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 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…


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.”


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…


@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.


Crash Bag, Vol. 26: Ain’t Nobody Got a Bigger Booty

Happy November, Crashburn Alley readers. If you’ve been displaced or been otherwise relieved of your access to power and/or water because of the hurricane…well, you’re probably not reading this, but if you know such people, let them know that the thoughts and prayers of the Crashburn staff are with you.

But I personally deal with disaster and hardship through escapism, by not taking anything seriously, so that’s what we’re going to do today. I’m going to talk to you about something near and dear to my heart: facial hair.

This week, we kicked off two dueling traditions of facial hair growth: No-Shave November and Movember. These are undertaken (for charity, I understand, in the case of Movember) by men who view facial hair as a novelty, something to be worn for 30 days and then put away for the rest of the year, like a green Phillies t-shirt in mid-March. These are small-minded men, men of little courage and even less manly essence, who are either unwilling or unable to let the light of their manliness shine upon the world for all to see. I participate in No-Shave November religiously, but not because I think it’s funny. I participate because it follows No-Shave October and precedes No-Shave December, No-Shave January, Fu Manchu February and Mustache March.

I reject many of the tenets of traditional gender roles in our society. Men don’t need to be aloof, domineering beer-swilling simpletons with a thirst for physical violence and a disregard for women as anything but household appliances and sexual objects. I aspire to a more evolved manhood, an enlightened manhood where we act as thoughtful creatures and not as the ape-men society expects us to be.

But men are, biologically and historically, hairy. To deny oneself a beard, or at least a full, well-groomed Jay Jaffe-style mustache, is to deny one’s own identity. Worse than that, it is to scoff at the very thing that makes you a man. Well, I guess a beard doesn’t make you a man in and of itself, but you know what I mean.

We revere beards. We depict our gods as having beards, and with good reason. A beard is a symbol of wisdom, of power, of compassion. Zeus had a beard. Poseidon had a beard. Even the important figures of the world’s popular religions today have impressive beards: Mohammed, Moses, Noah, even Jesus Christ. Jews, Muslims and Christians have been killing each other since there have been Muslims and Christians, but they all agree that beards are God-like. Shouldn’t that be persuasive enough for everyone?

In fact, why is it that some of our society’s proudest institutions–the military and most paramilitary organizations, and the New York Yankees–forbid the men among them from having beards? You ask a young man to put himself in harm’s way for strangers, many of whom are unworthy of the protection he provides, and then deny him the first outward signal of his manliness? Shame on you, U.S. Army. If you want men, let them be men. Don’t make these proud people parade around the world like naked mole rats in digital camo. Support our troops. Don’t denude them of their manliness.

So to you who participate in No-Shave November or Movember only, who think it’s a joke, a novelty, you spineless cowards, you ignorant flock of poseurs–you disgust me. Either sack up and wear the beard or mustache year-round, as a man does, or shave it off entirely. You scorn greatness because you don’t understand it, you worthless, malodorous, childlike fools. You want to know why that beard looks stupid on you? Why your girlfriend doesn’t like that mustache? Because you don’t have the pride to wear facial hair as the hood ornament of consequence that it really is. Stop pretending to be better than you are. Either embrace the beard or get out of my way.

Now on to your correspondence.

@JakePavorsky: “The entire 40 man roster gets trapped on a completely deserted island with no food at all. Who gets eaten first and why?”

Michael Martinez is no longer on the 40-man, so they can’t eat him. Ryan Howard is meaty, but for some reason I don’t think they’d kill and eat him. I feel like keeping Howard alive would be good for morale. Likewise Phillippe Aumont, who could feed a family of four for weeks, but his arm would be necessary for killing passing birds with stones.

Probably Antonio Bastardo. He’s not big, but one of the biggest, most muscular parts of the body is the butt, and ain’t nobody got a bigger booty than Tony No-Dad.

@fotodave: “Okay…. your take on the NFL’s rule of 3 years in college before being drafted?”

I think that, like almost every negotiated labor provision in organized sports, from free agency restrictions to salary caps to international signing bonus limits to the draft itself, it represents an illegal restraint of trade. If we viewed sports labor unions like normal labor unions, or sports business like normal business, the stuff that the leagues and unions do would make your hair stand on end.

But setting that aside, I like it. Football in particular, with a short shelf life for players and with such horrific physicality, is not a place where you want 18-year-olds straight out of high school to have to dodge Patrick Willis. In baseball and hockey, at least, you get some time to sort it out the minors if you need it.

My favorite system (the recent bonus restrictions aside) is baseball’s, by far. The Rule IV draft is open to high schoolers, junior college players and players who have been in four-year colleges for three years or more. Unlike in football and basketball, a drafted player can opt not to sign and return to school, and unlike in hockey, a drafted player’s rights don’t stay with the team that picked him the first time.

I like this system because, more than others, it keeps the player’s options open. If he’s ready for pro ball out of high school, he can go. If not, he has time to develop. To use basketball examples, LeBron James had nothing to gain by going to college, but only one year of college did wonders for Kevin Durant’s game. Mike Trout made his major league debut last summer, when, under NFL rules, he’d still have been playing out the string at East Carolina. By the same token, David Price was a 19th-rounder out of high school, spent three years developing at Vanderbilt and went first overall in 2007.

The MLB system also allows players like Mark Prior, Gerrit Cole and Chase Utley to get drafted high out of high school, pass if the money isn’t right and go to college. The long lead time for player development in baseball, compared to other sports, might make this system uniquely suitable, but I’d like all four major sports leagues to be more flexible.

@cwyers: “Which Dylan Thomas poem best exemplifies what we currently know about the 2013 Phillies?”

I know you don’t think I have a book of Dylan Thomas poems on my shelf, but I do.

He does have one called “Poem in October,” but that’s a little presumptuous, given the events of the past year.

But after careful consideration, I present to you the last stanza of “When I Woke.”

“I heard, this morning, waking,
Crossly out of the town noises
A voice in the erected air,
No prophet-progeny of mine,
Cry my sea town was breaking.
No Time, spoke the clocks, no God, rang the bells.
I drew the white sheet over the islands
And the coins on my eyelids sang like shells.”

@Cody011: “Seeing how this is a phillies blog and all, who are some potential Philadelphia eagle coaching candidates for next year?”

Probably still Andy Reid. If not him, Ryne Sandberg.

@pinvert: “why do we insist on putting pumpkins into every freaking food this time of year?”

I have no idea. I like pumpkin pie just fine, but pumpkin muffins? Pumpkin beer? Pass. If you must make seasonal food, there’s got to be a better way to do it than dumping gourd flavoring into it. When I go to Starbucks, I want coffee with milk and sugar, not a pumpkin spiced latte because it’s November, or a Peppermint la macchina verde because it’s about to be Christmas. I’m not sure how we got to this arbitrary, facile and yet universal understanding that pumpkins taste like autumn, and that EVERYTHING should taste like autumn, but here we are.

More than anything, it makes me feel bad for Linus. If only he’d come around 30 years later, he wouldn’t have been able to avoid the Great Pumpkin.

@brendankeeler: “what’s your favorite word…in a sentence that also includes “Freddy Galvis“, and any line from a Queen song?’

A challenge. Very well. (cracks knuckles) A scouting report!

If Freddy Galvis showed even a modicum of hitting ability, he’d be guaranteed to blow your mind.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Is your biggest concern with Star Wars VII also how it’ll probably disrupt the canon created by books/video games/etc.?”

Yeah, in case you haven’t heard, Disney has bought Lucasfilm and intends to release a new Star Wars movie in 2015. This is very important news. I have seen the movies original trilogy probably upwards of 1,000 times in total. I own two toy lightsabers. I’ve read many of the expanded universe novels, and I own reference books based on the expanded universe novels.

Here’s what I know: the new Star Wars won’t involve George Lucas in a creative role, and the expanded universe continuity, which is impressive considering how many novels there have been in the past 20 years, is gone. That’s disappointing, because my best-case scenario included an adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, the first and best expanded universe series, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role and Robert Downey Jr. as Talon Karrde.

I’m not scared of what’s going to happen, because my two biggest fears are that we get a movie that either 1) has horrific dialogue, a clumsy story and an overreliance on special effects or 2) is so excited that it’s reviving the beloved franchise that no one bothers to see if the story passes the laugh test. And you know what? I’ve lived through both, the first with the prequel trilogy and the second with the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. And both were terrible, but neither really diminished my affection for the original.

Here’s my wish list for Episode VII.

  1. Bring in new characters and tell a new story. I said Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy was the best of the expanded universe novels, but my favorite was the X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. That’s because any story that centers on Han, Luke and Leia seems like a poor facsimile of the original, but introducing new heroes and villains within the familiar universe not only allows the writer to make the story his own, but you get to see more of the galaxy far, far away. This way, we also avoid the hairy problem of re-casting entirely iconic roles. The Star Wars characters aren’t as fluid as, say, Batman is, and I’m not sure I could take a new Star Wars seriously if it starred Nathan Fillion playing Malcolm Reynolds playing Han Solo. Better to just wipe the slate clean and start over.
  2. Know what you’re shooting for. This is not going to be a Great Movie, and whoever directs/writes/produces it needs to recognize that we love Star Wars not because it aspires to incredible storytelling, but because of its earnestness and imagination. We’re looking for wide appeal here above all else. Which brings me to the next point.
  3. Don’t Nolanize it. I love Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but after the success of that series, it’s like every superhero movie needs to be dark and gritty and explore complicated emotional and moral space. Star Wars is bright, big and uncomplicated–let’s keep it that way.
  4. Don’t cheap out on story and dialogue. The acting in both the original and prequel trilogy was terrible not because Mark Hamill and Hayden Christensen are bad actors, but because Lucas handed good actors (Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson) just profoundly awful dialogue. What the hell is Liam Neeson supposed to do with “Patience, my blue friend.”–it’s like giving someone a bowl of ice cream and a steak knife. Make sure the story (as in the Star Trek remake) and the dialogue (as in the prequel trilogy) pass the laugh test. It doesn’t have to be Sorkin-level snappy, but it can’t be distractingly bad.
  5. Give it to a writer and director who know what they’re doing and leave them alone. Big projects like this get ugly when two or three directors and nine or ten screenwriters work on it. Hire good storytellers and let them tell a story. My original dream team involved Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) writing and Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) directing. Vaughn’s Stardust, I think, is the best-case scenario for this movie–a big, earnest, bright, funny, action-packed epic. I’ve heard other people wish for Joss Whedon, who’s worked for Disney before (co-writing Toy Story) and directed a super-sized blockbuster (The Avengers) with great success. Much has also been made of David Fincher having worked on Return of the Jedi as a twentysomething cameraman.
    Most of all, I want whoever directs this movie to love and understand Star Wars and not just see it as a cheap way to cash in on a beloved franchise with some new faces, flashy special effects and, frankly, only a passing interest in telling a good story. That’s what J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek and, frankly, what Lucas did with the prequel trilogy. In terms of great sci-fi/action movies, it doesn’t have to be Alien or Inception, but it’s got to not stink on ice.

Sorry I got so worked up about that, but it’s important to me.

@elkensky: “Gold gloves will probably get Jimmy Rollins into the Hall of Fame and keep Chase Utley out. Thoughts?”

I don’t think that’s true, actually. It’s a shame that such a good defender as Utley was never so honored, but whatever. He was never elected prom queen either. I don’t think either is getting into the Hall of Fame given their current career paths, and I think that’s more of an injustice to Utley, who stood with Albert Pujols head and shoulders above the rest of the National League for five years and was never given the respect he deserved. I think part of that–his high OBP, his underrated defense and his historically great baserunning–isn’t obvious, and part of that was that the 2005-12 Phillies were so full of other good players getting more press. It was Howard who hit 58 home runs in a season, Rollins who guaranteed the division title and went 30-30, Victorino and Pence who were entertainingly zany, Halladay who threw the two no-hitters, Lidge who went a full season without blowing a save, Lee who won over the city, left and came back and Hamels who put the team on his back en route to a World Series.

Never mind that Utley has actually been the best player on the team, but he’s never been particularly colorful (in fact, his most famous quotations are the result of an unfortunate combination of profanity and open TV microphones). And we tend to focus more on the low batting average and the injuries than his having been the best Phillies position player since Mike Schmidt.

In a way, Chase Utley is kind of like a poor man’s Mickey Mantle–a great player who had a great career on great teams, but with a pocketful of nagging injuries that still leave us wondering what could have been. If Utley hadn’t taken that John Lannan fastball to the hand in 2007, and if his hips and knees were sound, I have in my mind that he’d have been some freakish hybrid of Roberto Alomar and Joe Morgan. I’d still vote for him for the Hall because I think his peak was good enough, but I’m kind of a big Hall guy with an obvious bias. I don’t think he makes it.

Rollins, on the other hand, doesn’t have anywhere near the on-field credentials. He’s been good for a very long time, but to me he’s a Hall of Very Good type of player. I think the Phillies should retire his number (in fact, that’s the topic of my first-ever Crashburn Alley post), but I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer, Gold Gloves or no.

@wzeiders: “Toronto cliamed Herndon off waivers and then released him a few days later. What happened? Should we get him back?”

I would like to. I thought Herndon was trending up through the end of 2011–in 2010 he was a sinkerballer who completely sucked because he couldn’t miss bats. But in 2011, he went to the minors, made a couple adjustments to his fastball and all of a sudden no one could hit him, much like Kyle Kendrick did this year.

Waivers are weird. I don’t completely understand them, particularly at this point in the season. From what I understand, it’s kind of like getting a girl’s number at the bar–you’re probably going to call, but you might not, and even if you do, nothing might happen, but maybe you call her and meet up and really hit it off start dating and so on.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’m a baseball blogger–I’ve never gotten a girl’s number at a bar.

@GoGoNinjaGo: “I came across a Ruben Amaro Jr. Baseball card in my collection the other day. Suggestions on what to do with it?”

Do whatever you like. He was kind of unremarkable as a player–in fact, the most interesting thing about him as a player might be that he became a GM. Of the 30 current GMs, only Amaro, Jerry Dipoto and Billy Beane actually played in the major leagues.

I used to have a massive baseball card collection, not so much because I ever thought I’d make money off them, but because I loved baseball and numbers and pictures, so it made sense. I remember being very proud of a mid-90s Topps card that had Darryl Strawberry‘s name spelled wrong. I had both the original and the one with the corrected spelling.

Anyway, a couple years ago, my dad stumbled across those old binders–which I hadn’t looked at in probably more than 10 years–and we found some interesting ones–minor league prospect cards for Scott Rolen, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu, about a billion Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds cards, an Albert Belle card from when he went by “Joey” and a Raul Ibanez card from when he was still a catcher, among others. It was very cool. So don’t destroy the Ruben Amaro card–cherish it for the bit of nostalgia and history that it is.

@tigerbombrock: “what candidates are the crashburnalley staff voting for?”

I’m sure Bill has no desire to pursue a blogwide partisan agenda, so I’ll pass on your direct question. Besides, I believe that people of all faiths, genders and political persuasions can come together under the great ecumenical force that is baseball. We can’t be divided by our petty differences anymore–we will be united in our common interests, and the belief that Chipper Jones is a less-evolved form of human life.

I will say that I got my New Jersey sample ballot this week, and the minor-party labels are…quite something, and this coming from someone who’s used to seeing N.J. Weedman on his ballot.

Among the more interesting submissions for president and U.S. Senate (and all of these are true):

  • American Third Position: A ballet platform, perhaps?
  • NSA Did 911: Which raises the question, even if they did, how would your election to the presidency change that?
  • Socialism and Liberation: Sounds like a West African guerrilla army
  • Responsibility Fairness Integrity: That’s not a party–that’s just a list of adjectives.
  • Totally Independent Candidate: The official political party of Merritt Butrick.

You know, we fight the Brits for the wonderful gift of independence and democracy, and we disrespect the sacrifice made by our forefathers every day. What would George Washington say about “NSA Did 911”? I mean, apart from “What’s the NSA?” and “What’s 911?”

@pinvert (again): “how many times do I have to tell my friend Hamilton is a bad idea for the phils before it sinks in?”

At a certain point, your words stop meaning anything and you have to resort to hitting your friend across the face with a monkfish.

@pinvert (again): “if the phils flounder again next year, this time w/o significant injury, what are the chances charlie gets the boot?”

You ask a lot of questions, dude. What are the chances the Phillies can The Cholly next year? Almost nil. The stars seem to be aligning in such a way that he’s going to retire next season, and why not? He’ll be pushing 70, having enjoyed great success managing two different teams, including a World Series title and sports folk hero status in a city where that’s an extremely difficult thing to do. Charlie Manuel has almost nothing left to prove, and while I’m sure he’d rather go out on top, as Tony La Russa did, even if the Phillies stumble next year, I think the front office will let him play out the year and go out with dignity, on his own terms.

We end with perhaps the most important question of the entire offseason.

@ChasingUtley: “what the hell sport am i going to watch for the next 5 months?”

A very important question, for sure. This underscores the importance of being a sports omnivore–I like some sports more than others, but I like a ton of them, and it sustains me throughout the year. I can do this because I don’t have many friends and while I’m in a relationship, my fiancee lives several states away, so I follow sports in lieu of a social life. I recognize that this lifestyle might not be for everyone, but it’s pretty nice. Certainly when the Phillies are off, the Flyers are locked out and the Eagles are ass.

Anyway, here’s my list.

  1. The NBA. It’s on all the time, and I’m writing at Liberty Ballers this season, so I feel like I should pimp it. The nice thing about basketball is that you can immerse yourself into it entirely, with a level of statistical analysis for public consumption that’s on par with baseball’s, but if you just want to follow it casually, it’s easy to just tune in for the last couple minutes. Plus the Sixers are set to be more relevant this year than they’ve been in a decade, so it’s a good time to jump on the bandwagon.
  2. European soccer. Lots of early day games, a real novelty of culture and a level of athleticism and artistry unparalleled in any other sport. And with half a dozen top pro leagues, plus the Champions’ League and World Cup qualifiers, the quantity argument has to be considered. As well as MLS playoffs, which are already underway.
  3. College football. I’ve been of the opinion for years that NCAA football is far superior to the NFL from an entertainment standpoint. The lower quality of play actually helps, because the offenses are more creative, the standout athletes stand out more, and most importantly, it’s on all the time. There’s at least one game on Thursday, at least one on Friday and a billion on Saturday, of which at least a dozen are televised nationally. That’s why it seems like college football games are always closer and more exciting than NFL games, because instead of 16 chances every weekend for an insane finish, you get 50 or 60. Plus the fan culture is insane. I’m fortunate to have built-in allegiances, both through blood (to Virginia Tech) and my own education (to South Carolina), but if you didn’t grow up with a team and you went to a liberal arts school with no team, just pick a team and hop on the bandwagon. It’ll be the best decision you make as a sports fan.
  4. College baseball. For as many times as I’ve said this, I’m shocked more people haven’t listened. College baseball is phenomenally entertaining, and it’s completely out of whack schedule-wise with MLB. You get meaningful baseball in February. You get playoff baseball in June. So your five-month dark period is only three and a half months for me. And while it’s not on broadcast or basic cable until the NCAA tournament, you’ll probably get half a dozen games a week streaming on ESPN3. And if you’re looking for a bandwagon to jump on, I might suggest my South Carolina Gamecocks, who have been to the College World Series championship series three years in a row, winning twice, and playing a very exciting brand of baseball. Or you could pick the Clemson Tigers if you’re an illiterate redneck. Or the Florida Gators if you’re an illiterate redneck who enjoys really good baseball players with awesome names (current or recent Gators with awesome names: Hudson Randall, Nolan Fontana, Vickash Ramjit, Karsten Whitson, Austin Maddox) who suddenly turn into pumpkins come College World Series time.
    College baseball has a lower quality of play than the majors, sure (probably somewhere around high-A in the major conferences), but that lower quality of play, plus teams usually playing only three or four games a week rather than six or seven, brings up some interesting tactical patterns. You get Tim Lincecum starting on Friday and closing on Sunday, ace pitchers like Danny Hultzen and Michael Roth DHing on their days off and insane multi-inning reliever stints. Plus, routine fielding plays aren’t always that routine in college, which spices the game up some.
    The final upside to following college baseball is that you get to get your prospect knowledge smugness on and have strong opinions about the draft (founded or not) when it happens. Prospect knowledge smugness is a big deal.
    The point is, college baseball is the great uncharted northern expanse of sports fandom. It will become populated, and soon, but we’re barely scratching the surface of its wonders. Get on board and pan the river for gold before all the good spots are taken.

Okay, I think that’s been quite enough. Have a good weekend.

Crash Bag, Vol. 25: Going All-In with The Juggernaut

I know y’all don’t really care about my own personal sports landscape, but I’m going to lament a little bit anyway. It sucks right now. We’re a week into that terrible part of the year where you can go 5 1/2 months without seeing meaningful, San Francisco Giants-free baseball, and I’m already sick of it. The Eagles are starting to get too depressing to watch. The NHL is gone for the foreseeable future. My South Carolina Gamecocks dropped (literally, in last week’s case) two straight winnable games to ease themselves not only out of the national title race but the SEC title race (which, let’s face it, are more or less the same thing), so now the Flying Spurriers are only playing for pride. The Union’s been done for months and Arsenal’s already bowing out of the Premier League race before Halloween…there’s so little interesting sports left this year that I’m starting to worry about how little time is left in the NASCAR schedule.

With no NHL and football and soccer on the suck as far as my teams are concerned, I have the NBA and the NBA alone to sustain me until college baseball starts in February. Which would be fine, but it’s not enough. I need constant sports stimulation. I am the Galactus of sports–even when baseball rules the summer, I consume international soccer, the Olympics and cycling to sate my hunger.

I bring all this up because this oppressive red-leaved, gray-skied ennui brings us to the first question.

@leokitty: “ugh i am too tired to think of annoying things to flood you with”

I totally get that. I imagine there will be many non-baseball questions to come. But seriously, let’s have a question.

@leokitty: “why is the wawa across the street from the convention center the nexus point for all crackheads on the east coast?”

Because it’s in New York? I’d probably start doing crack if I had to live in New York.

@tigerbombrock: “your 5 favorite books”

I’ve actually read a lot more non-fiction than fiction recently, so I’ll give you a top five for each.


  • The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. Yes, I know, they turned it into a Disney sports movie schmaltz-fest, but the book, which I read before the movie came out, was excellent, exhaustively researched and well-written as you’d expect from the writer of Moneyball and Liar’s Poker, and the story, frankly, was so remarkable that it couldn’t help but be turned into a Disney sports movie schmaltz-fest. This is the kind of book that you can be cynical about, but if you take that route it makes you feel like a real asshole.
  • Football Against the Enemy, by Simon Kuper. This is the best book about soccer I’ve ever read, the best sports book that I’ve ever read, the best book about globalization and the post-Cold War world that I’ve ever read, maybe the best non-fiction book of any kind I’ve ever read. And it was all researched and written independently, for about $7,000 by a journalist in his early twenties. Almost a decade later, Franklin Foer came out with How Soccer Explains the World, another book that uses soccer as a metaphor for different issues in world culture and politics. I read that book first and revered it. A few months later, I read Football Against the Enemy, and since then, I haven’t touched my copy of How Soccer Explains the World, because it seems so facile and trite. I’d take Kuper over any sportswriter working today, and this book is the main reason why.
  • Strong Democracy, by Benjamin Barber. I read this for a political theory class in grad school, and I think it’s great for two reasons: first, it anticipates and attempts to solve the problems of modern American democracy, and second, Barber is unlike most political theoreticians in that he can write. Most political scientists write like they hold the reader in a contempt second only to clarity of meaning. Barber writes very felicitous, straightforward prose that actually betrays human emotion. From what I’ve read, you have to go back to Thomas Paine or Machiavelli to get that combination really interesting political philosophy and good writing.
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace. Apparently, parts of it are embellished or fabricated, but I don’t care, because this is about as fun a read as I’ve ever had.
  • The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. Not exactly non-fiction, but I consider Tom Wolfe to be one of my greatest writing influences, and the subject matter (the early American space program) is of particular interest to me. I’ve long said that if someone made a TV channel that aired nothing but documentaries about NASA from 1958 to 1975 or so, I’d watch nothing else.


  • The Twenty-Seventh City, by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen is my favorite writer, of any nationality, in any genre, living or dead, and while I think The Corrections and Freedom are better books, his debut novel, a political thriller set in mid-1980s St. Louis, is my favorite.
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. They don’t make thought-provoking, high-nutritional-value sci-fi like this anymore. Heinlein might have been a right-wing loony, but this is, if nothing else, a fun adventure story. I’d have chosen the more celebrated A Stranger in a Strange Land, but, like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, it falls into the trap of being awesome to start, then getting too weird to live by the end.
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. Four strangers try and fail to kill themselves, and hilarity ensues. I don’t classify Hornby as a “great” writer, the way I do Franzen, Wolfe, Wallace and Richard Ford, but he’s tons of fun. This is, for my money, the best of his books. It’s also coming out as a film next year, starring Aaron Paul and Pierce Brosnan. Considering that the movie adaptations of High FidelityAbout a Boy and Fever Pitch (the original, starring Colin Firth and Mark Strong, not that insipid and opportunistic Jimmy Fallon remake) were, I’m looking forward to it.
  • The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. It’s about a sportswriter. I don’t know that I enjoy reading Richard Ford, but he makes me emote like nothing else. If you want to feel feelings, you should read this book.
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. When I’m dictator of the world, this book will be required reading for all high school students. Of all the messianic teenager sci-fi and fantasy (Star Wars, Dune, Harry Potter) this is probably my favorite from storytelling standpoint.

@Ben_Duronio: “Why are the Phillies no longer as good as the Braves”

Because Atlanta’s finally had a chance to rebuild after the Fire Sale of 1864.

@andymoney69: “which are you most looking forward to, the heat death of the universe or another giants World Series title?”

You know, I’ve accepted that the eventual champion is not the best team. But there’s something about the San Francisco Giants that reminds me of the guy who goes all-in with The Juggernaut, catches runner runner for the straight, and thinks he’s good at poker all of a sudden. It’s infuriating. Watching teams lose to San Francisco in the playoffs is like watching a month-long stage reenactment of the book of Job. I can’t stand it. The hell with the World Series.

@CM_rmjenkins: “F the WS. Which Phils prospects should I be excited about in 2013? Whose stock will rise?”

Great question. For the record, we do have a Prospect Impresario on staff, in Eric Longenhagen, who can be reached via Twitter at @longenhagen. Which is not to say that I am unwilling or unable to answer prospect questions, but he might prove to be a somewhat more prospicient voice than I.

Anyway, the stock definition of “prospect” excludes young players who are not rookie-eligible, but the first place I want to direct your attention for this question is to the Phillies’ bullpen. We won’t know for sure, of course, until the season starts, but I have a suspicion that the Phillies’ bullpen will be peopled largely by young guys who can throw hard. If we’re looking at rising stock, the first place I’d go is to the likes of Justin De Fratus and Le Pont Au Papelbon himself, Phillippe Aumont.

But in the minor league system, there are some interesting longer-term guys to look at. Now, before y’all get too excited, because I know the tendency with prospects is to be overly optimistic, let me say that if you gave me the Phillies’ entire minor league system and set the over/under for total number of future All-Star appearances at 1 1/2, I’d take the under. With that said, even though Trevor May is looking more and more like an eventual reliever, Ethan Martin looks like something of a bargain for the price of Lame Duck Shane Victorino, and between him and recent bloomer Adam Morgan, it looks like the Phillies have two mid-to-back-end starters solidly in the pipeline in the high minors.

As you all know, around mid-2009, the Phillies’ farm system was rated among the best in baseball, but since then, it’s been raided for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, while some top prospects, namely Domonic Brown, have been slower to develop or have flamed out entirely. In the meantime, the Phillies have drafted primarily raw, toolsy players instead of polished college players, a strategy I bemoan every night before I fall alseep as I close my eyes and imagine Jackie Bradley, Jr., blossoming like a beautiful daffodil in Boston, while Larry Greene indulges his inner Merrill Hess in the minor league equivalent of the Reman dilithium mines.

As a result, for the past year or so, the book on the Phillies’ farm system has been that it’s got some interesting raw prospects in the low minors, but is shallow and short on major-league-ready talent. But as that raw talent matures, we’re starting to see the first bits of hope from the current system.

Based on absolutely nothing, I think this is Tyson Gillies‘ year. I’m not saying he’ll step right in and start in center on Opening Day, but I’ve got a good feeling about him finally putting it together. Odds are we’ll have at least a look at him playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, and we’ll see where he goes from there.

There are also a pair of exciting third base prospects in the pipeline. Maikel Franco, 20, is an international free agent from the Dominican Republic, who in three seasons in the low minors, has shown good athleticism and hitting potential, though that talent comes with the caveat that he is still extremely raw. Cody Asche, 22, is a little closer. A second-rounder in 2011, he hit .300/.360/.513 in half a season in Reading last year, but no one noticed because he had the second-best season of Reading Phillies who went to college in Nebraska, after Darin Ruf. Asche, because of his position and age, is the far superior prospect to Ruf.

It is possible, however extremely unlikely, that Asche comes to spring training, sets the world on fire, grabs a major league roster spot and hangs on for dear life. It is more likely that he goes back to Reading or Lehigh Valley, gets another season under his belt, and grabs the third base job sometime between Opening Day 2014 and Opening Day 2015.

But my favorite up-and-comer is Roman Quinn, a waterbug shortstop the Phillies drafted out of a Florida high school with one of their compensation picks for Jayson Werth, 66th overall in 2011. Quinn, as I understand it, is a favorite of Phillies Nation minor league correspondent Jay Floyd, and it’s hard to argue. From a personal standpoint (i.e. Do I want to root for this guy?), Quinn is of that cut of Phillies minor leaguer–pioneered by Vance Worley, but carried on by Trevor May and Jiwan James–who carries a charisma that actually him interesting to follow on Twitter. For instance, Wednesday night, he betrayed a talent for amateur philosophy and theology by restating, essentially, Pascal’s Wager.

Now, I know liking a player’s personality doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter as much when evaluating him as a prospect, but I’ve rooted for Disco Hayes and Michael Roth too long not to notice. On the field, however, Quinn posted a .370 OBP and 30 steals in half a season in the New York-Penn League last year, which is good, but as a 19-year-old in short-season ball, I don’t know how much that tells us. He’ll get his first full season of professional baseball this summer, and if he continues to develop, I’m sure we’ll hear more from him. If you’re looking for the heir presumptive to Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s more likely to be Quinn than Freddy Galvis.

@scottdkessler: “Is there a way for the Phillies to get better at CF and 3B without getting scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees?”

What do you mean “scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees?”


That’s a professional baseball writer? Who thinks 1) that a trade of Curtis Granderson for Darin Ruf is fair and 2) that the Yankees would benefit from such a trade? Lord Child. My favorite part of that column is that he gets all the knocks on Ruf as a prospect: that he’s too old and might not be able to stick as a left fielder, and then essentially throws his hands up and says “Yeah, but still.” Considering that Granderson, while highly-paid, and not the defender and runner he once was and a massive strikeout risk, is coming off consecutive 40-home run seasons at an up-the-middle position, I’d say the best way for the Phillies to get better in center is to get scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees. Yeah, trade Curtis Granderson for Darin Ruf, and then see someone about your overreliance on laudanum.

Center field is easy. With Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino all hitting free agency, it’s a buyer’s market. I’ve made it clear over the past few months that I am firmly in the B.J. Upton camp because I believe him to be the best combination of performance and value, but the point is, the Phillies have options here. And that’s not even opening up trade possibilities. I’ve heard Peter Bourjos‘ name floated in trade rumors, but I don’t know if there’s anything to that.

Third base is another story. As much as center field is a buyer’s market, third base is a seller’s market–it’s not even a matter of not having any players of good value on the free agent market–I don’t even think there’s anybody who’s worth a crap out on the market at any price. If David Wright‘s option gets picked up, who’s next in line? Scott Rolen‘s retiring–maybe Kevin Youkilis? Can he play third anymore? I guess the best-case scenario is that Asche has his Albert Pujols moment, but it’s not realistic to expect that. I’d be okay keeping Kevin Frandsen, not because I think he’s any good long-term, but because I’d rather punt and go with a replacement-level third baseman at the league minimum than spend any money or any trade resources without really getting much of value in return.

@patchak21: “Best nickname in baseball? In all sports? Both all-time and currently”

I think we need to go back to old nicknames, which we’re kind of doing by calling Mike Trout the Millville Metor (harkening back to Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet). Baseball used to have awesome nicknames, and while we probably can’t call everyone “Whitey” or “Dummy” or “Irish” anymore, why can’t we go back to Puddin’ Head Jones? My personal favorite nickname is probably Sliding Billy Hamilton, not because it’s particularly clever, but because it rolls off the tongue so easily while evoking a stirring and yet entirely descriptive image. It’s like a line from Yeats.

My favorite current nickname for a player is “Mini-Keg” for Manny Machado. Which doesn’t really count, because Ryan’s sister came up with it a couple weeks ago and only about ten people use it, but it’s awesome, and we ought to try to make it happen. More on that later. As far as legitimate nicknames go, I’m sure I’m going to forget something, but “Fat Ichiro” is pretty good for Pablo Sandoval. Ideally, a good nickname ought to be descriptive, mellifluous and a little weird. That checks all the boxes. If anyone’s got anything better, or wants to propose an old-timey please, chime in. I’m all for fun-sounding and bizarre nicknames, and while Dayn Perry’s doing yeoman’s work over at NotGraphs, we can do better. Maybe not better than calling Dan Uggla “Stainless Steel Meat Hammer,” but we can try.

@chongtastic: “What are the Crash-team’s favorite off beat food dishes?”

  • Bill: I’m a very picky eater, so I don’t eat any off-beat foods really, unless you consider hot sauce on everything weird
  • Ryan: is a Monte Cristo non-mainstream? I fuckin love a Monte Cristo
  • Paul: Phô and lima beans. Not together, though.
  • Mike: This is only non-mainstream depending on where you live, but I love Indian food. I also like good Italian food, which I note because there’s a law down South that makes it illegal to serve anything but crap like Olive Garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Not as involved as the music question, but we’re not a really foody bunch of guys, to be honest. I for one am comfortable with a plate of grilled chicken, a baked potato and a bucketful of Frank’s Red Hot. Wait…oh, I almost left out our resident Prospect Impresario Eric Longenhagen. Take it away.

“There are a lot of parallels between producing quality cuisine and acquiring and developing homegrown talent in baseball, which is probably why I like making food more than I like eating it.  I won’t get into that now but I will give you two twisted recipes I love.  First is a chili recipe I was given recently. No, it’s not a Tennorman Chili recipe. Instead this recipe comes from Baseball Prospectus prospect writer, Jason Parks, who has very strong thoughts on what chili should be. He’s from Texas so there are NO BEANS in his chili. Here’s the link to Jason’s recipe, copied word for word from his own dictation. Warning: this chili recipe contains adult language and sexual content. I’m not kidding.

For dessert, a Pennsylvania Dutch Funny Cake.  It’s a cake-pie hybrid invented in the Lehigh Valley area, where I’m from and will stay until the end of time. I’m forbidden from publishing my family’s version of the recipe but I can show you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like when you’re done and let you do the hunting from there:
Two courses. Way to not overdo it, New Guy.

@ETDWN: “MLB’s twitter feed is terrible. How do we go about destroying it?”

Y’all know Paul works in MLB Advanced Media, right? Now, he’d never do anything himself to undermine his employer, nor should we ask him to. But we could capture him and replace him with an operative in disguise. That operative could then chloroform the current MLB Twitter engineers, tie them up and get to work.

But seriously, MLB, your social media is awful. and At Bat are so great–why can’t you get out of your own way when it comes to technology? The Twitter feed bears an uncanny resemblance to something written by a committee of Duke frat boys and your parents and their friends. Hire me, and I will do it all myself. I will be funnier, more informative and less thoughtlessly offensive. And most importantly, it will stop being as painted-on fake cool as your youth pastor’s goatee.

@LonettoMB: “I’m going to the movie theater tomorrow, what should I see?”

I’ve been a little delinquent this summer seeing movies–I haven’t caught a film in a theater since The Expendables 2. I have had it in my head to go spend a day at the theater this week, because there are several films either out now or coming out soon that I’d like to see. So here’s my list for the next three weeks or so.

  • LooperWriter/Director Rian Johnson and lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt worked together fantastically well in Brick, a subtle, pitch-perfect gangster film that not nearly enough people saw when it came out a few years back. They team up again for another gangster film with a bigger budget here, and I’m really excited.
  • Seven Psychopaths: Writer/Director Martin McDonaigh and Colin Farrell worked out fantastically well in In Bruges, a subtle, pitch-perfect gangster film that not nearly enough people saw when it came out a few years back. They team up again for another gangster film with a bigger budget here, and I’m really excited.
  • Argo:  It’s an espionage thriller that’s getting Best Picture buzz. So, yeah, I want to see that. It’s become chic in recent months to express amazement at Ben Affleck’s transition from bro/stoner airhead to really good writer/director of action movies with both entertainment and artistic value, but he has, and it’s kind of amazing. I liked The Town enough to want to see this one his next effort, though I’ve literally never seen a heist movie I didn’t like, so I’m not the best person to judge.
  • Cloud AtlasHere is the comprehensive list of movies that have made me break out in hives months in advance of their release, since I turned 18: Star TrekPrometheus and Cloud Atlas. The first two I wanted to see so badly because they were continuations of favorite science-fiction franchises of mine, and both were, in one way or another, supremely disappointing, though I didn’t notice at the time, because I was sitting in the theater, stuffing my face with Sour Patch Kids, nittering about how cool it was that I was seeing a new Star Trek movie or a new Alien movie.
    Cloud Atlas is different. It’s based on a novel that I haven’t read, co-directed by Tom Tykwer (of whose films I have not seen one frame) and Wachowski Starship, whose films I’ve enjoyed, but not in the way I enjoy Peter Berg or Danny Boyle (or Ben Affleck, Martin McDonagh and Rian Johnson, for that matter), at least not since the first Matrix movie. It does have a sunburnt Tom Hanks, but that’s not the selling point. No, what hooked me is the trailer.

I have no idea if this movie’s going to be any good, but given the cast, running time (2 hours, 52 minutes) and the scope, I’m fascinated. Since that trailer came out in July, I’ve spent more time with it than I have with most of my friends, which is sad on multiple levels. I can’t even really tell what it’s about–my best guess is that it’s going to be some kind of epic cross-time historical/sci-fi love story, essentially The Fountain if someone had taken final cut away from Darren Aronofsky and given it to someone with more than a tenuous handle on reality. Anyway, no matter what you do, I’m going to the movies tomorrow, and I’m seeing this movie.

@CrashburnAlley: “If the Phillies played a best-of-seven series with the Tigers and Giants each, how many would they win? (ignore rest)”

Well certainly no more than eight games between the two series.

Seriously? I think the Phillies, with a healthy Ruiz/Utley/Worley/Halladay/Howard, could take either of these teams. The thing about the Phillies is that with the importance of run prevention in the playoffs, they could probably at least throw Lee and Hamels out there four times in a seven-game series and expect to get three wins no matter who the opposing starter was. Of course, I have  to point out the caveat that all things are possible in a short series, so they could sweep the 1927 Yankees or be swept by the 1927 Yankees. But if you want predictions? I’d say Giants over Phillies in 7, because the Phillies’ advantage in starting pitching is negated by the Giants’ bullpen, and I like San Fran’s lineup a little better than the Phillies’. And as a result of having at least two hitters (Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera) who are better than anything the Phillies can throw at them (except maybe Carlos Ruiz) and a starting rotation equal to the Phillies’ own, I’d expect the Tigers to dispatch the Phillies in five or six games. Though because of the Phillies’ advantages in bullpen and defense, the Phillies could probably more easily beat Detroit than San Francisco, particularly if the games tended to be close.

@MCGetting: “for more alternate reality fun, how would the 2012 Phils fare against the 2008 Phils in a best-of-seven?”

The ultimate “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” serious would be 2007 Phillies against 2011 Phillies, matching an insane run prevention team with an iffy offense against an insane offensive team with iffy run prevention. But 2008 vs. 2012 would probably be similar, if more lopsided. I think the starting pitching advantage (2012 Hamels over 2008 Hamels, Cliff Lee over Brett Myers, and so on) would allow the current Phillies to steal at least one game, but prime Utley, Howard and Rollins, plus Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Geoff Jenkins and Shane Victorino…2008 would mash 2012 into submission, even when you consider Carlos Ruiz’s evolution. I think Lee or Hamels could steal a game or two, but I like 2008 Ryan Howard‘s chances against Cliff Lee a lot better than I like 2012 Howard’s chances against 2008 Brett Myers. I’d take 2008 Phillies in five.

@tholzerman: “Compare the Phillies options at centerfield in 2013 to items on a typical casino buffet”

I’ve never eaten at a casino. Can I get something else?

“hrm… how about the Taco Bell menu?”

Now we’re talking. Fourthmeal it shall be.

  • Michael Bourn: The Cantina Bowl. Listen, I like Lorena Garcia as much as the next guy. But no matter how you dress up Taco Bell, it’s still Taco Bell. And no matter how much you pay Michael Bourn, he’s still Carl Crawford without the bat.
  • Angel Pagan: The Doritos Locos Taco. Very cool and trendy as a cheap option nowadays, but it might not live up to the hype.
  • John Mayberry: Fire Sauce. It’s good, but it doesn’t work on its own. You need something to pair it with.
  • B.J. Upton: Beef Burrito. The best bang for your buck. Might seem a little passe now that we’ve got the Crunchwrap and the Doritos Locos Taco, but it’ll fill you up for about $4.
  • Josh Hamilton: Taco 12-Pack. It costs more, and it represents the most you can get, but try to eat it all and your innards will turn to clay. Then carbolic acid. Then back to clay.

@magoplasma: “Now that I have a new Manny what should I do with the empty Manny? Make him into a giant vase? Wear him as a helmet on gamedays?”

Not only is Manny Machado the Mini-Keg, but mini-kegs are also Manny Machados by the transitive property of nomenclature. I will say that it’s good that the original Manny was replaced, because nothing’s sadder than having had good beer and not having any more. My suggestion is to continue to consume Mannys, then, once you’ve got a few, cut off the top and bottom of each Manny, then weld them together to make a column, or an umbrella stand.

Other uses for spent Mannys include:

  • Pontoon for the raft you’ll use to escape the island.
  • Get enough of them and find a friend who aced metal shop and you can build your own Iron Throne.
  • Dog food bowl.
  • World’s largest beeramid.
  • World’s largest Wizard’s Staff.
  • Mannyhenge.
  • Suit of Manny armor.

Or you could just wear Manny as a helmet on gamedays.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of the Crash Bag. Go Tigers, boo Giants.

Crash Bag, Vol. 24: His Father is the District Attorney!

I tried something last weekend. I watched the end of the Tigers-A’s game on Thursday, and then I stopped watching sports. I watched a couple minutes of NLCS Game 1, the last couple minutes of Monday Night Football, but none of the 12-hour sports binge watching that usually comes with first-round baseball or college football on Saturdays. I can’t say I totally took the weekend off from sports, because I watched a lot of Friday Night Lights and played a lot of NHL 12, but it’s an interesting experience, going from being as integrally connected to sports as I am to just going off it, cold turkey, the way I did last weekend. If you’re the kind of lunatic I am, the kind that sets up ESPN alerts for 18 teams across 10 leagues in six sports the way I do, I recommend unplugging and detoxing every so often. Because after a while you’ll get bored and remember why you can’t stay away.

I meant for this to be something of a truncated Crash Bag, but it wound up being the longest ever, so what do I know? On to your correspondence.

@andbaskin: “Worst/most annoying playoff commercial”

I’ve been partial to those Cougar Town spots. I must say, they’re starting to convince me to watch the show. I’m not sure I’ve seen a commercial that so clearly broadcasts that the program is absolute dreck, at least not since the Napoleon Dynamite cartoon from a couple years ago. I didn’t watch Cougar Town when it was on ABC, and if Courteney Cox weren’t in it, and Abed on Community didn’t like it so much, I’m not sure I’d have ever known that it existed. But I’m starting to turn on Cougar Town. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome.

I will say this–the show does seem to have a little bit of charming self-awareness, which is important for a comedy. But piling on the “we like wine” angle in the promos is almost certainly ill-advised. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wine, or liking wine. I’m more of a bourbon man myself, but I do enjoy the occasional glass of pinot grigio in certain situations. I’d even say that a healthy appreciation for social drinking is an attribute I like in a person, because if you go to a bar or a friend’s house, you’re either strengthening existing relationships or forging new ones, which is healthy for obvious reasons.

With that said, if you lead off with liking wine, you’re kind of saying that’s the most interesting thing about you. Which is kind of sad. Like, you don’t have other hobbies? Or skills? Or interesting stories? What kind of booze you like should be at most, the third or fourth-strongest self-identifier. Drew Magary wrote this week at Deadspin about people who lead off their Twitter bios with “Husband. Father.” and so on, and he hits the nail on the head–yes, that’s important, but it’s probably not something that’s going to make you sound interesting to other people.

I will say, however, that the wine fixation was far from the most interesting thing about the Cougar Town promos, at least to me. I had previously been unaware that Christa Miller was on that program. I have a heart-rending, paralysis-inducing crush on Christa Miller. Like, I hadn’t watched Scrubs in years, then started watching it again after channel-surfing into an episode she was in. I am completely unable to explain it, but it’s my cross to bear, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to start watching Cougar Town that I know she’s in it.

One last note. For some reason the MLB playoffs are particularly conducive to commercial oversaturation by TV promos, and there’s one every year that stands out. But if you surveyed 100 baseball fans over the age of 20 to name the greatest bad playoff TV promo of all time, I bet at least 80 of them would name Fox’s ill-fated 2003 drama Skin.

Need your memory jogged?


I know it’s been almost ten years, but I’ll sometimes ride the subway on weekends for hours, just sipping Diet Pepsi and screaming “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!” at selected passersby. That line is “To be or not to be” for the boy band generation–it’s inspired.

And yes, that was the young Olivia Wilde, grabbing that role with both hands and choking it within an inch of its life.

So anyway, apparently Skin was supposed to be a modern-day Romeo-and-Juliet story between the daughter of a porn tycoon and a boy who…what, what was the thing about him? Oh, yes–HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!

One thing I never got–the production of pornography is, I’m pretty sure, perfectly legal in the United States, given the appropriate licensures. So why is Bruno Gianelli from The West Wing locked in a life-or-death struggle with the DA? Sure, there might be drugs or underage girls in this porn ring, but then wouldn’t he be the drugs guy or the underage girls guy and not the porn guy?

But because of that line, and because Fox showed that ad about once every 15 minutes during perhaps the most exciting tandem LCS round in the Wild Card era, I probably saw more of Ron Silver yelling that wonderful, immortal and completely idiotic line during the 2003 playoffs than I saw of Mark Prior.

Can you imagine how bad a pilot script must be in order for a producer somewhere to circle “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!” and say to himself, “Yes, yes. This is the line that we’ll use in our trailer. This is the line that will prove our show to be thoughtful, current and engaging. This is the best line in our show!” Wow.

Anyway, I never watched the show, and apparently neither did anyone else, because Fox canceled it after three episodes, most likely because it made Crossing Jordan look like The Wire. If there’s one thing I want people to remember about baseball in the early 21st Century, it’s “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!”

Damn, that’s fun.

@uublog: “Is there a correct rooting interest for Phillies fans in the NLCS, and why is it seppuku?”

No, that’s about right. I don’t think there’s anything else to add here.

@mferrier31: “if the offer existed, would you pull the cord on the Lee for J Upton deal? Y/ y not”

It depends on a ton of things. What kind of salary gets eaten, what ancillary prospects get tossed one way or the other, what the long-term plan is for the Phillies. We all know that a Lee for Justin Upton deal would probably involve the Phillies eating at least a little bit of Lee’s salary, plus some minor leaguers or spare parts changing hands (in that case, I’d love to get my hands on a minor-league center fielder named Evan Marzilli…), but both teams are dealing from a position of strength. The Diamondbacks can certainly field a competent major league outfield of Gerardo Parra, Chris Young and Adam Eaton, and the Phillies, I’m sure, can cobble together a starting rotation of Cole Hamels and the top-billed cast of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, much less Roy Halladay, Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd.

Yes, I’d do it.

What trading Lee for Upton represents is a bet.

Cliff Lee has been, over the past five years, either the best pitcher in baseball or close to it. Justin Upton, while he’s supposed to be coming into his prime at age 25, has a kind of average year on his resume in 2012, backing up a year in 2011 where he would have made a convincing argument to be the best player in the National League had Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun not been possessed by the spirit of Fuzzy the Avenger, Nordic god of hits. So Lee’s a sure thing, and Upton might be a perennial MVP candidate or he might be a league-average corner outfielder.

But Cliff Lee is nine years older than Justin Upton. And, though their remaining contracts are of the same length, Lee makes more than twice as much as Upton. And Upton’s having his fWAR cut by two thirds this past season is due in large part to roughly a full win’s worth of UZR noise. I say that because Upton has been pretty consistently an above-average defender in right throughout his career, through he was -2.1 runs this season. UZR is fluky from time to time, particularly in the outfield corners, and I’m willing to bet on Upton’s intelligence and athleticism rather than some narrative-driven damnation of one of baseball’s greatest young talents based on one of the most insane scorched-earth policy interviews in the history of lunatic things said by owners. Not on the level of Marge Schott Nazi armband crazy in the real world, but it was certainly that crazy from a baseball operations point of view.

So what’s the bet? Will Justin Upton be half as good as Cliff Lee over the next three years? Yes. Justin Upton is coming off the worst season of his life, and he’s 25. Cliff Lee is coming off what is, superficially, his worst season since 2007, and he’s 34. And he makes twice as much money. Yes, I’d trade Cliff Lee straight up for Justin Upton.

@DashTreyhorn: “What kind of Major League career would Merrill Hess (Joaquin Phoenix) from “Signs” had if he didn’t wash out?”

I don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I can’t judge mechanics or anything like that–I’m a writer, not a scout. But lucky for you, I do know someone who can. Please welcome, in his return to guest Crash Baggery, Crashburn Alley prospect impresario Eric Longenhagen.

I have a problem answering this question head on since it deals with an interpolated hypothetical. I don’t like to play the “What if this guy didn’t suck” game. It opens up too many other “what ifs.” All the “what ifs”, really. He did wash out. Despite that, it is interesting to think about Merrill Hess’ career, however short it may have been, and think about what sort of post-playing career he may have had after the events that unfold in Signs took place.  We can do this by making inferences based on dialogue from the movie and even by evaluating the swing mechanics Hess displays in the movie’s climax. Let’s learn what we can one chunk at a time.

Who did Merrill play for?

The movie was set and shot in Bucks County, PA.  We know Hess played close to home since the Army recruiter talks about being at some of his games. The three closest minor league teams to Bucks County? Lehigh Valley (not in existence for the film), Trenton and Wilmington.  We know Hess had insane raw power (he hit several 500 ft home runs) but zero approach and serious issues with swinging and missing.  How far does a player like that get? Ask Anthony Hewitt. I doubt Hess got to Double-A which eliminates Trenton and means he spent time in Wilmington, which has almost always been Kansas City’s High-A affiliate.  Merrill Hess was a Royals prospect.

Why did Merrill fail?

Look at the swings he takes at the giant alien and it’s not hard to see why Merrill had strikeout issues.  A high leg kick (which I think can cause timing issues with offspeed stuff) a pronounced arm bar and noise from the shoulders up when he swings…..these are all things that I’d see as red flags when scouting a prospect.

Did Merrill have a post-playing career?

Yes. In fact, Merrill Hess became the Pirates’ Assistant Scouting Director.

Everyone give Eric a warm round of applause.

“Sub question: What’s the all-movie MLB All Star team?”

I’m going to piss some people off with this, I know, because I haven’t seen every baseball movie ever made.

I have, however, tackled this question before. I was bored a lot in class when I was in undergrad, and because I can’t draw, I never really found a lot of use in doodling in the margins. I did make lists. Sometimes, I tested my own knowledge, like naming the 27 member states of the European Union and the contesting teams in every World Series (which I could do) or the 100 members of the U.S. Senate (which I could not). Other times, I made predictions, like trying to pick the U.S. roster for the next World Cup, or choosing a team to win the next World Series (a question that I’ve answered formally since).

I also tried to pick an all-time fictional baseball team. Unfortunately, I threw that sheet out at the end of Political Science 341 my senior year, so we’ll never know what I picked. So here are the 25 players I’d take. Also, I’m including all baseball movies (I know the question says MLB, but if you’ve got a problem with a list of baseball movies that excludes Bull Durham and The Sandlot, you’re welcome to start your own column) so instead of absolute skill, I’m taking this team based on skill relative to league. And as much as I’d like to build my rotation around Anthony Michael Hall’s Whitey Ford from 61*, and even though Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Baerga and Randy Johnson were in Little Big League, and even though Barry Bonds was in Rookie of the Year, I won’t use real players. Though major-leaguers playing fictional characters (Kevin Elster, Leon Durham, John Kruk) are eligible.

Starting Lineup
SS: Kelly Leak, The Bad News Bears. 
Deadspin ran an article last year that essentially makes Jimmy and Rade from Hoosiers out to be the greatest fictional athletes of all time. Kelly Leak is close behind them.
LF: Benny Rodriguez, The Sandlot. He made the major leagues, which, relative to league, makes him far and away the best player in his pickup game. On a side note, Mike Vitar, who played The Jet, had essentially a three-film acting career: The Sandlot and two Mighty Ducks movies. Well done going all in on the Disney sports movies for kids in the mid-1990s. Wikipedia says he’s now a firefighter in L.A. So that’s cool.
CF: Bobby Rayburn, The Fan. Man, this was a terrible movie, but Bobby Rayburn was made out to be the Ken Griffey Jr. of his time. He’d surely inspire similar devotion from me as from Robert de Niro.
RF: Roy Hobbs, The Natural. Go ahead and argue.
C: Jack Parkman, Major League II. I love David Keith. Not sure why. But I do.
3B: Ray Mitchell, Angels in the Outfield. Anyone who’s good enough to be an All-Star *before* Christopher Lloyd shows up is okay in my book. He gets the nod over Roger Dorn for actually playing defense.
1B: Lou Collins, Little Big League. Probably the most likeable movie athlete I can think of. Plus he went on to, along with Allison Janney, play out the greatest romance in television history. Great team leader, great contact hitter, great defensive first baseman.
2B: Marla Hooch, A League of Their Own. Second base is by far the weakest position, and having a bat like Marla’s here, particularly down in the lineup, is huge.

C: Crash Davis, Bull Durham.
 To mentor our young staff ace. I wish I could carry three catchers, just to get Dottie Hinson on the team, but there’s not room.
C: Dottie Hinson, A League of Their Own. Okay, fine. I can’t quit you, Geena Davis.
OF: Willie Mays Hayes, Major League. Yes, two different outfielders played by Wesley Snipes are on this team. No, I’m not sure how that’s going to work.
1B/OF: Pedro Cerrano, Major League. Like you wouldn’t want that power off the bench. Plus he’s a good clubhouse guy.
IF: Danny Hemmerling, Angels in the Outfield. Need a good glove off the bench, plus this gives us six Oscar winners. Woulda been seven, but Alan Arkin was really good in Little Miss Sunshine. 
2B: Mickey Scales, Little Big League. Screw you, Tanner Boyle.

Starting Rotation
Amanda Whurlitzer, Bad News Bears. So you’ve got the best pitcher in the league, and she throws a complete game every time out and pitches every game. You bet I’m going to add her. Though I really hope Bobby Rayburn doesn’t get as pissy when she doesn’t give up No. 11 as he did when Juan Primo held onto it. I would pay big money, by the way, to see her argue with Crash Davis on the mound.
Nuke LaLoosh, Bull Durham. I own a Nuke LaLoosh shirsey. So he makes it, even if Tim Robbins had the least convincing delivery this side of Freddie Prinze Jr. Ha! And you thought I’d forgotten about Summer Catch!
Kenny DeNunez, The Sandlot. Solid commitment to the fastball.
Eddie Harris, Major League. Chelcie Ross, I’m pretty sure, copied his delivery from Jamie Moyer, even if Major League came out 20 years before Jamie Moyer old jokes were funny.
Chet Stedman, Rookie of the Year. I want it on the record that a Gary Busey character wound up not being even close to the craziest pitcher on this team.

Whit Bass, Angels in the Outfield. If I managed a major league team, I’d give this speech after every game.

And while I know he was a starter in the movie, every bullpen needs a class clown, and Bass makes Roger McDowell look like Roy Halladay.
Jim Bowers, Little Big League. Jonathan Silverman’s performance in this film is perhaps my favorite in any sports movie. Though Kurt Russell comes pretty close in Miracle.
Rick Vaughn, Major League. I haven’t forgotten about Wild Thing, though I kind of like the idea of him throwing max-effort in high-leverage situations rather than trying to manage him over the course of a season.
Duke Temple, Major League. Any reliever who leads the league in hit batters is okay in my book.
Henry Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year. Funky butt-lovin‘.
Mel Clark, Angels in the Outfield. Better him than Blackout Gatling. Hold me closer, Tony Danza.

And I’m sure that we can cobble together a coaching staff out of Billy Heywood, Lou Brown, Jake Taylor, George Knox, Larry Hockett and Jimmy Dugan.

@kgeich67: “Kyle Kendrick, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton. Marry, F—, and Kill. Why?”

Well, I can tell you this for sure–Laynce Nix is a quivering ball of muscle. Even though he’s by far the least objectionable of the three options on the field, we’re not talking about baseball here. Laynce Nix is built like a fire hydrant, or at least he would be if fire hydrants were constructed not of metal but of taut, bulging sinew. He’s so muscular he has no neck. Football players are so muscular they have no neck. Baseball players have necks, or at least a series of chins that connects the head to the torso, as was the case with Tony Gwynn.

Laynce Nix is not built like a baseball player. He’s built like a cartoon horse made out of concrete reinforced with steel. There are no doors in his house, only holes in the wall where he had to punch through like the Kool-Aid guy in order to get from room to room. He looks like someone squished Ivan Drago.

I bring this up because I can’t make him the F option, or the M option (which, in a healthy M, would involve more than a little F), because I’m terrified that he’d hurt me. Gotta kill him.

I’d rather go with Ty Wigginton for the F, because while he’s not particularly attractive, he seems like he’d be a kind and gentle lover.

Which leaves Kyle Kendrick to marry. For all the crap I’ve talked about him as a player–and he did his best to blow up that reputation this season–he seems like a decent guy. This is my relationship advice to those of you looking for a mate: prioritize kindness above all else. Everyone’s going to be ugly at some point, so you might as well stick with the person you get along with best. I think Kyle Kendrick seems like just such a man.

@gvntofly1021: “You must endure 1 of these on repeat for a week: ‘The Resistance’ or Mini-mart game footage. Which, and why?”

Mini-mart. Because he’s so bad you can start to enjoy it after a while if you know the outcomes have been predetermined. And because perhaps the worst thing about The Resistance is how quickly the novelty wears off upon repeated listening. That album went bad faster than a glass of milk left outside on a hot day. In Florida. Under the drainage line from a factory that produces paint thinner.

And because I’d make a series of jokes about being forced to listen to an album on repeat, but I’ll never do better than this.

@elkensky: “Do TS Eliot-Scott Proefrock jokes get old? I have a bullpen one set to “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices…” ready to go.”

Never. Proefrock jokes are always fun. Whenever the Phillies’ assistant GM is mentioned, I threaten to wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach.

Feel free to make your own John Mayberry jokes, vis-a-vis “I have heard the Mermaids singing, each to each/I do not think they will sing to me.”

@fotodave: “which rivalry is nastier: UGA/SC or phillies/mets? Who’s the most vile fanbase in baseball? In college?”

South Carolina-Georgia is kind of a rivalry, in that the Gamecocks and Bulldogs are in the same division, are in relatively close geographic proximity and have been fairly close competitively over the past decade, leading to some rather entertaining games. But let’s not kid ourselves–it’s a circle-the-calendar game every year, but it’s not even close to the nastiest rivalry in college football, or even the nastiest rivalry for either team. Both Carolina and Georgia have much greater antipathy for their respective ACC in-state rivals (Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively) and Florida than they do for each other. There is one person, and one person only, for whom USC-Georgia is the rivalry game to end all rivalry games, and that’s me. I acknowledge my own weirdness and freely admit that I am completely out of step with Gamecock fan orthodoxy.

That said, it’s a much nastier rivalry than Phillies-Mets because it’s college football, and SEC football in particular. The idea that any baseball rivalry is as heated as even a middling college football rivalry is so laughable as to be offensive. Listen, I’m all for the domination of American culture by Northeastern Ivy League elitists, but saying that Yankees-Red Sox is the most heated rivalry in American sports? I think people say that because it’s kind of awkward to walk around on the street wearing a sandwich board that reads: “I AM THOUGHTLESS AND IGNORANT.”

Red Sox-Yankees is a media narrative. Sure, it’s a rivalry, but it’s a baseball rivalry, which means that any hatred is diluted over 19 games a season, plus playoffs, and not distilled into its purest form: four hours of unfettered physical violence once and once only every season, fueled by alcohol and repressed Confederate nationalism, expressed by crazy-eyed personages who have little to live for apart from college football. Red Sox-Yankees is bourgeois, soft, all bark-no-bite, a fraud perpetuated upon the American sporting public by insecure New Yorkers who realize their supposed cultural hegemony is a house of cards and insecure New Englanders who think their grating, drinking-orange-juice-through-a-tenor-saxophone accent is somehow charming, and think that you still get to bemoan years of futility from what has been, by far, America’s most blessed sports city over the past decade. Go take your affected everyman attitude and dump it in the Charles River, you insufferable, sniveling attention-mongers. But I still hope you love me one day, Bill Simmons.

We’re being bamboozled, America, into watching the baseballing equivalent of reading Oscar Wilde’s assorted quotations on his own cleverness. It’s boring, there’s too much of it, and for some reason we’re all too concerned with looking smart and cultured and with it that no one seems willing to call it out for the self-indulgent flotsam that it is. I’d sooner watch a cow try to lean its way through a barbed-wire fence. I’d sooner try to lean through a barbed-wire fence myself.

So I’d say that Yankees fans are probably the most vile in baseball–they’re everywhere, they’re loud, they’re ignorant and prone to absurd groupthink that reduces a game of random events to a morality play.

As far as college football, I’m going to have to with Florida. My fiancee had a roommate who referred to them as Jean Shorts Nation, which made me giggle every time. They’re loud, they’re self-entitled, they’re either rednecks or douchebag frontrunners, and for some reason, they never found it within themselves to condemn Brandon Spikes as the jockitch of a human being that he is. I would have said Miami or Southern Cal, but they don’t have any fans anymore now that it’s been more than 2 years since the last national title. I also would have said Penn State or Notre Dame, but I can’t mock them anymore–Penn State because I feel bad for the fans after the Sandusky Affair and Notre Dame because their fans are all in hospice care by now anyway. It’s just not sporting. LSU is up there too, but their obnoxiousness is so entirely insane it’s almost admirable.

@longenhagen: “Do you think it’s even possible for Ferris Bueller to have completed all those activity in one day

No. The Cubs game alone would eat up most of the afternoon, though we should assume that because they used a Ferrari, they went from place to place faster. But who cares? One day I want to have that much fun, or a girlfriend as hot as 1986-vintage Mia Sara.

By the way, Cameron Frye wearing a Gordie Howe jersey around Chicago all day is one of the all-time great underrated troll jobs of his time. I salute you, Cameron.

@fjrabon: “on a scale of 1-10 how excited are you about when the phils sign Bourn to 6 yrs 130 mill?”

Franklin is a Braves fan and should stop being such an obvious troll.

(looks for Bourn-to-Phillies rumors, buys bulk quantities of ketamine, wraps self in blanket, sobs)

@cwyers: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck was a member of the 2012 Phillies starting rotation.”

Lots of it. The Phillies like to go deep into games with their starting pitchers, and if you were rolling Halladay, Hamels and Lee out there  60 percent of the time, you would too.

Interesting that you should mention it, though, because the chic pitch for the Phillies right now is the cutter, which, you know, “wood” and “cutter” and…yeah, it was funnier in my head.

@JakePavorsky: “Say the MLB added an amnesty clause to their CBA right now. One Phillies player you would amnesty and why.”

Ryan Howard. Not even close. Not eeeeeeeeeeven close. I might take a gander at Papelbon, but Howard is signed for more money and contributes less. If it’s not the worst contract in baseball, I struggle to think of one that beats it.

@pinvert: “zip hoodie or pullover?”

Depends on the occasion. For around-the-house wearing and vacation (think hoodie and shorts on the beach in September), it’s got to be the pullover. I visited Ithaca College when I was a junior in high school and bought a hoodie there that was two sizes too big then and, despite my having grown some since then, is still two sizes too big now. It’s my favorite article of clothing–it’s big, it’s warm, it’s like wearing a hug.

But if you’re going out, you should probably go with the zip-up. I myself prefer solid color zip-ups to ones with patterns or writing, though everyone’s different. It’s important to keep in mind that when you leave the house, hoodies are outerwear, so if you have to take it off when you get to where you’re going, you’re going to look like a total doofus if you have to pull it over your head. Better to just unzip. You lose a little bit in the keeping warm department, but that’s why I prefer pullovers for more casual occasions.

Crash Bag, Vol. 23: Kowtow to the Creeping LaRussification of Baseball

I know the Phillies aren’t in it, but boy, have we seen some baseball this week! Four Game 5’s, two of them this evening. Be sure to tune in this afternoon. I’ll tell you who and what to root for later on in this post.

Some programming notes before we get started. Ordinarily I start soliciting Crash Bag questions sometime early Thursday afternoon, write the post throughout the day and post it Friday morning. However, next week I will not be able to do this, so consider the mailbox open from the moment this goes live–I’ll take your questions and grievances via Twitter either directly (via @MJ_Baumann) or via the #crashbag hashtag.

@Wzeiders: “Who would be on your Phillies dream team? (Favorite not nec. best players of all time)”

There’s obviously going to be quite a bit of overlap here, because apart from the current era, most of the people I remember are going to be among the best players in team history.

  • Catcher: Carlos Ruiz. Particularly after the past 18 months, when he changed from kind of a well-loved tagalong into a truly top-notch major league catcher.
  • First Base: John Kruk. An on-base machine who validated the dreams of every slow-pitch softball player on the East Coast. Proof positive that you can play in the major leagues even if you look like someone’s boozy uncle if your hand-eye coordination is good enough. Plus John Kruk was murdered by Robert De Niro in a Tony Scott movie. Top that, Pete Rose.
  • Second Base: Chase Utley. Apologies to Granny Hamner.
  • Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins. My favorite baseball player on any team at any position at any time period.
  • Third Base: Scott Rolen. The first Phillies player I ever saw who really awed me with his skill. There have only really been a couple of Philly athletes in my lifetime who were conspicuously great, who made you fully aware at every moment that they were operating on a different level from everyone else: Iverson. Lindros. Halladay. Terrell Owens for that one season. Dawkins. Utley. I think Claude Giroux is close to that level, if he’s not already. Rolen was the first one of those that I saw in a Phillies uniform. Watching him play third on that quick Veterans Stadium turf was like watching a leopard track an antelope, kill it and drag the carcass up into a tree. And to those of you who would have me hanged for not choosing Mike Schmidt, this is my list. Get your own.
  • Left Field: Jim Eisenreich. One of my memories of the 1993 season was Eisenreich scalding gap liner after gap liner. I was young, so my memory might be faulty, but I’m pretty sure he hit about .700 during the playoffs. Plus, on a team made up less of men than of beards and mullets, the look of Eisenreich didn’t scare me so much. And yes, I know that he primarily played right field with the Phillies. But I had to make room.
  • Center Field: Sliding Billy Hamilton. Part of the Phillies’ all-Hall of Fame outfield in the 1890s. Stole bases at a rate comparable to that of his Cincinnati Reds namesake. Wins in a squeaker over Richie Ashburn, Lenny Dykstra and Ricky Otero.
  • Right Field: Jayson Werth. I talk a lot about liking a player’s “game,” but there may be no player whose game I like more than Jayson Werth’s. A phenomenal percentage player and possessed of obscene plate discipline, Werth nevertheless excelled at the exciting aspects of the game: throws to the bases, baserunning and hitting for power. Still not worth the contract the Nationals gave him, but he’s my platonic ideal of a baseball player.
  • Starting Pitcher: Steve Carlton. Ask me in five years and I might say Cole Hamels.
  • Relief Pitcher: Toby Borland. I pitched sidearm for years because of this guy. A full bullpen would probably include Antonio Bastardo, Ryan Madson, Jim Konstanty and Steve Bedrosian.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this question in the comments. But read the rest of the post first, please.

@jtoombs51: “If you had to choose between Kraft Mac N’ Cheese and Velveeta Mac N’ Cheese which one would you choose?”

I’m not a big Mac N’ Cheese guy. I’m not sure why–it probably has something to do with leftovers not microwaving as well as some other side dishes. Though honestly, I really just like beans better. My go-to hot midnight snack in college was Bush’s beans with either barbecue sauce or Frank’s Red Hot mixed in. Make a big can, eat some, put the rest in the fridge for the next meal. I cooked this regularly, often feeding not only myself but roommates and guests as well. And no one ever caught salmonella and died, so maybe I’m not as bad a cook as I thought.

With that said, I’ll take Kraft over Velveeta, with the following caveat. Drew Magary mentioned this in his own mailbag colum, the Funbag, which is, along with Katie Baker’s Bake Shop at Grantland, the best column going in this format. Anyway, Magary hit the nail on the head when he said that the key element to good Mac N’ Cheese is the shape of the pasta. Elbow macaroni is not only boring, but it’s far from an ideal shape for capturing the cheese sauce. If you believe, as I do, that we will be judged when we die by how much cheese we’ve consumed, this simply will not do. Shells and wagon wheels are superior in all respects to macaroni as a medium for cheese sauce.

@lizroscher: “If you could pick any current or former Phillie to be a spokesman for any product, who and for what product?”

So…you’re asking me to top, for different reasons, Hunter Pence for Liscio’s Bakery and Roy Halladay for MLB 2K11. Yeah, okay. That’s going to happen. But for the sake of fun, let’s give it a shot.

“Hi, this is J.C. Romero for CVS Pharmacy–” [vaudeville cane]

Sorry. That one was in bad taste.

“Hi. This is Chase Utley for Cherry Hill Subaru, and I’m here to–are you guys sure? I mean, I’ve got some batting practice to take, some stairs to run, and then I’ve got to master fielding positions I don’t play. I know I’m famous and well-liked, but I’m not all that charismatic or anything…yes, I’ve seen Shane and Hunter’s commercials, and I know you barely need to speak English to do a successful celebrity testimonial…but I can’t be the guy you want for this. Are they going to believe me? You know I have a bad habit of saying a certain dirty word on television. Okay, if you’re sure.
“Hi, this is Chase Utley for Cherry Hill Subaru. I’m the best percentage basestealer in the history of the game, so people tend to talk about my wheels. If you’re in the market for a good set of wheels, you should test-drive one our new Imprezas. When it comes to small family cars, the Impreza combines the best in sporty handling and practicality. You won’t find a better car in the whole fu–” [vaudeville cane]

No, that was a mistake as well. I’m sorry, I’ll do better next time.

“Hi, this is Eppa Rixey for Verizon Wireless. When I led the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915, communication was key. Our Samsung Galaxy phones make it possible for you to…wait a second–everyone has a telephone? And you don’t need wires? This has got to be some kind of sorcery. That’s the craziest damn thing I’ve ever heard in my life…No, I don’t believe it…and what the hell is this? Angry Birds?” [vaudeville cane]

Please, just one more.

“Hi, this is Lenny Dykstra for Dyson. Anyone who knows about my fondness for spitting tobacco juice on the turf at the Vet knows I’m an expert in leaving a mess on the carpet. I’m here to tell you that Dyson vacuums incorporate cutting-edge technology with the latest in design to help you clean up such messes. Dyson vacuums famously don’t lose suction. Take it from me. I was on the 1996 Phillies and I know what sucking looks like!
“A Dyson vacuum can even get soda stains out of your carpet! As a member of the 1986 Mets, I have firsthand knowledge of getting clean after issues with Coke.  Dyson vacuums are the best at cleaning up messes, even messes as big as the one I left by consistently defrauding investors over the past decade! So buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner today–coming from me, you know it won’t be a gamble!”

@4Who4What: “who do I root for in the NLCS? Is there even a lesser of two evils?”

If that Nats lose, nobody. If the Nats win, you can at least root for novelty. But as far as a Giants-Cardinals matchup goes, things look grim.

I guess there are players I like on each team…no, I hate Posey, I hate Cain, I hate Pence, I hate David Freese, I hate Sandoval, I really hate Yadier Molina and Cris Carpenter…yeah, there’s really nothing to like about a Cardinals-Giants NLCS. Nothing whatsoever. Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny are both clueless reactionaries as in-game managers. It breaks my heart that winning teams find them perfectly cromulent while Manny Acta bounces from one hapless organization to the next.

Anyway, I direct you to my earlier comments on the Stadium Collapse Game. Just root for mayhem.

The good news: I’ve been burning through Friday Night Lights on Netflix at a prolific rate, and since I won’t have the constitution to watch National League baseball for the next week or so, I can watch an absolute truckload of that show. Speaking of which, I’m a couple episodes into Season 2, and while I don’t want any significant spoilers on the fates of the various characters–can someone promise me that Lyla Garrity gets brutally murdered or sent to Vietnam or something? Because while I find Minka Kelly to be as aesthetically pleasing as the next guy…wait, not that I find the next guy to be aesthetically pleasing…not that there’s anything wrong with that…though I submit that one can appreciate that someone is attractive without actually being attracted to him…unless he’s Tim Riggins, who is just heartbreakingly gorgeous no matter which way your own personal inclinations…

You know what, I’m just going to try that one again.

I like looking at Minka Kelly, for sure, but she’s not playing a character that I find to be either likable or compelling. I’d have enjoyed watching Jason Street develop a personality a lot more if we weren’t made to suffer the shrill, self-centered, passive-aggressive Southern queen bee-ism of Lyla Garrity. So if she winds up being abducted and sold into slavery in Ukraine during Season 3 and we never hear from her again, I’d be very pleased.

I guess my answer to the original question is that you should just not watch. I’ll just be stupid. If you value your own sanity, don’t watch. I certainly won’t. Go Nats.

@CogNerd: “Pierre=high OBP,no power. Howard hits better w/o shift. Could weird batting order (pierre/howard) cover Howard’s weakness?”

It’s an interesting proposition, and while I don’t think the specific scenario you outlined would help much, it draws attention to a couple of key issues regarding the future of The Preeminent Slugger of Our Generation.

In 2006, Howard posted…you know what, I’ll say it, perhaps the greatest offensive season in franchise history. Howard, in his late 20s, hit the ball harder than anyone else in the league, not only with the power to send the ball into the outer reaches of the right field stands, but line drive power. He’s the only Phillies player who made me fear for the safety of the opposing second baseman–except when it was Dan Uggla, because screw that guy. I’m not scout, but the young Howard had 80 raw power if ever I’ve seen it. We’re talking Giancarlo Stanton power. Hemi V8 power. Matter/anti-matter reaction power.

Between his rookie year (2005) and his MVP year, Howard posted BABIPs of .354 and .356, above-average numbers you’d ordinarily expect from a prime Ichiro or some other such speed demon. As you might suspect, such was not the case with Howard–rather than legging out infield hits or punching singles past drawn-in third basemen, he simply did not hit soft ground balls or line drives that allowed fielders to get under them. Either the ball was hit right at you or you didn’t have a realistic chance of getting to it. It really was something to see.

All that ended with The Shift. Because Howard is pretty much dead-pull on grounders and line drives, defenses would leave third base undefended in favor of putting a fourth outfielder in short right. Because Howard is so slow, they got away with it.

I have no idea why Howard couldn’t just bunt anywhere to the left of the pitcher’s mound and take free infield singles until the defense stopped shifting. No idea. That he stubbornly hit into the shift for five years, to the detriment of his own on-base percentage, the Phillies’ offensive output and my own tenuous handle on sanity.

So if you’re unable to hit through the shift or unwilling to hit around it, how do you get it to go away? Well, you can’t very well leave third base undefended with a runner on second or third (because then that runner could quite easily steal either third or home), which is where this Juan Pierre idea comes in.

If the Phillies actually could have at least one runner in scoring position whenever Howard was up, that’d be awesome. In order to do that, you’d want your top OBP guys to be hitting in front of him. So the best way to get opposing defenses out of the shift is actually the orthodox way to set up a lineup: guys who get on base in front of guys who hit for power. Maybe the Phillies might let Utley and Rollins be a little more liberal with their stolen base attempts with Howard up, because rather than fearing taking a man off base with Howard up, there might be an added benefit to moving the infielders around.

But unfortunately, The Big Piece is losing bat speed. Rapidly. Like A-Rod rapidly. Like Mercury capsule firing its retro-rockets rapidly. It will soon get to the point where it doesn’t matter where the infielders are; Ryan Howard’s swing will just sort of arc lazily through the strike zone, like a jumbo jet full of nuns, children and puppies that’s lost three of its engines and is tumbling aimlessly back to the earth and a fiery end.

My only hope is that by the time that happens, Howard only has three years left on that Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of a contract.

@jcamaratta: “Phillies look to add a race in 6th inning (ala Pres race in DC). Theme is “World Dictators”. Who do you got?”

Just so we’re clear, let me just say up front that I don’t endorse any of the viewpoints or practices of any of the autocratic rulers discussed below. Except for Francisco Franco’s overwhelming dislike of FC Barcelona. He and I are on the same page on that. I don’t know that I’d have had the club president assassinated, but then again, I’m a writer, not a fascist dictator.

This is a great question. And believe it or not, I’ve given it some thought. In my world history class my freshman year of high school, we had a weeklong group project called the “Dictator of the Decade” debate. The class was broken up into five groups to support one of five candidates (Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Francisco Franco and Mao Zedong) as the greatest dictator of the mid-20th Century. I guess, the “Decade” in question was the 1940s, but by the time Mao took power, Mussolini and Hitler were already dead, but let’s not quibble with the specifics when we’re talking about alliteration.

We got really into it, because mine was the most obnoxiously overachieving class in a school full of obnoxious overachievers–doing research, writing prepared speeches, and creating costumes for the debate, and let me tell you, you have not lived until you’ve seen a 14-year-old boy of Indian descent dress up like Hitler for a school project. Anyway, I bring this up because those five are a good place to start.

I think Hitler and Stalin have to make the cut. Both score high on totalitarianism, brutality and impact on world politics. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s limit it to 20th Century dictators, because I don’t want to have to figure out where other authoritarian rulers fit. Somehow it seems unfair to compare Catherine the Great to Joseph Mobutu.

So if we’re taking four, and we’re taking Stalin and Hitler, that leaves two spots open. I know this because I’m good at math.

The 20th Century is a veritable cornucopia of estimable candidates, whose longevity, brutality and malfeasance stand them in good stead in any list of autocrats. Among them: Pol Pot, Josip Broz Tito, Slobodan Milosevic, Kim Jong-Il, Muammar Qaddafi (I was really hoping never to have to spell his name again after he died) and Fidel Castro. But I won’t add any of those to the list.

Our third and fourth dictators are Saddam Hussein (talk about brutality and changing the course of history and, in the best tradition of Hitler and Stalin, a mustache worth reckoning with) and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. I choose Ceausescu over Milosevic, Castro or Pol Pot (and if you disagree with me, I understand totally–this is a dark horse pick) for his bizarre behavior, brutal treatment of his citizens and the fact that he was ousted, tried and executed by his own people in the span of a little more than two weeks, which doesn’t happen to outgoing dictators as often as you might think. That’s some Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette stuff right there, sports fans. Ceausescu didn’t just get tossed out of the country to live in Brazil or Switzerland–he was put to death. Not quite Mussolini hanging upside-down by a meat hook, but in 1990, it might as well have been.

So Hilter, Stalin, Saddam and Ceausescu. That’s my Dictators’ Race.

@TonyMcIV: “What should the Phillies do with Schierholtz? See what he can do in Spring Training and platoon him? Or trade him?”

This is a question of underrated importance. I like Schierholtz. He’s a good defender who hits righties pretty well (.354 wOBA against them last year) and is under team control for two more years. I’d like to see them give him a run-out in center, but I don’t know for sure that he can hack it there defensively full-time. But I think the ideal is to put him in a platoon with a guy who can hit lefties (say…John Mayberry) and play him in right. Maybe he gets flipped for some minor-league depth or some help at another position (third base, maybe?), but I’d like to see the Phillies hang onto him and give him at least semi-regular at-bats in right field.

Speaking of platoons.

@pinvert: ” what are the chances the Phils actually employ the 326 different platoons that have been talked about?

About nil. I find platooning to be an extremely effective way of getting around weaknesses in one’s lineup and/or targeting pitchers with severe splits. Joe Maddon uses it to great effect in Tampa. The A’s, as Bill said earlier this week, have done the same. The problem is that no one carries a bench deep enough for platoons anymore. Earl Weaver used to platoon. Casey Stengel platooned. Both of them knew a thing or two about managing. But now, since we’d rather carry 14 relief pitchers than build a solid bench, the platoon is all but dead.

I dunno, it seems like, if you have two guys who play the same position, and one hits lefties well and and the other hits righties well, you’d play one against left-handed starters and the other against right-handed starters. You’d think. Instead, we kowtow to the creeping LaRussification of baseball and go batter-for-batter with relief pitchers.

@Lana: “Why is Yankees”

Why, indeed. Because of the obnoxious cultural hegemony of New York City, no doubt, as well as an overwhelming financial advantage. They should be destroyed.

@SoMuchForPathos: “I’ve been playing NCAA 2004 obsessively. Is there anything on this planet more satisfying than running the triple-option flexbone?”

No. Certainly not. I never really perfected the triple option myself–I usually ran a combination of the power-I and the shotgun spread, always heavy on option runs, screens and play action. Kind of a hybrid between what Steve Spurrier’s running at South Carolina right now and what Barry Switzer ran at Oklahoma.

Speaking of what Steve Spurrier’s running at South Carolina right now, it has never been more fun to be a Gamecock fan than it is right now. Last week’s win against Georgia was probably my favorite regular season game I’ve ever watched in any sport. I say this now because we’re going to lose either tomorrow against LSU or next week at Florida, and to one of Tennessee and Clemson, because if there’s one thing USC knows how to do, it’s lose to an inferior opponent when they’re on the verge of national relevance. But I digress.

NCAA 2004 is probably my favorite football video game of all time. It was just realistic enough to remind you of the real thing, but still simple enough to be easy to master. And I’ll say this–if you play them right, Kansas State in that game, with an offensive backfield of Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles, is nigh unbeatable. They’re tiny, but they’re fast, and Roberson was a great passer, which stands out in a video game based on college football. That’s one of the things I liked about that game–it’s brutally honest about the quality of the college passing game circa 2004. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to overhaul a deficit in the latter stages of the game, but it forces you to run a lot.

In my experience, people don’t run enough in video game football. It’s all a race to put up big scoring numbers, but where’s the appreciation for the grind-it-out, three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game of yore? All you need is 3.4 yards a carry and you never give the ball up. We as a society should run the ball more.

Run the ball more. Go O’s. Go Nats.


Crash Bag, Vol. 22: Find a Happy Place

I’m going to start with some shameless self-promotion. Are you worried that the baseball season’s end will also deprive you of my particular brand of prosaic solipsism? That your appetite for obscure cultural references and strained historical metaphors will go unsated? Well

As Bill mentioned on the last Crash Pod (which was lost in a tragic chemical fire that also claimed the life of Jon Bernhardt’s beloved pet guinea pig Baboo, so you’ll have to take my word for it), I’m going to be writing about basketball this winter at Liberty Ballers, SB Nation’s Sixers blog. My first post, a season preview of Kwame Brown, is up now. I’m a little nervous, because while I’ve been a Sixers fan since I was a kid and I’m joining a fantastic writing crew, I’m really not as experienced in writing about basketball as other sports–in fact, in all of my published sportswriting, I’ve written about as many articles/columns/posts/essays about collegiate women’s equestrian as I have about basketball (though in my defense, you would have too if, while you were in college, your equestrian team took home a national title and your basketball team was coached by Darrin Horn). Basketball definitely outweighs equestrian, but it’s closer than I’m really comfortable with it being. So if you’re a basketball fan at all, you can follow my work there, as well as the work of about a dozen other worthwhile writers. We’d appreciate the support. Well, I’d appreciate the support.

Boy, I hope no one from Liberty Ballers reads that–it’s going to seriously undermine my credibility.

Let’s start with a question from one of my Liberty Ballers co-authors.

@JFSportsFan: “Triple Crown aside, what argument does Miguel Cabrera have for AL MVP over Mike Trout? Does he even have one?”

Simply put, there isn’t one that 1) passes a logical laugh test 2) doesn’t rely on either Detroit homerism or Cabrera’s veteran status and 3) doesn’t make a quantitative argument that relies on stats that are (though not entirely worthless) severely outmoded and/or flawed. Anyone who says different is either delusional or guilty of such tremendous mendacity as to validate election results in the former Soviet Union.

The closest I’ve ever seen anyone come to pulling that off is actually actually Ryan Sommers’ thought experiment. Essentially, it’s based on the extreme unreliability of advanced fielding metrics, which give Trout a significant advantage. It’s relatively short (about a tenth as many words as I’d use to make the same argument), so if you’ve got a second, check it out. But even that argument strains credibility. There’s no possible way I can say with a straight face that Cabrera had a better season than Trout. And I can say a lot of things with a straight face.

@mcenroe73: “What is the Phillies’ all-time “gritty” team?”

C: Mickey Morandini 1B: Mickey Morandini 2B: Mickey Morandini 3B: Mickey Morandini SS: Mickey Morandini LF: Mickey Morandini CF: Mickey Morandin RF: Mickey Morandini P: Mickey Morandini

Lenny Dykstra, Dave Hollins, Pete Rose and Darren Daulton are eliminated because they were actually good. Juan Pierre gets the axe because you can’t be gritty if you’re black. And everyone before 1993 gets eliminated because I can’t remember any farther back than that and anyone bad enough to be called gritty probably sucked too bad to be passed down through our institutional memory. My apologies to Granny Hamner.

@Living4Laughs: ” Who is your pick for AL MOY? Why?”

Well “manager of the year” is really Latin for “team that surpassed its preseason expectations by the widest margin.” Under that consideration, I’d have to pick Buck Showalter, who led a baseball team to the playoffs that, in April, I wouldn’t have accused of being particularly likely to beat a team of garden furniture.

That said, I actually like a lot of what Buck did–he managed his bullpen very well, and while he’s not entirely responsible for some of the overachievement by the likes of Chris Davis, Jason Hammel and Nate McLouth, you have to give him at least some credit for getting the best out of his men.

That I’d vote for Showalter is a big statement, because if I had an AL Manager of the Year ballot, I’d write “Joe Maddon” in the top spot on April 1, put a stamp on it and mail it in. Maddon’s the best manager in the game by an unfathomable margin.

@Major_Hog: “What do you predict will be the best and worst things done by RAJ this off season?”

Long have I been of the opinion that Ruben Amaro, like God, works in mysterious ways. When he makes moves you see coming, they’re usually good ones. But he’s really able to sneak by you with the real nut-punch transactions. Though, with that said, I did spill a lot of ink complaining about Hunter Pence and Jonathan Papelbon before either of them actually showed up, so maybe that’s changing.

Best thing: I think he’s going to get a good deal on a center fielder. It’s a buyer’s market, with B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan likely to go for far less than they’re worth, and considering how far Melky Cabrera‘s stock has fallen, he might be an option too. And I don’t think the Phillies have the free cash on hand to make a run at Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton. And now that I think about it, the Phillies haven’t really gone for top-tier position players in free agency under Amaro anyway. They’ve preferred to settle on second-tier guys in the field and spend top dollar on pitching (with the exception of Ryan Howard–and when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder signed for roughly the same AAV as Howard last season, I think Amaro took notice and may have changed his ways). Mostly I’m saying that, I think, to keep the idea of Bourn or Hamilton inking a nine-figure deal in Philly and trotting out to center to decompose before our very eyes like Dick Clark on the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve set. Happy thoughts.

Worst thing: It’s gonna be something small. Overpaying, either in years or money or both, for an easily-replaceable asset. Big money for a closer in Papelbon. Multiple years for Laynce Nix. Multiple millions of dollars for Kyle Kendrick. That sort of thing. Maybe he pays big money for Mark Reynolds or something. Who knows?

@soundofphilly: “what do you like to wear while answering crashbag questions?”

Right now I’m wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts. Usually that or something like that–this is lounging-around-the-house time, so it’s not like I put on three-inch heels and a dress to write or anything.

@loctastic: “hi michael you having a good day?”

Not really, no, but things will get better. They always do. Or to put it better, I’m not really interested in considering the possibility that they won’t. Like I said, happy thoughts.

@Gourbot3000: “What does the SABR triple crown consist of? (Pitchers and Batters)”

Here’s the thing–all the stats I like tend to be more correlated, like, for instance, FIP goes directly into fWAR. Maybe winning the three major player value stats (Baseball Prospectus’ WARP and both the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference versions of WAR), but you’d see an overlap too often for it to be really interesting. Part of what makes the traditional Triple Crown so remarkable is how rarely it happens anymore.

The real Holy Grail, at least for position players, would be leading the league in runs added in all three facets of the game: hitting, fielding and baserunning. The problem with that is that the only player in my lifetime with even a remote chance of hitting all three of those marks in the same year would be Mike Trout, and even that’s unlikely. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done this in my lifetime, but if it were, I’d imagine it would have to have been, like, Honus Wagner or something. Maybe Willie Mays. So let’s aim for something rare, simple and achievable. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s make this a hitting-only thing and leave baserunning and fielding out of it.

I’ll tell you what–this isn’t the most sophisticated way of looking at hitters, and it doesn’t reward quantity as well as quantity the way a counting stat does, but why not just use the triple slash line categories? Lead the league in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage–it’s got a simplicity to it that I find elegant.

For pitchers, there are a couple ways of looking at it–Keith Law said something last summer on the Baseball Today podcast that I really liked about pitchers. I don’t know if it’s original, but I heard it from him. Essentially, there are three things a pitcher can do: throw strikes, miss bats and get ground balls. Do one and you can play in the majors. Do two and you can be a good starter. Do all three and you’re Roy Halladay. So we could reward highest K/9, lowest BB/9 and highest ground ball rate, but that’s essentially just making an ERA estimator, plus there’s nothing inherently better about being a ground ball pitcher than a fly ball pitcher if you get guys out. Just ask Matt Cain.

So what I’d take are K/BB ratio, FanGraphs WAR and ERA+. And here’s why I’d take ERA+ over FIP or SIERA: we’re measuring results with this, as well as the peripherals. Looking back on a season, I don’t know if it’s fair to credit, say, Cole Hamels in 2009 with a mean that he never regressed to. This is all about fun, anyway, so in this one case I think it’s okay to value performance over process.

I know these are arbitrary, but so are the actual Triple Crowns. If you’ve got a better idea, please feel free to say so. It’s why we’ve got a comment section.

Well, not for that express purpose, but you know what I mean.

@DrakeCCampbell: “should we care that we have a whole new coaching staff? Can Henderson make Howard hit lefties?”

I don’t think Christopher Lloyd and all his angels could make Howard hit lefties at this point.

I think you should care insofar as this all but cements Ryne Sandberg as Charlie Manuel’s heir presumptive, and because having Greg Gross as your hitting coach is like having Lars von Trier as head of standards and practices at your television network. But will this get back the 21 wins the Phillies lost from 2011 to 2012? No.

As much as the manager matters little, the coaching staff matters even less so. The only one who really makes a difference is the pitching coach, and even then only if you have a really good one like Dave Duncan, Mike Maddux or Don Cooper. I think it’s unfair to blame the Phillies’ disappointing season on Pete Mackanin. I will say that I’ll miss his gorgeously-appointed lineup cards.

@JossMurdoch: “If you could take 1 player from the 2012 roster out back and ‘add them to the permanent disabled list’, who would it be and why?”

Does contract matter? Because if it does, it’s Ryan Howard, no question. Even though he’s one of my favorite Phillies, that contract really outweighs all other concerns.

If not, it’s gotta be Michael Martinez. This is for two reasons. Even though Mini-Mart’s been spectacularly bad this season, I feel like I’ve taken personal ownership of how truly and entirely dreadful he’s been as a hitter, the way I did with Wilson Valdez in 2010. We’ve entered a symbiotic relationship, Mini-Mart and I. There’s a scene in Goon where Doug’s talking to Xavier Laflamme about they’ve got matching stomach lights, like Elliot and E.T. in Drew Barrymore’s breakout film. That’s how I feel about Michael Martinez. People write in week after week asking me to design creative and entertaining ways to deprive Martinez of his life or liberty, knowing that they’ll get a rise out of me. I’m not proud of it, but hatred is one of my vices.

So that’s one reason, because, as Robert Redford so famously said in Spy Game, “Why would I ask someone else to kill a horse that belongs to me?”

The other reason is that I’d like to come up with creative and entertaining ways to put one Michael Martinez on the permanent DL, as Joss Stone and Rupert Murdoch so artfully put it. Perhaps by using The Albino’s machine from The Princess Bride. Or dramatic and radical exsanguination. Or re-enacting The Toadies’ seminal classic “Possum Kingdom.” The possibilities are endless.

@Tigerbombrock: “top five bands/artists from whole staff?”

Oh, so my opinion alone isn’t good enough for you? Considering how much I’ve listened to B*Witched “C’est La Vie” in recent months, you are wise not to trust me. The links are all favored videos from these bands.

My five:

  • The NationalSerious music for adults with feelings. I hate concerts, and The National is the only band I’ve ever seen live more than once.
  • Florence + the Machine: It’s not really rock and roll, but it’s big, bombastic and evocative. I like something that’s just far enough outside the established norms to tickle it under the arms some.
  • Electric Six: Totally obscene, totally infectious, and demonstrating a greater level of musical and lyrical sophistication than anyone gives them credit for.
  • Arcade FireBack when Pitchfork had its “Rank your favorite albums from 1996 to 2011” thing a couple months ago, Funeral ranked No. 1 on my list. If you only watch one of the five videos I linked to, make it this one. No other video has ever changed my opinion on a band so much.
  • MuseMy favorite band in the world from 2003 to 2008 or so. Then, with The Resistance, they jumped the shark harder and more immediately than any other band I’ve ever seen. They went from pop-prog gods to mass-market detritus with such emphatic authority–let me just say that Black Holes and Revelations was the only album I’ve ever stood outside a record shop for the day it was released, and The Resistance was so soul-crushingly disappointing that I’ve all but stopped buying more than one album from any given band since then. You can consider this endorsement for their first four studio albums only.

But Paul’s the ranking music guy on this blog, so let’s ask him.

  • The NationalMoody songs about being an adult, at once making you feel nostalgic, mature and maybe a bit insecure. Their concerts are religious experiences, and their album “Boxer” is my all-time favorite album of any genre. There’s no better band going today.
  • Arcade FireThe best Canadian band going today. You might recall them winning a little thing called a “Grammy” for Album of the Year for “The Suburbs” in 2011, but their best album, “Funeral,” was released in 2004. They put on majestic shows of grand scale and have the sound to fill arenas with ease.
  • The New PornographersAnother Canadian band, this time a supergroup – featuring Dan Bejar, Neko Case and A.C. Newman, who each have impressive solo/side work catalogs – that has perfected power pop. They slow it down pretty well, too, but the magic lies in the hooks.
  • Fleet FoxesTransported from a time where pastoral music was all the rage. The harmonies are top-notch, and Robin Pecknold’s voice is one of the more instantly recognizable ones in music today.
  • Grizzly BearOf the 5 on my list, this group is probably the most “difficult” to get into, as their music tends to lack much in the way of instantly-captivating hooks (beyond Two Weeks, which many may recognize). But the craftsmanship on display in and the atmospheres created by each song reward patience and careful listens. Lots of gorgeous music in their catalog.

Longenhagen! New guy’s up.

  • The BeatlesI know it’s boring but they were terrific. Except for John, who was vastly overrated.
  • Smoking PopesSomewhere along the line these Chicagoans got weird but I love their earlier stuff. Josh Caterer’s vocal sensibilities speak to me.
  • Led ZeppelinI don’t care that they kinda maybe “sampled” things from other bands or that Robert Plant wasn’t a good live singer, no other band had a more impressive sonic range than Zep.  Go listen to The Lemon Song right now. Do it.
  • Brand NewIntroduced to me by my 6th grade art teacher, their music has evolved parallel to my tastes.  If only they actually enjoyed making it.
  • The ClashThe only band that matters.

Bill, in a vain effort to convince us all that he’s not a computer plotting the destruction of the world, submits the following:

  • Aesop Rock: I hope, in the not too distant future, that students will be assigned Aes lyrics to study. His songs are lyrical masterpieces.
  • Dirty Ghosts: They were kind enough to let us use their music for the podcast. Would have loved their music even if they said no and made a mean face.
  • El-PAnother lyrical genius with impeccable delivery.
  • Coheed and CambriaI always find something new to obsess over every time I go on a C&C album binge. The storylines stand on their own, beyond the music.
  • Between the Buried and MeHated screaming vocals until BtBaM. Look up “musicianship” in the dictionary and you see a picture of these guys. “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” two of the best guitar solos of all time. Click the link. Have you ever heard a crowd that silent in awe at a metal concert? Listening to these guys play music is like watching Chase Utley play baseball. I should stop before I write an entire blog entry on this.

Ryan denies us both samples and explanations because he’s contemptuous and aloof.

  • The National
  • Radiohead
  • Arcade Fire
  • The Decemberists
  • Sigur Ros

@jcamaratta: “How can your worst nightmare not involve RAJ signing Mini-Mart to a 5 year contract to play 3B??”

That’s in reference to a question from last week, Well, as much as I hate that scenario, there are things that scare me more than Michael Martinez. Bees, for instance. I have a paralyzing fear of bees. I got stung by a bee just about every time I went to the zoo when I was a kid. I hate bees. I wrote a column in college about how much I hate bees. They terrify me.

Spiders, too. I mentioned that last week. I hate spiders.

But most of all I hate heights. I don’t know why, but I developed a paralyzing fear of heights when I was a kid. I can’t stand on a chair without feeling dizzy. This spring, I was in Washington alone and I went to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s annex out by Dulles Airport (along with the Baseball Hall of Fame, one of two museums I needed to see in order to die happy). I’m a massive aerospace geek, and when I called Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee to tell her how unbelievably honored I felt to have seen a Messerschmitt Me 163 (the only operational rocket-powered military aircraft, designed by Alexander Lippisch, one of the most influential aerospace engineers in history) in person, I could hear her rolling her eyes at me through the phone. It’s good that I went to this museum alone because I don’t have any friends who would have tolerated walking through it with me. But seriously, it’s out of the way but it’s a must-visit for any plane geek. Apart from the atrium, there’s nothing at the museum on the Mall in Washington that comes close to what they’ve got at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Anyway, there’s a bunch of smaller planes, aerobatics planes mostly, up near the ceiling. It’s in a converted airplane hangar, so they’ve got their planes in the main hangar and their spacecraft in another room. Most of the planes are on the ground floor, and some are suspended for viewing from the second level, which runs around the walls of the hangar. But in order to get to the third level, you have to climb up to a catwalk, suspended only by steel cables. I say “catwalk,” but it’s a walkway with guardrails, about 15 feet in width. Anyway, I got up to this third level, took one look over the edge at the first plane, and the room started spinning and I had trouble breathing. After the first plane, I looked straight down at my feet and walked as fast as I could to the other end of the walkway so I could get back down to the second level before I passed out. I am terrified of heights.

So when we’re talking about nightmares, It’s really tough to work Michael Martinez and falling to one’s death into the same dream. That’s why.

@lonettomb: “if you were to put your next attempt at “cooking” on youtube, how many millions of views would it get?”

I’ve taken to cooking breakfast and live-tweeting it recently. A few weeks ago I tried and failed badly to make egg whites, thanks in no small part to my having dropped a yolk in bowl by accident and no one having told me beforehand that you cook eggs on low heat. It was bad enough that I couldn’t salvage it with a heaping helping of Frank’s Red Hot. It was met with as much amusement and derision as I deserved. Which is to say, a lot of it. I have a lot of friends who are either professional (or expert amateur) chefs or condescending know-it-all assholes. They enjoyed the experience immensely.

But earlier this week, I successfully redeemed myself. Cee Angi of The Platoon Advantage has, at my request and over the course of the past several months, emailed me a couple recipes that, I hoped, would allow me to cook like the Southerner that I’ve always not-so-secretly wanted to be. So anyway, I made biscuits and gravy the other day, and it was a rousing success.

Well, actually, it wasn’t. I panicked when the grease and milk didn’t congeal right away, added too much flour, and managed to prolong the process enough that the whole thing was cold by the time I ate it, but at least I know what I did wrong and I can correct it next time.

And besides, I hadn’t had biscuits and gravy since college, and when you go that long without biscuits and gravy, even my cooking will pass.

I reject the implication that I can’t cook. I can make rather good chili, and I can cook anything that comes in 1) a can or 2) a freezer-safe plastic bag with clear cooking instructions on the side.

So anyway, I don’t think my cooking show would go that well. I’m not going to literally blow anything up–I aced AP Chemistry in high school, so I know how to mix things together without causing fire or explosions. Though I did almost turn my own hands into soap one time when it took me way too long to realize my bottle of concentrated sodium hydroxide solution had a leak. But that was just one time. And it would be a lot of a guy in a dirty t-shirt looking at a recipe on a piece of paper like it’s written in Cyrillic.

But here’s the real problem. Cooking shows are boring. That’s why you need a gimmick, like Julia Child talking like Gladys, the cow from Sesame Street, only if she were trying to eat a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. Or Jeff Smith dressing up like Colonel Sanders on The Frugal Gourmet. Or Rachael Ray’s lack of an indoor voice. Or Giada de Laurentiis, whose gimmick needs no explanation.

No one wants to watch me stare into space in fear while my duck confit turns gray in the skillet. I don’t even know if you cook duck confit in a skillet, but my point stands. Least of all, my studio audience, who would be left with lovely parting gifts and horrific dyspepsia. So no YouTube, no Food Network.

@AntsinIN: “which Phillies do you take with you as you begin your trek on the Oregon Trail?”

I acquired a copy of the greatest elementary school computer game ever created a couple years back, and I peopled my wagon with the names of my friends, as one does when one is eight years old and playing Oregon Trail on the IBM PS/2 in the back of the classroom. Anyway, I used the same four names every game for what must have been eight games, and Paul was the first to die every time. I changed the order, and he died first every time. Usually before we even encountered a single obstacle. Banker from Boston? Dead of dysentery. Farmer from Illinois? Dead of typhoid before we even leave Missouri. Carpenter from Ohio? Drowned in the Kansas River. It was uncanny. I have never met a blogger so seemingly unsuited to settle the West in a covered wagon.

Anyway, we’re looking at people who can fill needs.

  • Cliff Lee: Seems good-natured and good with a gun. Will come in handy when the need arises to shoot bison on the Great Plains.
  • Ty Wigginton: So it’s clear who gets killed an eaten when we get stuck all winter in the Rockies.
  • Ryan Howard: By far the Phillies player I’d most like to spend six months with. Plus he can help carry things. He’s big and strong.
  • Carlos Ruiz: Because come on.

We end with an actually useful baseball-related question.

@dj_mofsett: “What playoff bandwagon should I desperately fling myself onto this year?”

I’m on the Texas Rangers bandwagon because I think they’re a good enough team that they deserve a World Series someday, plus Wash is awesome and Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre are two of my favorite baseball players to watch. I thought the Rangers were going to be my designated secondary team this year, but they wear their home jersey with blue lettering with their red cap a lot, and it makes me sick. It’s not like they couldn’t get a uniform that matches or anything.

But there are other possiblities. The Redcommunists of Cincinnati boast an electrifying bullpen and, in Joey Votto, perhaps the best hitter in the game. If you’re a fan of the unexpected, you can latch onto the Oakland A’s. They seem to be the crowd favorite around here–in fact, it’s looking like Paul’s going to need to declare them his Official Second-Favorite Team under the Sports Bigamy Act of (which I just made up, but will totally pass and enforce if you elect me President in 2024).

Then there are the Orioles, whom you can support if you like…not so much entropy as the complete and total vacation of all the accepted laws of morality and physics. The Orioles in the playoffs is the kind of scenario that Darren Aronofsky would come up with, but only after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, and then only after a fistful of Ecstasy and a couple big hits off a gravity bong. We will be lucky to live through it.

This is a fun playoff setup. Root for whomever you like, as long as it’s not the Braves or Yankees.