Monthly Archives: July 2007

Mr Thursday and the Hatred of Baseball Players

 

The latest edition of Voodoo Sabermetrics is out; this time, the council takes aim at Barry Lamar Bonds.  It is, in some ways, my favorite issue in the series.  Probably not the funniest or goofiest, and almost certainly filled with the most bile.  There’s just something about it that I enjoy.  For those of you unfamiliar to the series, a brief explanation.  Voodoo Sabermetrics is the genius creation of one Mr The Extrapolater.  The idea behind it, is that baseball has a mountain of statistics to measure the quality of performance by a baseball player.  Almost everything done on the field can be measured and quantified and used to explain the degree to which a player helps his team win baseball games.  However, a .400 OBP or a 9.0 K/9 rate don’t tell us why we love a player.  Or loathe a player, for that matter.  Voodoo Sabermetrics is a modest attempt for a group of enthusiastic baseball obsessives to arbitrarily quantify the qualities that can earn a player the loyalty–or the contempt–of a fan. 

There are a number of categories–I handle Quotability and general Appearance–and Extrapolater handles an introduction and conclusion to the whole piece, tying in the efforts of the various writers to form an overarching statement about the player.  In this week’s intro, he writes: “TC, ever the contrarian, seems to actually like [Barry Bonds].”  Now, I’m not writing to defend or attack this particular statement.  He’s right: I do seem to like Barry, especially in contrast to most other fans.  I just want to see if it makes sense to anyone else why. 

I was, as a child, an enormous fan of the game of baseball.  My father would take my older brother and I to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, and we’d sit in the 700 Level, high above home plate, staring down Mike Schmidt, as his career wound down.  Papa Thursday would tell us about winning the World Series in 1980, and about how the Phils should’ve won a couple more championships in the late 70s.  He’d tell us of the the brutally frustrating teams of the 1960s and the city’s pitching mantra: “Bunning or Short or pray for rain”; of Bunning’s perfect game on Father’s Day; of Richie Allen, swinging the biggest bat in baseball; of the grace and power of Johnny Callison as a young player; the dominance of Steve Carlton’s 1972, not to mention just about every other year, too.  There was so much heritage in baseball, so many stories to be told from days past, that baseball had an organic mythology.  These men who played it, some of them like giants, and some of them, like Schmidt, were very clearly more than a man, if not quite a god. 

In 1993, I was 9 years old, and the Phillies were wild and unbeatable.  The Phillies won their first game on a wonderful pitching performance from Terry Mulholland, putting them in a tie for first place, which they would not relinquish for the rest of the season.  Nearly every player on the team put in a career year.  Lenny Dykstra finally remained healthy for a full season, which lead to 19 homers, 44 doubles, and a league-pacing 143 runs scored.  The now insane Dutch Daulton smacked a couple dozen home runs.  John Kruk, who now sullies the once fine studio of Baseball Tonight, posted a .430 on-base percentage, even though back then, we just called him a “three-hundred hitter”.  Pete Incavliga and Jim Eisenreich patrolled the outfield corners, each with their own, unique brand of insane.  Mickey Morandini played like a second basemen in 1993 was supposed to–namely, he batted .247 and played good defense.  Kevin Stocker was a midseason callup to take over shortstop, and the guy batted well over .300 and, as the baseball writers still staffing the local papers like toe reminesce about, sparked the Phils as they began to lag in July.  Curt Schilling started to come in his own.  Tommy Greene pitched one of his 2 full seasons in the bigs before injuries finally overwhelmed him.  Terry Mulholland pitched well enough to make the all-star team.  Wild Thing Mitch Williams saved 43 games in 43 attempts. 

The team was a blast to watch, and, because I was 9, I didn’t know back then that almost everybody was staying freakishly healthy and performing way above expectations.  As devastating as the Joe Carter was to my not-quite-ten year old psyche, all winter I dreamed about how the Phils would be back next year for the rematch. 

Joe Posnanski, writer for the Kansas City Star, believes that a 10 years old, a baseball fan peaks.  The baseball season that took place when I was 10 years old was filled with the expecations of another brilliant season, playoff run, and, this time, a championship parade.  What, in fact, took place was a season that lasted 115 miserable games.  No one played as well in 1994 as they did in 1993 (except Mickey Morandini, who was in the middle of a career offensive year), and the team had dropped into 4th place when the entire season was finally euthanized in a players’ strike. 

My father, whose words helped make baseball into something magical, bluntly explained the strike to his weeping ten year-old, “The players want more money.”  At the time, of course, I didn’t conceptualize Millionaires vs Billionaires.  I only saw these titans were just greedy, ungrateful, jerks.  My perception of this game had shattered.  I quit little league the next year.  I didn’t watch baseball when it came back on.  I really do understand what people mean when they say that Cal Ripken “saved baseball”.  It’s a gross exaggeration, of course, but I know it was one of the few things I had any interest in over the intervening years. 

My interest returned in earnest in late 1998 and 1999, as I was a freshmen in high school, and one of my brothers closest friends, whom I idolized, was a big Phillies fan.  My fandom returned just in time to witness Chad Ogea produce one of the single worst pitching seasons in baseball history, allowing 52 doubles and 36 home runs in only 168 innings pitched. 

I’ve recaptured much of the enthusiasm I had as a youth.  It’s tempered, of course, by a better understanding of the game.  I adore watching good pitching.  I love watching players who can run and throw, seeing doubles and double plays, and all that wild stuff.  I also understand that, if next year’s Phillies team looks like that 1993 team, I won’t expect the entire season in first place.  On the field, baseball is the same it’s always been.  Sure, some of the players are bigger and faster now, and different things are emphasized than they were in 1967 or 1987.  Fewer stolen bases, I imagine, and more walks.  But the game is played largely the same way. 

Off the field, however, well, I don’t like thinking about it.  I honestly don’t know how players were off the field 40 years ago.  There are many (possibly apocryphal) rumors and stories about how Mickey Mantle was a womanizer, Ty Cobb killed people, and Babe Ruth was a terrible drunk and bootlegger.  The owners were worse cheapskates than they are now, etc, etc.  But I don’t know how much of the history is trustworthy.  Baseball’s history has been written by people who percieve things in what I consider an unreliable fashion.  What I do know, however, is that off-the-field activities of various baseball players and executives bother me quite a bit, today.  I despise many of the owners, and a number of the players, if I consider their non-baseball activities. 

I see Pete Rose, pitifully apologizing for gambling, and I see a pitiful human.  I see an old game where Rose played, and I marvel at the nature of batting stance, which lay in a deep crouch, until springing up at the last moment to attack the ball.  If I think about Barry’s off-the-field stuff, I think of a man who has, perhaps, done irreconciliable damage to my favorite game.  If I stick to his on-field actions, I see a man who has been more dominant than any player I’ve ever seen.  I find myself miserable to think about steroid abuse in sports.  How kids I knew in high school were notoriously on steroids, and how this is largely because it they believed they could better impress college recruiters if they were bigger-stronger-faster. 

So, no, I don’t really like Barry.  But Voodoo Sabermetrics involves writing in a confined space.  There’s no official wordcount, but no one wants to read a 1,500 word essay on the complexities on fandom.  My choice, each week, is to think of the aspects of a player that I enjoy and admire, or to think of the aspects that I despise and loathe.  Most of the time, the player will be enjoyable both on and off the field.  Sometimes the player is miserable on and off the field.  And sometimes, the player is fantastic to watch, and horrible to hear about.  And that’s certainly the case for Barry.  Everyone else writes scathing posts and columns about Barry.  I merely remind whoever bothers to read that Barry has been, throughout my life, and enjoyable baseball to watch play

Now, if someone were to wish to talk about Tony LaRussa, I have no hesitation to talk about how I believe Tony LaRussa is hurting the game of baseball.  I can do the same for Derek Jeter and Billy Wagner or Bud Selig.  I have no love for any of those three men. 

But Barry?  No, I don’t have any new bile to throw at Barry. 

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Do They All Die?: “Bon Cop Bad Cop”

dtat.jpgSalut de Québec!

This writer is presently on a five-week program attempting to learn French in La Belle Province. Part of this program is the cultural experience, which for me amounts to the consumption of poutine – french fries with cheese curds and gravy – and Unibroue and Boréale beer. (How jealous are you, TC?  Editor’s Note: Very jealous, Andy.  Do you know how much Unibroue costs down here?) However, the animateurs – those in charge of giving us things to do and making sure we speak only French – program Québecois films for our viewing pleasure and cultural benefit. Last night, they screened us a brilliant Canadian picture called Bon Cop Bad Cop. I pray the reader will forgive any factual inaccuracies as a result of my inability to understand all of the film, being that it was screened in French with French subtitles. The film is generically predictable: an action comedy cop-buddy movie in the Lethal Weapon/Beverly Hills Cop vein. As a result, the film is a fun ride with plenty of action and great dialogue and a pretty sweet sex scene.

But beyond that, this film is about the fragile Canadian identity and the tension between French and English Canada. It begins with a killing and a body found perched on a sign. The sign reads “Welcome to Ontario” on the east side and “Bienvenue au Québec” on the side facing west. Instead of calling in the federal police, two provincial cops, one from Toronto and the other from Montréal, partner up to solve the case. What follows is a commentary on creeping Americanization, hockey, and what it means to be Canadian.

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Especially You, Hedonsim Bot! 4: World Wide Stout

hedonism_bot.jpgPhiladelphia is truly one of the finest places in the world for the enthusiastic beer drinker.  Most of the European imports are available within in the city, and there are a ton more imports and American microbrews available somewhere within the city–whether at Standard Tap for local fare, at Monk’s or Eulogy for your Belgian fixation, or out to the suburbs for Teresa’s Next Door and their several hundred beer list. 

Not to be overlooked, however, is Philly’s proxmity to some of the country’s best breweries.  Within a two hour drive of home, the Brew Enthusiast can find Yuengling, Yards, Weyerbacher, Brooklyn, Flying Fish, River Horse, Victory, Troeg’s, Stoudt’s, Legacy and more.  And that doesn’t being to cover the dozens of brewpub like Nodding Head making delicious beer for the walk-in crowd.  One of the finest breweries in the area, though, comes from Delaware, a state that isn’t good for much else: Dogfish Head, and for today, the spotlight shines on their fantastic World Wide Stout

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John Clayton Takes Some Things Too Literally

I am not an overwhelming NFL guy.  I like football, though I enjoy college football more (no sort of elitist reasoning, or anything to do with the players/money/etc, I just like having several hundred teams in the mix).  That said, I have grown up in Philadelphia, where people start buying tickets for training camp in February.  My passing fandom for the Iggles resembles the passion of most fans from, well, just about anywhere else.  On a whim, I signed up for Eagles season tickets about 3 years ago.  I expect to have my seats in about 50 years (I believe the wait is now up to 70 or 80 years).  Philly is crazy for its Eagles.  I’m just interested in them. 

I don’t post often about football here because, well, it’s blogged about elsewhere better than I ever could.  Also, I really don’t care about the NFL too much during the offseason.  But training camps are just about to start up, and naturally, ESPN’s John Clayton and SI’s Peter King and all the other so-called experts are out on the beat to tell us what our favorite teams are going to have to do win the Superbowl.

Regarding my Eagles, Clayton writes:

Philadelphia Eagles — After being down for one year in 2005 because of a Donovan McNabb injury and the Terrell Owens turmoil, the Eagles are back atop the NFC East. The key to camp is watching McNabb. He’s the key to their season. Supposedly, he enters camp with his knee at about 85 percent. Considering the severity of the knee injury, that’s not bad. Carson Palmer was probably about 80 percent last year and he had a good season. Andy Reid should allow the running game to develop during camp knowing McNabb won’t have all of his mobility.

Okay, now, aside from the obvious nature of Clayton’s “observation” (if the QB is healthy and good, then the Eagles will do better than if he’s not), the evidence he uses to judge Donovan’s health is ludicrous.  McNabb estimated the other day that he was at about 85%.  These athlete estimates of their health are insane anyway.  At least, as much as I love Don, I don’t know how much I trust his math.  He’s got a lot of reasons to estimate high right there. 

A year ago, Carson Palmer, coming back from knee injury, estimated he was at 80%.  Carson Palmer, whose math I would trust far less than Donovan’s, came back to have a good year for the Bengals. 

John Clayton, a total nerd is taking these two estimates at face value, taking them literally, and figuring that McNabb is in good shape, because Carson Palmer was fine.  I could be overreacting, but I am now forced to look incredulously at all the words spoken and written by Mr Clayton, who is a crazy person.

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Mr Thursday’s Book Shelf 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Like with most enthusiastic Harry Potter fans, I read the entire book over the weekend.  Amazon didn’t bother to deliver my copy until 6PM, and extenuating circumstances had left me exhausted, so most of my reading was done on Sunday.  I wanted to give myself a few days to digest the book.  My personal history suggests that when my excitement and anticipation are high, I cannot help but overlook a lot of errors and general badness on the first run-through.  (To wit: I adored The Phantom Menace after the first time I saw it). 

It’s been three days, though.  Enough for various Biblical characters to arise from the dead, and therefore, enough for me to analyze Harry Potter.  The next couple of paragraphs are going to be general statements about the book, the series, and the author.  After the break I will have my more detailed thoughts, which will include spoilers.  If you haven’t read the book yet, do not proceed past the break. 

I really do feel like this is, in many ways, the best book in the series.  It’s greatest (and, depending on perspective, only) weakness is a roughly 150 page section in the middle of the book in which there is not much happening.  The narrative follows Harry throughout its entirety, and so when he and Ron and Hermione are stuck and frustrated on their mission, the reader must suffer through a seemingly interminable series of chapters devoted to very little action or plot development.  This may have been easier to swallow if Rowling spent time with some of the rest of the wizarding world (the students at Hogwarts, the Order of the Phoenix members, Voldemort and his crew).  She does not, however, and the book suffers, only slightly, for it. 

There have been criticisms regarding Rowling’s prose in this book.  Actually, there have been criticisms regarding her prose since the beginning of the series.  The main criticism of her prose is that it’s “clunky”.  I am uncertain what this means, exactly, except to say that, perhaps, Rowling’s prose is not naturally rhythmic.  Personally, I don’t think her prose is any different, in terms of quality, than the other books, and I thought her prose was very good back then, too.  It’s an unadorned style of prose, not given to long, fanciful metaphors or asides.  It relies, instead, on clarity of thought.  Rowling’s biggest gift, as a sentence writer, is to convey very clearly what she means at all times, and to evoke the images and feelings in her writer that the story demands.  In some ways, I thought her writing had improved significantly in this book in one respect: regarding action.  In Goblet of Fire and especially in The Order of the Phoenix, her actions sequences were confusing and unclear.  This final book features more, and grander action scenes than any book previous, and Rowling delivers outstandingly. 

Rowling’s greatest strength, overall, is that nature of her imagination.  Her creativity is so boundless, and her storytelling so intriguing, that the so-called flaws of her prose are irrelevant.  She has created a series for all time–to be treasured alongside The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.  I was asked a number of years ago to describe the Harry Potter series, and the best I could offer was this:  Imagine Lord of the Rings, with its vastness, its detail, its magic and wonder; with the wretched might of its villains and grace and courage of its heroes.  Now imagine that the story had been written by Roald Dahl, with his own sort of magic, and wit and wonderment; with his touch gentler than JRR Tolkien’s, and more universal.  I do not feel like I’m crossing a sacred line or being too generous by comparing Rowling’s work here to Dahl and CS Lewis and Tolkien.  She has earned her place within their pantheon. 

Harry’s nickname, The Boy Who Lived, is a stunning phrase, and a perfect term to sum up the series.  A boy who lives is unremarkable.  There are several billion boys on this planet right now.  But it is the nature of the series, that something so simple, so ordinary and natural, should hold such magic and charm and allure.  The Harry Potter series is not about a lost king or any sort of mythical beast of magic.  It’s about an ordinary boy, and that’s what makes everything so extraordinary. 

The series is complete, and its completion is as near to perfect as I, for one, could possibly ask.

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Where You See Lions 3: People

kenya.jpgThe types of people you meet in Kenya are as varied as the kernels of maize in the hills…uh, songs by Yvonne Chaka Chaka, whatever. Truly, the people of Kakamega, Kenya have been marvelous and disappointing and heart warming and tragic. However, there have been a few certain types of people I have come to know so far that have been replicated more than a few times since I’ve arrived. Just as in America, you can identify your hipsters, Reganite yuppies, and hip-hop wanna -be’s, so in Kenya, there are some types easily identifiable. Each type has its benefits and detriments, but all of them are peculiarly spectacular.

After the break, a look at a few of these prevalent groups of people.

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Self-Help: the Trekkie

YOU WANT IT YOU GOT IT!

Because only one reader was gracious enough to send in his input, and because this idea is hilarious, his wish has been granted and here it is…

Hey there all you sci-fi aficionados! This weeks’ (alright months’, back off) self help guide is designed to make you the hardest of hardcore trekkies. So obsessed will you be after studying this, that NOT ONLY will Gene Roddenberry will shudder at the thought of your attending another convention, but you will ALSO be able to tell everyone you know who Gene Roddenberry is, like they care.

My parents (especially father) have been in love with Star Trek since its inception in, I believe, the 1970’s. My father has been watching it for as long as I can remember. The newer versions he finds more distasteful but there was a long stretch [my entire childhood] when i can remember him watching whatever version of Star Trek was running at that given period of time. I was never that big into science fiction. I was never that big into science in general. My sister liked some of it for the same reasons as my dad i suppose. I know you don’t have to be a bio, chem, or physics major to like Star Trek (in fact I’m sure it defies all those three disciplines on a routine basis), and I’m sure a lot of their fan base wasn’t, but something about it really excited my dad. I remember watching a few episodes just to give it a tryout every once in a while, but I never took to it like he did. Still, I can remember a few bits and pieces. Unfortunately that means most of this post is gonna have to be researched, based in fact and hearsay, and not the vague, smoky haze that is my memory and personal experience.  Actually, it is not so much that I care that information is correct, but because I can’t remember terminology. In any event, you can count on me to have a very shaky base of knowledge on the subject, as I saw a few episodes a decade ago or so, but other than that you’ll see that I looked up words and made up whatever I wanted after that.

Due to the potentially self-destructive nature of this post, a more serious disclaimer is certainly necessary.

DISCLAIMER: Mr. Thursday (specifically Paul, if you wanna haul off any of the other writers be my guest) is not responsible for any acts of interstellar warfare, terrorism, or make-up malfunctions that occur while you’re prancing around looking like a freak of nature. It is further denied that Mr. Thursday has ever actually taken any of his own advice on this matter, and any anecdotes or analogies to real life are purely fabricated for the purposes of being informative to you, our reader(s).

Mr. Thursday denies the existence of Vulcans, Klingons, Changlings, Cardassians, Ferengis, Warp Drives, Pon Farr, sexy green aliens, or phasers. However, Mr. Thursday can totally get on board with William Shatner being James T. Kirk (Leonard Nemoy isn’t half bad either). On the subject, Mr. Thursday is very curious about Area 51, the Men in Black, UFO’s, folding space to travel very far in very short periods of time, quantum mechanics, and most most most of all, Mr. Thursday is dying to know why every single alien race is humanoid, why isn’t there a race of intelligent creatures shaped like dogs, or even just 4-legged (MIB aside, we’re talking the Trek here, after all).

Mr. Thursday wholeheartedly admits to having to look up all sorts of data for this post, as he isn’t quite as versed in the realm of Star Trek as one writing such things might be expected to be, but assures you that his research is as sound as Google searches allow and his advice will be grounded in good, solid, cold, hard facts, cyncism, and a general disdain for nerd, birthed from a subconscious fear of their hyper-gallactic intelligence.

After the break, the process.

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