Saturday, November 06, 2004

Won't Get Fooled Again 

So does anybody look good after this week?

Ken Kendrick?  Although he had a valid point (that is, the old regime hired Backman to begin with without doing any background checks), attributing it to a corporate "culture" prior to his arrival ("it was him, I tell you, not me, him") without even mentioning the Cardinals or Coyotes made him sound petulant.  Admit you screwed up, and that it'll never happen again, be quiet, and move on.

Jerry Colangelo?  As noted above, maybe it's lucky the Suns and D-Backs went as long as they did without any major catastrophes.

Wally Backman?  'Nuff said.

Jeff Moorad?  Congratulations, Jeff, you'll get to deal with the fallout from this, as Kendrick says he's going to drop out as the public spokesman.  (Oh, yeah, and elsewhere in the Republic, they report that Sexson wants a guaranteed $10 million per year for three years.  Good luck explaining to fans why Sexson won't be here in March.  Or why you won't try to sign Stephen Drew before then, either.)

Bob Melvin?  Sure, there's the upside of being the savior.  But he finished in 2nd to that guy.  Also see above notes on Jeff Moorad.

About the only person I can see that did OK was Jay Bell.  Hired one day before to be bench coach by Backman, I figured he was gone.  But sure enough, Melvin kept him on as bench coach (and kept Al Pedrique and Glenn Sherlock, too.)

The only thing I can't figure out is what made the D-Backs' management decide to drop Backman.  They really didn't learn much since Wednesday morning, at which time they were still making fairly positive noises about Backman.  There was nothing in any of the articles I read that gave an explanation.  The only thing I can surmise is that the possibility that Backman might have his 2001 DUI probation revoked for his 2002 harrassment conviction, meaning up to a year of actual jail time.  That would not be a good thing for the franchise.

Let's all hope we've learned something from this week, and move on.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Backman Fired, Melvin Hired 

Like the title says.

I was surprised, because I figured the firestorm really wasn't taking off, but I guess the relative silence from the managing owners should have been read as backtracking.

No sense in talking about how Jay Bell was hired as bench coach yesterday, or disagreeing with Ray Ratto's ESPN piece (whatever Backman's hiring was, I can't believe it was about money).

Maybe I'll post something later on the idiocy that is the rumored Vasquez-Posada-Johnson trade.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Anger Management 

"Am I happy that these incidents occurred? Of course not. Do they disqualify Wally and the job we have for him? No, I don't think so unless there is other information, factual based information, that we do not know." -- Ken Kendrick, one of the Diamondbacks owners, on news of Wally Backman's various convictions, after Tuesday's meeting with Backman.

[Scene: Executive suite at Bank One, er, Chase, er, Whatever Ballpark, Tuesday afternoon]

Ken Kendrick: So, Wally, in lieu of running an actual background check, we'd just like to ask you if there's anything else you want to share with us.

Wally Backman: Like what?

Jeff Moorad: You know, facts we should be made aware of. Always nice to hear something from our employees before reading about it in the paper, particularly if, you know, it might embarrass the organization.

Backman: Well, uh, let's see.... I like to think I run a pretty @#$!@$ tight ship in my life, so there's little to talk about.

Joe Garagiola, Jr.: OK. Nothing to see here. Thanks for your time.

Kendrick: That's enough of your due diligence, Joe. Really, Wally, anything?

Backman: Well, uh, if you check my Amazon.com wishlist, you'll find that I've been asking for a copy of Mannheim Steamroller's @#$@#! Christmas Collection Box Set for a couple years now, but nobody's loved me enough to buy it for me.

Moorad: Oh, that's not embarrassing to us, that's in your favor... we all loooooove Mannheim Steamroller.

Backman: [Brigthening] Oh, really? Whew. That's a relief. OK... let's see, my TiVo at home is almost completely filled with Little House on the Prairie episodes. You can check it out if you'd like.

Garagiola, Jr.: [In a Melissa Gilbert-induced reverie] Oh, Laura Ingalls Wilder, you'll always...

Kendrick: Ignore him, Wally.

Backman: Well, if you'll track down the December 2000 issue of Cat Fancy magazine, you'll find a letter to the editor from me laced with profanity -- edited out, apparently -- bemoaning their decision to name the minx "Breed of the Year".

Kendrick: That's it?

Backman: That's it, truly. Gentlemen, this has been wonderful. In this follow-up interview I've realized that the reason I'm so "fiery" all the time is that I bottle up my anger and repress my true emotions. Now I know that I need to share my feelings with others. If you'll excuse me now, I need to go give Alex, Scott, and Casey a hug -- they just need some love right now.

Kendrick: I suppose it's too late to...

Moorad: Yes. Yes, it's too late.

[End scene.]


On one radio talk show this morning, some of the blame seemed to be on Backman for not volunteering information on his legal run-ins in his interview. But nothing in the Craig Harris article (notice how they're not letting the beat reporters get anywhere close to this?) suggests that anyone even asked Backman about legal difficulties. They certainly didn't run a background check. And it's always scary when a Diamondbacks forum thread mentions his legal problems before anyone from the D-Backs bothers to ask.

Do Backman's legal difficulties disqualify him for the job in my eyes? The bankruptcy filing I don't really care about -- the other, more serious charges I don't know enough about. Meaning, I don't know the full situation and any extenuating circumstances, and I don't want to comment one way or another. (If he was in fact asked about legal difficulties in his initial interviews and lied about it, that would significantly change my views on the matter.) But I feel that the embarrassment lies with management for not doing its due diligence. I don't know if that blame resides with the new management or with Joe, Jr., but in any case, it's embarrassing all around.

By the way, almost lost in the news is this note that Backman (if he indeed stays onboard) will keep Al Pedrique as third base coach.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Big News 

... is that Richie Sexson has declined the Diamondbacks' new-and-improved contract offer (Now With A Third Guaranteed Year?)

What, you thought I was going to mention the hiring of Wally Backman as Diamondbacks manager?

Seriously, Dan Bickley's column this morning echoed what I'd been thinking about yesterday afternoon's hiring. Maybe Wally Backman will be a very good major league manager (the man was named Baseball America's Minor League Manager of the Year this year, which I believe was his second such award). Or maybe his hard-charging style will wear thin on veterans on a club struggling to get to .500 in 2005.

But it really doesn't matter if Sexson walks and Johnson decides he wants to play for a team shooting for 100 wins, not 100 losses.

The truth is, nobody really knows what makes a good or a bad minor league manager. (And, frankly, even if they did, it would vary from team to team.) U.S.S. Mariner's reaction (thanks to Rob at 6-4-2 for the link) makes one think that Wally stiffed the blog on a bar bet or maybe dumped the blog's younger sister as his boyfriend. The optimist in me says that the younger D-Backs seemed to pick up their play in late August and September when Pedrique started benching players and that with another year of experience and a more hard-nosed attitude, they'll thrive. Perhaps Backman will coach them well, too. Or perhaps Backman will wear out his welcome by July, and we'll have nothing but harangues to look forward to in the morning newspaper. Either way, I don't think Backman's presence will give or cost the Diamondbacks more than maybe 5 wins. And that's a pure guess on my part.

But Sexson's increasingly likely departure from the D-Backs worries me much more. And Sexson's departure would cost more than 5 wins a year.

Please Vote 

By choice, I've only waded into politics once in this blog, and that was hardly a serious look at the Presidential campaign. But that masks my deep interest in politics, elections, and the democratic process. I'll simply say that I hope that you've already voted or will take the time to vote today. I also hope that you'll turn your gaze downward from the Presidential election to the local elections on your ballot. The results of the local elections have just as much impact on your life as the Presidential election, so please take the time to vote on those elections, too.

And if for some reason you're not registered to vote, but eligible to do so, please take this chance to register today so that when the next election comes along, you'll be ready.

The Public Service Announcement ends here.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Looking Back: Luck 

Sitting out in our front yard last night, greeting trick-or-treaters after we returned from trick-or-treating with our daughter, I was moved to dwell on randomness. Would the bags of candy we bought leave us with too many chocolatey leftovers or cause us to scurry inside and turn off all exterior lights after 30 minutes, emptyhanded. (Or maybe, just maybe, did we get it right?) I've never noticed any discernable pattern, either in our current or old neighborhood, to the number of trick-or-treaters we get. Why is it that the numbers swing wildly from year to year?

So it is with that thought in mind that I begin my occasional "Looking Back" series on the 2004 Diamondbacks season. What I'm hoping to do in the series is to lay out how we got from 2003 (84-78) to 2004 (51-111). I don't know if I'll be able to do so, but I'm going to give it a shot.

I'm starting today with the concept of "luck." In a season that saw the end of a phony "curse," luck seems like an appropriate subject for discussion. I probably should put this at the end of the series, and just attribute any inexplicable change from 2003 to 2004 to "luck," but that would be a bit dishonest, no? So I'll define "luck" in this regard as "difference from the Pythagorean record."

The D-Backs' 2004 Pythagorean record was 54-108. This record was 3 games better than the D-Backs' actual 2004 record of 51-111. In other words, the D-Backs had slightly bad luck in 2004. This bad luck wasn't absolutely awful -- 8 teams ranked worse, led (if that's the proper word for it) by Detroit, whose Pythagorean record in 2004 was 7 games better than their actual record. Compare that to 2003, however, where the D-Backs' actual and Pythagorean records were exactly the same. Unsurprisingly, this put Arizona right in the middle of baseball in terms of "good" and "bad" luck.

How did teams change their luck from 2003 to 2004? Well, Arizona ranked tied for 3 other teams at 22nd in the change of luck, losing 3 games.

Here's the complete list of changes from 2003 to 2004 if you're interested. It's sorted by "luck," good to bad. (The stars are for teams who didn't play 162 games and whose records were adjusted accordingly.) By the way, if there are any Blogger experts out there, I'd love to hear how you get tables into Blogger. I guess I could dust off my HTML table skills, but would rather not if there's something easier.

Team Actual Pythag Luck
St Louis 20 12 8
Houston 5 -3 8
New York Yankees 0 -7 7
Tampa Bay ** 7.5 0.5 7
Anaheim 15 11 4
Philadelphia 0 -4 4
Cleveland 12 8 4
Cincinnati 7 4 3
Oakland -5 -8 3
Los Angeles 8 6 2
San Diego 23 21 2
Boston 3 2 1
Chicago White Sox -3 -4 1
Minnesota 2 2 0
Texas 18 18 0
Pittsburgh ** -3 -2 -1
Baltimore 7 8 -1
Colorado -6 -5 -1
Detroit 29 30 -1
New York Mets * 4.5 6.5 -2
Seattle -30 -28 -2
Milwaukee ** -1 2.5 -3
Arizona -33 -30 -3
Toronto ** -19 -16 -3
San Francisco * -10 -6 -4
Atlanta -5 -1 -4
Florida -8 -4 -4
Montreal -16 -12 -4
Chicago Cubs 1 9 -8
Kansas City -25 -14 -11

So clearly it's possible to pick up (or lose) 3 or 4 or even more wins in a season just because of luck (look at the Yankees, Phillies, or Cubs).

So, in the end, I choose to associate 3 of Arizona's 33 additional losses in 2004 to plain luck. Now, if you want to look at 2004 Pythagenport records (complete only through 161 games), which are an even more abstract version of Pythagorean records that also take into account strength of schedule, the D-Backs improve to about 62 wins and aren't even the worst team in baseball (that dubious honor belongs to the Royals). But I've chosen not to use that for two reasons: 1) it seems weird to say, "see, we're not so bad -- it's just that the other teams got better" (that doesn't sound so reassuring), and, more importantly, 2) 2003 data isn't available on the BP website.

In the following weeks I hope to outline where the other 30 losses came from.