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.

Crash Bag, Vol. 21: Halliburton, BP and the Chrysler Sebring

Welcome to the final Crash Bag ever. It’s been a pleasure doing this for the past 21 weeks, and I hope you’ve had as much fun reading this as I’ve had writing it. It’s been a great 9 months at Crashburn Alley, but I’m at least reasonably confident Bill is going to have to fire me for some of the horrifically offensive things I wrote in this post. So enjoy, and I’ll see you around the block.

@hangingsliders: “If Braves play Nats in NLDS, who should Phillies fans root for?”

Hmmm. On the surface, this looks like a tough one. A matchup between division rivals with whom the Phillies have enjoyed a robust antagonism in recent years. There are reasons not to like both of these teams, and one could easily make the argument that the only partisan interest Phillies fans should have in this series is that the aliens from Independence Day come and destroy all life on this planet so neither of these teams can win. I totally respect this position: it’s a position I take twice every college football season, when Clemson plays Miami and Georgia plays Florida. So if you’re content to recuse yourself and either not watch or not take a rooting interest, that’s certainly an option.

But here’s the thing: This is not Sophie’s Choice. If you’re going to root for a team in this series, there’s a clear answer.

Here’s why you’d hate the Nationals:

  1. Bryce Harper offends you. He’s 19 years old and has national (so to speak) fame and millions of dollars in the bank. And people have been telling him how great he is since he was a child. If I were Bryce Harper, my ego would be so big I wouldn’t be able to find pants that fit. I’d have a douchey customized Mercedes and put bazookas on it. I’d have a douchey haircut and go out to center field with an eagle on my shoulder. That Harper seems only to be a self-aggrandizing airheaded bro ought to be enough to get him beatified. Plus he plays a rather entertaining brand of baseball. I view him as a positive, but if you want to project your own personal code of ethics onto a kid and say that he failed to live up to it without ever meeting or speaking to him, that’s your prerogative.
  2. Natitude. Yeah, it’s annoying, and yeah, it screams of pumping oneself up in the hope that the body will be able to scrape up enough loose change so it doesn’t bounce the checks the ego’s writing. But you know what? The Nationals have made good this year. They deserve to crow a little.
  3. Jayson Werth. Bill wrote about this yesterday, and he’s absolutely right, but I think he pulled his punches some. Look in the mirror. Are you sad that a grown man took a better job without considering the feelings of strangers? Are you sad that a grown man might take offense when those who had once supported him pilloried him for taking that better job? Are you sad that a grown man, having been turned on and having had horrific verbal abuse hurled at him (including cheering when he comes to physical harm), might hold a grudge?
    I’m not sure what Phillies fans want from Werth. We started it by treating him horribly since he left, and he’s only responding in kind. And yes, I say “we” because we’re responsible for the actions of whoever was born in reasonable geographic proximity–that’s how sports fandom works. So when a bunch of morons go to Washington and cheer when Werth breaks his wrist because he hurt their feelings by taking a better job without considering the emotional impact on a bunch of strangers, we all suffer the consequences. This is not how honorable men act. This is not how right-thinking, rational men (forgive me my gender-normative language, but it’s mostly men we’re talking about) behave. A man you’ve never met hurt your feelings by taking a better job without consulting you first. And you think this gives you the right to hurl insults at him? Get over yourself. Grow up. There are debates with two sides, where I can disagree with someone, shake his or her hand, and walk away friends. This is not one of them. When Jayson Werth worked for the Phillies, he played hard and he played well. He doesn’t anymore, so he doesn’t owe them, or us–particularly not us–a goddamn thing.
    I don’t understand grown-ass men who, again, are offended by a man they’ve never met taking a better job without considering the feelings of strangers. Whatever else they may be outside of sports fandom, their actions in this case are offensive, deplorable and indicative of weakness. They disgust me.

(uses asthma inhaler)

So anyway, there are a few reasons the Washington Nationals might not make your innards fizz. But let’s not confuse their upstart, spunky and frankly adorable brand of brashness for evil.

For that’s what the Atlanta Braves are.

The Atlanta Braves are a symbol of oppression and hegemony that has slipped under the radar because greater, more oppressive hegemons exist elsewhere. They are Franco’s Spain. The Atlanta Braves are primary colors, crisp, starched white uniforms in a palace of blandness. They are DAR apple pie-and-bunting Americana, wrapping themselves in the flag while perpetuating racist stereotypes and glorying in the historic oppression of a people who couldn’t defend themselves.

The Atlanta Braves ruled the National League for a generation, boring their opponents into submission with a combination of understated smugness and a pitching staff that enjoyed strike zone half again the size of the one the Phillies and Mets got. For fifteen years, they were the big kid in the pool, holding our heads under the water and letting us up only long enough to draw one short, frightened, panicked breath before pushing us underwater once again. Just enough air not to drown, just enough hope not to give up entirely. They kept everyone else down and, once they got to the playoffs, invariably gagged it all away to the Cardinals or Marlins or Yankees in almost casual fashion, as if to tease the proletariat by showing how little the elite care for their wealth. If in behavioral rather than financial terms, the Braves are the 1%.

They are to the Phillies as the Phillies are to the Nationals.

The Atlanta Braves are McDonald’s chicken nuggets, men’s rights activists and Larry the Cable Guy. They are Halliburton, BP and the Chrysler Sebring. They are Tom Sawyer’s whitewashed fence, the Omegas from Animal House and the steampunk Nazi zombies from Sucker Punch. They are Sucker Punch. They are the Cylons, Jeremy Piven and Bud Light. They are the ingrown fingernail, the Olive Garden, the sheriff in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the flood that kills him. They are the all-consuming, suffocating blandness, a malaise, a miasma, the toothache that you ignore because you hate going to the dentist.

They are Kristen Stewart.

The Atlanta Braves are the crisp, starched white of the Imperial stormtroopers. The Atlanta Braves are cloying, over-sugared sweet tea and unthinking, reactionary dominance, the privileged who never appreciate their own good fortune and have deluded themselves into thinking that they’re somehow entitled to their exalted position.

And their fans.

Those fans who supported Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones and John Rocker. Who took for granted an unprecedented run of dominance. Whose knee-jerk reaction to division titles, to playoff losses, to historic seasons by Maddux and Jones and Kimbrel and Heyward, to sadness and death and to joy and love, to all stimuli, in fact, is to call for the firing of Mark Richt. Who lionized Jeff Francoeur. Who condemned Jason Heyward and held high Jose Constanza. Who see Phantom Madduxes in every Tom, Dick and Harry who comes up, throws six decent innings and gets traded to Kansas City and Dayton Moore’s Home for Wayward Former Braves.

Atlanta is an appropriate place to set the pilot of The Walking Dead.

A proper sports city would have gloried in the Braves’ success, cherished it, reached such levels of arrogance and ego as to make Boston and New York blush. But there they sat, glassy-eyed like a child after his first burger at The Varsity, paralyzed like traffic on I-85, lacking even the wherewithal to crow properly. It is an act of negligence, of disdain, to be a Braves fan. It is to hold in contempt the warmth of the blood within one’s own veins, to deny the very capabilities of feeling that define our humanity.

Except for my fiancee’s mother, who is a wonderful woman whom I love dearly.

The Nationals are the cat that keeps jumping on the counter and scratches up your furniture–an ultimately enjoyable and lovable annoyance. The Braves, in short, are the bad guys. And I will not condone Phillies fans supporting them under any circumstances.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Who should Phillies fans (without other real rooting interests) be pulling for in the playoffs?”

Ah, the same question, couched in positive terms. Anyone but the Braves and Yankees. There’s some positive to be found in every other team. I find the Giants kind of distasteful, but if you’re over the 2010 NLCS and stand in awe of Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, or if you still hold some residual love for Hunter Pence, I get that. Ditto the St. Louis Cardinals.

On the National League side, I’ll probably be rooting for the Nationals because I like Davey Johnson and Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. They’re probably the most fun team in the NL bracket.

In the American League, Paul has made his Oakland A’s partisanship quite clear, and while I don’t share it, the A’s are an interesting team. I’m personally in the Texas Rangers’ camp–they’ve come so close the past two years that I’m starting to feel bad for them, they’ve got a roster full of exciting, likeable players and most importantly, this team is simply so good that it ought to have one title before the lights go dark on the Josh Hamilton era.

The stalking horse in this field is, of course, the Baltimore Orioles, who, despite being baseball’s equivalent to infinite monkeys typing Shakespeare, are very much in the thick of things. The O’s are a fun team–they’ve got exciting young players, the Mark Reynolds circus act and a warehouse full of entropy. As someone who enjoys entropy in tournament sports, I do harbor a soft spot in my heart for the Orioles.

But this has the potential to be a fun offseason; just don’t root for the Braves or Yankees.

@mferrier31: “What would be your lineup/rotation/closer for USA in the WBC, &which phillies do you think will be on it?”

Okay, so the WBC roster includes 28 players, including at least 13 pitchers and at least two catchers. The pitchers are tough calls, particularly the starters, because of injury and fatigue concerns. So younger guys on pitch counts are likely out, as are players with recent injuries. So that cuts out Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg for the USA, which is rough. The good news is that Israel didn’t make the finals, so there’s no national/religious tug-of-war for the likes of Ian Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Braun. So assuming that everyone who’s healthy now is healthy come March, and that everyone is willing to participate.

Catcher: Buster Posey,  Joe Mauer and whichever of Matt Wieters and Brian McCann goes less far in the playoffs.
First Base: Prince Fielder. Posey and Mauer can play here in a pinch. It’s also worth noting that Adrian Gonzalez, despite being just as American as you and I, played for Mexico in the past two WBCs. I say we revoke his citizenship.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Ben Zobrist
Third Base: David Wright, Evan Longoria
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Manny Machado (Jeter will probably want to play, but screw him)
Outfield: Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton.
Starting Pitchers: Justin Verlander, David Price, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke (starting pitching and outfield are the USA’s deepest positions–you could make four roughly equal four-man rotations–the last WBC team only had four starters)
Relief Pitchers:  David Robertson, Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Adams, Sean Marshall, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Jonny Venters, Joel Hanrahan.

Robertson, Kimbrel, Venters and Mauer at least have health/workload issues, and whether Greinke is allowed to pitch by his new team remains to be seen.

So anyway, that’s, what, three Phillies in Hamels, Rollins and Papelbon? Cliff Lee would probably have a shot to go if he wanted to, but I’d say at least one Phillie makes the American roster.

@buttbbutt: “who is your choice for best performance in a feature length tinkle porn this year?”

Bobby Valentine.

@4Who4What: “Will Halladay be peeling off the sides of his beard to reveal its been his duplicate all year, or is this what to expect in 2013?”

@mattjedruch: “who is more likely to have a ‘bounce back’ 2013? Halladay or Howard”

I’ll answer both of these at once. I think the offseason will do Halladay good for one of two reasons. His velocity was down a couple miles an hour this season, and there’s quite a difference between pitching off a 92-94 mph fastball and an 89-91 mph fastball. This winter I think that either his shoulder will heal or he’ll come to terms with his own mortality and adjust his approach to pitching. Roy Halladay still has a surfeit of quality off-speed pitches and top-notch control, and even with the decline in his fastball, we’re still looking at a pretty decent starting pitcher. So even if he doesn’t come back with that extra couple ticks on the heater, Halladay knows what he’s doing. I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to adjust and regain at least some of his effectiveness.

To address your concerns specifically, I suppose it’s possible that we’re dealing with a Roy Halladay transporter accident doppelganger  who sees that the Maquis have something to gain by sabotaging the Phillies’ season. I just find it unlikely.

And I think Howard’s going to have a better season by virtue of being able to use the entire offseason to rest and prepare rather than rehabbing a Windowshade Achilles. And when he gets back, the hope is that he won’t be as geologically slow in the field and on the bases as he’s been in 2012. But he’s still going to strike out 200 times and hit into a ton of ground ball double plays. The trouble is that he’s going to slowly deteriorate before our eyes like  troubled inner city. For the next four years.

@goldenmonkey: “give me your nightmare offseason for the Phillies.”

Signing Josh Hamilton, trading Domonic Brown and one or more of the young bullpen arms (particularly Aumont and/or JDF) for another expensive veteran at God knows what position, emptying the farm system, such as it is, for Chase Headley–NO! Not Headley, for, like, Dan Uggla and moving Utley to third base. Roy Halladay never gets completely healthy and Howard reinjures his ankle.

And heights. Most of my nightmares involve heights. And spiders. I took a nap a couple weeks ago and I dreamed that a spider the size of a Basset hound was in my bedroom, slowly moving toward me and weaving webs between me and the door. It wasn’t really threatening me, but I knew that if I tried to make a break for it, it would pounce on me and eat me slowly and feet-first. It finally got right up next to my bed and I woke up covered in sweat with my heart racing. It was not pleasant.

So my Phillies nightmare offseason probably involves heights and spiders. Maybe Chase Utley pours a jar of spiders down my pants and shoves me off a bridge. That’d be a pretty awful dream.

@uublog: “Season Wrapup Edition! Who/what were the most disappointing and satisfying players/games/events of the season?”

The year in review it shall be.


  • Roy Halladay. Never really got off the ground, got hurt, came back…kind of a writeoff season for someone who may no longer be among the best players in the game.
  • All the games they lost with the game tied late. We’ll just start with the first one, 2-1 in 10 innings with Joe Blanton on the mound.
  • Chad Qualls. Really thought he was going to work out.
  • That Chipper Jones walkoff game was a doozy.
  • So was the Jordany Valdespin game.


  • NOT disappointing, however, was the Lee vs. Cain heavyweight title bout back in April. That was freakin’ awesome to watch, even though the Phillies lost.
  • Ruben Amaro. Since the Papelbon contract, he’s had a great year. Lots of shrewd moves: he cut bait on Victorino, Pence and Blanton at the right time and got a good return, he took decisive action on Cole Hamels (though that’s really only correcting a previous error) and he constructed the bullpen extremely well, even if Chad Qualls didn’t work out.
  • Carlos Ruiz. Gone from mild-mannered defense-first catcher to full-blooded Dothraki warrior.
  • Erik Kratz. I know you know the story, but you haven’t really heard the story until you’ve heard it told by Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus.
  • Chase Utley’s home run in his first at-bat back from the DL.
  • Phillippe Aumont.
  • I went to a game during that last Marlins series and got The Heater at Campo’s in Ashburn Alley. I’d never eaten there before and it might be the best ballpark food I’ve ever had.

@GoingHard_inger: “If you had to choose 1 player on the Phils to make you a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich, who would it be?”

I betcha Phillippe Aumont would put nutella on it. Nutella is delicious.

@LONG_DRIVE: “After this season, what would be the classiest way to off myself?”

You think this season was frustrating? We’ve still got at least 13 Eagles games left, son. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

That said, I’d go with the homage to Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums, even though it didn’t work.

@CubeSide: “If you could predict the future, would you say Ruf is in LF on opening day?”

Absolutely not. You know why? Because if I could predict the future, I can’t even begin to describe how low on my list of priorities baseball would be. There’s the moral imperative to at least do some good. You know, preventing crime: murders, rapes, robberies and so forth, pulling pedestrians out of the way of cars and so forth. I imagine I’d have to advise the government in some respects: you know, stuff like “No, don’t invade Vietnam, it will only end in tears.”

But once I’m done with that, I’d do nothing but enrich myself through gambling, the stock market and so on. I’d probably hire myself out at a soothsayer for an exorbitant fee. And once that’s done, I’d probably retire to some remote hamlet in the Alps and read good books and drink good bourbon all day. I guess my point is: if you ever come into the ability to predict the future, whatever you do, don’t waste it on predicting who the Phillies’ opening-day left fielder is going to be.

But to answer your question, I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t rule it out. With that said, I’ve watched enough Star Trek to know that my making that prediction has altered the timeline such that we can’t know if Ruf will be in left on opening day or not. Damn you, temporal mechanics.

That’ll do it for the Crash Bag, and, indeed, for the regular season, as we’ll be into the playoffs by the time next Friday rolls around. As of right now, the plan is to keep doing the Crash Bag every Friday, as usual, but that all depends on the flow of questions. So until further notice (or until Bill fires me), normal service remains uninterrupted. I’m Bob Vila, and for Norm Abrams, thanks for watching This Old House.

Crash Bag, Vol. 20: A Disturbing Lack of Patriotism

I watched the middle innings of the Great Britain-Canada WBC qualifier yesterday afternoon. Which brings us to our first question, which wasn’t intended as a Crash Bag question, but it warrants answering.

@loctastic: “can’t you just watch normal baseball like a normal person?”

No. I watch international baseball and college baseball because I’m a massive sports hipster. I want to know who Nolan Fontana is before anyone else and lord it over you that I hated Robert Refsnyder before hating Robert Refsnyder was cool. This is why I watch oodles of curling during the Winter Olympics and develop strong opinions about Louisa Necib. I like being exposed to new things, and I like showing off to people how much I know. So screw you.

Plus Michael Roth pitched. I love Michael Roth, not only because he led my South Carolina Gamecocks to two straight national titles and a third appearance in the College World Series finals. But because he’s so obviously smarter than the hitters he befuddles with his seriously average stuff. It’s what I love about watching athletes like Greg Maddux and Peyton Manning, that they not only outplay but outthink their opponents. Plus, as I said in last week’s Crash Bag, I want to be Michael Roth’s best friend.

So how did Roth, who’s from a suburb of Greenville, South Carolina, wind up pitching for Her Majesty’s Base Ball Team? This is where I’ve got a bone to pick. His mother is English, which entitles him to dual citizenship, so he can play for Team GB, which he does, despite being thoroughly American.

This is patent nonsense. Most of the European teams (except the Netherlands, whose roster mixes Dutch players with the Kenley Jansens and Jurickson Profars of the Netherlands Antilles) are made up primarily of Americans and Caribbeans with some ancestral link to the mother country. Plus the Dutch call it honkbal, which is awesome, so they get to do what they want. I get the appeal for athletes, like Roth, who want to play international baseball but don’t have a prayer of cracking Team USA. But I don’t condone it.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of overseas territories, why does Puerto Rico compete as its own country in international sports? Aren’t Puerto Ricans American citizens? I know there are some national identity issues for Puerto Rican-Americans, but when I’m dictator of the world, you don’t get to have your own Olympic team unless you have your own military and your own welfare state.

Anyway, Dustin Parkes, a Canadian, wrote today at Getting Blanked about how he doesn’t get patriotic about international sports, which is fine, and would probably change if he lived in a country that was worth being proud of. I’m an intensely patriotic person, and sports kicks that drive into a xenophobic mania that has led me to say some things I’m not proud of about the Chinese, Russians, Italians, Mexicans and whoever else might be athletically inconvenient at the moment for the United States. I will watch golf if it involves a USA-versus-Dirty-Europeans angle.

So I view Americans playing for other countries in any sport as a betrayal of seditious proportions. It’s one thing for Roth, knowing Team USA doesn’t want him, to ply his trade elsewhere. But Giuseppe Rossi (of Teaneck, NJ), Alex Rodriguez (Miami), Manny Ramirez (New York City) and others who turned their back on their country for some reason or other have urinated on the banner of freedom and I won’t stand for it. I am terrified of the possibility that Israel might make the WBC finals, and that the best Jewish American ballplayers might flock to play for a country with no established baseball tradition whatsoever rather than the country that, you know, they live in and whose services they enjoy. It might make me stop liking Ian Kinsler, a possibility I had never even considered.

Maybe I feel this way because my family has been here for more than 100 years, or because insofar as I have foreign ancestral origins, they’re primarily Swiss and German, and no one’s really proud of being German-American the way people are proud of being Irish-American or Italian-American. Though when I switched my Twitter handle to my real name, I discovered how many Swiss and German guys are named “Michael Baumann” or “M. Baumann.” It’s a ton. We won the war–I want my name back.

But going back to the whole Italian-American pride thing, growing up in New Jersey around people who wear “Italia” t-shirts and pretend that their knowledge of their “culture” extends beyond being vaguely darkly-complected and having a grandmother who makes good pasta sauce has probably colored my perception of Americans who take a little too much pride in their family origins. Maybe if I’d grown up in Minnesota, where everyone’s of Swedish extraction and no one cares, things would have been different. But that doesn’t change my point– we’re American. Be proud of it or get out.

@gberry523: “if you are the Phillies, do you let Utley, Rollins, or Halladay play the WBC?”

More WBC. Rollins yes, Utley no, Halladay maybe. I get more of a sense of there being a limited number of miles left on the odometer from Utley than I do from Rollins. Though if Ian Kinsler plays for Israel instead of the United States, I might send Utley and have him slide in extra hard on double play attempts.

As far as Halladay goes, I think I’d prefer he rest his shoulder given the season he’s had, but if he wants to play for Team USA, I’d consider letting him go. But considering that he was left off both the 2006 and 2009 rosters, when he was healthier and in his prime, I doubt he’d volunteer. Frankly, I’d consider Halladay to be at best the fifth-most likely Phillies pitcher to be tapped for WBC duty, after Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon for the USA and Phillippe Aumont for Canada. I’d actually be less surprised to see Antonio Bastardo on the Dominican Republic team than Halladay on Team USA.

@JFSportsFan: “Who is the most 2012 Phillie?”

That’s a good question. We’re looking for someone who’s vaguely weird and kind of unfamiliar. My dad was complaining to me a couple weeks ago about all the new guys in the lineup, that he’d just gotten used to the old guys and now everything’s changing.

I’d go for someone who’s had a disappointing season, but that’s just depressing. Let’s go for a newcomer, someone who’s at once maddening and bizarrely played very well. Someone who embodies the approach that got the Phillies into this pickle in the first place.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Juan Pierre.

Jim from Philly: “If you were at the Mets game right now as a Mets fan, should you have an argument if you walked to the window and demanded a refund?”

Boy, that was a rough night for Mets fans, wasn’t it? I missed the first half hour of the game and expected the game to be scoreless or maybe 1-0 in the second inning. Then Juan Pierre was up for the second time, up to slap the eighth of nine singles in an eight-run inning.

So I’d say that after your team goes down 8-0 in the first, you should be kind of mad. But let’s say you get your refund–then you’re out on the street in Queens, surrounded by New Yorkers, with no baseball to watch. Isn’t that worse?

@AntsinIN: “can we officially start calling Aumont the Pont à Paps?”

I’d go with Pont à Papelbon and spell it out, but yes, I believe so. Anthony created this nickname a couple weeks ago, and I like it. There’s nothing like coming up with a nickname and having it stick–I’ve done this twice, by my count, with Tony No-Dad for Antonio Bastardo last year and Exxon for Wilson Valdez in 2010 (yes, that was me, and anyone who tells you different is a liar), and it’s a great feeling, so I get why you’re so excited.

Anyway, it plays off the Ryan Madson “Bridge to Lidge” thing, which is good, it’s French, which is a plus for Phillippe Aumont, and it’s alliterative. I think it checks all the buttons. Consider him so nicknamed.

@soundofphilly: “if the Phillies miss the playoffs by a game or two, how much second guessing of the first half is healthy or necessary?”

I think we beat that to death in the first half. I, for one, would rather move beyond it for the sake of our collective mental health. Honestly, a lot of what went wrong was bad luck and injury, two things that you can’t really count on. All in all, I think the Phillies are about where they deserve to be–around .500 and hanging around the fringes of the playoff race. If there’s anything this season has taught me, it’s that dwelling on the negative when the team is good is cool and edgy and contrarian, but dwelling on the negative when the team is mediocre will just drive you up the gorram wall. So let’s be cool, brothers.

@andymoney69: “if you had to fight one sportswriter in a steel cage match who would you chose”

I know you want me to say Jon Morosi but I’m not taking the bait. I can tell you who it would not be–Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press’s Philadelphia bureau. That guy is absolutely ripped and I get the impression that he’d have no compunctions about literally tearing my limbs off. Not because he seems like a particularly nasty or violent guy, but you don’t get to have muscles that big unless you have a monomaniacal devotion to physical fitness, a devotion that includes, if necessary, pounding the living daylights out of doughy nerds who don’t know when to shut up. He is one sportswriter I would not trifle with.

My real answer has less to do with hating the writer than it does actually standing a chance at beating the writer. I’d pick Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy, because 1) I don’t think I could take him but I don’t think he’d literally kill me and 2) I’d bet my life that if I suggested that instead of fighting we just have beer and pizza delivered to the octagon and just sit and chat about hockey until one of us passed out, he’d be totally down. That way we’d be full, drunk and happy, with no severe injuries of any kind. Seems preferable to fighting, and I think beer and pizza with Wyshynski sounds like a blast. Other guys I’d challenge for the same reason: Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, Jonathan Wilson of The Blizzard and Jonah Keri of Grantland. If any one of them is in South Jersey and wants to get sloppy drunk and talk about sports, let me know and I’ll buy the first pitcher.

@magoplasma: “My friend asks me for all the baseball related answers to his crosswords. Is this not cheating somehow? He claims gathering friend knowledge is fine, looking it up is cheating. And I have to know it off the top of my head.”

I’ll allow it.

There’s a longstanding tradition of asking friends for help with the crossword, reinforced by movies and TV, which is the only place people do crossword puzzles anymore, apart from the back of college lecture halls. And what’s the loss from your perspective if you help out? You get to conclusively prove your intellectual superiority–it’s like beating him in Trivial Pursuit in a fraction of the time.

In college, I was the king of helping people with their crossword puzzles, and I was happy to be of help. It was the only way I could impress girls. So phone-a-friend is acceptable in all cases for crossword puzzles.

@tiff1001: “polka dots, argyle, houndstooth, plaid. Assign a uniform pattern to each of the 4 main Philly sport teams.”

I’ve long been of the opinion that American sports teams are far too conservative with their uniform design. The first team to really deviate from established norms was the University of Oregon football team, and look what happened to them. There’s a place for the simple and the iconic: the Yankees, the Red Wings, Penn State football, and so on–all of those uniforms look great and have barely been altered in the past 50 years. But there’s room to experiment with patterns, I think.

Anyway, here’s what I’d go with:

  • Phillies: Polka dots. I don’t think it’s possible to make polka dots look good on any of these sports’ uniforms, so we’re just writing this one off. It’s going to look stupid, but it will be an improvement over the current home alternate uniform.
  • Eagles: Plaid. Not like the full Al Borland, but something subtle like the current Manchester United kit would actually look unbelievably cool in black and dark green.
  • Flyers: Argyle. I think the Flyers’ current uniforms are as close to perfect as you’ll get. Retro without being obvious or dated, referential to the team’s period of greatest success and bold without being obnoxious. I wouldn’t change them for anything. However, if I had to, I think argyle could work. When I think of argyle in sports, I think of early jerseys for the Garmin cycling team. Bold, eye-catching and easily-identifiable. Work something like that out in orange, black and white and we might be on to something. I think of all these patters, argyle is by far the most promising.
  • Sixers: Houndstooth. Does Houndstooth have to be black and white, or do I just think that because of Bear Bryant? I don’t know. Anyway, maybe you could get a red-and-blue houndstooth look going for the Sixers. I don’t really think this could work, not the way I do with the plaid Eagles, but I had to pick something.

@petzrawr: “Would you rather get kicked in the balls by Garo Yepremian or punched in the face by Mike Tyson? Assume both are in their prime.”

Garo Yepremian? Really? I’m not sure it’s possible to pick a less relevant athlete.

Okay, I’ve been legitimately punched in the face. I’m not sure I’ve ever been legitimately kicked in the balls, and I’d still take being punched in the face. Being kicked in the balls sucks. There’s nothing dignified about it, it seems like a direct attack on one’s manhood, and the pain not only lingers but resonates throughout your entire body. It sucks. On principle I’d rather be punched in the face than kicked in the nuts.

A quick trip to Google shows that elite soccer players kick the ball with about 1,200 pounds of force. One would expect Yepremian, as a proxy for an average NFL placekicker, to match that, if not exceed it. A heavyweight boxer maxes out at somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,300 to 1,400 pounds. From a sheer physics perspective, you’d want the kick rather than the punch.

But is Iron Mike wearing gloves? If so, the padding and added surface area make it a no-brainer to take the punch to the face, particularly if Garo Yepremian is wearing cleats. If it’s a bare-knuckle punch, it’s a tougher decision.

So if we’re assuming the force of the blow to be roughly equal, it all comes down to what’s being hit. Garo is kicking exposed soft tissue protected by nothing but nerve endings. Tyson is punching bone. And it’s only one blow, which is key, so even if Tyson breaks some combination of my jaw, orbital bone, cheekbone and nose, he doesn’t keep hitting me until I’m literally dead. And since I’ve never had a concussion before, I’m at a lower risk for CTE even if I do get knocked out. A couple weeks’ worth of eating through a straw and I’m as good as new, ideally with a Bond Villain scar from the plastic surgery.

But if Garo Yepremian kicks me in the junk, that would hurt more and possibly cause permanent damage. I’d take the punch to the face in a heartbeat, because, yes, I value the safety of my manparts more than I value the safety of my brain.

@bxe1234: “If you were a ‘creative sentencer,’ how would you punish Yunel Escobar for his eye-black idiocy?”

In reality, I’d suspend him for the rest of the season and fine at least John Farrell and probably the Blue Jays organization for a massive failure of institutional control. I’m willing to buy Escobar’s contention that there’s a cultural/linguistic issue, or that he’s dumb enough or homophobic enough to think that there’s nothing wrong with wearing a gay slur on your face on television. It’s not an excuse, but that doesn’t shock me.

What does shock me is that no one stopped him. How do Farrell and his coaching staff, to say nothing of the other players, see Escobar put that on his eye black (one of the douchiest acts of personal style in sports, no matter what you write) and let him leave the clubhouse? It’s an astounding statement either of tacit support for that kind of hate speech, or of cognitive dissonance, or of naivete or of being asleep at the wheel–in any case, not something you want from your team.

I think we need to attack homophobia in sports for the same reasons we need to attack racism in sports commentary–it’s there, it’s hurtful, it’s outmoded and it gets well-meaning people sucked into attitudes that are more dangerous than they realize, to say nothing of allowing people who are actually prejudiced or bigoted to slide by without being confronted. Some have taken this opportunity to condemn the idiotic crossdressing stunts rookies have to go through as contributing to a culture of homophobia, and while I think there’s something to that, the larger problem I have with that is the hazing itself, not what form it takes.

I’d be content for now stomping out such obvious acts of homophobia as Escobar’s eye black booboo. I MLB found the right approach to stomping out established and undesirable behavior with its PED suspension policy: want people to stop doing something? Overreact massively. Announce that any overtly racist or homophobic language from MLB players or other on-field personnel will be met with fines and suspensions, escalating with each offense. If you start meting out five-game unpaid suspensions for calling an umpire a “cocksucker,” you might start hearing it less. Again, I’d like to get to the root of the problem, but for the time being I’ll settle for getting people to keep their bigotry to themselves.

I’m sorry, you asked for a joke and you got a lecture. I hate people who do that.

Ummm…I’m all for the Ludovico technique in this case: drug Yunel Escobar up and make him sit in a chair and talk to Luke Scott for 24 hours. That should cure his homophobia.

@DashTreyhorn: “The Phillies as characters from Brick.”

Okay, it’s been long enough that we can do one of these, particularly if it’s about such an awesome movie as Brick. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s awesome.

  • Chase Utley as Brendan Frye: Constantly getting beat up, constantly one step ahead of everyone else, unable to quit when quitting is the smart thing to do.
  • Jimmy Rollins as Brain: Doesn’t get as much credit, but an indispensable part of the good guy winning.
  • Domonic Brown as Emily: Deeply loved, but can’t seem to catch a break.
  • Cole Hamels as Laura: Because Hamels kinda looks like Nora Zehetner.
  • Hunter Pence as Dode: I know Pence is gone, but this comparison is too perfect.
  • Carlos Ruiz as Brad Bramish: Distributes acts of terrific violence first, asks questions later.
  • Jonathan Papelbon as Tugger: Influential but with a head full of sawdust. This one’s pretty easy too.
  • Ryan Howard as The Pin: This was going to be Cliff Lee for his dispassionate, mysterious awesomeness, but I couldn’t get over the fact that both Howard and The Pin walk with a limp.

@houcktc: “Letter grade on Dom’s performance this year”

I think he’s been fine. I think he’s proved that he can hold down an outfield corner full-time, which is nice. I’d like to see him reach a little more of that power potential, but I think that will come. Mostly I’m just relieved that he wasn’t a total train wreck both offensively and defensively, which would have sent me into a depressive stupor of self-mutilation and watching film of Michael Martinez hitting. I’ll give Brown a B+ for his efforts so far: satisfying, but still leaving something to be desired.

@brendankeeler: “What would eighth grade Baumann think of Baumann today?”

He’d probably consider me fat and morally depraved above all else. Probably a little disappointed that I didn’t follow through with sportswriting as a career. But he’d probably be impressed with my awesome beard, so that’s something.

Wow, I am so overwhelmed by how massively I’ve underachieved since eighth grade that I’m losing my will to live. Time to go sit in a corner and cry.

@TBOHBlog: “Chipper Jones is a swell player, but how will the Phillies honor him while recognizing all of his stupid dumbness?”

I’d make a list of suggestions, but I don’t want to trample on future topics in case someone asks me “What are the 10 most horrific, painful, humiliating ways a person can die?” later on.

Let me acknowledge that Chipper Jones is one of the greatest third basemen of all time, a surefire Hall of Famer, an inspirationally great baseball player. Now let me say that I may not hate any baseball player more than I hate Chipper Jones. Actually, I’ll make a bulleted list of things I don’t like about Chipper Jones.

  • His stupid smile. The kind of unassuming, infantile aw-shucks expression that screams “I know I’m trying to grope your girlfriend at a party but you can’t be mad at me because I’m a good ol’ boy.” You know, that Brett Favre “I’m’a text you photos of my penis and try to sell you jeans anyway” face. No, Chip. I can be mad at you and I will hit you in the face.
  • His nickname. Congratulations, Chipper, you’re the only person to have a given name as stupid as “Larry Wayne” and somehow find a nickname to go by that’s even stupider. What kind of stunted intellect must you have to go by “Chipper” into your 40s?
  • He’s from Florida. I hate Florida. I wish they could take the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World and move them someplace that wasn’t so manifestly terrible, like South Dakota.
  • He’s an Atlanta Brave. I hate the Atlanta Braves.
  • He’s the last remaining remnant of that time in the mid-90s where not only were devastatingly great, but maintained a kind of veneer of smug superiority to them. I call this Atlanta’s “Hitler Youth” period. Thoroughly evil, but thoroughly vanilla. Like everyone is supremely confident in his own greatness but no one is either interesting or likeable. Imagine a room full of Mitt Romneys. I hated that team–the sooner Chipper retires the sooner I can start forgetting about the mid-90s Braves.
  • Hooters Waitress Baby. I’d bet large that at least one Phillies player has cheated on his wife, and while I certainly don’t encourage marital infidelity, it just seems so much more awful when Chipper’s doing it. I think this because I’m a spiteful person blinded by partisanship.
  • He bowhunts. Maybe he thinks that hunting with a bow makes him a more credible brave?
  • His Twitter account. I can’t read it without being driven to knock heads together. It’s a pastiche of overexuberant, approval-seeking bro-ishness with a patina of overexcited church youth group leader–that obvious effort to exude coolness and foster camaraderie that falls short because it’s so obviously trying too hard. We’re talking about a grown man who refers to strikeouts as “punchies” and home runs as “#cranks” and “#jerks” WITH THE HASHTAG. This coming from a man who has children–I weep for those children.

I don’t like the practice of giving gifts to opposing players in the first place, but maybe the Phillies should buy Chipper a watch or something. And then hire Garo Yepremian to kick him in the balls.

That’ll do it for this week’s episode of This Old House. On a personal note that may be of interest to those of you who like basketball as well, I’ll be writing about the Sixers for SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers this coming season, so you can find my work there, along with the work of several other quality writers. Feel free to check out the site.

Crash Bag, Vol. 19: How to Name Your Keg

It’s getting cold again, which excites me to no end. I love the change in weather, as would anyone who sweats as much as I do. If I could find a place where it’s in the low 60s all the time, I’d move there in a moment. Unfortunately, Philadelphia and South Jersey have the worst of all the seasons: horrific heat and humidity in the summer, bitter cold and snow in the winter, with only a few weeks of breezy, sunny weather in between.

One last weather note: I’ve spent the past eight or nine years wearing either flip-flops or suede sneakers. It’s an occupational hazard of being a student, not having to wear grown-up shoes. The problem is that these shoes don’t do well in the rain, which I guess is no one’s fault but my own, but I really wish it were acceptable from a fashion standpoint for men to wear galoshes. Walking around campus on rainy days, I’d see girls stomping through the monsoon in galoshes and just wish that there were some sort of similarly acceptable casual waterproof shoe for men. I guess the upside of wearing flip-flops in the rain is that you don’t get your socks wet. Or something.

We’ll begin with a request for Real Life Advice.

@magoplasma: “Am I a traitor for naming my mini keg Manny Machado?”

I went back and asked, and the keg is full of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. I think if you’re drinking Bell’s beer, you can name your keg anything you like. I went to a combination Bell’s Brewery tasting and screening of The Big Lebowski last January, and it was fantastic. Their Hopslam is among my favorite beers, and I had the privilege of tasting their limited-run Expedition Stout. Let me tell you about Expedition Stout. There’s beer, and then there’s this. It’s dark and comforting and makes you feel warm. It’s like being in the womb. It was so good it literally moved me to tears. I think that given his recent run of success in the Orioles’ bizarre siege of the AL East, his is a name worthy of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.

But this brings up a larger question–is it okay to fall in love with another team’s prospects? Is it like baseball adultery in a sense? I say no–my own sports bigamy is well-documented. I am a Philadelphia sports fan through and through, but I also keep up with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Houston Texans for various reasons. If you can identify one favorite team, and you don’t cross rivalry lines, root for whoever you want.

Most importantly, I think it’s the hallmark of an enlightened a sports fan when you can enjoy the game for its own sake, and not just because of shallow partisan attachments. One of my friends is a big baskeball fan, and when he talks about a player he likes, he says “I like his game.” That speaks to appreciating the beauty or effectiveness or both in the skill set of a particular player–for whatever reason, you take joy in the manner in which an athlete plays the game, not just the result. It’s a fun way to consider baseball, or any sport.

I rag on Paul a lot for being such a big Mike Trout fan, but if you’ve got a pulse and even  passing interest in baseball, why wouldn’t you be a huge Mike Trout fan? He’s waging a campaign of destruction the like of which we’ve never seen, and his age leaves open the possibility that he could get even better. My own love for Red Sox minor leaguer Jackie Bradley Jr. is well-documented, and I’ve got my on list of non-Phillies major leaguers whose games I like: Dexter Fowler, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Beltre, Ben Zobrist, and more. I even find myself pulling for players on rival teams from time to time. I’ll even root for Giancarlo Stanton and David Wright, because while I hate their teams, I love their games.

There’s nothing wrong with loving Manny Machado enough to name your keg after him. Want any more Real Life Advice while I’m here?

“should I drop Evolution of Vertebrate Life?”

Yes. Drop all your classes to spend more time with Manny Machado. Though if you drop this class, it sends the message that you’ve got no backbone.

@mferrier31: “if you could take any current never had MLB experience minor leaguer from any team, who would it be”

If I could take any minor leaguer…where? To do what? For what purpose? This is a very open-ended question.

The obvious meaning is “to play baseball.” If that’s what you mean, now that Jurickson Profar is in the majors, I’d probably have Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy. He’s the class of a 2011 draft that ranks among the best and deepest of all time, and considering what a phenomenal rookie class we’ve had this year, Major League Baseball is set up to introduce a truly outstanding set of young players in the coming years. Anyway, Bundy is chewing through the minor leagues, and while he hasn’t been truly dominant at AA, there are two good reasons for that: 1) the Orioles decided that the cutter, arguably Bundy’s best pitch, is bad for you and have forbade him from throwing it. Imagine if someone told Cliff Lee to just ditch his curveball. 2) Bundy is 19 years old. I know we’ve been spoiled by Kershaw, Trout and Bryce Harper, among others, coming up to the majors and playing well at a young age, but at age 19, most future major leaguers are either in short-season or A-ball at the very highest, or finishing up their freshman year of college and trying to sneak into sorority mixers. Bundy has multiple-Cy-Young potential.

If there was  a focus on the more immediate future, I’d take Wil Myers, a center fielder in the Royals’ system. He and Bundy are widely regarded as the top two players yet to see major league action, and given how bad Jeff Francoeur has been, Myers is probably a couple months overdue in Kansas City. He’s a monster offensive prospect with some speed, no doubt the result of the weight he saves by taking a letter off his first name. If you want a prospect, Myers and Bundy are pretty much the ballgame right now.

But what about for other purposes? There’s Stetson Allie, a former pitcher the Pirates are trying to convert to play third base. Allie touches triple digits with ease, but he’s got as bad a case of Steve Blass Disease as you can have. If I were going to pick someone to drive two hundred head of cattle from Kansas City to Fort Worth, I’d pick Allie, because he’s named after a hat.

If I could be friends with any minor leaguer, I’d take Angels farmhand Michael Roth, a first baseman-turned-greatest-college-pitcher-of-all-time, honors business student at South Carolina, and, by all indications, one of the most interesting and thoughtful players in the game. Roth, 22, has roughly the same repertoire as Jamie Moyer, so he doesn’t have much of a chance at pro stardom. But when I asked Kevin Goldstein about his chances of making The Show as a LOOGY, Goldstein described him as an “80 makeup guy.”

For a trip to a Chinese buffet, I’d take Tigers prospect Bruce Rondon, who may be the first athlete in any sport to play at double his listed weight (190 pounds). So depending on the purpose, the answer changes.

As I’ve proved already, if you ask two good questions I’ll answer them both. And this one needs answering.

“I need this settled once and for all. No matter which makes playoffs, who wins AL MVP, Trout or Miggy? I think Trout by a mile”

You are correct to think that. WAR is not the be-all and end-all of player evaluation, but it’s supposed to be consistent across leagues, teams, positions and eras, so that’s where I’d start. If I had a vote, I’d look at the WAR leaderboard, then use all the intangible/storyline /positional nonsense to break ties, in essence. Like last year, for NL MVP, Matt Kemp led the league in WAR, but Ryan Braun was close enough that I didn’t have a problem with his selection.

This is not the case with Trout. In 20 fewer games than most of his competitors, Trout has 8.7 fWAR. His nearest competitors, Cabrera and Robinson Cano, are at 6.1. That’s an enormous gap. There is no discussion. Cabrera, Cano, Beltre and others are having great seasons, but Trout’s bending the laws of physics. It is, as you said, Trout by a mile.

@uublog: “What is the optimal umpire/instant replay usage?”

Interesting question. There should be more instant replay for sure, but you’ve got to take care how to implement it, or else you’re going to wind up like the NFL, where we spend more time waiting for calls than actually watching the action. College football gets a lot of it right: they take the replay initiative out of the hands of coaches, which elevates it beyond the NFL level of high-tech arguing with the umpire. Also, they take the replay decision out of the hands of the on-field officials and place that responsibility in the hands of an official in the booth. Because what good is replay if 1) It takes 5 minutes to reverse a call and 2) the efficacy of instant replay is based on the current crop of MLB umpires announcing they’re wrong on live TV. Yeah, okay, that’s going to happen.

Nevertheless, I am for expanded replay. Here’s how I’d do it.

  • No replay on balls/strikes unless we go full robot-ump and let Pitch f/x or a similar system call balls and strikes in the first place. There are probably 100 borderline strike zone calls every game. Start reviewing the strike zone and baseball will become as boring as critics say it is. Either leave it alone or get rid of the home plate umpire entirely.
  • All replays are initiated and judged by a fifth official, either in the press box or at the league offices in New York. Give the crew chief a microphone and an earpiece. Keep the umpires on the field at all times, and keep the managers out of it. Any borderline call gets reviewed immediately in a minute or less and we move on with our lives. No strategy, no missing a call in the 8th because the manager wasted his last challenge in the 4th. If we’re just going to give the managers and umpires another chance to grandstand, I’d rather just keep getting calls wrong.
  • I’d put fair/foul, catch/trap, fan interference and safe/out on the table. But whatever the call, the play needs to be allowed to play itself out to whatever conclusion, and the first call on the field should stand until the play is over. We saw a couple weeks ago against the Reds what happens when you change the rules on the baserunners in the middle of the play. Sort out the mistakes later.
  • If on-field calls are going to be fair game, there needs to be a public, specific and unchanging set of rules for where to put baserunners if the call gets reversed. I don’t care what it is, but the whole point of this exercise is to get things right. I had a journalism professor who was fond of saying that AP style is “arbitrary but not capricious,” meaning that the rules may have been picked for no good reason, but once they’re in place, they remain so to eliminate confusion.
  • If we’re doing the robot/umpire juxtaposition, let’s have these guys take a go at Joe West and Bob Davidson:

@Tigerbombrock: “updated Mini-Mart feelings?”

It’s almost worse now that he’s hitting well. Watching him play baseball makes me feel like a disapproving grandmother. Every time he botches a grounder I want to tell him to go out into the woods behind the house and pick out a switch off that sassafras tree yonder. And then beat him with it until he cries and yells, “No, Grandma, I won’t steal the pie off the windowsill anymore! I promise! Honest!” It makes me want to act out the fingernail removal scene in Syriana.

So no, my feelings remain the same.

@sellar_door: “What do you guys think of the 2013 schedule?”

The Phillies play the Braves too much. I don’t like it when the Phillies play the Braves.

I also don’t like the additional interleague games. I hate interleague play. I hate the designated hitter, and the even leagues and expanded interleague play is just another sign of the inexorable transformation of the game I love into a gerontocratic, sedentary game for people who lack the creativity to engage in even two-dimensional thinking. I’ll spare you another jeremiad on the subject and direct you to my previous writings on the designated hitter. But congratulations, MLB, you’re enthusiastically and consciously turning baseball into the Arizona of sports: an inhospitable, arid haven for unthinking old people. A plague on both your houses.

@MikeMcGoo: “Cold pizza or hot pizza?”

Both. Next question.

@Gourbot3000: “How annoying will the Eagles chants be at remaining games when the Phillies don’t pull this off?”

Eagles chants are annoying all the time, not just during Phillies games. You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that all this nonsense about Philly fans being boorish rubes who promote violence against people whose only crime is having different geographical origins is the fault of Eagles fans. Now I’m an Eagles fan, but I’ve never even been to a football game at the Linc (four soccer games, but never a football game). But I can’t stand Eagles fans the same way I can’t stand sports talk radio hosts.

Not all sports talk radio hosts are what I’m about to accuse them of being. I believe the future of audio sports commentary is in podcasting, but even in traditional broadcasting, I can name (in Philadelphia alone) Pat Gallen of 97.5 and Spike Eskin of 94.1 as great dudes who actually care about discussing sports in an intelligent fashion, which, though there are others like Pat and Spike, is rarer than it should be. But too often we see ill-informed rabble-rousers (at best) and blowhards who take almost as much pride in their own ignorance as they take in their horrific disrespect for women and non-Americans. These men are too busy writing Donnie Brasco fan fiction and articulating some antiquated, warped view of masculinity to view sports in anything but a childishly normative lens. They’re responsible, in large part, for the behavior that caused the aforementioned reputation, and they should be shouted down.

Anyway, as much as the thermonuclear optimism and innumeracy of many Phillies fans irks me, y’all’re a good bunch. Given the choice between hanging out with people whose ranking of sports teams places the Phillies over the Eagles and hanging out with people whose preferences are reversed, I’ll take the Phillies any day. Call me a snob if you like, but judging by how turgid my prose has become recently, I think I’ve figured that one out for myself.

@TonyMcIV: “Who starts the one game playoff against the Braves in your opinion? Also- how awesome would an A’s Phillies WS be?”

Dude. I don’t want to sound like a naysayer, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Considering how much I hate the Braves, I might start that game with some sort of analgesic, with the intention of waking up again sometime around Thanksgiving. If the Phillies were to lose the Braves in the playoffs, I’d probably just start hemorrhaging and die on the spot. Better not to be conscious for that I think. For that matter, if the Phillies come all the way back from 1,000-to-1 odds just to lose in a one-game playoff, I might move to Croatia or something. What a resounding affirmation of nihilism that would be. Such an outcome is enough to make a man give up all his hobbies and live out his days in a windowless room with a continuous supply of vodka and a Bible, doing nothing but reading the first half of Ecclesiastes over and over and over.

But to answer your question–I don’t know. It depends on how the rotation shakes out, who’s pitching well, if there are any rainouts or if anyone goes on short rest. If I had my way, it would be Cole Hamels, but it’s not like seeing Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay on the mound with the season on the line would be an uncomfortable feeling either. Let’s just try to avoid a Cloyd-Medlen matchup and I’ll be at peace.

And a Phillies-A’s World Series would be awesome, if only because it would involve the Phillies, and would not involve the Yankees or Red Sox. Or the White Sox, because screw those guys. Between the Nationals, A’s and Orioles, we’re getting a lot of new blood in this stretch run, which is pretty cool. Back in the days before, one of the best things about the playoffs was seeing guys you never got to watch during the year. Even though I’ve watched a lot of those teams this year, it’s still neat to watch a team make its first playoff appearance in several years. With the Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers and (to a lesser extent) Rangers, Braves and Rays, we kind of know what we’re getting. A World Series involving the A’s would just add to what’s been a very entropy-filled year and a half for Major League Baseball.

@jackieinerita: “Why Utley at third? Is there some sweet 2B option I don’t know about”

I don’t know. I think it’s because he asked. I’ve been quite clear in my insistence that third base is not a fertile position right now, so maybe filling the spot internally makes it easier for the Phillies to improve at another position. And if Utley can play another position, it gives the Phillies some lineup flexibility, so that’s a bonus.

There are a couple downsides: first, I don’t know how good Utley would be defensively at third. And if he’s anything short of truly spectacular at third, he’s going to be less valuable. Utley is among the best defensive second basemen of the past generation, if not the best, and if he’s any less than that at third, you’re losing defensive value. And while he’s got great range and instincts, I’m not sure how good he’ll be. Because of the speed of the position compared to second, Utley will lose some of his range, and while he’s not Chuck Knoblauch, he’s conspicuously conservative with the baseball. I don’t know if I trust his arm on the longer, cross-diamond throws (or even if he does). Anyway, I have a hard time believing the Phillies wouldn’t take a defensive hit at second, third or both.

Second, it’s not like second base is full of great options right now either. If they stood a chance of signing, like, Ian Kinsler or something, that’d be one thing. But who are they going to get to play second–Freddy Galvis? I like Galvis as a pinch runner/utilityman, but if he’s going to be an everyday player for a contender, he’s going to have to become a better hitter than he’s ever given any indication of being at any point in his professional career. Please stop wishing for 600 plate appearances for a guy with a .266 career wOBA.

So if Utley wants to take some grounders at third for curiosity’s sake, he should. Take all the grounders you like. But there’s no reason I’m aware of for Utley to undertake a full-time position change.

@geatland: “If members of the 2012 Phillies each wrote a memoir regarding this season, what would the titles be?”

I think this question lends itself to a bulleted list:

  • Jimmy RollinsThe hell I don’t hustle! LISTEN KID! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
  • Tyler Cloyd: I Can’t Drive 85
  • Kyle Kendrick: The Dog that Caught the Car
  • John MayberryShane! Come Back, Shane!
  • Phillippe AumontLe Pont Au Papelbon (h/t to @AntsinIN for that one)
  • Domonic Brown: Escape from Lehigh Valley
  • Jonathan Papelbon(Vacant Stare)
  • Chase UtleyI’m Not Dead, I’m Just Resting
  • Carlos RuizThe Righteous Vengeance of an Angry God
  • Ryan HowardIt’s a Terrible Glove, and I’m Flailing at Sliders 
  • Erik KratzScrew You, Brian Schneider
  • Juan Pierre: “But hey, sometimes the batless fleck of roster garbage stumbles upon success. That’s baseball.” (ghostwritten by Ryan Sommers)
  • Cliff Lee: Runs Lift Us Up Where We Belong
  • Cole Hamels: A Truckful of Dollars
  • Kevin FrandsenStrong Motion
  • Roy Halladay: Come back… so we can be young men together again.

Okay, I think that’s enough.

@wattmilliams: “Which evil mastermind is Selig most like for sparking the madness of this Wild Card race?

The Joker. I’m imagining the ferry scene from The Dark Knight except the ferries are filled with the Phillies and the Braves, respectively. That’s the insanity of a one-game playoff, though the ferry scenario, from a purely rational game theory perspective, is an extremely simple solution: blow the other ship. If the scenario is as The Joker says, and there’s no chance that he’s lying to you about what the detonators are connected to, or if the ferries will actually both explode at midnight, the purely rational thing to do is to save yourself and blow up the other ferry.

Of course, then things get complicated when you think about how you might not completely trust The Joker, and the guilt of blowing up a few hundred other folks. However, all that changes when the Braves are in the equation.

I was going to say that if the Phillies were on one ferry and the Braves were on the other ferry, I’d blow that sumbitch up without a second thought. Chipper Jones is on that ferry. I think having the opportunity to blow Chipper Jones to smithereens and not taking it is reprehensible.

However, in this scenario, I can imagine someone (Chase Utley, that cold, calculating, rational mensch that he is) taking the detonator and mashing down the button. But then, instead of the Braves’ boat blowing up, Bob Davidson magically appears and starts tossing people overboard.

Evil mastermind indeed.

@SoMuchForPathos: “There’s a murder mystery dinner in the Phillies’ locker room. What’s the scenario? Who is the murderer?”

Well, the most likely scenario is that someone tells Roy Halladay that they’re going to do a murder mystery dinner instead of running foul pole to foul pole until they black out and he gets angry and murders everyone.

But let’s imagine the actual murder mystery dinner.

It’s a dark and stormy night and everyone’s been trapped in the clubhouse after a players-only meeting goes long. Michael Martinez is found dead in the shower, his brains beaten in with a baseball bat.

Everyone gives a big cheer and goes home.

No, wait, we can’t do that. Anyway, Mini-Mart is dead, and Detective Lieutenant Cliff Lee braves the rain to examine the crime scene, dressed in a leather bomber jacket and a deerstalker hat. He examines the body and finds that Mini-Mart ran and struggled before he was murdered, so it can’t be Jimmy Rollins–killing Mini-Mart would have taken too much effort.

Mini-Mart was found with a glove on his left hand, and John Mayberry is excused because he can’t hit righties. Likewise Domonic Brown, who doesn’t swing wildly enough to deliver the multiple blows that killed Martinez. Nor can it be Juan Pierre, who can’t swing a bat hard enough to kill someone.

Out of the corner of his eye, Detective Lee notices a red splotch on Jonathan Papelbon’s uniform–could it be blood? No, it’s hot sauce from his mid-game meal of beer and fried chicken.

But there’s an imprint on Mini-Mart’s forehead–the embossed logo of a Louisville Slugger belonging to Erik Kratz, imprinted on Mini-Mart’s lifeless body…a clue! Surely Kratz is the murderer!

Before going back to apprehend Kratz, Lee goes back to look at the body one more time. Mini-Mart didn’t actually die of injuries from the bat–some of his hair has been torn out, and Martinez’s neck has been broken, as if someone was holding his head and crushed him by accident. Lee’s gaze turns back to the corner of the locker room where Kratz is comforting a sobbing Darin Ruf.

“Erik,” Ruf says, “tell me how it’s going to be.”
“Well,” Kratz says, “We’re gonna have a cow, and some pigs, and we’re gonna have, maybe-maybe, a chicken. Down in the flat, we’ll have a little field of…”
“Field of alfalfa for the rabbits.”
“For the rabbits,” Kratz says.

Clearly, Lee says to himself, Ruf accidentally killed Mini-Mart and Kratz beat up the dead body to cover for Ruf.

The end.

Phillies playoff odds at 2.7 percent right now. We’re getting into must-win territory here. See you next week.


Crash Bag, Vol. 18: A Cacophony of Squeaky Octopi

I own a stuffed octopus. It used to belong to the son of a friend of mine, but I inherited it after the young boy outgrew it. This octopus is special–each of its eight tentacles has a squeaker tuned to one note of a major scale. The possibilities for such a toy are endless–on one visit, I sat down and figured out how to play the 1812 Overture and Crazy Train on this octopus, among other compositions, so my friend gave me the toy with the understanding that I’d enjoy it more than his kids ever did.

I bring this up because I think all things should have a musical component. Life is more fun when you’re surrounded by musical instruments. I discovered that if you tap a certain point on the steering wheel of my car in a certain way, it sounds like a cowbell, which comes in handy when I’m on a long road trip and the urge to listen to “Low Rider” by War strikes me.

When I’m dictator of the world, different parts of everyday objects will be tuned to different pitches. So when you’re bored, say, in a meeting, you can tap out an impromptu steel drum cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” If the spirit so moves you. It’ll be paradise. Mankind will be blanketed in a cacophony of squeaky octopi, and we’ll all be too happy to oppress each other. It’s the way of the future.

@threwouttime: “when will phillies postseason tickets go on sale?”

My guess? Sometime in late summer 2014.

But that reminds me–we had a request from @erhudy for a recipe for “a delicious bacon-wrapped monkfish.” So I’m not one of those baseball bloggers who needs to show off how much he knows about cooking and how much he cares about what he eats. I eat (by mass) probably more fried chicken than any other food group. My viewpoint toward cooking is: “Put in oven/on stove, heat until it changes color, douse in Frank’s Red Hot.” That’s how I cook chicken, beef, vegetables, bread, fish, mutton, rice, venison, bread, eggs, everything. I can cook (I take great pride in my chili), but I’d rather just heat up some frozen chicken and frozen cauliflower and pour Frank’s on them until they taste good.

Anyhoo, not only am I not a gourmet myself, but I really don’t like fish, so I submit this recipe by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse. Got some bacon, some monkfish and about an hour? Knock yourself out. And give me some–I’m hungry.

But I’ll answer another question, since I dismissed the first one.

“what will min-marts BA be at seasons end? .100? Higher? Lower?”

Probably higher, just because I can’t imagine a major league hitter finishing the season worse than .115/.169/.192. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise us that Mini-Mart’s OPS is .361, because when you have so little power and such bad plate discipline, it’s hard to overcome a .115 batting average. I’m not sure what he’s doing in the majors, honestly. Actually, I am sure what he’s doing: making lots of outs.

The way casual fans view Mini-Mart is actually a pleasant surprise. Sure, most people decry his appalling lack of baseball skill for someone in his profession, but I’ve heard multiple people rave about his defense and baserunning, or his youth and potential for the future. Never mind that all of those things bear not even a casual relationship with fact, but I like what it says about humanity. We all know Michael Martinez is a terrible hitter, so therefore he must be a good defender and baserunner. Well, actually, the best thing I can say about his defense and baserunning is that he’s better than Ryan Howard in both facets of the game. But given that, he’s got to have room to improve, right? Well, no, he turns 30 next week, so if you don’t know him by now, you will never never never know him. No you won’t.

The same thing goes for Michael Young, who is a smallpox scar on the face of the Texas Rangers. Young once won a batting title, and can play multiple positions in the same way that Martinez can: if you put him in the lineup at, say, third base, he will stand there for nine defensive innings and occupy a particular point in space. But observers (among them Rangers manager Ron Washington) have been concocting a story about what Young adds to the team from a standpoint of morale, that he brings intangible value as a team leader, which excuses his being, by both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR, the worst player in the major leagues this year whose name isn’t Jeff Francoeur. Now, even if this were true, I’m not sure how he couldn’t add this value from the bench while Jurickson Profar or Mike Olt batted in his place, but that’s another story.

Anyway, that we make up (as in “fabricate in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary”) reasons to value Young and Martinez speaks to a tendency to look for value in our fellow humans where none exist. It’s impossible, we assume, for a baseball player to be as entirely worthless as Michael Martinez appears to be. The statistical record indicates that he’s a fetid, squishy garbage bag of week-old bat carcasses left outdoors overnight in the Alabama heat. But surely he can’t be that bad. So let’s look for reasons in the fuzzier regions of the game–defense and intangibles–to find some value in something that we know, deep down, to have none.

It’s a charitable and warm reflex from a community that is too often neither. I think I’ve just talked myself into the idea of Michael Martinez as being life-affirming, rather than infuriating. This has been a good morning so far.

But let’s not lose focus.

@Estebomb: “Just exactly how bad is Michael Martinez?”

Very much so. In fact, I’ve invented a new word to describe it: “blemmorhagic.” It’s a portmanteau of “blinding” and “hemmorhagic,” because watching Michael Martinez play baseball is like losing your sight while bleeding internally. I hope you like it.

@fotodave: “what is the most pressing need for the Phil’s in the offseason? 3B? LF? Relief?”


The Phillies’ relief corps was awful this season. But add Papelbon to a healthy De Fratus, a healthy Stutes, a healthy Herndon, Phillippe Aumont and some combination of Tony No-Dad and Jeremy Horst and you’ve got a bullpen that, if it’s not good, then at least has enough young guys who throw hard that it probably won’t be awful. This goes double if the Squirtle that is Aumont evolves into a fully-formed Blastoise. You only need two or three really good relievers before it stops mattering how far Josh Lindblom‘s fastball gets hit.

So for the bullpen, Ruben Amaro would be best-served doing the same thing in 2013 that he did in 2012. And before someone trots out that monumentally stupid “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” nonsense, let me point out 1) the hypocrisy of using the same “Axiom unsupported by facts/Q.E.D.” line of rhetoric and expecting it to work this time and 2) that the definition of insanity is actually something else. I’m sorry that other people have read the same fortune cookie you have, but reciting quotes with sketchy attribution (I know this one is said to have come from Albert Einstein) without context or understanding doesn’t make you impressive. It makes you look like a stone dullard, particularly when everyone else has heard those sayings as well, and (if they have any sense) disregarded them.

I find it absolutely preposterous that in 2012, 43 years after man first walked on the surface of the moon, that there are people, in the United States, many of whom are not functionally illiterate, who walk around on the street under the impression that saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” merits any response other than being beaten to death with a shopping cart. Do you think that there’s anyone who’s still impressed by your knowing that quote? I’d suggest perhaps peddling such “wisdom” to a more receptive audience, perhaps some tribe in Indonesia who’s yet to discover fire, but I don’t want to pollute their gene pool as well.

So third base.

Bill wants the Phillies to trade for Chase Headley. Or so he says. I think he’s actually just saying that in an attempt to pass the Turing Test. I’ve never met Bill in person, nor even seen a photograph of him, so I’ve spent the past three years operating under the assumption that he’s a very clever computer program that’s reached self-awareness. So this maniacal trade-for-Chase Headley nonsense is an attempt to give the appearance of human fallibility to throw us off the scent. Don’t be fooled–every minute you believe trading for Chase Headley to be a good idea brings Bill one minute closer to creating Skynet. I, suffice it to say, don’t think trading for Chase Headley is a good idea, and am totally comfortable heading into 2013 with the cast of Mean Girls penciled into the lineup at third base.

And I thought the plan in left field was Domonic Brown, with some Nate Schierholtz/John Mayberry platoon in right. I’d be cool with that, I guess, if they got a decent center fielder in free agency. There are more and better options in center, but we’ll get to that later, after we interrupt this programming for some political coverage.

more powerful duo: Halladay/Hamels or Clinton/Obama”

Halladay’s showing his age and Obama has the nuclear launch codes. I’ll go with Clinton/Obama. But seriously, Obama has the launch codes, so if you don’t vote for him you’ll be killed with a cruise missile.

@bxe1234: “Did you play little league/HS baseball and what position? Who’d you model your stance after?”

I played little league, but not high school. I was terrible. I was pudgy, and I wore glasses, and not only was I not the coach’s kid, but I wasn’t the coach’s kid’s best friend, so I found myself in the outfield and in the bottom of the lineup. There was one year where one coach took an interest in actually teaching me how to play baseball rather than indulging his inner Billy Martin, and I actually learned how to hit, so Coach John Dailey, if you’re reading this, I thank you.

But I played a little bit of second base, a little third base and a lot of right field. I started thinking about baseball critically about the same time Derek Jeter came up to the majors, so I was a huge Jeter fan. I don’t know that I modeled my stance after anyone in particular, but Jeter was my idol. I held my hands up high and tried to inside-out the ball like Jeter, and I kept my feet closed to try to get some power to the opposite field. It didn’t work. Jeter inside-outed more than 3,000 major league hits and I had washed out of little league by 6th grade.

@TonyMcIV: “People keep saying, ‘oooh sign Bourn, or ooh sign Hamilton for CF!’ I think it’s crazy, but it depends on Mayberry doesn’t it?”

It is crazy, and it has nothing to do with Mayberry. Bourn and Hamilton are both going to be outrageously overpriced in free agency. So signing one of them does have the virtue of fitting in well with the Phillies’ recent policy on free agents, even if it isn’t good baseball policy as such. I’d much rather go with either B.J. Upton, who I’ve said before is almost as good as Bourn and will sign, I believe, for much less. With Hamilton, you’ll be paying for a former No. 1 draft pick and AL MVP, batting champion and home run champion. What you’ll get is the decline phase of a player who misses 30 or more games a year anyway as a matter of principle. Not smart.

That people think that buying the best player at the highest price is hardly surprising in an age where pride in one’s ignorance of economics is a political asset. Call it Death by Hadden.

Oh, look, the boss wants a question answered.

@CrashburnAlley: “Great song or greatest song?”

Are you pissed that I outed you as a computer? Apparently this song is a thing on the internet, but I hadn’t heard it until just now. It’s actually not as terrifying as I expected it to be. I will say this: ain’t nobody having more fun than the guy in that video. Nobody. I hope one day to enjoy myself a fraction as much as Psy, whoever he is, is enjoying himself in that video.

And no. Believe me, anything the Koreans can do, the Russians can do crazier.

@ETDWN: “The music played at CBP is terrible. What kind of jams would you play if you were in charge of in game entertainment?”

I’m probably the last person you want in charge of the music at CBP. I’d probably just hire @bravesorganist (a must-follow if you’re on Twitter) and let him do his thing.

But if I were forced to DJ Phillies games myself? I’d probably go heavy not on current insipid pop earworms (“Call Me Maybe” would be interdit in my stadium), but from the insipid pop earworms of a generation ago. We would do the Macarena every half-inning. We would do the Macarena during mound visits, and in between Jonathan Papelbon‘s pitches. We would do the Macarena during stolen base attempts.

@jondgc: “How great is that new Sportscenter commercial?”

Quite good. ESPN’s SportsCenter commercials have been uniformly excellent for what must be 20 years now. It’s a great premise, that all the athletes ESPN covers live and work at the Bristol studios, and it’s led to some hilarious advertisements. Clayton’s is great, but it falls outside my personal top five. What are those top five? I thought you’d never ask.

@geatland: “Feeling serious hockey anxiety, so if you were going to make the Phils a hockey team, what are the line combinations?”

Yeah, we’re going to have a lockout, because we’re okay with a society than enables multi-million-dollar corporations to unilaterally roll back their employees’ wages. How is it that we’re okay with perpetuating the idea that companies are entitled to economic security but people aren’t? And more important than that, I had big plans to go to All-Star weekend this year. The cruelest trick the NHL could play on America is removing the only way Columbus, Ohio in January could be fun.

Anyway, Phillies line combinations:

  • Rollins/Utley/Howard. I imagine Utley as a Mike Richards/Ryan Kesler type of center, a grinder with elite skill. Rollins can be the Peter Bondra type, and we can park Howard in the slot to clean up the garbage. Even Zdeno Chara would need the Army Corps of Engineers to move Howard out from in front of the net.
  • Lee/Hamels/Brown. A solid second scoring line if you can get over having three lefties in one unit.
  • Nix/Bastardo/Frandsen. The grinders. Frandsen’s neck-beard alone is NHL-ready.
  • Aumont/Lindblom/Kratz. That’s an average height of 6-foot-5 and an average weight of 252 pounds. Eat me, Milan Lucic. Aumont also has the added advantage of actually being Canadian.

Let’s fill out the defensive pairings while we’re at it.

  • Halladay/Schierholtz. A nice combination of size and speed. This pairing gives me a little bit of the Matt Carle/Chris Pronger feeling.
  • Ruiz/Galvis. The puck-moving pair. If Freddy Galvis were Scandinavian, we’d be talking about him right now the way we talk about Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
  • Wigginton/Polanco. I tried to think of an NHL player as immobile as Ty Wigginton. I settled on Howie Morenz, because he’s been dead 75 years. Don’t give this pairing more than 5 or 6 minutes a night.


  • Papelbon. Because he’s got that kind of vacant-yet-possibly-homicidal affect that worked so well for Patrick Roy.
  • Worley. Because he sweats like he’s wearing 30 pounds of foam rubber and Kevlar anyway.

@uublog: “Sunday’s game in Atlanta was the worst gut punch loss since…?”

Blowing a six-run lead, including allowing five runs in the ninth, in September, to the Braves, with Chipper Jones delivering a walk-off home run as the final insult? That really does check all the boxes, doesn’t it?

Source: FanGraphs
That’s the win probability graph from Sunday. It’s hilarious. I want to get a cup of coffee with that graph, then let it tickle me until I have trouble breathing.

But when it happened, I looked up at the TV, chortled, and went back to mowing down the barbecue chicken wrap I was eating. It didn’t bother me on an emotional level, and I’m the kind of person who can go transcontinentally mad over a college football game that involves Vanderbilt. Here’s why.

  • I was really really hungry and nothing was distracting me from that wrap.
  • It happened rather quickly. It wasn’t within the realm of possibilities for me that the Phillies would lose that game until it was already over. A truly devastating loss is slow and painful, a death by a thousand small cuts. Frankly, it’s difficult for baseball to engender that kind of crushing dread. If anything, it’s more painful to lose by failing to come from behind, given numerous opportunities, than to lose by blowing a big lead. Like, say, Game 5 of last year’s NLDS. We were totally cool until about three batters from the end. It’s not the thing itself that’s most impactful, it’s the anticipation of the thing.
  • Most importantly, the season’s been over since, like, mid-June. If Jones’ home run had knocked the Phillies out of the pennant race, that’d be one thing. But this was just an awful and meaningless loss in a season full of awful and meaningless losses.

But yeah, you know those people who say they’re going to miss Chipper Jones when he retires? I’m not one of them.

@DangerGuerrero: “Do you think Phillies fans would be nicer to Jimmy Rollins if he had a big mean dog that growled a lot?”

Yes, I do think Phillies fans would be nicer to Jimmy Rollins if the Phillies hadn’t gotten rid of Brett Myers.

Good Crash Bag. Let’s go eat.


Crash Bag, Vol. 17: Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered!

College football season started last night as my South Carolina Gamecocks escaped with a 17-13 win at Vanderbilt. I have a strange relationship with football. As a  total package, football probably ranks fourth on my list of favorite sports, behind soccer, ice hockey and, of course, baseball. But nothing gets me angrier than college football. I don’t know why. I think part of it is that I know less about football than I do about baseball, so where I can step back and have some perspective when the Phillies lose, I panic and scream and break things when the Gamecocks even give up a first down. Add to that the inherently visceral nature of the game and I felt like I should tell you that in case I accidentally severed an artery punching through a window during the USC-UGA game. I should probably will the Crash Bag to someone in that case.

But USC won, and I live. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

@4Who4What: “Describe the 2012 Phillies season as if you’re explaining it to the Tamarians from ‘Darmok’ “

Excellent question. This is one of my favorite episodes of television ever. Not because it’s so entertaining, or moving, or well-written, though I might list those sometime later on. It’s because the conflict of this episode is so creative: the Enterprise encounters a race whose language is built on cultural references, and when no one gets the references, they can’t understand each other. If you’d like to know more go here.

Anyway, I identify with these folks–many of my friends and I have abandoned traditional methods of communication and resorted entirely to movie references: Independence Day, Tombstone, Shawshank Redemption, Apollo 13 and Spy Game foremost among them. When people ask what we’re talking about, I’ve said more than once, “We communicate entirely using cultural references, like that episode of Star Trek…

Anyway, the Tamarians have an appropriate saying: “Shaka, when the walls fell!” to indicate failure. I think that tells us everything we need to know.

@Giving_Chase: “What’s your favorite movie? Which movie do you hate that everyone else likes?”

Up front: “Favorite” is not the same as “best.” I said for years and years that my favorite movie was Independence Day. But last winter, Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynski started talking up a hockey movie called Goon on their eponymous podcast, and in the months that followed, Goon became 1) the first movie I ever saw in a theater alone 2) the first DVD I ever pre-ordered 3) my favorite movie of all time. It’s absurdly funny, self-aware, topical (because it addresses violence in sports, specifically fighting in hockey) and sweet. It’s completely unrealistic about the on-ice aspects of hockey, but it understands what we love about sports perhaps more than any other sports movie I’ve seen. Maybe Friday Night Lights gets it better. But it’s smarter than any movie starring Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel has any right to be. I love it so much that I made Xavier Laflamme my Twitter background. I love him so much.

As far as a movie I hate that everyone else likes…I like the Coen brothers a lot, but The Hudsucker Proxy didn’t do it for me. Not outright hatred–more of a “meh.” But I did hate both Adaptation and Being John Malkovich with a passion rivaled only by my own hatred for FC Barcelona and the Atlanta Braves. I love playing around with first-person narration, but that can’t be the whole ballgame. I don’t know how Charlie Kaufman rode that gimmick so long, but it makes me want to hit him with a snow shovel.

@_magowan: “the Yankees can’t be serious with their choices for the AAA SWB team re-naming, can they?”

I meant to get to this one last week. For those of you who care about such things, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are in the process of changing their name. As much as I love the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, something just feels wrong about the Phillies’ triple-A affiliate being anything other than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. I don’t know if it was that way forever, but it was that way when I started following baseball and it seems weird to be otherwise.

But given that, and given that we’re not changing them back to the Red Barons, we need something quirky because it’s a minor league team. I’m really over the idea that names for sports teams having to be somehow menacing, as if the San Diego State Aztecs, for instance, were going to build a huge pyramid and sacrifice an opponent on it. We’re not seven-year-old boys. We can have descriptive nicknames.

And naming the minor league team is at best lazy (I guess Scrantonites are still “Yankees”) and at worst misleading (people in Reading are not “Philadelphians” any more than Port St. Lucie, Fla., is “Metropolitan). But still, we’re afraid to go off the beaten path with or major league teams, which is a shame. I’d have loved to see the unstoppable radiation monster of outrage that would have been unleashed had the Seattle Supersonics rechristened themselves the “Bombers” when they moved.

But, yeah, the list is stupid. The only one I like even a little bit is the “Fireflies.” Anything that lights up fits with the “Electric City” and it has a little bit of that mountaintop wilderness feeling, which might be unfair. Really, the only places in Pennsylvania I don’t view as weird, rural and otherwise Upstate-New-York-like are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (which is an assortment of nasty people who love bridges but are afraid of tunnels) and Easton (which I associate with crayons). But Scranton? It’s either a place you pass on the way to the Poconos or the home of Parade Day.

Given my experience in Scranton, I’d change the team name to the “Blur,” because that’s all I saw the past couple times I’ve been there. Apparently Scranton has a massive St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, and since I moved back to the area, Paul (who went to U of S) has taken me up there to partake in the festivities. I say “apparently” because I’ve never actually seen the parade. The first year I went up there, I woke up on the day of the parade at 7:30, changed into my green Halladay t-shirt and went outside to call my girlfriend. When I came in, I was handed breakfast: one pancake and a shot of bourbon. And so it went from there.

So to me, Scranton is what people tell me New Orleans is like on Mardi Gras, except cold. And while “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre River of Vomit and Green Paint” does have a certain panache, I doubt you’d be able to fit that on a uniform. I’d be okay with “Fireflies” if they did some sort of black-white-and-yellow color scheme, maybe if the buttons on their jerseys glowed in the dark. I guess the only thing I can say about the other nicknames is that there are no Dunder-Mifflin jokes. I think we can all be grateful for that.

@soundofphilly: “who would win in a fight: Buster the BlueClaw or the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor”

Crazy Hot Dog Vendor by default. Buster does not have claws. Your mascot is a crab, and yet your mascot is some amorphous Youppi knockoff. I get that it has to be kid-friendly and furry, but you need a claw. In all fights, the claw is the tie-breaker.

@lexuhbooz: “How many pimples do you think the girl with the lipstick all over her face woke up with the next morning?”

That’s quite something. It’s possible that she’ll get several pimples, though having no idea how lipstick interacts with skin (I’ve worn women’s clothing before but never gone for the makeup) I suspect I might be the wrong person to ask about this.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of painting one’s face. I’ve done it a few times in college (I joked at the time that SEC football games are the only place where one would fit in wearing either a cocktail dress or jorts and full-torso paint), and most recently at the USA-Turkey soccer match that took place at the Linc the day of the Roy Halladay Perfect Game. I had a little red-white-and-blue on my face, but a friend of mine had a star drawn on her face that covered, if I remember correctly, one cheek from her mouth to her eye. And as a relatively pale person who spent most of the day in the searing sun, she got a paint tan line. In the shape of a star. On her face.

So given the choice between pimples or a funny tan line on my face, I’d take the pimples. Don’t wear partial face paint to afternoon games when it’s sunny.

@hdrubin: “Question: Should the next Phillies manager be a badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball? Or another grandpa?”

I’d rather have a nerd. Joe Maddon is, for my money, the best manager in the game and it’s not even close. I’d rather have someone who’s unafraid to think outside the box and evaluate the game through rational rather than normative means. I think there’s a greater chance of getting such a manager with a phlegmatic ex-jock than a choleric ex-jock. So considering that often the best course of action for a manager is to do nothing, I’d rather have a grandpa than a “badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball” as you so artfully described him. Whoever’s going to be more chill.

@threwouttime: “what color is a mirror?”

Whoa. Reflective? Is “reflective” a color? (bong hit)

@Caoimhin89: “Why is Kyle Kendrick such an enigma?”

Well, he’s not. Because he’s neither a Nazi code machine nor a Russian hockey player. Kendrick has been really good this season, particularly in the past two months. Given the small sample size and arbitrary endpoint caveats, Kendrick has posted a .585 OPS against, a K/BB ratio greater than 3:1 and a 2.09 ERA. That’s not bad. On the broadcast yesterday, they were talking about how Kendrick has changed his approach to the cutter, and that might have something to do with it, or it might be small sample size and arbitrary endpoints. But as much as I gripe about his contract, you don’t have to be that good to beat the value on 2 years, $7-and-change million. Kendrick is striking more guys out than ever, and the difference between a 4.6 K/9 guy (2011) and a 6.4 K/9 guy (2012) is the difference between being a taxi squad guy and a decent back-end starter. We’ve been so spoiled by having eight different starting pitchers post good seasons since 2008–three of whom made Cy Young noise–that I think we lose a little bit of perspective. A guy who can throw 180 innings with a 4.50 ERA and never get hurt isn’t that bad out of the back of a rotation, and if Kendrick can be that, we should be happy.

@JonCheddar: “what is your opinion of the best movie line ever? Non- “You Knew Marcus Aurelius?” division, obviously”

Gladiator has a bunch of them. This is a tough question. Anything Malcolm Tucker says in In the Loop  has to be up there, because anytime you create a political farce as an excuse for a skinny Scottish man to yell at people for 90 minutes, you’re going to have some good lines. Ocean’s Eleven has a few good ones, as well, but most of those are the Clooney/Pitt back-and-forth. I’m also a big fan of the “Fuck me? Fuck you, you redneck sonofabitch!” from Primary Colors.

But the line that popped into my head is from Serenity. You’ll find funnier lines, or even more emotionally significant lines in that film, and compared to the entire Firefly oeuvre, it doesn’t stick out. But “No more running. I aim to misbehave,” always resonated with me. I’m not sure why.

@treblaw: “if this season were a rock opera, what songs would be featured to tell the story?”

I hate jukebox musicals. Whenever you twist the plot and characters to fit the songs, your plot and characters will suffer. Glee found this out in a hurry, as did Across the Universe, the Ludovico Treatment of 21st century cinema.

But for the Phillies, we have the following:

We end with some topical humor.

@Billy_Yeager: “Who would you put in an invisible chair and what would you ask them?”

I’d like to put Ruben Amaro in an invisible chair and I’d like to ask him to stay there and not move until the Phillies find a better general manager.

@bxe1234: “Are you more or less likely to see the new Eastwood baseball flic now that we know he has dimentia?”

No. I wasn’t going to see a movie about a nasty old man who’s unable to adapt to the changing world around him before and I’m certainly not going to see it now. In case you were wondering, this is what he’s talking about:

I don’t really enjoy watching cranky old people do anything, and the combination of lionizing old-school baseball, what looks like a ham-fisted love story between two actors I actually like and the involvement of the Atlanta Braves…well those three things constitute three strikes.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend. Save me a burger and a beer wherever you wind up grilling–I will return and you do not know the day or the hour.

Crash Bag, Vol. 16: Very Little Baseball, Lots of Digressions


I was thinking the other day about how funny I thought Homestar Runner was back in the day. Then I started thinking about how only a very special set of very nerdy people born between, say…1984 and 1989 probably even know what that is. [EDIT: A bunch of people born before 1984, led by All-Pro commenter LTG, have written to management to express their displeasure at my insinuation that people born before 1984 wouldn’t know Homestar Runner. This is not the case. I was wrong, and I apologize.] Which is so bizarre. For me, there are at least three  Strong Bad Emails (the real gold standard in mailbag columns, whatever you may say about Katie Baker or Drew Magary) that are still indelibly part of the public lexicon: techno, dragon, and death metal. Maybe more depending on your own experience. But then I realized that there are college students who don’t remember the Clinton presidency.

This isn’t so much about me feeling old as it is a statement on how internet culture has taken the process of pop culture obsolescence and given it a big heaping spoonful of methamphetamine. So while some pop culture fads stuck around for years, now they fade into distant memory after a few weeks. Or so it seems to me, at least. I could be completely off-base. This was mostly an excuse to work Strong Bad into the post, so I’ll stop screwing around now.

But if I’m right, I have some good news: at this rate, we’re, like, 6 months away from forgetting Danys Baez ever existed at all.

Here I go once again with the email. Every week, I hope it’s from a female.

Chris (via email, edited slightly for formatting): “First time, long time.. my question is about how the SS/3B lineup construction could look next year. 

  • Option A: SS: Jimmy Rollins/3B: Poo poo platter of Frandsen/Polanco or some other slightly above average option available vs. 
  • Option B: SS: Galvis 3B: David Wright
 Assume you could unload Jimmy (and all his salary) and sign Wright at a standard RAJ overpay (~20 million a year). How would you evaluate Option A vs. Option B? Assume that Jimmy would have a “rebound” year and the poo poo platter at 3B would give you a solid combined ~3 WAR for the year. 
Thank you very much. If this is a crappy question please let me know. I’d prefer not to ask bad questions in the future.”

Aww, man, not from a female. Actually, “Chris” could be a girl, as in Chris Evert, who I must confess is still rather attractive in my mind even as she approaches 60. What were we talking about again?

Oh, yeah, the left side of the infield next year. It’s not a crappy question, and I like your creative thinking. However, I don’t think this is a realistic one-or-the-other choice, the first of which is cost. Rollins makes $11 million next year, and if you keep Galvis and sign two scrub third basemen to minor league and/or ML minimum deals (whether they’re Placido Polanco and Kevin Frandsen or Placido Domingo and Jonathan Franzen doesn’t matter to me), that totals about $13 million for a starting shortstop, a capable defensive backup in Galvis, even if he can’t hit, and 650 plate appearances’ worth of taxi squad dreck at third. Figure a shade under 4 fWAR for Rollins (which is what he did last year and what he’s on pace for this year), and maybe a win or two between Galvis (who, for all his defense still can’t hit worth a damn) and the Tibble Twins at third. So let’s call it somewhere between four and six fWAR for that left side of the infield.

Compare that to what you’d pay for Wright, who’s making $15 million this year and is likely in for a substantial raise. Given the paucity of options at third base leaguewide and the sorry state of the position (Polanco is over replacement level, thanks in large part to his defense, but he still goes months between extra-base hits and has a .278 wOBA), we might expect to pay $20 million a year or even more. Add in another million to split between Galvis and a backup and option B could cost as much as $10 million a year more than option A. $10 million next year goes a long way. Even $8 million could get you B.J. Upton (my choice for free agent center fielder) from the knees up or so. So it’s not Rollins/Galvis/3B mystery meat vs. Wright/Galvis. It’s Rollins/Galvis/3B mystery meat/Upton or Pagan vs. Wright/Galvis/Mayberry/bench bat (if it’s Upton and not Pagan). And if you’re signing Wright long-term, you’re probably getting a legitimate MVP candidate for now, but you’re also committing north of $20 million AAV to a guy with longstanding injury issues through his mid-to-late-30s. In a vacuum, I don’t think that would put me off of paying Wright big completely, but it’s just another thing that can go wrong.

Another thing: Frandsen is a replacement-level player, no matter how much everyone here (including me) has enjoyed his recent play. I’m more inclined to believe in the taxi squad player he’s been up to this season than to build my church upon the rock of 85 plate appearances at age 30. I mean, he’s had a great month, thanks to a BABIP 100 points above his career mark, but counting on him to be anything more than replacement-level next season would be foolish in the extreme.

Which is okay with me. Third base and shortstop are kind of weak positions in major league baseball at the moment, with a few stars at the top, then, to quote Ryan Sommers at his literary finest, “batless fleck of roster garbage.” Among such garbage you’ll find Frandsen, Mike Fontenot, the remains of Placido Polanco and the rest of the guys who either have or would have played third base for the Phillies this year. They will all produce roughly the same: replacement level or close to it, and if they don’t, you can cut them and find someone who will.

Anyway, because there are so few top-notch third basemen–or even average third basemen–production at that position is harder to come by than at, say, first base, where good major league hitters like Ryan Howard and Adam LaRoche are mid-level models. It stands to reason that when something is scarce (like a good third baseman), the price of the commodity goes up. Likewise, when a commodity is plentiful (good outfielders, good first basemen), the price goes down. This is why the Twins are paying only $7 million a year for Josh Willingham‘s .384 wOBA while Yuniesky Betancourt continues to do baseball-like things for major league teams. I don’t know this for sure, since I’m not an economist or anything, but I think I heard someone say something like this once and it seems to make sense.

Anyway, why pay big for production where it’s most expensive (third base) when you can punt the position and get cheaper production elsewhere? This is why paying Ryan Howard so much money is so stupid, and it’s why I think Bill is completely out of his mind to want the Phillies to trade for Chase Headley as badly as he does. So I’ll take Rollins at short, the White Stripes at third and a decent center fielder over David Wright.


The previous several hundred words are useless because the Mets have an option for next season on Wright that I have to think they’ll exercise. So in all likelihood the Phillies will go into 2013 with either Headley or the cast of Dawson’s Creek at third base, or they’ll overpay some graybeard who hasn’t been good in five years, in which case I’ll start buying up canned goods. Not to eat in case of the end of the world, but so I can bash them against my forehead until my brain has turned to apple butter and the baseball doesn’t hurt so much anymore.

So when the Phillies sign Brandon Inge to a two-year, $10 million contract in December, make sure you beat me to the supermarket.

@JossMurdoch: “Is Dom Brown Great or just Wonderful?”

He is, isn’t he? Scalded three balls last night, though it would have been a cherry on top to see him drive in the winning run. But my favorite Dom Brown sequence came on Wednesday, when he lost a ball in the lights for a Jay Bruce triple, then, moments later, caught a fly ball down the line and unleashed the ultimate “screw you and go to hell” throw to nail a tagging Bruce at the plate. A GIF can be found here. My Domblywombles is growing up and it’s very exciting indeed.

@Sainthubbins: “Phillies as star trek characters.”

Big question. Surely someone must have a suggestion.

@PhilliesDoll: “So if we’re comparing Star Trek with the Phillies, would Chris Wheeler’s hairpiece be a tribble?”

No, on second thought, let’s not do this question.

@TonyMcIV: “Who should manage The Phillies in 2013?”

Charlie Manuel. I presume the alternative is Ryne Sandberg in this case, because everyone seems to want Sandberg on the Phillies’ bench as soon as possible before another team snaps him up. I can’t help but feel that the sole reason for Sandberg’s enthusiasm is his spectacular playing career. I do have few comments on that.

First of all, we have absolutely no idea how Sandberg would be as a manager. In fact, most managers were horrific players. Sandberg would be the first Hall of Famer since Frank Robinson (I’m pretty sure but don’t have the motivation to check, so if I’m wrong let me know) to manage full-time in the major leagues, and, along with Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly, one of only three former MVPs. That’d be pretty cool, but would it be wise?

In sports, I generally think that the most important quality a manager or coach has is the quality of his team. All other considerations are secondary. As Phillies fans who watched Terry Francona stumble through three seasons here, then go to Boston and start manufacturing World Series titles like it was nothing, we know this better than most.

Apart from that, I see two general qualities in a good coach: man-management and in-game tactics. We know Charlie Manuel isn’t a good in-game tactician, which doesn’t hurt as much as it might have if half or more of the current MLB field managers weren’t worse. However, he won five division titles in a row, plus two pennants and a World Series, by not only having good teams, but, by all accounts, being a very competent leader of men. Not only that, but the tactical element matters less in baseball than perhaps any other major team sport. The coach doesn’t call plays as in football, he makes fewer substitutions than in ice hockey or basketball and unlike in soccer, there is only one formation to use and generally only one style of play, and most of the in-game tactical moves you can make (bunting, bullpen overuse) are actively destructive.

So how will Sandberg do? I don’t know. I don’t know how he’ll handle a major league roster and I don’t know if he’ll be a good tactical manager. And you can’t judge by what he’s done with the Iron Pigs, because minor league managers aren’t out there to win games so much as develop players. Sandberg is a total question mark as a manager, no matter how good he was as a player. Either he’ll be one of those ex-jocks who’s so unaccustomed to failure that he’ll overmanage or he’ll be one of those ex-jocks who knows when to stay hands-off. It remains to be seen.

It appears that the organization thinks highly of Sandberg and that he is the heir presumptive to the manager’s seat, so I’m fine with giving him a chance when the time comes. But there’s absolutely no evidence–particularly in his playing record–that Sandberg will be a better manager than Manuel.

Oh, and let’s stop pretending that if Sandberg manages the Phillies it will somehow validate the Bowa-DeJesus trade.

@Framed_Ace: “So we know your feelings on last year’s first pick but can we at least all agree that Jessie Biddle is pretty fantastic?”

I will so stipulate. Jesse Biddle looks like he could be a good major league pitcher, which makes me happy.

Biddle’s a nice prospect. I’m all for accumulating big, left-handed guys who throw hard, particularly if they were local kids who grew up as Phillies fans. Though I’d rather the Phillies had extended the same courtesy to Mike Trout.

OH. And that reminds me. Go impale yourself on a pine tree, Yankees fans who think that the Yankees are somehow entitled to have Trout if and when he reaches free agency and assume that just because he’s from New Jersey, he grew up a Yankee fan.

Guess what, there’s an entire half of the state made up of people who 1) grew up either reading Philly papers and cheering for Philly sports teams or 2) live so deep in the pine barrens they’re unfamiliar with concepts like “baseball” and “New York” and “sleeves.” I can’t stand New York. Is it enormous? Yes. Is it the center of American commerce? Yes, if you’re sure that’s a good thing and insofar as in the age of the internet and online banking we need a commercial center. Are you somehow better off for purposely paying exorbitant prices to share tiny apartments to live in a dirty, noisy city that’s so overcrowded that if everyone came out of the buildings at the same time there wouldn’t be room for them on the streets?

There’s a lot of fiction nowadays that I would enjoy a lot more if it weren’t so smugly ossified into a sad, insular mindset in which Manhattan is the center of the universe and the only part of the world worth inhabiting. I’m looking at you, The Good Life by Jay McInerney, and Friends With Kids and How I Met Your Mother. Oh, are you moving to *gasp* Long Island? Oh, my word! You might as well be moving to Mogadishu!

How can anyone survive outside Manhattan Island? How *ever* will you cope without the traffic, the taxes, the racial tension, the overcrowding, the absurd cost of living? Isn’t it worth it to sacrifice financial security and comfort for the ability to feel smug about yourself based on where you live?

If you need that, that’s fine, but I want you to know you’re being had by a Rube Goldberg machine of self-aggrandizement. One day, everyone’s going to wake up, realize the emperor has new clothes and move down South like sane people, where they’ll enjoy personal space for the first time. And when that happens, I will not help you move. Screw you, your pretentiousness and self-entitlement, and the horse you would have ridden in on if there were enough space on the sidewalk to fit a horse.

I hope that answers your question.

@Living4Laughs: “At some level Mini Mart had to be good at baseball. What do you think he was good at(running, hitting, ect.)?”

Yes, he must have been. Even a major league ballplayer as obviously and pervasively bad as Michael Martinez is in the top tenth of a percent of all baseball players in the world. For all the complaining I do about him, it’s important to keep that perspective from time to time.

I imagine, given his size, position and ability to switch-hit, he was viewed as sort of a speed-and-defense guy at more suitable levels, though the dude is absolutely ripped. It seems like he should be one of those short, compact pull power guys, like Matt Stairs, who hits 25 home runs and strikes out 150 times a year. Maybe the Phillies should retool his swing and approach and see what they’ve got there. It’s not like he could get any worse.

@mferrier31: “Why does it seem Johny Cueto is under rated, and how good over the past few years has he actually been?”

Well it seems that way because he is. I think there are a few reasons:

  • We sort of figured him as one of those prospects who had kind of stopped short of his potential back in 2008 and 2009. Once that image was settled, it would take the kind of performance he’s shown since the start of 2011 to unseat the previous conventional wisdom.
  • He’s always been overshadowed by bigger names: Edinson Volquez and Mat Latos, or at least guys like Homer Bailey and Mike Leake who have gotten more press despite not really being better pitchers.
  • Even though he’s second in the majors in adjusted ERA over the past two seasons, I don’t know that we’re all buying his renaissance because of BABIP luck last year and strand rate luck this year. He’s still outperforming his peripherals by a lot.
  • The Reds, despite having been very good since 2010, don’t get a ton of coverage. I don’t know why. There’s probably something to the East Coast/AL bias bogeyman, but I neither know nor care to know the whole story.
  • Ballplayers who kick other ballplayers in the head tend not to get a lot of good press.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say you had the combined time of the last two PHI-CIN games you attended. What’s the most grandiose thing you can do, personally?”

I’ve seen the Cincinnati Reds in person twice: once last night and once last May, when they went 19 innings and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher. I was terrified when the Phillies couldn’t break through in the 8th or 9th that the game was going to go 19 innings again and, considering that it took them almost four hours to even play nine innings, I would be at CBP until dawn. Last night was fun, but it was also really really tedious at times.

Anyway, those two games totaled 30 innings and 10 hours, 35 minutes official time between them. I believe that given that time I could probably, but not certainly, run a 5K. I could probably make 5 or 6 batches of chili. I could, if I really put my mind to it, write about 10,000 words’ worth of glib baseball analysis. That’s about three Crash Bags, give or take, or 20 percent of your average Kurt Vonnegut novel.

Or I could do what we all know I would actually do–watch Spy Game five times, eat a bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime chips and consume a gallon and a half of Wawa iced tea.

These are exciting times at Crashburn Alley–Paul Boye returns to the blog with an examination of Tony No-Dad and Bill GIFs some gaffes. Cherish them, because in coming days I’ll be expanding the jurisdiction of the monkfish of justice. Enjoy your freedom while it lasts, and enjoy your weekend.

Crash Bag, Vol. 15: Thou Bigoted Swine

I was listening to the excellent Solid Verbal podcast on my drive home from work yesterday, and Dan and Ty were having a discussion about movies that briefly touched on American Pie. Which led me to consider a very important question with regard to American cinema: has internet porn ruined the teen sex comedy?

I think you know where I’m going with this, and while nothing came up when I Googled this question, I apologize if someone else has written about this already. Though that might be the result of my being a little gunshy about clicking more than one page of an internet search that included “teen,” “sex,” and “porn.”

I experienced my awkward teenaged years during the heyday of the teen sex comedy. All due respect to Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds, my middle school and high school years brought us Road Trip, Euro Trip, The Girl Next Door and three different American Pie releases. It made Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy into a cottage industry. Around the turn of the century, these movies constituted the entirety of films marketed to teenaged boys.

And good Lord, did they do business. And as much as we wanted to see those movies to see Jason Biggs or Breckin Meyer get the girl, or hear the (we thought at the time) hilarious banter, we were really in it to see Shannon Elizabeth’s boobs. In a way, it was great. For boys born in the 1980s, it was a safe way to discover your sexual identity–vicariously. You got to see what breasts looked like in action and got a guide in what not to do around women. The second part was huge, because movies like that are rife with scenes involving a guy trying some absurd rhetorical or sexual move and making an ass of himself, though you totally would have done that yourself if no one had told you it was a bad idea.

Nowadays, we still have movies where teenagers engage in hilarious pre-sexual hijinks, of which Superbad is perhaps the greatest example, but there’s no obvious and gratuitous nudity, or at least there’s less of it. Nudity in film is less to rope in wide-eyed 14-year-olds and more to make a statement about sex (for instance: David Cronenberg since 2004 or so has made films tell you in no uncertain terms that he is above your taboos about sex and nudity) or engage in some arty Mad Men basic cable sideboob.

But I was trying to think of something that I think this is because Shannon Elizabeth’s boobs are all over the internet, and they (or boobs like hers) are doing things that Stifler would only dream about, for free, on demand and in high definition in the privacy of your own home.

We don’t need to mix our sex with our poop jokes anymore. Anyway, I don’t mean to make a value judgment one way or the other. I just had that thought and decided to share, because I have a platform to do it on. On to more serious and baseball-related topics. Most of which have to do with Jimmy Rollins.

@4Who4What: “How come it’s cool when Cliff Lee doesn’t run out a grounder but it’s inexcusable for Jimmy not to run out a grounder?”

Racism. As Bill mentioned earlier.

@4Who4What: “btw the answer is bc of racism but curious to see if you have a different theory.”

Good, I’m glad we agree. And no, I don’t have a different theory. Every three years or so, J-Roll doesn’t run out a ground ball all the way, and Phillies fans and sports media react the way reasonable people would act if the first five minutes of Red Dawn happened in Lower Merion. It’s a non-story. Which I’ll now write about at length.

Without the racial component, the train of thought for one to get mad at Rollins not running out a ground ball, and only to get mad at that, is so illogical that I struggle to even understand how one could come to such a conclusion. It’s so stupid as to be beyond ridicule for several reasons, of which I’ve selected a few:

1) I love how it’s okay to completely drag ass down the first base line if you know you’re out, but if you run all the way and touch the bag you’re okay. This is true in 99 percent of cases, except when J-Roll cruises one night and it’s the end of the world. No one runs full-out all the time, not even Derek Jeter. Over four or five plate appearances a game, 162 games a year? Give me a break. No one works that hard all the time, unless your job is literally a matter of life and death or national security. Jimmy Rollins is neither a trauma surgeon nor a U.S. Army Ranger. If he can’t muster the motivation to bust it down the line once in a while with his team losing and well out of the playoff hunt, I totally feel his pain. If he really didn’t want to try, he’d have just struck out and saved himself jogging the 30 yards at all.

2) A lot of people have brought up Cliff Lee’s famous “oh, screw it” as an example of a double standard. The common response: Lee is a pitcher. Ohhhhkay….so it’s totally kosher for a pitcher not to run out a ground ball, even though playing offense isn’t part of his job. That makes sense. Except in the National League, pitchers do bat (and run the bases if necessary), so it’s not literally not part of his job. But at least it’s not his primary responsibility. Seems reasonable. So if, say, a corner outfielder whose primary asset is his offense were to not give 100 percent on defense, that’d be just as kosher, right? Then how do you explain what people spent the late 1990s and 2000s saying about Bobby Abreu and Manny Ramirez?

3) And why is running to first base so special? If you know you’re out, then it’s good to make the symbolic gesture of tagging the bag, I guess, just as a matter of protocol. But if it’s vital that you haul ass down the line even if you know your effort will be in vain, why is it not similarly important that fielders run full-speed into the wall for a foul ball that they know will be out of play? Or jump at the wall for upper-deck home runs? Or even run full-speed between other bases? When was the last time someone got forced at second to end an inning and everyone criticized him for not running hard even though he knew he’d be out? That’s not a rhetorical question–I legitimately can’t remember such an instance.

Finally, I have empirical proof that Jimmy Rollins is not lazy–he’s in his 12th full major league season (in eight of which he’s played 154 or more games). You don’t get a career in the big leagues that long without working harder than a Soviet coal miner. There is such a thing as a makeup issue, but most guys with serious work ethic or makeup issues don’t collect close to 40 WAR over their careers, or win MVP awards or make multiple All-Star teams.

Did Rollins run as hard as he could have on that ball? Most likely not, and he should have. But Uncle Cholly talked to him privately and says the matter is now resolved. Which, by the way, is how grown-ups settle professional disputes. And if that bothers you, you need to get a life. And personally apologize to me for making me waste close to an hour writing about why you need to get a life.

The eason everyone’s up in arms about this particular instance: Rollins is black, and we’re conditioned by generations of racial stereotyping and lazy sports journalism to believe that black athletes are more talented than white athletes but don’t work as hard. So while I don’t have any problem giving white players a pass when they dog it periodically, we need to be just as permissive, if not more so, when a black player does it.

Don’t believe me? Think of how many black baseball players you’ve heard of described as “scrappy.” I don’t recall Juan Pierre getting that one much, even though he’s essentially the black David Eckstein. Or make a tally of how many white players you’d describe as “lazy,” alongside a tally of black and Latin players you’d describe the same way. I’d warrant that at least half of the normative discussion about major league ballplayers’ mental faculties and work habits is coded racial nonsense.

This is my least favorite kind of racism–unintentional and often unnoticed. At least the guy dropping n-bombs and refusing to let his daughter date a black dude is doing it consciously. We can identify and either admonish or dismiss him appropriately. But the Rollins outrage is insidious and subconscious. It’s not maliciously racist, but is it racist in that we’re drawing conclusions about someone based on the color of his skin, and in its own way, it’s damaging too. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but we’re never going to stamp out this nonsense if no one calls it out for what it is.


@_wrongsideof30: “Can you prove that Jimmy Rollins hated Shane Victorino based on the numbers since Shane left?”

I can indeed. I love having fun with arbitrary endpoints and small sample sizes! After the game on July 29, Victorino’s final game as a Phillie, Rollins was slugging .397. Since the trade, however, he’s been slugging .538. The difference? Victorino is gone. QED.

But wait–if you shift the watershed moment back a week, giving Rollins time to digest Victorino’s departure, we can change the facts to fit our narrative better. Through August 5, he was hitting .245/.304/.405, about the same line as his injury-plagued 2010 season, when everyone was certain he was done. Since? .258/.361/.516, good for a higher OPS than the one that won him the MVP award in 2007. So Rollins hated Victorino enough that he turned back into an MVP-caliber player since he left.

@RobbyHoller: “if Jimmy Rollins was a hard hitting college journalist, what on-campus scandal would he uncover?”

When I was in college, I had this fantasy that we’d have some freshman pledge a frat as an undercover story and write a multi-part tell-all about hazing, because the frat boys at USC were all douchebags who dressed like my dad (no offense, Dad), couldn’t hold their liquor and got all the hot girls. No one who loves pink polo shirts and boat shoes that much–and has to keep his sunglasses on a leash so they don’t run away–should have the social run of the campus. Not in a just world.

Anyway, I never tried to make good on this, because 1) it would have been the least surprising expose ever and 2) that’s a lot to ask of a freshman, even if he’s insane and idealistic enough to join a big college newspaper. So that’s me.

But J-Roll? I’m going to say something along the lines of unearthing an underground chemical weapons distribution ring in the engineering department. Unbeknownst to administration, nine professors and seven grad students have been designing and manufacturing chemical and biological weapons and selling them for millions of dollars to Russians for use in Chechnya and South Ossetia. What a scandal that would be.

And speaking of hard-hitting college journalists, I threw a hissy fit on Twitter on Wednesday night over the editorial staff walkout at the University of Georgia’s student newspaper. I won’t waste your time by repeating it here, but it’s an unbelievable and outrageous story that you should check out. I get Baseball Outraged all the time, but this is one of only a few things that has gotten me Real Life Outraged.

@soundofphilly: “Is Over the Top the best Sly Stallone movie?”

Only if you’ve never seen Demolition Man. Three notes about Sylvester Stallone movies:

  • Rocky is a legitimately good movie. For me, it’s one of maybe half a dozen sports movies that really transcend sports and stand as great movies period. It’s weird that the guy who mumbled his way through Cliffhanger not only starred in, but wrote such an evocative movie that warmed the hearts of hundreds of millions. Despite Talia Shire being the romantic lead.
  • Where Rocky was earnest and unassuming, there may be no more self-aware movie franchise than The Expendables. It makes no pretensions of being anything other than a three day cocaine bender’s worth of over-the-hill action stars cramming as much over-the-top violence as they can into 90 minutes. For what it is, it’s unbelievably entertaining. And I can’t wait for the sequel.
  • Apparently it’s in vogue for online baseball writers to talk about how much they love food and cooking. I am not like those men. I eat total garbage and have the culinary ability of a golden retriever puppy. I say that because if we wind up like in Demolition Man, where all food is Taco Bell, I’d totally be fine.

@Wzeiders: “Do you think the Phillies should head into 2013 with the exact same bullpen (plus the injured guys)?”

More or less, yeah. Probably bring up De Fratus and Aumont as well, just to see what you’ve got. In Papelbon you’ve got as close to a sure thing at closer as you’ll find nowadays, and Antonio Bastardo, while not what he was last year, is still a perfectly fine setup guy. Michael Schwimer has actually been pretty good of late, and Jake Diekman can be death on lefties if he’s only ever used against lefties. David Herndon will be on his way back by next year, and the addition of Josh Lindblom midseason gives the Phillies even more depth in middle relief. I might see about picking up a LOOGY or a converted starter in free agency if the opportunity presents itself.

But yeah, assuming Papelbon is the closer, the way to go is to get as many cheap guys as you can and see who works. Beyond Papelbon and Bastardo, you really only need two guys to be significantly better than replacement-level in order to have a decent bullpen.

@bxe1234: “What’s your favorite poem”

Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. My standard bored-in-class routine in college was to work on memorizing this poem, but I never really got the whole thing down, because it’s six stanzas long and being bored in class only happens about an hour a week and intermittently. I once got really drunk at a friend’s house and went on a fifteen-minute-long rant about how beautiful a poem this is, ending with a recitation.

Why is it so great? It’s a pileup of incredible imagery, line after line after line, and it’s almost musically rhythmic, sort of bouncing from word to word, and because we’re talking about poetry, I’ll describe the way the words come together as mellifluous. It taught me that writing can be beautiful for its own sake, and not just because of what it says. What a poem.

@brendankeeler: “wanna play wiffleball with me?”

No. I am hilariously bad at baseball and all its variations. My senior year of high school, I played slow-pitch softball in a church league and one extra-base hit (a double) in what must have been about 20 games. In slow-pitch softball. I was the Juan Pierre of slow-pitch softball. The last time I played wiffle ball, I popped my shoulder out of my socket reaching for an outside pitch, and the time before that I walked 2 out of every 3 batters I faced. So while I may want to play wiffle ball with you, you probably don’t want to play with me.

@Not_Andre: “Can we replace Ruben Amaro jr with Jules Winnfield? I bet he would’ve signed cole for much less money”

Dude. That would be…”awesome” isn’t a strong enough word. I’ll think of something better. Can you imagine him coming down to the clubhouse to discuss tactics with Charlie Manuel?

“Say ‘bunt’ again! I dare you! I double dare you!”

And I know it’s churlish to complain about Hamels’ contract extension now, but Jules would have seen Jered Weaver re-sign and gotten Hamels inked for about 2/3 the AAV Amaro wound up giving him. It’s unfortunate, but Hamels is so good it’s not the end of the world.

@lexuhbooz: “How much would you charge to have Mini-mart kidnapped and held hostage for the next 10 or 20 years?”

I don’t want him kidnapped–I just don’t want him to play for the Phillies. Not only can he have his freedom, he can play baseball for literally any other team on Earth without bothering me.

Though if Jules Winnfield were the Phillies’ GM, I bet this would have happened already.

@DashTreyhorn: “Assuming the Phillies don’t sign Michael Bourn, who is the ideal leadoff man in 2013? Sub-question: Should they sign Bourn?”

The ideal leadoff man is probably someone like Rickey Henderson, who gets on base at a .400 clip and has both speed and power to burn. On the likely Phillies’ roster? I’d like to see them move Utley or Brown up in the order. Neither one is putting up the power numbers we’d have liked, so why not put one of the Phillies’ top two plate discipline guys, particularly if they sign a relatively low-OBP center fielder like Angel Pagan in the offseason. Pagan’s not Shawon Dunston, but neither is he Kevin Youkilis–if he’s going to post a .330 OBP, I’d just as soon have Rollins lead off. Which, of course, he will, because no one loves path dependence like the Phillies.

And no. They should not sign Bourn. I’ve long been of the opinion that you don’t get in trouble paying superstar prices for superstars–you get in trouble paying superstar money for good-but-not-great players, a lesson the Phillies are living with Ryan Howard. Bourn is, apart from Josh Hamilton, probably the top position player free agent this offseason, and with every team in the market for a plus defender in center field with Bourn’s speed and he’s coming off the best season of his career. But would I pay $17 or 18 million a year for Bourn? No. Not with B.J. Upton in the same free-agent class.

Michael Bourn is a career .275/.339/.370 hitter. B.J. Upton, who is a pretty good defender in center (though not as good as Bourn) is a career .255/.338/.414 hitter. Same OBP as Bourn, slightly higher slugging percentage, and almost as good a baserunner. Plus he’s two years younger and can probably be had for a pittance in comparison. If you sign Bourn instead of Upton, you’re getting about 15 percent more ballplayer for 50 percent more cost. It’s not a deal I’d make. So if the Phillies invest in a center fielder at all this winter, it had better not be on Bourn.

@BerenstainGer: “What is your favorite military battle in history?”

Great question. I’m a huge fan of the D-Day invasion and Gettysburg, but both of those seem obvious. Stalingrad is fascinating for its scope, Coral Sea and Petersburg for the way they changed modern warfare, and the Revolutionary War is great for those little-known battles with interesting back-stories. Kings Mountain was famously brutal. The British commander at that battle, Patrick Ferguson, had served as a sniper at the Battle of Brandywine three years earlier, where he famously passed up an open shot on George Washington.

The siege of Fort Sackville is another personal favorite of mine.  This siege ended only when the American commander, George Rogers Clark, ordered captured Canadian and Native American soldiers marched out in front of the fort and had them tomahawked to death. Seeing Little Bighorn personally was an incredible experience as well.

But my all-time favorite, even if it is a little conservative, is the Battle of Trenton. This is the battle that featured Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River and spawned the now-iconic painting of the event. For about two years, my desktop background was this painting with the caption: “America. We will kill you in your sleep on Christmas.”

Some of my favorite facts:

  • A spy had actually tipped the Hessian commander off about the attack the night before, but he was too busy playing cards to look at the letter. He was shot to death in his pajamas, the unopened note in his pocket.
  • The Colonial password for the mission was “Victory or Death.” That’s the Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks in Miracle pregame speech of passwords.
  • No American officers were killed, but two were wounded, one of whom was the young James Monroe, who nearly died when the bullet severed an artery.

But, yeah, a bunch of ragtag Americans walk all night through the freezing cold, cross a river, and show up at daybreak to wake up the Germans–“Surprise! You’re captured!” Awesome. All battles should be like this.

@elkensky: “who is the Domonic Brown of 20th century film directors, nbc sitcoms, russian politicians, and DS9 characters?”

Wow, all my favorite things. Okay, we’re looking for someone who, essentially, is awesome but often overlooked or not given the opportunities he deserves.

  • Film Director: Peter Berg Not a 20th-Century director, but I don’t care. His films are at once intimate and expansive, and have kickass post-rock soundtracks. And yes, I know he directed Battleship, but we’re not going to talk about that. Remember when I was talking about Rocky being one of only a couple sports movies that transcend the genre? Friday Night Lights is like that. A little heavy on the shaky-camera, but for some reason, you feel like you’re really at ground level with Berg’s films, no matter how big the scope. One of my favorite directors, and he’s nowhere near as big a name as he ought to be.
  • NBC Sitcom: Community Rabid internet following, huge critical acclaim, almost killed by management that doesn’t know what to do with a good thing.
  • Russian Politicians: Vladimir Zhirinovsky If you asked an American to name a current Russian politician, 99 percent would say Vladimir Putin, and the rest would say Dmitri Medvedev. Many Americans have also heard of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, both of whom are more famous for other things but have run unsuccessfully for president. But the great underrated Russian politician? Zhirinovsky, longtime leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party.

    Zhirinovsky is  half-Jewish, but also an outspoken anti-Semite, and has made the following campaign promises on behalf of the LDP: 1) Free vodka for everyone 2) Free underwear for everyone 3) Deportation of all Chinese people from eastern Russia 4) Reconquering Finland, Poland, Kazakhstan, Alaska (proposing to put all Ukranians there) and the Baltic states (proposing to dump nuclear waste there 6) Eliminate bird flu by ordering the army to shoot down migrating birds) 7) Execute criminals on sight.

    He is so far-right that while he’s pursued political friendships with Saddam Hussein and Marine Le Pen, Pat Buchanan rejected him as too extreme. I’m loath to denounce extremist or even neo-fascist politicians as “insane,” but Zhirinovsky might actually be insane. He’s hilarious.

    The best part? His Liberal Democratic Party consistently finishes third or fourth in the Russian presidential elections, polling at up to 10 percent, and currently seats 56 members in the Duma. In a country with particularly insane politics, Zhirinovsky stands out.

  • DS9 characters: Garak Of the three 24th-Century Star Trek series, Garak has more depth and nuance than any other character. If I can make a comparison to The Wire–Omar is Data (the character who is so interesting and great because he’s unique) and Garak is Stringer (the character who is unique and great because he’s so interesting). In a universe that’s often comically idealistic and preachy, Garak is the one speck of Machiavellian darkness. In a universe where the good guys are entirely good and the bad guys are entirely bad, here’s one guy who skirts the line. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an episode where Garak is so good you don’t notice how bad an actor Avery Brooks is. And he’s a secondary character in the least-well-known of the three 1990s Star Trek series.

@TonyMcIV: “Any opinion on the last player we got in the JoeBla trade?”

Never heard of him. Though considering what the Phillies gave up and how bad the Dodgers’ farm system is, I’d have been shocked if they’d gotten anyone I had heard of.

@Framed_Ace: “What would your walkup music be?”

Most important question of any major league fantasy, by far. It’s got to be something you won’t get tired but still says something about yourself. So as much as I’ve been listening to B*Witched’s “C’est La Vie” recently, I probably shouldn’t pick that.

There are, in my mind, two ways to go: the serious route and the absurd route. The serious route is something that will pump you up or give you a legitimate competitive advantage. Think Chase Utley‘s “Kashmir” or Mariano Rivera‘s “Enter Sandman.” The absurd route is governed by what I’ve humbly called Baumann’s First Law of Argumentation: “All other things being equal, the funniest answer is the correct one.” It’s like Occam’s Razor with a whoopee cushion.

I tried to answer this question for Jonathan Papelbon earlier this season, and I’m satisfied with my suggestion. But if I were going to express myself and try to gain a competitive advantage at the same time? I see only one answer.

I think that’s quite enough for this week. I had to skip several questions about the future of Juan Pierre with the Phillies, but we’ll get to that next week. Until then, may the force be with you.

Crash Bag, Vol. 14: I Am Defending Kyle Kendrick Because No One Else Will

@bxe1234: “If you could, with no repercussions, punch one US Olympian in the face, who would it be and why?”

Does it have to be a U.S. Olympian? Under no circumstances would I do something so unpatriotic as to punch someone who represents what is, by these primitive sporting standards, the greatest country that ever was or will be.

The other problem is that the two U.S. Olympians I find the most punchable are both women. And while I’m sure Hope Solo and Misty May-Treanor could each tear me limb-from-limb if need be, I still find something distasteful about the idea of socking a woman in the face, no matter how tired I am of hearing about her, and how much I wish she’d shut up and go away so I can either enjoy (in Solo’s case) or ignore (in May-Treanor’s case) her sport in peace.

Congratulations to both, by the way, on their gold medals in the past two days.

So left to punch one U.S. Olympian in the face, I’d probably take a shot at…Rafalca, Ann Romney’s horse.

One note: the breakout star of these games for the U.S., at least as far as I’m concerned, is gymnast McKayla Maroney. As creepy as I find the idea of watching teenage girls flop around in spandex, Maroney was more entertaining than I could possibly have imagined. First of all, she won a silver medal in an individual gymnastics event for a trick she didn’t even land, and when she got the silver medal, she made a face that has already become as much a part of U.S. Olympic legend as Michael Johnson‘s gold shoes, Mark Spitz’s mustache and Michael Phelps’ bong.

But it was during the team competition that Maroney was at her best. Not only on the vault, where she competed for about 90 seconds and walked away with two medals, but on the sidelines, where she exhibited an 80 smug tool on the traditional scouting scale. Put her in a room with Ruben Amaro Jr. and neither would say a word–they’d just sort of smirk at each other. So I wouldn’t punch her, but I would like to give her a high-five. Or rather, offer a high-five and be left hanging.


@uublog: “(a) Why is Kendrick so much shittier as a starter than as a reliever? (b) Is Tyler Cloyd the cure for all that ails us?”

I’ll answer your questions in reverse order. Is Cloyd the answer? Of course not. He’s most likely neo-Kendrick. Keith Law talked about Phillies fans having prospect Stockholm Syndrome, where our prospects are so bad that we assume that someone, anyone is going to be worth a crap. Well I’ve got news for you, folks. There is no rule that says that every team has to have good minor leaguers. Tyler Cloyd and Brody Colvin are both probably back-end starters. If Darin Ruf was worth a crap as a prospect, he’d have taken at least one at-bat above A-ball before he turned 25! Such are the wages of frittering away first-round draft picks on relief pitchers and Raul Ibanezes as a matter of institutional philosophy for years upon years, all the while trading away highly-touted prospects for the likes of Hunter Pence, AND using what few high draft picks you have to reach for guys with physical talents but no consistent track record of…what’s the word I’m looking for here…YES! ACTUALLY BEING GOOD AT BASEBALL.

So because Tyler Cloyd is one of the better minor league prospects the Phillies have does not, by extension, make him a good minor league prospect in absolute terms. This is a dreadful minor league system. There were grumblings after the Hunter Pence trade that the Phillies had loaded up too heavily on catching prospects. With Sebastian Valle, Tommy Joseph and Gabriel Lino, three of the Phillies’ better position player prospects are now catchers. Of course, three of the Phillies’ better position player prospects are a guy with 25 walks since the start of the 2011 season, a catcher who might have to move to first base (in which case, whatever value he might provide offensively would be reduced to minuscule proportions) and a child in short-season A-ball. If you gave me even odds, over/under 0.5 career All-Star appearances for those three players combined, I would take the under in a heartbeat. In fact, if you gave me even odds on over/under 0.5 career All-Star appearances for all of the players currently in full-season ball in the Phillies’ minor-league system, I’d think long and hard about taking the under.

These men are not Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. And just because someone else has prospects of that magnitude does not mean that the Phillies do. This is a fundamental truth that baseball fans seem not to understand.

So, to answer your question: No. The Phillies’ minor league system is bad. And so too, in all likelihood, will Tyler Cloyd be.

What was the first half of the question?

Oh, Kendrick being better in the bullpen. It’s kind of accepted that everyone pitches better out of the pen than the rotation. In fact, almost every relief pitcher in the game, up to and including Mariano Rivera, was a failed starter. It’s just a matter of when you wash out, whether it’s in the low minors, after a cup of coffee in the majors (Rivera, Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo) or after a while in the majors (Eric Gagne, Darren Oliver, Dennis Eckersley). As a rule, relief pitchers are either failed starters or failed position players. Almost no one goes from the college bullpen to the major league bullpen (except Huston Street), and almost absolutely no one goes from the high school bullpen to the majors.

Why is this? Well, it’s easier to pitch out of the pen, because you’re throwing between 40 pitches an outing at the absolute most, so you can put a little extra on every pitch without worrying about getting tired late in the game. Ryan Madson sat around 90 with his fastball as a starter, but after a couple years in the bullpen, he could count on mid-90s heat, with the ability to reach back and hit triple digits from time to time if he absolutely needed it. Shorter outings have another effect: that you don’t need to turn over a lineup. On the second or third time through an order, if a hitter has you timed, you need to figure out how to get him out two or even three or four ways. If he’s seeing you for only a handful of plate appearances in a season, often one knockout pitch is enough to do it. Hence Roy Halladay‘s six-pitch arsenal, versus Rivera’s one-pitch arsenal. Finally, a reliever’s workload allows guys whose arm motion or body mechanics wouldn’t hold up for 200 innings a season to stay healthy.

The last way it’s easier to pitch out of the bullpen is that you wind up playing matchups a lot. If you’re death to lefties but meat for righties (Jake Diekman high-fives J.C. Romero), the manager can play matchup tiddlywinks to hide an ugly platoon split. If you need to go three times through the order, come Hell or high water, that’s simply not possible.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that The Kendrick was more effective as a reliever, particularly when you consider the vagaries of sample sizes as small as 20 innings.

@Wild_Phils: “is talent:contract disparity is worse in the kendrick contract or the howard contract?”

Howard. Kendrick is mildly overpaid. He’s a swingman, a commodity that is very useful when you consider the frequency of pitcher injuries, but is probably not worth three-and-change million dollars a year. Your swingman ought to, ideally, be a guy making the league minimum or close to it, because you essentially just need a dude to chuck about 130 replacement-level innings and not complain when he gets sent to the bullpen. Earl Weaver was fond of using the swingman/spot starter role as a sort of apprenticeship for young starting pitchers, a way to get a prospect major-league exposure without throwing an unproven commodity into the rotation. That’s not a bad strategy. So Kendrick, as a guy who will give you a little better than replacement level over 130 innings a year and never get hurt, is useful in that role, but probably moderately overpaid.

Ryan Howard, on the other hand, has the fourth-highest AAV of any contract in major league history. Howard can still take a walk, but his power is slipping, and his contact skills, defense and athleticism are so bad that they play when he’s cranking 50 home runs a year, but not so much when he’s *only* hitting 30 home runs a year. Other first basemen in his pay bracket include: Albert Pujols, who may one day retire as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time; Joey Votto, who is, for my money, the best hitter in the game right now; Prince Fielder, who is younger than Howard, better in just about every category, and still ludicrously overpaid; and Mark Teixeira, who is a switch-hitter who strikes out less than Howard, plays superb defense, and is still ludicrously overpaid.

Ryan Howard is a pretty good hitter whose value is dragged down by his being anchored to playing first base, where you can get a .350 wOBA for a pittance from Bryan LaHair or Adam LaRoche, and his inability to contribute with his legs or with his glove. It’s an overpay the like of which we may never see again, a contract that rivals Barry Zito‘s or Vernon Wells‘ for the worst in the game today.

If not for the Dodgers’ horrific signing of Darren Dreifort a decade ago, Howard’s contract would be within a shout of the worst of all time.

But I feel like we’ve been over this already.

@Eric_Lindros: “Why does KK get so indignant when called out for his awfulness?”

(Note: I realize you might be joking, but I’m going to treat this question as if it’s serious because I have a point to make.)

Well, it might have something to do with the fact that he’s been trying as hard as he can to succeed, and he’s been publicly pilloried without stop for the past 5 years. I dunno, I might get a little brusque with folks under similar circumstances. People tell me I’m a horrible baseball blogger from time to time, and I’ll admit it bothers me a little bit, even though 1) This isn’t my day job 2) I don’t hear it all the time in every medium imaginable the way Kendrick must 3) I haven’t been hearing it all the time for the past 5 years and 4) I know it isn’t true.

So I’m guilty of laying on the Kendrick hate as much as anyone, but considering how much crap he takes, I think he’s handled himself with grace and professionalism the vast majority of the time, and if he wants to get a little tetchy now, I think he’s entitled to it. Because if I’m going to hurl abuse at a guy, I find it disingenuous to get outraged when his feelings get hurt. If he wants to snipe back, I think he’s earned it. I’ll even lend him my monkfish to hit people with if he wants.

@Estebomb: “If Ruben Amaro Jr were to attempt to fix the Phillies’ problems via time travel, what would he use to travel to the past?”

Well, he’s not, to my knowledge, an irritating and pretentious Anglophile, so the TARDIS is probably out. Neither would the man who runs one of the most anti-intellectual front offices in baseball be caught dead in the extraordinarily nerdy Heart of Gold (though I’m not certain, on reflection, that it’s capable of time travel).

I think Amaro would appreciate the lone wolf aspect of Doc Brown’s DeLorean, and I think he’d be impressed by the scrappy grit and hustle showed by the HMS Bounty, the stolen Klingon Bird of Prey that then-Admiral Kirk and his band of merry men used to rescue whales from the 1980s in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

But I can’t see how the answer could be anything other than H.G. Wells’ time machine, the star contraption of the legendary sci-fi novel of the same name. It’s classic, no-nonsense, and above all, old. And we know Ruben Amaro loves old stuff, particularly when there’s a newer, better option out there.

@DashTreyhorn: “Jason Knapp. Thoughts?”

Sadness. Jason Knapp was my favorite Phillies prospect back in 2009, when he was the kicker in the deal that netted the Phillies Cliff Lee for the first time. Knapp was a Jersey kid and a teenager with a triple-digit fastball, and I was too young and naive at the time to know that throwing hard and being young wasn’t necessarily going to translate to major league success.

Since the trade, Knapp has had two shoulder surgeries and hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since 2010. The Indians released him on Wednesday, likely signaling the end of his baseball career at the age of 21, if it wasn’t over already. It’s a shame, considering his potential, but it was always a danger. Pour one out for Jason Knapp tonight, because his story is a real heartbreaker.

Okay, enough negativity.

@Billy_Yeager: “Use your abilities to figure how much longer it took the US women to win gold for soccer than it did for Bolt to win 100m Gold”

Well, if, by, “Your Abilities” you mean Wikipedia and a calculator, sure.

Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters three times in London, once in the heats, once in the semis, and once in the finals, each time in under 10 seconds. We’ll call it 29 seconds total. The U.S. women’s soccer team played 6 matches in London, at 90 minutes each, for a total of 540 minutes, plus, let’s call it 6 minutes of stoppage time a match, bringing the total to 576 minutes. On top of that, there was extra time with (I believe) 4 minutes total of stoppage time in the semifinal match against Canada, so we’re up to 610 minutes. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 36,600 seconds, or 1,262 times as long as it took Bolt to run his three races.

Though if we’re talking about man-hours, the USA had 11 players on the pitch at all times, so we’re actually looking at about 13,882 times as many man-hours in game-time to win a gold medal in women’s soccer than in the men’s 100 meters.

I have no idea why you wanted to know that, or why I didn’t just make you Google it yourself.

@brendankeeler: “favorite phil in each of the last four decades. one per each decade and one overall”

I love this question. So are we talking back to the 2010s, 2000s, 1990s and 1980s? Or the 2000s, 19990s, 1980s and 1970s?

Let’s do the latter, because my answer is the same for the past two decades.

  • 2000s: Jimmy Rollins. I love Jimmy Rollins. He’s my favorite Phillie of all time. I was okay with Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu and Jayson Werth leaving. I’m okay with Shane Victorino leaving, and I was steeling myself for coping with Cole Hamels leaving before he re-signed. I will be okay with Roy Halladay leaving if it comes to that, and we’ll see about Chase Utley, though I’m praying he retires before it becomes untenable for the Phillies to keep him.
    But when Rollins’ contract was up last winter, I was a nervous wreck. I put more of my heart into a blog post about the personal connection I felt to him as a fan than perhaps anything else I’ve ever written about sports. I’ve never bought more than one bit of player apparel for any athlete except Rollins, and I’m on my third No. 11 shirsey in four years. He runs, he’s flashy in the field, and he’s taken a vocal leadership role without being the best player. I love everything about his game, no matter how much he pops up. If there’s one player I love too much to be objective about, this is the one. Chase Utley and Cole Hamels might be my second-and-third-favorite Phillies of all time, but they played in the wrong decade for me.
  • 1990s: Lenny Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra was my first favorite player. My first Phillies t-shirt, back when I was six, was a Dykstra shirsey. He was nasty and he was completely unsubtle in every conceivable way. He was the perfect counterpart to those pressed-and-polished Braves teams I hated so much as a child. I loved watching Greg Maddux in his prime in spite of how much pain he caused me, but Maddux was an intellectual hero. Dykstra was visceral. He was, in a way, kind of a spiritual predecessor to Chase Utley, with his compact power stroke, superb batting eye and furious intensity. And he was always on base. For one season in 1993, he seemed to assemble a season that finally gave Phillies fans too young to remember Classic Schmidt a position player to pull for in the MVP race. Where Bonds and Griffey were too slick, too West Coast, Dykstra was anything but. He was manifestly unpolished, but he was manifestly ours. Too bad he’s not very good with money.
  • 1980s: Darren Daulton. He didn’t really come into his own until the 1990s, but I’m too young to remember anything from the 1980s anyway. I just wanted to honor him here for two things: first, he’s the first man I remember being aware of other people saying how handsome he was. I couldn’t figure it out, partially because as a kindergartener I guess I hadn’t developed an appreciation for male beauty, but also because even then I wasn’t sure why people thought a mullet was a good look.
  • 1970s: Steve Carlton. I don’t think I really need to explain this one, except maybe to say why I didn’t pick Mike Schmidt. Schmidt, while the greatest player ever to suit up for the Phillies, never resonated with me the way Carlton did. I think this is because, all things being equal, I like run prevention better than run scoring, in addition to my admiration for Carlton’s decade-long grudge against the sports media. Carlton had the best slider of his generation to go with incredible longevity, but more than anything, he understood at its barest essence what an athlete owes his fans and the media. An athlete doesn’t owe us anything apart from his best effort. He doesn’t need to be polite, or charitable, or friendly. It’s nice if he is all those things, but Carlton’s steadfast refusal to make his game about anything but his pitching (which was superb, I might add) makes me love him as a historical figure.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which American athletes do you want to poach to play for the national handball team at Rio 2016?”

Okay, so is anyone else in love with team handball? It’s the weird niche sport that has the potential to do for the Summer Olympics what curling does for the Winter Olympics: use cable TV to captivate America with a sport they only think about once every four years.

I’ll allow NPR’s Stefan Fatsis, perhaps team handball’s foremost proponent in the American sports media, to explain the appeal:

“[T]eam handball is a seven-on-seven court sport that embodies all things American. You run, pass, dribble, throw (fast), block, jump and set picks. There’s strategy, finesse, power and speed. It’s violent and high-scoring. Yet handball — only the insecure feel compelled say “team” — is one of only three sports in which the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal.”

There’s kind of a joke movement to poach athletes from other sports, namely basketball, to play for the USA in four years’ time to rectify this whole not-winning-a-medal problem. So let’s pick a team.

  • Tim Howard: The USA has long produced some of the best goalkeepers in the world, in both soccer and ice hockey. I figure we get Howard, who is 6-foot-3 and has arms like a spider monkey, to move over to the smaller nets. Howard’s strength as a goalkeeper has always been his shot-stopping, and with the insane speed and short ranges of the handball court, his reflexes will serve him well.
  • John Wall: I want a guy with his ups on this team. Most shots in handball are taken from midair, and if Wall can get above the defense as well in handball as he can in basketball, he should be electrifying.
  • Robert Griffin III: The throwing arm, court vision and courage under fire of an NFL quarterback with the speed of someone who was a better hurdler than football player in high school. I would have picked Mike Trout as well, but even at a listed 6-foot-1, he might be a little too small to cope with the size of the international game. Even if he could, Griffin is only 6-foot-2, and having two players that short might be a liability. Either he or Wall can run the proverbial point for this team. The height thing is huge, because it pretty much eliminates hockey players from the equation, as nice as it might be to have Patrick Kane or Zac Parise on the team.
  • Sidney Rice: Massive South Carolina football homer pick, but I’ll explain. Rice is as good at catching the ball in traffic as anyone I’ve ever seen, and there’s a lot of catching the ball in traffic. He’s 6-foot-4, so he can jump for the ball with anyone.
  • LeBron James: If you’re going to poach any American athlete, might as well poach the best one.
  • Thaddeus Young: Okay, bear with me. He’s tall and lean without being skinny, which is good for a handball player. But most importantly, he’s a lefty. Handball isn’t like soccer or hockey, where there are benefits to being left-or-right-handed playing either wing. The corner guys have to be opposite-handed, because all they do is catch the ball, run along the baseline and jump like a berzerker at the goalie, shooting before they land. You need to be a lefty to get anything approaching a decent angle on a shot from the right baseline. So far (to my knowledge) everyone on the list is a righty, and most of the really athletic lefty center fielders are too short.
  • Danny Hultzen: Needed another lefty. Would have picked C.J. Wilson (who was an outfielder in college) if he were taller and wouldn’t be 35 by 2016. Hultzen is relatively young, stands 6-foot-3 and has the athleticism to have played both ways in college. He’s not one of those guys who can get on a mound and pound strikes, but if you ask him to so much as field his position, falldowngoboom. Though to be honest, this is really the first young, relatively athletic lefty I could think of, because I’ve spent far his long on this question already.

As indeed I’ve spent far too long on this Crash Bag. Enjoy the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence reaching London, because while these are a fantastic Olympics, screw the monarchy.