The opening few games of any season is a time given over to ridiculous overreaction, as fans and media types panic and search for answers and demand changes in the face of all good sense. It’s glorious. Most teams have played three games. That’s 1.9% of the team’s schedule so far, and it’s even more idiotic to make changes based on any random three game stretch than it is to take Spring Training stats to heart. This is indisputable. It’s what I believe. And I hope it’s right, because my Twins just got swept by the Orioles and I’m starting to feel that tightness in my chest that precedes me calling for a fire sale and the ritual seppuku of every single member of the Twins’ management team.
So, to assuage my own burgeoning irrationality, let’s look at some of the biggest overreactions happening around baseball right now:
The Red Sox bullpen collapse is the response to the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Ferdinand was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne from 1889-1914, and seemed to be a fairly cool guy as far as potential divine-right monarchs go. He was a good father and husband, and advocated greater freedom for ethnic minorities in his empire. So it’s ironic that one of those ethnic minorities, a young Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip shot and killed both the archduke and his wife.
This assassination, of course, sparked World War I, as Austria soon declared war on Serbia. This activated a series of secret alliances across Europe, quickly drawing Germany, England, France, and Russia into the conflict. More than 9 million soldiers were killed in the war, along with untold numbers of civilians. And while it’s not fair to lay all the blame on the shoulders of the Ferdinand assassination, his death was certainly the spark that ignited the powder keg. The death of one guy, killed by a random nobody, leading to the death of 9 million others. It’s almost unimaginable.
Similarly, it’s hard to blame all of the Red Sox alleged bullpen troubles on the injury to Andrew Bailey, who was supposed to take over for the defected Jonathan Papelbon. For one thing, Bailey’s injury was entirely predictable, given that he’s only thrown more than 50 innings in one of his three seasons, and showed diminished effectiveness last year when he was healthy, so the Sox front office was not entirely counting on him anyway. They cultivated other options in Mark Melancon, who closed for the Astros last year, and Alfredo Aceves, who was spectacular last year out of the pen. Despite the injury, the Sox looked like they’d be ok.
So of course, Aceves hasn’t retired any of the five batters he’s faced this year, the Sox have blown two saves in three games, and have a 7.94 ERA in 11.1 innings. And Rob Bradford is wondering if the Sox should call up Aaron Cook following his strong AAA start and Daniel Bard should head back to the bullpen. Dude, settle down. Aceves has been only marginally worse than Mariano Rivera so far (speaking of overreactions). Aceves and Melancon aren’t this bad, Bailey will be back mid-season, there will be relief pitching available soon on the trade market, and Bard’s likely to have far more value in the rotation, where he can prevent the Sox’s bullpen from getting too exposed. Give it a week, at least, before you start making stupid, franchise-altering decisions you can’t back off of.
Yoenis Cespedes is General George Custer
There is, rightfully, a ton of hype around Cespedes, who was one of the biggest offseason free agent signings, and certainly one of the most anticipated and mysterious performers. Thousands of fans saw his scouting video, and heard tales about his power. But there were also huge concerns about his performance in the Dominican Winter League and his pitch recognition skills. So it was with great rejoicing that baseball fans greeted his first homerun two weeks ago in Japan. And with awe and wonder at this mammoth shot off of Jason Vargas, which, I’m told, has just landed:
And with three homers in four games, Cespedes certainly seems like a force to be reckoned with.
Everybody thought the same thing about George Custer too, though. Custer was the youngest general in US history (he was 23) when he received a battlefield promotion just before the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War and was considered a brilliant cavalry leader. But he was famous for his arrogance and stubbornness, and that ultimately was his Achilles heel. So when Custer and his 7th Cavalry headed out to face the Sioux forces of Sitting Bull in 1874, perhaps it’s not surprising that Custer thought his men and his brilliance would be enough to counter what he assumed (in spite of his scouts’ warnings) was a small force. And so he left two heavy Gatling guns behind at Fort Lincoln so that his troops could travel faster. Obviously, that didn’t work out well for Custer and his men, who ended up outnumbered something like 4,000 to 200.
Cespedes’ main weaknesses also may portend eventual doom for the young(ish) phenom. While there’s no doubt about Cespedes’ power tool, he’s also struck out seven times in fifteen plate appearances and hasn’t drawn a walk (though he’s been hit twice). Indeed, in four games, he’s had exactly three plate appearances in which he’s hit a ball in play. That’s clearly not sustainable, even for a great three-true-outcomes player (or four in this case, if we regard HBP differently). And only more time and exposure will make it clear whether Cespedes is really ready to face Major League caliber stuff.
Ozzie Guillen is Shirley Sherrod
It’s hard to ever feel sorry for Ozzie Guillen. As a player, he was a light-hitting (68 career OPS+) shortstop who averaged less than one win above replacement per season (15.9 rWAR in 16 seasons) and still made more than $23 million. And as a manager, he’s had good success as the controversial head of the White Sox, but engaged in a years-long feud with his general manager and orchestrated his own exit from Chicago with a year remaining on his contract.
That said, his recent statements about Fidel Castro have been grossly misrepresented by the media. In the original Time profile of the new Marlins manager, Guillen pontificates, “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that mother****** is still here.” As Craig Calcaterra pointed out this morning, this isn’t a statement of support of Castro, his tactics, or his regime. Now, Guillen is apologizing, flying back to Miami to apologize to the Cuban community, and is explaining what he said in greater detail to anyone who will listen. No one is, however. Certainly not the normally reasonable Ken Rosenthal, who wants Ozzie suspended for 30 games (longer than any other manager in baseball history not name Pete Rose). All because people have misinterpreted and misrepresented what Ozzie was saying.
That reminds me a great deal of what happened to Shirley Sherrod, an official in the US Department of Agriculture who was accused by the thankfully dead Andrew Breitbart in 2010 of racially discriminating against Roger Spooner, a white farmer. Breitbart posted a video of Sherrod at an NAACP event, and selectively edited the video to make it appear that Sherrod had not done all she could to help Spooner because of his race, while going above and beyond for African-Americans who were struggling to hold onto their family farms. Sherrod was forced to resign from her job and condemned by the NAACP. But subsequent investigation found that the portion of her speech that was excerpted was part of a larger story she was telling about her own personal growth in her position, and that she had done everything in her power to help the Spooner family, and that she remains close friends with the entire Spooner family. So before we condemn Ozzie Guillen for something he actually didn’t say (for once), let’s take a minute to cool down and not dive headfirst down the Sherrod rabbit hole.
Now I feel better about the Twins, and gladly look forward to their next few games. Who do they play? The Angels? Facing CJ Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren? Gulp.