Sign Our Pledge!
Main Sections:
Front Page
Discussion Forum
Coop. Confidential
Game Chat
Team Links
Mailing List
OAFC Column
Special Sections:

About Markusen

Books Published:
(click cover for info)

Upcomming Releases:

Baseball 2000
(Spring 2000)

The Orlando Cepeda Story
(Spring 2001)

Cooperstown Confidential
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

What The A’s Need

Billy Beane has done terrific work in the Bay Area, assembling a talented contender in Oakland despite massive payroll limitations, overseeing the development of a productive and bountiful farm system, and placing an organization-wide emphasis on previously overlooked aspects of the game like plate discipline, the ability to work the count, and on-base percentage. For all of those reasons, the A’s have put together a nucleus of young talent that might be unmatched in the game today. It’s a nucleus that may be good enough to latch on to the American League Wild Card post (witness their recent three-game sweep of the Indians), an accomplishment that would have been unfathomable only three years ago. Yet, the A’s may not make the post-season this year, given their up-and-down play of the last month and a half. Last week, the A’s traveled to New York to take on a Yankee team that was ready to be taken, reeling after losing three straight games to the Western Division-leading Mariners. Rookie left-hander Barry Zito pitched brilliantly in the opener of the Yankee series, giving Oakland’s bullpen a 2-1 lead in the late innings. Then, after Jason Isringhausen threw only two pitches in the ninth inning—which were both blasted for dramatic home runs by Bernie Williams and David Justice—the A’s found themselves the victims of a crushing 3-2 defeat at Yankee Stadium. Stung by the unexpected loss, the A’s couldn’t recover, dropping the next two to the Bombers to complete an embarrassing three-game sweep. So what’s gone wrong with the A’s during the last month or so? Perhaps Jason Isringhausen isn’t a championship closer. Maybe Tim Hudson isn’t ready to anchor a talented, but inexperienced starting rotation. Perhaps the A’s simply don’t have enough right-handed hitting to balance off a terrific left-handed, power-hitting lineup. While all of the above may be legitimate weaknesses, the A’s displayed another—even more lethal shortcoming—in their series against the Yankees. The A’s, for all of their home runs and all of their walks, can’t advance baserunners, unless it’s with a walk or a home run. Although Beane has done yeoman’s work in constructing the A’s, he hasn’t been able to acquire or develop two or three contact hitters (like Mike Gallego, Carney Lansford, and Walt Weiss in past years) who consistently put the ball in play and move runners along with bunts, opposite-field hits, and outs. In the first game of the Yankee series alone, the A’s put seven runners on base in the final three innings and couldn’t score a single one of them. Throughout the series, almost every one of their hitters showed they could take pitches and swing for the fences (and strike out), but they showed virtually no ability to move runners up with a sacrifice bunt, a sac fly, a hit-and-run, or a well-placed ground ball to the right side of the infield. It’s called situational hitting—and the A’s just can’t do it. The concept of situational hitting is belittled by some Sabermetricians, but it’s a strategy that’s needed from time to time to win games. Some days, the home runs just aren’t there. Other days, the opposing pitcher is just too good to surrender a boatload of walks. On those days, games might well be decided by the ability to move up a runner with an out, or the ability to put the ball in play with a runner in motion. And those are things the A’s, as currently constituted, just don’t seem to be able to do. Until they do, the A’s may have to settle for a quick exit from the post-season (where situational hitting becomes even more important against a better caliber of pitching)—or for no post-season at all… One other note on the A’s. Manager Art Howe made a smart move the other day by putting Randy Velarde in the leadoff spot and dropping rookie Terrence Long to the middle of the order. Velarde doesn’t like the leadoff role, but he’s by far the best man the A’s have for the job.

Comings And Goings

Scott Boras has once again shown himself to be the master of self-centeredness. Boras recently advised his client, Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran, not to accept an injury rehabilitation assignment to Florida. Never mind that it’s established club policy and that successful teams like the Yankees send all of their injured players to their complex in Tampa during their stays on the disabled list, as a way of insuring that their players are fully healthy before coming back to the major league roster. Boras doesn’t give a damn about the team—only about feeding the egos of his players and trying to find loopholes to help them become free agents… According to a reliable West Coast source, Dusty Baker will almost certainly not be returning to the Giants next season. Baker, who has taken less money to stay with San Francisco in the past, would like to cash in on his impending free agent status. Among the teams that Baker will consider are the Mets (if they don’t come to an agreement on an extension with Bobby Valentine), the Pirates (where Gene Lamont is counting down the days), the A’s (if Art Howe takes the fall for the team’s underachieving second half), or the Blue Jays (where Jim Fregosi felt his power base threatened by the firing of pitching coach Rick Langford). Los Angeles would like to be added to the list, but Baker has already ruled out Dodger Blue because of a rift with several members of the organization.… In order to make room for Jose Canseco on their 25-man roster, the Yankees designated journeyman outfielder Ryan Thompson for assignment, which means that Clay Bellinger will serve as Bernie Williams’ backup in center field. Bellinger, a favorite of Joe Torre, has shown an adaptability to the outfield corners but has never playing an inning of center field in the major leagues prior to this season. If the Yankees make the playoffs and decide that Bellinger is too much of a risk in case of an injury to Williams, there’s still the possibility that they might disable Canseco and add Thompson to the post-season roster… I had to chuckle recently when I read a website report that said the addition of Canseco would allow Joe Torre to pinch-hit for Dave Justice and Paul O’Neill when they face tough left-handed pitchers in the late innings of close games. Well, Torre hasn’t pinch-hit for Justice with a right-handed batter since he joined the team in mid-season. He also hasn’t lifted O’Neill against a single left-hander this season. And why should Torre pinch-hit for either of these capable veterans? Through last weekend’s games, O’Neill was hitting .346 against southpaws (as opposed to .283 against right-handers) and Justice was batting .326 with 10 home runs against portsiders… For Bobby Valentine, his biggest challenge over the final month and a half of the season will be finding a consistent tablesetter among the less-than-established leadoff men on the Mets’ roster. Of the candidates, Benny Agbayani has the best on-base percentage (a surprising .398), but one has to wonder how much that will fall off if he continues to play every day. Jay Payton and Darryl Hamilton offer the most speed up top, but neither has the requisite patience for the leadoff chores. Valentine has also tried Mike Bordick at the top of the order, but he’s much better suited to batting sixth or seventh in the Mets’ lineup… The Mets’ decision to designate Matt Franco for assignment was somewhat surprising, given the team’s lack of left-handed hitting (only Hamilton, Lenny Harris, and Robin Ventura bat from the left side). The Mets decided to keep Joe McEwing around as a second utility infielder, which may be superfluous with the presence of Harris and Kurt Abbott on the current 25-man roster.

What’s Up in Cooperstown?

The Hall of Fame’s Legends Series, which has proven extremely popular in its first year of existence, will continue with another prime event in September. On September 15, 16, and 17, Tom Seaver will visit the Cooperstown shrine and chat with members of the "Friends of the Hall of Fame" Fan Club at three different sessions. If you’re planning to be in Cooperstown over those dates and would like to participate, call the "Friends of the Hall at Fame" at 607-547-0230… The Hall of Fame is currently discussing plans to display the newly-revised Roberto Clemente plaque at various sites in Puerto Rico later this year, including the Clemente Sports City in Roberto’s hometown of Carolina. The plaque, which corrects the ordering of Clemente’s name—it’s "Roberto Clemente Walker," not "Roberto Walker Clemente"—is currently on exhibit at the Heinz Museum in Pittsburgh. No specific dates have been announced for the showing of the plaque in Puerto Rico, but the plaque will be featured at the Sports City sometime this fall or winter. After members of the Clemente family, including Roberto’s widow Vera, had asked the Hall of Fame to correct the plaque, Hall President Dale Petroskey agreed that a revision was in order… Former Hall of Fame Librarian Tom Heitz is now the editor of one of Cooperstown’s two local papers, the Freeman’s Journal. Heitz, who is a well-known member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and an authority on 19th century baseball, worked at the Hall of Fame from 1982 to 1995.

Previous Columns