Crash Bag, Vol. 36: Situated on an Isthmus

So I moved to Wisconsin last week, which I think I told y’all about. And it’s great so far–I miss Wawa, and I hate pumping my own gas, but the food is great, the people are friendly, and I’d forgotten how awesome it is to be able to buy beer in a grocery store or a gas station. As men do. In lands where freedom rings out like the throaty drone of a bagpipe on a crisp autumn morning. (wipes tears from face)

But yeah, I got here on Thursday, and Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, came out here to help me set up house. After two days, I was starting to figure out where things were. I’d adjusted to the cold (which isn’t that bad, because while it’s 15 to 20 degrees colder out here than in the Delaware Valley, that cold comes, at least so far, without the customary appalling wind you’ll find in Philadelphia). And on Saturday morning, I went to take KTLSF to the airport.

Madison is a moderate-sized city of about a quarter of a million residents, and a large part of the downtown is situated on an isthmus that bisects two lakes, much the way Ryan Howard bisects the strike zone with his swing whenever he sees a slider in the dirt. It was while I was driving along this isthmus that I…by the way, “isthmus” is an awesome word, isn’t it? Perhaps the greatest of all geographical terms, and if not, right up there with “archipelago” and “fjord.” I remember learning what “isthmus” meant by watching Sesame Street as a child. Imagine that! A show designed for preschoolers being unafraid to teach young children esoteric geographical jargon! We’d certainly never stand for such a thing in this day and age! Imagine the nerve of those socialist cheese-eaters over at Children’s Television Workshop–teaching our children big words! Daring them to expand their horizons before everyone’s stopped to pick up his participation trophy! Isthmus.

But I digress.

Like I was saying, it was while I was driving along this isthmus that I first realized something wasn’t right. First of all, the lake was frozen, which is something I’m not positive I’d ever seen in person before, a lake frozen to the point where you could walk on it. So imagine how completely unprepared I was to witness people–dozens of them–walking out on the ice in various Gore-tex apparel, toting drills and tents and stools, doing what I can only assume was ice fishing. Ice fishing! A sport undertaken by such barbaric people as Russians and Canadians–not normal, civilized Canadians, the Quebecois and Vancouverites and Ontarians, but people from, like Manitoba and such. Shocking behavior.

So there they were, dozens of ice fishermen, just kind of chillin’, so to speak, out on a frozen lake, sitting on stools and dropping strings through holes in the ice as if this is just something people do. I was kind of intellectually aware that Wisconsinites behaved in such a manner, but to witness it literally in the middle of a city, literally within sight of the state capitol building, was quite a shock. Totally jarred me out of enjoying the beautiful view of the skyline and the frozen lake that can be had from this isthmus on a sunny morning.

Question time.

@fotodave: “Which is colder: A Wisconsin Morning or the Phillies development of Domonic Brown?”

Like I said, it doesn’t feel all that cold out here. I mean, it’s cold, but it’s more the refreshing crispness of standing inside a walk-in freezer than the bitter, skin-blistering assault of sitting on the bleachers at a high school football game in December. When I was in college, I waited tables for a summer, and I had neither a car, nor air conditioning in my apartment. Which had no exterior windows and was situated in a building made entirely of brick. Which, I’m pretty sure, is what they make pizza ovens out of in expensive restaurants.

Anyway, I walked to work, which took between 20 and 30 minutes, which wasn’t bad. Or at least it wouldn’t have been if it weren’t 115 degrees with 100 percent humidity every day of the summer in Columbia, South Carolina. So occasionally, I’d be dispatched to the restaurant’s walk-in freezer to pick up some foodstuff or other. And damn if I didn’t take my sweet time. I’d let the door close behind me and stand there in my shorts and polo shirt, just letting the heat radiate off of me and into the foggy cool like I was an ear on a Fennec fox in the desert night. That’s how the cold is in Wisconsin. At least in my part. I watched a little bit of the Packers-Vikings game on Saturday and it looked considerably less pleasant in Green Bay.

But I wouldn’t describe the Phillies’ development (if you can call it that) of Domonic Brown as “cold,” either. The word I’d choose would be something more along the lines of “bizarre” or “profligate” or “This is a chemical burn.” They have to have known something that we didn’t, that all the prospect writers didn’t, when Brown was coming up. They’re professionals–they have more training, and more experience and more resources than we do, and by all publicly available information, holding Brown back made no sense.

I’m going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

@pinvert: “in your expert opinion, how did Ryan do last week at the helm of the Crash Bag?”

Quite well, I thought. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s comforting to know that if something horrible were to happen to me, say, if I perished in a tragic Michael Martinez accident, that service could continue almost uninterrupted.

Qui-Gon…more to say, have you?

“follow up-answer one of last week’s questions with the viewpoint opposing Ryan’s”

Oh, but yeah, for as much as I look to Ryan as kind of an intellectual and philosophical sounding board–not that we agree on everything, but I do respect his opinion immensely–it’s difficult to be as entirely wrong about something as he is about the designated hitter. The DH leads to three true outcomes and to old fat guys who have overstayed their welcome trundling around in circles. And if I wanted to see that, I’d walk around the WIP offices telling Angelo Cataldi that there’s a woman in a bikini hiding in a room somewhere and not tell him which.

“caveat: it can’t be the DH question”

Oh. Well I don’t know that he said anything else that I really disagree with. Oh, here’s one. He said that Cliff Lee would win a steel cage match against Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley. I don’t think so. I’m not sure it’s possible to kill Chase Utley. Sure, you could hack off his knees and wrists, but he’d still be there, with his unbeating heart and cold, steely gaze, gnawing at your ankles until you gave up and cried. I think Utley wins if only because Cliff Lee is made of flesh and blood, and he bleeds. If it bleeds, we can kill it.

@SkirkMcGuirk: “What current Phillies player(s) will have their numbers retired someday?”

Funny you should ask that, because literally the first thing I ever wrote on this site was a long post on why the Phillies should retire Jimmy Rollins‘ number. I love these debates about retiring numbers and (in other sports) captaincy designations–it’s a combination of the rational and emotional. Not only who was the best, but who meant the most. The Phillies seem only to be interested in retiring the numbers of players who made the Hall of Fame, but I’ve got a little more liberal outlook on such things, so screw them. If the Phillies want to answer this question, they can get their own Crash Bag.

The past decade has been, by far, the most successful in the history of the Phillies’ franchise, and among current members of the team, I would retire the following numbers today, no questions asked:

Each great era in Phillies history (all one of them, plus 1950, which apparently counts as an era), comes with at least two retired numbers. Rollins combines on-field value with longevity and qualitative meaning the franchise. He is to us what Richie Ashburn was to our grandparents. And Utley, for my money, is the best player in franchise history not named Mike Schmidt, so he goes too. And Charlie Manuel is to the Phillies what Billy Martin was to the Yankees or Earl Weaver was to the Orioles, except Charlie Manuel is the exact opposite of Billy Martin and Earl Weaver in every way imaginable. But sometimes franchises honor great teams by honoring the manager–I think it’s appropriate to do so in this case.

And if Cole Hamels keeps pitching like a No. 1 starter until the end of his contract, he gets on the board too. Roy Halladay doesn’t have the longevity (though he’ll get his later in this column, don’t you worry) and Cliff Lee, for how great he’s loved by the fans, probably won’t have enough good season with the Phillies to merit having his number retired either.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say the Phillies pick up an actor to be their play-by-play guy on TV. Who would you want it to be? I’m thinking H. Jon Benjamin.”

He’s not a bad choice. I’ve long been of the opinion that ESPN should have its No. 1 soccer commentary team of Ian Darke and Steve McMannaman try other sports. I’d love, love, love to see them give baseball a shot.

But you said actors. So actors it shall be.

We’ve got to consider a couple things. Vocal quality. H. Jon Benjamin has that sonorous Joe Buck baritone that would lend itself well to the commentary booth. Or you could go with the carnival barker/1950s radio newscaster voice that Keith Jackson made his own and go with…I dunno, Morgan Freeman? I feel like Nick Offerman might be able to pull it off, but that might be entirely a product of how much Parks and Recreation I’ve been watching recently. Liev Schreiber is doing great work as a sports documentary narrator and would probably do well calling a  ballgame.

If we’re just going for quality of voice, I’m not sure you’ll do better than H. Jon Benjamin. In fact, I could listen to him talk to a woman with a breathy, seductive alto voice in any context, baseball or no. If H. Jon Benjamin and Diana Agron called a ballgame, I’d hang on every word–no joke, every single goddmaned word–and be completely unaware what sport they were watching until about inning four or five.

You could go another direction and take multiple actors who you know have good on-screen chemistry and just turn them loose. I’d watch a Christopher Guest/Harry Shearer/Michael McKean booth. Or a Nick Kroll/Jason Mantzoukas booth. Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Michael Fassbender and that basketball from Prometheus. You get the idea.

Notice how I never said anything about knowing or liking baseball. This is because most baseball commentators offer bugger-all in terms of useful insight. My favorite broadcast teams (Darke/Macca, Franzke/LA and Breen/Van Gundy are probably my top 3 right now) are talented describers of events, and you get the sense that they’re guys who enjoy watching the game with their buddies. I want to know what’s going on and I want to get the sense that what’s going on is genuinely fun.

With that said, I’ll take…Jon Hamm and Chris Pratt. I have no idea if they’d have good chemistry (well, apart from Chris Pratt having had good chemistry with Treat Williams in Everwoodwhich is like having good chemistry with a doorframe), but I like both of them, and I think it’d be fun. Maybe with Jennifer Lawrence in the Sarge role, doing some mid-inning relief and postgame interviews. Mostly because I am hopelessly, irretrievably in love with Jennifer Lawrence, who was the acting equivalent of the space shuttle lifting off in Silver Linings Playbook, which is the best movie I’ve seen in a theater in about five years, and if she doesn’t win Best Actress I’m going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential wrongdoing. But I need more Jennifer Lawrence in my life, and this seems as good a reason as any.

But enough fun. Given the events of this week, I think it’s time for a….

HALL OF FAME LIGHTNING ROUND

(sirens, klaxons, Wayne Brady)

Nobody got in. Shocker. Blow up the BBWAA, burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ, and so on. All your post-hoc ass-covering moralizing won’t stop Barry Bonds from having been one of the five best baseball players ever, Grumpy Old White Male Sportswriters.

@mdubz11: “Fill out your Hall of Fame ballot.”

I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. I wish I did. But let’s pretend. Holy damn, Rondell White is on there. Remember that guy? Also Todd Walker. Who, as far as I know, is the only Walker ever to play for the Texas Rangers. Oh, and let me say up front that allegations or even proof of performance-enhancing drug use bother me not one iota, and if you think you’re going to convince me otherwise, I cordially invite you to bugger off and not say anything. Drug use was so accepted and prevalent at the time that the so-called Steroid Era is nothing more than a run-scoring environment to me. I’m also kind of a big hall guy, so I’m going to fill my ten spots, particularly on this ballot of all ballots. Though if others are in favor of being more selective, I really don’t have an argument–it’s a matter of preference. The ballot isn’t ordered, but this is my rough order of preference.

  • Barry Bonds. Possibly the greatest baseball player ever. Maybe not as good as Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. Oh, what’s that you say? Barry Bonds took steroids? Well Wagner and Ruth didn’t have to play against foreigners or black people. Seriously, I’m so over the drug outrage. If Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Bill Conlin and Cap Anson are in the Hall of Fame…hell, if Tim McCarver‘s in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster…I’m not sure we can fairly impose some sort of nebulous morals clause. Sure, Barry Bonds was a jerk and likely a drug user, but Mickey Mantle (one of my favorite players of all time, and as deserving a Hall of Famer as ever lived) was a drunk and a serial adulterer, which I find far more icky than whatever Bonds did. The ability of grown-ass men to be shocked and butthurt over a ballplayer ruining their innocence astounds me.
  • Roger Clemens. Just like with Bonds, a Hall of Fame without Clemens doesn’t diminish Clemens–it diminishes the Hall of Fame. When I’m dictator of the world, anyone who doesn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens loses his vote. Not just his Hall of Fame vote, but the franchise as well. And he spends two weeks in the stockade.
  • Jeff Bagwell. I like to think that Bagwell’s been left out of the Hall of Fame so far because his eye-popping statistical record has been underrated (which I think it has). Not because everyone with big muscles who played in the 1990s is assumed to be a juicer, regardless of whether or not he’s even been credibly accused of wrongdoing. Let alone, you know, tested positive for illegal PEDs.
  • Tim Raines. Another guy who, like Bagwell, had an astonishing career but somehow flew under the radar. I believe it’s Jonah Keri (and if it’s not, I apologize) who’s fond of saying that Raines was the second-best leadoff hitter of all time, but no one noticed because he was a direct contemporary of the greatest leadoff hitter of all time (Rickey Henderson). I find that sentiment to be broadly accurate.
  • Craig Biggio. It was Bill James‘ argument (in the New Historical Baseball Abstract of 2001) that Biggio was a better player than Ken Griffey, Jr., that was really my first introduction to the enlightened–or rather, evidence-based–way of considering the game to which I subscribe now. That was a terribly-constructed sentence but I’m not going to bother to change it. Biggio was great at his peak, he played at not one but three premium defensive positions, and he played for a long time. I’m really not sure what case there is to be made against him.
  • Edgar Martinez. Okay, so some people won’t vote for Martinez because he was “only half a player.” Which is an interesting thing to say about a guy with a career .418 OBP. Okay, so Martinez hardly ever played the field. Maybe the presence of Ryan Klesko on this year’s ballot will serve to remind voters that there are worse things than not playing defense at all. Or maybe someone can explain to me how Martinez is unworthy of enshrinement for his lack of completeness, and Lee Smith got half again as many votes as Martinez did. Also worth noting: Jack Morris batted once in his regular-season career.
  • Curt Schilling. Pitched with Randy Johnson when Johnson was stupid dominant, and with Pedro Martinez when Martinez was stupid dominant, so he never got the praise he deserved for being one of the great power/control pitchers of his era. He pitched a ton of innings, and the innings he pitched were really good. That’s really all I want from a starting pitcher. And while Schilling’s regular-season credentials alone are worthy of enshrinement, it’s worth noting that for all the fainting Jack Morris induces among sportswriters for his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (admittedly one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever), Schilling did that a lot. Across the span of more than a decade, for three different franchises. In a much tougher pitcher’s environment. And, due respect to a lineup anchored by Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton, tougher competition. As a rule, I don’t believe in clutch, but if we’re going to use that word on one pitcher on this ballot, I’d take Schilling over Joe Blanton with Better Facial Hair and Better PR.
  • Mike Piazza. Another argument that being a DH is not always the worst thing that can happen to a player’s defensive reputation. Though there are some who say that Piazza was actually an underrated defender. No matter–this guy had me convinced well into my teens that catcher was a position for big guys who could mash, not guys who were too athletic and not good enough with the bat to be middle infielders.
  • Larry Walker. If you wouldn’t vote for the eight guys above, I probably think you’re an idiot. Or an absurdly small-Hall guy. Walker is where I draw the line between no-brainer and negotiable. I’m a big fan of rewarding peak over longevity, which is why Walker goes ahead of Rafael Palmeiro or Fred McGriff. Though it’s worth noting that Walker has a higher career bWAR total than Tim Raines in more than 2,000 fewer plate appearances.  I’ll also admit that this vote may be entirely the function of when I was born. I came of baseball-watching age just before Walker’s peak with the Rockies, and he was the first player I ever saw who struck me as being change-the-rules good. Sure, he played his best years when Coors Field was at its Coors Fieldiest, so he probably wouldn’t have slugged .700 (which he literally did, twice) if he’d played at the Astrodome in the 1960s. But even if you adjust his numbers for run environment, they’re still quite robust–a career 141 wRC+ for a good defensive corner outfielder with 230 career stolen bases is good enough to make me a believer.
  • Mark McGwire. Again, peak vs. longevity. I know there are some writers who are making a crusade out of trying to get Alan Trammell into the Hall. No, that’s not right. There are some writers who are making a crusade out of complaining that Alan Trammell isn’t in the Hall. And on a ballot that didn’t have a top-five all-time hitter, a top-five all-time pitcher, the best-hitting catcher of all time and four guys who should have been in years ago if the voters weren’t sanctimonious poopyfaces, Trammell would get my hypothetical vote. As would Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton and probably Palmeiro. Sorry, Sammy. You only slugged .700 in a full season once. But yeah, that’s not to say I don’t think any of those guys are unworthy, or that I have some bulletproof reason to include Walker and McGwire over Trammell (and I think he’s the only one people will get upset about). If the BBWAA had voted Bagwell and Raines in when they were supposed to, this wouldn’t be an issue.

@mferrier31: “War breaks out between BBWAA and the “[sabermetric] tea party”. Who would play what role for each side( i.e. Pres, General, etc) & who wins”

Well, it’s worth noting that there are many members of the so-called sabermetric tea party who are also BBWAA members. Here’s how I think it goes. Murray Chass is John C. Calhoun, Jon Heyman is Jefferson Davis and…I dunno…someone like Peter Gammons or Bob Ryan, whom everyone loves and respects but was just born in the wrong place and time with the wrong ideas, is Robert E. Lee. Buster Olney plays James Longstreet in this metaphor.

On the goodguys’ side, STP President Joe Posnanski plays the Abraham Lincoln role, a wise, cogent man, a leader who sees both sides of the issue but ultimately stands up for what is right at all costs. He sends in Dave Cameron (George McClellan) and his tentative advances are rebuffed. Then he goes with more aggressive generals: Jayson Stark and Jonah Keri (Fightin’ Joe Hooker and Ambrose Burnside, respectively), but once again, they’re not quite aggressive enough.

Then, with the war going badly, Posnanski finds his Ulysses S. Grant: Keith Law. Law is recalled from his western campaign and informs President Posnanski that we’re younger, smarter and more numerous, and we can just bulldoze those old fogies, damn the human cost, if we want to. He’s given command, and he calls up Jay Jaffe (William T. Sherman) to burn everything from New York to Cooperstown to the fucking ground. We win, idiocy in baseball analysis is abolished and we get a bunch of kickass marching songs. The end.

@JustinF_LB: “Who do you think voted for Aaron Sele in Hall of Fame voting?”

I dunno, but if you find out, tell me so I can buy him lunch. I used to love Aaron Sele. My childhood fantasy that I could become a front-line MLB starting pitcher lasted well into middle school because of Aaron Sele.

But in all seriousness, ordinarily I don’t have a problem with writers throwing a Hall of Fame vote someone’s way to honor a player they liked but know won’t make it. As long as they take the rest of the ballot seriously. But this is a year with 14 qualified candidates for only 10 spots. If you’re giving Aaron Sele a shout-out and not spending that vote on a deserving but borderline candidate, you’re doing the Hall of Fame a disservice.”

@Parker_Adderson: “Any chance the character clause works more as it was intended and keeps Chipper out of the HoF?”

I’m going to answer this question, kind of, in the next bit. But I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind y’all that Chipper Jones is a poopy head whose wife divorced him because he had a kid with a Hooter’s waitress behind her back. That poor woman. Imagine how close you’d have to get to Chipper’s face to conceive a child with him.

@Jferrie: “do you think that since guys who juiced can get into hall that Pete Rose should get a chance? Gambling vs Juicing.”

I’m glad you phrased it that way, because cheating doesn’t get you eliminated from Hall of Fame discussion. Because Willie Mays cheated. He took and distributed PEDs too. So did Mike Schmidt. Baseball, for all the moralistic bluster of certain writers, is an incredibly forgiving community as a whole. It will welcome you back with open arms even if you’ve been dinged in the past for things far worse than drugs, such as drunk driving or hitting your wife. And if you do both, you get some sort of career bingo and writers come up with weird excuses to give you prizes. It gets better–baseball will forgive players for anything from hate crimes to rape.

Now, I don’t know that any of that behavior would fly if, instead of baseball players, these guys were accountants. And if Miguel Cabrera, thoroughly scumbaggy a man though he seems to be, were an accountant, even as great an accountant as he is a baseball player, I wouldn’t begrudge him the right to make a living. But neither would I want him to work for me or with me. That’s a very intellectually inconsistent position to hold, and I stand by it steadfastly. But perhaps no other line of work is as zero-sum as professional sports, so for that reason, we give the truly great athletes like Cabrera (and for some reason, truly mediocre ones like Young and Lueke) a lot more rope than they might get in other lines of work. The point is, baseball is like a Backstreet Boys song: “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from [or] what you did.” (Side note, do yourself a favor and watch that video. Peak late ’90s going on there. I totally had Nick Carter‘s haircut when I was 12.)

It’s like baseball has literally one rule. And that rule is that you can’t bet on baseball. You can literally rape and pillage, but you can’t bet on baseball.

Which makes sense, to a certain extent. Even if you cheat–especially if you cheat–you’re still trying as hard as you can to win. But if you’re betting on baseball, there’s the chance that you might undermine the competitive integrity of the game, where athletic outcomes are fixed to support certain financial outcomes. And when that happens, you’ve got the NBA. Pete Rose broke the one rule, a rule in whose name Major League Baseball has banned, or considered banning, players as great as or greater than Rose. He’s not going to get in.

At least not until he dies. Because as Ron Santo would tell you if he weren’t dead, people who were worthy all along sometimes have to wait for posthumous induction.

@gberry523: “how long before another Phillie gets inducted to the hall?”

Probably the next time another Phillie leaves a room.

Depends on who counts as a Phillie. Because I’d vote for Curt Schilling today, and when the time comes, I think Pedro Martinez, Halladay and Jim Thome all make it in without too much fuss. I’d throw Scott Rolen a vote too, but I don’t think he makes it in. That said, I don’t think any of those five guys would wear a Phillies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. I don’t think Chase Utley gets in either, because he’s been preposterously underrated over the years and is entirely deserving, even if his career ended today.

Honestly, if I’m going to take bets on the next Hall of Fame inductee to wear a Phillies hat on his plaque, I’d lay the odds as:

  • 4/1: Chase Utley
  • 5/1: Cole Hamels
  • 2/1: The Field

Because apart from Utley and Hamels, I can’t think of a name. Maybe the Phillies draft Karsten Whitson next year, he turns into a stud for a decade and change and gets inducted for the Class of 2040. It could be that long–the Phillies have had a ton of really good players over the past 30 years, but not really a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

Which is fine by me, because with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in the division, we Phillies fans are going to be seeing our fair share of potential future Hall of Famers.

That’ll do it for this week. We had a first this week–way more good questions than I could use. Which is good, because I won’t be able to write this whole thing in one sitting between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning anymore, as has been my custom. So in the interest of spreading out the workload, send in questions anytime via #crashbag and they will be answered. And if you ask even a moderately evergreen question and it doesn’t get answered right away, it might show up in a later episode. For instance, I’ll be giving advice next week on how to build a child. You won’t want to miss it.

Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Crash Bag, Vol. 35: Let’s Throw Jeff Loria Into Sagittarius A*

NO TIME FOR INTROS. TO THE QUESTIONS:

@GoogTheGoog: “I just got a big fancy iPod. I also drive a car for ten hours at a time for my job. Please recommend podcasts for me.”

It wasn’t 10 hours (jesus christ exactly what are you doing anyway), but there was about a half of a year period from 2011-2012 when I was living in Philadelphia and working in Washington, D.C. I tried to limit myself to making the trip twice a week, departing Monday morning and returning Friday evening, but it’s still a bastard of a drive, mostly owing to the inscrutable tangle of traffic-choked roads surrounding D.C., and whatever the hell is going on in Delaware at any given time (miles and miles of construction work, and the heady odors of what I assume is some kind of industrial solvent). Eventually I grew accustomed enough that it seemed shorter, and I had valuable intelligence on which exit had the best Wawa (exit 74 northbound, Joppatowne/MD-152), and how long a driver can admire the view from the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge before they’re endangering the lives of everyone around them (no more than 3 seconds). I also listened to a lot of podcasts. Here is an incomplete list, in no particular order, of those that took the edge off of Hell Commute:

  • Dinner Party Download: An hour-long show of cultural snippets, formatted and structured like a dinner party. Segments include “Cocktails,” in which some notable event this-week-in-history is covered, and a bartender commemorates it with an original cocktail recipe, “Guest List,” wherein a director or actor or writer or musician of note makes a themed list, “Main Course,” a food segment, and “Etiquette,” where some celebrity or other answers listener-submitted etiquette questions. This episode will give you a good sampling (segment breakdown included at the link)
  • 99% Invisible: Fascinating podcast about the intersection of design and our everyday lives. Roman Mars has a knack for untangling the design concepts behind everyday stuff that we would rarely consider from that perspective. For example, take this episode about the problems with US currency design.
  • Radiolab: You’ve probably heard about this one. Usually a three-part, hour-long take on a science-y topic, hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Abumrad also engineers the final product, making great use of music and sound editing to draw you into the story. Highly addictive if you can get past Krulwich’s occasionally insufferable sentimentality and question-begging. One of my favorite episodes is Musical Language, but one of my all-time favorite individual segments from any podcast is this from the episode “Diagnosis.” Seriously, give that a listen, starting at 10:20.
  • WireTap: CBC show with humorous sketches and the like. Impenetrable deadpan from host Jonathan Goldstein. Check out The Reverse Life for a taste (you might have to go to iTunes for this one).
  • This American Life: I feel like I don’t need to say much about this one. It’s the Ty Cobb of podcasts, except, as far as I know, Ira Glass isn’t a virulent racist. Check out their episodes on the bank collapses and the housing crisis for a better layman’s understanding than you could hope to achieve most anywhere else. Bonus fantastic investigation of the financial crisis in 2008: Inside Job.
  • Getting Blanked: In my opinion the best baseball podcast. Manageable length, very relaxed discourse, covers everything you might want to know, and, during the season, is available on a daily basis.

@sixerfan1220: “rad goggles dog or rad goggles cat?”

REAL GOGGLES DOG

@tholzerman: “What do you think Ben Revere has to do to a) become a 4+ WAR player on a regular basis and b) avoid Chickie’s and Pete’s forever?”

In the practical sense, in order to become a 4+ win player, Ben Revere has to become a player other than Ben Revere. In the theoretical sense, it’s a little more complicated. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs’ WAR flavors disagree on Revere’s 2012 to the tune of about one win, with the former pegging him at 2.4 WAR and the latter 3.4. Just for completeness, Baseball Prospectus’ WARP logs a 1.1.

These aren’t necessarily so disparate as they appear; Fangraphs awarded more wins above replacement to the league as a whole than Baseball Reference did, and Baseball Prospectus awarded fewer. Handily, Bryan Grosnick has devised a methodology to place these three WAR sources on a level playing field, so that they can then be averaged together into what he calls WARi, or WAR Index. Applying this to Revere, his adjusted rWAR, fWAR, and WARP values are 2.4, 2.9, and 1.4 respectively; his WARi is therefore 2.2.

In the best estimation, then, Revere needs to add about 2 wins, or 20 runs above replacement, to meet your goal. Where these would come from is not readily apparent. As the presumptive full time CF next season, he does get some help in the positional adjustment department, since all flavors penalized him for playing more than twice as many innings in right field last season (708.1) as he did in center (309.0). Let’s call it a five run swing for him. 15 runs to go. Since his defensive prowess is fairly established, and he was near the top of the league in Fangraphs’ defensive runs above replacement last year, his bat is the natural place to look.

Revere is essentially the April 2012 Phillies in one player — singles first, and little to no hope for extra bases or a free pass. People are quick to point to his youth, but I don’t see the upside in these departments. As power goes, he’s abysmal, with a .044 ISO in the first 1064 plate appearances of his career. This number is the absolute worst among all qualified hitters from 2010-2012, with Juan Pierre in second at .049 (I’ll leave you to draw comparisons). Sure, Revere is young, but he’s not a 20, 21, or 22 year old kid who is just starting to fill out a large frame. He’s 5’9″, 170 lbs., and those numbers aren’t likely to change that much. Neither is his ISO.

His walk rate is also miserable, 5.4% for his career, ranking him 204th out of 230 qualified hitters from 2010-2012. It’s somewhat more plausible that this could improve with age — Revere could simply become more selective. But there is no reason why pitchers need to give him anything to be picky about. Imagine you’re a pitcher staring down Revere, knowing that the worst case scenario, if you really mess up, is probably a line drive single to the outfield. Actually, it’s more likely to be a grounder; those accounted for 67% of Revere’s balls in play last season. Why would you pitch around him? Why wouldn’t you attack the strike zone, knowing Revere’s capacity for doing damage is severely limited? Clearly this does not bode well for his walk rate’s potential improvement.

If anything, the remaining value will have to come from that by which Revere lives and dies — the single. Revere’s career BABIP is .308, and last season it was .325. That seems high, but for a speedy left-hander with good contact skills, I think we can assume his true BABIP skill rests around .320. The highest single-season BABIP for a qualified post-integration hitter is Rod Carew‘s insane .408 in 1977. That seems ambitious. Let’s assume Revere has a ton of good fortune and posts a .385 BABIP, putting him in more plausible company as far as single seasons go. Applying this to his 553 plate appearances in 2012 generates 27 more hits: 24 singles, 2 doubles, and a triple, going by his real-life ratios. This boosts his triple slash to .346/.382/.415. In FanGraphs terms, it raises his wOBA to .378 (from .300), and gives him an extra 38 or so weighted runs created, which should get him over the 4 win mark by all of the measures. That’s just an extremely improbable season, even for a guy like Revere.

But we might be missing the point. Revere doesn’t have to be a 4 win player. Revere can be, say, a 2.5 win player, much further within the realm of possibility, and be just fine as an everyday starter, presuming the Phillies get a lot of above average production from other positions in the field. And it’s that last presumption that could be a serious issue in 2013.

Wait, this is supposed to be a funny column, isn’t it? Shit.

@SoMuchForPathos: “When was the last time you went on the Internet and did not become filled with a mindbending case of the angries?”

I don’t understand how I developed this reputation. Seriously. Very strange. People who only know me via this blog or Twitter would be surprised to find out I very rarely get truly angry. It’s just fun to yell at umpires and Ruben Amaro and Congress and Piers Morgan. It’s fun to seek out utter shitheads on Twitter and scream profanities at them. And to remind Josh Lueke that he’s a piece of garbage on a regular basis. So I do. But there are indeed things on the internet that do not make me ornery. FOR EXAMPLE:

@magoplasma: “how would you explain your sister in a haiku? Various other questions about your sister.”

Maggie is the shit / Manny Machado, really / you get the idea

@JakePavorsky: “You and Baumann are locked in a room. The only way to get out is to kill the other. Who wins?”

You’ve left out a ton of relevant information here. Size of the room? Available weapons? Ambient conditions? As it is, you’ve left me to imagine a plain, empty room, with hand-to-hand combat the only available option. That being the case, though to my knowledge neither of us have formal training, I’d have to give the edge to Baumann, since I’m older and fat and in gritty action movies where the protagonist is taking every possible measure in a desperate bid for survival, I wonder why they didn’t give up and die like twenty minutes ago. Being generally civilized folk though, I think we’d instead elect to sit around and wait the thing out, to see if some other solution presents itself before we both starve to death. In that scenario, Baumann would almost certainly win by exploding my head with his terrible opinions about Star Trek and the designated hitter. SPEAKING OF WHICH:

@notkerouac: “If the DH is brought to the National League, what large animal should we feed Bud Selig too?”

HAHA IDIOTS. You’ve put Crashbag in the hands of a DH apologist. No, not a DH apologist. A DH advocate. Because pitchers batting is the most worthless thing on the planet, and if you don’t want to watch old dudes hit dingers instead, you’re deluded. If we were to feed Bud Selig to a large animal for anything (and it should be a tiger or other big cat, incidentally; I fear that a bear would finish the job too quickly), it should be the second wildcard, a true abomination unto baseball that is actually worthy of the effort that Baumann instead spends on griping about AL at-bats because they’re too interesting. Honestly, I’m convinced the anti-DH sentiment comes from two loathsome sources: a stubborn attachment to tradition and the fetishization of the ball in play. The perils of the former need no further demonstration than Murray Chass’s Hall of Fame ballot. Seriously, read that, DH-o-phobes. That is you. As for the latter, to hell with defense. Give me all of the true outcomes. Go start some other baseball league and watch your pitchers leg out boring ground balls.

@threwouttime: “what gave/gives better chance for Halladay to win: 2010 Phillies or 2013 Blue Jays?”

It’s interesting that you chose the 2010 Phillies, because my immediate impulse is that, of all of the successful Phillies teams, including 2008, the 2011 squad offered the best chance at a championship. But I guess it depends on how you look at it. If you assume that the most talented team has the best chance of winning the World Series, then I think my answer stands. But, as we know, the playoffs are basically a small sample roll of the dice for even the best baseball teams, and all you can do is make marginal improvements to your odds. So if you give the 2010 Phillies credit for having managed to advance further than the 2011 team, they’re the ones with which to make the comparison. The problem then becomes that we have no earthly idea whether the 2013 Jays will make the playoffs, and, if they do, how far they would advance.

Dan Szymborski wrote in mid-December, following their acquisition of R.A. Dickey, that his ZiPS projection system saw the Jays as a 93 win team. If you conservatively estimate Halladay to be a 4 win pitcher, pushing the roughly replacement level Ricky Romero out of the rotation, they could win 96 or 97. It’s hard to win that many and miss the postseason. So if we assume the Jays are good enough to get in the door, their chances are just as good as those of the Phillies at the outset of the 2010 postseason. For that matter, if they finish with 102 wins, they could just as easily be bounced out by an inferior team, as the 2011 Phillies were. With a gun to my head, after pleading with you to put it down, I would probably lean towards the 2010 Phillies as the surer bet, but only because I have the benefit of hindsight, and the 2013 Jays have yet to play a game. What’s really sad is that you didn’t think to ask this question with the 2013 Phillies.

@kgeich67: “Three way steel cage match between Utley, Papelbon, and Lee. Who wins/How does it play out?”

There is absolutely no way Lee does not win this. I imagine Papelbon will bring the bluster, trying to rope a passive Utley into his “HOLD ME BACK, BRO, HOLD ME BACK” saber-rattling, but Lee will just take him apart with calm, redneck efficiency. Papelbon evidently can put on a sleeper hold, but there’s just no way you can convince me that Cliff Lee hasn’t wrestled a crocodile, or hunted a wild hog bare-handed. Utley will stand by, watch Papelbon get put down, and draw a walk in a 9 pitch plate appearance.

@fgmsalvia: “what’s the point anyway?”

I’m assuming, mostly since your name includes “salvia,” that this is a question about the larger purpose of the universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s take on this is pretty great:

The upshot being, if the universe does have some purpose, it’s either incredibly subtle or the universe is extraordinarily bad at fulfilling it. If you consider the things that the universe is good at doing — being enormous and vacuous, and increasing entropy — there’s a decent argument to be made that its purpose is to impersonate Joe West.

@pivnert: “ZiPS projections show ben revere hitting his 1st HR. what does he trade to the person that catches it? old twins stuff?”

If Revere hits one, and only one, home run next season, he should first of all give Dan Szymborski his game-worn jersey, for being the only person that believed he could do it. To whomever caught it, in my book, he owes only a signed ball or bat. The whole Chris Coghlan thing soured me on holding milestone balls hostage. If he was feeling extra generous, he could take the fan out to Chickie & Pete’s for some kind of garbage looking meat miasma on a roll.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Are people who think one can trade for (The Mighty) Giancarlo Stanton a member of the same species as you or me?”

People who think that the Marlins might trade Stanton at all are indeed the same species as you and I; they are only human. It’s only human to imagine, after watching Jeff Loria build a tacky multimillion dollar aquarium on the public dime and unload nearly all of the worthwhile talent he acquired within the same calendar year, that he might punch Miami in the balls once more by dealing Stanton. It’s only human to imagine he would be just that much of a shit heap. But Loria is merely penurious and evil, not brainless. After all, the package the Marlins got back in the Jays deal was not, strictly speaking, a bad return, it was just a lurch toward yet another inexpensive, non-competitive big league team. Loria would not dream of letting Stanton slip from his claws until he at least is arbitration eligible, which happens in 2014. People warn us not to attribute to malice what can just as easily be attributed to stupidity, but, to my mind, Jeff Loria is Exhibit A in the case for reversing that adage.

Arright, that’s all I got. It wasn’t as funny or verbose as you’re used to, but I didn’t mention a certain Red Sox prospect even once.

Crash Bag, Vol. 34: One Night in Pankot Makes a Hard Man Humble

The intro to this Crash Bag was originally a 1,000-word screed on how, when I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to put aggressively extroverted people in internment camps until they learn to leave us alone. I deleted it because it wasn’t very funny. But in it’s place I’ll just succinctly propose that we ought to have some sort of social education class in this country that teaches people to develop an indoor voice, for example, or to recognize the difference between someone who’s genuinely interested in what you’re saying and someone who’s just being polite. There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing and liking to talk to people, so long as you don’t abuse the introverts.

It’s time to get geopolitical.

@kalinkadink: “If the countries of Europe were a baseball team, what positions would they play?”

Okay, so there are 25 players on a Major League roster, and 27 countries in the European Union. Eliminate Malta and Cyprus, which are (I hear) fantastic vacation spots but pretty much worthless otherwise, and you can map one onto the other perfectly. This means I have to leave out, say, Russia. But nowadays, Russia is a right-wing kleptocracy of tax cheats, homophobes, luddites, racists, misogynists and drunks. Essentially, if you were threatening to move elsewhere if President Obama were re-elected, Canada isn’t where you want to go–Russia is. There you can have all the anti-intellectual disease-ridden failed economic state libertarian gay-bashing you like. In short, Russia has serious makeup issues, and I don’t want it anywhere near my European clubhouse. It’s like the Carl Everett of nation-states.

This response, I’m realizing, is probably going to border on offensively jingoistic. I’m sorry in advance if I offend a continent of innovators who would be the world’s political and economic powerhouse if they’d take some time off from going on strike and committing fraud and actually, you know, produce something.

  • Catcher: Sweden. The catcher is the brains of the team, the position player with perhaps the most responsibility of any, when you consider that he must hit like anyone else, but also play a thankless and demanding defensive position and manage a pitching staff. That requires a quiet, reassuring personality. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing several Swedes in my life, and to a man they’ve been extremely smart and extremely friendly and polite. The perfect country to handle a pitching staff.
  • First Base: United Kingdom. This is the position for the past-his-prime once-great slugger who is as of yet unaware of how hilariously his time has passed. The British like to mock Americans. “Americans are fat,” they say. Well, the British would be fat too if they had food in the U.K. that could be described as something other than “tasteless lump of prion-riddled beef.” Or if they had such teeth as are necessary to ingest food if they had. “Americans are arrogant,” they say. Well, arrogance is a byproduct of throwing off your colonial yoke, then building a country that could buy and sell yours five times over, then nuke it back into the Bronze Age, build it up using the worldwide American cultural hegemony that you seem to be so conveniently unaware, then buy it, sell it and blow it up again. Congratulations–we’ll see who’s laughing the next time you want your closet checked for Germans before you go to sleep, you insufferable, delusional pricks. Go get a constitution and then we’ll talk.
  • Second Base: Belgium. An underrated country, but any civilization built on beer and french fries is fine by me. The center of European politics, the Berlaymont building in Brussels can be the nifty double play turn. Not a country you can build a lineup around, but a thoroughly competent defender with good contact skills. Like Placido Polanco with the Tigers.
  • Shortstop: Spain. The westernmost country in continental Europe. People who think Derek Jeter is a good defender will tell you that good range to the left is the only thing that matters in a shortstop.
  • Third Base: Italy. Italy is like Roger Dorn. Occasionally it’ll hit a big home run, but defensively it only has fall-down range and hardly ever pays attention. And it will sexually harass female TV reporters. And the fans will love it because no one’s caught on to the fact that being a Reddit goon with a good tan and an androgynous name isn’t exactly the pinnacle of human achievement.
  • Left Field: France. The tempramental complementary piece that thinks he’s the franchise player, always gripes about not getting respect or hitting in the right spot in the lineup or his contract or some goddamned thing. We’re in NATO, we’re out of NATO and socialist, but we’re not going to align with the Soviet Union! We’re going to submarine the progress of the EU even though it’s been the best thing to happen to us economically since the invention of the beret, just to be difficult, and we’re going to complain when our own stupidity leads us to economic ruin. We’re back in NATO, but not for long, because we’re going to go home and take a three-hour nap in the middle of the workday. We’re going to claim (falsely) that we invented existentialism and pretend that it’s some major advance in philosophy, in the process enabling millions of high school boys with no friends and not nearly as much intelligence as they think to go around pretending that they’re cultured because they’ve read some Camus. If France were an outfielder, it would strike out 200 times a year.
  • Center Field: Denmark. Covers a lot more ground than you might think.
  • Right Field: Czech Republic. The third-biggest coal producer in the EU. You always need power in the outfield corners.
  • Backup catcher: Finland. All the nice things I said about the Swedes also go for the Finns. Nice, smart people who generally have their act together. Sitting on the bench might lead to focus problems, however, because this backup catcher might not be able to stop thinking about driving rally cars.
  • Utility infielder: Poland. Utility infielders are all about grit. Ain’t no country grittier than Poland. Poland produced perhaps the most insanely courageous and patriotic person in history, wrested the papacy away from the Italians and staged one of the grittiest, scrappiest political revolutions ever. Then they held up the Treaty of Lisbon because they felt like it. Serious defensive issues, however. But all joking aside, Poland is a good clubhouse presence, always coming up with handshakes and keeping everyone else loose.
  • Fourth outfielder: Slovakia. The capital of Slovakia is Bratislava. Which sounds like “bat is lava.” Lava is hot, which means that Slovakia sometimes swings a hot bat. A bench guy who can occasionally go on a hot streak and give the lineup some added punch.
  • Fifth outfielder: Greece. First they ruined soccer, then they ruined everyone’s economy. Ass nailed to the bench. Forever. I hear the beaches are beautiful, though. Who’s a really good-looking guy who’s really bad at baseball? Brennan Boesch? But I don’t think he’s even bad enough to be Greece.
  • Backup corner infielder: Portugal. I really have nothing interesting to say about Portugal. That Cristiano Ronaldo sure is a hell of a soccer player. I betcha he could have learned to play baseball if he wanted to. I know almost literally nothing else about Portugal.
  • Starting pitcher No. 1: Germany. You want an ace who can carry the team on his back. This is it. The economic powerhouse of the EU. The country that doesn’t talk much, but mows down batters with a variety of out pitches and eats up a ton of innings. Germany is like Justin Verlander, or Steve Carlton. Or Walter Johnson. Pencil Germany in for 35 starts, 250 innings and a couple jaw-dropping performances every season. This is a staff ace you can rely on.
  • Starting pitcher No. 2: Ireland. A real economic up-and-comer. Got off to a rocky start to his career, but is finally starting to put it all together. May never be able to be a one-man playoff series winner like Germany, but you can do worse later in the rotation. Like Poland, a good clubhouse guy.
  • Starting pitcher No. 3: Slovenia. Really showing promise after escaping, via trade, a historically bad clubhouse situation in the former Yugoslavia.
  • Starting pitcher No. 4: Luxembourg. No one thought Luxembourg had the size to be a starting pitcher. Boy, were the scouts wrong.
  • Starting pitcher No. 5: Austria. Kind of like Germany cosmetically, but not as good. If Germany is Roy Halladay, Austria is Charlie Morton.
  • Middle relievers: Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Middle relievers are interchangeable and unremarkable, just like former Soviet satellite states.
  • Lefty specialist: The Netherlands. Relief pitchers are said to be quirky and fun, left-handers particularly so. The Dutch have that reputation. Being one of the tallest countries on Earth helps, as pitchers are supposed to be tall. Plus it’s one of the most liberal countries on the planet, so the whole lefty thing…wow, this really is dragging on.
  • Relief ace: Hungary. Some facts about Hungary: Hungarians put their family name first, like the Chinese do. They were also once the world’s premier soccer power and a world leader in mathematics. That last part I can’t verify, but one of my college roommates was a math major who spent a semester in Budapest. He says the McDonald’s over there serves something called the “Sertéshús McFarm” that is, as far as he could tell, some generic pork dish. Which leads me to my next point: the official language of Hungary is a non-Indo-European language called Magyar, which is a bunch of fun to say. In short, I have no idea if Hungary would be a good closer, but I betcha it’d have bitchin’ entrance music.

@mattjedruch: “apart from Howard, which player will return to Spring Training in the worst physical shape?”

I’m thinking Josh Lindblom. Not only will he show up outrageously overweight, he’ll be unaware that he’d been traded and arrive in Clearwater instead of wherever it is Texas holds its spring training. If not him, then possibly Phillippe Aumont, who will have returned to his home with no hockey to watch, which will send him into a depressive spiral of Labatt Blue and poutine. Plus he’s so big he could probably wear another 20 or 30 pounds and no one would notice.

Speaking of Spring Training, the new batch of batting practice caps was unveiled the other day, and they’re almost all fantastic, particularly considering the previous affinity for bizarrely-placed piping. Except the Braves, (and you can scroll down in that article to find visual evidence) who turned out a preposterously racist throwback logo that had to make people tug their collars even when it first appeared on Braves jerseys back in the 1970s, when you’d stick out like a sore thumb in certain parts of Georgia if you weren’t vociferously racist.

Wherever you fall on the scale of Native American iconography in sports, that hat can’t be okay in this day and age. I like to think there’s a way that teams can honor that legacy respectfully, as a nod to local history and as a potentially intimidating team nickname. Maybe not, but I’d like to think it can be done without making a mockery of a people who have been, on balance, rather poorly treated over the past several hundred years. But this isn’t the Utah Utes or anything–this is a cartoon head that I’d half expect to be on a body that’s scalping a white pioneer woman. If you think we’ve gone overboard in being sensitive about such issues in sports, that’s one thing, but I can’t really see an argument for that logo being okay in 2013.

@patchak21: “What are your top 5 movie trilogies of all time?”

Whoa. This is a big question. There’s a lot to consider here, because I don’t know that there’s a single movie trilogy that I can bless unconditionally. Even the best ones have big questions. And there are so many variables to this question that it’s hard to give a definitive answer–can I list The Godfather trilogy even though I’ve purposely avoided the third movie because it was universally panned? The same goes for The Matrix, by the way. And how big a head start do I need to outrun those of you who are going to throw stones at me for not including Lord of the Rings? So I lay myself bare before you. My personal top 5 movie trilogies, in no particular order….

  • The original Star Wars trilogy. I feel like you kind of have to, with this one. There really is no great tradition of action movie trilogies without the original great granddaddy. And frankly, it changed the cultural landscape in a way that perhaps no other movie franchise has. To say nothing of the fact that all three (particularly Empire) were actually decent movies, in spite of their starring Mark Hamill and an adolescent Carrie Fisher, who hadn’t yet developed the world-weary and biting sarcasm that made her a rather hilarious actress and author later in life.
    The Star Wars movies were imaginative, action-packed, fun, funny, dramatic and overwhelmingly earnest. That’s one thing I don’t think we do enough in movies for grown-ups anymore, just go ahead and tell a story without any concern for whether some person on the internet, who in an earlier generation would wear black turtlenecks and smoke clove cigarettes, will make fun of you for telling it. Plus you get real growth in the characters, movie-to-movie, and one of the films ends on a really dark note, which I’m a sucker for. I might as well end this list right now.
  • Toy Story. I don’t know if Pixar’s original feature film and its descendants are so emotionally evocative for everyone, or just for people born between 1986 and 1991 or so–essentially, people who more or less aged with Andy. I still quote the original like the culture-changing cinematic landmark I’ve always believed it to be. This was really Tom Hanks’ nod to little kids during that time, in the mid-1990s, when he was ruling the world. While our parents were seeing Philadelphia and Cast Away, and our older brothers were seeing Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, we little kids went around screaming “There’s a snake in my boots!” and “Somebody’s poisoned the waterhole!” as if they were great literary moments.
    Oh, and two years ago for Christmas, I got Toy Story 3 on DVD and it’s still in the cellophane. I saw it in the theater with my then-14-year-old brother, and when it became clear that Andy would give his toys away, I lost my composure. Started bawling like a moron–rivers of tears the likes of which I’ve never cried. I’m talking about unabashed, snotty, eye-reddening sobbing. For that reason, I may never watch that movie again. So I can’t take a series that’s given me so many emotional highs and lows and leave it off this list.
  • The Christopher Nolan Batman Movies. I put this one the list with reservations. I thought Batman Begins was a pretty ordinary superhero movie, and The Dark Knight Rises was kind of long, sprawling and disorganized, to say nothing of losing the thing that made The Dark Knight so great: being a movie about masked heroes and villains that was at the same time remotely plausible enough to be truly terrifying. Maybe there were some technological leaps in The Dark Knight, but nothing so outlandish that it totally removes the viewer from the current cultural and political state. If enough things went wrong, you could almost imagine something like that happening in real life. And that’s before you get to Heath Ledger as The Joker.
    Though really, as great as Ledger’s performance was (one of only a few I’ve seen recently where I consciously took time out of viewing the movie to look for the actor who’d entirely disappeared within the character), it’s worth noting how brilliantly the character was written. The best villians, for me at least, aren’t entirely mad or entirely dark–they don’t menace you with physical violence for reasons you can’t understand. They threaten you emotionally, psychologically, and they’re always at least as smart as the goodguys, if not smarter. And you can always see where they’re coming from just enough to creep you out a little. So for one great movie and two above-average movies, I give this series my stamp of approval.
  • The Godfather. I haven’t seen Part III. But I loved the first two movies. A lot. I don’t think I need to sell y’all on the quality of those two movies, but this is mostly a statement of my disbelief that The Godfather: Part III can be worse than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Because I’d put the Indiana Jones trilogy on this list if the second installment wasn’t among the worst movies I’ve ever seen. And you can trust my word on this because I’ve seen Pootie Tang. I know what it looks like when a movie is so beyond-the-pale terrible as to cause internal bleeding. Kate Capshaw was as bad in that movie as Heath Ledger was good in The Dark Knight. Unspeakably bad. Her acting performance was almost as tone-deaf as the concept of the character of Short Round was racist. Even by the standards of the 1980s, it’s uncouth for the hero to have an Asian stereotype as a sidekick. Almost as uncouth as the Braves’ new batting practice cap.
    I watched Temple of Doom in a state of slackjawed bewilderment, completely unable to understand why any of the action on-screen was happening, and how a character as smart as Indy had morphed into the drooling moron he became in the second film. I guess it’s like they say: one night in Pankot makes a hard man humble. And yes, I’m ignoring the existence of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
  • Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen. Eleven and Thirteen were funny, exciting, well-acted films with the kind of taut on-screen banter that makes me shiver with glee. And I’m a little more forgiving of Twelve than most people seem to be because I thought the Julia Roberts-breaking-the-fourth-wall gambit was funny, rather than stupid. Though I might be biased. I know I exaggerate a lot here, but I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen a heist movie I didn’t like. I could watch heist movies all day, and these are three of my favorites.

One last note: for reasons that I’m not sure even I totally understand, I’ve never seen even one minute of any of the Bourne movies, so I can’t speak to their quality. Though I’m told they’re actually quite good. Good enough to jump the Mighty Ducks trilogy and one of those listed above? I’m not so sure.

@gberry523: “How much are we going to give up to bring in Vernon Wells and Soriano”

I hope nothing, because those guys have next to no value. Not absolutely no value, but both are being paid like superstars ($18 million next year for Soriano, $21 million for Wells) and neither has much to offer anymore. Wells, for his part, has hit .222/.258/.409 in two seasons in Los Angeles of Orange County of Anaheim of California of Earth. For a corner outfielder who doesn’t add anything defensively, “unacceptable” hardly begins to describe those numbers. Apparently he can still hit lefties some, but he can’t hit righties (who make up the majority of major league pitchers), or run, or defend. So Wells has extremely limited utility.

Soriano’s picture is not quite so bleak. He was actually decent last year, worth almost two wins above replacement by Baseball Reference’s reckoning. A 121 OPS+ isn’t that bad, even for someone who is, like Wells, a bad defensive corner outfielder. In fact, Soriano got MVP votes last year! He finished ahead of Carlos Ruiz, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in last year’s MVP voting. Which isn’t really an argument that Soriano is a good player so much as it’s an argument that you need to find the nearest nuclear power station and remove the control rods from the reactor immediately, because humanity has simply become too stupid to be allowed to survive.

Anyway, I’d take either of those guys in a trade, as long as nothing of value is given in return (i.e. if the Phillies traded Domonic Brown straight up for Soriano, as had been rumored, I’d have been so angry I can’t think of an outrageous action I could describe to you now to signify that anger) and the Cubs or Angels pay almost all of the salary of whatever piece of petrified aged outfield detritus we’d have the privilege of watching for the next year.

With that said, if Brown, Jesse Biddle and Justin De Fratus all went away in trades for both of those players in which no salary relief occurred, it would not surprise me one bit.

@MichaelJBlock: “Any chance RAJ takes a flier on Ugueth Urbina now that he’s been released from prison?”

No, but you’re not the only person to make that suggestion. I can’t imagine any athlete, particularly one in his late 30s like Urbina, would be major-league ready after seven years in prison. I am kind of disturbed that someone can try to kill his gardener and get out of prison after only seven years, though. Even in Venezuela. But at any rate, the notion of Urbina’s making a comeback to major league baseball is farfetched, to say the least.

I will say this–I’m kind of intrigued by what might happen if someone who spent seven years in jail for attempted murder sudden showed up in a major league clubhouse. How would the media handle it? Would the local beat writers talk to Urbina after he blew a save? Would Kyle Kendrick talk to him at all, all season?

@JFerrie23: “if you could watch one player play again who’d it be?”

One player that I’ve actually seen? Either Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez. I’m a sucker for really transcendent starting pitchers, the types of players who toy with hitters over the course of several at-bats or the course of a season. Particularly when there’s really nasty off-speed stuff involved. Both Maddux and Pedro changed speeds and got movement on their pitches, with a kind of kitchen sink approach to splitters, sliders and change-ups that I’m not sure I’ll ever see again. I remember in 1999, Pedro made a relief appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS and threw six no-hit innings to send Boston to the ALCS. I watched that game, and I knew at the time that I didn’t appreciate his performance for what it was. The same with Maddux, who I spent most of the 1990s being too young and too pissed that the Braves were winning to realize how great he was. There’s a host of players from that era that I could say the same about: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, the young Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez–I wish I could go back to when I started watching baseball in 1993 with what I know now and have that experience over again.

Though I’ve recently developed a fascination with Dave Hollins, so for all you know I might waste that one player to watch over on him.

All time? You could list 100 choices I’d have trouble arguing with. I’d want to see Mickey Mantle, because his is the name I use as shorthand for “once-in-a-generation great player.” One of my favorite parts of Ken Burns’ Baseball is the recap of the 1970 World Series, which is essentially a highlight reel of Brooks Robinson making absurd defensive play after absurd defensive play as if chasing down a scalded, slicing line drive and throwing the runner out at first were routine. I feel like I got a taste of that with Scott Rolen, but I’d love to see the genuine article. I’d love to see Jackie Robinson run the bases, or Rickey Henderson in his prime. Steve Carlton, George Brett, Bob Gibson, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Christy Mathewson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Eddie Collins, Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Walter Johnson, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, Babe Ruth…I guess I’d pick Mantle, given all of those choices, but I can’t fault anyone for disagreeing.

An interesting thing about baseball, compared to other sports: the game has evolved over time not only in such a way that the quality of play is higher, but that strategy changes. There are high-run environments and low-run environments, and such trends are cyclical. Like, I watch old Edmonton Oilers highlights and, if anything, I’m baffled by how little Wayne Gretzky scored, given the stand-up goalies and lack of shot-blocking. The same with Bill Russell–how didn’t he block every shot? Sure, if you drop Ty Cobb into a came with modern standards of equipment, conditioning and professionalism, I doubt he’d keep his head above water, but watching him play is as much about watching old tactics as it is seeing a great player at work. I love baseball.

@ChasingUtley: “what are you looking forward to in 2013?”

In baseball? Seeing put-up-or-shut-up time for Domonic Brown. Seeing the continued maturation of Phillippe Aumont. Watching what has suddenly become a very good and very likeable Toronto Blue Jays team make a run at the most wide-open AL East in 20 years. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. More of Mike Trout. More of Yu Darvish. More of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. More of all of the Nationals, to be totally honest–that team is going to be sick nasty next year. More Justin Upton trade rumors. More insane managerial decisions, and more Keith Law rants caused by those decisions. More of Joey Pankake, and seeing if South Carolina can make it back to the College World Series without Price, Walker, Roth and Marzilli. More of trying to get all of you to care about college baseball. More of saying “Karsten Whitson” and “Vickash Ramjit.” Staying up late to watch several dozen A’s-Angels, A’s-Rangers and Rangers-Angels games on MLB.tv. Rooting against a potential St. Louis Cardinals dynasty. God willing, Jackie Bradley‘s major league debut. More fantastic writing on all of those stories.

Outside of baseball? I’m pretty geeked about Zero Dark Thirty, and I can’t wait for the next season of Mad Men. Maybe hockey will come back, or Andrew Bynum, or both. Jadeveon Clowney. The Ender’s Game movie adaptation. Personally? Finishing my book and trying to get it published. Moving halfway across the country and starting a new job. And getting married.

Which brings me to perhaps the most important parcel of Crash Bag news. For 34 straight Fridays, without fail, I’ve submitted, for your consideration, some rambling nonsense that’s at least ostensibly about baseball. Next Friday, that streak ends, because next week I’ll be moving myself and all of my worldly possessions to lands far away from here, and I’ll have no time to write my customary 4,000-plus words here.

So it is with mostly anticipation and some trepidation that I announce that Volume 35 of the Crash Bag will come to you courtesy of Ryan Sommers. So y’all can harangue him on Twitter with questions, and the Crash Bag should come out of this in better shape than Cameron Frye’s dad’s Ferrari.

Crash Bag, Vol. 33: Centaurs for Disease Control

So it’s Dec. 21, 2012, and hey! I’ll tell you a secret. According to ancient Mayan prophecy, the world is supposed to end today! Isn’t that just so crazy, man? I can’t believe that no one else has ever mentioned this fact in public! You know what would be really hilarious and original, man? If we went on the internet and made a bunch of jokes about the world ending, man! That would be entirely original, I believe, and not at all old. Not. At. All.

Seriously, folks, give it up. King Solomon says your joke is lame and played out: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s from the Bible–Ecclesiastes 1:9. Which has two interesting consequences. First of all, that’s from the Old Testament, which means that your joke has been lame and played out for many thousands of years. And also that your joke being played out is a matter of religious doctrine for about a third of the world’s population, give or take.

So that leaves you with two choices: to base your humor entirely in the derivative, to be funny by reminding people of other funny things and making it obvious that you make no claim to inspiration on your own, or to go the other route and be so obscure that your jokes aren’t really funny so much as they are the manifestation of a brand of nihilist anti-humor that leaves everyone with the feeling of having been played the first seven notes of a major scale, which is then left unresolved as the piano is dynamited into smithereens.

But seriously, I made a “Centaurs for Disease Control” joke on Twitter a couple months back, then did a search to see if it was original. It wasn’t. I’d been beaten to the horse/man/doctor gold vein by about six months. If “Centaurs for Disease Control” jokes have their own Newton and Leibniz, we are through the looking glass. Western culture undone by a billion Jeff Ross wannabes with Facebook accounts. May our children forgive us.

Gunter glieben glauchen globen.

@Timmycurtis: “With more information about prospects available every year, do we tend to overvalue them? The teams have to know a lot more about the players they own and see everyday, right?”

An excellent point. To the point about teams knowing a lot more about the players they own and see everyday, you’re absolutely right. I give you the example of Kevin Goldstein, the former Baseball Prospectus prospect expert who recently became pro scouting coordinator for the Houston Astros. Goldstein recently went on the Effectively Wild podcast with his former BP confreres Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh to talk about his experiences as an actual front office personality. And Goldstein, who actually went out and scouted and did interviews and was as plugged in leaguewide as any of his competitors, said he was astounded by the sheer amount of data the Astros had, not only on players across pro baseball, but particularly on their own guys. He went on to say that for any given team, knowing its own players inside and out, better than anyone else in the league, is the single greatest advantage an organization can have.

So it’s a given that teams know more than we do, or even more than other teams do, about their prospects. But I think we, as fans, do tend to overvalue specific prospects, if not the idea of young, cost-controlled players with upside in general. This is because human beings are foolishly optimistic. We like to think the best of each other in spite of overwhelming evidence that people are, on the aggregate, selfish and base. We tend to see prospects in the most favorable light possible. I don’t say that with any intention of being smug or derisive–I do it too. I look at Cody Asche and see a guy who’s hit some and might struggle to play defense at third. And the first place my mind goes is not Brandon Larson but Aramis Ramirez. We see Jesse Biddle, the big, hard-throwing, 6-foot-4 local kid and we think: “No. 1 pitching prospect in the organization,” which translates to “Future Ace.” Not a 21-year-old who’s never thrown an inning past A-ball.

We either don’t know these players’ flaws, or we overlook them in the hope that they’ll grow into the players we dream they will be. And you know what? Valuing prospects properly is extremely difficult–even the folks who do this for a living fail an overwhelming percentage of the time.

I guess what I’m saying is that you need to remove as much joy as possible from your life. Be pessimistic, and if anyone comes up to you all atwitter about Adam Morgan‘s fastball or some nonsense, just glower at him until he goes away. Life sucks, and then your prospects flame out.

Except for Jackie Bradley. He’s awesome.

@Estebomb “When are the Phillies going to bring Bobby Abreu back to troll the hell out of the fanbase?”

Yo, no kidding around, this would be the best. I was kind of hoping for this last year after the Angels finally lost patience with the Phillies’ modern-era OBP leader.

That’s right, in case you didn’t know. The object of baseball, from a hitter’s perspective, is to not make outs, and Abreu was better at that than any other Phillies player. And it’s not like his was an empty .396 career OBP. Abreu hit for power, stole bases and played good defense. And he was roundly despised in Philadelphia for it. I don’t get it. I really don’t. His refusal to run into walls? Yes, I’d certainly prefer that he play with the kind of kamikaze attitude that keeps Josh Hamilton and Brett Lawrie out of the lineup so often. Because, in 1999, when he was in the middle of posting a .429 wOBA, I’d have rather he overrun a ball over his head into the wall instead of playing it conservatively for a single. Much better to turn a single into a triple and a concussion, because I know that would make me feel better to give Kevin Sefcik two weeks’ worth of at-bats.

Here’s something I know I’ve written about a ton before, but one of the most frustrating things about sports fans in general, and Philadelphia sports fans in particular, is the infuriating insistence on blaming the best player on a bad team for that team being bad. The Phillies didn’t lose 85 games in 1999 because Bobby Abreu wouldn’t slam his body around like some sort of Pentecostal Turner Ward. They lost 85 games because Chad Ogea and Paul Byrd couldn’t miss bats, and because Rico Brogna and his below-league-average bat at first base hit fourth and fifth a combined 145 times. And if you can’t understand that, I really have no interest in anything you have to say. You are beyond salvation, and when I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to send you to the Penal Colony for Noisy Stupid People under Ryan Sommers, Deputy Minister of Education for Intellectual Rehabilitation.

But I don’t think he’s coming back. At this point, Abreu is a shell of his former self. His plate discipline hasn’t deteriorated much, but his speed, contact skills and power have deteriorated to the point where he’s really only a replacement-level player. Which is a pity. I guess there’s nothing left to do except get together with Donovan McNabb and Jeff Carter and talk about what idiots all of us are.

@tbroomell: “what the hell happened to our farm system (most of the ones that were traded didn’t pan out either), is Ed Wade actually good?”

The Phillies really did draft well around the turn of the century. I think part of it was that they were drafting earlier because the team wasn’t very good–Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal, for instance, were both top-3 picks. Consistently signing type-A free agents hasn’t helped, because when you decide you’d rather spend eight figures annually on a reliever or an aging outfielder than have a first-round pick, your farm system suffers. But whether through luck or skill, their first-round picks haven’t borne fruit of late. Consider the following: every single Phillies first-round pick from 1998 to 2002 has double-digit career rWAR. Since then, not a single Phillies first-rounder is even in the black. Now, some of that is due to the recent run on high school arms–it’s too early to have expected anything from Biddle or Shane Watson yet, and they may come good someday. But when you deprive yourself of high draft picks year on year, and then draft badly with what picks you have, all the while trading away higher-level minor-league talent, the bucket full of prospects gets empty really quickly.

To repeat: the last Phillies first-rounder to make any kind of noise in the major leagues for any team was Cole Hamels. The last college position player they took in the first round was Chase Utley. And it’s not like draft position was everything–those two were taken in the mid-teens and worked out a lot better than Joe Savery and Kyle Drabek.

So I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s easy to point fingers at the amateur scouting department, but who knows? It might be too soon to judge all the players they’ve traded away, but the long-term failure of Michael Taylor, for instance, might speak to what I mentioned earlier, that Ruben Amaro knows his players better than other GMs and will sell high on them when he can get more than they’re worth.

I don’t know the cause–it could be bad scouting, bad drafting, bad development or some combination of the three. A lot goes into turning an amateur player into a major league star. For instance, here are the things that had to break right for the Angels to get Mike Trout to where he is:

  • The Braves thought Mark Teixeira would put them over the top in 2007, and he didn’t, so they dumped him at the deadline to the Angels a year later for Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek.
  • The Angels lose Teixeira that winter to the Yankees in free agency, giving them the No. 25 pick in compensation.
  • In 2006, the Orioles took a third baseman out of Bishop Eustace named Billy Rowell ninth overall, who flamed out in truly belief-beggaring fashion, depressing the national perception of South Jersey high school baseball in the years that followed.
  • It is said (I have no idea if this is true, and y’all don’t pay me enough to look up old meteorological data) that 2009 was a particularly wet spring in New Jersey, which would have deterred scouts from making the trip to see Trout live.
  • As a result, Trout drops to the Angels at 25, then signs almost immediately, which allows him to get a half season of pro ball under his belt in his draft year, which is not always the case for first-rounders. That and Trout’s age (he was only 17 when he signed) allow him to develop rapidly.

Even when someone as talented as Trout falls , that’s a lot of things to go right before he turns into the monster that he is now.

@JakePavorsky: “Why do people believe Darin Ruf can maintain the success he had during his short run in September into next year but have no hope whatsoever for Dom Brown?”

Same reason they didn’t like Abreu and loved the inferior Aaron Rowand (who was a good player, but nowhere near Abreu’s class). Everyone loves a derpy-looking white player who is ostentatious with his effort. So when someone like Domonic Brown, who will never look like he’s trying very hard just because of the way he’s built. When you’re slow and have short legs like David Eckstein, you’re going to look like you’re busting it down the line, but when you’re tall and skinny like Brown, you’re going to lope a lot.

And frankly, Brown has been disappointing. So lowering expectations for him is entirely reasonable at this point. But the people who favor Ruf for Brown live and die by small samples and confirmation bias. Ruf hits a home run? Proof of his major league ability. Ruf strikes out? He’s young and he’ll bounce back. And the reverse for Brown.

Brown supporters are guilty of the same thing, but there’s a twist. Brown has the profile of a potential star, while Ruf has the profile of a potential high school gym teacher. At some point, the Ruf-ites got tired of being told they were wrong and took up their derpy-looking white player like the aquila of a Roman legion, charging forward valiantly into the breech in the ongoing war on empirics and knowledge. All I know is this: players with Ruf’s career profile never turn into good major leaguers, while players with Brown’s do all the time. And we haven’t seen enough from either one in the major leagues to say for sure.

@hdrubin: “Who has the best 2013 — Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry or Laynce Nix?”

On the field, I’d say Brown, but professional success is not the be-all and end-all. I’m sure we can all understand that. I think Ruf finds a nice house in the suburbs, just gets along really well with his wife and takes a couple nice vacations in the offseason, maybe to Barbados or something. I hear it’s gorgeous there this time of year. He sees Zero Dark Thirty in theaters next month and it blows his mind. He buys a new car this summer and loves it. A big Ram crew cab–he seems like a pickup truck guy to me. So I don’t think he’ll hit very well or play very much, but I get good vibes for Darin Ruf in 2013.

@CogNerd: “What does your heart/head tell you about Halladay next season?”

Much the same thing, actually. Somewhere between 160 and 220 innings, somewhere between…oh, let’s call it 3 and 5 WAR. I think Halladay’s on the downside of the parabola of his career, but a declining Roy Halladay is still a rather good starting pitcher. That, of course, assumes he’s healthy. I’m comfortable betting on reasonable, if not total health for Halladay, so maybe he misses a few starts here and there, but I don’t think he’s going to blow out his shoulder entirely or anything. So even if his days of throwing perfect games and breaking faces are past him, and they almost certainly are, a healthy Halladay is critical to the Phillies’ playoff hopes. (Fart noise.) Yeah, whatever. Anyone who thinks he won’t be wishing for college football season to start by mid-June is kidding himself.

@threwouttime: “more wins by memorial day; doc or lannan? (please sub w’s for any measurement of performance for season)”

Man, y’all’re serious today. Probably Doc, by any measure, because he’s a better pitcher than Lannan and is likely to start the season healthy. But Halladay could tweak his shoulder tomorrow, or he could catch Cliff Lee‘s Disease and his teammates could leave him to die every time out, while John Lannan racks up win after win.

As far as the advanced stats–I have a hard time believing that Lannan will outperform Halladay over any period of time using any kind of defense-independent pitching stat. Even if you’re optimistic about Lannan, he’s a solid No. 5 starter, the kind of guy who goes out and allows three earned runs over six innings like clockwork. Even if Halladay is hurt, I can’t believe he’d fall that far that fast.

It’s been too serious so far. Y’all’re asking questions like this is a serious, information-dispensing baseball blog. Let’s get back to the trivial.

@natleamer: “today is Chase Utley’s birthday, what would be the ideal way to celebrate his big day?”

This came in on Monday, so don’t go freaking out like this guy either has a time machine or can’t read a calendar. Or girl, because Nat is one of those androgynous names and this could go either way. (checks Twitter profile) Okay, “Nat” is short for “Nathan.” So it’s a guy. Though I did read a book once that had a female character that went by Nathan. So this really could be anyone. You know what–I think that’s pushed me over the edge. Gender is an arbitrary social construct that has no meaning apart from that which we give it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dress up like Ziggy Stardust and watch Victor Victoria on DVD all day.

@fotodave: “what’s the worst holiday vacation spot?”

Florida. I was killing time in the car with my brother last week and we were talking about our top-5 least favorite states. Florida is my No. 1. There’s nothing good there, except the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World, particularly if you hate heat and humidity (as I do) and the elderly make you feel icky. Why anyone would go there on purpose is beyond me, particularly for one’s own leisure.

As an alternative, I’d suggest two cities that represent everything I hate, but are great vacation spots: New York City and Charleston, S.C. Go there instead.

“Follow up…”

This isn’t the White House briefing room, David. You can just ask.

“…what’s your last minute gift guide?”

I, personally, am in the market for some new furniture. If anyone wants to buy me a sofa, send me an email and I’ll tell you where it can be delivered. If you’re shopping for someone else, I’d get him or her MLB.tv. It’s the best thing to happen to hardcore baseball fans since…well, I don’t know, actually. I can’t think of any service that has had a greater positive impact on my baseball fandom than that. If the price tag on MLB.tv is a little steep, get that baseball fan in your life a subscription to Baseball Reference’s Play Index. There may be no greater enemy to work productivity.

Also Bill wrote a book about the Phillies that’s available if you want it, but I don’t get a cut of the proceeds, so you’ll have to ask him where you can buy it.

@JonCheddar: “is Bill Baer a real person or SQL script?”

I don’t know what an SQL script is. I can recite the original Star Wars trilogy pretty much front-to-back without interruption, but I’m not that big a nerd.

But as time goes on, I become more and more convinced that Bill isn’t actually a human being, but a very clever computer simulation. Not only have I internet-known Bill for several years, but I’ve written for his site for almost exactly a year, and not only have I never met him, I’ve never even seen a photograph of him. This was a source of great amusement when I showed up last week for the first episode of Lana Berry’s Internet Baseball Hangout Roundtable Electric Boogaloo Spectacular, because Bill was supposed to appear on a live online video broadcast to talk baseball.

And appear he did. Sans video. Just a disembodied blank screen. A black rectangle full of baseball knowledge and internet humor, but a black rectangle nonetheless.

Which is cool, because artificial intelligence is often the best part of science fiction. Data. David from Prometheus. The, um…Terminator…Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man? I guess? All I know is that our fearless leader might have had ulterior motives for starting this blog.

And we have now passed the point of diminishing returns in terms of coherence, I think. So that’ll do it for this week. Merry Christmas and other holidays. Tune in next week for additional programming.

Crash Bag, Vol. 32: Rock And Roll Supergroup Fantasy Draft

Today, we’ve got the longest and most collaborative Crash Bag ever conceived of by man. So I’m not going to bore you with an introduction. Instead, we head immediately to the scatological.

@elkensky: “Why is Ruben Amaro such a poopy-head?”

I don’t know that he’s a poopy-head. I’ve realized that over the years, I’ve developed a stinging dislike for a man I’ve never met and know little about, personally. I know his professional resume, his ethnic background and that he’s a pescetarian. Actually, I’m not even sure about that last bit anymore. He might have changed his mind.

So while I don’t approve of many of his personnel decisions, I might stop short of calling him a poopy-head. I’ve probably called him an idiot, a moron and all sorts of other nasty things in a fit of pique, and I will almost certainly do so again, but I don’t know what he’s like as a person.

But if the aforementioned poopy-headitude is in reference to his professional record, then I can only echo your confusion. And I’ll tell you what, I’d love nothing better than to sit down for a day with Ruben Amaro and just talk to him, on or off the record, formally or casually, and have him explain and legitimately defend, in a back-and-forth format, all of those puzzling moves he’s made over the years.

Because here’s the thing, for a guy who doles out so many bizarre contracts, Amaro doesn’t seem like he’s either stupid or not paying attention. Like, you can look at Dayton Moore and his CV and reach the simple conclusion that he really just has no idea what he’s doing. But Amaro mixes some really aggressive, creative moves in with his freight train of lunacy. I’d love to find out why he thought it was so important to extend Ryan Howard‘s contract when he did. Why Papelbon? Why the parade of raw high school draftees? How does he think?

I don’t think we’re dealing with an incompetent, and that’s why I find Amaro’s track record to be so unnerving. I legitimately have no idea how he thinks, nor does he seem eager to let us in.

So that’s what I want for Christmas. A lengthy, sit-down interview with the GM. It’d be fascinating.

@tbroomell: “rock supergroup draft for the next crashbag?

Anyone who’s planning a road trip in the near future, this is far and away the best collaborative time-killer I’ve ever heard of. I heard Chuck Klosterman broach the idea in an episode of the B.S. Report a couple weeks before a Phillies-related road trip I took two summers ago, and three friends and I amused ourselves for almost the entire state of Pennsylvania with this. So we five Crashburn Alley writers hopped on the old email chain and did one. Paul and I have done one of these together, and Longenhagen did one with his friends that he apparently put more effort into than I’ve ever put into anything in my life. Anyhoo, here are the rules:

  1. Snake-style draft, five rounds. No trading picks.
  2. You must pick at least one vocalist, one guitarist and one percussionist.
  3. Any musician, living or dead, in any band of reasonable renown, is fair game. Let’s say any musician whose band has a Wikipedia page is fair game. But if you pick Sinatra or Hendrix in the first round, you’re unimaginative.
  4. Multi-instrumentalists may play multiple instruments. Elton John can both sing and play keyboards.
  5. How the instrumentalists mesh together counts. So if you want to put together a country-and-western rhythm section and put Slash and Tupac in front of it…well, don’t.
  6. Only one person per band. No Lennon/McCartney reunions.

The draft order, as generated randomly by Bill, is as follows:

  1. Blog Morale Officer Ryan Sommers
  2. Fearless Leader Bill Baer
  3. Prospect Impresario Eric Longenhagen
  4. David Foster Wallace Wannabe Michael Baumann
  5. Indie Music Snob Paul Boye

TO THE DRAFT!

Round 1, Pick 1: Ryan Sommers selects Jonny Greenwood, Guitar, Radiohead.

Not just for his guitar prowess, which is formidable both in the lead (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOqEHtdODOw) and for rhythmic comping, but for his mastery of tone. He can coax any sound he wants out of the instrument, and has an uncanny ability to know which is appropriate when. Not to mention his composition skills: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaZ0r_NQYMM&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BppbOj6N3FLB3176vRTmkf&index=9. He also composed the string accompaniment to How to Disappear Completely (www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAF8D0ugyVk), one of the best ever uses of dissonance in rock music. Oh and he can play a shitload of other things (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonny_Greenwood#Other_instruments) as needed. And this thing: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy9UBjrUjwo

Round 1, Pick 2: Bill Baer selects Paul Waggoner, Guitar, Between the Buried and Me.

With my first round pick, I take guitarist Paul Waggoner from Between the Buried and Me. His solo on “Selkies (the Endless Obsession) is the stuff of gods. I’m told the “sweeps” are “clean”, which seems pretty cool to me. Though all I really care is that it sounds orgasmic. www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQps1QFVZME I was never into metal until I heard BtBaM, which has an incredibly cool mixture of influence from other metal bands, as well as jazz and bluegrass artists, among others. Waggoner can switch from beautiful to brutal like no one I’ve ever heard. www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwby9aUcvKw#t=3m00s

Round 1, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen selects Jimi Hendrix, Guitar, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Ill take Jimi Hendrix. I don’t care how cliche it is to take Hendrix in these things. I have big plans and I need a generational talent to get them done. Ozzie Osbourne once said the first time he saw Jimi Hendrix play, he thought it was fake. Once a tools whore, always a tools whore. Plus, he’s left handed.

Round 1, Pick 4: Michael Baumann selects Freddie Mercury, Vocals, Queen.

Haha! You fools! This run on guitarists leaves open the No. 1 pick on my draft board all along, the great Freddie Mercury! Unparalleled in vocal range, unparalleled in on-stage charisma, unparalleled in mustache! I select Freddie Mercury, even though doing so precludes me from taking my sleeper guitarist, Brian May, later in the draft. Even though I remain convinced that the genius behind Queen was May, and not Mercury, there is literally nothing you can’t do vocally with Mercury at the helm (and when he wants to place nice vocally with others, he can).

Round 1, Pick 5: Paul Boye selects Liam Gallagher, Vocals/Guitar, Oasis

Round 2, Pick 1: Paul Boye selects Tom Morello, Guitar, Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave

The idea of formulating a certain recognizable sound has me driven to create something unique with this draft. So, with my back-to-backs, I’m going to draft Liam Gallagher as my vocalist and Tom Morello as my guitarist. Gallagher’s vocals were some of the most recognizable to come from the 1990s, I’m intrigued by the power of his voice of some of Oasis’s “harder” songs (“Fade Away,” “Morning Glory,” that vein) and think that, backed by Morello’s choppy, beautifully mangled guitar stylings, there could be the potentially for something awesomely weird here.

Fade Away: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMy-pTscB78
Morning Glory: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZucKDddRMSM
Morello solos: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cEeCsduGdo

Round 2, Pick 2: Michael Baumann selects Eric Clapton, Guitars/Vocals, Cream/Derek and the Dominos/The Yardbirds

I know this is incredibly uncreative of me, but Clapton is a guitarist of temendous virtuosity, creativity and versatility. Clapton has overseen guitar parts ranging from a walking into the bar, unzipping of the pants and placing of genitals on the table (seriously, it’s an all time great up-and-at-’em intro) to the heart-rendingly sad to groovy, banal music for your parents to dance to. Clapton, for me, is not an artist I listen to a ton, but that he can play any guitar part that needs to be played, and he can sing while doing it. Which is important, because I think I’m going to try to put together the most overqualified power pop band ever assembled.

Round 2, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen selects Prince, Guitar/Vocals

I’ll take the Purple One, Prince, to play rhythm guitar and sing.  He’d bow to Hendrix’s lead while maintaining his own signature funk and would make a great front man for the sound I’m going to create. He was the star of the best Super Bowl half time show of my lifetime and would be in charge of making pancake breakfasts for the band as well as offering them grapes.

Round 2, Pick 4: Bill Baer selects Les Claypool, Bass Guitar/Vocals, Primus

If you thought I wasn’t taking this seriously with my first pick, let this pick end the debate. Of course I am. Bassists are like starting pitchers in that there may be a lot of them, but a truly good one can make the difference between a .500 club and a World Series winner, so to speak. There are a few legendary bassists to pick from, but I like the name Les.

Round 2, Pick 5: Ryan Sommers selects Garth Hudson, Multi-instrumentalist/Vocals, The Band

To quote Wikipedia: “As the organist, keyboardist and saxophonist for Canadian-American rock group The Band, he was a principal architect of the group’s unique sound. Hudson has been called “the most brilliant organist in the rock world” by Time Magazine and “the first true rock keyboard virtuoso” by Keyboard Magazine.” Like Greenwood, Hudson has a ton of versatility and range, and the two can combine to create some awesome dark textures with Garth on the organ (youtu.be/k5llloWEgiY?t=39s), with which he can also support Greenwood’s lead parts. Hudson can also drive songs with his singular piano talent (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yq5n5hwTO0), with straight ahead rock parts or jaunty funk. When needed he can also supply saxophone, accordion, and clavinet.

Round 3, Pick 1: Ryan Sommers Selects  Tina Weymouth, Bass Guitar/Vocals, Talking Heads

With the way the band is shaping up, to accommodate the complex Hudson/Greenwood interplay and the drummer that I’m thinking about taking, I need a straight-ahead, reliable, tasteful bassist. Weymouth can churn out some steady rock bass grooves (youtu.be/cJJ9u4yrjvY?t=25m44s) and, more importantly, she has a keen sense of when not to play too many notes (youtu.be/-io-kZKl_BI?t=20s). Not to mention she and Garth Hudson constitute a fantastic backup vocals duo, with voices that complement each other perfectly.

Round 3, Pick 2: Bill Baer Selects Chris Cornell, Vocals, Soundgarden/Audioslave/Temple of the Dog

I’m in a minority when I say that I absolutely loved his Audioslave days. There aren’t many vocalists out there who can span from a song like Soundgarden’s “Gun” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKSBK-aUKp4#t=0m35s) to Audioslave’s “Like A Stone” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QU1nvuxaMA). Besides, with everyone talking about the massively overrated Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, the real best vocalist from Seattle’s grunge scene needs some love.

Round 3, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen Selects ?uestlove, Drums, The Roots

My third round pick is going to be ?uestlove. Now you guys have an idea where this is going. A hip hop influence with two of the more creative and innovative guitar players of the past 50 years. Who knows what Hendrix could have done if he would have lived to be exposed to this type of music. I can’t even comprehend what these three (and my next two picks, who I already have planned) would do together.

Round 3, Pick 4: Michael Baumann Selects Chris Thile, Mandolin/Vocals, Nickel Creek/Punch Brothers

Well my third-round pick was also going to be ?uestlove. But I’m going with someone who can add a little bit of everything. Thile is most famous as a singer and mandolinist, but he can double on rhythm guitar when we let out a little bit of leash on Clapton. But mostly, he’s a one-man backing group, a tenor who can fill the vocal range between Mercury and Clapton and add a little bit of folk and bluegrass to the greatest, most overqualified power pop band ever assembled. He also has a penchant for creative cover choices. And he’s officially a genius. Plus he jams with Steve Martin. Let’s put it this way–I’m picking him over Mark Ronson, who is, in my opinion, the Coolest Man on Earth.

Round 3, Pick 5: Paul Boye Selects Brian Eno, Multi-instrumentalist

Thile’s a great pick, would’ve considered him if I wasn’t going a bit more proggy.

But because I’m going proggy, I’m going to pick a multi-instrumentalist who can help fine tune the kind of sound I’m looking for, and can do it from the stage to boot. I’m picking Brian Eno. So now, suffice to say, this band is filling up with characters, but imagining the sound Eno could craft and mold with Morello’s guitar playing is a little too much to pass up.

Round 4, Pick 1: Paul Boye Selects Chris Bear, Drums, Grizzly Bear

And to pair with Eno, I’m also picking Grizzly Bear drummer Chris Bear. I don’t want to say Bear is overlooked because of the vocals of Ed Droste and Dan Rossen and the higher-profile production skill of Chris Taylor within Grizzly Bear, but I feel it’s safe to say he could be underrated. His skill as a drummer in creating unique beats overrides the apparent clash in style between Grizzly Bear’s music and the Oasis/Rage/Eno mash-up I’d constructed so far, but if I’m going for a proggy sound (without turning this band into Nu-Rush and drafting Neil Peart), I want a guy who can play some faster stuff if Morello wants to go nuts (see the chorus on “Speak In Rounds”).

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK2mwcakibA

Round 4, Pick 2: Michael Baumann Selects Inara George, Vocals/Bass Guitar, The Bird and the Bee

I needed a bassist, and while George is hardly Flea in that department, she’s competent, which is really all I’m looking for. Besides, a great bassist would get lost behind Clapton and Thile in this band. George gets picked because I want the option to have a chick singer.

I’ve got a playlist on Spotify, and this is absolutely true, called “Talk Dirty to Me,” that’s composed entirely of songs by female artists with deeper, breathy voices that…well, I appreciate that kind of voice, and Inara George’s is probably the best. Apologies to Chan Marshall and Rachael Yamagata, done in by their inability to play bass and my insistence on going frontman early.

Round 4, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen Selects Flea, Bass Guitar, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Yeah I’m taking Flea in round 4. Not only talented, but a good locker room…er…tour bus guy to have around. Even if Prince is a bit volatile and Hendrix , well, I think it’s fair to say a guy who choked to death on his own vomit has makeup issues. I like Flea and ?uestlove to fit in musically and also move the band’s pH closer to 7.

Round 4, Pick 4: Bill Baer Selects Neil Peart, Drums, Rush

Honestly, picking Peart for drums is just obvious and doesn’t need an explanation. I was thinking about going with ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy just to be different, but I’ve already passed over so many legends to get the jewels of my eye. This fantasy band stuff is serious business.

Round 4, Pick 5: Ryan Sommers Selects Billy Martin, Drums, Medeski Martin & Wood

I love a guy with unimpeachable fundamentals, and a “student” of the drums, having studied with an impressive roster of the greats. He’s known more as a jazz drummer maybe, but it’s impossible to pass up the kind of grooves he can create (www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqJWz6HUdcA) and his soloing chops (www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtnOF4M-SrE). Some of his more exotic stuff (watch a bit longer into the previous link) would go perfectly with the kind of things Greenwood is likely to come up with. And when you need a straight ahead rock beat he can do that too (www.youtube.com/watch?v=28e_K5pL9S4).

Round 5, Pick 1: Ryan Sommers Selects Tunde Adebimpe, Vocals, TV on the Radio

Saving a frontperson for my final pick was difficult; I had to find someone that fit the band, rather than building the band around a central figure. But I think Adebimpe is perfect for this group. His timbre is very distinctive, and he’s great at crafting bluesy passing tones between his notes. For the loud, climactic parts, he’s got a great growl that he can infuse his voice with, and for the quieter or slower songs, his falsetto is beautiful. He also brings a ton of energy to the stage, with constant, spastic dancing and jumping around. See: youtu.be/-J-6YqD6szE?t=1m55s and youtu.be/SlHrCg67axw?t=33s

[Note: I owe considerable gratitude to Rob, former band mate and fantasy supergroup philosopher, and Maggie, sister, music-lover, and all-around awesome person, for fulfilling the roles of Special Draft Advisers.]

Round 5, Pick 2: Bill Baer Selects Conor Oberst, Songwriter, Bright Eyes

I believe I’m the only one to pick a specific songwriter. Obersts vocal stylings take a while to get used to, if you get used to them at all, but you can’t deny his legendary talent for songwriting. Right now I’m imagining Cornell’s vocals on Oberst’s “A Scale, A Mirror, and These Indifferent Clocks” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePeMRkM0NfA) and getting sad it’s not something that exists. Oberst’s best work, in my opinion, is “Easy/Lucky/Free” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RozuwUlX7MI). Not sure how many other songs I’d put up there, lyrically — you could probably count them on one hand.

Round 5, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen Selects Billy Preston, Keyboards

Billy Preston to play keyboards and have an afro.

Round 5, Pick 4: Michael Baumann Selects Matt Tong, Drums/Vocals, Bloc Party

Tong is fast. Tong is musical. Tong can play cool syncopated rhyhtms. Tong can get creative while keeping rigid time at breakneck speed. We like Tong. Plus he does backing vocals in Bloc Party, because everyone sings in The Greatest, Most Overqualified Power Pop Band Ever Assembled.

Round 5, Pick 5: Paul Boye Selects John Entwhistle, Bass Guitar, The Who

I’m leaving some big names – Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee – on the table, but those guys don’t quite have the edge I’d be looking for. McCartney, well, you know about him. Lee could double as occasional vocalist and is proggy, but doesn’t quite feel like the fit the Who’s John Entwistle would be.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVl39LBZGMw

To recap:

Jeff Loria’s Severed Head (Ryan Sommers): 

  • Tunde Adebimpe, Vocals
  • Jonny Greenwood, Guitar
  • Tina Weymouth, Bass Guitar
  • Garth Hudson, Keyboards and so on
  • Billy Martin, Drums

Kony 2012 (Bill Baer): 

  • Chris Cornell, Vocals
  • Paul Waggoner, Guitar
  • Les Claypool, Bass Guitar
  • Neil Peart, Drums
  • Conor Oberst, non-playing songwriter

Eric and the Longenhagens: 

  • Prince, Vocals/Guitar
  • Jimi Hendrix, Guitar
  • Flea, Bass Guitar
  • Billy Preston, Keyboards
  • ?uestlove, Drums

 

Jackie Bradley Love Tortoise (Michael Baumann):

  • Freddie Mercury, Vocals
  • Eric Clapton, Guitar/Vocals
  • Chris Thile, Mandolin/Vocals
  • Inara George, Vocals/Bass Guitar
  • Matt Tong, Drums/Vocals

Papelbon Iver (Paul Boye): 

  • Liam Gallagher, Vocals/Guitar
  • Tom Morello, Guitar
  • John Entwhistle, Bass Guitar
  • Brian Eno, Keyboards and so on
  • Chris Bear, Drums

I suspect this one’s going to generate some comment section traction, so knock yourselves out. After all that, I do think it’s time to get straight back to baseball.

@JakePavorsky: “It seems as though part of the Phillies reasoning behind not pursuing Swisher hard is because they would lose a first round pick. When it comes to signing big(ger) name free agents, should first round picks be valued that much?”

That’s a good question. As much as I grouse about the Phillies not getting much out of their first-round picks of late, a first-rounder, on its face, is far from a sure thing. Earlier this summer, someone was getting on Bradley Ankrom’s case for speculating that Jesse Biddle, whom the Phillies drafted No. 27 overall in 2010, might have a career similar to that of Randy Wolf. I don’t think it was a direct player comp, but the gist of Ankrom’s point was that Biddle could be Wolf.

And he got ripped. People were furious that a top Phillies pitching prospect, a former first-rounder at that, would be compared to Randy Wolf, who was often good, but never great, and has carved out a nice little 14-year career for himself as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. Not anymore, of course, but for a long time he was pretty good. He’s going to get a pension and show up on the Hall of Fame ballot, even if no one is going to vote for him.

Or, put another way, Randy Wolf has more career rWAR than any player drafted 27th overall, with the exception of Vida Blue. In fact, take out Pete Harnisch, and Wolf has more career WAR than any two players drafted 27th overall. So if you pick 27th and you get the pre-free agent years of a decent mid-rotation starter, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot.

So giving up the occasional mid-to-late first-round pick for a good free agent isn’t that big a deal, particularly if you’re looking to win sooner rather than later. But I’ll remind you that Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley were all mid-first rounders, as was Kyle Drabek, the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade. So if you give up a bunch of first-rounders in a row, it becomes much harder to funnel young talent into your system. Not that there aren’t other rounds of the draft, or the international market, but you know what I mean.

Short answer: compensation picks are not a trivial cost in signing a free agent, but neither are they a prohibitive cost.

@hdrubin: “As it stands right now, how would you write up the Phillies lineup card? And how do you think Cholly would do it?”

Here’s how I’d do it, assuming an unsuspended Chooch: Against RHP: Revere, Ruiz, Utley, Howard, Rollins, Brown…umm, can the Phillies sign Swisher or something? Because this blows…(holds nose) Ruf (LF), Galvis (3B), Pitcher. Revere is interesting. I’d hit him either first or eighth, nowhere in between. He can use his contact skills and speed to get on base at an acceptable level at the top of the lineup. But he has so little power that I want no part of him hitting with men on base. The good news is that if he’s leading off a lineup against a righty with Freddy Galvis and the pitcher hitting 8-9, there’s absolutely no danger of there being men on base when he comes up. Here’s the flip side of that lineup.

Against LHP: Rollins, Young, Utley, Ruiz, Brown, Mayberry (LF), Ruf (1B), Revere, Pitcher. The downside to not having power, as Ben Revere does not, is that pitchers don’t have to fear you if they know you can’t hit it out of the park. If you don’t fear a hitter, you don’t need to throw him as many balls, and if you don’t throw him as many balls, he’ll never walk. Put Revere in front of the pitcher and he might get a couple more walks. At least that was what people said was happening to Chooch before we realized that, yes, he is a good offensive player.

And you’re damn right I’d leave Ryan Howard out of the lineup entirely against lefties. He’s so far gone that I’d take my chances with Ruf. As for Michael Young hitting second, where, according to the newfangled lineup construction wisdom, you want your best hitter, let me just say that we’re capitalizing on his one useful skill. Last year, in the midst of being the second-worst everyday player in baseball, Michael Young hit .333/.371/.423 against left-handed pitching, which, given the surfeit of left-handed hitters in the Phillies’ lineup, works just fine in a key spot.

Here’s what I think Uncle Cholly will do, against both left-handed and right-handed pitching:

Rollins, Revere, Utley, Howard, Young, Ruiz, Mayberry, Brown, Pitcher. Charlie Manuel is famous for seldom changing his lineup, which is great when your lineup has an aggregate OPS of a billion, like it did in 2007 and 2008. It’s true, look it up. But when your lineup is riddled with high-priced veterans with serious platoon issues, it might behoove you to mix and match a little bit. And if Revere hits second behind Rollins, holy God the number of sacrifice bunts we’re going to see.

@Living4Laughs: “Who are the 3 greatest New Jerseyans?”

Well, it sure as hell is not Mitch Albom. That I’ll tell you up front. And while doing some cursory research, I also reminded myself that Andrea Dworkin is from Camden Country, which I had blocked out of my memory. So thanks for that.

New Jersey produces, either by birth or by heritage, a lot of great singers: Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Springsteen. The Jonas Brothers. And a lot of great actors: Danny DeVito, James Gandolfini, Joe Pantoliano, Ray Liotta and so on. The latter is important because without New Jersey’s contingent of male actors, it’d be really hard to make mafia movies. Also a billion soccer players: Claudio Reyna, Tony Meola, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Juan Agudelo and that traitor Giuseppe Rossi.

Lots of great men and women are left out of the top three, however. Among them are astronaut Buzz Aldrin and adopted Cherry Hillite Muhammad Ali. Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. But we have our three, in no particular order.

  • Philip Roth. One of the leading lights of 20th-Century American literature, which is the best literature (he says, intending to provoke an argument). Mostly here as a representative of of New Jersey’s contribution to the arts, because it’s lame to pick Springsteen and we haven’t really contributed much of anything to politics or philosophy. Because thanks to Dworkin and Milton Friedman, we suck at those things across the political spectrum.
  • Albert Einstein. Yes, I know he was German by birth, but he spent the last 20 years of his professional life in Princeton and his name is shorthand for “smart people,” so he’s ours, dammit.
  • Mike Trout.

@patchak21: “you seem like a man with an opinion on this: Paul McCartney and Nirvana?”

Sweetheart, I’ve got an opinion on everything.

It was awful. America is watching and you play a bunch of Wings songs. You get Nirvana back together and you play one song? And you get Dave Grohl on stage, when you know he’s got in his back pocket one of the great covers of all time–AND IT’S A WINGS SONG–and you send him on his way so you can trot Alicia Keys back out there to blast a pandering ballwashing song dedicated to a city that needs its balls washed less than perhaps any other on Earth. Except for maybe Paris. I know Nirvana’s oeuvre ain’t exactly boilerplate charity concert material, but would it have killed him to belt out a couple bars of “You Know You’re Right?”

You disappoint me, Sir Paul.

@tholzerman: “If you were to introduce a newbie to Philadelphia a sandwich experience that wasn’t a cheesesteak, what would it be?”

Wawa Gobbler. I’m leaving the Philadelphia area in a couple weeks and I’m trying to ballpark how much Wawa food I can physically insert into my body between now and then.

But kudos to Ben Revere, whose cheesesteak snafu this afternoon (I assume) generated this question, for displaying remarkable public relations aplomb. Revere ordered…some…thing at Chickie’s and Pete’s and tweeted a picture of what he claimed was his first cheesesteak. It could have been any number of things, but it certainly wasn’t a cheesesteak.

But Revere handled the situation with aplomb and good humor. If you follow him on Twitter, he ends probably half of his tweets with two exclamation points, but in a good way, as if he actually is that excited to be vacuuming his living room carpet. I’m on the Ben Revere bandwagon, even if he is an outspoken Georgia Bulldogs fan.

So welcome to Philadelphia, Ben Revere.

@Jimish_Mehta: “I’m sure you’re inundated with Ben Revere-cheesteak-related questions. So…best PR snafu by a Philly athlete?”

I’m going to have to go with Allen Iverson’s bizarre, felony-ridden rampage back in 2002. Kicking your naked wife out of your house, then toting a gun around, breaking into other people’s apartments to look for her? That’s not exactly good PR.

@B_Lang_: “Why are Phils hating on Swisher? He’s a good fit right?”

I couldn’t tell you. He’s a switch-hitting power bat who can play a competent defensive corner. I’ve always been a big fan of Nick the Swish, but at first, it didn’t look like he’d fit the Phillies’ needs in the outfield, namely center field, because he hasn’t played center since college. But look at him. Since 2006 you can pencil him in for about (usually exactly) 150 games and about (usually exactly) four wins above replacement. Considering the paucity of right-handed power in this lineup, particularly in the absence of Carlos Ruiz, Swisher makes an absurd amount of sense for the Phillies. He gets on base and is inoffensive elsewhere on the field. Plus he’d save the beat writers from trying to get meaningful quotes from Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon.

And by the way, I bet Swisher would hit 50 home runs in this ballpark.

@danirvin: “Who is more likely to be found/discovered? Bigfoot or Jimmy Hoffa?”

Well, Hoffa existed once, so my first instinct is to bet on him. But if his body is somewhere in a swamp, it’s probably beyond recovery even if it hasn’t decomposed past the point of recognition.

I’m not even sure I’d want to find Bigfoot. What if he’s a vicious, aggressive manbearpig? But on the other hand, what if he’s gentle and friendly? What if he’s a reformed Bumble?

My fiancee once had a dream where I owned a pet Yeti. It was roughly man-sized, but friendly and doglike. Apparently I taught it to fist-bump, which would be awesome. Now I’m pissed I don’t actually have a pet Yeti.

First person to find me a Yeti gets…I dunno, I’ll think of something. Keep the questions coming and you’ll have more answers next week. Until then, vaya con dios.

Crash Bag, Vol. 31: The Michael Young of Damocles

The winter meetings are over. Nate Schierholtz is kaput. Ben Revere and his OBP almost being higher than his slugging percentage are on the way. Michael Young and his clubhouse integrity hustle whatever were almost on the way. Part of me expects to see the Phillies trot out 25 of the claw machine aliens from Toy Story next season. Which would be adorable, and only slightly less effective from a baseball standpoint than an infield that includes Ryan Howard and Michael Young.

We start with one that I meant to answer last week.

@aisflat439: “should I move to Houston and buy season tickets now or can I wait until 2015? #singleton

Where are you moving from?

“it would be as a Philly expat.”

Interesting. Well, from a strictly baseball standpoint, you might actually have a point. I’ve long wondered if it’s better to root for process or results. Is it more fulfilling as a fan to cheer for a team like the Giants or Phillies that kind of gropes around like Tom Cruise after the eye replacement surgery in Minority Report, stumbling upon 90-win seasons and World Series appearances in spite of overwhelming evidence that the franchise is run by a junta of YouTube commenters on quaaludes? Or is it more fulfilling to cheer for a team like the Blue Jays or Athletics, with a progressive, creative front office and no real chance of being a consistent contender anytime soon. Essentially, would you be happier being happy, or would you be happier if you were unhappy but got to be all jaded and righteously indignant about it?

Yeah, me to. I’d pick the Astros.

But surely jumping on a team’s bandwagon doesn’t require actually moving there. I know this because the population of Massachusetts didn’t balloon to 150 million upon the release of Fever Pitch. And now I’ve reminded myself of that movie’s existence.

Anyway. Actually moving to Houston is an interesting plan. I’ve never been there, or even to Texas, but I know that there’s no state income tax, and that in my experience, Texans seem to be a uniformly attractive group of people. So there’s that. However, there’s the heat, which is oppressive, and Rick Perry seems not to be the most forward-thinking governor currently working. Though to be fair, Tom Corbett ain’t exactly George Washington either. So really, if you like the heat, by all means, move to Houston.

@Major_Hog: “Why is Kevin James allowed to make movies?”

It’s a free country, man. You want your “democracy” and your “free speech?” You have to pay the price. And that price is a steady dose of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I will say that such considerations won’t matter when I’m dictator of the world.

But in all seriousness, I really loved Kevin James in Hitch. That’s an all-time favorite pint-of-ice-cream and bottle-of-wine romcom for me.

@hdrubin: “Who makes the MLB Twitter All-Star team?”

A fine question. I don’t follow very many baseball players, because they tend to be boring. For instance, I follow a bunch of baseball players who seem like really nice guys, and while following them on Twitter will probably make you like them better, it won’t change your life. Denard Span, the dearly and recently departed Vance Worley and, yes, Jackie Bradley are among these.  But we’re talking about ballplayers who have alternate off-field interests, for instance, or do something more interesting than make sneakily misogynistic jokes and, well, act generally like the guys from the baseball team at your high school. Those are relatively few. Even Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison‘s legendary Twitter account has kind of taken a turn for the Men’s Humor of late, which is sad.

I will say that it came to my attention yesterday, via Dustin Parkes, that Ross Detwiler of the Washington Nationals goes by @NationalDet. Which…just…well done.

But as far as really worthwhile baseball player follows go, there aren’t many. C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California does come off as the guy who gets up in front of the class and gives a report on the benefits of organic rabbit farming. But he also spends a lot of time around racetracks, so you get a lot of cool car talk. Which, if you’re seven years old on the inside, like I am, is worth a follow.

But yeah, the real queen mother of all baseball player twitter accounts is that of free agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy. First of all, it takes some serious personality to take a line drive off the noggin and then turn an image macro of the event into your Twitter avatar. I’d follow him based on content alone. There probably aren’t many other athletes I’d say that about.

@natleamer: “Is Benjamin Revere the most patriotic baseball player in history?”

Yeah, okay, be impressed by some weak amalgamation of two Revolutionary War figures when there’s a legitimate Founding Father actually playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In no way is Ben Revere more patriotic than, say…Grover Cleveland Alexander. Or John Hale? I’d call Nathan Hale far more of a patriot than Paul Revere. And John Hancock? John Paul Jones? If we’re playing Lego Patriot, we can do better than Ben Revere.

But I chose to answer this question not because I wanted to answer the question but because I wanted to say this: you have…let’s call it until 9 a.m. on Monday to make your Paul Revere/Ben Revere jokes. I was going to say that at that point, they’ll be officially old, but they’ve been old and unfunny for years already. So I’ll let y’all have your fun for the weekend, but at 9:01 a.m., Eastern time, anyone who makes a Ben Revere joke and expects it to be received as funny will be sent to France to dig for truffles with his nose from now until the end of time. Forever and ever, world without end, amen.

@MichaelJBlock: “Does Michael Young make more or less sense than Raul Ibanez did in 2009?”

Less sense. You see, Michael Young is a former batting champion who’s played all four infield positions. But the thing is, he’s kind of bad now. I will now demonstrate this through the Socratic method.

“Bad?” you ask. “But he hit .277 last year. A .277 batting average isn’t bad.”

And that’s true, but he doesn’t walk. His OBP was only .312.

“Ah, but you can get over a .312 OBP to have a respectable offensive season if you hit for power.”

But Young only slugged .370. That’s about what Freddy Galvis and Rajai Davis slugged.

“Also what Jason Kipnis and Elvis Andrus slugged. Aren’t they good?”

They are. But both of them play up-the-middle positions. Young played mostly first base (41 games) and DH (72) last year, where the demand for offensive production to be above replacement level is much, much higher.

“But Young also played 20 games in the middle infield, where he’s spent much of his career.”

True, but he wasn’t even a good defender there when he was in his 20s. Kipnis and Andrus are both very good defenders.

“So what do you get with a middling batting average, no patience, no power, no defense and an exile largely to first base?”

Player WAR/pos Year Age Tm
Jeff Francoeur -2.7 2012 28 KCR
Michael Young -2.4 2012 35 TEX
Greg Dobbs -2.1 2012 33 MIA
Joe Mather -2.0 2012 29 CHC
Ryan Raburn -2.0 2012 31 DET
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/3/2012.

Well I’d call that the second-worst full-time player in baseball last year.

Now, Young did hit .333/.371/.423 last year against left-handed pitching, and considering the serious platoon issues facing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the later stages of their careers, Young could provide some value as a bench bat, so long as he’s not expected to play the field very often. And believe you me, I’ll have a vial of sodium thiopental handy for when he does.

At least Ibanez, at the time, looked like he’d be at least a mediocre corner outfielder. And you know what? He was being paid like a starter, but if the Phillies really do only give up a replacement-level reliever and a low-minors youngster, and the Rangers pay most of Young’s salary…no, I’m sorry, almost all of Young’s salary, then I can live with giving Young some time as a bench or platoon player.

@pinvert: “so is cloyd now in the rotation at the start of the season? eeep”

You know what? Cloyd isn’t very good, but he throws a lot of strikes and stands to give the Phillies about 150 innings of replacement-level starting pitching. Which, if memory serves, is about what we expect from Kyle Kendrick every year, so I’m cool with that. You don’t have to be very good to be a passable back-end starter.

So here’s the rub–Hamels/Lee/Halladay is still a formidable 1-2-3, but the fourth starter would still, if you’re lucky enough to make the playoffs, start a playoff game. Now, it’s not inconceivable that the Phillies would go out and sign a veteran No. 4 in the offseason, or make a trade midseason, as they did for Joe Blanton to fill that role in 2008, but as of right now, the guy they have to go up against, say…Ryan Vogelsong or Dan Haren in Game 4 of the NLCS is Kyle Kendrick. And who knows? Maybe Kendrick has reinvented himself and is now a competent starting pitcher, but I’m not putting all of my hypothetical eggs in that basket if I’m Ruben Amaro.

That said, if I were Ruben Amaro, I’d either have Albert Pujols at first base or $25 million to go splurge on Zack Greinke this offseason. But c’est la guerre. The point is, Cloyd is an acceptable No. 5 starter, but the back end of the rotation, for the first time since 2007 or so, is a place where the Phillies stand to improve.

@DrakeCCampbell: “which team should I root for until RAJ is fired”

A kindred spirit to our would-be Houstonite, I see.

If you can get over the 1993 World Series…okay, I know that sounds ridiculous, so I’ll try to give a more concrete meaning. Emotionally, of course I still carry the scars of that World Series, but I’ve learned to enjoy that season for what it was: a glorious, hilarious aberration that led the Phillies to their best season, by far, for 10 years in either direction. So while Joe Carter‘s home run was itself heartbreaking, time and perspective have allowed me to forgive the Blue Jays for what they did to us.

So anyway, if you’re about where I am, the Blue Jays are the obvious answer. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but in hockey and football, I have attachments to non-Philadelphia teams for personal reasons. If that’s the case for you, like if you went to college at Michigan State and knew a lot of Tigers fans there and you went to Comerica Park a few times, for instance, then that’s your obvious bandwagon to hop on. The “hometown team,” such as there was, at my college, was the Atlanta Braves. So that’s not exactly an option for me. But it might be for you.

But assuming you have no outstanding attachments other than to the Phillies, the Blue Jays are a great neutral’s favorite. They have perhaps the best uniform set in the game, particularly this gorgeous blue alternate. They have a robust online fan community. They have, in Brett Lawrie, Anthony Gose and Travis D’Arnaud, a plethora of exciting young players who are either contributing now or will contribute soon. The Jose Reyes/Mark Buehrle/Josh Johnson trade has brought them into a new era of contention going forward–those robust internet fans are nittering with glee and optimism right now, insofar as Canadians nitter with optimism about anything other than Dave Foley and Rush.

If you’re a Blue Jays fan, you get to root for an exciting, creative front office for a change. And you get to root against the Red Sox and Yankees thirty-eight times a year. Thirty-eight times! The prospect of that got me so excited just now that I tried to spell “thirty” with a “g.” True story.

You know what? Screw you guys. I might just become a Blue Jays fan anyway.

@buttbutt: “do you prefer orange juice with pulp or with no pulp?”

No pulp.

@buttbutt: “do you snore? wet the bed? toss and turn in your sleep?”

Only when I’m sick, not anymore, and yes.

@CM_rmjenkins: “who the eff is Ender Inciarte?”

I dunno, but that’s definitely a still from his upcoming movie! Squee!

Okay, that’s my one. In the spirit of the Ben Revere jokes, by the start of next week we’re going to have to either stop making Ender jokes or make better ones. So, like, if he gets a Wolf Pack-like fan following here, and it’s called Dragon Army, that’s acceptable. But if you make an Ender Inciarte joke and the punchline is “Ender’s game,” that’s not. Everyone’s made that joke already. Remember what I said about the truffles and your nose and my being the dictator of the world.

But seriously, he’s supposed to be a good defender, good runner with a decent arm and some patience, potentially a useful player indeed, plus he’s only 22, so unlike such Rule 5 luminaries as Michael Martinez, he stands to improve markedly in the coming years. The issue is, he has only half a season at high-A ball, and the odds of skipping AA and AAA and hitting the ground running the big leagues are slim. As in, nobody does it. Okay, Albert Pujols did it, but if this kid were Albert Pujols, I don’t think the Diamondbacks would have left him off their 40-man roster.

Anyway, if he’s a good defender and he can run, he can be useful off the bench even if he doesn’t hit all that much, which offers late-inning substitution possibilities for Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix or Ryan Howard. But between him and Ben Revere, the Phillies now have two good defensive center fielders who don’t offer much, if anything, with the bat. If he even makes it out of big-league camp.

@tigerbombrock: “of the remaining available guys, including trades, who do you want for outfield and third?”

I could stand a contract for Nick the Swish. He could play a competent defensive outfield corner and get on base, plus negate some of the insane platoon issues the Phillies have with Howard, Mayberry, and maybe Brown and Ruf, depending on what we see out of them. For third base, I’ve said it before, but the cupboard is so bare there that I am 100 percent comfortable entering the season with Kevin Frandsen as the everyday starter and playing mix-and-match from there. There is just no value to be had there, either via trade or free agency. And to those of you who invoke the cursed name of Chase Headley…how eager you must be to repeat the mistakes of the Hunter Pence trade.

We end with one from the boss.

HAHAHAHAHA. No, but seriously.

@CrashburnAlley: “rank the top 5 inventions of the 2000’s”

  •  iPhone/iPod/iPad. The MP3 player and the PDA were certainly not unheard-of in the 1990s, but from a consumer standpoint, our daily lives have been changed immeasurably by the proliferation of miniaturized personal electronic devices. Now we take everything everywhere, and not only can we access information and files–and be accessed by others, by the way–wherever we go, but we expect that. In 2000 I thought it was a big deal that I had a portable CD player that I could take everywhere, with my 15 tracks’ worth of dcTalk or whatever. Now, I have a 160 GB iPod that I dutifully load up with the latest episode of a dozen internet radio programs I subscribe to, but more on that later. And if I can’t get the latest Marek vs. Wyshsynski onto Jarome iGinla (I named my iPod that, because it starts with the letter “i” and it’s something that’s black that was traditionally white) before I head out the door, it ruins my day. Imagine that. I used to listen to broadcast radio all the time, and now, if I have to sit through 30 minutes of it in my car on the way to and from work, instead of a podcast that I control, it ruins my day.
    I was actually working at a technology magazine when the iPad came out, and I said out loud at the time: “That looks so stupid–why would anyone buy the world’s largest, most unwieldy iPod Touch?” But there’s an invention that’s changed the way we consume media–movies, television, books,  the internet, board games, you name it. It’s brought to fruition the touch-screen reality we assumed, until 2004 or so, was something from science fiction.
  • Web 2.0. By this I mean the democratization of content creation and publishing. Until the late 1990s, publishing was an almost entirely centralized affair, save for some indie filmmakers and Usenet nerds who toiled in obscurity. But now anyone can start a blog; write and publish an ebook; write, record, press and publish a record or make a movie. And share it instantly with anyone in the world with a computer and a broadband connection. Fifteen years ago, to do what I do now, here, for free and in my spare time, I’d have needed to work for Sports Illustrated. Now, there’s more information, more analysis, more voices, and they are better organized and more easily accessible. Knowledge is cheaper now, by orders of magnitude, than at any point in human history. And I’m not talking about the Renaissance–I’m talking about, like, 1996. And it’s a shame that more people don’t appreciate that, because if they did, we could all be getting smarter and better-informed at a truly astonishing rate. To say nothing of breaking the stranglehold on knowledge and influence previously held by those who owned the printing presses or the movie studios. That’s probably not strictly a 2000s invention, but it’s been in that time that blogging, YouTube and social media have all gained mainstream acceptance.
  • AbioCor Artificial Heart. This was the first fully-implantable artificial heart. So while humans can now survive catastrophic organ failure thanks to implants from organ donors, if we can make hearts, kidneys, livers, and so on out of plastic, rubber and metal, or grow new organs from cloned cells, it would change the way we live. This heart, which required no external tubes, batteries or pumps, represents the first step toward that.
  • SpaceShip One. Because our government appears to have entirely abdicated its mandate to seek out new worlds and explore space, it’s good to see that someone is invested in keeping space from becoming a haven for those damned Russians and Chinese. Much as I hate to trust private industry with a public good, it’s better than nothing. Plus Burt Rutan was involved and he’s awesome.
  • Wawa Hoagiefest. I don’t think this needs any further explanation.

We’re a little shorter than usual this week, but in case you’re left with time to kill, here’s a video of a bunch of Ukrainian guys sitting by the pool and playing “Highway to Hell” on accordion. Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Crash Bag, Vol. 30: Getting Dinged for Pills

Earlier this week, I posted a column on this site about how we deal with mental illness in sports and society. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, which I appreciated. Later on Tuesday, I was told that someone (I assume Bill) posted it to Reddit’s baseball section, where it was trending (or whatever the hell things do on Reddit. I’m rapidly becoming, particularly by the standards of the hipsterish Virtual World-dwelling internet community in which I find myself, an old fart) and the discussion, I was happy to see, was measured, friendly and, by and large, intelligent. I love it when that happens. Anyway, I was reading through the Reddit conversation/AIM/Gchat/whatever nonsense, because I am a vain person and enjoy it when people agree with things I write on The Internet. I came across a comment that ran something along the lines of: “Great post, but it needs an Oxford comma in the title.”

I want to get a couple things straight: 1) It most certainly does not need an Oxford comma in the title. The decision to use the serial comma, or not to use the serial comma, is up to the management of the particular publication. Bill doesn’t give us a style guide, so I choose to go along with the AP stylebook, the Leviticus of serious journalism, and eschew the serial comma. And generally to do whatever the hell I damn well please.

But most importantly: 2) If You Are The Kind Of Person Who Gets In People’s Faces About Using The Oxford Comma, Then I Think You Are A Pretentious, Effete Waste Of Human Life Who Deserves To Be Suspended In Concentrated Sodium Hydroxide Solution Until Your Flesh Turns Into Soap.

I don’t know when it became in vogue to be strongly pro-serial comma, but I think it happened sometime in 2010, around the time when the internet stopped having, you know, interesting or consequential things to take sides on arbitrarily and yell at each other about. And also about the same time this song came out.

You want to know what it says about you if you’re militantly pro-Oxford comma? Well, first and foremost, that you take the time to develop strong opinions about arbitrary style guidelines, which…I don’t even. But second, that you base those strong opinions on songs by twee Ivy League faux-indie bands whose membership consists of guys who look, sound and write (NOTICE THE LACK OF THE UNNECESSARY SERIAL COMMA) like the kids that everyone pretended to be friends with in middle school because their parents bought them cool stuff in lieu of actually loving them. And failing that, the word “Oxford.”

Yes, I realize that taking up an entire line on your CV to say “I am a thoughtless pedant who, like a simpleton who lives life with finger planted firmly two knuckles deep in his own nostril, is still seduced by the veneer of Old World pretentiousness brought on by the word ‘Oxford.’ And that by suckling at the teat of the dying embers of British imperialism, I am forever condemned to festoon my written prose with unnecessary punctuation marks. And furthermore, rather than being ashamed of my childish fixation on the traditions of days past and working to better myself, I take pride in my ignorance and pedantry.”

I realize that’s a mouthful, and calling people out for not using the serial comma is probably an easier way of communicating clearly that you’re a boring, stuffy tight-ass with a surfeit of free time.

But seriously, why do people conflate Oxbridge with sophistication and intelligence? It’s like you looked at the Ivy League and decided it wasn’t insular, haughty and conservative enough for you. No, I prefer my out-of-touch stodgy old money elitism with a sprig of fatuous post-Imperial delusion. How droll. And to demonstrate that, I’m going to spend my free time, time that could be spent doing something more constructive for society, like selling nuclear secrets to Iran, demanding that complete strangers insert superfluous punctuation into their writing. On the Internet.

I’m starting a new job in a couple weeks, and while it makes me a little queasy that the in-house style guide where I’m going mandates the use of the serial comma, I kept that to myself, because if it’s your publication, you can put commas (or choose not to put commas) wherever suits you. So in short, the serial comma Gestapo can go screw itself.

Message from Starfleet, Captain.

@MichaelJBlock: “So it’s possible that Chooch was simply too ADHD to effectively hit before, right?”

I dunno, he was hitting just fine since 2010 or so. Unless you’re talking about before then, when he was a tank trap in the way of the Phillies offense’s D-Day invasion. I don’t know. I really am so beyond giving a crap about drugs. In sports, at least. That whole cocaine and heroin thing is very much a menace to society. I mean, yeah, Steve Bechler and yeah, What About The Children? But are we really not over this? I have no idea if adderall makes you a better baseball player or not, and neither do you. And really, I’m not sure MLB does either. And even if it did, it’s a prescription drug that I could take, if my doctor said so, to improve my performance in another field.

This isn’t just about someone whose jersey I own getting dinged for pills. I had the same apathy when Melky Cabrera got suspended this summer, and I’ll have the same apathy the next time Guillermo Mota gets busted for carrying around pocketfuls of Interleukin-2 in the clubhouse. We’ve made a show about protecting public health, and we’ve gotten it so that baseball isn’t wholly populated by guys who look like the cast of The Expendables. So let’s stop giving the yapping masses of mainstream baseball columnists something else to salivate over.

Do I care that a player I like had his teddy bear reputation sullied? Yes. Or that my favorite team will be without one of its top position players for 25 games? Yes. Both of those things make me sad. Do I think that, outside violating the letter of the law, Carlos Ruiz did something morally reprehensible? No. But most of all, I’m just sick of talking about it.

@JFSportsFan: “Between Alabama, Georgia, and Notre Dame, who are you rooting for to win the BCS National Championship?”

Alabama. If Georgia or Notre Dame wins, I’m carpet-bombing football. But more on that later.

@MikeFerrinSXM: “Why do they call it football when the Eagles only pass? I’ll hang up & listen.”

You know what? It’s been a while since we’ve had a guest expert on the Crash Bag, apart from Longenhagen on prospects. So let’s do that. It’s time for a…

FOOTBALL LIGHTNING ROUND

And our guest expert is Ty Hildenbrandt, a proud Pennsylvanian and co-host (with Dan Rubenstein) of the excellent Solid Verbal college football podcast. That show, for you Eagles fans, is the genesis of Nick Foles’ nickname: “In a Losing Effort,” a moniker that’s proven eerily prescient in the early days of Foles’ NFL career. Ty’s words are in italics. In case there was any confusion.

@JakePavorsky: “who will be a worse pro: Geno Smith or Matt Barkley?”

“Great question.  Am I allowed to answer “Landry Jones,” or is that against the rules?

Gun to my head, I probably say Smith, if only because I’m not completely sold on Barkley being as average as he looked this season.  Barkley’s numbers weren’t great — he threw more interceptions this season than in any of his previous three years as a starter — but it’s worth mentioning that his offensive line was wildly inconsistent with depth issues, injury concerns, and, most of all, without left tackle Matt Kalil who was picked fourth overall by the Vikings.  Barkley’s a lot better than what we saw this season; you don’t go from Heisman frontrunner to irrelevance unless there are contributing factors.  On that note, Lane Kiffin sucks.

As a whole, the 2013 draft is looking like it might have the worst quarterback class in recent memory unless a few underclassmen decide to declare.”

@gberry523: “why do the eagles love making me so miserable?”

“In all honesty, it’s probably because you’re a terrible person.  I don’t know how to phrase it any other way.  We all know you hate churches and children. If you’d stop trying to hide it, maybe the pain would stop.

Kidding aside, I have no idea what to tell you.  The Eagles are a complete tire fire right now with zero leadership and a ton of injuries.  But here’s the good news: The 2013 draft will feature some of the deepest offensive line and linebacker classes we’ve seen in years.  If the Birds could somehow land Manti Te’o from Notre Dame, it’d be an absolute coup for the Philadelphia defense.  

Also, after watching a lot of Nick Foles at Arizona, I am confident that he’ll be a successful NFL quarterback at some point.  So, there’s that.”

It is with great humility that I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers.  For the first time in the history of the Crash Bag, I myself seek counsel, as a great tragedy has befallen me and I’m in need of advice.

@MJ_Baumann: “I’m watching the national ch–excuse me, the SEC Championship game this weekend with my in-laws, who are all rabid Georgia fans. I hate UGA with the fury of Hell itself. Convince me that there’s no realistic way Alabama blows it or, failing that, how do I extricate myself from what will surely be an insufferable celebration of an undeserved title only contested by geographic and scheduling vagaries? Suicide is an option.”

“We’ll start with the bad news: Georgia is going to keep this game close.  Last week’s 42-10 victory over Georgia Tech was a statement win in a series that has historically been very close.  Georgia’s played some of the country’s best football since losing to South Carolina earlier this season, and I don’t think Alabama is nearly as indestructible as we once thought.  Keep in mind that this Tide team has only played two teams that are still ranked, and struggled mightily both times.  In reality, this team could easily have two losses, and Georgia COULD win this game.  Sorry.

Georgia hasn’t won an SEC championship since 2005 and lost by 32 in this game last year, so if it wins here, your best bet for extrication is an actual divorce.  The problem with SEC celebrations is that they never stop; they’re still celebrating Florida’s crown from 2007.  The upside, though, is that southern folks know how to cook, and a win would likely mean a wonderful feast for all.  There’s nothing wrong with rooting for this, and at the end of the day, you’re probably a worse person for rooting for Alabama anyway.

Now, the good news: Alabama’s going to win a close one.  If you’re looking for a game that inflicts maximum emotional pain, this is the best possible scenario.  Coupled with the fact that Georgia has long been on the precipice of being a national contender, a close loss here would be a huge letdown and a big reason why the Dawgs wouldn’t cover the point spread in their eventual bowl game.  Alabama is just too well-rounded and will take advantage of Georgia’s sketchy run defense.  I’ll predict a 28-24 Alabama win.”

Well that doesn’t make me feel any better. But thanks for taking the time to make a guest appearance. You can follow Ty on Twitter here, and if you’re into college football, you should give The Solid Verbal a listen. And if you’re not into college football, just be aware that the University of Georgia football team is a force of evil whose road to success is contingent on their not actually playing any of the good SEC West teams. And they’ve inbred their mascot so badly they can’t keep him alive. Roll Tide.

God, I can’t believe I said that. I feel so dirty.

@Living4Laughs: “What are your 5 favorite songs about war and/or veterans?”

I’m racking my brain on this one, because I usually don’t pay a ton of attention to song lyrics unless they’re conspicuously clever or conspicuously bad. So I’m probably going to spend this entire answer trying like crazy not to go to “The General” by Dispatch, then go straight to “The General” by Dispatch because it’s literally the only song about war that I can think of right now. I’ll be kind of liberal with the definition of “war” here, just to get a bigger pool of potential songs and avoid that aforementioned Dispatch tune. And before I get crucified in the comments for not including any Springsteen or CCR, remember that I’m only 25 and have absolutely no visceral reaction whatsoever to the Vietnam War. And I would have included a couple anti-Iraq War Bright Eyes songs, but I really don’t want to give the impression that I think Connor Oberst has anything useful to say about politics or society. No matter how much I might have enjoyed I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. 

  •  “Alive With the Glory of Love” by Say Anything. On first glance, it’s a peppy, foot-tapping power pop ditty. Then if you listen to the lyrics, you quickly realize it’s a ballad about two young lovers trying and failing to elude the Nazis during the Holocaust. It’s a really clever and totally heartbreaking song that has made me skank around my empty apartment when I was happy and made me weep openly when I was feeling lonely.
  • Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits. This is a proxy for all those wistful, “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier”-type ballads. I just always considered Mark Knopfler and his merry men to have a particular gift for the elegiac, and this song is no exception.
  • Battle Hymn of the Republic” by William Steffe and Julia Ward Howe. Most songs about war nowadays are anti-war, which you’d expect, because writers and musicians tend to be artsy types who aren’t particularly eager to pick up a weapon and stand a post, myself included. But when there was actually a war worth fighting, we had music to match. Plus I imagine this song was sung at some point during Sherman’s March to the Sea, which warms the cockles of my heart a little.
  • Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine. I personally find RATM’s brand of anti-everything anarchism to be…well, childish, if I’m honest, and “Sleep Now in the Fire” is anti-war only because war is a facet of Western liberal democratic culture. In other words, the machine. Against which they want to rage. But for as much indiscriminate and random anger as gets thrown around in this song…it’s not like they’re wrong, even if their four-minute Michael Moore-directed screed against greed and capitalism is prefaced on YouTube by a one-minute commercial. And damn, this is a fun song.
  • Violet Hill” by Coldplay. Yes, a Coldplay song. Screw you. I really like it. And while it’s ostensibly a belated Gulf War protest song, I really don’t care too much about the lyrics.

Okay, I had to use Say Anything and Coldplay, but at least I avoided Dispatch.

@Billy_Yeager: “Please pen a rule on buds challenging for items being thrown/shot into stands. I feel bad for Larry Fitzing you.”

So here’s the backstory on this question. Bill (the Bill who asked the question, not Bill Baer, who is a computer and can’t go to basketball games) and I went to the Sixers game on Tuesday, where we witnessed in person the impressive arsenal of t-shirt artillery currently employed by the Philadelphia Professional Basketball Club. Twice we found ourselves in the line of fire, and this is what happened.

The first time, Bill stood at the start of the t-shirt cannon barrage, while I remained seated, because I’m not a loser. But it became clear that one shirt in particular was headed in a perfect parabolic arc for my seat. So I went to stand and make a play on the shirt, but Bill had already made his move, resting his forearm on my shoulder and vaulting himself skyward to make a very nice grab, all the while preventing me from even standing, much less jumping.

The next time, I stood before the cannon came around, intending to box him out. I figured I’ve got about three inches and probably close to 40 pounds on the guy, so I can get in good position before the shot comes and get to the shirt, if it comes, while fending Bill off with my butt. Just like Kevin Love does. It doesn’t work. Another shirt comes in our direction, this one about to land over my shoulder in the row behind us, and while I half-jokingly box out, Bill comes climbing over my back, nearly knocking me over onto the five-year-old child sitting next to me.

Now, I’m not suggesting that t-shirt frenzy should be a totally non-contact sport, but there’s a happy medium between everyone sitting down and using your friends to crush children. I suggest maybe something like a pass interference rule between buddies, like when the ball is in the air, only incidental contact, no shoving, tripping, biting, kneecapping, etc. If that’s too strict, then maybe a basketball rebounding rule. You can jostle for position, but no out-and-out shoving, and the rebounder, if he has his feet set, is entitled to his own position. I think I like that one better.

That’s among friends. Strangers you can stab in the back, for all I care.

@Phisportsfan11: “Where do the Phillies go with Upton gone? Is Hamilton back in?”

I hope not. Denard Span and B.J. Upton have both gone to division rivals on a trade and a free agent deal, respectively, that weren’t steals, but neither were they unreasonable. I think five years at $15 million per is a perfectly fair price for Upton, and while some are higher on Alex Meyer, the big prospect of the Span-to-Washington trade, than I am, I wouldn’t bet on his health and his mechanics holding together long enough to be a big-league starter. And even if they did, it’s not like the Nationals, with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann already in the big-league rotation and Lucas Giolito and Matt Purke convalescing in the minor leagues, aren’t exactly hurting for high-upside starting pitching prospects.

But the problem is that with those two, and Melky Cabrera as well, off the market, we’re running out of options. As a fan, I love Dexter Fowler. He’s one of my favorite players to watch, but the Rockies, in a trade, seem to value him like he’s the player Coors Field makes him appear to be, which he’s not. Peter Bourjos is a spectacular defensive center fielder, like Mike Trout or Michael Bourn good, but I remain unconvinced that he’s ever going to contribute anything of substance with the bat. Plus it doesn’t look like Los Angeles of Anaheim is particularly eager to jettison him anyway.

That leaves Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton, both of whom are going to make more money then they’re worth for longer than they’ll be useful, plus Angel Pagan and a partridge in a pear tree. I’m not all that high on Pagan, and after the postseason he had, he might not be the bargain we had once thought him to be.

So my first instinct is to say “screw it, just cobble together a cheap platoon or something and hope that Tyson Gillies turns into Tris Speaker in the offseason.” But that’s kind of what I’d do with third base as well, and while you can punt one position and still contend, you can’t really punt two. So there’s probably a creative and subtle center field solution that I’m not thinking of because there’s no easier way to make yourself look like moron than to make up fake trades. Which is comforting, given Ruben Amaro‘s longstanding reputation for being subtle and creative as a GM.

@pinvert: “chances RAJ makes a big splash at the winter meetings this week? seems to be his ‘deal’.”

The genius of Ruben Amaro is that you never know when he’s going to make a big splash. I don’t know that it’s a solid lock that he’ll make a splash at the winter meetings, because at this point, “splash” probably means “Hamilton,” and that ends with me swallowing a couple dozen doses of ketamine and welcoming the warm, sweet embrace of death. I dunno, I’m going to be out of town next week, and I’m half expecting to come home to find out that Domonic Brown and Adam Morgan have been traded to the Jordanian navy for a decommissioned Soviet submarine or something.

@kalinkadink: “If you can only have three jerseys/shirseys to wear for the rest of your life, whose would they be?”

I’ve never owned an actual baseball jersey, only shirseys, and I’ve got no real urge to buck that trend. Shirseys are more versatile, cheaper and generally more colorful. As for which three I’d wear for the rest of my life, well, I’d have to get at least one of Michael Roth and Jackie Bradley, but both have issues–Bradley will almost certainly make it to the majors, but I don’t know what number he’d wear, and in any event, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Red Sox jersey. And Roth, whose Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are far less objectionable, may never make it to the majors at all. Hang on, there’s more.

“And no minor-league players.”

DAMMIT.

Right now, I’ve got three shirseys: Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Steve Carlton. I’d probably keep the Rollins one, and I’d like to have a throwback Phillies shirsey as well. Though if I had it to do over again, I’d take a Richie Ashburn over a Carlton, but Carlton shirseys are easier to find–literally the only place I’ve seen a Richie Ashburn shirsey is in the Hall of Fame gift shop. The one I saw there was white with red print, and while I’m a bigger fan historically of Ashburn than Carlton, the baby blue with maroon print looks cooler, now that I think of it. Either one of those would be fine.  So that’s two.

And as much as I’m a Phillies fan, I’m very much a fan of baseball in general. So for my third shirsey, I’d have one from a different team. Now, as much as I might respect players like Derek Jeter and Hank Aaron, there is no way I’m wearing Yankees or Braves gear. So I’d have to eliminate any teams that make my stomach turn. So no Braves, Pirates, Mets, Marlins, Yankees, Red Sox, Giants or Cardinals. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of those teams that don’t really inspire strong feelings one way or another. So no Padres, A’s, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Rockies, Cubs, White Sox, Astros, Brewers, Twins and Indians.

So that leaves 10 teams that I either legitimately like or have kind of up-and-down feelings: the Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals, Royals, Reds, Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Rays and Mariners. And of those, who has a cool color scheme, or at least one that’s different enough from the Phillies’ to make it worth buying the shirt? Too bad for the red, white and blue of the Nationals, Dodgers and Rangers, and the primary bright red of the Angels and Reds. So of those five teams, who has a player, past or present, whose name and number I’d like to wear. The Orioles are full of possibilities: a Brooks or Frank Robinson throwback could be cool, and Brian Roberts allows the possibility to represent the South Carolina Gamecocks. Or an Earl Weaver shirsey. Which would just be devastatingly cool.

How about the Dodgers? Does Carlton make Sandy Koufax redundant? Is Jackie Robinson a cliche, and does wearing “Brooklyn” on your shirt automatically make you an asshole? Yeah, the Dodgers are out. Blue Jays? I love their colors, but I don’t really feel anything for any of their current or former players, except maybe John Olerud, and that just reminds me of 1993, which reminds me of Joe Carter, which makes me want to cry. The Royals are on the same page. Maybe a Zack Greinke or George Brett.

On to the Rays. Evan Longoria would be cool. Maybe not rest-of-your-life cool, but cool nonetheless. Which leads us to the Mariners, who have cool colors and a really good history of cool players. Edgar Martinez, Felix Hernandez, Ichiro and…

Oh yeah, Griffey. Ken Griffey, Jr., Mariners. That’d be my third.

@SoMuchForPathos: “If a U.S. soldier impregnates another soldier and is forced to marry her by her father, is it a shotgun wedding or an M16 wedding?”

I think that’s a sign that we’ve had enough for this week.

One public service announcement note before the end–there is political unrest over at The Good Phight! Friend of the blog Peter Lyons is stepping down as blogmaster and will be replaced by friend of the blog Liz Roscher. Congratulations to Peter for a long run of great blogging, and congratulations to Liz for embarking on what we can only presume will be more of the same.

 

Crash Bag, Vol. 29: Leftover Sandwiches

I think it’s time for a major free agent domino to fall. I’m starting to get bored.

We’re at the point of the baseball calendar where nothing’s really going on. The World Series ends, and then we have award season and arbitration offers, maybe a trade or two (a couple of big ones this year, but that’s not the norm), but by mid-November, we’re into free agency and we’ve got bugger-all to talk about until the Winter Meetings, where nothing of substance really happens anyway. And I know a bunch of national writers are griping about the site of this year’s winter meetings, so let me just say this: I’ve been to the hotel you all hate, and I know it’s a wretched hive of vulgarity and bad taste. But you’re still going to Nashville on a business trip, so if you can’t manage to enjoy yourself, go decompose somewhere else, where you won’t bother anyone, and leave the baseball writing to those of us who still have a pulse.

But we’re still not in the part of the winter where no one’s making any big personnel moves, and at least in the post-New Year doldrums, we’re close enough to spring training and the start of the college season in mid-February that I don’t find myself sitting alone in a dark room, bouncing a baseball off the wall like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

Being that it’s a holiday weekend, we’ve made like Miley Cyrus’ barber and cut things a little short this week.

@pinvert: “if phils manage to sign uehara, what’re some other names they pursue? adams? or will they stick a mix of the youngins?”

So yeah, the Phillies are apparently interested in former Orioles and Rangers relief pitcher Koji Uehara. This is exciting for two reasons: the first of which is that it puts a Japanese-born player on the Phillies. Since 2008, the Phillies have won the World Series every time they’ve had at least one Japanese player on the team, and have never won a World Series without the aid of a Japanese player. Therefore, signing Uehara guarantees a World Series win in 2013.

That, my friends, is BULLETPROOF LOGIC. There is NO POSSIBLE WAY that the demographic composition of the Phillies roster is unrelated to their postseason success. NONE WHATSOEVER.

No, but for serious, Uehara is among the most underrated players in baseball right now. He’s part of a slew of thirtysomething Japanese middle relievers who came over to the U.S. over the past decade. I consider guys like Uehara, and Hideki Okajima, and Takashi Saito, to be something like the spiritual successor to the Irish-American immigrants of the 19th Century, the massive influx of a certain kind of worker to prop up the American economy in times of trouble. One wonders if there’s some kind of Forkball Famine going on in Japan. Yeah, so anyway…

Uehara might be the best of the Japanese reliever diaspora. His career K/BB ratio is 7.97. He posted a 4.05 ERA his rookie year and hasn’t had a season over 3 since, despite pitching in two of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game. And no one really knows all that much about him, even in a Texas Rangers bullpen that’s been among baseball’s most storied over the past couple years. If he can be had on the relative cheap, I’d literally do a jig. And for all the fuss I make about not signing old middle relievers to contracts of multiple years and multiple millions of dollars, I’d at least bend that rule for Uehara’s sake. The man is a monster, and he’d be at the very worst a near-equal to Jonathan Papelbon.

Beyond that, I’m hearing a lot of fans wishing for Mike Adams, which I’d be okay with as well if the price were right. From 2009 to 2011, he was almost literally unhittable with San Diego and Texas, but he fell back down to Earth some in 2012, posting a 140 ERA+ and a K/BB ratio of 2.65 to 1, not the 5-to-1 or better he’d had in previous seasons. My fear with him is that he’d be valued at his 2009-11 level, but perform at his 2012 level.

Apart from that, I’d like to see the kids run the middle innings of the bullpen, if possible. I think Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus are more than ready to take on high-leverage roles, and Antonio Bastardo is at the very least a competent high-strikeout lefty out of the pen. If more veterans come, I’d rather they be of the low-risk variety. I know it didn’t work out that well, but I loved the Phillies’ acquisition of Chad Qualls last season. They picked a guy with devastating stuff (which he had), but enough red flags and question marks that he’d accept a short-term, low-money contract (which he did). They were then able to run him out there (which they did) to see if he was still damaged goods (which he was), knowing that if that were the case, they could cut him loose without swallowing a lot of money (which they did). I don’t say this a ton, but that was textbook-perfect process from El Rubador, and I’d love to see more of it this offseason, not only in the bullpen, but to fill out the back end of the bench.

@fotodave: “If you could cast the Phillies from all of David Fincher’s movies, Whats the stating lineup?”

I’ve been thinking about this one all week. It’s been very interesting. Bear in mind that I’ve never seen Alien 3, Panic Room, or that silly-looking Benjamin Button movie.

  • Cliff Lee: Mikael Blomkvsit, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The handsome, dour businesslike hero.
  • Ryan Howard: Arthur Leigh Allen, Zodiac. Big guy. Walks with a limp. Leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake.
  • Carlos Ruiz: Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The freelance badass. I can’t think of a character in a Fincher movie who’s really as upbeat as we all like to think Chooch is. Maybe Sean Parker in The Social Network, but he’s kind of a drug-addled paranoid freak.
  • Roy Halladay: Det. Somerset, Se7en. The aging hero, kind of world-weary, still motivated to do his job well.
  • Kyle Kendrick: Erica Albright, The Social Network. Because people call him a bitch on the internet.
  • Jimmy Rollins: The Narrator, Fight Club. You get the sense that he really only ever wanted an orderly existence.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: John Doe, Se7en. In terms of his public persona, Papelbon is by far the most likely Phillies player to go around yelling “Awww, what’s in the box?” but there’s no blank stare quite like Kevin Spacey’s in Se7en, and no blank stare quite like Papelbon’s on the mound. And let me say that that movie is almost 20 years old, but it has aged incredibly well.
  • Chase Utley: Tyler Durden, Fight Club. Because he’s devastatingly attractive, and because he only exists intermittently.
  • Cole Hamels: Det. Mills, Se7en. What’s in the batter’s box? Oh, Bryce Harper? Plunk him.
  • Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf: The Winklevoss Twins, The Social Network. Because they’re both big, intimidating guys, and because they look so much alike.

@SoMuchForPathos: “You’ve been commissioned to write a Phillies-themed sonnet cycle. Describe scope, foci, and ultimate aesthetic value.”

Well, as LFO so famously sang, “Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole lot of sonnets.” In fact, their coupling of “sonnet” with “hornet” remains one of the more creative instances of slant-rhyming of 1990s pop-rock, perhaps rivaled only by Muse’s “soon/direction” couplet in “Filip,” off their debut album Showbiz. But I digress.

I’d have to write a lot of them, because I’d start at or near the beginning of Phillies-related history. Perhaps a sonnet here about the fantastic 1890s outfield of Hamilton, Delahanty and Thompson, or the mastery of Eppa Rixey, or the epilepsy and alcoholism of Grover Cleveland Alexander. Then on through the heady days of the Baker Bowl, where the likes of Chuck Klein posted team batting averages in the .300s for a last-place club.

A sonnet for Eddie Waitkus, reportedly the inspiration for the character of Roy Hobbs. On Richie Ashburn’s speed, on Granny Hamner’s knuckleball, on Tony Taylor and Larry Bowa and Steve Carlton’s slider, Mike Schmidt’s mustache, and Macho Row. And then on to more familiar subject matter.

And at the end, probably three or four hundred sonnets of–judging by my previous efforts at sports-related sonnets–middling aesthetic value at best, I’d be wishing for the fate of John Keats. Not only to have my work inspire adoration, great emotion and weltschmerz, but also to die of tubercolosis.

Because I hate, hate, hate writing in iambic pentameter. I prefer poetry that, if it has a structure, only does so to enhance the meaning or emotional impact of the piece. I know I go on and on about Dylan Thomas, but his best work is musical, lilting, fitted together with a variety of structures that you’d expect to find in a woodwind quartet. Iambic pentameter (unstressed syllable, stressed syllable), is essentially an accent on every upbeat. Ska music, if you will. And I don’t know about you, but I burned my hemp necklace, Vans sneakers and Less than Jake hoodie when I was 15, like every right-thinking American should have. So while I like Shakespeare as much as the next guy, he writes kind of like a guy with a patchy beard and a trombone.

But enough about this. It’s time for…

THANKSGIVING FOOD LIGHTNING ROUND

@uublog: “What are correct opinions on Thanksgiving foods? Stuffing – unnecessary or terrible? Skinless mashed potatoes – best potatoes?”

I’m glad you phrased it this way, because there are as many opinions on Thanksgiving foods as there are households serving Thanksgiving dinner. Which is good, because this is America, and we slaughtered the hell out of those Indians so we could serve turkey and potatoes however we like on the fourth Thursday in November. Let’s not let that freedom go to waste.

For instance, both Bill and Paul think stuffing is a waste.

Now, I’ve railed against the “Catchy quote of dubious sourcing/Q.E.D.” line of logic before, but I’d like to submit this catchy quote of dubious sourcing, most widely attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Not because I think it’s gospel in and of itself, but because I believe it to be empirically true that stuffing is an essential part of a quality American Thanksgiving dinner, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is not only a freedom-hating Communist, but anathema to the civil society we’ve worked so hard to found, for whose sake so much American blood has been shed.

And let’s be clear–I’m not talking about that Stove Top Box O’ Soft Croutons nonsense. That I could take or leave. I’m talking about hand-shredded bread, mixed with spices and chopped vegetables, then mashed up and shoved up that turkey’s butthole to marinate in the glorious juices of birdflesh. The kind that comes out soft, and spicy, and tastes of liberty and the warm embrace of friends and family.

In short, when I’m dictator of the world, this anti-stuffing junta, this Thanksgiving Fifth Column of Paul’s and Bill’s, will be put to death like the enemies of the state that they are. In fact, if any baseball blog of greater moral fiber than this one, is interested in my services, feel free to write to me at “I Don’t Want to Prop Up This Anti-Stuffing Dystopia Any Longer, Freedomland, N.J., 08050.”

Yeah, as for the rest, I like white meat over dark meat, but not by much. I’m not a big apple pie person at all, but I’ll chalk that up to my own weirdness, as well as a desire to eat as much cherry pie and pumpkin pie as possible. Other favored foods of mine: cauliflower, broccoli, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce (which we’ll get to later). I feel like ham is a decent optional second meat, but is by no means necessary. Neither, it should be made clear, is ham an acceptable substitute for Turkey, but I’ve been to Thanksgiving dinners with 30 or more attendees, and sometimes with a gathering that big, it’s worth it to cook a change-of-pace meat.

And as far as your point about skinless mashed potatoes being the best potatoes, I’ll say this: I prefer them to mashed potatoes with skin, and they’re among the best potatoes, but I can’t categorically call them the best potatoes. I mean, there are so many options: home fries, latkes, shoestring fries, raw fries with bleu cheese dressing, Belgian frites, and, perhaps most importantly, twice-baked potatoes. Skinless mashed potatoes are, as I’ve said, in the discussion, particularly with appropriate amounts (read: a lot) of butter and/or gravy, or even just with salt and pepper, but naming the best kind of potato, categorically…well, that’s above my pay grade.

@kalinkadink: “Which type of cranberry sauce do you like better–canned or fresh?”

Canned. I’d go on some rant about how, while acceptable, the value added by homemade cranberry sauce is nowhere near worth the effort, but Albert Burnenko did it much better a few days ago on Deadspin. If there’s homemade cranberry sauce around on Thanksgiving–and since New Jersey, in case you didn’t know, is half peat bog and half sand dune, there usually is at my house–I’ll heap some on my turkey and enjoy it.

But canned cranberry sauce has two advantages…actually, hold that thought. What a laugh it is that we call, essentially, a 12-ounce cylindrical Jello Jiggler a “sauce.” A sauce should be somewhat viscous and opaque, but ultimately liquid. And cranberry sauce isn’t even a “goo” or a “slop.” Not even a “gel,” as far as I can tell. I don’t know what kind of substance it is, but it’s tasty.

Anyway, like I was saying, the canned stuff has two advantages over the genuine article: first, getting it out of the can is the most fun you’ll have the entire month of November. You open the can, use a knife to break the seal between log and vessel, and shake it until the whole works plops out onto your plate, attended by the vaguely flatulent sound of a vacuum seal being broken. It’s awesome, and I’d eat two cans a day just to get to do open it if I could.

The second advantage is, for my money, the most underrated great thing about Thanksgiving. The Koji Uehara, if you will, of this holiday: Leftover Sandwiches. To make a Leftover Sandwich, take a few pieces of turkey and a spoonful of stuffing, with some cranberry sauce and put them on some bread. Not just your garden variety loaf of supermarket white, but sterner stuff. Weapons-grade bread, if you will. Bread to withstand what will, if you do it right, represent close to a kilogram of tasty things from each of the four food groups. Kaiser rolls, bagels, sourdough, that sort of thing. So while you must have turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing, the rest is negotiable. I like to have some mayonnaise as well, and sometimes cheese, but other people like gravy. The point behind a Leftover Sandwich, of course, is to liquidate what food you failed to eat the first time around, so if you want to throw some sweet potato casserole on the pile or something, go mashugana. Wawa has just, in the past couple years, started to capitalize on this, one of the greatest American culinary traditions, with the Gobbler, and my main question about that is, “What took them so long?”

What I was going to say is that if you have canned cranberry sauce, it’s easy to slice into sandwich-shaped discs that you can place on your Leftover Sandwich like the tomato on a Big Mac. But anyway, that’s why I like canned better than genuine cranberry sauce.

@andymoney: “phillies players as thanksgiving dishes (please show your work)”

No. You are not my eighth-grade algebra teacher. I will not show my work.

  • Turkey: Cliff Lee
  • Stuffing: Cole Hamels
  • Mashed potatoes: Roy Halladay
  • Pumpkin pie: Jimmy Rollins
  • Gravy: Jonathan Papelbon
  • Sweet potato casserole: Carlos Ruiz
  • Cranberry sauce: Domonic Brown
  • Cherry pie: Chase Utley (because I love it so much and there’s never as much of it as you want)
  • Ham: Vance Worley
  • Green bean casserole: Darin Ruf (I guess you guys like it, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about)
  • Before-dinner cheese plate: Antonio Bastardo
  • Pecan pie: Kyle Kendrick (something I used to pass over, but have recently grown to appreciate more)
  • Apple pie: John Mayberry (I mean, it’s okay, but I don’t know why you’d have it if there were better options)
  • Fresh-baked bread/rolls: Nate Schierholtz (No one really seems to appreciate the value added here)
  • After-dinner pastries: Ryan Howard (Because I always eat so many of these it impairs my ability to walk)

It just occurred to me that while I’m writing all this on a Wednesday, y’all aren’t going to read this until Friday, which is after Thanksgiving. Oh, well. You can all do Thanksgiving again this weekend, in accordance with my decrees.

 

Crash Bag, Vol. 28: The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton

I want to talk about that massive Marlins-Blue Jays trade from earlier in the week. It’s weird, considering the sheer number of opinions on the subject, that I’ve yet to find one that I agree with entirely. On the broader points, I fall pretty well in line with ESPN’s Keith Law and DJF’s Andrew Stoeten, but I even have minor quibbles with their analysis of the on-field implications of the trade.

Or maybe that’s not weird, considering that this trade is rather like the Leftover Parfait from Malcolm in the Middle. The Blue Jays got a lot of good players without giving up their biggest prospects, but took on a lot of back-loaded salary to do it. And they’re still probably only the third-best team in their own division. On the other hand, the Marlins freed up a lot of salary space and still have some pretty good talent coming through the pipeline.

But it’s the ownership wrinkles on both sides that make this trade so interesting. This represents Rogers Communications finally putting some of its substantial piles of money where its mouth is in taking on several big-money contracts. On the other end, it continues the tendency of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to show a single-minded interest in lining his pockets to the exclusion of putting a winning team on the field, as he did when he sold the 2003 World Series-winning Marlins for parts, and before that when he played a substantial role in dismantling the Montreal Expos.

I think the outrage at Loria is misplaced. It’s been noted that the Red Sox did much the same thing as the Marlins this summer and no one called for John Henry‘s head. And that’s a good point, that in a vacuum this trade is defensible from a baseball perspective. But to cite that point in a vacuum is either naive or senseless contrarian trolling. Henry and his ownership group aren’t universally popular, but they have a history of investing in their team, and a fire sale this summer, at least optically, represents hitting the reset switch to build a better team, rather than simply goading a city into shelling out mid-nine figures for a new stadium on the promise that it would lead the team to wealth and contention, then pulling the football away at the last moment.

Here’s what really gets me about this trade–local government got into bed with Loria to the tune of $400 million and change, knowing full well his history of collecting revenue-sharing money and putting nine men on the field that are only a “baseball team” in the sense that they are well-paid young guys who all dress alike. Anyone with an internet connection, an interest in baseball and even a shaky memory should be acutely aware that Jeffrey Loria has proven himself, in a large sample size, to be uniquely untrustworthy, even among baseball owners. And yet Miami’s local government wrote him a blank check without consulting the very taxpayers who will literally pay–either in service cuts or tax increases–to subsidize a multimillionare’s pocketing of tens of millions of dollars annually from a team that never really has a chance of building a winner.

Now, Loria is in this for the money, and our political and commercial system, for better or for worse, is set up in such a way that he’s within his rights to do that. What baffles me is how the Miami-Dade County Commission gave someone like Loria so much money on the basis that the Marlins were a civic institution or a public trust without getting assurances that they’d be treated as such. Any local government that funds a sports arena is being–to paraphrase the Cary Grant classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House–bilked, had, conned, shammed and generally taken to the cleaners. Even if that team is owned by someone like John Henry or Ed Snider, who cares about making money in addition to hanging championship banners and himself reinvests in the team. To give that money to someone like Loria is some combination of naivete, blindness and stupidity that serves to discredit not only those harebrained, shortsighted fools in Miami, but the entire institution of representative democracy at large. So while no one, to my knowledge, broke any rules, once again the unchecked greed of the super-rich runs roughshod over the public interest.

If you’ll forgive a callback to last week’s Crash Bag, when I’m dictator of the world, anyone who tries to pull a stunt like this will be farming sea urchins outside of Richard Branson’s Underwater Wonderland for the rest of his life. That’s my two cents. I guess we can move on.

Oh, what’s that? You guys want to talk about this trade too? Well never mind, let’s get to it.

@MPNPhilly: “More honorable governing body Loria’s Marlins or Vichy France? Show math.”

Going to have to go with Loria’s Marlins, because they didn’t literally collaborate with the Nazis. At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, trading Jose Reyes and cheating the citizens of Miami isn’t as bad as teaming up with a set of crazies with bizarre, intractable and aggressive opinions on eugenics and a monomaniacal focus on world domination.

Also, “Show math?” That’s a little pushy, don’t you think? I think it’s time to remind Chuckles here who runs this column. I’ll show you math….

@fotodave: “what would the Miami Marlins opening day lineup look like now that they gave away 5 starters?”

Right now it looks like they’ve got The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, Donovan Solano (who, sources tell me, is neither former NATO Secretary General and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana nor Mistretta) and an actual marlin flopping around in left field, which, as it happens, represents a defensive upgrade from Logan Morrison.

So while the Marlins, thanks to The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton and the wholesale demolition and rebirth-by-fire of the Houston Astros, will probably not be worst team in baseball, they’ll most likely lose more than they win.

@S_DOT5: “how many Dom browns will it take to get one Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton?”

Several. There was a time, maybe early 2010-ish, when the currency exchange rate was roughly equal between Domonic Brown and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, but that time has obviously passed. It’s really a pity that in the past seven years or so, each of the five NL East teams has been possessed of a would-be franchise outfield prospect, and while three of them are panning out into multiple-All-Star/perennial MVP candidate territory, the Phillies are not one of them. In 2010, Jason Heyward put up a historic season for a 20-year-old rookie, only to be made to look like he was standing still by the emergence of Bryce Harper and the prodigious power of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. Meanwhile, Domonic Brown actually has been standing still, which, when you go from being 22 to 25 as a ballplayer, actually means you’re going backwards, and rapidly. I am so going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

I guess the only consolation is that Lastings Milledge has been a near-total loss. Because screw the Mets.

@Wzeiders: “Marlins trade: bad for baseball, good for the Phillies?”

Yes, I think so. Nope, I’ve changed my mind. Good for baseball, good for the Phillies.

That it’s good for the Phillies is obvious–a major division rival has, over the past six months, been denuded of three of its four best starting pitchers (and the scuttlebutt is that Ricky Nolasco is on his way out too) and probably three of its four best position players to boot, with the only holdover being The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. A weaker Miami means one less division competitor for the Phillies, and most likely some more wins in absolute terms, which helps them in the Wild Card race. So yes, good for the Phillies.

Now, the initial reaction to the trade must be that it’s bad for baseball, because the natural impulse is to conflate the trade itself with the Marlins’ upper-level brass, which is bad for baseball. But there’s another way to look at it: this trade is killing baseball in South Florida. The counterbalance, it represents, perhaps, a watershed moment for baseball in Toronto.

Everyone assumes that Toronto is a small market team because the Blue Jays have spent as such. That’s not the case at all. Toronto is, at 2.6 million people, the fourth-largest city with a major league team, and, with close to 6 million inhabitants, the Greater Toronto Area is right up there with Philadelphia and Houston among the largest single-team markets in the game. The Canadian dollar is strong, and as I’ve said, Rogers Communications has lots of them to spend. For that matter, so do most GTA residents–the median household income in Toronto is almost twice what it is in Philadelphia, even accounting for the exchange rate. So for all the podunk hoserness we project on Canada, the Blue Jays inhabit a city that’s almost as big as Chicago and almost as rich as San Francisco, with an owner that’s got more money than it knows what to do with. Rogers owns Sportsnet, which is essentially Canada’s ESPN. These are some serious canucks we’re dealing with.

So if Rogers is going all-in with the Blue Jays, that’s great for baseball, not only because, with the NHL lockout, Torontonians (we really need to get them a better demonym) are looking for something sports-related to occupy their attention, and if the Blue Jays make it back to contention this year, after almost 20 years out of the playoffs, and Rogers makes an investment to keep them there, that’s huge for baseball in Canada. Because let’s not forget, not only do the Blue Jays have the GTA to themselves, they’ve got the entire country to themselves, apart from pockets of Red Sox, Mariners and Tigers fans where it’s geographically appropriate, and a bizarre enclave of Blue Jays fans I’ve encountered on the internet who, it seems, have climbed wholesale on the San Francisco Giants’ bandwagon. Perhaps they’re just looking for something worth cheering for after not having won anything of note since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. I don’t know.

So in terms of growing the game, a consistently well-funded and successful Blue Jays team might be among the best things to happen to baseball, apart from the sport taking off in the Netherlands and Italy the way it’s threatening to. Canada is, apart from the United States, the only country that consistently produces major league talent and does not consistently send its best athletes to play baseball. Steven Stamkos, for instance, was a talented high school player, but chose hockey. Considering the results, I can’t say that this was a bad decision on his part, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I want to make it clear that this trade doesn’t make Toronto an overnight contender, much less a long-term BSD in the American League, but it’s a significant step in the right direction.

But was it worth killing baseball, at least for now, in South Florida?

I’d submit that baseball was never really alive in Florida. Floridians have chosen to eke out the last few years of their lives in a place with harsh sunshine, oppressive humidity, unlivable wildlife conditions (hordes of mosquitoes and alligators) and the constant threat of annihilation whenever a hurricane passes near that stupid, boggy low-lying peninsula. Somehow, someone decided years ago that it would be a good idea to build, essentially, one massive, continuous strip mall and suburban development in a marsh, and 19 million people fell for it. Florida is like a postcard for the ills of urban sprawl. And dengue fever. And it is peopled by folks who are entertained by women who dress up as mermaids. No offense to my grandmother, who took me to see the famous mermaids of Weeki Wachee the last time I visited her. The possibilities are endless for John Mayberry.

But no matter my own personal feelings of antipathy for the climate, culture and population of Florida, they do have one thing in common: they don’t go to see baseball. Tampa consistently ranks at or near the bottom of MLB’s attendance figures. And before you go giving me some song-and-dance about how the stadium is essentially a converted Soviet aerodrome that’s 50 miles from anywhere you’d want to be (well, actually it’s 255 miles from Valdosta, the closest decent-sized city in Georgia, but who’s counting?), remember that the Rays, since 2008, have been among the most successful, entertaining and likable teams in this or any sport, and after all, to my knowledge, the Lord God Almighty did not come down by divine decree and say unto Vince Naimoli: AND LO, THOU SHALT BUILD THINE STADIUM IN AN INACCESSIBLE WASTELAND, EVEN BY FLORIDIAN STANDARDS.” AND YEA, VERILY IT CAME TO PASS. 

It’s not like the Rays have a terrible stadium in the middle of nowhere by *accident* or anything–someone built a terrible stadium in the middle of nowhere on purpose. The same in Miami–they had a terrible stadium in 2011 and they were 28th in attendance, and in 2012 they had a new terrible stadium, a stadium that looks like it was designed by Julie Taymor while she was stoned out of her mind on LSD and pretending to be Santiago Calatrava, and they spent a lot of money, and they were 18th in attendance.

Maybe it’s not the stadia. Maybe it’s not owners like Naimoli and Loria, penny-pinching creeps whose acts of insouciant baseball ops malfeasance are merely the scapegoat for a larger issue. Baseball is like human life in one respect: Florida seems to be incapable of supporting it, and yet we continue to bend over backwards to try and make it work, like a toddler trying to put an entire basketball in his mouth. Maybe it’s time to give up and concentrate on growing baseball where the population isn’t too spread out to attend games, and too poor to afford it if they weren’t, and their brains too rotted out by living in the climatic equivalent of the inside of an athletic shoe to care. Baseball is not dead in Florida only because it was never alive in the first place. Let’s do some basic triage and try to build the game somewhere that isn’t beyond saving.

(breathes into paper bag)

Okay,  I don’t think I’m going to pass out anymore. Good question, William. You got another?

@Wzeiders: “Just finished Season 1 of BSG for the 1st time. Why did no one talk about the theological themes when the show was on?”

Yeah, I don’t know. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was created by Ronald D. Moore, late of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and as a result, DS9 is far more spiritually related to BSG than any of its Star Trek cousins. It’s very dark and very smart, and while the other Star Trek series ask intelligent ethical and political questions, they do so in a very bright, controlled low-stakes way. On the other hand, DS9 was very concerned with human weakness and figuring out if the ends justified the means. There are similarities, but it’s the difference between taking Michael Sandel’s undergraduate class at Harvard and actually being in the state of nature.

Anyway, BSG does a lot of the things I think DS9 would have done if it hadn’t been hamstrung by 1) the consistent franchise-wide adherence to Gene Roddenberry’s personal brand of neoliberal utopianism and 2) the rank inability of any of its cast members to act. But it shares a primary flaw with DS9: the weird, half-coherent religious…you know what, I’m cool with putting it this way: bullshit.

On the surface, it makes sense for the people of BSG to have their own religion, because they’re not of…dammit, there’s no way to explain this without spoiling some stuff that happens later in the show, so you’re just going to have to trust me.

But in both shows, the religious plotlines often, at least for me, distract from otherwise intelligent and compelling space opera. Let’s talk about how to fight the Cylons, or how to feed the fleet, or how to reconstruct civil society from the ashes. I don’t care about your visions, or your struggle for faith. Not when you have to struggle to survive first. In both shows, religion often affects politics, and insofar as that’s the case, it drives the plot. But BSG, for a show about the bare minimum physical and cultural survival of the human race, we spend a lot of time on Gaius Baltar having an argument with a woman in his brain about the merits of some abstract monotheism vs. polytheism vs. atheism vs. agnosticism. Are there even really doctrinal conflicts between the Colonial polytheism and Cylon monotheism. And how did machines develop a conception of God, anyway? I’d much rather have more of Commander Adama growling at people and Starbuck playing poker and beating people up and Boomer walking around in a tank top.

Anyway, among shows that I love and have binge-watched (The Wire, Game of Thrones, The West Wing, Friday Night Lights, Firefly, the various Star Trek series), I probably have more complicated feelings about Battlestar Galactica than any of the others. Maybe I’ll put it this way–nothing in that show is half-assed. They go all-in on just about every thematic and plot element and while most of it works, a lot of it doesn’t. Still, the rest of the show is well worth watching. But make sure you do a better job of avoiding spoilers than I did.

Oh, and Ronald D. Moore’s other big problem, apart from not really having anything interesting or coherent to say about religion and writing about it anyway? Terrible hair. Come on, dude. You’re a grown-ass man and you look like the bass player in a jam band.

Speaking of bad hair:

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which is more distasteful: the trend of mohawks across sports or the mid-sized rodent growing on Andrew Bynum’s head?”

No, but seriously, man. Who told Bynum that look was a good idea? That’s the worst hairdo in the NBA right now, and that’s even with someone with a mullet on his own team.

I actually like the mohawks. They’re working well, mostly in soccer…well, maybe not Juan Agudelo’s Simon Phoenix look, but there’s Stuart Holden’s boy band fauxhawk, Marouane Chamakh’s fauxhawk-cum-Dima-Bilan-mullet and the old Kevin-Prince Boateng Stegosaurus look. Even on the Phillies you have Vance Worley and Domonic Brown doing the mohawk, and doing it well. Look: in order to become a pro athlete, you generally have to work so hard for so long that any personality gets squeezed out of you like juice from an orange. So if someone deviates from the buzz cut, or the high-and-tight, or the wet Bieber (sorry, Michael Bradley, I know you’ve gone shaved-head when you went from being a kid to being a Bond villain), or worst of all, the Tim Riggins, I support it.

@soundofphilly: “which Upton brother as a Phillie would provide better material for your burgeoning fan fiction career?”

I do burgeon, don’t I? My fan fiction career burgeons like you wouldn’t believe.

I’d say B.J. because he seems like a more interesting character. The Phillies have really been a rather boring team. There’s no Sergio Romo (thank God) or really flamboyant player, particularly since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence have taken their ADHD symptoms to California. Roy Halladay and Chase Utley kind of come off as dour, introverted workaholic types, and Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels seem just kind of generally like nice, normal dudes. Most of the personality the public infers from this team seemed to come, in the old days, from radiant energy emanating from Victorino and the personas the public mostly foisted on Carlos Ruiz (the Ewok) and Cliff Lee (the cowboy).

This summer, ESPN the Magazine ran feature stories on players in four different stages of baseball stardom: Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Joe Mauer and Jimmy Rollins. It was interesting to look at those players from an evolutionary perspective, and Trout comes off as a charming and grounded everyman, Mauer as a lunch pail type jaded by the weight of public perception and Rollins as a charismatic figure wearied by having fought on-and-off-field battles his entire adult life.

But Upton? He just seems like a dude. He goes to work, he works as hard as he can, he’s occasionally frustrated by his work, he hangs out with his girlfriend, he eats yogurt, he makes a conscious effort to transition into adulthood and muses on that transition. Justin Upton and I are  about the same age, to within a couple months, and I do all of those things. Well, I eat tuna fish with Frank’s Red Hot instead of yogurt, but in principle, he’s just a dude. If I had Upton’s talent for hitting a baseball and he had my talent for retaining obscure trivia and crafting complicated puns, I’m sure we’d live each other’s lives the same way. Though for the record, the baseball hitting thing seems to pay much better than the obscure trivia and puns thing.

Most of all, Justin Upton seems like the kind of decent and smart but ultimately of boring personality the Phillies seem to have so many of anymore. At least B.J. has had his psyche shaped by the traumas of having been a Tampa Bay Devil Ray and going through life being named “Melvin.” Plus he’s worked for Joe Maddon for the past seven years–certainly some personality rubbed off there.

@SoMuchForPathos (again): “Is string theory actual physics, or does it delve too deeply into philosophy for us to seriously consider it as science?”

I saw an episode of Nova once where Brian Greene tried to explain string theory and man, it was (*pantomimes head exploding*) ca-RAAAAAA-zy. And that’s pretty much all I know about string theory–that hour of PBS, plus the three minutes I spent on Wikipedia just now. I was good at science in high school, but the fact that ten years ago I could draw you a cyclohexane molecule doesn’t help me much here.

I think that string theory, if true, offers the resolution to that tricky Theory of Everything issue. Though if I’m honest, my interest in theoretical physics ends after I’ve been assured that gravity and friction are going to keep working more or less the way I’m used to. I really could not care less how the universe began, but if I wind up stuck to the ceiling due to some electromagnetic anomaly, I’m going to be pissed. Though I’m sure y’all’re going to wind up having some flame war about the Higgs Boson or somesuch in the comments. You crazy Neil DeGrasse Tyson-watching sunzabitches.

However, in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Superstring Theory is a critical research goal that allows you to equip your units with the Chaos Gun. That’s a big waypoint on the road to domination of Planet, and Superstring Theory is a prerequisite to Monopole Magnets, which, through the introduction of the Mag Tube, is perhaps the most important terraforming advance you have in the game.

About the Chaos Gun, by the way–does anyone else who plays Alpha Centauri find that you always develop the missile launcher or the Chaos Gun before the Gatling Laser? I’ve had 14-hour all-night Alpha Centauri binges in three different decades (in much the same way that George Brett won batting titles in three different decades) and I don’t think I’ve ever built a unit armed with the Gatling Laser, except for the novelty of having a unit armed with the Gatling Laser.

I love Alpha Centauri.

@ThisPhillyFan: “Who do you think will be RAJ’s unfortunate signing of 2012-13, and what will your reaction be?”

I don’t think it’ll be anything truly ludicrous like Josh Hamilton, but there’s going to be some scrub 35-year-old veteran reliever with a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract, pushing Justin De Fratus to the 6th inning, or worse, the minor leagues. At which point I’ll probably shake my head, have some ginger ale and get on with my life.

I know you were probably hoping for some ludicrous signing and an equally ludicrous tirade about how Brandon Inge making $17 million over two years is the Challenger disaster of baseball, but I legitimately don’t think Ruben Amaro‘s going to do anything conspicuously stupid this offseason. Plus I’m all ranted out after that bit earlier about the viability of baseball in Florida.

@uublog: “How is it that America is a one-party system disguised as two-party when even that doesn’t work? How do we fix it?”

I disagree with the premise of the first question, because American politics does have two fairly distinct major parties, even if their issue positions are similar when viewed with a wide enough scope.

But the short answer is: Duverger’s Law and the Median Voter Theorem. And we fix it by switching to something other than single-member plurality elections. And just because I picked a useless major and then compounded the error by going to grad school doesn’t mean I’m not going to make you Google something every once in a while. So if you want a longer answer, you’re going to have to do a little bit of the legwork on your own this time.

@EBITDA73: “from my 8 yo, could Howard beat Manuel in a race around the bases? Sadly not as bad of a ? as I initially thought.”

No, you’re absolutely right. I think Howard pre-injury smokes him, because the big guy was like a train–capable of moving quickly in a straight line, but he takes forever to start and stop. But since the ankle injury, it gets close. I still think Howard takes him, if only because Charlie Manuel has the look of a man who has worked very hard not to have exceeded a brisk canter for the past 25 years. I don’t think he knows how to truly haul ass anymore.

Spurred by my admonition to Google something his own damn self, @uublog comes back to close us out for the week.

@uublog: “So you’re tasked with casting “The Great TV Show in The Sky,” in which it must star actors who died during/shortly after. their show’s end. I ask because I have Jerry Orbach, John Spencer, Phil Hartman, Nicholas Colasanto. Need more women/minorities.”

What, are you some sort of dead actor Affirmative Action freak?

I don’t even know where to start on this one, because I’ll give you my list of actors who fit your criteria: Jerry Orbach, John Spencer and Phil Hartman. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. Oh, wait! Cosby (the second show, not the one everyone actually watched) was still running when Madeline Kahn died, so there’s your token woman. Oh, and John Ritter! Wow, I can think of a bunch of these. Except John Ritter is another white guy, but he’s got to go in this show. Now I’m just pissed that we can’t have a TV show with Madeline Kahn and John Ritter anymore. Those two were hilarious.

And if I might alter the premise of the question somewhat, I’d like to nominate Oliver Reed for inclusion on this list. Reed, then 61, died while shooting Gladiator in Malta. Reed was known among Hollywood actors in the 1970s for being an incorrigible drunk and partier, which is kind of like being known among guys with 80 raw power for being able to hit a baseball really far. In short, Oliver Reed was the The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton of hedonistic actors. Fittingly, the circumstances of his death involved tons and tons of booze, an arm-wrestling competition with several sailors on leave and a fatal heart attack.

So I’ve found you a woman, but I can’t find you a minority. I guess you’re going to have to do that on your own too.

So concludes this week’s Crash Bag. As a note, service will remain uninterrupted next week, despite the holiday weekend, because I imagine many of y’all are not lunatics, and thus will not attempt to shop on Black Friday. However, I will probably spend next Thursday, stuffing myself with…well…stuffing, and not writing, so if you’ve got a question for the Crash Bag, submit it whenever you like, either directly to me at @MJ_Baumann or via the hashtag #crashbag. Or both.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be sure to save me a slice of pie.

Crash Bag, Vol. 27: Richard Branson’s Underwater Wonderland

I have a confession to make. I’m a recovering button-pusher, and I had a relapse. From age 15 on, I realized that I was very good at getting people into trivial arguments. Often I would do this with people I knew I was smarter than and lay elaborate rhetorical and logical traps, or I’d get into arguments just to see if I could torture logic enough to win them. I fancied myself a young Nick Naylor from Thank You For Smoking–if the facts were on my side, I’d argue them. If not, I’d tie my opponent in philosophical knots or reshape the question until it bore only a passing relationship to the original statement. I remember standing in front of my U.S. History class in high school and changing an assigned debate about slavery into a debate about beastiality. I was very good at what I did.

Other times, I’d tell my friends elaborate lies just to see what I could get them to believe. Often, I’d let those lies sit over the course of days. For instance, I once got four of my friends to believe that, while I was a sophomore in high school, I’d struggled with and overcome an addiction to crack cocaine. I made up months that I’d missed out of school, even though I eventually graduated high school with perfect attendance (because I was a loser), made up fights that I’d had with the very people I’d been talking too…outrageous and obvious lies that I realized I could pass off as truth if I repeated them often enough with a straight face. Come to think of it, I’d have made an excellent politician. I did this because I thought it was fun, and remarkably, no one ever visited physical violence on me for doing so.

Anyway, sometime around my senior year of college, I realized this habit was destroying my life. I’d get into arguments with people just because I knew I could win, and not realizing that I’d stumbled upon some topics that actually hurt people’s feelings. My habit damaged friendships, not least among them my relationship with the person who’d become Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee. So when I was 23, I decided that I’d give up idiot-baiting in particular and button-pushing in general. I had an addiction, and it had taken over my life, and I had to stop before I destroyed myself. I managed to salvage my relationship with KTLSF, but I had to give up my favorite hobby.

There are people who can push people’s buttons and bait idiots without losing their dignity and self-control. In fact, one of the best I’ve ever met at this is Crashburn Alley’s own Ryan Sommers. I can’t. If I start, I lose myself entirely.

I tell you all this, because yesterday morning, a friend of mine linked to a blog post that contained an alarmist, glib and idiotic political message. My friend did not write this post–she linked to it out of a genuine curiosity, a desire to start an honest dialogue. But I couldn’t help myself. I went in, and in a comment longer than the original post itself, I indulged my demons. I called for the collapse of American society, invoking Robespierre, Chicken Little and John Rawls all in one sprawling, condescending rant. And I got the feeling back. The distorted vision, the shaking hands, the pounding heart. I had quit idiot-baiting so suddenly and so cold turkey that I’d forgotten what it was like.

I relapsed. Some people can control a button-pushing habit. I can’t. That’s why, when I get angry and florid on the internet, either here or on Twitter or on my own Tumblr, it’s a diffuse, omnidirectional blast. Because if I feed the idiot, I turn into someone I don’t like. Thanks for listening to me share.

You’re going to ask me a series of questions and you want them answered on the spot right now.

@uublog (paraphrased): “If you were running for president, who would be on your senior staff?”

I’m going to stop you right there. Because while I appreciate the spirit of the question, if you think I’m going to actually run for president,” well, you’re wrong. No, no, no. I don’t want to be president. I want to be dictator of the world. So by your leave, I’ll rephrase the question to something like this: “When you’re dictator of the world, who will you put in your cabinet?” That I can answer.

  • Minister of Justice: Dr. Joseph Schwartz. I don’t mean “Justice” in the sense that he’d be my chief lawyer. I mean “Justice” in the sense of political philosophy. Dr. Schwartz teaches political theory at Temple University, and is a former professor of mine. He’s a brilliant, thoughtful, gregarious, hyperactive Marxist whose knowledge of political philosophy is encyclopedic, and whose reasoning on social and political justice is unimpeachable. He’s also the only professor I’ve ever known to cite Bill James in a graduate political theory seminar. If I’m blowing up the socioeconomic system and starting over, I at least want his input. And because I know we’ve got some readers who either go to Temple or are thinking about going to Temple, here’s some free advice: Take a class with Uncle Joe. It’ll change your life. Some more free advice: there’s a big green and white food truck parked across the street from Gladfelter Hall. It says “$5 footlongs on the side.” Eat their buffalo chicken cheesesteak. The lady who runs the truck is wonderful, and the food gets you more bang for your buck than anywhere else on campus.
  • Minister of Education: Ryan Sommers. When I’m dictator of the world, everyone who cares to participate in public life will need to have at least a working knowledge of statistics, logical reasoning, comparative religion, history and economics. And by “participate in public life” I don’t mean voting. I mean operating a computer or speaking in public. Maybe even holding a job that doesn’t involve a broom or a shovel. This will be a massive task that will require subject matter experts, but it will also require someone to run the whole operation who won’t lose sleep over condemning the stupid or the stubborn to a lifetime of subservience. Ryan is just such a man. Somehow I don’t think Uncle Joe would like that very much.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs: Joe Biden. On a serious note, the only time I’ve ever been overawed by a lecturer was when I went to see then-Senator Biden give a talk on foreign policy when I was in undergrad. He knows what he’s talking about. On a non-serious note, I think he’d be more fun at cabinet meetings than any other wonk I could get.
  • Minister of Transportation: My dad. This might not be a coincidence, considering that the man taught me everything I know about urban planning, but if I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to give my father a blank check to commission whatever public transportation projects and zoning reform he sees fit. The trains will run on time and they will run everywhere. We will walk more places. We will foster urban growth that is designed not to increase corporate profits but to nurture a sense of community. And we’ll stop those idiot Pennsylvania drivers from trundling around at night with their high-beams on. Y’all’re gonna kill someone.
  • Minister of Space Exploration: @AntsinIN. He promised he’d put a man on Mars by 2020. We choose to go to Mars and to do the other thing not because they ah easy, but because they ah hod.
  • Minister of the Arts: Paul Boye. Because he asked nicely, and because Anthony beat him to the space thing.
  • Minister-Without-Portfolio: Richard Branson. I tell you what, he’s the only white guy over 50 I’ve ever heard of pulling off a goatee without looking like a pederast, so that alone merits consideration. But if I am in charge of the world’s resources, Branson is precisely the kind of lunatic I want whispering ideas in my ear. Space elevator? DONE. Ocean-floor mining colony the size of Delaware? LET’S GET THE SUBMARINES A-MOVIN’. I don’t think I want to put him in charge of anything in particular, except maybe air travel, but I want someone behind the scenes wondering why we can’t connect New York and London with a giant zipline. Plus I bet he’d be even more fun than Biden at parties.

That’s all than I can think of right now, though if you want to apply for a particular portfolio, I’ll be right over here, humming The Internationale.

@JakePavorsky: “Speaking of dictators, what player would be powerful enough to overthrow the front office?”

Have you been following the Texas Rangers lately? I’m pretty sure Michael Young has already done that.

@tholzerman: “Do you think Nate Silver would be justified in taking a dump in the National Review’s water cooler?’

So Nate Silver’s had himself quite a week. There’s been a temptation, since he’s a Baseball Prospectus alum, to tout his seeming prescience as a victory for all sabermetricians. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it does seem like a victory for empirical study over people with TV shows who are afraid of math and throw temper tantrums when the world doesn’t actually work in a way that conforms to their normative expectations.

I think the most amazing thing about Silver’s supposed prescience (because really, my understanding is that his models, while sophisticated, aren’t phenomenally involved, particularly compared to the kind of multi-level Bayesian formal modeling of legislative behavior the ties up a room full of supercomputers for three weeks) is that while he’s been confident and eager to engage his critics, he hasn’t really rubbed America’s nose in it as much as a less-restrained individual (me, for instance) would have.

If I were Nate Silver, I’d have gotten “If you come at the king, you best not miss” tattooed in Comic Sans across my chest, then strode around Manahattan wearing nothing but camouflage cargo shorts, swim fins and one of those beanies with the propeller on top, with a bottle of King Cobra duct-taped to each hand, singing REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” as loud as I possibly could. And if you don’t think I’d do the synth solo when the time came, you’ve got another thing coming, son.

Suffice it to say, I think Nate Silver has earned the right to poop wherever and whenever he so chooses.

@brendankeeler: “you get an hour to influence one of the following: obama, ruben amaro, or any media corp owner. who do you choose”

I was gonna try to influence someone important like Ruben Amaro, but it’s got to be the president. Because then I’d have the chance to persuade him to do what no president since James Madison has had the foresight and courage to do: invade Canada. Here are some reasons why the United States should invade, liberate and annex Canada.

  • It would be a boon to American sports. Imagine a U.S. women’s soccer team with Christine Sinclair, or a hockey team with Drew Doughty, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber, or a baseball team with Joey Votto.
  • Canada has natural resources America needs: grain, oil, timber, and most importantly, legions of beautiful French-speaking women. I went to Montreal once and even the meter maids were hot. I almost didn’t come home.
  • The eventual unification of the warring Canadian Bacon/Pork Roll factions, ending decades of sectarian breakfast strife.
  • Liberate some 30 million hardworking, honest North Americans from the tyranny of having to add an extra “u” in every fifth word they write.
  • Canada has something to offer people of all political stripes. Liberals can enjoy the free healthcare and tea party folks can enjoy all the white people with guns.
  • Canadians want to be liberated. The curse their ancestors for not having the foresight and moral fortitude, as ours did, to throw off the yoke of British imperial rule and assert their own superiority over a nation of ungrateful, tiny car-driving, low TV production quality-having nitwits who see fit to mock America whenever they choose, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their parasitic consumption of our grain exports, our military protection, our computer technology or our popular culture. For that matter, let’s invade the U.K. too and turn England into a penal colony and the Isle of Man into a go-kart track.
  • Like I was saying, Canadians want  to be liberated. I follow what seems like a billion Canadian sportswriters and bloggers on Twitter and all of them talk about American politics like it matters to them. They’re like the nosy neighbor who comes to your kid’s soccer games. I don’t give a good goddamn about Canadian politics, because I’ve got politics of my own to worry about. Don’t these Canadians have their own politics? Is Jean Chretien running for re-election? Or did Conn Smythe beat him last time around? I can’t keep them straight.

The point is, I don’t know how long we can put up with a nation of u-abusing, imperialist puppet busybodies sitting on our collective head. LIBERATE CANADA.

@ETDWN: “What’s your favorite NASA Space Race era mission (Mercury/Gemini/Apollo)?”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. If someone were to dedicate a television channel to the years leading up to and including the Space Race, I’d watch nothing else. I’d probably do nothing else. Nothing but watch documentaries about research airplanes and spaceships from 1945 to 1975 or so. Weekly back-to-back showings of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, the whole works. If such a television channel existed, I’d stop watching baseball and right now you’d be reading Longenhagen’s musings about Roman Quinn or some such thing. I’m hardly alone, but this mindset is not the norm. I know this because, to my knowledge, no such television channel exists.

Most Americans, I think, can rattle off about four of the capsule missions: Alan Shepard and John Glenn‘s Mercury missions and Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. Apollo 11 is, perhaps, mankind’s greatest achievement, but I suspect that you didn’t write this question so that I could give you the obvious answer. For that, I’ll make a list of things that the Soviets beat us to.

  • First satellite (Sputnik 1)
  • First living thing sent into space (Sputnik 2; I’m not much of a dog person, but I’ve thought about getting a dog just so I can name her Laika, after the first Soviet space-mutt)
  • First moon probe (Lunik 3)
  • First man in space; first man to orbit the Earth (Those sneaky buggers checked both of those off with one mission: Vostok 1)
  • First man to stay in space for more than a day (Vostok 2)
  • First communication between manned spacecraft (Vostok 3 and 4)
  • First woman in space; first civilian in space (Vostok 6)
  • First three-man space mission (Voskhod 1)
  • First two-man space mission; first spacewalk (Voskhod 2)

So despite eventually beating the Russians to the moon, they beat NASA to pretty much every waypoint. For that reason, I was going to say the joint Gemini VI/Gemini VII mission was my choice, because it is hailed as the first orbital rendezvous when the two spacecraft flew in formation within a few feet of each other, but since they didn’t dock, I’m not sure what that gets you that Vostok 3 and 4 doesn’t. I mean, it’s a tremendous feat of precision flying, but it’s not as great a quantum leap as you might think.

For that reason, I give you Gemini VIII. It was the first spaceflight for Neil Armstrong (who was also the first civilian to fly in NASA’s capsule program) and the first docking between two spacecraft: the Gemini capsule and a target vehicle. It was also NASA’s first emergency in space, when a thruster jammed open, forcing Armstrong and David Scott to re-enter after only a few hours in space. So apart from that docking and the first orbit of the moon on Apollo 8, the Russians beat NASA on pretty much every other milestone in space exploration up to the moon landing.

@nerdyITgirl: “The Reading Phils are changing their name, rumor has it’s the Fightins’. Good idea or bad? What would you pick?”

I keep forgetting that this is a baseball column.

Bad idea. I think that minor league teams should fall into one of three categories:

  1. Either the major-league affiliate’s name or a derivation of that (i.e. Reading Phillies, or if the Rangers, say, had a farm team called the Troopers or something).
  2. Something related to the local culture, history or economy. For instance, Columbia, South Carolina, has a wood-bat summer-league team called the Blowfish, after Hootie and the Blowfish, the most famous band to come from that city. (And before you say anything, I tried for three years to make it in the Columbia music scene. No one knows better than I do how awful it is.) Alternatively, I give you the class-A Lancaster JetHawks, a team with a stupid nickname until you find out that the team’s home region, California’s high desert, contains the aviation Mecca of the Western Hemisphere, Edwards Air Force Base.
  3. Something entirely outrageous that you couldn’t get away with on a team that has to take itself even remotely seriously. For this reason, I find myself wearing minor-league hats as often as I do major-league hats. To wit: the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, who also satisfy criterion No. 2, and whose sneering pig logo I proudly sport on my head quite often. Growing up, I wore out at least two hats representing the Norfolk Tides, the triple-A team that I saw whenever I went to visit family in Virginia and the reason for my everlasting and unreasonable emotional attachment to Alex Ochoa.

Anyway, you can make the argument that the “Fightins” is derivative of the “Fightin’ Phils,” but I don’t think it stands alone. There are a couple problems. First, “Fightins” is, to many Phillies fans, the name of probably the most widely-known Phillies blog ever, or at least it was before editor-in-chief and proprietor Mike Meech was killed tragically during the 2010 offseason in a cable car accident. Even though Meech’s death caused the blog to shut its doors for good, I’m not sure there’s room for another “Fightins” in our cultural lexicon.

Second, the Phillies are one of several teams that, let’s face it, don’t have particularly imaginative or derivative-friendly nicknames. Sure, you can name a Tigers farm team the “Cats” or the “Cubs” or the “Stripes” or whatever, but the Philadelphia Philadelphians? I once mocked a soccer match between Sibir Novosibirsk and Tom Tomsk of the Russian Premier League for conspicuous nominative indifference, but I was rightly put in my place by someone who pointed out the hypocrisy that statement, considering my favorite team is the Philadelphia Phillies. Gotta be honest–now that I think about it, they probably should have made the name change to the Blue Jays official back in the 1940s. We might have all been better off.

But as weird and silly as the Reading Fightins would be, it could be worse. If they’re the Reading Phightins, with a “ph” at the front, I might be left with no choice but to corner the market on carbolic acid, load it into an airplane and drop it over populated areas.

I mean, it’s almost as if Ancient Greek had no letter for the “f” sound, so they used “ph” instead! Isn’t that wild? Say, you know what’d be hilarious? If we went out of our way to replace the letter “f” with “ph” in marketing material related to the city and, in particular, its major league sports franchises. Man, there’s NO CHANCE WHATSOEVER that the novelty will wear off on that! NO CHANCE!

Seriously, the next person who thinks he’s clever for replacing an “f” with a “ph” in a word will not only face the swift and violent justice of my monkfish, but he will spend the rest of his life mining copper at the bottom of the North Atlantic in Richard Branson’s underwater wonderland.

So what would I call them? I dunno–is Reading famous for anything apart from being poor? I thought they should be renamed the “Otis Reading,” but I might be the only person who thinks that’s funny. Speaking of novelty wearing off, there is no shortage of possibilities based on a mispronunciation of the city name as “REED-ing” (as in a book) instead of the proper “RED-ing” (as in the color). While I think calling the team the Mirandas would be funny, the clear champion of those pun names is the Rainbows. Calling this team the Rainbows has two obvious advantages: First, it would allow the team to trot out some truly creative uniform designs. I’d buy a hat for sure. Second, it would probably make the Phillies’ double-A affiliate the official professional sports franchise of the North American LGBT movement, which could make for some interesting demographic divides within the ballpark. That one’s the best I’ve heard, though, again, if you’ve got a better idea, you know where to find the comment section.

@fschultz35: “should the GOP move to the middle or farther to the right?”

Who cares? It snowed here this week. The only place I’d move if I were the GOP is someplace warm, like Aruba.

@DaVetTurf: ” will the phillies ever get a legit third baseman or do the Philies have a Rolen curse?”

Third base is weird in that some teams go generations without having a good one. The Mets famously had trouble filling that position until David Wright came along, though Howard Johnson was pretty good for a few years in the 1980s, in addition to being the only major league ballplayer at whom Don Draper abandoned his wife. Likewise, the White Sox could find good help at third for something like 40 years, if I remember correctly, until they called up Robin Ventura.

The Phillies, who went pretty much from straight from Mike Schmidt to Dave Hollins to Scott Rolen, had third base on lockdown for the better part of 30 years, so we’re not in much of a position to complain. And even since, remember that Placido Polanco was more than a win above average on defense there in 2010 and 2011, and even if he had no speed, patience or power, his exceptional contact skills allowed him to hit for a decent average and contribute almost 7 fWAR in those two years. And before him, Pedro Feliz was close to a win above average on defense in 2008 and 2009, and even though he didn’t walk or run or have even mediocre contact skills, he hit for a little bit of power and contributed a total of 3 fWAR to the Phillies’ two World Series teams. So the Phillies haven’t really been hurting there recently as much as you might think.

And between Cody Asche and Maikel Franco, two of their better position player prospects are third basemen, so while I don’t think help is immediately available, it’s on the way, probably sometime before the next presidential election.

@RiehlyAwesome: “Please PLEASE tell me the Phillies are not really considering Torii Hunter as an outfield option. He’s THIRTY SEVEN.”

I don’t think so, but even if I did, I couldn’t answer your question seriously, because all I can think of now is this:

I didn’t you were called Dennis…

@pinvert: “current phillies sent to hunger games. who is the first one eliminated? who wins?”

I tell you what, if there’s one question (or form of question) I get more than any other, it’s the “Phillies players as…” but “Make the Phillies fight each other to the death in your imagination” is a close second. I’ll say this: Utley probably wins. Howard or Chooch is probably first out, because having a bum wheel where your life depends on hand-to-hand combat skills and evasion is not good.

I will say this, because I saw The Hunger Games for the first time this week: 1) It’s outrageous that Glengarry Glen Ross, a movie about adult men who don’t kill or have sex on screen, but who use bad words from time to time, gets a higher rating than The Hunger Games, which is, manifestly, A FILM ABOUT CHILDREN KILLING EACH OTHER WITH MELEE WEAPONS? Even assuming that children mindlessly emulate whatever they see in fiction, I’m totally comfortable with my hypothetical 13-year-old dropping the periodic f-bomb. I am not, however, okay with him killing his classmates with a gladius. The MPAA, it seems, would rather the reverse happen.

And 2) For a movie about a competition where children kill each other, whoever wrote the story went to remarkable lengths to avoid having our heroes kill the other children. I find that to be a cop-out almost as disgusting as the violence the film glosses over. It’s like writing a baseball movie, but deciding that hits are morally objectionable and having the goodguys score five runs on a single, five errors, a stolen base and a passed ball. You shouldn’t get to have the shock value of kids killing each other with their bare hands and then have your heroes escape with both their lives and a clean conscience.

@writelikemike: “Will Chase Utley go to Germany to get the Andrew Bynum surgery? Will he play before Andrew Bynum does?”

You know, that’s not a half-bad idea. Apparently there’s some horse placenta surgery or somesuch that is not performed in the United States, but is at the same time TOTALLY ON THE UP-AND-UP. But really, I don’t give a crap about shaky medical practices in sports, so if Utley wants to get his platelets replaced or have his knees turned into a wine key or something, then he should knock himself out. I do love how Germany, which is for my money the most civilized country on Earth that’s worth a crap, has been turned into some lawless backwater in the American sporting imagination. It’s not like Bynum and Kobe went to Thailand or Mexico or Sierra Leone. Germans are probably even more fastidious than Americans. These are the kind of people who make BMWs, not the kind of people who put on donkey-centered sex shows. And frankly, I suspect that their experimental sports medicine reflects this cultural attitude.

And to answer your second question, Bynum absolutely plays before Utley. At Liberty Ballers, I predicted that Andrew Bynum would make his season debut sometime later this month, based on no empirical or even circumstantial evidence whatsoever. But Chase Utley can’t play, even in a preseason game, until March, and I don’t want to entertain a scenario where Bynum is out that long.

@magoplasma: “what’s the most obscure joke you’ve ever made?”

Well, there’s this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. I’ve made a big ol’ mess of obscure jokes in my day, don’t you worry. I will say that no joke of mine will ever be as obscure as the second episode of the first season of Archer, which is 21 minutes of a television show masquerading as an elaborate setup for a Chekhov’s Gun joke. It’s brilliant.

 @mattjedruch: “how can we force RAJ to read Crashburn Alley on a daily basis? (Assuming he doesn’t already)”

I was just assuming he did already. After all, with the untimely demise of Meech (God rest his saintly brow), Crashburn Alley is probably the best place to go for Phillies minutiae. But in case he doesn’t, maybe we could get J.K. Simmons to pose as a psychic mechanic who tells Ruben Amaro that he and Bill Baer are meant to be together. How does he know? By Rube’s choice in car.

And Maggie? That’s the most obscure joke I’ve ever made. Go Google that, gigglybits.