baseball

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.

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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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.

 

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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.

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Why the Atlanta Braves lost two games to the Reds

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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Why do baseball players wear baseball gloves?

A baseball glove is a large leather glove worn by baseball players of the defending team. They’re sometimes called “mitts.” They are meant to assist players in catching and fielding baseballs hit by a batter or thrown by another teammate.

If a baseball player is right-handed, he wears his glove on this left hand. Conversely, if a baseball player is left-handed, he wears his glove on his right hand. This allows the baseball player to throw the ball with the hand that is not occupied by the glove.

To expound a bit, a baseball team is challenged with of two main jobs. To accumulate runs and to stop runs. A game is comprised of 9 innings and there are two halves to each inning. The visiting team always bats first, which means they’ll be on offense during the top-of-the-first inning, at which point the home team with be on defense. After the top of the inning, the teams switch. The home team then goes on offense, as the visiting team makes its way to the field to defend against the offense.

The field is comprised of defensive positions. Catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base are your infield positions. There are three outfield positions – right field, center field, and left field. When a team is on defense, they send a man out (wearing a glove) to occupy each of these positions. Sometimes the manager of the baseball team might induce a shift, which means positions shift to another part of the field. For example, if the left-handed hitter at the plate has a propensity to pull the ball, the team on defense might institute a shift, moving defenders to a far right position.

Historically, the team on defense puts these efforts into place in an attempt to prohibit hits. For example, the second baseman and shortstop wear gloves and are standing at a ready position in the event that the baseball is deflected from the bat to where they can stop the baseball with their glove. If they catch the baseball in the air, it’s an automatic out. If they stop the baseball, after the baseball has already hit the ground, they must throw the ball to first base before the batter crosses the bag. If the batter crosses the bag before the first baseman catches the ball, this is called a hit.

Up until very recently hits mattered, which warranted the above mentioned baseball players and scenarios. Since 1887 baseballs that were hit, landing where defenders were not located, which didn’t make it over the wall (which is called a home run) mattered. One of the best hitters during the 20th century was Roberto Clemente. While younger generations now might not recognize him as an effective baseball player, because he was very proficient at getting hits, its important to remember the history of the game.

While hits no longer matter, clinical psychologists are trying to understand why giving up hits does seem to matter. Studies have shown that fans, and even writers, seem to display angry online behavior if a baseball player gets lots of hits, which would lead one to believe that, by the same logic, they would not care if their favorite pitcher gives up lots of hits. But alas, no-hitters and prohibiting hits are still en vogue on the defensive side of the ball.

There have been many new progressive solutions to fix the game of baseball since discovering that hits don’t matter. One idea has been to allow the defenders to play red rover while the opposing team is up to bat. The pitcher and catcher, of course, would not be able to engage in the game of red rover because they would be occupied with throwing to the batter, trying not to give up home runs (the only type of offense that is now awarded with any type of statistical value or online respect).

Another idea that has been floating around thought circles has been to allow the defenders to engage in staring contests. Some analysts include blinking in the confines of staring contests, while others believe that as long as you don’t laugh or smile, you win the contest. According to Baseball America, Matt Wisler of the Atlanta Braves has the strongest stare and could be one of most effective starers in 2018.

Perhaps the idea that is gaining the most popularity over the last several months is also the most noble idea, because baseball fields (especially world-class Major League baseball fields) are meticulously maintained, there seems to be an opportunity to turn these green spaces into urban farming communities. Opponents of this idea argue that if this were done, teams would be wasting money that they already have invested in defenders, especially center fielders. The argument against this is – if teams can teach defenders basic farming practices, they could utilize their investments (the players) in more effective and noble ways. Concerns of covered stadiums still need to be addressed, should MLB go this route.

According to the Ecology Center, urban farming communities do more than merely harvest food. They reduce carbon emissions, they improve overall public health, and most importantly, they enhance the overall food quality.

Such drastic changes and ideas are certain to bring fear into the more traditional baseball fan. But, now that hits do not matter and baseball players like Nick Markakis serve little-to-no purpose, something needs to be done to make the baseball field matter again.

Since baseball gloves are also no longer needed to prevent hits, there have been many folks within the baseball community trying to figure out new innovative ways of using the baseball glove.

Toronto Blue Jays fan and musical artist, Justin Bieber, has offered to incorporate a baseball glove in his act, much like Michael Jackson’s famous glove. The idea would be to enhance his stage performances when people like Andy Harris go to watch him.

Another idea has been reallocating gloves to pursue medical needs. Proctologists for years have touted the glove snap. Because of this, progressive thinkers believe that former baseball fans like Stephen Tolbert might be open to having their prostates examined for sticks up their anal cavities if said proctologists were using baseball gloves to perform their examination. This could encourage men to get checked at younger ages, which could in turn prevent prostate cancer.

Now that hits and their counterpart, baseball gloves, no longer matter, hopefully baseball fans can now turn their attention to other things that actually matter. Like spending time with each other, exploring the great outdoors, or rescuing a dog from a local shelter.

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Scratching the Yel-itch!

At this point, everyone in Braves country is hearing rumors of the Braves going after Marlins outfielder, Christian Yelich, and perhaps even their catcher, J.T. Realmuto.  While I think Realmuto and Yelich are both terrific players, I’m left with an itch that’s begging to be scratched. Call it a “Yel-itch”.

I’ve always been a big fan of Christian Yelich, and I’ve frequently thought that he has been criminally underrated. His defense is solid, his offense is on the rise, he’s shown flashes of the potential to be a 5-tool player. I even think the future could be brighter for Yelich. He is likely to increase his home run rate, his production, and, away from the prairies of Marlin’s park, improve his defense.

And yet, I’m opposed to the Braves trading for him.

Why?

Good question. There is this interesting operating philosophy in baseball that simply acquiring great players will, in turn, make a great team. Certainly, there is a measure of truth to that idea. However, I also think there has to be more to your philosophy than simply collecting great players.

We could look back through history and find, time and again, where teams that were comprised of “great” players simply didn’t win. Revisionist history would tell us that it was because some of those players perhaps were not as “great” as we originally thought, but perhaps there is more to it than that. Perhaps, the team they were on and the role they were asked to play made them less great.

Unless your team is the Cleveland Browns, I don’t believe in bad luck or sacred goat curses. However, I do believe that team chemistry is important. And by team chemistry I don’t mean clubhouse personalities and how people get along (although there is some truth to that as well).  What I mean is that a team has to be comprised of players that fit a big picture purpose for the baseball team.

For me, it was the downfall of Fredi Gonzalez as a baseball coach. Fredi seemed convinced that he could massage and manipulate lineups that put players in different positions on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, to maximize match-ups and play to the current ‘momentum’ of the team. But baseball is a job at the end of the day, and a player needs a clear picture of the job that he’s been hired to perform.

‘I mean why don’t he just hit baseballs and play gud defense, ain’t that what every gud baseball player does’

It’s true that hitting baseballs and playing defense is the core of the game, but those terms are broad and often misleading. The truth is – it’s more complex than that. Much more complex.

Do you want your leadoff man to get on base? Is that his primary role? If so, he needs to take more pitches, be more selective, work more counts, and shorten his swing and aim for more singles. Or maybe you want a leadoff man with a higher WRC+ who has more pop and power? Unless his name is Mike Trout, you pretty much need to understand he’s going to get on base a bit less, going to strike out more, and swing away at more first pitches.

Philosophically, do you want your best hitter hitting second? He’ll get about 60 more at-bats a year if you do. Or maybe you’re a traditionalist that likes him batting 3rd, do you want him to aim for power? Swing away? Do you need to protect him in the lineup? Oh, and if so, what do you protect him with? Power? Is that still the answer in today’s strikeout heavy world of power hitters?

At the end of the day, I think the Braves have some philosophical holes to fill. Is Ender your leadoff hitter or Ozzie? What are you looking for from your #2 hole hitter? Is Acuna going to bat 2nd? And if so, how long before you get him there? So far, the Braves have always used Freddie to bat 3rd, so where is Yelich? Is he really a 4th hole hitter?

Yelich has traditionally hit 3rd for Miami, yet last year he only hit .282 with 18 home runs. I mean that certainly isn’t bad, but let’s compare that to Freeman who batted .307 and hit 28 home runs (oh, and missed 6 weeks). Is a .282/18HR guy really what you want protecting Freeman?  (Protection matters.) Do we really need another 15-20 HR guy with good defense or would we be better served with a 30+ HR guy that might lack a little defensively, or not have the greatest OBP (ie. Martinez, Duvall, etc). 

Perhaps Yelich will make up for it on defense?

Well, just as on the offensive side of things and creating a lineup, you have a defensive philosophy as well. Yelich is a terrific defender, right? Well, that’s what people keep telling me, yet in 2017, he saw a significant decline in his defense, finishing the year with -6 DRS. I’ll be the first to stand up and scream that defense runs saved isn’t the best stat ever, but it is an indicator for sure.

Yelich’s potential value is primarily built upon the idea that he will continue to get better. And he certainly may, but the biggest part of the puzzle is always cost/value. To acquire Yelich is going to be an expensive overpay. I’m the kind of guy that’s sometimes guilty of over-valuing prospects, but I’m actually ok with overpaying for pieces I think fit the right holes in the philosophy and have future value in line with what you’re giving up. Any trade is risky. Yelich is young and on a mostly cost-friendly contract. There are reasons to think he will soar to his potential value. But many Braves fans (and now Cubs fans) are familiar with 26-year-olds with great stats and superstar potential don’t always pan out … sometimes they suddenly can’t remember how to hit baseballs and their entire 5 tool concept suddenly becomes 2 tools. Yes, I’m looking at you, Jason Heyward.

If we were talking about Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, even my personally-hated Bryce Harper, I think there is very little room to doubt the future ascent of their rise to franchise anchoring status. At one point, I thought Yelich was headed there. But while I think he was once undervalued, the perception of him may now have gone in the other direction, and his perceived value may actually be higher than reality. It’s not that he has significantly declined, or regressed. In fact, he may continue right on up, yet even at his best, I wonder if he is truly a top-tier player worth the cost that he inevitably will demand. His K% is league average, his DRS is slightly above average, his 18 HRs is a little above average, his slugging .463 is a little above average. I think Yelich is better than average, but is he really a superstar? And even if he is a superstar, is he the superstar the Braves need to empty their coffers for?

Is it really worth giving up four prospects from your top 15, and perhaps seven from your top 25, some of which project to be a good bit better than just above average? (I’ll be the first to admit prospects bust frequently, but from the richest farm in baseball that’s not chump change.) It’s easy to want splashy moves for names we like. It’s much harder to stay the course, stick to your philosophy, and find the answers to the holes you have on the team you are already fielding. When I look at the Braves I don’t see the hole begging for Yelich. I see a team missing power, missing defense, and missing quite a few other roles (3B, pitching, etc) that Yelich simply cannot fill.  Would he be another great player on the Braves team? Absolutely. Would it make the Braves a much better team? I’m not so certain.

The answer to Yelich’s value to the Braves is an itch I’m not sure I want to scratch.

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