Monthly Archive for December, 2009

Weekday Reading: End Days

I’m really digging this song. Especially the sample.

1. I will jump at any opportunity to promote and preach the gospel of hockey on this blog. So here’s this awesome photo tour of Fenway Park, as of today, America’s largest ice rink.  If you’re gonna watch one regular season NHL game this year, make it the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 between the Boston Bruins and underachieving Philadelphia Flyers. It’s hockey at Fenway! (via Puck Daddy)

2. Meet Welby Sheldon “Buddy” Bailey, an American in Caracas, and the manager of Venezuela’s most successful professional baseball team of the last decade.  (via NY Times).

3. Happy Birthday Sandy Koufax! (via Ron Kaplan).

4. Josh Wilker nominates the most literary back-of-card bio in the history of baseball cards and in doing so reminds me why his incoming book is my most anticipated of 2010. (via Cardboard Gods).

5. I was at once saddened and amazed by the Walkoff Walk End of Decade Personality Compendium Infocaps. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

6. Happy New Year from PnP. Big RBI news coming on the flip side.

The Noble Hearts Ache

Today is the first day since the World Series ended that I have felt a compulsion to write about baseball. It’s a good feeling, this impulse, and I was beginning to worry it would never return. But really I should have known that it was only on hiatus and that a super-awesome-mega-trade would bring it back. After all, nothing brings out the amateur baseball philosopher in me like a big-ass trade.

Readers of this blog probably know that I came of age cheering for the Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1990s. This means that the two most significant transactions of my youthful baseball fandom were Pedro Martinez for Delino Deshields, and Mike Piazza for the Florida Marlins. These were massive and tragic mistakes. Therefore I do not believe I would be remiss to assign a certain post-traumatic significance to my current fascination with trades.

In my last post on trades, I discussed the inherent weirdness of bartering with humans. That weird dynamism is part of what makes trades so interesting and activities like fantasy sports so addictive. But aside from the risks and rewards of dealing in commodities as fragile as humans – even great athletes – tend to be, there is a broader meaning to be read in trades: the impact they have on franchises and the communities surrounding them.

There is a psycho-transactional chasm between the trades and free agency. When a star player leaves on his own free will, he is letting down a team. When a team decides to dump its star player, it is letting down its fans. It all comes down to what different parties are owed in the ecosystem of fandom.

In this ecosystem, which works like an unwritten social contract, we all have roles. Here’s a simplified version: Fans like you and I are called upon to spend our money, to clap at certain times, and to hold players and owners accountable. It calls for players to play the best they can, sign the occasional autograph, and generally not make us hate them. And mostly, it calls for front offices to assemble teams with a chance at winning, therefore making fans us want to come spend too much money on beer and merchandise at the ballpark.

Sometimes, in order to fulfill this contract, in order for the ecosystem to thrive, difficult decisions must be made. For Cincinnati Bengals fans, that might mean conducting elaborate protests and practical jokes to gain the attention of a negligent owner in the manner of Who Dey Revolution[1]. For the Toronto Blue Jays, that meant trading Roy Halladay today.

The trading of a superstar is not to be taken lightly. Superstars act as ballasts for franchises. Uniform designs, stadium naming rights, and supporting casts can rotate, but superstars are supposed to be permanent. The term franchise player is no accident. It refers to the centerpiece, the foundation, the keystone that keeps a structure from collapsing in on itself. The meaning of these players to their respective cities, to their fans, and to their teammates, is hard to overstate.

When the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles in 1988, members of the Canadian Parliament tried to block the deal. An effigy of Oilers owner Peter Pocklington was burned by fans. And within months of the deal, a Gretzky statue was erected in front of Edmonton’s arena. There was a documentary on ESPN earlier this year about the trade called “King’s Ransom.” Had Gretzky left via free agency instead of trade, there would have been no parliamentary shenanigans, no burning effigy of Pocklington, no bronze statue, and no documentary. But he was traded and a nation mourned.

I don’t think Canada will shed as many tears for Roy Halladay, who was born in Colorado, and whose departure has been long-awaited, as it did for The Great One. Partly, this is because unlike the Gretzky trade (or more recently, the Piazza trade), the intentions behind the Halladay deal appear at first glance to be noble. But noble acts can still be painful, and it is worth considering the torturous implications that this trade will have.

As bummed Jays fan Drew Fairservice eloquently pointed out today, the Blue Jays have entered an era in which their ace is Ricky Romero. This could be the first step toward a bright future, a time as bright as the early 1990s for Toronto. After all, it remains to be seen whether the northbound prospects will amount to fair value for Halladay. But regardless of what happens, there will not be another Roy Halladay. There is no fair value for a franchise player. There is no replacement, only a franchise redefined.


[1] Awesome blog/collective “dedicated to demanding that the Cincinnati Bengals front office act aggressively and rationally in their pursuit of a Super Bowl.” R

Pnp Conversations: Winter Meeting Wonderland

Eric: First off, I’d like to wish you a Happy Winter Meetings Day. The winter meetings mark the end of that unsettling post-World Series period and the dawning of the Real Offseason. The Real Offseason consists of speculative tweets and desperate rumor mongering and so much Scott Boras. It is basically the time when everything that’s wrong about baseball and baseball coverage comes to the forefront. Okay fine. I’m not this cranky. I’m just a little tired.

My first season of baseball blogging has left me exhausted. The Dodger ownership situation has left me cynical.  And the sheer amount of information one must consume to stay truly informed has left me overwhelmed. So I ask you Ted, what is a fan to do? Is there such a thing as too much information? Is it better to immerse one’s self in the madness, or to bide one’s time and count the months until pitchers (and poets) and catchers report?

Ted: You know, last offseason I went into it whole hog. It was a conscious decision to do so, and I ended up refreshing MLBTradeRumors.com every five minutes, studying up on arbitration processes and Rule 5 draft minutiae until my eyes watered. And I enjoyed myself, if only because it was an active decision. I dove into the pool of rumor madness. And it left me exhausted. By the time the season came around, I felt too tired for excitement. Following this pseudo-baseball whirling dervish of information was so taxing that the actual baseball season seemed less a relief than it did a continuation of the information torrent.

This offseason, using what I learned from last, I have decided to stick to the major news outlets and enjoy the big stories after they’ve been filtered through the tickers of the major coverage. This is in opposition to the trade rumor angle, in which mentions and possibilities are the currency. It’s a far less concrete baseball milieu, requiring of a lot of energy, the rumor mill, and I’m hoping to store my baseball energies up for when the season comes around, so that baseball will feel like a novelty at that point, rather than a chore.

This is not to say that I’m against the hot stove season. In the words of Maude Lebowski, “it can be a natural, zesty enterprise.” Most especially if you are a Red Sox, Yankees or Angels fan, and even if you’re a mid market fan looking to see who this year’s big pick-up will be. I’m thinking, for example, of Chone Figgins coming to the Mariners, which is one of those really cool moves if, like me, you are in Seattle and hoping they’ll put together an interesting team.

The hot stove season can be a downer, too, if, like me, your team will surely do nothing interesting. I’m thinking, with a blank heart, of the Astros.

Now, you are a political news junkie, and seem to follow that sordid, labyrinthine business with a natural, zesty consistency. Do you feel that MLB trade jibber-jabber is somehow different than that? Are the demands more severe?

Eric: Ted, you are even crazier than i thought. Studying up on arbitration processes? Rule 5? I thought only bloggers who dealt in numbers did stuff like that.  But crazy or not, you pose an interesting question. I am a political news junkie. It’s true. But believe it or not, that feels less insane to me. The MLB trade jibber-jabber is somehow different than that. The demands are more severe.

Allow me to demonstrate some differences between the MLB offseason rumor mill, and the ever-buzzing world of political news.

1. Substance. Huffington Post readers might not be aware of this, but political news actually goes beyond airport bathroom rendezvous, Joe Lieberman sightings, and the Obama girls’ clothes. There are actual substantial — if stodgy and hysterical — debates happening in congress, over actual issues. Bloggy analysis of these issues is more akin to the world of sabermetrics, in that it is ongoing, and has a certain timelessness.

2. There are only two teams! This means that an Arlen Specter trade is likely to be far more significant than, say, Akinori Iwamura for Jesse Chavez.


3. If you’re a cynical person, and it’s hard not to be, than you could argue that politics is the inverse of baseball: long offseason, and short regular season.  This means that things happen much slower. We only get a federal election every two years. THis means lots of time spent positioning, and acquiring the kind of record (or roster) it takes to compete.

4. Baseball owners are much better at working together than politicians.

5. Political news is fueled less by rumor-mongering and savvy positioning, and more by bad-decision-making, name-calling, and cowardice. Unlike baseball, the consequences for corruption are minimal and vague. The world of political news is hazy and ill-defined. The stakes are higher, but the IQs are probably lower.

Anyway, the point is that in politics, election season has that whirling dervish feel to it. But the day-to-day existence is a lot slower, a lot more like baseball’s regular season. It’s less demanding, less surprising, and more substantive.  That said, I don’t have the impulse to refresh the NY Times or TPM one hundred times a day like i do with MLBTradeRumors.com. My views on Afghanistan are not as well-defined as my views on, say, who the Mets should sign to play Left Field.

Is the desire to play armchair GM part of what makes this time of year so compelling? Or is it just the excitement of seeing how baseball’s pieces will fall into place before next season starts? What  makes these winter meetings so…massive?

Ted: I find your informational reply to be enlightening and entertaining, though unfortunately it doesn’t at all increase my interest in politics. I’d rather count Ichiro’s career hits one-by-one than watch more than five minutes of CNBC (does that even still exist?). Observation: in politics, the vote is king; in baseball, votes are reserved for the least crucial moments. Not counting, of course, the one-man vote that is an umpire’s decision.

What makes the winter meetings so interesting is what makes politics so interesting. We are, as media consumers, compelled by the idea of powerful men (it’s a sexist compulsion) in conference rooms hammering things out. Ideally, we’d like to be one of these men, but the only replacement is to follow their each maneuver. Add one or six fantasy baseball teams, and the compulsion is satiated. Speaking only for myself, I don’t really imagine myself in the role per se. I don’t need a second job, and to really understand a big league team, a farm team, waivers, etc., seems like it would be just that, even vicariously.

No, I think we like to watch power plays, and the winter meetings are like the meeting of the five bosses; it’s the world’s epicenter of power, bad golf shirts, and double-talk.

Here’s a semi-related question: would you ever attend the winter meetings? Let’s say it was taking place a half-hour from your residence, in the Holiday Inn-Tacoma. Would you go to there? Why?

Eric: You may not need a second job, but I certainly need a first job (take heed PnP readers, my services are available). For that reason alone, I’d go to the winter meetings. But truthfully, if they were local, I think I’d go out of sheer curiosity. The meetings fascinate me. I love baseball and, despite everything, the baseball media, and would love to see what the wheels look like when they are turning. It’s not often you get to safely watch a Scott Boras hunting in the wild, or a Tommy Lasorda gulping down spaghetti and meatballs. It may be meaningless, it may be sterile, it may even be disheartening. But sure, I’d go.

How about you, fair readers, would you go to the Winter Meetings if given the chance?

PnP Parody Party Contest: Write Like an Angell

Write Like an Angell Contest

There is a long-standing tradition of parody in literature, from Hemingway all the way around the world to Sarah Palin, with reams of Internet teletype in between.

On the heels of Eric’s Roger Angell Appreciation post, we thought we’d do the same thing and invite you to join this new contest, and write parodies of Roger Angell’s sepia-toned, straight ahead New Yorker style. We’re calling it Write Like an Angell.

The gig is that you describe a player or baseball incident of your choice in the Angell way. This might involve comparing a particular style quirk to a mundane daily activity, or describing the hoi polloi and capturing the quaint essence of a long-time fan. You could also do what he did back in the 60s and describe the seating in a certain domed stadium in the metaphorical terms of a summer dessert cocktail.

And it’s a contest, so for the first place winner, I will create a customized digital baseball card, in the manner of those of our poets-in-blogidence (examples here, here, here), for whatever human, animal, or mineral you so desire. The top three winners will be enshrined forever in the Rogue’s Baseball Index, under Roger Angell’s entry (which doesn’t exist yet), with a link of your choice that isn’t porn.

You can email your entries to tips@pitchersandpoets.com, or post them in the comments. Eric and I are the final judges, unless Roger Angell calls and wants to be the judge, in which case he will be the judge.

You want an example of a contest entry, you say? Here is my offering:

I haven’t been to the press box in more than a month. The spread of ham sandwiches and Dr. Pepper that I recalled from the chilly contests of early March was all but extinct. Standing at attention in the instead was a stern company of carrot sticks facing down a squadron of celery. The sportwriters were as wary of the raw buffet as Ichiro Suzuki was unfazed by the platter of sinkers regularly delivered by Derek Lowe on the night of my visit. With every pitch, he gazes up into the distance. One might think he were trying to remember where he parked his car. At the mid-point of his swing, Ichiro leans backwards like a kite-surfer coasting in a light gale.