It’s a slow, cool rainy morning at the Calcaterra Fortified Compound. I’m in fall mode (i.e. I switched from shorts and flip flops to sweats and slippers) and when I’m in fall mode my brain gets sharper and I’m eager to take on the Big Issues of the Day with greater vigor and earnestness.
Until I do that, though, I decided to answer a bunch of sorta dumb questions from Twitter:
Q: Do the Rays have any real chance of running down 2nd Wildcard/A’s?
A: Eight games back with 20 to play is a tall, tall order, folks. Especially given that the A’s have shown no real sign of faltering. So, I’d say no. Which is not to say that the Rays haven’t had a really fantastic season. They have. In my season preview I had them down for a low-80 win total with the possibility of them doing way worse and and they’re almost there already. Kevin Cash won’t get the Manager of the Year Award I don’t suspect -- I figure Alex Cora or maybe Bob Melvin will -- but if you judge that award by “who does the most with the least” you’d have to consider him strongly.
Q: Is it likely that the blurring between “starter” and “reliever” is going to continue, and, if it does, how might that affect the rest of the game’s ecology?
A: I think there are some limits to it. Even the Rays, who are pioneering this, will run out a good starter when they have one (Hi, Blake Snell). Tampa Bay was no doubt inspired by an idea, but their plans were also necessitated by a lack of traditional starters. That said, yeah, I can see teams disposing of fifth and maybe fourth starters pretty liberally going forward, giving us lovely 15-man bullpens and seven-to-nine pitcher games on the regular. Which, as I argued last week, is not for me, but baseball is not played in order to satisfy my aesthetic tastes. It’s played to win. I think the thing to watch is this offseason, when teams -- having witnessed the Rays’ example -- build their rosters for 2019. I anticipate a lot more competition for free agent relievers, of which there are always many.
Q: Realistic chances of the Marlins being contenders under Derek Jeter’s leadership?
A: Derek Jeter is a year younger than me and guys can run teams into their 70s or whatever, so I feel like “yes, they will contend under Jeter” is fair bet. No one can suck for 30 straight years, right?
Q: I’m about to have a son and am very excited to get him interested in baseball, but am nervous he won’t have the attention span. Do your kids share your interest in baseball and how do you keep them involved if at all?
A: My kids were curious about baseball and watched it a fair bit with me 3-4 years ago but it basically ended. I don’t think it was an attention span thing really as much as it’s a “my kids simply do not watch TV” thing. Everything is online for them. They watch YouTube and play video games and occasionally stream movies and TV shows on Netflix, all on phones and laptops. Unless it’s family movie night or something, they are never, ever in front of a television (by their choice, not by my rules). They have access to my MLB.tv account and for a brief time they watched some Dodgers games in the summer (long story that) but that passed as they developed other interests. If their friends were into baseball and they tried to watch some for social connection reasons they’d be blacked out of Indians and Reds games, so I’m not sure it’d even happen then. I don’t know if they’d ever be big sports fans anyway because, my job notwithstanding, we’re not a very sports-oriented family, but I do think MLB’s product not being super online friendly as opposed to being cable TV friendly is a big issue for a lot of kids.
As for my advice to you: don’t push your kids to like anything. Let ‘em figure it out for themselves.
Q: Following the Phils this season, there have been a lot of “painful,” “gut punch,” “heartbreaking,” etc. losses. What’s the most painful loss you’ve seen, baseball or otherwise?
A: I’d have to say it was Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, when Jim Leyritz hit his famous homer off of Mark Wohlers. That one stuck with me a long damn time and still bugs me sometimes. There aren’t a lot of those, though. My love for baseball is, in no small way, tied up in the fact that, with rare exceptions, one game never matters too much. I enjoy it as a pastime more than I do some high-pitched competition. It’s why I like the regular season better than the postseason, for example. My view on this may be colored by the fact that I attended a big time football college and still live in that big time football college’s town and for years I lived or died and obsessed on every game, as one tends to do when one follows college football. I realized a few years back that that brought me more stress and misery than joy -- even when they won, as they usually did, it had to be by enough points! -- that it just wasn’t freakin’ worth it. If the Braves get into an elimination game I’ll certainly be on the edge of my seat for it, but short of that I’m out of the “allowing sports to make me miserable” game. Everyone’s temperament is different, but if I can’t shake off a sports loss by the time I go to bed, I need to reevaluate my level of emotional investment.
Q: Why did we never get the scene where Captain America wakes up and realizes the Dodgers moved to L.A.?
A: I presume that was the first thing Nick Fury told Cap after he caught him on the street in New York after he broke out of the fake hospital at the end of “The First Avenger.”
Q: Please rank the fan bases of pretty good teams by how entertaining/ridiculous their meltdowns are. I assume my Yankees will take the top spot. Maybe the Cubs.
A: I don’t know if I can rank them because it’s pretty subjective. Yankee fan meltdowns are always over the littlest crap. If you want to see a meltdown over, like, a single pitching change or a lineup decision in a relatively meaningless August game, Yankees fans are your go-to. Cubs fan meltdowns are different. They surround common difficulties that Cubs fans are convinced only happy to their team like, say, rainouts and makeup games. Red Sox fans are, more than any other fan base, influenced by their media environment, so they’re likely to melt down about whatever it is someone from the Globe, the Herald or talk radio has decided is worth melting down over. What I’m saying here is that rankings aren’t really appropriate. It’s more like classification and taxonomy.
Q: What are your five favorite baseball books?
A: In no particular order: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, “Lords of the Realm” by John Helyar, “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” by, um, Bill James, “Veeck as in Wreck” by Bill Veeck, and “The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.” by Robert Coover.
Q: Polls show Andrew Cuomo has a huge lead over Cynthia Nixon heading into the NY democratic primary. Do you think this could be a case of voters partly rejecting another celebrity in office even at a local level or does that have nothing to do with it?
A: I don’t think it’s a referendum on celebrity because, really, Andrew Cuomo’s own resume is essential “political celebrity.” He got elected because people liked his dad and knew his name, full stop. I think Cuomo trouncing Nixon has a lot of factors to it, most of them pretty straightforward. It’s about name recognition. It’s about how the New York primary system is set up to discourage participation and new voters. Like, you had to have registered ages ago, from what I understand. It’s about how, while those of us who spend a lot of time online are SUPER up on lots of issues, the vast majority of people live their lives without thinking about politics every day. When the election approaches they ask themselves “Cuomo still there? Ah, OK.” Even if they might, if forced to weigh in, agree with Nixon on a lot of specific issues.
It’s not just in New York that this occurs. If you argue online about politics all of the time you probably don’t realize that inertia and habit and emotion and stuff like that drive a lot of voters. People have been doing 2016 autopsies for nearly two years now, and a lot of the micro factors they observed are important, but people tend to ignore big obvious ones like “a lot of people decided in 1988 that Donald Trump was rich and successful and a lot of voters decided in 1993 that they didn’t like Hillary Clinton because she was a woman who didn’t know her place and people’s minds don’t really change as much as we like to pretend they do.”
Q: If you could pull a “Being John Malcovich” and see the world from the perspective of any active player, who would you choose? Or, to make it even more interesting, what if you could pick a specific moment in time to revisit, what play and what player?
A: Today I’d like to see it from the perspective of Mike Trout. I’d spend all of my free time making “Trout” say and do things that he never does now, like proclaim himself to be the greatest of all time. To basically be baseball’s Apollo Creed. It’d be interesting to see how the media coverage would go with that.
Q: If Picard was commanding Voyager, would he have gotten the crew home more quickly, or would he have made more archaeological pit-stops, thus stranding them even longer?
A: Confession: while I watched all of “Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine” I gave up on Voyager after the first season. Just couldn’t bring myself to care for whatever reason. So, no, I have no idea what he would’ve done. I do know, however, that if Picard and the Enterprise were in the MCU they would’ve simply beamed Thanos’ gauntlet into the sun or something.
Q: How likely does a strike or lockout seem at this point when the CBA expires?
A: Too early to tell. I don’t think the players want one and I don’t think the owners have anything they want or need so badly as to force one. I do think the players, if they want to get a better CBA next time, have to at least make it seem like they’d strike. If they do not have that as a credible threat, they won’t do well.
Q: Any truth to the rumor that you and Clay Travis are working on an Odd Couple-type sitcom pilot?
A: I’m the sort of person who can talk and debate and generally get on well with people I disagree with quite a bit, but I draw the line at cynical grifters who have decided that making money by playing to the sympathies of racists and misogynists is a smart life choice, so no, that one will not make it to pilot season.
Q: What is your starting lineup of jerks in the MLB 2000-Present?
A: I’ve tried to move away from making those kids of judgments. I mean, I obviously still do -- see my comments about Madison Bumgarner and his case of the red ass in today’s recaps -- but as I’ve been doing this I’ve come to realize that I don’t know ballplayers well enough to make those kinds of judgements. What’s more, you can’t really go on all that’s reported about ballplayers to make those kinds of judgments because ballwriters have a bad habit of portraying guys who give them good quotes and treat them well as good guys and guys who are not media friendly as bad guys. It’s less obvious now than 20 years ago, but they still do it. The most I can say here is that, if you’ve been on the wrong end of an unwritten rules dispute, you’re making my All Jackwagon Team. And I do want to use the term “jackwagon” there, not “jerk,” as, in my mind, it’s a bit softer than “jerk.” You’re a jackwagon if you act in a certain way, but your jackwagondom is basically limited to your actions. “Jerk” seems like a more global character assessment I’m not in a position to make.
Q: How popular were the Counting Crows in the mid-'90s? I’m 29 and pretty much know them as the Mr. Jones and Shrek band, but I see so many Gen Xers talk about them, and the Adam Duritz, in particular, with such reverence that I feel like I’m missing something.
A: Eh, you’re not missing anything. They were certainly popular -- sold tons of records and were on the radio all the time -- and they had a couple of catchy songs, but it wasn’t like you’d run into someone at a party who claimed to be “like, the WORLD’S BIGGEST Counting Crows fan.” People weren’t making life choices based on how they figured Adam Duritz would handle a given situation the way they might with some bigger, deper artist. I feel like Counting Crows fans in the 90s were like fans of the band Boston in the late 70s. There were many, but no one was gonna ride or die for ‘em and once their songs left the radio, no one really thought that much about them. To the extent you hear people talk about them now, it’s more nostalgia than anything. Sort of how the TV show “Friends” remains a big deal for people who remember it from the 90s. It was good and popular enough but pretty disposable-seeming at the time and once it went off the air it immediately stopped being a major part of the culture as it faded into reruns. To the extent people like it even more now, something else -- something emotional -- is probably going on.
Q: NBC has a show called “Manifest” this fall about a plane missing since 2013 reappearing with the crew and passengers not knowing time has passed. What are the odds that the pilot episode includes the line “The Cubs won the World Series?!?!”
A: Given that “Lost” involved a throwaway bit about the folks on the island not realizing the Red Sox had won the 2004 series, I predict that it is 100% likely that “Manifest” makes a reference to the Cubs and, quite possibly, the Philadelphia Eagles’ championships.
Q: Did the performances of Cory Booker and Kamala Harris during the Kavanaugh hearing hurt or improve there chances to be the 2020 nominee?
A: It didn’t matter. The number of people who both (a) paid close attention to their parts in that drama; and (b) formed lasting opinions about their prospects to be president based on that and that alone is pretty small. Harris and Booker backers no doubt liked what they saw and, if one or both of them gain momentum in the runup to 2020, it may play a part in the stories their campaigns tell about them, but I doubt a lot of folks have a new, strong view of them based on that. As I mentioned in the Cuomo-Nixon question above, there are way more people who don’t pay attention to politics on the micro level than there who get super into that stuff.
Q: Who ends up with the better career: Albies or Acuña?
A: Acuña and I don’t think it’ll even be close. Albies is a fun player who’s gonna have a really nice career, but I think Acuña is going to be a beast. Heck, he already is.
Q: The Orioles haven’t developed a starting pitcher that played in an All-Star game (for us) since Mike Mussina (unless you think we “developed” Chris Tillman). Why?
A: I’m sure hardcore Orioles fans and analysts have better ideas than me but it has struck me how little the O’s play in the international market, thereby limiting their talent pool. I’m sure there are a lot of inside reasons beyond that too, but I can’t say I know enough about how pitching is truly developed to say.
Q: Do you think we’ll find out who wrote the op-ed piece last week? If so, is it someone high enough in the administration to be known or, say, a deputy secretary unknown to those outside the beltway?
A: I wrote most of my opinions about the “I’m in the resistance in the Trump administration” thing over at my personal blog, but if I had to guess I’d say that it’s a lower-level person that reporters and Beltway political junkies know but who no one else really does. And I think that when they are discovered -- and they will be, either because they’re caught or because they identify themselves -- they’ll get a book deal and/or speaking engagements galore, which I suspect was the intent. Well, that and trying to distance themselves from the evil, misguided and feckless acts of the Trump administration. Which we should not allow them to do, by the way. If they’re, as they claim, stopping Trump’s worst impulses, why the hell didn’t they stopp the child separation policy and policies allowing for more poisons and asbestos and toxins and crap to be released into the environment from going into effect? Probably because, as the op-ed strongly implied, they love that stuff but just hate that Trump isn’t putting a happy face on it like Republicans have always tried to do in the past. This dude is no hero. He’s a self-serving careerist.
Q: Michael Kopech’s injury seemed inevitable, didn’t it? Kid was throwing hard, max-effort stuff for the majority of his pro career. Assumption by me that he was told by the Sox to bring it down a notch and it’d be easier for him to become more effective and efficient. Then *tear*
A: I don’t know how much of a correlation there is between high velocity, max-effort approaches like Kopech’s and torn ligaments. My sense -- and the sense of many who have studied the matter -- is that there is at least some higher risk, but no one really can say for sure. Guys tore ligaments in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, etc. etc. too, after all. We just didn’t know that’s what they did. They used to just say “they blew out their elbow” or “lost their stuff.” I will say this much, though: I’d like to see a team take more chances with junkballers than they are these days just to see what happens. Maybe the current strike zone doesn’t allow for that -- the lack of inside and outside strikes, in favor of high and low strikes, does not really help Tom Glavine-types as much as power pitchers -- but I’d like to see what happens.
Q: I always want to call him Michael ‘Klopek’ because of the antagonists from The Burbs. What is the most underrated Tom Hanks movie?
A: No one ever talks about “Road to Perdition” these days. That was a great flick and I think Hanks did a great job playing, for once, a not great guy. I mean, yeah, they gave him the “Hit Man With a Heart of Gold” treatment, but he was still a credible tough guy.
Q: What is your favourite baseball statistic (e.g FIP, WAR, Avg, Wins, Saves etc.) and why?
A: As I’ve said many times, I’m not really a stat guy as much as I am a fellow traveller of stat people. Or, as Stephen Goldman of The Infinite Inning Podcast famously called himself, “a member of sabermetrics’ liberal arts wing.” My sensibility is in keeping with the statheads, but I am, relatively speaking, a stats moron. I find FIP to be a handy reference when I’m trying to differentiate between pitchers. Mostly, though, I keep it pretty basic. I’m an OBP guy when it comes to hitters, looking there first and then at slugging. With pitchers I’m often looking at K/BB ratio and how efficient they are. I’m sort of a statistical mess, but I get by.
Q: With the assumption that something is off with baseball today, what year or narrow window was baseball closest to perfect?
A: Baseball was always at its most perfect when the person speaking was between the ages of 10-15 years old. As such, baseball was at its best between 1983 and 1988.
Q: Do you think Sherrod Brown should run for president in 2020? Any other potential Dem candidates that you’re particularly excited or unexcited about?
A: Sure. Not because I’m so in love with Ohio’s senior senator as much as I’d like to see someone who is not Bernie Sanders’ age and who does not have Bernie Sanders’ baggage (i.e. the idea that everyone has already made up their minds about him, thereby preventing people from hearing his positions) who argues from a mostly populist/leftist/working class point of view. That said, Brown ain’t exactly young. He’s 65, and I think we could use some non-Baby Boomers running for office. More generally, though: just as I’ve moved away from deciding which players are jerks, I’m moving away from picking politicians based on who they are as opposed to what they advocate. I’m a positions guy, not a personality guy. Fewer stories about where a candidate grew up and whether they’re “plain spoken” or “folksy” and more about what they think about infrastructure spending, tax rates, health care and things like that, please.
Q: Your guess on who will manage the Reds next year? Think they’ll give Larkin or even Paul O’Neill a look?
A: I bet they bring Jim Riggleman back.
Q: Who would you cast in a “Night Court” reboot
A: I will oppose any reboot of “Night Court.” It was perfection. Rebooting “Night Court” would be an affront unto God.
Q: Craig, is baseball dying?
A: The 2018 season is. Just a few weeks until the big tournament, during which we’re asked to forget most of it.
Q: Was Barack Obama a Gen X president? Will there ever be another one?
A: Most sources list 1962 or 1965 as the beginning of Gen-X. Obama was born in 1961. Some sources use that year for Gen-X. It’s confusing. My gut, in terms of what type of person he seems to be, is that he’s among the youngest Boomers as opposed to the oldest Gen-Xers. Borderline cases are hard, of course. You might hear the same song on SiriusXM’s “Classic Rewind” as you do on “Classic Vinyl.” My born-in-1980 wife is technically a Gen-Xer but has more Millennial traits in my view (she strongly denies it, but that’s a topic for another time). You could go either way with her just as I figure you can go either way with Obama. As for more Gen-X presidents: we’re probably going to get skipped over. Given that Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz are Gen-Xers, that’s probably a good thing. Less politically, given my many negative observations about the temperament of Gen-Xers, it’s probably a good thing no matter what the party ID of the person is.
Q: Do you think the Braves should build their pitching staff next year with Mike Foltynewicz as their ace or do you think they need another #1 as their multiple Aces-in-Waiting gain experience?
A:The Braves are going to probably win the NL East this year and should be in contention for the next several years. They should, as such, get as many good-to-great pitchers as they can in any way possible and not be hung up on who’s the “ace” and who’s the “number one starter” or whatever. I’m so old that I remember when they had 3-4 aces every single year, three of whom went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and they still only won one World Series. Folty is on pace to pitch 31 games and 180 innings this year, which is as close to a full load as young-ish starters get these days. They should expect him to do the same next year too. That leaves lots and lots of innings. Atlanta should sign and/or trade for as many good pitchers as makes sense within their current team-building philosophy, with said philosophy being illegitimate unless the club can argue that it will maximize its chances at winning the World Series.
Q: If you could go back to 2012, would you trade Obama’s 2nd term for 8 years of Romney so that it blocked Trump from ever becoming President?
A: No. You can’t play that game. Anyone who has read even moderately deep time travel/time alteration fiction can tell you that you don’t want those butterfly wings to flap. More cosmically speaking, this notion -- losing elections in order to better position oneself for future elections -- drives me nuts. You see political pundits say this stuff all the time, talking about how this or that victory was a pyrrhic one because of how off-year elections go or, even worse, because it allows the minority party to sharpen its attacks without the “burden” of governing. Bull. This is like saying the White Sox are in great position because they’re going to lose 100 games, allowing them to blah blah blah for the future. The idea for a baseball team is to win games. The idea for a political party is to win elections because doing so allows them to craft the nation in the way they think is best. Not winning because it may allow them to win some later is the stuff of columns and TV appearances, not the way of solid political thinking.
If we want to extend that analogy further, we can talk about “rebuilding” political parties, which is a thing (recruiting young talent for lower office, preparing them for higher office later). Many say that Obama serving two terms prevented the Democrats from building their “bench” as it were, which is why we had three 70-year olds dominating the political scene from 2015-2016. Well, no. Just as the White Sox could put a better major league product on the field than it has while rebuilding its system if they wanted to, there is no reason why Democrats couldn’t have been working on their lower rungs while Obama served his two terms. They didn’t -- partially because of Obama, and his choices as the leader of the party -- but it was a failure. A failure that letting Mitt Romney win in 2012 wouldn’t have saved.
Q: Even though the Red Sox are having an historic season, do you think Dombrowski’s inability to upgrade their bullpen will lead to their season ending similarly to the Tigers in ‘13?
A: I don’t think we can make that leap necessarily, especially given that a lot of teams with seemingly bulletproof bullpens will falter in the postseason because that’s just how it works. If there is a worry for Sox fans based on how Dombrowski operated in Detroit it’s that they do, for whatever reason, falter this October and then he overreacts and trades away too much talent for ill-advised, short-term fixes.
Q: If for various reasons all of the likely playoff teams are objectionable to me, is Andrew McCutchen’s awesomeness sufficient to overcome a lifetime of hating the Yankees (for standard $$$/frontrunner reasons) and justify rooting for them to win the World Series?
A: If your favorite team is not in the playoffs I think you can justify rooting for any still-going team if you have a good enough reason. Just stick with your choice.
Q: When doing an all-time MLB team position by position. Is catcher the easiest to write down? To me Johnny Bench is the easiest guy for 1 position.
A: With apologies to Berra and some others, yeah, I think Bench at catcher is the easiest. Not that there aren’t other easy ones. Mike Schmidt at 3B and Willie Mays in CF are also pretty easy too.
That’s all I have time for, folks. Sorry if I didn’t get to your question. We’ll do this in October, as there will be some off days and dead mornings without baseball during the playoffs.