Friday, January 16, 2004
Back to schoolA guy could get used to living like this. I have had about a month off from school for "Winter Break" and I've spent the time writing about baseball and going to Las Vegas. In between doing those two things, I slept late, hung around with my dog and worked on perfecting my two Diamond-Mind keeper league teams. Sadly, my life of luxury is coming to an end.
I am moving back into my dorm room over the weekend, so the next time you hear from me will be from my tiny little room on the University of Minnesota campus.
Moving back to school brought up something in my mind that I wanted to talk about here. This blog first started way back in August of 2002. The audience was almost non-existent at the time and I often wrote about my personal life, along with baseball. Sometimes I told a story about my family or about my dog, sometimes I shared tales of dorm life.
As my audience has grown to much greater heights than I ever could have imagined, I have pulled back significantly from writing about stuff like that. For whatever reason, it seemed fun and interesting to share a funny story about something that happened to me with the 50 people who read the website in 2002. Now, with thousands of people stopping by here to read about baseball every week, I feel the need to...well, write about baseball.
It's an interesting situation (to me, at least) and one that I imagine many writers have gone through. There is a lot more freedom involved in having a small but loyal following. Technically I have the exact same freedom now that I had then, but there is something about having a much larger audience that limits that.
I still share funny moments from my life or interesting stories from my past, but I do so rarely and only when I am sure they are interesting. Back 10 or 12 months ago, if something funny happened to me it would go up here, whether the story was a "10" or a "7." Now, it's mostly only 10s.
I bring all this up for two reasons. First and foremost, it is something I have been thinking about lately. Hopefully anyone who has read this website for a long time knows me as someone who doesn't hold back thoughts or emotions often, and I didn't want to do so in this case either. It involves my writing and this blog, which means it involves you as a reader, so I wanted to discuss it.
Second, I think I'd like to get some feedback from all you guys out there who stop by on a regular basis to read this blog. Those of you who have been around for a long time, do you miss my stories about dorm life and other stuff? Those of you who have only been around for a short while, would you be bothered if I occasionally stepped away from baseball to share some funny stories or anecdotes?
Anyway, this is just something I've been pondering. If this were a year ago, you would probably be treated to a Monday entry about how my move back to school over the weekend went. But for some reason, stuff like that seems silly to put on this blog now.
I would like to say what I've heard many writers say, which is that they write for themselves. That is true for me to a certain extent, but I still consider the fact that, come Monday, there will be 2,000 people reading this website, not 50. For whatever reason, that makes a difference to me.
In honor of my move back to school and in honor of me thinking about whether or not this blog should be all baseball, all the time, here is a favorite entry of mine from way back on March 7, 2003...
The Ladies ManI'm one of those people (usually referred to as "writers") who is infinitely more comfortable expressing his thoughts via written word, as opposed to actual speech or human contact. Truth be told, when I'm around people I don't know very well I get nervous and self conscious, so I tend to be very careful with my words, which leads to an inability to express myself in the same manner I do here.
Yesterday was a perfect example of such difficulties...
I was in my non-fiction writing class. We were talking about books we've read recently and I said that I had read Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, by Jane Leavy. So, as I'm leaving class I walk by this girl and she reaches out and grabs me by the shoulder.
Girl: Hey, Aaron right?
Girl: Guess what?
Girl: One of my nicknames is "Koufax!"
Me (having completely forgotten that I had talked about reading the Sandy Koufax book 15 minutes earlier): Koufax?
Me (amazingly remembering the girl's name is Sandee): Oh, yeah...cause you're Sandee, right?
Girl: Yep, people call me that all the time!
Me: [awkward pause] Well, that's cool...um...see ya.
Girl: Oh...ok...bye...have a good day...
Damn, I am soooooo smooth. I don't mind making a fool of myself by saying dumb things as much as I do not being able to think of even a single thing that could possibly keep a conversation alive!
So I leave class with my confidence quite shaken and I hop on the bus that will take me back to my dorm. I sit down next to this cute little blonde and, amazingly, start up a decent conversation. I shocked the hell out of myself, but I figured I'd try to keep chatting as long as possible.
So we are talking, about the campus bus system (she doesn't like it), about her classes (she's an English major) and some other stuff. She's laughing (and not at me!) and I'm "on top of my game." We're approaching 10 minutes of conversation when we finally get to my stop. Feeling confident, I manage to come up with a non-embarrassing goodbye and get up to leave...
BOOM, I smack my head on the metal bar hanging over the seat near the ceiling of the bus! I doubt she even noticed, but I did. Now, the first thing that says about me is that I am tall - which is good, I guess. In addition to that, it was almost like the bus felt the need to remind me that I'm just not that smooth with the ladies. Sort of like saying: "Hey Gleeman, where do you get the nerve successfully talking to an attractive female on me?!"
I would like to apologize to the bus and say that I am pretty sure it won't happen again.
If I could conduct all my conversations with members of the opposite sex via email, I think I would be the most wanted bachelor in the world. As it stands now, I am a guy that bangs his head when he stands up on buses and has absolutely nothing to say to a girl that is obviously trying to be friendly and start a conversation with me!
But hey, I write good blog entries, right?
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Thursday, January 15, 2004
A 50-to-1 shotWhile in Vegas last week, one of the first things I did was go to a sports book and one of the first things I did once I was there was to find the odds for the 2004 World Series.
After looking at the odds for all 30 teams, I was fairly disappointed. The odds for all of the teams I would consider to be likely playoff teams in 2004 were extremely low. The Yankees and Red Sox were 3-to-1 and even the Twins were just 12-to-1. Then I remembered which teams have won the World Series the past two years - Anaheim and Florida.
Prior to the 2002 season, you'd have been hard-pressed to find many people who thought the Angels were going to be serious contenders. And prior to last year, the same was true about the Marlins. Heck, I picked the Marlins to finish dead-last in the NL East.
With that in mind, I shifted my attention to the bottom of the list, to see if any "sleeper" teams jumped out at me. I was nearly to the bottom (Detroit: 300-to-1!) when I saw the following:
San Diego Padres: 50-to-1Wait, don't laugh. I know the Padres went 64-98 last season, finishing with the worst record in the National League. I'm pretty sure no one thinks the Padres are going to win the 2004 World Series. But did anyone think the Marlins or the Angels would either?
When you're looking for a sleeper team to come out of nowhere and win the World Series and you're looking for 50-to-1 odds, you're not going to find many great teams to pick from.
Here's something to think about:
In 2002, the Marlins finished with the 9th-best record in the National League.
In 2001, the Angels finished with the 9th-best record in the American League.
Well, okay, the Padres finished with the 16th-best record in the NL last season, but you get the point. If you're looking for a true long-shot, a team you can put $5 or $10 on to win the World Series with some huge odds, I think the Padres are your team.
They've got the three keys that I think an "out of nowhere" World Series winner should have:
1) They have several very good, established veterans.
I don't care how out of nowhere a team is, they are going to need some star players to win the World Series. Anaheim had Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon and Troy Percival. Florida had Ivan Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell. The Padres have Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko, Phil Nevin and Trevor Hoffman.
2) They have several intriguing young players ready to step up their games.
The Angels got huge post-season contributions from Francisco Rodriguez, who was 20 years old and had pitched a total of 5.2 innings in the majors prior to the playoffs. They also got big contributions from young guys like Glaus (25) and John Lackey (23). Brendan Donnelly wasn't a youngster, but he made his MLB debut in 2002 and had a 2.17 ERA in 49.2 innings.
The Marlins had a ton of young players, including Josh Beckett (23), Dontrelle Willis (21), Miguel Cabrera (20), Juan Pierre (25) and Brad Penny (25).
The Padres will have Jake Peavy (23) and Adam Eaton (25) in their starting rotation, and those two may be joined at some point by Dennis Tankersley (25) and Ben Howard (25). They will also have Sean Burroughs (23) as their starting third baseman and will likely open the season with Khalil Greene (24) as their starting shortstop. Xavier Nady (25) looks headed back to Triple-A, but could come on at the end of the year ala Miguel Cabrera and Francisco Rodriguez.
3) They have made several important acquisitions during the off-season.
The 2002 Angels added Brad Fullmer (.289/.357/.531 as the everyday DH), Kevin Appier (14-12 with a 3.92 ERA in 188.1 innings) and Aaron Sele (8-9 with a 4.89 ERA in 160 innings).
The 2003 Marlins added Rodriguez (.297/.369/.474 as the everyday catcher), Juan Pierre (.305/.361/.373 as the everyday CF) and Mark Redman (14-10 with a 3.59 ERA in 190.2 innings), as well as Ugueth Urbina and Jeff Conine, who were added mid-season.
So far this off-season the Padres have added David Wells, Jay Payton, Ramon Hernandez, Ismael Valdes, Sterling Hitchcock, Tom Wilson and Akinori Otsuka.
More importantly than any of those three things above is the fact that, in looking at San Diego's roster, I see a team that seems set to make a huge improvement in 2004.
Here's how the roster looks, right now:
LINEUP:I don't know about you, but I see a lot to like with that group. The offense has potential elite-hitters in Giles, Klesko and Nevin, and there really isn't an everyday player who is a good bet to be below-average offensively for his position.
The bench is deep and has both quality platoon players (Wilson, Buchanan, Vazquez) and good and/or versatile defenders (Vazquez, Cirillo, Long).
The starting rotation doesn't have a true "ace," but it is very deep with #2/#3 starter-types. Wells, Peavy, Lawrence and Eaton each threw at least 180 innings last season and they all had ERAs between 4.08 and 4.19. San Diego also has a solid sixth starter in place, should one of their top five get injured.
The bullpen is also deep and the trio of Beck, Witasick and Otsuka (a dominant closer in Japan) setting up Trevor Hoffman could be outstanding.
The one area I am concerned with is their defense, although signing Payton and moving Giles from center field to a corner spot helps quite a bit. Still, I think the outfield defense is below-average, at best. The infield is potentially fairly good, depending on how well Khalil Greene plays as a rookie. Burroughs and Loretta are above-average at 3B and 2B, and Ramon Hernandez is a very good defensive catcher.
Is this a 95-win team? I really doubt it. Is it a team with a lot of depth and very few gaping holes? Definitely.
The National League West is not looking like one of the stronger divisions in baseball for 2004 and I think there is a definite chance that 85-90 wins could get the job done. That may be the upper-limit of San Diego's potential in 2004, but I think there is a good chance they will end up somewhere around 85.
And, of course, once the playoffs start, we know just about anything can happen.
I'm not saying you should bet the house on the Padres in 2004, but if you're looking for a true long-shot that will pay some pretty huge odds, Giles, Klesko, Nevin and company are the guys to go with.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Reader Mail (Darin Erstad Edition)Before I start with anything else, I want to thank John Sickels, Ryan Levy, Tony Pierce and Matthew Namee (twice) for stepping in as guest columnists while I was away losing all my money last week. I really enjoyed reading all of their pieces and, from the many emails I received, you did as well.
I don't go on long vacations all that often (although I am not against the idea), so I'm not sure when I'll need more guest writers, but it is great to know that there are lots of quality writers out there willing to pinch-hit for me. So thank you John, Ryan, Tony and Matthew. It was an honor having your work on my site and I really appreciate it.
If you missed them, here are the entries from while I was away in Sin City:
John Sickels - On Being a Twins Fan
Ryan Levy - How I Remember Josh Beckett
Tony Pierce - the busblog writes aarons baseball blog
Matthew Namee - Baseball's Greatest Keystone Combinations
Matthew Namee - Keystone Chasms
I returned from my vacation on Monday, with an entry about my experience in Las Vegas. Then yesterday, I got back into the regular swing of things and discussed Vladimir Guerrero signing with the Angels and how that changes the landscape of the American League, as well as the possibility that Darin Erstad would shift from center field to first base as a result of Guerrero joining Anaheim.
Here's a little of what I said about Erstad:
"What to do with Erstad is a very easy decision in my opinion. He's worthless at first base and has value in center field, if healthy, so you stick him in center field for as long as his legs can take it. Of course, all indications from the Angels are that Erstad will be playing first base for them next season, which is going to hurt their defense immensely while taking away some of the value they just gained from signing Guerrero in the process.I'm not sure if a lot of my readers are Angels fans or if you were just excited to have me back, blogging about baseball, but for whatever reason yesterday's entry got a ton of good reader responses.
Let's dive right in...
"While you're unfortunately right about Erstad's value diminishing tremendously if he goes to first base, you're wrong about their potential options at first if they choose to keep him in center. Of the three possible first basemen you mentioned - Anderson, Guillen, and Guerrero - only Anderson is left-handed. And he's never played first base. Asking Guillen or Guerrero to play a new position with the significant handicap of wearing a glove on the foul-line side is asking for trouble.That, my friends, is what a great reader email looks like! Sean raises a ton of interesting points, so let me try to hit on most of them...
I honestly don't see the problem with asking a corner outfielder to "learn" first base. It's not as if the Angels would be asking them to do so mid-season, they could go into spring training with the idea of letting whomever they chose to make the move work on playing first base for several weeks.
There is a reason guys like Mo Vaughn and Frank Thomas are/were first basemen, which is that first base is an incredibly easy position to play, relative to the other, non-DH, choices. Baseball history is littered with guys who made the switch to first base from other positions and did just fine, including many guys who were horrible defensive players at their former spots. I see little reason why above-average defensive corner outfielders like Garret Anderson, Jose Guillen or Vladimir Guerrero would have a problem becoming acceptable defensive first basemen.
As for the point that, of those three, only Anderson is left-handed, I don't see why that matters much. Here is a list of right-handed throwing first basemen who had at least 400 at bats last season:
Richie SexsonI don't see why Guillen and Guerrero being right-handed throwers would even be an issue. In fact, Scott Spiezio, the guy whom Sean praises for his defense with the Angels over the last few years, is a right-handed thrower.
In regard to the impact on Anaheim's defense Erstad moving to first base would have, I have some problems with Sean's logic. There is no way you can tell me that moving Darin Erstad to first base and replacing him in center field with someone like Garret Anderson is only going to lead to Anaheim's defense getting "slightly worse."
As I said yesterday, I think Anderson, Guillen or Guerrero would make more than acceptable center fielders, particularly Anderson who has, as Sean pointed out, played the position before. Even if the Angels rely on a good fielding first baseman more than most teams and even if Erstad is the best fielding first baseman in baseball, the defensive dropoff from Erstad to Anderson in CF will be much bigger than the gains from Erstad over Anderson at 1B.
In other words, this defensive alignment...
LF Jose Guillen...is going to be a whole lot more than "slightly worse" than this one...
LF Jose GuillenRegarding the three possibilities Sean lays out for Anaheim, I think it is very unlikely Erstad is traded (possibility #3). I don't see a whole lot of teams being interested in a light-hitting center fielder making $8 million a year and coming off a season in which he missed nearly 100 games with leg injuries. Unless the Angels are planning on doing a salary dump and possibly even paying some of his salary, I just don't see that happening.
Sean's first possibility is that they move Erstad to first base, where even if his offense doesn't improve, "you still essentially replaced Scott Spiezio with Vlad Guerrero in your lineup." I don't disagree with that, but the end result of that scenario is essentially the point of my post from yesterday. In fact, here is some of what I said yesterday:
"All indications from the Angels are that Erstad will be playing first base for them next season, which is going to hurt their defense immensely while taking away some of the value they just gained from signing Guerrero in the process."In other words, even if you are replacing Spiezio with Guerrero in the lineup (which is a huge upgrade), you are giving away much of the gains you make from that swap by significantly downgrading your defense. By keeping Erstad in center field, Anaheim could be replacing Spiezio with Guerrero in the lineup AND maintaining essentially the same defense, which would have been an even bigger upgrade. If Erstad is at first base, the impact of Guerrero joining the team is lessened unnecessarily.
Okay, I think I responded to most of the points Sean raised in his excellent email. Let's move on to another one...
"I think one of the reasons that Anaheim is likely to switch Erstad to first base is that they believe the injuries that he seemingly always manages to get and play through have a large impact on his offensive game. I think they are hoping that 160 games at first with no dings, bruises, pulls, or worse will equate to an Erstad closer to the 2000 version than the one we've seen the last three seasons.Thanks for the email Scott. I definitely want to make it clear that I am not saying in any way that the Angels moving Erstad to first base is an indefensible move from their standpoint or that it is without reasoning. I just think it is a bad move and that the reasoning is faulty. I have a very hard time agreeing with any plan that involves moving one of the best defensive players in baseball to one of the least important defensive positions, particularly when that player has not done anything offensively over the last three seasons.
However, as Scott says, the Angels are hoping that Erstad can stay healthier by moving to first base and that his offense will become better because of that. With that in mind, here's the question...there is no doubt that playing center field is far more demanding than playing first base, particularly for a guy who has had leg problems. At the same time, it's not as if Erstad would start playing first base and suddenly become a lazy, no-hustle player.
Instead of diving into the ground in short center field and crashing into the outfield wall trying to chase down fly balls, he will simply be diving into the ground in the infield and crashing into the wall down the first base line. Plus, I put the over/under on the amount of times he goes flying into the dugout chasing a foul ball in 2004 at 10.
Is it possible that playing a much less demanding position will lead to Erstad staying healthier? Definitely. Is it possible that staying healthier will lead to significantly improved offense? Definitely. I just don't think a guy who hasn't slugged over .389 in three years and has hit just .268/.320/.367 in over 1,600 plate appearances during that time is going to suddenly start hitting like he did four or five years ago.
And really, if you want to be technical about it, the last time Erstad played first base on a regular basis was way back in 1999. He hit .253/.308/.374 that year.
If I were running the Angels and you told me I could have Vladimir Guerrero for the next five years, but that in order to get him I would have to move Darin Erstad to first base, I would sign up for that deal in a second. But, as far as I know, that was not an actual stipulation. The Angels are making a mistake if they move Erstad to first base to start the 2004 season, simply because by moving him there they are eliminating a big portion of the significant gains they just got by signing Guerrero.
They are going to be fighting Oakland for the AL West and either Boston, New York or Toronto for the AL Wild Card in 2004, and that level of competition means you need to maximize any potential upgrades you can make. Moving one of the best defensive players in baseball to one of the least demanding defensive positions when you have other guys capable of moving there instead is counterproductive at best, foolish at worst.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Angels in the OutfieldA month ago, I wrote an entry describing just how glad I was to be living in Minnesota. The reason being that, despite the horrible weather here, it meant my baseball team was located in the American League Central.
Here's a little of what I said:
As bad as the weather is, it's a walk in the park compared to the prospect of fighting against New York, Boston, Toronto and Baltimore for two playoff spots. I'd rather freeze my ass off and play the Tigers.With what has gone on with the teams in the AL East this off-season, I honestly believe the Twins would be fighting for fourth-place in 2004 if they switched spots with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And now, as if the Beasts in the East weren't enough to make me thank my lucky stars for being in the Central, Vladimir Guerrero has signed with the Anaheim Angels for five years and $70 million.
I still have some questions about Anaheim, and the Mariners look to me like a team headed in the wrong direction very fast. In looking at what the Orioles have done, I think they are still not a playoff team, no matter how many good catchers they sign this off-season. That said, I have very little doubt that at least six and possibly seven of the top eight teams in the American League reside in either the East or the West.
If I had to come up with some sort of a ranking at this point, the AL top-10 would probably look like this:
There is plenty of room for discussion certainly and I haven't really looked at things all that closely, but I think you see the point. Could Minnesota, Chicago or Kansas City be one of the top five teams in the AL in 2004? Sure. Is it likely, considering what has gone on this off-season? I really don't think so.
But that's fine with me, because the Twins don't have to beat the Yankees or the Red Sox or the A's. They don't even have to beat the Blue Jays, Angels or Mariners. At least not until playoff-time, of course. No, they simply have to win one more game than the White Sox, Royals, Indians and Tigers. Despite everything that has gone on, I still feel fairly confident they can do that.
Let's take a look now at how the Angels shape up, with Vlad Guerrero...
They now have the following players on the roster who could best be described as "outfielders":
Unless they plan on switching from the AL West to a softball league in the next month or so, the Angels are only going to be allowed to play three of those guys in the outfield at one time. However, the logjam isn't quite as complicated as you might think.
Tim Salmon, at 35 and with various injuries taking their toll on him over the last few years, will almost certainly be the everyday DH. Jeff DaVanon, at 30 and with just one good half-season of major league baseball under his belt, will most likely serve as the fourth outfielder.
So, that leaves Guerrero, Anderson, Erstad and Guillen for three spots. Here's where it gets tricky...
According to just about any advanced defensive metric you choose to look at, Darin Erstad is not only one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, he is one of the best defenders at any position. In fact, according to several of those metrics, he is the best.
Mitchel Lichtman's outstanding "Ultimate Zone Rating" defensive system has Darin Erstad worth 41 runs defensively over the average center fielder, per 162 games played, from 2000-2003. That ranks first in all of baseball, and it isn't even particularly close. He's significantly ahead of Mike Cameron, Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter and every other center fielder in baseball.
In addition to Erstad's impressive UZRs, Diamond-Mind consistently gives Erstad "Excellent" ratings in center field, which is the highest rating given. The only other center fielder given "Ex" ratings in each of the past two years is Mike Cameron.
Taking those numbers and ratings and adding in personal observations and opinions, which seem to agree that Erstad is a very good fielder, I think it is fair to conclude that he is one of the top handful of defensive center fielders in all of baseball.
At the same time, Erstad's offense has been horrible.
YEAR AVG OBP SLG GPAWhich brings us to the catch-22 the Angels find themselves in. Darin Erstad is a great defensive center fielder who has not hit at all during the last three years. That means almost all of his value as a player comes from what he does on defense.
Meanwhile, he missed 95 games last season with leg injuries. If he's injured, he won't provide them with any value, defensive or offensive.
The question then becomes whether or not to leave Erstad in center field, where he provides a ton of defensive value along with his bad offense, and is also at a high risk of re-injury. The alternative seems to be to move Erstad to first base, where he would be asked to do a whole lot less moving around and running, and where the injury concerns wouldn't be as big of an issue.
The catch-22 part comes when you consider that a) he loses an incredible amount of his outstanding defensive value if he moves from CF to 1B and b) his offense, while bad for a center fielder, would be extraordinarily horrendous for a first baseman.
To me, there is no question. If Erstad is at first base, he provides zero value to a baseball team. Sure, he might be more likely to stay healthy there, but he will also be one of the worst everyday first baseman in baseball. In center field, there is a much better chance he will either re-injure himself or injury another part of his body, but at least when he is on the field he will provide actual value to the team.
Think of it this way: Ozzie Smith is perhaps the greatest defensive player in the history of baseball and his incredible defense earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame. Pretend for a moment that Smith played first base, instead of shortstop. Instead of being an extraordinary defensive player whose bat was a little sub par for his position, he would have become a good defensive first baseman who was absolutely horrendous offensively compared to his peers. Just by switching positions, he goes from being a Hall of Famer to being a guy not worthy of a roster spot.
Erstad's case isn't quite as extreme as Ozzie's, but it's close enough. I actually defended the Angels when they signed Erstad to a four-year contract extension a while back (it was actually the seventh entry in the history of this blog). I still think that, when healthy, he is one of the best all-around center fielders in baseball (if you haven't noticed, I am slowly but surely starting to place a lot of value on defense).
As a first baseman, Erstad simply becomes a horrible player. That may seem too extreme, but I think it is the truth. When a player has one skill that is among the best in all of baseball and you take that away from him, that often leaves a poor player. By moving him to first base, the Angels would be taking Erstad's lone remarkable skill away from him.
What to do with Erstad is a very easy decision in my opinion. He's worthless at first base and has value in center field, if healthy, so you stick him in center field for as long as his legs can take it. Of course, all indications from the Angels are that Erstad will be playing first base for them next season, which is going to hurt their defense immensely while taking away some of the value they just gained from signing Guerrero in the process.
A Jose Guillen-Darin Erstad-Vladimir Guerrero outfield would be something to watch. Erstad chases down anything and everything in center, and Guillen and Guerrero have perhaps two of the best outfield throwing arms in the history of baseball. Erstad could be the next Keith Hernandez at first base and he still wouldn't provide Anaheim with as much value defensively as he has playing center field over the last few years. His replacement in center - whether it is Guillen, Anderson or Guerrero - won't be completely horrible, but the switch would still lead to a lot more balls falling in for singles and flying into the gaps for extra-bases.
Signing Vladimir Guerrero is a huge move for the Angels and I think $70 million for five years is a very reasonable price for a 27-year old who has established himself as one of the best hitters in the game. Anaheim has the makings of a very good team in 2004, but they could be a whole lot better if they'd think about asking Anderson, Guerrero or Guillen to pick up a first baseman's glove.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Monday, January 12, 2004
"My blogger went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy entry"There is a place in this world called a "Sports Book" and it is heaven on earth for a guy like me.
There are huge TVs and medium sized TVs and small TVs. And they are all tuned to a sporting event. Football and basketball and hockey and soccer and cricket (yes, cricket). College and pro. When there aren't enough games being played to fill all the screens, there is SportsCenter, ESPN Classic, ESPN News, NBA TV, the NFL Channel and Fox Sports Nets from around the globe.
The area is filled with guys sitting at tables and in booths, smoking cigars and talking sports. There are scantily clad women walking around, offering drinks and occasionally even conversation.
If you decide to actually get up from where you are and walk a few feet, you have nachos and deli sandwiches and hot dogs and cookies at your disposal. Oh, and there are Krispy Kreme donuts too. And lots of them.
One can, if he is so inclined, get up and walk about 15 feet, to a place where he can place a bet on whatever team playing in whatever game in whichever sport he wants. $20 on Green Bay minus 7.5? Done. $50 on LSU to win? Done. $200 on Santa Clara +16.5? You got it. You want 50-to-1 on the Padres winning the World Series in October? You can get that too.
A ticket is printed, money is exchanged, and within 10 seconds you have placed a completely legal bet with someone whom you know is "good" for the money.
Then you can go sit back down, with your booze and Krispy Kremes and nachos and buddies, and watch that very game, free from distractions (other than those scantily clad women offering you drinks, of course).
I imagine, aside from places that involve some sort of sexual interaction with women, there are very few places in this world the average man would rather be than inside of a sports book in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I spent much of last week in that very place, sitting at those tables in the above picture, watching an endless amount of games on those very screens.
Of course, I did some other stuff in Las Vegas too...
My flight left at 7:10 am Sunday morning, which meant I had to get up at about 3:00 am so I could get to the airport in plenty of time. After I got there I realized I hadn't flown since 9/11, although I have heard people talk about the increased security. I have to say, I was surprised at the lack of security. It was, if anything, just slightly more than I remember from my various pre-9/11 flying experiences. I was a little disappointed that I didn't even have to take my shoes off (although the people around me were certainly pleased).
Once on the plane, I could see a few post-9/11 changes. For one thing, we were informed over the loudspeaker that it is now illegal to "congregate" near the bathroom. Our pilot made a very lengthy speech about how he would be forced to turn the plane around if people stood near the bathroom. As someone who has never, in 21 years on this earth, gone to the bathroom on an airplane, this announcement suited me just fine.
Speaking of the pilot, the flight attendant in charge of making all the pre and post-flight announcements could not, for the life of her, say his name correctly. She attempted four times - three before takeoff and one after - and botched it each time.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your captain today is Captain...Lund...der...ger...en...?"
After the first one she got some looks. After the second one people smiled to themselves. #3 resulted in some laughs. Then we took off for a three hour flight. We landed and she botched it a fourth time, which got a full-on laugh out of everyone.
Here's something you don't want to hear upon arriving in Las Vegas from Minnesota: "Ladies and gentlemen we are now entering Las Vegas. The local time is approximately 8:30 am and the temperature is 32 degrees."
The MGM Grand is monstrous. Perhaps this is the Midwestern boy in me talking, but I walked into the lobby and had to do a double-take. Also, for those of you interested, check-in time at the MGM Grand isn't until 3:00 pm. However, a slyly placed twenty in the hand of the right person can get you into the room in time for you to put your bags down and make it to the sports book to put money on the NFL game starting at 10:00 am.
Of course, not only could that $20 have been better spent (although I'm not the one who spent it), I actually would have been better off if I hadn't been able to bet on the NFL game, since I took Green Bay minus 7.5 over Seattle and they won...by six.
Green Bay fans are everywhere. The MGM Grand has one of the larger sports books in Vegas, but there were a total of two groups of Seahawks fans in the whole place, and a minimum of a dozen tables full of Packer fans. I, of course, was wearing my "TC" Minnesota Twins hat. One guy came up to me and said, "The Vikings, huh?" and then just walked away. I couldn't have said it any better.
My favorite moment from the Green Bay/Seattle game came seconds after Matt Hasselbeck threw the game-deciding interception to Al Harris of the Packers. A middle-aged man who had been very quiet all game stood up, grabbed his beer off the table and his jacket off the chair, and said, very loudly and calmly: "Oh f--- you Hasselbeck." Since the Seahawks still covered the spread, I can only guess he was either from Seattle or he had Seattle and the "money line."
After the Packers game, I was planning on putting some money on the Colts minus three over Denver. After my first loss of the trip though, I was a little gun-shy, so I went to play black jack for a while instead. The Colts beat Denver 41-10, of course.
I actually won quite a bit at black jack and then went back to the room for a little nap. Getting up at 3:00 am and then flying will do strange things to a person's ability to stay awake, even in Las Vegas.
I woke up around 5:30 pm, ate at the big buffet in the MGM Grand (very good spicy chicken) and then went back to the sports book and put a good chunk of change on Oklahoma minus 6.5 over LSU in the BCS "championship" game. It was quickly 21-7 LSU, so instead of killing myself I played some more black jack. I of course lost all the money I had won there earlier in the day, as well as a whole bunch more.
I went back to the sports book to watch the final 25 minutes or so of the football game. It was enough to give me a little hope in order to make me even more depressed when LSU eventually won.
The sports book was pretty much split down the middle for Oklahoma and LSU, which is how I figure it must be almost all the time when Green Bay isn't playing. The theme of the night with the guys sitting around me was the complete and utter inability to comprehend Jason White winning the Heisman Trophy. White was absolutely horrible in the Big 12 title game against Kansas State and he was all over the place against LSU. Well, I shouldn't say all over the place. He was actually either high or low. "All over the place" would suggest that he was on target at some point.
The moment of the night came in the middle of the fourth quarter, when a guy who looked to be about 22 years old got up from the booth he and his buddies were sitting in and proceeded to skip around the room, his hands raised above his head, shouting "Yeeeee!" every few moments. The guy sitting next to me leaned close, gave me a serious look, and said, "Son, that's what booze can do." He then leaned over the other direction, grabbed the waitress by the arm and ordered another Corona.
So, Day One ended with me back in the room, chomping on some Krispy Kremes. I lost on Green Bay, I lost at black jack, I lost on Oklahoma. I had some quality nachos, ate at a good buffet, checked out the MGM Grand and New York New York, and saw some guy prance around a sports book. Oh, and I also heard that Britney Spears got married at the Palms the night before I got there. I had been in Vegas about 15 hours and I was already a day late and a dollar short.
Day Two consisted mostly of some more black jack. I have decided that the key to winning at a casino is picking the exact right time to step away from whatever table/machine you are at. At various points over the last two days I had been "up" at a machine or a table, sometimes by quite a lot, but I always stayed that extra few minutes, and that always cost me a huge chunk of whatever winnings I had.
I walked the strip Monday night and took a bunch of pictures. The amount of digital cameras in Vegas is staggering. There are people taking pictures everywhere, and everyone is dodging one another so they don't end up in someone else's shot.
The amount of billboards in Las Vegas is also staggering. Not just on the strip, but on the way from the airport to the strip. There is one just about every mile or so, all of them featuring one of Vegas' many shows.
The interesting thing is that Vegas seems to be almost like it's own world. People who are "B" celebrities, old stars who ceased being relevant 20 years ago, and essentially nobodies anywhere else in the entire country are superstars in Vegas. Penn and Teller, Gladys Knight, Rita Rudner, Wayne Brady, Tim Conway, Carrot Top, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Vikki Lawrence, David Brenner.
These people couldn't make it as the first guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, but they're getting $60 per person for two shows a night in Vegas. Some guy named Clint Holmes who I hadn't heard of prior to arriving in Vegas is an absolute superstar there. His picture is all over the place - on buses, on taxis, on billboards, on magazines. He's been named "Best Singer in Las Vegas" for four years in a row, apparently. People talk about him like he's the second coming of Sinatra and Elvis.
I really missed out as far as the good shows go. I looked through every "magazine" I got from the hotel and checked all over the internet, but I didn't find one decent comedian/singer that I wanted to see. Meanwhile, in the month or so following my trip, guys like John Mayer, Chris Rock, Johnny Lang, Dennis Miller and David Bowie are all in Vegas. I should have been born about a month later, I guess.
Walking the strip you come across guys handing out "cards" for strip shows/hookers/whatever like every three feet. They slap the cards together so you look at them, and they then mumble something, usually in Spanish. I would show you some pictures of the cards they handed out, but they aren't exactly "kid friendly" (or work friendly).
I had two "vodka and Sprites" at the baccarat lounge in the Bellagio. I was saying how disappointed I was that I had been there for two days and hadn't been carded a single time, so the waitress there carded me. She said I looked older, probably because of my Twins hat. I said "you probably just don't care enough to card people, right?" and she quickly replied "Oh no, we have to card a lot." I don't buy it.
(That's me with my first drink)
After drinks, we went to the buffet at the Bellagio. Very solid baked ziti. I heard from the waitress that "Ben and Jen" were there (the hotel, not the buffet) a couple days ago.
When we got back to the MGM Grand there was a cover band doing a show at one of the lounges. They were about to do an Aerosmith song, so the lead singer said, "Okay everyone, how many Aerosmith fans do we have here tonight?" There were at least 50 people in the audience and not one was willing to fess up to being an Aerosmith fan. Kind of sad.
It was right about here that I started to think Sunday-Friday was too long to stay in Vegas. Particularly when you are getting ABSOLUTELY KILLED at every type of gambling you try.
I probably should have had a daily limit on losses, but I just figured I wouldn't hit the worst dry spell of my entire life during the first three days I was there. I was wrong. If I had a daily limit, I'd be on Friday's money right about now. Oh well.
I was looking at the hotel announcements on the TV during the morning and saw that "the Toronto Blue Jays" were having a meeting in room 109, from 9:00-4:30.
I'm not sure why, but I walked over to the Convention Center and saw where they were, but the door was closed and I didn't feel like trying to be sneaky. I assume there weren't any players there, just front office types and perhaps scouts. The only two faces I would recognize would be J.P. Ricciardi and possibly Keith Law. Of course, they wouldn't recognize me, which would have been a problem.
I asked some of the guys over at the Batter's Box, the best Blue Jays website on the internet, why the Jays would be in Vegas and one of them thought that maybe they were "trying to turn a $50 million budget into a $100 million budget." I hope they had more luck than I did.
I put most of what little I had left on the Timberwolves minus seven against the Shaq-less Lakers. I caught the end of the game (the Wolves covered) and then went to Catch a Rising Star at the Excalibur, had myself some more vodka and Sprite (now The Official Drink of Aaron's Baseball Blog), and saw some incredible stand-up comedy.
Before the comedy started, I was standing outside the club waiting in line. Apparently the same theater also houses a show called "Thunder from Down Under," which looks like a Chippendales-type show with guys from Australia. Anyway, it let out right as I got there to wait in line for the comedy and the lobby was filled with about 50 girls in their early 20s, wearing their Tuesday Best. It was quite a sight.
And in the middle of all of them were three guys from the show, dressed in jeans and t-shirts. AND THEY WERE SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS. Easily one of the most amazing things I saw in Vegas . Completely random, totally unknown Australia guys who look good without clothes on, signing autographs for dozens of extremely hot looking girls. And I, of course, fully clothed, watched from behind a velvet rope.
Then someone announced that other guys from the show might be coming out in a few minutes to sign, so most of the girls waited there to see them. When I went into the club there were at least 20 girls still outside. I'll say this, if I were an Australian guy with six-pack abs and long hair, I could have done some serious damage that night.
Sadly, I'm just some jackass from Minnesota with a keg and a Twins hat. So I had to settle for having three people make me laugh while I drank vodka.
Mike Saccone was the headliner and he was about as good as I've ever seen a comedian be. Incredibly confident, extremely calm and just damn funny. It genuinely seemed like he had just walked up on stage and decided to do a little talking. There was a group of drunks from, coincidentally enough, Green Bay, Wisconsin (I kid you not), right up front and they gave all three comedians trouble all night. But Saccone was brilliant with them. He let them babble on and on and he had a joke to counter each and every thing they said.
He eventually worked them into his act too, which made things even funnier. At one point he got one of the drunk women to stand up and pull her bra out from under her shirt, through the arm hole. Saccone was a definite "10" on any scale and the first two acts (Jackie Kashian and Charlie Viracola) were awesome as well. Viracola came on in the middle as a "special guest" and did perhaps the tightest five minutes of comedy I have ever heard. Every joke was funny and he was gone in a flash.
Saccone did an amazing thing. After he came on stage, he did about three minutes involving Viracola's act. Not stealing from it, but just taking it and twisting it around, adding new stuff. It was pretty amazing. I assume he'd heard Viracola's material before, but it was still impressive. It was a good way to get in good with the audience, who just got done getting hit with an incredible, fast-paced five minutes of comedy from Viracola.
So, I have three recommendations from my experience Tuesday night:
1) Go to Catch a Rising Star in the Excalibur, particularly if Mike Saccone, Charlie Viracola or Jackie Kashian are there.
2) Do tons of sit-ups, work on one of those Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger-type accents, and grow your hair really long.
3) Practice signing your name with a felt-tipped pen on a Polaroid of you shirtless, while some 22-year old girl with a few drinks in her hops up and down smiling like she just won the lottery.
This was my lazy day. I watched LeBron vs. Toronto at the sports book for a little while and put $20 on the Rockets +4.5 over the Pistons and Florida -2.5 over South Carolina. I decided that if I won those, I was letting it all ride on Sacramento -2 over Seattle later that night.
Some guy got kicked out of the sports book by the police because he was sleeping in one of the booths. A female cop got on her walkie-talkie and said, "We have a sleeper in the sports book." I wonder how often that happens.
Here's a quick observation I had: the cocktail waitresses at the MGM Grand during the day are far older and less attractive than the ones at night. It's as if the "B Squad" works the day shift, which is most likely exactly what happens. They get gradually younger and better looking with each passing hour, until you've got the All-Stars patrolling the floor at night.
A group of four guys were drinking and smoking in the sports book during the afternoon, at a table next to me. One of them started making fun of this older waitress. His buddies were being really quiet all of a sudden and then I noticed that the waitress was standing right behind him the whole time. He finally saw her and tried to say something, but she just said "schmuck" loudly and walked away. I can only imagine the stuff those waitresses have to deal with.
We went to Il Fornaio in New York New York for dinner and it was excellent, although I think our waiter was putting on his Italian accent. I ended up winning the $20 on Florida -2.5, but I lost the $20 on the Rockets. I decided to bet on the Kings anyway and I then watched them get absolutely destroyed by the Sonics. It was painful to watch. The game ended at around 10:00 pm.
It's weird being a sports fan here, because there are no "late games." One of my great joys in life is getting in bed to watch a 10:00 pm college basketball game or the second game of an NBA double-header on TNT. But here, those games start at 7:00 or 8:00 pm. Kind of weird and sad, because I'd love to sit in the sports book and root for Golden State +4.5 at 1:00 am or something.
Another good line overheard at the sports book, as a "full-figured" waitress stood nearby: "Hey, honey, how 'bout a Bud Light for me and a round of Viagra for my friends."
One more random observation: The amount of money people spend in Vegas is amazing. Not just the gambling, but the shows and just the overall nothingness that costs tons of money. A bottle of water for $3, a sandwich for $7.50, tickets to Rita Rudner for $60 - it just goes on and on and on. Even if a low-stakes gambler comes and wins $100 over a weekend, he's gonna give it all back on drinks and snacks and just meaningless stuff that eats away at your wallet. And the whole "Ah, what the hell, it's Vegas!" theme only helps to feed that.
On a lighter note, I found out that I could have had tickets to see Carrot Top for just $17. I assume it meant that I would have to pay them $17, although I wouldn't have gone for it either way.
I lost pretty much all of my remaining money playing black jack. At this point I was down to a few lonely bills and some loose change. Oh well, at least it was fun.
One comment about the women here: they are fantastic. Every girl under the age of 30 gets completely dressed up just to walk around the casino and the end result is a damn good fashion show for bums like me who are sitting in the sports book or at a black jack table.
At the comedy club, I saw one of the best looking women I have ever seen, accompanying some guy in his 20s who was wearing a pair on jeans, a grey sweatshirt and a backwards Yankees hat. The girl was wearing a black cocktail dress that showed an incredible amount of cleavage, and she had on huge heels and lots of jewelry.
The person sitting next to me at the club (he shall remain nameless, so as to not incriminate himself) also noticed this girl and suggested later that she may have been an "escort." We also noticed that the "couple" didn't really say anything to each other during the entire show and that the girl never drank the drink the guy got her from the bar. Verrrrry interesting...
I do wonder though, if you're going to get an escort, why bring her to a comedy club? Although I must say, if he was going to buy himself some female companionship, he did one helluva job.
I was going to take the Rockets +1 over the Knicks and Portland +8.5 over the Timberwolves, but sadly I didn't even have enough money to make that happen! Houston won by like 400 points, but the Wolves blew the Blazers out, so I don't feel so bad that I missed making the bets. Plus, I went downtown at around 5:00 pm, so I wouldn't have been around to watch the games anyway.
While downtown, I had dinner at the Golden Nugget buffet. It is much smaller than the buffets at the MGM Grand and the Bellagio, but still very good (and much cheaper).
The downtown area is very seedy. There are lots of pawn shops and check cashing places, and the whole area is just much dirtier and less glamorous than the strip. There are also a bunch of tiny little casinos that are just plain strange inside. One near the Golden Nugget was about the size of a large mobile home and the waitresses wore overalls and brought you drinks in flimsy plastic cups.
The sports book at the Golden Nugget was particularly pathetic. They have a little board with hand-written lines on it and zero televisions with games on them. I'm not sure why anyone would ever bet there. The downtown area contains about 95% of the same stuff that the strip has, but it somehow loses every aspect of what makes Las Vegas special.
On the way back to the hotel, the cab driver told me that "it's easy to make money in Las Vegas, as long as you don't gamble." Maybe I should try that approach next time.
The last day was very uneventful. Check-out time was early and all I did was gamble a little bit before heading to the airport. And then, of course, there were slot machines and poker machines at the airport. I didn't have any money at that point but if I had, I'm not sure those would have cleaned me out before I got on the plane.
I spent my last $5 for the entire trip on a bag of trail mix to take on the plane. I left Minnesota for Las Vegas in the wee hours Sunday morning, with so much money that it didn't even all fit into my wallet. I left Vegas on a Friday with not a single piece of green paper and not enough change to buy a newspaper.
Oh, and as if that weren't scary enough, there was a little excitement before takeoff. Everyone had already been seated for about 30 minutes and we were about 20 minutes past the scheduled takeoff time. People kept going in and out of the cockpit with cell phones and pieces of paper. Finally, some guy got on the loudspeaker and said the following:
"As you can see, there is a problem. We are having an issue with the plane's balance and we have taken four pieces of luggage off the plane, along with a pilot and a mechanic. We should be leaving shortly."As you can imagine, there was an audible gasp followed by a whole bunch of confused looks. Is there a worse announcement you can make three minutes before an airplane takes off?
I guess maybe "the right wing is broken, but we patched it up with duct-tape and we should be good to go" would be slightly worse, but not by much.
My main question is this: if there is enough of a balance issue to hold up takeoff and to cause things to be taken off the plane, shouldn't more than four stinking bags and two people be removed? Let's say the bags weigh 50 pounds each and the people check in at 200 apiece - that's a total of 600 pounds. In the grand scheme of air travel, is that enough to make any sort of difference? And if you're going to take 600 pounds off a plane, wouldn't you start with the drink carts instead of people's luggage?
They took the four bags off the plane randomly and then read the names of the people whom the bags belonged to. The guy making the announcement then said, "We think the bags will be put onto the next flight, which leaves at around midnight." We think?! Around midnight?! I say it's 3-to-1 those bags never even made it out of Las Vegas.
We lived, so I guess I shouldn't complain, by my god that freaked me out.
All in all, it was a great trip. I would have liked to leave with a little money, but they don't build those big buildings in the desert because people win. I gambled, watched some sports, ate some good food, saw some good comedy and experienced the glitz and glamour of Vegas for the first time in my life.
I'll be back. Not even unbalanced planes and free tickets to Carrot Top could keep me away. By the time I'm 42 I should have enough money saved up to go for another week.
I'm Leaving Las Vegas
--- Sheryl Crow, Leaving Las Vegas
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****