No, the Bautista-Odor fight wasn’t “great for baseball”

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I’ve seen a lot of sentiment since yesterday afternoon that the Jose BautistaRougned Odor fight was supposed to have great meaning of some kind. More to the point, that it was actually good for baseball. I don’t think it was bad for baseball — it was just a thing that happened, just like fights have happened in baseball for 150 years — but to say it was “great for baseball” seems odd to me.

C.J. Nitkowski of Fox thinks it was great for baseball because it “created buzz” and jacked up the TV ratings. If you saw some of his tweets yesterday, you learned that it was also great because it, somehow, put “nerds” in their place. I don’t fully understand what Nitkowski was getting at with that, but it had something to do with the slide rules and people wanting baseball players not to get injured which, I guess, he considers to be a bad thing. You’ll have to ask him about that.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post thinks it was great for baseball for another reason: there’s too much friendliness in the game, in his view, and it’s better when opponents hate each other. As New York writers always do, Sherman makes something that has nothing to do with New York about New York and uses it to explain how upset he is that Yankees players are friendly with David Ortiz now instead of hating him like the Epic Yankees-Red Sox rivalry allegedly demands. Never mind that the grand old days of the rivalry he describes are, like, 12 years old and no one is left on those teams from that time except for Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. Never mind that the rivalry past 2004 or so, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox met in the playoffs, is primarily a creation of fans and the media and that the players don’t care at all anymore and likely didn’t care as much as people like to think they did.

These takes have one thing in common: for them to make coherent sense, players have to play roles to satisfy an audience rather than be actual human beings with feelings. Bautista and Odor are buzz-creators or rivalry-stokers here as opposed to humans who got caught up in an emotional thing and let their aggression take over for a few minutes due to some provocations that made sense to them in the heat of the moment. No, they were serving the audience in some way and, not only that, they had to! For the good of the game!

This is all artificial nonsense. Baseball players are people. Their job is to serve the audience when they play baseball. While there were aspects of what happened yesterday that were in and of themselves entertaining (mostly because no one got hurt) it’s not their job to serve fans and the press with that stuff and the fact that they did didn’t Mean Anything Big And Important. It was just a thing that happened. Players likewise can be and should be friends with one another if they choose to be without it harshing the buzz of some columnist who misses what he got to write about over a decade ago. Not saying Odor and Bautista ever will be, but if they do a commercial goofing on their fight this fall, we will not have lost anything by their antipathy being diminished.

I don’t know. I read stuff like what Sherman and Nitkowski wrote and I wonder whether the people who think like that view players as people with agency or mere characters in a drama. I wonder, if Bautista and Odor issue statements apologizing to one another today or make that commercial one day, if guys like Sherman and Nitkowski will be sad. More than anything else when I see stuff like this I think about all of the weird and unfair gladiatorial expectations we place on athletes and remember exactly where it comes from.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.