Detroit Tigers v Colorado Rockies

Baseball and religion do not mix, so let’s stop arguing about the DH


I often take jabs at the DH as the most evil thing in the universe. And, yes, in some very, very small corner of my brain, part of my id believes that. But I don’t really endorse that view, and when I say such things I hope people realize that I’m joking around.

Yes, I prefer NL baseball and pitchers batting, but I also realize that it’s a personal preference, both on my part and on the part of fans of the DH, and there are few wastes of time in life greater than trying to get someone to change their subjective opinion about things.

Over the last few days, however, both in the comments around here and on Twitter, I have run sideways into to a couple of DH arguments in which people truly seem to be trying to convince the other side that to prefer what they prefer is to engage in folly.  “Your opinion is flawed,” an AL adherent tells an NL fan in what appears to be total seriousness.  “No, you are actually mistaken as to the facts of the matter,” the NL fan replies, seeming as though there are true stakes riding on him changing the belief of the person with whom he is arguing.

Doesn’t this annoy you?  It annoys the hell out of me. Because given that there tactical and performance tradeoffs for either choice, and given that there is a huge overlay of aesthetic judgments and personal history with the game itself which form any one fan’s view of the matter, to be a DH person or a non-DH person is the closest thing baseball has to religious faith. Sure, we can dress our preferences up with as many seemingly rational, quantitative arguments as we can muster, but in the end, we’re asking someone to change their mind about something they believe in, not something they’ve rationally and dispassionately concluded is optimal.

We don’t stand for this in any other area of our lives. Example: I’m a big Bob Dylan fan. My college roommate spent a year trying to convince me that I should not like Bob Dylan because his voice was not true and clear in tone.  Guess what? I know Bob Dylan’s voice is not true and clear in tone. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons I like Bob Dylan. His music speaks to me despite of and often because of the nature of his voice, however ragged it has grown.  You’re not going to convince me that I shouldn’t like Bob Dylan any more than you’re going to be able to convince me that I don’t like mint chocolate chip ice cream. We’re outside the realm of objective judgments here.

So to is it with the DH. AL fans will tell me, as if I wasn’t perfectly aware of the fact, that pitchers simply aren’t good hitters. Thanks, professor! I had no idea!  Is it not possible that I don’t care? And that between the gamesmanship that comes with a team working around the fact that their pitchers can’t hit and the occasional thrill one gets when, dammit, the pitcher does hit, that I am cool with all of that and just prefer it, even if you don’t believe that any of it is worth the effort?

Likewise, NL fans will tell AL fans that DH games take away some element of strategy or managerial tactics or what have you. Again, I’m pretty sure the AL fans are both aware of and fine with that. Indeed, given how much time we all spend complaining about what our team’s manager does, they probably wonder how an NL guy could even suggest that more tactical and substitution decisions be put into Joe Girardi’s or Manny Acta’s hands.  Let the players play, they say, and let people who can actually hit the ball hit.  And they are right to say so, because it is what they want to see.

But let us not confuse our preferences for essential truths. Or, more to the point, let us not pretend that any bit of truth our position holds, be it managerial strategy or better hitters in the lineup, changes the underlying values a baseball fan with a different opinion holds.

And while we’re at it, how about we all come to an agreement on something: that we all stop trying to convince other people that what they believe and what they prefer is somehow invalid and inferior. That while we can make our occasional knowing jokes about the superiority of one form of baseball over another, that we never truly take such arguments seriously, for they are inherently offensive to personal aesthetic choice.  That, to put it simply, we live and let live on this matter, just like most of us would live and let live on any other matter that entails such subjectivity.  It seems like common decency to me.

Besides: there are true issues of right and wrong that are far more worth our time and mental energy. For example: the inherent superiority of pie over cake, which only fools would dare contradict lest they show the world just how ignorant and deluded they truly are.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.