Crash Bag, Vol. 6: The Mustache

I have found the solution, ladies and gentlemen! I think the Phillies can solve their offensive woes! All they have to do is hit off Twins pitching every game. I don’t think the Blue Jays would mind borrowing Nick Blackburn and starting him all three games this weekend, would they?

We touch on a wide range of topics (strangely, most are actually related to baseball this week), so let’s get started.

Nick in Manayunk: “Is Chooch the best catcher in Phillies history? My knowledge of early Phillies history isn’t that great, but he has to be better then all the catchers in recent memory, (Dutch, Lieberthal, McCarver, Boone)”

Well, Nick, I’ll answer your question with a question:

@thomeshomies: “Remember Sal Fasano? He was the best, especially because of those converted Billy Wagner shirseys”

Of course I remember Sal Fasano. I’ve always been intrigued by the Fasano love, because he only played 50 games as a Phillie, and was just unspeakably bad, even for a backup catcher. And yet he’s one of the most beloved figures of recent team history. I was never a huge Fasano fan, but I remember getting a little heart flutter when I toured the Louisville Slugger museum when I was in college (yes, I did spring break in Louisville one year) and they were making Fasano’s bats.

It’s actually quite easy to figure out what made Fasano so beloved–it was the mustache. Seriously, you see that mustache? Fasano’s going to teach you to speak English with that mustache. He looked like Richard Schiff playing a Confederate Civil War officer.

As a fan of the mustache and multiple-time participant in Fu Manchu February, I want to take Sal Fasano as an example of why the mustache is cool. Wear a mustache and you know what people say? “DURRR YOU LOOK LIKE A CHILD MOLESTER.” First of all, that’s very clever–I’ve never heard that before. What a novel insult. I commend you on your incisive wit and creativity. Allow me to retort: having a mustache doesn’t make someone a child molester. On the other hand, saying that someone looks like a child molester because he has a mustache immediately marks you as someone with the rhetorical skill of a barnacle. Saying I look like a child molester because I have a mustache doesn’t hurt my feelings. What does hurt my feelings is that you think I’m so insecure as to be emotionally wounded by a line that hasn’t been funny in 15 years, and that you think I’m dumb enough to believe that your repeating that line makes you clever.

Second, if I’m going to accuse someone of being a child molester based solely on his resemblance to tired stereotypes, I’d look for an unmarked white van or a cardboard box marked “Free Puppies” before I looked for a mustache.

Boy, that got out of hand. I guess the point is that Sal Fasano is proof positive that mustaches are awesome, and anyone who says otherwise is a stone dullard.

(EDIT: @_magowan wrote in with the following: “ALL THAT FASANO TALK AND NO MENTION OF HIS CURRENT CAREER AS THE NEW HAMPSHIRE FISHER CATS MANAGER!?!” So I should probably acknowledge that Sal Fasano is managing the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays system. Or rather, his mustache is managing the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays system. The editorial staff apologizes for the oversight.)

And while we’re at it, you know what type of facial hair really makes you look creepy? A goatee, particularly a well-manicured one. Either go full-beard or trim it down to a a Van Dyck, because no, thank you, I don’t want to go back  to your bro’s place and do Jager shots.

What was the question again? Oh, yeah, is Chooch the best Phillies catcher of all-time?

Right now, I’d say no, but it’s close enough that it’s worth a discussion. I’d take Chooch for certain over Lieberthal, Boone, and McCarver, and as to the best-ever question, I went with Daulton a few weeks ago, but with every two-run double Chooch hits, the gap gets closer. Even though Daulton was pretty useless for the first five years of his career, he turned into a monster when he took over as the starter in the 1990s, culminating in 1992, when he posted 7.4 fWAR and a .402 wOBA, an absurd mark for a catcher. Chooch has never even been close to that good over a full season (though he’s at 3.2 fWAR in 57 games this season, so who knows?), but he’s been more consistent than Daulton, who was inconsistent in addition to being injury-prone.

It might seem weird, but Ruiz and Daulton, as players, have the same biggest strength: plate discipline. Daulton looks like he stepped off the set of Baywatch while Ruiz looks less like a lifeguard than he does an Ewok, so that comparison might not spring to mind. But Daulton had a career 14.5% walk rate, which is an absurd number for a catcher. Likewise, Chooch (10.6% career walk rate) has always been able to get on base even when he’s not hitting well. But Daulton has an edge there, and a significant edge in power, while Chooch is the better defender. It really boils down to how much you want to penalize Daulton for being a nonentity from 1983 to 1989. I’ll still take Daulton, but Chooch is closing the gap.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say you have to set up a 32-team Champions League for international baseball. Who makes it in? Does an MLB team always win? Is it any better viewing than the WBC? Who wins the 2011 tournament?”

I think there are two things that baseball could adopt from soccer that would work quite well. The first is a more formalized transfer market that makes international player movement more fluid, and the second is to increase international competition. The WBC is a good first step, and the longer it goes on and the more entrenched it becomes, the bigger a deal it will become. Traditionally, baseball has been a big deal in North/Central America and the Caribbean, Venezuela, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. But thanks in part to the proliferation of the international game, the game is starting to take off in new places in Asia and Europe–Italy and the Netherlands in particular. The more international competition there is, the faster that will happen, and the more baseball will spread to places like China and Brazil, where it could really take off.

I actually think a Champions League would be a foolish idea for two reasons. The first would be travel. Professional baseball is only played at the highest level in the United States, Canada, and Japan. And if you’re going to pit the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals against the defending Japan Series champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, you’re going to travel. As the crow flies, St. Louis to Fukuoka is 6,814 miles. Compare that to the driving distances for the four UEFA Champions League semifinal venues from this season:

  • Madrid, Spain to Munich, Germany: 1,226 miles
  • London, U.K. to Barcelona, Spain: 1,486 miles

That’s nothing. The Rockies and Mariners are both more than 800 miles from the closest major league city. Even these two relatively far-flung Champions League semifinals are a medium-length road trip on an American scale. The best baseball teams are about as geographically proximate as the best soccer teams. But in baseball, the best teams are in two countries, while the best soccer teams are spread out over half a dozen.

The second is competitive balance. If you want the 32 best baseball teams in the world, odds are at least 28 of them would be from Major League Baseball, with the rest coming from Japan. I think it would be fun to pit the winner of the World Series against the winner of the Japan Series, but the professional game isn’t as internationalized in baseball as it is in other sports.

If you’re pitting country against country, baseball is every bit as internationalized as hockey or basketball, and not that far behind soccer, where the international game is every bit as important as the club game, perhaps the only major team sport in which that is the case. But there are more than a dozen professional leagues in soccer in which the top teams can engage in competitive competition–we saw a Cypriot team in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League this year. The top talent does overwhelmingly go toward North America in hockey and basketball, but I bet that there are plenty of European teams that could give the best in the NBA or NHL everything they could handle over a best-of-seven series.

Not so in baseball. If you’re making a ranking of the best baseball leagues in the world, you’d get the two MLB leagues, the two Japanese leagues, the Mexican League, the two AAA leagues, the two AA leagues, and probably the SEC or the Pac-12 before you get to anything European or Korean. I’d bet that the Rangers or Cardinals goes 100-0 against the Italian or Dutch champions, and that the University of Florida or UCLA breaks even at the very least.

So while I’d be in favor of a true World Series between the American and Japanese champions (in a magical world where pitcher fatigue doesn’t matter), we need to have more than two decent leagues for that to happen.

@elkensky: “The Phillies only win the WS in presidential election years (80; 08). Are there any poli-sci models that explain why?”

Unfortunately no, not that I’m aware of. I used to have a model that correlated the Phillies’ success in a playoff series to the height of the opposing shortstop, but it’s fallen apart since 2009. However, one could make the case that the Phillies enjoy their greatest success when the Republicans run an absolutely ancient dude from the West against an idealistic liberal Democrat with exactly four years of experience in Washington. That’s a little bit of a stretch, and I doubt that we’ll see those exact circumstances again anytime soon.

I don’t think the solution lies with politics, or at least not presidential politics. However, I will say this: the Summer Olympics have been held in a Communist country exactly twice: the USSR in 1980 and the People’s Republic of China in 2008. In those years, and only in those years, have the Phillies won the World Series. So the person the Phillies need to get rid of this season is not Shane Victorino, or Domonic Brown, or Joe Blanton. It’s David Cameron. If the British government falls in a coup and is replaced with a left-wing authoritarian state in the next six weeks, the Phillies have a puncher’s chance at winning the World Series again. Otherwise, we’re going to have to pray that Pyongyang gets the Games in 2020.

@cog_nerd: “For an older team, should they have more aggressive PTs and trainers given that Utley and Halladay are both rehabbing injuries that seemed to have been under treated at the player’s behest?”

This is a good question. About two years ago, I heard Henry Abbott of ESPN’s TrueHoop say that medical advances are going to be the next great technological advance in sports. I’m pretty sure it was Abbott, at any rate. Trying to gain an edge in team fitness and nutrition is a huge deal in other sports, particularly soccer and basketball. The Phoenix Suns have gained a tremendous advantage from their medical staff, which has not only kept Steve Nash and Grant Hill on the court (miraculous in and of itself) but done so into their late 30s.

In baseball, position players tend to peak around age 30. I don’t know what the answer is, not being a doctor, but there’s got to be some combination of nutrition, fitness, and preventative medicine that extends the physical peak of an athlete another couple years. And that’s not even getting into any sort of biometric study that helps prevent degenerative joint issues like Utley’s, or corrects mechanical flaws that lead to elbow and shoulder injuries in pitchers. It’s widely speculated that the Tampa Bay Rays are onto something here, considering how healthy their pitching staff has been over the past five years, despite it including Jeff Niemann. Niemann was part of a Rice University pitching staff in 2004 that included three future top-10 picks. All three suffered catastrophic arm injuries, it is speculated, due to abuse in college, and the Rays are doing something to keep Niemann on the field and have seen their faith rewarded.

So to answer your question, absolutely. One doesn’t often say this, but in sports, doctors are relatively cheap. A top-notch training staff, even a large and well-equipped one, probably doesn’t cost more than a couple million dollars. Another year or two of prime Utley, Howard, and Halladay makes that a worthwhile investment.

@DashTreyhorn: “Cole Hamels. Better than Schilling?”

As a Phillie? I think so. Overall? Not a chance in hell. Schilling was really at his best in the five years after leaving Philadelphia, and, I believe, deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. It’s eminently possible that Hamels (who was better younger than Schilling and is almost as good now as Schilling was with Arizona) puts together a better overall CV than Schilling when all is said and done. Schilling didn’t turn into a monster (you know, the kind that posts a K/BB ratio of 9.58 over a full season, as Schilling did in 2002) until after he turned 30. Hamels started quicker, but he’s still got a ways to go before he matches Schilling’s accomplishments over a full career.

That said, if I’m going to pick one or the other to run a video game company, I’d take Hamels.

@lizroscher: “Thome wants to talk to Manuel about options to keep playing after interleague is over. What could they be? Are they realistic?”

Boy, that crazy Jim Thome‘s been swinging a hot bat this past week or so, hasn’t he? He’s started at DH in each of the Phillies’ six interleague games this week, and he’s been good enough that I’m going to draw some truly irresponsible conclusions from a small sample size.

Thome has played in 20 games this season for the Phillies. He’s started ten games, reached base in nine, and recorded at least one hit in eight of those. In his other ten appearances, Thome is 0-for-10 with no walks. Now, that’s a really small sample, but it’s not exactly news that players in general perform worse as pinch-hitters than they do as starters. And when you’re trying to talk yourself into Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz as power threats, anyone who puts up .458/.536/.917 in any span is going to get some attention. I don’t expect Thome to keep hitting at this rate, but he’s a damn sight better with that bat than Ty Wigginton or whoever else would be playing first base, and it’s not like Wigginton or John Mayberry is so much better defensively that Thome to even out the difference.

If defense were the only issue, I’d start Thome at first every day, but the scuttlebutt is that Thome literally can’t play the field without breaking down. And given that he’s a lefty and Wigginton and Mayberry are both right-handed, a straight platoon puts Thome on the field more than half the time. I think that option is to literally only play him once or twice a week, but given how well he’s hit as a DH and how awful he’s been as a pinch-hitter, that’s going to be unsatisfying. I’m not sure I told you anything you didn’t already know.

Oh, and I don’t care how well Thome’s hitting. The DH is still stupid.

That’s all for this week. If you’re yearning for more baseball on Saturday night after the Blue Jays-Phillies game, South Carolina and Florida face off in the College World Series at 9. Michael Roth takes on Hudson Randall in a matchup of amazing college pitchers who probably won’t make it as pros. Should make for a pretty awesome game, so if you love baseball, tune in and go nuts along with me.

And for next week, send in your questions to crashbaumann (at) gmail (dot) com, or via Twitter either to me directly at @atomicruckus or with the #crashbag hashtag. Have a pleasant weekend, and enjoy the ballgames.

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3 comments

  1. Michael

    June 16, 2012 09:37 AM

    Sidenote about Sal Fasano:

    Being the operator of that @thomeshomies account, I just wanted to bring to your attention the other reason I love Sal so much.

    In an interview when he first came to the Phillies, he offhandedly quipped that he once hit a home run while he was playing for the As that shattered through glass that was supposed to be unbreakable. I think it was equal parts defying the laws of physics and mustachitude.

    PS. I’ve tried many times in vain to find that particular interview on the interweb.

  2. Bill Baer

    June 17, 2012 06:19 AM

    My favorite Sal Fasano moment was when he bought pizzas for all of the Sal’s Pals in attendance at Citizens Bank Park.

  3. KH

    June 17, 2012 10:34 PM

    I actually was five feet away from Dutch last night in North Wildwood New Jersey in a little bar called the North End. He frequents the club area a lot during the summer. I believe he does a radio show on Friday nights from one of the bars. Its not rare to catch him out and about He had two chicks about 25 all over him.

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