Saturday, February 24, 2007

ESPN and the Gyroball

The ESPN "E-Ticket" piece on the gyroball is now available on-line. In my conversation with Will Carroll a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he was excited about the piece and I've been making daily checks of late to find the link. This morning as I drank my coffee it appeared. Finally, something to sink my teeth into from the Sports and Entertainment leaders....

The piece is written by Patrick Hruby and is called "Chasing the Demon Sphere" and notes that Hruby will be searching for "sports' Loch Ness Monster". I had a feeling that I was going to be disappointed in it as soon as I saw that headline. Nevertheless, I gave it a read. The writing is interesting, written in a semi-diary style with loads of e-mail exchanges to trace each step in search of the correct story behind the pitch. He makes all the right moves.

Checked out the Japanese presentations on the science behind the pitch. Contacted Wayne Graczyk of The Japan Times to ask about it. (Wayne and I have traded a few e-mails, and he's a good read. Keep an eye on the link to his work.) Hruby makes the mistake of contacting Bobby V. to ask about it. I kid. Bobby V. is a great source of info about the sport over here, but he contradicts himself repeatedly if you go back and trace his comments over the years, and sounds like a crackpot on occasion. Contacted Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Will Carroll in the house! Anthony Montefusco, who throws gyro-pitches. Bought the gyroball book. Talked to Mark Allen. Attempted to meet Joey Niezer. Went to the Japanese Embassy in DC to ask for a translation of the book (which is a bit bizarre). Worked with an English-speaking Japanese sportswriter out of Seattle to get more info from the laboratory that developed the pitch. Tried to set up a physics experiment to test everything out. Gave up.

The only criticism I have about the article is that all that information is available on the dear old internet. I've taken almost every step that Hruby did to research the pitch, and I didn't have to go nearly as far to get exactly the same info, and exactly the same conclusion. He does the journalistic due diligence, and finds out for himself, though. Good move.

The pitch exists. It's not a Bugs Bunny Looptie-Loop ball. It's a nice breaking pitch. No one ever claimed that it broke 3-feet sideways, because it doesn't. It's not a big deal, except that it's new and has potential to save a few arms, add a little wrinkle to some pitchers' arsenals, and is a triumph of sports science in its commitment to innovation. I was looking for a lot more from ESPN, frankly. I hoped to see some discussion of a test. The network failed to provide Hruby with a single videographer, and couldn't pull any strings to even work with a single Major League pitcher. Hruby does a very nice job and I give him a lot of credit for showing the ESPN readership the many important voices that need to be heard in researching the pitch. Nice entertainment, but Baseball Prospectus would have done it more scientifically, in my opinion. Hruby deserves kudos. ESPN, not so much. Give it a read and judge for yourself.


At 6:56 PM, Blogger William said...


Hi! I praise Matsuzaka-Watch for another less-biased professional write-up exploring the fundamentals of baseball. よくできましたね!

This is my first time responding your blog, but since I've been paying attention to Matsuzaka from 2004, thanks to Athens Olympics, your blog had lasted as the most resourceful and inspiring.

Frankly, as a Chiba Marines fan, I don't really mind Seibu or Red Sox not entering playoffs, but Matsuzaka had been a character of his own, and I really expect great things out of him, a "kimochi" similar to Will Carroll's, I believe.

With that said, I hope you and your Mister/Miss Baseballs keep rolling your eyes over for that next gyro news. These mass-media approach to baseball science so far has been amusing, and I might not be surprised to one day see a game with a setup pitcher tossing gyros like Dice-Kくん had.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...




At 8:47 AM, Blogger Mikey said...

The humor of Hruby's piece seems to be completely lost on you. The story is supposed to be a commentary on the wild goose chase that the gyro has sparked. The emails in the story are not real and I assure you if ESPN were really turning down his requests for videographers, there is NO WAY that would be included in a final story. Hruby is (tongue-in-cheekly) playing a character of an over-exited reporter whose unfounded excitement over a mythic pitch has to be reigned in by his editors. There is humor all over the place and it was not supposed to be taken as real.

If nothing else, the last "email" in the story (about the "corkscrew knuckleball") should have sent up red flags that Hruby was not being serious. He is making fun of the fact that IF this pitch exists, then it is not worth the hype and excitement that is being fed into it.

Lighten up.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

I guess I missed it then. As I said, I thought it was entertaining. It's a good piece and it convinced me that it was a real story. I know Will Carroll was actually out on the field doing that experiment, so the rest of the story seemed plausible.

If it's pure fiction, nice piece. If it's journalism, it's missing something. I'm not trying to be a hard ass about it, and I suppose "lightening up" is in order. That's half the reason I wrote the Namahage story to follow it. Sorry if I touched a nerve with you Mikey, but these things happen when entertainment and journalism meet.

My bad.


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