Thursday, March 31, 2005

Reason 603

LOL! Chris Lynch's take on another Yankee sin...


Red Sox/Yankee position players

I have a book on my shelf which was written by Tom Boswell. I'm not sure that I've ever made it all the way through, though I do know that there's an interesting section right up front about the passion of the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry. In any event, it has been on my shelf for 20 years for one reason. The title. Why Time Begins On Opening Day. It's been a long, hard winter in New England, and the world has gone from brown to white to gray and back to brown. I'm ready to live in a green world once more.

But Sunday night, about 78 hours from now, time begins anew.

Yesterday, I took a look at the starting pitching rotations of the teams that many people, myself included, think are the best two teams in the AL, if not in all of baseball. Today I want to take a look at the position players.

First up, a quick-and-dirty comparison, position by position, using OPS+ (or approximately OPS+ - the quick and dirty isn't exactly right, but it's very close - close enough for what I'm doing.) The following tables show the 1-year and 3-year OPS+ values for the two team's regulars and benches.

2004 performance - 2005 Red Sox and Yankees
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees


CVaritek, Jason33463120Posada, Jorge33449135

1BMillar, Kevin33508116Martinez, Tino37458119

2BBellhorn, Mark30523106Womack, Tony3555398

3BMueller, Bill34399105Rodriguez, Alex29601135

SSRenteria, Edgar2958696Jeter, Derek31643115

LFRamirez, Manny33568150Matsui, Hideki31584142

CFDamon, Johnny31621116Williams, Bernie36561111

RFNixon, Trot31149122Sheffield, Gary36573146

DHOrtiz, David29582143Giambi, Jason3426492



BenchMcCarty, David3515185Crosby, Bubba285327

Mirabelli, Doug34160123Flaherty, John3712794

Payton, Jay3245892Sanchez, Rey3728562

Vazquez, Ramon2811569Sierra, Ruben3930797

Youkilis, Kevin2620898


3-year performance - 2005 Red Sox and Yankees
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees


CVaritek, Jason331381111Posada, Jorge331441136

1BMillar, Kevin331490121Martinez, Tino371445117

2BBellhorn, Mark301217113Womack, Tony35149278

3BMueller, Bill341289118Rodriguez, Alex291832143

SSRenteria, Edgar291717120Jeter, Derek311769119

LFRamirez, Manny331573165Matsui, Hideki311207127

CFDamon, Johnny311852108Williams, Bernie361618124

RFNixon, Trot311122129Sheffield, Gary361641158

DHOrtiz, David291442138Giambi, Jason341359151



BenchMcCarty, David3527079Crosby, Bubba286511

Mirabelli, Doug34474103Flaherty, John3751386

Payton, Jay321503110Sanchez, Rey3798665

Vazquez, Ramon2896094Sierra, Ruben39103399

Youkilis, Kevin2620899


There are a couple of things that show up here.

One is that these are two outstanding offensive teams. They were first and second in runs scored last year, and they were first and second in OPS+. (The Yankees OPS+ lead did not translate into a lead in runs scored due to the difference in ballparks. The Red Sox scored about 6% higher runs/game than the Yankees, but Fenway was a about a 9% better run-scoring environment. The Yankee offense was slightly more productive last year than Boston's, even though the Red Sox outscored them by 52 runs.) There's no reason not to expect that to happen again. Which is not to say that it will, and there are certainly reasons to be concerned about the potential for an offensive decline, but I expect them to be the best offensive teams in the AL in 2005.

For what it's worth the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA forecast system projects them to lead the league, Boston scoring 946 runs and New York 877. That's in line with my expectations.

Another thing is that the Yankee bench is really, really...uh, how to put it...well, it's not good. As I was looking at it, I was trying to figure out who was missing, but that appears to be it, according to all of the rosters that I was able to find. There's absolutely no offense on the bench, not much speed or defense or anything else. Ugh.

And neither of these teams is young. But the Yankees have got four starters that are 35+ to the Red Sox 0. When looking for potential reasons for problems, that jumps out at you.

Question marks/issues:

  • First base - Both of these teams are iffy at first base. Millar had an excellent second-half of the 2004 season, when it looked like he was done as a Major League hitter. Tino Martinez was never great, and still isn't.

  • Bernie Williams used to be a great player. He isn't any more. One of the shocks of the off-season is that the Yankees, with their payroll, are going into 2005 with a 36-year old center fielder who can't throw, has no range, has been in a significant offensive decline, and has no plausible back-up. How much better would the Yankee bench look if Jay Payton were sitting in their dugout instead of Boston's?

  • Both Varitek and Posada are reaching a stage when decline has got to be expected. With Doug Mirabelli, the Red Sox are certainly better poised to rest their catcher. Whether they will or not is, of course, another story.

  • Has Jason Giambi got anything left? That will have a huge impact on the Yankee season. If he repeats last year, they'll struggle to approach 875 runs. If he can somehow bounce back to 2003 performance, they're a good bet to exceed it.

  • Can either right-fielder make it through the season healthy? Nixon was limited by back and leg injuries last year but seems to be healthy now. Sheffield has a chronic bad shoulder and is 36 years old.

  • Tony Womack had what looks like a tremendous fluke season in 2004. Is there any chance that he can repeat it? I say no. His OBP will be closer to .320 than .350.

  • How's the defense? Certainly, Martinez can still play first while Millar's probably below average. Bellhorn/Womack is probably a wash. Renteria's better than Jeter, his Gold Glove last year notwithstanding. Mueller and Rodriguez appear to be pretty close. Matsui's better than Ramirez, and Sheffield's probably a little better than Nixon. But the advantage for the Yankees at the two corner positions is dwarfed by the Sox advantage in CF. On the whole, neither of these is a great defensive team, with probably a slight advantage to Boston, with the Red Sox stronger up the middle.

  • The Red Sox do not appear to have a serious black hole in their lineup. They are basically league average or better everywhere. The Yankees have Womack.

  • Is there a "hangover" effect on the Red Sox? Do they struggle to maintain their focus after that incredible 8-game stretch in October?

  • On the other hand, is there a "hangover" effect on the Yankees? How do they deal with the fact that most people now consider them to have pulled off the biggest "choke" in baseball history?

  • Bottom line - two extremely talented but aging teams, with the Yankees a fair amount further down the aging curve. They are not only more likely to have injury issues due to the age of their roster, the weakness of their bench makes them less capable of covering for those issues. Neither team is a great defensive team, but they should each score a lot of runs. My expectation is that the Red Sox actually have a better offensive team this year, and outscore New York by 60-80 runs over the course of the season.


    Wednesday, March 30, 2005

    Red Sox/Yankee starting pitching

    Updated 2:07, 3/31 - Sox 3-year table was wrong.

    One of the baseball storylines of the past off-season is the comparison of the changes in the Red Sox' and Yankees' starting pitching staffs. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard some mediot question how the Red Sox would overcome the "loss of Martinez and Lowe" my Visa bill wouldn't be quite so scary. Does no one who draws a paycheck from a media company recognize how dreadful Derek Lowe was last year? And Pedro, while very good, was not super-human as he had been for the previous decade. While replacing 2004 Martinez does require some effort, replacing the combined efforts of Martinez AND Lowe isn't a particularly daunting task for a team with Boston's checkbook.

    As to the Yankees, clearly Randy Johnson is a difference maker, and his presence alone improves their club. Particularly when they get to the post-season. But as good as Pavano and Wright were last year (and they were both excellent), I don't trust either one of them to come close to repeating what look like career years.

    In any event, this is what the staffs look like last year, as well as this year's staff's 2004 performance.

    Red Sox 2004 Starters

    Kim, Byung-Hyun21317.336.2378.12

    Lowe, Derek141233182.675.4289.7

    Martinez, Pedro169332173.9125.1

    Arroyo, Bronson10929178.674.03120.96

    Schilling, Curt21632226.673.26150.04

    Wakefield, Tim121030188.334.8799.84

    2004 Staff totals75471601010.674.27114.01

    Red Sox 2005 Starters

    Arroyo, Bronson10929178.674.03120.96

    Schilling, Curt21632226.673.26150.04

    Wakefield, Tim121030188.334.8799.84

    Clement, Matt913301813.68123.25

    Miller, Wade771588.673.35128.91

    Wells, David12831195.673.73107.81

    2005 Staff totals715316710593.84120.07

    So for all the talk about how hard it'll be to replace Martinez and Lowe, the starters on the 2005 Red Sox were better last year than the starters on the 2004 Red Sox.

    Yankees 2004 Starters

    Vazquez, Javier1410321984.9191.57

    Lieber, Jon14827176.674.33103.93

    Contreras, Jose851895.675.6479.6

    Hernandez, Orlando821584.673.3136.66

    Halsey, Brad137326.4769.49

    Loaiza, Esteban12642.338.552.8

    Mussina, Mike12927164.674.5997.98

    Brown, Kevin106221324.09110.03

    2004 Staff totals68451549264.7794.25

    Yankees 2005 Starters

    Mussina, Mike12927164.674.5997.98

    Brown, Kevin106221324.09110.03

    Johnson, Randy161435245.672.6171.56

    Wright, Jaret15832186.333.28131.61

    Pavano, Carl18831222.333137.23

    2005 Staff totals71451479513.38129.18

    And the Yankees clearly improved. Significantly.

    The Yankees 2005 staff had a better 2004 than the Red Sox 2005 staff did. But, as previously noted, I think that the Yankees just paid big money to two guys coming off of serious fluke career years. Let's look at the last 3 years, and see what the staffs look like when you do that.

    3-year totals - 2005 Red Sox Starters

    Arroyo, Bronson1210332233.87123.76

    Clement, Matt353694587.673.8112.21

    Miller, Wade362474440.673.66118.92

    Schilling, Curt5222916543.17146.79

    Wakefield, Tim3422785543.98117.69

    Wells, David4622926153.88110.16


    3-year totals - 2005 Yankee starters

    Brown, Kevin271964406.673.32125.08

    Johnson, Randy462788619.672.79160.84

    Mussina, Mike4727915953.96111.6

    Pavano, Carl363185559.333.99102.07

    Wright, Jaret1916382615.0384.6


    Over the last three years, the Red Sox pitchers have performed better than the Yankee pitchers. I don't see any reason to think that the Yankees have any edge, never mind a big one, when it comes to the relative starting rotations.


    Tuesday, March 29, 2005

    Free at last!

    On the morning of October 28, 2004, I posted an article to the "Your Turn" bulletin board at the Providence Journal (Projo) website in which I quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting an old Negro spiritual - "Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!" And it was only partially tongue-in-cheek. The Red Sox had won the World Series. After watching the team for my entire life, after seeing them lose in 7 games in 1975, after 1978 and 1986 and 1995 and 2003, the Red Sox had finally not lost in the most excruciating fashion possible. They'd won, and it seemed to change my entire world-view where the team was concerned.

    But I hadn't realized how significant the change was until a week ago. Flipping channels, I wandered through ESPN Classic when they were showing one of the "Top 25" shows that they'd produced a year ago, for the 25th anniversary of ESPN. In this particular show, hosted by the ever-obnoxious Stewart Scott, they counted down the "Top 25 Biggest Chokes". When I got to it, they were showing number 12, Roberto Duran's "No Mas" against Leonard. And I watched it, knowing, just knowing that Bill Buckner had to be number 1. And as they counted down towards 1, I realized that I was smiling. Not because Buckner had to be number 1, but because I knew that if they'd made the show 12 months later, Buckner would only be 2nd. And the 2004 Yankees would, and will, be atop that list for a long time. I've seen, this spring, for the first time, footage of the Boone home run that ended the 2003 ALCS. (When he hit it, I had the channel changed before it ever reached the seats, and never was able to watch a re-play.) I watched the Buckner play without any of the feeling of dread that I'd had before. Suddenly, it's just an interesting play in an old game, no more relevant to the world I live in than Fisk's HR in 1975, or Slaughter's "mad dash" or Merkle's boner. That's what the 2004 ALCS did for me - it made the history into history. Before that, it was all current events.

    And I think back to what I wrote last year, and realize that it's truer than I knew at the time. "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"


    What are the ND taxpayers paying for?

    Does anyone else ever hear the phrase "contempt of congress" and wonder where to volunteer?

    OK, this is not, technically, Congress, but another legislator who apparently has nothing valuable or useful to do with his time. "A North Dakota legislator is trying to muscle Roger Maris' 61-homer season back into baseball's record books because of allegations that the three players who have surpassed him did so with the help of steroids." Honestly, is this what the taxpayers of North Dakota are paying him for? (Of course, useless mischief like this does occupy time that would otherwise probably be spent committing real mischief, but still...)

    When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record in 1961, he became the Major League record holder. He did it in an expansion year, he did it in a year when the schedule expanded by 8 games, he did it with a lower SLG percentage than Ruth, in many more at-bats, with a much lower home-run/at-bat ratio, in a league where the average home-run/at-bat was much higher. But he did it, and it became the Major League record. Maris was the first one to hit 61 home runs. After he'd done it, he became the record holder. Period. People are aware of all of the circumstances around it, and take that into account when evaluating the record, but he held the record. No one had hit more HR in a season.

    Now people have. People with different equipment, playing in different ballparks, against different pitchers. People who may have used drugs that were not available to Maris. All of the context is different, and people will take that into account when evaluating the record. But the fact is that the record was broken. Mark McGwire hit 70 HR in a Major League season. Barry Bonds hit 73. Whatever they did or didn't do to accomplish those feats, those feats were accomplished. It would be utter idiocy for Major League baseball to pretend that no one's ever hit more HR in a season than the 61 that Maris hit. And utter idiocy is too kind a description for what Sen. Heitkamp is doing...


    Was Canseco's production really similar to McGwire's?

    One of the blogs that I visit daily is A Large Regular. Chris has always got interesting stuff, some good links and topics that I enjoy. But he put up a piece yesterday on the steroid issue and Canseco's book that had some really silly stuff in it. I was incommunicado yesterday, so this is now old news, but there were a couple of things that I wanted to address. I've got a baseball/steroid/media piece in progress, but I wanted to touch on a couple of things that Chris said.

    In the process of addressing his reading of Canseco's book, he took a detour into Jayson Stark's column saying that he'd still vote for Mark McGwire for the Hall of Fame. Which is fine. But from there he went off again, comparing McGwire's HoF candidacy to Canseco's, and that's where he said some very silly things.

    Think about this - you read stories about Mark McGwire and the Hall of Fame all the time but when's the last time you read a story about Jose Canseco and the Hall of Fame? McGwire was a one dimensional player - a player who could hit home runs - and now that one dimension is greatly soiled by steroids and yet baseball writers like Jason Stark are still writing about voting "yes" on McGwire and the Hall of Fame. Someone should ask Jason Stark if he'll also vote "yes" on Canseco because since McGwire's obvious steroid use is not being held against him - wouldn't it be a double standard to hold Jose's steroid use against him?

    Yes, it would certainly be a double standard to block Canseco strictly for steroids while giving McGwire a pass. IF, that is, they had substantially similar induction criteria. The problem with this line of argument is that they don't.

    Canseco and McGwire played close to the exact same number of games - 1,887 for Canseco and 1,874 for McGwire. McGwire was clearly the better fielder, winning a Gold Glove for his work at first base in 1990, while Canseco is best remembered for allowing a ball to bounce off his head in the outfield for a home run. However, Canseco was the better baserunner. Jose had 200 stolen bases to McGwire's 12. Do these two things, fielding and base running, cancel each other out? I'm not sure about that so I'll just focus on the offensive numbers both players put up.

    Canseco: .266 BA / .353 OBP / .515 SLG / 131 OPS+
    McGwire: .263 BA / .394 OBP / .588 SLG / 163 OPS+

    First, on the stolen bases - yes, Jose stole a lot of bases, which has some value. He was also caught a lot of times, 88 to be exact. On the whole, he was probably close to break-even, one way or the other, as a base-runner. Not a lot of extra value.

    On the defense, even though Canseco played a tougher defensive position, McGwire was probably enough better that it's at least a wash, if not advantage McGwire.

    But those offense stat lines are not substantially similar. Not even close. McGwire's offensive career is vastly superior to Canseco's. Canseco's OPS+ is 131. Using OPS as the standard, he was 31% better as an offensive player than the average player. McGwire was 63% better. How big a difference is that? McGwire is tied for 10th on the all-time career list in MLB history. Canseco doesn't make the top 100.

    The averages are clearly in McGwire's favor but if you took away the absolutely freakish 70 HR season from McGwire the numbers are fairly close.

    In terms of raw numbers:

    Canseco: 1877 H / 1186 R / 462 HR / 1407 RBI / 3631 TB
    McGwire: 1626 H / 1167 R / 583 HR / 1414 RBI / 3639 TB

    Well, some of them are. The R and RBI numbers, the TB numbers - those are all fairly close. But is any of that meaningful? R and RBI are both heavily teammate and lineup position influenced numbers. He's clearly cherry-picked numbers that look similar. But he's left out one of the most important offensive numbers. McGwire walked 45% more than Canseco did, 1317 vs. 906. That's an enormous difference, one that shows up in both the OBP and SLG.

    If you took away the (steroid induced) home runs - could these numbers be any closer?

    Take them away from both? Or just McGwire? He hit 25% more HR than Canseco did. If we take away the "(steroid induced) home runs" from both players, does that make them look any closer? I rather doubt it.

    Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to make a case for Jose Canseco for the Hall of Fame. What I am saying is that a double standard does exist and I believe neither player belongs but because McGwire was a white home run champion - he'll probably get voted in.

    One of the things that I learned years ago is that you should "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." And you should never, ever, attribute to racism, not even subtle latent racism, that which is more than adequately explained by non-racial factors. To suggest that McGwire's a better candidate than Canseco just because one's white and the other's not is silly when the performance discrepancy is this big.

    Ask yourself, what did Mark McGwire do to deserve such adulation? Once you get beyond his home runs - what's left? Of the players with 500 HR, Mark McGwire is dead last when you look at hits, runs, RBI and total bases among other categories.

    Chiefly AB. Which is relevant to this discussion. If you're going to criticize him for acculating fewer raw numbers than the other 500+ home run hitters, it's only fair to mention that he got onto that exclusive list with fewer AB than any of the rest of them.

    McGwire was simply a one trick pony and the sportswriters are willing him to ride that pony into Cooperstown. I think that's disgraceful.

    In my mind, without steroids McGwire is nothing more than a Jack Clark or a Dave Kingman. I wonder if Jason Stark voted for Dave Kingman for the Hall of Fame because I see very little difference between a Mark McGwire with steroids and a Dave Kingman without. If anything it makes Kingman's longevity and accomplishments are more remarkable.

    Dave Kingman - .236/.302/.478 - OPS+ of 115
    Mark McGwire - .263/.394/.588 - OPS+ of 163

    No further comment necessary.

    More importantly if a player who used steroids like McGwire is rewarded with a birth in the Hall of Fame - what message does that send to players who did not use steroids? What about a player like Jim Rice or the recently retired Fred McGriff?

    I've seen a lot of this recently, and I'm going to address it further, but let me just ask - how do we know? Anabolic steroids weren't invented in 1987. I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but we don't know who's done it and who hasn't, and that's as true of the 70s and 80s as it is of the 90s...

    I know this column went off on some tangents and I apologize for that.


    It's an interesting take. But I'm always concerned about accusations of racism, and Chris seemed to buy into them here, when there's no actual evidence to support them.


    My book

    What is "my book"? It's called The Red Sox Fan Handbook (Everything you need to be a Red Sox fan … or to marry one) and I call it "my book" because I was one of the primary contributors to it.

    In the fall of 2000, Leigh Grossman, a contributor to the newsgroup, sent out an e-mail to 15 or 20 regulars in that group with a proposal. Leigh, who was running a small publishing house in Connecticut, proposed a book for Red Sox fans by Red Sox fans, a book which addressed the history of the team, the notable players, the incidents and rumors and stories that long-time fans knew but wouldn't necessarily make an academic history of the team. Over the course of the next several months, people wrote and re-wrote submissions on individual players, famous Red Sox quotes, the ballpark, general baseball issues and the Fenway experience. Leigh wrote the history of the team. And in March of 2001, the book appeared on bookshelves everywhere. There were 15 contributors listed in the first book, with my name first. Alphabetically.

    I wrote ~17% of the first edition. In December, as we'd gotten all of the "low-hanging fruit" and were starting to realize how much was left to be done, my mother-in-law had an auto accident. She wasn't seriously hurt, but she was banged up, and my wife went to Maine to spend a week helping out. So, while I was home with the kids, I wrote. That week enabled me to cover a lot of ground that needed covering but hadn't been done yet.

    My contributions to the editing and additions on the 2nd edition were not as extensive, but I contributed some. Following the 2nd edition in the spring of 2002, Leigh had some difficulties that prevented a 3rd edition.

    Until 2004. Following the 2004 season, Leigh sold the book to Rounder Books, and we produced a 3rd edition. It went on sale in March of 2005.


    Saturday, March 26, 2005

    So close, but so far away...

    There's a story out that the U.S. military police have thwarted an escape from a prison camp in Iraq. According to this story in The Hill, insurgents had managed to dig a 600 foot tunnel using makeshift tools. Further investigation upon discovering the tunnel revealed another one that was 300 feet long.

    Now you're reading this and thinking "that sounds just like a movie", right? And the author of the story notes that as well. That's exactly what happened in "The Great Escape." Prisoners of war, prison camp, makeshift tools, elaborate tunnel, back-up tunnel. Perfect analogy. Slam dunk. So what does the article say? "The elaborate escape is reminiscent of the 1994 movie, "The Shawshank Redemption," where a prisoner burrows his way out of prison."

    And I'm thinking "you've got to be kidding me, right?"


    Friday, March 25, 2005

    Good Friday (cont.)

    Two more choruses from the Haydn "Seven Last Words" tonight. What a marvelous piece...

    Chorus 5 - I Thirst

    Jesus calleth: "I thirst! Oh, I thirst!"
    Curb now your fury, stay your revenge.
    Mankind, now let pity move your spirit.
    Let mercy enter your hearts.
    Is there to cruelty no end?

    Chorus 6 - It Is Finished

    Nailed upon the tree of torture, hangs my Jesus in the night;
    And He calls aloud: "It is finished!"
    Now the cross has lost its terror,
    Now has evil lost its might.
    O, you sinners blindly living, woe betide you,
    Who from sin to graver sins are driven.
    Man, consider now!
    Can you hope to be forgiven when He comes in all His glory and might?
    Save us, Jesus, from damnation.


    Good Friday

    The Seven Last Words of Christ

    Luke 23:33-34

    When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals-- one on his right, the other on his left.
    Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

    Luke 23:39-43

    One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
    But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence?
    We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
    Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
    Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

    John 19:25-27

    Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
    When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son,"
    and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

    Mark 15:33-34

    At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.
    And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

    John 19:28

    Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."

    John 19:29-30

    A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.
    When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

    Luke 23:46

    Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.


    Maundy Thursday (cont.)

    In the preface to the 1801 orchestral score of his "Seven Last Words Of Christ On The Cross", Haydn wrote:
    "Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on the seven last words of Our Savior on the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners."

    He succeeded masterfully. Originally written as a string quartet, he later fleshed out an orchestral score, then, about a decade after the composition, he added a text setting. We performed two of the choral settings last night, and will do two more tonight, for the Good Friday service.

    He didn't just, as some have done, set the seven words to music. He wrote meditations on the words, expanding, questioning, confessing, praising. The end result is that we are praying...

    Chorus 1 - Father forgive them

    Father in heaven! Oh see us kneeling.
    Look down from your throne.
    Father, fogive us!
    Thy Son entreats Thee, Oh, hear Him pleading and interceding,
    That mercy be shown.
    Ah, we are grievous sinners, and great is our guilt.
    Forgiveness and grace to win us, our Saviour's sacred blood was spilled.
    Our Saviour's blood asks no revenge, it flows to cleanse us.
    Father eternal! Let Thy grace attend us and mercy be shown.
    O remember not the sins and offenses of my youth;
    But according to Thy mercy think Thou on me, O Lord,
    For Thy goodness.

    Chorus 4 - Eli, Eli

    Why, O Father, did you forsake me?
    Where is now the hand of God?
    Who can fathon this great mystery,
    O God of power and might, O God of power all-seeing!
    Thou has called us into being
    And by Thy love, O Lord, we have been saved.
    O Lord, we worship Thee, we adore Thee truly.
    For our sake you suffered cruelty, mockery, loneliness and pain.
    Where's the man who would desert Thee,
    And by his sins would want to hurt Thee?
    Thou art gracious though we grieve Thee!
    No we shall never leave Thee, in life and all eternity.

    The CD that I've got is the Nikolaus Harnoncourt version and it's excellent. It's also in German, which I don't speak, so I need the English translation to meditate on, but it's a wonderful work, and I'm glad to have been introduced to it.


    Thursday, March 24, 2005

    Maundy Thursday

    I'm a member of the choir at Park Street Church in Boston.

    The church itself is of historic significance, one of the stops on Boston's Freedom Trail. Founded in 1809, it was the site of the first performance of "America" ("My country, 'tis of thee...") It was the site of the first public abolitionist sermons of William Lloyd Garrison. It's located between the Boston Common and the Granary burying ground, resting place to the family of Ben Franklin (though not Ben himself), Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, three signers of the Declaration of Independence (including John Hancock) and the victims of the Boston Massacre. And others.

    I mention this because we're singing tonight. Tonight is Maundy Thursday, the beginning of the Tenebrae service that technically extends through tomorrow night's Good Friday service and ends on Easter morning. Though I grew up in a Congregational church, which Park Street also is, it was, in some ways, not similar. I had actually never heard the term "Maundy Thursday" until I was in my late 20s, and havw still never been to a service on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday in which I wasn't singing. The key point to the Maundy Thursday service is, naturally, the communion, as we commemorate the last supper.

    In any event, we'll sing a couple of songs tonight and a couple more tomorrow. We practice every week - we sing for the congregation every week. The entire purpose of the choir is to minister to the congregation as a part of the service. It's a ministry.

    But no one in the congregation gets anything like the ministry that the choir gets. The congregation will hear, tonight, two choruses from Haydn's Seven Last Words Of Christ. They'll spend a total of 7-8 minutes with that music, with that text and text-setting. The members of the choir have spent hours on it. I've got a recording, I've listened to it, I've sung it. To the extent that a piece of music has the power to change someone, to affect someone, who's better positioned to experience those effects than the members of the choir? (That was rhetorical, as the answer's obvious.) Two years ago, we sang 3 choruses from Mendelssohn's Elijah. I'd be shocked if anyone in the congregation could remember any of what we did. But, while working the pieces for 6 months, I purchased a recording of the oratorio, and listened. It's a masterwork. It's a tremendous piece, from start to finish. I've listened to it more than 20 times in the past 2 years. We worked on it in order to minister to the congregation, but no one's life was enriched more than mine...


    First post

    It would be incorrect to say that I have nothing to say.

    But I don't have a lot of substance for this first post. The point of the first post is to be the first post, to get something on so that I'm no longer staring at a blank page. Things can be modified, adjusted, corrected, played with, built upon - but not until something exists. So this is it. If you happen to stumble upon this, I hope that you find something that entertains or stimulates you. If not, I'm sorry for wasting your time.

    This is a forum for me to express my thoughts on the things that interest me. If anything that interests me happens to interest you as well, that's a good thing. If not, again, sorry for wasting your time. I don't expect much traffic here. That's not the point. The point is that I want to write, and this is a way for me to do so.

    There are subjects in the world on which I have opinions, and this is a way for me to express them, to work on them. It's very possible that the act of writing them down will change them. I hope that I'm consistent in my principles and my application of those principles to life. But I also expect that holding an opinion today is not an iron-clad guarantee that I'll hold the same opinion a year from now.

    Since you happen to have found my spot, welcome. And off we go...