Lou Whitaker, nachos, tiger paw carpet and other stuff I saw in Lakeland

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LAKELAND, FLORIDA — After clubhouses close I usually wander around and take pictures of people without asking. Then I eat ballpark food. It’s a totally healthy way to live life. Here’s some of the random things I saw while I was waiting for the game to start.

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Hey, it’s should-be-Hall-of-Famer Lou Whitaker! Where are you going, Lou?

“Gonna go beat up Jose Iglesias, take back my number 1 jersey and demand the Tigers retire it!”

“Wow, really, Lou?”

“No, Craig. That’s you projecting again and putting imaginary words in my mouth. Let it go, dude. You were, like, eight years old. You have kids for Christ’s sake. Grow up.”

“OK, Lou.” [winks, assuming that’s code from Whitaker for me to go beat up Iglesias and take the number. We will right all the wrongs, Lou. You and me together].

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Saw this kid on the berm during Tigers BP. Most of the people out there were 250 pound guys in their 30s or older, killing each other for baseballs. It was ugly. People were literally getting bloodied. Then this kid wades in. Forty-five pounds soaking wet, but wearing a beat-up Gibson jersey and not afraid of anything. I didn’t see him get a ball, but I wouldn’t bet against him out-fighting some of those lugs.

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During this game, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!

[loud applause, even by the Politburo]

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You all know my favorite thing to do is to take pictures of equipment bags on the field before games. Well, get this: no bags ANYWHERE on this field today. None. I had to settle for taking pictures of these balls, all by themselves. Really, this trip is NOT starting out well. Hoping I have better luck in Tampa tomorrow.

Oh, one pic I took before the clubhouses closed. But I’m risking my credential posting this.

You’re not technically allowed to take pictures in the clubhouse, but I have decided that the purpose of that rule is to not invade the privacy of players or to reveal the internal working of teams. Which makes total sense. I do not believe, however, that the rule should extend to taking pictures of the sweet, sweet tiger paw carpet in the Tigers clubhouse, which demands documenting or posterity:

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They should license this and sell it to Tigers fans for their man caves. They’d make a mint.

By the way: I’ll cop to the Adidas being mine. In order to protect them I won’t reveal who owns the other shoes, but the dude in the Sauconys is the one who told me it’d probably be OK to take the pic. If I get in trouble, I will throw him under the bus. Just sayin’.

After all of that I needed to replenish nutrients. So I got these:

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The nachos with the pulled pork and jalapeños on them are legit, y’all.

Anyway, that’s that. The game started a few minutes ago. Brian McCann took Max Scherzer out to right field to make it 1-0 Yankees. Torii Hunter acted like he caught the ball at the wall, and it was so successful a deke that McCann actually held up a second between first and second before realizing it was out and kept running. I wonder if McCann is going to get in anyone’s face about that. It’d be pretty cool if he did.

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?