Posnanski

Posnanski and Paterno

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This has no connection to baseball, but it deals with the guy who happens to be the best baseball writer in the business, so I figure it’s fair game. Anyway, if you’re weary of this subject, please move along.

A couple of years ago, Joe Posnanski set out to write the definitive Joe Paterno biography.  At the time, it was — to quote Posnanski’s own book proposal — supposed to “tell the remarkable story about a man who could have been anything but decided that the best way he could help change America was one college football player at a time.” It was to be “the most amazing football story ever told.”

All that came to light last year caused that to go right out the window, obviously. At the time the scandal broke huge, the always popular and rarely if ever controversial Posnanski had perhaps his worst experience in the public light, when he referred to Paterno as “a scapegoat” to Penn State students. Posnanski was roundly criticized for this. For my part, it struck me as an instance of a man whose greatest strength is finding the positive and interesting in things reacting too soon and with too little information to a situation that was so horrific that it caused most people’s gravity to be lost, however briefly.

Since then, two things have happened that I suppose are related. First, Posnanski’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, moved the publication up nearly a year in response to the story blowing up, and it comes out in August 2012 instead of June 2013. Second, Posnanski largely went to radio silence. I presume the nature of the new story and crazy new deadline pressure would demand that of anyone.  As of now, this is all we know:

 

So the book is written and now, presumably, an epilogue incorporating the Freeh Report is being appended. And I’m having a hard time imagining what the book will look like.

Posnanski is my favorite baseball writer, full stop, and I also believe he’s the best. But I also worry that his gifts are not necessarily compatible with the sort of story the public wants or maybe needs so soon after the full horrors of the Jerry Sandusky saga — and Joe Paterno’s complicity in them — became fully known. I could see Posnanski writing National Book Award stuff about all of this a few years from now, but I feel like the world is currently demanding something decidedly un-Posnanskian at the moment. Something raw and bloody and newsy and quick, for better or for worse.  If that’s what they want, I worry about the reception of the book he does put out, both critically and commercially. Which probably doesn’t matter to most people, but it matters to me as, like I said, Posnanski is my favorite baseball writer and I’d like to see this work out well for him.

I hope Posnanski surprises. I think he’s smart enough and talented enough to do so. I also think that even though this was not the book he ever thought he’d be writing when he set out to do it, he has it within him to write something worthy and interesting and good.

But I, as a lesser writer, can’t think of how one does that. Unless of course he goes all Charlie Kaufman/Hunter S. Thompson meta with it and we wind up with something sorta gonzo and explosive. A story which builds on the copy from his publisher’s press releases about how the Sandusky scandal “eventually consumed” Paterno and talks about how the scandal also threatened to consume Posnanski too. After all, who wouldn’t it threaten to consume in that situation?

Again, that’s not exactly the first kind of story you think of when you think of Joe Posnanski.  But after being so overwhelmed with the horrors of the Paterno/Sandusky story, it’s the sort of story I’d be very interested in reading and I hope that, even if he can’t tell it in the book which comes out next month, he does tell it eventually.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]