Pittsburgh columnist: "The Mauer contract is lunacy"

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In the past 24 hours I’ve seen a lot of people note the risk involved in signing a catcher to a big contract as he’s coming off what could very well be the best year he ever has, but I hadn’t seen anyone say that the contract was a bad idea. At least until I read Ron Cook’s column in today’s Post-Gazette today anyway:

Somebody asked me Monday if I could imagine the Pirates ever stepping
up and giving a star player a $23 million-a-year contract, as one of
the other so-called small-market teams — the Minnesota Twins — just
did with All-Star catcher Joe Mauer. My answer shocked me.

“I sure as heck hope not.”

That from a guy who has spent the past 20 years screaming at the
Pirates for not spending more on their product and getting exactly what
they deserve — the demise of a three-time division-winning club, then
17 consecutive seasons of losing with no end to that streak in sight. Sorry. The Mauer contract is lunacy.

Cook’s major complaint is that by signing Mauer to this deal the Twins will never be able to afford a decent supporting cast for him. He then compares the deal to the Pirates giving Jason Kendall $60 million back in 2000, citing that as the blow from which “the Pirates never recovered.”

Which is simply wrong. No, the Kendall deal wasn’t good for the Pirates, but to suggest that the team would have been fine but for that contract is simply ridiculous. There were many, many reasons the Pirates went down the toilet, not the least of which included (a) a decade’s worth of terrible drafts; (b) contracts that worked out worse than Kendall’s did (remember Derek Bell? Pat Mears? Raul Mondesi? Kevin Young?); and (c) trades that would get rejected in most fantasy leagues (Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill; Jason Schmidt for Armando Rios and change).

I think that taking a risk on Joe Mauer is much smarter than taking a risk on Jason Kendall in 2001, but even if they’re identically bad ideas, a team can of limited means can survive such a thing as long as they don’t do multiple other silly things like the 1993-present Pirates.  At the risk of criminal understatement, the Twins front office is savvier than the Pirates’ masters have been lo these many years.

No one will be thrilled if Joe Mauer turns into post-2001 Jason Kendall tomorrow, but the Twins will survive such a thing better than the Pirates have survived their serial missteps.

Former outfielder Anthony Gose is throwing 99 m.p.h. fastballs in the minors

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Anthony Gose played for five seasons as an outfielder in the big leagues. He never hit well enough to be a regular, and a series of altercations with his minor league managers and coaches didn’t do too much for his future either.

His fastball, however, may eventually make up for all of that.

Toward the end of spring training it was reported that Gose would begin work as a pitcher. Given that he was a highly regarded high school pitching prospect with a plus fastball, it wasn’t a crazy notion. When Tigers camp broke, Gose stayed in Lakeland in extended spring training, throwing bullpen sessions and stuff.

Now he’s seeing game action. As the Detroit Free Press reports, Gose threw an inning for the Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers against the Palm Beach Cardinals last night. He allowed one run on one hit with one strikeout and one walk, lighting up the radar gun at 99 m.p.h. This is the tweet from Lakeland’s assistant general manager:

The Free Press says that the Tigers’ vice president of player development, Dave Littlefield, is “very optimistic” about Gose’s progress.

Given that he’s still only 26 and he’s a lefty it wouldn’t shock me at all if he makes his way back to the bigs someday soon.

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.