It makes no sense that Roth is “contemporary” and Kosinski is “classic” — I mean, the latter is dead, but the former’s work predates — but I did a “contemporary literature” version a few weeks ago, and I have a thing for matched pairs.
Justin Morneau is like Jean Valjean.
In Victor Hugo’s mammoth novel Les Miserables (or in the musical version, if you have just slightly less time to kill), the main character, Jean Valjean, is basically a perfect human being. He’s this perfectly pious and giving person, and he’s even got super strength, basically. It’s kind of ridiculous, but it’s really well-written. And/or: the songs are crazily cheesy but give you goosebumps anyway.
But, Jean Valjean had this whole prior life, in which he was a petty (but still freakishly strong) criminal who had a short prison term extended to nineteen years thanks to multiple escape attempts. After he makes his astounding conversion, and continuing for years and years down the line, he’s haunted by his past, in the person of the single-minded inspector Javert. Irrespective of all the good (eventually, decades of good) he’s done in his life, he’s forced to live life looking over his shoulder, ready to run, thanks to a past he just can’t shake off.
Justin Morneau is a very, very good baseball player. Maybe not as great a player as Valjean was a person, but, you know, he’s good. But growing up in Canada, he comes from a past that is just as shameful and impossible to escape: he played a lot of hockey. And in playing hockey, he suffered a lot of concussions. Morneau’s own personal Javert caught up to him in 2005, and again in 2010, and though he’s played in 45 of the team’s first 50 games, it seems to be dogging him again this year. Still just 30 years and two weeks old, Morneau might have many wonderful years ahead, but thanks to that past he just can’t escape, he’s always going to have that fragile skull, always one wild fastball or over-aggressive slide away from seeing it all crash down around him (again).
So, hey, Canada: playing junior hockey is like living a life of petty crime. Know your audience!
Wade Davis is like Chauncey Gardner.
If you’ve never read Being There by Jerzy Kozinski, you should, not least because it’s a novella and you can get through it in probably two hours. It might be the only book that has been made into a movie (an excellent one, from 1981, starring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine) for which just watching the movie instead doesn’t really save you much time.
The protagonist is a middle-aged man known only (even to himself) as Chance — he knows nothing of his parents, has never been to school or learned to read, and has never left the house of the wealthy man he’s spent his life serving. He knows literally nothing, in fact, except gardening, and a few things he sees (but doesn’t really understand) on TV.
The old man dies, and Chance has to leave the house. He’s struck almost immediately by a car belonging to the wife of a politically prominent businessman, and the couple takes him in, and comes to believe (thanks to the simple gardening truths they take to be terribly deep metaphors) that he’s a kind of mysterious and profound genius. They take his name (Chance the gardener) to be “Chauncey Gardner,” and soon, the whole world knows that name, as the world marvels over his ability to simplify complex problems into gardening metaphors.
Basically, Forrest Gump would work just as well (or even better) to make this point, but Being There is just a much, much better book.
Wade Davis has made ten starts now, and if you look at his traditional stats (4-4, 3.71), you see a guy who’s getting the job done, and who, still being just 25 and coming off a 12-10, 4.07 year, might be a future star.
And he might be a future star, but nothing he’s done this year supports that. He’s striking out less than a batter every two innings, down nearly two strikeouts per nine from 2010 and less than half of the rate he put up in his 36 big-league innings in 2009. Meanwhile, he’s walking almost as many as he’s striking out, at 4.00 walks per nine. He’s giving up plenty of home runs, and with a groundball rate under 32%, he should be giving up plenty of home runs. Davis’ 5.03 FIP is seventh worst in baseball among qualifying starters, essentially even with the famously awful Javier Vazquez, and his 5.35 xFIP is dead last.
I don’t think our understanding of pitching is so perfect that numbers like FIP and xFIP are gospel. I think, for instance, that Trevor Cahill is probably a bit better than a strict reading of his “peripherals” will suggest (but has been lucky, too). But if you’re going to last as a successful pitcher, your peripherals just can’t be nearly as bad as Davis’ are. He’s a bad pitcher right now, that 3.72 ERA is just entirely unsustainable unless he makes some significant improvements, and eventually — just as you’d imagine would be the case with Gardner, but I’ll let you read it for yourself — he’s got to be exposed for the fraud he is.
Twins fans are like Pinocchio.
Here’s where I want to make a point more than I want to make a good simile, so I just pick the first one that sort of works. In the original children’s story, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, the real challenge for Pinocchio, on his way to becoming a real boy, is to learn to be less gullible while retaining a human empathy. It takes him awhile. He’s duped again and again, which keeps getting him in trouble over and over. (It would work better if he were always being duped by the same person, but alas.)
I happened to be back in Minnesota this week, and was able to attend the memorial event for Harmon Killebrew that was held at Target Field on the Twins’ Thursday off. It was a beautiful service, really well put together, with a number of touching tributes to Killebrew from former teammates, later Twins who had learned from him, and from his wife.
When he was announced in the opening of the ceremony, it was to significant applause. And I get showing appreciation that the commissioner has come out to support your local hero, but this was thunderous applause, more than they gave to Kent Hrbek or Mudcat Grant or World Series hero Gene Larkin, about as much as they reserved for Hank Aaron. When he got up to speak, and when he finished with his nice but unremarkable speech, he got a standing ovation from all 1000 or so (all, apparently, but me) in attendance.
Put aside, for a moment, all the little things Selig has done to damage the game, things casual fans might not care about (or might even like), like the All-Star Game home field advantage silliness, the embarrassing botchery from beginning to end (or middle, wherever we are) of the steroids issue, the inevitable playoff expansion, etc.
If you’re a Twins fan, all you need to remember is that less than a decade ago, that guy tried to contract your team. I’d never applaud the guy, in any situation, but if you must, you certainly don’t stand for him. If the Twins fans ever want to be real boys (and girls), they’ll have to learn one of these days that Bud Selig is not their friend.