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Dwight Evans

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

1986 Topps baseball card

Boston Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans is one of my heroes. Of course, everyone on the 1975 Red Sox is one of my heroes, so that’s not saying much. But I was always impressed with how Dewey, regarded by all Sox fans as the greatest defensive right fielder of the time, turned himself into a great hitter too. In 1983, at the age of 31, despite winning a gold glove, he had a terrible year at the plate, with a batting average was .238, OBP of .338, slugging .436, with 22 homers and 58 RBIs. (See here for stats.) I thought he would only get worse. Instead, he got better. Four years later, an all-star year, his numbers were .305/.417/.569, with 34 homers, 123 RBIs, and a league-leading 106 walks.

You can study the numbers. Indeed you should, because what we’re talking about is a player with a Hall of Fame level career who has never gotten his due. Fortunately, Bill James has now made the case, in a persuasive piece published a week ago at Grantland titled An Open Letter to the Hall of Fame About Dwight Evans. (Hat tip: Joe Posnanski, without whom I would have missed this.) With James on the case, I needn’t say more. I’ll turn it over to him, quoting just the opening of his extended argument:

I hope you understand that I would never sacrifice my reputation by arguing that a player belongs in the Hall of Fame if I did not sincerely believe this to be true. Yes, Dwight Evans works for the Red Sox, and I work for the Red Sox, and I’m not saying this is not relevant to why I am writing, but … I wouldn’t argue that Dwight Evans had a Hall of Fame quality career if the kinds of analysis that I do all the time did not show this to be true. It’s not really that I wouldn’t; I couldn’t. I’ve spent years explaining to the public every step I take in evaluating a player. If I didn’t follow those steps, the people who have read my stuff over the years would know immediately that I wasn’t playing by the rules, and they would tear me a newbie over it right away.

Let us start with the proposition that Dwight Evans is one of the most underrated players in baseball history. There are certain things that make players underrated. The most important of these is that a player who does several things well will always be underrated compared to a specialist, just because of the way the human mind works. We absorb simple concepts more readily than complex ones. If a player hits .325, if he hits 40 homers, if he steals 70 bases, we get that immediately. If a player does many things well but no one thing spectacularly well, he may have equal value but it takes longer for the public to catch on.

Dwight Evans was a player who did many things very well — hitting almost 400 home runs, drawing a lot of walks, winning a long string of Gold Gloves, and even registering pretty decent batting averages, .290 or better five times in eight years. His batting average, however, was not his specialty, particularly early in his career, and given that batting average was at that time regarded as the center of the baseball universe, so to speak, this also caused him to be underrated.

On-base percentage is much more closely tied to scoring runs (and to winning games) than is batting average, and in the 21st century all baseball people know this. But in the 1970s very few people knew it, so Dwight Evans was evaluated by the baseball writers of his time more based on his batting averages, which were OK, than on his on-base percentages, which were outstanding.

Then there is the problem of first impressions, that when the place of a player is settled in the public’s mind, it is difficult for him to change how he is seen. The public image of Dwight Evans — as for every player — was formed by his first few years in the major leagues, and in those years he was not a great player; he was a good player, but not yet a great one. Dwight Evans is the very unusual player who had all of his best years in his thirties. About 40 percent of baseball players have all of their best years in their twenties; about 55 percent have some of their best years in their twenties and some in their thirties. Less than 5 percent have all of their best years in their thirties. Dwight Evans is that unusual case: someone who had all of his best years in his thirties, after the public image of him as a .270 hitter with 20-homer type power was set in stone.

James closes with the claim that “Dwight Evans is a Hall of Famer.” Amen.

Categories: Baseball

Hall of Fame Vote

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a week since the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the 2012 vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall membership. To be elevated, a former player must receive at least 75% of the vote. Only Barry Larkin reached that level. Baseball-Reference.com has kindly provided complete voting details, from which I have drawn the following list of the top fourteen vote-getters, with their number of votes (out of 573 ballots, with 430 needed for election) and their vote percentage:

Barry Larkin 495 86.4%
Jack Morris 382 66.7%
Jeff Bagwell 321 56.0%
Lee Smith 290 50.6%
Tim Raines 279 48.7%
Alan Trammell 211 36.8%
Edgar Martinez 209 36.5%
Fred McGriff 137 23.9%
Larry Walker 131 22.9%
Mark McGwire 112 19.5%
Don Mattingly 102 17.8%
Dale Murphy 83 14.5%
Rafael Palmeiro 72 12.6%
Bernie Williams 55 9.6%

The significance of this subset of the full list is that these are precisely the players (besides Larkin) who earned the right to stay on next year’s ballot, while those lower in the voting will drop off. One gets fifteen cracks at election, provided one stays above the 5% minimum vote threshold and gets carried over to the next year. Dale Murphy has only one year of eligibility left, Jack Morris two, Don Mattingly three, Alan Trammell four, and Lee Smith five. The rest have many more chances, with Mark McGwire the next in seniority at nine years to go.

With all the learned commentary that appeared in the days before the voting and then just after, it is difficult to have anything useful to add to the discussion. Joe Posnanski alone has written many thousands of words (here, for one), based on years of study and data analysis.

All I can do is add a few personal thoughts, minus the analysis. Just the thoughts of a simple fan, one who detests arguments based on “I know one [a Hall of Famer] when I see one” but has not done the research to rise to a higher level. So, based on the rejected premise that I really do know one when I see one, here goes. And let me point out that I have but one dog in this hunt, as may become clear. I’ll take the players one by one.

1. Larkin. Of course. He should get in. Good thing he did.

2. Morris. The consensus seems to be that with last year’s election of Bert Blyleven, Morris’s time has come. That was quite the controversy, arguments going back and forth on why one can’t get in unless the other does first, or why one shouldn’t be in at all. Well, Blyleven’s in. Morris is next. Should he be? I’ve read the arguments. I don’t know. Or care. I do believe that he shouldn’t get in on the basis of one game, yet that one game seems to underlie many of the passionate arguments in his favor. That game being the 7th game of the 1991 World Series (box score here), the one in which Morris pitched a 1-0 ten-inning shutout over the Braves to propel the Twins to World Series victory.

I can tell you where I was. At home, with the game on on a tiny TV in the bedroom while Halloween craziness filled the rest of the house. Joel, then four years old, had said something to Gail about his vision or Halloween that she interpreted to mean he wanted his pre-school class over for a party. Something may have gotten lost in translation, but Gail ran with it, and the whole class came over, parents in tow. It was standing room only. Gail also invited our friends Cynthia and Rich over with their children. Rich, a former college baseball player and big fan, would retreat to the bedroom with me every so often to check on the score. But for the most part, we were part of the party. I missed a classic. And maybe that’s why I’m not an enthusiastic Morris backer.

3. Bagwell. Of course he’s a Hall of Famer. First ballot. He’s paying the penalty for being part of the steroids era without even being accused of being a steroids user. The suspicions are there, though, so he must spend time in purgatory.

4. Smith. I don’t see the case. Apparently, a lot of voters don’t either and he’s probably not going to make it.

5. Raines. Of course. Vote him in already.

6. Trammell. Ditto. Unfortunately, he might not make it.

7. Martinez. That’s my dog. More below.

8. McGriff. I’m thinking he’s not going to make it. But I supported Jim Rice, who finally did, and I see McGriff as a similar player. He should be in.

9. Walker. The knock is the big numbers he put up thanks to the welcoming environs of Coors Field. Maybe so, but he was a beautiful hitter. A great one. I think he should be in.

10. McGwire. How can there be a Hall of Fame without McGwire? It’s a joke. Enough with the steroids penalty already. He did nothing illegal. Blame Selig. Blame the owners. Blame the networks. Blame everyone, but let him in.

11. Mattingly. Nope. Sure, he had some great years, but not enough. He would have fallen off the ballot long ago but for the Yankee hype.

12. Murphy. Posnanski has argued for him. I didn’t follow him closely enough. No opinion.

13. Palmeiro. Another steroids case, of course. I imagine he won’t make it. And it’s still a mystery how he put up all those huge career power numbers when no one was paying attention. Funny case. I don’t know.

14. Williams. See Mattingly.

Back to Edgar Martinez. I already played the “how can there be a Hall of Fame without him” card on Mark McGwire, but this deck has two. I’m playing it again.

How can there be a Hall of Fame without Edgar Martinez? He was a great hitter, maybe the best pure hitter of his time other than Barry Bonds. Yes, that good.

I won’t make the arguments. They’ve been made elsewhere. I’ll just point out that he had his Jack Morris moment. Two of them, on successive nights.

Let’s go to game four of the Mariners-Yankees 1995 playoff series, on October 7, at the Kingdome in Seattle. I wasn’t there. I should have been. I was at home watching in the basement with Gail and Joel. The Yankees won the first two games of the series at home and were up 2-1 in games at this point, with the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 8th and Yankees closer John Wetteland pitching to the top of the Mariners order. A walk to Vince Coleman, Joey Cora bunts safely, Ken Griffey is hit by a pitch, and up comes Edgar. The season is on the line, and he wallops a magnificent home run. As we jumped up and down, screaming, I announced that we were going to game five the next day, whatever it took.

That wasn’t the end of the game, of course. Buhner would hit another homer two batters later, the Yankees would come back with two runs in the 9th, but the Mariners held on to win. The next morning we saw an ad in the Seattle Times for a ticket broker, made a call, Gail drove to a Bellevue hotel with Joel for a furtive meeting with the broker, and came home with three tickets for the decisive, all-or-nothing game five. Great seats, between home and third in the section where the Yankees wives and families were sitting. Some Yankee must have put the tickets up for sale.

I needn’t tell the story of game five. The greatest game in Mariners history. The greatest game in Kingdome history. The game that saved baseball in Seattle. The game that helped renew baseball’s popularity after the strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season. So many great moments in a back-and-forth game, but none greater than the end, with dual heroes. Edgar and his glorious double to left field in the bottom of the 11th, Griffey scoring from first with that electric smile peeking out as he lies on home plate at the bottom of a pile-up. The Yankees hopes dashed, though they would have the last laugh with four World Series victories in the next five years.

Edgar is a Hall of Famer. A great hitter, who proved it when the stakes were highest. The Kingdome had those crazy exterior ramps you had to walk down, back and forth and back and forth, round and round and round, to get the heck out of there. Usually a drag, as if sitting in the Kingdome itself wasn’t drag enough. Not that night. Thousands of us looped around, chanting in unison “Eeeeeeeed gaaaaaar, Eeeeeeed gaaaaar” [Short e, not long e]. Years later, Griffey has become the face of that moment, with his mad dash from first to home. That night, Edgar was our hero.

Categories: Baseball

MVP: Correction and More

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Matt Kemp

[Christian Petersen / Getty Images / September 27, 2011]

I realized this morning, in reading about Justin Verlander’s receipt yesterday of the American League Most Valuable Player award, that my post on the matter last night had some errors. Tyler Kepner’s NYT article mentioned the last pitcher to receive the MVP, Dennis Eckersley in 1992, and I thought simultaneously “of course” and “how did I forget that last night?” I can blame the supposed list of MVP pitchers I relied on in Sports Illustrated, but I should have known better. And when I next checked my email this morning, there was a polite note from Joel suggesting that I might want to revise my post. This is my correction.

On being reminded of Eckersley, I also thought of Willie Hernández, who sure enough won the MVP in 1984. Like Eckersley, he was a relief pitcher. And Rollie Fingers in 1981. Oh, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe the SI list consisted of starting pitchers who received the MVP, not all pitchers. Well, if that’s the case, then they missed a starter too, Don Newcombe in 1956. Who knows? It was just a lousy list. I should have checked a more reliable source, such as baseball-reference.com. I apologize for my sloppiness.

As long as we’re on the subject, the National League MVP was announced today: Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. With Verlander’s award in mind, I decided to take a look at the vote to see how pitchers fared. See for yourself. You’ll find that highest placed pitcher was Roy Halladay, named on 14 of 32 ballots and finishing 9th. Clayton Kershaw was on 11 ballots and finished 12th. Starting two positions lower, in 14th, players got just a handful of votes, with two more pitchers, Ian Kennedy and Cliff Lee, appearing in 14th and 15th and being named on 4 ballots each.

What to make of this? Not much, I suppose. But why did Halladay finish ahead of Kershaw after Kershaw dominated the Cy Young voting announced last week? (Kershaw received 27 first place votes along with 3 seconds and 2 thirds, while Halladay received just 4 first place votes along with 21 seconds and 7 thirds, both appearing on all 32 ballots.) Does it have something to do with Halladay’s team, the Phillies, making the playoffs, whereas Kershaw’s Dodgers, through no possible fault of his own, didn’t?

Speaking of the Dodgers, the more important question is why Matt Kemp finished second to Ryan Braun in the MVP voting. The two dominated the voting, the only ones to appear high up on all 32 ballots: 20 first place votes and 12 seconds for Braun; 10 firsts, 16 seconds, 6 thirds for Kemp. Shift six of Braun’s first place votes to second and six of Kemp’s second place votes to first and Kemp is the MVP. But as long as enough voters believe the MVP is an award for members of playoff teams only, we’ll keep having skewed elections.

There are bigger issues out there, I know. But as long as I was correcting yesterday’s post, I thought it worth exploring this theme again in light of today’s data.

PS In looking for a photo of Kemp, I found this column by Bill Plaschke in tomorrow’s LA Times (and the photo at top). Let me quote from it, the boldface emphasis being mine:

I need some dirt to kick. I need a base to throw. I need a big blue chest to bump. I need an explanation

How did the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp not win the National League most-valuable-player award?

Somebody tell me. Somebody show me. Use sabermetrics. Go to the video. I don’t care. If there is one piece of concrete evidence that says Kemp should not have been voted MVP over Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, I want to see it.

This is a robbery greater than a Kemp leaping catch. This is a steal more blatant than a Kemp sprint. This is a hosing more definitive than when Kemp puts on his socks.

In voting by my fellow members of the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America, Braun won the award Tuesday over Kemp, and it wasn’t really close, and it shouldn’t have been close. Kemp should have easily won, and if baseball ever needs instant replay, it is right now.

Kemp had more home runs than Braun. He had more runs batted in. He had more runs scored. He had more stolen bases. He had a better on-base percentage.

When you throw everything together and calculate the hot stat known as wins above replacement, which determines how many wins a player is worth to his team, Kemp led the NL and Braun finished second.

All this, and Kemp batted in a lineup filled with mediocrity while Braun had the benefit of batting in front of the man who finished third in the MVP voting, the mighty Prince Fielder.

[snip]

Braun won the MVP award because many writers have come to associate “most valuable” with “postseason,” and while the Brewers won the Central Division the Dodgers went nowhere.

Never mind that five other NL MVPs since 2000 have come from teams that didn’t reach the playoffs. Never mind that the last time a Brewer won the MVP award, Robin Yount led the 1989 team to a fourth-place finish.

And, really, never mind that the actual MVP ballot contains the mandate: “The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifiers.

Categories: Baseball

Justin Verlander’s MVP

November 21, 2011 1 comment

Justin Verlander throwing no-hitter, May 7, 2011

Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was named the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player today. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it’s notable, as he is the first pitcher to be named the MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986. As you can see in the table included in the linked article, there was a time when pitching MVPs were common. From 1931 to 1945, pitchers were named MVP nine times (Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell twice, Dizzy Dean, Bucky Walters, Mort Cooper, Spud Chandler, and Hal Newhouser twice). However, since then, pitchers were named MVP only seven times. There was Jim Konstanty in 1950; Bobby Shantz in 1952; a sixteen-year gap until the 1968, the famous year of the pitcher, when both leagues’ MVPs were pitchers (Denny McLain and, of course, Bob Gibson); Vida Blue just three years later, Clemens in 1986, and Verlander today.

I don’t have a lot at stake in this, but for what it’s worth, I’m in the group that believes pitchers shouldn’t be MVPs. Gibson in 1968? Well, maybe. What a season! But otherwise, forget it.

What I find especially frustrating is the distortion introduced into MVP balloting by the belief of many voters that the MVP has to be on a playoff team. The reasoning is that if a player can’t “lead” his team to the playoffs, other players, on playoff teams, must be more valuable, essentially by definition of the word “valuable.” This is a year when that distortion had a visible effect. Let’s take a look.

First, a review. In each league, MVP voting is done by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, two for each of the league’s teams. Since the American League has 14 teams (for now, until Houston moves over in two years), there are 28 voters. Each voter ranks up to 10 players, from first to tenth. A player gets 14 points for each first place vote, 9 for second place, 8 for third place, 7 for fourth place, and on down to 2 points for ninth place and 1 point for tenth place. Those first place votes carry an extra premium, thanks to the weighting.

In this year’s voting for the American League MVP, which you can study at either of the two sites I’ve linked to, Verlander was on 27 of the 28 ballots, with 13 first place votes, 3 seconds, 3 thirds, 4 fourths, 1 fifth, 2 sixths, and 1 eighth. This yielded 280 points. Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox was second with 242 points. He appeared on all 28 ballots, with 4 first place votes, 13 seconds, 4 thirds, 1 fourth, 4 fifths, 1 sixth, and 1 tenth.

Here’s the problem, or what I see as the problem anyway. The Red Sox collapsed in September, a historic collapse. But through no fault of Ellsbury’s, and even with their collapse, they were one pitch away from making the playoffs. Papelbon had two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth of the last regular season game (which we missed while eating at Poppy) and nearly got the out that would have put them into the playoffs. Let’s say they made it. I’m thinking that instead of Verlander getting 13 first place votes and 3 seconds to Ellsbury’s 4 first place votes and 13 seconds, they would essentially have been reversed. But let’s say even just four voters reversed them. Four voters who put Verlander first and Ellsbury second instead putting Ellsbury first and Verlander second. Had that happened, Ellsbury would have finished with 262 points to Verlander’s 260.

So, if I have this right, and I think I do, Ellsbury lost the MVP because Papelbon failed to throw one last strike against Baltimore in the bottom of the 9th of their final game (box score here). With Ellsbury suddenly reduced to being a member of a non-playoff team, and the other obvious MVP contender among everyday players, Toronto’s José Bautista, also on a non-playoff team, the holier-than-thou purists who had to uphold their theory that only players on playoff teams are worthy of being MVPs scrambled to elevate Verlander to the top of the ballot, costing Ellsbury and Bautista the MVP that one or the other deserved.

And that’s how a pitcher won the MVP for the first time in a quarter century. Verlander had a great season. He deserves recognition. And he got it, as the unanimous choice for the Cy Young award. But he shouldn’t have received the MVP.

Categories: Baseball

Addendum: Albert Pujols

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Albert Pujols hitting his second home run of three tonight in the 7th inning

[Tim Sharp, Reuters]

This is a little embarrassing. Little did I know while writing my post earlier this evening about the 1960 World Series, in which I mentioned seeing Bobby Richardson get a World Series record six RBIs in one game, that Albert Pujols was in the process of doing the very same thing. I noted that Hideki Matsui duplicated Richardson’s feat two years ago. If I had taken the time to watch tonight’s World Series game instead of writing about one half a century ago, I could have seen history being made instead of being stuck in history.

In fairness to myself, the game was essentially over when Pujols tied the record with two out in the top of the ninth. His solo homer upped the Cardinal lead over the Rangers from 15-7 to 16-7. Still, a marvelous feat. After grounding out in the first, Pujols singled in the fourth, singled in the fifth, hit a three-run homer in the sixth, a two-run homer in the seventh, and the solo home run in the ninth. That’s some kind of night. The three home runs tied the famous series record for most home runs in a game, set by Babe Ruth (1926, 1928) and tied by Reggie Jackson (1977).

Categories: Baseball, History

Hey, I Was There!

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

[National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, via NYT]

The NYT had an article Wednesday, the morning of this year’s opening World Series game, on the history of World Series programs. And there’s a pretty good accompanying slide show, too, with programs going back to 1911 (Giants-Athletics). But what caught my eye instantly was the program used as a graphic at the article’s head. The one above.

That’s not just any program. I have that program! It’s the program my father bought for me 51 years ago when he took my brother and me to game 3, the first Yankees home game of that famous series between the Yankees and the Pirates. You know the Series. The one where the Yankees beat up on the Pirates in three of the first six games (16-3, 10-0, 12-0), with the Pirates squeezing in three close wins (6-4, 3-2, 5-2) in-between. Add it up: that’s a 46-17 run margin over six games.

As for game 3, the one we went to, that’s the 10-0 Yankee win. Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson hit a grand slam in the first inning that landed three rows in front of us, one of the thrills of my childhood, driving in Bill Skowron, Gil McDougald, and Elston Howard. Three innings later, he hit a single with the bases loaded that brought Skowron and McDougald in again and sent Howard to second. Six RBIs, still the world series single-game record, tied only two years ago by fellow Yankee Hideki Matsui.

Whitey Ford was on the mound that day, throwing a four-hit shutout. Richardson would go on to win the World Series MVP award. What a team! Maris in his first year as a Yankee. Mantle. Howard and Berra both available to catch, with yet another pretty darn good catcher, Johnny Blanchard, in reserve. Kubek sharing middle-infield duties with Richardson. Gosh, I worshiped them.

Well, anyway, that was that. I won’t talk about game 7. A little too much pain for a young boy. I know exactly where I was when Mazeroski hit that home run, just as I know where I was three years later when I learned that Kennedy was shot. For today, let’s just admire that program. My copy is in a box somewhere. I should go find it.

Categories: Baseball, Life

Poppy

October 2, 2011 2 comments

[From Poppy’s website]

Wednesday night was the start of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Normally, even the most minimally observant of Jews would go to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. I suppose I qualify as minimally observant. But over a decade ago, we began a variant tradition. We had already begun to celebrate assorted Jewish holidays with our friends Cynthia, Andy, and their family. One year, we were having Rosh Hashanah dinner at their house, welcoming the new year, when it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to both finish dinner and get to evening services. We went with finishing dinner. So began the tradition of eating dinner in lieu of services, then attending services the next morning.

We don’t adhere to this tradition every year, sometimes because travel intervenes. Last year, for instance, Rosh Hashanah came early (as part of the continuing back-and-forth drift between the lunar-based Jewish calendar and the solar-based calendar of our daily lives), so early that we were still on vacation in Nantucket. Gail and I attended the Rosh Hashanah evening services of Congregation Shirat Ha Yam, held in Nantucket’s historic Unitarian church, then grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for holiday dinner at Steamboat Pizza.

Which brings us to this year. The powers that be decided we would return to the tradition of building our Rosh Hashanah evening celebration around dinner. And rather than a traditional Jewish holiday dinner, we would open with ceremonial challah, apples, and honey at our house, then head to a restaurant.

So it was that we headed up to Poppy, where Gail had eaten before, but not the rest of us. What’s Poppy? According to its website,

jerry traunfeld’s capitol hill restaurant brings a new style of dining to the northwest. jerry’s inspiration comes from the “thali,” a platter served to each guest holding a variety of small dishes. poppy’s menu borrows the idea of the thali to present jerry’s own style of northwest cooking, highlighting seasonal ingredients, fresh herbs, and spices. it’s a modern northwest tasting menu served all at once.

Traunfeld is one of the northwest’s most famous chefs, thanks largely to his years at The Herbfarm. A visit to Poppy was long overdue.

I understood from studying the menu ahead of time that one chooses either a 7-item or 10-item thali. What I didn’t understand was how large each item was and whether diners were encouraged to share with others at the table or focus on their own thalis. Our server explained that we should each just choose our own thali. As for portion size, the 7-item thali has one primary dish, the 10-item two, and these are modest sized entrees, the other items serving as smaller complements.

The menu keeps changing. What you see online differs from what we had, though the current listing is close. There is also a selection under the heading to start. Each of us chose a starter from the list below:

spice crispies

eggplant fries with sea salt & honey

spiced fig, onion, blue cheese and sage tart

batata wada (potato fritters) with cilantro lime sauce

heirloom tomato, herb, feta and olive salad

little lobster roll fines herbes

lightly fried mussels with lovage

poached oysters with sorrel sauce and bacon

*half-shell kumomoto oysters with anise hyssop ice

lavender duck, radicchio, blackberry and hazelnut salad

washington farmstead cheeses with rye-thyme crackers

three spreads with naan

grilled monterey bay squid with arugula, walnut, peppers and orange

Namely, the eggplant fries, spiced fig tart, potato fritters, and lobster roll. We then shared a bit. I chose the potato fritters, anticipating that they might be like samosa, which they were, though much smaller, little balls. They were perfect. I had two of the four. And I had lots of eggplant fries, which were astonishingly good.

As for thalis, here are the current online choices.

10-item thali

king salmon with chanterelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
grilled waygu beef with tomato, capers and fingerlings
red-pepper apricot soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
local roots carrots with fresh fennel seed
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn basil spoonbread
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

10-item vegetarian thali
cauliflower agnolotti with lobster mushrooms
quinoa cakes with goat cheese, squash blossoms, fillet beans and tomato
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn and basil spoonbread
sprouting broccoli with oregano
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

7-item thalis

king salmon with chantarelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
local roots carrots with fresh fennel seed
corn and basil spoonbread
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

tandoori poussin with fresh figs and huckleberries
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn and basil spoonbread
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

grilled wagyu beef with tomato, capers and fingerlings
red-pepper apricot soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
sprouting broccoli with oregano
golden beets with spice bread and mint
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

The first two items in the 10-item thalis are the main dishes, the first one in the 7-item the lone main dish. Wednesday, the actual main dishes in the 10-item non-vegetarian thali were the salmon, as listed, and the poussin, shown above as a 7-item main dish. I wanted to try the beef, and wanted some of the 10-item accompaniments, so I was stuck until the server said we could swap the beef salmon or poussin. That made it easy. I had the 10-item. Gail had the 7-item with beef. Andy and Cynthia chose 7-items with salmon.

It turns out that a 10-item thali is a lot of food. I should have copied Gail and chosen the 7-item beef thali. I somehow missed that the beef doesn’t come alone. As you see on the menu, it has its own accompaniments, the tomato, capers, and fingerlings. It is a min-meal by itself. Similarly with the salmon.

When the server brought our thalis, she explained that we should rotate among the dishes, using the pickle item as a palate cleanser. As listed above, I had peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle as my cleanser, but I only occasionally followed instructions. I did rotate. I only occasionally went to the pickle as an intermediary.

So many delicious items. The soup. The corn and basil spoon bread. The beets, and I don’t even like beets. The carrots. The naan. Everything was so good. I can’t wait to return.

And then there’s the garden, which is just outside the back door, between the building and a parking lot. Below is one image of it. See the website for more.

If I had gotten this post written more quickly (but, you know, it was Rosh Hashanah, and also I had a new book to read), you might be thinking, let’s see, Wednesday night, Wednesday night … wasn’t that the night when all those amazing baseball games were played, the night that will go down in history? You mean to say you were sitting in a restaurant instead of watching them all?

Yes, that’s right. The only consolation is that if we weren’t out to dinner, I would have been at services. Then again, we might instead have been eating dinner at one of our homes, in which case we surely would have switched over to watching the games in time for their dramatic ends.

Andy and I did get to check the scores on our phones. We did have some idea of the flow of the games. But we didn’t realize that Papelbon had two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, or that Dan Johnson hit his game-tying home run in Tampa with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. We didn’t really understand the extraordinary events unfolding while we were eating our thalis.

Fortunately, a half hour or so after we got home, I got on the treadmill and turned on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight just as they started a recap of the four crucial games. At least I got summaries and understood what we had missed. And it was my holiday. One must have priorities.

But Andy, I’m sorry. You sacrificed too much. There’s no way to make it up. Thank you for choosing Rosh Hashanah dinner over baseball.

Categories: Baseball, Restaurants

Hangin’ Out

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

[Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen]

Tomorrow’s NYT has a short piece about the problems Western gulls are causing at AT&T Park, the home field of the San Francisco Giants baseball team. The piece is provided by the Bay Citizen, described as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times.” It seems the gulls used to wait for games to end before grabbing a bite to eat, but lately, “the avian avalanche has begun during the seventh-inning stretch.”

I just love the photo, above, that accompanies the article. You’ll know the glove if you’ve gone to any games at the park or watched the Giants on TV there. Otherwise, see the photo below for context. The view is toward the stands in left center.

AT&T Park Coke Bottle and Giant 1927 Old-Time Four-Fingered Baseball Glove

[Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images]

Safeco Suite

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The Mariners have been playing baseball at Safeco Field since July 15, 1999. On June 27 of that year, we went to their final game at the Kingdome, a place I spent my first 18 years in Seattle detesting, but one I miss a little bit these days. I’m not sure why. Maybe because their greatest moments took place there and I got to see some of those moments. But anyway, I wasn’t too sad on June 27. Looking at the boxscore, I see that 56,529 others were in the stands with me as we beat the Rangers 5-2. Freddy Garcia got the win. And check out the lineup, with A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar Martinez batting in the 2, 3, and 4 slots. No wonder I miss those days.

The Mariners then took a 12-game road trip, returning for a few gameless days before Safeco opened for business. We didn’t make it to that game. But we did show up some days earlier for the free open house, designed in part to put the staff and the food operations to a test. The best part of the open house was that visitors were free to walk everywhere, exploring the different seating options and views. We tried out seats at field level, in the third deck, the bleachers, and, of course, the luxury suites.

It took 12 years for us to get back to the suite level. We did Saturday night, courtesy of Gail’s sister, Tamara, and her husband, Jim. That was fun.

Jim worked part-time at Safeco last year, and therefore was eligible to participate in a contest that had as one of its prizes a suite for one of this season’s games. He won, and they chose Saturday to go, as a way to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The anniversary was actually on Monday, the 4th, but the Mariners were down in Oakland by then and the idea was to have the suite for a home game, so Saturday was it.

The suite has a limit of 20 people, and we were among the lucky 18 whom Tamara and Jim chose to celebrate with. So it was that we watched the Mariners play the Padres from a suite down the first-base line. Tamara and Jim also chose one of the catered food options, providing us with a full dinner as well as the game.

Guests could come at 5:00, two hours before game time, and start the festivities with hors d’ouevres. We were among the last to arrive, just before 6:00. There’s a special entrance to the suite level from the south parking garage, but we parked in our usual garage way north, so we walked down to Safeco, entered at the public entrance in left field, worked our way up the escalators, and entered the suite level somewhere down past third base. We had a long walk to get to our suite, allowing us the opportunity to see the large number of suites that are not rented for the season. As we neared home plate, we saw the largest concentration of rented suites — Microsoft, Boeing, Key Bank, and their ilk. But mostly the suites had blank nameplates.

Our suite was the basic model. One enters what you might think of as the living room. There’s a big island in the middle, which was covered with appetizers: salad, pita with hummus and other spreads, regular and sweetened popcorn. Let’s see. I must be leaving something out. Maybe shrimp. On the interior wall, next to the doorway, is a counter that had water pitchers and glasses on it as well as a sink. Below is a small refrigerator that was stocked with sodas and bottled water. Opposite the entrance wall is a high counter with bar stools looking out on the field and a doorway leading outside to a small stairway down and three tiered rows of seats. The interior bar counter functions as a fourth row, with an indoor-outdoor feel. Alternatively, windows that were folded out of the way can be closed so that one can sit at the counter and watch the game through the windows. The three rows of outdoor seating have counters as well, with desk-style rolling chairs, 5 or 6 per row.

On the right wall of the living room is a sitting area with comfortable chairs. The left wall has another counter, which had warming trays awaiting the main dishes. They arrived around 6:10. One held steaks and mashed potatoes. Another had salmon and rice. A third had asparagus. And there was a hot lamp that kept a tray of little brie-strawberry pastries warm. We were all able to enjoy the food well before the game started. And the food was quite good.

It turns out to be a bit of a distraction to watch a game with 20 people, almost of all of whom are related to each other, spanning three generations, with people moving around a lot for one reason or another. Plus, I was on photography duty. I got shots of pretty much everyone before game time, and of the food too. Then I took a seat, kept score, and got absorbed in the game. I played around with trying to get good shots of Doug Fister, the Mariner pitcher, taking multiple shots with each pitch for a while. Then I did the same with the batters. I hadn’t done this when Ichiro led off for the Mariners in the first inning, so I was making a point to be ready for his next at bat. But just as he got to home plate, Gail asked me a question, and before I knew it, he had swung at the first pitch. I took three shots of him approaching and rounding first base on a fly out to right field that ended the third ending. See below.

Soon thereafter, the Mariner Moose arrived. I ran up to the living room to get my telephoto lens off the camera and put on a wider aperture prime lens so I could snap the official anniversary photo of Tamara and Jim with the moose. I also got photos of Gail and moose; Gail, Tamara, and moose; and Gail, Tamara, Tamara’s daughter Leigh Anne, and moose.

After that, it took a while to refocus on the game, which is my excuse for missing the key moment in the game. In the top of the 5th, with Fister still pitching well, the Padres got a strikeout, a walk by Maybin, a grounder to third that was thrown to first, with Maybin going to second, a grounder to Ryan at short that just went off his glove for a single, allowing Maybin to score, and another grounder to end the inning. The Padres thereby took the lead, 1-0, and that was all the scoring. Fister pitched all nine innings for a painful loss.

The thing is, though, that walk by Maybin wasn’t a real walk. The count was 2-2 when Fister through a third ball. But the scoreboard said 3-2, the umpire got confused, anyone who knew better kept his mouth shut, and Maybin trotted off to first. The Mariners were apparently not among the group who knew better. Nor were the umpires. The walk stood, and that was that. I wish I could say that I knew better. I wish I could say that I even remember seeing the walk. I did see the subsequent fielder’s choice on which Maybin went to second and the single on which he scored. But the walk? I have no memory of it. I headed off to the men’s room before the top of the ninth, and in the men’s room was a speaker with the play-by-play of the game. That’s when I heard them talking about the sequence of pitches that led to what they referred to as the “controversial” walk. What a way to lose!

Then again, the way the Mariners were(n’t) hitting, it may not have mattered. The Padres would have won sooner or later. But Fister deserved better.

One thing I didn’t mention — the TVs. In the outer seating area, a couple of TVs are hung above the seats for each suite. And indoors, in the living room, is another TV. That’s another distraction. You look up at the monitor to see a replay of a hit or a call at first, and an at-bat later you’re still watching TV when you hear crowd noise as the batter is thrown out at first and realize that noise is for real, not from the TV, and you’re actually at the game, with that guy on TV running for real below you. Very disconcerting.

The game was quick, 2 hours and 9 minutes, a throwback to the old days. The sun had barely set when it ended. We stood around for a while in the living room, a few of us watching the post-game coverage on TV as they showed Fister’s full pitching sequence to Maybin in the walk. It takes a while for 20 people (21 counting the babe in arms) to say goodbye. Eventually, we left the suite, walked down past all the other suites to the left field exit, rejoined what was left of the crowd, and headed back to our car.

I don’t know when we’ll be in a suite again. They’re available for the taking. What with all the empty ones, I believe you can buy one for any game. Perhaps not such a good deal if you don’t have 20 takers. But it made for a great evening. Happy Anniversary, Tamara and Jim.

Categories: Baseball, Food

Sentence of the Week

May 15, 2011 1 comment

Usually, my sentences of the week are bad ones. This one’s a good one.

Earlier this afternoon, one of Roger Angell’s occasional baseball posts appeared at the New Yorker blog site. In writing about New York Yankee Jorge Posada, who at 39 is having a bad season and chose not to play yesterday, Angell added a variation to his decades-long theme that baseball is just darned hard:

For this fan, one of the compelling traits about baseball at its top level is its insatiable difficulty, which shows itself most ferociously to arriving rookies and to older players, no matter how celebrated, on their way out.

Of course, occasionally a player has a stretch that fools you into thinking it’s easy. Like Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Alas, it didn’t last.

Categories: Baseball, Writing