Rants Raves and Writin’

Villains, How baseball can reclaim its heroes

In a world of emotionless robots, rules, and political correctness, baseball needs its villains back. Whatever happened to baseball’s love affair with the battle between “good and evil?”

The Nasty Boys, Manny being Manny, Rickey “I am the greatest of all time” Henderson, Pete ‘the Gambler’ Rose, Doc ‘LSD’ Ellis, Dave Parker, Bob Gibson, the Outcasts of Macho Row in 93’ in Philly, Murderer’s Row, Albert Belle, Kent F*cking Hrbek, George G.D. Steinbrenner. The villains of baseball, y’all.   

One of the greatest tragedies that has occurred in Major League Baseball is MLB’s obsession with pushing a brand of “on the field production” over pushing a narrative of “the greatest heroes (and subsequently villains) in sports.”

Listen, when I was a kid I hated the Phillies. Growing up an Atlanta Braves fan, there was little I hated more than the 93’ Philadelphia Phillies. Dirty, nasty, tobacco juice spitting, shaggy headed, foul mouthed PHILTHY PHILLIES. Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Darren Daulton… man, I hated those guys with a passion like no other. I watched them just to boo them. I remember wishing, as a kid, actual harm on Lenny Dykstra. I remember praying to the Lord and asking my wonderful creator to somehow cause Lenny to break his leg while running into second base. I’m sure you are morally above such devious thoughts, but I wasn’t.

In a world where everyone is obsessed with fielding the team with the best metrics (in sports and in life), where have all the heroes and villains gone?

Batman, from the graphic novels, has always been my favorite superhero. I have always enjoyed the complexity you see in Batman. You know why Batman is so complex? Not because he’s a rich white dude with two first names. Not because he’s a grown man dressing as a bat, and not because he has a giant car that is the world’s most obvious case of overcompensation. No, Batman is great because of THE JOKER.

If there is no Joker, Bruce Wayne doesn’t have a reason to become the Dark Knight. I mean, The Joker is basically the sick perverted version of Batman. Think about it. I could write for hours about the complexity of the genius of the character of the Joker, but to summarize a very nerdy thesis, suffice it to say that the darkness of the Joker and the unpredictability of the most insane villain ever created make the beauty of the contrasting parallel story of Batman the masterpiece that it is.

Without villains there are no superheroes worth watching. Take Superman, for example. I’ve always grown bored of Superman. Why? Because there are very few villains strong enough to remotely compete with Superman. You see, when you cannot legitimately compete, you never truly expose the motivations of the hero.

“Situations don’t make heroes, they reveal heroes.” ~ Dr. Phil

Without bad guys, the good guys start to look like spoiled privileged rich kids with more money than sense. And without villains in baseball, the sport becomes all about rooting for laundry instead of rooting for heroes (or rooting against villains). It becomes offseason after offseason of fans rosterbating through twitter and facebook espousing why their favorite team should spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a player because his WRC+ was 15 points higher than someone else’s. I enjoy metrics as much as the next guy, but they will never paint the picture of the characters in the actual story. Hop on YouTube and watch some of Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home runs and then hop on FanGraphs and look at his career wRC+.

The graphic novel Watchmen takes a deep dive into exactly what happens when you don’t need superheroes anymore. Ironically, it looks a lot like modern day baseball. Real heroes become the bad guys in the eyes of the common man because there is no reason for them to be heroic. The world of the Watchmen became more obsessed with policing heroes than glorifying them. Sound familiar?

Ask any New York Mets fan who their most hated Atlanta Brave was. It was Larry Wayne Jones. Hell, he was such a villain that he named his kid “Shea” just to troll them and remind them that he was their ‘daddy.’ They loved to chant “Larry, Larry, Larry, Larry” and he loved to shut them up, time and time again. Mets fans celebrated Larry’s divorce, they loved his every slip-up in the papers, and then they cried each time Chipper whipped their favorite team’s ass on live TV while wearing a turtleneck.

Bryce Harper’s recent deal with Philly is an opportunity for MLB to embrace the villain again. In a world where the biggest ballpark attraction is the anticipation of the strikeout or the home run (96%+ of the time not resulting in the home run), MLB should find a different reason for fans to come to the park. If MLB had any sense, they’d pack their parks to boo the ever-loving hell out of Bryce Harper. Harper’s a Philthy Philly for life now, and you know what? I hope, for the love of the game, that he embraces it.

I hope he comes to Atlanta and drags the “A” every time he gets ready to bat. I hope he returns to Washington and writes an open letter in the Players’ Tribune making fun of their fanbase and the fact that their trains don’t stay open late enough for people to stay for an entire baseball game. I hope he tells the Mets that he never even thought of playing for them because he couldn’t stand the thought of wearing the same uniform that Mike Piazza wore. I want Bryce to be the most twisted villain of all time. I hope Atlanta Braves fans hate Bryce Harper more than the devil himself.

I understand that not every ballplayer has to be the villain. I appreciate guys like Freddie Freeman and Mike Trout who smile and go through life like the sweet little babyface boy next door. But I also want Ronald Acuña to grab his nuts, stick out his tongue, and then throw his bat 20 feet in the air as he trots to first base after taking Max Scherzer deep. I want Brian McCann and Carlos Gomez to both be total pricks for life. I want Gomez to pimp his home run and I want Brian McCann to try to kill him when he gets to home plate.

I want blood, y’all. I want fights. I want pitchers throwing at batters. I want heel turns. And most of all, I want MLB to love it instead of Buster Olney writing fourteen articles about how “this no longer belongs in baseball”.

I want announcers to scream things like, “bahhhh gawd that’s Josh Donaldson’s music” or “ohhhh my Lord… All Hell has broken loose!!!” (in the voice of Jim Ross)

Wrestling figured this stuff out a long time ago. Build up a hero, let the fans love him, then have him stab them in the back. Have your announcers hype it and make it a narrative. Fans will pack the place out to boo the villains (or cheer for them, depending which side you’re on). I want baby faces and villains. I want personality back in the game. Instead of fifteen-week diatribes about an announcer questioning Juan Soto’s age, I want MLB to recognize it as a huge opportunity to hype yet another storyline for fans to love. I want reasons to hate players again. I want “clubhouse cancer” storylines to be a thing (even if they’re fake).

The best part about baseball is that you shouldn’t have to fake this stuff. Players are diverse. Some are jerks, some are despicable human beings, some are angelic, some are southern, some are yankees, some are geniuses and some are dumb as a brick. That’s what makes baseball so great. Unlike wrestling, with baseball you don’t have to have some fake script to follow. All you need to do is simply let let the players be themselves.  

Can you imagine if Mickey Mantle had twitter? The few stories that have leaked out about him in recent past are so risque that they make Rob Manfred blush just thinking about them. Instead of embracing the blush, MLB is actually trying to pull videos off the internet of Mickey Calloway losing his mind on an umpire over a terrible call. MLB is too busy policing guys like @PitchingNinja (thank God they finally figured out that policing that guy was dumb) over copyright infringement.

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. This means that at least 15 teams each year are going to suck. If MLB embraced the personalities, the villains and THE STORY, a team’s losing season might not be all that bad in terms of ticket sales. Am I giving excuses for terrible baseball? No. I’m simply saying that rooting against villains is way more fun that tweeting about how bad a player’s wRC+ was last year.

In the seminal comic about Batman, The Joker shoots a beloved character in the back and paralyzes them for life. I need that in baseball; no I don’t need Bryce Harper to actually shoot Ozzie Albies in the back, but I need a moment when the villain is so dark and evil that you truly wonder if your “Batman” is enough to handle him. A moment that makes you cry for your city, your team, your favorite player because of the villian. A moment that makes you rage at the other team with pure hatred. All the while fans of the villain chant gloriously and flaunt their superiority with unremorseful arrogance. It sounds like heaven on Earth.

Baseball needs its heroes back, but the only way for it to get them is to find and embrace their villains. The problem with embracing your villains is not trying to whitewash everything about them. Political correctness must take the backseat in this venture. You must let them be the bad guy. Let them say things that might hurt some feelings. They’re just feelings. You have to let them be controversial and disliked. Let them be insulting and rude. Fine them if you must, but make it part of the story.

MLB once understood this! They must remember how to love and how to market their craziness, their dark and their completely insane. Baseball needs its Punisher like the hard sliding, catcher destroying, baseball bashing and admittedly degenerate, Pete Rose. It needs its own ridiculously insane and completely unpredictably mad Joker. It’s had those guys in the past, and it desperately needs them again. You want fans to buy back into the greatest game of all time? Bring back the villains that remind you why you want your team to pay whatever it takes to keep your heroes, not because of their wOBA or WRC+, but because they’re the hero that vanquished the villain that shamed your team on live TV.

I leave you with a quote from The Killing Joke.

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” – Joker

 

Piece of Kake; how the Atlanta Braves won the off-season

Nick Markakis might hit .180 this year. He also might hit .290. Oh dear God, I just used batting average.

Listen, as I’ve said several times on the podcast before, Yasiel Puig was my first choice for a right field option in Atlanta for 2019. I even wrote about this two years ago. Puig, in my opinion, would have been a perfect fit for this Atlanta Braves squad. Put Yasiel Puig‘s personality and energy in this Braves’ clubhouse with Camargo, Ronnie, Albies, Dansby and Brian Snitker, and I’ll show you a World Series contender. But, to no avail, Yasiel went to the Reds and I was sad.

Michael Brantley would have also been a great fit for the Atlanta Braves. In many ways, right fielder Michael Brantley is similar to Nick Markakis. But, he’s slightly younger and has more power. But, Michael Brantley and his agent took an offer from the Houston Astros. Can you blame them? Google the Houston Astros. Then Google income tax in Texas. Then get mad that “the Braves didn’t land Michael Brantley” and delete your account.

Then, after some of these guys landed elsewhere, the most controversial thing in Braves history happened. The Atlanta Braves announced that they had signed Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, to a one-year $4 million guaranteed deal and Twitter melted.

Before I explain why bringing back Markakis was a pivotal move for the Atlanta Braves, I feel like I need to give you my history with the extremely controversial political figure we know as Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris.

There’s this interesting hate, mainly on Braves Twitter, aimed at Nick Markakis. I discovered this back in 2016 when I wrote this article for Tomahawk Take. This was back when I approached Braves Twitter in an honest way. Back when I was a good person. Back then, I still wanted to have relatively serious baseball discussions with folks – share my thoughts, debate, learn, disagree, and have fun. But, then I wrote “the article.” When I wrote it and shared it on Twitter, you would have thought I wrote something about abortion or “the wall.” The advanced metrics folks came at me with pitchforks like I was Dracula himself and I loved it.

That’s when I became Nick Markakis’ biggest defender on the Twitters. It was an accident, I swear. I didn’t become his biggest defender because I thought he was the best right fielder in baseball. It was simply because I found it humorous that so many people hated him just because he hit singles and doubles and drove in runs. (And, because I’m immature and enjoy attention.) So, because I am a giant child, I began mocking the Markakis hate. I began tweeting about him like he was Hank Aaron. Most folks “got it” but many analytical goobers who have no sense of humor would take serious offense to my loud claims that Nick Markakis was the greatest of all time. For good or bad, I digressed from an aspiring baseball writer to a guy who mocked advanced metrics. I know, I’m terrible. There was no money in baseball writing anyway.

Then, 2018 happened. Most Braves bloggers spent the entirety of last off-season talking about Nick Markakis like he was a replacement-level player. Many of them literally said that he was a replacement-level player. The guys over at Talking Chop vehemently said that the Braves should release him and talked about how the Braves should start Preston Tucker in right field. I would hear and see these things and laugh. Not because I thought Kakes was Mookie Betts, but because, even at his worse, he wasn’t a replacement-level player (at least not yet). I mean, “Nicky Singles Kakes” actually had the second-most doubles in baseball, behind Robinson Cano, since 2010. Was he Trout or Betts? No. Good grief, he wasn’t even Michael Brantley. But the man could still hit, and I knew this. Then, while these folks were raking ole Kakes over the coals, the craziest thing happened. Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, hit a walk-off home run on Opening Day. My Twitter mentions exploded. People were tweeting at me like I had just won the lottery after I had defended this guy. I had to remind folks that I wasn’t actually Nick Markakis.

Then, Kakes proceeded to play out of his mind. From Opening Day thru May 31st, Nick Markakis threw up a 142 wRC+ HITTING IN THE CLEANUP SPOT. It made no sense.

Now, let me clarify. Up until this point, I was a Talking Chop listener. I genuinely enjoyed their podcast. While I didn’t agree with everything they said, I listened and enjoyed it. They followed us on Twitter and we were buds. I think. Then, one day in April, I tweeted this video. I thought it was funny and I expected a re-tweet or maybe some jovial trash talking banter. Instead, Talking Chop blocked myself and the podcast, and even my podcast co-host, Ken Hendrix, who never said anything to them. We even received a long email about how we disrespected them. This was when I realized that there is a subset of people, mainly Braves bloggers (it’s not limited to a few individuals at Talking Chop) who took this stuff way too seriously. And because I’m extremely immature, I had fun with it. We broadcasted that TC had blocked us and people loved it. We began getting tweets and DMs from random Braves fans thanking us and telling us that they’d also been blocked by TC because they disagreed with one of their baseball takes. We (Knockahoma Nation) were like the Robin Hood of Braves Twitter and we accepted these outcasts with open replacement-level arms.

The reason that video was funny was because Nick Markakis didn’t have any business throwing up those numbers. He actually wasn’t that good. Everyone knew it. Hell, he probably knew it! For about two months in 2018, he played like he was Mookie Betts. So, because Nick Markakis was an average offensive guy, and because Brian Snitker was hellbent on hitting him in the cleanup spot (a spot that he had no business hitting in) his out-of-this world performance was hilarious. The old guy with no power was throwing down a 142 wRC+ IN THE CLEANUP SPOT. How is that not funny? However, some folks didn’t think it was funny. They hated it. They hated it because (believe it or not) they find their identity in their baseball takes. So, when the guy who they’ve hated on for two years plays out of his mind, then makes the All-Star team, then wins a Silver Slugger AND a Gold Glove, they get angry and personally offended.

I’ve watched baseball long enough to know that the chances of Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, repeating what he did last year are almost impossible, and there’s no shying away from how bad he was the second half of last year. (Although, he he did have a 147 wRC+ with RISP and and a 194 wRC+ with 2 outs and RISP in the second half. No one wants to talk about that, tho. I’m sorry. Don’t get triggered.)

But here’s why bringing him back is good for the Atlanta Braves:

First of all – It’s a cheap deal. It’s $4 million. So, even if he’s terrible, and he might be terrible, in the world of baseball it’s not a big loss. It’s barely a loss at all. Should the Braves have gone after a different guy for right field? Probably. But, Brantley picked the Astros, Puig was traded to the Reds, and Pollock picked the Dodgers. This left the Braves with Bryce Harper. Would Bryce Harper serve the Braves better in 2019 than Nick Markakis? Hell yes. But, should the Braves give Bryce Harper (who had a lower WAR than Dansby Swanson in 2018) a 10-year $330 million deal? Hell no. No one should. (Yes. I, too, think that Harper is better than his 2018 WAR, so settle down. But 10 years is stupid.) My co-host, Ken Hendrix, and myself would be all about the Braves giving Harper a super strong/high AAV 4-5 year deal. We’ve made this known on our replacement-level podcast. But, I think he’ll get 10 years somewhere else.

Secondly – It’s fantastic for the young players. Some fans think Nick Markakis is nothing but a bump on a log. Kakes makes it very easy to perceive him this way, so I get it. His interviews are relatively emotionless and he rarely smiles on camera. But, players, coaches and the beat writers who cover the team will tell you that the players love him. And (this is a very controversial opinion) leadership matters in a clubhouse. Hell, the man threatened to kick John Hart‘s ass, and if you don’t love that, you’re a communist.

As David O’Brien wrote 

No moment was more a microcosm of the Braves’ crumbling fortunes and front-office dysfunction in the third season of their rebuild than the night in late August when deposed closer Jim Johnson blew an eighth-inning lead and then-president of baseball operations John Hart dressed down manager Brian Snitker. Shouting at him so loudly in the manager’s office that some players heard from the clubhouse.

And perhaps nothing better exemplifies Nick Markakis and what he stands for than the veteran right fielder’s reaction upon hearing what Hart said to Snitker, who appeared almost ashen and uncharacteristically sullen minutes later when reporters entered the office, and really was never quite himself again the rest of the season.

Markakis made it known, had the message sent up the chain, that if Hart ever treated the manager that way again that Markakis would, in so many words, kick his ass.

Finally  – As a fan, I think it’s fun to have a familiar face on the team, someone who’s been part of your respective team for years. Let me explain. Baseball, in many regards, has become this rent-a-team sort of thing. To me, that’s no fun. At some point, you’re just rooting for clothes. Retaining your players is a beautiful thing and it’s something that has been lost these days. Personally, I love it. I recently joked on the podcast that I’d love to see Dansby Swanson stay with the Braves until he’s 40 no matter how good or bad he is. Because, dammit, he’s ours.

There’s this notion that the Atlanta Braves have lied to their fans and haven’t spent any money. Listen, I heard what the front office said last year. I talked to my friend Jeff Schultz about it on the phone earlier this week. The constant whining from Braves bloggers on Twitter about how the Atlanta Braves haven’t spent any money this off-season is lazy and ignorant. Up until yesterday there were 75 free agents left on the market. 11 of them were worth more than 1.0 fWAR last season. 28 of them were at least 35 years old (37%). Shout-out to Matt Chrietzberg over at Outfield Fly Rule for that info. Did the Atlanta Braves say that they’d be able to “shop on any aisle” in 2019? Yes. But, besides a few at the very top, this has been one of the weakest free agent classes I’ve seen in years.

Have other teams in the NL East made more additions in this off-season than the Atlanta Braves? Yes. But they also don’t have Touki Toussaint, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, the return of Mike Soroka, and Josh Donaldson. The Braves also outbid 12 other MLB teams for Mike Fast, the guy who made the Houston Astros who they are today. Do I think the Braves still need a corner outfielder? Yes. Do I think they need a bullpen arm? Yes. I think they’ll actually get a starting pitcher before Opening Day. But this young team will be better than they were in 2018 just by showing up.

So, even if good ole Nick Markakis takes a nose dive, it’s still a fantastic signing for the Atlanta Braves. If he’s terrible they’ll find someone else to play RF every day and the world will go on. I actually think he’ll start off ultra hot and then crash back down to Earth, at which point I’ll still tweet about him like he’s Hank Aaron. But for now, I’ll have my Kake and eat it too as I root for the ageless bearded wonder while many of you are crying about his wRC+ from your mother’s basement.

Free Agent Dumpster Fyre

By now most people are familiar with the Fyre Festival and the utter disaster it was. The documentary was a rollercoaster of hilarity and you probably rewound it at least once to say “wait, WTF?”. My attention was rapt as I watched the horrific meltdown that was thousands of people with more money than brains showing up for an event that was barely better than a disaster relief tent in some war torn African country. What I was completely unable to do, was have the smallest shred of pity for people who were so ridiculously stupid to buy tickets to such a ridiculous event, at ridiculous prices, in a ridiculous place, then board a plane with a ridiculous lack of information, with ridiculous expectations that it would somehow turn out ok. How ridiculous.

In short, this explains the problem that MLB players face when complaining to average fans about the current “lack of movement” in the free agent market. I’m sorry that I can’t bother to be upset that Bryce Harper hasn’t received an offer for a GUARANTEED contract worth 10 years $400 MILLION DOLLARS, when he turned down 10 years $300 MILLION DOLLARS. Is he worth it? In terms of what he might provide in revenue on a baseball field? Well, it’s possible. Do I care that he isn’t getting it? Not one bit.

Common sense might lead you to believe that in a war between millionaires and billionaires, average Joes like me would side with those they are closest to, the millionaires. However, the truth is, their arguments ring as hollow as a loaded bat. Oh, I’ve heard all the arguments, some make sense while some are downright stupid.

“Stats are killing the game and our contracts.”

No, they aren’t. A guy that hit .249 last year, was the worst defensive outfielder in baseball, and was worth 1.4 WAR is asking for more than 10 years $300M. And a bunch of old guys (in terms of baseball), like Adam Jones,  who can’t get on base and can’t hit baseballs are asking for multi-year contracts and millions of dollars.

but

“Owners are making ridiculous amounts of money that should funnel down to talent on the field.”

Yes, but if you explore the history of long expensive contracts, very little of that money ever makes it onto the field due to injuries, poor play, and general lack of giving a sh*t by the players signed to those contracts. No GM in his right mind would give a repeat of the AROD contract (much less $100M more and more years). Baseball contracts are guaranteed, meaning no matter how terrible the player’s performance or how injured they might be, they still get paid.

“There’s no reason these injury prone, 36 year old guys, who can’t take a walk shouldn’t be paid millions already, wait a minute…” oh oops, I said that.

When you and I wake up and go to work for a company that makes millions off of our work while we are being paid slightly better than minimum wage, I’m sorry if I can’t feel sorry for guys whose league minimum salary to play a baseball game for 6 months out of the year (mainly the summer months) is $555,000.

Things that writers and player-advocates seem to forget is that the billionaires that make money off of them, also incur all of the risk associated with owning a baseball team. First, that billionaire has to make enough money to buy the team. Arguably, not the best investment for your billions to begin with. Next, he must pay front office staff, build a stadium (or convince some taxpayers to), field vendors, find sponsors for naming rights, buy equipment, pay coaches, travel, insurance on a place that will have millions of drunk visitors per year, bribe agents, send a cut to cheap-ass teams that don’t have as much money, buy a spring training facility, pay an entire army of people to be sure the grass is grown, the lines get painted, and pay some guy to dress up in a suit and run real fast to entertain all the drunks and call him the Freeze, then hire some brilliant genius like Mark Owens to repeatedly do silly games to help drunk fans, that can’t answer the simplest trivia questions known to man, forget that replay sucks… and the list goes on and on.

Oh yeah, and that billionaire then also has to pay a bunch of self-indulgent wieners who have been coddled their entire life and told that they’re the best at everything they do. And not only does he have to pay them, he has to guarantee their contract no matter how badly they suck at playing or how severely they get hurt.

You see, it’s just like your boss assumes all the risk (and possibly the reward) from the success of your hard work. That same boss ultimately assumes the risk of the buildings, the employment structure, the insurance, the payrolls, and if it all fails the bankruptcy and financial fallout of his venture. I’m sorry baseball players we understand how risk and reward works and we don’t care if you get hundreds of millions to play a freaking game.

While players probably should fight with the owners to get some changes made, it’s my understanding that they just did that a few years ago and their “demands” were fancy foods in the clubhouse and a team psychiatrist to talk about their feelings with, rather than actually looking into supporting minor league players, or balancing compensation picks, or qualifying offers, and all of the other actually broken stuff that players SHOULD fight for. So, pardon me if I think these guys are whiny idiots when they continue to employ people like Tony Clark who failed them horrifically last time they negotiated with the owners and continue to do so today.

I’m fine with players standing up for their business and trying to get every dollar that they can when they discuss a new CBA with owners. But please spare us average joes the brain-dead BS that is whining about the fact Bryce Harper and Manny Machado won’t make up their minds about which $250-350 Million dollar offer they want to accept.

I love baseball, I think players make-up a huge part of that love, but at the end of the day when I sit down with my family, I have zero sympathy for a bunch of whining brats who are begging for ridiculous guaranteed contracts to play a game (mainly during the summer months). So please shut the hell up, agree to a deal and play the f****** game. If not feel free to return to college, start your own business, make billions, buy your own team, and give out all the $400M contracts your pretty little heart desires. Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting back here watching it with the same laughs and enjoyment as watching the horrified faces of Fyre Festival attendees fighting over soaking wet popup tents and searching for their Louis Vuitton luggage left on the side of the road. How ridiculous.

Bring back the win

First of all, the title of this article might trigger some folks. But, that’s what I’m here for. I follow my heart.

Let me first get this out of the way – The pitching stat(s) that we know as “wins and losses” do not currently matter the way the game is played. To reference a current pitcher’s wins and loss record in the year 2019 shows that you don’t have a grasp on baseball. They haven’t mattered for a long time. Peter Moylan had one “loss” last year and Chad Sobotka was credited with a “win.”

You’ve probably seen the, now infamous, cringe-worthy video of PTI’s Michael Wilbon ranting about how Jacob deGrom shouldn’t have won the 2018 Cy Young Award because of his wins and loss record. It was an embarrassing moment for Wilbon, but what’s even more embarrassing is the fact that Wilbon didn’t understand why it was embarrassing. Just to recap – deGrom’s “record” was 10-9 but he had a 1.70 ERA with a 0.912 WHIP and over 250 strikeouts. In other words – in 2019 Jacob deGrom did his job on a team that couldn’t make contact with the broad side of a barn. He was the first pitcher since 1913 to allow 3 or less runs in 25 straight starts.

In 1987 there were 29 guys who threw at least 220 innings. In 1990, there were 20. In the year 2000, there were 14. In 2004, there were 11. In 2014, there were 8. And, in 2018, there was 1 – Max Scherzer.

In 1988 Orel Hershiser threw 267 innings and had 15 complete games. The last time someone threw at least 267 innings in a season was in 1999 when Randy Johnson did it. The Big Unit pitched for 22 seasons and averaged 230 innings each season. To my knowledge, his arm never fell off and he made a lot of money.

Let’s go ahead and get the elephant out of the room – pitching injuries.

I don’t care about pitching injuries. It’s not my job to care about pitching injuries. I am a baseball fan and I want to be entertained. Let me explain.

I grew up watching John Smoltz. Smoltz and Terry Pendleton were my favorite Atlanta Braves. Before his bullpen days, when he was a starter, Smoltz would take the mound with every intention on finishing the game in question. You could tell by watching him. It was his mound. It was his game. Sometimes his nostrils would flare up (just slightly) and I would honestly feel bad (at least for a moment) for the batter and for the batter’s immediate family. More times than not, he wouldn’t finish the game that he started. But he would go deep. And, when Bobby would trot out to the mound to take the ball from John, and hand over the reigns to the bullpen, John was pissed. Real pissed. The expression on his face, each time he left the game, was always of someone who thought he knew better than his manager. John Smoltz just could not believe that someone would have audacity to take him out of a baseball game. He was fully confident that, whatever the jam was, he could get out of it better than any bullpen arm on Earth. It was beautiful. And, even though he completed 6 of his 35 games started in 1996, he still “won” 24 games that year. His offense sort of helped that year, too, granted.

Listen, wins have never been the best way to gauge a pitcher and complete games have never been the norm. Relief pitchers and bullpens have been around since the 1870s. I’m reading a book right now called The Pen Men, by Bob Cairns, about the history of the relief pitcher. Pitching changes is no new thing. But seven or eight pitching changes during a game certainly is new.

It’s also important to acknowledge that, even when wins mattered (or at least when they mattered more), a starting pitcher’s record was sometimes only as good as the offense on his respective team.

Look at 1976 Tom Seaver.

The Mets were okay at the plate that year, but nothing to write home about. Because the Mets were okay offensively that year, they were also okay at scoring runs, which gave Tom Seaver (former Atlanta Brave first-round pick) a record of 14-11. But Tom had a 2.54 ERA that year, which sounds and looks more bad ass than a 14-11 record. So, what do I say to that? Sometime’s life’s not fair and if sports were fair, they wouldn’t be sports.

So, as we can see in 1976 – wins, even in 1976, were not everything. They’ve never been everything. But they mattered a lot more. Why? Because Tom pitched 271 innings that year and completed 13 of his 35 games started. He had much more ownership in those games and because he had more ownership, the records meant more, and Tom was pissed each time he cashed in a stellar performance only to see his team suck. Getting pissed in sports is a beautiful thing.

This ancient ideology of wins and losses also put more ownership on the bullpen. The last thing you wanted to do, if you were Rollie Fingers or Lee Smith, was to blow the game, the game in which the starting pitcher believed was his to win or lose. It was beautiful.

So, why does any of this matter? Why should I care about innings pitched and wins and losses? Shouldn’t I just care if my favorite baseball team wins or loses the game? Perhaps. But, I care about wins and losses and innings pitched because I like to watch a competitor on live TV, and because I hate commercials.

It’s like my friend Jim Kaat acknowledges on Episode 78 of Knockahoma Nation – Sure, you could probably be effective with 27 pitching changes, but that’s not entertaining. One guy, with the weight on his shoulders, who’s been charged with finishing what he started, is entertaining. And guess what? Baseball players are entertainers and I want to be entertained. Too many Tommy John surgeries? That’s not my problem. Learn how to pitch.

So, what’s the fix? I think it starts with youth baseball. Two things – kids are playing year-round and they’re throwing too hard too early and too much (which has led to a historic rise in arm injuries). What we are seeing now at the minor league level (in general) are a bunch of guys who know how to use their arms but not their brains. Listen, I know we have 100 years of data showing us that pitchers are less effective the third time thru an order, but we’ve over-corrected and it’s annoying. Instead of teaching these kids how to use their brains and how to adjust, we’ve taken the easy way out. We now take them out after the 5th or 6th inning, instead of pushing them to out-think the opposition, and I’m left with way too many damn commercial breaks and by September I’m watching football.

The answer to this is way above my pay grade. I’m merely a replacement-level podcaster. But, in my perfect world kids would only play baseball in the summer months, and pitchers would only get taken out of the game if they were getting their ass handed to them. Let’s go back to the days when wins mattered more because those were the days when you watched one guy, with the weight on his shoulders, on live TV, try to finish what he started.

Commercials suck and Dave Roberts is an idiot.*

Editor’s Note: *Dave Roberts is reportedly an idiot because he pulled Rich Hill from a no hitter.

Baseball’s Shortage of Balls

Baseball has a balls problem, and it’s not the juiced kind.

The WWE figured out a long time ago that men like to be men. The NFL has tried running from the fact that men like to be men, but to no avail – it’s a contact sport, and they can’t run from it. The UFC has stopped trying to be politically correct and they’ve thrived because of it.

But baseball? Baseball’s becoming a watered-down safe space where, under no circumstances, can a player or a manager hurt the feelings of another. And, if you do hurt someone’s feelings in baseball, you’re pressured by every writer and analyst to give a public apology within at least 48 hours.

Remember when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons made his “extremely sexist” comments about dresses two years ago? Gibbons was frustrated with MLB’s new slide rule and in an interview he said, “Maybe we’ll come out in dresses tomorrow.” at which point every humorless nancy in sports wrote articles like this one dragging Gibbons thru the coals.

Baseball is becoming so emasculated that grown men cried for two days when Bill James simply said that ballplayers were replaceable. When the king of nerds Bill James makes grown men cry, you know it’s bad. You could have solved the Flint, Michigan water crisis with Tony Clark’s tears.

https://twitter.com/MLB_PLAYERS/status/1060562100236488710

The problem is probably much deeper than baseball. I think I started to notice it a few years ago when anti-bullying campaigns began sweeping across the nation. I think they are still. I’ve seen anti-bullying slogans on TV, around actual little league baseball complexes (signs that say “THIS IS A NO BULLYING ZONE”), and all over social media. All of which are fantastic. We should most definitely teach our kids not to bully, and we should team them that no one likes a bully and that bullies never win and never get laid.

But, more importantly, we should teach our kids how to kick a bully’s ass. Perhaps this is where it started and it’s eventually made its way to baseball. I’m not entirely sure. Kids grow up these days not learning how to kick a bully’s ass, and instead learning how to “report a bully.” What good is reporting a bully going to do? If your 9-year-old kid is getting bullied, reporting said bully is only going to make your kid get bullied even more for being a narc.

“But what if my 9-year-old kid is simply too small to overcome the bully?” Well, there’s a few ways to go about this. One way is to teach your 9-year-old how to talk some trash. Another way, and this is very important, is to teach your 9-year-old how to make friends. If he’s got friends, then he’s less likely to get bullied and if he does get bullied, there’s a decent chance that he’ll have a friend who can take up for him.

I wasn’t the best fighter. I was mostly a trash talker who knew how to make friends. I was okay in one-on-one bouts, but one day in sixth grade a group of kids jumped me and tried to steal my bike after school at Purks Middle School in Cedartown, Georgia. There was nothing that I could physically do. I was too small and I was outnumbered. That’s when my friend Rustin Hilburn jumped in and whooped some ass. I’m not sure how big Rustin Hilburn was at the time, but he appeared to be at least 8 feet tall and wore camo Rocky boots. Had I not made friends with Rustin, I might have lost my Schwinn Qualifier Pro that day.

Sorry. Back to the subject at hand. One of the biggest ways baseball has been emasculated, in my opinion, has been instant replay. This is going to trigger some people. Listen, I understand the values of replay. I think getting a call correct is better than getting a call wrong. But, I don’t care. I hate instant replay.

Here’s the deal about replay – Umpires have actually been getting calls right most of the time since the 1800s. Do they get it wrong sometimes? Of course they do, and those are the ones we remember. Have you ever argued over a beer with your buddy at the bar about your favorite Sam Holbrook call? I didn’t think so.

Here’s what replay has done – It’s taken away all confrontations, a very important part of being a man. A man without the ability to argue is kind of like a 2-wheel-drive Jeep. A sport played by men has taken away arguments! There are no more (for the most part) manager ejections, and no more spitting and cursing in umpires faces. The Lord gave us umpires so that we could yell at them. And now, the only thing we’re left yelling about is Nick Markakis’ route efficiency. We’re yelling at metrics and not men anymore. This is the beginning of the end.

I want to watch baseball to be entertained. I don’t want to watch baseball for maximum efficiency and maximum productivity. I want to be entertained. Give me a dramatic play call to end the innings and then cut to a commercial immediately so that I can either be pissed off or elated. If you replace that with a three minute replay review, you take away any argument or dispute and it’s no damn fun. Peace and harmony never helped anyone. This is America.

Bring back the win. Why? Not because I don’t think specialty pitchers are more effective. Not because I don’t believe that a pitcher struggles the third time thru the order. But, because I want to see a grown man, a bulldog, a fighter, try to overcome a lineup because it’s his game to win or lose. If he’s getting rocked in the 7th inning, I fully expect the manager to take him out and I fully expect said starting pitcher to be extremely offended for being taken out. 

I want to see a grown man, a bulldog, a fighter, try to overcome a lineup because it’s his game to win or lose. Like the time when Mike Mussina angrily told Joe Torre to stay in the dugout.

Baseball used to be a battlefield. Blocking the plate and sliding in high to second were cornerstones of manliness. Sports aren’t supposed to be safe. Hell, we pay guys millions of dollars in part because they aren’t the least bit safe. 

Now, in 2018, Manny Machado barely brushes his foot against a first baseman (Yes, it was a dirty play. Yes, Manny is trash. No, I didn’t like it.) and everyone acts like Manny Machado has committed mass murder. He was simply playing ugly. Which was shitty, I will grant you. But it was also beautiful. A few years ago Manny would have worn a changeup in the ear or a taken a nice punch straight from Jesus Aguilar right in the jaw.

Many of the new rules have been implemented with good intentions. We don’t want guys getting critically injured. We don’t want guys ruining their careers. But we cannot police everything. Ben Franklin once famously said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” These well intentioned measures have little by little combined to castrate the iconic masculinity from what was once (and still should be) a “man’s game”, to not allowing men to play like men.

This isn’t an argument that women have no place in baseball (it couldn’t be further from that), but instead it’s that a sport once built around the strengths (and weaknesses) of “toxic” or I prefer “rugged” masculinity may lose it’s identity altogether by trying to be ‘safe’ and ‘clean’. Baseball’s too focused on “being a stand up guy” and “standing up to cancer” rather than standing up to the guy trying to score. If you can’t stand up to the guy trying to score, then how can we expect anyone to truly stand up to anything?

It’s time for baseball to embrace it’s identity rather than hide from it by pretending to be something it isn’t. It’s time for baseball to get its balls back.

The Politics of Baseball

It’s a divided world out there, in more ways than one. Especially these days. Highly opinionated sports fans have always been part of the fabric of America. But are things changing? Are men forgetting how to debate and talk to each other?

For decades men would gather at a local watering hole after work, or perhaps at some type of general store in the mornings to discuss baseball and to exchange opinions while engaging in debate. This was done in person, to another man’s face. They’d recap the previous night’s base ball contest and challenge one another’s opinions. “Is Mickey Mantle really better than Joltin’ Joe?” “Hell no he’s not! Joe was the best there ever was!”

At bars in Boston, they’d argue about Slaughter’s Mad Dash for years to come. “If DiMaggio never came out of the damn game, Slaughter wouldn’t have scored. Culberson’s got a wet noodle for an arm,” one man says to another man (in person) at which point another man says (to the other man’s face) “That’s bullshit. Slaughter was going to score no matter what. Culberson should have started the god damn game anyway if you ask me.” During said conversation no one’s feelings were ever hurt. In fact, more times than not, they’d end up becoming friends. Even close friends.

In the year of our Lord 2018, you don’t have to worry about the consequences of a bad idea. You don’t have to worry about winning an argument or defending an opinion. You have Twitter now. For no charge at all, you can create a Twitter account, using whatever name you’d like along with whatever photo you’d like. Your grandfather would exchange ideas in person, in public, while you get to exchange your ideas from the shield of anonymity via your mother’s basement.

Furthermore, it seems that the actual political divide we are experiencing right now in this country sometimes bleeds into baseball. Am I the only one noticing this? We see “the mob” mentality all over baseball Twitter and if you don’t have an erection over advanced stats, you must hate all advance stats and you’re probably a Trump supporter. And, under no circumstances, can you have these debates in person.

On one side of the aisle you have guys like Joe Simpson, Chip Caray, Jeff Francoeur, John Smoltz and Dale Murphy. On the other side of the aisle you have an angry mob telling guys like Murph how stupid they are for not adhering to the fact that wRC+ is a much more accurate representation of a player’s offensive story than batting average.

On one side of the aisle you have Jim Kaat. A guy who pitched in the big leagues for 25 years, who faced both Ted Williams and Julio Franco, and while he wasn’t as effective the third time thru the order and owns the fact that the last six outs are the hardest, he offers to speak with you. And on the other side of the aisle, you have Twitter accounts operated by grown men who aren’t ready to speak to other men in person.

American politics has placed everyone in one of two buckets. It’s always sort of been this way, I think. We’ve always been a little divided, but not like this. Now, more so than at any other point in American history, we seem to be completely confined to only TWO boxes. How depressing is that? We opinionated and complex humans are confined to just one of two boxes.

In 2018, it’s impossible to like part of one thing and part of another thing. I thought Hillary Clinton would have actually done a decent job as President. But I don’t really care for Hillary Clinton. And if I say these things publicly, I’d be painted with a broad brush. Based on everything I’ve read and seen, I still haven’t found any evidence to indict Donald Trump as a racist. But, can you imagine if I said that publicly?

This very same mindset has bled into baseball. If you like Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, you are not also allowed to like a guy who just hits for power and strikes out a lot. If you question WAR, you must hate all advanced stats. If you refer to someone’s batting average, you’re a traditionalist and you hate wOBA.

Perhaps the extreme political divide has driven the engine towards not debating face-to-face. Or perhaps, it’s the vehicle – Twitter. Either way, it’s sad. As long as men grow increasingly dependent on keeping their arguments confined to a keyboard, they’ll continue to get weaker, and weaker men will continue to give us a weaker society.

Do yourself a favor and go sit at a bar and strike up a conversation with someone. You’ll be surprised at your ability to carry on with someone (in person) if you allow yourself to get away from Twitter. Then, get that person’s number. Keep in touch. Maybe meet at said bar each week. Or maybe even at Waffle House. Invite others. Maybe like four or five (be selective). And eventually you’ll have a group. A weekly baseball group. The bartenders or servers will get to know you and eventually slip you a free drink here or there. And most importantly, you’ll feel better about yourself.

Adam Duvall: A T1D Story

Adam Duvall has 79 HR since the start of 2016 – that’s more than Bryce Harper. He has 263 RBI since then as well, 10th most in the majors. He has a top 25 in MLB ISO (Isolated Power: SLG – AVG) over the last 2-1/2 seasons – .233, same as Manny Machado. He has an All-Star game selection and a Home Run Derby semi-final appearance. He has 2 Gold Glove finalist selections.

He also has diabetes.

No, not the kind your grandpa gets because he’s old and overweight. Not the kind of diabetes that Wilford Brimley refers to as “diabeetus” in those commercials from the 90s that came on during The Price is Right. That’s Type-2 diabetes. Adam Duvall has Type-1 diabetes (T1D), also known as juvenile diabetes, and so do I. Here’s my T1D story:

I was in my 4th semester at Georgia Tech. It was a Monday and I was returning to campus from my girlfriend’s house at Auburn. It had been another sleepless night b/c I had gotten up to pee at least 4 times. I was thirsting so badly that I had to stop twice on the drive back to get sodas/sports drinks from convenience stores. I would down them in the first mile back on the road.

I parked where I usually do, near the ME building, and walked completely across campus to my class (I don’t remember what the class was, it was in a building near the library). It was less than a 10 minute walk, but I felt like I had just run a marathon. One of my friends was in my class and said “Man, you look like hell.” I said I didn’t feel great either & wasn’t sure what was up. He said I should go to the infirmary and I said I would after class.

I struggled thru class, barely able to concentrate. My vision was blurry and all I wanted to do was go to sleep, I was so exhausted. I’d lost a bunch of weight since finals the previous semester – something like 35 pounds in 3 months. I just thought it was stress that was screwing up my eating habits. After class, I made the trek back across campus towards the infirmary, stopping along the way at a vending machine in the ME building for a Powerade. I chugged it down and headed up the hill to the clinic.

Before I could make it up the hill (just a few minute walk), I had to step off the sidewalk and I threw up the entire bottle of Powerade I had just downed. I got to the infirmary, told them I didn’t feel well, described my symptoms, and they said that I was just exhausted and needed to get some rest. I said I had just thrown up outside the building and they said “That changes things, we’ll check you out.” They had me pee in a cup and then I waited in a room. A few minutes later, the nurse came in and said “We think you have diabetes. You should go to the ER at Piedmont Medical Center.”

I left the infirmary pretty much in a complete daze. Diabetes? How could I have diabetes? I’m a 22 yr-old, healthy college kid. I walked back to my car and called my parents to get directions to Piedmont. I think they were just as shocked as I was. I tried to keep from crying, but I wasn’t able to. My dad helped calm me down & gave me the directions I needed & said they’d be on their way ASAP (from South Carolina, 4-1/2 hrs away). Then I called my girlfriend and told her I was going to the ER with the possibility that I had diabetes. She said she’d be on her way once she was done with classes for the day (she was in grad school at Auburn).

I got to the ER, barely. I should have gotten someone to drive me, but in my daze I couldn’t think of anyone to call to take me. I checked in and said the GT infirmary told me to come because they think I have diabetes. They took my info and a finger stick to test my blood sugar and told me to head to the waiting room.

A little while later, my uncle showed up. He worked very close to the hospital and, as I found out later, my dad had called him as soon as I got off the phone with him, and told my uncle to meet me at the ER. He waited with me for the night.

I hadn’t eaten much that day and was hungry so I borrowed some change from my uncle to get some crackers from a vending machine. My mouth was so dry that I could barely eat a single one. Eating one of them was like trying to do the saltine cracker challenge.

I was eventually taken to an ER bed where they hooked me up to an insulin IV for the night. I still wasn’t really sure what was going on or why this had happened. My parents & girlfriend showed up later that night & stayed with me as long as they were allowed. Nurses came in every half hour for the entire night to prick my finger to test my blood sugar.

The next morning, Feb 1, 2006, an endocrinologist met with me & my parents to tell us about my new condition and “officially” diagnose my as a Type-1 diabetic. He told me that when the ER tested my blood sugar from that first finger stick when I arrived, it was 840. A normal blood sugar is around 100. I was just a few minutes away from a diabetic coma. I don’t recall a lot about that meeting, but I do recall a question my dad asked the doctor. He said “Doc, why does this happen to a perfectly healthy, 22-year college kid?” The doctor said bluntly “If we knew that, we could prevent it.” Quite sobering.

My girlfriend, parents and I, also met with a diabetes educator to learn about the treatment of my new condition. I won’t go into details, but my life as I knew it was over. I could never eat anything again without thinking about how many carbohydrates were in the food or how much insulin I would have to take. My girlfriend took it all in and was my savior for the the whole thing. She would come to my place in Atlanta, and would prepare 2-3 weeks worth of meals that I could freeze. We worked together to count the carbs so I knew exactly how much insulin I would need for each meal.

I have now lived with this condition for 12 years. In that time, I graduated from Georgia Tech, moved to Richmond, VA, got a great job, married the love of my life (the aforementioned girlfriend), built a house, and had 2 amazing kids. I wear an insulin pump to treat my condition. It’s a pager-sized device that I clip to my belt that delivers insulin into my body 24/7/365. It’s basically my lifeline – without it, I would die.

I wouldn’t wish his disease on my worst enemy. I’m scared s***less that one day, one of my children will start to show some of the same symptoms that I experienced 12-1/2 years ago. There is no cure for Type-1 diabetes. There are only treatments. Advances in the treatment of T1D have come a long way in the last few years and it’s very possible an artificial pancreas will be available by the end of this decade. I’m waiting anxiously for that day.

Adam Duvall went through all this at age 23 as a High-A baseball player. He lost 20 pounds in 2 months, couldn’t lift weights without getting light-headed, couldn’t sleep because he was waking 5-6 times a night to pee. When he was finally diagnosed during Spring Training in 2012, he probably could have said “Man, there’s no way I can keep playing high-level baseball with a condition that screws with my body 24/7.” But he didn’t. He said “OK, where do we go, what do we do now, and just take care of it.”

Imagine having to think about the amount of carbohydrates you’re putting into your body every single time you eat anything at all. Now consider having to worry about the possibility of blacking out when you work out (something that did happen to me once) or when you train to stay in shape to play major league baseball, a grueling, 8-month grind through the heat of the summer that most fans can’t even contemplate fully. Imagine those things being in the back of your mind when you’re in the batter’s box facing 98 mph heat and knee-buckling breaking balls. That’s what Adam Duvall does every single day. He wears an insulin pump while he’s playing – it’s usually in his back pocket, protected by the same type of stuff bicycle helmets are made of. It delivers life-saving insulin 24/7, whether he’s bashing home runs or sliding in the outfield grass to make a run-saving catch.

There are many reasons why fans choose a favorite baseball player. Maybe they signed a baseball for them & were really nice to them on the occasion when they met. Maybe they’re an under-rated grinder, a quiet leader that hits nothing but singles (which are actually mostly doubles). Maybe they’re a cerebral pitcher who doesn’t dazzle with velocity but baffles with location, movement, & sequencing. Coming into this season, Adam Duvall was my favorite “non-Brave” baseball player because I relate to him for the struggles I went through when I was diagnosed with diabetes and the way the disease has radically changed my entire life and will forever. He went through the same experience and is now playing the game I love at the highest level for the team I’ve loved for my entire 35-year life. He could hit like Emilio Bonifacio and I wouldn’t care – he’s Adam Duvall and he’s what T1D looks like.

For more on Duvall’s story, read here. For more info on Type-1 diabetes and the on-going research in the treatment of the disease, please visit http://www.jdrf.org/.

The Silver Screen Baseball Hall of Fiction Fame

The last weekend in July is always a fun, exciting, and maybe even a nail-biting time for Major League Baseball fans. For one, the last weekend in July usually means trades; and lots of them. It also means Cooperstown. The sanctimonious mecca for honoring the greatest players to ever set foot on a diamond. This year, in 2018, Larry Wayne Jones, Jr., was formally inducted in baseball’s hallowed halls. His plaque will reside in the same hall as Babe Ruth, Tony Gwynn, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle and many, many more. It wasn’t too long ago that former teammates John Smoltz (2015), Tom Glavine (2014), and Greg Maddux (2014) were being enshrined. And to top it off, the man who drafted, and then managed Chipper, Bobby Cox (2014). I was there in 2014 to witness first hand the magical and awe-inspiring scene. It’s a memory I will never soon forget.

But all this Hall of Fame excitement had me a little curious. What if there were a Hall of Fame for the best fictitious players in baseball movies? It’s an idea I had a few months back, but never acted on it. However, now seems like a perfect time to explore and delve into the Hollywood scene and pick the inaugural class of Hollywood Baseball’s greatest. I suppose, though, there should be some basic and simple ground rules.

First, the player must be fictitious, which means Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of Jim Morris is disqualified; that was a true story, about a real player. Also, another example would be Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson or Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. Obviously, those were real people.  Second, while the team depicted in the film is more times than not, an actual team, if the players are not, they are eligible. Third, broadcasters, executives, and managers are eligible. Also, to clarify, the movie A League of Their Own was based on the actual AAGPBL, but the characters were loosely based on real people, so they ARE eligible. For instance, Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, was based on a combination of Hack Wilson and Jimmie Foxx. Both were real players, but Dugan was not.  Fourth, teams are eligible if they were an ensemble cast. This probably only really applies to The Sandlot crew or The Bad News Bears, but for all intents and purposes, they are eligible as one player, not nine individuals.

So, now that some basic ground rules have been laid out, I need to make one more tough decision – How many get in to the Hall in this first vote? I guess we’ll just have to see. I’ll list my top 25 players, teams, executives, managers, etc. and I will attempt to whittle those down to no more than 6 or 7 worthy members. So, let’s get this started. This list will be in no particular order.

The Eligibles:

  • Billy Chapel (For Love of the Game)
  • Jack Elliot (Mr. Baseball)
  • Lou Brown (Major League)
  • Harry Doyle (Major League)
  • Roy Hobbs (The Natural)
  • Joe Hardy (Damn Yankees)
  • Dottie Hinson (A League of Their Own)
  • Jimmy Dugan (A League of Their Own)
  • Gus (The Benchwarmers)
  • Henry Rowengartner (Rookie of the Year)
  • Chet Stedman (Rookie of the Year)
  • Phil Brickma (Rookie of the Year)
  • Mel Clark (Angels in the Outfield)
  • Crash Davis (Bull Durham)
  • Kelly Leak (Bad News Bears, 1976)
  • Bobby Rayburn (The Fan)
  • Billy Haywood (Little Big League)
  • Lou Collins (Little Big League)
  • Jim Bowers (little Big League)
  • Steve Nebraska (The Scout)
  • Archie “Moonlight” Graham (Field of Dreams)
  • Benny, Smalls, Porter, Yeah-Yeah, and the entire crew (The Sandlot)
  • Bruce Pearson (Bang the Drum Slowly)
  • Stan Ross (Mr. 3000)
  • Ricky Vaughn (Major League)

Now that that’s over, let’s see if I can get these names down to maybe 10.

Top 10:

  • Billy Chapel

  • Jack Elliot

  • Billy Haywood

  • Ricky Vaughn

  • Crash Davis

  • The Sandlot gang

  • Roy Hobbs

  • Dottie Hinson

  • Henry Rowengartner

  • Mel Clark

And for a surprise, Knockahoma Nation spin on the Ford C. Frick award, I present to you the first recipient of the Josh Brown Lifetime Achievement Award in Podcasting (if it were a thing back then) – Harry Doyle.

I think 10 is a good inaugural class to open with. Of course, my list is merely a matter of opinion, but I would be interested and excited to hear who you would put in the Silver Screen Baseball Hall of Fame. Let us know by commenting your all-time movie greats of the game.

Baseball’s Beautifully Broken Story

Baseball’s past is frequently fantasized and categorized as a game of purity, as the American Dream symbolized in pomp and sport. I believe with all my heart, that the game of baseball reflects in majestic detail and intricacy the state of the human experience. Yet, I find that perhaps we have misconstrued the ideals of what the ‘purity’ of baseball is, and because of our misunderstanding are missing the full gamut of the game and perhaps ourselves.

When baseball was young and raw, the game ‘purely’ personified uncivilized brutality. Much like the taming of the wild west, early baseball was filled with ruffians and roughnecks, immortal giants that would just as soon fight you as pitch to you. Players often played drunk, received little-to-no pay, cheated to win, and were as apt to stab the umpire as to argue with him. True to its time, the early days of baseball personified an age of the American experience that was simultaneously uncouth and rough around the edges. Yet under this ruffian veneer, it was forging the future of law and governance. It was an age when the umpires weren’t infallible, yet the finality of their call was an integral part of the game’s pageantry. A time when the divide between the game and fan was never narrower. Fans were likely to engage in fisticuffs with a hated (or beloved) player after the game, and managers ran the risk of having to sneak out of town with an unruly home crowd hot on his heels. That was Baseball. That was America. An era when government only went so far on it’s own before people fought back. A time when many would implement their own justice, and govern themselves by a pervasive unwritten code of manhood that had been shaped by the hard fists of survival and harsh experience. An era where new technologies like trains and automobiles raced side by side with the stylized archetypes of our past such as horse drawn buggies and ass-pulled plows.

Many today, myself included, love the idea and picture of  ‘purity’ of the game from previous eras. However, I think what we are often saying is that we miss that form of America, that context of society. We miss forging a path based off of an inner code and simultaneously exploring the boundaries of our identity at the edges of the extremes. It’s easy for a person to find themselves reflected in the game, idolizing the “purity” in that past-time that so closely mirrors our own progress as a country. We long to be wild at heart, to still find success, a place of our own, and sometimes even leave a legacy. We neglect to recall the pain & the suffering, the unbalanced injustice of life itself & the broken & torn places that hard lives on the edge are often disposed to leave behind them.

Baseball isn’t a static game. It isn’t pure. It never has been. As time turns, it is not the constant reminder of all that is good that James Earl Jones opined in Field of Dreams. Instead, baseball has changed with every evolution of society; an ardent drama of spectacular emotion and impassioned disbelief that reflects a story of good and bad that ripples around it. Baseball is the satire, the tragedy, the comedy, the shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave outlining life itself in broad strokes and deep shadows on the canvas of the field. No, baseball has changed quite a bit, but it’s ability to reflect the world around it has only been refined. Baseball is a reflective surface taking on the image of any who dare walk past its face. At times we glance in the mirror, surprised by the dramatic details, at once familiar and esoteric. But the youth, the timelessness of the game ultimately shines through.

In the 50’s and 60’s, one might say baseball evolved. A more organized game with little patience for the original wild bunch. Baseball became a stage for the pen of the playwrights. America was a reeling nation searching for a way to fill the holes left by the most deadly war the world had ever seen. The actors set the stage for the taming of new lands and the breaching of new frontiers. These were different frontiers than the past; racial integration, free love, and the birth of the celebrity voice as television overtook radio, marked radical unexplored territories with new unwritten rules. For the first time, people all over the states could see their heroes, and while the groundswell of the background orchestra reached a crescendo, the audience held its collective breath as the play on the stage of the ballfield echoed throughout the country with the resounding impact of a Harmon Killebrew home run. Tension, anger, drama and, ultimately, unity echoed across the stages of carefully manicured grass as dark skinned players first set foot on the most hallowed grounds of worship across the United States. Yet, the play wasn’t the ballgame. Instead the drama that was so punctuated by Jackie Robinson, was merely the detailed and honest reflection of a nation struggling to find a new identity. The game reflected the blemishes on the face of America that, without its mirror, might have gone unnoticed.

The 70’s and 80’s reflected a new face in the mirror. If they were to be heroes, if the actors in this great reflection were to lead, then they should be paid for leading, not just for winning. Free Agency, unionization and fighting against the corporate stronghold of major league baseball reflected in vivid detail the fight of the common man to stand up to corrupt politicians, price-gouging oil companies and the rise of a modern suburban society. The bastions of tradition that immortalized the glamorization of the lifetime worker model of society began to crack and crumble. America was reaching back to an era of roughnecks and wayward souls, not to replicate the story, but instead to embody the attitude. This was the era of “nasty” ballplayers and definitive badasses. Men like Dave Parker, Pete Rose, Oscar Gamble, Dave Winfield, Dock Ellis and many more challenged the traditions of baseball as they had been handed to them. These guys fought at the drop of a hat. They didn’t care if the fight was on the field, off the field, in their own dugout, or at the bar after the game. They were rugged individualists. Much like the American spirit of the time. “Up yours Moscow”, “piss-off Gaddafi”, “we’re just that much better than you world.” America was a nation recovering from the confusing end to a strange war, international fear and uncertainty leading to raucous nationalism, with color television vividly amplifying the reality of every individual hero and the game they played. Dave Parker firing up a heater on the bench with his thick beard and a Pirates hat, still feels like the perfect capture of the American spirit of individualism and even piracy that rebelled and excelled all at the same time.

The 90’s and 2000’s would further polish the mirror to its most brilliant sheen, but now instead of being a bad mutha-shut yo mouth … players were nice guys. They were heroes. Superheroes to be exact. They did superhuman things. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco. These guys were the best. And they did whatever it took to stay the best. Was it just some pervasive PED culture in baseball? No, it was once again a polished personification of the surrounding culture. A divine tragedy that saw the gods fall to their own power. The cocaine epidemic raced through cities. People finding ways to live life in superhuman ways of their own. New technologies raced to advance culture in ways never before seen. Brokenness and pain massaged the airwaves with the rise of grunge and alt rock that offered escape through drugs, sex and fighting for the right to party. The internet would set the world on fire and dramatically change lives at a speed never before seen. Constant advancements drove companies and people to the edge, pushing them to be the best, to get more out of themselves, to evolve the standards of what was possible. Baseball pay rose with the standards and players were rewarded for their superhuman efforts in unprecedented ways. Heroes weren’t just heroes by nature anymore, heroes were superstars, kings, they were paid like royalty to play a game. They became gods for hire. A pantheon of mercenaries of the diamond. People in the everyday world struck it huge in the tech bubble, living far beyond what their character and production could healthily sustain. When these new “gods of baseball” came crashing down from their lofty heights, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, they quickly discovered the hard reality of insatiable gravity and an unforgiving ground. Their burial no longer set on pyres of the fallen warrior, but instead disregarded to the trash heaps of cheaters and liars. Their legacy marred and forgotten. The very playwrights who built their cults now condemned their existence.

Today, a new stage is set. The lights are on and a new cast of characters saunter onto the stage. The mirror stands before us in the dim light of a dusky evening. In this scene we find an entirely new drama. This one, Macbeth, played by not only general managers and players, but by fans themselves. For the first time, fans now have access to the ‘prophecies’ of data about players and how they will perform. Fans, players, managers, front offices believing that by cleaning the mirror or polishing its surface they will smooth away the blemishes that it reflects. They fall in love with stopping the prophecies (or fulfilling them), constantly fighting to perfect their own team, their own identity, their own tribe.

The truth is, that’s the state of far too many lives. Wives and husbands are never good enough, parents are never wise enough, jobs are never fulfilling enough, the nation begins to fall in love with the prophecy/data of the ‘other’. If only they could fix the mirror somehow, the reflection of their fears, inadequacies and lusts would be perfected. They fail to realize that a crown procured through vile trickery is no crown at all, but a circlet of thorns. An obsession with perfection production drives the national narrative. “Out damned spot!” becomes their cry, as they polish the mirror incessantly, trying & failing to remove a stain that is on their own soul. Who cares if players strike out, as long as they hit dingers. It doesn’t matter if he hits .220 if he smashes 45 home runs. Strikeouts, for the first time in history, set a pace to tally higher than hits in the league. The heart of the game has been sacrificed on the altar of productivity. Results are all that matter. King Data reigns supreme.

Now “the Braves way” is defamed, detested by fans that no longer remember it. Winning is the only thing that matters now. Making the reflection perfect, not honest is the purpose that drives us. The only stories we know are the numbers and the prophetic predictions of player projections. If a player doesn’t live up to hitting 30 home runs and being the best defender in the league then he is washed out, and should be traded or discarded as quickly as possible. Fans detail any move they don’t like in the harshest of terms. “Racists”, “cheap”, “spiteful to fans and players”, “they really don’t care about fans at all”… just a few of the hyperbolic insinuations of fans. Because the team doesn’t think like me, or make me happy, or do what I want them to do then they are the worst of mankind. They are everything to be hated and despised. They have no value unless it is the definition of value that aligns with my own. A world of data driven emotionalism & prophetic fervor frenzies the mob and the individual alike. “Trade for this one”, “call up that one,” “this team is racist,” “that team is trash,” “this player I don’t like and have never met is a terrible human being.”

Baseball teams are never good enough, we are obsessed with making them better. Hyper-heroicizing every actionable move, not just the person. Heroes have become numbers, because people can’t be trusted. The mirror has betrayed us, reflecting the unflattering truth.

Again, baseball is merely casting its reflection of society.

There was a time that community, culture and tribe meant something. Your neighbor was a person you knew, not just another empty house with a car parked in the driveway. We collapse into the prophecies of our lives, reading the punditry and prophecies of twitterpated political and social dreamers. Obsession grows. How to have the perfect life, wife, marriage, kids, job, yard, house. Obsessions driven by tribalized and data-driven emotion. Our heroes have become non existent numbers, ideals, and false prophecies that we prefer to run blindly towards rather than building on what is real and tangible in our hands. Then our heroes fail us because they aren’t real. They are simulations of a simulation of a simulation, totally dissociated with reality.

Aristotle argued that the ghost of the simulacra is dangerous, because it gains life without roots in reality. If we don’t realize that what we are handling isn’t real then we can’t even know where the simulation stops and reality begins. It’s in a ghost-like state that we find far too many fans, and friends. Obsessed with constantly making a better version of the team, life, family. A better non-existent version of the original, because of the fallacious mentality that numbers and the simulation can somehow fully embody the original. Sometimes a baseball team doesn’t need to fall in love with maximum productivity. You can have maximum productivity and still lose. You can have subpar productivity and still win.

If baseball becomes only about productivity, think of what could be lost. The Culberson walk-off would be a thing of the past. The story of unlikely heroes fades to a lost pillar of the game, reminiscent of some cheap dime-store novelty. The story that is the heartbeat of the game itself becomes threatened. If productivity is the only thing, how long before we give up from lack of it. In our own lives, how long before we wall ourselves off from neighbors that might hurt us or cause us grief as we share in the pains of their lives? How long before we fail to have conversations with our wives and kids, and simply live in the same house as roommates and not family? The American story, the human story matters far more than the American success. It’s the story that created the success, not the success that created the story. The Braves and teams all around the league are a reflection of the story being played out in the hearts and lives of the fans that watch them.

So take a moment and breathe on your mirror. Remind yourself that it’s a reflection. Watch the play on the grand stage. Fall in love with the moment and not the future, the team and not the productive possibilities, the piece you do have and not the pieces you don’t. The greatest stories ever told are not of the perfect hero winning the day, but instead it is the underdog, the worst to first, the Sid Bream rounding third, the Mark Lemke World Series Assassin, the unexpected greatness that we find in the world, and in ourselves. It’s the story of the marriage that almost broke, but didn’t because love was stronger. The family that was almost broken by drugs or alcohol, but instead put each other first and fought back from the brink. It’s the job that you almost quit or went bankrupt in, that you now have stabilized. Sometimes it is the story of when those things don’t work. When the marriage breaks and yet you live on. When the kid doesn’t get off drugs, yet you fight on. When the business goes bankrupt, yet still you survive. Those are the stories that last. Real Cubs fans (not the cheap ones who jumped on the bandwagon from Buckhead), waited 108 years to get a World Series. That is a hell of a story.

At the end of the day, the human story isn’t about success and production. It is a story about a journey. A journey that goes on in spite of. In spite of falls, in spite of disaster, in spite of hurt, in spite of pain, in spite of failure. Who knows what tomorrow’s play will bring, maybe it will be a purer game, but not because it goes back to the roots of baseball, but because we go back to the roots of life, love, and community and the things that matter even when we don’t win. This great game that I love, baseball, is pure because it never fails to reflect my heart. It shows me the good and the bad. It reflects the deepest worn places in my face and the sadness that might dance in my eyes. Friends, the goal is not to change or perfect the image in the mirror, but to smile and enjoy the reality that made that face, me, to begin with, and on occasion to take a look at myself and fix my hair, wash my face, and use the mirror to celebrate what I already am.

 

Baseball is a basic bitch

4 bases, 1 ball, 9 defenders, 1 batter. A pitcher throws the ball. A batter attempts to hit the ball and then attempts to circle the bases while the defense tries to stop him.

Baseball’s already not very complex. And to make it even less complex and basic, these days it primarily involves just two plays – the home run and the strikeout. Baseball has become a basic bitch.

I know. It’s sacrilegious to throw shade at our beloved game, but allow me to explain. Compared to football, there is little-to-no strategy involved in a baseball game. Yes, I know what a double shift is, and I understand pitching changes, and I get that managing a bullpen is a thing. But if your most complex strategic decision is a double switch, then I’m sorry, the play by play strategic planning is not very complex. And don’t get me started on lineups. Sure, setting a lineup is a task and we can debate what a “true lead-off hitter” is, but I just don’t think a lineup order has that much of an effect on a team’s season.

The complexity of baseball doesn’t come from the strategies of the individual play. If you put Nick Saban in a baseball dugout, he’d be bored. If you put Brian Snitker on the sidelines of an Alabama football game with the task of managing and calling plays, his brain would implode. The complexity of baseball comes from the players themselves.

To plan and execute a defensive formation in football is a science. Each player works together and relies on each other and if each working part executes the play the way that it was designed to work, it works. The football player does exactly what he’s told and then relies on his athletic ability. (Unless, of course you’re Brett Favre, then you do what you want, but that’s a totally different column. You get the point.) Football is moving, fluid, and very dynamic. While baseball is, well, basic. In baseball, there is no sign coming from the manager to run the old Spider 2 Y Banana.

The baseball player isn’t told anything. Sure, he watches some video and he might read a scouting report and sure he’s sometimes given orders from the dugout. But for the most part, the baseball player is all alone, in the batters box, or on the mound. The mental agony and pressures are all on him, and once he rises to the occasion, adjustments are then made to him by the defense at which point he must adjust to the adjustments made to him. The player is coach, player, and coordinator all at the same time in a matter of a single at bat.

This is why there’s five levels of minor league baseball and there’s no minor league football.

A ballplayer can get drafted from one of the power-house college programs (Vandy for example) and still be three years away from the big leagues. And even when said player makes “The Show” he’s often worked in very slowly. Perhaps he’s brought up in September and asked to pinch hit and/or fill in when the everyday player at his respective position needs a day off. A football player can get drafted and then start on opening day that same year. Baseball is hard. It’s not complex, but it’s hard. Where the game of football is more complex, but easier mentally and emotionally on the individual level, baseball is less complex but more difficult mentally and emotionally on the individual level.

Back to baseball being a basic bitch.

Baseball’s more about the guy on the field than the game. Yeah, I know, this makes me sound like an anti-analytics old geezer, but I’m not blown away by Statcast or wRC+. It’s neat, I’ll grant you, but all you’re doing is quantifying and recording what we’ve been watching since the 1870’s. A guy hits a bomb. Now you can tell me how hard he hit the bomb and the exact angle at which the ball is traveling through the air over the fence. Neat.

Think of it this way, if I told you a woman’s ass was 37 inches wide is that good or bad? Does it make you dream of that ass by simply knowing it’s 37 inches wide? I mean 37 inches could be a great ass, or it could be a not so great ass. (and yes I realize I’m an ass but bear with me). You need to know the entire picture. If you know she’s 34-26-37 you might now have a better picture, but even that isn’t really a picture, it is still just stats. I mean, I can sit here and tell you she’s 34-26-37 and you might think, wow she could be really hot based off those numbers. Or I could just say, “J-Lo.”

For years, the story of baseball has been the player. And because of that, superstars were born from it. Kids grew up idolizing Snider, Mantle, Aaron, Killebrew, Gibson, Koufax, Feller, The Big Red Machine, Stargell, Schmidt. These days J.D. Martinez wouldn’t be recognized by most kids in a mall. Why? Because Major League Baseball is marketing the metrics and not the guy. And to make it even worse, it’s marketing one thing – the home run.

Bryce Harper is hitting .214 and was virtually the face of the All-Star game. Why? Because our beloved game has been watered down to the home run. Am I saying home runs are the spawn of Satan? Of course not. Dingers are fun. But for a long time the home run was special and hitting in other ways, being a more well-rounded player, was something to take pride in. In 2018, if you ONLY hit home runs, you’ve got a guaranteed big pay day.

I’m not here to argue the merits of a player with a similar offensive profile as Bryce Harper’s 2018 campaign. I’m sure you could explain to me that, based on his wRC+, even though he does not hit for average, he is actually very valuable to his team. I don’t care. What I’m telling you is, watching an All-Star Game that involves nothing but home runs and strikeouts is boring.

And yes, I saw the precious Twitter video of Pedro talking about how great the game is and where the game is heading and I saw Brandon McCarthy‘s quote of said Twitter video. That’s precious. Why are ticket sales down? Because baseball is marketing the metrics, not the guy.

Am I saying that we should interfere and fix this? Hell no. That’s the weird thing. Baseball fixes itself and should never be interfered with by mere mortals under any circumstances. If I read another damn “How can we fix baseball” article I’ll break my laptop. This is a phase and guys like me will bitch about baseball being a basic bitch and that’s a beautiful thing.

We must change ourselves, not the game. Let us teach our children how to hit like Tony Gwynn and block the plate like Johnny Bench. Let’s start there.