Crash Bag, Vol. 28: The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(breathes into paper bag)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of bad hair:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love Alpha Centauri.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I keep forgetting that this is a baseball column.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t you were called Dennis…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to your correspondence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my wish list for Episode VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, here’s my list.

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

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

Obscure Former Phillies Hour, Vol. 3: Tomas Perez

By popular demand! Enough people requested Tomas Perez that I can’t hold up one. Consider this the 2006 Time Man of the Year cop-out of Obscure Former Phillies Hour. There’s so much to discuss about Tomas Perez that I feel like I’m only wasting your time up here. Straight to The Pieman’s career in eighteen points.

  1. Before we start, I want to tell you about the first time I ever saw Tomas Perez. I was watching a Blue Jays-Orioles game at my aunt’s house in Virginia in 1996. I was nine years old, and Robert Alomar had just been signed as a free agent with the Orioles. Now, Roberto Alomar is a Hall of Famer, and I remembered him at the time as only one of the stars of that 1993 Blue Jays team. And to replace him, Toronto had promoted a backup infielder named Tomas Perez to the starting lineup, and because I was a child, I assumed that the replacement would be as good as the original. I remember being shocked that I wasn’t hearing very much about Tomas Perez for years afterward.
  2. Tomas Perez was born Dec. 29, 1973 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Remember when I said the flag of Willie Montanez’s home city was cool? Well this one’s even cooler, if a trifle busy.
  3. As you might know, it is de rigeur for Venezuelan-born infielders (particularly shortstops) to wear No. 13 in the major leagues, starting with Dave Concepcion with the legendary 1970s Cincinnati Reds. Notable examples: Omar Vizquel, Freddy Galvis, Macier Izturis, Ozzie Guillen, Asdrubal Cabrera…you get the idea. Perez was no exception, wearing that fabled number first with Toronto, then for a year and a half with the Phillies, before switching to No. 9 partway through the 2001 season. As far as I can tell, this took place as a result of–and I’ve found only circumstantial evidence of this, so I could be wrong–Turk Wendell joining the Phillies via trade. That’s right, sportsfans, Turk Wendell. I remember that trade vividly, though again, I don’t remember what it did to Tomas Perez’s uniform number. We might do another one of these for Turk Wendell someday.
  4. Tomas Perez joined the Phillies in 2000 via free agency. Despite playing for four major-league teams (and in five other teams’ minor-league systems) in a 12-year major league career, Perez was only traded twice. One of those trades was from the Blue Jays to the Anaheim Angels for one-time Macho Row cleanup hitter Dave Hollins. On a personal note, Dave Hollins was the last person to play for both the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Philadelphia Phillies. Though I’m still rooting for you, Mike Cisco.
  5. As a Phillie, Tomas Perez played for Terry Francona, Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel. Very few players can make that claim. Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal…I’m sure there are others, but it’s starting to look like Tomas Perez deserves a spot on the Wall of Fame.
  6. Tomas Perez stole six bases in his major-league career, but never more than one in a season.
  7. Perez was walked intentionally 24 times in his career, which wouldn’t be strange except for his career OPS+ of 65. And that would be strange except he hit in front of the pitcher often enough to garner 11 free passes in 2003. I just find it amusing that in about half as many career plate appearances, Perez has been walked intentionally exactly as many times as Ryan Braun has.
  8. On May 28, 2004, Perez started at first base and batted eighth in a game against the Braves. He went 0 for his first 3 plate appearances, but when he came up with the Phillies down 2-1 with one out in the bottom of the 8th, he lined a 1-2 pitch from Chris Reitsma into the right field corner for a game-tying double. His next time up, he hit a walk-off home run (also with two strikes) in the bottom of the 10th. This game is also a reminder that Chase Utley once batted seventh.
  9. Of course, Tomas Perez didn’t deliver many walk-off hits in his career with the Phillies. His most notorious connection with walk-off hits is through his role as the Phillies’ unofficial shaving cream pie specialist from 2000-2005. This earned Perez the moniker “The Pieman,” a cognomen that was cruelly stolen some years later by Lee Pace’s character on Pushing Daisies.
  10. Here’s a picture of Perez as a Tampa Bay Ray, having been hoisted on his own petard.
  11. In 2000, Perez played shortstop exclusively, but in September of that year, the Phillies called up Jimmy Rollins, making Perez and Desi Relaford the Tony Fernandez to Rollins’ Derek Jeter. Relaford had a .363 OBP that year too. CRAZY.
  12. Tomas Perez pitched once! It’s true–May 13, 2002, in the midst of 17-3 loss to the Houston Astros. Down 9-1 in the bottom of the 8th, Phillies pitcher Hector Mercado allowed eight of the 10 batters he faced to reach, so Larry Bowa moved Perez from third base to the mound and brought in outfielder Jason Michaels to play third base (also Michaels’ only career appearance in the infield). Perez got his first batter, Jeff Bagwell to ground a ball to…Michaels, who bobbled the ball for one error, then threw it away for a second, allowing Gregg Zaun to score and Bagwell to reach second. The next batter, Jason Lane, flied out to right, and the nightmare was over.
  13. I’m going to repeat part of that last bit, because you might have missed it with the excitement of Tomas Perez pitching: Jason Michaels played 1/3 of an inning in his career in the infield, and in that time he had one ball hit to him and committed two errors on the play. Scott Rolen started that game at third base, in case you were wondering.
  14. Despite playing in nine organizations, Tomas Perez never played in a playoff game.
  15. Tomas Perez played six positions in the major leagues. He missed out on playing catcher, left field and center field. And DH, which is a good thing, because, again, he had a career OBP of .290.
  16. Perez’s hometown of Barquisimeto, Venezuela is actually a pretty big place, a state capital and home to some 2 million residents, making it considerably larger than Philadelphia. I’d never heard of it before, because I don’t think I can name two dozen cities in the whole of South America. Anyway, Barquisimento has produced 15 major leaguers. Of those, 11 were position players, and of those, Maicer Izturis is by far the best hitter. Apparently Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez (you know, the Venezuelans who can actually hit a little) grew up elsewhere.
  17. Maicer Izturis is the half-brother of fellow major leaguer Cesar Izturis. Fellow Barquisimeto native Steve Torrealba, however, is not, however, a relative of Yorvit Torrealba, which comes as a shock to me because I was convinced for years that Steve and Yorvit Torrealba were, in fact, the same person.
  18. Saving the best for last: This is from Phillies Nation’s Jay Floyd a couple weeks back.

The Pieman abides, sports fans. If you have any other Tomas Perez stories, you know where to share them. In fact, if you have any pie, I’d like for you to share that as well. I myself am fond of Boston creme pie, cherry pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, pecan pie….

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

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

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

@andbaskin: “Worst/most annoying playoff commercial”

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

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

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

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

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

Need your memory jogged?

HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn, that’s fun.

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

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

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

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

Yes, I’d do it.

What trading Lee for Upton represents is a bet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who did Merrill play for?

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

Why did Merrill fail?

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

Did Merrill have a post-playing career?

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

Everyone give Eric a warm round of applause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@pinvert: “zip hoodie or pullover?”

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

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

Crash Bag, Vol. 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.

Disappointing:

  • 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.

Satisfying:

  • 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.

The Order Is: Engage the Darin Ruf

Shout it from the rooftops, proclaim it from the highest mountaintops! Send heralds and criers to deliver the news, for salvation is close and hand! The world will be in harmony and we shall be united in brotherhood, for our prayers are answered.

DARIN RUF IS STARTING TONIGHT. Rejoice and be glad, you sorry sunzabitches.

I have here, in greatest Crashburn Alley tradition, the substance of Charlie Manuel’s pregame speech to the team announcing that Ruf would be starting in left field and batting seventh.

Unfortunately, we don’t have video for this one, but we do have audio for most of it.

Here we go:

Charlie Manuel: Comrades! This is your manager speaking.  It is an honor to speak to you today, and I am honored to be serving with you on the maiden voyage of our front office’s most recent achievement. And once more, we play our dangerous game. A game of baseball, against our old adversaries: the Washington Nationals.

For years, your fathers before you and your older brothers played this game and played it well. But today, the game is different. We have the advantage.

It reminds me of the heady days of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, when the league trembled at the sound of our cutters. Well they will tremble again at the sound of our home runs. The order is: engage the Darin Ruf.

Comrades, our own team doesn’t know our full potential. They will do everything possible to test us, but they will only test their own embarrassment. We will leave our stadium behind–we will pass the Nationals’ starting rotation, pass their vaunted bullpen, and lay off their home stadium…and listen to their “Natitude.” While we conduct batting drills.

And when we are finished, the only sound they will hear is our laughter, while we fly to Miami, where the sun is warm and so is the…comradeship.

A great day, comrades: we bat into history.

Red October indeed.

Obscure Former Phillies Hour, Vol. 1: David Dellucci

I had a little compulsive fit on Twitter over the weekend in which I went to Jeromy Burnitz‘s Baseball Reference page and rattled off several interesting facts about his career, which turned out to be sneakily compelling. On the request of Rant Sports writer Jake Pavorsky, I’ve decided to do the same with former Phillies reserve outfielder David Dellucci. If there’s interest, I’ll make this a running feature, so if you’ve got requests, let me know, either in the comment section or via Twitter.

And now, without further delay, David Dellucci in eighteen points.

  1. David Dellucci was born on October 31, 1973, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three Louisiana natives (Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Fontenot and Mike Stutes) have appeared for the Phillies this season, but Dellucci was the only player born in Louisiana to play for the Phillies from 2001-2008.
  2. Louisiana is one of two states in the union not to divide itself into counties. In Louisiana, counties are called “parishes,” while in Alaska they are called “boroughs.” Alaska’s North Slope Borough is the largest county in the United States, which, at nearly 90,000 square miles, is roughly the size of Ireland. That doesn’t have a thing to do with David Dellucci, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.
  3. David Dellucci’s wife is pregnant. The due date (February 23, 2013) is posted on Dellucci’s Wikipedia page. I feel like that’s particularly important information for public consumption.
  4. Also from Dellucci’s Wikipedia page: he was inducted into the Louisiana American-Italian Hall of Fame in 2011. Which is a thing, I guess. Other notable members: James Gandolfini’s character in the remake of All the King’s Men. I can’t think of any other Louisiana American-Italians off the top of my head.
  5. Also on Dellucci’s Wikipedia page: he was voted one of the 50 greatest athletes in the history of the University of Mississippi. I mean, Dellucci had a 13-year major league career, but it’s not like Ole Miss is North Dakota Directional A&M. This is an SEC school. They do big sports there. And Dellucci is one of their top 50 athletes ever? Okay: Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Mike Wallace, Armintie Price, Patrick Willis…maybe Lance Lynn and Drew Pomeranz in a few years…All-time XFL leading rusher John Avery…Michael Oher? Wow, Ole Miss athletics suck.
  6. David Dellucci was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 10th round of the 1995 amateur draft, four spots behind Ryan Freel, who I always loved as a player for three reasons: 1) He played a bunch of positions 2) he was really fast 3) he discussed his imaginary friend Farley openly during his playing days. Gotta respect that.
  7. David Dellucci was chosen with the 45th pick in the 1997 expansion draft. The best part of that draft? Tampa Bay taking Bobby Abreu, then flipping him to the Phillies for Kevin Stocker. That was awesome? Why don’t the Phillies trade punchless infielders for borderline Hall-of-Famers anymore. You think there’s any promise in a Freddy Galvis-for-Wil Myers deal? No? Damn.
  8. David Dellucci led the National League in triples in 1998. I was unaware of that previously.
  9. Rickey Henderson, perhaps the greatest power/speed threat in baseball history, never led the league in triples. Neither did Tim Raines. Nor did Jackie Robinson.
  10. In 1998, Dellucci stole three bases and was caught five times. In 2003 he stole 12 bases and was not caught once. Dellucci’s 1998 might have been one of the weirdest speed seasons ever.
  11. In 1999, Dellucci was hitting .394/.463/.505 before a wrist injury ended his season in July. Yet he’d only had 123 plate appearances through that point despite having been on the roster since Opening Day. Now, I know 123 plate appearances is a small sample, but if a guy’s hitting close to .400, at some point you’ve got to start riding the hot hand, right? Maybe this is why Buck Showalter got fired.
  12. The second-most similar player to Dellucci, according to Baseball Reference, is John Vander Wal, another lefty fourth outfielder who made his name in the NL West. Vander Wal is best known for his ridiculous 1995 season, where he posted a 1.026 OPS for the Rockies as a pinch-hitter. His 28 pinch hits that season set a new major league record. Eat your heart out, 2008 Greg Dobbs.
  13. David Dellucci was part of a package that was traded for Raul Mondesi at the 2003 trade deadline.
  14. The Phillies acquired David Dellucci for pitcher Robinson Tejeda and minor league outfielder Jake Blalock. Jake Blalock is the younger brother of former Texas Rangers all-star third baseman Hank Blalock, and part of a proud lineage of the Phillies having the wrong brother. I’m looking at you: Ken Brett, Mike Maddux and Jeremy Giambi. (shakes fist angrily at the sky)
  15. David Dellucci qualified for the batting title exactly once in his career: 2005 with the Texas Rangers, where he hit 29 home runs and posted an .879 OPS.
  16. A testament to his career as a bench bat, Dellucci batted nearly eight times as often against right-handed pitchers as he did against lefties. There’s a good reason for this: Dellucci’s career OPS against righties was .803 (roughly equal to Torii Hunter). Against lefties? .550, which is roughly equal to Blue Moon Odom, who was a pitcher. In the late 1960s, the worst offensive period since the Dead Ball Era.
  17. David Dellucci had more career home runs than Frank Baker, a Hall of Fame third baseman whose nickname was “Home Run.”
  18. David Dellucci was active in charity work during the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. For this he was commended by the Louisiana state legislature. We too commend him for this.

I give you David Dellucci, 1999 National League triples champion. If you would like to see a player honored in Obscure Former Phillies Hour, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s going to be a long offseason.

The Chipper Jones Character Assassination Email Chain

Our friends over at The Good Phight are having a little bit of a Chipper Jones hate party this afternoon. A noble effort, I think, worthy of a player so detestable.

Anyway, TGP Blog Lord Liz Roscher (Is “Blog Lord” gender-neutral? We’ll figure that out later, I guess) and I got together for a little bit of cathartic spleen-venting against the Atlanta Braves icon. Consider it an ecumenical multi-blog parting gift.

Anyway, if you’re feeling particularly vitriolic, you can read my exchange with Liz at The Good Phight, along with Jones-bashing from Phillies blogosphere poet laureate Wet Luzinski and others.

Congratulations on a great career, Larry Wayne. Now get the hell off of my baseball field.

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.