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The When in Rome theory of fandom and baseball gear

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I just got the email confirmation. Couldn’t be happier:

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That’s right. I bought a Yasiel Puig shirsey for me, one for my son and a Clayton Kershaw for my daughter. Even though I’m not a Dodgers fan.

Why? Partially because I want my son to learn the values, character and deportment of Yasiel Puig. This is a boring-ass country sometimes and it needs a little shaking up. The boy is gonna flip his pencil and strut when he finishes his SATs in eight years if I have anything to say about it. My daughter wanted Kershaw because (a) she didn’t want to be like her brother and me; and (b) I think she thinks Kershaw is cute, but I don’t want to ask her about it because that’d embarrass both of us.

But mostly it’s because the three of us are attending the Dodgers-Reds game on June 12 in Cincinnati and I am teaching my children one of the most rewarding things I’ve learned about baseball fandom over the past couple of years: when in Rome, do what the Romans do. When you go to a ballpark, commit. Either wear the home team’s colors or the visiting team’s colors, but don’t be neutral and don’t be that guy who wears a third team’s gear.

Why do this? It’s more fun that way.

If you’re wearing the home team’s stuff, even if it’s not your team — which is always the case for me given where I live — there’s a great sense of community to be had if you let yourself enjoy it. Random high-fives. Knowing comments from fan to fan. Or, quite often, totally ignorant comments from fan to fan but which are fun anyway because they assume you agree with them and people want to commiserate. You wear the home team’s gear for the same reason you don’t wear your fanny pack and go to McDonald’s when you travel in Europe. Try to go native. You may learn something. Or at least experience something.

As for wearing visiting team gear, well, sometimes you just can’t wear the home team’s stuff. I mean, I’m all for experiencing things, but if I find myself in Philly for some reason I’m not wearing Phillies gear for any reason. We all have to have standards. Circumstances may dictate it too. I went to a Padres-Dodgers game in Petco last year and the group I was with — and about 75% of the rest of the crowd —  was wearing Dodgers stuff, so why not? My son wants to wear Dodgers stuff in June for reasons explained below, so why not? Certainly if I see the Braves on the road anywhere I’m wearing my Braves gear. Again, the point is to commit to something, even if it’s for only three hours.

Now, obviously, there are some issues with this. For one thing, it can be expensive to buy a cap or a shirt for a one-off game. I’ll admit, I’m lucky in this regard in that, because I work from home, I don’t have to buy a business wardrobe. Most days I’m wearing baseball t-shirts around the house, so I’m getting way more use out of ’em than you might.

For another thing, wearing various teams’ colors on a day-to-day basis is easy for me in that I’m nowhere near my favorite team, geographically speaking so I don’t have to deal with people giving me garbage for having a Pirates or a Tigers shirt on once in a while. Indeed, Columbus is a pretty non-committal town, baseball wise, with a fair amount of transplants. If anything I get people happy to see someone else wearing random team gear from time to time. If you’re a Yankees fan wearing Rockies stuff in New Jersey, though? Yeah, you’ll probably get a lot of hassle. But, if you can afford such things for one-off or two-off wearings and if you don’t mind the occasional insult, it can be a lot of fun.

A couple of final thoughts about the When in Rome theory: I’ll make allowances for minor league or fictitious team gear in a big league park. If you have a Carolina Mudcats cap you bought or if you just can’t leave you house without that Hackensack Bulls jersey you bought at “Brewster’s Millions-Fest 1992,” well, go for it. Also, if you just can’t afford or bring yourself to buy gear, cool. At least try to commit in terms of cheering because you’ll get good mileage and karma out of that too. Just don’t be That Guy who wears Yankees stuff to a Red Sox-Orioles game in Baltimore. It’s a sign of pathetic insecurity.

Back to my kids and their Dodgers gear and my application of the When in Rome theory to them. This is not about teaching them to not to pick a favorite team. That’s happening slowly and organically and I am not going to force anything on them, be it my Braves fandom or even liking baseball a whole bunch if they’re not into it. But they are in to it for now, and it’s been cool to watch them figure out which team to like and why. For various reasons my son has gravitated to the Dodgers, which is why we’re going to this game in the first place, but it’s certainly nothing solid. My daughter is non-committal — she has a Braves shirt, is partial to the Padres because she saw her first big league game at Petco and likes to watch Tigers games because my girlfriend does — but I figure she’ll eventually have preferences. Just as I’m lucky to be able to afford gear from various teams, I’m lucky to have the Extra Innings package so we can watch any team we want.

But until their choices in this regard solidify, I’m happy to introduce them to everything. To let them cheer the Dodgers in Cincinnati or the Tigers in Detroit. To let them be a homer or a confrontational visiting team fan. I just want them to have fun and get involved and to enjoy themselves. Because that’s what it’s all about.

Even if Bob Ryan tells me I don’t know how to do that.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the excaption because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.