesting of these, The Baseball Prospect Book, dropped Stanley from his 2005 guide to the top 900 minor-league players. ''He played O.K. in Double-A,'' Sickels says, ''but he moves to Triple-A and loses 70 points off his average. And his scouting reports have never been that good. And so I thought, He faced better pitching and he couldn't handle it.''

    Except the story didn't quite end there. Last July the A's shipped Stanley from Sacramento back to Midland, Tex., from Triple-A to Double-A. The demotion was embarrassing, but by the time it came he was grateful for it. (''They could have just let me rot in Sacramento.'') A piece of Scripture gave him strength: ''The fear of others lays a snare but one who trusts in the Lord is secure. Many seek the favor of a ruler but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.'' (Proverbs 29.)

    Stanley decided that, whatever else happened, he was no longer going to seek the favor of man -- which is another way of saying he wasn't going to take any more advice. He was going to play the game the way he best knew how. ''I might go down in flames,'' he told me, ''but they'll be my flames.'' Waiting for him in Midland was Brian McArn, who had coached Stanley on his rise and seen what he had done. McArn expected -- still expects -- Steve Stanley one day to play in the big leagues. He has faith -- and faith is something Stanley knows how to justify. Upon his arrival, Stanley announced that he was putting an end to a career as a power hitter and going back to playing the game the way he had always played it. ''I hope I never hit another home run in my career,'' he said. In the final six weeks of the season he came to the plate 148 times and finished with a .419 batting average and an astounding .480 on-base percentage. (The league average was .332) He led the entire league, for the time he was in it, in both categories. When he joined Midland, it was the only losing team in the A's farm system. Midland won seven straight after he arrived and finished with a winning record.

    Stanley wasn't invited to the A's big-league spring training camp this year. In mid-March he returned to minor-league camp, and from there was sent back down to the Double-A team in Texas. The scouts still point to his size and say, ''That'll never work.'' The numbers guys still point to his power numbers, and the damning evidence that he was ''exposed'' in Triple-A. But no one actually knows. They don't know exactly how important power is; and they certainly don't know that power is necessary. They're all just guessing. Guessing intelligently, in some cases, but still guessing. One day another accident may occur, and Steve Stanley may wind up in the big leagues. And when he does, he says, what he hopes people who saw him play will say is, ''That guy changes the way the game is played.''

    So Maybe Just Getting On Base a Lot Is O.K. After All

    It's a warm, sunny afternoon earlier this month in Southern California, the flags are flapping, the wind is blowing out. It's a good day to be a power hitter, but Mark Teahen, as he steps into the batter's box and draws a bead on the pitcher, still isn't one. He hasn't changed the shape of his game or his body. He's carrying the same 210 pounds he brought with him into pro ball. He's as stubborn as ever, and as quiet. Everything about him is recognizable but for his external circumstances. He's playing before a major-league crowd of 45,000, against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, and the pitcher is the all-star reliever Brendan Donnelly. In place of the $13,800 he expected to earn this season in Triple-A, Teahen is making $316,000. (''Am I $300,000 better than I was a month ago?'' he asks, with real wonder.)

    Last April he was a rung below Steve Stanley in the minor leagues, with all but the same batting statistics. Last June, when Kansas City traded for him, Teahen became, tacitly, a future big leaguer, but it still wasn't clear when the future would happen. This past January he was invited, for the first time, to big-league training camp, where there was just one other third baseman, a 31-year-old journeyman named Chris Truby. In mid-March, Truby broke his wrist. Rumors began to fly that Teahen, who had just turned 23, would open the season in the big leagues. (''I've done more interviews in the last two days than I've done the rest of my life,'' he said after Truby got hurt, faintly perplexed by the radical change in his circumstances.) But no one in management said anything directly to him; everyone just pretended that nothing important had happened. Then one day in the dugout, the Royals manager, Tony Pena, turned to him and asked. ''Do you think you're ready for the big leagues?''

    It was the first time Pena had tried to converse with Mark Teahen. ''Yes,'' Teahen said, without even pretending to think it over.

    An awkward pause followed. Teahen asked: ''Do you think I'm ready for the big leagues?''

    ''No,'' Pena said, and went back to watching the game.

    A long minute later he turned back to Teahen and asked, ''Really, do you think you are ready for the big leagues?''

    Two days later, Pena was quoted in the Kansas City press responding to a question about the new third baseman. ''This kid, everybody knows what we have in him,'' said Pena, making two points at once. ''This kid can play.''

    And then a funny thing happened. The moment Mark Teahen became the Kansas City Royals major-league third baseman -- poof -- the pressure to change vanished. He was in, and the forces that once worked against him now conspired to confirm the wisdom of the decision to let him in. He was in the big leagues because he belonged in the big leagues. The people around him forgot about his dearth of power -- and you couldn't help wondering, in the wake of the steroids scandal, if a weakening of the power obsession might not be a new trend. ''I do not want to see Teahen go out and try to hit home runs,'' Pena says. Instead, his coaches and manager observed his play and supplied the name of a big leaguer of yore who succeeded with much the same style. ''He just reminds me a little bit of Wade Boggs,'' Pena says. ''He stays inside the ball so well. When you're teaching young players, you are teaching them to deal with the outside pitch. He already deals with the outside pitch. He's very smart.'' Boggs seldom hit the ball out of the park, but he often hit the ball -- he had a gift for taking pitches on the outside part of the plate and flicking them into left field. The Boggs analogy will do nicely until the game figures out who Mark Teahen really is. But this might take a bit of time. ''He is real quiet,'' Pena says. ''Sometimes you have to be careful with quiet people because you do not know what they are thinking.''

    Come to think of it, it is surprising how little the people who evaluate baseball players know about them -- apart from the shapes and sizes and statistics. They seldom bother to explore their roots as players. Baseball players make their livings doing something they have done since they were small children; every player has a physical history, a source for the reflexes that get him through a game. Mark Teahen is no exception. This odd swing of his -- the reason he's a good hitter but not a power hitter -- has a rich provenance. There was nothing to do in Yucaipa except play baseball -- or, at any rate, nothing else he wanted to do. Every afternoon he and his two brothers would go out into the backyard for a game of Wiffle ball. Right field -- the natural power zone for a left hander like Teahen -- ended at the back of the house. If you hit the ball on the roof, it got stuck in the gutter, so the boys declared what would have normally been a home run an out. It was left field, a low brick wall, that tempted the hitter. Reach out over the plate and serve the ball into left field, and you had yourself a home run. Mark and his older brother Matt, both lefties, developed an extreme tendency to go the other way, to try to hit the ball over the left-field wall. Only his younger brother, Mick, the lone righty, learned to pull the ball and hit with power.

    In Anaheim that afternoon, Brendan Donnelly quickly got ahead of Teahen, 0-2, and then tried to put him away with a pitch on the outside corner. Teahen reached out -- and when he reached he traveled backward in time . . . he was reaching not for Brendan Donnelly's fastball, he was reaching for . . . a Wiffle ball and trying to flick it over the left-field wall. He was reaching out as a small, fast high-school middle infielder who was not designed to hit home runs . . . he was reaching the way a small boy who doesn't know he will grow into a big man reaches, just hoping to poke the ball into the hole between third and short and beat it out. He was reaching out the way he had always reached out. They had tried to stop him from reaching out. To teach him power. They had tried to sever his game from its roots. And he didn't let them. And that was why his bat made hard contact with Brendan Donnelly's sinking fastball. That's why he was here now. In the big leagues. Standing on first base. Safe.

    Michael Lewis, a contributing writer, is the author of ''Moneyball'' and the soon-to-be-published ''Coach,'' which expands on an article he wrote for the magazine last spring. He last wrote about Eli Manning, the rookie quarterback for the New York Giants.
    Current:Suzuki SV650, 2002
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  4. #4
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    holy crap thats a long post...got 1/3 of the way and decided to see it if ever ended lol

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