Crash Bag, Vol. 110: Why Bad Things Happen

@Matt_Winkelman: “Given the Phillies signing Lenin this summer, can you make a team of former and current world leaders?”

(cracks knuckles)

I’ll try to go easy on American presidents with common names, but my lack of knowledge of, say, obscure Italian provincial dukes is probably going to hamstring me here a little.

  • C: Lenin Rodriguez (Vladimir Lenin, premier of the USSR, 1922-1924)
  • 1B: Fred Merkle (Angela Merkel, current chancellor of Germany)
  • 2B: Donovan Solano (Javier Solana, former Secretary General of NATO and de facto foreign minister of the European Union)
  • 3B: Tony Batista (Fulgencio Batista, president of Cuba, 1940-1944, 1952-1959)
  • SS: John McDonald (Sir John A. MacDonald, first prime minister of Canada, 1867-1873, 1878-1891)
  • LF: Mike Morse (Mike Moore, former prime minister of New Zealand, 1990)
  • CF: Cameron Maybin (David Cameron, current prime minister of the U.K.)
  • RF: Trot Nixon (yeah, you know this guy)
  • DH: Starlin Castro (Fidel Castro and Josef Stalin if you’re from New England)
  • SP: Derek Holland (Francois Hollande, current president of France. And not the Netherlands, at it happens, which I think is kind of messed up.)
  • SP: Masahiro Tanaka (Kakuei Tanaka, prime minister of Japan, 1972-1976)
  • LH RP: Joe Thatcher (Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the U.K., 1979-1990)
  • RH RP: Luis Aquino (Corazon Aquino, president of the Philippines, 1986-1992)
  • CL: John Franco (Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain, 1939-1975)

Sorry for playing fast and loose with the spelling–this could have taken all day otherwise. Actually, it pretty much did take all day.

@neal_kendrick: “If everything happens for a reason why do the Phillies suck?’

Yeah, but you see, not everything actually does happen for a reason. It’s one of the cruelest lies we tell our children–that bad things that happen always come as part of a grand universal plan. I don’t know why people think everything–particularly bad things–happen for a reason. Now, sometimes bad things lead to an opportunity. I’m hoping that the Sixers’ current predicament is like that–the Bynum trade blew up on them and they were unbelievably bad for a year, but then they blew up the front office and are in the process of molding the team into something good. But the Bynum trade didn’t happen for that reason–it happened because the Lakers wanted Dwight Howard and the Sixers took a gamble in an attempt to break out of the vortex of mediocrity.

It’s not just the inability to separate causes from effects, it’s our continuing struggle with theodicy, the attempt to reconcile two comforting assumptions–an all-knowing/all-powerful God and an all-loving God–with the existence of suffering in the world. Why would a benevolent, omnipotent God (or whatever universal force floats your theological boat) allow suffering when He has the power to alleviate it altogether? Why, indeed. That’s how we perform acts of impressive rhetorical and logical gymnastics to reconcile the very real, very senseless suffering that exists in all forms–trivial and consequential, personal and global–with the idea that God or the universe or the world we live in is somehow just and coherent. The most obvious way to cope with this paradox is to conclude that the world isn’t just, but we don’t.

Because when someone is experiencing personal tragedy or loss, the idea that that loss will lead to something better is comforting. Often it does, but that’s not why the loss happened. Of course, you can’t say that. “Sorry about your mom, Bob. Maybe she shouldn’t have smoked two packs of cowboy killers a day.” Maybe the death of his mother will inspire young Bob to make a positive change in his own life or the lives of others–possibly enough positive change to outweigh that crushing loss. But to say Bob’s mom died for a reason is to say that she died to serve that positive purpose, which we know to be false. Whatever the long-reaching effects of her death, Bob’s mom died because Marlboro Reds will give you lung cancer.

The Phillies do suck for identifiable reasons, but I’ve spent the past four years writing about those, and that’s in the past anyway. I can’t say that they suck as part of some grand cosmic plan to make them better in the long run, or to bring happiness to others in a global utilitarian causal loop. Things might work out in the long run, or they might not.

Of course, as upsetting as it is to some people to confront that suffering is meaningless, that’s not the really scary possibility that you have to confront. The really scary possibility is that suffering is not only meaningless, but random. That sometimes bad things happen to good people, and there’s not only no path toward universal justice, but there’s no reason or explanation of any kind that we can understand.

What if Bob’s mom didn’t smoke and ate right and just up and died one day for no reason whatsoever? What if Jesse Biddle and Domonic Brown flame out not because of something that could have been prevented, but for no good reason at all? That’s the possibility that really fascinates me. And you know what? I actually find that more comforting than suffering happening in the service of a greater good down the road. If everything happens for a reason, not only do you have to avoid being wicked, you have to avoid being righteous in such a way that the omnipotent and benevolent God doesn’t see fit to cause you pain in service of another greater good. Imagine what kind of mental stress you’d put yourself under if you’re living in constant fear of not being so bad you get smote, but also not being so good you turn into Job and God kills your family and takes away all your land and afflicts you with boils, and nobody’s told you that when everything’s said and done you’re going to get a better family and have your health and livelihood restored many times over.

If I thought like that, I’d die, and for a reason, and that reason would be either that I’d panicked myself into a fatal heart attack or that I’d fall asleep with the car running and the garage door closed because it’s really hard to go about your business living with the knowledge that your life could be ruined at any moment by divine intervention, and you won’t know whether it’s punishment or someone else’s teaching moment until it’s all over. I live my life in a constant state of fear and anxiety already–trying to reconcile the Big Picture is too much.

@dhm: “Why don’t the Phillies wear the powder blue jerseys as throwbacks?”

They do, from time to time. I was at the SABR convention in Houston last week with, among other people, Liz Roscher from The Good Phight, and she wore powder blue-and-maroon Phillies gear more than once and was not infrequently complimented on her fashion choices. (You can hear what we did on the latest Defensive Indifference podcast, which is now on iTunues, so rate and review and subscribe.)

The point of all that, besides the plug, is that I think that color scheme is coming back into style. The only Phillies gear I wear out anymore are my powder blue and maroon hat and powder blue and maroon Steve Carlton shirsey. So I think if we’re returning to our roots, that’s not a bad way to go.

The problem is that uniforms are constructed differently now than they were then, and if you adapt that historical design to the modern uniform, it’s going to look like a hodgepodge, the way the Phillies’ home alternates do, because they made a milkshake out of design elements from 1992 and 1948. On the other hand, if you don’t update it at all, it’ll look just like a throwback. I just wish teams would have a little more imagination with their color schemes–not everything has to be red, white, blue and black, and not every red and blue has to be out of the 8-crayon Crayola starter box. Powder blue and maroon would be a good start.

@Dweebowitz: “If you were Josh Harris, would you buy the Phillies, and who would you want as your GM?”

Well, here’s the problem with this hypothetical–in order to get as rich as Josh Harris is, I think you have to be kind of damaged emotionally to not give up after the first $100 million or so. That’s not to say I’m not emotionally damaged, but it’s a different kind. So I wouldn’t buy the Phillies, because I’d already own the Sixers and Devils and have more than $2 billion to stuff my mattress with. I’d buy a dirigible the size of Rhode Island and fly around the world in grotesque luxury for the rest of my days.

But if I couldn’t just quit, and had to buy the Phillies, my first hire wouldn’t be a GM–it’d be a team president, a baseball lifer with experience in multiple roles who could then build my organization for me, as Theo Epstein has in Chicago. If I wanted to be more hands-on, generically, I’d want to steal the top assistant in one of the better-run organizations, which is what the Padres did while I was writing this paragraph, hiring Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller for their GM job. Other top assistants I can pick out by name: Logan White and Kim Ng of the Dodgers, Paul DePodesta of the Mets, David Forst of the Athletics. Among free agents, my top pick would be A.J. Hinch, the former Phillies catcher. After he retired, Hinch served as farm director and later field manager of the Diamondbacks and just left his position as assistant GM of the Padres yesterday. He’s still only 40 years old and given the wide range of his experience, I’d like to see Hinch get another shot.

@DashTreyhorn: “Is it your opinion that the media have it out for the Phillies and Amaro re: reporting that things are worse than they are?”

I think there’s an easy narrative and it’s really difficult for a national writer to have the kind of deep knowledge of a team that local reporters or even particularly dedicated fans do. It’s something I run into from time to time myself. I’m finding myself on an island as regards Ruben Amaro‘s trade deadline–I don’t think the Phillies were under particular pressure to sell off everything now, so if the right deal wasn’t in place, he can try again in the offseason. It’s been some time since the Phillies have made a really bad deal, and they’ve drafted well the past two years, so at least once the front office realized the predicament it was in, they’ve responded.

With that said, not screwing up is kind of a low bar to clear, and in the grand scheme of things, the Phillies are in bad shape. Apart from the idea that the Phillies need to be in a hurry to sell, I agree with Jayson Stark’s now-notorious appearance on 97.5 the other day. Even though the Phillies haven’t been awful, they’re still one of the worst-run baseball ops departments in the game.

Another thought. The answer to “Do the media have it out for [team]” is almost always no.

@PhilaBCoulter: “Can someone give Larry Greene Jr. a hug?”

I will. C’mere, you big sonofabitch.

@tylersnotes: “is it fair to compare the Dbacks to the bountygate-era NO Saints?”

It’s an imperfect comparison, but an interesting one. The Saints were setting out to injure, from what I understand, more than the Diamondbacks are. I think Gregg Williams wanted the Saints to intimidate by hurting their opponents, while Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers are after the reverse. I think the Diamondbacks are under the mistaken impression that they’ll gain a mental edge of some kind, or prevent their own players from getting hit.

Which is, of course, nonsense. I got a C in strategic military policy when I was in undergrad, but I know this much: deterrence theory only works when the deterrent is worth getting afraid of. I’m sure ballplayers don’t enjoy being hit by pitches, but I can’t imagine you could survive all the way to the big leagues if you’re scared of it–baseball’s dangerous, and if you’re going to be able to cover the entire plate, you’ve got to have made peace with the fact that once every so often, you’re going to take a ball off the ribs. And unless it hits you on the hand or the head, it’s probably not going to cause significant injury. The point is, hitters aren’t afraid of being hit with baseballs. If Gibson really wanted to deter opposing pitchers from throwing inside, he wouldn’t say “If you hit us, we’ll hit you.” He’d say “If you hit us, I’m going to send Miguel Montero into your clubhouse with a rubber mallet and he’s going to beat you to death with it.”

@ryne_jones: “any chance Grady gets claimed on waivers and possibly traded for a mid level spec?”

Well, unless, by “mid level spec” you mean “a couple pairs of knockoff Ray-Bans,” then no. There’s a non-zero chance that if Sizemore plays well, some team that’s in the race and needs outfield depth would take a flyer on him, but if that’s the case, the Phillies are going to get some kid in short-season ball that you’ve never heard of and will likely never hear from again. That’s not nothing, because maybe he turns into a prospect, but Grady Sizemore isn’t getting traded to the Yankees for Aaron Judge.

@LikeShackleton: “If the Phillies somehow sign Yasmani Tomas, is The Yasmanian Devil the best possible nickname?”

That’s not bad. It’s a little unwieldy, so I’m not positive we can’t do better, but I’m willing to put the maillot jaune on that one and declare it the leader.


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  1. JRVJ

    August 06, 2014 01:09 PM

    I don’t know if you hear Jonah Keri’s podcast, but he just interviewed Ken “Robo” Rosenthal.

    During the interview, Keri asked a rhetorical question which Rosenthal simply didn’t answer, but which I thought was fascinating.

    Keri mentioned that arguably, the Phillies could claim that they’re trying to run their club somewhat similarly to the Yankees, who retool on the fly and seem to get much better results (and remain competitive) without having to actually do a full rebuild. You could read some actions by the Phillies in the 2013/2014 off-season in this way (the Phillies did not forego their 2nd round draft pick by signing a FA that had received a QO, but did sign Marlon Byrd and A. J. Burnett for good $$$).

    My personal opinion is that the 2014/2015 Phillies COULD follow that model, BUT in order to do so:

    (a) They actually need some decent production from their “cheaper” talent (Dom Brown, Ben Revere, assorted relievers) AND their non-QO signings (Byrd has been a success, Burnett not so-much);

    (b) They need some extra payroll flexibility to be run this way (i.e., the Yankees actually WERE hamstrung during the 2005-2008 period, because they simply were so top-heavy salary-wise, that they couldn’t bargain hunt properly);

    (c) They would need to up their payroll at least by an extra $30MM from where it is right now (I am referring to the 2014/2015 Phillies – the Phillies will probably be a different animal after 2015);

    (d) I’m not sure if the Phillies brain trust is as good as the Yankees brain trust (subjective opinion here, but I think that Brian Cashman is a much smarter guy and runs a much better organization than what people give him credit for).

    Any thoughts on this?

  2. Greg

    August 06, 2014 03:27 PM

    “I just wish teams would have a little more imagination with their color schemes–not everything has to be red, white, blue and black…”
    If it’s between the lack of imagination and the alternative of the 90s trend toward teal and purple, I’ll stick with the classics, thanks.
    Remember the flash-forward unis? Ugh. A couple here:
    Mariners jersey just awful. Looks like they were impaled by a giant compass.

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