Sunday, July 09, 2006

Links of the Day for 7/10/06

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  • Halfway through the season, and we’re already running out of ways to describe Joe Mauer’s prowess. But even as we become (unfairly?) accustomed to Mauer’s dominance, there’s still little question that we’re seeing a performance that ranks with the all-time great seasons by a catcher. At the halfway mark, Mauer is on pace for the best batting average by a catcher in major league history; is threatening the all-time on-base mark set by Mickey Cochrane in 1933; and is even on pace to shatter Mike Piazza’s record of 201 hits in a season. And even with all that, there still seem to be Twins fans who would like to see Mauer moved to another position on the flimsy notion that it would extend his career. What that idea misses, of course, is that Mauer is also one of the outstanding defensive catchers of his generation, and he handles his pitching staff as well as any catcher currently in the majors. Even if he never again approaches the offensive level he has achieved in the first half of 2006, his value behind the plate should continue to thrill Twins fans for years to come.

  • Speaking of people named Mauer, those with a sentimental bent will doubtless enjoy this online package put together by the Strib…

  • How good has Francisco Liriano been since joining the starting rotation? So good that people in New York have actually heard of him, and are writing articles about him without even once speculating as to whether he will wind up playing for the Yankees or the Red Sox three years down the line. Since there is considerable evidence to suggest that people in New York are actually unaware that the western border of the U.S. is not on the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line, this is a remarkable measure of Liriano’s accomplishments.

  • One of the more under-covered aspects of the Twins’ new ballpark story has been the role of the “ballpark authority” which will oversee the planning and development of the park, and which will eventually be in charge of the venue. Late last week, Minnesota State Auditor Pat Awada made a surprising announcement that she would (unilaterally, as far as anyone can tell) assume an oversight role with the authority, acting as a “watchdog” for taxpayers.

    Depending on whom you ask, Awada’s insertion of herself into the process was either a stunning overreach by an ambitious politician running for reelection, or a much needed reminder to the Twins that the state intends to insure that its investment is protected. Of course, there’s no state money in the project, so Awada would likely be treading on shaky legal ground if she attempted to intervene in any significant way.

    The upshot of those legal questions is hard to assess: if the cynics are right, Awada has no real intention of making herself a part of the ballpark effort and is merely hoping to garner a few votes from the Taxpayers’ League crowd; but if she really does start making noise over specific aspects of the design and construction of the park, more than a few sparks could fly. Stay tuned...

  • Over at the PiPress, Gordon Wittenmeyer (who, for Intern Sam’s money, has established himself as the best baseball writer in the Twin Cities,) is writing what looks like an excellent series examining the precipitous decline in the number of African-American baseball players. Among the highlights of Sunday’s opening salvo, which follows Torii Hunter’s efforts to spark an inner-city baseball revival, is the controversial assertion that Americans simply don’t have the interest in racial equality that we once did:

    "Through the civil rights movement, I think a lot of critics of American race relations have seen the black experience in that same trajectory,'' [Douglas] Hartmann said. "You have this high point in the '50s and '60s where Americans as a nation realized the faults of slavery and Jim Crow and stood up against that and started creating policies to sort of reverse those trends. The effects are you start to see improvements in employment and income and education status.

    "And starting sometime in the '80s, as people are willing to spend less money on those specific programs, you start to see gains African-Americans have made at least stagnate if not decline.''

    What did Major League Baseball do at this time? Nothing, really. Which might be part of the issue.

  • On a less serious note, LaVelle E. Neal III is getting a wee bit tired of the All-Star Game and all its attendant silliness.

  • In minor league news, the whole bobblehead thing is officially out of control. Way, way, way out of control.


TheBentKangaroo said...

I love it.

We'll probably draw two kinds of people for the game: the Moses fans and the bobblehead collectors,"

Well, actually, never been a big fan of Moses. Did some good work, but kind of arrogant; ya know, not very friendly with the media. Now, let me tell you, I'm all for the David bobbleheads. David's one of them scrappy, give-it-his-all out there kind of guys. The one you can really count on in a pinch. And he especially comes up big against the Giants.

AdamOnFirst said...

I want to know what Wittenmeyer suggests should have been done and should be done about diversity in teh sport. It isn't like baseball ever activly tried to make sure that it had enough black players, and it stopped. Maybe it is just a rondom occurance. Maybe more black people are playing other sports. Maye it is because there is a continuously skyrocketing number of latin, japeneese, and other foreign players taking up all the spots (a type of diversity I'm sure Wittenmeyer failede to mention). Whatever it is, I don't think it is the fault of anything specifically, nor is lack of diversity in baseball a concern or even a truth.

John Sharkey said...

Just to point this out to everyone: check out the bottom middle story up right now at

Intern Sam said...

I think Wittenmeyer's (and, by extension, Hunter's) whole point, Adam, is that the conventional wisdom that says that the decline in African-American participation is "just one of those things" is a fallacy, crafted to insure that no one feels guilty about it. Furthermore, I don't know anyone who's suggesting that baseball suffers from a lack of overall diversity, what with the surge in Latino participation and the addition of multiple major leaguers from Japan, Korea, and Australia.

But I do think there's something to the notion that American blacks stopped playing baseball beginning around the same time that their overall economic and social position in the country stopped advancing and began a slow, steady decline. (And before anyone says it, no, that doesn't mean I'm blaming Reagan, or any Republican for the problem.) There was a seismic shift in white America's perception of the civil rights movement and the resulting affirmative action programs somewhere in the 1980s, and since then, America's racial/economic gulf has widened considerably. Meanwhile, baseball continued to be a sport that requires a complicated field and lots of equipment to play, especially when compared with basketball, even as the number of urban diamonds in heavily black areas was shrinking.

I don't think that politics and racial strife is the only thing driving the decline. But I do believe it's probably a factor, and I know for a fact that to suggest that there isn't a decline is just demonstrably incorrect.

Jack Ungerleider said...

One comment on the Mauer as catcher/3rd Baseman/Outfielder/DH discussions. One of the people mentioned in the story about what kind of year Mauer is having is Mike Piazza. When the Mets moved Piazza to first for a while it was a bit of a disaster if I remember correctly. Some of the comments that Redmond made in the article bare listenting to. (Don't have it up for direct quoting so this is from memory.) Basically he said that when you catch you don't think about hitting except when you're in the batter's box. Basically other than your at-bat your focus is on the the defensive side of the ball. So if you take a good hitting catcher and move him to a different position to protect him physically you may screw up the mental aspects of the game that make him a good, or in Mauer's case great, hitter. The result being an out of place fielder who is now hitting worse than before.

Anonymous said...

Possibly speaking out of turn on this one, but the lack of Afr-Am's in MLB could have more to do with the growing population of Latin-Americans within the US borders and less with animosity over a game that, for all intents and purposes, isn't as "exciting" or "over the top" as basketball or football.
I see no problem with creating programs to help St Paul Central's baseball program, or North Minneapolis utilizing brand new fields..but the reality, I think, is more about the instant gratification of football and basketball and less about team efforts. Basketball is seen as a way to achieve endorsements from anyone, especially being a top draft pick out of high school. Football is the great American Passion; and if anyone has Sunday Ticket, you know what sort of antics can make a T.O. or Ricky Williams into household names.
A sidenote here: Where's Zolio from? Tony O? Rod Carew? How many Twins players from the early days to the mid 70s were from Latin-American countries?