Baseball is being ruined by the “cult of individualism,” says some guy

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I get accused — not wrongly — of over thinking things from time to time. Well I got nothin’ on David Sirota, who writes in Salon today about how our society’s veneration of the individual over the collective is ruining baseball.

The basis of his argument: a study which shows that teams who spend big money on individual players as opposed to spreading payroll out more equitably do better financially, even as they do more poorly in the won-loss column.

The observation leads to this kind of thing, which could lead to one of those Andrew Sullivan-style “Poseur Awards” were I so inclined to bestow them on people:

… considering the history, it’s hardly a surprise that the worship of the individual is so powerfully reflected in sports in general — even in those sports that are structured against the individual. That’s because while political forces like Reaganism and Tea Party-ism have certainly helped intensify hyper-individualism, nothing has been more powerful in selling that ethos than professional athletics.

Note: unless you’re quoting Walter’s take about nihilists from “The Big Lebowski,” anyone who uses the term “ethos” in general writing needs to loosen up a bit.

That aside, anyone who has taken a decent Western Civ course in the past 25 years or so knows that our society’s focus on the individual at the expense of the collective is something that began — or, rather, re-emerged — in the Renaissance, not some time in the 1980s when you decided you didn’t much care for the culture anymore. At least among elites, which is what superstar athletes are.

So what I’m saying is that this is not news, let alone troubling news.  The individual has been a major draw in baseball since basically the beginning of baseball. Just ask Babe Ruth. Or any other big name player who was given a contract to show up on some barnstorming tour at one time or another. Wait, you can’t ask them because they’re all long dead.

In other news, yes, there are lengths to how much over analysis I can stand. And with this, I think we’ve reached it.

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.