News, Notes and Quotes (October 26, 2004)

It’s amazing how weird a true off-day, without a single game scheduled, seemed after a few weeks of having between one to four playoff games to watch every day. I’ll admit that it’s probably a little easier than going cold turkey with another addiction, because you know you can get your fix the next day, but it’s still really tough. I had to turn to Monday Night Football in baseball’s absence, and it was a poor substitute.

A few thoughts while we wait impatiently for our next fix …

Good Teams Win Championships

As I watched one of Bill Mueller‘s errors in Game 2 — I can’t remember exactly which one; it was either #2 or #54 — I started wondering if the Red Sox winning the World Series this year would put at least a temporary halt to all of the “pitching and defense wins championships” talk. And maybe the “teams that do the little things win in October” talk too. The Red Sox were criticized for their defense all year long, they kicked the ball all over the field in the first two games against the Cardinals, I don’t remember a whole lot of “little things” they’ve done lately unless you count homers that barely cleared the wall, and although Curt Schilling pitched well in Game 2, they allowed nine runs in Game 1.

That’s not to say the Red Sox can’t pitch or that their defense, as currently constructed, is a horrible one, but the main reason Boston won 98 games during the regular season and now find themselves up two games to none in the World Series is that they can score runs in bunches. They led all of baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored during the year, steamrolled over a good Anaheim pitching staff for 25 runs in three games during the American League Division Series, and put 45 runs on the board in seven games against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. And now they’ve got 17 runs in their first two World Series games.

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction in the baseball world if Boston can win two more games. When Arizona won the World Series in 2001 behind Randy Johnson and Schilling, the reaction from the mainstream media and the average fan was that “pitching wins championships.” When Anaheim and Florida won, the reaction from the same people was that “doing the little things wins championships.” Since I’m highly skeptical that those same people will come around to hitting being just as important as pitching and defense, I suspect a Red Sox victory will be spun as “having a pitcher with a bloody ankle wins championships” or “reversing a silly, meaningless curse wins championships,” without any mention of the actual qualities of the team that won.

Or maybe I’m just overreacting. Maybe sports sections across the country will have big, bold headlines exclaiming: “We Were Wrong, This Moneyball Stuff Works Too!” The beauty of baseball, after all, is that there is no one way to win. You can have a running team, a hitting team, a defensive team, or a pitching team. You can draft all college players, all high school players, or a mixture of both. You can teach them to work counts and swing for the fences or to focus on making contact and hitting everything to the opposite field. You can trust your scouts and your eyes or you can trust your numbers and your crunchers. And all of it can win.

Incidentally, I wonder if Boston’s Senior Advisor of Baseball Operations, Bill James, will get a World Series ring if the Red Sox beat the Cardinals? I hope so, not only because James’ contributions to the world of baseball deserve that and so much more, but also because I’m pretty sure I saw Ronan Tynan wearing a World Series ring while he sang God Bless America at Yankee Stadium last week.

The All-Spin Zone

Watching the media’s reaction to Schilling is extremely interesting to me. On one hand, a lot of people are rightfully talking about how incredible his pitching has been, despite his severely injured ankle. Some of that can become too much, as the talk sometimes goes past Willis Reed and into Superman. At the same time, way over on the other side of the fence is a backlash against Schilling, focusing not on his injury or his pitching, but his personality and his character.

In a column in yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, Patrick Reusse accuses Schilling of putting on an act, calling him “the Sir Laurence Olivier of sport’s center stage” and “the master of baseball’s theater.” Regarding Schilling’s Game 2 pitching performance, Reusse writes: “It was a heroic effort — and if you didn’t believe the Fox announcers and the voices of the Boston media, you could just ask Schilling.” And in describing Schilling’s postgame quotes, Reusse writes: “It was a postgame monologue of beauty … perhaps the most moving speech since Shakespeare put those words in Henry V’s mouth on the eve of St. Crispin’s Day.”

Over at New York Newsday, columnist Jon Heyman was a whole lot less subtle and cute about his opinion of Schilling:

As inspirational and impressive as he is on days he pitches, that’s how annoying and insufferable Curt Schilling is on all other days.

Yesterday was particularly bad because Schilling had a microphone in front of him instead of a batter and was called upon to talk about his three favorite subjects: Me, myself and I.

Heyman goes on:

It’s hard to fathom a player who’s more self-centered, self-aggrandizing and in-your-face than the con man they call “Shill.”

Schilling knows fans will eat up his words, no matter how false. He goes to astounding lengths to paint things in his light, even going to the point of filing messages in obscure Boston-based chat rooms such as “Sonsofsamhorn.com,” a reference to former Red Sox Sam Horn.

The ways things are spun in the media never cease to astound me. Columnists across the country complain when athletes won’t talk to them or won’t say anything interesting, and they bash the hell out of surly, standoffish players like Barry Bonds.

In Schilling, they have the exact opposite. He loves to talk, he gives excellent quotes, and he’s extremely interesting (even when his sock isn’t covered in blood). And now Schilling is being torn down, just like Bonds. Suddenly it’s a bad thing that he likes to discuss what everyone in the media has said was a “heroic effort.” Suddenly he’s accused of acting when he speaks about his injury. Suddenly answering what were surely dozens of questions directed at him, for him and about him by members of the media is Schilling being “self-centered.”

The kicker is that a professional athlete going on a message board to chat with his fans is being spun as a negative thing, as if there is a sports message board anywhere whose members wouldn’t jump at the chance to welcome someone like Schilling into the group. Hell, people would go nuts over Alan Embree, let alone Schilling. Go over to the Sons of Sam Horn message board and see if you can find anyone complaining about Schilling showing up to chat with them. You’d have a better chance of hearing me complain that Jessica Alba showed up in my room wearing far too skimpy an outfit.

Yet, Schilling’s participation in the discussions at perhaps the biggest and most hardcore baseball message board/fan site in the country is spun as going to “astounding lengths to paint things in his light” and is used as evidence in the case against his character. It’s no wonder most athletes despise the media. If you’re uncomfortable being surrounded by cameras, microphones and tape recorders all day or you just don’t feel like being interviewed most of the time, you’re a bad guy. If you’re perfectly willing to talk and answer questions, but also have the gall to actually come across as a human being, with faults and insecurities and an ego, you’re a bad guy. It’s a no-win situation.

Discarding Papi

I could have skipped watching all of Boston’s postseason games this year and still known exactly how David Ortiz had done in each one, simply by counting up the amount of e-mails I got the next day starting with, “How could the Twins have let Ortiz go?!” I’m working on something dealing with this topic for later in the week, but before he does any more damage tonight and another flood of e-mails comes rushing in, I thought I should mention that.

While it’s true that Minnesota let Ortiz go without getting anything in return following the 2002 season, it’s a little more complicated than that. And because my beloved Twins are looking like bigger and bigger idiots with each run Ortiz drives in this October, I feel the need to at least lay out the circumstances and details of what happened. So look for that here sometime in the next few days.

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