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Crash Bag, Vol. 68: Let Them Sing

Posted By Michael Baumann On August 23, 2013 @ 6:53 am In Crabshurn Urly,Crash Bag,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Potpourri,Talking about feelings | 14 Comments

I’m about to say something, fully aware of the irony the venue provides. I started doing the Crash Bag last May because I was bored and unemployed, and looking for something steady to contribute. I figured a mailbag would be fun and relatively easy, and a bunch of writers I look up to–Bill Simmons, Katie Baker and Drew Magary in particular–have done it, so why not?

But there are a lot of mailbag columns out there. I don’t think this is a bad thing–mailbags tend to be casual, cover a wide range of topics and encourage community involvement, all of which I like–and even if I did, it’s not like I have an special claim to the format. But right now, I’m reading four of them a week on Deadspin, plus various and sundry other weekly mailbag columns and listener email podcast segments. Counting the Crash Bag, I’m exposed to probably as many as a dozen a week.

I just wonder if we’re in a mailbag column bubble right now. I have no plans of stopping the Crash Bag any time soon, but now might be a good time to short your stock anyway.

@ryne_jones: “what is the best color”

Blue. It’s versatile and brings out the color in my eyes. Next question.

@DashTreyhorn: “What is the most exciting play in sports?”

I think excitement has a lot more to do with when a play happens than what the play itself is. The ground ball to shortstop with the World Series on the line gets your heart racing more than a triple (widely said to be the most exciting play in baseball) in the fifth inning of a game in May. I, personally, am more excited by the buildup to a play than the play itself. Here’s a list of my favorites:

  • Anytime a soccer or hockey team with a one-goal lead goes into Alamo Mode. The clock’s ticking down and the action is entirely at one end, leaving the goalie and defenders to scramble furiously to repel repeated attacks like the Spartans and Thermopylae, where one mental lapse or one bad deflection means disaster–there’s nothing quite like it.
  • The Penalty Shootout. A completely unfair way to decide a soccer game, but it always sends one team through and the other home, and it’s almost all buildup. There’s just so much time to contemplate your own fallibility and psych yourself out before you take one swift, fine-tuned action upon which the fate of your club or country hangs. Which might explain this.
  • The Continuous Lateral Play. This one would rank No. 1 if it didn’t fail an overwhelming percentage of the time. I’ve seen it work twice (during a game I was already watching): the Music City Miracle, and a Saints regular-season game a couple years later. Down 7 with time for one more play, the Saints needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive and they ran the Continuous Lateral Play with (I’m pretty sure I remember this right) Aaron Brooks, Michael Lewis, Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn AND IT WORKED. Then John Carney missed the extra-point to tie and everyone went home sad. It was awesome. Oh, wait, here’s the video. It was Donte Stallworth and Jerome Pathon, not Joe Horn. But still, it’s by far my favorite moment in an NFL game in which I had no emotional investment.

@Phixated: “If you could pick anyone – ANYONE – to be announcers for the Phillies, who would you choose?”

Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. Okay, probably not Macca, but I’ve enjoyed this broadcast pairing more than any other I’ve encountered, and it’s not even close. Sir Ian has the complete set of tools–a soothing, patrician voice, an ability to kill time with stories and digressions and an uncanny ability to tell when doing so is appropriate. He’s knowledgeable without being condescending or wonky and walks with a bag of modifiers that (and I don’t care if this is sacrilege) makes Vin Scully look like Joe Morgan. I remember him and Macca calling (I think) a West Brom-Reading game a year or two ago where the quality of play was so bad they kept apologizing, but they still made it fun. And he can go from that to the appropriate level of excitement and gravity for the two most important calls in the past 10 years of American soccer. I’ll tell you what–I think that apart from Al Michaels’ “Do You Believe in Miracles,” I think Darke’s “Abby Wambach has saved the USA’s life!” call is the most recognizable in American international sports. The whole call is just incredible. Listen to it again, how his tone perfectly matches the tone of the buildup of play, gradually increasing in pace and volume, and it’s like he holds his breath when Rapinoe’s cross is in the air. I’d rather have Darke on the call and teach him baseball than try to coach a baseball guy I like, whether it’s Jon Miller or Len Kasper or Mike Ferrin or whoever else, up to that level. It can’t be done.

So who to partner Darke with? The temptation would be to put a stats guy or writer in there who isn’t blinded by the fetishization of in-game experience. But I don’t think that’s enough. As much as I’d like to reject totally the jockocracy of sports broadcasting, I think there’s something to be added by having a former player or coach in the booth. Gabe Kapler‘s a hot name right now as a former player (and now, former minor league manager) who “gets stats,” but I really don’t think stats are important in and of themselves–I really don’t. I’ve been saying for a while now that it’s about the philosophy, of being educated in all aspects of analysis (insofar as that’s possible).

What I think I’m really looking for in a color analyst is someone with enough knowledge of how the game is played at the highest level to give useful insight into what the players are going through on the field, but not so much that he thinks that knowledge overrides all other logic and information and allows him to rest on cliches and cheap anti-intellectual humor instead of doing his homework. Essentially, I think I’m looking for Mike Mayock for baseball. I think Kapler’s the obvious first choice, though I don’t want to just pick on the sexy name right now, and if you’d asked me this question two years ago I’d have gone for Disco Hayes or Dirk Hayhurst. I heard rave reviews about Brad Lidge‘s speaking appearance at the SABR conference, so he’s an option as well.

If we’re going to have a three-man booth, I’d want a writer or some sort of wonk as the third guy. This could take some pressure off the ex-player or coach to be an empiricist and allow for the dynamic of what MLB Now could be if Harold Reynolds weren’t a semiliterate moron and Brian Kenny hadn’t turned into a humorless sabermetric fundamentalist. Ken Rosenthal would be good in this role, but he’s such a good reporter that he’d be wasted in the booth. Will Leitch could work, as could Jonah Keri, but I’m trying to avoid the perception that since I’ve started writing for Grantland I’ve been following him around like the orphan boy who tried to be like Data in Star Trek. So I’d go with David Murphy, who’s been superb since stepping off the beat and into a columnist’s role at the Daily News (and wearing glasses in his Twitter avatar as well, because he’s smart now), as our third guy. Plus, since it’s the Phillies, it’d be nice to have someone who knows the team.

So to recap: a two-man booth of Ian Darke and Gabe Kapler or a three-man booth of Sir Ian, Brad Lidge and Murph.

It occurs to me you might have been looking for something more outlandish, and if that’s the case, I refer you to Volume 36 of the Crash Bag, where I wrote about a potential Jon Hamm/Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence three-man booth. That Crash Bag also features my answering questions about the Wisconsin cold and…how about that…would you look at this next question!

@AntsinIN: “The offseason is looming ominously. How are you planning to stay sane amidst the blistering winter hellscape that is Wisconsin?”

Cold does not bother me. I am fat and hairy and sweat like Delmon Young in a synagogue given even a modicum of heat or humidity. It is my own personal cross to bear that I so adore the culture of the Southeastern U.S. but that its weather makes me physically ill. I got here on January 3 and drive to work past a bank sign that’s more than once told me the outside temperature was in negative double digits. I’ve found icicles in my beard after being outside for less than five minutes and didn’t see grass for three and a half months after moving out here. I have never been as cold in Madison as I have been on Temple’s campus when the wind is blowing and freezing rain is coming down.

Plus I follow other sports. Soccer is already warming my heart with rage (more on that in a moment) and college football will sustain me until the new year, at which point hockey and basketball start mattering, then the Olympics, then college baseball, then we’re back to MLB. I’ve thought this through.

@mattjedruch: “£70 million lands on Arsène Wenger’s lap and he is forced to spend it. Which 3 players should he buy?”

If all that money lands in Arsene Wenger’s lap and it’s in coins or small bills, he’d probably be more interested in finding a doctor than a midfielder.

Joking aside, I was a big fan of getting Higuain and Luis Gustavo, but apparently that wasn’t in the cards. In my expert soccer opinion (which isn’t a thing, to be clear–my relationship with soccer is that of a fan. A well-informed fan, I like to think, but I’m not a real analyst or anything.), Arsenal’s problem is that they never replaced Patrick Vieira. Which is a harder thing to do than it is to say, if I’m being totally honest. Guys who stand 6-foot-4 with world-class stamina, strength and vision don’t exactly grow on trees. I’ll put it this way–the only athlete whose game I found so aesthetically appealing it made me follow a sport is Thierry Henry, which is why I’m an Arsenal fan to start. And the only athlete in any sport I’d rather watch play than Robin van Persie in his last couple years at Arsenal is prime Allen Iverson. But Vieira’s the ultimate soccer player for me, and since he left, Arsenal’s slowly eroded into the effete, ineffectual commune of wimpy Francophones you see before you today.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that that Yohan Cabaye bid fell through, because for the life of me I can’t fathom what, with Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky in the fold, they’d possibly use Cabaye for.

My priorities would be:

  • Another striker. Olivier Giroud’s fine, but he’s the only out-and-out center forward they’ve got.
  • A real defensive midfielder. Someone who can run all day, push some people around and just generally be functional. Not everyone’s got to be a playmaker. Somebody’s got to break up plays through the middle and start the counterattack. Jack Wilshere is turning into a Vieira-like emotional figure for Arsenal, but there are three problems: 1) He’s seven inches shorter than Vieira and thus not the imposing physical presence 2) He’s hurt a lot 3) Where Vieira was intimidating, Wilshere’s sociopathic. Vieiria fought Roy Keane before a game–Wilshere would have killed him with an axe. He’ll get suspended too much to be truly reliable.
  • Some defensive depth. With one defender injured and another sent off, Arsenal turned to Carl Jenkinson last weeked, which…well…fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

So, three players:

  • Robert Lewandowski. Dortmund wants to sell him, just not to Bayern Munich. Given that Arsenal has cash to burn (or so I’m told), it baffles me that they haven’t made a Godfather offer for Lewandowski, who’s as methodical a goalscorer as is currently working right now–precisely the kind pragmatic finisher to get on the end of all that beautiful buildup.
  • I want to say someone other than Michael Bradley, because I don’t want to be the ugly American, but he’s got a cannon of a shot, is a beautiful long-range passer, runs all day and at 6-foot-2 and with a penchant for going years without smiling, is a physical presence in front of the back four. I’d have liked the idea of Luis Gustavo just fine–he’s a similar type of player–but failing that, I just adore Bradley’s game. Maybe Marouane Fellaini would be the kind of player Alex Song turned into at Arsenal, but I don’t know that £70 million gets you both him and Lewandowski. I guess Daniele De Rossi would work here too, but he’s a little too old to fit Arsenal’s scheme.
  • Jan Vertonghen would’ve been ideal, but Spurs would never sell him to Arsenal. I was furious when I heard he was going to Tottenham, because I love his game. I know that with Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal at left back (plus injured and maybe exiled captain Thomas Vermaelen able to fill in there) left back isn’t really an issue for Arsenal, but I adore Leighton Baines and if he came to Arsenal I’d buy a billion jerseys.

@dj_mosfett: “Apart from the USA’s, what national anthem do you like the most?”

I love national anthems–it’s hard not to be moved by true patriotism, even when the country in question isn’t yours. For this reason, I love the Olympic medal presentations and pregame ceremonies before international soccer matches. Italy is a stupid country with a stupid soccer team and a stupid national anthem, but damn if Gianluigi Buffon screwing his eyes shut and belting out a slightly off-key rendition of his country’s official song doesn’t send me to the verge of tears. Even “God Save the Queen,” which is as dreary, outdated and stultified a national anthem as the United Kingdom warrants, carries a gravitas. Though it does sound like Eddie Izzard singing “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” (Note: I watched Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill one Saturday night when I was in college, then went to services at the local Methodist church the next morning, only to discover that the first hymn was that selfsame “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” I have never put more effort into stifling my own laughter.)

Anyway. I used to be really down on our national anthem, apart from the fact that by virtue of it being the national anthem of the United States, it is the greatest song in the world. I’m of the belief that a great national anthem is accessible, bombastic and uplifting. Ours is none of those things. It’s an appropriated drinking song in 3/4 and B-flat major, which makes it hard to sing and awkward to march to. I attended a minor-league baseball game earlier this summer where the poor girl singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” went through four–FOUR–key signatures on her way to completing the song. At about 1 minute, 40 seconds in length when done correctly (7 hours, 18 minutes when a narcissistic diva wannabe like Lea Michele is singing it), it’s too long. It’s about (at best) the fourth-most famous battle in our country’s least-famous war. I was down on Francis Scott Key’s greatest hit.

But I was talked out of this opinion all at once, perhaps the most abrupt and complete turnaround I’ve ever experienced. I went on a study abroad program to Brussels the summer after my junior year of college, and one night, after several bottles of Chimay, I broached this opinion to my roommate (who now flies Harriers for the Marines, which makes him about 40 times more badass than I am). And he responded by saying that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is about perseverance, that no matter the adversity, no matter how great the odds against it, America endures. To borrow a baseball idiom, our flag flies forever.

But that’s not the question, is it? What non-American national anthem do I like best?

Due respect to Die Deutschlandlied (and as a proud German-American, that song warms the cockles of my heart), I think it’s got to be Russia’s. It’s a loud, bombastic, uplifting tune that is at once lilting and best sung by hearty baritones. Unlike the German and American national anthems, it’s just as good slow as it is fast. And in a great moment of cultural and political confluence, the national anthems of the Russian Federation and the USSR share a tune but have different lyrics, mirroring the changing one-party autocracy of the nation itself. And only about 80 percent of the reason I love it so much has to do with this scene:

Let them sing.

@Derosatheo11: “which current Phils would make the best actors? The worst?”

I don’t think any of them would make good actors. Ballplayers are trained to complete a very specific set of tasks, and actors to complete an equally specific but completely different set of tasks. I was talking over Twitter earlier this week with someone who wanted to know which athletes were good to follow, and I named two: Brandon McCarthy and Roberto Luongo. I follow people on Twitter who say interesting things, and even among athletes whose on-field exploits or off-field personalities I like, those are very few.

I mentioned Disco Hayes earlier in the Crash Bag. When he was pitching in the Royals’ farm system, I read his blog religiously. I found it to be funny and insightful and generally well-written. For a ballplayer. Disco Hayes is 100 times better at writing than I am at sports. The same goes for Chris Kluwe and Dirk Hayhurst and Doug Glanville and Nate Jackson and whatever other athlete dabbles in sporswriting. That they are as good at writing as they are allows them to communicate their particular experiences to their readers, but they’re still, at least to a certain degree, operating outside their comfort zone. For that reason, given the choice, I’d read Sam Miller over Disco Hayes every time, for the same reason I’d rather watch Disco Hayes throw a baseball–people who are at the top of exclusive professions get there largely through specialization.

That’s why I enjoy athlete cameos in movies for what they are–playing off the athlete’s fame for a little fun. Done well, it works. Who doesn’t love Ken Griffey in Little Big League or Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball? But a pro athlete who’s delivered a real, honest-to-God good acting performance? Carl Weathers in Rocky, maybe? The Rock in Be Cool? Such a performance probably exists but I struggle to think of it.

So as far as which of the current Phillies would make the best actor? Probably anybody but Jonathan Papelbon.

@Wzeiders: “Affleck as Batman. What have we done to deserve this?”

We need to roll this one back a few layers, because this is not the right question. The right question is: “What have we done to deserve Ben Affleck playing Batman in the world’s nine-millionth comic book crossover supergroup in the past 10 years, this one featuring the least imaginative character in the history of fiction (DURR HE’S ALL POWERFUL AND INVINCIBLE GET IT) and directed by the man who gave us Sucker Punch?”

You brought this on yourself, America. I have no sympathy. May God have mercy on your soul.

@RealAdultPerson: “Who would you choose to play Batman?”

Ah, an opportunity to end on a constructive note. I think Christian Bale was a fine Batman…well, the voice did annoy me a little bit, but I thought he was a fine Bruce Wayne. And that was really the only part that mattered, because once you put the mask on it doesn’t matter who’s behind it, really. I mean, all superheroes (in ass-kicking, spandex-wearing trim) are just buff guys who beat the crap out of people. The guy with the secret identity is where it’s at.

For that reason, I don’t get the Affleck hate. I think he’s a tall, good-looking 40-year-old white guy. Aren’t all superheroes this type of person? He wouldn’t be my first choice, but Superman vs. Batman II: Craven, Cynical Money Grab isn’t a movie whose success is going to hinge on its actors (or its writers, or its directors, else they wouldn’t keep hiring the likes of Zack Snyder to direct superhero movies).

But if we were going to make a real movie of this, we’d be looking for a classically handsome American in his late 30s or early 40s, but without the look of perennial confusion that Affleck wears. If I had an confidence in his ability to do an American accent, I’d be intrigued by Michael F. Assbender. Otherwise, you just order a charming white due from central casting: Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt…really, anyone named Bradley or Ryan will do.

But I’d have to go with the guy who brought us My Man Bob Benson–James Wolk. He’s not a big name, but you don’t need one to carry Batman. He can do the vulnerable, pouty orphan thing and I’d be interested to see what he could do with a role like Batman. Give him two weeks’ worth of Krav Maga lessons and I’m sure he can do the grappling hook and punchfighting nonsense too. Done and done.

Thank you for patronizing the Crash Bag. Please make an orderly exist and be sure to send questions for next week to me on Twitter at @MJ_Baumann or via the #crashbag hashtag.

 


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