Crash Bag, Vol. 111: Lists and Counterfactuals

Oh, God, I’ve done 111 of these. What have I done with my life?

@benafflaco: “Robin Williams was the first celebrity’s death that actually caused me sadness. I haven’t experienced this with an athlete. My question is, who of current or recent Phillies, is going to cause all teh tears, when he croaks, for our generation?”

I think we’ve experienced that with Harry Kalas. One of the first open-a-vein big feelings sports columns I ever wrote was a column for my college newspaper mourning Harry Kalas. That really was like a death in the family, probably because if you were born in the Delaware Valley between 1975 and 2000, odds are Harry Kalas is your father anyway. But that whole Kalas/Ashburn/Musser crew was like the surrogate uncle to a generation of Phillies fans, and while there have been beloved Phillies players in recent years, it’s tough to imagine any of them meriting that kind of reaction. I mean, Harry was the voice of the Phillies for multiple generations and was beloved almost universally in a way that’s hard for any player to match. There is nothing anyone can say that will convince me that the Tom McCarthy hate is rooted in a frustration that he’s not Harry Kalas. You could’ve brought Red Barber over and Phillies fans would’ve hated him.

But back to the original question: I think Roy Halladay is at that point, and Chase Utley as well. If Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee aren’t there yet, they’re close. The good news is that I’m pretty sure all of them will outlive me and I’ll never have to deal with it.

@JeromeSzpila: “Create the most entertaining lineup of current MLB players. Could be based on talent, antics, personality, etc.”

As it happens, this is a topic I’ve tackled on multiple occasions, but when I wrote about it on Grantland, I mostly focused on on-field attributes only. Add personality and some of the answers change, I imagine.

@ryne_jones: “field a starting 9 who you would want to see do (or attempt) a backflip a la Jarrod Dyson last night”

Building lots of teams. Let’s get a mix of players who I think could pull off some gymnastic moves and a few players who’d be fun to watch fail.

@gberry523: “why is Ruben Amaro so bad at the 100,000 Pyramid?”

I don’t have an answer. The only reason I’ve included this question so I can link to Zoo With Roy’s recurring Ruben Amaro Plays the $150,000,000 Pyramid, which is the only recurring post series about the Phillies that’s funnier than the Crash Bag.

@AstrosCounty: “what did the sweep of the Astros do for you Phillies fans?”

The only one of those games I watched a significant part of was the 15-inning game, which was a blast, because I love weird baseball. It was fun, but a three-game sweep of another bad team only does so much for morale.

The Astros series before that, however, against the Blue Jays, was magnificent. I made my first trip to Minute Maid Park–first trip to Texas, actually–as part of the SABR conference, and loved it. Architecturally, Minute Maid was unlike any other stadium I’ve been to, and in a good way. The food was great–I consumed a loaded baked potato filled with brisket at one point–and the Saturday night game was unlike any I’ve ever been to. Even though it ended 8-2, it might have been more fun than the Wilson Valdez Game. A partial inventory of the things I saw:

  • R.A. Dickey (as far as I can remember, I’d never seen a knuckleballer in person before)
  • Mike Foltynewicz’s major league debut, including him throwing Jose Bautista four straight 99 mph fastballs.
  • A Jonathan Singleton inside-the-park home run (my first inside-the-park HR in person)
  • Robbie Grossman robbing a home run
  • L.J. Hoes going into the stands for a catch
  • Jose Altuve scoring from first on two throwing errors
  • Chris Carter hitting a home run out of the stadium
  • Chris Carter stealing second base

If you watch enough baseball, it starts to get monotonous, like you develop a tolerance for the cool shit that happens. Sometimes it takes a really wild game, viewed in person, with other people who love the game, to appreciate how fun baseball is.

@JakePavorsky: “You’re forced to uproot the Phillies franchise and move them. Where do you put em?”

Do I get to go with them? Because then I’d send them to either Nashville or Montreal and never leave. If I’m worried about the franchise succeeding, the question gets a lot more complicated. I did a little bit of back-of-the-napkin demography for a question last summer about how I’d add/contract/move teams if I were given unlimited power. Anyway, the new markets I tried to move to were Vancouver, Montreal, San Antonio, and Raleigh-Durham. So probably one of those.

@SoMuchForPathos: “What’s the best nickname not currently being used by any North American sports team?”

Related to that question, I also renamed a couple teams:

  • Marlins move to Montreal and become the Montreal Voltigeurs
  • Rays move to Vancouver and become the Vancouver Olympians
  • Expand to 32 teams, including the San Antonio Jackrabbits and the Durham Bulls
  • Rename the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Spiders
  • Rename the Atlanta Braves (on the recommendation, incidentally, of the person who asked this question) to the Fightin’ Oglethorpes of Georgia

I don’t know if this is the best nickname not currently in use or not, but as backlash against the cultural appropriation of Native American mascots grows and grows (and my views have evolved on that as well, I’ll admit), it makes more and more sense for the Indians to rename themselves to the Spiders–it’s a unique nickname that has history with the franchise and can be adapted to either an intimidating or fun, fuzzy family-friendly form. I think that’s up there. I’ve also got a soft spot for nicknames in non-English languages, though with no MLB teams in Mexico or Quebec, we’re short on those.

@shamus_clancy: “What if the A’s never left Philly?”

Well, if they’d stayed and the Phillies had gone to Kansas City back in the 1950s…I don’t know. I can’t bend the temporal arc of the universe that far back in the past. The A’s have been far more successful than the Phillies…well…always, really. But if they’d stayed in Philadelphia and the Phillies had gone west, there’s no reason to believe they’d have remained so, particularly considering how heavily tilted the American League has been toward the Eastern division.

I don’t think a market the size of Philadelphia could support two teams, particularly considering the city’s demographic trends. Philadelphia is about 20 percent larger than it was when the A’s were founded in 1901, but it makes up a much smaller percentage of the national population–the American population as a whole now is more than four times what it was then. In fact, the city’s population is shrinking–only about three quarters as many people live in Philadelphia now than lived there in the 1950s, when the A’s left. Of course, there’s more to whether a city can support a team than the population within the city limits, but that illustrates how things have changed.

You know what’s funny, though? For many of you, we’re better off as Phillies fans than A’s fans, even assuming that everything in each team’s destiny from 1954 until now stayed the same–regular season fortunes, front offices, everything. I was born in 1987–since then, the A’s and Phillies have both won three pennants and one World Series, but all of the Athletics’ World Series trips to the World Series took place before I was old enough to understand baseball. I might have more fun rooting for the A’s now than the Phillies, but I wouldn’t be able to remember my team playing in the World Series.

@Matt_Winkelman: “If given the choice how would you rebuild the farm system; high impact/risk (Cubs), high quantity, lower risk/impact (Astros)?”

An interesting question, because if you asked me which specific team’s farm system I’d choose, I’d choose Chicago’s, though perhaps I’m overrating Kyle Schwarber‘s makeup and plate discipline, as well as Kris Bryant‘s beautiful eyes. But in general, because I’m a pessimist, I’ll take low-risk prospects every single time if the ceiling is anywhere close to being equal. It’s why I’d have drafted Carlos Rodon over Brady Aiken or any high school pitcher. The fewer things that have to go right between now and the player’s trip to the majors, the fewer things can go wrong. I’d probably be a terrible farm director.

@Living4Laughs: “Most enjoyable team to watch this year?”

Ever since I’ve had MLB.tv, I’ve usually watched the Rangers, Orioles and Dodgers the most. The Rangers have been replaced by the A’s this year, for obvious reasons, as well as the Indians, just because they’re on local TV where I live. I think Cleveland’s been pretty fun in spurts, as have the Astros and Brewers.

Through about two months of the season, the easy answer to your question was the Miami Marlins. They’re a young team that played and won a lot of close games, and in Jose Fernandez and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, they had both the phenomenal and charismatic starting pitcher and the phenomenal and charismatic position player that you’d want from a “most enjoyable” team. Since Fernandez got hurt and the Marlins have fallen off the pace in the division, things have settled down a little, so as of right now, I’d go with the Dodgers. I’m not the biggest Vin Scully fan, but having a good announcer is a huge check mark for the team’s watchability–I’ll admit to seeing a lot less of the Yankees, Red Sox, Reds and Braves than I should just because I cannot stand their TV broadcast teams. But the Dodgers have two of those great starters, plus Yasiel Puig and Kenley Jansen. Add in the uniforms and the general air of fun the Dodgers seem to have, and I’d choose them as of this moment.

@adamd243: “what’s your offseason plan for the rotation? Assume Hamels & Buchanan and uh…uh…”

Would I assume Buchanan? I’ve been burned by his like before. Hamels for sure. I think Aaron Nola will be given a chance to win a rotation spot in spring training, and even if he doesn’t, I can’t imagine he’s not up before the All-Star break. So that’s three, counting Buchanan. It seems odd not to count on Kyle Kendrick, but he’s going to be a free agent after the season. (I can’t believe he’s making $7.68 million this year, by the way.) Anyway, Kendrick’s been so much more for the Phillies than I’d have expected, but he’s probably going to leave as a free agent. Maybe Cliff Lee doesn’t need surgery and comes back? Even if he does, that’s four starters and we’re already breaking into rookies and quad-A guys.

Personally, I’m on board with just packing it in until the 2007-2011 guys are gone and the meat of the past two draft classes is ready to take over. If that’s the case, I could go after (and I know y’all aren’t going to love this) whoever next year’s Roberto Hernandez is. Certainly not a Jon Lester type unless something unexpected happens.

@TheBigCup: “should baseball bats be on fire during use? cause it would look awesome”

Yes, but only if we cover the balls themselves in some sort of flammable coating. We could have all the fielders wear flame-retardant suits and so on, but you’d probably have to shrink the field some, because those things restrict your freedom of movement. You work on this and I’ll sign off when you’ve got a workable plan.

@uublog: “Okay. Aaron Dessner once compared “Lemonworld” to Melky Cabrera. Give other songs in The National catalog MLB representations.”

He did not. That’s hilarious.

@longenhagen: “what celebrity has the most desirable level of fame? I have an opinion on this but am withholding it until you write an answer so I can tell you you’re wrong.”

Thanks, Eric. You’re a real pal. So my ideal level of fame is probably informed by my personality, which is both misanthropic and narcissistic. Put another way, I’d want to fans and photographers coming up to me unsolicited to a minimum, but if I told them my name, they’d recognize me. I don’t want paparazzi at my house or photos of me in a Demetris Summers jersey, slumped over at the bar at 5 p.m. after South Carolina loses to Florida. Then again, I also enjoy people telling me how great I am and how much they enjoy my work, so I don’t want to be completely anonymous. I actually think the level of fame a well-respected, well-known national sportswriter has wouldn’t be too far off the mark from ideal for me, particularly if I had nothing to do with prospects, because prospect writers (sorry Longenhagen) have weird groupies and that’s just something I’m okay remaining on the periphery of.

I actually read a story in Entertainment Weekly in which the writer went out in New Orleans for the night with Chris Pratt and nobody bothered them the entire time, which staggered me. On the rare occasions I see a famous person out in public, I almost never start a conversation. I think I’ve done it once, to Duce Staley, in a shitty frat bar in Columbia, S.C. But if I saw Chris Pratt out on the street, there’s a 100 percent chance I’d go up to him and tell him how much I loved him in Everwood. But if Pratt can get away with that, that’s the level of fame I want, because sportswriters don’t make that movie star money.

@TheBigCup: “should baseball bats be on fire during use? cause it would look awesome”

Yes, but only if we cover the balls themselves in some sort of flammable coating.

Thank you for your continued patronage. See you next week.

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9 comments

  1. Bob

    August 13, 2014 11:58 AM

    I~m actually bullish on some of the FA pitchers available in 2015. First off, money should not preclude the Phillies from signing one of the top of the line FA starting pitchers. We should get one of Lester, Shields, or Scherzer.

    There are also some decent secondary options. Masterson~s xfip has been under 4.0 in three of the past five years. Hes currently battling leg soreoness and could come back strong. It seems evident something is wrong in that his walk rate is over 5/9 when he~s usually in the high 3 range. And his gb rate of 59% is not to be dismissed.

    Brandon McCarthy~s xfip has been under 4 three of the last four years. Frankly, he should get a mulligan for having to play for the Dbacks who are a, imo, a worse run organization than the Phillies. He walks less than 2 per 9 and his gb rate is over 50% this year. His BABIP against was .345 which is his highest mark ever and possibly could be attributed to the bad defense he~s had backing him. His HR allowed rate is also the highest it~s ever been and could regress. If you can believe it, his velo has increased across the board.

    Jason Hammel is available. He~s inconsistent in so much as he~ll have one good year followed by a bad year. He~s been productive when he~s struck out 7-8/9IP or about 20% of batters faced he~s not bad. But when hes down in the 5-6 range he~s struggled.

    Ervin Santana is not a bad option. Hes a 2.5 WAR pitcher. xFIP under 4, under 3/9IP walk rate.

    There are some decent options available for next year that, unlike for position players, can be addressed through FA. The only concern is that the Yankees and Cardinals – who gave up talent for McCarthy and Masterson – will resign these two. And the Yankees and Dodgers are on the prowl for SP, so I think the market even for second tier guys is going to be staggering. Being as the Phils are a big market team, they are in a position to get a Lester/Scherzer type to couple with a Masterson/McCarthy type. A rotation of Scherzer, Lee, Hamels, Masterson, and Buchanan isn~t half bad.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      August 13, 2014 12:31 PM

      I’m all for signing guys like Masterson and McCarthy. Just keep in mind that groundball pitchers tend to want to play in front of good infield defense. While Jimmy and Chase are still holding it down, they’re not as spry as they once were. The corners are bad, even if you project some minor improvement from Asche, or if you like, a close-to-average season combining him and Franco.

      If the Phillies can somehow manage to sneak in one of Masterson/McCarthy and Hammel or another Roberto Hernandez-type reclamation project, it will be a big accomplishment. I’d love to see a splashy free agent signing like Scherzer, but deep down I know it’s probably a waste of money.

      • Bob

        August 14, 2014 07:13 PM

        I don~t disagree with any of what you wrote. The Phillies defense isn~t good and there isn~t help on the way. Even if they get these second tier guys, I imagine that theyll regress a bit. I think the Phillies will have to back up the Brinks truck to get these guys, but it~s the only way I can see that they~ll have a decent rotation next year. Unlike with the dearth of position players, the Phillies have a very real chance of improving their rotation so long as they open the purse strings.

        Another concern is that the two FA SP signing from last year – Burnett and Hernandez – both significantly increased their walk percentages. I looked at the Pitch FX data a while back and it looked like they both werent getting the low strikes as often as the previous year. So, another concern, outside of the defense, is the quality of pitches called by the manager, pitching coach, or catcher and whether the Phils catchers can get low called strikes.

        I wouldn~t be opposed to them going after Maeda too. If we can somehow corral Castillo and Tomas, call up Franco, platoon Ruf and Brown, and hit on a bp piece or two, I~d be interested to see how improved we~d be with a rotation like you suggest of a combo of Masterson, McCarthy or Hammel with my choice of preference in that order.

  2. Greg

    August 13, 2014 11:59 AM

    All for renaming the Indians the Spiders, provided the logo is a giant, fuzzy Chief Wahoo with 8 legs. Should the legs be bats? Perfect for an AL team…

  3. Eric Longenhagen

    August 13, 2014 05:29 PM

    Okay, clearly the person with the most desirable level of fame is either Billy West or John Dimaggio. Voice actors maintain almost complete anonymity with everything they do unless they’re spotted by a hardcore fan. They can play the “i’m a celebrity” card at will because all they have to do is uncork whatever voices they’re famous for. People go crazy for impressions, imagine how crazy they go when they hear the real thing in person. Go Youtube Billy West and be entertained for 30 minutes of him just doing voices.

  4. ECS

    August 13, 2014 10:46 PM

    “There is nothing anyone can say that will convince me that the Tom McCarthy hate is rooted in a frustration that he’s not Harry Kalas.”

    How about: Everybody seems to love Franzke & LA (And rightly, too)?

    (I’m assuming that you meant to have another negative there between “is” and “rooted”)

    • glovesdroppa

      August 14, 2014 12:44 AM

      I thought the same thing when I read it, ECS. I really don’t like TMac all that much. He interacts awkwardly with everyone, and then zombie laughs for 30 seconds! No personality and a bad voice is a poor combo for a baseball play-by-play guy. The catching of the HR was epic though

  5. NickFromGermantown

    August 14, 2014 10:32 AM

    Tom McCarthy is hated because he is insufferable. He yells the entire game and had no self-control to shut up and allow for hearing the “sounds of the ballpark”. This is the beauty of baseball announcing – understanding pacing and ambient sound of the ballpark to create a relaxing experience. Tom McCarthy should be working for Gary Barbara.

    And if you don’t believe this, just look at how much people love Scott Franzke. He gets it and he is amazing.

  6. Mike E

    August 14, 2014 04:22 PM

    I was quite saddened to hear of the sudden death of Richie Ashburn’s daughter, and this was heightened by his amazing remembrance of her that he wrote for a Philly newspaper….then I was sad at his passing as well, followed by Harry’s.

    I’d rather celebrate people while they’re still around instead of ruing the day that they (and I) will eventually shuffle off this mortal coil.

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