What went wrong: Cleveland Indians

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The following is the first in a series profiling of some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.

Cleveland Indians



Record: 59-76 (4th in AL Central)



How It Happened:



With
the one of the top all-around talents in the game in Grady Sizemore,
the defending American League Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee, a
fully-healthy Victor Martinez, and the additions of a valuable
utilityman in Mark DeRosa and a capable closer in Kerry Wood, it
appeared as though the stars were aligned for the Indians to compete in
2009, but they have suffered through a perfect storm of misfortune.




Despite a return to form by Martinez, the offense simply failed to
take off. Sizemore, who has played in at least 157 games every year
since 2005, was limited to 106 games due to inflammation in his left
elbow. Helped by a strong August, Sizemore managed a .248/.343/.445
line to go along with 18 homers, 64 RBI and 13 stolen bases. The
Indians finally shut him down on Friday, with a pair of surgeries on
the docket in the coming days. He should be ready for the start of the
2010 season.




After consecutive 20-homer seasons, Jhonny Peralta is batting
.275/.335/.412 with just 11 homers and 72 RBI. An April injury to his
left elbow effectively zapped his power output in what should have been
his age-27 breakout year. It doesn’t help that manager Eric Wedge has
been unable to lean on Travis Hafner’s sore shoulders, either. Despite
a .272/.358/.487 line to go along with 14 homers and 40 RBI and a .844
OPS (highest since 2006), Pronk can’t play more than back-to-back
games, thus he only has 265 at-bats this season. And while Franklin
Gutierrez is blossoming into a star in Seattle, Luis Valbuena has been
underwhelming at second base.




While the offense has been inconsistent, the pitching has been even
worse, putting up a 4.97 staff ERA (third worst in the majors),
including a 5.09 ERA for their starters (fourth worst) and a 4.78 ERA
in their revolving-door bullpen (again, third worst). Wood imploded in
the first-half, compiling a 5.28 ERA and four blown saves while serving
up six bombs in just 30 2/3 innings. Fausto Carmona was demoted on June
5 after pitching to a miserable 7.42 ERA and 36/41 K/BB ratio in 60 2/3
innings. Anthony Reyes was expected to be the No. 4 starter behind Carl
Pavano, but he underwent elbow surgery in May and will likely never see
a mound with the Tribe again. And after missing the second half of the
2008 season with Tommy John surgery, Jake Westbrook hasn’t thrown a
pitch in the big leagues this season. He was shut down after
complaining of elbow soreness during a rehab stint in August.




Add it all up and the Indians were 14 games out of first place at the All-Star break.



Silver Linings:



– Shin-Soo
Choo continues to be one of the game’s most underrated players, batting
.302/.396/.476 with 14 home runs, 74 RBI, 33 doubles and 18 stolen
bases. The 27-year-old South Korean is about league average against
lefties (.426 career slugging percentage), but he is a steady weapon
against right-handers (.505 slugging percentage). Throw in his cannon
from right field you have a very capable partner alongside Sizemore for
years to come.




– Asdrubal Cabrera missed nearly a month with a sprained left
shoulder, but it hasn’t derailed his breakthrough season. The
23-year-old shortstop is batting .310/.362/.438 with five home runs, 56
RBI, 16 stolen bases and 71 runs scored in 110 games. With more speed
than expected (he had just 53 stolen bases over 430 games in the
minors) and an adequate glove, Cabrera is a fine building block for the
future.




– While the Indians traded away Lee, Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Ben
Francisco and Ryan Garko, they have managed to acquire an impressive
haul of prospects including RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Chris Perez, RHP
Jess Todd, LHP Nick Hagadone, RHP Jason Knapp, SS Jason Donald, C Lou
Marson and LHP Scott Barnes, all ranked in their team’s top ten
prospects, according to Baseball America.




Sometimes it’s tough to bite the bullet and rebuild, but general
manager Mark Shapiro has done it in a very creative and savvy way,
namely taking advantage of a situation in which Blue Jays general
manager J.P. Ricciardi was asking the moon for Roy Halladay. The trades
weren’t popular, especially with rumors of Knapp being damaged goods,
but in truth, Shapiro has laid a groundwork for contention in the long
run.




Looking ahead:



– The Indians are expected to evaluate Wedge
and his staff in the weeks to come. Many believe a managerial change is
inevitable given the high expectations of the past two seasons. Wedge
has guided the Indians to a 555-551 record over six seasons.




– The trades of Martinez and Garko will finally allow young stud Matt
LaPorta (51 homers and .944 OPS over 224 games in the minors) to get a
full season under his belt in 2010.





– The Indians already have roughly $50 million in contact commitments for
2010 including $11.5 million for Hafner, $11 million for Westbrook and
$10.5 million for Wood, contracts that will be very tough, if not
impossible to move. In turn, they won’t have much payroll flexibility
headed into 2010. They’ll sink or swim with an infusion of youth.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.