Lincoln

Are the Nats’ troubles the result of the Lincoln assassination?

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Well, that seems rather silly. Clearly it’s more to do with President Garfield’s murder, yes? A bad event which has given an entire city a complex which causes poor play to grow even worse as the team and its fans realize that, sadly, bad things will always befall them?

If you think that’s crazy then you haven’t been watching ESPN’s Bill Simmons diagnose the entire city of Memphis, which he believes grows pessimistic about their Grizzlies thanks to the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. Really:

“I didn’t realize the effect [The MLK assassination] had on that city…I think from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone with how the city thinks about stuff. We were at Game 3. Great crowd, they fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. They were like, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting.”

These comments have led to a lot of fun on the Internet this morning, with folks making increasingly tortured explanations for a given city’s sports pessimism. “…and it starts from Mrs. O’Leary’s cow …” is maybe my favorite so far.

I have this feeling that, upon some reflection, Simmons will admit he was a bit off base on that and I’m sure that, by the light of morning, he would like to have that one back. But, even if it was just a moment of hyperbole, and even if it doesn’t have anything to do with baseball, it is worth thinking about what leads one to say stuff like that and to realize how that same impulse infects a lot of sports writing, baseball included.

Simmons has, in very large part, made a career out of (a) making broad generalizations of what a given city’s sports fans think and feel; and (b) connecting sports to positively everything. He has written thousands of words about the psychology of Bostonians. He has compared every bit of pop culture with which he is conversant to sports and vice-versa. That’s his very popular, very successful shtick.

But underlying that shtick is either a conceit or a miscalculation: that sports ARE life. Or that they are the most important thing in it. That sports reflect human reality in ways they really don’t and have a deeper meaning than they really do.

On occasion sports do transcend entertainment and have real meaning. Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. The 1980 U.S. hockey team. Jackie Robinson’s triumph. Billie Jean King schooling Bobby Riggs.  These moments do occur and when they do sports become something greater. Or, at the very least, serve as a microcosm of or a complement to something greater.

But it’s very rare that such things happen. For the most part, sports are a wonderful diversion. Games which may make our lives better, but after which life — real life — actually resumes. And they are just games.

So much bad sports writing — and bad sportsfandom for that matter — is the result of thinking that these games are more than just games. It leads Simmons to say silly things like he did last night. It leads beat writers to spin out horribly tortured metaphors when setting the scene of the previous night’s action. It leads columnists to make character judgments about ballplayers because of what they do on a diamond. It leads fans to become overly-invested and find heros, villains, bums, gods and frauds around every corner.  And all of that noise alienates people who would like to simply enjoy a game once in a while.

We should be careful of making too much of sports. We can take them seriously in the moment. We can be passionate about our teams and the players we love. We can immerse ourselves in them and talk about them from morning to night.  But we must never forget that, in the end, they are just games and that real life is something else altogether.

Video: Minor League Manager goes on epic rant

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Frisco RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik got his money’s worth last night. He was ejected after arguing an automatic double play on an enforcement of the slide rule, and he didn’t go gently into that goodnight.

Rather, he threw things, kicked things, threw things and then subsequently kicked those same things, gave overly-demonstrative slides and safe signs and basically went all Earl Weaver/Lou Piniella on everyone.

Double-A baseball is the best minor league because you tend to see more prospects there than you do at Triple-A. But it’s also the best because, when you’re a manager who is not quite a heartbeat away from getting your shot at the big leagues, you’re a little less uptight about things. Or at least Mikulik was. Or maybe he was more uptight. I don’t know. He just went with it, and going with it has its charms.

 

(h/t Big League Stew)

A must-read oral history of the 1998 home run chase

7 Jul 1998:   American Leaguer player Mark McGwire #25 of the St Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa #21 of  the Chicago Cubs answer questions during  the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Coors Field in Denver,  Colorado.The American  League defeated the
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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation with their epic chase of Roger Maris’ home run record. But it has been, and after years of reaction, counter-reaction and, of course, baseball’s reckoning with the performance-enhancing drugs which helped fuel the chase, it’s probably finally time to do our best to contextualize it historically.

Today one of my favorite news outlets does that with an oral history. All of the key figures weigh-in on it, from McGwire and Sosa to Bud Selig to Tony La Russa. Randy Johnson makes an appearance as well, reminding us that it wasn’t just the sluggers who had an amazing year in 1998. Indeed, his story, including his being traded to Houston and going on an amazing second-half run, has almost been lost to history.

This is bookmark material, my friends. For savoring later if you can’t read it now. And for revisiting at another time given the depths to the drama which justifies multiple readings. I’ll just warn you that there is some adult language in the story, but that’s to be expected given the passion the 1998 baseball season inspired.

Go check it out.

UPDATE: Asdrubal Cabrera leaves Mets-Nats game with back spasms

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the New York Mets throws to first from his knee after diving to catch a ground ball to get Joc Pederson #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second out of the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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UPDATE: Cabrera was removed from the game due to back spasms.

1:21PM: This is not good: Asdrubal Cabrera was removed from today’s game against the Nationals with an apparent injury.

It’s unclear what the injury was, as Cabrera had yet to even play in the game. Matt Reynolds came on to play shortstop in the bottom of the first inning, but Cabrera didn’t bat in the top of the first. It could be an illness. Or some freak occurrence.

We’ll update when we hear more.

There are apparently unwritten rules about manager replay challenges now

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Chicago Cubs shakes hands with manager Mike Matheny #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals before the Opening Night game at Wrigley Field on April 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last night’s Cardinals-Cubs game was a blowout, with the Cubs beating the Cards 12-3. Apparently, however, in the ninth inning of the game, Reynoldsburg, Ohio’s own Mike Matheny played the Cardinals infield in, which is a move you never see in a blowout. Why did he do that?

He hasn’t said yet, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon just spoke to the media before today’s game and he’s speculating that Matheny did it as a form of protest:

God, I hope that’s true. I hope that manager replay challenges, which are already dumb enough inasmuch as they turn what should be an officiating correction device into a strategic tool, are now turning into another front in the Great Unwritten Rules Wars. I hope that we now have a bunch of people talking about how there’s a right way and a wrong way to use the replay system and that one can disrespect the other side if they do it the wrong way. The way the replay system has been implemented often resembles tragedy. Why not make it farce?

Oh well, I guess it beats throwing at someone for doing that wrong. And I guess it’s just a reminder that no matter what we do, baseball is always gonna give us an opportunity for petty bits of silliness.