We’re all entitled to believe what we want to believe. There are people out there who insist that Roger Maris is still the single-season home run champ and Hank Aaron is still the all-time home run champ. I hold no more of a grudge against people who think that stuff than I hold for someone who thinks that Dick Sergeant was the better Darren on “Bewitched.” As long as they concede that it is only their opinion, and not a matter of fact or official standing, no worries. Which, in the case of Bonds and the record book it is not, nor will it ever be according to Bud Selig:
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will not consider changing Barry Bonds’ records following the slugger’s conviction on obstruction of justice last week … “In life there’s always got to be pragmatism,” Selig said Thursday at his annual meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors. “I think that anybody who understands the sport understand exactly why.”
We understand it because, even before there were steroids, there were differences in context across eras. Some that just sort of happened (big ballparks, dead balls), some were imposed by the wrongdoing of men (steroids, segregation). While we can make a lot of adjustments, we can’t quantify the exact amount that any given record was affected by different conditions with anything close to precision. The margin for error in such adjustments is larger, in most cases, than the differences between two similar accomplishments separated by decades. In light of this, to mess with the record book in any official way is madness. Appropriate to its name, let it simply record what happened.
By the same token, it is madness to insist that the record book represents the Alpha and Omega of player analysis and appreciation. Intellectually I can acknowledge that Barry Bonds’ accomplishments were artificially enhanced to some degree. I can even conclude that Hank Aaron’s accomplishments — by virtue of his era, the challenges he faced and what I believe about his drug use — were more impressive than Bonds’. But that doesn’t mean that Bonds’ feats weren’t amazing to watch, nor does it mean that they were 100% illegitimate. They were what they were and we have all manner of means to put them into context, be it statistically, aesthetically, morally, anecdotally or any other “ly” you can think of. And the “lys” that have less to do with the raw numbers and more to do with the narratives are the things that interest me the most anyway. Let’s talk about the difference between Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. Let’s not just compare numbers and veto those we don’t like.
Barry Bonds happened. So did Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. So too did Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the guys who manufactured baseballs in 1904, the chemist who first came up with an anabolic steroid and whoever it was that decided the mound needed to be 20 feet tall in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s. The record book is the least interesting thing to me in all of that.
On Tuesday a couple of Arizona Diamondbacks batters were hit in head by Pirates pitcher Arquimedes Caminero. Caminero did not appear to be trying to bean these guys. He simply had no control whatsoever. That the Pirates just sent him down to the minors underscores that. Still: a bad situation given the inherent danger of plunkings in general and beanballs in particular. Thank goodness nether Dbacks batter appears to be injured.
It would make sense that Dbacks folks would be a bit upset at this, but Tony La Russa took things to the next level. The Pirates announcers apparently mentioned something about the Diamondbacks’ and La Russa’s history with hit-by-pitch controversies. And then this, from Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic . . .
La Russa acknowledged he went into a broadcast booth during Tuesday night’s game after he “heard some stuff on the air” that he considered inaccurate about his history with retaliatory pitches during his managerial days.
“I never have stood for inaccuracies,” La Russa said, “so I corrected the inaccuracies.
“It’s about taking responsibility. If you’re going to speak untruths then you’re going to get challenged and you should be responsible for what you say. I am. I reacted.”
That’s a totally chill and above-it-all way for a Hall of Famer and the head of baseball operations of a major league club to react. Glad to see La Russa, as always, is a portrait of zen.
Either way, the Pirates announcers should be excused if they were somewhat inaccurate. For you see, La Russa has always been somewhat hard to pin down on his plunking/beanball politics. In the past he’s said that another team accidentally hitting his team is bad while defending his own team’s clear and obvious retaliation. He once blamed an opposing hitter for escalating a situation by not avoiding what was clearly intentional attempt to hit him by his own player, claiming that a mere inside pitch with no intent was worse than his own guy TRYING to hit the opposition.
The common denominator to La Russa’s history with this stuff is (a) whatever the Tony La Russa-led team is doing is correct; (b) whatever the other team did was incorrect; and (c) almost everyone who isn’t Tony La Russa just doesn’t get it and that’s their problem, not his.
So of course he’s gonna go into a broadcast booth to La Russa-splain things to them. It’s a complicated business about which he and he alone has clarity. He’s doing us a favor, really.
The Red Sox held a ceremony honoring the 1986 team last night and one of the key members of that team, Wade Boggs, was in attendance wearing his Red Sox jersey. He also wore his Yankees World Series ring.
When I heard about this controversy a few minutes ago I did something that neither I nor most people who are a part of the Internet Industrial Complex usually do: wondered whether this was actually a controversy.
I quickly scanned around and found a good dozen or so articles talking about it and people talking about them talking about it. I noticed people making reference to how, theoretically, this could upset some Red Sox fans or be seen as a sign of disrespect. But I could not find anyone who actually cared. Anyone who was actually upset about it. I can’t say that I read every comment to every article, but you usually don’t have to dig deep to find people mad about something on the Internet and I could not immediately find anyone who was mad about this. Lots of jokes and comments about the idea of being mad, but no one who actually cared. It was like an obligatory ceremonial function the meaning of which everyone has forgotten.
There are a lot of “controversies” like that. They tend to be more common in the entertainment world than the sports world — people referencing a “scandalous” thing some singer or actor did which, in reality, scandalized no one — but it happens in sports too. In sports it’s when a convention or custom is not followed or when someone doesn’t otherwise conform to some set of expectations. A lot of the time no one cares at all. It’s all about the politics of recognizing situations in which someone might, in theory, care. Or once did long, long ago.
Maybe someone is genuinely mad at Wade Boggs over this If so, I’d love to hear from that person and wonder why on Earth they’d care. But I sort of feel like such a beast does not exist. And for that I’m pretty glad.
I’ve always been critical of the concept of “statement games” in Major League Baseball. Maybe it matters more in football where there are far fewer games and thus each one means much more, but in baseball a win lasts, at best, 48 hours and usually less. Like Earl Weaver said, we do this every day, lady. When you’re constantly talking, as it were, any one statement is pretty unimportant.
I’ll grant that a “statement win” is a thing players use to motivate or validate themselves, of course. We on the outside can roll our eyes at the notion, but we can’t know the minds of a major league player. If they think that they made a statement and it’s important to them, hey, it’s important to them. I’ll admit, however, that a statement loss is a new one to me:
Kolten Wong provided the basis of that headline. Here is what he said:
“I think we still made a statement. We were down 6-1 right off the bat. The game before, we were kind of in the same situation. We were tired of it,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “Our pitchers have been our go-to these past few years. It was time for us to step up and I think we all kind of felt that, too. We just wanted to make this a game and show that we have our pitchers’ backs.”
In context it makes sense. A moral victory, as it were. They got to one of the best pitchers in the game after finding themselves down by several runs thanks to their starting pitching betraying them. The hitters didn’t go into a shell when most folks would excuse them for doing so against a guy like Jake Arrieta.
Makes sense and no judgments here. Moral victories matter. Still, it’s hard not to chuckle at the headline. I can’t remember a big leaguer talking quite that way after a loss.
The Dodgers have been mulling this for a long time, but they just announced that they plan on calling up top prospect Julio Urias. He’ll be making his major league debut against the Mets tomorrow evening in New York.
Urias is just 19 years-old, but he’s shown that he’s ready for the bigs. In eight Triple-A games this year — seven starts — he’s 4-1 with a 1.10 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 44/8 in 41 innings. He has tossed 27-straight scoreless innings to boot. While the Dodgers and Urias’ agent are understandably wary of giving the young man too much work too soon, he has nothing left to prove at Oklahoma City.
Urias turns 20 in August. Tomorrow night he will become the first teenager to debut in the majors since 2012 when Dylan Bundy, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jurickson Profar each made their debuts.