Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown: the best ever?

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If you just look at the raw numbers for Miguel Cabrera — a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI — you wouldn’t immediately say “best triple crown ever!”  After all, Mickey Mantle hit 52 home runs to secure his. Lou Gehrig hit .363 in his triple crown year. Jimmie Foxx hit 163 RBI the year he did it.  I’m not even sure that adjusting for era make Cabrera’s raw numbers one of the best triple crown years.

But there is something else besides those numbers that has convinced me that it is, Joe Sheehan’s argument about it in his latest newsletter:

Cabrera achieved the greatest Triple Crown ever. Forget the raw numbers or any single-number evaluation of his season, and consider that he beat out the largest fields of any winner. No one had won the Triple Crown since 1967, and that’s not a coincidence; it has nothing to do with specialization, the idea that there are more hitters for power and more for average. There are simply more hitters. It’s a math problem.

Expansion in 1969, 1977, 1993 and 1998, Joe notes, dramatically increased the number of players in the game and thus the number of guys in the hunt in triple crown categories each year.  To climb to the top of any one of those lists, let alone all three, you have to beat out a lot more dudes.*  Joe breaks down the specifics of that math, and it puts the significance of Cabrera’s accomplishment into perspective.

By the way: Joe does this kind of thing almost every day, plus much, much more. Just today, in addition to the Cabrera stuff, he talks about why the Rangers are not dead and, in fact, can be considered favorites to make the ALCS right now. Then he imagines Clayton Kershaw’s free agent negotiations in a couple of years.  Good stuff.  If you are interested in it, I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter.

*Note, this “there are a lot more teams and a lot more players out there” is also one of the things explaining why there are a lot more no hitters and perfect games these days too.  In 1955 you had 16 teams playing a total of 1,232 major league games each year. In 2012 you have 30 teams playing 2,430. When you increase the number of players you make leading those players in any category harder, but at the same time, as you increase the number of games being played, you increase the chances of a given phenomenon happening. People tend to ignore this and instead look for explanations involving steroids, magic pitches and the decline of some traditional value they hold near and dear or whatever.  It really doesn’t have to be that difficult.   

The Blue Jays will . . . not be blue some days next year

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The Toronto Blue Jays, like a lot of teams, will wear an alternate jersey next year. It’ll be for Sunday home games. They call it their “Canadiana,” uniforms. Which, hey, let’s hear it for national pride.

(question to Canada: my grandmother and my three of my four maternal great-grandparents were Canadian. Does that give me any rights to emigrate? You know, just in case? No reason for asking that today. Just curious!).

Anyway, these are the uniforms:

More like RED Jays, am I right?

OK, I am not going to leave this country. I’m going to stay here and fight for what’s right: a Major League Baseball-wide ban on all red alternate jerseys for anyone except the Cincinnati Reds, who make theirs work somehow. All of the rest of them look terrible.

Oh, Canada indeed.

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)
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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?

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