Crash Bag, Vol. 17: Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered!

College football season started last night as my South Carolina Gamecocks escaped with a 17-13 win at Vanderbilt. I have a strange relationship with football. As a  total package, football probably ranks fourth on my list of favorite sports, behind soccer, ice hockey and, of course, baseball. But nothing gets me angrier than college football. I don’t know why. I think part of it is that I know less about football than I do about baseball, so where I can step back and have some perspective when the Phillies lose, I panic and scream and break things when the Gamecocks even give up a first down. Add to that the inherently visceral nature of the game and I felt like I should tell you that in case I accidentally severed an artery punching through a window during the USC-UGA game. I should probably will the Crash Bag to someone in that case.

But USC won, and I live. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

@4Who4What: “Describe the 2012 Phillies season as if you’re explaining it to the Tamarians from ‘Darmok’ “

Excellent question. This is one of my favorite episodes of television ever. Not because it’s so entertaining, or moving, or well-written, though I might list those sometime later on. It’s because the conflict of this episode is so creative: the Enterprise encounters a race whose language is built on cultural references, and when no one gets the references, they can’t understand each other. If you’d like to know more go here.

Anyway, I identify with these folks–many of my friends and I have abandoned traditional methods of communication and resorted entirely to movie references: Independence Day, Tombstone, Shawshank Redemption, Apollo 13 and Spy Game foremost among them. When people ask what we’re talking about, I’ve said more than once, “We communicate entirely using cultural references, like that episode of Star Trek…

Anyway, the Tamarians have an appropriate saying: “Shaka, when the walls fell!” to indicate failure. I think that tells us everything we need to know.

@Giving_Chase: “What’s your favorite movie? Which movie do you hate that everyone else likes?”

Up front: “Favorite” is not the same as “best.” I said for years and years that my favorite movie was Independence Day. But last winter, Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynski started talking up a hockey movie called Goon on their eponymous podcast, and in the months that followed, Goon became 1) the first movie I ever saw in a theater alone 2) the first DVD I ever pre-ordered 3) my favorite movie of all time. It’s absurdly funny, self-aware, topical (because it addresses violence in sports, specifically fighting in hockey) and sweet. It’s completely unrealistic about the on-ice aspects of hockey, but it understands what we love about sports perhaps more than any other sports movie I’ve seen. Maybe Friday Night Lights gets it better. But it’s smarter than any movie starring Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel has any right to be. I love it so much that I made Xavier Laflamme my Twitter background. I love him so much.

As far as a movie I hate that everyone else likes…I like the Coen brothers a lot, but The Hudsucker Proxy didn’t do it for me. Not outright hatred–more of a “meh.” But I did hate both Adaptation and Being John Malkovich with a passion rivaled only by my own hatred for FC Barcelona and the Atlanta Braves. I love playing around with first-person narration, but that can’t be the whole ballgame. I don’t know how Charlie Kaufman rode that gimmick so long, but it makes me want to hit him with a snow shovel.

@_magowan: “the Yankees can’t be serious with their choices for the AAA SWB team re-naming, can they?”

I meant to get to this one last week. For those of you who care about such things, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are in the process of changing their name. As much as I love the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, something just feels wrong about the Phillies’ triple-A affiliate being anything other than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. I don’t know if it was that way forever, but it was that way when I started following baseball and it seems weird to be otherwise.

But given that, and given that we’re not changing them back to the Red Barons, we need something quirky because it’s a minor league team. I’m really over the idea that names for sports teams having to be somehow menacing, as if the San Diego State Aztecs, for instance, were going to build a huge pyramid and sacrifice an opponent on it. We’re not seven-year-old boys. We can have descriptive nicknames.

And naming the minor league team is at best lazy (I guess Scrantonites are still “Yankees”) and at worst misleading (people in Reading are not “Philadelphians” any more than Port St. Lucie, Fla., is “Metropolitan). But still, we’re afraid to go off the beaten path with or major league teams, which is a shame. I’d have loved to see the unstoppable radiation monster of outrage that would have been unleashed had the Seattle Supersonics rechristened themselves the “Bombers” when they moved.

But, yeah, the list is stupid. The only one I like even a little bit is the “Fireflies.” Anything that lights up fits with the “Electric City” and it has a little bit of that mountaintop wilderness feeling, which might be unfair. Really, the only places in Pennsylvania I don’t view as weird, rural and otherwise Upstate-New-York-like are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (which is an assortment of nasty people who love bridges but are afraid of tunnels) and Easton (which I associate with crayons). But Scranton? It’s either a place you pass on the way to the Poconos or the home of Parade Day.

Given my experience in Scranton, I’d change the team name to the “Blur,” because that’s all I saw the past couple times I’ve been there. Apparently Scranton has a massive St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, and since I moved back to the area, Paul (who went to U of S) has taken me up there to partake in the festivities. I say “apparently” because I’ve never actually seen the parade. The first year I went up there, I woke up on the day of the parade at 7:30, changed into my green Halladay t-shirt and went outside to call my girlfriend. When I came in, I was handed breakfast: one pancake and a shot of bourbon. And so it went from there.

So to me, Scranton is what people tell me New Orleans is like on Mardi Gras, except cold. And while “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre River of Vomit and Green Paint” does have a certain panache, I doubt you’d be able to fit that on a uniform. I’d be okay with “Fireflies” if they did some sort of black-white-and-yellow color scheme, maybe if the buttons on their jerseys glowed in the dark. I guess the only thing I can say about the other nicknames is that there are no Dunder-Mifflin jokes. I think we can all be grateful for that.

@soundofphilly: “who would win in a fight: Buster the BlueClaw or the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor”

Crazy Hot Dog Vendor by default. Buster does not have claws. Your mascot is a crab, and yet your mascot is some amorphous Youppi knockoff. I get that it has to be kid-friendly and furry, but you need a claw. In all fights, the claw is the tie-breaker.

@lexuhbooz: “How many pimples do you think the girl with the lipstick all over her face woke up with the next morning?”

That’s quite something. It’s possible that she’ll get several pimples, though having no idea how lipstick interacts with skin (I’ve worn women’s clothing before but never gone for the makeup) I suspect I might be the wrong person to ask about this.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of painting one’s face. I’ve done it a few times in college (I joked at the time that SEC football games are the only place where one would fit in wearing either a cocktail dress or jorts and full-torso paint), and most recently at the USA-Turkey soccer match that took place at the Linc the day of the Roy Halladay Perfect Game. I had a little red-white-and-blue on my face, but a friend of mine had a star drawn on her face that covered, if I remember correctly, one cheek from her mouth to her eye. And as a relatively pale person who spent most of the day in the searing sun, she got a paint tan line. In the shape of a star. On her face.

So given the choice between pimples or a funny tan line on my face, I’d take the pimples. Don’t wear partial face paint to afternoon games when it’s sunny.

@hdrubin: “Question: Should the next Phillies manager be a badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball? Or another grandpa?”

I’d rather have a nerd. Joe Maddon is, for my money, the best manager in the game and it’s not even close. I’d rather have someone who’s unafraid to think outside the box and evaluate the game through rational rather than normative means. I think there’s a greater chance of getting such a manager with a phlegmatic ex-jock than a choleric ex-jock. So considering that often the best course of action for a manager is to do nothing, I’d rather have a grandpa than a “badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball” as you so artfully described him. Whoever’s going to be more chill.

@threwouttime: “what color is a mirror?”

Whoa. Reflective? Is “reflective” a color? (bong hit)

@Caoimhin89: “Why is Kyle Kendrick such an enigma?”

Well, he’s not. Because he’s neither a Nazi code machine nor a Russian hockey player. Kendrick has been really good this season, particularly in the past two months. Given the small sample size and arbitrary endpoint caveats, Kendrick has posted a .585 OPS against, a K/BB ratio greater than 3:1 and a 2.09 ERA. That’s not bad. On the broadcast yesterday, they were talking about how Kendrick has changed his approach to the cutter, and that might have something to do with it, or it might be small sample size and arbitrary endpoints. But as much as I gripe about his contract, you don’t have to be that good to beat the value on 2 years, $7-and-change million. Kendrick is striking more guys out than ever, and the difference between a 4.6 K/9 guy (2011) and a 6.4 K/9 guy (2012) is the difference between being a taxi squad guy and a decent back-end starter. We’ve been so spoiled by having eight different starting pitchers post good seasons since 2008–three of whom made Cy Young noise–that I think we lose a little bit of perspective. A guy who can throw 180 innings with a 4.50 ERA and never get hurt isn’t that bad out of the back of a rotation, and if Kendrick can be that, we should be happy.

@JonCheddar: “what is your opinion of the best movie line ever? Non- “You Knew Marcus Aurelius?” division, obviously”

Gladiator has a bunch of them. This is a tough question. Anything Malcolm Tucker says in In the Loop  has to be up there, because anytime you create a political farce as an excuse for a skinny Scottish man to yell at people for 90 minutes, you’re going to have some good lines. Ocean’s Eleven has a few good ones, as well, but most of those are the Clooney/Pitt back-and-forth. I’m also a big fan of the “Fuck me? Fuck you, you redneck sonofabitch!” from Primary Colors.

But the line that popped into my head is from Serenity. You’ll find funnier lines, or even more emotionally significant lines in that film, and compared to the entire Firefly oeuvre, it doesn’t stick out. But “No more running. I aim to misbehave,” always resonated with me. I’m not sure why.

@treblaw: “if this season were a rock opera, what songs would be featured to tell the story?”

I hate jukebox musicals. Whenever you twist the plot and characters to fit the songs, your plot and characters will suffer. Glee found this out in a hurry, as did Across the Universe, the Ludovico Treatment of 21st century cinema.

But for the Phillies, we have the following:

We end with some topical humor.

@Billy_Yeager: “Who would you put in an invisible chair and what would you ask them?”

I’d like to put Ruben Amaro in an invisible chair and I’d like to ask him to stay there and not move until the Phillies find a better general manager.

@bxe1234: “Are you more or less likely to see the new Eastwood baseball flic now that we know he has dimentia?”

No. I wasn’t going to see a movie about a nasty old man who’s unable to adapt to the changing world around him before and I’m certainly not going to see it now. In case you were wondering, this is what he’s talking about:

I don’t really enjoy watching cranky old people do anything, and the combination of lionizing old-school baseball, what looks like a ham-fisted love story between two actors I actually like and the involvement of the Atlanta Braves…well those three things constitute three strikes.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend. Save me a burger and a beer wherever you wind up grilling–I will return and you do not know the day or the hour.

Despite Hustle Concerns, Rollins Still Among Elite

Jimmy Rollins found himself back in the headlines again yesterday when he once more did not go 100% down the first base line on what should have been a routine out. With the Phillies clinging to a 3-2 lead over the New York Mets in the bottom of the sixth inning in the series finale, Rollins hit one of his patented infield pop-ups. Four Mets — pitcher Jonathon Niese, first baseman Ike Davis, second baseman Daniel Murphy, and third baseman David Wright — converged towards the pitchers mound. It seemed as if Niese assumed one of his infielders would grab it, so he did not take charge. Instead, everyone backed off and Niese made a last-second attempt to snag the sinking pop-up, but to no avail. The ball dropped and Rollins was safe at first base. However, had he been busting it down the line, he may have ended up at second, though there was certainly no guarantee.

After the inning ended, manager Charlie Manuel took Rollins out of the game for pinch-hitter Laynce Nix. Michael Martinez eventually went out to Rollins’ spot at shortstop. Immediately, the hot issue we thought had deflated was blowing up again. Rollins refused to speak to the media after the game, and immediately the Internet and talk radio was abuzz with criticism of the shortstop. Having addressed the issue and its sociological impact previously, I don’t wish to broach that subject at this time. I would, however, like to remind Phillies fans that Rollins hasn’t had anything close to a bad 2012 as many seem to think when they criticize the franchise shortstop.

Rollins’ triple-slash line, at .243/.303/.407 does not seem impressive, and for a lead-off hitter, the on-base percentage could use some improvement. And his propensity to hit infield pop-ups isn’t charming, either as he leads the league with 42, nine ahead of Zack Cozart and J.J. Hardy in second place. Shortstop, though, is an offensively-light position, so his .710 OPS is actually slightly above the league average .697. In terms of wOBA, his .313 mark hovers above the .301 league average. The power has been the main contributor as his .164 isolated power is the highest it has been since 2009, not coincidentally his last full, healthy season.

While the leg injuries he suffered in previous seasons have affected his agility and mobility, he is still among the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Between 2010-12, which includes two injury-plagued seasons, Rollins compiled a 6.9 UZR/150 over 3,000 defensive innings, meaning that he made about seven plays more than the average shortstop over 150 defensive games. And it’s worth remembering that shortstop is one of the most defensively-demanding positions on the diamond this side of the catcher.

The other big part of Rollins’ game, understated lately, has been his base running. He is 24-for-29 stealing bases this year (83 percent) and even went 47-for-56 (84 percent) in 2010-11 combined. He has been a net positive in all five areas Baseball Prospectus considers when cobbling together their Base Running Runs statistic: base stealing, advancement on ground balls, advancement on fly balls, advancement on hits, and advancement on outs. He has the team lead in BRR, even ahead of noted speed demon Juan Pierre.

Putting it all together, Rollins has contributed 3.3 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. Only Carlos Ruiz has contributed more (5.1) and the now-departed Shane Victorino sits in third place at 2.1. Among Major League shortstops, only Elvis Andrus (4.1), Ian Desmond (3.9), and Jose Reyes (3.4) have compiled more WAR this season. It’s scary to think about how much worse the Phillies would be had they instead let Rollins move elsewhere as a free agent last year and ushered in the Freddy Galvis era. The team now primed for a push above .500 might have had more in common with the Cubs and Rockies than the Mets and Diamondbacks.

Rollins’ perceived lack of hustle will be a persistent topic of conversation in the coming days, but make no mistake that few players give as much effort on a daily basis than Rollins, whose uniform is frequently dirty from diving for ground balls in the hole, or sliding to avoid a tag on a stolen base attempt. And in denigrating his so-called lack of hustle, many will attempt to write off Rollins’ season as a failure, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the ripe age of 33, Rollins still ranks among baseball’s elite shortstops and is a major reason to retain your interest in the Phillies as they play out the rest of their now-meaningless regular season schedule.