Baseball cards for the lulz

After the Royals won the Wild Card game and officially ended their postseason drought, I thought of a novel way to celebrate it: Celebrate their badness.

After all, there are people who celebrate the 1962 Mets, and between 1986 and 2013 the Royals had quite a few players who wouldn’t have been good enough for the 1962 Mets, so why not?

So I dredged up the memories of those players I’ve tried to forget, so I could buy baseball cards of them. Read more

What it was like being a Royals fan from 1986-2013

If there’s one thing I’ve heard this week, it’s that people can’t imagine what it’s like being a Royals fan through their 29-year drought without playing in a postseason. I can tell you what it’s like. We’ve had some highlights, but mostly we’ve put up with endless parades of really bad players and really bad managers.

Those of you who enjoy looking at gruesome things, keep reading. These are the players we’ve spent 2.9 decades trying to forget. But keep this in mind: My hair started going prematurely gray in 1986, the same year Dick Howser died and the Royals started fading.

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Robinson Cano: “The fans don’t understand.”

When Robinson Cano infamously left Billy Butler, the Kansas City Royals representative off the Home Run Derby team at the All-Star Game last summer in Kansas City, (who Butler is and who he plays for is important here), Royals fans booed him mercilessly.

And all he’s been saying since is that Kansas City doesn’t understand.

Fine. Let’s talk about what Kansas City does understand. Because Kansas City understands a lot.

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Is there hope in Kansas City for baseball?

I spent some time in Kansas City this weekend. If I had any doubts this season, where the Royals went from favorites to win the division to worst team in the league in a matter of about a week, had eroded fan support, that doubt is gone now.

So now what?First, there’s the question of what went wrong. To me, the biggest thing that went wrong was Juan Gonzalez. Gonzalez proved a lethal replacement for Manny Ramirez in Cleveland not so long ago, so there was reason to believe he could be the big booming bat in the cleanup spot the Royals have never had.

The question was whether you got the healthy Gonzalez or the Gonzalez who’s more injury prone than George Brett and Fred Lynn combined.

They got the latter, and thus a waste of almost enough money to keep Carlos Beltran.

Ah, Beltran. The guy who someday would have broken the Royals’ record for number of home runs hit and bases stolen in the same season. The most underrated defensive center fielder in the game. The Scott Boras client.

Trading Beltran was the only thing the Royals could do. Scott Boras is going to ship Beltran to the team willing to pay the most money for him. Can the Royals afford to give $18 million to one player? Doesn’t matter. George Steinbrenner will top the Royals’ best offer, because he’s got Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton in center field.

I find it very encouraging that none of the Royals’ high draft picks this year was a Scott Boras client.

The fear in KC right now is that the Royals will never keep any good players they develop, because they look back at Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye. Beltran and Damon were Boras clients. They couldn’t keep them. I won’t try to explain the Jermaine Dye trade, other than to say they didn’t think they’d be able to re-sign Rey Sanchez and they felt like it was easier to find outfielders than shortstops, and they thought Neifi Perez could hit his weight outside of Colorado.

Judging from the production they’ve had out of left field this year, I think they were even wrong about that bit about outfielders being easier to find than shortstops. But at least they’ve learned.

I see upside out of this year. I really do. David DeJesus is turning out to be a fine center fielder. It would be nice if he could steal more bases, but he’s a good defensive center fielder and he can hit, and he has good speed, even if he doesn’t know how to use that speed to steal bases. Ideally he should be a #2 hitter, but even still, he’s the best leadoff hitter the Royals have had since Johnny Damon left.

Abraham Nuñez is turning out to be a steal. He may or may not be a superstar, but he’s a good defensive outfielder with respectable speed, good power, looks like he’ll be able to hit .270 or better, and can play center field when you have the need to rest DeJesus. He’s an affordable Jermaine Dye.

I haven’t seen John Buck play since his first series in the majors, but he has managed to pop some homers even if his batting average is still below .220. Still, he got off to a tremendously slow start, so hitting .220 indicates he’s making progress. But an even-up John Buck for Carlos Beltran would be a better trade than Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez turned out to be. Buck is already a better hitter than Perez, and the Royals didn’t have much in the way of catching prospects before Buck.

Angel Berroa has been a disappointment this season, but he’s in his second year and he watched the team implode around him. Of course he’s going to be jittery.

Zack Greinke looks like the best young pitcher the Royals have developed since its amazing Class of ’84 (Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza). If Runnelvys Hernandez comes back from Tommy John surgery and pitches like he did in 2003, and if Jose Bautista lives up to expectations (he’s Pedro Martinez’s cousin, so hopefully that counts for something), the Royals might have fearsome pitching again for the first time in a decade. Jeremy Affeldt could come back from the bullpen and start if Mike MacDougal is healthy, and suddenly the pitching rotation looks awfully good.

I don’t know what the Royals will do in left field or at second base. But with Gonzalez gone, that leaves them some money to go after a better-than-average player for one or both positions. Or maybe they can swing a trade in the offseason for a prospect.

As hard as it may be to believe, they do seem to be getting smarter. They seem to have learned a lot from this season. Which is really all you can ask.

How to reinvigorate the Royals

Please indulge me one last time this season to write about my beloved, who have currently lost 99 games and are going to make one last valiant attempt to avoid losing 100 this year.
The Royals are a small market. Small-market teams have a rough go of it, yes. But the Minnesota Twins have been doing OK. The Twins have some vision and a plan and they stick with their plan, and that’s part of it. So here’s what we need to do to duplicate that success.

1. Build a superstar. Back in George Brett’s heyday, the Royals had no payroll problems. The fans came out to see Brett, the Royals spent that money to get more players, and since the Royals had winning records, the fans kept coming. In the late 1980s, a bad season meant the Royals didn’t win any championships. But they had winning records. The Royals nearly have that superstar. His name is Mike Sweeney. He’s got a sweet swing like Brett. He’s got plate discipline like Brett. And he’s even more likeable than Brett. When Brett was Sween’s age, he partied as hard as he played. Sween takes care of himself and he takes care of his fiancee and he takes care of his community. The only people who don’t like Mike Sweeney are opposing pitchers.

But Mike Sweeney’s protection in the order is The Mighty Raul Ibanez. Now, The Mighty Ibanez has turned into a good hitter, but he’s not an All-Star. He’s a better hitter than a 50-year-old George Brett. That’s saying something. But to build a superstar, what the Royals really need to do it

And Mike Sweeney needs to get together with Dave Dravecky to put together a project talking about the Christian symbolism in baseball. (Pitchers can’t hit but it’s part of their job. Designated hitters come in and do that part of their job for them. Sound kinda like Christianity? I think so. I think God’s in favor of the DH.)

2. Sign Jim Thome. Jim Thome doesn’t fit into Cleveland’s plans anymore. Blame it on mass insanity. Blame it on tightfistedness. Blame it on whatever. But the Indians don’t want Jim Thome. And guess what? Jim Thome likes Kansas City. I don’t blame him. In Kansas City, if you’re on the highway and you want to change lanes, you use your turn signal and someone lets you. In Kansas City, strangers smile at you for no reason. When the now-departed Miguel Batista arrived in Kansas City at the airport after a trade, some little old lady walked up to him and said, “You’re our new pitcher. Let me get one of your bags.” People are just nice.

Yes, Jim Thome’s going to cost buckets of money. But guess what? He won’t cost more than Roberto Hernandez and Neifi Perez cost combined. So here’s what you do. Rotate Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney between first base and designated hitter. Then try out this lineup:

Michael Tucker, 2b
Carlos Beltran, cf
Mike Sweeney, 1b
Jim Thome, dh
Raul Ibanez, rf
Joe Randa, 3b
Mark Quinn/Dee Brown lf
Angel Berroa, ss
Brent Mayne, c

We’ll talk about the Michael Tucker insanity in a second. Jim Thome’s .300 average and 52 home runs will make Mike Sweeney look a whole lot better to pitch to. It virtually guarantees he’ll hit .340 again, because pitchers will look forward to the half of the time he makes an out. Jim Thome will see good pitches because Mike Sweeney’s on base. Or someone else is. The Royals will score lots more runs. Meanwhile, Mark Quinn and Dee Brown have Jim Thome to learn from. The Royals’ lineup suddenly starts to look like the great Cardinals teams of the 1980s that had lots of jackrabbits who could hit doubles and one really big bat in the middle. Except Mike Sweeney and Raul Ibanez offer better protection than Jack Clark ever had in a Cardinal uniform.

3. Try Michael Tucker at second base. The Royals need a second baseman who can hit. Tucker’s not a great hitter for an outfielder, but he’s a really good hitter for a second baseman. He won’t be a great fielder. But the 1984 Padres solved two problems by moving Alan Wiggins from left field to second base. They got a good hitter at the position, and they freed left field for another bat. The Padres kept Jerry Royster around to play second in the late innings. The Royals can keep Carlos Febles for defense late in the game.

4. If the Tucker experiment fails, move Carlos Beltran to leadoff and Joe Randa to the #2 spot in the batting order. The Royals don’t score any runs because Mike Sweeney doesn’t have enough people on base in front of him. The Royals often give away their first out by having people like Chuck Knoblauch and Neifi Perez and Carlos Febles hitting leadoff. Joe Randa’s no speed demon anymore, but he gets on base. And he’s got enough power that a lot of times, when he gets on base, he gets on second base. Carlos Beltran gets on base. Mike Sweeney needs to hit with people on base. If the Royals were to sign Jim Thome, he’d be worthless without people on base. So disregard the traditional idea that your first two hitters should be your fastest runners, and just get some people on base. Carlos Beltran is your leadoff hitter anyway with him hitting second. Might as well accept reality and work with it.

5. Develop young pitchers. In 1985, the Royals brought in Jim Sundberg, a veteran catcher who couldn’t hit to handle their young pitchers. The formula of young pitchers with lots of good stuff and a catcher who knew how to guide them brought them to the World Series, and, ultimately, to a World Championship. Time will tell if any of today’s young pitchers will turn into Bret Saberhagen or even Mark Gubicza. Since the Royals can’t afford to go sign Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and since they wouldn’t score any runs for them anyway), they don’t have much choice but to take the chance. But since the Royals have been throwing their young pitchers’ arms out (witness Jose Rosado, Chad Durbin, and Dan Reichert) they need to re-think the way they develop their young pitchers. Throw fewer innings and watch more videotape.

And be patient. Greg Maddux spent two years as a so-so relief pitcher and sometime starter before he blossomed into the greatest pitcher of his generation.

Hmm. I’m already looking forward to April 2003.

Feeling cynical

I went out looking for a fridge and washer/dryer.
I came home with the new Aimee Mann CD and Office Space on DVD.

Yeah, I’m feeling really cynical. Yeah, something happened at work Friday. No, I’m not at liberty to talk about it (but Charlie knows because he was in on the project too).

Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space is a very typical Aimee Mann record. She plays half a dozen different instruments and she’s as cynical as usual, though she’s lost the potty mouth. I went looking for this record’s “I Should Have Known”–the tune that reaches out and grabs your consciousness and won’t let go of it–but didn’t find it. This one will have to grow on me, like most of her records.

And Office Space… Well, I started building up a Windows box with my DVD drive out of some spare parts, and ran into a lot of problems. First, my junk Cirrus Logic-based AGP video card didn’t support DirectX, which my DVD app needed for playback. So I pulled it and replaced it with my old STB Velocity 128, which had nVidia’s first chipset. At the time, it was the fastest video card I’d ever seen. Seems really slow now. Well, that card caused any OS I tried to install to hang. I guess it’s the end of the road for that card. A shame, really.

So I figured I’d install Debian and see if I could figure out how to make it play DVDs. The Velocity 128 worked a lot longer in Linux than it did in Windows, but eventually it kicked into a corrupted text display similar to what I got in Windows. So I couldn’t just blame Windows. Rats. So the Cirrus Logic–definitely the Neifi Perez of video cards–came off the bench.

I couldn’t get any of the rogue DVD software for Debian to work, so I ended up pulling the S3 Savage4 card out of one of my working systems to put in there, since it supports DirectX. I need to order a couple of ATI Radeons from Newegg.com to replace some of these junk cards I’ve got. They’re solid and cheap–$42 delivered.

Windows 2000 ran fine with the S3 in it.

I think this is God’s way of telling me I’m a better journalist than computer tech at this point.

Will today ruin baseball?

Well, it’s strike day. I haven’t talked about it. I was hoping if I ignored it, it would go away. That strategy rarely works, but there’s always a first time.
Let’s face it: This is the Crybaby Billionaire Boys’ Club vs. the Crybaby Millionaire Boys’ Club.

Players complain about how they used to be treated as slaves. Well, they aren’t anymore. The league minimum–the minimum is more than some doctors make. Baseball players work nine months out of the year, counting spring training. They have to travel a lot, but they don’t have to work full 8-hour days, usually. When they do work, they do things I do for fun (and usually have to pay to do).

Yes, in the 1960s, there was a problem. Those problems have been solved for a very long time. Players’ greatest fears are that their salaries won’t necessarily double at the same rate they did before. Well, boo-hoo. Today a decent utility infielder makes what George Brett made at his peak, and George Brett isn’t hurting.

Now, the players talk down about the fans. Even Neifi Perez talks down to the fans. Neifi Perez! The worst everyday player in the majors. Mr. .257 on-base-percentage. Mr. Where-have-you-gone-Donnie-Sadler?, for crying out loud! “They’re just fans,” Neifi says. “What do they know?”

Who cares what the fans know? (What I know is that Felix Martinez isn’t the worst shortstop in Royals history anymore.) They pay your salary. Though it’s certain Perez won’t be back in Kansas City next year, and questionable whether he’ll be playing baseball at all. Serves him right. He’s a lousy player and a jerk. Kansas City deserves better. For that matter, Baghdad deserves better.

I don’t have any sympathy for the players.

The owners complain about competitive imbalance and salaries rising too quickly. The problems are largely their own making, but at least most of them recognize there is a problem and are trying to solve it. As recently as ten years ago, there was no way of knowing who was going to be a contender. You could take a good guess, but several teams would always surprise you. Is anyone really surprised the Yankees and the Braves are the teams to beat this year?

Now Oakland and Minnesota have proven you can create a winner on a budget. They spend smart. That’s good. Not every small or medium-market team spends smart. But when New York can spend five times what a small-market team spends, there’s a problem. Oakland lost Jason Giambi to the Yankees; in a few years they won’t be able to afford to keep both Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada either. Who cares about the players or the owners–that’s unfair to the fans.

Most of the owners are on the same page. Even Tom Hicks, who can’t seem to spend his way out of last place but not for lack of trying, wants a luxury tax and revenue sharing. He sees the need for rules to follow. George Steinbrenner won’t be happy until every team but the Yankees is bankrupt and the second-best team in baseball is the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees’ AAA affiliate. But he’s in the minority.

The owners are being the more reasonable of the two. That feels weird to say. Isn’t that kind of like saying Ayatollah Khomeini was reasonable about something?

A lot of people are saying if there’s a strike, they won’t be back. Some of them will make good on that promise. I know I’ll be back. Baseball’s broken. I see this strike like a car crash to an alcoholic. You don’t wish the car crash on anybody, but if the car crash leads to the person finally seeing the problem and doing something about it, then the car crash can do some good. With some people, it takes a car crash. But with some people, even a car crash isn’t enough.

And the players and owners are just like that drunk behind the wheel–not giving a rip who gets hurt as a result of their irresponsible actions. Who cares about the people who make their living selling concessions at the ballpark? Not the players and owners. That’s an established fact.

I’ll be mad if they can’t come to an agreement before the deadline. But I’ll be madder if the strike doesn’t accomplish anything. There’s only one thing worse than a drunk, and that’s an incurable drunk.

I know what we need. A few good men who love baseball–who love baseball more than money–need to step up to the plate and do the right thing. And no, I don’t really care if that happens tomorrow, or if it happens during a lockout in spring training while Jason Grimsley and Johnny Damon and Todd Zeile and Steve Kline sit at home.

I think it might be refreshing to watch a bunch of guys who’ve never touched steroids, who are actually glad to be getting paid to do what we used to do at recess, and who play every inning like it’s the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, don’t you?

But there are no promises. So we wait. And I’m fully aware that if the worst happens, I might be the only baseball fan left.

That’s OK by me. I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. I’m used to being alone.

Optimizing Linux. Part 1 of who-knows-what

Optimizing Linux. I found this link yesterday. Its main thrust is troubleshooting nVidia 3D acceleration, but it also provides some generally useful tweakage. For example:
cat /proc/interrupts

Tells you what cards are using what interrupts.

lspci -v

Tells you what PCI cards you have and what latencies they’re using.

setpci -v -s [id from lspci] latency_timer=##

Changes the latency of a card. Higher latency means higher bandwidth, and vice-versa. In this case, latency means the device is a bus hog–once it gets the bus, it’s less likely to let go of it. I issued this command on my Web server to give my network card free reign (this is more important on local fileservers, obviously–my DSL connection is more than slow enough to keep my Ethernet card from being overwhelmed):

setpci -v -s 00:0f.0 latency_timer=ff

Add that command to /etc/rc.d/rc.local if you want it to stick.

Linux will let you tweak the living daylights out of it.

And yes, there’s a ton more. Check out this: Optimizing and Securing Red Hat Linux 6.1 and 6.2. I just turned off last-access attribute updating on my Web server to improve performance with the command chattr -R +A /var/www. That’s a trick I’ve been using on NT boxes for a long time.

Baseball. I’m frustrated. The Royals let the Twins trade promising lefty Mark Redmon to the Tigers for Todd Jones. Why didn’t the Royals dangle Roberto Hernandez in the Twins’ face? Hernandez would have fetched Redmon and a borderline prospect, saved some salary, and, let’s face it, we’re in last place with Hernandez, so what happens if we deal him? It’s not like we can sink any further.

Meanwhile, the hot rumor is that Rey Sanchez will be traded to the Dodgers for Alex Cora, a young, slick-fielding shortstop who can’t hit. Waitaminute. We just traded half the franchise away for Neifi Perez, an enthusiastic, youngish shortstop who can’t hit outside of Coors Field and is overrated defensively and makes 3 and a half mil a year. What’s up with that?

Moral dilemma: Since the Royals don’t seem to care about their present or their future at the moment, is rooting for Oakland (featuring ex-Royals Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon and Jeremy Giambi) and Boston (featuring ex-Royals Jose Offerman and Chris Stynes and Hippolito Pichardo and the last link to that glorious 1985 season, Bret Saberhagen) to make the playoffs like cheating on your wife?

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