Archive for the 'Situational Essay' Category

Presidents and Unicorns: A Scout’s Take on the President’s Cup in Korea by Aaron Shinsano

Aaron Shinsano is a baseball scout based out of Korea, as well as the co-founder of the influential Asian baseball blog East Windup Chronicle.

When I think of scouting the President’s Cup in Korea, as I have each of the last four years, I think of one image: me, sitting with a frozen bottle of water between my legs and holding another one on the back of my neck as I watch games and try to take notes.

Last year, I got what I thought was a heat rash around my groin. It turned into something more like athlete’s foot, and was itchy and at times very painful. Made it hard to sleep. It lasted well into October.

The hotel I stayed at last year was of the Japanese business hotel variety. Kind of like a dormitory with thin walls and floors. Chinese exchange students ran up and down the hallways well into the night. On the second night I poked my head out the door and yelled at them. One boy stopped cold and did an about face. He looked terrified. He saluted me, turned back the other way and went in his room, quietly closing the door behind him. About a minute later my phone rang. Just once. Then giggling down the hall.

The President’s Cup includes every one of the 50-plus high school baseball teams in Korea and usually lasts two weeks. There are four first round games every day for the first six days, at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and and 6 p.m. The second round follows in the same fashion, so that’s 10 days, four games a day. The “sweet sixteen” round (my term, not theirs), happens over the next two days, again, four games a day. The final eight and final four are two games a day for three days, then the final on the 17th day of the tournament. That is, if there are no rainouts. There usually are.

The tournament takes place in Suwon, a non-descript satellite city about an hour south of Seoul. Landmarks include a protective wall in the style of The Great Wall, built in the 18th century, and one of the few remaining full-on red light districts in Korea.

But for eight years there was glory in Suwon.

But for eight years there was glory in Suwon, as it played host to the KBO’s Hyundai Unicorns, who won the championship no less than three times in that span. Hyundai didn’t renew its 10-year sponsorship deal after the 2007 season, so after changing sponsors the team moved to Seoul proper and became bar-none the worst franchise in the league. Today there is no team in Suwon, and the stadium is falling into disrepair.

Due to the positioning of the structure, the seats get an inordinate amount of sun during the day after 10:30 a.m. The paint on the roof and dugouts that matched the Unicorns green and gold has faded. Year by year I noticed bigger patches of brown in the outfield grass, until last year, when it was finally replaced by a cheaper, yellow crab grass. Pigeons have made nests where PA speakers once were.

Sometimes, as I sit in a humid daze watching the third game of four, I try to imagine a scene of the Unicorns winning a championship on that field — the stadium full of screaming fans, players on the field in tears, and a guy dressed in a unicorn costume falling to his knees, cheerleaders ecstatic behind him, his brown human arms stretched skyward in exaltation, perfectly in line with his bright stuffed gold horn.

The high school games usually proceed in an orderly manner, appropriately sped up or slowed down by the size of the umpire’s strike zone and nagging of the hitters to hurry up between innings. If in a real rush, he’ll push the catcher down into his crouch following the warm up throw to second.

The tables behind home plate where the scouts sit are made of metal. I always mean to bring an egg with me, because I’m sure I could fry one there. Once 10:30 a.m. hits, the tables start to heat up, and by 1 p.m. they’re too hot to touch. I even call them “skillet seats,” to myself. I think I mentioned that concept to another scout, but it hasn’t caught on.

Another structural problem I’ve noticed is that there are rarely air currents inside the stadium. When it’s hot, the heat just kind of hangs in the air, as does the cigarette smoke from a number of the fathers. I’ll see a man light up, and by the time he’s half done the first whiff of smoke will hit me. Then it sticks around for a good 10 minutes after he’s done.

During games the mothers serve drinks to all the men, including the scouts. It’s typically iced instant coffee, which is deceptive in its momentary coolness and Snickers bar taste, but is sure to induce at least minor stomach pains shortly thereafter. To say nothing of the jittery sleepless nights if I drink one in the late afternoon.

Sometimes parts of the tournament are broadcast on TV, and if they are, as the sole white person in the entire stadium, and as an MLB scout, I’m sure to be shown.

The games and performances all blend together. I mean, I watch the games intensely, don’t get me wrong. If there’s a player I like, or one I’m following, I’m taking notes, and I’ll remember what he does in detail. But there are only so many of those. The rest of the data, which is a lot of baseball in hot humid weather, fills the gaps in my short term memory along with the other occurrences of my day — the water bottles between my legs, the semi-edible hotel buffet room that doubles as a goofy cocktail bar at night, the manager that called a suicide squeeze with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, the leftfielder that misplayed a ball into a triple and was taken out of the game, the chain smoker 10 rows down, the first baseman with the good body and ok swing that can’t hit a breaking ball, the attractive mom that brought me a plate of rice cake. Sometimes parts of the tournament are broadcast on TV, and if they are, as the sole white person in the entire stadium, and as an MLB scout, I’m sure to be shown. I guess I’ll admit I get a kick out of that.

At the end of the final game I’ll extract myself from the hazy wall-to-wall baseball world and head to the high-speed rail station that will take me home to Ulsan, located in the south east corner of the country. I will have gathered the handfuls of memories, along with the proper scouting data I set out to acquire, and reflect on all of it while the Korean countryside goes by at 300kph. Part of what I’ll feel is relief — relieved to get out of the heat, away from the smoke and the noisy hotels, relieved to get back home to my wife and our bed.

But most of what I’ll feel is sadness — sad to realize I won’t get to enter the blur again until the next tournament.

A River Slums Through It by Jesse Gloyd

Jesse Gloyd is a writer after our own hearts, and we strongly suggest his work at his blog, Buckshot Boogaloo. His Twitter tag is @jessejamesgloyd.

I went fishing on Saturday. I went with an old friend. My friend works for a local art college. He was late, because his car wouldn’t start. We would fish the Los Angeles River. I had wanted to fish the Los Angeles River for some time. There is a stretch of river along the freeway that I have driven by enough to notice the couples with their coolers and their rods camped on the steep concrete embankment. When I was young, I was told to call them rods. I had been calling them poles. They weren’t poles; they were rods. I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I just made the switch in my head. Rod is more Biblical, more dignified. Moses had a rod. Pole is sophomoric, ripe for phallic jabs. Rod is little better, but fishing wouldn’t be fishing without the early morning phallic jab.

My fishing vest was dusty and the leather strap on my creel had broken. I’m not sure when it broke. Time and lack of use seemed to be the culprit. I hoped the artificial flies that were in my pouch would suffice. They were mostly dry and small. Most of them were speckled with dried moss. The moss probably came from a stream in Montana. Colorado was also a possibility. The pockets of the vest were filled with random artifacts: a Leatherman, a plastic box of flies, a screw, a nickel, two pennies, matches, loose tobacco, a pipe, a flask (with some very aged whiskey), and silver toenail clippers. I checked pockets and the creases thoroughly. I was looking for spiders. When I was a child, I remember my dad putting on a boot that he hadn’t worn in some time. He whipped the boot off when his toes touched the soft, decaying flesh of a field mouse. Ever since then I have been afraid of creatures hiding in old clothes.

The part of the river we fished runs about three miles down the street from Chavez Ravine. If you were coming from the south, you would exit Stadium Way. There is a path that runs along a portion of the river that the city river gods have decided to let return to its natural state. Cottonwood and sycamore trees fill the middle, their fallen limbs providing shelter and submerged root homes for carp, largemouth bass, and the fathead minnow. In the evening, from a particular spot, you might catch the glow of the Dodger Stadium lights in the ravine. The reflective radiance has a sort of Close Encounters quality. The stadium’s ominous presence exudes the ambient aesthetic of a space ship converted by mortals and permanently parked in the middle of land once teeming with unsuspecting Mexican immigrants. People rarely question its origin anymore. It is what it is: a shrine to the West Coast, a shrine to the gods of fate and destiny.

Rhetoric aside, the house that O’Malley built is a place where good things have happened. Dodger Stadium is the third oldest stadium in major league baseball. It is a space-aged, symmetrically perfect slice of 1960s Southern California pop pie. Dodger Stadium sooths and excites. Because of its fabled history, because of Vin Scully’s silver-tongued oration always hovering, perpetually grinding out of transistor radios, when things are going good, when things are going well with the team, the place makes you feel like Vicks VapoRub smells. These days, things are not going well. People are getting their heads kicked in. Husbands and wives are fighting. Children are crying. It is a depressing time to be a Dodger fan, which is why we decided to fish. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was one of them.

The rivers of America are metaphorical goldmines. They inspire. They move. Their movement is perpetual. There is something pure about their ever-flowing essence. They are like mystical creatures, primordial sharks. Most rivers are alive and good. They provide comfort and a sense of safe solitude. The Los Angeles River, however, is a soulless beast. It is an exposed concrete nerve whose existence is a daily reminder of the decay of the modern city. It is a vessel of sadness. It staggers along like a drunken uncle. It is the shadow of life. Yes, it has begun to grow green in spots, but the majority of its snaked route is covered with the modern markings of the fall: concrete, graffiti, and Styrofoam.

Rivers, even one as seemingly impotent as the Los Angeles, are often violent reflections of their host city. This was entirely evident as we made our way down the steep embankment toward the water’s edge. The morning was cool. A June haze hung over the city. We had a Stanley thermos and two rods. We made our way down a path that led to a broken section of the barrier between the path and the steep concrete embankment. The concrete extended down to an unnatural slab. The slab became our base camp. A fish surfaced nearby as my friend lit a cigarette. Our prospects seemed decent, but I was a little worried that I should have brought gloves. A set of yellow rubber dishwashing gloves would have been perfect. The river yellowed at spots. I didn’t feel that it was safe to touch the water, let alone a fish. The water looked decent in the spots where it was running, but the pools with the Styrofoam cups, the yellowed foam, and the algae growing alongside the half submerged Ralph’s plastic shopping bag painted the picture, told the true L.A. Story, the story of discarded plastic and bottom feeding fish.

I have seen Frank McCourt up close once in my life. It was at Camelback Ranch. I was at Spring Training with a group of friends. Our intent was to watch baseball, drink beer, and participate in a fantasy draft. I have a foggy memory as to the specifics. Frank McCourt had made his way out to the cheap seats, the sloped grass behind the outfield. His appearance was odd. Most of the questions directed his way were generic. Most weren’t really questions. People were just calling his name. They wanted pictures. They wanted him to stand next to their children and smile. I snapped one myself. He did look cool. He was in great shape. I envied his sunglasses and his hairline.

His appearance came right around the time news had begun to surface about his divorce. His sharp, angular face had a certain glow: a greasy melancholic Gatsby-esque sheen. Something seemed a little off. He looked tired. He was wearing a pink shirt. Thinking back, I have to wonder if he knew there was a good chance everything was about to unravel. Even if he had an inkling, I’m not sure he saw it unraveling to the extent that it has. There have been bright spots on the field, but they have been few and far between. The bright spots seem to have happened in spite of, not because of Frank McCourt. I’m not sure if he knew the flood was on its way, though I imagine the metaphorical rain was beginning to pour and the metaphorical Corps of Engineers rattling around his subconscious were probably beginning to alert him that his survival depended on encasing the bed and banks of his soul in concrete.

The Los Angeles River flood of 1938 was a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. Water rose. Water raged. It licked the tops of houses and brought the houses down. There were dozens of deaths. Men, women, and children were crushed. Cars were stranded, left to writhe and succumb in the mud. Though the flooding was the result of heavy, torrential rain, it was the calloused reaction to the otherworldly wrath that caught the ire of the city and brought about the eventual demise of mayor Frank L. Shaw. Frank Shaw’s fatal flaw came when he uttered the following in a national radio interview, “the sun is shining in Southern California and all is well.” All was not well. Five people died when the Lankershim Bridge collapsed. They tumbled into the angry foam. Three children from the same family were caught and washed away. Radio reporters were hysterical. It was rumored that whole cities had been wiped completely off the map.

Frank McCourt’s strained existence pales in comparison to the corruption that spread like river algae through the heart of Frank Shaw’s administration. The problem is that people can live with corruption. People, sadly, have lived with corruption since the dawn of time. It is the detachment from reality that really seems to drive the masses insane. The detachment is the thing that is most upsetting. As major league baseball was stepping in to seize control of the fabled franchise, Frank McCourt stated, “Yeah, I think we have a very, very good team.” The words were almost as unbelievable as Frank Shaw’s utterance. McCourt may not be as corrupt as Shaw was, but his detachment is spot on. The lack of honest, preemptive humility might be the thread that connects the downfall of both men.

The 1938 tragedy prompted the river to be structurally altered. Tragedy often prompts the altering of structure. The concrete embankment, though something of an eyesore, does make it easy to cast. This would be a good thing if fish were plentiful. Research tells me they are. The spot used to be a fertile ground for migrating steelhead. Grizzly bears were known to occasionally come down and pull specimens from the bank. Things change. The grizzly is no longer a Southern California resident, and neither is the steelhead. The ever-changing ebb and flow seems to be the natural order of things. The river seems relatively stable. Though littered with shopping carts and Styrofoam, control is being given back to nature.

Nature can be a fickle entity. Nature doesn’t discriminate. It calls spades spades. Though we saw several fish jump, none took the bait. We were using small dry flies. The flies were old and weathered. I imagine the bottom feeders saw right through our ploy. There is also a good chance they weren’t buying what we were selling. The specks of Montana moss floating off the bits of feather and steel probably threw them off. The beasts were used to a steady diet of trash. All of my research pointed to the fact that the bottom feeders would eat just about anything. I assumed this also included the delicate artificial pairing of feather and steel. I assumed wrong. When you eat garbage, your body adjusts.

It has been a little over a year since I ran into Frank McCourt in Arizona. From what I can tell, he is beginning to look and feel like post-Popeye Robert Evans, a train wreck whose select moments of brilliance have begun to fade. Frank McCourt knows more about business than I ever will, but I think I know more about baseball. I think my palate is more developed. I wouldn’t be a good fan if I didn’t have such arrogant personal assumptions. I know, not so deep down, that this isn’t really the case. Frank McCourt probably does have knowledge and an understanding of his own river. The problem is that, like Frank Shaw, he is more akin to the carp than the once mighty steelhead. Their decisions and their palate reflect the river that runs through their city. They are slow moving, garbage consuming creatures.

We spent some time navigating the concrete, but we didn’t catch anything. We sipped coffee and watched as our respective flies floated, presumably, past the skeptical eyes of the bottom feeders. As a species, their survival has depended on them discerning what trash to eat and what trash to avoid. We left feeling good about our morning. We understood the river seeing it up close. It also helped me understand my relationship with the Dodgers a little bit better. Sometimes it’s good to examine things in the light of history. Sometimes it’s good to experience things from a distance.

Perspective is key to perfection; perspective is key to understanding the entirety of the journey. As we made our way back to our car, we talked about taxidermy and baseball memorabilia. Things we had found in thrift stores. Hidden gems. A Mickey Mantle minor league program. An elephant’s foot. A fox pelt. Items whose greatness lies in an understanding of their existence in light of the passing of time. A baseball team must be viewed in the same way. Its existence, like that of the river, is perpetual, forever changing, wild, and unpredictable. Baseball teams are not bound by people, but by time and forces outside of our understanding. This is why we hold the bottom feeders to the highest standards. This is why we do our best to, at the very least, keep our own palates in check.

Bryce Harper and the Elements of Style by Eric Freeman

Situational — and surprisingly topical!– Essay today by Eric Freeman, who usually writes about the NBA for Ball Don’t Lie. Follow him on Twitter at @freemaneric.

Yesterday’s big baseball news concerned Bryce Harper, all-everything prospect for the Washington Nationals currently playing for Hagerstown in the Sally League. In case you haven’t seen, Harper is hitting the ever-loving fuck out of the ball, posting .342/.435/.623 averages with 14 homers, 32 walks, and 12 steals in 232 plate appearances. On Monday, Harper caused a stir after one of those homers when he watched it for about 20 seconds and mimed a kiss at the pitcher as he rounded third base.

For the most part, the play has brought Harper criticism for being an immature asshole (see here and here). That opinion is accurate in the most basic sense: only dickheads tend to show up pitchers, and Harper has a stupid mustache and nascent mullet, as well. He’s baseball’s version of an ’80s ski movie villain, just with more natural talent than any other prospect in the minors. (In other words, he will render Colby Rasmus insignificant as soon as he puts on a big league uniform.)

Yet while Harper is clearly a jerk, he’s also perhaps the most important player to come along for MLB marketing purposes since Derek Jeter (or, if you want to depress everyone, Harper’s organizational teammate Stephen Strasburg). I say that not only because he’s ridiculously talented, but because he’s very clearly a personality. Jeff Passan gets at some of Harper’s value in this excellent column for Yahoo!, which focuses on Harper’s role as a villain for a sport that hasn’t really had a compelling one since Barry Bonds retired. It’s a good point, especially now that Alex Rodriguez has reached a point of moderate acceptance and most of the Red Sox’s best players are either short or fat (i.e. stereotypically lovable).

However, I’d go farther still and say that Harper is even more important than Passan lets on precisely because he’s a budding star who must be discussed in terms of what it’s like to watch him play rather than just how much he produces. One side effect of the sabermetric revolution has been that most baseball stars are talked about almost exclusively in terms of their production (and rightfully so, because, well, they’re awesome at the sport). That trend has been compounded by the fact that a lot of today’s best hitters are stylistic vaccuums (see: Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and Ryan Braun, to name three) incapable of being described in terms other than “steady” and “really good.” The upshot of these factors is that discussion of the sport tends to shy away from treating baseball like a spectator sport and instead turns it into a confluence of events. That’s not to say that people don’t like watching baseball anymore; it’s just that we discuss what happened without spending much energy on describing how it happened.

Harper demands stylistic discussion of his every move in a way that even Bonds didn’t at his most controversial. (Bonds is an arrogant jerk, but he really pissed people off when he started threatening a beloved historical record. His personality didn’t change much over the course of his career.) As Grant Brisbee said earlier today for Baseball Nation, Harper is divisive like Bonds, but the things that divide people are not tied to whether his accomplishments are tainted. He’s either an asshole, a big dumb goofus, or a wrestling superstar whose first at-bat against Brian Wilson will take place at King of the Ring. No matter the opinion, Harper is discussed in the context of how we watch him play the game.

Harper has the chance to force MLB and its fans to face baseball as both an aesthetic experience and an athletic competition. Style matters to longtime fans and potential ones alike; we give exciting players like Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen short shrift when we discuss them as producers first and as performers at a distant second. If Harper becomes a national lightning rod, he could force people to explain what they like to watch on the field instead of what they want on the stat line.

Situational Essay: The Language of Degree and Kind in Baseball and Life, by Paul Franz

This Situational Essay comes from friend of the blog and regular contributor Paul Franz, whose work you can find at his blog, Nicht Diese Tone.

When we construct our little narratives to explain the strange things we see every day, we tend to lump our world into broad categories. Actions are “good” or “bad,” “smart” or “dumb.” People are “tall” or “short,” “happy” or “sad.” Sporting events are “entertaining” or “boring.” Politicians are “liberal” or “conservative.” And so on, a veritable smörgåsbord* of quotated and contrary descriptors. I think this stuff is all hogwash. Most of the time, when you’re confronted with a duality, it’s very probable that you’re oversimplifying things. While that oversimplification may be a real time saver – indeed, our ability to do so with such verve and expertise might very well be a key part of our relative evolutionary success – it can also be extremely dangerous.

* Much to my surprise and pleasure, my spell check added the umlaut and the circle thingy over the a.

Much as I’d love to illustrate the point with something profound and socially meaningful, my April-addled mind can’t help but turn to baseball as a perfect locus for the issue. The advantage of baseball over things like, say, politics or morality are numerous. The chief reasons, however, are only two: 1) baseball is far less contentious than politics or morality* and 2) baseball is much, much, much easier to quantify, which will help to illustrate the point.

In the popular narrative of Coors Field, it is an almost mystical place, one man’s Heaven and another’s Hell, a Miltonian paradox.

* This is not, strictly speaking, true, as the recent Dodgers-fan led assault against a Giants fan – leaving the man in a coma – attests. Nevertheless, it’s much easier for most of us to put aside our sporting-related differences than our political ones.

In particular I want to look at the beloved home of my beloved (and, as of this writing, 12-3) Colorado Rockies, the notorious Coors Field. Coors Field is, in our dualistic narratives, a “hitter’s haven.” It’s a miraculous spa where batting averages go to recover and ERAs go to die, a slugger’s wet dream and a scrappy, replacement-level slap hitter’s salvation. Otherwise insignificant careers have been forged (Neifi Perez, Juan Pierre), mediocre major leaguers have been saved (Preston Wilson, Kurt Manwaring), over-the-hill sluggers reborn (Jason Giambi), stars made into superstars (Todd Helton, Larry Walker), and aspiring pitchers wrecked (Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, Pedro Astacio, Daryl Kile, Bret Saberhagen, Greg Harris, and on and on) by its thin air and its cavernous outfield. In the popular narrative of Coors Field, it is an almost mystical place, one man’s Heaven and another’s Hell, a Miltonian paradox.

Until the advent – and advent is exactly the right word – of the capital-H Humidor, playing at Coors Field was like stepping into a video game. Every decent hitter would hit .350 and slug 40 or 50 homers, as if controlled by some over-obsessive teenager on his X-Box. It was so easy, scores were routinely closer to football (or even basketball) proportions than proper baseball ones.

The Humidor, of course, changed all of that, transforming Coors Field from Bichette’s Paradiso to the upper echelons of Purgatorio instead.* No longer a panacea for ailing bats, it became, instead, a kind of minor boost along the lines of many other so-called hitter’s parks. Suddenly pitchers with mediocre stuff like Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis could throw complete game shutouts, and Rockies 8-hole hitters stopped hitting above .300. The narrative transformed, enough that Coors Field and Humidor became opposing watchwords, simultaneously an excuse to disparage Rockies hitters for their advantages and mock pitchers for their crude, cigar-inspired handicap.

* I will not apologize for the Dante reference, even though it is also a terrible pun.

Undoubtedly you can tell what I’m going to say, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s all a bunch of sensationalist nonsense. Because we like to explain the world through clean, discrete, and ultimately meaningless categories Coors Field is painted as a “hitter’s park.” And it is. The problem is, it’s only a marginally better place to hit than anywhere else in baseball. It is, by degree, a better environment for hitters than, say, the Ballpark at Arlington or Fenway Park, but we have created a narrative where it is fundamentally different in kind. Coors Field is a magical place in that narrative, even if its (post-humidor) Park Factor of roughly 115 means that only 15% more runs are scored there than the average stadium (let alone other good hitter’s parks).*

* The pre-humidor PF for Coors was, again roughly, 125. Big? Yes. Infinite? Not quite.

This “difference in kind” thinking is responsible for the hullabaloo about the Rockies cheating by storing some balls in the humidor, while keeping others in the dry mountain air in case of late-inning emergency. The difference between the pre-humidor 25% increase in runs and the post-humidor 15% increase in runs is, of course, only 10%. Since, even at Coors, most teams average less than one run an inning, the difference between using the non-humidor balls and the humidor balls in the final inning of a game comes out to somewhere around one extra Rockies run every month (which, we can assume, would lead to maybe one extra win over the course of the entire season). That’s a real difference in degree, of course, but that’s not the narrative we hold dear.

Instead, as last season drew to a close, the Rockies were accused of cheating, their successes at home pinned on a vast late-inning conspiracy. With humidorized baseballs, the story went, the Rockies were a normal baseball team, capable of scoring runs, yes, but also capable of striking out, hitting into double plays, and regularly stranding runners who reached third with no one out. Bring out non-humidor balls, however, and the Rockies became unstoppable, a force not merely capable of destroying even the best of pitchers, but indeed destined to overcome any deficit, no matter how large. To this way of thinking, the difference between the humidor and non-humidor baseballs was not 10% more runs, but rather “win” instead of “loss.” The whole picture became about differences in kind (wins and losses) instead of differences in degree (15% more runs than average and 25% more).

The Rockies routinely had one of the worst offenses in Major League Baseball during the early 2000s, and yet were mistakenly believed to have one of the best.

The same, of course, is true about pre-humidor Coors. That Park Factor of 125 is big. Really big. Big enough that the Rockies routinely had one of the worst offenses in Major League Baseball during the early 2000s, and yet were mistakenly believed to have one of the best. But, even with a Park Factor that large, the difference remains one of degree and not kind. While the cumulative effect of a PF of 125 leads to the kind of mis-evaluation that makes Neifi Perez look like an actual Major League baseball player, that is only because the baseball season is 162 games long, and because the actual difference between Albert Pujols and, say, Aaron Miles is much, much, much, much smaller than we usually believe.* Another way of reading, then, that Park Factor of 125 is this: teams that would score 4 runs a game elsewhere scored 5 at Coors. Suddenly that doesn’t seem nearly so insane as the narrative of “hitter’s paradise” made it sound.

* While Pujols certainly hits more homers than scrappy middle infielders, and by a long shot, his unreal career high in Wins Above Replacement is 10.9. That’s epically, historically great. It’s also 11 wins out of 162 games, or about 6.8% of the season. I’ll let you decide: difference in kind, or difference in degree?

Once our narratives have been constructed, we reinforce them with the stainless steel of confirmation bias. When the Mets come from behind by four in the bottom of the ninth at Shea Stadium (or their new digs, Citi Field), we think of it as a great comeback. When the Rockies come from behind by four in the bottom of the ninth at Coors, we think of it as Coors Field up to its old tricks. A 12-11 slugfest at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is the result of bad outings from both teams’ pitching staffs. A 12-11 slugfest at Coors Field is the result of the absurd ballpark. The special category of “Coors Field” explains and is the cause of all offense in the Mile High City, while elsewhere it’s just normal baseball.

Now don’t get me wrong, and allow me to reiterate my point one more time. Coors Field does matter. It used to inflate scoring by 25%, and now inflates scoring by 15%. The Rockies, on the whole, will come from behind to win in the bottom of the ninth more often than other teams. But only very, very slightly more often. The difference is one of degree: the Rockies will score 23 late inning runs for every 20 that a comparable offensive team scores, thanks to playing at Coors. The problem is, our narratives, our categories, our confirmation biases all conspire to make every single run we see at Coors a product of the park, and not of the million other things that go on in a baseball game.

But wait, I’m not done yet. We can apply the same logic to steroids (gasp). While there may be a categorical difference between Barry Bonds, All Time Home Run Champion and Barry Bonds, Great Hitter, we tend to forget that we don’t even know exactly how many extra home runs Bonds hit because he used steroids. And we can’t know. What’s more, we don’t know who else benefited, and to what degree. What we do know, however, is that the easiest thing to do is to look at the picture and to discount any player who had a peak season during the “steroid era” as a “cheater,” whose whole body of offensive work is attributable exclusively to his steroid use. Rather than imagining that steroids help a player become X% better, we see steroids as being the difference between “good” and “bad,” or “great” and “good.” We can’t even begin to suppose, in our absolutist narrative, that Bonds may well have hit 700+ home runs even without steroids. No, every single home run he mashed is tainted, cheap, unfair. They categorically, absolutely, definitively do not count.

Is that right, though? My answer is no. Of course the steroids issue is a big deal precisely because we do not and cannot know exactly what the effect is, but to imagine that the effect is categorical instead of incremental is absurd. Even if players hit twice as many home runs because of steroids, they didn’t hit infinitely times as many. And I think that would be easier to accept if our categories hadn’t also been violated. Barry Bonds is not merely a guy who hit X% more homers, but rather is the Home Run King, both in terms of career and single season jacks. Those categories carry far more weight for us than numbers do.

To return to where we started, there’s a good reason we think in categories instead of increments, kind instead of degree. It helps us survive. It’s better to assume that the unusual ripple in the tall grass we see is dangerous (it might be a tiger) than to assume that said ripple is only marginally more pronounced than usual. In nature, nuance leads to destruction. That’s no excuse to turn away from more nuanced thinking, however. If anything, it’s an exhortation towards the opposite. That we like to see things as either categorically good or categorically bad makes us easy to persuade and, as a result, hoodwink. If, for example, a politician speaks eloquently to our absolutist moral sensibilities, we’re quick to cast our vote in his favor. In the process, we forget that the difference between him and his opposition might not be categorical, but rather incremental, that there are perhaps a range of (non-linear) possible solutions to any given problem instead of two diametrically opposite ones.

The narrative of absolute, dichotomous categories is an extremely dangerous one exactly because it is beautiful. Coors Field as “hitter’s haven,” human beings as fundamentally good (or bad, as the debate goes), politicians as liberal or conservative, such characterizations make it easier to think, easier to live, easier to write. Poetry may owe itself to complexity, but on some level it also owes itself to simplicity: without a sense of Good and Evil, Joy and Misery, how do we understand No Second Troy? Without the narrative of great plays or bad ones, how do we appreciate an unrepeatable Tulowitzki play in the hole?* The possibility that the narrative value of categories is ultimately empty – of a kind of brute, practical use, but devoid of substantial, metaphysical meaning – is what drives the anti-statistics crowd of baseball fans mad. The reliance upon and manipulation of categories is what makes so many religions so powerful, and – along with hefty doses of confirmation bias – it is what makes Fox News and MSNBC so persuasive to so many Americans.

* Another little pun for which I will not apologize.

Even if players hit twice as many home runs because of steroids, they didn’t hit infinitely times as many.

Ah, there I go breaking my own rules. You see, I too am talking in categories, in differences in kind instead of degree. The notion of diametric opposites, the need for clear categories like Good and Bad cannot be, if we are to challenge it, innately and fundamentally Bad. To say so would undermine the argument. The problem is, every single word we read is a category, every single idea a kind of absolute. We can deconstruct and deconstruct, and then reconstruct and reconstruct, and what we’ll end up with is words that stand for something, some category. Words that can never be truly specific, for true specificity would require a new word every second, every thought, every sentence. Communication, as much as miscommunication, is built on categories.

So what is there to do? Uncomfortable though it may be, I believe it remains useful to deconstruct, to analyze, to see where differences of kind actually are differences in degree, even though every difference is, in the end, actually both. To my mind, we do not need to destroy the narratives of politics, religion, morality, or, most importantly (of course), baseball. We need, instead, to dive into them, to see where they come from and why, and then to reconstruct them in some new form so that we can once again communicate. Analysis and synthesis stand together, it turns out. Like any set of supposed opposites, they actually are more alike than disparate. Is there an endpoint to all of this analyzing and synthesizing, a point at which narrative and myth turn into Truth? Maybe, but probably not. Instead, it seems to me that the very act of trying to understand, of insisting upon being a learner, an asker of questions, a thinker, a skeptic (though we might also insist on being ignorant, a provider of answers, allowed to zone out, and a believer) is at the heart of what it is to be human.

Situational Essay: Jason Heyward Jars These Mountains

Bryan Harvey, contributor of the thought-provoking Situational Essay below, is a high school teacher and poet, who writes for The Faster Times and The Lawn Chair Boys. His poetry has appeared in the Cold Mountain Review and DeckFight Press is releasing his eBook this Friday, Everything That Dunks Must Converge.

My Southern blood told me it was too cold for baseball. The gray clouds and crisp air set a mood more in tune with the gridiron than the baseball diamond. Then the gray clouds turned to black and rocks started to fall from the sky: it was hailing.

The game was in the bottom of the fourth and the Braves were down four to one. Winter was not yet over in the nation’s capitol. The players still stood on the field like statues; they didn’t take one step toward either dugout. They stared intently at the pitcher’s mound, the batter’s box, and the umpire, stubbornly insisting on playing this game of summer through the forty degree weather that now sent fans running for cover, in hoods and coats and scarves, begging concession workers for coffee, hot chocolate, and chili.

My fiancee, bundled up in her hood like a Gloworm, tugged at my hand, but I didn’t want to leave our seats just yet. I wanted to watch Jason Heyward blow pink bubbles of gum in a dark hail storm, his brim pulled down low, his legs crouched for the next play. He looked like he had a balloon in his mouth. The sight was mesmerizing. It made you wish that he was at bat, mocking the pitcher with an act of pure youthfulness.

…the ferocity of his swing, cutting through the humidity, will have already remodeled the plains of our imaginations into deep valleys and sharp mountains

But he wasn’t. He was in right field, far from the batter’s box, far from the action, far from one of his iconic Opening Day home runs. But still he was the most intriguing individual on the field. It was like seeing folk hero John Henry channeling his mythic determination and perseverance into brushing his teeth or clipping his toenails, rather than hammering down railroad spikes: the ordinary appeared extraordinary. Standing in a green field became inspirational. I realized that legends commit to every moment, even the moments that don’t matter in any measurable way, when nobody (besides an obsessed fan) is watching.

A few years ago during a weather delay, my eyes would have studied my boyhood baseball hero, Chipper Jones, but my interest in him has been eclipsed by the possibilities that rest in a twenty-one year old. What’s so exciting about Jason Heyward is that no one knows what is to become of him: no one knows whether the steam engine will kill him or if he will tame the great American wilderness.

Chipper Jones, on the other hand, is a finished book, or an epic movie that has been syndicated on cable television. Number ten is Red from Shawshank Redemption, biding his time, protecting and hoping, while number twenty-two is Andy Dufresne, illuminating a drab world so that he can find a way out of it. Cold beers on a hot rooftop, we want him to stay in prison so that he can continue to inspire us with his physical presence. But it’s just as possible that Heyward will disappear from the game tomorrow through any of baseball’s proverbial sewer pipes, without saying a word, leaving us to question the spiritual significance of athletic talent not fully realized, leaving us to wonder what worlds exist beyond an outfield wall, or a prisonyard.

So often the legends of tall tales lose out to the machines of the world. John Henry suffers a heart attack. Pecos Bill watches his true love grow as distant as the moon. Mighty Casey strikes out. Bobby Cox doesn’t bring home the World Series. Jason Heyward loses the division to the Phillies, or in the Playoffs to the Giants.

On a day when it was too cold for baseball, he lost to the lowly Nationals, too. But it was not in vain. No matter what happens in his career, from here on out, Jason Heyward’s presence did change us. His Braves may never win a World Series, much less the NL East, but the ferocity of his swing, cutting through the humidity, will have already remodeled the plains of our imaginations into deep valleys and sharp mountains. I say this because I’ve already seen it happen. I’ve seen him blow a pink bubble in the middle of a hail storm, while the crowd ran, ducking, up the aisles towards cover, and the ground’s crew unrolled the tarp.

And afterwards, the hood was pulled back, and the yellow bubble of the sun shined over everything, even Atlanta’s six to three loss against the Nationals.

Will They Suck? Sure

Corban Goble is a Royals fan. He writes about music for Time Out New York.

I’m a Royals fan. And yeah, I’ve taken plenty of shit about it. To people more well-versed in the regal baseball traditions of the East Coast, saying the RoyaIs are your favorite team is a little like saying that Pavement is your favorite band—no one’s going to take you seriously.

But, that’s all just chatter. I can’t claim to be the enthusiast I was in my youth, but I still rep my team in perpetuity. For example, I’m really into royal blue, the color, right now, and naturally that has coincided with the acquisition of many choice vintage Royals items per eBay. When my worlds collide, I seize the day. I up the chaos coefficient and create some real high-concept obnoxiousness. What’s more obnoxious than a white guy in New York wearing a Royals Starter jacket, and acting snotty about it? My point exactly—if that kid weren’t me, I would almost certainly kill him in cold blood.

The last couple Royals seasons were not crushing in any particular way. They were mostly just numbing slates of spectacularly subaverage baseball, muted further by my growing personal disinterest in all things powder blue. The presence of some of the league’s most hateable players like Rick Ankiel, Kyle Farnsworth and Jason Kendall wasn’t exactly an incentive to pay more attention.

What’s more obnoxious than a white guy in New York wearing a Royals Starter jacket, and acting snotty about it? My point exactly—if that kid weren’t me, I would almost certainly kill him in cold blood. The man who brought them together, Dayton Moore, is a product of Atlanta’s John Schuerholz’s front office tutelage. The lessons have only half-stuck. He knows his way around a minor league scouting notebook but filling out a major league roster is his kryptonite. His speech is pocked with phrases like “knows how to win” and “locker room guy.” He’s always pointing to characteristics that are impossible to quantify. And yet he employed left fielder/genuine insane person Jose Guillen at the cost of $11 million for several seasons. He gave Willie Bloomquist (“can play anywhere” but secretly sucks everywhere) $7 million. And then Scott Podsednik for $1.75 million which doesn’t sound bad until you remember that he’s Scott Podsednik.

And for all of his minor league success – he’s taken one of the very worst developmental wings and made it one of baseball’s best (nine prospects in the top 100 as ranked by Baseball America, that’s a record) – Moore has also stifled the prospects he inherited. Remember when Alex Gordon was can’t miss? I do. You’re only as good as your front office allows you to be—Knicks fans who are currently experiencing the baffling re-emergence of Isaiah Thomas know what I’m talking about – and Dayton Moore doesn’t even allow mediocrity.

There have been plenty of reasons to turn my back on the Royals. But that would partially mean forsaking one of my favorite arguments: a debate that starts out as Royals vs. Cardinals but always devolved (evolves?) into whose town is better – and in the past ten years, one town has clearly surpassed the other (unless you’re into seedy riverboat casinos, in which case advantage: the Lou).

And man, it would also just feel weird. Growing up in an environment completely obsessed with its sports teams – my family’s mutual admiration of the Green Bay Packers being an honest-to-God explanation for us getting along, relatively smoothly, for decades, ditto the Kansas Jayhawks – something about my life would feel a little empty without the Royals. Only a year ago I was enslaved by the Zack Greinke march on the AL Cy Young Award, something I, perhaps childishly, I identified with; he’s a weird guy and so am I, and I always root for large-scale success by inordinately strange people (see Wayne, Lil).

Now, I’m only attracted to the roster on a farcical level. Moore’s ensconced in a decade-long dare to assemble the raggedest, most unpopular teammates in one room and see if that counts as a baseball team. It’s like “Major League,” except the fact that Charlie Sheen is absent, practically erasing any hope that some strippers show up. At the end of the day, they still trounce out of the locker room into the sea of pavement that surrounds the Truman Sports Complex, Garmins set to Lenexa, Hallbrook, the Plaza or otherwise.Moore’s ensconced in a decade-long dare to assemble the raggedest, most unpopular teammates in one room and see if that counts as a baseball team.

And yet, as much as I decry, and as much fun as I have decrying for the pure enjoyment of decrying, I still sort of believe it can turn around. The relevant talent evaluators still cite the Royals as maintainers of baseball’s best minor league system, a trove so rich with talent and hard-throwing lefties that not even Isaiah Thomas himself could fuck it up. And while, yeah, a lot of those guys aren’t even going to sniff the majors until 2013—this year’s Springdale Naturals are going to be fucking sick—at least it seems like Dayton Moore appears to be aware they’re going to just have to suck it out until then.

Will they suck? Sure. But, at the end of next year, the payroll will have shrunken to $33 million, thanks to Gil Meche’s weird abandonment of guaranteed cash, expectations will be low, the Mexicutioner nickname will be a long-forgotten relic of the past (he’s a man of honor, Joakim) and Albert Pujols will be shopping for powder blue homes in Mission Hills after signing a 20-year, $600 million dollar deal replete with a line of children’s cleats only available at WalMart.

When you love something that can’t love you back, its hard to shake, because without the give-and-take of some kind of relationship, you really can’t get burned too bad. The extremes are limited; you either don’t care or care too much, and either way, if you get pissed and go away for a while they’ll be there when you return like nothing ever changed.

Also, starting in 2014 or so, PROTECT YA NECK, American League.

Photo via writer and Flickr user Minda Haas

Ben Lyon on The Greatest Debates

Pitchers and Poets contributor Ben Lyon, a lawyer in Chicago, pipes up this week with a look back in time, to several of the great debates that have shaped the course of history.

These are heady times for the sports military industrial complex—the ground is littered with forgotten college basketball teams, the opening filibusters over who will get the #8 seeds in the NBA and NHL playoffs are slowly emerging, and best of all, labor strife in the NFL and the NBA is propelling the insurgent LaCrosse, Wisconsin Assessor candidacy of Mike Golic. Faux-outrage is at its zenith in early March.

But what of the pointless sports debates of previous generations? In our rush to find the next menial debate to fill the final 90 seconds of Around the Horn we fail as citizens if we don’t recognize when a seemingly endless debate is finally settled. Will America ever agree that Bobby Jackson deserved to be NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2002-2003?

Doubtful, as too much blood has been spilled, and the wound on our body politic remains too fresh.

And of course who amongst us can forget the fateful summer of ‘92: Young Cleveland Indian second baseman Carlos Baerga has been selected to the All-Star team as a last-minute injury replacement. The upstart Baerga is selected over avuncular Detroit Tiger first baseman Cecil Fielder. Despair commences in certain quarters, with ESPN Analyst Peter Gammons channeling his best John C. Calhoun impersonation when he says, “Baseball is trying to attract fans! And a lot more people would prefer to watch Fielder than Baerga!!”

(If emoticons had been invented at this point, Gammons would have used the following: “ :< ”)

So who did deserve to be in this All-Star game? Thankfully, the Baseball Writers Association of America is here to serve as our philosopher-king and settle this issue. At first glance, it appears that Gammons was wrong. Baerga (pinch hitting for Roberto Alomar Jr.) went 1-1 in the game; using Moneyball Sabermetics, we can calculate that at this pace, Baerga would have gotten a hit every time for an average of 1.000! Fielder did finish 9th to Baerga’s 11th in the 1992 MVP vote; however, they both finished behind Mike Devereaux, thus invalidating this as an argument.

Fast-forward to this winter, when the wise heads at BBWAA finally ended all debate. Carlos Baerga—he of 3 All-Star games, a league leading 444 Assists in 1995, and six triples in 1993 (good for 9th in the AL)—received 0 Hall of Fame votes. In 2004, Cecil Fielder received 1 Hall of Fame vote. By this indisputable math, the career of Fielder is infinity times better than that of Baerga. It therefore goes without saying that a player who is infinity times better than another deserves to make it into the 1992 All-Star game as an injury replacement.

In 1992, a grave injustice was committed. In the winter of 2011, this injustice was definitively rebuked–well for all except Jay Bell who hit only .264 in 1992 but somehow got 2 HOF votes!

Alex Belth: Late Bloomer

Alex Belth is a friend of P&P and one of baseball’s longest-tenured bloggers. Check out his cultural and baseball musings — and work from his stable of talented writers — over at Bronx Banter.

I didn’t start keeping score until I was in my Thirties. As a kid, I never had the patience. It’s true that I didn’t have anyone teach me how to score but my attention was also too scattered for that kind of thing. Occasionally, I would give it a try, because I was envious of my friends who did score games. But it never lasted more than a few innings.

Eventually, I kept a scorecard when I went to Yankee games, using a hybrid of official notations and my own system, which varied from game to game. I’ve always envied those scorebooks with neat, clear handwriting; I’m way too emotional for that.I like the graphic quality of it and look at it like I’m making a collage (I’ve always envied those scorebooks with neat, clear handwriting; I’m way too emotional for that.) I’m generally a nervous, uptight fan and I discovered that scoring gives me a way to channel my energy and keep me focused on the game. It’s almost like knitting. I sit there, clicking on my pen, rolling the corners of the pages, rocking like Leo Mazzone, scribbling little notes, entertaining myself.

These days, you don’t need to score to know what’s going on, the scoreboards and your cellphones can give you all that information and more, but still, I find it a soothing practice. But I only score at Yankee games. If I’m watching the Mets, and the game doesn’t matter to me emotionally, I’ll revert back to being a kid, keeping score for a few innings before I get distracted.

I like to think that keeping a scorebook will give me something to enjoy looking back on when I’m old. I rarely revisit them but I don’t throw them out either.

Alex uses the books from ILovetoScore.com, which were designed by a frustrated fan looking for a better way. Kind of a precurser to Bethany Heck’s work and definitely worth checking out, if you’re into thoughtfully designed scorebooks.

Diamonds and Doodles

Our first guest contributor for scorebook week is Patrick Truby, of There’s No I in Blog. Welcome aboard, Pat.

I’ve always admired neatly kept scorebooks because I’ve never understood them. The act of neatly scoring a complete baseball game seems like an impossible task for someone like me, who is equal parts obsessive-compulsive disorder and messy doodler. That doesn’t make a ton of sense, I know, but no matter how hard I try to be neat and ordered, it’s impossible for me to hold a pencil and paper without turning even the neatest, most organized piece of paper into a splatter of Jolly Rogers and manturtles. This created a ridiculous amount of anxiety when, back in my ball playing days, the task of keeping my team scorebook became my responsibility.

On a few of my teams, bench players rotated scoring the games. Something about using the scorekeeping codes—the lines, colored squares, and backward “K”s—to create a readable account of the game on that grid pattern of boxes and baseball diamonds carried more pressure than a late-inning at-bat with runners in scoring position. I knew eventually I’d make a mess of it all. I doubt even now that I could accurately score a baseball game; basic things, like how to signify that an inning has ended or a player has been substituted, were never important to me. Instead, I got bogged down in the more artistic details.

By far the most important aspect of keeping score for me was creating the most accurate description of how hard and where a ball was hit. Anyone could write “1B” to signify a single. I was more obsessed with depicting how exactly a batter achieved that single. There’s the saying that a swinging-bunt single is a line drive in a score book, but not in my scorebook. I attempted to draw the line to the exact point on the field where a batted ball was fielded. For that swinging-bunt single, I’d have drawn a very light line extending barely past home plate. A fly out near the outfield fence was just as easy. I needed to get the arc of the ball perfect, but that line would no doubt go just to the edge of the scorebook’s outfield line. A line drive hit to left-center might be more difficult. I’d have to find the exact spot where the ball landed on the field and the corresponding spot in the book’s scaled down field. Try as I might, I could never get it down to an exact science. If that line drive to left-center landed behind the shortstop, found a gap, and rolled to the outfield wall, I would be bothered for the rest of the game that I my little baseball pictogram gave the impression that a batter got a triple off a hit that landed in short-left.

In retrospect, my attention to that specific detail may have caused my scorebook doodling. I thought it kept me focused on both the game and the paper before me when really, my inability to draw the perfect lines caused hours of frustration. As games went on, my inner perfectionist would give way to my inner doodler. Lines wavered. Boxes got sloppy. To look at my scorebook, you’d imagine some kind of baseball catastrophe broke out in the sixth inning. I can’t think of words to accurately describe how my doodles ruined a perfectly good scorebook except that, if any of my teammates went back and looked at one of the pages I scored, they’d probably think they were looking at a documentation of the rain and lightning delay that sent both teams to the equipment room for a few hours.

*Photo courtesy of Jenny Ryan

Situational Essay: The Last Harrah: The Last Senator, The First Ranger, The Eternal Man

Toby Harrah of the Washington Senators and Texas Rangers

Ben Lyon is a lawyer living in Chicago. He alone knows what it must be like to occupy his own impressive mindspace, which I liken to a shoebox full of baseball cards, each of which can speak.

It’s only appropriate that in the solemn hours following the end of the Texas Rangers’ run at victory, he takes a look at another who was the last of his kind: the Last Senator, Toby Harrah.

In his 1971 rumination on the failed presidential candidacy of Edmund Muskie, Hunter S. Thompson wrote that living in Washington D.C. “tends to provoke a powerful understanding of the ‘Westward Movement’ in U.S. History.” It remains unknown whether Thompson was referring to the Washington Senators II (1961 1971), but they lived his advice, fleeing D.C. in order to fulfill their destiny of becoming the most Republican professional sports team (see: Texas location, 10th-amendment-invoking flag on uniform, horrid specter of W. looming over everything, and Nolan Ryan’s history of beating on youths).

Shockingly, this move to the Southwest occurred just 2 years after the pinnacle of achievement in Senators II history: a stellar 86-76 record so inspiring that two of the Senators II faithful (aka, my father and uncle), met the team at the airport upon their return from a slightly-above mediocre road trip. (Welcoming tepid baseball teams home is actually what late 1960’s boomers were doing at airports then—not spitting on returning Vietnam vets, contrary to ongoing conservative mythology of the last 40 years).

In contrast to the recent glory of ’69, the 1971 Senators went out meekly, with two notable exceptions:

1. the final game of the season/ever vs. the Yankees that was forfeited due to “ruffians” (my father’s quote) running onto the field; at the time my father was either (a) one of these ruffians (b) in Vietnam (c) playing tennis.

2. a mid-season game at which my father’s friend stated he had seen “minor-league” teams better than the Senators, thereby causing my uncle to start launching canisters of tear gas into the stands.

The one man who bore this escape from D.C. longer than all others was former Senator/Ranger Toby Harrah, the last ever “Senator” to play in the majors. According to his Wikipedia entry (obviously written by one of the many current employees in the PR department of Toby Harrah, LLC), he was involved in “three of the most unusual feats in Major League baseball history.” One of these “feats” also involved Larry Sheets, who, as a Baltimore Oriole in 1987 (the last year of the Harrah Era), had his greatest season—and it was Larry Sheets who the children of suburban Washington D.C. had to turn to for mustachioed heroics, because the Senators had long ago left us to fulfill a manifest destiny of lower taxes, plentiful stadium parking, August games in 150- degree heat and Steve Buchele’s perm.

All of which is to say that if the Rangers win the World Series [editor’s note, being the obvious] and the Republicans re-take the House of Representatives, I will attempt to kick every Republican/Ranger in the shin with the LONE exception of Toby Harrah—for to look at a 1987 Toby Harrah Topps card and see (in small type—smaller even than the Jerry Koosman card in the same set) was to see statistics earned as a Washington Senator!

How to mend a broken heart indeed.