HBT at the World Series: Greetings from workout day

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ST. LOUIS — Check me out. A dateline. You know that means things are getting real.

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Greetings from St. Louis, where the World Series is pausing for one day before Games 3, 4 and 5 go down. Today is a workout day for the Cards and Sox. As I write this from the auxiliary press box down the right field line the Cardinals are taking infield, BP and long-tossing as the most eclectic mix of music blasts from the speakers. We’ve gone from Material Issue to Robin Thicke to the Rolling Stones. I don’t know about their fans, but I’ll say the Cardinals have an argument for The Best Music Guys in Baseball. They program workout music the right way.

In a little while the managers and Game 3 starters will be available for interviews. In the meantime I’m wandering, both the city and the ballpark. When I got to town I met up with HBT’s own Drew Silva. I’ve worked with the lad for four and a half years but this was the first time I met him in person. We met near where he lives, a neighborhood called The Hill. Which is far more famous for being the boyhood home of both Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. I’m not sure if Joe got a park named after him, but Yogi did:

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No one goes there anymore, though. It’s too popular.

Across the street from that park is a great sandwich place called Gioia’s Deli. It’s known as “the home of the hot salami,” so naturally Drew and I met there. We’re all about cured meats. Drew suggested the Hill Supreme, which is an off-menu thing. Lots of salami and peppers and stuff. How was it Drew?

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I’ll take that as a “good.”

On to the park, where I hung around the team store and walked around the grounds.  The Cardinals have lots of statues of former greats. No Mark McGwire on the grounds, of course, even though the statue has been made and is sitting in a warehouse someplace. They also don’t have an Andy Benes statue. It’s like they just hate their history or something. Of course there’s this guy:

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You know, if a pigeon pooped on that statue, it’d come to life, chase him around and tackle him. That’s the way they did it back in his day.

I ducked into the team store, where I saw the most terrifying thing ever. This is suspended from the ceiling:

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Where is your god now? It’s like a scene cut from the “Flash Gordon” movie except without any sweet jams from Queen in the background. Pure nightmare fuel.  After that I needed a palate cleanser:

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Ahhh. Much better. Thank you, Stan.

Into the park and watching some warmups where I was happy to run into Jonny Miller of WBZ radio in Boston, who will be in the next suite over from me here in St. Louis. Miller, longtime readers will recall, once thought I was pathetic because I messed up his scorecard down at a spring training game in Fort Myers. I reminded him of that. He didn’t remember. Then I told him it was the day Nomar Garciaparra announced his retirement. Then it clicked. “Ah, I didn’t care,” he told me today. “You should know how to keep score better, though.  You’re a baseball writer for crying out loud.”  Yes, sir.  I really love that guy.

Anyway, off to listen to managers spout cliches. Should be fun.  Be sure to keep checking back to HBT all weekend as I report from St. Louis and Games 3, 4 and 5!

 

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?