Thursday, October 25, 2007

Zol zayn mit mazel! Tackle football comes to Israel for the first time-- and Our Man Elli is in the stands!

The FieldTurf Israel Football League took to the field for its first preseason game just hours ago, as the Big Blue hosted Mike's Place of Tel Aviv at the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem. The four-team league brings professional tackle football to Israel for the first time-- and wouldn't you know it, sitting in the stands and taking it all in was Elli Wohlgelernter, the esteemed sports journalist known in these parts as Our Man Elli in Israel, whose investigative article of the first season of the Israel Baseball League is still causing repercussions that are strong enough to have overshadowed yesterday the signing of two IBL players to the New York Yankees.

A bit of free advice: "Make sure to have plenty of ice, remember the fans-- and pay the players!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

After Elli: Israel Baseball League stars make good

Yes, there was good that came from the first season of the Israel Baseball League. What's not good about the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd in a place where war, conflict and the threat of terror are the main order of the day? Ask folks in the Bronx. Of course an outing at a ballpark will be memorable for any family-- including the Mansons. But as the facts in Our Man Elli's extraordinary article bear out, the league's founder, Boston-based Larry Baras and his cronies cocked up when it came to running-- or not running-- a league consisting of players from around the world. So our suggestion is that Larry take a lesson from his missteps and keep the players' safety and audience's needs in mind if he's serious about the league's longevity. Slandering the journalist who investigated the league and brought forward a Pulitzer-worthy report that's yet to have one punctuation mark refuted is not such a good idea-- and will only lead other reporters to snoop even deeper than Our Man Elli did.

And today, more good news from the IBL. Two of the league's top players has been signed by the New York Yankees.

Modi’in Miracle catcher Eladio Rodriguez (above left) was the league's slugging champ and winner of the Hank Greenberg Most Valuable Player Award, having hit .461 with 16 home runs in 34 game-- with a slugging percentage of 1.000. And Jason Rees, an Aussie outfielder and Fred Savage lookalike who was the league's home run champion playing for the pennant-winning Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, will also report to the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa for spring training.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

After Elli's article: "How good was the IBL really?"

There’s little doubt that Our Man Elli In Israel’s exposé of the Israel Baseball League’s rocky first season will have a dramatic impact on the league's second season when it comes to consideration of players and fans alike.

But while Elli’s article is still being circulated and reprinted in Jewish weekly newspapers around the USA (home of the all-important league backers and financers), and while we await word on which smart publisher is signing that deal for Elli to write the definitive book on the subject, our man points us to a site that examines the IBL from a different viewpoint.

bIBLemetrics, "a blog for Israel Baseball League statistical analysis," is run by a fan and software engineer in Israel and takes all the statistical information from that first season of Israel baseball and spits them out with expert analysis (not too different than the kid blogger at the New York Times and the TMZ stats--except that this guy does it for a living):
I was a big baseball fan as a kid, but lost interest when I finished high school nearly 20 years ago. This year, partly thanks to the IBL, I'm back with a vengeance. And I'm returning to one of my childhood dreams: to be the next Bill James. Instead of going up against the experienced statheads of Baseball Prospectus, though, I can start with the field to myself, right here with the IBL.

If a statistical analyst of the MLB is a sabermetrician, it seems appropriate that the IBL should have iblemetricians. So that's what you can call me.

I've already downloaded the IBL's box scores and game logs (see the Scoreboards section of their website), and I'm working on the software to extract the data from them. Some of the questions I hope to address once I'm set up:

* Park effects: Does Gezer Field inflate offense? If so, by how much? Do park effects change our assessment of who were the league's top players?

* In general, did the most valuable player awards go to the right players?

* What is the advantage to batting second (if there is one)? With two teams sharing each home field, we can compare games with the same venue but different "home" and "away" sides.

* By how much does Beit Shemesh (or any other team) increase a game's attendance?

* Any other questions on your mind that can be approached with baseball statistics?
Even more important, bIBLemetrics susses out:

What level of baseball did the IBL play?

It was clearly far from major-league standards, but did it reach minor league levels? If so, which level of the minors - AAA (the highest)? AA? Single-A? Rookie ball?

The answers can be found at bIBLemetrics. The site has been in full swing since the week Elli Wohlgelernter’s article stunned Israel and the sports world. His landmark piece of journalism and this site are a perfect combo.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Israel Baseball League fields new foul calls

Now there’s physical detritus in wake of the controversial first season of the Israel Baseball League that Our Man Elli wrote about so effectively and shockingly in its final week. While various fans and factions continue to debate the blunders, potential and future of the league, what was a field of dreams is a new Israel battleground—and again the spinmeisters are jostling for credit and avoidance of blame.

At issue is the baseball field at Sportek in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park, which was renovated earlier this year with funds donated by North American Jews for use by the Israel Baseball League in its inaugural season. In a deal with the city, the IBL made improvements, built an extensive fence to deliniate the outfield and made it the home field for the Tel Aviv Lightning and Netanya Tigers.

But the deal with the city mandated that the upgrades be revered at the end of the season. Now the city wants the fence removed and the grounds returned to its crappy condition.

Israel Baseball League founder Larry Baras (left) told the Jerusalem Post: "We spent the money necessary to improve the baseball field so that the growing community baseball program in Tel Aviv, which is mostly comprised of children, can have a good, safe field on which to play,"

And that’s where the new PR trouble kicks in for the Boston-based Baras.

Sources tell us that “the field sucked beyond belief” all season: “Metal was coming up from the ground! And he should say the field is so pristine it should be left as is? Baloney!” (NOTE: Elli wrote about the "potentially dangerous field conditions," and quoted Bet Shemesh Blue Sox catcher Scott Jarmakowicz saying, “There are rocks, glass, and pieces of rusty metal we pulled out of the ground. You can slide on a rock anywhere, but most fields aren’t gong to have three bars sticking out of it. And these are hard fences, you can really get hurt.”)

The IBL is taking another hit because despite squawks from Baras, the IBl is considered a nonentity-- anonplayer-- in Israel. The fight to keep the baseball field is being led not by the IBL, but the non-profit Israel Association for Baseball. The IAB brought baseball to Israel 20 years ago, and has launched the last-ditch, international campaign to save the field, encouraging people in Israel and abroad to write to Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai in an effort to convince him to change course.

The IBL? They’re walking away. Boston-based Baras says “We plan on playing elsewhere.” The IBL will find a new place to play, content to leave Israeli kids in Tel Aviv without their own field of dreams. The decision, and attitude is only adding to the claims that Baras and his league don’t give a hoot about native Israelis.