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Crash Bag, Vol. 37: Imaginary Road Beef

Posted By Michael Baumann On January 18, 2013 @ 6:00 am In Crabshurn Urly,Crash Bag,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Potpourri,Talking about feelings | 17 Comments

Let’s just start with the one thin everyone’s been talking about all week. I don’t even feel like doing an intro.

@cwyers: “Which Phillies player is most likely to have an imaginary girlfriend?”

Dude. It takes SO MUCH to shock me, particularly in the world of sports, and beyond that, in the insane world of college football. I mean, I’m surprised all the time (like when the Mariners made that idiotic John Jaso-for-Michael Morse swap the other day) but I think the last college football story that I really couldn’t wrap my mind around, that I couldn’t process as it unfolded, was the Jerry Sandusky story, which took me weeks to grasp the enormity of.

Now, Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend not actually existing is certainly not as enormously, appallingly horrifying and despicable an act as Sandusky’s repeated sexual abuse of children. In fact, I find nothing particularly disturbing about this story. The reason it’s so shocking is that I can’t remember anything like this ever happening before, particularly involving an athlete whose legend on the field is mostly a construct of what sportswriters had said about his character off it. Which is not to say that Te’o is a bad player–among defenders in college football this season, he was some tiny but still non-zero fraction of the player Jadeveon Clowney was, which makes him quite valuable indeed.

If Te’o got duped and went along with the story to avoid being embarrassed, I feel bad for him. That makes him (at worst) stupid and badly-advised and (at best) gullible and insecure. Which doesn’t make him any different from any other college student, if we’re being honest. I know people who have fallen for what we’re now calling the Catfish phenomenon of online dating and it’s embarrassing enough when the only people who know you fell for it are half a dozen close friends who feel bad enough for you not to mock you mercilessly. That’s the best-case scenario, but I don’t think it’s particularly likely.

If Te’o was in on the hoax from the beginning, creating this dead girlfriend narrative for publicity’s sake, that’s a pretty cynical thing to do, but I don’t know that it’s any worse than how Cam Newton got to where he wound up in terms of college stardom. First, I think I’m too weirded out to be outraged. Second, I never really cared enough about the story to begin with to give anything more than a cursory “That’s terrible, but good for him for overcoming that.” And finally, and most importantly, Te’o’s…whatever this is…is not even close to the worst cover-up involving a Notre Dame football player and a girl. Not. Even. Close. If anything good has come from the instant transition of Manti Te’o from national hero to national joke, it’s that more people are talking about Lizzie Seeberg.

I don’t think I said anything original or insightful there, but I don’t get the impression that anyone reads the Crash Bag for insight. Or even that anyone reads the Crash Bag at all. On to the jokes.

Many people responded to Colin’s question over Twitter when he first posed, probably due to some combination of it being particularly relevant to the zeitgeist and Colin being a much more notorious writer than I am. And the reaction was almost universally one of: John Mayberry.

I don’t get that. I mean, thinking about it, I can see it, but to arrive at Mayberry just because mermaids are made up is a leap I don’t get. I bet Mayberry could get a real girlfriend if he wanted one badly enough.

I think the most interesting possibility would be Erik Kratz. Kratz, like Te’o is beloved, known as a good guy and devoutly religious in a sect that’s kind of off the beaten path. Though Mennonites, theologically, have way more in common with your garden variety Protestant than Mormons do. I will say this–I’ve known my fair share of Mennonites and Mormons (I actually have several Mennonite relatives myself) and to a person they’re all kind and friendly people. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty certain Kratz is married, and, if he’s anything like the other Mennonites I know, he wouldn’t cheat on his wife and he wouldn’t enjoy being teased by teammates who get on his case for not enjoying the local Annies. But neither would he fight back. So to avoid that awkwardness, there’s a part of me that could see Erik Kratz making up imaginary road beef just to keep the guys off his case. Not a large part, but if you told me that was going on I wouldn’t spit out my coffee or anything.

Or…yeah, you know what, if you’re going to try to hit on an actress by having your agent call her agent, you’d probably make up a girlfriend.

@dan_camp: “why are some of my stupid friends saying the “most expensive” part of the nats signing Soriano is their loss of a 29th pick?”

Well, I’d be more inclined to say that the most expensive part of signing Rafael Soriano is paying a relief pitcher $14 million a year. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s a stealth bomber’s worth of money for a relief pitcher, but the Nationals are a team that’s trying to win a title right now, and they don’t need a whole lot in the way of big pieces to put them over the top, so a good relief pitcher like Soriano is worth way more to team that’s going to use him in the seventh or eighth inning of a playoff game than a good relief pitcher like Mike Adams is to a team whose offense is so bad that it’s going to go 81-81 no matter how good its bullpen is (like the Phillies). The Nats are so good in spots, and have so much depth and so few glaring weaknesses that they’re doing something very smart: liquidating their surplus assets in areas of strength so they can shore up areas of relative weakness. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love their trade of Alex Meyer for Denard Span, and the smart money seems to be on the Soriano signing being a precursor to a similar trade of Tyler Clippard for either a prospect or some other complementary piece.

But anyway, a late first-round pick, on its own, is a nice piece, but not enough to keep a team from signing a good free agent. In the late 20s, the odds of pulling a superstar on any given one pick are remote, and yes, I know where Mike Trout was drafted. So if you’ve already got a stocked farm system and you’re good to spend on a free agent, like the Nats are, go nuts. Now on the other hand, if you can get a bunch of those picks in a row, like the Yankees have, you can get a lot of low-risk complementary players or take a lot of high-risk, high-ceiling amateur players. Conversely, if you lose your late first-round pick every year, like the Phillies did for a long time, your farm system is going to be devoid of high-level talent in short order.

Draft picks are exercises in probability. At No. 1 overall, you’re just as likely to get a Bryan Bullington as your are a Chipper Jones or Bryce Harper, but those are pretty good odds when you think about it. And as you go down the draft order, the odds of a Bullington increase, as you might expect, to the point where by the end of the first round, it’s unlikely that any particular first-rounder is going to turn into something more than a complementary player. But pool enough of those picks, or lose enough of those picks, and the odds of drafting (or watching someone else use your pick to draft) an impact player gets pretty good. So giving up the No. 29 pick for Soriano (even if he is a relief pitcher) is a non-trivial cost, but it’s not the end of the world. But if they lose a pick to sign a reliever every year for the next five years, then it starts to be a problem.

@Major_Hog: “What is the likelihood of Arkansas winning the College World Series?”

Ever? Not bad. It’s a pretty good program, even if it’s not on the level of, like, Florida or UCLA or Texas. But next year? I don’t like your chances all that much. I mean, the likelihood of any one team winning a championship in any sport is almost always remote, which goes double for a sport like college baseball that has hundreds of teams, a 64-team playoff and tons of small sample postseason variation.

But hey, they were a national semifinalist last year, so how bad things can be?

Though if you’re going to watch the University of Arkansas this season, there’s no better reason than…well, actually, the best reason is, and I can’t stress this enough, MEANINGFUL BASEBALL FOUR WEEKS FROM NOW. I keep telling people that if you follow college baseball, you get regular-season games in February and playoff games in June, but y’all never seem to listen. You need this. I know because the internet is full of silly folks who think spring training is worth getting excited about. Yes, let’s kill the fatted friggin’ calf so we can watch people put on outrageously racist hats and act like Matt Rizzotti‘s three-week hot streak is an accurate harbinger of future events. I’d rather watch games that count, played by players who care (and who are actually going to factor into the playoff run).

What follows is a list of better ways to predict regular-season performance than watching Spring Training games:

  • Projection systems such as ZiPS.
  • Throwing darts at the Baseball Prospectus guide.
  • Ouija board.
  • Psychic hotline.
  • Astronomy. No, I don’t mean astrology. I mean looking at the night sky through a telescope probably tells you more about future performance than three weeks of Kyle Kendrick throwing 45 pitches against the Blue Jays’ yannigans.

Anyway, college baseball is awesome and you should watch it. But if you’re going to watch the University of Arkansas in particular, the star attraction is Friday night starter Ryne Stanek. First of all, he’s got an awesome name. Like, if you’re going to be a skinny college kid, you might as well have a name like a reject from The Expendables. Last year’s SEC pitchers that included Florida’s awesomely-monikered Karsten Whitson, Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox. Plus the No. 3 and 4 starters for South Carolina were named Montgomery and Westmoreland–once you got to the end of the Gamecock rotation, you were as likely to face a division of armored cavalry as a fastball. But Stanek stood above them all.

Plus he’s a legitimately exciting prospect. He’s likely to go early in the first round in June’s amateur draft, perhaps No. 1 overall in a weakish class. At believe you me, if you think top-notch starting pitching is fun to watch in the big leagues, it’s so much better against collegiate hitters who lack the power and plate discipline of pros. This is a game where Trevor Bauer or Danny Hultzen could just tell the offense to take the night off, or Michael Roth could pull off a “stop hitting yourself” routine on hapless Clemson batter after hapless Clemson batter for years on end. Stanek should be a good pro, but he’s going to be something else entirely this season.

@smallupsetter: “What do you think Hunter Pence‘s spirit animal is?”

Fiddler crab. And I have no wish to discuss this matter any further.

@Living4Laughs: “What is your favorite book written on Soviet history?”

I don’t know that I have one. I’m really not as big a Russian/Soviet history buff as I am a Cold War buff. In fact, I find Russian/Soviet culture to be…well, not my particular cup of tea. But I’m engaged to be married to someone who deals with Russian culture for a living, so what KTLSF knows I just kind of absorb the way she absorbs (often against her will) details about baseball. Which is how she came to own a Phillies t-shirt, just as surely as I eat the occasional pelmeni.

So while I can rattle off the technical specs of just about every jet fighter the Soviet Union ever produced, and speak at great length about the international political, military and diplomatic impact of the Warsaw Pact, I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and actually read a book about Soviet history in isolation. I do own a book called One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs that takes historical details of the Cuban Missile Crisis and puts them in a linear, story-focused format. I don’t know that it’ll tell you anything in particular that you wouldn’t learn from watching Thirteen Days, but it’s a good read.

Apart from that I’d just go read The Hunt for Red October.

Though I will say this. I was (and remain) a huge Tom Clancy fan, but it’s weird to put up a writer as a hero when you’re a kid, then go back and read Debt of Honor and Executive Orders after having studied politics and learned to do math and turned into an adult. Because I’m kind of appalled, looking back on it, by Clancy’s crazy-naive Libertarian politics and how sneaky-racist and not-so-sneaky-sexist his stuff gets in parts. I don’t want to say my turning into a fringy liberal since I was 15 ruined Clancy for me, but it’s still not the same.

@Cody011: “Assuming the phillies don’t make any more moves & remain healthy (big if), can you project this team to win 90+?”

Ninety what, games? I mean, I can project this team to win however many games you want, but the time for assuming the Phillies are going to be the class of the National League has come and gone. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Phillies win that many games, but I certainly wouldn’t go betting anything of significance on it. They’re a team that won 81 games last year, traded away a bunch of key pieces in midseason last year, didn’t add any significant free agents (and no, Mike Adams, however good a middle reliever he is, is still a middle reliever), aren’t counting on any potential impact prospects (ditto Phillippe Aumont, as much as j’adore Le Pont au Papelbon), are losing their best position player from last year to 25 games’ worth of drug suspension to start the season and are looking at…well, let’s just go with the midseason age around the diamond for next season, for catcher and the four infielders: 34, 33, 34, 34, 36. We’re getting to the point where the Phillies are fielding of players who, if they were women and interested in having children, would be old enough to have non-trivial concerns about complications with their pregnancies.

I went a long way for a bad metaphor there. Let’s try that again.

@JohnMorgera: “It seems like the offseason consensus is the Phillies will be lucky to make a run, but what is next seasons best case scenario?”

The Phillies get lucky and make a run.

Honestly, I don’t see a scenario where the Phillies make the playoffs this year. They were light-years behind the Nationals and Braves last year, and the Nationals, with another year of maturation for their young stars, plus a full season of Strasburg, Werth, Harper and Wilson Ramos, plus the addition of Dan Haren and Denard Span, will probably be even better than they were in 2012. And the Braves, who have some rising stars themselves, will probably be just as good as they were last year. On a side note, I did a rough draft of that “if you had to pick 25 players to win the next 10 World Series” post I do every year, and I wound up picking three Braves. It’s completely subjective, and doesn’t mean much…I mean, except that they have a lot of good, young players…but anyway, yeah. The Phillies were a .500 team with an almost even run differential last year, and I just don’t see where the 17 games the Nationals had on them last year get made up. Not when the big offseason acquisition is Ben Revere, and not when the big internal hope is that Chase Utley plays 150 games. If you’ve been even remotely paying attention since 2009, that is–to quote a spacefaring legend–a long wait for a train don’t come.

Now, if the Phillies make the playoffs, with Hamels, Lee, Papelbon, Bastardo, Adams, Aumont and Halladay, they have enough pitching to have a puncher’s chance in a short series. And I know they don’t have to beat Washington to get there. But the Reds and Braves certainly aren’t any worse than they were last year, and the Dodgers and Cardinals stand to be markedly improved over 2013. So that whole playoff scenario is starting to look awful crowded without the Phillies, even with the second wild card.

@tholzerman: “who has more names, Gandalf or the chick who spurned the titular character in the Beatles song ‘Rocky Raccoon?’ “

Does Gandalf not only have the one name? There was a girl in “Rocky Raccoon?”

I’m really not a Lord of the Rings guy or a Beatles guy, so someone else probably ought to field this one. In more general terms, though, I’d like to submit a third contender.

You see, Snookums, ain’t nobody has more names than His Royal Highness, Christopher Rupert, of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. And good luck not walking around whistling that song all day.

@fotodave: “Do Bonds or Clemens deserve to be in the hall of fame despite the steroid allegations?”

Of course they do. A top-five of all time hitter and a top-five of all time pitcher, conservatively. And

  1. Even if PED usage during a time before MLB tested for banned substances is blameworthy (which I don’t think it is)
  2. And if that blameworthiness is grounds for being penalized in Hall of Fame voting (which I don’t think it is)
  3. And if you think the BBWAA that, as recently as a decade ago, lionized these players as gods for their athletic feats has a moral leg to stand on while wagging its crooked, obsolete finger at these suspected drug cheats (which I don’t think it does)
  4. And if debiting the likes of Bonds and Clemens for their alleged drug use, in spite of facing competitors who were–by all accounts–mostly similarly juiced up, they’d suffer relative to their peers appreciably (which I don’t think they would)

If you grant all those things, Bonds would have been twice the player Jim Rice was, and Clemens would have been twice the pitcher Jack Morris was, or Goose Gossage. So yes, I think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

@fotodave: “Followup: What would it take for Pete Rose to get in the hall-of-fame?”

I know I say this every time, but I love that y’all announce follow-up questions like this is a press conference.

I kind of covered this last week, but because betting on baseball is such a longstanding historical booboo in the eyes of the sport’s leadership, and because it violates the competitive integrity of the game in a way that not even PED use does, Rose is pretty well screwed. Everyone said he’d be reinstated if he fessed up and apologized, and he did, and he wasn’t.

There’s a great scene in The Right Stuff set at Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, the bar frequented by test pilots outside of Edwards Air Force Base. On the eve of Chuck Yeager’s run at the sound barrier, a woman at the bar asks Pancho about the photos of pilots hanging on the wall. Pancho gives that woman the same answer that I’d give Pete Rose if he asked me what he’d have to do to get reinstated, for one, and get past this Maginot Line of sanctimonious bluster that we call the Hall of Fame electorate. What Pancho says to the woman is this:

“You have to die, sweetie.”

@SoMuchForPathos: “Let’s say I don’t want to buy a gun. Should I go with a wooden baseball bat to protect myself in case of burglary?”

Well, neither a gun nor a bat will do you as much good as, say, renter’s insurance. Or locking your doors.

But if I could pick one piece of sporting equipment as a weapon of self-defense…actually, guns are sporting equipment in some cases, as are bows and arrows. I get the allure of the handgun-as-home-defense-weapon. But even if I were committed to the idea of greeting trespassers with deadly force (I’m not, by the way. I’m much more of a hide under the bed until they’re gone type.) I wouldn’t pick a handgun in a million years. Soldiers and policemen have a hard enough time hitting people with handguns–or rather, with bullets fired from handguns, but you get the idea–when lives are on the line, so imagine how laughably worthless a normal person, and not someone who’s trained to kill people with guns for a living, would be in a life-or-death scenario.

But anyway, if you’re convinced you’re going to have to shoot someone to death in your home in order to be safe, why on Earth would you pick a handgun instead of, say, a shotgun, which is scarier to look down the business end of, easier to hold steady and fires (if you want it to) cannisters of shot that don’t require the shooter to be particularly accurate to hit his or her target. You know who kills lots of people in movies? Arnold Schwarzenegger. You know what he almost never uses to do it? Pistols. He uses automatic firearms and 40mm grenade launchers, which are really not the kind of thing normal people ought to be keeping around for home defense anyway. But failing that, he uses shotguns. I guess the moral of the story is that you probably shouldn’t buy a handgun for home defense. You’re probably going to hurt yourself or someone else in an accident than you are to thwart a robbery by staging a successful re-enactment of the last half hour of Patriot Games. And if you do try to shoot and kill an intruder, you’re probably going to miss, put a hole in the wall and get stabbed to death by someone who literally brought a knife to a gunfight. And we’ll all be very sad, but we’re all going to secretly think you were kind of a dope after you’re gone. Sorry. Nothing personal–you just should have bought a shotgun instead. Or locked your doors and called the cops like a smart person would.

But if you want a melee weapon for home defense, well, again, I wouldn’t, because if you’re going to get close enough to really get around on a bad’un with a bat, you’re going to get close enough for him to stab you to death, which, again, will cause your loved ones to think you’re kind of a dope after you die. Hockey sticks have more reach, but less heft, and golf clubs are probably only good for one, maybe two swings. I’d take a dangerous tool, like an adze or a scythe, instead. Or go all out and buy a halberd. Chicks dig guys with halberds–makes them feel safe. This is totally true.

@Matt_Winkelman: “What drives fan interest, storylines and player personality or talent, is it bad to have irrational favorites?”

I’m going to assume that second comma is supposed to be a semicolon and those are two separate questions. To answer them in sequence, I’d say both and no.

What drives fan interest is entirely a matter of personal taste, and whether the qualitative or the empirical is the primary concern changes from fan to fan and even from judgment to judgment for a single fan. For instance, I enjoy the bejeezus out of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton entirely because of his talent, because I don’t know the first thing about him as a person, nor do I care. On the other hand, I root just as hard for Angels farmhand Michael Roth, who is as pedestrian an athlete as Stanton is transcendent, entirely because of his personality and personal history.

The most-beloved players, though, are both. I’d hold up Ken Griffey Jr. and Cal Ripken as exemplars of this statement. Among current players, I think there may be no better example of combining personality and talent than R.A. Dickey, who, predictably, is almost universally beloved. My favorite baseball player is Jimmy Rollins, and if you asked me why I’d rattle off a list of intangibles that I’d put someone through a plate-glass window for saying about Jeff Francoeur. But Rollins has also been a very good and very exciting player for a long time.

I think fandom is about having irrational favorites. Liking a player just because he plays for your team is the height of irrationality. However good a prospect Jackie Bradley is, and however much his specific skill set contains almost everything I value in a ballplayer, the only reason I like him so much is that he played for South Carolina while I was there. Sounds pretty irrational to me.

Ask any thoughtful baseball fan, no matter how empirical his or her judgment may be, and you’d probably get a couple irrational favorites, regardless of performance. Which is good. Sports are at their best when they make you irrationally happy.

@hdrubin: “It’s not Thome/Howard or Leno/O’Brien, but what would you do with Beltre vs. Olt if you were the Rangers GM?”

This is a fantastic question, because this is precisely the fantasy scenario every armchair GM spends hours considering. Honestly, I think this is less similar to Thome/Howard than you might think, because Beltre’s got more in the tank than Thome did and Howard was a better prospect than Olt is.

I’d trade Olt. First of all the Rangers have a glut of good young infielders even without Olt, and Beltre is a future Hall of Famer who’s got at least three, probably four, more years on his contract. And even if the bat starts to go, he’s still one the best defensive third baseman in the game.

The reason I wouldn’t move Olt to first base, DH or an outfield corner is because his value is so much higher at third base. Olt has big power, yes, but more average contact skills, so his all-around offensive game is not going to be nearly as close to that of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton as his raw power is. Which means that guys who can hit like Olt and play first base or DH don’t exactly grow on trees, but they’re not the Holy Grail, either. At third base, however, such players are rarer, particularly players who are actually pretty good defenders at that position, as Olt is purported to be. Factor in the paucity of young, skilled, major-league-ready third baseman making this a seller’s market for Texas, even accounting for how obvious it is that the Rangers have to move him. Plus the Rangers are still trying to win, and even though Beltre’s old an expensive, he’s still pretty much in the Demon Boil stage of his career, while Olt still has the uncertainty of a Larval Mass.

Given that the Rangers still need outfield help, I’d see what Olt could buy in a trade.

That’ll do it for this week. The person I promised a world-ending answer to about the Singleton-smoking-pot question, hang on for another week. I couldn’t give that one the rant it deserved this time around, but I’ll get to it.

Again, if you have questions about imaginary road beef or the Cold War or even about baseball, write in on Twitter using the #crashbag hashtag (yes, it rhymes and there’s nothing I can do about it).

One last note, perhaps for the first time ever, all five of us have written something this week, so scroll back through the archives and check out:

Ryan, Bill and Paul all used nice colorful graphics, too.

Pleasant dreams for a pleasant weekend, everyone, and may all of your love be directed toward people who actually exist.

 


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