Word Crimes: The Hall of Fame — arguably — made a grammatical error on Greg Maddux’s plaque

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As Greg Maddux is my favorite player of all time, I obviously took a close look at his Hall of Fame plaque when it was unveiled yesterday. And when I did, something stood out:

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It’s the “less than 1,000 walks” that bugged me. I am of the view that it should be “fewer” not less. So, as Deadspin noted, I tweeted it out. This, as most grammar disputes do, led to some pretty impassioned debate.

Most people (myself included) are of the view that one uses “fewer” if one is referring to things in the plural which can be counted and “less” if you are referring to something that either doesn’t have a plural or can’t be counted. Examples: “fewer kids in this class than that class,” “fewer hot dogs on his plate than her plate” vs. “less time left in the game than we thought” or “I have less respect for the guy who puts ketchup on his hot dogs.”

Now, as is the case with all rules, there are exceptions. If the number stands alone without the noun named in reference to the lower quantity, you can use “less” (e.g. “He had 10 dogs, I had less”) or when you are referring to geographical distance or measures of time. Of course in this case such obvious exceptions do not apply. Walks are a finite thing which do not refer to distance or time, they do have a plural and they are mentioned properly at the end of the sentence.

Of course, just as there are always general exceptions, there are always increasingly obscure exceptions — or, short of that, traditions and customs of usage — which one can, if one is so inclined, find to justify their preferred usage. As this conversation evolved yesterday afternoon, many did find some slot in which to (arguably) place the Hall of Fame’s choice of “less” over “fewer” on Maddux’s plaque. I’m not suggesting it’s the easiest call on the planet. This isn’t an out or safe call here. It’s more of a first base ump’s call on a check swing. But I do think the majority of people who care about such rules — and the majority of the rules relating to the topic itself — falls in the “fewer” camp.

And to be 100% clear: my pointing this out was not borne of some “ah ha!” moment nor do I think it says anything negative about the Hall of Fame, the person who forged the plaque or anything like that. There’s no point other than to say “hey, that’s interesting.” And, obviously, I do not stand on some pedestal of grammatical superiority when I note all of this. I’m a low-A grammarian at best with tremendous holes in my game. Indeed, even my tweet pointing out this grammatical error had a typo in it.

But then again, my tweets aren’t literally forged in metal and placed on the wall of a museum for all eternity. Which is why I even brought this up to begin with.

Eric Hosmer’s eight-year, $144 million contract isn’t that bad

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Late Saturday night, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres and first baseman Eric Hosmer agreed to an eight-year, $144 million contract, the new largest contract in club history. According to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports, the contract includes an opt-out after the fifth year. Further, Hosmer will average $21 million per year for those first five years and $13 million for the final three years, so it’s severely front-loaded.

Hosmer, 28, had a career year last season, playing in all 162 games while batting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs, 94 RBI, and 98 runs scored in 671 plate appearances. Per Baseball Reference, Hosmer accrued 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, only one of six first basemen to do so. At No. 6, he was 0.4 WAR behind Anthony Rizzo and 0.4 WAR ahead of Logan Morrison.

Wil Myers had previously told the Padres he would accept a position change if the club were to sign Hosmer. He will be moving to the outfield as a result. The Padres now have a logjam in the outfield, so Jose Pirela could move moved to the infield. How the Padres plan to handle that situation remains to be seen.

The general consensus about the Hosmer signing once news broke was that it is laughably bad. Back in November, Dave Cameron — ironically now in the Padres’ front office — called Hosmer a “free agent landmine.” That thought hasn’t really changed among many writers. For example, using restraint, Dennis Lin of The Athletic calls the deal “a big gamble.” MLB Network’s Brian Kenny said Hosmer has at least three “red flags.”

FanGraphs projects the Padres to finish 71-91, so adding Hosmer isn’t likely to transform the club into a contender on his own. That being said, the Padres’ payroll was only at $70 million prior to the Hosmer signing, so the contract won’t hamstring them going forward. If the young nucleus of players — including Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe — perform as expected, the Padres could be a threat in the NL West relatively soon with plenty of cheap, cost-controlled players and having some experienced veterans like Hosmer and Myers could be useful for their intangibles — pennant race/playoff experience, clubhouse presence, leadership, etc.

Hosmer has had three seasons of 3.5 WAR or more, according to Baseball Reference. He’s had four between -0.5 and 1.0. Now entering his age-28 season, it’s hardly a guarantee he’ll be an All-Star-caliber player in 2018, let alone in 2022 when he is 32 years old. From a strict dollars-to-WAR standpoint in a complete vacuum, one could’ve done better than Hosmer at eight years, $144 million.

The Padres, however, aren’t a small market team; they just operate like one. Forbes valued the club at $1.125 billion last April. The Padres don’t have the financial muscle of the Dodgers or Yankees, but paying Eric Hosmer $18 million on average for the first five years of his contract won’t come close to hurting the organization in any way, shape, or form. More importantly, signing Hosmer shows the rest of the team and the fans a commitment to being legitimate, bumping the payroll up towards $90 million. That now dwarfs teams like the large-market Phillies, who opened up spring training with just over $60 million in player obligations.

In the grand scheme of things, the Hosmer signing is also a good sign given the standstill in the free agent market. Many veteran players — even reliever Fernando Abad, who posted a 3.30 ERA last season — had to settle for minor league contracts instead of guaranteed major league deals. Many others, including the likes of Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned. The rumor that Hosmer wanted more than seven years and close to $150 million was laughed at last month. Agent Scott Boras was still able to get his client the deal he wanted, which could bode well for those still teamless. Martinez’s patience may yet be rewarded like Hosmer’s was; money may once again start flowing in the free agent economy.

In summation, the Eric Hosmer contract is good if: you are Eric Hosmer, related to or a friend of Eric Hosmer, a teammate of Hosmer’s, Scott Boras, a current or soon-to-be free agent, a Padres fan, and a baseball fan in general. The Hosmer contract is bad if: you are a penny-pinching owner of a Major League Baseball team, or someone who cares more about $/WAR than an actual good product being put on the field.