Dylan

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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There were only three freakin’ games last night. Three!  How is this fair? Bah! Bah, I say.  So, to make up for the lack of games to talk about, I go into some random Bob Dylan stuff below the scores. My feature. Do what I wanna do.

Tigers 7, Red Sox 3: Max Scherzer continues to be non-disastrous, which is what the Tigers really need from him. Delmon Young and Quintin Berry each had three hits for Detroit. Alex Avila had one hit in the box score and one hit to the face while catching — foul ball — which left him bloody and forced him out of the game.

Rockies 11, Astros 5: Carlos Gonzalez’ reign of terror continues (3 for 4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI). Michael Cuddyer drove in three as well.  Astros starter Bud Norris probably needs a hug. He gave up nine runs on seven hits in less than two innings. It’s OK, Bud. The bad men in the white pinstriped jerseys aren’t there to hurt you anymore.

Brewers 6, Dodgers 2:  Milwaukee sweeps the Dodgers in the four game series. Zack Greinke allowed one run over six.  The Matt Kempless-era, Part II, of the 2012 Dodgers has not gotten off to a rousing start. Gloom and doom is afoot, people. Gloom and doom.

OK, now — because there is no more baseball to talk about from last night — a giant digression …

I’ve probably made about a thousand Bob Dylan references on this blog over the years, so it’s probably no secret that I’m a big Dylan fan. Probably bigger than you think, though. I don’t talk about it THAT much but I’m fairly obsessive. I got almost all of it, even the crazy evangelical Christian albums he put out in the late 70s and early 80s. Even awful stuff like “Empire Burlesque” and “Self Portrait.”  All of the “official” bootlegs and a fairly decent number of unofficial ones. If Dylan has done it, I have it. Or at least have heard it.

There was a time when I’d corner you and act all jerky if you said you didn’t like Dylan. I’m way more mature about such things these days, realizing that the bulk of Bob Dylan is not for everyone and even the essential stuff can be an acquired taste. Yes, I think you’re missing the entire point if you say his voice is hard to listen to, but I’m past the point in my life where I’ll argue with you about it. I probably don’t like stuff you like and think is important and that’s OK.

But I can’t help myself here but to recommend The Onion A.V. Club’s Dylan primer that went up yesterday.  It’s shorter than extended overviews elsewhere but also detailed enough to let you know what it is you’re missing if you care. And it’s not overly fanboyish. It tells you what’s good and what sucks, which is the only way to be honest about the famously uneven Mr. Zimmerman. And it’s the most I can muster as far as Dylan proselytizing goes.

Anyway, since there are only three games to talk about, I figure I’d give you my personal Dylan top Albums list and maybe kick off some Dylan talk today. This is in no particular order — which of these is my favorites changes depending on my mood — but these five usually cycle through the top five:

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan: The one that introduced me to Bob when I was a kid, because my dad owned it. Of course my dad was also one of those guys who turned his back on Dylan when he went electric, so it’s not like my dad was cool or anything. When I swiped this from him sometime in the 80s he was all “Oh, yeah. You can have it.” “Girl From the North Country” may be the most beautiful song in his catalog and it makes me misty sometimes. It’s hard to believe that something so personal and affecting sounding can result from the same ancient folk song that served as the basis for something as sterile as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” Really kids, it’s the same song. Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

Highway 61 Revisted: I could easily put “Bringing it All Back Home” here. Or “Blonde on Blonde.” With a nod to the Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sgt. Peppers Beatles and the Let it Bleed/Sticky Fingers/Exile Stones, they constitute what is perhaps the greatest three-album stretch of anyone ever. I tend to favor Highway 61, however, because I heard it first — on cassette! — when all I had known of Dylan before that was his early folk output. It hit me like a lightning bolt. I think it hits everyone like a lightning bolt. With “Desolation Row” serving like some post-storm rolling thunder after the worst of the storm is over.

Blood on the Tracks: Some call it “the Divorce Album.” It may be that. I certainly got reacquainted with it in major fashion when my marriage was disintegrating last year, because boy howdy does it resonate. But the fact is that it is much more than that. Just a beautiful song cycle that, for the first time, really sounded like it came from a truly mature Bob Dylan as opposed to a young man trying so hard to sound worldly.

Good as I Been to You: This doesn’t make many top Dylan lists. Don’t care. Wore it out when I got it in late 1992. Dylan was at something of a critical nadir when it came out but to me it sounded like a logical continuation or an echo or something of “Freewheelin,” which was still relatively new to me then. And it had the added bonus of refueling Dylan’s creative juices, even if he didn’t write a single song on the disc. Bonus: I defy anyone to show me a 60s-era classic rocker who does a better sea shanty than Dylan.

Time Out of Mind: After one more non-originals record in “World Gone Wrong,” Dylan unleashed this bad boy. If “Blood on the Tracks” represented a new maturity in Dylan, this one represented yet another, higher plateau in that regard. While Dylan in the 80s sounded like a man out of time — really, apart from “Brownsville Girl,” most of the “Oh Mercy” album and stuff that showed up on bootlegs later it was a wasted decade — here Dylan sounded like a man who knew he was entering his twilight years and decided that he could wear that very well (and as his next three albums showed, he is wearing it extremely well). Most of the album consists of Dylan staring death in the face and … being just fine with it. Indeed, since 1997 it’s been like Dylan and Death meet twice a week to sip whiskey and shoot the breeze.

Anyway. Thanks for indulging me. When there aren’t any ballgames sometimes my gravity fails and I need something besides negativity to pull me through. More often than not, Dylan has served that purpose in my life, so I can be forgiven for all of this blather, I hope.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.