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Crash Bag, Vol. 36: Situated on an Isthmus

Posted By Michael Baumann On January 10, 2013 @ 11:07 pm In Crabshurn Urly,Crash Bag,MLB,Offseason,Philadelphia Phillies,Potpourri,Talking about feelings | 12 Comments

So I moved to Wisconsin last week, which I think I told y’all about. And it’s great so far–I miss Wawa, and I hate pumping my own gas, but the food is great, the people are friendly, and I’d forgotten how awesome it is to be able to buy beer in a grocery store or a gas station. As men do. In lands where freedom rings out like the throaty drone of a bagpipe on a crisp autumn morning. (wipes tears from face)

But yeah, I got here on Thursday, and Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, came out here to help me set up house. After two days, I was starting to figure out where things were. I’d adjusted to the cold (which isn’t that bad, because while it’s 15 to 20 degrees colder out here than in the Delaware Valley, that cold comes, at least so far, without the customary appalling wind you’ll find in Philadelphia). And on Saturday morning, I went to take KTLSF to the airport.

Madison is a moderate-sized city of about a quarter of a million residents, and a large part of the downtown is situated on an isthmus that bisects two lakes, much the way Ryan Howard bisects the strike zone with his swing whenever he sees a slider in the dirt. It was while I was driving along this isthmus that I…by the way, “isthmus” is an awesome word, isn’t it? Perhaps the greatest of all geographical terms, and if not, right up there with “archipelago” and “fjord.” I remember learning what “isthmus” meant by watching Sesame Street as a child. Imagine that! A show designed for preschoolers being unafraid to teach young children esoteric geographical jargon! We’d certainly never stand for such a thing in this day and age! Imagine the nerve of those socialist cheese-eaters over at Children’s Television Workshop–teaching our children big words! Daring them to expand their horizons before everyone’s stopped to pick up his participation trophy! Isthmus.

But I digress.

Like I was saying, it was while I was driving along this isthmus that I first realized something wasn’t right. First of all, the lake was frozen, which is something I’m not positive I’d ever seen in person before, a lake frozen to the point where you could walk on it. So imagine how completely unprepared I was to witness people–dozens of them–walking out on the ice in various Gore-tex apparel, toting drills and tents and stools, doing what I can only assume was ice fishing. Ice fishing! A sport undertaken by such barbaric people as Russians and Canadians–not normal, civilized Canadians, the Quebecois and Vancouverites and Ontarians, but people from, like Manitoba and such. Shocking behavior.

So there they were, dozens of ice fishermen, just kind of chillin’, so to speak, out on a frozen lake, sitting on stools and dropping strings through holes in the ice as if this is just something people do. I was kind of intellectually aware that Wisconsinites behaved in such a manner, but to witness it literally in the middle of a city, literally within sight of the state capitol building, was quite a shock. Totally jarred me out of enjoying the beautiful view of the skyline and the frozen lake that can be had from this isthmus on a sunny morning.

Question time.

@fotodave: “Which is colder: A Wisconsin Morning or the Phillies development of Domonic Brown?”

Like I said, it doesn’t feel all that cold out here. I mean, it’s cold, but it’s more the refreshing crispness of standing inside a walk-in freezer than the bitter, skin-blistering assault of sitting on the bleachers at a high school football game in December. When I was in college, I waited tables for a summer, and I had neither a car, nor air conditioning in my apartment. Which had no exterior windows and was situated in a building made entirely of brick. Which, I’m pretty sure, is what they make pizza ovens out of in expensive restaurants.

Anyway, I walked to work, which took between 20 and 30 minutes, which wasn’t bad. Or at least it wouldn’t have been if it weren’t 115 degrees with 100 percent humidity every day of the summer in Columbia, South Carolina. So occasionally, I’d be dispatched to the restaurant’s walk-in freezer to pick up some foodstuff or other. And damn if I didn’t take my sweet time. I’d let the door close behind me and stand there in my shorts and polo shirt, just letting the heat radiate off of me and into the foggy cool like I was an ear on a Fennec fox in the desert night. That’s how the cold is in Wisconsin. At least in my part. I watched a little bit of the Packers-Vikings game on Saturday and it looked considerably less pleasant in Green Bay.

But I wouldn’t describe the Phillies’ development (if you can call it that) of Domonic Brown as “cold,” either. The word I’d choose would be something more along the lines of “bizarre” or “profligate” or “This is a chemical burn.” They have to have known something that we didn’t, that all the prospect writers didn’t, when Brown was coming up. They’re professionals–they have more training, and more experience and more resources than we do, and by all publicly available information, holding Brown back made no sense.

I’m going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

@pinvert: “in your expert opinion, how did Ryan do last week at the helm of the Crash Bag?”

Quite well, I thought. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s comforting to know that if something horrible were to happen to me, say, if I perished in a tragic Michael Martinez accident, that service could continue almost uninterrupted.

Qui-Gon…more to say, have you?

“follow up-answer one of last week’s questions with the viewpoint opposing Ryan’s”

Oh, but yeah, for as much as I look to Ryan as kind of an intellectual and philosophical sounding board–not that we agree on everything, but I do respect his opinion immensely–it’s difficult to be as entirely wrong about something as he is about the designated hitter. The DH leads to three true outcomes and to old fat guys who have overstayed their welcome trundling around in circles. And if I wanted to see that, I’d walk around the WIP offices telling Angelo Cataldi that there’s a woman in a bikini hiding in a room somewhere and not tell him which.

“caveat: it can’t be the DH question”

Oh. Well I don’t know that he said anything else that I really disagree with. Oh, here’s one. He said that Cliff Lee would win a steel cage match against Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley. I don’t think so. I’m not sure it’s possible to kill Chase Utley. Sure, you could hack off his knees and wrists, but he’d still be there, with his unbeating heart and cold, steely gaze, gnawing at your ankles until you gave up and cried. I think Utley wins if only because Cliff Lee is made of flesh and blood, and he bleeds. If it bleeds, we can kill it.

@SkirkMcGuirk: “What current Phillies player(s) will have their numbers retired someday?”

Funny you should ask that, because literally the first thing I ever wrote on this site was a long post on why the Phillies should retire Jimmy Rollins‘ number. I love these debates about retiring numbers and (in other sports) captaincy designations–it’s a combination of the rational and emotional. Not only who was the best, but who meant the most. The Phillies seem only to be interested in retiring the numbers of players who made the Hall of Fame, but I’ve got a little more liberal outlook on such things, so screw them. If the Phillies want to answer this question, they can get their own Crash Bag.

The past decade has been, by far, the most successful in the history of the Phillies’ franchise, and among current members of the team, I would retire the following numbers today, no questions asked:

Each great era in Phillies history (all one of them, plus 1950, which apparently counts as an era), comes with at least two retired numbers. Rollins combines on-field value with longevity and qualitative meaning the franchise. He is to us what Richie Ashburn was to our grandparents. And Utley, for my money, is the best player in franchise history not named Mike Schmidt, so he goes too. And Charlie Manuel is to the Phillies what Billy Martin was to the Yankees or Earl Weaver was to the Orioles, except Charlie Manuel is the exact opposite of Billy Martin and Earl Weaver in every way imaginable. But sometimes franchises honor great teams by honoring the manager–I think it’s appropriate to do so in this case.

And if Cole Hamels keeps pitching like a No. 1 starter until the end of his contract, he gets on the board too. Roy Halladay doesn’t have the longevity (though he’ll get his later in this column, don’t you worry) and Cliff Lee, for how great he’s loved by the fans, probably won’t have enough good season with the Phillies to merit having his number retired either.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say the Phillies pick up an actor to be their play-by-play guy on TV. Who would you want it to be? I’m thinking H. Jon Benjamin.”

He’s not a bad choice. I’ve long been of the opinion that ESPN should have its No. 1 soccer commentary team of Ian Darke and Steve McMannaman try other sports. I’d love, love, love to see them give baseball a shot.

But you said actors. So actors it shall be.

We’ve got to consider a couple things. Vocal quality. H. Jon Benjamin has that sonorous Joe Buck baritone that would lend itself well to the commentary booth. Or you could go with the carnival barker/1950s radio newscaster voice that Keith Jackson made his own and go with…I dunno, Morgan Freeman? I feel like Nick Offerman might be able to pull it off, but that might be entirely a product of how much Parks and Recreation I’ve been watching recently. Liev Schreiber is doing great work as a sports documentary narrator and would probably do well calling a  ballgame.

If we’re just going for quality of voice, I’m not sure you’ll do better than H. Jon Benjamin. In fact, I could listen to him talk to a woman with a breathy, seductive alto voice in any context, baseball or no. If H. Jon Benjamin and Diana Agron called a ballgame, I’d hang on every word–no joke, every single goddmaned word–and be completely unaware what sport they were watching until about inning four or five.

You could go another direction and take multiple actors who you know have good on-screen chemistry and just turn them loose. I’d watch a Christopher Guest/Harry Shearer/Michael McKean booth. Or a Nick Kroll/Jason Mantzoukas booth. Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Michael Fassbender and that basketball from Prometheus. You get the idea.

Notice how I never said anything about knowing or liking baseball. This is because most baseball commentators offer bugger-all in terms of useful insight. My favorite broadcast teams (Darke/Macca, Franzke/LA and Breen/Van Gundy are probably my top 3 right now) are talented describers of events, and you get the sense that they’re guys who enjoy watching the game with their buddies. I want to know what’s going on and I want to get the sense that what’s going on is genuinely fun.

With that said, I’ll take…Jon Hamm and Chris Pratt. I have no idea if they’d have good chemistry (well, apart from Chris Pratt having had good chemistry with Treat Williams in Everwoodwhich is like having good chemistry with a doorframe), but I like both of them, and I think it’d be fun. Maybe with Jennifer Lawrence in the Sarge role, doing some mid-inning relief and postgame interviews. Mostly because I am hopelessly, irretrievably in love with Jennifer Lawrence, who was the acting equivalent of the space shuttle lifting off in Silver Linings Playbook, which is the best movie I’ve seen in a theater in about five years, and if she doesn’t win Best Actress I’m going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential wrongdoing. But I need more Jennifer Lawrence in my life, and this seems as good a reason as any.

But enough fun. Given the events of this week, I think it’s time for a….

HALL OF FAME LIGHTNING ROUND

(sirens, klaxons, Wayne Brady)

Nobody got in. Shocker. Blow up the BBWAA, burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ, and so on. All your post-hoc ass-covering moralizing won’t stop Barry Bonds from having been one of the five best baseball players ever, Grumpy Old White Male Sportswriters.

@mdubz11: “Fill out your Hall of Fame ballot.”

I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. I wish I did. But let’s pretend. Holy damn, Rondell White is on there. Remember that guy? Also Todd Walker. Who, as far as I know, is the only Walker ever to play for the Texas Rangers. Oh, and let me say up front that allegations or even proof of performance-enhancing drug use bother me not one iota, and if you think you’re going to convince me otherwise, I cordially invite you to bugger off and not say anything. Drug use was so accepted and prevalent at the time that the so-called Steroid Era is nothing more than a run-scoring environment to me. I’m also kind of a big hall guy, so I’m going to fill my ten spots, particularly on this ballot of all ballots. Though if others are in favor of being more selective, I really don’t have an argument–it’s a matter of preference. The ballot isn’t ordered, but this is my rough order of preference.

  • Barry Bonds. Possibly the greatest baseball player ever. Maybe not as good as Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. Oh, what’s that you say? Barry Bonds took steroids? Well Wagner and Ruth didn’t have to play against foreigners or black people. Seriously, I’m so over the drug outrage. If Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Bill Conlin and Cap Anson are in the Hall of Fame…hell, if Tim McCarver‘s in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster…I’m not sure we can fairly impose some sort of nebulous morals clause. Sure, Barry Bonds was a jerk and likely a drug user, but Mickey Mantle (one of my favorite players of all time, and as deserving a Hall of Famer as ever lived) was a drunk and a serial adulterer, which I find far more icky than whatever Bonds did. The ability of grown-ass men to be shocked and butthurt over a ballplayer ruining their innocence astounds me.
  • Roger Clemens. Just like with Bonds, a Hall of Fame without Clemens doesn’t diminish Clemens–it diminishes the Hall of Fame. When I’m dictator of the world, anyone who doesn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens loses his vote. Not just his Hall of Fame vote, but the franchise as well. And he spends two weeks in the stockade.
  • Jeff Bagwell. I like to think that Bagwell’s been left out of the Hall of Fame so far because his eye-popping statistical record has been underrated (which I think it has). Not because everyone with big muscles who played in the 1990s is assumed to be a juicer, regardless of whether or not he’s even been credibly accused of wrongdoing. Let alone, you know, tested positive for illegal PEDs.
  • Tim Raines. Another guy who, like Bagwell, had an astonishing career but somehow flew under the radar. I believe it’s Jonah Keri (and if it’s not, I apologize) who’s fond of saying that Raines was the second-best leadoff hitter of all time, but no one noticed because he was a direct contemporary of the greatest leadoff hitter of all time (Rickey Henderson). I find that sentiment to be broadly accurate.
  • Craig Biggio. It was Bill James‘ argument (in the New Historical Baseball Abstract of 2001) that Biggio was a better player than Ken Griffey, Jr., that was really my first introduction to the enlightened–or rather, evidence-based–way of considering the game to which I subscribe now. That was a terribly-constructed sentence but I’m not going to bother to change it. Biggio was great at his peak, he played at not one but three premium defensive positions, and he played for a long time. I’m really not sure what case there is to be made against him.
  • Edgar Martinez. Okay, so some people won’t vote for Martinez because he was “only half a player.” Which is an interesting thing to say about a guy with a career .418 OBP. Okay, so Martinez hardly ever played the field. Maybe the presence of Ryan Klesko on this year’s ballot will serve to remind voters that there are worse things than not playing defense at all. Or maybe someone can explain to me how Martinez is unworthy of enshrinement for his lack of completeness, and Lee Smith got half again as many votes as Martinez did. Also worth noting: Jack Morris batted once in his regular-season career.
  • Curt Schilling. Pitched with Randy Johnson when Johnson was stupid dominant, and with Pedro Martinez when Martinez was stupid dominant, so he never got the praise he deserved for being one of the great power/control pitchers of his era. He pitched a ton of innings, and the innings he pitched were really good. That’s really all I want from a starting pitcher. And while Schilling’s regular-season credentials alone are worthy of enshrinement, it’s worth noting that for all the fainting Jack Morris induces among sportswriters for his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (admittedly one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever), Schilling did that a lot. Across the span of more than a decade, for three different franchises. In a much tougher pitcher’s environment. And, due respect to a lineup anchored by Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton, tougher competition. As a rule, I don’t believe in clutch, but if we’re going to use that word on one pitcher on this ballot, I’d take Schilling over Joe Blanton with Better Facial Hair and Better PR.
  • Mike Piazza. Another argument that being a DH is not always the worst thing that can happen to a player’s defensive reputation. Though there are some who say that Piazza was actually an underrated defender. No matter–this guy had me convinced well into my teens that catcher was a position for big guys who could mash, not guys who were too athletic and not good enough with the bat to be middle infielders.
  • Larry Walker. If you wouldn’t vote for the eight guys above, I probably think you’re an idiot. Or an absurdly small-Hall guy. Walker is where I draw the line between no-brainer and negotiable. I’m a big fan of rewarding peak over longevity, which is why Walker goes ahead of Rafael Palmeiro or Fred McGriff. Though it’s worth noting that Walker has a higher career bWAR total than Tim Raines in more than 2,000 fewer plate appearances.  I’ll also admit that this vote may be entirely the function of when I was born. I came of baseball-watching age just before Walker’s peak with the Rockies, and he was the first player I ever saw who struck me as being change-the-rules good. Sure, he played his best years when Coors Field was at its Coors Fieldiest, so he probably wouldn’t have slugged .700 (which he literally did, twice) if he’d played at the Astrodome in the 1960s. But even if you adjust his numbers for run environment, they’re still quite robust–a career 141 wRC+ for a good defensive corner outfielder with 230 career stolen bases is good enough to make me a believer.
  • Mark McGwire. Again, peak vs. longevity. I know there are some writers who are making a crusade out of trying to get Alan Trammell into the Hall. No, that’s not right. There are some writers who are making a crusade out of complaining that Alan Trammell isn’t in the Hall. And on a ballot that didn’t have a top-five all-time hitter, a top-five all-time pitcher, the best-hitting catcher of all time and four guys who should have been in years ago if the voters weren’t sanctimonious poopyfaces, Trammell would get my hypothetical vote. As would Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton and probably Palmeiro. Sorry, Sammy. You only slugged .700 in a full season once. But yeah, that’s not to say I don’t think any of those guys are unworthy, or that I have some bulletproof reason to include Walker and McGwire over Trammell (and I think he’s the only one people will get upset about). If the BBWAA had voted Bagwell and Raines in when they were supposed to, this wouldn’t be an issue.

@mferrier31: “War breaks out between BBWAA and the “[sabermetric] tea party”. Who would play what role for each side( i.e. Pres, General, etc) & who wins”

Well, it’s worth noting that there are many members of the so-called sabermetric tea party who are also BBWAA members. Here’s how I think it goes. Murray Chass is John C. Calhoun, Jon Heyman is Jefferson Davis and…I dunno…someone like Peter Gammons or Bob Ryan, whom everyone loves and respects but was just born in the wrong place and time with the wrong ideas, is Robert E. Lee. Buster Olney plays James Longstreet in this metaphor.

On the goodguys’ side, STP President Joe Posnanski plays the Abraham Lincoln role, a wise, cogent man, a leader who sees both sides of the issue but ultimately stands up for what is right at all costs. He sends in Dave Cameron (George McClellan) and his tentative advances are rebuffed. Then he goes with more aggressive generals: Jayson Stark and Jonah Keri (Fightin’ Joe Hooker and Ambrose Burnside, respectively), but once again, they’re not quite aggressive enough.

Then, with the war going badly, Posnanski finds his Ulysses S. Grant: Keith Law. Law is recalled from his western campaign and informs President Posnanski that we’re younger, smarter and more numerous, and we can just bulldoze those old fogies, damn the human cost, if we want to. He’s given command, and he calls up Jay Jaffe (William T. Sherman) to burn everything from New York to Cooperstown to the fucking ground. We win, idiocy in baseball analysis is abolished and we get a bunch of kickass marching songs. The end.

@JustinF_LB: “Who do you think voted for Aaron Sele in Hall of Fame voting?”

I dunno, but if you find out, tell me so I can buy him lunch. I used to love Aaron Sele. My childhood fantasy that I could become a front-line MLB starting pitcher lasted well into middle school because of Aaron Sele.

But in all seriousness, ordinarily I don’t have a problem with writers throwing a Hall of Fame vote someone’s way to honor a player they liked but know won’t make it. As long as they take the rest of the ballot seriously. But this is a year with 14 qualified candidates for only 10 spots. If you’re giving Aaron Sele a shout-out and not spending that vote on a deserving but borderline candidate, you’re doing the Hall of Fame a disservice.”

@Parker_Adderson: “Any chance the character clause works more as it was intended and keeps Chipper out of the HoF?”

I’m going to answer this question, kind of, in the next bit. But I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind y’all that Chipper Jones is a poopy head whose wife divorced him because he had a kid with a Hooter’s waitress behind her back. That poor woman. Imagine how close you’d have to get to Chipper’s face to conceive a child with him.

@Jferrie: “do you think that since guys who juiced can get into hall that Pete Rose should get a chance? Gambling vs Juicing.”

I’m glad you phrased it that way, because cheating doesn’t get you eliminated from Hall of Fame discussion. Because Willie Mays cheated. He took and distributed PEDs too. So did Mike Schmidt. Baseball, for all the moralistic bluster of certain writers, is an incredibly forgiving community as a whole. It will welcome you back with open arms even if you’ve been dinged in the past for things far worse than drugs, such as drunk driving or hitting your wife. And if you do both, you get some sort of career bingo and writers come up with weird excuses to give you prizes. It gets better–baseball will forgive players for anything from hate crimes to rape.

Now, I don’t know that any of that behavior would fly if, instead of baseball players, these guys were accountants. And if Miguel Cabrera, thoroughly scumbaggy a man though he seems to be, were an accountant, even as great an accountant as he is a baseball player, I wouldn’t begrudge him the right to make a living. But neither would I want him to work for me or with me. That’s a very intellectually inconsistent position to hold, and I stand by it steadfastly. But perhaps no other line of work is as zero-sum as professional sports, so for that reason, we give the truly great athletes like Cabrera (and for some reason, truly mediocre ones like Young and Lueke) a lot more rope than they might get in other lines of work. The point is, baseball is like a Backstreet Boys song: “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from [or] what you did.” (Side note, do yourself a favor and watch that video. Peak late ’90s going on there. I totally had Nick Carter‘s haircut when I was 12.)

It’s like baseball has literally one rule. And that rule is that you can’t bet on baseball. You can literally rape and pillage, but you can’t bet on baseball.

Which makes sense, to a certain extent. Even if you cheat–especially if you cheat–you’re still trying as hard as you can to win. But if you’re betting on baseball, there’s the chance that you might undermine the competitive integrity of the game, where athletic outcomes are fixed to support certain financial outcomes. And when that happens, you’ve got the NBA. Pete Rose broke the one rule, a rule in whose name Major League Baseball has banned, or considered banning, players as great as or greater than Rose. He’s not going to get in.

At least not until he dies. Because as Ron Santo would tell you if he weren’t dead, people who were worthy all along sometimes have to wait for posthumous induction.

@gberry523: “how long before another Phillie gets inducted to the hall?”

Probably the next time another Phillie leaves a room.

Depends on who counts as a Phillie. Because I’d vote for Curt Schilling today, and when the time comes, I think Pedro Martinez, Halladay and Jim Thome all make it in without too much fuss. I’d throw Scott Rolen a vote too, but I don’t think he makes it in. That said, I don’t think any of those five guys would wear a Phillies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. I don’t think Chase Utley gets in either, because he’s been preposterously underrated over the years and is entirely deserving, even if his career ended today.

Honestly, if I’m going to take bets on the next Hall of Fame inductee to wear a Phillies hat on his plaque, I’d lay the odds as:

  • 4/1: Chase Utley
  • 5/1: Cole Hamels
  • 2/1: The Field

Because apart from Utley and Hamels, I can’t think of a name. Maybe the Phillies draft Karsten Whitson next year, he turns into a stud for a decade and change and gets inducted for the Class of 2040. It could be that long–the Phillies have had a ton of really good players over the past 30 years, but not really a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

Which is fine by me, because with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in the division, we Phillies fans are going to be seeing our fair share of potential future Hall of Famers.

That’ll do it for this week. We had a first this week–way more good questions than I could use. Which is good, because I won’t be able to write this whole thing in one sitting between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning anymore, as has been my custom. So in the interest of spreading out the workload, send in questions anytime via #crashbag and they will be answered. And if you ask even a moderately evergreen question and it doesn’t get answered right away, it might show up in a later episode. For instance, I’ll be giving advice next week on how to build a child. You won’t want to miss it.

Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.


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