Archive for the 'Players' Category

Finding Jered: Angertainment and the Reluctant Appreciation of an Ace

My wife really eats up Sarah Palin news. She could watch YouTube videos of the absentee Alaskan all day long. Angertainment, she calls it: the practice of watching something because you can’t stand the subject, and bashing them gives you a rush. I watch the Glenn Beck show on occasion, just to see what he’s up to, and to rant and rave with my critiques of his approach, developing counter arguments to share with the dog on our next walk.

Healthy or not, figures like Palin highlight the basic human tendency to create nemeses. Developing an enemy, even an enemy who will never hear the cries of disdain you lob at the television, is a way to locate yourself in relation to others, and to establish your own values in a world of subcategories and splinter groups. Angertainment is a private act that feels public, and while the hot-button political commentators will always play some role, in other arenas it isn’t always possible to predict when and where an entertainemy will emerge.

Enter Jered Weaver. He bugs me. Not in a political way, or a social way. He doesn’t make me feel like the fabric of the game is degrading 1. I just don’t like the looks of him. His California snarl, the styled medium long hair that sweeps up in the back like a ski jump, the defiant angular tilt of his shoulders. He looks like kid in high school who held the parties. I didn’t get invited to the parties, and I wouldn’t have known what to do there if I had been. Jered’s older brother, Jeff, threw out a similar vibe, like he was the one buying the beer. Together, the Weaver brothers create a douchebag dynasty effect, and I can’t help but envision them standing back shoulder to back shoulder, crossed arms, blocking the door out of the locker room just long enough for a towel whip.

Jered Weaver is my angertainment.

The Angels pitcher is clearly–to paraphrase Werner Herzog’s recent line during a guest spot on The Simpsons–a mirror to the soul. I don’t know a thing about his character, or his personality, or the way that he behaved in high school. I’ve never read his side of an interview or followed his career any further than highlights on the teevee. And yet I’ve created a narrative for him in my head, and I’ve imagined a world that we both occupy in which I’ve interacted with him. I’ve predicted the results of the interaction (see above re: whip, towel). Based on a patch of disgusting chin hair, a hairstyle, an intangible comportment I have decided is arrogant, I’ve spun a web of un-reality to match whatever anxieties I harbor about turning 30, about the West Coast, about tall, skinny blonde people, about the act of watching baseball. This angertainment is on me.

Celebrity culture wields such power because of most folks’ tendency to script these narratives, with public personae as the players. It’s a largely automatic response to the stimulus placed before us, manipulating the natural human tendency to form groups and talk shit about other groups. The average gossip blog reader would have an easier time discussing which celebrities they dislike than those that they enjoy. Goats abound these days, while heroes run thin, telling us something about an American need for enemies that probably, if we’re honest, says more about a desperate desire for friends.

Baseball does a lot of the work for us by divvying up allegiances from the start, and much of the inherent entertainment derives from the symmetrical alignment of opposing forces. And, when it comes to angertainment, athletes do differ from general entertainment types and politicians, in that athletes don’t necessarily desire attention as much as they desire excellence, and what they do for a living just so happens to take place in a public sphere. Entertainers and public figures with no trade other than attention, on the other hand, derive their satisfaction and their value from the presence of an audience, and the currency they thrive on is the reaction itself, rather than the transposed currency to look to like wins or hits.

Which means that Jered Weaver isn’t pitching for me. A polarizing politician or talk radio host gains drawing power when someone like my wife tunes in to hear them say something incendiary, because their fan base enjoys it when others frown on their views, enabling them to entrench further, and that in turn strengthens the fan base in today’s new media cycle of violent love and violent hate. Weaver, though, gains little from my distaste. His main goal is to win for Angels fans, not to create a firestorm of opposition that fuels his prominence. The spotlight is his for the taking if he pitches well. Any other attention is fat to be trimmed. If he is really good, he’ll achieve his goal. He doesn’t need hostility–and the attention that comes with it–to heighten his success.

What gets stuck in my craw about Jered Weaver’s physical presentation is the sense of entitlement it exudes. I’m like anybody in that I naturally resent those to whom success seems to come easily. The conceit of Weaver as imagined high school classmate suggests that he is the kid who was a head taller than everyone else, who probably threw harder than everyone else, and who enjoyed a mastery of his pitches that most of his teammates and opponents were unable to touch with a ten foot pole.

The truth, however, is that success doesn’t come easily to very many people, especially in the major leagues, which has laid low many young talents. There is no reason for me to believe that Jered Weaver hasn’t earned his place. In fact, when I had the chance to watch the pitcher work against the Seattle Mariners the other night, I gained insight into his style that directly undermines my irrationally negative attitude toward him.

First of all, in direct contradiction to his presence on the mound, Weaver isn’t a power pitcher. He’s tall, with long arms and legs, and a long wind-up, and when you mix in his sneer and his hair and whatnot, you have painted the picture of a fireballer who, given his frame, you’d think was wild, and that he got by on strength rather than finesse.

But eaver doesn’t throw all that hard. His fastball lives in the high 80s, dabbling in the low 90s. The fastball you might figure would resemble that of another lanky hurler, A.J. Burnett, with a foot of uncontrollable movement, actually travels as true and straight as an arrow, with the precise accuracy of an Olympian. Weaver hits the mitt on par with some of the best, and he’s only walked 26 through 109 innings this year. Before I sat down to watch him against the Mariners, I didn’t think, “Here pitches Jered Weaver the control artist with an elite level of touch on the mound.” I thought, “Jered Weaver. He looks like a dick.”

And I had no idea he had such a good change-up.

Weaver’s change-up is the foundation of his pitching style. He started off a surprising number of batters with the change piece, showing great confidence in it and confounding hitters who may have liked to start with the fastball and work their way down to the slow stuff. This strategy impressed me. It is an odd gambit to start with a change-up. The reliance on its inherent deception, rather than its relationship to other pitches, shows the kind of confidence in it more often displayed by pitchers like Maddux and Moyer. You could even call the change-first approach quirky 2. Before I watched him pitch, I didn’t think I’d ever refer to Jered Weaver as quirky. But there it is, an idiosyncratic tendency that chips away at the preconception I have about him. His inner Zooey Deschanel beats out his outer Lindsay Lohan this round of their best of 9 arm-wrestling match.

The final nail in the coffin of my disregard for Weaver is the fact that he has improved every year starting when he came on like a bullet in 2006. The prominent change-up, the tight fastball, the unfurling motion like a masted ship setting sail, to say nothing of a very good curveball that promises the strike zone before ducking away, these are the products of an artisan, not a jock. From 2007 to 2009 his FIP was in the 4 range, then in 2010 it dropped to 3, and now it’s around 2.5. His strikeout rate has inched upward, and his walk rates downward. A few paragraphs ago, I said that things seemed to come easily to Jered Weaver. Discounting a bang-em-up first season, they didn’t. He has improved, year over year, the way that the analysts draw it up, and he has slowly evolved into the ace that he is now. Such metered improvement can only suggest hard work, and a major league learning curve.

I was way off. He didn’t shut the Mariners out with a complete performance by riding arrogance, but by utilizing a collection of mature, insightful pitches and articulate control.3 The message is in the medium. Message received.

Baseball rewards attention, and that’s all you could ever ask for. I had my preconceptions about Weaver, but when I took the time to evaluate what he does out there, and to take a look at his past performance through the numbers4, I was able to fill in an incomplete baseball portrait. He still carries the swagger and the sneer, and while the details of his personal life are still–thankfully–none of my business, his portrait is now framed by a broader, brighter landscape and lit with a more sophisticated palette.

Celebrity and political media cultures intentionally deprive their viewers of such perspective. Short-sighted, reactionary spite and fear are the fuel that feeds the business. Reasoned consideration doesn’t drive traffic, and the camera’s fast-pan to the next circus freak triggers addictive little squirts of dopamine in our social brains, driving us to seek more and more. More angertainment, a longer role call of entertainemies.

Many complain that baseball is a slow game, like that was a terrible thing. For my money, it’s the rare entertainment that allows a moment to contemplate the players in the drama, to consider the products of our own creation and the effects that they have on us. On the night that Jered Weaver pitched against my current home team, I used the time the bit of fresh air that came in between the cracks of the baseball artifice to consider Mr. Weaver, and to consider myself. I took a look in the mirror, and something new looked back at me.

  1. mostly because there is no “fabric” just like there is no perfect America that existed between 1946 and 1959 that we must return to or else
  2. The term “quirky” is a great way to compliment somebody and put them down at the same time. Quirky may be the most condescending word in english. Didn’t think you were getting of that easy, didja Weaver?!?
  3. Well, I suppose it may have had at least something to do with the Mariners offense….
  4. For whatever drawbacks the statistical revolution in baseball has, its greatest benefit is its contribution to the art of rational, if obsessive, appreciation.

Nied’s Chain by Tom Ley

Tom Ley writes at Word’s Finest. He contributed to 1990s First Basemen Week with The Big Cat and the Water, about Andres Galarraga. You can email him at leyt345(at)gmail(dot)com.

I once sat in a hot tub with David Nied on a crisp Arizona night.. I was just a kid at the time, and so my recollection of the evening in question animates itself in my head as more of a half-remembered dream, clouded by the passage of time and the thick haze of over-chlorinated steam.

There are a few things, however, that stick out from that night. The first being that Nied was wearing a hideous gold chain, not unlike the one that is featured so prominently in this un-grok, cringe-inducing photograph. The second thing I remember is that there was a palpable sadness hanging over David Nied while he sat alone in that hot tub. His face was wet and his hair was slicked back, as if he had just finished splashing water onto his face and head the way that the gritty police detectives from the movies do when they are trying to wash away the filth of a day spent picking through the gristle of a crime scene. He was doing that thing where you drape your arms over the edge of the hot tub and slouch the rest of your body into the hot water, a pose that lent itself perfectly to the wistful sadness that was on his face.

I was in the hot tub with my brother and another friend, and despite our youth we were smart enough to figure out that David Nied did not want to be bothered on this night, and so we all boiled slowly in awkward silence together. I remember that I spent most of my time in the hot tub staring at Nied’s gold chain, all glistening and tangled in his thick patch of chest hair. I stared at the chain to prevent myself from meeting Nied’s own gaze, which was fixed on something that was just as harrowing as it was invisible. He was staring the end of his career dead in the eye.

For those of you who don’t know (most of you, I imagine) who David Nied is, allow me to pause and give you a little bit of background info.

David Nied was the first overall pick of the 1992 MLB expansion draft. He was selected by the Colorado Rockies, who had won the first overall pick thanks to a fortuitous coin flip. At the time, it had appeared that the Rockies had just won the lottery.

It’s important to understand that selecting David Nied had a lot more impact on the Rockies organization than any first overall pick from the amateur draft would have. The fanfare and pomp surrounding a top amateur draft pick is usually tempered by the knowledge that it will be a few years before that player is seen in the majors. Even players like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who are otherworldly talents, have to spend time toiling away in the minors. So it’s understandable when fans have a hard time getting overly excited about a player who they know won’t be making a serious impact at the major league level for a few years.

Nied was different, though. He gave Rockies fans plenty to be excited about because he wasn’t some prep star who needed a few years of seasoning. He was a major league ready prospect who had been lighting it up on the Braves AAA affiliate and briefly as a major leaguer at the end of the 1992 season. The Braves had decided not to protect David Nied from the expansion draft, giving the Rockies the opportunity to steal him.

The Braves decision not to protect Nied seemed foolish at the time because of numbers like these:

Those are the statistics for the Braves AAA pitching staff from the 1992 season. The first three names on that list would go on to help from one of the most formidable pitching staffs in history. The fourth name would eventually enjoy a few dominant seasons as the ace of the San Francisco Giants’ pitching staff. At the time, David Nied was these men’s equal.

“I thought I was going to be protected. Frankly, I’m shocked I wasn’t protected,” Neid told the AP following the expansion draft.

In less than five years, Nied would be retired from baseball.

David Nied started the first game in Rockies history. He lasted five innings, gave up two runs, and walked six batters. I imagine he was pretty nervous. Two starts later, Nied went up against Dwight Gooden and the New York Mets. He ended up throwing the Rockies first ever complete game shutout. He didn’t walk anybody in this game, and 83 of his 114 pitches were thrown for strikes, and at one point in the game he retired 20 of 21 straight batters.

Nied was impressive enough to compel Tom Friend, who was covering the game for the New York Times, to write the following sentence:

“David Nied, sort of the Shaquille O’Neal of major league baseball, silenced the New York Mets here.”

As far as I can tell, Friend is comparing Nied to Shaquille O’Neal without irony. In order to give the analogy some context, let me remind you that at the time this article was written, O’Neal was in the midst of his rookie season with Orlando Magic. This was a season in which he averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds a game while doing things like this. O’Neal was an absolute force of nature who was not to be fucked with, and Friend’s willingness to compare him with David Nied says a great deal about the potential that lived inside of Nied.

Unfortunately for Nied, outdueling Dwight Gooden in his third start as a Rockie would prove to be the high point of his career. Sidelined by a series of injuries and a labor strike, Nied never became what so many thought he could have been. Nied retired quietly in March of 1997, after being traded to the Reds and optioned to the team’s AA affiliate. He had joined the Rockies as a potential force of nature, waiting to be unleashed. He left them like a gentle, almost imperceptible breeze.

The true sadness of David Nied’s story is that it doesn’t even qualify as a tragedy. You won’t ever hear Rockies fans grumble about David Nied and what could have been. Nobody will talk about the lost empire that Nied could have helped build with Todd Helton. Whenever a Rockies prospect struggles, you won’t read any “I hope this guy isn’t the next David Nied” columns in the local sports section. David Nied is a ghost. He may as well have evaporated right before my eyes along with the steam from the hot tub on that night in Arizona.

The un-tragedy of Nied’s career illuminates one of the crueler aspects of baseball. Unlike other sports, the game never slows down long enough for us to properly mourn those who left it before their time.

I have only recently become a serious fan of the NBA, and yet I can tell you all about the tragic falls of Sam Bowie, Kwame Brown, Penny Hardaway, Derrick Coleman and Len Bias. NBA fan bases are often defined by the ethereal monuments that they build in honor of those who should have been but never were. There is no doubt that Portland fans will still be talking about Greg Oden ten years from now. Christ, the greatest basketball blog of all time is named after one of these aborted superstars.

Some may call this tendency counterproductive and perhaps even a bit masochistic, but I find it to be rather beautiful. Each misty-eyed recollection of lost potential reminds us that the game is ultimately about the players, because they are what compels us to watch. We form personal connections with them as we become invested in their successes and failures, and when they flame out too soon it feels like an occasion for mourning. It’s this mourning that reminds us that our connection with them and others ever existed in the first place.

Baseball, however, has no time for eulogies and funeral pyres. A game that is so often defined by failure leaves no room to contemplate its impact. When someone like Nied fails so completely we have a hard time finding much to say about it because, well, failure is essentially what the game is designed to produce. Every day players are chewed up and spit out by the incredible degree of difficulty that the parameters of the game present, and then they are expected to wake up in the morning and do it all over again. Baseball is hard, and it’s supposed to do what it did to David Nied. His failure was nothing special.

I asked my brother if he remembered anything from that night in the hot tub with David Nied. His recollection was much different but just as hazy as mine. All we really agreed on was the fact that Nied was wearing that hideous gold chain.

Just a Hitter: Watching Top Prospect Anthony Rendon in Person

In the last few days I have attended the 2011 NCAA Regional Playoffs at Rice University’s Reckling Park, where Rice played Akron State in the first round and Baylor in the second. Sunburned and baseball happy, these are my thoughts on Rice’s star hitter and upcoming MLB draftee Anthony Rendon.

Anthony Rendon is the designated hitter. When his Rice University baseball teammates jog back to the dugout at the end of their fielding half, one of the country’s best amateur hitters greets them cheerfully, playfully spurring them on with a green towel that will eventually make its way back over his head to fight the Texas heat. Rendon’s enthusiasm seems fueled by a restless desire to take the field himself, knowing that the best he can do right now is use his spare time as a cheerleader.

In the batter’s box, he is at ease in the role that best suits him. The last time I saw such relaxed hands from a Rice hitter was an evening I shared with Lance Berkman, circa 1998, when he sent a home run towards the Medical Center on a path reminiscent of the Life Flight helicopters that buzz overhead. Rendon starts by standing upright, then dramatically draws his hands back and loads up, essentially morphing his stance from one style to another before the pitch is thrown. Then, he hits the ball:

2 for 5 with an RBI on Friday against Alcorn State
2 for 4 with an RBI on Saturday against Baylor

Rendon hasn’t hit any one ball the farthest–he’s homerless in the couple of days I’ve watched him–but if you were to add up batted balls for total distance, I’m sure he’d lead the way. His outs are deep, well-struck line drives, showing the sort of loft and backspin that I can only imagine will translate nicely to wooden bat play. That, I reckon, is what the scouts see.

The kid is under some pressure. He was the only player I saw that garnered a round of applause at the mere mention of his name. He’ll likely be among the top picks in the draft. In an MLB.com article Rendon revealed a personality that contrasts the PRed up Bryce Harper and other high profile amateur players, who have already mastered sound bite dropping and cliche slinging. “I really didn’t think it would be this big,” Rendon said of his popularity and accompanying scrutiny over the last few years. “Honestly, I don’t even want it to be that big. I just wanted to be a guy that liked to play baseball. I just wanted to be an everyday player. I didn’t want to be the big name in the game that’s going to take over and everybody looks at. I don’t like the attention.”

Injuries have rendered him an incomplete player for the moment, a hitter alone. Any hesitation about his ability has been stirred by his injury history, letting slip the “assured first overall pick” crown that have marked the last few drafts.

Like a musician who checks in with the rock critics, Rendon reads the online chatter about his prospects at the higher levels, and perhaps unlike a musician, he works to address those points of weakness. “I know one of the writers said since I had 12 errors my freshman season that I’m not a good defender,” he said. “That got under my skin. I did take that into consideration and said, ‘I’ve got to prove this guy and everyone else wrong.’ That’s why I came out my sophomore year and really worked at it and had four errors. I feel like I put an end on that note.”

One reading is that he’s too wary of criticism. Another reading is that he knows when someone is right, regardless of where it comes from. Yet another reading is that the kid isn’t oblivious to the nature of the media, and that he has a sense of the world around him. That’s a kid I draft.

“It’s one more step closer to my dream,” he told MLB.com in the same article, “to what I really want to do — just play baseball and not have to worry about anything else.” There’s a difference between worry and awareness.

And while he may not field, he certainly walks, and hits.

For a look at what he’s accomplished as a hitter, note that,according to ESPN: “[Rendon] won national freshman of the year honors in 2009, hitting .388 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs. Last year, he took home the Dick Howser Trophy as the national player of the year after hitting .394 with 26 homers and 85 RBIs.” This year, he’s batted .327 with just 6 home runs, a figure that, given my impressions of his swing and his sterling reputation, is the result of the new bat situation rather than a fall-off in skill. And besides, his on-base percentage is .522. He’s struck out 32 times this year, against 79 walks.

When I go to a college baseball game, or a minor league baseball game, for that matter, I want the best prospects in the game to do something cool while I’m there. Baseball, of course, doesn’t always oblige such un-baseball-like expectations. We fans are supposed to be patient, to respect probabilities and likelihoods. Often, the best you can do is try to sense a top prospect’s aura. I saw Andrew McCutcheon play for a few games in Indianapolis, for example. He didn’t hit any triples or do much else, but he had an aura. (Now, that said, an aura can be aided by a reputation, but that’s another conversation.)

Anthony Rendon didn’t hit home runs, but he hit, and that was what I wanted to see. He didn’t play the field, but he hit. He drove in runs by putting the ball in play, hard and soft. He took his walks, he didn’t give up easy outs, and he waved his towel.

Sidenote #1: As I finish this piece, the Owls lead the Cal Golden Bears in an elimination game, having lost one yesterday to the Baylor Bears. Bear bear bear.

Sidenote #2: For my money, Rice second baseman Michael Ratteree will be a name to watch in next year’s draft.

Sidenote #3: I took these pictures, though you can find lots more nice ones by other people on Flickr.

Lightning Round: Otis Nixon’s Hair

In search of a topic for today’s post, I solicited one on Twitter. I said I’d write for 45 minutes on whatever people came up with. The first topic submitted, by Pete Beatty, was “Otis Nixon’s Hair.” I have done my best:

When I think of Otis Nixon I don’t think of his hair. I think of his face. Otis Nixon had the face of a man who had lived a dozen lives. It was expressive and weather-beaten and looked like something out of an American folk art exhibit. Hell, Otis Nixon’s entire career could have been folk art. And now that I’m researching his life, well, the rest of it could be folk art too.

I will write about his hair because that is my assignment. But mostly I will write about his life and legacy. Otis Nixon was born in January 1959 in Evergreen, North Carolina. A fitting name for his hometown because Otis Nixon exudes permanence. On Baseball-Almanac, his high school is listed as unknown. Wikipedia and Baseball Reference eschew any allusion to his high school whatsoever.

It’s not as if Otis Nixon emerged out of the tobacco fields of North Carolina to become a light-hitting, fast-running, switch-hitting center fielder. It may have seemed like that to me, because by the time I became a cognitive baseball fan, Otis Nixon was already an established veteran ballplayer. But in that interlude after his career began and before I became aware of it, Otis Nixon faced hard times. He had drug problems. He missed the 1991 World Series because of a drug suspension. He was an alcoholic.

The definitive Otis Nixon is probably the one you see in this Braves image from the late 1990s. I’ll always think of Otis Nixon as a Brave. Maybe because of pictures like this, maybe the 1999 World Series.

By the time this photo was taken he was around 40 and his face had reached fully petrified Otis Nixon status. Plus there was enough of that hair left to give a glimpse of the dashing Otis Nixon of a few years earlier. The Otis Nixon who stole 70 bases in a year and six in a single game. The Otis Nixon who shined in an era of similar (if often better) outfielders, like Brett Butler and Vince Coleman and even Kenny Lofton. You can still imagine the jheri curl pushing through the helmet and flying backward in the wind as Otis Nixon blasts off out of his long lead at first base.

Otis Nixon would tell you that he blasted off a lot then (sorry, couldn’t resist). He was a drunk and an addict. There were arrests and accusations of violence from men and women as recently as five or six years ago. But now Otis Nixon, like any American Folk Hero, has evolved. He’s a Christian. He is married to Candi Staton, a soul and gospel singer you might have heard of. He runs the Otis Nixon Foundation and On-Track Ministries. And best of all, he’s written a book with an awesomely Clyde Frazier-esque title: Keeping It Real With Otis Nixon.

Here is talking about it:

He talks like a baseball player. He makes corny jokes. The whole thing looks a little unscripted, a little unplanned, and like most everything else on Youtube, amateurish. The hair is gone, too. The hair that prompted this hastily written essay. But the face, small and sinewy and cut from wood, looks entirely the same.

Cliff Lee and the Myth of the Moment

There was a shining half-season last year when Cliff Lee pitched for the Seattle Mariners, and every fourth day (the fifth belonging to King Felix) he’d pitch and push back against the growing realization that the team couldn’t hit its way out of a pile of day-old rally fries. The accuracy of his fastball, so familiar with the low corners, and his metered pace defied the hitters who would disappoint once he quickly allowed them the stage again. Lee was, at that time, a brilliant journeyman, a gentleman of the road. His pitching was mercenary, and context-free.

Now he’s a settled man, towing with him to the pitcher’s mound a satchel of stability, money, respect, and esteem. By actively choosing Philly over New York and eschewing the biggest or at least the most prestigious paycheck on the table, he deliberately chose to pitch in a smaller (though equally rabid, I’d argue) baseball market, alongside three other studs who undoubtedly dissipate the hot glare of the spotlight. Lee, once the Tarantino-esque mysterious free agent, has moved in with a nice suburban family. Where will he hide his gun?

Lee pitched a midweek day game against the Brewers that I had the chance to watch pretty closely. Recalling the joy of the Lee pitching performances of yore, I zeroed in on his work. I saw the same guy, the same meat of Lee’s game: the big curve working off of the hard, straight fastball, the clock-like wind-up and delivery, the intimidating demeanor of an ace. But the intangibles were fuzzy at the edges: the location, the genius of his pitch sequences, the actuality of his impermeability (“I’m beating you because I’m beating you, and I will continue to do so.”)

His fastball still hummed, touching 94 at times, but the precision was lacking. He left them up, and the Brewers were touching them with long fly outs and drives to the gaps. Lee’s cutter, which usually hints at the corner of the strike zone before ducking out of it at the last moment, hung like a mediocre slider. Brewers were hitting the ball squarely, which if you’d told me that would happen during any of his starts in Seattle last year I’d tell you to go jump in a lake.

On this particular sunny spring day, the sparkle of his first half in Seattle in 2010 was absent. This is notable because somewhere along the line Cliff Lee became, for me, the pitcher that doesn’t falter, who wills himself past fallibility. The average performance means that I have to accept that Cliff Lee is capable of average performances. It’s like watching your dad trip.

This Brewers game is the exception, and a light one at that, as Lee is actually pitching very well this year (24 strikeouts to 2 walks), and even today he was able to stop the bleeding at two earned runs through six. Gosh, was it only two? There was another one unearned, but I could’ve sworn it was more. And anyway the Phillies caught up soon after he left the game. But in the symbolism that each baseball game represents for the single viewer, this faltering performance represented a shift in the Lee archetype. For Lee, a bad start is nowadays a ripple in a broad pond, a Philadelphia stinker that’ll soon be lost in the greater body of great starts, that will span years in the city and in the uniform.

Lee’s stopovers in Philly the first time around, Seattle, and Texas were ethereal, and fleeting. Once he was gone, you felt like one of the townsfolk watching the aloof hero disappear into a dust cloud on the way to the next town in need. But Cliff Lee has settled down. His career has taken on linear airs, which comes with the small forgivenesses afforded by family, knowing, as families do, that time is a healer and all we’ve got is time.