Trouble with “Trouble with the Curve”

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I haven’t seen the new Clint Eastwood baseball flick, “Trouble with the Curve,” but the reviews from people whose opinions on such matters I respect are starting to come in and it’s sounding dire.

First was Grant Brisbee, who gives a very detailed review, complete with spoiling plot points, so be warned. To be fair, he does explicitly say that his review is precisely so you don’t have to see it. And he really recommends that you don’t see it.

The second one comes from Emma Span. Who, you should know, spends one night a week intentionally watching awful movies and (from what I can tell anyway) enjoying them unironically, even if, as I suspect, the habit began out of an ironic impulse.  She will sit and tell you about how good movies like “Sharktopus” are, for crying out loud.

Like Grant, Emma pans “Trouble with the Curve” on its baseball merits (Grant goes on about how lame the larger, non-basebally elements are too).  The upshot: its portrayal of the baseball world is just terrible. The bad guy — the Billy Zabka character, really — is a paper thin caricature of a stats-oriented analyst. And indeed, would have been the straw-i-est strawman in history even if the movie was written in 2002 by a person who prayed to an altar of Billy Beane made out of TI-85 calculators.

The line from the anti-Eastwood that sums it all up:

“I don’t need to see him play! I’ve got it right here on my computer.”

Even RoboSaberGM would fire that guy on the spot for saying such a thing.

But hey, “Titanic” made a billion dollars even though its villain all but twirled his mustache while tying a maiden to the train tracks, so I suppose “Trouble with the Curve” will be OK.

For my part, I’m off to watch “Unforgiven” instead.

Sign-stealing penalties could be ‘unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history’

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Early this morning we learned that Major League Baseball was planning to talk to former Astros Carlos Beltrán and Alex Cora as part of the sign-stealing investigation. Late this morning Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the investigation is, actually, going to go much wider than that.

Passan reports that Major League Baseball will not limit its focus to the 2017 Astros, who were the subject of the report in The Athletic on Tuesday. Rather, it will also include members of the 2019 Astros and will extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentions the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Oh, it also includes recently-fired Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who the league plans to interview but who, Passan says, has hired a lawyer. Which is sort of interesting in its own right, but let’s stay on topic.

Passan:

The league is attempting to cull tangible evidence from the widespread paranoia of front offices and teams around the game about others cheating and has indicated it will consider levying long suspensions against interviewees who are found to have lied, sources said . . . The penalties for illegal activity are determined by commissioner Rob Manfred, though if the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history, sources said.

The Cardinals were fined $2 million when an employee, Chris Correa, hacked the Astros computer system. Correa, of course, was permanently banned from baseball and served prison time. Former Braves GM John Coppolella was likewise given a permanent ban for lying about the team’s circumvention of international signing rules. If Passan’s source is right and the league is going to level heavy penalties here, that’s where you have to start, I imagine.

To me, the stuff about Coppolella’s lying and the bit about interviewees lying mentioned in the block quote is key.

Will anyone have the hammer brought down upon them for being responsible for stealing signs? Hard to say. But they likely will if they are not forthcoming with league investigators. Which is actually a pretty decent way to handle things when one is conducting an internal investigation. Maybe you don’t give amnesty to wrongdoers in the name of information-gathering, but you do signal to them that cooperation is incentivized and lack of cooperation will be punished.

It’s an approach, by the way, that Major League Baseball notably did not take in the course of its PED investigations a decade ago. That led to a final report that had massive gaps in information and caused the league to focus on and publicize only the lowest-hanging fruit. As I argued at the time, if information-gathering, as opposed to P.R. considerations was its true aim, MLB would’ve handled it differently.

In the early stages here, in contrast, it does sound like baseball is taking this seriously. That’s a good thing.