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Morning Digest: A Night of Milestones Driven by Failure



By Mike Silva ~ September 14th, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest.

Let’s start with Mariano Rivera‘s 600th save. The “Great One” needs two more to break the all-time record currently held by Trevor Hoffman. We talked about the meaning of save benchmarks in August, when Jason Isringhausen collected his 300th save against the Padres.

At the time, I said the save record is a testament to consistency and longevity. The save isn’t as sexy as Bonds breaking Aaron’s 755, DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, or 300 wins. Although it’s unfair, the final number that Rivera tallies will never be considered insurmountable like some of those other streaks. You pitch 15 seasons in the big leagues, and average 30 saves per gives you 450 saves. Nice career, but not a Hall of Famer. Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero is a perfect example of the fallacy of the save stat. To date, he has 322, but no one would consider him elite. This is a pitcher that will probably end up with over 400 for his career, but outside of the local teams he’s played for, no one knows him. That can’t be said for other recent milestone winners. Therefore, it’s a garbage milestone. Wrong.

The problem with that thought process is how rare it is for players to stay at a competitive level for that long. Look at Isringahusen, for instance, he started closing ballgames late in 1999. He became Oakland’s fulltime closer in 2000. He hobbled to 300 saves this year, and very well may never pitch again. Injuries have taken its toll on Izzy. Rivera has relatively injury free since becoming a regular member of the roster in 1996. How unlikely is this? Pitchers like Jose Mesa, Robb Nen, Armando Benitez, and Ugueth Urbina were all top closers when Rivera started his run. None of those individuals are in the big leagues anymore, much less closing ballgames.

Health and consistency are staples of excellence in this game. Especially now that it is (presumably) free of most PEDs. Even with enhancements, no drug can help a player prepare mentally for the grind of 162 games each day. Rivera will break the record in the next few days. His place in baseball history is obvious, but the benchmark of 600 should not be diminished because of the nature of the number. Look past the number; look at the process it took to get there.

***

Tim Wakefield collected his 200th win at Fenway Park last night.

It’s not 300, but with the way the game has moved toward early bullpen calls, 200 wins may be viewed differently 20 years from now. We talk about relievers staying consistent and healthy, but a starter achieving the same thing 35 times a year; plus pitch well enough to be in position to win; plus get support from their bullpen, require more variables than any other big league benchmark.

If you like baseball stories, then Wakefield is a tremendous one. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston talks about the knuckler’s journey from non-prospect first basemen in the Pirates organization to the 200th win. Wakefield had many turning points along the way.

In 1988, Wakefield hit .216 with one home run in Low-A. That is the type of player that finds himself in the real world rather quickly. Thanks to the foresight of a scout (Moneyball acolytes scream), the Pirates saw something in him that made them convert  him to a pitcher, but one that required mastering the most difficult pitch of all- the knuckleball.

In four short years he would burst on the scene with the ’92 Pirates division winning club; going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA down the stretch. Wakefield beat the Cardinals for his first big league win, a complete game, on July 31st, 1992. His second win? It came against the Mets five days later, as he went 8 innings in a 6-2 victory. As a matter of fact, he beat the Mets twice that year in three starts, giving up only 3 runs in 21 innings along the way.

His career had many turning points. He would struggle after that season and return to the minors. The Pirates would release him at the beginning of the 1995 season, where he hooked up with Boston. Just like he did to the National League in ’92, Wakefield took the American League by storm this time, winning 16 games and finishing third in the Cy Young Award voting. How many times did you think Wakefield was nearly done? His ERA climbed into the five’s as hit north of 30. There was the infamous Aaron Boone home run during the 2003 ALCS. Edes reports in that column how Wakefield feared he would be remembered as a modern day Bill Buckner (Grady Little wound up taking the bullet in that series). Not only did he survive that game, but he won another 83 for the Red Sox over the next eight years; including 17 during their ’07 championship season. Only three other members of Red Sox Nation- Dwight Evans, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski- have spent more time with the team than Wakefield.

Back in 2009, I talked about Wakefield’s knuckleball when the Mets visited the Red Sox in a weekend series at Fenway. Wakefield pitched that Sunday game and won.

Unemployed? Want to make it in baseball. This video shows you the pitch that has helped him stay in the big leagues for 17 seasons. Good luck!

He is a look at Wakefield throwing the knuckler

***

One consistent theme with these two milestones is how both Rivera and Wakefield failed at the game before they began their run of success. Rivera was a starter in the minor leagues; he even started 10 games for the Yankees in 1995 (3-3, 5.94) with little success. We just talked about Wakefield starting his career as a first baseman in the Pirates system. Amazing how both players began their run of success after failing at their original form. Think of how close both were to being a footnote in the history of the game.

They say you can’t succeed at something until you fail. That quote never rang truer than with the milestones of Wakefield and Rivera.

***

The arrogance of Mike Francesa on the airwaves continued yesterday. As I reported at Sports Media Watchdog, the “Sports Pope” told the audience what is an acceptable benchmark of success for the Yankees each decade.

When a caller compared the Yankees last decade to the Braves of the nineties. When asked how the Yankees would be viewed this decade (2001-2011) if they fail to win the World Series this year, Francesa said that a championship, three World Series, and nine postseason appearances would be good for prior editions of the Bombers, but not enough during this free spending decade. Francesa went on to say the Yankees should appear in five World Series and win three each decade due to their enormous payroll.

So there you have it Yankees fans. Unless your team appears in 5 World Series over 10 years, winning at least 3, you are an utter failure.

Funny, Francesa hasn’t put in a consistent effort at his job in at least 5 years, maybe more. How will he be viewed this decade?

***

A couple of members of the industry reviewed Moneyball this week. First, Aaron Gleeman of NBC’s Hardball Talk said that “Moneyball” was “questionable” when it came to historical context, but what it “lacked in historical accuracy it made up for in witty dialogue, likable characters, and a surprising amount of humor.” Gleeman said “there were at least 8-10 moments where the entire audience laughed out loud”

Keith Law of ESPN reviewed the movie and discussed it at his personal blog “The Dish.” 

Law seemed to be more annoyed by the historical inaccuracies than Gleeman. Specifically, the characterization of scouts as “dim-wits.” It also sounds like Art Howe doesn’t come across very well either. I don’t think that will bother Mets fans all that much.

He summarizes it like this:

I could have tolerated a lot of flaws if Moneyball had just given me a good baseball movie, with some real tension to it, or perhaps a strong character study of Billy Beane. But the film provides neither, and I spent most of the movie wondering what was really on the line here. The A’s don’t win a playoff series in 2002, so the script can’t set that up as a goal or use the playoffs as a climax. Beane took a $39 million team to the playoffs the year before; he wasn’t going to be fired in May for taking a few risks that his owner more or less told him to take (and if he had been fired, he would have been hired by someone else in a heartbeat, despite the character’s later claim to the contrary). His daughter is worried about him because she doesn’t see the big picture, but neither she nor her father is in any real jeopardy at any point in the film. We’re not playing for anything here.

Law does point out the conversation between Red Sox owner John Henry and Billy Beane does stand out:

If you do end up seeing the film, and I imagine most of you will, there is one scene towards the end that stood out for me as incredibly spot on, so much so that it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film. Beane is sitting in what was then called the .406 club at Fenway Park with John Henry, who is about to offer him a record-breaking deal to become the Red Sox’ new GM. Henry expounds on how Beane’s method of doing things is going to sweep through the industry, and how critics within the game weren’t just trying to protect the game, but were expressing their own fears about their livelihoods. That speech applies just as well to any industry undergoing the kind of creative destruction ushered in by Bill James, Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane. Remember that when you see the next written attack on “stat geeks” who are ruining the game along with a defense of RBIs or pitcher wins.

In short, it sounds like you should read the book before watching the movie. If you don’t, you probably won’t get what Moneyball is all about. Actually, maybe not, since it is probably deeper than that story, but it’s a good start.

I will be reviewing this movie next week, stay tuned for my thoughts.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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1 Response to Morning Digest: A Night of Milestones Driven by Failure

  1. Mister D

    I’d go the other way. Enjoy the movie, then read the book for context and accuracy.

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