An admission: I’m never very good at this time of the season. For one thing, there are far fewer things happening in October in the baseball world. Yes, the things that do happen tend to be incredibly important, but they also are covered to death and over-analyzed. A bloop double becomes a “clutch hit” and catapults an unknown player like David Eckstein to stardom. A quirky beard and a post-save celebration that no one really understands gets you a Taco Bell sponsorship. It seems a little silly.
That said, it is important. It’s time for the World Series. It’s time for us to enjoy the smidgeon of baseball that is still available to us before the cold and empty months of December, January, and February steadily build our anticipation for the next great campaign to come. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to enjoy the hell out of the next 10 days or so as the Cardinals and the Rangers provide us with the last baseball we’ll get to see in 2011. Hopefully, it will be more 1991 (when the Twins and Braves extended the series to seven nailbiting games) than 1998 (when the Yankees steamrolled the Padres). So, in honor of the coming tilt, I’m going to debut Tuesday Tangents, which is a like Tuesday Metaphors, but with better alliteration. It’s all about alliteration.
Sportswriters are fawning over Michael Young, which reminds me of The Green Lantern…
Let’s get this out of the way to begin with: Michael Young was a pretty good player this year. And he’s generally been pretty good for the Rangers over the course of his 12 year career. Since 2004, he’s put up an OPS+ better than 100 every year except 2008, and most of those years he did it as a shortstop. In 2011, he took his offensive game to new heights, however, posting the highest batting average of his career (.338) and second highest OBP (.380). He led the American League in hits for the second time, and managed to drive in 106 runs (also a career high) despite hitting just 11 homeruns. H’e been remarkably durable in his career, playing fewer than 155 games just once since 2002. And he’s beloved in Texas. Sportswriters around the country have bought into the Arlington narrative, and you can expect Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to praise Young ad nauseum starting tomorrow for his leadership, grittiness, and intangibles.
Young is pretty much a blank slate to most of us outside of Texas. Aside from his tantrum over the offseason, when the team looked to trade him and then asked him to move to designated hitter, Young has simply not registered on the national stage. He’s not distinctive, really, in any way. He doesn’t cause problems in the clubhouse or on the field. He doesn’t get into trouble off it. His numbers are good, but not good enough to really make him one of the greats in the game, especially given his advantageous home ballpark. So with Young, there is a canvas upon which writers can use their imaginations to build Young into the superstar he is paid like, but is not. He can become the corn-fed, All-American they all want to cover.
Every sportswriter can become a Green Lantern. GL’s central power is his ability to use “hard light” to create anything his mind can imagine to fight against evil. Machine guns, catapults, giant fists, firetrucks. Anything his mind can imagine, and his will can create, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Raynor, Alan Scott, and the other Green Lanterns can make manifest. In the ridiculously bad Green Lantern movie this past summer, Ryan Reynolds uses them to create a Hot Wheels track to redirect a crashing helicopter away from a fleeing mob. And so it is with Young. Sportswriters can make him, as Craig Calcaterra puts it, the Lord of Intangibles. They can turn him into the sole reason the Rangers won in 2011, rather than admitting that parceling out attribution for team success is a messy business. They can ignore the canny acquisition and deployment of Mike Napoli, the steady excellence of Ian Kinsler, the great left arms of CJ Wilson and Matt Harrison, or the terrific defense of Adrian Beltre. It makes their jobs easier to pretend that Michael Young’s many qualities somehow combine to form a something greater than he is (ooh, like Voltron, but that’s another tangent for another day) and powers the Rangers forward.
Albert Pujols is just unstoppable, a little like Superman if you ask me…
God, he’s good, isn’t he? You know even though he started out just .257/.326/.395 through the first 54 games, he rebounded to hit .322/.388/.623 the rest of the way? That 1.011 OPS, by the way, is exactly the same as last year, when Pujols led the NL in homers, RBI, and OPS+. In the postseason this year, Pujols is hitting .419/.490/.721 in 49 plate appearances. His career playoff OPS is actually even higher than his regular season career OPS. He’s basically a God who walks among us. A benevolent one, thank goodness, but a God nonetheless. Albert Pujols (170 career OPS+) is certainly the most devastating right-handed batter since Rogers Hornsby.
You know the story of Superman. Born on a dying Krypton, sent to Earth to be its protector, Superman is the strongest, and perhaps even the fastest, man in the world. A virtually invulnerable boy scout who can shoot fire from his eyes and freeze running water with his breath. He is vulnerable only to pieces of his home planet and to magic. Superman is occasionally battered, but can never be killed (even when he “died” in the comics, he was in stasis). Superman may not be real, but Albert Pujols is about as close as we’re going to get.
Tony LaRussa just can’t leave well enough alone, and that undermines the Cardinals, which is kind of like Batman…
Look, we all love Batman. I even stopped at the store on the way to work to make sure I got a copy of Batman: Arkham City. He’s damn impressive in his ability to take down legions of foes despite having no super powers. He has pushed his body and his mind to the absolute limit, and is almost undoubtedly the greatest superhero ever created.
But he’s traditionally also very paranoid, very angry, and maybe even a little bit mentally ill. The thin line that separates the greatness of Batman from the maniacal evil of The Joker is something that Alan Moore explored with great effectiveness in his classic graphic novel The Killing Joke, and it’s one that threatens the stability of the Justice League from time to time.
Despite branching out and founding Batman Inc. recently, Batman has traditionally preferred being a loner who doesn’t play well with others. He even prefers working alone to working with a Robin, and has driven off Dick Grayson. He has been known to leave the Justice League whenever it suits him to pursue his own interests, and to act unilaterally when he decides the group isn’t moving fast enough. He also keeps meticulous files on his teammates that include their weaknesses, and Batman carries kryptonite with him at all times. Just in case. Batman is a wild card in the group that can undermine its ability to function with his constant meddling and his distrust for everyone.
Similarly, Tony LaRussa is paranoid and seemingly cannot stop messing with the good thing he has in St. Louis. He drove off Scott Rolen. He drove off Colby Rasmus. He tinkers with his lineups and his pitchers. He obsessively uses his bullpen (of the seven relievers on his roster in the NLCS, five of them pitched in at least 4 of the 6 games. This usually doesn’t get in the way of LaRussa’s success. And indeed, his need to tinker has helped, in many cases, improve his team’s performance. But he’s also one bad move away from destabilizing the whole unit, and you have to figure that one bad day is going to come sooner or later.
I would bet on it happening in this series. Rangers in 5.