Meeting Old Gator

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Gator Car.JPGAnyone who spends any time in the comments around here knows Old Gator.  He of the “Feesh,” “Macondo,” and the “horse meat and Velveeta sandwiches.”  I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as commenters go I love him. He’s smart. He stirs up trouble. He throws bombs once in a while.  All kinds of great fun.  He also lives in Miami, so we arranged to meet up when I landed on Saturday.

Gator suggested a Cuban place near Little Havana. Good suggestion!  I had the ropa vieja and picked from a bunch of appetizers he ordered in Spanish.  I sometimes like to think that I can roughly follow people speaking Spanish, but I really can’t. At least when Cuban accents are involved and the Spanish speakers in question aren’t slowing it down for the dumb people from Ohio who aren’t exposed to it every day.  First thing Gator said to me when I sat down? “How’s it feel being in a foreign land?”  My answer: I like it, actually. At the risk of sounding all free-to-be-you-and-me about it, anyplace that doesn’t have some freakin’ diversity to it gets pretty boring pretty fast.  I don’t think I’d live in Little Havana if I moved to Miami some day, but I like that it’s there and lament just how homogeneous the Midwest can be.

After a couple hours of coffee, baseball talk, and Gator telling me three truly, truly awesome jokes that would get me fired in five seconds if I shared them here, I followed him a couple of miles east into the heart of Little Havana, where he wanted to show me something (the above pic is what it looks like to follow Old Gator through traffic).  The site where Jeffrey Loria’s monument to himself — the new Marlins’ ballpark — is being built.

Marlins ballpark construction.jpgThe overwhelming impression I got from it?  If anyone actually shows up to that ballpark, the traffic is going to be a nightmare.  It’s really right in the middle of — or at least on the edge of — a neighborhood consisting of small blocks, side streets, houses and two-story apartment buildings. Unlike other neighborhood ballparks like Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, there is no mass transit to speak of.  There’s a freeway that runs nearby, but it’s an elevated affair, with little, curvy offramps that are not at all prepared to deal with heavy traffic flow.  Yes, they used to play football games there — it’s on the site of the old Orange Bowl — but there’s a big difference between throwing tens of thousands of cars into the area eight or ten times a year on the weekend and doing so 81 times a year any day of the week.  If they have a plan to deal with all that traffic, god love ’em, but it’s really hard to picture it from the way things look right now.

After scoping the construction site Gator and I sat in his car for a while and shot the breeze about baseball.  While a Feesh fan now, he was a Mets guy going back to the 60s, and had season tickets in Shea Stadium for years. He saw Willie Mays there in 1973. He watched Tom Seaver pitch and watched him get shipped out of town. He watched the ball go through Bill Buckner’s legs from a couple dozen yards away.  For all of Gator’s tangents and diversions in the comments section, the man is a baseball fan through and through, and a passionate and knowledgeable one at that.

After a bit we went our separate ways, as I had to get on the freeway up to Port St. Lucie. But before I left, he gave me two cds — the Cowboy Junkies’ “Pale Sun and Crescent Moon,” and an album called “Discount Fireworks” by a group called Over the Rhine, which, while they’re from Ohio too, I’ve never heard of (Gator was going to see them live that night).  He also gave me two books: a collection of criticism he edited about both the novel and the movie “No Country for Old Men” — Gator is more or less our nation’s foremost Cormac McCarthy expert — and a book called “Liberty Street: Encounters at Ground Zero” by Peter Josyph, who happens to be a friend of Gator’s.  I look forward to reading them both.

Two lessons here. First, it’s really awesome meeting readers, so maybe we’ll have to do some HBT meet-ups at some point. Second, while the awesomeness of meeting readers doesn’t depend on them giving me gifts, I ain’t gonna sneeze at ’em either.

With that my spring training dispatches are done for the day. Aaron and the guys will be checking in with other baseball news as usual, of course, but I have to get on the road to Fort Meyers, where I’ll be catching the Twins on Tuesday and the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Later Gators. 

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

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The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.