Bill James

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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Bill James has lost his damn mind.

This past week it was brought to my attention, by my replacement-level podcast co-host Ken Hendrix, that Bill James said Johnny Damon was more Hall of Fame worthy than Andruw Jones. Upon hearing this, I laughed and thought that my redneck co-host was just being silly.

I was terrified to learn, after doing some quick searching on James’ Twitter timeline, that what Ken was telling me was the God’s honest truth.

I’ve never been completely blown away by Bill James, but I have always respected the man for his sabermetric research. James is very much the modern predecessor to websites like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, and he’s done so much for the game that we all know and love. Bill James’ mantra is simple: Gather as much data as possible and then analyze it in a clear and accurate way to make the best possible decision.

How then can a man who preaches this way of thinking honestly believe that Johnny Damon is more Hall of Fame worthy than Andruw Jones? How can such a respected man be so obtuse?

Listen, I know I’m a homer. As much as I’d like to think that I can look at Andruw Jones’ career completely objectively, I cannot, but what in the actual hell is Bill James talking about?

Then, there’s more…

Willie Mays has the second-best DEF grade by a center fielder with 170.1. Andruw Jones has the best with a 281.3. You didn’t read that wrong, Andruw grades 111.2 points higher than Willie Mays. It’s not rocket science – Andruw Jones was the best defensive center fielder of all time and it’s not even close.

How in the hell can having the best DEF grade of any center fielder in baseball history (by over 100 points) not garner any Hall of Fame support for Andruw Jones? Either Bill James isn’t as intelligent as we thought he was, or someone has hacked Bill James’ Twitter account. If you’ll notice, his account isn’t verified, so the later is a possibility.

I get it. Defensive metrics can be opaque. I preach this all the time on our replacement-level podcast, but if you honestly think that Johnny Damon was a better baseball player (just because he had more extra base hits), then I just cannot take you seriously anymore. Nothing you say matters anymore.

When it comes to defensive metrics, it’s difficult to say that old school metrics aren’t as accurate as newer ones, because other than errors, there aren’t any old school defensive metrics.  This is Bill James’ biggest argument against Andruw Jones being the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, but it’s also why his argument is so flawed. If “old school” players can’t be measured as being worse than Andruw due to a lack of numbers, then they certainly can’t be measured as being better either.

At the end of the day, if Bill James wants to imply that the defensive numbers lie about Andruw Jones then everything is a farce and nothing matters. Statistically, Andruw Jones is the greatest modern center fielder and according to those same statistics, that James’ so adamantly champions, the greatest center fielder of all time.

Knowing that a guy like Bill James has such a convoluted view of Andruw Jones certainly infuriates me. But, in a weird way, it’s not completely unsurprising. Unless you watched Atlanta Braves games from 1996-2005, you truly might not be aware of Andruw’s greatness, despite his insane Hall of Fame worthy defensive metrics.

Numbers don’t tell you that Andruw Jones started running (in the correct direction) before the batter even hit the ball and numbers don’t tell you that guys never tried to stretch a single into a double because Andruw Jones had a cannon of an arm.

With Andruw Jones, you’re talking about a guy with more career home runs than Mike Piazza who was the best defensive center fielder of all time. Everyone’s got bad takes. But if you completely dismiss Andruw’s defensive metrics (WHEN YOU ARE THE GUY WHO PREACHES SUCH THINGS) then please put down the paint chips.

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