Crash Bag, Vol. 1: Death, Hurdles, and the Great Outfield Hoagie

The Crash Bag is officially back and I promise you, dear reader, that it is here to stay for as long as I’m around. Especially now, there’s not much going on here in Philliesland, so let’s get to things you want to talk about and have a little fun while we’re at it.

@JohnMorgera: What do you see being the biggest hurdle in the Phillies rebuild?

Let me let you in on a secret with the hurdles, as someone who ran both the 400m hurdles and the 110m hurdles in high school: they aren’t all that high. Any relatively in-shape person can physically get over a single hurdle on the highest setting (42 inches). The key to navigating them well is maintaining your rhythm and just extending your stride over them, not jumping or stuttering in your approach.

At this point, many of the hurdles have been cleared. They’ve gutted the major league roster of veterans that could be moved for value, embraced analytics as a front office, and amassed a tremendously deep pool of under-25 talent and a minor league system that will rank near the top in the game for the second year running. The seeds are all planted, they just have to have the patience to let them grow. With Odubel Herrera, they’ve already begun the process of locking the developing core up for the window of contention, but that’s not even all that urgent with MLB’s contract structure for young players. They’re coming into the final couple hurdles with good rhythm.

The only glaring thing the rebuild seems to be missing is a player situated to become something like a true star. That’s not a flaw of the rebuild–it’s hard to find and develop a Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, or even Kris Bryant. The good news is that, when you’re a team with money, like the Phillies, you don’t have to. Currently, next year’s free agent class looks about as bad as this year’s, but the following class (after the 2018 season) looks fun: Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Kershaw, for starters. Someone in that class will actually hit free agency in their prime and the Phillies can pounce.

With those final hurdles, the challenge is that you have to maintain the rhythm and form you created for yourself early while now competing against others. The Phillies can conceivably enter that 2018-19 free agent class coming off a .500 or better season with a young, exciting core that is just missing a star or two. That’s attractive to free agents.

@threwouttime what is starting rotation on August 1st?

Making this sort of prediction is a fool’s errand because pitchers will be pitchers. Someone we expect to be in there won’t be healthy. It’s tough news to hear on January 6th, but it’s the case.

There is no way Hellickson and Buchholtz are in that post-deadline rotation. Either they’re healthy on July 31 and are on another team, or they’re not healthy and therefore not in the rotation anyway. So, they’re easy omissions. Beyond that, we have to make some assumptions on health, which is tough at this stage given the injuries that ended Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin’s seasons in 2016, but I’ll assume they’re fine.

Nola and Eickhoff are locks. They’ve both clearly graduated the minor leagues and have no risk of being moved the ot he bullpen. Velasquez is close to joining them, but, after his strong start to the season, he wasn’t able to make it deep into games as the season went on. He only finished the sixth inning in two of his final six starts while still averaging over 100 pitches per start. Even so, I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a long leash this season given how effective he showed he can be as a starter, so he gets in.

Now we’re having fun with guys who haven’t really been there yet. As I see it, there are five plausible options (please no Adam Morgan and Phil Klein!): Jake Thompson, Eflin, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, and Mark Appel.

Of those, you have to figure Thompson and Eflin have the inside track having already made it to the majors. Thompson, in particular, has nothing left to prove in the minors and, if you take away his first four starts, was actually quite good. We’ll put him in. Eflin, I’m less sold on. He’s coming off injuries to both his knees and looked like he could use more time in the minors anyway. I’m not sure it would be such a bad idea to keep in the minors most of the season to develop his secondary pitches. Pivetta and Appel both need to figure out if they’re starters or relievers. That leaves Ben Lively, who probably isn’t actually that good, but has seen good results at every level of the minors. As the oldest of the non-Appel contingent here, I think he forces his way into being the next guy in, even if only for a “let’s see what we got” look.

Your August 1, 2017 Phillies rotation:

  1. Aaron Nola
  2. Jerad Eickhoff
  3. Vince Velasquez
  4. Jake Thompson
  5. Ben Lively

@Phixated if you could change one thing about CBP, what would it be?

Citizens Bank Ballpark is a perfectly fine park as it is, so you don’t want to mess too much with what works. You also have to think about how others would engage with whatever changes you make. So, while I trust both of us would behave responsibly with $5 beers–scratch that; while I trust you would behave responsibly–not only do I have little faith in the general public to follow our lead, but you’d spend two innings standing in line to get one of those.

Then, there are needed changes that have already been made this offseason, i.e., extending protective netting along the dugouts and deciding that Nazis shouldn’t be selling us overpriced nuts in a venue that encourages and welcomes diversity.

What’s left to be done? Get rid of the Liberty Bell as the home run celebration. The Liberty Bell is not an overrated historical attraction; it’s not an historical attraction at all. The story that it rang to declare the signing of the Declaration of Independence is bunk, so all you’re left with is a giant, useless product of shoddy workmanship. The damn thing cracked the first time it was rung. Ringing the giant Christmas light Liberty Bell when the Phillies hit a home run is supposed to harken back to when the bell rang to announce Independence. In reality, it harkens back to some flawed craftsman.

I don’t particularly care what they replace it with. A simple scoreboard display or a firework or two would be fine by me. But, in the spirit of the Crashbag, I motion to install a monument to what actually makes Philadelphia great in its stead: A Wawa hoagie in the style of the Shea Stadium Home Run Apple, with the hoagie replacing the apple and a wawa wrapper replacing the Mets hat. They could probably not only get Wawa to pay for its construction and installation, but also the cost of demolishing the already-broken bell.

@bxe1234 which long-dead philosopher would be a big baseball fan and why?

He’s not long-dead (died in 1976), but I think the answer has to be Martin Heidegger. The Effectively Wild podcast has had a long-standing fascination with the relationship between baseball and our orientation to our own deaths. On that podcast, Sam Miller expresses two uses of baseball with regard to our psychological relationship with death that seem initially contradictory. First, he posits that baseball is one of the many distractions we place in our lives to help us “forget that we are all dying right in front of each other. That this is just this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis.” In a later episode, he observes that baseball is fascinating because it represents the experience of aging and death at an accelerated speed. As soon as players are no longer thought of as prospects, the question immediately becomes, “how long until they begin to die as players?” In the span of a 15-year career, we see the entire life cycle.

These aren’t contradictory draws to baseball. Underneath that compulsion to distract ourselves lies an acknowledgement that there is something very real there to distract ourselves from. In watching players come into the majors, age into their primes, decline in usefulness, and eventually retire is a soothing representation of how our lives will go. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard may well never play another major league baseball game again in their lives. But, that’s not so bad. They’ll retire and they may even shed some tears in that press conference, but, at the end of the day, what we’ll see is that they’re fine with it. Retirement, like death, isn’t so bad.

Heidegger sees death as essential to an authentic existence. In his seminal work Being and Time, he says that one must both be aware and accepting of his or her own mortality and coming face to face with the dread of death in order to live properly. It’s important that this confrontation not be that of death generally or the death of someone else; it must be an acceptance of the death of oneself. If Sam is right that baseball in some way forces us to be aware of and consider our own death–even if it’s to consider how baseball is a distraction from the experience of it–Heidegger would probably like it just fine.

Honorable Mentions:

Socrates: Baseball, with all the down time between pitches and innings as well as the relatively low-stakes moment-to-moment experience of a given game is great for long conversations. The ballpark is the American marketplace.

Nietzsche: In the Preface to On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche bemoans the fact that his writings will likely not be readable by the modern man. In order to read Nietzsche, he says, one would have to be like a cow and ruminate on his aphorisms. Word of advice: Read some Nietzsche before a warm summer evening baseball game. It’s the perfect setting for rumination.

@philsandthrills are the phillies going to win the world series this year and also will they win the superbowl

Both seem similarly unlikely. The Super Bowl does take place before the season starts, so there will be more hope than when the games, and losing, actually start.

@howardmegdal Who disappointed you more: Ron Jones or Wes Chamberlain?

I should start this by acknowledging that, while I was alive for both of these players’ tenures with the Phillies, I did not yet–as someone under the age of six–have the capacity to express anything like hope, excitement, or disappointment with Ron Jones or Wes Chamberlain. That being the case, I’ll have to answer this entirely theoretically. The question basically centers around what is more disappointing: an early injury that derails a potentially promising career or a top prospect that never puts it together?

The question puts the player in the active position of disappointing me, the fan. In that phrasing, I can’t in good conscience say that Ron Jones would have disappointed me at the time. He blew out both his knees while playing. For parts of three seasons, he was a solidly above-average hitter with OPSs at least 30 percent better than league average. He just wasn’t healthy. That’s a disappointing career to be sure, but I can’t hold Jones accountable for that. The answer then is Wes Chamberlain. He was a top prospect in the Phillies system (No. 25 in the game prior to his debut according to Baseball America), but, by all accounts, was atrocious defensively and was never much better than an average offensive player. Despite not suffering severe injuries, he ended with a lower career WAR than Jones. And, while prospects flame out all the time for no fault of their own, if feels easier to blame a reasonably healthy Wes Chamberlain for the disappointment he caused.

That’s it for this week’s Crash Bag. If I didn’t address your question this time, it is not lost in the sands of time, or, at least not while Google Drive is functional. There are some I received this week that I hope to get to in future editions. Submissions are always welcome in these comments, directed at me on Twitter (@CF_Larue), or through an otherwise unmarked tweet with the #crashbag hashtag.

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  1. Epicurean

    January 06, 2017 10:51 AM

    Nice work on the Heidegger bit, although I’m pretty sure that Heidegger’s rampant hatred of Americanism would have kept him away from the ballpark generally. That was a fun read though.

    • Ed

      January 06, 2017 08:49 PM

      Yes, but he could have gotten peanuts from a fellow nazi sympathizer if he had seen them last year.

      • Epicurean

        January 06, 2017 11:44 PM

        Good point.

      • Edwin

        January 08, 2017 07:58 PM

        Phenomenologically speaking though he may have had a great experience that only an individual can appreciate.

  2. Bob

    January 06, 2017 11:47 AM

    My change to CBP would be to get rid of Aramark entirely.

  3. Boo-urns

    January 06, 2017 01:50 PM

    Wawa hoagies are HORRIBLE. Seriously. They used to be good (never great), but as they’ve gotten bigger the quality has gotten so poor that the only time they are ever an acceptable choice is at 3am when nothing else is open.

    • Chris S

      January 06, 2017 01:57 PM

      It just needs to be iconic to the area, it doesn’t have to taste good.

      • Greg

        January 06, 2017 02:52 PM

        “Iconic but not very good” is, sadly, probably a fair representation to use for a lot of Philly sports teams.

      • Edwin

        January 10, 2017 06:37 AM

        Bullshit on that. It’s got to be good otherwise it’s just a shit sandwich. Good hoagies are awesome.

    • Eric Chesterton

      January 06, 2017 03:08 PM

      If it eases your concern, it’s less about the specific product, i.e., the hoagie, and more about representing Wawa’s greatness in some way. I would be fine with a bursting carton of iced tea or something like that.

  4. Greg

    January 06, 2017 02:51 PM

    I think if they’re going to replace the liberty bell as the home run celebration, I think they should have a gigantic vat of cheez whiz, and then dunk a giant ball with the opposing team’s logo on it. Or the Fanatic could slide into it, a la Bernie Brewer. Though I guess the cleaning bill would be astronomical.

    • Eric Chesterton

      January 06, 2017 03:07 PM

      An alternate idea was to have cheese wiz pouring on a cheesesteak, but the cheesesteak as a symbol of Philadelphia felt too overplayed.

      • JC

        January 06, 2017 09:39 PM

        How about a Roast Pork sandwich? Equally Philly, not nearly as overdone.

      • Tim

        January 09, 2017 01:48 PM

        Cheez whiz is for the tourists. Philadelphia s don’t eat that crap.

  5. Romus

    January 06, 2017 03:12 PM

    Like them to bring back the “Schmidter” sandwich vendor at the park.
    Sandwich grew on me..

    • Bob S

      January 06, 2017 08:25 PM

      Grew on me too. Mostly around my waist

    • Andrew R.

      January 08, 2017 11:26 AM

      I was so pissed when they took it away. The Schmitter or a Bulldog. Washed down with two Federal Donuts. Bring it back!!

      • Romus

        January 08, 2017 03:29 PM

        I remember one time the founder was behind the counter, more or less, supervising operations, and mentioned to him I heard him on a WIP interview with the mid-day guys and how the sandwich actually was a birth from the old Schimdt’s Brewing Company and how the workers would stop at his beer garden after work and he would have the left- overs available from that day, and made the unique sandwich with the Russian dressing or something tasting close to it. Eventually the name of the sandwich emanated…all started from the brewery factory workers.
        He then gave me a free one.

  6. Jerry Spradlin

    January 08, 2017 03:51 PM

    I know I’m on an island here, but I like the ballpark Liberty Bell

  7. Boo-urns

    January 10, 2017 05:05 PM

    @ Edwin: good hoagies are even better than awesome. Case in point: Carmen’s in Bellmawr. Their standard Italian hoagie is the bar by which all others are compared (and no one really comes close, at least none that I’ve had… and I’ve tried hundreds of different shops. Sadly, I still have to get to the White House in AC. I just don’t go down there too often…)

    @ Tim: *plenty* of locals prefer Whiz. I’m definitely in that camp (as long as it’s actual Cheez Whiz brand, any other generic cheddar-esque sauce is not acceptable). The saltiness of the Whix complements the meat sooooo well. A cheesesteak with Whiz @ Joe’s (formerly Chink’s) is one of the single-best things I’ve ever eaten. (And if you saw my belly you would see I enjoy them just a little too much, heh heh.)

  8. Anthony

    January 11, 2017 01:17 PM

    The Liberty Bell is awesome. I don’t care if it’s historically accurate or cheesy. I love hearing it ring along with Harry The K calling it “That Ball Is Outta Hereeeeee!”

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