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Jeff Francoeur and ANT (Announcer Nonsense Talk)

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Posnanski hits the nail on the head:

What player in baseball do you think has the most ANT — Announcer Nonsense Talk — spoken about them?

By ANT, I’m not just referring to stuff announcers say. I’m referring to a sort of universal praise that does not tie to logic or anything tangible but instead to a sort of whimsical hope and powerful narratives … You know ANT when you hear or read it — it is when people start speaking in broad generalities about a player (“This guy just wants it more”) or when they start over-crediting a player for dubious achievements (pitcher wins and RBIs tend to be the sweet nectar of Announcer Nonsense Talk) or when they start to turn sports achievement into life achievement (“That was just a courageous pitch!”). And like I say, it’s not only announcers who do this — far from it. You see it everywhere.

We’ve talked about this with Michael Young quite a bit, and anyone else who gets labeled a “professional hitter,” or a “competitor” while little or note is taken of the fact that there are serious flaws in his game which undermine the “he’s a superstar!” narrative. Heck, Jim Rice made the Hall of Fame based on a form of ANT which had him being the most “feared” hitter of his era. Despite there being nothing whatsoever to suggest he was particularly feared by the pitchers of his day.

Posnanski applies ANT to Jeff Francoeur and he’s dead-on. I’m more curious as to how players become big ANT guys in the first place. I think it has something to do with early promise leading to a lot of speculative praise that, once unfulfilled, needs to be bolstered by ANT so that all of that early praise doesn’t seem so misguided. Jeff Francoeur splashed big and then appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the words “The Natural” on him with a partial season under his belt. Do you think the narrative industrial complex is simply gonna say “Oops! we were wrong!”? No, they’re gonna spend the rest of his career acting as if the early awesome stuff was the norm and the rest of the data — which creates the bulk of the overall data set — is explained away or ignored.

And it doesn’t just happen in sports. Orson Welles got this treatment. If you don’t think so, listen to some cinephile trying to convince you how good some of his later stuff was.

Where sports differs, however, is that I think there’s also an element of media-friendliness too. Orson Welles was a pain in the butt, but reporters and announcers like Jeff Francoeur and Michael Young for very good reasons: they’re friendly guys who help make the media’s job easier. It’s understandable that, in turn, the media will look to say nice things about them. That’s not some cynical point. I don’t believe it to be some unholy and disingenuous quid pro quo. Humanity is such that we like to be nice to those who are nice. If anything, there’s something good underlying the perpetuation of ANT. Something which speaks to the better side of our nature.

But however nice it is, there’s no escaping that it’s nonsense.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.