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Twitter Mailbag: Sign-stealing; Derek Jeter; Charles Foster Kane

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Until Rob Manfred’s announcement that he planned to scapegoat the Astros in the sign-stealing thing, yesterday was the first truly slow as all get-out news day of the offseason. As such, I asked people on Twitter to ask me questions. And then I proceeded to answer them, many of which had to do with the sign-stealing stuff.

Then Manfred made his comments and many of my answers — a lot of which praised MLB for saying last week that they’d take a deliberate and wide-ranging approach to this scandal and some of which chastened Astros fans for whining about how their team was being singled out — were mooted.

So, I started over early this morning and tried again. And took some extra time to answer more questions than I usually do. Always look on the bright side of life. Even when that leads to like 6,500 words worth of questions and answers.

Let’s go:

 

Q: How big will the sign stealing stuff get?

A: By all rights it should be gettin much bigger, but given Manfred’s words yesterday, Major League Baseball seems content to turn a blind eye to anything not perpetrated by the Houston Astros and then declare victory some time before Christmas. You could call it a coverup, but MLB doesn’t even seem content to dig now.

In a sane universe, however, this would be huge. The Astros’ part of this is increasingly looking like a front office-orchestrated plan rather than some over-competitive players going rogue, and Major League Baseball cannot let that kind of thing pass lest fans start to call the competitive integrity of the game into question. Baseball, of course, is a copycat league so it’s as naive as naive can be to think that there are not other teams doing this too, even if it’s plausible that the Astros are the most egregious given their reputation for being among the first clubs to press the cutting edge. But like I said: MLB is gonna play Sgt. Shultz with this.

 

Q: In your belief what is a suitable penalty for Houston if MLB proves that the Astros were cheating via electronic use to steal signs?

A: Based on what we’ve heard so far I suspect we’ll find that Houston was doing that. There’s already multiple people with knowledge of it talking to the league. I think the bigger question will be how organized it was, who led the efforts, was it coordinated with the highest front office officials, and that sort of thing. If it’s found that this was a top-down kind of operation, I think the Astros and any other team who is found to have done similar things will lose draft picks and bonus pool money, which is, frankly, what baseball operations departments hold most dear. I also think the club itself will be fined and that top executives involved in it all may be suspended for a time, not unlike the way Padres GM A.J. Preller was suspended for hiding player medical reports back in 2016.

The talk I’ve seen some fans engage in regarding forfeiting wins or championships or whatever seems silly to me. Baseball doesn’t operate like the NCAA and never has. And that’s a good thing. You can’t just legislate history away and expect people to pretend that that which happened did not happen. If a team won something due to cheating, it’s better to contextualize the win with history and reporting rather than just wish it all away as if it were fantasy.

 

Q: Given what we already know about the Astros, would the media be making as big a deal about it if it were the Red Sox doing it? Because they treat the Boston cheating of 2003 to the present as if it never happened.

A: Yes. Indeed, I think they’d be making an even bigger deal. Same with the Yankees or Cubs or Dodgers. Like anything else, the size of the deal they’d make of it is pretty much commensurate with the size of the deal other sorts of news that is normally made when teams with a certain market size, media contingent size, fame, and all of that is involved. If the Red Sox make a big trade it’s almost always bigger news than if the Astros do because, well, it’s Boston. If the Red Sox are found to have cheated at the same level and with the same sophistication the Astros are accused of doing, it’d make just as big if not bigger news. That’s how this always works.

But again: Major League Baseball is, apparently, not interested in finding out if the Red Sox are doing that. Or any other team. Sorry I keep going back to that, but it’s frankly astonishing to me.

That being said, can we stipulate one thing: the fact that the Astros are, apparently, being singled out here does not mean that they are innocent of that which they are accused. It’s quite possible to be singled out but to also be guilty. MLB’s seeming plan of pretending that the Astros are the only team to have done this does not absolve the Astros for doing this, OK?

 

Q: Any truth to the report that the trash can the Astros were banging was actually Phil Rivers?

A: Rivers is one of the increasingly rare current players who was active in college football back when I was a college football obsessive (see the question about my college football fandom down the page). Beyond knowing that and the very broad arc of his pro career that is hard to ignore by being a general sports fan, however, I cannot comment on this question. I’m sure some of you have thoughts, however.

 

Q: What are the chances Jeter is the only BBWAA inductee in 2020?

A: I think it’s a very, very good chance that it’ll only be Jeter from that group, but that we will probably get a couple from the Modern Baseball Era Committee. We’ll break all the candidates down before the vote is announced — Bill did Bobby Abreu the other day — but really, other than Jeter, the candidates are either compromised by PED associations like Bonds, Clemens, Manny, Sosa and Giambi, have unique personal liabilities like Schilling, have too much ground to make up in only one year like Larry Walker, or simply don’t have a Hall of Fame resume.

 

Q: Why are we getting so many “hot takes” about Jester’s defensive capabilities?

A: Anyone who has been arguing about baseball online as long as I have knows that arguments about how good Derek Jeter really is — or how bad he actually is, etc. etc. — have been around since the guy broke into the bigs. It’s almost all perception and framing, of course. There are some, especially in the New York press, who spent nearly 20 years giving him so many tongue baths that they unreasonably overrated him. There are some, either because they rooted for rivals or reacted negatively to the media tongue baths, who unfairly underrated him. There are analysts who pointed out that, objectively, Jeter was not as good as those who were devoted to traditional stats liked to say he was. There are analysts who got a bit too locked in on his faults that they didn’t really appreciate his all around game or the fact that, whatever the numbers said specifically, he was an outstanding player, people loved him and he was a great ambassador for the game. At some point it feels almost political.

In a Hall of Fame season that, per the previous question, isn’t gonna have a lot of actual news, people are going to spend a lot of time litigating and re-litigating Derek Jeter’s pros and cons. The defense was one of the obvious cons — he was sure-handed but he truly was a limited defensive shortstop for most of his career — so here we are.

My personal preference is to acknowledge that Jeter was a great player, even if some overrated him, note that he is a lock to go in, note that he deserves it and try to avoid all the dumb stuff that surrounds Jeter arguments in general because we’ve all spent far too much time on it over the past 20-some years.

 

Q: What topic generates the most “stick to sports” responses for you?

A: Domestic violence stories or stories in which players or coaches are involved in incidents with racist, sexist or homophobic overtones. Certain people simply don’t want to hear about that for whatever reason and, despite the fact it involves players and impacts sports — often directly if there are suspensions or discipline involved — they want to pretend it doesn’t so they yell “stick to sports,” even on straight news stories about such things. Certain readers also don’t want Bill or I to write about sports figures who inject themselves into politics. They don’t mind the politics itself — if a player used a postgame interview to shout “VOTE FOR TRUMP!” or if one vows to run for office himself they’ll let it pass — but they are APPALLED if we write about it. As if we’re supposed to ignore that stuff.

 

Q: What was it like having the Braves lose to the Cardinals in the NLDS?

A: About the same as having the Braves lose every postseason series they’ve lost in the many, many, many years since they last won one. It sucks, but life goes on. If you can’t take that view of things God help you. Never be that sports fan whose mood is unduly affected by bad outcomes or unduly dependent on good ones. It’s just sports.

 

Q: What do you think happens when the current MLB collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season? Strike? Fairly status quo agreement? New agreement that includes significant changes?

A: At this point I think a work stoppage is more likely than not.

Given the state of the business of the game right now, the players should be seeking a large-scale reworking of the very basics of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. To wit:

  • They need to rework rules about arbitration eligibility and free agency to reflect the realities of where player value is these days;
  • They need to claw back vast swaths of what the clubs now considers non-baseball revenue such as money from real estate developments next to ballparks, side business ventures, and things like that, most of which does not exist if players’ labor is not used as a selling point for it (e.g. no one is going to that shiny new sports bar in the entertainment district next to the stadium if no games are going on there);
  • The players also need to eliminate the Competitive Balance Tax — or greatly increase the threshold — given that it’s now a defacto salary cap; and
  • They need to get rid of qualifying offers, which severely impact the value of top free agents which, in turn, trickles down to mid and low-level free agents.

NONE of these things are desired by owners, obviously, and the players have very little of real value they can simply exchange for even one of these, I don’t suspect.

Unless they strike, that is. Or unless they communicate an extraordinarily credible threat that they will strike if the owners don’t back down on some of this. That’s ultimately the only power the players truly have, at least to obtain anything of actual value as opposed to little things like creature comforts in the clubhouse or schedule modifications or what have you.

I strongly suspect the MLBPA is well aware of this and I strongly suspect that they are doing what they can to prepare the players for the need to do walk out. Whether the owners think they will actually do it is the key question between now and 2021.

 

Q: What are your favorite daily, go-to bourbons versus something for a special occasion?

A: I buy a great deal of Evan Williams black label for daily drinking. It’s a cheap but solid middle-of-the-mash-bill bourbon that I am not ashamed to serve to guests and anyone who argues otherwise is being a snob. Another everyday pour for me: Old Grandad Bonded. It’s a bit spicier as it’s a high-rye bourbon that, since it is bonded, is 100 proof, so it’s something of an acquired taste for many. Thankfully, I have long since acquired said taste.

 

Q: Who are some of your favorite sports writers and why?

A: Almost all of my sports reading is baseball, so let’s go with that. Also, I’ve spent thousands of words talking about people like Bill James, Rob Neyer, Roger Angell, and people like that, so I won’t go over them again, even though they are still favorites of mine. Let’s talk about people I haven’t talked much about.

In no particular order and, yes, I am leaving tons of people out. There are dozens I love and I just don’t have time for them all given how big this column is already:

  • Grant Brisbee, The Athletic: He’s funny, obviously, but his humor almost always works to make you comfortable in away that makes you way more susceptible to some truly deep and often non-conventional points he makes;
  • Marc Carig, The Athletic: There are a lot of national-level reporters who, over time, slide into a role of being defacto Defenders of the League. Maybe it’s intentional (i.e. they serve that role in exchange for great access). Maybe it’s accidental (i.e. proximity to power makes them more sympathetic to power). I don’t really know how it works, but I know it when I see it. Marc, who was an excellent beat writer and who is now an excellent national columnist/reporter type, is not one of those guys. If he sussed out a big story that would make the league look bad tomorrow, I would not worry about him being overly-deferential to power for a nanosecond. He’d be professional and he’d report the hell out of the story, but he’d let the story lead, not the power politics of it all. Without naming names, I can’t say I feel the same way about a lot of other guys at the national level.
  • Andy McCullough, The Athletic: I know that’s three straight Athletic writers, but I came to all of their work before they were there. It’s just that The Athletic gobbled them all up over the past couple of years. McCullough is a prime example in that the work of his I’ve admired the most — and what really made him a big star — was his amazing deadline work during multiple postseasons writing for the Kansas City Star and then the Los Angeles Times. If there was a big game tonight and I needed one reporter to give me a couple thousand fantastic words that reports the facts, contextualizes the facts and gives me some beautiful damn prose, all before, say, 1AM, it’d be McCullough.
  • Hannah Keyser, Yahoo: She’s been around awhile, writing at Deadspin and Vice — and she does a lot of video for Yahoo — but her columns this past year brought a freshness that baseball often lacks. She alternates between light and serious deftly. I mentioned it with Brisbee above, but it’s amazing how few writers are able to do that, actually. Everyone is either Newsy McNewsy or Jokey McJokester and rarely anything in between. Keyser can interview some ridiculous superfan and make a fun story out of it and then she could turn on a dime and do 1,000 words on a serious topic, illuminating said topic while also injecting the proper amount of editorial voice into it with a clear position of her own. It’s harder than you think and she does it well. 
  • Lindsey Adler, The Athletic: She also used to be at Deadspin and now is The Athletic’s Yankees beat writer.  She’s a breath of fresh air in that role, as she is not some lifelong New Yorker who thinks the world begins and ends east of the Hudson. And that matters even if you’re not a Yankees fan because so much baseball news comes out of New York and so many New York reporters are, for lack of a better word, provincial and, sometimes, willfully ignorant of the larger baseball world. Lindsey doesn’t do that. She’s fully cognizant of the vast amount of stuff a New York writer needs to know to do the job but she brings a welcome perspective and a calmness to her work that you don’t often get on the often ridiculous New York beat. There’s no overwrought drama, hysterics, or reliance on cliche in her work like there is with so many people who cover the New York teams. Her humor is also more my speed: dry and droll, as opposed to the tortured puns and seltzer-down-the-trousers obviousness of so many New York writers.

I could go on for a long, long time, but those are the ones that leapt out of my head at this particular moment.

 

Q: Who among the big free agents will be the first to sign?

A: As I was writing this post we got news that Stephen Strasburg might be the first, and that he might re-sign with the Nationals in the next week or two. Guess we’ll see. Wouldn’t shock me.

 

Q: When’s the podcast on The Comrades of Summer?

A: In case you’re unfamiliar with that film. I have never seen it. Now I really wanna. I need to seek it out.

This question, by the way, was likely asked because on Monday I appeared on a podcast talking about the greatest baseball movie most of you have likely never seen: the 1987 HBO original, “Long Gone,” about the fictional 1957 Tampico Stogies of the Florida-Alabama league. It’s fantastic and it’s not an easy movie to find. If you wanna hear me talk about it, go give it a listen.

 

Q: Why doesn’t major league baseball invest in college baseball? Spending money up front in lower amounts in terms of scholarships and then investing in contracts for the excelling players?

A: The only reason the NFL and NBA rely on colleges for their developmental systems is because college sports are free to those leagues. They pay nary a nickel for big time college football or basketball. The colleges and/or the taxpayers do. The only reason that system exists on such a high-profile level is because college football and basketball are big money-generating sports that command their own TV deals and stuff. College baseball has simply never worked that way. Even the best college baseball programs don’t provide full scholarships for the entire team and no school or conference has a big TV contract like you see in football and basketball. The answer to so many “Why doesn’t baseball . . .?” questions is “there is no money in it for them.” Same goes here.

All that aside: between caps on bonuses to draftees and the sub-poverty-level salaries minor leaguers are paid, baseball is getting players into the talent pool now at a rate far cheaper, on the whole, and with more control over player development, than if they subsidized college baseball and left it up to them.

 

Q: Why do the people in charge of baseball hate baseball so much?

A: This is something people have long said whenever the powers that be have done something they don’t personally care for like, say, adding the DH or expanding the playoffs. I’ve usually discounted such criticisms. Bowie Kuhn didn’t hate baseball, I don’t think. He just wanted it to always be like it was when he was a kid and had no ability to help it evolve even if he wanted it to. Bud Selig doesn’t hate baseball. He actually loves it a lot and that’s pretty apparent, even if you don’t like what he was doing and even if his love for baseball doesn’t excuse some of his many, many bad decisions.

But I have recently started to wonder if Rob Manfred and those currently in charge of the game actually do like baseball. So many of their proposals — most notably the recent one to eliminate more than 40 minor league teams, but also the decisions about when and where games will air on television — seem geared toward giving us less baseball or making baseball harder to see. Their rules changes seem arbitrary and divorced from the notion of enhancing quality of play. Manfred’s predecessors were all over the map and sometimes had harebrained ideas, but Manfred’s work has always — always — had generating more money for the owners as its common denominator. And, unlike some of his predecessors, he rarely provides anything approaching convincing lip service that there is a benefit for fans to be had.

I think a lot of past commissioners and owners were greedy and cynical and often had no idea what they were really doing. Manfred and his cohort, in contrast, are extraordinarily competent and seemingly laser-focused on the bottom line. I can find room for “love of baseball” in the old guard’s brand of chaos. I often find a lot of room for that in the current group’s. They’re far too laser-focused on making money. I could just as easily see them running a hedge fund or a pharmaceutical company as a baseball league.

 

Q: Most impressive pitching position players you’ve seen?

A: Adam Dunn. Yep, he pitched. Not saying his actual pitching was impressive. Just that it was an impressive all-around experience to watch him pitch. Keeping in mind that a person can be impressed by something that is less-than-excellence.

 

Q: Was is difficult abandoning college football fandom, from a social perspective? With friends expecting you to care or be on top of the news.

A: I’ve mentioned this here before, but I was a huge college football fan until about 2011 or 2012. Ohio State was my team (I graduated from there in 1995), but I’d spend all day Saturday watching games from all around the country. I truly, truly loved it for most of my life.

But then I stopped. Not because I ceased to enjoy the games — they are often great fun, in ways the NFL has never been fun — largely because I just couldn’t reconcile the rampant exploitation of the athletes toiling for my enjoyment and said enjoyment. Over time I became increasingly critical of the way the NCAA and big schools — Ohio State most definitely included — operate. It just became too much. There wasn’t a specific day when I said “no, I can’t do this,” but stuff happened in my life that caused me to miss a lot of college football one season and . . . I found myself not missing it and not feeling compelled to return to it given the increasingly dark cloud which surrounded it in my mind.

But it wasn’t difficult, really. In part, because there were two other things that happened around that time that made the difficulty implied in the question far less of an issue for me. First, I quit working at an office in Columbus in November of 2009 to take this job and when you don’t have an office to go to every day you don’t have anywhere near the obligation to keep up on current stuff like Ohio State football that dominates the conversation in a town like this one. My cats don’t care if I saw the game on Saturday. There is now water cooler or break room in which people congregate to talk about it all.

The second thing was that my marriage fell apart in mid-to-late 2011 and I got divorced in early 2012. As anyone who knows how that goes, you often end up having a big rearrangement of your friend group when that happens. I ended up drifting away from a great many of my local friends — most of whom are college football fans — and my new friend group was not into that stuff at all, primarily because my new fried group consisted of people I met online who weren’t from around here. For example, my new girlfriend (now wife), was living over 1,000 miles away at the time and didn’t give a rat’s butt about Ohio State football. Same with the people I was meeting via baseball writing. It was pretty easy, then, to just drift out of it.

I’m not sure how that would’ve worked if all that wasn’t happening in a short period of time. It can be hard not to be plugged into the Buckeyes in this town. Or the Wolverines in Michigan. Or the Crimson Tide in Alabama. But my life just sort of worked out in a way that insulated me from most of that kind of stuff.

 

Q: When do the Mariners make the playoffs and/or World Series in your view?

A: Mid-2020s at the absolute earliest. Maybe longer. At the moment there simply isn’t the kind of talent in that organization that makes me think they have anything approaching a quick turnaround in their future.

 

Q: Best Phish show at Fenway?

A: Imagine liking jam bands. Wow.

 

Q: What is the single biggest negative issue facing baseball, and how can it be fixed?

A: Front offices simply don’t seem to care about winning as much as they care about turning a profit. That tension has always existed, of course, but unlike in the past, there is a general sense that teams today simply don’t think it’s worth spending more for the chance at winning, alleviating that tension, sadly. If you can win within a strict set of parameters, well, cool. But no one wants to push the parameters even a little. There’s no percentage in it. You can make more money finishing in second place than first and you won’t take a financial hit by a drop in attendance.

I don’t know how to fix that. But I do know that if the people who run a sport do not think winning the sport’s championship is a thing worth seriously pursuing, the sport has a major, major problem.

 

Q: Bigger threat to baseball? Shutting down over 40 minor league teams or pace of play?

A: Shutting down the minor league teams. Millions of people became baseball fans by watching local baseball when they were kids. I have no idea why Major League Baseball thinks that less baseball is better, or that withdrawing its product from dozens of markets is good for the game in the long run, but I guess they’re too focused on the bottom line.

 

Q: Does Yoenis Céspedes ever play major league baseball again?

A: There was a report that Céspedes is beginning baseball activities this month. If that’s true — and it sounds kinda like P.R. spin from his agents in the wake of recent reports that he’s a long way away from playing —  I think he plays part of the season for the Mets this year since he’s under contract. The Mets don’t tend to get the concept of sunk costs, so they’ll at least try to get something out of him. Unless he comes back at full strength, however, and shows that he can still be an offensive force, no one is gonna sign him in 2021. His days as a useful defensive player are likely long in the past and no one is going to sign him as a DH-only guy unless he can show that he can still smack 30 homers or whatever.

 

Q: Give a Top 5 of your favorite mustaches in the game, past or present. We all love lists.

A: Al Hrabosky, Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich, Wade Boggs, Steve Balboni.

Generally, though, mustaches are bad. Most baseball mustaches look like cop mustaches. And don’t get me started on the beards. We’re a good give years past the point when that was cute.

 

Q: Do Strasburg or Cole sign for over $300M?

A: I can’t see it. I can’t see any team going $300 million on a pitcher given the injury risk and general cheapness of front offices of the era. Mid-200s, yes, sure, I can see Cole getting that. But I don’t think either of these guys break $300M.

 

Q: If you could ban one in-stadium gimmick (wave, kiss cam, Ric Flair woo, Yankees’ strikeout whistle etc) what would it be?

A: “EV-RY-BO-DY CLAP YOUR HANDS!”

Now you’ve got that in your head all day. You’re welcome.

 

Q: Does Albert Belle belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

A:  I wrote up a long thing about Belle’s Hall of Fame case last year and you can read it here. Short version: I have gone back and forth on Belle over the years. He was an amazing player in his prime. One of the best sluggers the game has seen, in fact. But his career was too short due to injury. And because he was a total jackass — like a criminal jackass, not just an unlikable guy — I don’t think anyone will give him the kind of break some other short career Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax or whoever got. No one will shed tears for Belle being on the outside looking in.

 

Q: The Sandlot and Rookie of the Year are both available to stream on Disney+. Which film of the two do you think is the better baseball movie and why?

A: This was asked by a person who works for ESPN. Gotta love corporate synergy. But hey, as a fellow employee of a corporate conglomerate, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing if my particular corporate overlords ordered me to. Cross promotion is not a war crime and we all gotta eat. Anyway.

Neither of these films are great, exactly. Some say “The Sandlot” is a classic, but I think people who say it’s one of the best baseball movies ever are suffering from some nostalgia-induced amnesia. But it’s probably better than “Rookie of the Year.” I tend not to need or want sci-fi or magic or whatever to drive the plot of a baseball movie. That said, I haven’t seen either in many, many years so I reserve the right to change my mind if I have occasion to rewatch either of them any time soon.

 

Q: If Trump were a sports figure past or present, who would he be?

A: Tim Tebow. A whole lot of people are unnaturally and emotionally invested in him being something special when, in fact, he’s objectively horrible at the jobs he’s been given. What’s more, when you suggest that he’s bad at what he does despite ample evidence to support it, people think it’s controversial and accuse you of unfair bias or worse. You can point to 1,000 pieces of objective evidence which, in fact, show how awful he is at the specific tasks he has been given, yet that is ignored due to a creepy and almost cultish devotion to this obviously unqualified figure.

And yet he continues to fail upward and upward. It’s amazing, really.

 

Q: Exactly what is Ben Cherington going to bring to the Pirates except possibly some thrilling battles for 4th in the NL Central?

A: A whole lot of high-minded talk — replete with business school verbiage — which makes “we’re not going to pay for good players because that would cut into the owners’ bottom line” sound far more fancy and compelling that it really is. Yesterday’s  phrase to that effect: the Pirates aren’t “rebuilding.” They’re “pursuing winning.” Ok, chief.

 

Q: Best ballpark food item you’ve tried?

A: the Tri Tip beef sandwich from the Seaside Market stand at Petco Park. People out in San Diego call it “Cardiff Crack” because Seaside Market’s original location is in Cardiff by the Sea, California.  Petco Park food is the best in the majors, bar none. Citi Field is second.

 

Q: Why do you think we haven’t seen more stories uncovering sexual misconduct and efforts to conceal it, a la Kapler? I’ve spent time in a MiLB clubhouse and it’s one of the most toxically masculine environments I’ve encountered, so I doubt the answer is “there’s nothing to find.”

A: I would guess it’s because baseball teams and baseball front offices are actually quite small and tight-knit operations. Jobs are very hard to get and very easy to lose and if you are considered disloyal or a boat-rocker, your career will end before it ever begins and you will never get another job in the game.

I’m not saying that teams actively pressure people to keep things like that quiet. Indeed, I know of no instance in which that has happened and haven’t heard chatter about it. But I suspect that people in a position to know of sexual misconduct — or a wide variety of other sorts of bad stuff — are loathe to speak up unless they are absolutely compelled to either by their conscience or an inability to avoid doing so.

 

Q: The Phillie Phanatic is the greatest mascot of all-time? what ever happened to the San Diego Chicken?

A: “The San Diego Chickens plane was shot down . . . over the Sea of Japan . . . It spun in . . . there were no survivors.”

Wait, I might be thinking of someone else.

As for the Chicken, this is the best I got. The mascot was owned by its creator, not a team, and he retired.

 

Q: Who’s Elliot Alderson’s MLB equivalent?

A: I have no idea, but if you haven’t watched “Mr. Robot,” dear god, you should. It’s in its last season right now. I watched the latest episode yesterday and it blew me away. Just an astonishing show. Note: you really need to start from Season 1 if you’re not familiar with it but trust me it’s worth it.

 

Q: You’ve often said one of the best movies about lawyering is My Cousin Vinny. What parts stuck out for you in that manner?

A: The “magic grits” cross-examination. In real trial advocacy, you never get a witness to fully recant or admit they’re lying or to say something dramatic that impeaches their testimony. That’s just movie stuff. But you can get them to admit to being mistaken about a seemingly small fact that, in practice, casts their entire reliability into question. Getting the guy to admit that he couldn’t have cooked his grits in five minutes is exactly that kind of thing. And it’s all the better that Joe Pesci didn’t think of it until that morning during his own breakfast. Some of the best stuff lawyers do at trials just sort of . . . occur to them, often at the last minute.

There are lots of other little things in the movie that help it become the best lawyering movie. How they deal with hearsay and stuff, how the judges and the prosecution interact with the defense. It’s all very realistic despite the overall farcical and comedic elements. That’s really the thing about it. It’s the most real example of on-screen trial work you’ll ever see. Almost every other movie takes too many liberties with trials to make them more dramatic. I think “My Cousin Vinny” was able to be realistic because the actors were so damn good that they could make that which is usually boring exciting. Anyway, that realism is part of why my boss used to use clips from the movie when he taught trial advocacy classes and stuff.

 

Q: What meme/catchphrase always makes you laugh no matter how tired it is?

A: Most things in Dril’s back catalog still make me laugh no matter how beaten into the ground they get or no matter how telegraphed the reference to them is. Another one that isn’t really funny as such is “It be like that sometimes.” My daughter has been saying that for over a year now and now I say it a lot too. There is a surprising undercurrent of depth and zen to it if you deploy it enough that sort of makes you less angry and dissatisfied with the world. Why argue when, in reality, it just be like that sometimes?

 

Q: Haven’t heard as much designated hitter in NL talk this offseason, thoughts?

A: I think it’s been floated out there by MLB a lot as a means of creating a thing that they can say, in CBA negotiations, they are giving the players in exchange for something else. Given that there are a lot more pressing issues beginning to crowd into the labor conversation I think the DH has been back-burnered as a talking point. I do think, however, that it is inevitably going to be adopted league-wide and I would not be surprised if the universal DH is announced whenever a new CBA is agreed upon.

And, as I have argued many times, I think that’s the right thing to do.

 

Q: What’s your take on the Orioles’ rebuild? Paying any attention to it?

A: I don’t spend enough time thinking about minor league systems to have a supper educated or incisive opinion like someone at Baseball America or Keith Law or someone might have, but my sense is that they’re really far off still. They’re still in the “grab a bunch of Rule 5 guys and see if anyone sticks” phase, which practically means “see if we can find someone we can flip in 2021.” They’re still working on basic things like revamping — and in some cases building from scratch — the analytics, scouting and player development infrastructure. Particularly the international parts of that, which had atrophied pretty badly over the past few years. This is a long rebuild, not a short one. You are unlikely to see significant major league improvement for some time.

 

Q: If you could be granted complete ownership of any MLB team, which would you choose and why? What if you could be named GM (or Senior President of Baseball Operations or whatever the old GM title is now): would it be a different team, and why?

A: The best baseball owners hire good baseball ops folks they can trust, sign checks, answer the phone when the GM calls for big midseason alterations, more substantively check in at the end of every offseason to see if things need to change course or if budgets need to be altered and, otherwise, sit back and enjoys the baseball and their billions. At least that’s how I’d do it.

As such, assessing the team in question is not as important as you might think. Rather, the single most important part of answering your question is to decide where I wanna live and watch baseball with my billions. That answer is, probably, San Diego which, I have mentioned many times in this space, is my favorite city in the country. It’s warm and pleasant and more user-friendly than some other fine cities as far as traffic and all the jazz goes. The ballpark is great and, as I mentioned above, it has great food and beer and stuff. I’d alternate between sitting in my luxury box (it gets chilly some nights in San Diego) and sitting in my on-deck circle-adjacent box seats. I’d be the Fan-in-Chief.  My brother lives there and he could be the Hank Steinbrenner to my Hal, making funny headlines about the team but, ultimately, doing no real harm. I’d get fined so much for doing fan crap that Mark Cuban would look at me and say “damn, Craig, maybe chill a bit.” When people asked about team payroll, I’d give the speech Charles Foster Kane gave about how, if he continued to pour money into his newspaper, he’d go broke in 60 years.

It’d be glorious.

If I had to be a GM? Eh. I don’t wanna be a GM. That job used to sound fun. Now it sounds tedious. I like baseball, not “pursuing winning” or whatever it is they’re tasked with these days.

Always beware of people who sound like they don’t like baseball.

 

Report: Mets sign Brad Brach to one-year, $850,000 contract

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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Mets and free agent reliever Brad Brach have agreed on a one-year deal worth $850,000. The contract includes a player option for the 2021 season with a base salary of $1.25 million and additional performance incentives.

Brach, 33, signed as a free agent with the Cubs this past February. After posting an ugly 6.13 ERA over 39 2/3 innings, the Cubs released him in early August. The Mets picked him up shortly thereafter. Brach’s performance improved, limiting opposing hitters to six runs on 15 hits and three walks with 15 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings through the end of the season.

While Brach will add some much-needed depth to the Mets’ bullpen, his walk rate has been going in the wrong direction for the last three seasons. It went from eight percent in 2016 to 9.5, 9.7, and 12.8 percent from 2017-19. Needless to say the Mets are hoping that trend starts heading in the other direction next season.