Author: Craig Calcaterra

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Colin Cowherd is 100% right about something


I’ve taken shots at Colin Cowherd many times in the past and I will do so many times in the future because, hey, we don’t really see a lot of things eye to eye. It happens. If he has heard of me (I seriously doubt he has) and knows any of my opinions (I seriously doubt he does or even cares), he’d probably disagree with me too.

The most recent reason I took issue with Cowherd was, as he was leaving ESPN, he made some pretty controversial comments about Dominican players which, at best, were hamfisted and could’ve been worse if you didn’t take his apology at face value. He was soon taken off the air by ESPN, though it didn’t really matter as he was about to start his new job at Fox. One would be forgiven if one were to assume that, when it came to baseball stuff, particularly baseball stuff involving race and ethnicity, Cowherd would continue to not be your go-to source for the good opinions.

But credit where it is due, Cowherd spoke for a while yesterday about bat flips and the unwritten rules and Bud Norris’ controversial comments in that Jorge L. Ortiz story about the racial and ethnic divide in sports and he was pretty much right on the money.

His take: baseball is fun, or at least it should be. Getting bent out of shape about unwritten rules and decorum is old man business and makes ballplayers look boring, unfun and, potentially, worse. Watch:


No, he’s not digging deep on the racial/ethnic angle of it here, but that stuff in inextricably linked to the unwritten rules business and I’m sure Cowherd knows that. But that aside, he’s dead-on about baseball’s stifling culture being unappealing to young fans, new fans and, generally speaking, being boring and stodgy. It’s a game. Don’t take yourself too seriously, ballplayers. Have some fun out there. And don’t be such a buzzkill when someone else is.

Good for Cowherd for hitting this one on the nose.

The Alex Rodriguez story is not a redemption story

Alex Rodriguez

The Yankees clinched a playoff spot last night. It was kind of a big deal considering how many of us figured that they had too many miles on the odometer and didn’t have enough in the tank to make a sustained run this year. My preview back in March may have been among the more optimistic ones. In it I said “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which they win, say, 88 games and make the playoffs,” though I quickly added that such a thing is not necessarily likely and, ultimately, picked them third. All predictions are just guesses. Most are wrong. Mine are no different.

They’ll certainly take second place and those 87-90 wins they’ll finish with. And I’m sure they enjoyed the champagne. Indeed, among the sights worth savoring last night — or lamenting, depending on how you feel about the guy — was Alex Rodriguez celebrating with champagne and adoring teammates. Who knows what the odds would’ve been on that in Vegas as recently as a year ago? A time when he was living in exile, the Yankees called Chase Headley their starting third baseman, Carlos Beltran was transitioning into the full time DH and they were all in the process of missing the playoffs once again.

How about two years ago, when A-Rod wound down a season on borrowed time, having missed half of it with injury and having the rest of the summer dominated by ugly revelations of his drug use, acrimonious legal proceedings and toxic accusations between him, the league and his employer? When his suspension was issued and then upheld most figured he’d never play baseball again, let alone play for the Yankees. Let alone play well for the Yankees, let alone lead them to the postseason at the age of 40. But all of that happened. And, frankly, it’s been astounding.

But for as improbable a series of events we have witnessed, we should resist, with every bit of our might, to tell it like a story in the non-news sense of the word. More specifically, to make it into some sort of redemption narrative where the once-misguided Alex Rodriguez spent his time in the wilderness, learned things and came back to reclaim his crown. Many will do that today and until the wild card game next week and will do it even more if the Yankees live on in the playoffs and if A-Rod plays well.

We shouldn’t do that. In a broad sense we shouldn’t do it because that sort of narrative is a tired cliche. The sort of monomyth-mixed-with-Prodigal Son stuff you learn in 10th grade English or Sunday school. Those things are useful in fiction or teaching or as parables which help us better understand the world, but real life is random and messy and has the simultaneously wonderful and annoying habit of never ending, thereby robbing us of a tidy narrative structure.

Why put “the end” on A-Rod’s story now, when he has allegedly redeemed himself? It may seem satisfying from a narrative perspective but what if, six months from now, he knocks over a liquor store or joins ISIS or something? What meaning will any of our pronouncements about him have now? Apart from a basis from which to launch additional attacks on the guy, that is. “Not only did he join ISIS, which is pretty darn bad, but he FOOLED US into thinking he had changed and was a hero anew!” Meaningless and self-serving. What a combination.

I suppose a hesitance to declare Alex Rodriguez redeemed is surprising coming from me. After all, I have pretty unapologetically and pretty aggressively defended the guy for years. But it shouldn’t be that surprising. Because what has animated me in all of the things I’ve written about A-Rod has been less a desire to defend his character — I don’t know him at all nor do most of you — but my bristling at the the desire of others to cast him in various roles before. Now it’s redeemed hero, before it was unconscionable villain. All applied based on a slice of a guy’s life, weighted heavily by how he performed in sporting events which are largely random and adhere to no preordained narrative.

Comparing Alex Rodriguez to Whitey Bulger because he took some drugs hundreds of other baseball players did and millions of other Americans have was preposterous. Casting him as some fallen angel or corrupted hero was pretty preposterous too. I have defended the guy from those sorts of attacks for years because they were silly exercises in adhering to the conventions of scripted drama more than they were insights about sports, human beings or life.

But so too is casting Alex Rodriguez as some redeemed hero simply because he and some other baseball players had better years than most of us figured they’d have. To do so may seem more polite than calling him a villain and, in some ways, may be intended by some to make up for attacking him in the past. But it’s just the other side of a bad coin and perpetuates rather than arrests our habit of conflating sports and real life. Of elevating sports heroism above and beyond anything approaching the proper place it should hold in society. Of equating sports infamy with actual infamy and evil in the actual world.

I’m happy that Alex Rodriguez had a good year and seems to be in a better place than he was a year or two ago. I’m happy New York Yankees fans have had a better-than-expected year and that those fans who have liked Alex Rodriguez in the past have a reason to like him again. But I’m just as unwilling to go much beyond that now as I was unwilling to go beyond thinking A-Rod merely messed up before. I’m unwilling to cast his feats or his missteps in any different or more dramatic a light than I am any other athlete.

To do so would be to lose sight of the fact that these are just games and athletes are just people. To do so would make us forget that even without the dramatic narratives, sports are as fulfilling and as entertaining as we need them to be. And that, most of the time, they’re far more enjoyable without those narratives.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights


Yankees 4, Red Sox 1: Win number 10,000 for the franchise. And, of course, the win clinches a spot in the American League Wild Card game. Not too bad for a team just about everyone said was too old, too injured and too lacking in young talent to make it through the grind. It certainly wasn’t easy for them, but here they are. Best part: decent performance from CC Sabathia — one run over five innings of work — who, if the Yankees make the ALDS, will have to do this sort of thing again.

Rangers 5, Angels 3: And the Rangers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012, thanks in part to Derek Holland, who allowed three runs over six and a third and Adrian Beltre who hit a go-ahead bases-clearing double in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Rangers were probably picked by fewer than the Yankees were to make the postseason, especially after Yu Darvish went down for the season. What a year for unexpected results, especially in the American League.

Phillies 3, Mets 0: If someone had asked me before looking at this box score what a “Jerad Eickhoff” was, I probably would’ve said that he was the great-grandson of some low-level German war criminal who, despite his lineage, is very clear-eyed about history and uses the limited notoriety bestowed by his infamous last name to travel to schools with his electronica band, spreading the word of peace and tolerance. He gave thoughts to running for the Bundestag on the Social Democratic Party ticket at one time but decided that baseball was his true calling. The fact that he shut out the Mets for seven innings and struck out ten last night seems to have validated that decision.

Orioles 6, Blue Jays 4: John Gibbons trotted out the most post-clinch lineup I can remember:

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But it was justifiable given that Wednesday featured a doubleheader and, of course, Wednesday night featured a lot of drankin’. The game was made more comical or miserable, depending on your point of view, by three and a half hours worth of rain delays. All this after it was rescheduled for noon to avoid the rain. To top it off Joe West worked this game and got all soggy and you can NEVER get wet Joe West smell out of your carpet, couches and drapes.

Cubs 5, Reds 3: The 12th straight loss for the Reds. Ye Gods. They’re one away from tying the franchise record, set in 1945, so hey, it’s something to shoot for. Brian Price after the game:

“The caveat to a terrible season is the guys haven’t quit”

Which is exactly what you would say if you were desperately trying to hold on to your job amid copious evidence that, well, your team has kinda quit.

Dodgers 3, Giants 2: Brett Anderson pitched two-hit ball into the eighth and got the win. It was his 31st start and his innings odometer went over 180 after this start. Which makes you wonder if this is really Brett Anderson or if, rather, his face is gonna melt off like the people in that G.I. Joe episode “There’s No Place Like Springfield.”

Don’t look at me like that. That was an amazing two-part episode.

Padres 3, Brewers 1: Ian Kennedy struck out 11 in six innings and Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run homer. Free agency time for Kennedy. He could be eating innings at a ballpark near you next spring!


Twins 4, Indians 2: I assumed the Twins would throw at Jose Ramirez after Wednesday’s bat flip, but instead they just put a voodoo hex on him or whatever and made him commit a ninth inning throwing error which gave Minnesota two runs and the win:

“He committed an error and went 0 for 4,” Hunter said. “He might have suffered enough. He’s young. You got to know the game. What he did last night was wrong, but I’m pretty sure he understands that.”

So Torii Hunter, among other things, believes in instant karma. I dunno. It’s more plausible than other stuff he says. Oh well, the Twins are a game back with three to go so they have more important things to worry about than Jose Ramirez.

Nationals 3, Braves 0: Stephen Strasburg struck out seven over six innings. In his final four starts of the year, Strasburg was 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA and had 44 strikeouts in 29 innings, so it’s something to grow on for next year.

Rays 4, Marlins 1: The Rays sweep the Marlins as Jake Odorizzi allowed only one unearned run on four hits and struck out seven. 9,657 souls bought tickets to this game. Many came dressed in their finest empty seat-print finery.

Royals 6, White Sox 4: More injuries and ailments for the Royals as Kendrys Morales left the game with quad tightness and Salvador Perez had some swelling in his right thumb. But never fear, Jonny Gomes is here! He drove in three runs as the Royals keep pace with the Jays for home field in the playoffs.

Diamondbacks 8, Rockies 6: The Dbacks win, which means they can play for a .500 record this weekend against the Astros. Between that, the pride one can take in being a spoiler and the fact that the Astros will be without their DH in the interleague games makes that final series pretty interesting.

Who should win the Cy Young Awards? And who will?

Clayton Kershaw

With the regular season ending on Sunday and almost all of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. Today and tomorrow we will spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. Next up: the Cy Young Awards

Who should win the AL Cy Young Award?

I used to like these sorts of posts more when there were actual clear-cut answers. But apart from NL MVP this year, there aren’t. Really, it’s madness how close these things are this year and it’s quite possible AL Cy Young is the closest.

Like the AL MVP, it’s hard to see how there are more than two top candidates: Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Their numbers are close to identical. Here are their lines without their names:

  • 19–8, 213/49 K/BB ratio in 226 IP, 2.47 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 164 ERA+
  • 18–5, 225/47 K/BB ratio in 220.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 161 ERA+

If you haven’t paid all that close attention you’d be forgiven for being unable to tell them apart. But I’ll tell you: the first is Keuchel, the second Price. Price’s won’t change because his regular season is over. Keuchel has one more start Friday evening against the Dbacks.

Keuchel, therefore, could get to the magic 20 wins but who cares about win totals? Maybe the separator will be that he will have a few more innings and, if they’re excellent innings, the Astros will win the game and that’s a big deal for a team in their position right now. Of course he could also get blown the hell up. It may come down to that start, to be honest.

Soft factors: Price spent over half the year with the Tigers which could hurt. Or it could help as people may argue that he came in and helped save the Jays’ season. Worked for Rick Sutcliffe back in 1984. Didn’t work for Randy Johnson in 1998. Could cut either way here. Keuchel has that crazy 15-0 home record which could help if voters look at that as some sort of weird “protecting our house!!!” narrative. Or it could hurt if they say “jeez, why did you wilt on the road, Dallas?”

I have no idea. I think if Keuchel pitches well tomorrow, in a big game, it’s his. Not because of “big game” dynamics by itself, but because it will also give him a greater innings and, in all likelihood, rate-stats advantage over Price than he currently has. Not big in an absolute sense, but bigger.

So I guess it’s a provisional vote for Keuchel, with the same caveat applying here that applies to the AL MVP: if you go the other way it’s hard for me or anyone else to call you crazy.

Who will win the AL Cy Young Award?

I figure Keuchel will unless he has a meltdown on Friday night. He and Price are close enough to where I think the one start will matter for a whole lot of voters for the reasons mentioned above. Big Game Dallas.


Who should win the NL Cy Young Award?

The “Pitchers Triple Crown” is not as noted or rare a feat as the batting Triple Crown, but it’s a thing people talk about. Its elements: wins, ERA and strikeouts. Like the batting Triple Crown, not all three of these stats are created equal, of course. They’re just thrown together because of a long history of the stats being considered the most important. In reality they are weighted in actual value:

  • Think of Wins being like RBI: a stat which suggests more about how one’s teammates performed than how the actual player performed. The worst of the three in terms of telling you anything about the player in question;
  • Think of ERA like batting average: more useful than the previous stats mentioned but flawed and potentially misleading. It’s simultaneously overly-broad and too narrow in that is has a lot to do with the fielders behind a pitcher which can exaggerate a pitchers’ effectiveness or prevent us from seeing some flaws in his game. Like batting average it says something, but not as much as some people like to think.
  • Strikeouts are like home runs I guess. Each one is an absolute good thing which measures an instance of the player doing something by himself and minimizing margin for error. Maybe a K is not quite as definitive a thing as a HR is — there is no outcome in any at bat better than a dinger while, in some cases, it may be better to induce a grounder than it is to strike a guy out — but it’s the same general idea.

At the moment we have three different pitchers leading in the three different pitcher Triple Crown categories in the NL: Jake Arrieta has the market cornered on wins, Zack Greinke leads in ERA and Clayton Kershaw leads in strikeouts. All three of them, of course, are having fantastic seasons, and not just because of those old Triple Crown stats. Rest assured all three are among the leaders in just about all of the more esoteric pitching metrics, though a good number of them favor Kershaw because of how strikeouts tend to get weighted.

I am partial to that kind of weighting. I think that when you strike a dude out, you’re eliminating so many bad things that can happen. Crash Davis may call strikeouts fascist, but I think they’re just smart. At least if those strikeouts don’t needlessly tire a pitcher out. They haven’t tired Clayton Kershaw out. He leads the NL in strikeouts by a considerable margin and leads the league in innings as well. His slow start to the season is why he has fewer wins and a higher ERA than his teammate Greinke and his counterpart Arrieta and his home run rate is higher, but I think that if you take a step back he’s simply been the best pitcher in the game this year.

Kershaw would have my vote.

Who will win the NL Cy Young Award?

Thinking Arrieta will get it. A lot of it is because of how great he’s been down the stretch. Arrieta had a big start against the Pirates last week that will serve as a narrative-builder in the runup to the Wild Card game. Not that that it was any kind of one-off. He has allowed an earned run in just three of his last 11 starts and his ERA is getting so low that Greinke is looking like less of an outlier, undermining Greinke’s “ERA Freak” case. Arrieta looks more like a horse than Greinke has looked and has a shinier win total and ERA than Kershaw and, no matter how flawed those Triple Crown stats are, I think winning one, coming pretty darn close on a second and not being the reigning Cy Young winner like Kershaw is — voters like new blood – will give Arreita the edge.

Which, like just about every other award, won’t be a travesty, even if it’s not my particular choice.