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.
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 and for men (and the Knockahoma Nation Queens) 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.
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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.
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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/.
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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.
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.
The Sandlot gang
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.
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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.
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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.
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In the game of base ball, there are two teams playing. Unlike individual sports like golf or Olympic diving, athletes in the game of base ball belong to a team and their team is always competing against another team. At any given point in the base ball game, one team is on offense while one team is on defense, and it is the only team sport in which the defense has the ball. Each team is trying to win.
In golf, a player steps up to the tee box alone. Aside from their own thoughts and personal limitations, no one is attempting to get in the golfer’s way of hitting the ball of the tee. The same thing goes for diving. In diving, a diver climbs to the top of the platform alone. The only competition the diver faces is the diver himself.
In base ball, and other team competitive sports, while the player is certainly at the mercy of his own thoughts and limitations, he’s also at the mercy of the players on the other team who are trying to win. As mentioned previously, each team is trying to win, and each player is trying to impede the opposing players from performing their tasks.
For example, when shortstop Dansby Swanson steps into the batters box, he faces an opposing pitcher. Webster defines “opposing” as being in conflict or competition with a specified or implied subject. While Dansby’s job is to get a base hit, or at the very least get on base, the pitcher’s job is to get Dansby out. Thus creates an atmosphere for what is known as competition.
Furthermore, in sports an athlete is often judged and valued on their ability to perform in clutch situations. Websters defines “clutch” (in sport) as denoting or occurring in a critical situation in which the outcome of a game or competition is at stake. Great examples of this in other sports might be former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and current NFL quarterback Tom Brady (former draftee of the Montreal Expos). Manning seemed to perform excellent at his everyday job, but struggled in clutch situations. Brady seemed to perform well in both.
On Monday, the Braves faced Reds pitcher Matt Harvey who was trying to prevent the Braves from getting on base and scoring. For the most part, Harvey succeeded, just giving up one run in 6 2/3 innings. The Braves could only score 3 runs that game, while the Reds scored 5.
On Tuesday, while the Braves scored 4 runs in the fourth inning, and while the Reds trailed 5-3, the Reds did not give up and ended up scoring 3 more runs, making the score 6-5. Had the Braves scored more than 6 runs, they would have won the base ball contest.
The Atlanta Braves remain in first place in a division where there are other base ball teams also trying to win games. Tomorrow they’ll face the St. Louis Cardinals, another base ball team, who are in the central division of the National League. The Cardinals will try their very best to win and prevent the Braves from winning, while the Braves will do their best to remain in first place.
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Knockahoma Nation FanPost by @dren_braves on Twitter. @dren_braves is a mustache grower and mountain unicyclist who lives at the feet of the Wasatch Mountain Range in Salt Lake City, Utah where he watches Atlanta Braves games.
“This isn’t a try league…They better be ready to come play tomorrow…I was pissed, there’s a process that wasn’t sustained. The first three innings, I loved it. And then we just kind of punted the last six innings. That pissed me off.” –Brian Snitker, following being swept by the San Francisco Giants in Atlanta
Just kidding, that wasn’t Brian Snitker, it was Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after losing the first of four games to the last place Cincinnati Reds. Yes, those Dodgers who won 104 games just last year. Those Dodgers who won 43 games in a 50-game stretch in 2017, the most dominant 50-game stretch in 105 years. Those Dodgers who breezed their way to the 2017 World Series.
2,179 miles away in Cumberland, Georgia, the Atlanta Braves are responding to their worst losing streak of the season (3 games) by winning 6 of their last 8 games. They are in sole possession of first place in the entire National League. Yet, nobody seems to be paying attention to this red-hot team. Sure, the Braves have some very bright young stars who are beginning to capture some national attention. We all know about Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr., but are these two players the reason this team is currently atop the National League? There is no doubt they are playing an important role as the top two hitters in the lineup. But it takes much more than a couple of young stars to make a good baseball team (just ask the Anaheim Angels). The Atlanta Braves are a complete baseball club. They have good pitching, great defense, and solid hitters top-to-bottom. One of the many guys holding this team together is…
El Chapulín Colorado
(Still trying to get this nickname to stick)
More agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than a lettuce, his shield is a heart…It’s Ender “El Chapulín Colorado” Inciarte!
One of the most polarizing players right now for the Atlanta Braves is Ender David Inciarte Montiel. The ladies swoon, while the SABR nerds spit all over him. Meanwhile, I’m over here listening to his interviews, laughing about how much he sounds like Vito Corleone.
I think even the most hardened SABR folks will acknowledge that Ender is adept at getting on base by hitting singles. But they will quickly jump to, “but he doesn’t walk at all and doesn’t hit for power”. I am not here to argue that Ender is good at drawing walks, or that he is a power hitter. I am here to argue that Ender is an above average hitter, and a crucial part of the Braves’ success.
FanGraphs is a holy source of data for Ender’s detractors. But according to this holy scripture, an On-Base Percentage of 0.340 or higher is considered “above average”. Let’s see I’m just going to go look at Ender’s…oh my goodness he has a career OBP of 0.340! I am not surprised. That’s because hitting a single is just as valuable as drawing a walk when it comes to OBP. This is not the whole story though. When you draw a walk, any runners on base in front of you only get to advance one base. If there’s an empty base in front of you, they don’t get to advance at all! However, when you hit a single, all of the baserunners can advance as far as possible. Very often a runner can go from first to third on a single, or from second to home! That means a runner scores! I feel dumb saying this but people seem to have forgotten that singles are more valuable than walks. A guy with a 0.340 OBP and a low walk percentage is more valuable than a guy with a 0.340 OBP and a high walk percentage.
I don’t mean to keep beating up the Dodgers, but they provide such a stark contrast to the Braves this year that really helps us understand what’s going on in Atlanta. Cody Bellinger is one of the bright young stars for the Dodgers. He had a monster rookie season last year. On April 29, 2018, he hit a ball into “Triples Alley” in San Francisco, and casually trotted into second for a double. The aforementioned Roberts benched him the next game for not hustling and trying for a triple. I challenge you, the reader, to find a time when Ender did not run at full steam on a ball hit in the gap. I think Ender probably leads the league in replay reviews on bang-bang plays at first  (this, despite being one of the slowest centerfielders in baseball according to Statcast).
Bellinger opened eyes again last Saturday when in a close game in the bottom of the ninth and nobody on base, he bunted a 3-0 pitch right to the pitcher who easily threw him out for the second out of the inning. Ken Rosenthal later reported that Bellinger ignored a sign to take the pitch with three balls and no strikes. He ignored his manager and surrendered in a winnable game against a bad team. Oof. (Rosenthal, The Athletic)
Now let’s flash back to SunTrust Park on April 21, 2018. The Braves were down 3 runs to the rival New York Mets and managed to scratch out 3 runs to tie the game in the 8th and 9th innings. Ender Inciarte came up to bat in the 9th with 1 out and runners on 1st and 3rd in a tie game. Earlier in the game, in a crucial situation, Ender stole third but upon replay review was called out because he momentarily popped off the bag. It was a deflating play, but Ender and the Braves always feel they can win, no matter the circumstances.
Back to the 9th inning: Freddie Freeman who was in-the-hole later explained, “I didn’t even grab my stuff because I told Snit, ‘I believe in Ender, I’m not even going to go up there’. Next thing you know he’s bunting and I just, like, start panicking. And then all of a sudden just awesomeness happened. I don’t think anyone else would have thought about that except Ender.”
We later learned that Ender did not go up to the plate planning to bunt. He dug into the box thinking, “I’m gonna swing, I’m gonna swing, I’m gonna swing. Then I walked into the box and I saw Camargo (at third base) and I looked to first and I changed my mind. I said, you know what, I can lay a bunt right here; it’s the right situation.” (O’Brien, AJC Article)
“It’s the right situation”. How many times have you watched a team try to win a game, and the guy at the plate just totally whiffs as he tries to hit the ball to the moon? Or let’s get weird, how many times have you watched a team try to win a game, and the guy at the plate bunts a 3-0 pitch right to the pitcher with nobody on base? The point is, Ender Inciarte is a great baseball player who knows his role. He doesn’t need to hit a 3 run bomb with a runner on third in a tie game. That RBI bunt single isn’t going to give a boost to his SLG, it’s not going to make his WRC+ look sexy, and it’s not going to make a huge boost to his WAR. But Ender Inciarte won a ballgame that day for the Atlanta Braves.
We are very fortunate to be able to watch the rise of the next Atlanta Braves dynasty. The Braves are just so fun to watch right now, every day. Ender Inciarte is a big part of that excitement, and plays a huge role in every win. He’s out there every day making tough catches look easy. He’s out there every day getting on base. If you ever find yourself thinking, “but I wish he would draw more walks and hit more homers”, just STOP. You’re trying to make yourself miserable. Enjoy the ride, you knuckleheads.
Ken Rosenthal, “Are the reeling Dodgers really this bad or can they turn their season around?” The Athletic. https://theathletic.com/353492?shared_by=163314
David O’Brien, “Game-Ender bunt for bold Inciarte” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. https://www.myajc.com/sports/baseball/game-ender-bunt-for-bold-inciarte/5L3HsEaxVaI8EwFnJoJhJK/
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Hi, Ken and Dan here. Since there is so much talk on the twitters regarding the ascension of the Holy One, Ronald Acuña Jr., we thought we would sit down and share some reasonable thoughts for why the Braves might choose to wait on promoting the young phenom. The following is our completely reasonable analysis of why the Braves organization might make different decisions regarding “He who will save us”.
Dan: It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves will, at some point, promote their 20-year-old phenom Ronald Acuña in 2018. There was even thoughts of him possibly making the Braves opening day roster coming out of spring. While I think those thoughts were more hopes than realistic expectations, based on how Acuña, Jr. performed in 2017, it gave inclinations as to what he could do on a baseball field.
However, his ascension through the ranks of minor league baseball in 2017 was unprecedented, even for a top prospect. There’s no question Atlanta could use his skills in the lineup and in the field; but do they need him right now?
As the 2018 spring season opened, there was controversy on when Atlanta would in-fact, promote Acuña. As fans, most of us think we understand the business side of things well enough. We knew in order to maintain control of Acuña for an extra year, the Braves would start him in Gwinnett and possibly bring him up no sooner than this week. But a few wrenches have thwarted his possible mid-April call-up.
Those wrenches? Preston Tucker and Ronald Acuña. Preston Tucker has gotten off to a decent start. Ronald Acuña has not.
Ken: A few extra weeks for other teams to look at Preston Tucker and possibly decide he deserves a big league chance (worth trading some real prospect capital for) before the Braves are forced to evaluate the option of trading him away, is certainly defensible.
Dan: So far in this early 2018 season, as of 16th April 2018, Acuña has 36 PAs yielding 33 ABs. In those 33 At-Bats, he is 5 for 33 that include 4 singles and one double. He has 2 runs scored and zero RBI. In those 33 PAs he’s drawn 3 BBs. This slow start looks like this in slash form: .152/.222/.182/.404. Not exactly tearing it up early on.
He has an ISO of .030, a .238 BABIP, a .198 wOBA, and 18 wRC+. In 36 PAs he has struck out 12 times. He struck out only 48 times in AAA last year in 243 PAs. In 2017 his K% was 19.8%. In 2018 so far, it’s 33.3% in 33 PAs. In 2017, that a K for approximately every 5 PAs and in 2018, a K in every 2.7 ABs.
Is it too early to panic? Probably.
Now there are reports coming out, that because of not only this slow start, but also the play of Preston Tucker, that it has given the Braves some time to think. And while they are thinking, the Super-2 status conversation is churning.
Ken: Those are great thoughts and statistics Dan, and I believe certainly have played into the Braves reasoning. However, I’m going to take a strictly cynical approach to might thoughts on the Braves dealings. I think they are keeping him down because they hate looking like liars. Do you remember the vitriol that the Chicago Cubs received when they kept down, the obviously ready, Kris Bryant? I do. The national news crucified the Cubs for manipulating service time, which is against the rules of the MLB CBA. Bryant (amongst others) filed grievances with the MLBPA against the Cubs, as Jeff Passan wrote here.
Why would keeping Acuña down look like the Braves were lying? Let’s not kid ourselves, the primary reason he’s being held down is to do exactly what they aren’t supposed to do, manipulate his service time. But because that is illegal and the Braves are coming off of a winter that featured the harshest penalties in MLB history against a baseball franchise, they truly can’t afford to look like cheaters. If they sent Acuña Jr down to “work on some things” as they have stated, then bringing him up in the middle of a terrible start looks like outright lying. Acuña has struggled to find his timing at AAA and has struck out far too often in his first few games. If he had started hot, I doubt we are having this discussion or writing this article, and I would assume he would be starting today for the Atlanta Braves.
Dan: New Braves GM, Alex Anthopoulos, has gone on record saying he would have not progressed Acuña through the minor league system so swiftly, which leads me to believe, by the way, that we won’t see that same progression rate for Christian Pache. I believe, right now, there are fans on either side of the fence on Acuña right now. I don’t feel any of them think Acuña won’t get promoted this year, but I think there are contingents that are realizing mid-April may not be the best time to bring him up.
Ken: Of course there is another contingent that has decided that the Braves are the trashiest organization that they have ever seen and that there is a personal vendetta out against Acuña Jr, for some unknown reason, and that they are out to stiff fans and the young phenom destined to save the organization. Some fans have insinuated that this is a way to pad attendance numbers and create multiple weeks of expectant fans buying pre-sales to see Acuña at his first game. While it certainly is possible, that doesn’t seem to fit with just about anything else the front office has done since Alex Anthopoulos has taken over, so I for one choose the benefit of the doubt. Why not just call him up and pack all the games if you are truly only doing this for a few extra ticket sales? That would be the penultimate example of obscene pettiness and feels like the ramblings of conspiracy theorists aka: impatient fans.
Dan: Let’s look at few numbers for a minute. Ronald Acuña, Jr. played at three levels of minor league baseball in 2017. He dominated every level, that’s apparent. However, I think his domination in 2017 was more about inconsistency, rather than a sustained display of consistent dominance.
Let me explain:
I don’t want to focus too much on stats here. What I want to do, is look at one number and one column: Games played.
High-A: Florida Fire Frogs â 28 games played
Double-A: Mississippi Braves â 57 games played
Triple-A: Gwinnet Braves â 54 games played
Acuña has not been in one place long enough to find a routine or establish himself. Routines are a big part of the game. You hear it all the time from pitchers. When talking about, or analyzing Ronald Acuña’s 2017 and his early 2018, you have to remember that he played at three levels last year. All completely different levels in any regard. There was hardly any time for either Acuña or the league for that matter, to adequately acclimate. This slow start in 2018 could be showing not only Braves, but also Acuña that maybe, he isn’t quite ready. He’s close, really close, but just not there yet.
Ken: That’s certainly one way to look at it, and I think the argument you are making is exactly the argument that the Braves front office will use, should Acuña and his agent choose to file a grievance for service time manipulation. That being said, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey, Andruw Jones, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Trevor Bauer, and Kirby Puckett didn’t have any trouble shooting through the minors and making a big league team while finding their routines and rhythms. Heck, Bob Horner is one of many who skipped the minors all together, and he hit a homer in his very first at bat. As to struggling, after being called up, even Mike Trout struggled a bit to make the major league adjustment, but I don’t think anyone was complaining about it.
But to your point Dan, it wasn’t that long ago that a large contingent of fans were freaking out about Dansby Swanson having a down year after being called up “too early”. Yet another reason that the Braves can use to validate their decision to keep him down. They don’t need the next ‘face of the franchise’ to struggle, the way many of even the biggest stars do, and once again be facing the persistent allegations of fans who believe they moved “too fast”.
The truth is, Dan isn’t wrong at all, but I think the reverse argument can weigh just as heavily. Get the kid up, he proved in the spring he was ready, there is no reason to wait… unless you’re worried about the organization taking a shot from national writers when their reputation is already in the mud.
Dan: I’m not saying Acuña won’t make his debut this year, but I think there is some merit to him never really getting settled at any level last year long enough, to really know how he’d respond to any adversity. Acuña will be a superstar in this game, and for all intents and purposes, he may already be there. If he wants to make this Atlanta ball club, though, in 2018, he probably needs to prove that he can sustain his productivity for an extended amount of time.
Ken: By an extended amount of time, I’m thinking 3-5 days.
Dan: I mean, have we really seen enough to know how he would handle a slump yet? Pitching at the MLB level is nothing at all like the pitching in the minors, even at AAA. If he has trouble responding to the likes of International League pitching, how will he respond to the Scherzer’s, deGrom’s, Strasburg’s, and even Kershaw’s of Major League Baseball?
Ken: Some things are worth learning on the fly. My guess is that he will be set to get a nice taste of Scherzer, Strasburg, DeGrom, and Syndergaard before 2 more weeks are up. So for all those worried enjoy the anticipation. Think of it like Tantric sex. The longer you wait the better it’ll be… or something like that.
Dan: I think the Braves have a lot of legitimate reasons to wait if they want to use them.
Ken: I think you’re absolutely right, and for a club who’s previous regime left it with a ‘damned spot’ that won’t easily wash away, some good rationale and a little patience are wise moves to make before throwing your name into the national headlines as the bad guy again. It’s nothing to do with their faith in Ronald Acuña Jr., his performance, or spite for fans. As the Godfather said, “It’s just business.”
The truth is Dan and I both think he’s ready, we’re just trying to help you Knuckleheads realize there is more than one way to look at it, and it might be worth a deep breath. Share this junk with your friends.
Share this junk with your friends, you knuckleheads
“Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic … So relax! Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, OK? Fun goddamnit”.
“Come on, Rook. Show us that million-dollar arm, ’cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours”.
If you’re like me, you know all too well where these famous lines come from. If you’re not like me, you should still know where they come from. However, I won’t hold that against you. Instead, I’ll just educate y’all a little.
These lines are two of my favorite quotes from the movie Bull Durham. The character that made them famous? Crash Davis. Kevin Costner’s Crash was the “player to be named later”; the veteran journeyman, career minor leaguer, that spent 21 days in the show once. Davis was brought in to mentor the young rookie phenom, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins.
This much most of you probably know, but did you know that, as far as I can tell or find out, Crash Davis is the only fictional character to have his number retired by a minor league baseball team? It’s true. On July 4th, 2008, during the film’s 20th anniversary, Kevin Costner’s band Modern West performed for the Durham Bulls. It was to that point, only the second number that Durham had ever retired. The first was Joe Morgan (18) … Yes, that Joe Morgan.
Since then, two managers and one player have had their numbers retired. Managers Bill Evers (20) and Charlie Montoyo (25), and some SS who goes by the name of Chipper (10). Of course, as with all Major and Minor League teams, Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is retired as well.
2018, marks the 30 year anniversary since the movie’s release in theaters.
Costner’s character Davis eventually leaves Durham after Nuke gets called up to the show. At one point in the movie, it’s revealed that Crash needs only a handful of home runs, and he’ll be the all-time minor league home run champ. After he leaves Durham, he winds up joining the Asheville Tourists, hits his “dinger” and goes back to Durham to retire. Because of the 30-year anniversary, Asheville will also paying homage to the classic film. They will wear replica uniforms from the movie this summer at one of their home games.
You may be wondering, “Yeah, so what? What’s this got to do with the Braves? Isn’t this a Braves site?” As it happens to be, Bull Durham was released in 1988 (I was 9, by the way). In 1988, the Braves minor league affiliates were all clustered together. Richmond, VA was home to the Triple-A team, Greenville, SC was home to the Double-A squad, and they had three Single-A level teams. The Burlington Braves, the Sumter Braves, and the Durham Bulls. So, in essence, this was a movie about the Braves, and the team Nuke gets called up to, is the Atlanta Braves. The Bulls became the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays when they expanded into the league.
The cool part to me is the number retirement itself. Crash Davis wore the number 8 in the film for Durham. So, if you have ever been to a Durham Bulls game, and saw a number 8 on the wall, you now know why. Another bit of fun information about the Bulls was the big giant mechanical bull behind right field. That bull was only intended to be a prop for the movie. However, fans loved it so much, the team decided to keep it as a permanent attraction. Bull Durham was filmed in Durham at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, also known as DAP. And the road game scenes were shot in the surrounding triangle of ballparks.
The Durham Bulls served as Atlanta’s Class A and/or the Class-A Advanced organization from 1980 to 1997. Since then, Atlanta has had the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Lynchburg Hillcats, Carolina Mudcats, and now, the Florida Fire Frogs.
Bull Durham had some of the best lines and monologues in cinema. One, in particular, I can’t leave here. NSFW Rules do apply, we are a family show after all. However, as I wrap up this little tribute to the wonderful Ron Shelton classic, I’d like to leave you with a few more of my favorite lines from the film.
Crash: “This son of a bitch is throwing a two-hit shutout. He’s shaking me off. You believe that shit? Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well”.
Crash: “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob”.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: “How come you don’t like me”? Crash: “Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift”.
Crash: You just got lesson number one: don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.
Now, go on and share this junk with your friends, you knuckleheads.
Share this junk with your friends, you knuckleheads