The Question

You asked me questions on Twitter. So I shall answer them.

31 Comments

My video setup downstairs has been borked all week thanks to a basement flood. I think we’re all fixed now, but there are some little problems with it, so HBT Daily continues to be on hiatus.

But never fear! Even though I started the Twitter questions thing for the HBT Daily segments, I have way more fun with them in written form, so we continue to go with Charles Victor Szasz on the right hand side and your questions down below.  Ready …. Break!

Q: How did you feel about the “Lets Go Pirates” girl? … Are you training Mookie to be the next Pirates Girl?

That was from two different questioners. For those who don’t know, this is her.  I’ll just say that there’s nothing wrong with a little exuberance among the young.  But just a little, please. I do like that she was doing that in hostile territory, however. Lotta moxie in that girl.  As for Mookie, so far her exuberance at baseball games has been limited to taunting Shelley Duncan and eating hot dogs. Not that either of those are bad things.

Q: Is there a class in law school more boring than professional responsibility? Boy I hope not…

I loved professional responsibility. Probably helped that my professor was a retired navy JAG who liked to drop F-bombs all the time.  Taxation was way worse.  My tax prof. actually thought the tax law was dynamic and spent his days in sorrow that no one agreed with his assessment.

Q: If you come to Kansas City for the All-Star Game, how likely is a fan to be able to exchange a beer for a handshake?

Hell, I’ll give you a handshake for free. But if you want to buy me a beer I’m not gonna break my arm trying to stop you.  And please, let us not overstate the magnitude of my celebrity.  Since I began this gig I have been approached in public exactly twice with “are you Craig Calcaterra?” Once was at a White Sox spring training game back in March, which made me feel kind of cool.  The other time was in my local supermarket, with the approacher being the mother of one of the kids in my son’s kindergarten class who only knew me through the celebrity of my son, such as it is.

Q: Who would you rather have a drink with, Satan or Francoeur?

Just to be clear: I don’t hate Francoeur and don’t think he’s evil. I loathe the Francoeur industrial complex that surrounds him wherever he goes, facts be damned, but I don’t think he’s evil.  That said, you have to figure that Satan tells WAY better stories after having a nip or two than Jeffy does, and you figure that he knows all the best bars. So Satan it is.

Q: I’ve never seen someone call for more bunts than Fredi Gonzalez. Truly the King of Bunts.

This was not a question. But it was a statement of truth.

Q: Wife and I are planning a trip to Pittsburgh and Cleveland the last weekend of the season. Chances we see two pennant races? 

I think the chances that you see two are almost zero and the chances you see one is pretty dim.  I said it before, but I think Pittsburgh is going to fade.  I suspect Cleveland will too, but the AL Central is possessed of a far more profound mediocrity than the NL Central, so they may still have a puncher’s chance.

Q: If you were Mayday Malone (and for the love of all things bourbon, not a recovering alcoholic), Diane or Rebecca?

Good question. Maybe a great one.  On the one hand, the 1980s version of Kirstie Alley was pretty smokin’ hot.  On the other hand, the Diane Chambers character was pretty much crazy, and part of me suspects that it would be good-crazy in the bedroom.  I fear if I say anymore I’m going to enter Bill Simmons territory, though, so let’s just leave it there.

Q:  What are your thoughts on Continental Drift?

It’s a liberal conspiracy.

Q: What are the chances The Giants sign Beltran to a longer term deal?

Probably better than anyone else’s.  They have money and can give him a position to play and are historically not afraid of giving deals to older players.  Word on the street was that Boras wanted Beltran traded to San Francisco for precisely that reason.

Q: Bourbon and baseball on television have helped me through microfracture surgery.

Again, this wasn’t a question, but a tweet sent in my direction by a reader.  The way I see it, if Tommy John gets a surgery named after him after it helped him with his health, life and career, I should get the bourbon and baseball treatment named after me.

Q: Do you have a favorite American League team?

The 1984 Tigers?  Nah, I don’t. My Tigers love is purely historical. The post-1987 versions of the team mean nothing to me.  There are some AL teams I like more than others for no real good reason, but nothing approaching a favorite status.

Q: It’s ok that we all absolutely despise the Yankees, right?

Absolutely. And I’m sure that they and their fans don’t care a lick if we do.

Q: Would your rather be a beer snob or a bourbon snob?

Snobs of any variety — throw in wine too — are awful, but I see no reason why one can’t enjoy all of the divine spirits God has seen fit to give us.  But really, if you go on about how awesome your Olde ObscuraBrau IPA is and how it has ruined you from ever drinking a run-of-the-mill lager, I’m probably going to get annoyed at you fairly quickly.

Q: Is it time to get rid of the saves stat?

Well, we’ll never get rid of it. But it is certainly long past the time when we should be ignoring it.

Q: What was your favorite level on Sonic 2?

My roommates from my sophomore year in college got this and played it incessantly. I chose to drink beer, carouse with women and get excellent grades.  Strangely enough, my post-college life has been pretty awesome.

Q: What do you think of Rob Neyer’s point that there’s no replay definitively showing Meals blew the call?

We’re all entitled to our opinion.  I happen to disagree with Rob’s definition of “definitively” here.

Q: Which happens first: expanded replay, or the Athletics moving to San Jose?

Given that they’re both in a Bud Selig-created committee right now, I expect that the Sun will go supernova before either of those things happen.

Q: This is being given away next Friday. Where will you display yours?

Next to that picture I have of the questioner with a big X through his face, on the table by my copy of “Catcher in the Rye” and love letters to Jodie Foster.

Q: Why Willie Bloomquist?

Because Yuniesky Betancourt already has a job in Milwaukee?

Q: Instead of instant replay, how about do-overs?

As long as we don’t call them Mulligans.

Q: Bacon. Greatest man made invention ever: Fact, or Scientific Fact?

I love bacon as much as the next guy, but I think people routinely overstate its awesomeness.  If you measured by VORBM (Value Over Replacement Breakfast Meat) you’ll find that it’s nowhere nearly as far ahead of sausage as, say, pie is over cake in VOBD (Value Over Baked Dessert).  It’s great, but it has some serious competition.

Q: Where do you think B.J. Upton will end up?

Long term: dead, as will we all.  Oh, grim mortality. Why dost thou insist upon thyself so forcefully!

Q: Thoughts on the new Aquaman?

This questioner happens to co-author a blog with the joker who asked me about the Hrbek-Gant bobblehead.  Sorry readers, but going forward you shall no longer be presented with links to stories written by The Platoon Advantage as a result of their insolence.

As for Aquaman: I think it’s funny that the whole excerpt of that comic is designed to combat the ridicule of Aquaman prevalent in the general discourse.  Batman may be rebooted from time to time, but no one has ever had to apologize for Batman.

Q: Favorite WKRP episode? I mean, can you beat the Turkey Drop?

WKRP — perhaps the best show ever — is most commonly praised for the Turkey Drop episode, but I think that, like bacon, people overdo it.  There were other fantasitc episodes besides the Turkey Drop.  How about the one where Johnny and Venus drank with the state trooper in the booth in order to show the effects of alcohol? And of course, the Scum of the Earth episode was most righteous. And yes, I know that people under 35 or 40 have no idea what I’m talking about.

Q: What is the best way to eat Cincinnati chili? 3-way, coneys, or Skyline dip?

I’ve been in Ohio for nearly 20 years and I have to say that I still don’t really understand or appreciate Cincinnati-style chili, be it Skyline, Gold Star or the stuff people make at home.  I don’t begrudge the people who like it, but chili should be chunkier and sassier than that. It’s very much like my take on Chicago-style pizza.  It’s a fine product for what it is, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I’m wanting pizza.  Same with the Cincy chili.

Q: How do magnets work?

Miracles. Magic everywhere in this bitch.  Are you a believer in miracles? Do you have time for the miracles?

Q: If you could go back in time and have Jerry Meals screw up one call, what would it be?

I’d have him take Jim Leyritz’s homer in the 1996 World Series off the board. Maybe he calls it foul. Maybe he says that Leyrtiz had called time first.  Maybe it’s a pine tar thing. But if that hadn’t happened, I’d probably be a better man for it right now.

Q: Do idiot Braves fans hate Jason Heyward as much as idiot Phils fans hate Domonic Brown?

I know a number of idiot Braves fans, but their m.o. is completely opposite that of idiot Phillies fans. Rather than irrational hate, they’re pretty big on irrational love.  I mean, I love Heyward too, but the guy certainly has some sort of problems going on right now.  Maybe you just play him and hope it works itself out, but don’t sit there and tell me that something isn’t amiss with the dude, ya know?

Q: On a scale of 1-10 how excited are you for the Dark Knight Rises?

My excitement meter for all things Batman-related goes to 11.  It’s one more excited, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be all excited at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your Batman excitement. Where can you go from there? Where? Nowhere. What I do is, if I need that extra push over the cliff, you know what I do? Put it up to eleven.

That’s all we got this week.  Be on the Twitter next Wednesday evening for the next round of questions.

Sports and politics share some of their worst excesses

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19:  Montana alternative delegate Susan Reneau shouts "guilty" as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes a column today — likely part of the Post’s overall Inauguration coverage — about how the world of sports and sports fandom is a refreshing change from the world of politics. It’s a place where “facts are still facts,” he says. Where  “debates, though sometimes loud, are surrounded by oceans of substantiated facts and often informed by respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points.” Contrasted with politics, of course, where objective fact has turned into opinion and vice-versa.

I get what he’s trying to say and I think he’s well-intentioned. But I also think he badly misreads both sports discourse and political discourse, each of which have borrowed the worst excesses from the other. And by this I do not mean the extent to which the substance of sports and politics overlap, which we have often argued about in this space. This is not a “stick to sports” point. I’m talking about the way in which sports fans interact with sports and political people interact with politics, even in a relative vacuum.

Politics has coopted sports discourse in the most toxic and wrongheaded of ways. The idea that “scoreboard!” is all that matters. The belief that winning is the only objective as opposed to a means to an end. Notions of rooting and tribalism, and that “our team” and “the opposing team” is the proper way to view the parties to the contest. All of those things — each of which make sense to varying degrees in a sports context — have been imported into politics and have served to degrade them.

Likewise, contrary to what Boswell says, sports fans and commentators have eagerly begun to traffic in political-style reality creation, distortion and spin. He takes an oblique swipe at the “hot takers” like Skip Bayless and talk radio shouters, but he’s deluded if he thinks that they do not have more influence over sports fans than do than “the respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points” which he describes. Bayless and his crowd are a direct aping of “Crossfire”-style political shows.

Likewise, the concept of fan loyalty is increasingly discussed and routinely encouraged by sports leagues and teams in terms that were once reserved for party politics. The notion that those who have succeeded have done so because they are worthy and all of those who are worthy have succeeded is likewise fully believed by both sports fans and political actors. The idea that validation of one sort — electoral or competitive — justifies overlooking the political or athletic actor’s real life transgressions likewise crosses political and athletic lines. How much do sports fans and citizens overlook crimes and misdemeanors if there is a sufficient redemption or comeback narrative to cloak them?

Yet Boswell believes there to be a fundamental gap between how sports and politics are practiced and consumed. To explain it, he says this:

One partial explanation for the gap between the way we talk about sports and the way we talk about some other subjects may be the distorting force field of ideology. When we have a deep attachment to unprovable beliefs, ideas and emotions get intertwined. The psychological cost of disentangling them can be profound.

Tell me that you have not witnessed that dynamic among people whose identities have become far too wound up in the sports teams for which they root. There is ideology among sports fans just as much as there is among political partisans, even if the stakes aren’t as high.

He also says this:

For example, Clemson and Alabama have split the past two college football titles. Yet both coaches, in both years, deferred respectfully to the results, didn’t seek scapegoats, didn’t claim the results were invalid and, by their example, encouraged their fans to take pride in the battle — won or lost — and analyze it with enthusiasm but without distortion.

As if sports fans haven’t spent years re-litigating the Tuck Rule, Don Denkinger or Maradona’s Hand of God. As if notions of good sportsmanship and proper perspective are satisfied by merely accepting results. As if cheating scandals, real, imagined or inflated beyond all perspective, have not caused people to question the very legitimacy of the players in question.

As I said at the outset, I get what Boswell is trying to get at. And I find it admirable that he’s looking to sports to find some grace in an increasingly graceless world. Moreover, none of this is to say that sports don’t provide some refuge from raging political storms. They do.

But the world of sports is every bit as susceptible to the reality-denying, magical thinking storms which have increasingly come to characterize politics. And those raging political storms are very much fueled by a type and mode of passion that was first cultivated in sports and repurposed for a larger stage.

I mean, are these things really all that different?

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-10-57-35-am

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-00-59-am

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-05-35-am

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-06-47-am

 

Which current players are Cooperstown bound?

Miguel Cabrera
Getty Images
26 Comments

With the election of Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez and with the Hall of Fame press conferences over, let’s wrap up Hall of Fame week with a look at today’s game and see if we can’t figure out who among current big leaguers are likely to get the call to Cooperstown one day.

The No-Brainers

I think it’s a 100% lock that, absent their being identified as international terrorist masterminds, the following guys are already in:

Albert Pujols — He’ll break 600 homers this season, is a three-time MVP, has a couple of World Series rings and will be above 3,000 hits before he’s done. He could’ve been hit by a bus five years ago and still would be a lock.

Ichiro Suzuki — Over 3,000 hits in this country, over 4,000 hits between here and Japan, with some added spice due to him breaking people of notion that only Japanese pitchers, and not hitters, could be effective in Major League Baseball. A first ballot guy, just like Pujols.

Miguel Cabrera — He has two MVPs, a Triple Crown and is approaching 500 homers and 3,000 hits already despite still being only 33 years-old. He may be beginning to descend from his career peak, but there is no reason at all to think that he doesn’t have several years of top performance left. He, like Pujols and Ichiro are already in.

Adrian Beltre — As recently as a couple of years ago I was convinced that voters would fail to appreciate his greatness, but something has changed recently in the way he is discussed by the baseball commentariat. His defense has been spectacular and has remained so even as he approaches 40 and, unlike what may have been the case a decade ago, it is widely appreciated. He’ll pass 3,000 hits this year.

Yadier Molina — I would’ve put him in the next lower category before Wednesday, but Ivan Rodriguez’s first ballot election shows that defense behind the plate carries more weight with the electorate than many considered it to. There’s also the fact that Molina has always been talked about as a Hall of Famer and has the respect of everyone he’s ever played with, often being cited as the heart and soul of the successful Cardinals teams of the past decade and change. Voters love that and that’ll do a lot to make up for the lack of typical Hall of Fame offensive numbers.

Justin Verlander — An MVP/Cy Young combo and a couple of other years when he could’ve easily won the Cy Young set Verlander apart, especially if his rebound 2016 presages a few more years of excellence. Assuming a normal decline, he’ll top 3,000 strikeouts will be between 225-250 wins one thinks. Wherever he ends up on those numbers, though, there is going to be — heck, there has to be — a rethinking of what a Hall of Fame starting pitcher looks like by the voters in the coming years. Guys like Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling are getting overlooked because they don’t have 300 wins and a boatload of complete games, with voters not yet grokking that the game has changed. By the time Verlander is on the ballot, I suspect that they will have fully grokked it and that his case will be easier than it has been for some others who came before. The guy to watch as this dynamic unfolds: Roy Halladay, who hits the ballot in two years.

 

Probably In, But People Will Argue

Carlos Beltran — His career stock has improved as he’s continued to an effective hitter late in his career, but I feel like he may not yet be fully appreciated by many due to the lack of hardware and rings and things. Overall, however, his numbers are comparable to several Hall of Famers. One thing a lot of people overlook in Hall of Fame careers is just how much playing for one team — which was once the norm due to the Reserve Clause — colors the narrative of a player’s case. Beltran is Billy Williams, right? Except without the entire career with the Cubs and the adoration of those fans to speak for him. As we’ve seen with Tim Raines, having someone stump for a guy is important. Which team’s fan base stumps for Beltran?

 

Probably NOT in, But People Will Stump For Them

Chase Utley — I feel like he’s just short, though that’s mostly due to him getting a late start in his career and not compiling some of the counting stats voters like to see. Was definitely the best second baseman around for a number of years and has the rate stats and defensive reputation. A good case can be made for him. But the same is true of Larry Walker, Alan Trammell and a number of other guys who haven’t gotten the Hall of Fame love.

Jimmy Rollins — Utley’s former teammate may have an opposite case: a lot of good counting stats based on being a regular at 21, but he has somewhat lackluster rate stats and secondary stats for a Hall of Famer.

Joe Mauer — If he had stuck at catcher he’d have a stronger case — and if he weren’t so unfairly denigrated by Twins fans and those who cover them his existing case would be more appreciated — but the odd arc of his career and setbacks due to concussions will likely make him fall short. There’s a very interesting statistical/historical case to be made for Mauer, but it’s not one that, barring an unexpected late career offensive renaissance, will get much of a hearing I suppose.

 

On the way, but need to pad their resumes

Clayton Kershaw — The only thing keeping him out of the “already in” group is the fact that he has only played for nine seasons and you have to have ten in order to be eligible. Yes, even after 10 his career will be super short, but what he has done in his nine seasons — three Cy Youngs and three other top-5 Cy Young finishes, four ERA crowns and three strikeout crowns, — has been pretty outstanding. I suppose that if he suddenly turned into a tomato can and spent a decade with ERAs in the 5s people would rethink him, but the smart money has him cruising in based on his first decade alone, padded with even merely good later years. And there’s no reason to think that his next couple of years will be merely good.

Robinson Cano — Only 12 seasons under his belt but already north of 2,200 hits and, barring serious injury, will likely finish his career at or near the top of most offensive categories for second basemen. He plays every dang day. Multiple All-Star selections and a lot of MVP votes. Barring a Dale Murphy-style falloff, I think he makes it.

Dustin Pedroia — Likely has it on peak performance already — the Rookie of the Year, the MVP, a couple of World Series rings for which he is given a large amount of credit — but he has only played 11 seasons, which is generally too short for Hall of Famers not named Koufax. Second baseman have historically fallen off younger than players at other positions, but if Pedroia, like Cano, avoids that and has a standard career decline, he’s Cooperstown bound.

Buster Posey — There are only eight years under Buster’s belt, but they’ve been great years. Someone besides Bruce Bochy will get credit for the Giants’ three World Series rings, and it’ll likely be Posey. That is, if his down 2016 season isn’t the beginning of an unexpectedly sharp falloff.

Mike Trout — The shortest tenure of anyone on this list, but the guy has already put together a Hall of Fame peak by the age of 25 and only needs to gain eligibility. If he falls off to merely very good starting now he’ll have already made it. WAR is a counting stat which accumulates over a career. By the time 2017 is over, he will likely have passed Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Larry Doby, Nellie Fox, Bobby Doerr, Mickey Cochrane and Tony Perez. In less than seven full seasons.

UPDATE: Joey Votto — I forgot him when I first published this. Which, I dunno, was maybe some weird unconscious impulse I had which channels what I think voters will do. We’ve come a long way in appreciating on-base ability and rate stats and eschewing RBIs and things when it comes to evaluating hitters, but I feel like, to some, Votto is an extreme case here. He shouldn’t be — he’s a career .313 hitter and has slugged to the tune of .536 — but the negative narrative that has been written by some in the media that Votto is too timid a hitter or that his taking walks somehow has hurt the Reds has had some annoying staying power. All of that said: he’s only got ten years in. If he continues doing what he’s doing, he’ll be a strong Hall candidate. If he has even one or two more years where he shuts the naysayers up and, say, finishes first or second in the MVP voting, he’ll be in. Alternatively: if the Reds ever trade him to a contender and people see how valuable his production is in a lineup with even a modicum of support, that narrative changes immediately.

Others

Ian Kinsler — Dustin Pedroia without the MVP and the rings? I suppose a lot of people would take issue with that, but they’re a lot more similar than you may suspect. Kinsler has a higher bWAR in the same number of seasons as Pedroia, even if he doesn’t have the same level of fame.

Max Scherzer — If he can keep up the peak he’s established over the past few seasons for a bit longer, or if he can show remarkable longevity, he could possibly make up for blooming a bit late.

Zach Greinke — Could go either way. We’ve likely already seen his best seasons — and his two best were, uncharacteristically for a Hall of Famer, several years apart — but if he has several more good ones, he’s in the conversation.

Felix Hernandez — I feel like 2017 will be key. Two years ago I’d have said he was well on his way, but two average seasons in a row at ages 29 and 30 could be the precursor to a less-than-Hall-of-Fame second act.

There are likewise several players who have begun careers which look a lot like guys who eventually made the Hall of Fame — Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Sale, Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, etc. etc. — but for the most part they’re just too early in the game to project. Let’s hold off on them for a few years, shall we?

I feel pretty good about this list thus far, however. What say you?