Crash Bag, Vol. 71: The Opacity of Athletes

Yeah, I got nothing. Let’s go.


Because this is the mailbag column for Crashburn Alley. It’s a portmanteau.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which military leaders would have been good baseball managers, assuming, y’know, that a Caesar or Genghis Khan learns baseball.”

The thing about baseball is that it doesn’t really lend itself to creative tactics. You start bunting and hit-and-running and playing for the platoon advantage all the time and you’re going to start collecting outs the way a stray dog collects fleas. If you put T.E. Lawrence, for instance, in charge of a ballclub you’d go weeks without a batter swinging away with a man on base. He’d be like Tony La Russa in a turban. We don’t know how big an effect a manager has on his team, but all we can quantify is tactical. What we know is that the tactical benefit is small, but the psychic benefit of a manager is believed to be large. I can think of no other reason why three of my favorite GMs in the game–John Mozeliak, Jon Daniels and Neal Huntington–continue to employ three simply abject in-game managers.

No, we want an inspirational figure who knows when to keep his hands off. Nobody with a God complex need apply. We’re after somebody who, given good intelligence (i.e. scouting reports and run expectancy charts) will trust it and act on it and not beat himself by trying to get overly creative. Grand Admiral Thrawn would be a terrible baseball manager, but I imagine he’d be the best offensive coordinator in history. Chip Kelly may be Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Which is why I want Ulysses S. Grant to manage my baseball team. I imagine Grant being kind of a dour yet charismatic manager, and when it comes to tactics, well, here’s his legacy: From 1861-1863, the Army of the Potomac pranced around Maryland and Virginia with overwhelming numerical superiority. And the various generals in charge kept getting cute, trying to turn the war into a battle of wits, which would’ve been a smart thing to do, if the Confederate army didn’t have the three smartest generals on the field.

So when Grant came over, he essentially went: “Wait–we’ve got more men, and more guns? Like lots more men and lots more guns? Well, screw it then. Let’s just steamroll these bastards, because they’ll run out of soldiers before we do.”

It’s that kind of elegant simplicity that I admire. Put General Grant in charge of the Cincinnati Reds, and here’s what he’d do: “Wait, we’ve got the two best on-base guys in the league, and a bunch of other dudes who hit for decent power but don’t get on base that much? Okay, well let’s put Choo and Votto next to each other and it won’t matter if Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips never walk–they’ll both drive in 150 runs a year.”

Baseball tactics are as easy as baseball itself is difficult.

@j0brown31: “can you see Ethan Martin going to the bullpen and hopefully becoming a Madson-type guy (poor starter/good relief)?”

That seems to be the plan. And it makes sense–Martin’s got the profile of a good reliever coming up. He throws pretty hard, misses bats, but has trouble throwing strikes, keeping his delivery together and turning over a lineup. Those are like three of the five reasons pitchers wind up in the bullpen (the other two being health and platoon issues). Our Prospect Impresario predicted that’s where Martin would end up, so when in doubt, I trust Longenhagen.

@VojirEsponsito: “do you think the Astros could pass on Rodon like they did on Buxton in order to sign another pick over-slot?”

It’s an interesting question, but they passed on Buxton and Appel in 2012 because they thought Carlos Correa was the best value. From what I remember, Correa was a legitimate contender to go No. 1 overall on merit, not just because he wouldn’t have demanded the kind of bonus Appel or Buxton wanted. All this Byron Buxton-is-the-new-Mike Trout malarkey happened after the draft, and if the Astros had known that their outfielder from Nowheresville, Georgia, would go into Wolf Parade Mode, I’m sure they’d have taken him No. 1 overall.

Right now, Rodon’s a pretty clear consensus (though not unanimous) No. 1 overall pick. And if he’s by far the best player on the board, the Astros will take him and pay him close to slot value, as they did with Appel this year. That said, the top of the draft board could very easily turn into a muddied mess come June–remember, just about nobody knew who Jonathan Gray and Kris Bryant were this time last year. As things stand right now, I’d say the Astros would (and should) take Rodon, but a lot can change in nine months.

@uublog: “Sicnarf Loopstok is the best example of an 80 name tool in sports. Who is the best example of a 20 name tool?”

I’m not sure I accept your premise. I think a great sports name should be more euphonic than silly–Sicnarf Loopstok, while an outstanding name, is definitely more of a silly moniker than a truly great one. So for the same reasons that R.A. Dickey was never viewed in the same light as pitchers of similar age and quality as a trade commodity, I can’t give either Mr. Loopstok or Roughned Odor an 80.

The 80 is reserved for mellifluous names, names that have a tone and cadence, and which communicate some combination of 1) having the kind of athletic skills its owner actually possesses and 2) having the quality of a man who would be played in a movie by, say, Daniel Craig or the young Harrison Ford.

Among my favorites: Rick Nash, Henrik Zetterberg, Nenad Milijas, Miralem Sulejmani, Vickash Ramjit, Hudson Randall, Nolan Fontana, Rafik Halliche, Thiago Splitter, Gerrit Cole, Evander Kane…there are more, but I won’t bore you. I love a good sports name.

But the flip side, the 20 name…I think anything even remotely memorable bumps you up to a 30, even if it’s something like Homer Bailey, where your name seems antithetical to your telos. However, I submit Indians reliever Joe Smith, who, while being quite a good pitcher, has a name that’s often as not used as the sample on a credit card. Poor guy.

@dan_camp: “number of 2018 phillies all-stars: go.”

I’m gonna say three. I have no basis for thinking this, but it seems like a reasonable enough number and I have no basis for thinking much of anything about the 2018 Phillies right now.

Lots of people ask questions like this. Not only about the future, but punctuating them with some sort of imperative or exhortation. Guys, I’m not going to sit around twiddling my thumbs and not typing just because you didn’t drop the green flag. I’ll figure it out–even if your question isn’t actually asked in the form of a question. No need to go around giving orders.

@FelskeFiles: “Why do you like soccer?”

Same reasons I like baseball–it’s a slow-developing game with great history and mythology in which intelligence is rewarded as much as brute strength. That said, soccer is also a game where tremendous feats of athleticism are performed as well–soccer players have coordination, balance and stamina enough to put most other team sport athletes to shame. I’ve often said that Allen Iverson is the most exciting athlete I’ve ever watched, but Thierry Henry, Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo…those guys are pretty close.

Soccer is a game that’s played several passes in advance, so you’re less looking at the ball than trying to anticipate where the ball’s going to go. There’s great tactical variation, from possession-based to counterattacking to pressing to long ball to Alamo Mode, and often times a clash in styles makes for an exhilarating spectacle. There’s next to no total inaction, the way there is in baseball and football–there are ebbs and flows, but every moment is building to something potentially greater.

You know when you sit down for a soccer match, you’re making a two-hour investment and no more. The game is low-scoring, but a goal can come with only seconds’ notice, so you’re never more than a few moments away from the tenor of the game changing dramatically.

And finally, the international game is more developed in soccer than in any other team sport Americans care about. And whatever you think of the game itself, sometimes it just feels good to wrap yourself in the flag and put aside your globalized sensibilities and utter nuances about Mexico for a couple hours on a Tuesday night.

Those, among many other reasons. Speaking of international soccer:

@kjm725: “where will the usmnt finish in brazil, who is the champ, who’s the leading goal scorer ?”

I think it all depends on the draw. Given the new FIFA rankings, there’s a very remote chance the USA gets seeded in this tournament, which could be just a massive advantage–it’d mean avoiding Germany, Spain, Brazil and most of the other heavyweights. But I’m bored right now, so let’s predict a draw based on the current standings and settle all forthcoming playoffs by assuming the higher-ranked team will win. I don’t think this is the case, because, for instance, Tunisia is ranked higher than Egypt and the CAF second round hasn’t been drawn yet. I think this’ll change (no way does Mexico miss out, for instance), but based on current standings, here are your 32 qualifiers:

USA Argentina Belgium Iran Ivory Coast
Costa Rica Colombia Italy South Korea Ghana
Honduras Chile Germany Japan Algeria
Panama Ecuador Netherlands Australia Nigeria
Uruguay Switzerland Tunisia
Brazil Russia
Bosnia and H.

And while I wished it would have worked out nicely such that five UEFA teams got seeded, then we could have a pot of second-tier UEFA countries and so on, that’s not how it worked, unfortunately. So the next eight UEFA teams go into Pot 2, then Sweden, the two unseeded South American countries and the five African countries in Pot 3 and Asia and CONCACAF in Pot 4. Your four pots:

Pot 1 Pot 2 Pot 3 Pot 4
Brazil Netherlands Sweden USA
Spain Croatia Ecuador Costa Rica
Argentina Portugal Chile Honduras
Germany Greece Ivory Coast Panama
Italy Switzerland Ghana Iran
Colombia Russia Algeria South Korea
Belgium England Nigeria Japan
Uruguay Bosnia and H. Tunisia Australia

So given that, I used a very scientific method to sort these teams into groups: I looked at my Gchat list, saw that Liz Roscher (Supreme Blog Lady of our SB Nation Frenemy Blog The Good Phight) was online and asked her to pick a number between 1 and 8 a bunch of times. And here’s what she came up with:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
Brazil Colombia Argentina Italy
Greece England Netherlands Russia
Chile Ivory Coast Algeria Tunisia
Honduras Iran Australia Japan
Group E Group F Group G Group H
Spain Belgium Uruguay Germany
Switzerland Croatia Bosnia and H. Portugal
Ghana Nigeria Sweden Ecuador
Costa Rica USA Panama South Korea

So the USA is in what looks to be the most wide-open group of the lot–if Group F actually shook out like that, I’m not sure there’s an ordering, 1 through 4, that would truly shock me. Note that there’s also the distinct possibility of the USA facing Ghana for the third straight World Cup. It’s probably going to happen.

  • Second round:Brazil def. Ivory Coast, Netherlands def. Russia (avenging their Euro 2008 loss), Spain def. USA (by, like, 1-0 or on penalties or something), Portugal def. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other side of the bracket: England def. Chile, Italy def. Argentina, Croatia def. Switzerland, Germany def. Uruguay.
  • Quarterfinals: Brazil def. Netherlands, Spain def. Portugal, Italy def. England (on penalty kicks, of course), Germany def. Croatia.
  • Semifinals: Brazil def. Spain, Germany def. Italy
  • Final: Brazil def. Germany.

So back to the original questions:

  • The USA will go out in the Round of 16, unless there’s a either an extremely favorable or unfavorable draw.
  • Brazil wins the whole thing.
  • The leading scorer is…I dunno…probably Mario Balotelli, considering he’d have the opportunity to pour a few in against Tunisia and would play (including the third-place game) the maximum number of games.

This is a baseball site. This is a baseball site. This is a baseball site.

@_scott_G: “if u could add one camera in any sport for better replay assist/your own gratification on play/rules, where would you put it?”

I’m actually pretty satisfied with the camera angles we have, and insofar as I have complaints, they have more to do with the opacity of athletes themselves than the positioning of the cameras. Remember–those cameras have been set up by professionals who know what they’re doing. The you-can’t-see-through-athletes thing is a real bummer in football when they’re trying to figure out if a ballcarrier advanced far enough for a first down or touchdown, but you can’t tell because Vince Wilfork is in the way. It’d be nice to be able to Photoshop him out. Likewise in baseball, where you have to deal with either an off-center view or a birds-eye view on most pitches, because if you set up the center field camera exactly in front of home plate, all you’d see is the pitcher’s butt. Which is not to say that many pitchers don’t have nice butts, butts worth staring at for hours on end–but I’d rather see the strike zone.

But if I’m placing a new camera, I guess I’d go to the reverse angle during the run of play in hockey. Hockey orthodoxy dictates that all live-action plays must be shown without cuts, like that 11-minute hallway walk in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. Meanwhile, if a puck goes into the corner on the near boards, you can’t see what’s going on very well. I’m not positive this would make a huge difference, because with hockey, you kind of watch the players move and intuit where the puck is going, but I’d at least like to see it tried before rejecting the idea out of hand.

@mdschaeff: “Chip Kelly, greater than Eric Taylor?”

Well, it’s been one game. But Eric Taylor was pitched as some sort of offensive genius, but in 2006 he’s still running the I in Texas high school football. Hadn’t they moved on to the spread and the A-11 by then? That’s behavior very unlike Grand Admiral Thrawn right there. Eric Taylor was so great because he had Jason Street, Smash Williams and Vince Howard, not because he was a great Xs and Os guy. So yes, strictly as an offensive guru, I’d take Chip Kelly over the guy who was running a 20-year-old Barry Switzer offense.


But here’s what bothered me about Eric Taylor–his relationship with Matt Saracen, The Most Likable Character In Television History. He’s this bright, creative, polite, good-looking dude who’s thrust into an impossible situation: taking over as the quarterback of a team expected to challenge for the Texas state title when his predecessor was paralyzed in a freak accident. Oh, and that predecessor is just the archetype, the beloved good kid and five-star Notre Dame commit. And Saracen stumbles at first, but he proves his mettle and leads the team to the title they crave. Two years later, some spoiled prick with Press Maravich for a dad comes in and Coach Taylor picks the freshman over Saracen, who’s so bent out of shape and being benched that he begs to go play receiver. And when the freshman melts down in the state title game, Saracen comes back in and nearly bails Coach Taylor’s ass out.

Matt Saracen comes from a broken home, cares for his senile grandmother, is polite, smart, looks up to Coach Taylor, to whom he’s fiercely loyal, and absolutely adores the coach’s high-maintenance daughter. So when Matty Saracen shows up in the series finale to ask for Eric Taylor’s permission to marry his daughter, Coach laughs him out of the room.

Now, I get it–no uber-macho football type is ever going to be okay with his daughter marrying anyone, and if he’s 20 and she’s 19, that’s probably a little young to go off getting engaged, even if you’re from Texas. But after all they’ve been through together, after Matt Saracen proved himself time and time again to be worthy and resilient and and an all-around good guy, didn’t he earn the right to be taken seriously in that moment? Hadn’t he earned Coach Taylor’s respect?

Wow, I cared a lot more about that than I thought. Moving on.

@Tigerbombrock: “I am at the phillies game!!! What is the point of changing managers if they run out the same essential lineup?”

Awesome! I hope you had a good time.

This question cuts to the heart of the problem with the manager-as-scapegoat thing. So Charlie Manuel was hitting Michael Young at the top of the order all year–well you know what? I have no idea who else you’re going to hit at the top of the order. And the point of changing managers is either to try to get someone new in because you think he’ll motivate your team better, or it’s like the two runners and the bear. The GM doesn’t have to outrun the bear–he just has to outrun the manager. By firing (or whatever it was) Charlie Manuel, Ruben Amaro bought himself the length of a tryout for Ryne Sandberg and distracted the fans and media from the fact that the Phillies suck not because they’re managed poorly, but because they’re full of bad players.

Thus ends this week’s Crash Bag, and with it comes an important announcement: this will be my last Crash Bag for two weeks. I’m getting married a week from tomorrow, and so have much bigger fish to fry than answering y’all’s questions. But fear not–I’ve lined up a pair of All-Star replacements to fill the void. Next week, it will be the Boss-Man himself, Bill Baer, stepping into the Crash Bag hot seat, where he will not only be immensely knowledgeable about baseball, but (I’m told) funny and esoteric as well. The week after, the aforementioned Liz Roscher of The Good Phight will take over, moving the Crash Bag marginally closer to passing the Bechdel Test. The #crashbag hashtag remains open, but send questions for next week to Bill at @CrashburnAlley and for the week after to Liz at @lizroscher.

All that, of course, is contingent on Michelle Branch not answering the letters I’ve been sending her since I was 14 and reciprocating my undying love. Failing that, I’ll be back here on Friday, Oct. 4 for the playoffs. Until then, take care and be nice to the substitutes.

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  1. Scott G

    September 13, 2013 08:03 AM


    I feel like there’s A LOT of views in sports that could be adjusted or added to appease my insanity.

    1) Baseball – I’d like a camera directly over home plate with a picture-in-picture box constantly in the bottom corner of the screen to show just how bad umps are at calling pitches off the plate. The occasional broadcast will show this from time-to-time, and I don’t know why it’s not a permanent fixture.

    2) Baseball – It makes 0 sense why the camera placed along the RF fence is offset toward the infield. Mount the camera to the back of the foul pole netting bracket, and you wouldn’t have to deal with projecting angles to determine if a ball was heading over the fence prior to a fan grabbing it.

    3) Football – Similar to #2, why not have a camera positioned directly down the goalline instead of offset?

    4) Football – Put the sky cam directly over the line of scrimmage or operate it to move with the ball so plays like the Vick to Shady “backwards” pass from Monday night don’t have to be “inconclusive” because, again it’s difficult to project the image.

    5) Hockey – (more projection), the overhead camera used to determine if the puck completely crosses the goalline. Why can you see both the crossbar and the goalline? Why not position the camera so the back of the crossbar and the back of the goalline overlap, and that way you know if you can see the whole puck, it’s a goal. Or, you could make it the most insane camera of all time, and place it below the ice, and make the ice inside the goal completely transparent but the ice from the back of the goalline forward, the normal opacity and you’d again be able to see.

  2. SJHaack

    September 13, 2013 09:19 AM

    I don’t think many people in Mexico share your confidence about El Tri when they’ve scored 4 goals in 8 games and replaced their manager.

    Also I guess I wouldn’t expect anything less than Thrawn from a guy who has had an in depth conversation over Stackpole vs Allston.

  3. Nehi

    September 13, 2013 10:26 AM

    I guess the better question is, why would a GM who is clearly scapegoating a manager, not replace him with a different style manager.

    I is a valid point that the team is bad, but like Cholly, Ryno insists on Rollins at the top. I think it had gotten to the point of letting galvis start everyday at shortstop for the rest of the season, but like Cholly, Ryno won’t make that change.

    That is what I am looking for.

    Lastly, congrats on restraining yourself in the FMK scenerio with JBJ, KTSFL, (I forget who the third person was). Enjoy ending your life, er I mean, being married.

  4. WayneKerrins

    September 13, 2013 06:16 PM

    @Felske.. When your team scores a goal it’s in the emotional ballpark of a walk off homer.

    Baumann I know you hate us limeys but don’t condemn the worst England team since 1988 to global embarrassment next year. We won’t win our qualifying group and are no more than a 50 50 bet to qualify via the play offs. Our center backs are like the Phillies’ current CF and our ageing midfield is more Rollins than Utley.

  5. Michael Baumann

    September 14, 2013 10:20 AM

    WHOA WHOA WHOA I don’t hate the English. The Russians,the Chinese, the Italians maybe, but not our most beloved overseas colony.
    And don’t be ridiculous–England will qualify. You’re not going to get off that easy.

  6. jauer

    September 14, 2013 01:16 PM


  7. Lloyd

    September 15, 2013 01:29 AM

    Don’t do it! (My standard advice to someone about to be married).

    Seriously, all the best, enjoy it. I hope that just enough small things go wrong during the ceremony to make for interesting stories later.

    As far as names go, here’s a fantasy broadcast that I would have liked to have made a few (several?) years ago, “Dubee’s out to the mound, he’s taking out Weed, yep, he’s calling for Bong out of the bullpen.”

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