Sad Phillies fans

Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams

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So it’s not much of a secret that I troll fan bases. Like, a lot. When I do it I almost always do so in a way that, I hope anyway, is obvious. Overstating things or playing up cliches that have a history of aggravating fans of a given team in a tongue-in-cheek, non-serious manner.

Which is key, because the key to good trolling (and the arguments and smack talk which follow) is that it’s not done with real bile and it’s not done to actually make a cogent point. It’s, at the very most, an effort to test whether people are good at separating fan allegiance (an emotional, subjective and often irrational thing) from objective facts and opinions. Mostly, though, it’s just the kind of smack talk you may have with your friends. That’s how I always approach it anyway.

Of course my intent in the matter doesn’t control how everyone else receives that. Some people mistake straightforward criticism with trolling. Some people take even the most obvious and harmless trolling as if it were serious and personally-motivated (these people are the worst). And some people assume that, because I have trolled in the past, anything I say about their team is itself trolling or suspect.

A good example of this came yesterday when, in the course of using the Cardinals as an example of an inefficiency in the Competitive Balance Lottery, many took it as me trolling (there was no intent to get a rise out of people there; it was just criticism), or hating on the Cardinals (If I was hating anything it was the game not the player) or dismissed the entire opinion because it touched on a team that I am perceived to hate (I don’t hate the Cardinals, by the way; I don’t hate any team).

I got a bit miffed at this — no one likes to be misunderstood — but after a spirited but civil Twitter discussion with fellow scribe (and Cardinals fan) Will Leitch, I did agree that being misconstrued is an occupational hazard for the troll. That even if my intent is noble and pure, some folks are going to react negatively when I mention their team if, on some occasion in the past, I trolled them. Personally I still think such reactions are dumb — reading comprehension is important, people — but I have to expect them given what I do and how I do it. This is the business I have chosen, as it were.

But I have decided to make something positive out of all of this. I was inspired to by Sirius/XM’s Mike Ferrin, who watched all of that unfold yesterday (and who himself seems to enjoy a good troll) and suggested that I create a guide of some sort. So here we are. Mostly for fun but, partially, in an effort to let you know that, if these topics are the ones being discussed about your team, it’s almost certainly trolling or smack talk, not some serious, impassioned argument. So:

The Most Trollable Subjects for Each Major League Fan Base

Yankees: Yankees fans may be the hardest to troll. Trolling is rooted most strongly in exploiting a fan’s insecurity, and Yankees fans exhibit very little insecurity. Indeed, they think they and their team are the BEST. Plus, even if you do get a hook in them, they are so invested in that “New Yorkers are tough and can handle anything” pose that they’ll act like you’re not getting to them even if you are. Your best bet is to go into the land of reverse jinxes: overstating how dominant and preeminent the Yankees are as an organization. Talking about how, no matter what is going on now, they will always reign supreme. Eventually, they’ll feel that you respect the classy Yankees enough that it’s safe to let their guard down. They’ll admit to some fear about the team. Then you pounce by saying “yeah, you guys are in pretty deep trouble, huh?” It hurts worse because they brought it up.

Red Sox: If I were blogging pre-2004 I suppose it would be easy, given how insecure the Curse-of-the-Bambino Era fandom is said to be. Now there’s almost a proto-Yankees thing, where some — not all, but some — Sox fans assume that they’ll always win and will spin any development as great news for the franchise. Because that old insecurity is not too far removed, the ju-jitsu thing is not as elaborate. You just have to basically predict bad things or claim any move the team makes is bad to rile up a Sox fan. Because somewhere, deep in their heart, they fear it’s true. For the rest of them: just tell them they’re “the new Yankees” or that they’re just like the Yankees. God they hate that.

Blue Jays: Jays fans are a pricklier lot than you may imagine given that, you know, they’re from Canada and everyone in Canada is nice and passive and agreeable and never gets too intense or animated or passionate about anything. Note: that single sentence just trolled the trollable Jays fans. They really hate being painted with Canada stereotypes. Some get so mad they’ll throw a donut at you, eh.

Orioles: Not very trollable. But not for the same reasons Yankees fans aren’t. With O’s fans it’s just that Peter Angelos has been abusing them for so darn long that they have come to expect and accept abuse. They’re like Mets fans in this regard. Which, by the way, is kind of cool. Fans who expect the worse tend to be happiest when good things happen and generally act like a rational lot. The only time I’ve ever had issues with O’s fans was when they were surprisingly winning in 2012 and they felt like they weren’t being given enough attention. That’s pretty low-level stuff though.

Rays: Pointing out that Joe Maddon is more like that cool dad who tries too hard than he is a legitimately cool person riles ’em up (note: I think Maddon is cool and often delves into self-parody, so there’s a little of both going on). Also, they really hate it when you call them out on their team really not being the sorts of underdogs they claim they are. Or that a decade’s worth of drafting high, and not some special form of genius, had an awful lot to do with their success.

Tigers: Mike Trout in the morning, Mike Trout in the evening, Mike Trout all day long. For a franchise with tons of success and tons of star players, Tigers fans have Mike Trout derangement syndrome. All because a minority of baseball analysts suggested that maybe he was a better choice for MVP the past two years. It’s still happening this year even though Miguel Cabrera is not on an MVP pace. They were mad last week that Trout, and not Miggy, was the All-Star Game MVP. My God, who cares about the All-Star Game MVP? This presumed lack of respect is even crazier when you realize the stranglehold Tigers players have had on the postseason awards the past couple of years. Guys: you’re everyone’s favorite. Stop acting like you’re not.

Indians: Here’s one where trolling and legitimate criticism get blurred. Because it’s totally legitimate to hate Chief Wahoo — I am always serious about that when I bring it up; it’s not trolling — but it is what gets most Indians fans the most riled up. For those who agree that Wahoo is an offensive, racist caricature, it’s best to make references to how great Edgar Renteria and/or Jose Mesa was and to say, with a straight face, that Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine did not get the benefit of a wide strike zone, especially in the 1995 World Series. I mean, obviously they did, but Indians fans are so deluded on that point that some will tell you, with a straight face, that Maddux would’ve been Carl Pavano if he had to pitch to a more narrow zone.

Royals: Another self-flagellating bunch. I honestly can’t think of an instance where I have even attempted to troll them, let alone successfully done so. They’re immune. And trying to do it is like kicking a sickly dog. You wouldn’t even consider it. Some of them do get riled when you tell them that K.C. barbecue is overrated, though. That agitation could just be because they went to Texas once and realize that it’s true.

White Sox: Again, I haven’t had a ton of reason to troll White Sox fans — in both HBT comments and my Twitter feed they may be the least represented fan base of a large city’s team of all — but the ones I do see have a Cubs problem. Also: if you ever forget who won the World Series in 2005, be sure to say so out loud, because some Pale Hose fan will remind you of it in five minutes. Sometimes I do that even though I know damn well who won the 2005 World Series.

Twins: I should defer to Gleeman here. He tweets Joe Mauer Facts on the regs, showing that Mauer is actually a wonderful ballplayer despite the insistence by a huge number of Twins fans that he’s garbage.

Rangers: Until a couple of years ago I gave serious consideration to changing the name of this blog to MichaelYoungIsSelfishAndOverratedTalk. That’s how much action that topic got. Still gets, actually. I happen to think Michael Young was a fine baseball player. Among actual analysts, even somewhat underrated. But since Rangers fans seem to think he’s the bastard son of Roger Staubach, Ozzie Smith and God, well, it doesn’t take much to set ’em off.

Athletics: You’d think that intentionally misinterpreting “Moneyball” would work, but the returns on that are surprisingly low. Probably because they assume Billy Beane is on to some crazy calculus/kung fu/mysticism these days and think your hate is either ignorant or outdated (note: “Moneyball” hate is almost always those things). They are the White Sox West, though, and definitely can be trolled via praise of the Giants as a team or, really San Francisco as a city.

Angels: Another somewhat invisible fan base in the parts of the Internet I inhabit. You’d think they’d rally around Mike Scioscia more than they have, but the really don’t. The most sensitive I’ve ever seen them is when you mock the name “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” and claim it’s some sort of glory-grab on the part of Arte Moreno to associate himself with a city that isn’t just bland offices and parking lots like Anaheim is. Which is exactly what that is, but it’s not like any of us care, so bringing it up is still technically trolling.

Mariners: For a team that has sucked as long and as deeply as they M’s have, Seattle fans were really damn quick to jump on the “we don’t get enough respect” card based on a half season’s worth of good play this year. So I suggest continuing to ignore them. For example, earlier today I did a trade deadline preview and accidentally left the Mariners off the “Buyers” list. It was truly a mistake on my part. But I have that one in my back pocket now, so the next time I’m talking about contenders I’ll leave ’em off to see what Mariners fans say.

Astros: We’re in new territory here, as the team truly has had a makeover in every sense of the word. Calling Craig Biggio a “compiler” will snag you some low-hanging fruit. Increasingly, mocking that Sports Illustrated “2017 World Series Champs” cover has caused some folks to come out of the woodwork. They’re a work in progress, though, as it’s been a couple of years since anyone has copped to actually being an Astros fan.

Braves: I am a Braves fan, but I’d say I’ve gotten into more dustups with other Braves fans lately than anyone. Most recently I suggested that maybe, just maybe, Freddie Freeman wouldn’t hit .400. Apparently I am now a traitor to The Cause. Oh well, it’s more fun. In my own experience, I will fully cop to not letting 1991 go, and have found myself getting trolled by Twins fans of all people over things like Kent Hrbek and Jack Morris. It’s humbling to know that even a master troll like me can hooked like that, but it just goes to show you the power of the dark art of trolling.

Nationals: Mocking “Nattitude” is pretty reliable, but most Nats fans are starting to learn that, no, they do not have to sign-on with their team’s marketing efforts to be a good fan, so they are increasingly letting that go. That’s a great trick to trolling, by the way: realizing when a fan base has bought the goods that people in the marketing office or the media have sold. The best example of this is in St. Louis. We’ll get to them soon.

Phillies: Phillies fans need no introduction around here. If anything, they are deserving of my gratitude. For it is via my interaction with them that I learned the most about trolling. Mostly how easy it is. How crazy-defensive and earnest some baseball fans can be even over the smallest perceived slights or bits of criticism. Note something that happened at an Eagles game over 40 years ago and they jump out of their foxholes and start peppering you with invective. Suggest that, perhaps, a fan intentionally puking on a little girl was uncalled-for and they’ll tell you about how Phillies fans have been unfairly maligned for years. It’s gotten to the point now to where they are preemptively outraged. Whenever I write about some bit of fan misbehavior in another city, you can bet one of the first comments in the thread will be some defensive “Hey everyone, note that THIS DIDN”T HAPPEN IN PHILLY!” It’s almost no fun trolling Philly fans anymore. There’s no challenge in it.

Mets: Like I said above: refreshingly untrollable. Some are still touchy about Chipper Jones owning them and leasing them back to New Yorkers at usurious rates, but he’s retired now so it’s not as fun. There is an emerging movement in which some Mets fans are fighting back against the “LoLMets!” meme of the Mets being a laughingstock. But this is probably warranted. Not EVERYTHING the Mets due is mockable, even if people are predisposed to think so. Really, I wish everyone had the Internet in the 80s. I bet Mets fans were really feeling their oats back then. Woulda been a great challenge. It’s something to look forward to for when they’re winning again.

Hahahahahaha. The Mets winning again! I kill me!

Marlins: When there are actual Marlins fans please let me know and I’ll come up with something.

Cardinals: Now we’re talkin’. Generally speaking Cards fans get rabid if they think you don’t appreciate their players to the degree to which they should be appreciated. Specifically Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, but really anyone will do. And the the humorlessness of it is its most notable trait. They hate it when you disrespect them (even if you don’t) and they hate players on other teams who do well against the Cardinals or in the general space which the Cardinals inhabit. Which, in their mind is the entire planet. Which makes yesterday’s dustup fun because it was all based on a story about St. Louis being a small market. Mostly though, the Best Fans In Baseball is where to go to troll The Best Fans In Baseball. Which is a label the Best Fans In Baseball embraced and bragged about until the exact moment — sometime last year — when people started to note that such a stance was rather pompous and annoying. Now they all claim they never called themselves The Best Fans In Baseball. They claim it’s a total media creation or, in some cases, a fabrication. Uh-huh. We all just imagined that.

Reds: Pete Rose is pretty reliable. Brandon Phillips too. Reds fans aren’t uniformly delusional about the talents of their players — they, for some reason, underrate many of their biggest stars, both now and through history — but they often pick a favorite on which they become fixated. Poke at that guy a little bit and Reds fans will swarm.

Pirates: Sort of like the Royals until recently. You wouldn’t really think to troll them. Some are starting to react pretty negatively to people who don’t agree that PNC Park is the best, but it’s pretty low level. Give ’em time to develop as an outraged fan base.

Brewers: They are pretty sensitive about Ryan Braun up there. They make Barry Bonds defenders in San Francisco step back and say “whoa, dudes, chill.” This is hard for me to judge given that I spend a lot of time fighting against the notion that Ryan Braun is Satan incarnate myself, but if I waver even a little bit in that, some Brewers fans will turn on me. Pretty rough stuff. If this were wrestling right now it’d be easier than anything for me to make a heel-turn. For now I’ll just note that, hmm, Braun’s power numbers are down  . . .

Cubs: They are too busy drinking beer and socializing with their post-college friends out in the bleachers and accepting losing as if it were totally cool to get trolled by anyone. When the Cubs win the World Series, they will all claim to be “lifelong Cubs fans,” downplaying the fact that, until three years ago, they were business students at some Big Ten university somewhere and only moved to Chicago because their fraternity/sorority mates did.

Dodgers: A difficult but potentially bountiful trolling source would be Vin Scully. I’ve said too many good things about Scully over the years to be believable here, but if someone were to offer a full-throated “Vin Scully is overrated” argument, they’d get approximately ten billion haters on their case. It’d be horrible to watch — they’d be ripped to shreds — but their sacrifice would be a noble one. We trollers would hoist our glasses to their memory and sing their glories in the great dining hall in Trollhala.

Giants: You can get Giants fans mad by calling them bandwagon fans. Which, to be honest, many of them are. I walked up to AT&T Park many times in the early-to-mid 2000s and had no problem getting tickets, but you can’t do that easily now. But even though this is true, it’s still a troll because, personally, I don’t believe anyone being a bandwagon fan is actually a bad thing (contrast this with being a lying fan like I described in the Cubs entry). Fans are fans and fan-shaming or attendance-shaming is stupid. But when you’re trolling, remember, the point is to get a rise out of people, not to actually try to make real points.

Padres: I sat in Petco Park last September in Dodgers gear for a Dodgers game and applauded the “home team” for selling out the park. Padres fans don’t much like that. But last week’s “Tony Gwynn did not get a memorial tribute at the All-Star Game” thing has opened new territory. I’m holding on to that one for a bit, but the “[event] really disrespects the memory of Tony Gwynn, it’s a slap in the face” arrow is in my quiver, waiting to be fired.

Diamondbacks: I think we reached peak outrage at the “grit” thing last year, but you can still get a rise out of some of the six Dbacks fans out there about it.

Rockies: Have you ever once felt an imperative to troll a Rockies fan? I can’t say I have. It’s not out of pity. They’ve had success. It’s not a sad sack organization. They just don’t register yet. Which makes me happy. Because some days I worry I have spent all of my trolling fuel and will burn out like some red dwarf star. But then I think of things like “some day it’ll be fun to troll Rockies fans” and I get all excited again.

I have gone on too long now, but let me sum up by saying I hate all of your favorite teams and I hate you all. Very, very much.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.