Monthly Archive for July, 2010

Seatbelts

For the last four months I’ve kept my Dodger fandom at arm’s length. I’ve tried to stay cool, like an MI6 Agent or Steve McQueen or Big Pink era Bob Dylan, and for the most part I’ve pulled it off.  I’ve engaged in the rest of the baseball world.  I’ve put together a pretty good fantasy team (Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!). I’ve held back the tears at each sight of Carlos Santana stepping to the plate in an Indians uniform.

But now it’s over. Composure gone.  After the  skid to start the second half. After Joe Torre and his staff’s low-budget reenactment of Custer’s performance at Little Big Horn last night. And most especially after Chad “A New Hope” Billingsley’s Complete Game Shutout of the Giants tonight, I am left unable to play it calm and collected.  Despite my knowledge that things will likely end badly, that the season will collapse, that my dreams will be shattered, I am now embracing the turbulence. American League baseball be damned. Lebron James be damned. Senatorial primaries be damned. If you need access to my heart and mind in the next ten weeks, you’ll find them wrapped up in the journey of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Seatbelts.

Bonus link: Jon Weisman’s amazing writeup of the Dodgers’ meltdown against the Giants on Tuesday. He uses George Sherrill’s middle name to great effect.

Sailing to Byzantium

The author of this post is Paul Franz. Ted and I invited Paul to contribute to Pitchers and Poets with the idea that he would bring a new perspective. Already, he has wowed us by writing an insightful essay built around a poem by W.B. Yeats.  Please welcome Mr. Franz to PnP with open arms. For more of his work check out Nicht Diese Töne. –Eric

There comes a moment in the career of a topflight ballplayer when he is no longer a star. The moment is often followed, in short measure, by an even more painful moment when the player is no longer even league average. Then he falls to replacement level or below. Finally, the player retires, often because no one will sign him, or because his team forces him to.

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

Sometimes the process is protracted, like it was for Ken Griffey, Jr., whose injuries kept him off the field for the better part of the decade. The Kid pushed back into the All-Star Game and even found his way to the MVP discussion with big years towards the end of his stay in Cincinnati, but upon his return to Seattle he found himself unable to field, unable to run, and, increasingly, unable to hit.

Sometimes the collapse is more rapid, like it has been this year for Todd Helton. The Toddfather hasn’t been a star for quite some time, but he was well above average last season, plugging along with his 10-20 homer bat and his consistently high, .400 plus OBP. While his body was clearly falling apart, only this year has Helton lost the rest: he’s not walking as much, he’s striking out more, and the power is all but gone.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

It’s at this unfortunate stage where a player’s “character” and “leadership” start to stand out. Media, fans, and other players will talk about the wisdom of players like Griffey and Helton, their joy while playing the game, and their tremendous skill. They’ll talk as if that skill is immortal, as if this season’s numbers are only a blip, a slump that will undoubtedly end any game now. No doubt those magnificent numbers Griffey and Helton put up in the late 90s – when today’s stars were watching after their Little League and Legion games – speak to the vain, unarticulated hopes of Franklin Gutierrez and Troy Tulowitzki: some players, great players, are different. Those players are forever.

It”s hard to blame someone who has spent his entire life being paid millions of dollars to do something because he was so much better at it than almost everyone else for refusing to believe that he can’t do it anymore. You might as well ask a writer not to write, a musician not to play, or a chef not to cook. Baseball is, in fact, much crueler than that, because it is the realm of the young, caught up in body and motion and justly irreverent towards the stuffy work of the mind. What right has some number-cruncher to tell Griffey he’s not good enough? What does Helton care for his line-drive percentage? It is difficult enough to ask for self-knowledge from any man or woman, let alone from a ballplayer.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

No wonder so many baseball players stay in the game as announcers, coaches, and scouts. That innate knowledge is something they must share, because it is in leaving the game that they truly understand it. Meanwhile their statistics are engraved into the History of the Game, a testament to their superior ability. At last they are satisfied to take a less agile form, to leave the field quietly. A lucky few, like Griffey, will have busts made in Cooperstown, commemorating their prowess, and acknowledging that, really, they are the stuff of myth. For the rest, well, not everyone makes it to Byzantium

This Just In! Votto Has a Sense of Humor That We All Apparently Lack

Joey Votto, via Flickr user dizbuster319 (click-through)

If it seems like I’m taking the following story a little too seriously, blame it on the combination of MLB Network’s Quickpitch and a couple of pints of Cooperstown, NY-based Ommegang Brewery‘s Abbey Ale. I toured the brewery while visiting the HOF, and just this evening learned that it was on the fridge shelf at the local grocer:

Joey Votto claims that his comment about Marlon Byrd and the Cubs was just a joke! Quoth Votto: “You can watch the video,” he said. “I gave Marlon a high 5 and patted him on the back.”

If this is true, it means that we were too harsh on Joey in our latest edition of the podcast. It also means that, once again, the dreaded limitations of print media have reared their ugly, newspaper-print-stained heads again. If it were up to me, the Internet would consist of nothing but flash videos and liveblogs from here on out. Who’s with me?

Let the record show that in the podcast I basically defended Joey Votto for saying things that he did not at all mean, and was totally joking about. Thanks, Joey. Next thing you’re gonna tell me that Bronson Arroyo was lip syncing the whole time.

Podcast 17: Mr. Selig’s Opus

Bob Feller still brings the gas.

In Podcast 17 we overcome a few sound issues (sorry!) to the discuss hard-throwing-ness of the 2010 All Star Game. Speaking of THROWING HEAT, Ted tells us all about his afternoon in Cooperstown with Bob Feller’s 104 MPH Fastball. One thousand is the number of pictures in a giant new book produced by Bud Selig and his front office cohorts about Baseball History — the next rendition of which will likely include sections on Joey Votto’s ornery nature, Rob Neyer’s ability to lay down the sac bunt, and deliciousness of Big League Chew.

Right-click here to download.

 

I Accidentally Enjoyed the All-Star Game

I woke up this morning, unfurled my Internet browser, and read that I had made a mistake. I accidentally enjoyed the 2010 MLB All-Star Game.

According to Tom Verducci, I’ve “been hoodwinked.” He argues that I shouldn’t have enjoyed the game because it counts but managers didn’t manage like it counts, and that there are too many weird rules, and that Big Papi–Heaven forbid!–actually ran the bases. “You cannot take the game seriously when it is played this way,” Verducci writes.

To paraphrase the Big Lebowski, “You’re not wrong, Tom, you’re just an asshole.”

Now, I don’t want to go too far. Verducci’s not an asshole, he ‘s just being that kid on the playground who is too smart for his own good, explaining why a rocket ship built from a jungle gym would never work. His column gives the sense that he sat there watching the All-Star game in a manic state, his temperature rising with every circus-like roster change. You know what, Tom? Instead of questioning the managerial merits of his being out there, I’d prefer to enjoy Big Papi scooting around the bases like he was in a three-legged race with an invisible partner.

In the end, I don’t think Tom is the problem. In fact, I think he’s right: they’ve tinkered with the All-Star Game too much. Which means, in the end, that they are forcing us to think about the All-Star Game. If there’s one thing any baseball fan can do–and do extensively, with little provocation–it is break a game apart and question each of its specificities. By “making it count,” MLB opened the floodgates. And while fans are free to take it as seriously or with as many grains of salt as the endless hurricane of daily life allows, the professionals must report on the game as if it counts. That is their mandate, as handed down by those who determine what matters. As a result, we get Verducci’s article, and we get JoePos’ “argument gone wrong” about Matt Thornton. Silly them and the way that they take their jobs seriously, while punks like myself make fun of them.

The secret to my success (ie. my accidental enjoyment of the ASG) is that I watched it like it was an exhibition. Lucky me, I’m not paid to treat it any other way.

I’m more in the camp of ‘Duk over at Big League Stew, who provided a fun round-up of the events, and a few light critiques. When it comes to All-Star weekend, I’m a supporter of light critiques.

What I enjoyed most: the pitching. My god, the PITCHING! David Price humming it in there, Ubaldo humming it in there, Josh Johnson humming it in there, Verlander humming it in there. Cliff Lee even hit 94! How great is the pitching when Roy Halladay seems like a bit of a let-down?

As one gas-thrower after another came into the game, I felt the exhilaration of a true exhibition. These guys were on display, and I got to see players like Josh Johnson who I’ve never watched pitch before. More, more, more! Like a kid at the circus who never wants the clowns to stop rolling out of the Volkwagen Beetle.

UPDATE: Eric has reminded me not to forget, in my litany of dudes humming it in there, Kuo, who,  apparently, knows Kuo.

You cannot take the game seriously when it is played this way.

Today

Despite the best efforts of the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays, I believe it’s safe to say that today, July 14, is the most boring sporting day of 2010. With that in mind, PnP recommends focusing your attention elsewhere.

Suggestions:

Home Run Derby Live Blog Thing!

Welcome to the Home Run Derby Live Blog Thing!

Impending LiveBlogging

via Flickr user venusnep, clickable image

I’ve been a woefully inept shipmate on the SS Pitchers&Poets of late, so this evening I will celebrate my renewed commitment to yammering on about baseball by LIVEBLOGGING THE HOME RUN DERBY (8 o’clock Eastern, 5 o’clock Pactific).

I’ve never LIVEBLOGGED before, so this will be as new to me as the All-Star experience is to Nick Swisher.

In anticipation of this major media event, here’s an unrelated article by Joel Sherman, NYPost, on the Jack Z negotiations leading up to the Cliff Lee deal, that I found via MLBtraderumors.com. It’s all quite dramatic.

Podcast 16: Kilby in Dream Land

In this episode of the Pitchers and Poets Podcast, we discuss the upcoming All Star festivities, from Chris Berman’s tired Home Run Derby act to All Star fashion (though we didn’t get to Alyssa Milano’s CHONE projections for the celebrity game). Then it was on to baseball cards, as we cracked a couple of Topps 2010 packs and dug through the Orioles and Pirates commons to find some buried treasure, and learned of the glory of Brad Kilby.

 

Right click here for the .mp3 file

The Anatomy of a Hit Piece

Not baseball, but this remarkable column by Adrian Wojnarowski on the Lebron James situation caught my eye. Mostly, I was amazed by the first paragraph:

The Championship of Me comes crashing into a primetime cable infomercial that LeBron James and his cronies have been working to make happen for months, a slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed. As historic monuments go, this is the Rushmore of basketball hubris and narcissism. The vacuous star for our vacuous times. All about ‘Bron and all about nothing.

Agree with the premise or not, that is one hell of a way to set the tone. But how does it work? How does Wojnarowski infuse this simple little intro graph with so much seething rage? Let’s at least take a look at the first sentence.

He achieves maximum rancor by immediately setting the conversation in his own sarcastic, negative terms. “The Championship of Me” opener sets Lebron up as a narcissist. Without realizing it, by the time we get to the rest of the clause, we are already thinking in the writer’s terms.  That clause itself is a minefield of dismissive and negative vocabulary. The words “crashing down” imply, well, a crash. Of course nothing is breaking here, nothing is crashing. In fact, you could very easily phrase it differently and say that something is taking off, a new era is beginning. But nope, we’re now crashing.

And what are we crashing into? An infomercial, of course. We are crashing into the cheapest and least regarded kind of television programming. This kind of inverse hyperbole is pretty obviously ridiculous when you consider all the other fluff programming to which ESPN devotes one hour specials. Compared to National Signing Day or the 5th round of the NFL Draft, the Lebron James press conference actually feels pretty important.

Of course, unlike these other dramas, the Lebron James presser is “a slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed.”  This is a beautiful piece of writing. Using the word cynical sets off subconscious alarm bells with sports fans because sports, the holy game of professional basketball included, are supposed to be above cynicism right? Sure. We really think that way. And Wojnarowski’s use of the word manufactured is perfect because it strengthens the (completely ridiculous) premise that the rest of the NBA (and sport in general) is some kind of un-manufactured, organic phenomenon. The word manufactured hits even harder when we consider that Lebron might well be departing a city deeply troubled by its inability to manufacture anything.

And who is doing this manufacturing? Why none other than Lebron’s cronies.  There’s a word without negative implications.

I would continue, but I have tickets to go watch an entirely meaningless — but delightfully organic — baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. And for the record, I’m no Lebron fan, but I don’t think his departure would mean the end of Ohio either.