Three thoughts on what ‘valuable’ means (yes, it’s more AL MVP discussion)

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So here’s the explanation from Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, who voted Mike Trout 7th on his MVP ballot:

I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the  ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams.

OK, three thoughts.

First, I have to say that I respect Bill’s explanation — it’s obvious he thought about his ballot and voted his convictions, and I think that’s the first and most important thing you ask of a voter. I don’t agree with his ballot, of course. I don’t agree with his reasoning. I don’t even think his reasoning is particularly valid since it says clearly on the ballot, “the MVP need not come from a division winner or a other playoff qualifier,” but does not say anything about how you should consider teams on contending teams more valuable.

But Bill is hardly the only person who believes that the MVP should come from a contending team, and he clearly tried to make his ballot reflect that belief not only at the very top but throughout. I respect the consistency of that viewpoint. To be honest, I’m not sure he went far enough. If he was really going to vote this way, he should have voted David Ortiz (8th) and Evan Longoria (10th) ahead of Trout too. They were on playoff teams. Hey, if you’re going to do it, you might as well go all the way.*

*I will say, though, that I can’t quite balance Bill’s uncompromising contender-value philosophy with his decision to vote for Chris Davis OVER Cabrera for MVP. I mean: the Orioles were contenders? Really? You have to stretch pretty far to get there. They were no better than third in the American League East after July 23. They didn’t clinch a .500 record until September 25. They finished ninth in the American League in final record … the Angels finished 10th. So that was a little bit weird.

Second, I find it strange that he says, “If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote.” That suggests that he really does believe Mike Trout was the best player in the American League this year. I understand that he says he’s a strict constructionist on his definition of value and all that, but I just don’t see how you harmonize those two thoughts: 1. Mike Trout is the best player in the American League; 2. I’m voting him seventh in the MVP voting. Maybe I’m just repeating myself here.

Third, the main thought: I think that I’ve been unfairly blaming too much of this MVP disagreement on the word “valuable.” I have long believed that there was something about the word “valuable” that scrambled people’s minds. I’ve long thought that if the award was simply called “The Best Player Award,” that a lot of this silliness would disappear. But when I read Bill’s quote, for some reason, it hit me all once: That’s probably not true. “Valuable,” the word, has been unfairly maligned and blamed. It’s a perfectly good word. It’s not valuable’s fault.

Bill says he would have voted for Mike Trout had it been called the Player of the Year award. Others have said things like this too. “It’s not Player of the Year,” they say. “It’s most VALUABLE player. There’s a difference.”

OK, let’s pretend we could go back to the beginning and replace “MVP” with “POY.” Would people’s view of the award change? Would there be different winners through the years. I spent too much thought on this and decided: No way. Absolutely nothing would chance. If anything, I think it’s possible people’s view about the award would be even MORE slanted toward narrative and contending teams and so on.

Why? Look at those words. Player of the year. What do you think those words would mean to people if that was the actual name of the award? The word “best” is not in there. If anything that is more vague than Most Valuable Player. I can see the columns in my mind:

“So, you wonder why I voted Miguel Cabrera Player of the Year. Well, it’s right there in the name. It says ‘Player of the YEAR’ That means the player who had the biggest impact on the year. Who is that? Mike Trout? Playing for a team that did not even finish .500? Miguel Cabrera led his team to a division championship. That’s what a Player of the Year does.

“You will hear people say that the award should go to the player with the most value. They will come up with all those “value-based” statistics like VORP and BLURP and MORPY and PAJAMAS. But, notice, the award isn’t called the “Most valuable player” award. That might be Mike Trout. But it says ‘Player of the year.” And this year that’s clearly Miguel Cabrera.”

No, it’s not the word valuable. It comes down to this powerful feeling people have that one player should be able to do much more than one player can do. We like story lines. We like things that add up in our mind. We like to believe that if a player is TRULY great, he somehow will carry his team, any team, to victory — by himself, if necessary. It’s illogical, of course. Baseball is not only a team sport, but a team sport where hitters can only come up once every nine times and pitchers can only pitch once every five days (or for an inning or two here or there). Miguel Cabrera’s team had THREE superb starters (including the first and fourth place Cy Young vote-getters) and a lineup with seven above-average hitters.

But illogical or not, baseball is more fun with the idea that Miguel Cabrera put Detroit on his shoulders and took them to the playoffs while Mike Trout could not do the same in Anaheim. It doesn’t matter if the word is valuable or productive or worthy or crucial. It doesn’t matter if the award is called Most Valuable Player or Player of the Year or American Idol or The Oscar. Miguel Cabrera still would have won.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.