You should love the Cardinals because they uphold “strong values”

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The one thing that sorta sucks about the playoffs is how much downtime there is between games. And with downtime people kill time. And a big way to kill time in the playoffs is for fans of one team to hate on fans of another team and all of that garbage.  We see it every year.

The Braves were the early object of hate, but the Cardinals are clearly out front now. Which is not a new phenomenon. Hating on the Cardinals and their fans rarely goes too far out of style thanks to (a) their ubiquity in the playoffs in recent years; (b) the whole “Best Fans in Baseball” thing; and (c) the recent “we play the game the right way, Yasiel Puig is unprofessional” thing currently sweeping the baseball nation.

There are laughs to be had with all of that stuff and we have had our share of laughs. But it’s all kinda meaningless. It’s bad enough when people judge themselves or others by how good the team they root for is. Judging yourself or others based on your team’s fans is a step further into lunacy. News flash: someone, somewhere, hates your team and thinks it’s dumb. And maybe thinks you’re dumb for rooting for them. It’s just part of sports even if it is, well, dumb. Fact is, if someone hates you or your team it’s more likely than not because your team has done well at some point recently, so rather than get bent out of shape about it, just own it like Cartman owned Scott Tenorman’s tears.

Yet, to some folks, it’s still jarring that anyone could possibly dislike their team. Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist is a Cardinals fan. And she’s shocked, frankly:

When I told him I’m a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, the mood shifted. “I loathe the Cardinals,” he said. “That’s impossible,” I replied. Nobody hates the Cardinals. We’re a well-run organization with strong values. Our fans are the best in baseball. Hating the Cardinals is like punching your mother. Even if you were tempted, you just wouldn’t do it … In a world with O.J. Simpson and Aaron Hernandez, it may be harder to uphold sports as an outgrowth of American values. But just because there’s been a breakdown in some places doesn’t mean that ball clubs that at least try to uphold values should be loathed.

Go read the whole thing. She really and truly wants to tell you why something that is inherently irrational (i.e. sports fandom and the biases it fosters) is irrational. You are wrong to hate the Cardinals, you see. She’ll explain it to you in terms of the Cardinals’ values.

Which, if you didn’t hate the Cardinals and their fans before you read that, you sure as hell do now.

Bryce Harper is really just a tiny bit better Adam Lind when you think about it

Associated Press
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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post writes about an important matter facing the Washington Nationals over the next year: what to do about Bryce Harper, who is entering his walk year and will be a free agent a little over 12 months from now.

That’s a fine and important question. The Nats do need to decide whether to offer Harper a long term deal, when to offer it and, above all else, how big that deal should be. Should it be $300 million? $400 million? Should it be conventional or unconventional, with opt-outs and such? It’s not every day that a generational talent comes along and it’s even more rare that the generational talent hits free agency at the age of 26, so the decisions facing the Nationals are not easy ones.

Boswell acknowledges that bit of trickiness, but he also, strangely, spends a whole lot of time trying to portray Harper as an ordinary talent. He starts with health, comparing him poorly with Stephen Strasburg, who is ranked 30th in games started over the past five years. In contrast . . .

In those same five years, Harper ranks 90th in games played, just 126 a season, and now he says he should have skipped quite a few more games in 2016 when he had a balky shoulder. That’s almost six weeks out per season.

Nowhere in the column is it mentioned that the several weeks he missed in 2017 was the result of a freak injury in wet conditions and that, despite that, Harper worked his tail off to come back and be ready for the postseason. Not that Boswell doesn’t mention the postseason of course . . .

Harper, for the fourth time, failed to lead his team out of the first round and has career playoff batting average and OPS marks of .215 and .801. By the high standards of right fielders, he’s Mr. Average in October.

I suppose it’s not Boswell’s job to refrain from insulting a player on the team he covers, but he certainly seems hellbent on insulting not only Harper, but our own intelligence via comparisons like this:

In the past five years, in those 126 games, Harper averaged 26 homers, 72 RBI and a .288 average. Over the last nine years, Adam Lind averaged 128 games, 20 homers, 70 RBI and hit .273. That’s selective stat mining. Harper is much better, in part because he walks so much. But Harper and Lind in the same sentence?

“A person can eat delicious chocolate cake or lead paint chips. The chocolate cake is much better, but chocolate cake and lead paint in the same sentence?” I guess Boswell gets points for acknowledging that it was a misleading comparison, but if he thinks it is, why make it in the first place? If you want to eliminate this one as an outlier, cool, because he makes a lot of other comparisons like that in the piece.

This is not necessarily new for Boswell. Here’s something he wrote about Harper in 2014:

Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207. Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

That was written 16 games into his age-22 season.

I’m not sure what Boswell’s beef with Harper is. I’m not sure why he’s contorting himself to portray him as an ordinary player when he is fairly extraordinary and, most certainly, a special case when it comes to his impending free agency. In his career he already has 26.1 career bWAR, 150 homers, an MVP Award under his belt and, if it wasn’t for that freak injury in August, would have a strong case for a second one. Guy has a career line of .285/.386/.515 and he turned 26 four days ago. He’s younger than Aaron Judge.

My view of things is that players should ignore the media for the most part, but they don’t always do that. Sometimes the hostility or criticism of the local press — especially from the most respected portions of the local press who have the ability to shape fan sentiment — gets to them.

Which is to say that, if this kind of noise keeps up, I wouldn’t be shocked if Harper puts up a line of .340/.480/.650 in 2018 and then walked the hell out of D.C. for New York or Chicago or L.A. or something. Would anyone blame him?