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Wednesday, March 04, 2009
I've taken many jabs at the WBC lately. Well, maybe not jabs, because I don't actually hate it or anything. But I certainly have made a point of saying how little I care about it. A reader asked me what gives in the comments to the People in My Neighborhood post this afternoon:
Craig, I know you’ve talked about this somewhat before, but please enlighten me as to just why you’re so vehemently unconcerned about the WBC. I mean, I’m not going to follow every pitch or buy myself a South Africa jersey, but more baseball is a good thing, right? The chance to see players from other countries (Japan and Cuba, especially) is pretty cool. When else will you get to see Yu Darvish pitch?
Fair question. The answer is that I don't have an acceptable answer. Or at least, I don't have a rational, evidence-based answer. Rather, my apathy towards the WBC is merely a function of many of my long-held prejudices and predispositions forming a perfect storm of “meh.”
For starters, for as much as I love, love, love baseball, I have long been incapable of caring about spring training games. The news from camp, yes, but actually sitting and watching a game is just nothing I have ever taken a shine to. Maybe that would be different if someone invited me out to Arizona or something, but that doesn't happen in my universe. I’ve thought hard about why I don't care for spring training games, and I've decided that it’s simply an internal calendar thing. April is when baseball starts in my mind, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. These last few years with March opening days have truly put that predisposition to the test, and I’m not ashamed to admit that even though the games counted, it didn’t really feel like baseball season before April rolled around.
So the timing of it all is one thing. Another thing is far more fogeyish on my part, and it's that the look, feel and sound of baseball games really matter to me. Baseball is comfort food for me, and for as embarrassing as it is to admit, I don’t take to it as well when I have to adjust to different uniforms, different levels and qualities of crowd noise, and all of that stuff. There are organized cheers in these things, and they jar me out of my baseball happy place for some reason. This is not insurmountable, obviously. The aesthetics of Major League Baseball are far different today than they were when I started watching in the 70s and 80s, and that hasn't prevented me from adjusting. It's just that, in connection with the previous item, it’s hard for me to want to adjust at this time of year for this type of ephemeral competition.
The final reason -- and this one I’m somewhat less ashamed of, though I’m not sure if I should be -- is that I find that pitting nation-state against nation-state in any competition is a passe exercise. I’m not in favor of one world government or anything, but I do have a mild Utopian streak in me, and I thus find the competition of countries to be a rather quaint and ultimately meaningless construct that I hope is one day supplanted by a little more oneness, ya know? Oh, I'll grant the World Cup and the modern Olympics their current constructs because nations were more important when they started and I’ll grant them their setup for the sake of history, but we really aren’t in that world anymore. Or at least we should strive not to be. All of us have more things in common with some people in other countries than we do with some people in our own. With specific reference to sports, we all know that no country has a monopoly on top talent. Why then pit countries against one another? What, exactly, does it prove? The height of internationalism, in my mind at least, is when people from all over the world play together rather than divide up into categories determined by accident of birth. For the time being, that means all of the best baseball players playing in the Major Leagues. Or all of the best soccer players playing in the EPL or in Germany or Italy or whatever league is supposed to the best. At some point—like, when we master teleportation — I'll want to see truly global leagues.
Take all of those things together, and I am simply left without an emotional toehold in the World Baseball Classic. The competition will be better in April, as will the aesthetics and the weather. Any young talent who reveals himself in the WBC will eventually find his way into the majors eventually, and I'll see him (and his WBC video) then. The stakes seem phony to me. The payoff -- real baseball -- relatively minor in light of the approaching season.
I don’t suppose any of those things gives me license not to care, but they are the reason I don’t. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments below.
Those of us who are both (a) familiar with the concept of Pythagorean record; and (b) kind of glib and lazy about our use of sabermetric terminology, have often, at least subconsciously, used it as a synonym for luck. But is it really? Sam Miller at the OC Register isn't so sure. A block quote doesn't do it justice, so please click through. Especially Angels' fans.
BTW: how cool is it that a mainstream paper devotes blogspace in which writers may feel free to expound statistically?
What's shakin' in the neighborhood?
Click around, kids, there's a lot of good stuff out there.
Our long national nightmare is over:
The Dodgers have agreed in principle on a two-year, $45 million deal to re-sign free agent left fielder Manny Ramirez, a baseball source said on Wednesday morning.
Given the way this offseason has gone, however, I won't believe it until I see video of him working out with the team. Oh wait, this is the Dodgers, not the Braves. And of course, given that there's an opt-out, a strong season from Ramirez would mean that we get to go through all of this again next season!
In the wake of Neyer's correction of RJ Anderson yesterday, Tangotiger makes the point that every blog-hater misses:
Friend of The Book RJ Anderson made a post at 6AM this morning about Longoria probably having the best rookie season for 3B of all time. Less than 2 hours later, Repoz linked to it, where people noticed that Dick Allen was conspicuous by his absence. Rob Neyer undoubtedbly read that thread, did his own research and by noon (no timestamp on his post, but there are on his commenters) noted how Longoria’s Win Shares was simply unimpressive for RJ to have made such a statement. RJ took note of the comments and research and said “I completely missed Allen for reasons mentioned above. Inexcusable on my part.”.
He's absolutely right. My only quibble: Tom: it makes it much easier to comment on one-another's blog posts if you don't have your blog set up to thwart cutting and pasting!
(link via BTF)
To tell you how emotionally estranged I've been from the Braves lately, it hadn't even occured to me that there is competiton for the fifth spot in the Braves rotation, and it's between Tommys old and new. From Dave O'Brien's notes column today, after Glavine went on about how his shoulder was kind of sore:
I did toss out a question about Tommy Hanson and whether Glavine feels like he’s in competition with the young prospect to secure a spot in the rotation. Here’s his response:
Then, in a note whose placement after Glavine's comments doesn't seem accidental:
In other news, I thought you guys might want to hear what Don Sutton had to say this morning about his impressions of Tommy Hanson.
I don't think Bobby Cox has the stones to start Hanson and turn Glavine into a swingman or worse, but one wonders if that wouldn't be a better option for this team. At least if they want to compete this year, which I still maintain isn't really central to the front office's plan.
A must-read feature in the Philadelphia Daily News today, relaying one anonymous players' experiences with steroids:
ONE TIME, the former major league pitcher recalled, the package that arrived in the mail looked like it contained pastries. The label even said something like Johnny's Bakery on it. Puzzled, he opened the box. Sure enough, he found cookies inside.
The beauty of this article is that it gets at many of the questions I and others have been asking about steroid use. Questions that the Mitchell Report -- which looks like a bigger whitewash every passing day -- never even attempted to answer. When and how did people start and why? How did players connect with their dealer in the first place? What, if any, heed did they take of side effects? What level of interaction did they have with other players with respect to PEDs? Did the drugs actually do for the player what he hoped they'd do? Was the moral/ethical component of all of this ever considered and to what degree?
Aside from sheer readability, there are a couple of major takeaways from this story. The first is that the "steroids users = evil, clean players = good" construct that most commentators have accepted and pushed is silly. It's a complicated stew of anxieties, pressures, and ultimately rationalizations that lead a player to PEDs, and casting it in black and white terms, while potentially satisfying, is ultimately useless if we really care of ridding the game of PEDs or, at the very least, learning about the impact they've had on the game over time.
A second takeaway can be found in this passage:
These days he's only a few pounds under his playing weight.
If we take this at face value -- and I don't see why we wouldn't -- the "look-how-big-he-was/look-how-small-he-is" parlor game is just as useless as the moralizing. Just as the Mitchell Report caught only the most reckless purchasers of steroids (i.e. guys who wrote personal checks to the stupidest dealers), the physique watchers of the world are paying attention to only the most over-the-top juicers. With each new revelation we are reminded how foolish it is to make any assumptions about a given player's drug use, but the notion that even guys sharing a locker room may not know what the other players are doing underscores how silly the guessing games truly are.
The final lesson: Despite baseball's best efforts to use the Mitchell Report to end the PED story, it's failure to give us any real information is manifest. The truth about this era, as I've said before, is going to come via journalism like this and ultimately scholarship. It's better, then, to hold our final judgments about this era -- judgments which will impact the Hall of Fame, the record books, and any number of other considerations -- until we can say we have something approaching the full story.
(link via BTF)
The Padres are responding to the bad economy:
The Padres' much-maligned $9 beer vanished with an ear-ringing bang yesterday as the team cut, slashed and exploded prices on tickets, food and drink.
Only 50 cents? Looks like I won't be retiring my hip flask just yet. This is much better:
The “5 for $5,” available at every home game, includes a regular-sized hot dog, peanuts, popcorn, cookie and soda for $5. For an additional $5, fans can swap the soda for a 16-ounce draft beer.
Still, my plan when I visit my brother in San Diego this year will remain the same as it is every time I go out there: fill up on fish tacos at Rubios, then head to the ballpark.
Jason at IIATMS has a major post up this morning about how the baseball press missed the steroids story. There are many good points there, and the most comprehensive cataloging of reporter mea culpas on how they missed the story that I've seen to date. At the moment, however, it is this passage that has me thinking:
But the real crux of this discussion lies at the feet of the reporters covering the teams. As with anything, what did they know and when did they know it...and why didn't they say anything as soon as they learned of something? Questions we'll never really know the answers to. Some writers, Buster particularly, have been self-critical. Others less so. What started out as a search for some of Buster's notable admissions and self-admonishments, brought me to an article that's two and a half years old, but as relevant as ever . . .
I'm not willing to be as sympathetic. Yes, I'm aware of the long tradition of baseball writers looking the other way, but I think it's a poor excuse for journalistic failure. And it was a failure, brought on by the fact that, unlike any other genre of journalist, sports reporters are essentially expected to be beholden to the subjects they cover. Maybe sports isn't as important as politics or international affairs or the economy, but wouldn't we all be better off if the same standards, or at least something close to it, were applied to sports reporting that apply to those beats? Wouldn't we know more? Wouldn't it cultivate a deeper interest in the games we watch?
Things to read while wondering whether the fact that Britney Spears albums and concert tickets are actually selling is a sign that the economy isn't as dire as we thought it was: