There isn’t a ton going on in baseball, I’ve been in a foul mood all day and I’ve been in a weird post-vacation hangover for a week, so let’s try to clear out all of that fog with a mailbag, shall we?
I asked for questions on Twitter. Here are a good chunk of them. Warning: I asked people to ask me literally anything this time, including stuff I know little or nothing about, so let’s get weird:
Q: Why is Craig in a foul mood?
A: For one thing, I’m working on about four hours sleep because my daughter’s flight, from a school orchestra trip to Disney World, got back at 1AM and I had to pick her up at the airport. Because I’m an old man, I’m incapable of sleeping in, even if I try, so I was of course up at 5:46AM, without an alarm. Old bodies are dumb. Caveat: I answered this question last and put it at the top of the pile here. The process of answering all of the other questions put me in a much better mood because (a) I like writing rambling things; and (b) it kept me off of my usual Twitter news feed and away from news websites, each of which can be depressing if taken in large doses. I’m actually feeling pretty good now!
Q: Where the hell is Melania?
A: I’ve tried to take a step back from the daily outrages and controversies of the Trump era of late because most of them are dumb, most pass quickly and it’s simply not worth wasting mental energy and mental health on new scandals and dramas each and every dang day. I prefer to think harder about the larger arc things like what’s happening to the rule of law, what can be done electorally and how is the best way to protect American values in this strange and often sad era. I think the “where is Melania” stuff falls into the former camp as she’s a grown woman and, even if we’ve made First Ladies into quasi-governmental officials, she’s still a private person who is allowed to live her life privately.
That said: she’s TOTALLY on some secret mission like Picard, Worf and Crusher were in the “Chain of Command” episodes of Next Generation. At least that’s what I’m hoping for. How badass would that be if she was infiltrating some enemy base?
Q: Just how awesome is Gleyber Torres?
A: I never thought there would come a day when a Yankees star would fly under the radar — and I’ll probably regret saying this later — but we should really be hearing more about Torres. Dude is hitting .319/.376/.593 with nine homers in only 33 games. Who knows how his career ends up, but someday there will be a book written about the Aroldis Chapman trade-trade-free-agent-signing and everything that spun out of it for all the teams involved, and Torres is going to loom the largest of any figure in it.
Q: How authentic are the Braves this year?
A: Not exactly sure what the word “authentic” means here. If it’s “are they for real?” I think the answer is broadly “yes,” with “for real” including the part in which, over the course of the season I still think they fall fairly far back of the Nats because this team is young and the pitchers will tire, etc. etc. They could win the division if things go perfectly, they could win the wild card if they go somewhat less perfectly or they could crater and none of those three outcomes would be 100% shocking. If “authentic” is meant to refer to, like, 1990s indie rock aesthetics, no, the Braves are not very authentic because they’re owned by a big corporation, man, and they sold OUT. Shoulda stayed on Matador Records or whatever.
Q: Based on your recent UK travels, you are now an international rail expert. (That’s just how it works). How can we fix the US rail system?
A: This is ringer question, asked by an actual expert on the U.S. rail system who liked what I wrote about it on the U.K. travelogue I wrote earlier this week. I’ll paraphrase it for y’all who didn’t see it.
Those of you who have been reading me a while know that I’m a big fan of trains, but I’m realistic about them in the United States. The U.S. is a really big, really empty country for the most part, so I’m pretty skeptical of rail enthusiasts’ fantasies about transforming the United States with high speed rail service between cities. I think we can and should do much better with regional rail service (i.e. trains, even high-speed ones between cities which are close together or in the same urban mass, like on the east coast) and way, way better with localized rail service in and around urban centers. We just have to break our dependence on cars for about a million reasons. Even non-environmental ones if you’re afraid to confront those. Cities are growing and there is just not enough room for everyone. We need trains or alternative mass-transit options.
What will that look like specifically? I dunno. I’m not actually a transit expert. But I do know that there needs to be public investment in it because transportation is a public good. There also needs to be an actual acceptance of this concept by government and by citizens. Acceptance on a level that we have simply refused to consider in recent decades.
When I was using the Underground London, they were doing escalator renovations. An official sign put up by the transit authority said something to the effect of “this work may be temporarily inconvenient, but the investment of our money in these repairs will eventually provide us all with better service.” The “our money” clearly referred to the people’s money, collectively. It’s sad how surprised I was to see a public entity openly acknowledging the fact that public works require public investment in the form of tax dollars in order to deliver goods people want and need rather than apologizing for it, fetishizing private investment “partnerships” or sponsorships or otherwise acting like it’s a bad thing for people, through governmental authority, to build things via collective action. We do that a lot in the United States. We treat the government as the enemy as opposed to an instrument of the people, by the people and for the people. We proceed as if taxes are evil rather than the price we pay for a civilized society. We fetishize the private sector despite the fact that it is utterly unwilling and usually unable to provide large scale services for people and which only even attempts to do so if there is a profit motive.
Someone said the New York subway needs a trillion bucks to fix and scale for the future. Well, do it. Yes, it’s expensive. It’s also essential. Not everything is that big and not everything is essential so sure, these ideas must be debated, but we have to go into this sort of stuff willing to accept that some things like that are essential and must be done. We used to do that as a country. We don’t anymore. We look for any way possible to avoid those costs, largely for political reasons. That’s not how civilizations have ever worked, and if we want a civilization with great public goods — and I think we do — we have to approach it in such a fashion.
Q: When in London, did you have a Pimm’s?
A: I did not. I had a lot of beer, though. I was told after I got back that I should’ve had a Pimm’s.
Q: My sister had the DJ play “Laid” 5 times at her wedding reception. Considering your status as a diehard James fan, what would have been your response to this scenario?
A: People who read my personal blog know that one of the big reasons for my UK trip was to follow the band James around to some small venue shows. James is my favorite band, and I explained why that is earlier this week. Short version: they’re great, even if the only song most Americans know by them is “Laid.”
I’m not gonna hate. Hardcore James fans in the UK would roll their eyes — they love “Laid” but they get annoyed that it and, even more so, the giant UK hit “Sit Down” is all any non-fans really know — but it’s a jam. It’s my go-to karaoke song, by the way, and yes I even hit the high notes. It’s also the one song that, if Martians came down and said they’d destroy Earth if I could not get the exact words right to a song of my choice on the first try, that I could totally nail. All of that being said, I highly recommend that your sister expand her James horizons. Partially because “Laid” is about a totally messed-up, dysfunctional and often violent relationship, making it less-than-ideal wedding reception fodder, but also because they have LOTS of other great songs. I made a playlist to introduce them to people who are unfamiliar, if you care about such things.
OK, I think that’s the last of my UK stuff.
Q: Do you miss chubby Kyle Schwarber
A: A little bit, because it was just more entertaining to see a guy who looked like he should be playing beer league softball play major league-ish outfield. For his sake and the sake of Cubs fans, however, I think everyone should be much happier with svelte, .885 (134 OPS+) Kyle Schwarber. He’s only 25. I’d like to see him have a great career before he becomes a Bartolo Colon-style “well, look what HE did!” mascot/cartoon character. I know Colon plays along with that, but I think it’s bad for the most part to turn these guys into characters.
Q: Have we seen the last of CY winning Kershaw?
A: Never say never, but I worry that he’s breaking down. Back issues can kill a player. He’s so good a player that, even with back issues, he’s able to pitch outstandingly, but I worry that we’re at or near the end of the peak Kershaw-era. Hope I’m wrong.
Q: Are you proud or ashamed that your children continue to own you?
A: For those who don’t follow on Twitter, I frequently post text conversations between my kids and I which tend to show them getting the best of me in verbal combat and negotiation. I do this mostly as a backdoor means of bragging about how smart my kids are and to, maybe, convince someone at Netflix or Amazon or something that I should be given a sitcom deal for a show about a 40s-something dad dealing with two sassy, plugged-in Gen-Z kids. Seriously, my text history would write like 25 episodes before we had to even come up with something new. It’s easy money. Call me, Jeff Bezos.
Q: Do you ever see someone starting a USFL- or XFL-style league to compete with MLB? What would an XFL-style baseball even look like?
A: Never. There just isn’t immediate money to be made with it. Football is a national TV sport and if you can get someone to give you a slate of 10 or 12 weeks of programming, you have your league. People watch baseball for their own, local team and more specifically, they watch it for their own familiar local team. Player continuity matters and, if there is not player continuity due to a rebuild or whatever, there are at least the trappings of familiar uniforms, the ballpark and the announcers. I doubt people would turn in for some totally novel and random team with which they have no previous attachment whatsoever.
Say they did, though. Even then, I think the product would be bad. In football or basketball, teams play directly against one another, constantly, so if you have evenly-matched teams, you at least can create the partial illusion of a good product. You don’t get laser-beam 45-yard throws, but it’s man vs. man. In baseball, there is an objective opponent in terms of velocity and distances to the fences and stuff. Two bad baseball teams can face each other, but if they aren’t up to a threshold where someone can hit a ball 400 feet or throw a curve ball that curves, it’s going to look like a joke. So, even if they bought the aesthetic, no one would buy the product. I doubt it could ever happen.
Q: What’s the farthest in the future you can buy a single-year calendar, right now?
A: People still buy calendars?
Q: Do you have any interest in the World Cup? Will you be checking it out?
A: I’ve watched individual World Cup matches in the past, but mostly for the U.S. team because I’m a mark for the hype every four years. That’s not going to be an option this time, so we’ll see. Beyond the World Cup, I haven’t really gotten into soccer much in my life, but I enjoy a match whenever I watch one, so maybe I should. I dunno. They’re taking away my local MLS team, but I’ve not been to too many of their matches as it is, so that’s no big loss. I could adopt an EPL club, but even an Anglophile like me thinks that’s rather affected. That aside, how do you pick one? My great grandmother was born in West Bromwich, but (a) that club is said to be boring as hell; and (b) they just got relegated. I worry I’m too old to get into something new. The future frightens and confuses me.
Q: Give me your Mount Rushmore of Fictional Baseball Catchers.
A: Dottie Hinson, Crash Davis, Jake Taylor and Engleberg. Not sure there are any other answers to this.
Q: I assume you have thoughts on the way Trump has chosen to use his pardon powers. Considering there are probably tens of thousands (or more) people in America that may be deserving of pardons that will never be considered for one, how would you change things?
A: The pardon power is plenary, so even if it annoys me that he’s pardoning jackwagons like Dinesh D’Souza, there’s not much that can be done about it. Sure, I’d like him to pardon more worthy people — The A-Team, Carmen Sandiego, Bugs Meany, etc. — but Trump is going to Trump. Part of me thinks he’s trying to establish a pattern in which he pardons people convicted of campaign violations like D’Souza or lying to investigators like Martha Stewart in order to provide cover when he later pardons everyone Mueller indicts in order to protect himself. That would require some strategy and a sense of shame that would need to be protected, however, and Trump has never really been big on those things. I think he’s mostly doing it for the yuks, which to be fair, is better than most things that motivate him. As for changing things: this is another one of those things that we just have to endure and wait until an election or two.
Q: What is the correct term to use when describing a caffeinated beverage like a Pepsi and why: pop, soda, soda pop, soft drink or Coke (if you’re Southern)?
A: “Soda.” Pop sounds childish. I grew up around “pop” people in Michigan and they all say it like “pahp” and it sounds like something you say to a baby. “Soda pop” is too long. “Coke” is confusing as it’s a name brand. No one has ever asked for a “soft drink.” That’s a word invented for menus. Well, maybe some super-affected Brooklyn hipster has said “I would like a soft drink,” over-enunciating every word before getting a small batch root beer, but no one real does that. There is no other reasonable option than “soda” and I judge anyone who says it any other way.
Q: Why was Vincent Vega so rude to Butch at the bar in Pulp Fiction? Did he just not like him as a boxer? Did he know he was taking a dive? He called him “palooka” and “punchy” so he obviously knew who he was. If he was nicer, would Butch not killed him in the bathroom?
A: Vincent Vega was a violent man, but a man of ethics. “You don not f— with another man’s vehicle, it’s against the rules,” he said. His whole bit with Mia was driven in large part by his fear of Marsellus Wallace, yes, but it was driven, more, I think, by his knowing that messing around with a married woman was just wrong. He was angry — “on general principal” — that Jules gave Pumpkin the $1,500 in his wallet in the coffee shop robbery. The man had a code. That code, I suspect, included not taking dives in fights, and as he knew Butch was planning on taking a dive, he had zero respect for him. I’m not sure if greater respect in that instance would’ve saved his life — Butch was running for his life when he encountered Vincent in his apartment and killing him was the smart play — but it’s a question worth asking.
Q: What are your favorite TV shows, on right now?
A: I don’t watch a ton of TV. “The Americans” was one until its finale the other day, so I guess it doesn’t count anymore. I think “Better Call Saul” is the best show on TV and has been for a couple of years. I like “Atlanta” a lot, but I’m only a couple of eps into the second season. Really, though, I just don’t keep up with most current TV. My wife and I are binging “The Office” right now (Pam just had her baby!) if that tells you how I roll, TV wise.
Q: What is the most fulfilling way, in your opinion, to be a sports fan?
A: With the obvious caveat that everyone should do whatever makes them the most happy, my personal view is that enjoying sports as a diversion and not getting too emotionally invested is the best bet. I’ve been that super emotionally invested fan in the past — of baseball and college football, mostly — but over time it just began to feel negative and I had to ask myself why I was watching something that caused me to be angry or upset so much of the time. I took a small step back — temporarily from baseball in the late 1990s and, permanently, it seems, from college football around 2010 or so — and reevaluated how I want to spend my days and my nights and my free time and how I wanted to feel during those times. The result is where I am as a fan now: I enjoy baseball and if I stop enjoying it, I turn it off, because dammit, it’s supposed to be enjoyable. Everyone else’s mileage may vary on this, but it’s what works with my temperament and mental health the best.
Q: You are tasked with making an MLB all time team, but a decade can only be used once. So, choosing Koufax as your starter would eliminate either the 1950s or 60s, your choice. What would your 9-player lineup look like?
A: WOW that’s a good question. I hate to punt here, but I may use this as a post idea at a later date. In the meantime, no, I would not choose Koufax, because that would possibly cause me to miss out on Willie Mays (depending on how I do the decades) and/or Joe Morgan and I don’t think I can do that. I’ll put a pin in this one and get back to it, though.
Q: Do you have a favorite food that was something your mother said was her go-to food when she was pregnant with you?
A: I don’t. I was born in the 70s, so I’m pretty sure my mom survived on cigarettes, processed cheese and Diet Rite when she was pregnant with me. My ex-wife lived on Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup when she was pregnant with my daughter, though, and my daughter love, love, loves that stuff. She lived on milkshakes when my son was on the way and my son loves milkshakes. That may not be as important, though, because who doesn’t love milkshakes? What was the question?
Q: Have you ever eaten a Nolan Ryan hot dog, and why are they so bad?
A: When my parents were full-time RV retirees a few years back they would winter in Texas and one year my dad sent me a big crate of Nolan Ryan meat products. Most were mediocre. I don’t even remember the hot dogs. Like so many things surrounding Nolan Ryan, it was overrated.
Q: Laurel or Yanny?
A: I was on vacation when this hit and I missed it because I tried to stay offline more than I usually do. When I got back home I asked my kids what the deal was with the “Laurel or Yanny” stuff and they just laughed at me for being so behind the curve and out of touch. I was so chastened that I never went back to check for myself. Maybe I will this afternoon. In other news, the dress was blue.
Q: I’ve wondered for a while if the 2-term limit should be expanded to more elected positions. Career politicians are awful.
A: I live in a term limit state. Term limits are stupid and terrible and make for really bad government. Everyone is always scamming for their next job or they view government as a stepladder into private sector riches. Lobbyists retain all of the expertise and advantage and write laws and own legislators way more effectively than they do in non-term limit states and the lack of institutional memory makes legislative bodies dumber and saps them of good leadership and wisdom. This is not me on a soap box. I have watched this happen in my state over the past 20 years. It’s quite tangible and it’s very bad. Elections — as long as they are fair — are term limits. If people want to elect someone for 20 years, let them. If you’e afraid of a 20-year politician, push for stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reform.
Q: Do you think MLB should put limits on the shift? Like, not allowing the SS or 2B to cross to the other side of second base before the pitch is thrown?
A: No. Just as elections are term limits, hits the other way or elevating the ball beats shifts. Let ’em play how they want to play.
Q: What’s wrong with white people? I’m serious. I followed all the rules–born in the USA, got the college degrees, the good job, had the two kids, go to church–and white people are still a-holes and make me feel like I don’t belong here. What’s wrong with you?
A: Tribalism and racism and the belief that, because we grabbed power in the past, that power was (a) 100% legitimately grabbed; and (b) we are entitled to have power forever and always, without challenge. It’s sick, obviously. Fear too plays a part. As our society has become more democratic, in fits and starts anyway, white people — and men and straight people and anyone else in power — have begun to fear that, if other people gain power, they will take things away from us. That’s sick too, because that fear comes from a mindset which holds that the empowerment of others means that you yourself will be harmed (we believe that, I suspect, because we used our power in the past to harm people and assume everyone else will do it too).
I wish I had some answer about how to deal with all of that, but the last thing our society needs is for some white dude to opine about how to fix the problems caused mostly by white dudes running things. Elect women. Elect people of color. Elect gay people. When they show those of us who have traditionally held power that wielding power does not require the subjugation of others, it will finally dawn on us how bad we cocked if up for the past several centuries and maybe then we can move forward.
Thanks for the questions, y’all. Let’s do this again soon.