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Crash Bag, Vol. 41: Fleet of Foot, Absent of Neck

It is OPENING DAY! At 3 p.m. EST, Jordan Montgomery takes the mound against Liberty University and for the first time since last August, a team I follow will be playing meaningful regular-season baseball. Joey Pankake, “Hold Me Closer” LB Dantzler and the South Carolina Gamecocks, locked in mortal interscholastic combat with the Fightin’ Jerry Falwells! You know how that makes me feel?

Yes, sir. And remember, college baseball is now accepting callers for these pendant keychains, so if you want to hop on the bandwagon while there are still seats, you can start with my superb college baseball primer, for which the public had been clamoring, and I posted over the weekend, so you may have missed it.

Anyway, for ease of site navigation, you’re going to have to negotiate a jump to get to the rest of the Crash Bag, so click that little link and we’ll be on our way.

@pivnert: “what is the most important thing you’re looking for this spring training? Howard? Halladay? the collective youngs?”

I cannot tell you how many damns I do not give about spring training. I wrote a whole thing about it last year. I don’t care about who’s in what shape, who’s playing well and who’s not and how much all the beat writers are enjoying wearing khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts while we’re all freezing to death. Do. Not. Care. Spring training performance has only marginally more predictive value in baseball than the lunar phase. So I’ll be watching college baseball, and the NBA, and hockey and soccer, and certainly reading volumes of season preview material, but I don’t expect to learn anything from the games themselves. Blah blah blah platitudes, blah blah best shape of his career, blah blah blah quad-A player raking, blah blah blah blah blah.

@cwyers: “What would the Phillies 2013 season look like if it was a summer tentpole movie directed by J.J. Abrams?”

Anyone know the etymology of the term “summer tentpole movie?” It’s probably from the circus, but I like to think it’s a boner joke. In fact, I’m not going to look it up because it’s funnier if it’s a boner joke and I’d just rather believe that.

Way back when, at the beginnings of the Crash Bag, I was asked to speculate on what baseball would look like if it were directed by Baz Luhrmann. I said, among other things, this:

“I imagine Luhrmann would spend innings at a time cutting between Shane Victorino smiling and Bryce Harper dealing with a facial tic, and we’d see home runs from a vantage point that starts from an aerial shot, then zooms down to ground level, eventually snaking along the infield dirt until we’re looking up at the home plate umpire, legs spread like the Colossus of Rhodes, holding his mask high above his head in triumph and ecstasy, with a demure yet flirtatious and sexually inviting expression on his face.”

With that said, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was so noisy, so bright and so glibly stupid that it makes Moulin Rouge! look like a David Fincher movie.

But I get the feeling that Colin really asked this question so I’d go on some long-winded rant about Star Trek Into Darkness. But I’m not going to take the bait.

Except to say that when I was a young boy, Star Trek: The Next Generation was an immensely important part of my life. I remember, at age three, being placed on the sofa by my father, where we watched the exciting conclusion of “The Best of Both Worlds,” otherwise known as the Locutus of Borg cliffhanger. I get the sense that the generational passing down of pop culture likes and dislikes wasn’t particularly strong in my family, at least compared to other people I’ve spoken to. I mean, my parents pushed me to consume books and music and so on generally, but they were kind of hands-off regarding what kinds of books and music I grew to like as I got older.

Star Wars and Star Trek were notable exceptions. Some of my most vivid memories of my pre-school-aged life are of watching those shows and movies with my dad, and having him explain concepts like The Force and the Q continuum to me in terms that a five-year-old would understand. And as I got old enough to consume them through my own eyes, I came to appreciate not only the spaceships and aliens, but how intelligently-written TNG was. It wasn’t Mad Men, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Brian Phillips explains the appeal better than I do, but you start watching a space opera and after 150-odd episodes, you leave with an undergraduate-level understanding of political philosophy.

Star Trek has sex and violence and explosions, but it’s fundamentally about people sitting down and reflecting on society. And as smart  and introspective as Star Trek can be at its best, J.J. Abrams’ rebooted vision for the series is equally cheeky and fatuous. It glories in being stupid. It makes a huge show of capturing the lens flare and the sound effects of the original while addressing none of the larger issues. Even the worst of the first 10 movies had some larger message, whether it’s a profound statement on how we adjust to the end of the cold war or a crazily ham-fisted environmentalist screed or a clumsy allegory for the Yugoslavian Civil War. Even when the old Star Trek wasn’t hitting the mark, we could take comfort in something Data said in Star Trek Nemesis: “I aspire, sir. To be better than I am. The B4 does not. Nor does Shinzon.” Nor does J.J. Abrams.

I get that if you’re going to make a summer tentpole movie, and you’re, you know…what’s the word…oh, yes, a simpleton. That you might dumb down the reboot for a wider audience. Fine. I recognize that I’m not that far off the level of Star Trek fan that puts on forehead makeup and dresses my dog as a Targ and goes to conventions as a Klingon. I don’t do those things, but I’m probably not that far off.

If it’s a reboot, you’re allowed to take liberties, and some of them worked out well. I think the new movie took advantage of modern special effects in a way that wasn’t possible even with Nemesis, and while I thought the movie looked like they were trying a little too hard to re-create the 1960s, I respect the choice. Ditto Chris Pine playing Han Solo playing James Kirk, which was fun. Plus Karl Urban was just awesome. I love me some Karl Urban.

But while I’m willing to let go on things like, say, putting Carol Marcus in a Starfleet uniform, or the stupid plots, or Zachary Quinto equating being Vulcan with being made out of stone, or playing a level of I’m-my-own-Grandpa that stands out as obnoxious even for a Star Trek movie, there’s a bit of that nine-minute trailer that was really the last straw for me.

For some reason, our intrepid heroes are saving some anonymous aboriginal folks from annihilation by a volcano. Zachary Quinto puts on the Iron Man suit and jumps into the volcano, where he plans to use an ice cube to prevent the eruption, and it becomes clear for some reason that he can’t be retrieved. Pine cracks wise at Urban, Zoe Saldana makes the big eyes and gets weepy and John Cho stares off into space. Frenetic action, lots of flashing lights, so far not that big a departure from the first movie, still a massive departure in tone from the source material, but, again, I concede that this movie was made for people who don’t notice that they’re being talked down to.

So Captain Kirk rouses the Enterprise from where it’d been hiding, under a lake, and proposes to fly over to Spock and beam him up. Never mind that the new timeline apparently advances technology to the point where starships can also become submarines at the drop of a hat, when, 120-odd years later, the prime timeline Federation hasn’t managed it. But I get that it looks cool to have water cascading off the saucer section and to have Kirk and McCoy jump off a cliff into the sea, even if hiding a starship underwater is of dubious utility when the people you’re hiding it from haven’t invented the wheel yet, and would have been none the wiser if you’d just stayed 15 miles off the ground or behind a cloud or something. But again, I get that we’re not even trying to be intelligent anymore, and we’re making storytelling decisions by what makes for the coolest special effects.

Anyway, the Enterprise having been extricated from the depths, water cascading off it as if it were Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon (“The Romulans have opened fire, Captain!” “Reroute auxiliary power to Brooke Shields, Mr. Worf!”), Captain Kirk wants to go retrieve Spock.

Spock, who’s a real drama queen for someone who’s sworn off emotion, is determined to be a martyr and says that if the tribal folks see the Enterprise, it would be a violation of the Prime Directive, so Kirk’s gotta let him burn.

Which is true. For those of you unfamiliar with the Prime Directive, it states that the Federation isn’t allowed to interfere with the development of other societies, especially societies that haven’t discovered warp drive. So even making themselves known to the tribal people would be a major booboo.

Except for one thing…isn’t saving them from the volcano in the first place a violation of the Prime Directive? And I know that if you scroll down in that link, you get to an exception that says Starfleet can save a pre-warp society from a natural disaster that’s unknown to them if it can be done covertly. Except you can see the volcano from the village. I’m pretty sure they know it’s coming. Because, you know, special effects.

But whatever. I mean, it’s not particularly important that a Star Trek movie get this right, is it? It’s not like it’s the most important rule in the Federation. Otherwise they’d have given it an important name.

OH WAIT. IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IN THE FEDERATION. You have ONE THING you need to get right, J.J. Abrams, and it’s not like you just kind of forgot about it and went a completely different direction. You (at least by proxy, as director and producer, if not screenwriter) went out of your way to construct a situation where the Prime Directive would come up and then GOT IT WRONG.

This is like Spielberg making Lincoln and casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Father Abraham, who had many sons. This is overt, in-your-face, cheerful disregard for a proud storytelling tradition and instead making a movie so enamored with explosions and plagued by plot holes that it would make Michael Bay’s carriage turn back into a pumpkin. I curse you, J.J. Abrams. From Hell’s heart I stab at thee. I won’t stand for your turning Star Trek into something that would be shown in the dystopic future portrayed in Demolition Man. The line must be drawn here! This far, and no further!

And there goes my college baseball opening day buzz.

@uublog: “What will you do if J.J. Abrams makes a good Star Wars movie?”

He won’t. But if he does, I’ll probably see it in the theater more than once, buy the DVD and tell my friends to do the same. And continue not to forgive him for ruining Star Trek.

@goldenmonkey: “Make 5 crazy predictions for the 2013 season.”

  1. Elvis AndrusMike Olt and Jurickson Profar all play the entire season with the Texas Rangers. I know it looks like Olt or Profar or both will start the season in the minors, but at any rate, I don’t think the team with perhaps the best infield in baseball (which is amazing, considering Mitch Moreland is in that conversation) will either make room for its top infield prospects or liquidate them to fill other holes. I wonder if that best infield question has been addressed anywhere…
  2. The Cleveland Indians will win the AL Central. This is the weakest division in baseball by far, and the Indians have added two top-notch outfield bats in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, retain a strong bullpen and some promising young infielders in Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, and the starting pitching can’t help but get better. I say that not only because Ubaldo Jimenez was so bad as to defy belief last year, but because Brett Myers is a competent pitcher and there’s some potential upside with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Trevor Bauer. Plus it’s really easy for a mediocre team to beat the crap out of a really awful team and make up a lot of wins on a heavy division favorite. I don’t actually think this will happen, but neither do I think it’s as farfetched as it looks.
  3. Jason Heyward leads the National League in WAR and doesn’t finish in the top 10 in MVP voting.
  4. The Los Angeles Angels fail once more to make the playoffs.
  5. John Jaso makes the All-Star team. This is almost certainly not going to happen, but I’ve always really liked Jaso’s game and it doesn’t take a lot of offense to get noticed at catcher anymore. Plus I’m out of crazy but plausible predictions and if this one comes true I’m going to look prescient as hell, so let’s get nasty.

@DashTreyhorn: “If you had to make a choice, would you rather watch LeBron James’ career unfold as a baseball or football player?”

At the risk of being obvious, I’d have to say football. Even assuming that LeBron wasn’t a gifted football player in high school and, to my knowledge, hadn’t played competitive baseball since Little League, if at all, and assuming he’d been schooled as well in football or baseball as he has been in basketball, I think it comes down to what kind of an athlete he is.

First of all, sheer athleticism, which LeBron has as much of as anybody I’ve ever seen, comes out better in football. Being big, fast and strong is more important in a game that involves more running, jumping and shoving. So while LeBron the center fielder might be able to crush 450-foot home runs or make spectacular leaping catches, you’d only see something truly breathaking once every couple games, and the possibility would only exist for something like that to happen…four plate appearances plus three fielding chances makes about seven times a game. If he were a receiver or a defensive end, you’d see him make that kind of breathtaking play a couple times a game, and the possibility would exist on every snap.

Second, as great an athlete as LeBron is, his body is not well-suited to playing baseball. The best all-around position players are built like fireplugs. Short arms and legs make for faster acceleration and cleaner swing mechanics. Long, spindly position players like Jayson Werth are the exception. Look at Chase Utley, who is like a little teapot and is almost crablike in the field. Or Albert Pujols, who is a huge guy but is mostly torso. Or Mike Trout, who is as fleet of foot as he is absent of neck. In basketball, reach is everything, and LeBron is built for that.

I think his best-case baseball scenario, being as tall as he is, would have him lose about 30 pounds of muscle and make him into a big horse starting pitcher, like Roy Halladay. Even then, at 6-foot-8, you’d worry about LeBron’s mechanics coming apart, but assuming that, he’s obviously got the coordination and intelligence to put together some sort of multi-pitch arsenal. What I think would be really cool about this is that LeBron is constantly reinventing himself as a basketball player, working on his defense, his outside shooting, his passing, his post-up game–adding a new wrinkle to his game every offseason. It’s the kind of incremental improvement a pitcher can make–and we saw Cole Hamels add a curveball and a cutter a couple years back and take a huge step forward–but LeBron strikes me as the kind of player who’d constantly be learning new pitches or changing his fastball grip slightly or altering his approach to keep hitters off-balance.

He’d still be a better wideout or defensive end than a baseball player, but if he’d grown up playing baseball, that’s the kind of player I’d envision him becoming.

@notkerouac: “if I punched Roy Halladay in the groin, what would break first, my hand or my wrist?”

This is a true story. When I was in 9th grade, a friend of mine, as a joke, slammed my locker while I was getting my books out of it. My hand got caught in the locker door and it hurt like hell. I don’t think he was trying to injure me deliberately, because all 15-year-old boys are impulsive and stupid, and because he was immediately apologetic. But I reflexively called him a dirty word and punched him as hard as I could in the stomach.

My friend was a varsity swimmer and was in such incredible shape he had muscle definition in his neck. I’ve never met anyone else who had muscle definition in his neck, but my friend did. Anyway, his stomach was apparently similarly bemuscled and…well, long story short, you’ll break your wrist before you break your hand.

@Major_Hog: “What would RAJ likely have to give up for Giancarlo Stanton and would it be worth it?”

Cole Hamels, if they eat about 95 percent of his contract, probably gets the Marlins to take the Phillies’ call. The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton is entering his age-23 season, slugged .608 last year and is under team control for three more seasons. The Phillies literally do not have anything to trade that would make it worth the Marlins’ while to give up Stanton, particularly because they’re cutting costs like crazy and the Phillies are pretty close to not having any top-100 prospects. You can pretty much stop talking about acquiring cost-controlled, young superstar talent when your best prospects might become mid-rotation starting pitchers.

@SoMuchForPathos: “What would it take for a team to trade for Mike Trout, on a scale from ‘Guatemala’ to ‘the Death Star?’ “

“Yes,” says Ruben Amaro. “I’ll listen on Guatemala. I’ll give you Morgan, Quinn and Biddle for your war-torn country full of impoverished coffee farmers. Impoverished coffee farmers–that’s got the sound of a champion!”

I think the Death Star does it. Because Mike Trout is already 24th all-time among Angels position players in career bWAR.

Rk Player WAR/pos G PA
1 Jim Fregosi 43.3 1429 5945
2 Tim Salmon 37.1 1672 7039
3 Brian Downing 35.3 1661 6912
4 Bobby Grich 32.9 1222 4876
5 Darin Erstad 30.4 1320 5789
6 Garret Anderson 23.6 2013 8480
7 Vladimir Guerrero 20.9 846 3606
8 Troy Glaus 20.8 827 3479
9 Chone Figgins 20.8 936 4075
10 Torii Hunter 19.7 713 2993
11 Jim Edmonds 19.1 709 2951
12 Doug DeCinces 17.5 787 3268
13 Wally Joyner 17.4 899 3774
14 Howie Kendrick 17.1 802 3232
15 Adam Kennedy 16.5 992 3688
16 Rod Carew 16.2 834 3570
17 Dick Schofield 14.9 1086 3918
18 Erick Aybar 14.4 770 2930
19 Devon White 14.2 612 2429
20 Albie Pearson 12.4 689 2668
21 Gary Pettis 12.2 584 2156
22 David Eckstein 12.0 567 2520
23 Bobby Knoop 11.8 803 2886
24 Mike Trout 11.3 179 774
25 Maicer Izturis 10.9 759 2792
Rk Player WAR/pos G PA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/14/2013.

Which is pretty hilarious if you ask me. At this rate he should catch Torii Hunter by the end of the season. Equally hilarious, by the way? Your all-time career WAR leader among Angels players? Jim friggin’ Fregosi. I should do an Obscure Former Phillies Hour on him. I might do that.

But yeah, Trout is as close to an unmovable commodity as exists, well, at least in North American sports. Maybe LeBron James, to bring him up again, or Kevin Durant, but that’s in a sport where player value is distributed like wealth in a Middle Eastern petrostate. In  baseball, player value is distributed more equally. Baseball is the Sweden of sports talent distribution. And The Great Satan, Delmon Young, is the one homeless person in Gothenburg.

But yeah, four more years of team control, best player in the game, only 21 years old, plays a premium position…I don’t think you’d need a whole Death Star, but if you showed up in Orange County with a couple Star Destroyers to show Jerry DiPoto, I think you could hammer out a deal.

Though what the Galactic Empire would possibly want with a baseball player is beyond me. What a silly question. Not nearly as silly as Jim Fregosi being the Angels’ all-time leader in WAR, though.