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.

Doesn’t anyone want to sign Edwin Encarnacion?

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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OXON HILL, MD — Edwin Encarnacion began the offseason as, arguably, the second most desirable free agent on the market. As the Winter Meetings approach their end, however, he is a man without a team. And may not have a team any time soon.

Many teams have been rumored to be checking in on Encarnacion, but the defining trait of his free agency thus far has been clubs taking a pass. The most recent one being the Rangers, who are reported to simply not have the money to sign him, despite him filling a clear offensive need in Texas. Maybe the Rangers would be more competitive on the free agent market if they had a new stadium. Who knows?

The Blue Jays, for whom he most recently played, offered him a four-year, $80 million deal that most figured was a lowball, and when he rejected it, they moved on to Kendrys Morales. The Red Sox acquired Mitch Moreland. The Yankees are reported to be passing. The most recent team linked to Encarnacion is the Indians, who are reported to have an offer out to him, but at this point it’s likely far lower than what most free agent watchers thought he might get a few weeks ago. A four-year, $90 million deal did not seem crazy for him in October. In December, there is speculation that he could be had for $60 million over that same term which, frankly, would be a bargain. That’s less than Mark Melancon, the third best closer on the market, got from the Giants.

There have been a lot of remarkable things that have happened in the past few weeks, but one of the most unexpected things would be one of the top bats in the game getting second-tier closer money.

Late Athletics broadcaster Bill King wins the Ford C. Frick Award

bill-king
CSN Bay Area
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OXON HILL, MD — Bill King has been selected as the 2017 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

King, one of the iconic voices of Bay Area sports, was known for his handlebar mustache and his signature “Holy Toledo!” exclamation. King broadcast A’s games for 25 seasons, from 1981 through 2005. He likewise broadcast Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors games and got his start as an announcer for the Giants in the late 1950s after they moved to San Francisco.

King passed away in October 2005. With the Frick Award, however, he has now been immortalized among baseball broadcasters.