The Question

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

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Q: Why won’t Doctor Manhattan wear pants?

Either (a) because his character was used by Alan Moore in “Watchmen” as a vehicle to explore the real world implications of a super-powered being and how his near-omnipotence would naturally cause him to detach himself from the ugly, flawed reality of humanity, in terms of his personal interactions, his duties to protect mankind and even, in the case of his ever-shrinking costume, his adherence to its social conventions and mores; or (b) he’s a blogger.

Q: Who’s your AL ROTY?

I haven’t really thought too hard about this yet. Hellickson, maybe? Pineda? I’ve kind of ignored this to be honest. I should probably think about it at some point.

Q: Why does Fredi Gonzalez hate me? Did I kill a relative of his in battle perhaps?

Mr. Kimbrel, I’ve told you, please keep your complaints in the clubhouse. I’m sure there’s a good reason why Fredi won’t use you in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road against the best team in baseball, and I’m guessing it’s more his problem than yours.

Q: What are your opinions on Rod Allen and Mario Impemba?

I don’t really watch a ton of Tigers games to be honest. When I do, I don’t take special notice of those two one way or the other. Like most broadcasters, they fall in that vast middle range of not so bad and not spectacular. Which is fine, thanks, because they don’t distract me from the game, which is basically the most important part of the deal for me.

Q: Why does a baker’s dozen contain 13 items? Was this invented because someone was bad at math?

It’s a very complicated story having to do with the Assize of Bread and Ale and  hexagonal close packing, each of which inspired bakers to make 13 of whatever tasty morsel they were baking, rather than 12. But really, should we be in the business of questioning it when someone gives us an extra donut?

Q: I pray you didn’t see Bachmann talk about energy.

This refers, of course, to the GOP presidential debate last night. Which, no, I did not watch.  I caught some highlights this morning however and, setting aside my personal politics, I will note that the crowd’s spontaneous applause of the mere mention of the fact that Texas has executed 234 people was absolutely sickening. Even if you’re a death penalty supporter, how is that cheer-worthy? And that’s before you get into the fact that Texas has almost certainly executed innocent men. I personally oppose the death penalty, but I would hope that even those who differ from me in that regard would view it as a regrettable and difficult act that, even when properly applied, is a sad thing.  At least pretend that taking a life is something worth serious and solemn consideration, OK? Let’s not treat the bodies of both the innocent and the guilty as political red meat.  And speaking of the death penalty:

Q: Should making bad movies or records be punishable by death?

That would be sad, but for different reasons. Sure, I appreciate good movies and good records, but I have gotten an awful lot of enjoyment in life — more than I care to admit — from bad pop culture and art. And not just from an ironic “so bad it’s good” point of view, though there has been a lot of that.  There are a lot of fun movies and albums that are, from an objective, critical point of view, bad. But they’re still fun!  I think the movie version of “Clue” starring Tim Curry was savaged by the critics, but I always watch it if it’s on. There are approximately 100 early 80s synth-pop songs on my iPod that, critically speaking, are best described as “a really, really, really poor-man’s Roxy Music,” but I love it anyway. Eat it up like candy.  In contrast, there are a lot of albums and movies [cough] Radiohead [cough] and [cough] Lars von Trier [cough] that are absolute ordeals to endure, even if one can appreciate their artistic merit. I certainly hope that there’s room for art and schlock in everyone’s life.  Each one helps you appreciate the charms of the other.

Q: Favorite & least-favorite episodes of ST:TOS.

Worth noting: today is the 45th anniversary of the premiere of “Star Trek.” I do hope you celebrate responsibly.

Anyway, I never obsessed over the original series. I came to Star Trek through the movies in the early 80s and then via Next Generation, so going back and watching TOS was always more of an academic exercise for me than something I just ate up. So you won’t be surprised, then, that my selections here are pretty obvious: Best: “City on the Edge of Forever.” Worst: “Spock’s Brain.”  I’m sure there’s nuance to the whole series that would make hard core people quibble with my choices here, but it’s just on a level on which I’ve never operated.

Q: Strasburg – Greatest pitcher ever? Or greatest pitcher there will ever be?

Not yet the best ever. In order it goes: Walter Johnson, Ditka, Maddux, Vance Worley, Ditka and then Strasburg.

Q: My girlfriend just started law school and yells at me when I make jokes while she’s studying. When do I run?

Hmm. Hard for me to say. I have little experience with this as I never really studied all that much in law school. Which explains a lot of the past 16 years of my life. I dunno, a couple of weeks before her student loans come due?

Q: Matt Cain or Herman Cain?

Based on the one interview I did of Matt Cain, I will give Herman points in the “engaging conversationalist” department. And anyone who runs a chain of pizza joints has to have even better stories waiting to be told.

Q:  If Chipper Jones was a tree which kind of tree would he be?

That mighty oak from the front yard of your childhood home that got a touch of some blight a few years ago and slowly started to split, decay, crumble and die. But we’ll always remember the oak.

Q: If Prince Fielder leaves in free agency, is Milwaukee still a good team?

Of course it is. Ryan Braun is still there, and as this year has shown, there is more to the team than just Fielder and Braun.  In the NL Central, you can win with one offensive superstar and a serviceable supporting cast.

Q: In your time in Foggy Bottom ever have a Burl Ives from Lindy’s?

Three years at George Washington University and I never went there. Ever. My wife worked up at DuPont Circle at the time, so any post-class eating and drinking was usually done up that way. I’m having a hard time picturing ingesting something called “a Burl Ives,” though. Would it taste like a blue tail fly?

Q: Seriously, how much longer can yanks keep trotting out Burnett? Wouldn’t you rather see a Killer B or Bababooey or my cat?

Given that the playoffs are a lock and none of the Yankees’ “Killer B” pitching prospects would be expected to contribute anything of substance in the playoffs, there’s no sense in it. Either A.J. or Hughes will go to the pen soon enough. It’s not like the Yankees have lost much ground to anyone for having Burnett out there, no matter how frustrating he is.

Q: What’s your stupidest baseball memorabilia purchase? Mine = Canseco rookie card in “40/40 Club” plaque for $50 (back in 89).

Probably that Carl Yastrzemski card. With the big sideburns. My buddies wanted me to go in with them and get a copy of “Radioactive Man #1” but I went with the card. Not sure I made the right choice. I mean, what possibly could have gone wrong with owning 1/3 of a classic comic book?

Q: One item from Schmidts for the rest of your life: Cream Puff or Bahama Mama?

This refers to Schmidt’s Sausage Haus here in beautiful Columbus, Ohio. If you like beer, sausage and cream puffs — and if you don’t, I really don’t want to know you — you need to go to Schmidt’s if you’re ever in the 614. Yeah, I said “the 614.” Wanna fight about it?  As for your question, I’ve had good beer many places and I’ve had good sausage many places as well. The cream puffs, though, oh mommy, those are good.

Q: What do you think of Oasis (the band)?

Two great albums out of the gate and then all of their inspiration seemed to disappear in a haze of cocaine, ego, pretentiousness and celebrity bloat. Now, at least two of those things helped make those first two albums great and are fabulous for the purposes of rock and roll on general principles, but you can’t have all four or you’ll sink like a stone.

Q: So, have you seen any good movies lately?

I watched “Casablanca” last week. Does that count? If not, the late summer/early fall movie season is not made for 38-year-old people. I think the last movie I saw in the theater that I really liked was “Super 8.”  I don’t go to a ton of movies, though.

Q: What’s your favorite Batman graphic novel?

Can you count “Year One?”  I read it in one sitting, but I know it was originally released post-Crisis as a serial reboot.  If you can’t count that, I’m going obvious with “Dark Knight Returns.”

Q: Have you ever been to Cooperstown?

Once, when I was about nine-years-old. I remember it fairly well, though obviously that was a long damn time ago and a return visit is overdue. It’s like nine or ten hours in the car from me, so for road trip purposes I’d need to take three whole days, and that’s if I just wanted to do one day in the museum. So, really, I need to plan.

Q: Saints +4 at Packers. Who ya got?

The sheer number of craps I don’t give about that sort of thing could fill up a large convention center.

Q: Who is more badass … Mike from Breaking Bad, or Vic Mackey?

I never watched “The Shield.” I’m told I missed out. Mike’s pretty damn bad, but really: 90% of his badassness comes while dealing with Mr. White and Jesse, and those two aren’t exactly the most formidable foes on the planet. I did like Mike’s work in the back of the chicken truck a couple of weeks ago, though.

Q: Your life is on the line. Five innings. Wakefield or A.J.?

If I’m going to die, I’d rather have it be because I trusted a knuckleballer. Which, while insane, is what I’d be compelled to do.

Q: What American League contending team would you choose to play your Atlanta Braves in the World Series?

Right now I don’t like the Braves against anybody, so that’s tough. The Angels maybe? Do they count?

Q: Choosing between full back tattoos: Giant robotic dragon or evil wizard riding a unicorn? But not some pansy unicorn!

I really don’t see how you could go wrong with either of those choices, Senator.

Q: Does the light ever hit Mookie just right and you think maybe, just maybe, she is the milkman’s kid?

Nah. She looks way, way too much like me once you go feature-by-feature and control for the hair and the glasses. Sometimes I wonder about the boy, though. Not that I truly doubt he’s my son. I just wonder about him. Kid’s not right. At all. He’s lately taken to writing all of his school work in backwards “Yoda speak.”  Like, on the first day he had to draw a picture and write a sentence about how he felt about school starting and he wrote “nervous, I was.” Speaking of the boy …

Q: What are you doing to make sure Carlo doesn’t become a Phillies fan during their current run of success?

I guess I’m just going to hope that he stops being a screwup.

Q: What’s your opinion on Newsradio? Was it really that funny? Or was it the fact that I was in my 7th year of college?

I should go back and watch it. I have a feeling it would hold up because, at heart, it was all about witty banter with occasional gonzo plot elements, and those tend to do better than relationship shows or family shows. I wonder if it’s any accident that the first three of these that popped into my head were all set in media: Mary Tyler Moore, WKRP and Newsradio.  There’s got to be something to that.

Q: Better Dylan backing band: The Hawks/The Band or Rolling Thunder?

Between those two I’ll take The Hawks, circa the British tour that gave us the Royal Albert Hall bootleg. Overall, though, he has never played with a tighter band than the Tony Garnier-led outfit who he’s toured and recorded with for the past 10-12 years.

Q: How worried are you about the Braves without Jurrjens and Hanson at 100%?

We’re way past worried. I may have actually shot past panicked and went straight into “acceptance” mode. Really, I expect very little from these guys at the moment. They have really one gameplan with which they can make some playoff noise, and without those two at 100%, that gameplan is inoperative.

Q: What is your stance on the use of “we” when talking about your favorite team?

I try to avoid it as much as possible. The single biggest problem of sports fandom is when people start identifying too closely with their rooting interests. If they affect your mood and disposition — if you take criticism of them as personal slights that you feel obligated to defend — you have a problem. I occasionally let a “we” slip though, but not if i can help it.

Q: Would you rather Mookie ask you to buy “Watch the Throne” or Eminem’s latest?

I’m still having trouble getting my mind around the fact that she likes the “Kidz Bop” albums.  In some ways I’ll be relieved when she gets into that kind of stuff because I can at least relate to it on some level.

Q: Favorite Graeter’s flavor? And how is Graeter’s ice cream not better than pie?

For those unaware, Graeter’s is the Cincinnati-based but Columbus-ubiquitous ice cream joint that makes the most FANTASTIC ice cream around. At least as far as traditional stuff goes. There are crazy joints around here like Jeni’s Splendid which is just as awesome, but for other reasons such as Thai Chili ice cream and that sort of thing. Really, we are totally spoiled from an ice cream perspective here in Central Ohio.  As for Graeter’s, I like any of the chocolate chip flavors. Mostly because Graeter’s definition of “chocolate chip” is “a three inch long, one inch thick slab of awesome dark chocolate just stuck in the middle of the ice cream.”  Eat around that and then eat the “chip” and you’re in some upper echelon of Heaven.

Q: For my newborn son I am going to buy him a case of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot to age for his 21st birthday. Bourbon suggestion?

I don’t recommend laying down a bourbon for 21 years. Wait until he turns 21 and then buy him a fresh bottle of Blanton’s. Or, if you insist on some connection between his birth and his 21st birthday, get a fresh bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve when he turns 20. They age that stuff for 20 years before releasing it, which is basically unprecedented. If you get it when he’ s 20 and drink it when he’s 21, you have yourself a bottle of something that was made when he was born.

Q: What is your favorite Pixies song and why? Number 13 Baby?

That’s a great choice. So dramatic, and I loves it when Black Francis gets all dramatic. That one is in the conversation. It’s being considered. Others: “Gouge Away,” “Where is my Mind,” and just to throw a Kim song in there, “Gigantic.”

Q:  Are you stocked up on bourbon, Craig, for the hell that your Braves are stumbling into? These birds are ready to soar. How ’bout Skip Shoemaker? He’s got like 20-something singles and a bucket of runs since the start of August. But it’s not not the baseball side of things that El Bravos have to worry about. TLR mind control is in full effect. He leaves a trail of rage everywhere he stares – a kind of scorched earth deal. It’s those sunglasses. The Cowards (opposite of Braves, right?) enter St. Louis a happy, pleasant little bunch. Young and excited. Getting healthier. And Go Chipper’s knee! But they leave with infighting. Uggla starts flexing. Kimbrel gets swirlied. The whole thing collapses. I guess this really isn’t a question. I hope you’re abusing NyQuil.

That came from HBT’s own Drew Silva, in a series of tweets, who took advantage of me checking out sick early yesterday to go and find himself a pair of big boy pants. And I suppose he looks OK in them. I wish I had a response to any of this, but unfortunately I have some NBC meetings to attend. You know, personnel, compensation, cost-cutting measures. That sort of thing. Perhaps I’ll be able to respond to him in substance on that personal blog of his he’ll likely feel compelled to start in about two weeks (pending his decision on how he wants to cash out his vacation time).

That’s it for this week, folks. Next week we’ll see who else thinks they’re so smart.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Associated Press
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.