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Intellectual Integrity and Good Glove, No Hit

Posted By Michael Baumann On April 9, 2012 @ 10:15 pm In Crabshurn Urly,Talking about feelings | 18 Comments

I’m not sure I’d ever hated a Phillies player before Wilson Valdez. I’d been frustrated with Mitch Williams, and with Mike Williams, David West, and others over my nearly 20 years as a Phillies fan, but Wilson Valdez was an emotional stimulus unlike any I’d ever experienced. I guess I didn’t hate him, per se. I have a friend who talks about loving an athlete’s “game.” I never really understood what he meant until I started to experience that feeling for myself. There are athletes whose “games” I love–the physical bearing, the individual skills, the style of play. I love Robin van Persie’s game. And Mike Richards’ game. And Jimmy Rollins‘ game.

I hate¬†Wilson Valdez’s game. Exxon is a double play machine, a hitter whose batted ball profile looks like a flight plan for a stealth bomber–low, fast, and leaving nuclear annihilation in its wake. With men on base, the Phillies would have almost literally been better off sending him to the plate without a bat. Maybe a fish wrapped in newspaper. Or a frying pan. Maybe they’d have been better off sending a fish wrapped in newspaper to the plate with the bat, thus taking Exxon out of the equation entirely.

As if being a total offensive zero wasn’t enough, Exxon was a useful, but average defender. You can get away with being a bad offensive player by playing great defense. Omar Vizquel, for instance, is and was a bad offensive player, but his fantastic defense has some (misguided) people arguing for his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Exxon is not Omar Vizquel. It’s not as if his glove was any excuse for his complete lack of offensive production. But no, Valdez is flashy. He has a strong arm, which was awesome once, but otherwise caused him to be overrated by Phillies fans to the point where he made J.A. Happ ¬†look like Donovan McNabb.

And that, I think, is where the Valdez hatred comes from. It’s not so much that he was bad, I was just sick of hearing people telling me that he wasn’t. All major league teams, even good ones, have players who just stink on ice, but when everyone thinks he’s good, it’s frustrating. Forgive me for telling this story again, but when someone tells you he’d rather have a player with a career .290 OBP and an unbreakable habit of grounding into double plays at the plate with men on and the game on the line, rather than Jayson Werth, who was in the midst of the best offensive season by a Phillies outfielder since Lenny Dykstra finished second in the MVP race in 1993…well, you’d slam your glass on the table and unleash a string of obscenities at the top of your lungs too.

I’m happy beyond belief that the Phillies cashiered Wilson Valdez, even though they’ve replaced him with a player, in Freddy Galvis, who will likely be worse offensively. And I’m probably more excited about Galvis than any other Phillies player this season. A group of smart, well-meaning people have tried, unsuccessfully, to train me as a social scientist, but one thing I have learned is not to fudge findings to support a predetermined narrative or set of beliefs.

Which is why I’m trying to refrain from drawing conclusions of any kind about four games. But that’s neither here nor there. But Exxon was a replacement-level player, and I’d have cursed him and his stupid goatee with my dying breath, even if he’d cured cancer and my parents adopted him. Freddy Galvis, this season, will probably be a replacement-level player and I’d let him marry my hypothetical daughter. Where’s the consistency? Where’s my intellectual integrity?

Part of it is that Galvis is as good defensively as everyone seemed to think Valdez was. His glove has always graded out as top-notch, even at shortstop. I think we overuse the adjective “catlike” to describe athletes. Anyone who’s even moderately quick and agile is described as catlike, when perhaps another word would avoid overselling the quick-twitch explosiveness and body control that many athletes are said to possess but do not.

Freddy Galvis actually does move like a cat. He’s always in the right spot, moves with alacrity and grace in spite of having an extremely oddly-proportioned body, and fields the ball with confidence. Watching him on the same infield as Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco, even after only a couple of games, has been spectacular.

With the bat, he’s not so solid. He’s probably going to ground into a ton of double plays, and he’s displayed neither patience nor power. He seems to be aware of his limitations as a player, which is encouraging, and with time, he could become merely bad, his RBI double this afternoon notwithstanding. If Galvis were even an average hitter, we’d be talking about him the way Rangers fans talk about Jurickson Profar. But the glove is so good, I’m inclined, perhaps irrationally, to be very patient with his offense.

Drew Fairservice offered another explanation on the Getting Blanked podcast on Opening Day. (Here’s the link. Fast-forward to around the 7-minute mark). I apologize for the language–he’s Canadian.

“I think in a lot of ways, we’re kind of getting what we’ve been asking for for years, in terms of: no one likes seeing shitbags and retreads, and guys who have been bouncing around on the fringes of the league…Now we’re getting kids in a lot of ways. So does that make us feel better, because we don’t know if they suck…is it more about that–is it just that we don’t know how crappy they are? Or is it that there’s that much more potential for them not to be crappy?”

Fairservice, I think, gets it exactly right. Though he was talking about the rejuvenated Toronto Blue Jays, most fans must feel similarly about “shitbags and retreads,” as he so artfully puts it. The Phillies, from 2000 to 2005 or so called on one of the best crops of young players assembled in a generation, but after the World Series title, most of the team’s holes have been filled by shitbags and retreads rather than youngsters. Contreras, Baez, and Qualls over De Fratus, Aumont, and Schwimer. Nix, Pierre and Podsednik over Brown.

The best of the Phillies’ farm system remains in Lehigh Valley–or Toronto or Houston, though I’m not sure how many of those trades I’d undo–while the major league roster and starting lineup are peopled by players who have never been good, are not good now, and will almost certainly never become good in the future.

Except for Galvis.

He could, in time, become less crappy. This 22-year-old middle infielder who can’t hit a lick is the new blue blood and the great white hope. Particularly since the Phillies have spent the offseason building an oubliette for Domonic Brown to live in for the rest of his natural life.

So it’s one of two things: either Galvis is leaps and bounds better than Exxon with the glove, or his youth is exciting to the point where I’m willing to overlook his flaws. If it’s neither of those things, then you can have my intellectual integrity. I’m driving the train to Galviston. And this train is bound for glory.


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