Back again with more similes! This time, I’ve decided to focus, rather broadly, on fiction from the last forty years or so. The first one is a bit of a stretch, but I have to say I’m pretty proud of numbers two and three. Enjoy!
The Marlins are like a Philip Roth novel.
Reading Philip Roth is hard. While you’re reading his work, you might know you’re reading a great novel and/or author only because you’ve been told you’re reading a great novel and/or author. The vocabulary is immense and the action comes slowly, or not at all, and if it does come, it’s probably all a bit anticlimactic. Even if the novel sounds like a thrill ride — take The Plot Against America, in which he imagines a world in which FDR is defeated by Charles Lindbergh, who then starts to turn the US toward Nazism – it’ll read mostly like the diary of a very smart person in whose life next to nothing happens. But then if you make it all the way through, you’re rewarded with the realization that he really is one of the best writers out there. All those words and not a one was wasted, and what Roth has put together is a really great and moving, if muted, story that has taught you something.
That’s a bit what I think watching the Marlins is like right now. When Josh Johnson isn’t pitching — or maybe even when he is, depending on your preferences — there just isn’t much about them that makes them fun to watch. Hanley Ramirez, maybe the most exciting player in baseball not too long ago, has been terrible, and power-hitting uber-prospect Mike Stanton has just two homers. They made a bunch of trades this offseason in which they gave something away for nothing. Their best hitter to date (other than Logan Morrison, who has been out for most of the past two weeks) has been career bench player Greg Dobbs, owner of a career 88 OPS+.
Yet, somehow, they keep winning. Even after a ten-inning loss on Saturday, the Marlins are 16-9, a game and a half behind the MLB-best Phillies in the NL East and three games up in the (as yet very non-existent) wildcard race. They can be hard to watch, as baseball teams go, but at the end of the day, you look at the standings and they’re right there near the top.
Sam Fuld is like Infinite Jest.
Infinite Jest, the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 masterpiece which runs about 1100 pages, is a great book for all sorts of reasons. Parts of it are very funny, parts are very different from anything you’ve ever read before. He created some fascinating characters, and a great big mess of a somewhat plausible near-future world.
The plot and story, though, are not among the things that make it great. There are parts that get you excited and make you think, for a while, that you’re actually reading a real novel with a beginning, middle, and end; then there are long parts that lead straight into a dead end, or just sit still; by the end, it’s pretty clear that Wallace didn’t really care at all about the story, and maybe didn’t even bother to work out for himself what really happens. That’s just not the point.
Sam Fuld is probably my favorite active baseball player, and has been since before this season started. He’s a little guy who has diabetes and was an economics major at Stanford. He used to work at Stats, Inc. He’s the son of a professor and state senator, and the second cousin of former (disgraced, more or less) Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld.
And he’s a lot of fun to watch play baseball. He’s one of those rare guys who gets the gutty/gritty/hearty label and is also a pretty useful player. He tries awfully hard, and he’s little (if he’s 5’10″ as reported, I’m…like 2-3″ taller than I actually am), and that makes him fun to watch, but he also draws walks and runs the bases well and plays good defense (at least in the corners).
What he’s not, though, is a very good baseball player. People seem increasingly to be confusing him with one of those. He started out on fire, hitting .365/.407/.541 through his first 81 plate appearances (ending April 23), coming up with a number of hits at particularly opportune times and making a number of impressive catches, kicking off a hilarious mostly-Twitter-driven Chuck-Norris-esque meme in his honor. So now he’s a “rising star”, at least according to MLB.com, who featured him in an image profiling that story alongside Buster Posey and Starlin Castro, who are six and eight years younger than Fuld, respectively.
Fuld, as I’ve said, is a useful player. His minor league line, though, is .285/.372/.405, and while, as I’ve said, he’s good in the corners, he’s not rangy enough to be a quality every-day centerfielder. He’s a great fourth outfielder to have, and isn’t necessarily a bad starter; even good teams need a starter or two who’s just an average player, maybe even a little less. But he’s no more than that, and a decade from now, when Posey and Castro are established superstars and future Hall of Famers and Fuld is a millionaire investment advisor somewhere, someone’s going to show that photo to MLB.com, and that will be one embarrassed website.
So Fuld, my favorite baseball player, is a lot like Infinite Jest, one of my favorite books. There are all kinds of perfectly good reasons to love Sam Fuld. But if you’re looking at him as a star baseball player, just like if you’re looking to Jest for a coherent and fulfilling storyline, you’re going to be disappointed. They might tease you from time to time by flashing exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s just not actually there.
The Yankees are like the Twilight saga.
Full disclosure: I’ve never read a word of the Twilight books, just as, if I can avoid it, I never watch the Yankees play. But from what I do know about both, the parallels here seem too solid to pass up:
- You either love them or hate them. It’s hard to find someone who’s just plain ambivalent about either the Steinbrenners’ team or Stephenie Meyer’s books; there’s the obsessed, and then there’s the violently opposed. And the latter group tends to hate without actually watching or reading much (if any) of the thing hated.
- They’re filled with embarrassingly cheesy details and storylines. My understanding is that in Twilight, vampires sparkle (in the sunlight, or something?) and are centuries-old, tortured teenagers who fall in love with real ordinary human teenage girls. The Yankees are a team of highly-compensated professional tradesmen who nonetheless have a highschoolish team “captain,” whose radio voice has an arsenal of unbelievably hokey brain-damaging homerun calls, and whose media thrives on some awfully contrived drama among the manager, ownership and front office. So, you know, basically the same crap.
- They can do no wrong. My understanding — having, again, never read a word of it — is that the Twilight novels are particularly poorly written, worse even than the general standard for young adult fiction. The dialogue is painful, the stories take completely unbelievable turns, etc., etc., but it doesn’t matter, because Meyer has created characters her audience has fallen so completely in love with that they’ll read anything involving them, and so her awful prose makes millions and millions of dollars. The Yankees? More or less the same. They can sign a set-up man to a huge three-year contract, hand forty-five million to a player with the defensive skills of a DH to play shortstop…and the wins and money keep pouring in. The Yankees and Stephenie Meyer have created invincible products.
See? Exactly the same.