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Crash Bag, Vol. 34: One Night in Pankot Makes a Hard Man Humble

The intro to this Crash Bag was originally a 1,000-word screed on how, when I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to put aggressively extroverted people in internment camps until they learn to leave us alone. I deleted it because it wasn’t very funny. But in it’s place I’ll just succinctly propose that we ought to have some sort of social education class in this country that teaches people to develop an indoor voice, for example, or to recognize the difference between someone who’s genuinely interested in what you’re saying and someone who’s just being polite. There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing and liking to talk to people, so long as you don’t abuse the introverts.

It’s time to get geopolitical.

@kalinkadink: “If the countries of Europe were a baseball team, what positions would they play?”

Okay, so there are 25 players on a Major League roster, and 27 countries in the European Union. Eliminate Malta and Cyprus, which are (I hear) fantastic vacation spots but pretty much worthless otherwise, and you can map one onto the other perfectly. This means I have to leave out, say, Russia. But nowadays, Russia is a right-wing kleptocracy of tax cheats, homophobes, luddites, racists, misogynists and drunks. Essentially, if you were threatening to move elsewhere if President Obama were re-elected, Canada isn’t where you want to go–Russia is. There you can have all the anti-intellectual disease-ridden failed economic state libertarian gay-bashing you like. In short, Russia has serious makeup issues, and I don’t want it anywhere near my European clubhouse. It’s like the Carl Everett of nation-states.

This response, I’m realizing, is probably going to border on offensively jingoistic. I’m sorry in advance if I offend a continent of innovators who would be the world’s political and economic powerhouse if they’d take some time off from going on strike and committing fraud and actually, you know, produce something.

@mattjedruch: “apart from Howard, which player will return to Spring Training in the worst physical shape?”

I’m thinking Josh Lindblom. Not only will he show up outrageously overweight, he’ll be unaware that he’d been traded and arrive in Clearwater instead of wherever it is Texas holds its spring training. If not him, then possibly Phillippe Aumont, who will have returned to his home with no hockey to watch, which will send him into a depressive spiral of Labatt Blue and poutine. Plus he’s so big he could probably wear another 20 or 30 pounds and no one would notice.

Speaking of Spring Training, the new batch of batting practice caps was unveiled the other day, and they’re almost all fantastic, particularly considering the previous affinity for bizarrely-placed piping. Except the Braves, (and you can scroll down in that article to find visual evidence) who turned out a preposterously racist throwback logo that had to make people tug their collars even when it first appeared on Braves jerseys back in the 1970s, when you’d stick out like a sore thumb in certain parts of Georgia if you weren’t vociferously racist.

Wherever you fall on the scale of Native American iconography in sports, that hat can’t be okay in this day and age. I like to think there’s a way that teams can honor that legacy respectfully, as a nod to local history and as a potentially intimidating team nickname. Maybe not, but I’d like to think it can be done without making a mockery of a people who have been, on balance, rather poorly treated over the past several hundred years. But this isn’t the Utah Utes or anything–this is a cartoon head that I’d half expect to be on a body that’s scalping a white pioneer woman. If you think we’ve gone overboard in being sensitive about such issues in sports, that’s one thing, but I can’t really see an argument for that logo being okay in 2013.

@patchak21: “What are your top 5 movie trilogies of all time?”

Whoa. This is a big question. There’s a lot to consider here, because I don’t know that there’s a single movie trilogy that I can bless unconditionally. Even the best ones have big questions. And there are so many variables to this question that it’s hard to give a definitive answer–can I list The Godfather trilogy even though I’ve purposely avoided the third movie because it was universally panned? The same goes for The Matrix, by the way. And how big a head start do I need to outrun those of you who are going to throw stones at me for not including Lord of the Rings? So I lay myself bare before you. My personal top 5 movie trilogies, in no particular order….

One last note: for reasons that I’m not sure even I totally understand, I’ve never seen even one minute of any of the Bourne movies, so I can’t speak to their quality. Though I’m told they’re actually quite good. Good enough to jump the Mighty Ducks trilogy and one of those listed above? I’m not so sure.

@gberry523: “How much are we going to give up to bring in Vernon Wells and Soriano”

I hope nothing, because those guys have next to no value. Not absolutely no value, but both are being paid like superstars ($18 million next year for Soriano, $21 million for Wells) and neither has much to offer anymore. Wells, for his part, has hit .222/.258/.409 in two seasons in Los Angeles of Orange County of Anaheim of California of Earth. For a corner outfielder who doesn’t add anything defensively, “unacceptable” hardly begins to describe those numbers. Apparently he can still hit lefties some, but he can’t hit righties (who make up the majority of major league pitchers), or run, or defend. So Wells has extremely limited utility.

Soriano’s picture is not quite so bleak. He was actually decent last year, worth almost two wins above replacement by Baseball Reference’s reckoning. A 121 OPS+ isn’t that bad, even for someone who is, like Wells, a bad defensive corner outfielder. In fact, Soriano got MVP votes last year! He finished ahead of Carlos Ruiz, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in last year’s MVP voting. Which isn’t really an argument that Soriano is a good player so much as it’s an argument that you need to find the nearest nuclear power station and remove the control rods from the reactor immediately, because humanity has simply become too stupid to be allowed to survive.

Anyway, I’d take either of those guys in a trade, as long as nothing of value is given in return (i.e. if the Phillies traded Domonic Brown straight up for Soriano, as had been rumored, I’d have been so angry I can’t think of an outrageous action I could describe to you now to signify that anger) and the Cubs or Angels pay almost all of the salary of whatever piece of petrified aged outfield detritus we’d have the privilege of watching for the next year.

With that said, if Brown, Jesse Biddle and Justin De Fratus all went away in trades for both of those players in which no salary relief occurred, it would not surprise me one bit.

@MichaelJBlock: “Any chance RAJ takes a flier on Ugueth Urbina now that he’s been released from prison?”

No, but you’re not the only person to make that suggestion. I can’t imagine any athlete, particularly one in his late 30s like Urbina, would be major-league ready after seven years in prison. I am kind of disturbed that someone can try to kill his gardener and get out of prison after only seven years, though. Even in Venezuela. But at any rate, the notion of Urbina’s making a comeback to major league baseball is farfetched, to say the least.

I will say this–I’m kind of intrigued by what might happen if someone who spent seven years in jail for attempted murder sudden showed up in a major league clubhouse. How would the media handle it? Would the local beat writers talk to Urbina after he blew a save? Would Kyle Kendrick talk to him at all, all season?

@JFerrie23: “if you could watch one player play again who’d it be?”

One player that I’ve actually seen? Either Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez. I’m a sucker for really transcendent starting pitchers, the types of players who toy with hitters over the course of several at-bats or the course of a season. Particularly when there’s really nasty off-speed stuff involved. Both Maddux and Pedro changed speeds and got movement on their pitches, with a kind of kitchen sink approach to splitters, sliders and change-ups that I’m not sure I’ll ever see again. I remember in 1999, Pedro made a relief appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS and threw six no-hit innings to send Boston to the ALCS. I watched that game, and I knew at the time that I didn’t appreciate his performance for what it was. The same with Maddux, who I spent most of the 1990s being too young and too pissed that the Braves were winning to realize how great he was. There’s a host of players from that era that I could say the same about: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, the young Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez–I wish I could go back to when I started watching baseball in 1993 with what I know now and have that experience over again.

Though I’ve recently developed a fascination with Dave Hollins, so for all you know I might waste that one player to watch over on him.

All time? You could list 100 choices I’d have trouble arguing with. I’d want to see Mickey Mantle, because his is the name I use as shorthand for “once-in-a-generation great player.” One of my favorite parts of Ken Burns’ Baseball is the recap of the 1970 World Series, which is essentially a highlight reel of Brooks Robinson making absurd defensive play after absurd defensive play as if chasing down a scalded, slicing line drive and throwing the runner out at first were routine. I feel like I got a taste of that with Scott Rolen, but I’d love to see the genuine article. I’d love to see Jackie Robinson run the bases, or Rickey Henderson in his prime. Steve Carlton, George Brett, Bob Gibson, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Christy Mathewson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Eddie Collins, Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Walter Johnson, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, Babe Ruth…I guess I’d pick Mantle, given all of those choices, but I can’t fault anyone for disagreeing.

An interesting thing about baseball, compared to other sports: the game has evolved over time not only in such a way that the quality of play is higher, but that strategy changes. There are high-run environments and low-run environments, and such trends are cyclical. Like, I watch old Edmonton Oilers highlights and, if anything, I’m baffled by how little Wayne Gretzky scored, given the stand-up goalies and lack of shot-blocking. The same with Bill Russell–how didn’t he block every shot? Sure, if you drop Ty Cobb into a came with modern standards of equipment, conditioning and professionalism, I doubt he’d keep his head above water, but watching him play is as much about watching old tactics as it is seeing a great player at work. I love baseball.

@ChasingUtley: “what are you looking forward to in 2013?”

In baseball? Seeing put-up-or-shut-up time for Domonic Brown. Seeing the continued maturation of Phillippe Aumont. Watching what has suddenly become a very good and very likeable Toronto Blue Jays team make a run at the most wide-open AL East in 20 years. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. More of Mike Trout. More of Yu Darvish. More of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. More of all of the Nationals, to be totally honest–that team is going to be sick nasty next year. More Justin Upton trade rumors. More insane managerial decisions, and more Keith Law rants caused by those decisions. More of Joey Pankake, and seeing if South Carolina can make it back to the College World Series without Price, Walker, Roth and Marzilli. More of trying to get all of you to care about college baseball. More of saying “Karsten Whitson” and “Vickash Ramjit.” Staying up late to watch several dozen A’s-Angels, A’s-Rangers and Rangers-Angels games on MLB.tv. Rooting against a potential St. Louis Cardinals dynasty. God willing, Jackie Bradley‘s major league debut. More fantastic writing on all of those stories.

Outside of baseball? I’m pretty geeked about Zero Dark Thirty, and I can’t wait for the next season of Mad Men. Maybe hockey will come back, or Andrew Bynum, or both. Jadeveon Clowney. The Ender’s Game movie adaptation. Personally? Finishing my book and trying to get it published. Moving halfway across the country and starting a new job. And getting married.

Which brings me to perhaps the most important parcel of Crash Bag news. For 34 straight Fridays, without fail, I’ve submitted, for your consideration, some rambling nonsense that’s at least ostensibly about baseball. Next Friday, that streak ends, because next week I’ll be moving myself and all of my worldly possessions to lands far away from here, and I’ll have no time to write my customary 4,000-plus words here.

So it is with mostly anticipation and some trepidation that I announce that Volume 35 of the Crash Bag will come to you courtesy of Ryan Sommers. So y’all can harangue him on Twitter with questions, and the Crash Bag should come out of this in better shape than Cameron Frye’s dad’s Ferrari.