A tale of two No. 3 hitters

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When the showdown against the Yankees began, it looked like Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth were the Phillies poised to make postseason history. Howard matched a record by driving in runs in eight straight games to begin the postseason. Werth, meanwhile, hit five homers in nine games against the Rockies and Dodgers.
In the World Series, though, the Phillies’ best player has taken over. Chase Utley had his second two-homer game against the Yankees on Monday and drove in four runs to lead the Phillies to an 8-6 victory. He has five homers in all, tying Reggie Jackson (1977) for the World Series record.
Utley is now batting .314 with six homers, 11 walks and 14 runs scored in 14 postseason games. He’s been limited to 10 RBI, mostly because neither Jimmy Rollins nor Shane Victorino has done a very good job of getting on base. However, he might well be the best choice for World Series MVP even if the Phillies go on to lose in New York.
Mark Teixeira, on the other hand, has only been drawing accolades for his defense. He struck out as the tying run to end Monday’s loss, dropping him to 2-for-19 for the World Series. He’s batting .175 with two homers, seven RBI and a 16/6 K/BB ratio in 57 at-bats for the postseason. Saving him from criticism is that both of his homers have been big: he delivered a walkoff shot to end Game 2 of the ALDS against the Twins and he tied Game 2 of the World Series with a solo shot off Pedro Martinez. He’s struggled throughout, though.
Still, no one is really going to point the finger at Teixeira for this one. A.J. Burnett, working on short rest, gave up six runs in two-plus innings. Phil Coke, brought in to face the lefty-heavy portion of the Philadelphia lineup after largely being avoided of late, gave up solo homers to Utley and Raul Ibanez while recording just two outs. Those are the two players manager Joe Girardi will be asked about over the next 24 hours.
Getting to start on normal rest, Cliff Lee was merely OK for the Phillies. He didn’t show up with his best stuff, but he limited a depleted lineup to two runs and four hits over seven innings before allowing the first three batters to reach in the eighth. He was knocked out of the game by a two-run double from Alex Rodriguez that should have been caught by Raul Ibanez. Fortunately, Chan Ho Park finished the eighth without much trouble. Ryan Madson had big issues in the ninth, but he escaped largely thanks to a double-play ball from Derek Jeter.
The World Series will shift back to New York now. Neither manager has officially announced a Game 6 starter, though the assumption is that Martinez will face Andy Pettitte, who would work on three days’ rest. It is noteworthy that the Phillies again bypassed J.A. Happ in relief tonight, opening up the possibility that he could start Game 6 if the Phillies don’t want to go with Cole Hamels in Game 7.

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.