June 18, 2018

Bill James: Popular Crime: Reflections On The Celebration Of Violence (2011)

In September 2017, I posted about a forthcoming book from Bill James. The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery was researched and written by James and his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James.

Before I write about that book, however, I want to share some bits from James's previous crime book, Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence (2011). James writes and offers a wide array of opinions on dozens of cases in that book, as well as commenting on many true crime books. However, the snips below are more general.

Although this is not a book review, I trust you can tell - from the fact that I am posting several excerpts from this book and my oft-stated respect for James and his research and writings on baseball - that I absolutely recommend this book. One thing you can always count on from Bill James: He is never dull and he will make you think.
The modern American phenomenon of popular crime stories is in absolutely no way new, modern, or American. That it is truly a universal phenomenon throughout human history perhaps should not be asserted without a more complete survey, but I know of no society which did not have sensational crimes and huge public interest in them, except perhaps societies which were so repressive that the government was able to quash them. ...

We are, not as a nation but as human beings, fascinated by crime stories, even obsessed with them. The Bible is full of them. On your television at this moment there are four channels covering true crime stories, and five more doing detective fiction. And yet, on a certain level, we are profoundly ashamed of this fascination. If you go into a good used book store and ask if they have a section of crime books, you will get pile of two reactions. One is, the clerk will look at you as if you had asked whether they had any really good pornography. The other is, they will tell you that the crime books are down the aisle on your left, in the alcove beside the detective stories. Right next to the pornography.

The internet service that I use headlines news stories with links to them. A huge percentage of these are crime stories—yet in the chart attached, where their news summaries are sorted into categories, there is no category for crime. Maybe a third of their top news stories are crime stories; you would think that would rate one category among their 25. Apparently not. ...

If you go to a party attended by the best people—academics and lawyers, journalists and school bus drivers, those kinds of people . . . if you go to a party populated by the NPR crowd and you start talking about JonBenet Ramsey, people will look at you as if you had forgotten your pants. If you are a writer and you try to talk your editor into working on a book about famous crimes, he or she will instantly begin hedging you toward something more ... something more decent. Maybe if you included a chapter on Watergate, it would be alright. If you write anything about JonBenet, you need to say how unimportant that really was, compared to the attention it drew; that's really the only appropriate thing to be said about that case.

If you try to talk to American intellectuals and opinion-makers about the phenomenon of famous crimes, they immediately throw up a shield: I will not talk about this. I am a serious and intelligent person. I am interested in politics and the environment. I do not talk about Natalee Holloway. It is as if they were afraid of being dirtied by the subject.

Of course, no one has a social responsibility to be interested in Rabbi Neulander; that's not what I am saying. What I am saying is that given the magnitude of this subject, given the extent to which it occupies the attention of the nation, there are a series of obvious questions which one might guess would be matters of public discussion, but which are not discussed anywhere because the kind of people who participate in the national conversation are terrified of being thrown out of the boat if they confess to an interest in such vulgar matters. Why do some crime stories become famous? Why does the Scott Peterson case become a national circus, while a thousand similar cases attract nothing beyond local notice? Why are people interested in crime stories? Is this a destructive phenomenon, as so many people assume it to be, or is there a valid social purpose being served? Who benefits from this? Who suffers from it? Who makes the critical decisions that cause crime stories to explode or fizzle? Are these stories actually significant to the nation, or are they truly as petty and irrelevant as intellectuals tend to assume they are?

Beyond this roomful of questions there is another room where the questions are yet more important. Does our criminal justice system work well? How could it work better? When it fails, why does it fail? How could this failure have been avoided? Do the rules make sense? What does it take to earn a conviction? What should it take? ...

Of course there is a national discussion about those types of issues—among the lawyers. When the rest of us try to comment, we are reminded firmly that we are not lawyers and therefore don't know what we're talking about. No one writes about these issues. ...

It is my belief that the lay public—non-lawyers—should participate actively in the discussion of crime and justice. It is my notion that popular crime stories could be and should be a passageway that the lay public uses to enter into that discussion. ...

This book is about three things. First, it is about famous crimes, and in particular about famous crimes which have happened in the United States since about 1880. Second, it is about crime, in a general way, about the kinds of issues I have tried to introduce here.

And third, it is about crime books. I am not a lawyer or an academic, nor even a cop or a court groupie. My understanding of these issues is based on what I have read, which includes a thousand or more crime books. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no book about crime books.
I argued before that popular crime stories are much more important in re-shaping our culture than we are generally willing to see. I don't mean to overstate the importance of the Mary Rogers story, and I'm not expert enough in all of these areas to be certain that I am not over-stating it, but ... if you read a history of metropolitan police departments, I am certain that it will reference the significance of the Mary Rogers case in leading to the re-organization of the New York police department in 1845. If you read the early history of abortion law, I am confident that it will reference the Mary Rogers story. If you study the history of the detective story, I feel sure that you will find that the Mary Rogers stories were critical to that genre's breaking out of its narrow early trench, and becoming a part of the culture. If you know anything about the history of journalism, you certainly know that the newspaper business rode on the backs of crime stories for a hundred years, the Mary Rogers case being one of the sturdiest carriers. But if you read a history of America in the 1840s, it is likely that not a word will be said about Mary Rogers.
America between 1890 and 1915 was driving toward revolution, or toward a second civil war. I always find it amazing how little people understand this, and how little they know about it. It seems to me that, since we didn't actually arrive at the revolution, people dismiss the whole concept that this could have happened. One might expect historians to disagree about how close we were to revolution or civil war, but it doesn't seem to me that they do ... We weren't at the brink of civil war in 1914, as Kentucky was in 1900, but we were headed in that direction. ...

I am trying to write here about the serious consequences of the trivial events, the tabloid stories. Tabloid stories have been around at least since 1700 and are omnipresent around us today, but in some sense they reached their apogee in the 1920s, culminating, of course, in the Lindbergh case in the early 1930s. It was the golden age of something horrible. All of the big cities in 1920 had multiple daily newspapers. These newspapers competed with one another to nakedly exploit horrific human tragedies for their own profit.

The great crime stories of the 1910-1920 era were vitally connected to the struggle for the nation's soul. They had to do—almost all of them—with rich against poor, with labor against capital, with radicals against the establishment, with the South against the North, with the pacifists against the militants at the time of the Great War, with immigrants against natives. By 1922, somehow, most of that had simply vanished, at least from the crime stories. Looking back on it from 90 years later it seems almost like a miracle, as if all of these rifts were somehow suddenly healed by the nation's prosperity. Things somehow jumped into packages. Labor split off from radicalism; fiery labor agitators were replaced by tough labor union professionals. Crime became organized and professional and horribly lethal, while "journalism" learned to package and market cheap, tawdry stories of cheating wives and spoiled rich kids who murdered for fun. ... I wish I could tell you what happened to America in 1921, but the truth is that I do not understand it, and I haven't seen the evidence that anyone does.
In 1980, after discovering the bodies of 21 murdered children, the Atlanta police said they were not certain that they had a serial murderer on their hands.

This is a constant theme. If you checked out 50 serial murderer cases before 1980, I would bet that in 45 of them, the police would be quoted in the newspapers insisting that the crimes were not linked, even as the newspapers suggested that they were.

The capacity of mankind to misunderstand the world is without limit. The external world is billions of times more complicated than the human mind. We are desperate to understand the world; we struggle from the moment of birth to understand the world—but it is beyond our capacity. We thus sign on to simplifications of the world that give us the illusion of understanding. Experts are not less inclined to sign on to these simplistic explanations than outsiders; they are more inclined to sign on to them. They have more need of them.
I couldn't actually read In Broad Daylight [by Harry MacLean (HarperCollins, 1984)]; it gave me nightmares. In all my years of reading grisly murder stories in the moments before drifting off to sleep, there are only two books that have ever given me nightmares: that one, and The Shoemaker (Simon & Schuster, 1983) [by Flora Rheta Schreiber].
One of the books that I thought I might write, at one time, was a book entitled How Serial Murderers Are Caught. We are all interested in how to catch serial murderers, how to catch them quicker. Might it be that one way to learn something about that subject would be to study how previous serial murderers have, in fact, been caught? Why not do a systematic review of the subject? Find as many details as I could about the capture of, let's say, 300 serial murderers, then try to organize that information. What happened, to bring them to the light? And also, knowing what we know about the murderer now, after he has been caught, how could he have been caught earlier? If we had tried this, would it have worked?
My greatest fear, in writing this book, is that I will be unable to convince you that John and Patsy Ramsey had nothing to do with the death of their daughter. The Ramseys, having suffered a horrendous loss, then became the victims of a fantastically botched investigation which spent several years pointing fingers at them, and of public scorn, condemnation and ridicule stemming from that. I feel a responsibility to do what I can to clear their names, and I fear that I will be unequal to the challenge. I will do my best.
On April 10, 1836, a New York City woman working under the name of Helen Jewett was murdered in her brothel. A 19-year-old man named Richard Robinson was arrested and charged with the crime, and was tried but acquitted.

The murder of Helen Jewett occurred at the birth of the modern newspaper industry—a moment very like 1990, the birth of the internet. For a few years newspapers sprouted like dandelions. In a climate of many competing newspapers with small audiences and extraordinarily lax editorial practices, the story of the murder of Helen Jewett emerged as one of the most famous crimes in American history. Patricia Cline Cohen wrote a 1998 book about this case, The Murder of Helen Jewett, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Helen Jewett was a prostitute, yes, but in saying this I am as much misinforming you as the opposite. She was a prostitute, but Robinson and Jewett had an intense, passionate relationship which had been going on for a year before her murder. They wrote one another love letters, dozens or probably hundreds of them. They bought one another gifts; they went to the theater together. They teased one another and fought petty battles that seemed to both of them larger than life. They shared secrets. They carried small, hand-drawn pictures of one another. She sewed on his buttons, and mended his shirts. When Robinson had dalliances with other women, she was furious with him, and he had to work his way back into her good graces.

She was, then, more of a surrogate wife or a surrogate girlfriend than she was simply a sex worker, as we think of a prostitute in the 21st century. What is unclear, even having read the book, is to what extent this was unusual in 19th century New York. ...

Ms. Cohen's research is quite remarkable, and the story she tells is twice that remarkable, at least. Helen Jewett's name at the time of her birth was Dorcas Doyen. For several years as a young girl Dorcas worked as a live-in domestic servant with the family of Judge Nathan Weston, in Maine. It's a distinguished family; Judge Weston's grandson became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In the 1820s there was a woman named Mrs. Anne Royall, who travelled around the United States visiting towns and staying with people and recording her experiences in self-published travelogues that were often petty and vindictive. Ms. Royall visited the Weston house, met Dorcas Doyen briefly, was very much charmed by her, and wrote a couple of very flattering paragraphs about her in one of her nasty little books. No one at the time made any connection between this unnamed servant girl and the woman who, nine years later, became the infamous Helen Jewett, but Ms. Cohen nonetheless finds the passage and uses it effectively to help re-construct Ms. Jewett's early life.

That's remarkable research. There are many such discoveries in her book. Nathaniel Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College at the same time as a nephew or cousin or something of Judge Weston, and visited this same small town in Maine for several weeks one summer when he was in college, flirting with a servant girl who worked in his friend's house. Hawthorne wrote about this, and wrote about the family and the little town in letters or journals that still survive, and Ms. Cohen finds these and uses them to re-construct the time and place. The wallpaper in one room of another cousin's house still survives, in an off-the-beaten-track museum somewhere, and Ms. Cohen finds this wallpaper and writes about it. Ms. Jewett, as a prostitute, had several other small run-ins with the police, and was on one occasion profiled in a newspaper by a sympathetic reporter (who was also a client), and Ms. Cohen has found this profile and used it to help re-construct her life—as well as the court records of all of these other little dustups.

She finds letters from one family member to another, discussing social events at which Dorcas Doyen would have worked, and, as Doyen/Jewett was an avid reader and a great lover of books, she finds advertisements in small-town newspapers for books that Doyen might have read and probably read, and she finds articles that appeared in local newspapers that describe events or stories that Doyen would have known about or participated in. She finds descriptions of people that Doyen would have known. She finds court records and census records that make passing reference to Doyen's grandfather or her great-grandmother or her next-door neighbor's dog. She finds the addresses at which Jewett lived in New York, and she finds out who was living next-door and what they did for a living, and who lived in all the houses up and down the street and what the nearby businesses were.

It would be ungracious of me not to mention that, having read countless crime books, I have never before encountered anything remotely like this level of research. By "research" I do not mean hitting Google and Wikipedia. I mean living for weeks in old libraries and dusty courthouses, trying to recognize a name in a stack of 200-year-old property transaction records, and then moving on to the next old library, the next old courthouse or the next university archive or the next small-town museum or the next stack of census reports. I'm a pretty good researcher; I couldn't begin to do this.

It would also be gutless of me not to call this what it is. It's academic showboating. In 1804 Jacob Doyen, who was Helen Jewett's grandfather, filed a small-claims court action in Hallowell, Maine, against a man named Stephen Smith, having to do with a $12 debt, and then failed to appear in court when the case was heard. Ms. Cohen finds the record of this action and infers actively from it, but it doesn't actually have a damned thing to do with the story of Helen Jewett; it's just showing off Ms. Cohen's research skills. As much as we might admire her research, it does become tiresome. ...

[Helen Jewett's] letters go on for pages. Her punctuation is at times a little non-standard, but the message is always crystal clear. These are the words of a destitute shoemaker's daughter, dropped off at age twelve to grow up as a domestic servant to a wealthy family, and given a few months of schooling by her generous masters. I venture to say that, if you took the letters of a murdered 21st century prostitute, you would not be likely to find such eloquence.

In fact, there is a great deal in this story that calls into question the notion of progress. The life of Helen Jewett, apart from its terrible finish at the business end of a small hatchet, seems infinitely better than the life of a modern prostitute, as best I understand that from the images on my television. She did not service a hundred clients a week; more likely five to fifteen. She lived in a large house with beautiful furniture, where sumptuous meals were served as an inducement to the clientele. Paintings hung on the walls that today hang in museums and are well known to art historians. She drank champagne, and she spent her days reading novels and writing letters and making a daily promenade to the post office. She wore beautiful dresses. She went to the theater several times a week. Some of the theaters had special seating areas for the prostitutes. They valued their patronage, because the presence of the glamorous ladies drew out-of-town businessmen into the theater.
After the [hard cover edition of this] book came out I heard from a number of people who asked me, "Why didn't you include a list of the 100 best crime books?" to which I replied, of course, "Why don't you mind your own damned business?" But after I heard this suggestion a couple of dozen times I eventually had to concede that maybe I should have done that, so here it is. ...

This is not a list of the 100 Greatest Crime Books; it's just a list of 100 Good Crime Books that I will recommend to you, and then we will assume that there are 1,000 more that I don't know anything about. ...

One thing that you probably do know, if you read crime books, is that most books about crimes are terrible. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the people in what is now "my" area, but ... a lot of books about crimes are just God Awful. None of the books that I will list here are bad; they're all pretty good. I'm going to give them "stars," but I wanted to warn you that I'm grading here on a very, very tough scale; even the one-star books on this list are actually good books. I am recommending all of these books; I am just recommending some of them more highly than others.
Only nine of the 100 books on James's list received 4 or 5 stars:

5 stars
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1965
Final Verdict, Adela Rogers St. Johns, 1962

4 stars
Last Rampage, James W Clarke, 1990
Thunderstruck, Erik Larson, 2007
The Rose Man of Sing Sing, James McGrath Morris, 2003
Blind Eye, James B. Stewart, 1999
Twelve Caesars, Suetonius, written about 115 AD
The Onion Field, Joseph Wambaugh, 1973
The Newgate Calendar, original author unknown

James, on The Newgate Calendar:
[It] was published repeatedly (in various forms) through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and was one of the most widely read books in the English language for about 200 years, perhaps second only to the Bible, or third behind Pilgrim's Progress. Newgate was a large prison in London, where criminals were executed. The Newgate Calendar was a collection of short accounts of the lives of famous and terrible criminals. The book was used for generations to teach children about the wages of sin, although it has what we might consider an ambiguous moral tone. Though certainly not reliable, the book is easy to peruse online, and is well worth the investment of a little bit of your time.

Home Plate Umpire Stu Scheurwater Does His Job, Follows Rule Book

Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs, June 13, 2018:
I'd like to take this moment to applaud [umpire Stu] Scheurwater's performance. One call in particular has placed him on my good side. Scheurwater didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do. He simply followed the rule book, which is much of an umpire's job. ...

In Tuesday's top of the sixth, the Mets were losing. ... [T]he score was just 1-0, and there was a runner on first. [Brandon] Nimmo was working with a 2-and-1 count, and then Jesse Biddle threw an inside breaking ball. The ball hit Nimmo on the elbow, and he started running to first. He didn't get very far.

Scheurwater called Nimmo back. Instead of awarding the hit-by-pitch, Scheurwater said the count was 3-and-1. That happened because, according to his judgment, Nimmo didn't try to avoid the pitch. In fact, he stuck his elbow out in the way. Nimmo, in other words, appeared to attempt to get hit on purpose, and that's not allowed. ...

Allow me to share with you the letter of the law:
The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:
[...]
He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;
That's official rule 5.05(b)(2). ... This isn't some obscure rule buried deep in the text where no one is ever looking; this is one of those things that almost everyone knows. ... Every professional player is familiar with the rule. The issue, though, as you know, is that the rule is seldom ever enforced. ...

Scheurwater isn't a hero, but he's an umpire who deserves his time in the spotlight. He's an umpire who saw a hitter try to get hit, and he called the hitter on it immediately. That's how it's supposed to be done ...

June 17, 2018

G73: Red Sox 9, Mariners 3

Red Sox  - 005 000 310 - 9 13  1
Mariners - 000 110 010 - 3  8  0
I'm sorry I missed this one, especially since the Red Sox scored five runs in the third after Mike Leake (6-8-5-1-1, 99) retired the first two batters:
Jackie Bradley flied out to center.
Mookie Betts (bcfb) grounded out to third.
Andrew Benintendi (bf) singled to center.
Xander Bogaerts singled to right, Benintendi to second.
J.D. Martinez (sbcbbfff) walked, Benintendi to third, Bogaerts to second.
Mitch Moreland singled to center, Benintendi and Bogaerts scored, Martinez to third.
Rafael Devers (bff) homered, Martinez, Moreland, and Devers scored.
Brock Holt (cfb) singled to left.
Christian Vazquez (cbffb) grounded out to third.
In the seventh, Bradley homered on Chasen Bradford's first pitch. After Benintendi singled with one out and stole second, Bogaerts homered to left-center.

Vazquez doubled in the eighth. Bradley and Betts walked and Boston had the bases loaded again. But they got only one run, on Benintendi's sac fly.

Eduardo Rodriguez: 6-6-2-1-9, 113. ... Betts was the only Red Sox starter to not get a hit. ... The Red Sox are off on Monday and play the Twins in Minnesota on Tuesday.

The Rays beat the Yankees 3-1, so Boston is back in a tie for first.
Eduardo Rodriguez / Mike Leake
Betts, RF
Benintendi, LF
Bogaerts, SS
Martinez, DH
Moreland, 1B
Devers, 3B
Holt, 2B
Vazquez, C
Bradley, CF
World Cup: "Colombian Heavy Metal "¡GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!" Clocks In At 37 Seconds" (When the announcer's accomplishment outshines the play on the field.) ... I have watched this at least 15 times. How is that possible?

Recycling At The New York Post

June 16, 2018

G72: Mariners 1, Red Sox 0

Red Sox  - 000 000 000 - 0  2  1
Mariners - 001 000 00x - 1  6  0
Mookie Betts began the game with a single. Then Seattle's Wade LeBlanc (7.2-2-0-0-9, 98) retired 22 straight batters.

The Red Sox's next baserunner came with two outs in the eighth, when Eduardo Nunez singled to right. The Mariners' bullpen retired the next four Boston batters, with Edwin Diaz eliminating all hope of a last-minute comeback by striking out the side in the ninth.

Steven Wright was sterling once again (7-5-1-2-4, 106), but ended the night on the short end of Saturday night's duel. Dee Gordon singled with one out in the third. Wright recorded the second out, but gave up singles to Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz. That run ended his scoreless innings streak at 25.1 innings.

The Red Sox sent 28 batters to the plate, only one over the minimum. ... Rafael Devers was charged with his 14th error of the season. ... Time of game: 2:22.

The Red Sox - still with a MLB-best 48 wins - are now 1 GB the Yankees.
Steven Wright / Wade LeBlanc
Betts, RF
Benintendi, LF
Martinez, DH
Devers, 3B
Bogaerts, SS
Nunez, 2B
Swihart, 1B
Vazquez, C
Bradley, CF
Wright has a consecutive scoreless streak of 22.2 innings, the longest active streak in either league. He has not allowed a run since May 18. He has made six appearances since then, including two starts. He has allowed 10 hits (8 singles and 2 doubles) and 11 walks, while striking out 19.

Earlier Today: Yankees 4, Rays 1.

Has Everything Reasonable Already Been Written About Baseball?

Has everything possible been written about baseball? Are there no new storylines or historical perspectives or stat-related tangents to explore? I ask because there have been an increasing number of columnists suggesting radical ways to speed games up, attract the attention of younger people, and make the game more like whatever the person writing wants it to be.

Buster Olney (ESPN) recently outlined his idea for a "new MLB rule -- four pitchers per nine innings, max".
Major league baseball desperately needs to get off the growing front-office addiction to relief pitchers, which is helping to destroy important components of the game.

Among those: the essential pre-eminence of starting pitchers ... the scoring of runs by means other than a home run; and batters making contact and putting the ball in play.

None of this is meant to challenge the analytical wisdom behind the parade of relievers overrunning the sport. It's been demonstrated beyond any doubt that there are statistical advantages in the growing number of reliever/batter matchups and in the strategy of yanking the starting pitcher before he's exposed to the opposing lineup a third time. Smart people are making smart decisions to create effective seven- and eight-man bullpens.
Oh, boy. Olney admits that going to the bullpen earlier in games and optimizing reliever/batter match-ups results in advantages that lead to winning. That is true "beyond any doubt". So the "front-office addiction" he bemoans is actually an addiction to winning. Olney's argument is that teams with a strong desire to win are destroying the game. Well, that's certainly an interesting stance to take ...
But this trend is affecting the game in ways that will never attract the young fans baseball wants and could also alienate longtime fans. ...

The number of strikeouts has skyrocketed, and batting average and pace of action are both way down as more and more pitchers are used. Researcher Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information dug out these numbers:

Pitchers per game (per team) past 10 seasons
2018: 4.25 ...
2009: 3.93

Number of pitchers per game (per team)
2018: 4.25 ...
1998: 3.46 ...
1958: 2.44 ...
1928: 1.83 ...
1908: 1.40 ...

The starting pitcher used to be The Man. But more and more, the starting pitcher is a guy. Among many guys. Just a decade ago, 36 pitchers threw 200 or more innings. Last year, there were 15.
This graphic was posted by ESPN last June:


The starting pitcher has not truly been "The Man" in more than a century. A 10-year-old boy who remembers starting pitchers finishing even half of their starts would be roughly 110 years old now. Olney is pining for a game of which no one alive has any recollection.
If managers could use only four pitchers in a nine-inning game, they would need more from their starters. ... A limit of four pitchers per nine innings would also really help the hitters, who really need help these days. ...

Presumably, with fewer pitchers available for each outing, the average velocity would decline, which might especially help hitters on the down slope of their careers. ...

If the long procession of relievers is a good thing for the game, why isn't anyone begging to open up the rosters to 50 and a couple of dozen pitchers?
Come on, Buster. If rosters were to be expanded - has this been suggested by more than one GM in the last 10 years? Not that I can recall - the next logical step from 25 is all the way to 50? Really?!?

(I note Olney says nothing about the increased injury risk if teams suddenly "need more" from each starting pitcher. It's hard to be "The Man" when your career is cut short by injuries.)

The bedrock rules of the game must be changed because hitters "need help"? It was not that long ago that everyone and his grandmother was wringing their hands about a "dilution" in pitching talent. And somehow, not even one generation later, we now have a dilution in hitting talent. That is not possible.

When there was an alleged lack of talented pitchers, hitters were on steroids and umpires refused to call anything in the upper half of the strike zone a strike. Pitchers were forced to put the ball in a square the size of a postcard and, as you can imagine (and probably remember), they frequently missed their target and hitters smacked the shit out of the ball.

And at the same time otherwise intelligent people with an awareness of the game's history put forth suggestions like imposing a limit on pitchers per game, reducing walks to three balls and strikeouts to two strikes, shortening games to seven innings, banning shifts, or beginning extra innings with a man on second base, MLB steadfastly ignores a reasonable rule that ALREADY EXISTS that would increase the pace of play (the 12-second rule). That's the real insanity.
Peter Gammons, The Athletic, June 15, 2018:
Strikeout rates in the last decade have risen from 18 percent to 22.4 percent, which means that more than once every five batters, the ball is not in play.

I hear parents say strikeouts bore kids, who are used to the stream of action in the NHL and NBA. I hear managers talk about it, and broadcasters. "There was a time when Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood throwing 20-strikeout, no-walk games were a novelty," says one National League general manager. "Today, we have a chance to see something like that three or four times a week."
What?!? A 20-strikeout game is no longer a novelty? Fans have the chance to see a 0-walk, 20-strikeout performance THREE OR FOUR TIMES EVERY WEEK?

(Note: Yes, there is "a chance" in every game that a pitcher will ring up 20 strikeouts. It is within the realm of possibility. But there is also the chance that a pitcher will be struck by lightning while standing on the mound (it has happened before), but that is not an event anyone thinks is likely. Our NL GM is not talking about something that is technically possible, but extremely rare.)

Since 20-K games are not novel or unusual, I have prepared a list of pitchers who have struck out at least 17 batters in a game over the last two seasons:






So where's the list? There is no list. In approximately 38 weeks of baseball, even a 17-strikeout game has not happened.

Gammons cited the number of strikeouts steadily rising over the last decade, so let's look at the last ten seasons. From 2009-2018 - about 245 weeks of baseball - the starters with 17+ strikeouts are:

2009
None

2010
Brandon Morrow, 17 strikeouts vs Rays, August 8

2011
None

2012
None

2013
Anibal Sanchez, 17 strikeouts vs Atlanta, April 26

2014
None

2015
Corey Kluber, 18 strikeouts vs Cardinals, May 13
Max Scherzer, 17 strikeouts vs Mets, October 3 (G2)

2016
Max Scherzer, 20 strikeouts vs Tigers, May 11

2017
None

2018
None

Five times. In 10 years. And that's after lowering our strikeout threshold from 20 to 17.

There has been exactly one 20-strikeout game in the last 17 seasons. It remains a novel event.

Note: It is fascinating that in all five instances of a starter striking out 20 batters, the pitcher did not walk anyone. (On September 12, 1962, when Tom Cheney of the Senators struck out 21 batters over 16 innings, he also walked four. Cheney struck out only one batter in the first two innings, had nine through seven innings, and 13 at the end of nine innings. If it can be said that a pitcher meandered his way to 21 strikeouts, that's what Cheney did.)

June 15, 2018

G71: Mariners 7, Red Sox 6

Red Sox  - 006 000 000 - 6  9  0
Mariners - 120 010 12x - 7 10  3
The linescore alone will convey that this was a shitty game. If you bother to look a little closer, you will see that it was worse than that.

Rick Porcello (6-7-4-1-9, 100) started off poorly. Jean Segura hit his seventh pitch of the night out of the park. Porcello gave up a double and a single to start the second. A force play scored one run and a single by Mike Zunino made it 3-0.

James Paxton recorded three strikeouts after an infield error allowed Mookie Betts to reach base in the first. He retired the Red Sox in order in the second. Jackie Bradley singled to begin the third, but Paxton struck out Sandy Leon. ... And then he slowly, but surely, imploded.

Betts grounded the ball into the shortstop hole and Segura (who committed the first-inning error on a grounder hit directly to him) made a one-hop throw that skipped past first baseman Ryon Healy. Betts was given a hit, but Bradley took third on Segura's second error. Brock Holt grounded a single through the hole into left. J.D. Martinez flied to deep right and Mitch Haniger, who did not look very confident out there last night, drifted back with little urgency. He reached up and the ball glanced off his glove. The Red Sox had the bases loaded. (The play was originally ruled a hit, then quickly changed to an error, then changed back to a hit before the game was over. It should have stayed as an error.)

Mitch Moreland hit a sinking liner to third that Kyle Seager tried (and failed) to backhand. The ball went into left field - for an E5 - and two runs scored, giving Boston a 3-2 lead. Paxton fell behind Xander Bogaerts 3-1 and X lofted a fly to right-center that carried into the stands, similar to his home run to left-center last night. Boston was up 6-3 on the XXX-rated dong. Rafael Devers grounded a single into right-center and Eduardo Nunez walked.

With Paxton (2.1-6-6-1-4, 74) having faced nine batters and thrown 40 pitches in the inning, manager Scott Servais finally called the bullpen. Chasen Bradford retired Bradley on a liner to first and Leon on a grounder to second.

Ron Whalen took over in the fourth and retired the first nine batters he faced. At the same time, the Mariners got back into the game. Porcello got the first two outs in the fifth, but singles by the top three hitters in the order - Dee Gordon, Segura, and Haniger - gave Seattle its fourth run. Porcello walked Nelson Cruz, but left the bases loaded when Seager grounded to second.

Heath Hembree gave up a leadoff home run to Zunino in the seventh, cutting the Red Sox's lead to 6-5.

In the top of the eighth, against Ryan Cook, Devers singled and Nunez walked. With one out, Andrew Benintendi pinch-hit for Leon and grounded Cook's first pitch to third, where Devers was forced. The Mariners then walked Mookie Betts intentionally, even though first base was not open. Nunez moved to third and Benintendi went to second. Holt took a ball and two strikes before lining out to left.

Matt Barnes gave the game away in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Seager but walked Healy on four pitches. Andrew Romine pinch-ran. Ben Gamel singled to left and pinch-hitter Denard Span doubled to right, scoring both runners.

The Red Sox made Edwin Diaz work a bit in the ninth. Martinez singled on a 2-0 pitch and Blake Swihart went in to run. Moreland struck out. Swihart stole second with Bogaerts at the plate and X eventually walked.

With two men on, things looked promising. But the game was over four pitches later. Devers popped the first pitch to shortstop. Nunez fouled off two pitches before grounding to first.

The Red Sox left seven men on base in the final three innings. ... The Yankees blanked the Rays 5-0, so there is once again a two-team tie atop the AL East.
Rick Porcello / James Paxton
Betts, RF
Holt, 2B
Martinez, LF
Moreland, 1B
Bogaerts, SS
Devers, 3B
Nunez, DH
Bradley, CF
Leon, C
Paxton has a 1.87 ERA over his last eight starts (including a no-hitter in Toronto on May 8).

7 PM: Rays/Yankees.

Batting Against A Starter For The 2nd And 3rd Time, Betts Is Other-Worldly

Alex Speier loves writing about Mookie Betts. I remember back in 2014, when everything came together for Betts in AA, Speier was working for WEEI.com. His regular "Feats of Mookie" updates were wonderful to read, both to hear how Betts was destroying AA pitchers and for Speier's enthusiasm and awe.

In today's Globe, Speier notes how much more dangerous Betts is against a pitcher the more times he sees him in a game. The lesson for opposing managers could not be more obvious: NEVER let your starter face Betts a third time.
Betts has been "merely" excellent in his first plate appearance of the game. He's hitting .302/.375/.628 in his first glimpse of a starting pitcher. But in his second and third times, he is posting considerably higher numbers: a .429 average and 1.349 OPS in his second exposure to the pitcher, and a .439 average and 1.344 OPS in his third. ...

"As he [Yefry Ramirez] went through the lineup [on Wednesday], I just watched him and see how he pitched guys and formed a plan that way," said Betts.

That sounds simple, but what Betts is doing is absorbing information on the fly, processing it, and turning it into a plan of attack. His pitch recognition permits him to sit on pitches outside the strike zone.

More often than not, in a matter of a few pitches (and with the benefit of pregame work studying video and heat maps of a pitcher's attack zones), Betts is capable of dissecting his opponent for tendencies, recognizing not only what he throws but where the pitcher is likely to throw it. ...

Betts vs. opposing starters
Betts's performance based on the number of times hes seen a starting pitcher in a game.
Career      AVG    OBP    SLG
1st time   .270   .326   .469
2nd time   .340   .394   .576
3rd time   .305   .354   .494
  
2018        AVG    OBP    SLG
1st time   .302   .375   .628
2nd time   .429   .468   .881
3rd time   .438   .500   .844

Memo To MLB: Trying To Remove Something From The Internet Is Impossible

Associated Press:
Commissioner Rob Manfred says Major League Baseball is trying to remove from the internet the leaked video of former Mets manager Terry Collins ranting at umpires.

The profanity-laced video surfaced this week from a Dodgers-Mets game in May 2016 that Fox televised. ...

"We made a commitment to the umpires that if they would wear microphones, certain types of interactions that we all know go on the field would not be aired publicly. ... We promised them that. It's in the collective bargaining agreement. We had no choice in a situation like that than to do everything possible to live up to our agreement."
So, Mr. Manfred, does MLB also have no choice but to work for years to scrub all non-MLB produced videos from the internet? (It seems like that bone-headed decision is the only thing MLB is actually competent at.)

Many fans by this time are smart enough to save a copy of any cool video. ... Apropos of nothing, you will receive a nice gift if you click here in the next seven days.

June 14, 2018

G70: Red Sox 2, Mariners 1

Red Sox  - 010 001 000 - 2  9  0
Mariners - 000 010 000 - 1  6  0
After looking lost and striking out in his two previous at-bats against Felix Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-out home run in the sixth inning as David Price (7-5-1-0-7, 106) outpitched Hernandez (7-8-2-1-6, 104).

The Red Sox are now a MLB-best 30-3 when they score first. They also remained 1 GA of the Yankees, who edged the Rays 4-3.

Boston took the early lead in the second. Rafael Devers (whose last name the Seattle TV announcers consistently pronounced to rhyme with "beavers") lined a single to right. Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger came in a bit and had the ball hit off his glove - and was not given an error for some reason. Devers stole second and scored when Jackie Bradley ripped a double into the right field corner.

Price cruised through the first four innings. He allowed a two-out single in the first and a two-out single in the third. In the latter inning, Price promptly picked Dee Gordon off first base to end the frame.

In the fifth, Kyle Seager lined a single to left and Ryon Healy singled to center. On Price's first pitch to Guillermo Heredia, Seager stole third without a throw (actually Christian Vazquez's threw the ball to second). Heredia lofted the next pitch to left, and Seager scored on the sac fly.

After Mitch Moreland grounded into a double play in the sixth, Bogaerts fell behind 0-2. He took two balls and fouled off a couple of pitches before hitting his 10th dong to left-center.

Bogaerts also began two double plays by making excellent plays at shortstop. In the sixth, Price apparently hit Gordon (or a thread on his jersey) with a pitch, although three super-slow replays on the Seattle feed failed to convince me he was actually hit. Jean Segura fouled off seven pitches in an 11-pitch at-bat, finally grounding the ball up the middle. Bogaerts ranged left and half-slid behind the bag to corral the ball. He then reached back and slapped the bag with his glove, forcing Gordon, before throwing to first.

Bogaerts's second DP ended the game. Craig Kimbrel began the ninth by walking Haniger on four pitches. He also was not sharp pitching to Nelson Cruz and walked him. Kimbrel rebounded to strike out Seager on three pitches. Healy grounded a 1-1 pitch to shortstop. Bogaerts moved to his right, grabbed the ball and threw to second from his knees. Eduardo Nunez's relay to first beat Healy by a step or two.

J.D. Martinez was on base three times, with two singles and a walk. ... Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi went a combined 0-for-8. ... Four of the bottom five hitters in the Red Sox's lineup reached base twice, with Bogaerts, Devers, and Vazquez each getting two hits..
David Price / Felix Hernandez
Betts, RF
Benintendi, LF
Martinez, DH
Moreland, 1B
Bogaerts, SS
Devers, 3B
Nunez, 2B
Bradley, CF
Vazquez, C
The Red Sox lead all teams with 47 wins. The Mariners and Astros have the second-most victories (44). Seattle leads the AL West by 0.5 games.

AL Team Leaders
AVG: Red Sox (#1, .262 (tied with Astros)), Mariners (#3, .261)
OBP: Red Sox (#3, .329), Mariners (#5, .323)
SLG: Red Sox (#2, .457), Mariners (#5, .428)
ERA: Red Sox (#2, 3.42), Mariners (#5, 3.86)
WHIP: Red Sox (#5, 1.202), Mariners (#6, 1.218)
Five Seattle pitchers have made eight or more starts this year - and Felix Hernandez has the worst ERA among them:
Wade LeBlanc    ( 8 starts, 3.00) will pitch Saturday (vs Wright)
James Paxton    (14 starts, 3.02) will pitch Friday (vs Porcello)
Marco Gonzales  (14 starts, 3.42)
Mike Leake      (14 starts, 4.26) will pitch Sunday (vs Rodriguez)
Hernandez       (14 starts, 5.70) will pitch tonight (vs Price)
Hernandez has allowed at least four runs in six of his last seven starts (6.75 ERA).

MFY: Rays/Yankees (1.0 GB).