I had a lot of fun last week with comparing teams in the AL East to TV shows for little ones. There are a few I didn’t get to that I really wanted to, though, so I’ll be doing it again for the AL Central. I’m out of kid shows after this one, so I’ll have to find another theme (or several) to cover the remaining four divisions over the next four weeks.
The Twins are Thomas and Friends.
Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends are something of an institution — his books have been around since the 1940s, and he’s been a fixture on English-speaking television for close to thirty years. It’s kind of a lot of dictatorial classist propaganda nonsense, though, when you think about it.
I mean, the one overriding goal of Thomas and the others is to be a Really Useful Engine — to work as hard as he can and serve his human masters. When he’s being a dutiful engine and working hard and doing what the humans tell him to, things work out well; when he expresses his individuality and wanders outside the lines, things go very poorly. That is kind of a train’s whole reason for being, I suppose, and there are probably important lessons there about listening to adults and all that, but the way it’s presented, where the characters’ whole purpose is to obey directions and work hard, strikes me as awfully harsh and, yeah, classist.
Similarly, the Twins have a value system that, if it’s not completely messed up, at least feature too prominently in the way the team, its writers and its fans view and evaluate things. Guys like Michael Cuddyer and Nick Punto are revered for their effort and selflessness, while a lot of times, guys with much more talent — Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano — are held to different standards and often harshly criticized. The same strategy shines through in the pitchers they value: Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis, Carl Pavano. Throw strikes, nothing flashy. Go about your quiet little business. Hard work and industriousness is rewarded; creative genius and being exceptional is not. The Thomas and Friends of baseball teams, clearly.
The Tigers are Curious George.
As with Thomas, you may well remember Curious George from your own childhood — his books have been around since 1941 — but there’s a modern cartoon show that has been running since around 2006. It’s basically the same monkey you probably used to know, but everything is probably a little more exaggerated. In every episode, George and The Man with the Yellow Hat set out doing something pretty ordinary, but curiosity ends up getting the better of George and he wanders off on his own.
Invariably, George’s curious actions lead to actual or threatened disaster. He fills the entire house with suds, or accidentally orders 100 dozen donuts, or tries to help the neighbors weed their garden and ends up pulling everything, including the vegetables. Of course, it being a kids’ show, everything works itself out eventually. It’s fair to wonder what Curious George teaches our kids, really — act on all your impulses and ignore responsibilities, because it all works out in the end? They do repeatedly tell you that George, as a monkey, can do things people can’t, and they are very deliberate about actually teaching kids certain basic things in each episode, but still. George can do whatever he wants, and it always turns out great. I just don’t know if that’s a healthy recipe for a show for very small children.
The Tigers have made some crazy, probably irresponsible decisions over the last few years. They committed a ton of money last season to Victor Martinez, giving him catcher money with no intention of using him as a catcher, then went in on a three-year deal for Joaquin Benoit after he’d had one successful season. Then this year, of course, despite having Martinez on the payroll and with offense-only 1B Miguel Cabrera locked down through 2016, they went out and committed $214 million over the next nine years to an offense-only 1B.
V-Mart is out for the year; Benoit, while still excellent, regressed notably in 2011; and Fielder was almost certainly a reach (and just an all-around strange signing). There are other odd little moves that aren’t really discussed here, like trading for and repeatedly using Delmon Young.
And the Tigers may well face some consequences for this stuff…eventually. They’re probably still the best team in the AL Central, though, and by quite a bit. So for now, they’re a little like Curious George — do whatever they want, and it all comes out just great anyway.
The Cleveland baseball team is Blue’s Clues.
(Unrelated-to-this-post note: I’m sure I’ve violated this a bunch, but I generally try to avoid using Cleveland’s outdated team name. I talk about all that here.)
Blue’s Clues is kind of a hard show to write anything about. It’s pretty much the baseline for the average kids’ show. Kids seemed to like it and learn from it, and it was pretty annoying to adults, but not, like, Yo Gabba Gabba!-level annoying. It gets the job done — it was actually pretty exhaustively R&D’ed, at least according to its Wikipedia page, to make sure it got the job done — but there’s nothing terribly exciting about it.
Similarly, it’s a bit hard for me to write interesting things about Cleveland. They’ve got a pretty solid young core, with Kipnis, Chisenhall, Santana, and Michael Brantley (seems like he’s been around a while, but still not 25), and they’ve got some interesting veterans in Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Travis Hafner. If those four guys recapture a bit of their old glory and they find a few other guys who can pitch, this could be a legitimately pretty good team. In this way, Cleveland is basically the archetype for a good AL Central team, something of a collection of misfits who could be really good if everything breaks exactly right. So they occupy the same basic space that Blue’s Clues does — OK, maybe even better than most, but hard to get terribly excited about.
The Royals are The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!
Remember the classics The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, by Dr. Seuss? The Cat was actually kind of terrible, an unwanted guest who basically terrorized the lily-white, straight-laced brother and sister who had been left home alone by doing all sorts of weird things and making a huge mess. Everything turns out fine in the end, of course — Cat cleans up his mess, and the kids are left with…well, maybe some psychological scars, but otherwise just kind of an exciting and memorable end to what had otherwise been a terribly dull afternoon. But the point remains, the Cat is just kind of a pest. A creative pest, but a pest, nothing more.
Well, that’s all different in the new show, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!. The Cat here is flamboyantly voiced by Martin Short, and the kids (now different-race friends) are always overjoyed to see them. He pops by when they have a problem to solve, and he takes them on fantastic adventures to colorful Seussian places to help solve them, usually teaching them some things about science and nature on the way. It’s a pretty good show, really, but it’s weird. It’s the same character as those books — also the fish, and Thing 1 and Thing 2 — but his behavior and purpose is entirely different than it was.
Such is Dayton Moore, GMDM. For so long the whipping boy of sabermetricians and right-thinking baseball fans everywhere, the Royals’ GM spent most of his first five seasons at the helm making all the wrong moves, entreating fans to “Trust the Process” while making it abundantly clear that he had no process. Then, suddenly, things were different. The Royals’ farm system heading into 2011 was the best some scouts and analysts had ever seen, and it takes a lot more than one guy, but you have to figure Moore deserves some credit for that. Some of the top prospects took a hit in 2011, but they’re still coming into 2012 with some of the better young players and/or prospects in the game. And: Moore has started doing not-stupid stuff. The much-mocked Jeff Francoeur acquisition turned out great, as did the Melky Cabrera acquisition, and the Cabrera-for-Jonathan-Sanchez trade smacks of the kind of buy-low, sell-high transaction of which Moore has so often been on the opposite side.
That’s not to say he’s suddenly a different GM, necessarily. As well as the Francoeur acquisition turned out, his two-year contract extention might be a different story (but it’s not a crazy extention in length or dollars, which itself is nice). The re-acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt, even though it’s ostensibly only as a backup, is a bit worrisome — he’s probably the MLB’s worst player, and Moore had a whole lot of time to recognize that, but didn’t. So he’s got question marks, but I think it’s safe to say that the perception of Moore has experienced quite a turnaround over the last year or two. He’s the same guy, presumably, but completely different — just like the Cat in the Hat.
The White Sox are Barney and Friends.
I admitted the other day that I am biased against the White Sox, so I guess it’s not surprising that my analog for them is the worst kids’ show around (non-Caillou edition). Barney and Friends’ central figure is a big goofy ridiculous dinosaur, and most of the rest is really terrible kid (or not-kid) actors, and the result is an unwatchable-except-by-two-year-olds train wreck.
This probably worked better when Ozzie Guillen is around, but now the big goofy central figure is Ken Williams, who says and does all kinds of silly things in the public eye (at least by the standards of a typical general manager). The supporting cast includes the worst TV broadcaster in the game (the worst broadcaster of any sport in any medium, I’d argue) and a lineup in which only one regular player (Paul Konerko, who doesn’t really fit in here at all) posted an OBP better than .340 in 2011. They’re not necessarily all bad players — Alexei Ramirez might be the best of the shallow American League shortstop pool, for instance — but they’re just kind of uninteresting, uninspiring.
OK, I’m not in love with this last metaphor, but I can’t think of anything else, and Barney and the Sox occupy similar spots in my mind, so there you have it. Next week, how the AL West is like…something.