So what happened lower down on the Hall of Fame ballot?

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Hooray for Barry Larkin. Now let’s look farther down the ballot and see what’s what.  We’ll do this in random notes format:

  • Jack Morris’ uptick from 53.5% in 2011 to 66.7% this year is, on the surface, a good thing for his candidacy. Not many guys who get that many votes fail to make it. So on one level you’d think he’d be a shoe-in for next year.  The problem, however, is that so many worthy candidates — and candidates who will got lots of support but who maybe not enough for election — will be coming in next two years. And Morris only has two years.  It’s possible that he will become the place where all of the anti-steroid voters go next year, thus pushing him over. It’s also possible that he just missed his last best chance to get in before he’s crowded out;
  • Jeff Bagwell’s elevation from 41.7% to 56% is quite encouraging, both for him personally and for the idea that people who are unfairly lumped in with PED users may actually get a fair shake eventually. Perhaps the real anti-Bagwell sentiment from last year was about making him a first ballot Hall of Famer, not keeping him out entirely.  Either way, with 56% in only his second year on the ballot, his prospects look pretty darn good going forward;
  • Speaking of forward, Tim Raines took a nice leap forward as well, going from 37.5% in 2011 to 48.7% this year. Still no lock — you really need to bust 50% before you get real momentum — but encouraging all the same. It will be interesting to see, however, if he gets crowded out in the coming years like Morris may due to the overcrowded ballots.  Of course, Raines still has another decade on the ballot, so his situation is not as precarious as is Morris’.
  • Lee Smith broke 50% — he got 50.6% — but it wasn’t a big leap over last year’s 45.3%.  Not terrible, but no one really seems to be advocating for him publicly like they did for Bert Blyleven, and no one seems as agitated by is presence like they are by Morris’. Could he be flattening out? We’ll see, as he has five more years before he is the Veteran’s Committee’s problem.
  • Mark McGwire has certainly plateaued at a meager 19.5%. Last year he had 19.8%.  Even those who advocate for the PED guys are going to overlook him somewhat in the interests of pushing for Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ candidacies going forward, so don’t look for McGwire to make any moves.
  • Alan Trammell shot up 12 percentage points over last year, but he’s still only at 36.8%, so it’s not like his is a vibrant candidacy. Trammell leapfrogged Edgar Martinez, actually, who only went up from 32.9% to 36.5%. In other news, if anyone can tell me what separates Trammell from Larkin that is in any way material, I’d really like to know.
  • Juan Gonzalez dropped off completely, receiving only 4% of the vote. All of that desktop publishing effort, wasted.
  • We made fun of the Pedro Gomez’ vote for Bill Mueller this morning, but Mueller actually got four votes. Other novelty vote recipients: Vinny Castilla (6), Tim Salmon (5), Brad Radke (2), Javy Lopez (1) and Eric Young (1).  Nice going, guys. Now you can tell people that you got Hall of Fame votes from writers who did not take their task particularly seriously.

There’s a lot more fun stuff to be gleaned from the voting results.  Check ’em out and add any of your own observations in the comments.

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.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.