With two kids now running us ragged, The Walking Dead is pretty much the only show my wife and I agree to watch together these days. I let her watch her Downton Abbey and her Vampires, Werewolves, and Ghosts shows. She lets me watch Boardwalk Empire, Community, Parks and Recreation, and Fringe. But every Sunday night, after we put The Boy to bed, she and I sit down and stare through a window to a world where the dead come back and try to eat the living. And so, last night, we were as shocked by the way events spun out of control on the mid-season finale of TWD as anyone and I found myself thinking more about their relations to our beloved sport.
What follows after the jump is mostly spoiler-free (spoilers being defined as talking about what happened in last night’s episode), except for the very end. You’ve been warned.
Clayton Kershaw is Glenn
Glenn (like Madonna and Ichiro, he doesn’t need a last name) is, far and away, the best character on The Walking Dead. He’s somewhere around 18 years old, and is an incredibly adept scout, forager, and escape artist. Nobody gets away from walkers quite like Glenn, who just recently had himself lowered into a well to loop a rope around a zombie who had fallen in. He seems remarkably out of place in this group (not just because he’s one of two ethnic minorities) because of his general attitude and outlook. And because of that, he’s the one character who is just fun to root for week after week.
That said, he’s also the character that has seen the most growth over the course of the series. He’s gone from a fun-loving kid to an adult who is confident in his abilities, cares about the people around him (especially his new love interest), and has a strong moral compass. His actions are consistent and character-driven, and he maintains the same awkward charm that made him so fun to watch to begin with.
He’s a lot like Clayton Kershaw, who has been really fun to watch as a kid in 2009 and 2010. He was dominant at times and wild at others, but showed the potential to just be brilliant. Finally, last year, he broke through. His control improved dramatically and his strikeout rate ticked up. This allowed him to work deeper into games (his innings per start has gone from 5.7 in 2009 to 7.0 in 2011), getting 21 wins to go with his sparkling 2.28 ERA and his 248 strikeouts. He won the “Triple Crown” of pitching and just dominated the league over the course of the season. Seeing him grow into such a tremendous pitcher has been incredibly fun.
Terry Ryan is Sheriff Rick Grimes
Grimes is a deeply moral man who wakes from a coma roughly a month after the world has been overrun by zombies. Weak and confused, he stumbles around his mostly empty hometown, with only little glimpses into the horror that must have taken place while he slept. And since he missed the bulk of the calamity, Grimes remains largely unchanged by the world. He is deeply committed to doing what is right, to saving anyone who can be saved. He is a peace keeper in a world that no longer has any peace, and he continues to deal with the situations his small band of survivors encounter as though the laws and basic morality that stitched together the world he remembers still exist.
Likewise, Ryan keeps acting like the world has not changed on him. That the Twins are still contenders in the American League Central. Given the state of his franchise, that’s really all he can do at this point. The Twins are who they are, they don’t have pieces that other teams will pay a premium to acquire, and their core is still supposed to be in its prime, but is getting older and carries major risk. So Ryan signed Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit to fill holes, and continues to look for ways to plug leaks on the team that lost 99 games last year. Just like Rick Grimes, Terry Ryan may be successful in turning the tide and holding his team together, but it’s going to take a miracle to reestablish the Twins as contenders in a division that’s got a strong Tigers team, and improving clubs in Cleveland and Kansas City.
Jeff Mathis is Shane Walsh
Before the world turned, Shane was Rick’s partner and best friend, a brother and comrade. When their town became overrun, Shane grabbed Rick’s wife and son and got out, saving their lives. He’s a bonifide hero. Shane starts the series as a good man who makes decisions that turn out to be tragic, including falling for his best friend’s wife and assuming leadership of this small group of survivors. That’s not really Shane’s fault though, as they understandably assume that Rick’s dead, and Shane’s leadership keeps the group together and safe. But as circumstance takes away Shane’s love and leadership, he becomes unhinged and dangerous. He becomes more violent, considers leaving the group, attempts to rape Rick’s wife, and eventually unilaterally starts making decisions that will force the group’s hand and change it forever. He becomes a villain, and completely unlikable, but started out on that road because of circumstances beyond his control.
Jeff Mathis is also a villain, but you can’t really blame him for it. Yes, he hit just .174/.225/.259 last year, and has a 37 OPS+ over the last two seasons. Yes, in every discernable way, he’s a horrible baseball player. Yes, his presence made the Mike Napoli/Vernon Wells trade possible, and blocks Hank Conger. And it’s for these reasons that it’s impossible to defend him, or feel sympathy for him. But Jeff Mathis is not the one who wrote his name on the Angels’ lineup card 79 times last season. At best, Mathis is a mediocre backup catcher, but would you really begrudge him for taking the opportunity to be a Major League starter? Mathis doesn’t want to be the bad guy. But the world he inhabits has conspired against him, turning him into the scapegoat when he should really be an afterthought.
Hank Conger is Carl Grimes
Carl is Rick’s son, who escaped with his mom and Shane in the ensuing chaos. There are great stories you could tell with Carl, about a kid watching their world get destroyed around him, and how that changes him. About having to grow up too soon. Kids are incredibly complicated, and also incredibly simple. They are largely self-interested and incredibly malleable, and the process of seeing the world go to shit, seeing his father come back from the dead, and getting accidentally shot in the woods could do a lot to change who he is at a fundamental level. What happens, for instance, when you come back to your son and he’s not your son anymore? Or he blames you for “abandoning” your family and failing to protect him? What if your son is actually smarter than you think he is, and has a lot of the stuff that you’re trying to keep from him already figured out? How does it feel to have your life constantly in danger, but have basically no say in how to protect yourself, and no gun to do it with?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know. The Walking Dead has really done nothing but use Carl as a plot device. He’s extremely underutilized, and not terribly complex. He’s incredibly earnest and protective, and that’s about it. Someday, somebody’s going to think of something to do with Carl, and it’s going to be glorious. Until then, dammit, he remains incredibly frustrating.
Much like Hank Conger, who will be 24 next year, and who has a AAA batting line of .300/.383/.468 over 135 games. By all accounts, Conger is ready offensively, even if he’s had a rough time in just 200 Major League plate appearances so far. But when you’re not playing every day (in fact, at one point playing every other day, for some reason), and you find yourself stuck behind the likes of Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson, it’s hard to get on track. Now the Angels are reportedly looking into acquiring Ryan Hanigan from the Reds (which, to be fair, is a fantastic idea for any team that doesn’t have a 24 year old catching prospect on hand). Someday, some team’s going to figure out how to get Hank Conger into the lineup and behind the plate, and it’s going to be glorious.
Bud Selig is Hershel Greene
Greene is a small town veterinarian and farmer who the group finds in the middle of the second season when Carl gets shot. At first, Greene’s farm seems perfect. It’s remote and away from “walkers” and the open fields around it make it impossible for zombies to sneak up on anyone. He has an abundance of food and is close enough to a town to be well-provisioned. He also seems to have some electricity and running water, and is able to offer a relative haven to the small band of survivors who make up the central cast.
But Hershel is also an old fool with a secret plan that, in the face of all logic and reason, he thinks will solve everything. He keeps zombies in his barn, convinced that they’re only sick, and that someone will find a cure for them someday. This hope keeps him going, especially since his wife and son-in-law are in there. Whenever he encounters another walker, he kennels them, and keeps them fed with live chickens. He refuses to see what’s incredibly apparent: these people are dead, and always will be dead. There is no hope for them, only for the living. And to keep them on his farm is to invite danger, in the event that they escape.
Likewise, Bud Selig is an old fool, who can’t see that his beloved “draft spending cap” actually hurts baseball. While it will lower costs in the short term, it also will drive better athletes into sports that will pay them more up front (football and basketball). It will encourage high school and college players to stay out of the pros longer, which will probably lead to more arm injuries in pitchers (given that college coaches don’t have an incentive to protect their arms) and poorer overall instruction. And it will make it difficult for lower-revenue teams to exploit inefficiency in the market. Indeed, it penalizes those teams for doing so. The new system will make it impossible for teams like the Rays, Royals, and Pirates to adequately restock their farm systems with high-profile and high-dollar signings, by limiting what they can spend (and, thus, who they can spend it on), and eliminate their ability to overpay amateurs to get them to come to baseball’s smaller markets, and thus will end up helping teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who need the advantage the least. Bud Selig, an former owner from one of baseball’s smallest markets, has just doomed small market teams. Nice work, dummy.
Spoiler Alert: Travis Snider is Sophia
If you watched the season premiere, you knew things were about to get real when Sophia ran off into the woods to escape from zombies. And when Rick found her, and told her to head back toward the group by herself, you knew things were going to go horribly wrong. And it did. Sophia got lost, setting up all the action for the first half of season 2. For the rest of the half-season, the group kept looking for Sophia. They looked high. They looked low. Every episode was semi-devoted to finding Sophia, a human MacGuffin. At first, it was an exciting problem with a lot of dramatic potential. Slowly, as the search dragged on and Sophia’s mother kept crying, it became annoying, and borderline unwatchable. Then it became a running gag for my wife and I. “They damn well better find Sophia,” we’d tell each other at the start of each episode. Or, eventually, “If they find Sophia, I hope she’s dead.”
Oops, it turns out Sophia was dead. She was dead the whole time. In Hershel’s barn. Suddenly, when Shane opens the barn door, and she comes shambling out, something that had been so obnoxious and had been so funny for so long turned incredibly tragic. A horrible sucker punch that was a brilliant move by the show’s producers. With the rest of the survivors too shocked to move, Rick does the only humane thing and shoots her in the head, because he’s always trying to do the right thing.
Travis Snider was similarly exciting when he debuted in 2008 at just 20 years old. A power-hitting corner outfielder with acceptable plate discipline, Snider was the #6 prospect in baseball headed into 2009. So when he held his own at 21 in 77 games, Blue Jay fans had to be excited. He improved his power in 2010, but his ability to control the strikezone has never materialized. Indeed, it’s gone backwards, as Snider drew a walk in just 5.5% of his plate appearances in 2011. And he homered in just 1.5 persent while upping his strikeout rate to 27.7%. All of Snider’s indicators are way off, and it’s becoming less and less likely that we’re ever going to find the Snider that was promised. While what’s happening to Snider isn’t funny (especially to Blue Jays fans), it is becoming tragic. Snider comes into 2012 as a 24 year old with very little to offer on the defensive or offensive side, unless he can finally harness his talent. I’m afraid, however, we’re going to find out he’s just another AAAA zombie, waiting to be put out of his misery.