Crash Bag, Vol. 95: American Virtue

@jimmyfricke: “Should Phillies fans be upset about Cruz being signed for 1 year 8 mil while we’re stuck with Byrd for 2 years 16 mil”

Absolutely not. Cruz is a 33-year-old power-before-hit corner outfielder who produces no value on the bases or in the field. Those guys tend to have a couple things in common: they’re overrated in their primes, because they produce homers and RBI, which are flashy, but nothing else. The other thing is that when the bat starts to slip even a little, the whole package falls apart. Look for Nelson Cruz comps and you’ll find names like Juan Gonzalez and Henry Rodriguez, and when those guys started to slip, things got ugly fast. Byrd is older, and didn’t have Cruz’s prime with the bat, but he was, at one point in the past, a good athlete, and I’m not convinced Byrd won’t be better than Cruz in 2014.

The other thing is Cruz costs a draft pick, and for a guy who makes you a 79-win team when John Mayberry makes you a 76-win team, that’s not even worth a second-rounder. The Orioles were in need of a DH and have a better shot at contending than the Phillies do, so this signing makes more sense for them–and even then, I’m not in love with it–but signing Nelson Cruz for a battle for third place is exactly the kind of pothole-in-front-of-the-rebuild move Ruben Amaro deserves credit for not making. The past two offseasons.

@chrisginelli: “What’s your take on the Sixers fire sale, and what could Ruben Amaro learn from Sam Hinkie?”

Well, let me say this: the fire sale has made the Sixers almost unbearable to watch. Michael Carter-Williams is way better than I thought, and I love watching Tony Wroten just because of the combination of speed, length, aggressiveness and just not giving a good goddamn. But it’s slim apart from that. Much as I’d like to have Thad Young around for the next run at a title, it’s got to suck to be him right now.

But philosophically, it makes sense, and I’m happy that Sam Hinkie had the balls to go through with it. And really, the Sixers were pretty unwatchable last year too. But to be honest, I don’t know what Amaro could learn from Hinkie. I don’t think the Phillies, thanks to their economic advantages and the difference between NBA and MLB player development, need to go full-on rebuild, nor do I think they should. It’s nearly impossible to start in the lower middle class in the NBA and contend for a title, unless you get lucky and pull a Paul George out of nowhere. In baseball, it’s more than feasible, it’s common. So keeping Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and the rest of the links to the organization’s salad days retains that link to a better era even as the Phillies sneakily clear salary and allow the farm system to heal. I like where the Phillies are at right now.

@Shawny_mac12: “Buster Olney just tweeted that Jim Thome wants to manage. Would Thome be a good manager?”

Sure, why not? This isn’t football, where head coaches need to be myopic psychopaths with superhuman capacities for work and a command of all facets of the game. NFL and major college head coaches are the world’s greatest wonks. If Nick Saban did engineering the way he’s done football for the past 20 years, man would not only have landed on Mars, we’d have terraformed it and there’d be an MLS team on Mars by now.

I don’t know if Thome would be a good manager, but the one thing I might hold against him is that he was such a good player. I’m probably missing someone obvious, but I can’t remember a player that good ever becoming a great manager, certainly since the end of the player-manager era. Ted Williams was a terrible manager. Pete Rose was a terrible manager. Frank Robinson was an okay manager. Now, it’s not like good players never make good managers: Davey Johnson and Joe Torre were both great managers. Bud Black was a league-average pitcher for 15 years. Jim Fregosi was on a Hall of Fame pace in his 20s and turned into a pretty decent manager. But there’s probably some selection bias here–the best players 1) make enough money that they don’t need to coach if they don’t want to and 2) they last longer as players, so they don’t wash out early and start coaching or working in a front office young, like Earl Weaver or Bobby Cox or Billy Beane. But there’s also a legitimate theory that came up in Moneyball, when Scott Hatteberg talked about how bad a hitting coach Jim Rice was–if you’re naturally talented at something, it’s difficult to teach other people something that comes to you naturally, and when they can’t naturally keep up with your pace, you get frustrated. (Want to know why Wayne Gretzky was as bad at coaching hockey as he was good at playing it? That’s why.)

But Thome seems like a great guy who was welcomed as a Veteran Clubhouse Presence and is a disciple of Mike Hargrove and Charlie Manuel, both of whom were very good major league managers. I could absolutely see someone giving Thome a shot, and while Thome might be a great strategic thinker, even if he’s not, it won’t kill him. Being a good manager is more about keeping the players happy and motivated than it is about pushing the right button at the right time, because baseball’s buttons don’t matter as much as football’s, for instance. It’s why Ron Washington‘s a good manager. There might not be a worse tactician in the game, but players love playing for him, and Jon Daniels–one of baseball’s more forward-thinking GMs–has kept him around because he’ll win more games with a happy team than he’ll lose with third-inning bunts.

Kyle (via email): “2014 Phillies as Apollo 13 characters?”

I know I promised I’d stop doing these, but it’s Apollo 13 and Kyle asked nicely. I’ll do anything for Apollo 13.

  • Chase Utley as Gene Kranz: Dynamic and unflappable leadership, distilled with a bad haircut and reeking of American virtue. You ever notice–well, first of all, what a performance by Ed Harris–but did you ever notice how calm he was throughout the whole thing, only raising his voice to make himself heard over the shouting. While the spaceship is exploding 100,000 miles from home and the astronauts might die.
  • Cesar Hernandez as John Young: Last guy off the bench, but he does whatever’s required–go wake up Ken Mattingly, command the backup crew, help work up the power transfer that saves the ship during re-entry. The real John Young is probably America’s greatest astronaut and definitely America’s most underrated astronaut–not only is he one of only 12 men to walk on the moon, he’s one of only three men to go to the moon twice, flew the first Gemini mission, commanded the first Space Shuttle mission, became chief of the astronaut office, and is by my count one of only two men to fly in three different American manned space programs (counting Skylab as an extension of Apollo). But in the movie he’s Ken Mattingly’s sidekick, so that makes him Cesar Hernandez instead of Mike Trout.
  • Jimmy Rollins as Jim Lovell: This one’s pretty obvious. If Utley’s the behind-the-scenes guy, Rollins has always been the team’s frontman with the media.
  • Ben Revere as Fred Haise: Always smiling, always hitting the cabin repress valve at inopportune moments.
  • Phillippe Aumont as Glynn Lunney: “They don’t have control? Did we miss a step here?”
  • Roberto Hernandez as Jack Swigert: Swigert was the one who actually stirred the tanks and caused the explosion. My money’s on Fausto causing more explosions than anyone else on the team this year.
  • Cole Hamels as Ken Mattingly: Will eventually save the day, but they’re keeping him out of the lineup in case he has the measles.
  • Ethan Martin as Charlie Duke: Actually has the measles.

@reldnahkram: “Could something like the FA Cup catch on with American sports fans? Which pro sport would be the best fit?”

I agree with this categorically, particularly if there’s something at stake. Bill Simmons is famously the champion of the “Entertaining as All Hell Tournament,” in which the NBA shaves it down to seven automatic playoff bids a conference, then puts the remaining 16 teams in a single-elimination tournament for the last two playoff spots. I believe such a tournament would, in fact, be entertaining as all hell. Maybe tie draft lottery odds to the results of this tournament as well. The issue is, I think it’d have to be basketball, just because it’d require extra games to be played, which pose health risks in football, baseball and hockey more than they do in basketball. The only issue is that the sports media doesn’t have any patience for organic growth–they’ll dismiss it as a gimmick and say it’ll never work if it’s not perfect right away, the way they do with the WBC and the women’s Olympic hockey tournament. But I’m with you.

@FanSince09: “is John S. Middleton really guilty of felony fraud?”

Probably not.

@alyssakeiko: “will joe Mauer’s butt be in the hall of game”


@timothyRpierce: “over/under on 180 k’s for Howard?”

Under. I think he gets hurt at least once this season and misses some time, and I think Ryne Sandberg starts to use a pseudo-platoon against tough lefties that’ll cost him some at-bats.

@BCanneyBSB: lets say the phils win 90 and get into the playoffs. Does amaro get any credit for it or are people too dug in their ruben hate?

He will, and he should, when it happens in 2017. It won’t happen this year, and if it does, we’ll be living in a world so radically different from the one we inhabit now, I’m not sure my imagination is active enough to anticipate the public reaction.

@BePeeArr: “I have seen you claim Todd Frazier as a South Jersey player and I am here to inform you that this is incorrect. Now, don’t get me wrong, South Jersey is a wonderful half of a state.Your high school football players were terrifying giants and I can usually do 90 MPH on Route 70 since there are no cops anywhere east of Medford. It’s just that as an Ocean County native who has lived in Philadelphia for almost a decade now, I have great experience in this debate. There are three clear reasons Toms River can’t be classified as South Jersey.

  1. The hometown newspaper, Asbury Park Press currently has seven stories on New York teams on its front sports page website, while just one mention of Philadelphia pro teams.
  2. When Todd and company gloriously won the Little League World Series, they were invited to Yankee Stadium, not The Vet.
  3. I have never met a Philadelphia resident who visits the shore anywhere north of Island Beach State Park, while the area gets overrun with New Yorkers and North Jersey tourists every summer.”

Noted. I say that because we (and by “we” I mean Eastern High School in general, because I was uncool and don’t like pain, so I did marching band) used to play Toms River in football, which is divided between North and South Jersey…hang on.

Of course, the obvious counter is that Toms River teams compete in South Jersey High School football, but that’s just because your sparsely populated half of the state needs some northern schools to even out the numbers. Enjoy Sean Doolittle and Mike Trout, but leave us Todd Frazier.

Yeah, but it’s still well south of Trenton, and I draw the line as somewhere sort of generally south of Trenton, though I’m open to discussion on what constitutes South Jersey. Wikipedia lists Ocean County as disputed territory, so this question definitely warrants further study. I’m currently reaching out to the blog’s Academy of Toms River Experts (i.e. a buddy of mine who used to live there) for clarification, and will report back with the panel’s findings.

UPDATE: The Academy of Toms River Experts has responded. Our discourse:

MB: Is Toms River South Jersey?
AOTRE: I think that TR is Central Jersey…but that depends on your opinion of the phrase…Central Jersey
MB: What if Central Jersey is a bullshit construct made up by people who don’t want to pick a side?
AOTRE: Then, fuck you…And yeah, probably South Jersey.

Our thanks to the Academy.

@_magowan: “a galatic event is surely the way the world ends, right? Like some pulsar or whatevs.”

If we’re talking extinction and not just the breakdown of society, I think so. We could end up in a Waterworld or Mad Max or The Road scenario pretty easily, but there would still be people living. If we’re all going to die, I have to think it’d take some sort of outside interference, and quickly enough that we couldn’t commit to colonizing space before the event takes place. Here are my rankings of human extinction scenarios, starting with the most likely:

  1. Giant meteorite
  2. The ozone layer or Van Allen belts or something stop working and we all cook to death
  3. Sun dies, either by fizzling out like in Sunshine or by turning into a red giant and swallowing the Earth
  4. Killed by another species from space, like Independence Day
  5. Killed by another species on Earth, like in Pacific Rim or Contagion (I know the kaiju are technically from another dimension, but it’s not a death-from-above-style invasion)
  6. Everyone stops having babies, like Children of Men
  7. Jadeveon Clowney

@FelskeFiles: “Why do scientists believe aliens can only exist in earth-like conditions? Can’t there be aliens that breathe methane and stuff?”

I don’t think scientists actually believe this, though the science fiction TV/film constraint that all aliens must be humanoid doesn’t help. That said, even in science fiction, there are methane-breathing humanoids, ain’t that right, Mordock?

Damn straight.

@dj_mosfett: “If Phillies fans were the Tamarians from Star Trek, what would be our equivalent to “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”?”

Lots of Star Trek all of a sudden. That’s one of my favorite TNG episodes, by the way, just because I love the conceit behind it, that a culture would speak entirely in callbacks and inside jokes. Anyway, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” is meant to signify a collaboration between two strangers who achieve a great feat and forge a lifelong friendship.

Ruiz and Halladay at Sun Life Stadium has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

A couple promotional notes before the sign-off:

  • We’re close enough to baseball season that season preview material has started in earnest on Grantland. This week I wrote about Bryce Harper having lost his place in the zeitgeist and pleaded with fans to stop doing wrong by Jason Heyward, Joey Votto and Joe Mauer. I’ve also got a post about Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis going up later today, which includes some nuggets about the young Chase Utley. There’s more to come throughout March, including the work of more exalted baseball writers like Rany Jazayerli and Jonah Keri.
  • In case you missed the news earlier, we’ve got a new writer here at Crashburn, Corinne Landrey. You can follow her at @Ut26, and you should, because she’s cool as hell and not nearly as grouchy as the rest of us.

Now it’s time to sign off. Have a good weekend.

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  1. Corinne Landrey

    February 28, 2014 08:37 AM

    Red Schoendienst deserves a nod as one of the more successful players turned successful manager. He also gets my vote for most annoyingly difficult name to spell in baseball history.

  2. John Stolnis

    February 28, 2014 08:40 AM

    Thanks for posting my question, Michael! I forgot about Mordock. The reason I asked was because scientists are always looking for a planet that has conditions similar to Earth’s. It’s gotta have H2O. It’s gotta have oxygen. It’s gotta be a certain temperature “for life to exist.” Well, maybe there are aliens on worlds out there that exist in 300 degree temperatures, for example.

    I’m not sure I believe aliens are out there anyway. It just seems like a weird limitation that scientists are putting on the possibility of alien life out there.

    OK, venting over. Great mailbag as always!

    • Joe

      February 28, 2014 10:10 AM

      Like Baumann said, scientists don’t really believe that life needs Earth-like conditions to develop. It’s just that, in an enormous universe of possibilities that you know next to nothing about at this point, you’ve got look for the things that are familiar. Up until now, all we know for sure is that Earth-like conditions can support Earth-like life. So we look for that. Implicit whenever you hear something like “for life to exist” is the addendum “as we know it”. Given a haystack, we know what a needle looks like so we can go searching for one. We can’t look for something when we don’t know what to look for.

      If you’re interested, the novel Solaris (made into a film a couple of times, including the crappy one with George Clooney a few years back) is actually about the subject of encountering life that is absolutely fundamentally different from life as we know it. Stanislaw Lem, the author, didn’t like that all of the sci-fi stories about alien life assumed that it was all similar to us. He figured that life developing anywhere outside of Earth, even perhaps under Earth-life conditions, would follow a different evolutionary path and by the time it reached a point where it might be considered intelligent (for whatever definition of that you like), it would be hopelessly foreign to us that we’d be lucky to even recognize it for what it was, let alone be able to communicate with it in any meaningful way.

  3. Tim

    February 28, 2014 10:59 AM

    Regarding that grantland post, hating your team’s best player is a time-honored tradition. I really hope that Bobby Abreu makes the major league squad so we can all rehash those arguments from back when he was the Phillies’ best player and was widely hated for, I guess, not running into walls enough?

    • Scott G

      February 28, 2014 04:59 PM

      Abreu was hated for not running into walls while he was an exceptional hitter. Aaron Rowand was never anything spectacular, but he did bust his nose up by running into a wall which caused him to miss some time. So, let’s cheer for him.

      • Tim

        March 01, 2014 09:59 AM

        I have no problem with the hustling , marginally talented white guys like Aaron Rowand getting some positive attention. I mean, I loved the guy and thought that wall catch was awesome, even though it knew it hurt the team in the long run with the missed time. He just seemed like a great all around guy who loved what he did, and who couldn’t love that? It just sucks that the outpouring of love for guys like that so frequently comes at the expense of much more talented and productive players like Abreu, who couldn’t catch a break from this fan base.

        Poz has written a few times about Ibanez and Beltran coming up at the same time in KC, and the fan base loving Raul without seeing his flaws and completely missing the boat on how incredible young Carlos Beltran was (possibly because everything he did on both offense and defense looked so effortless, which often colors our perception of great players). Now, Raul is extremely lovable and a great guy, but come on, Beltran was a beast.

  4. Oliver

    February 28, 2014 12:43 PM

    For what it’s worth, the sun won’t fizzle out, but will engulf the earth as a red giant star.

    That’ll take a few billion years though

    • EricL

      March 01, 2014 11:37 AM

      Perhaps the Sun expands to engulf the Earth, perhaps not, (the Sun will expand to the point where it would engulf a current-day Earth, but by that point the mass of the Sun will be significantly lower, which will result in planetary orbits farther from the sun than they currently are) but either way life on will be dead long before that. The Red Giant phase of the Sun’s life cycle isn’t predicted to occur for another 5 billion years or so, but its increasing luminosity as it exhausts it’s hydrogen fuel supply will cook the Earth, making it completely inhospitable to life in only a billion years or so.

      The Wiki pages on the Future of The Earth and The Timeline of the Far Future are fun weekend reading.

  5. Rob

    February 28, 2014 07:36 PM

    The way you presented the Tom’s River question to the academy was bullshit.

    • Mike B.

      March 01, 2014 03:11 PM

      No, he is correct; like Shangri-La or Brigadoon, there is no such place as “Central Jersey.”

      • Rob

        March 03, 2014 11:31 AM

        No I meant the way he asked is Tom’s River SOUTH Jersey?

  6. larry

    March 01, 2014 02:26 AM

    looking at the list of HOF managers, the best player might be John McGraw and he did a little player/managing but not much..after that there is nothing

  7. Michael

    March 02, 2014 06:22 PM

    The one think I would like to see RAJ take from Hinkie is that advanced stats matter. I doubt RAJ will take that away from Hinkie but that is why Hinkie is a beast of a GM and its why a lot of Sixers fans do not care that they are losing by 20 a night.
    I personally think they are fun to watch because they are so bad. I like to see them hustle even though everyone knows that they do not have the talent to win. Of course the team now is horrible. They are designed to be horrible and I have not watched a game since the trade deadline BUT I’ll still watch a quarter or two when I have time b/c I know I’ll see a team that hustles and I’m very likely to see some spectacular plays……by the other team.

  8. Andy

    March 03, 2014 09:12 AM

    Mike trout is from Millville which is more South Jersey than toms river. He also is a philadelphia sports fan

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