Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Acceptance Speech
2005-10-09 23:18
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Hey, we won something! I feel like Chris Burke, Joe Carter, Aaron Boone, and Bill Mazeroski all rolled into one -- Joe-Chris Booneroski. But moving past the giddy stage, what does TGTBATB's dark horse victory for "Best MLBlog" say about baseball in general, and how has our championship season reflected the larger game that we love, obsess over, and make early-morning long distance phone calls about Mark Kotsay's contract status for? Why is it that (near) daily meanderings on mostly the topic of the National League's worst team can win "Best Of" anything?

Well, let's reflect. I watched the Bears-Browns game this afternoon with my father, as I have watched many Chicago football games over the years. My father likes to surround himself with briefs and depositions while he endures the Bears, but this is largely for appearance's sake as he spends somewhere near a quarter and a half of every game asleep, snoring conspicuously. If you wake him, he wil gruffly insist he was merely "resting his eyes" and pretend to scan documents for a few minutes before he begins to doze again. Somehow he manages to take in the entire football game while engaged in this process. There's a lot of dead space in the average NFL game (yet still another reason why I favor Major League Baseball) and my dad has more or less perfected the art of between-play snoozing.

Dad knows about as much about football as any other male, midwestern attorney, which is to say a fair amount. There are three things about the Bears that have been driving my father nuts since at least 1975, when he first settled in this part of the country: stupid holding penalties, passing plays on third down that have all the receivers running short of the markers, and calling the same up-the-gut running play twice in a row to unsuccessful ends each time. Every game it seems (except of course in 1985) they do this stuff, and every game my father registers his disgust. Kyle Orton is not going to become Joe Montana, just like Rex Grossman, Jonathan Quinn, Henry Burris, Jim Miller, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, and Rick Mirer (and so on) before him. Bad football teams are all pretty much bad in the same way. I pity the guys on the Houston Texan and Arizona Cardinal beats. How many ways are there to say we're less talented and more poorly coached then the other guys, and there's not much of a way to overcome that?

But baseball is different. 162 games is an amazingly long season, long enough that if you pick small enough samples, every team in the league gets a chance to look like the best there is for a week or at least for three games. The Rockies finished with the worst record in the National League (tied with Pittsburgh), and so a lot of good things happened this season that only real diehards (and the audiences for this blogs and its sisters) noticed. Aaron Cook made an extraordinary comeback from a life-threatening blood clot condition to become the first ace in Rockies history. Rookies like Garrett Atkins, Cory Sullivan, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Francis and (oh yeah) Clint Barmes proved that maybe there was something to the much-ballyhooed "Gen-R" advertising campaign beyond ownership trying to save money on veterans' salaries. An ad hoc group of minor league free agents, waiver claims, and Rule Fivers weathered constant personnel changes to constitute perhaps the second-best Rockies bullpen ever, giving hope to those true believers like myself who think "winning with pitching" and "Coors Field" are not necessarily anathema. Perhaps most impressively, Todd Helton, one of the least-noticed great players of this era, shook off nagging injuries and his franchise's ever-increasing obsolescence to finish with his usual dazzling numbers.

When I started working on this page on May 1st, 2005, I was caught up in the excitement over the early numbers posted by young shortstop Barmes. I thought it would be cool to follow a Rookie of the Year-in-waiting on a day-by-day basis. Plus, somewhere in the back of my head, I imagined that Colorado had a decent chance of challenging the 1962 Mets' modern futility record of 120 losses. There'd be a book in that somewhere for sure. Of course, the Rockies weren't dramatically bad this year -- they were this close to being mediocre, especially in the second half. And Barmes took a tumble down some stairs while hauling wrapped venison, a gift from Helton, up to his apartment, breaking his collarbone and pretty much scuttling my original mission statement.

But the Rockies still played baseball, because the games were on the schedule, and that's what baseball teams do. And bad baseball teams are very different than bad football teams. Since the Rockies had a manager who was (at least for the moment) secure in his position and a team of young players who were all just pleased to be getting the opportunity to play, they had one of the most upbeat 95-loss seasons imaginable. And fascinating stuff happened. On the first day of the season, Dustan Mohr injured himself celebrating a walk-off homer by Barmes. That was just the beginning. The 2005 Rockies, to anyone watching closely enough and in the right frame of mind, had a remarkable season. Hawpe caused the hearts of millions of Cubs fans to skip a beat when he pegged Mark Prior in the elbow with a screaming liner in May. (I was in the bleachers at Wrigley and you could hear the plonk! from there.) In July Jason Jennings accomplished the unthinkable and won a 1-0 game at Coors Field, a first in the history of the ballpark. Byung-Hyun Kim, acquired by the Rockies mostly so they could rid themselves of Charles Johnson, ended up the team's most reliable starter, at least until Cook burst onto the scene. (And although due to sour grapes we've been trying to downplay it, Shawn Chacon was traded to the Yankees for two middle-relief prospects and ended up propelling New York to a division title, pitching beautifully in his first playoff start to boot). In August, again against the Cubs, I caught a home run ball! OK, maybe that was only fascinating to me.

No matter where you looked, storylines abounded. An interleague sweep at the hands of the Indians sent that team off to the races. A sweep that went in the Rockies' favor against Cincinnati may have cost manager Dave Miley his job. The Rockies affected the Wild Card chase by winning only 1 of 6 against Houston but taking 2 from Philadelphia and Washington (and 3 from Florida). Well, maybe I'm reaching a bit there. I will say that if the Chicago White Sox win the World Series, it won't come as a shock to any gung-ho Rockies fans. There was no series all year where Colorado was more dominated in every facet of the game than Chicago's three-game sweep at Coors in early June. If the Cardinals win, however, we were a respectable 4-4 against them.

That's what I'm getting at, I suppose, about the differences between bad football teams and bad baseball teams and how all of this ties in with why (hopefully) this humble site was a worthwhile destination for baseball fans of all affiliations this season. Since the season is so long and the games turn on such tiny decisions -- a stolen base here, a missed cut-off man there, an ugly error by a usually reliable defensive replacement -- every now and then a bunch of nobodies like the 2005 Rockies can look like world champs. They beat a playoff team 20-1, for pete's sake. Well, yes, it was the Padres. But still.

Thanks,, for the opportunity to do my thing and for the recognition. One little thing: it's spelled Donohue, D-O-N-O-H-U-E, with two "o's" and no "a's." Thank you.

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