Thursday, October 29, 2009

around the october horn

Baseball has been my favorite sport as long as I can remember, but somehow in more than a year of blogging, I don't think I've mentioned it outside of a passing reference to a Strat-O-Matic draft.

I find this odd, since I truly love the sport, and spend a lot of my leisure time with Strat or Baseball... um... Sports Weekly. And I devote a good chunk of my time on the Internet to superb baseball websites like Baseball Prospectus, Dodger Thoughts (I'm not even a Dodger fan, but Jon Weisman is such an eloquent, fair-minded writer and the DT community that's grown around the blog is so fun to read that it's always worthwhile to hang out there), Baseball Musings, Aaron Gleeman's Twins blog, and a bevy of others. In fact, I usually eat breakfast at the computer while pouring over the previous day's baseball bloggitude.

So here's some random and not-so-random baseball thoughts on this cloudy October day.

  • I'm rooting for the Phillies in the World Series. Following the Reds all these years has made me a very solid National League fan, and unless I view the NL entrant as despicable in some way and/or see the AL team as historically outstanding, I'm always for the NL team. The 2009 Phils do not strike me as objectionable, therefore I want them to win.
  • Plus the Phillies are playing the New York Yankees. I'm for anyone who's playing the Yankees. While I do not loathe the Yankees of the '90s and 2000s like I did the loathsome 1970s Yankees of Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Mickey Rivers, Bucky Dent, and Roy White, there is no way I can ever be for any incarnation of this franchise.
  • Three of the races for individual honors in MLB should be no-brainers (operative word there: "should"): Zack Greinke for AL Cy Young, Joe Mauer for AL MVP, and Albert Pujols for NL MVP. The NL Cy Young is less clear-cut, with about seven or eight pitchers having decent cases, but I'm going with a repeat for Tim Lincecum, slightly edging out Adam Wainwright. For the record, I'm a pretty standard sabermetric thinker on these things, heavily discounting team-dependent counting stats like runs, RBIs, saves, and, worst of all of 'em, pitcher wins. I also don't give a crap whether someone played on a contender or not when it comes to an individual award. For instance, I believe Mauer should be the AL MVP even if his Twins had collapsed during the final week of the regular season. Yep, the Twins did go on that hot streak that got them into the postseason, but as far as Mauer's deservingness goes, to me it doesn't matter if they won by 10 games or finished 20 games out. If he's the best player, he's the MVP. Period.
  • Speaking of things I don't give a crap about, the whole performance enhancing drug thing is a total non-starter with me. I am not interested in it. I don't care. I am not morally outraged if athletes attempt to perform at a higher level. I don't think it's wise to use human growth hormone, steroids, etc., but I am not going to get worked up about it if they do. I don't think the stars of the '60s and '70s should be disgraced because many of them were swallowing greenies by the handful, nor is there a public outcry that they should be. For some reason, steroids generate more faux outrage amongst the press. The bottom line for me is this: Barry Bonds was the best player I've ever seen (Johnny Bench was my favorite, and he's arguably the best catcher ever, but Bonds was a better player). Roger Clemens was not only the best pitcher of his generation, but has to be in any discussion of the five or ten best starting pitchers in baseball history. Excluding them or Mark McGwire from the Hall of Fame strikes me as completely silly.
  • While broadcaster Joe Morgan's increasingly terminal case of old-player-anti-stats-crony-pimping-itis makes him an easy and deserving target for every baseball blogger's ire, I do want to point out that when Mr. Morgan began his broadcasting career in 1985 with the Reds' TV network, he was the best baseball color man I've ever heard. Joe's primary strength then and even now is his ability to explain how the game is actually played, and I learned more about baseball from listening to Joe Morgan cover the '85 and '86 Reds than I probably did in all my other years of watching baseball combined. Even my decidedly non-sports-loving mom chimed in during one of those games (maybe one of the epic '85 confrontations between Reds rookie Tom Browning and the Mets' mighty Dwight Gooden) that she enjoyed listening to Joe, because he made the game understandable to her. Unfortunately, these days it's Morgan's only redeeming quality, but back in the '80s, and even the early '90s, when he became ESPN's primary MLB color announcer, Joe was not so anti-stat, and much of his commentary was very friendly toward many of the same concepts that had captivated me in Bill James' Baseball Abstract annuals.* In fact, on those '85 Reds broadcasts, I distinctly remember him explaining how then-Red Gary Redus was a valuable player despite his low batting average, because Redus walked a lot and stole bases at a high percentage. Modern-day Joe would dismiss Redus based solely on that low BA, and I for one mourn that as Joe has aged, he has allowed his mind not only to harden but to narrow. Just remember that it wasn't always that way.
*I'm not suggesting that Joe Morgan read any of James' work back then. What I am saying is that what Joe Morgan said on those Reds broadcasts produced no cognitive dissonance in my mind with what Bill James, Pete Palmer, Craig Wright, et al, were writing about at the same time. As many folks have pointed out during Joe's dotage, it's ironic that he should be so anti-sabermetric given that Morgan's strengths during his Hall of Fame playing career practically make him the poster child for sabermetrics: he walked a lot, he got on base a lot in general, he hit for power at a premium defensive position, and he stole bases at a very high percentage. If only what came out of Joe's mouth then had stayed consonant with what made him an all-time great, Fire Joe Morgan would have been instead.


Anonymous said...

So...[can opener sounds, w/agitated worm sounds] given your stance favoring players' performance over whether or not they were exemplary human beings (enhancing drugs, after all, were illegal, at least for part of the time), I seem to recall you being opposed to Pete Rose being eligible for the Hall. If I am remembering right, doesn't he deserve it on the merits of his play, regardless of his other failings?

Miles said...

Players who take PEDs are trying to improve their performances on the field. Pete Rose was betting on baseball, which, as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, could lead him to take actions to cause his team to lose. Most of these PEDs were also not banned by MLB during the time of the players' alleged use, whereas the "don't bet on baseball" rule has been in place since the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal - if there's any rule the players should know, it's that one. To me, Pete Rose's HOF eligibility is a completely different issue.